When long-tenured CEO and Head of WWE Creative, Vince McMahon retired on July 23 last year, 14-time World Champion Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque was swiftly brought in as his replacement.
As we creep closer to ‘the biggest party of the summer’ with SummerSlam taking place this Sunday, it also marks the one-year anniversary of Triple H’s instalment as Chief Content Officer of the company.
It was also this time 12 months ago when he took charge of his first Premium Live Event (PLE), with SummerSlam selling out Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.
In his time since taking creative control of WWE, Triple H has largely improved the product in the eyes of many fans, which is proven by the steady state of TV ratings where over one million viewers consistently tune in for Raw and Smackdown.
During this article, The Inner Sanctum will analyse the product under it’s new leader and will look at three of the best and worst changes The Game has made since July 2022.
Prestige brought back to the Intercontinental Championship
For far too long, the Intercontinental Championship was used rashly and without meaning. Long gone were the days of iconic champions holding the iconic white strapped belt.
In the few years prior to Triple H’s instalment as Head of Creative, the title had gone from what was considered one of the most important prizes in the company to one not many fans cared about at all.
However, almost instantly after taking control of the creative scene, Triple H decided to have former NXT UK Champion, Gunther (formerly known as Walter) defeat the then-Intercontinental Champion, Ricochet on the June 11th episode of Friday Night Smackdown.
Ever since being handed the IC Title, the Ring General has paced upon it a level of prestige not seen in the 21st century. Gunther has put on numerous five-star matches against opponents who done well, but not well enough to strip him of his crown.
Superstars like Sheamus, Drew McIntyre, Braun Strowman, Rey Mysterio and Mustafa Ali have all had matches against the leader of Imperium that have stolen the show.
Matches for the Intercontinental Championship have headlined multiple PLE’s across the duration of the past 12 months.
For instance, the triple threat bout with Sheamus and Drew McIntyre at WrestleMania 39, as well as the singles match against the Celtic Warrior at last year’s Clash at the Castle, which was seen as one of the best contests of 2022 by many involved with the sport.
Gunther’s reign has surpassed 400 days, bringing him close to breaking The Honky Tonk Man’s record of 453 days as the longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion in company history.
WWE hit the jackpot last year when they took the circus to the United Kingdom for the first time in decades, with the inaugural Clash at the Castle PLE emanating from Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
With an attendance of over 60,000 roaring fans eager to make as much noise as possible and setting their eyes on a PLE for the first time in years, Clash at the Castle was viewed by many as one of the best shows of the year.
It was headlined by the UK’s own, Drew McIntyre colliding against Roman Reigns for the Undisputed Universal Championship.
Although the Scottish Warrior succumbed to defeat thanks to a debuting Solo Sikoa taking out the match’s official, fans at the stadium and around the world truly believed McIntyre was going to be the one to dethrone the Head of the Table.
Taking their shows elsewhere around the globe, WWE have gone on to host two recent events in places like Puerto Rico for this year’s Backlash and London for Money in the Bank.
Similarly to Clash at the Castle which featured homegrown talent in Sheamus and McIntyre, both Puerto Rico and London also included superstars from their respective towns. At Backlash, singing sensation, Bad Bunny received one of the loudest crowd ovations of the night when he walked out to face fellow Latino, Damian Priest.
On the other hand, Money in the Bank featured UK’s own former NXT UK Champion, Butch (formerly known as Pete Dunne), who competed in the men’s Money in the Bank ladder match.
It’s clear WWE has found a winning formula by taking their PLE’s to international markets that have been long starved of any meaningful shows. With the possibility the company could head back to the UK or Australia for an upcoming WrestleMania, as well as the announcement of an Indian megaevent later this year, it is obvious WWE will not stop taking their PLE’s overseas.
The Bloodline story
In recent memory, no other wrestling storyline has been so good that it has captured the hearts and minds outside of the business, nor have suggestions that it should be nominated for televisions awards such as an Emmy.
However, this is exactly the case for the ongoing development of The Bloodline saga, which has main evented almost every PLE and episode of Friday Night Smackdown for the past three years.
Originally, The Bloodline consisted of Roman Reigns and his cousins, Jimmy and Jey Uso. It all changed at last year’s Clash at the Castle, when Solo Sikoa joined the group and debuted on the main roster by assisting the Tribal Chief to retain his Undisputed Universal Championship against Drew McIntyre.
The incorporation of Sami Zayn, who was initially only meant to be with The Bloodline for a couple of weeks, was a combination fans adored. Although in kayfabe, certain members were not happy with his inclusion, it was a match made in heaven.
Zayn would end up staying with the group, being named the ‘Honorary Uce’ and featuring in the inaugural main roster WarGames match for the men at last year’s Survivor Series.
In recent months, the gradual disintegration of the group saw Zayn leave and reunite with life-long best friend, Kevin Owens before the duo defeated The Usos for the Undisputed Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 39.
While most other feuds that include the destruction of tag teams and factions are often done at a fast pace with a lack of care, The Bloodline was different.
The story has been unique compared to others we have seen before and over the next few months, it can only get better with Roman Reigns slowly, but surely losing the respect and love of those he is closest with in WWE.
It will only be a matter of time before the loss of his cousins’ love and respect, will turn into the loss of the Undisputed Universal Championship.
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Damage CTRL’s booking
For Bayley, SummerSlam 2022 was a return after spending a year on the sidelines with a torn ACL. For Dakota Kai, it was a comeback to WWE after being released in April and for IYO SKY, it was a main roster debut.
The trio, one by one, reintroduced themselves and formed the Damage CTRL faction in front of an almost 50,000 SummerSlam crowd.
