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Luke Harper may be the most criminally underrated WWE Superstar on the roster today, and that’s said with no hyperbole whatsoever. Since debuting for WWE in 2012, Harper has excelled in every role he’s been placed in; he’s one of the most naturally charismatic wrestlers on the roster, despite his lack of time on the microphone throughout his career. Both his monstrous presence and lightning-quick move set have endeared him to the WWE Universe, and his resumé speaks for itself. He’s a two-time Tag Team Champion and a one-time Intercontinental Champion. However, conspicuously absent from that list is a WWE Championship reign. Admittedly, Harper isn’t the typical look for a WWE Champion, but as someone who’s had successful reigns as a champion previously, one would think that the former Brodie Lee would have earned at least a transitional run with the title, right?
In this week’s edition of Bad Decisions in Booking History, we take a look at the lead-up to WrestleMania 33 and the dissolution of the Wyatt Family – and why Luke Harper should have been the WWE Champion walking out of the Show of Shows.
As always, I’m your host Spencer Love with this week’s Bad Decisions in Booking History!
How it All Began:
Like many disappointing instances in WWE, everything started with Randy Orton.
The Wyatt Family, much like many members of the WWE Universe at the time, had grown sick of Randall Keith Orton in the early parts of 2016. Led by satanic cult leader and Duck Dynasty cast member Bray Wyatt, the Wyatt’s began targeting Orton in late 2015 after the latter formed an alliance with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. In fact, a match pitting Orton and Ambrose against Harper and Braun Strowman was booked for that year’s Hell in a Cell PPV, but an injury to Orton that required surgery put plans of a feud with the Wyatts on hold. Unfortunately, prior to Orton’s return to WWE in June 2016, Harper suffered an injury of his own which put him on the shelf until the following autumn. In the interim, Wyatt and Orton picked up their previous feud, intended to culminate at that October’s No Mercy PPV.
On October 9th, 2016, Harper made his official return to WWE at the previously mentioned No Mercy, making a shocking appearance during the scheduled Wyatt/Orton battle. By this point, the Wyatt Family had all but officially broken up; previous family member Braun Strowman was split from the faction in the Superstar Shakeup held earlier in the year and Eric Rowan sodded off to finesse his beard or something. However, Harper’s resurgence brought about a pseudo family reunion, but only with the coolest people involved. Think a family reunion, but you only invite the family members you like.
It was a promising start for Harper’s return; not only did he make his comeback during the main event of a major pay-per-view, but he helped in defeating a bonafide WWE legend in the process. His return continued to gain steam post-No Mercy, as Orton shockingly aligned with the resurgent Wyatt’s during a match featuring Kane. With a reunited Wyatt Family running roughshod over Smackdown Live, what could stop them?
To paraphrase the legendary film Field of Dreams – if you build it, Road Dogg will come…and obliterate it beyond any enjoyability whatsoever.
Admittedly, I’m not a huge Randy Orton fan and was even less enthused to have him join one of my favourite factions. However, outside of the WrestleMania match that this entire article is built around, his run with the Wyatt’s was entertaining at worst and downright fantastic at it’s best. A large part of that has to do with the chemistry between Harper and Orton; in the former’s case, his character work was essential to telling the story of distrust that the family looked to tell. Though both Wyatt and Orton were bigger names, it was Harper who truly was the star of the entire storyline. In this story of family drama, Harper was the jilted older brother, shoved aside in favour of what essentially amounted to a flavour of the week. It was as though Orton was the new baby in the family if the new baby had been a boring-as-sin wrestler for the past ten years.
All kidding aside, the trio worked fantastically from the onset. The previously-established team of Wyatt and Harper found incredible chemistry with Orton. The three dominated both the singles and tag-team divisions on Smackdown Live. While Harper was wary of the Viper, it didn’t prevent the trio from achieving success early. On December 4, 2016, Wyatt and Orton combined to win the Smackdown Tag Team Championships at Tables, Ladders and Chairs. Harper was subsequently sanctioned as a champion under Freebird rules, marking his first tag team gold on the main roster.
It also marked the official start of the breakup of the Wyatt Family.
