In general, WWE heels tend to serve as avatars for the company, hypocrites who incessantly blame the fans for their shortcomings and occasionally allude to tired WWE tropes and idiosyncracies to draw their ire. Few wrestlers on the roster represent this connection than Austin Theory.
To a greater extent, Theory’s rise to prominence has reflected so much of what annoys fans about WWE. His NXT character, a dumb jock “man child” who served as Johnny Gargano’s “work son” as part of The Way, coated him in a sheen of innocence that also tried to shield fans from remembering the Speaking Out allegations that got him banished to NXT in the first place.
Obfuscation then turned to gross defiance when WWE brought him to the main roster and handed him a “millennial who’s always on his phone” gimmick, essentially telling anyone who rightly protested his presence on the roster that their concerns paled in comparison to whatever value he brought to the company.
That value primarily centered around Theory’s youth (of course, there are plenty of more talented young wrestlers that don’t have Theory’s baggage that WWE could’ve chosen as the next big star, but it is what it is). In a company that relies on a lot of mid-30s and over-40s wrestlers as the primary draws, Theory stood out as one of the few glimpses we had of WWE’s future. But again, his booking mirrored so much of what was wrong with the promotion’s creative process.
WWE ultimately wasted everyone’s time making Austin Theory Mr. Money in the Bank.
In “pushing” Theory, WWE used the same 50/50 booking strategies that fans have grown tired of as we saw with his Money in the Bank win, which came hours after Theory lost the United States Championship. From there, the losses accumulated, again showcasing the hubris that comes with an outsized faith in how much credibility carrying around that briefcase affords a wrestler.
When creative stewardship of WWE went from Vince McMahon to Triple H, Theory’s push went from counterintuitive to lame duck, which explains what we saw as the Nov. 7 episode of WWE Raw ended.
The decision to not only book Theory to cash in the Money in the Bank contract for the United States championship — not the world title — but also booking him to lose the cash-in attempt essentially doubled as an admission that the company wasted everyone’s time with this experiment.
Even if Theory had done more to generate heat on the microphone besides “look at me, I’m ‘Chosen One Drew McIntyre 2.0’ and look at how young I am” and worked fewer rest-hold-filled matches, no one expected Theory to dethrone the ever-dominant Roman Reigns. Having him lose match after match made that even clearer. That was true when Triple H took over in July and nothing changed in the months since.
That amount of time eliminates any excuse for scripting this goober of a pro wrestler to use the briefcase — created to reify how difficult even earning a match for the world title is — on a midcard belt. WWE had plenty of chances to have Reigns crush Theory and move on without stripping away the importance of the plot device, but the promotion apparently figured that the most ridiculous ending possible was a fitting end to an equally ridiculous attempt at a push.
Like a sports team that strips down a roster before building it back up, Triple H and company likely view this as a reset for Theory, a move that once again echoes the changes we’ve seen from the company over the last few months. But such a reclamation project probably isn’t worth WWE’s time, no matter how tethered it thinks Theory is to its future.