Although they burst onto the scene and stood face-to-face with Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair after their contest for the Raw Women’s Championship, Damage CTRL’s progress stalled.
In the months after their debut, Damage CTRL, alongside Nikki Cross and Rhea Ripley, would face off against Belair, Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Mia Yim and Asuka in the inaugural main roster women’s WarGames match at Survivor Series. While it was a sign of things to come, Damage CTRL would go on to lose.
Before their Survivor Series loss, Bayley had entered a singles feud for the Raw Women’s Title against the E.S.T. and it not only prompted a last woman standing match at Crown Jewel, but also a ladder match at Extreme Rules that saw Belair win on both occasions.
Kai and SKY had multiple reigns as Women’s Tag Team Champions, but failed to deliver any meaningful matches or string any momentum with the belts. However, many of those who keep a keen eye on the product are quick to note this was not a problem exclusive to the pair, as the titles kept changing hands constantly.
After almost a full year of Damage CTRL being on the main roster, their impact on the women’s division has not lived up to it’s full potential. With SKY winning this year’s women’s Money in the Bank contract, there have been teases of a potential breakup with Bayley appearing to be jealous.
An injury to Kai has also seen her miss the last four months of action, hindering any chances of the faction’s progression.
It would not be a shock to see either one of Bayley or SKY turning on one another and setting up a singles feud for the coming months, with any chance of Damage CTRL’s development as a successful faction put on the backburner.
Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match
It was at Extreme Rules in 2022 when Bray Wyatt made his long-awaited return after being released in July of the previous year. His comeback, which was largely speculated on social media groups in the weeks leading up to the PLE, was seen as one of the best of the modern era.
Wyatt’s return featured callbacks to previous characters associated with his time in WWE, such as The Fiend and puppets seen in the Firefly Funhouse.
Despite how excellent Wyatt’s return was, the following weeks failed to build any sort of momentum. He would enter his one and only feud since returning against the incredibly popular LA Knight on the November 12 edition of Friday Night Smackdown in a backstage altercation.
The rivalry was one of the most affected by the lack of a December PLE, with Day 1 event and replaced with some hard-earned time off for the majority of the main roster talent. Although the time off was good with superstars working in excess of 45 weeks a year including weekends, it meant there was no December PLE to finish feuds.
For the feud between Wyatt and Knight, this meant they had to spend weeks of Smackdown largely repeating the same promos that featured an odd Firefly Funhouse episode here and there. These segments lasted up to eight weeks, which saw many fans slowly lose interest in the rivalry that was initially hot.
However, it was on the January 28 edition of Smackdown where Wyatt, alongside an appearance by the masked Uncle Howdy, whose true identity still to this day has not been revealed, geared up to fight the Megastar in a “pitch black” match at the Royal Rumble.
The WWE Universe was not sure what a “pitch black” match was, except for the fact it was sponsored by Mountain Dew in line with their ‘Pitch Black’ drink release. What was ultimately produced at the Royal Rumble garnered a negative response from fans of the company.
The end result was fluorescent lights, paint and attires, making the match visually hard to watch. Not to mention it is now largely unforgettable, despite a post-match appearance from Uncle Howdy that saw him jump off a stage into an unconscious Knight which sparked flames.
Looking back, Triple H and WWE missed an obvious opportunity to captalise on the return of Bray Wyatt, which was something that excited the majority of the audience.
While Wyatt has not been seen since weeks before WrestleMania, hopes are growing the former WWE Champion will make his second comeback in almost as many years at this Sunday’s SummerSlam.
Hopefully this time around, the creative team make the most of Wyatt, who has been widely viewed as one of the most creative performers in recent memory.
Austin Theory’s MITB cash-in
Vince McMahon’s retirement had a profound impact on Austin Theory, the superstar who had received immense support from the former CEO since his main roster debut in 2020.
Prior to stepping down, McMahon frequently appeared in segments with the current United States Champion on Monday Night Raw, portraying him as his protégé and imparting valuable advice for success in the ring, including the art of surprise.
It was evident to WWE fans that McMahon and other top executives envisioned Theory as the next big thing, hoping he would become a John Cena-like figure for the company. In one of his final major decisions, McMahon made Theory the youngest Mr. Money in the Bank winner in history by triumphing in last year’s men’s ladder match.
However, as soon as Triple H took over as Head of Creative, Theory’s time as Mr. Money in the Bank became uncertain. The young superstar made several attempts to cash in his contract for championship glory, but luck was never on his side.
During Triple H’s first PLE in charge, Theory tried to insert himself in the SummerSlam main event between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar for the Undisputed Universal Championship, but the Beast thwarted his efforts with an F5 onto the briefcase.
Not giving up, Theory later sought to cash in during the Tribal Chief’s match against Drew McIntyre at Clash the Castle. Unfortunately, the rising star was foiled once again, this time by a devastating strike from UK native, Tyson Fury who was present as a special guest.
Months of teasing finally culminated in Theory cashing in his contract on the November 8 edition of Monday Night Raw. He would end up using his briefcase on then-United States Champion, Seth Rollins who suffered a grueling attack from Bobby Lashley prior.
Theory would fall short of a successful cash-in, failing to recover from a beating from the All Mighty before the Visionary delivered a stomp to end his time as Mr. Money in the Bank.
Interestingly, Theory went on to capture the United States Title shortly after at Survivor Series, leading many to criticise his stint as Mr. Money in the Bank as one of the worst in history. Fans blamed Triple H for the decision to fail his cash-in, considering it a rare, but significant mistake during his tenure as Head of Creative.