For a hot minute there, it seemed like Luke Harper was going to take a huge step forward in his career and transition from a midcarder who touches on the upper-midcard from time to time to a bona fide main event talent with a title match at WrestleMania of all places.
Every domino was lined up and all Harper had to do was knock them down, but sadly, he was unable to do so. Now what?
For those who don’t watch SmackDown, here is a quick recap of what has gone on the past few weeks:
When Randy Orton opted to refuse his WWE Championship match against Bray Wyatt, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan decided to hold a #1 contender battle royal to determine the new man to face Wyatt for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33. That match ended in a draw as both Luke Harper and AJ Styles “fell at the same time”—in quotation marks because it’s quite clear that Styles falls first, but we’re supposed to just ignore that.
This prompted another #1 contender’s match between those two to help squash the issue and settle things once and for all. However, another problem rose when a pinfall was counted on Harper despite his foot being on the ropes. Shane McMahon came out to restart the match and it seemed as though this would be the point in time where Harper would then turn things around to win, although Styles was able to be victorious yet again.
For a chunk of time, it looked like Styles would face Wyatt, but alas, by the end of the night, Randy Orton was burning Sister Abigail’s cabin in the woods, the Wyatt Family compound was up in flames, The Viper was back as a babyface and he declared that he wouldbe challenging Wyatt for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
The big story heading into next week’s episode of SmackDown will undoubtedly be how McMahon and Bryan settle that issue (my guess is with another #1 contender’s match, this time between Styles and Orton) but in the meantime, Luke Harper is going to be lost in the shuffle.
There’s a chance he has a few matches with Bray Wyatt just to give the champion a victory on the Road to WrestleMania, as WWE will want to keep Wyatt and Orton away from each other in any elongated capacity and stick to some brawls and interference moments, but that’s not going to help Harper out one bit.
In the grand scheme of things, Wyatt, Orton, and even the upcoming Styles/McMahon feud will of course be more important, but it’s a shame to see someone like Harper go from being a potential #1 contender to just jobbing out to Wyatt and struggling to find a spot on the card for WrestleMania.
Could this still become a triple threat match? Possibly, but it’s highly, highly unlikely. If that were to happen, Harper would have just won the match against Styles and it would be a lot easier to justify instead of going through tons of switches. They would need to take the title shot away from Styles and then find a way to put it back on Harper, who at this point would just disrupt the flow of the Wyatt vs. Orton match. They no longer need him in there to balance out the scales of having a heel Wyatt, tweener Orton and babyface Harper. He would be getting in the way of a more personal feud and it wouldn’t even be a necessary sacrifice to make, as Harper stands no chance at winning that title, nor is he such a big star that WWE can’t afford to not use him in that capacity.
Will he fight for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship? Of course not. He has no partner. The only man on the roster who would fit the bill would be Kane, who also has nothing scheduled at the moment, but there isn’t enough time to pair the two up and have them get enough chemistry going to justify putting them in the middle of yet another feud going on between American Alpha and The Usos—who, in their own right, might be overlooked come WrestleMania if their lack of appearance on this week’s SmackDown is any indication of how little WWE values their feud at the moment.
What about the Intercontinental Championship? Sorry, Harper, but that’s reserved for Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose. Those two are locked into a feud that has not in one bit incorporated other people, so while the past two years have both had a 7-man ladder match for this title, don’t expect to see Ambrose and Corbin joined by Dolph Ziggler, Kalisto, Apollo Crews, Luke Harper and someone else to carry that over into a hat trick.
There isn’t time to build to any regular singles feud grudge matches, nor are there people noteworthy enough on the roster to dedicate such a spot to at WrestleMania. It’s looking crammed as it is. Even when you take the folks from Raw into the mix—ignoring the fact that no matches set up so far have had any crossover between the brands—Harper’s only option would be either Samoa Joe or Braun Strowman and those two have better things to occupy themselves with.
That leaves us with one and only realistic option: the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
There are pros and cons to this scenario, but he’ll have to take the good with the bad.
First things first, you’re on the card for WrestleMania. That alone is better than sitting at home or standing in the back watching the action unfold.
Second, we have no idea who is going to be competing in this match yet as WWE has done literally zero promotion for it so far. Not a single person has been announced and it hasn’t even been made official as happening at all, so if Harper puts his name in the hat first, he can be considered one of the favorites.
Generally speaking, this is the match for losers and afterthoughts. If you’re going to find The Shining Stars or Curt Hawkins wrestling at this event, you’ll see them in this match instead of elsewhere. Someone like Luke Harper by default is already one of the standout performers for being a bigger name with more momentum and the size to position him as a top contender. Outside of Kane, Mark Henry, Big Show, Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe, nobody else should put up much of a fight.
Nothing has been set in stone for Strowman or Joe yet, and if either of those guys makes their way into the battle royal, Harper’s chances of winning go down drastically. He would probably still be the runner-up or close to it, but unless you win the match, it’s not going to mean all that much. Hell, the winners have struggled in the past. Cesaro, Big Show and Baron Corbin never received big pushes coming out of their victories and someone like Damien Mizdow—a noteworthy name the year Big Show won—found himself doing nothing until he was released.