The overall ethos of Monday’s Raw might have been all about new practices for the New Era, but one small nod to the wrestling old-school was the reintroduction of of that timeless classic: the squash match.
Yes, in days of yore, new talents who need to show off their dominance, or longstanding talent in need of being rebuilt, would traditionally go up against puny nobodies from the indie scene of whichever town the big dog had rocked up in that week. The 10-foot giants would march to the ring to a fanfare, before the camera cuts to a terrified-looking jobber who receives a polite introduction to the ring announcer before being beaten to a pulp.
Believe it or not, these one-hit enhancement talents are usually rather highly regarded on their scenes, or grow to become internationally acclaimed.
In 2002, Damien Sandow was putting over Team Angle and Steven Richards on Sunday Night Heat.
Daniel Bryan was jobbing to John Cena and Jamie Noble in 2003.
Ring of Honor superstars Low-Ki and Christopher Daniels occasionally swung by Jakked and Metal to do the job.
Hell, even Mick Foley cut his teeth jobbing to Hercules Hernandez and the British Bulldogs on Superstars of Wrestling in the 1980s before he started to make his mark on the world of pro-wrestling.
The question is, do squash matches have a place in the new era of wrestling? The social media reaction to Nia Jax steamrollering Britt Baker (who is a dental student from Pittsburgh) and Braun Strowman wrecking James Ellsworth was somewhat negative. This reaction was another bit of cognitive dissonance from wrestling fans, who want wrestling to be as good as it used to be, but not to do some of the things that it used to do. This ill feeling could also be partially down to how squash matches has been utilized on WWE’s programming in recent years. No, the squash match has not made a return, but the squash match against local talents has, and the two are distinctly different.
Every WWE fan has their favorite wrestler who isn’t getting the airtime, exposure or wins that they deserve. Seeing the likes of Curtis Axel, Dolph Ziggler and Heath Slater getting wrecked within seconds when you’re desperate to see them win matches (or at the very least, see them having matches that last more than 30 seconds) is bound to leave a sour taste. The beauty of using unknown locals for that purpose, therefore, is that nobody in the audience has any particular long term emotional investment in them, so nobody cares if they lose a match and aren’t seen in a WWE ring again for nine months. They can also elicit a lot of sympathy from a crowd, which is then translated into a desire to see somebody take down the monster heel.
On the other hand, is plowing through rookies really that good for a rising star’s reputation? Racking up victories is never a bad thing, but has anybody really looked at a monster heel and thought they could take out John Cena after beating a nobody? Not really, but they are at least fun to watch, and allow talent to show off what they can do in a very short amount of time.
The question is, are these squash matches going to be of use to Braun Strowman and Nia Jax?
For Jax, maybe. Although she has left a huge mark on NXT, she has had little exposure to mainstream and casual WWE fans, so viewers are going to get a decent picture of what she’s capable of in the ring, and begin to feel a growing eagerness to see her against some more estimable competitors.
But for Braun Strowman, that curiosity just isn’t there. He hasn’t had any time off television, and so images of him being ridiculed by The Rock, losing matches and languishing over the shoulder of Bray Wyatt are still fresh in the audience’s mind.
Squash matches are difficult to get right, and while they may serve a purpose for debuting stars, they have also been used to put failed wrestlers out to pasture.