As previously mentioned, the tension was evident between Harper and Orton from the very beginning of their unsteady alliance. While Wyatt placed his faith completely in Orton, it was to the detriment of Harper; the long-term Wyatt Family member was essentially shunned, left relegated to the sidelines during important matches such as the aforementioned tag team championship match at TLC. Simply put, he was always wary of Orton, and it all came to a head during the December 27, 2016 edition of Smackdown Live. That night, Harper and Orton teamed to defend their tag team championships in a four-team elimination match. As the two battled American Alpha, a miscommunication caused Harper to bump the Viper accidentally, causing enough of a distraction for AA to secure the victory and the tag team championships. Post-match, Orton immediately seized the opportunity to chastise Harper, blaming him for the team’s misfortunes. It was the first clear sign of tension in the group, but it would not be the last.
Now, an important sidebar: Luke Harper was damn popular throughout this, you guys. Since his shocking return, Harper had likely been the most popular part of the faction, an impressive feat considering the two other members. He was routinely earning cheers from the WWE Universe, and who could blame them? It was hard not to take his side in this wrestling version of a sibling rivalry, and it boded well for his run up to WrestleMania.
Anyways – throughout the next few weeks, Harper and Orton continued to bicker. The two got into a shoving match after a scheduled rematch against American Alpha which culminated in Harper accidentally superkicking Bray Wyatt in the face. The bickering between the two led to Wyatt himself booking a match between Harper and Orton on Smackdown Live. Even as a non-Orton fan, it was a terrific match; with Wyatt sitting ringside, Orton vanquished Harper. It seemed as though all was over between the three – that is, until Wyatt hit Harper with a Sister Abigail, effectively disowning him from the family. More importantly, it solidified Harper’s face turn, with the crowd showering the now-Wyatt duo in boos. This was exacerbated by Harper’s actions over the following weeks. Firstly, Harper attacked both Wyatt and Orton in the 2017 Royal Rumble prior to being eliminated by Goldberg. While Orton won the Rumble, it was evident that Harper hadn’t forgotten about the recent betrayal at the hands of the Wyatts. For fans who didn’t completely buy into the full face turn, Harper’s alignment was made clear when he came to John Cena’s aid during a Wyatt Family attack, placing the crowd firmly on the future Bludgeon Brothers side. While Harper would lay low – outside of a match with Orton at Elimination Chamber that year – he had a prime opportunity heading into WrestleMania 33.
Where it All Went Wrong
With Bray Wyatt recently becoming the WWE Champion and Orton announcing he wouldn’t challenge his leader for his title, Harper was entered in a battle royal to determine the #1 contender to Wyatt’s championship. A botched finish led to Harper and AJ Styles eliminating each other at the same time, ending the match in a draw. As such, a match between Harper and Styles was made for the following week’s Smackdown, with many anticipating that Harper would earn a statement victory and be named the #1 contender to Wyatt’s title. It would have been a masterful piece of storytelling; the jilted former servant rising up against his master would have been one of the finest examples of a long-term story line in recent WWE history.
Of course, we wouldn’t get that, would we?
Rather than a triumphant victory over Styles leading to a WWE Championship opportunity, Harper took a clean pin from the Phenomenal One. It relegated him to the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania, where he was quickly eliminated. However, that may be a bigger blessing than being in the actual WWE Championship match itself, which was frankly embarrassingly bad.
So What’s the Problem?
There’s a lot of gripes about this program, but to this writer, there are three notable complaints:
- WWE ruined a perfect opportunity to “make” a babyface. While Harper may not have the build of a traditional babyface, he was red-hot heading into ‘Mania season. The crowd had naturally gotten on his side, and a marquee match at the Show of Shows could have been exactly what the company needed to establish another top babyface.
- After Harper’s removal from the feud, the entire story degraded. Orton turned face by burning down a house in one of the worst babyface turns in recent memory. The story lacked a clear direction post-Harper, and adding the big man back into the picture would have kept the storyline consistent until WrestleMania.
- Seriously, guys – Orton/Wyatt was an awful match. Adding someone like Harper – who had evident chemistry with both men – could have perhaps helped salvage what was truly the worst match on the card.
What’re your thoughts, wrestling fans? Do you agree that Luke Harper should have been added to the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 33? Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me @SpennyLove_WCS, and stay tuned for the next edition of Bad Decisions in Booking History!
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