We don’t usually post about wrestling here at Vulture Hound. But we do have a TV section. And guess what? Last night, this was on TV. And I have to let my frustrations out somehow. So here we go.
Back in 2011 CM Punk and Triple H had an in ring spat. It started out as just another segment, one wrestler showboating in front of another, the usual song and dance. But then things got real. CM Punk started talking about things that shouldn’t be mentioned out loud on a WWE broadcast. As I’m sure you know, wrestling is staged. Not fake, there’s an important distinction. All the moves they do hurt like hell, they just know they’re coming. As such all the window dressing surrounding the actual matches are carefully scripted segments that try to promote the current vision of the WWE creative team. This means there are certain negative aspects retaining to the inner workings of the WWE that do not get discussed, the kind that can happen at any production company. CM Punk was just about to let loose on one of them.
It’s a well-known fact to WWE fans that both Triple H (a semi-retired wrestler and one of the chief creatives in WWE cooperate) and Vince McMahon (the owner of WWE) are huge bodybuilding fanatics. And for much of WWE programming, guys with bodybuilder physiques have ruled the roost. That means more genuinely talented athletes and better technical wrestlers get left behind, as the guys who look like they just walked out of the pages of a comic book, get handed all the airtime and opportunities. And in this episode of Raw, CM Punk just called his boss out on that.
Triple H fobbed it off as Punk excusing himself for his failures, and that all you had to do to get the top spot in the company was get on the side of the WWE audience. This is important, remember it for later.
Fast forward to last night’s Royal Rumble. CM Punk is no longer the darling of all the hardcore loyal, but still enjoys a high place on the WWE roster, one that only looks to be getting stronger with every passing PPV. The newest fan favourite is Daniel Bryan. An indy wrestling veteran, with a huge amount of respect in the locker room and on the internet chat rooms. His name has been chanted by a rapidly growing hardcore fan base whether the on-screen action has anything to do with him or not. He also started out the night with what many fans and pundits are calling the match of the year, and it’s only January.
His contest against Bray Wyatt, leader of the Wyatt Family (WWE’s version of the hillbillies from Deliverance), was an incredible match that called to mind some of the great unorthodox Mick Foley moments of the past. It brought the house down, and the fact that Bryan lost just intensified fans expectations for what they believed would be his success in the Royal Rumble later that night.
The Royal Rumble is one of the most prestigious matches of the year. A thirty man battle royal, the winner of which is the last man to not get thrown over the top rope, guarantees the victor a title match at WrestleMania, the company’s flagship PPV. All the top men of the company have won the Rumble at one point in their careers, and according to the WWE fan base, Daniel Bryan is the top man in the company. Too bad the owners don’t agree.
Bryan never even entered the Royal Rumble. According to him, management did not want him anywhere near it. It was a poor decision on their part, one that only sabotaged their own ideas for the winner. For months now fans of the former American Dragon, have yelled his name or his trademark YES/NO chant from the rafters whenever they thought their hero was being overlooked. In Pennsylvania, they blew the lid off the stadium.
In the final act of the match, when fans were getting increasingly desperate for him to come out, entrant after entrant, their voices only grew louder. It was getting to the point where great fan favourites were being booed just for not being Daniel Bryan. Then came the last competitor. Rey Mysterio, a legend in the business and constant fan favourite, was booed out the building. But it didn’t end there.
The eventual winner was Dave Batista. One of the breakout stars of the 2000’s, he was involved with some of the best storylines of the decade and his comeback is a huge deal in WWE. But to give the second most important victory of the year to a guy who’s only come back after a four-year absence just one week ago, in his first match, after several WWE Superstars have worked their arses off in 2013 trying to make WWE the best product it can be? That is an insult to all the guys, not just Bryan, who WWE fans have been cheering for the last two years.
CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, WWE have insulted all these guys, and for what? Because they think that promoting the star of the next Marvel movie will increase their visibility in the mainstream? Gimme a break. This deal will help Marvel out sure, but WWE won’t see a dime. Especially when Batista leaves in May on the promotion tour. Once that film is out and Dave’s getting offers from all over Hollywood, he won’t be back until he needs WWE again and his star power is all but spent.
During the traditional Royal Rumble victory celebration, when the winner points at the WrestleMania sign, everyone in the audience looked at Batista and chanted Daniel Bryan.
There is another dimension to this story too, one of a more insidious nature. It relates to what we were saying earlier. Bautista is a zero body fat bodybuilder, but more on that in a minute. He is also a friend of Triple H. They were in the same wrestling stable together. This was a trend in the PPV. Triple H belonging to more stables than any other wrestler I can name, he is never without friends. In the run up to the Rumble, The New Age Outlaws (more friends of HHH) were given the tag titles in an unceremonious dumping of the hard-working Rhodes Brothers; and then during the Rumble, a spot that could have easily gone to Bryan went to Kevin Nash, yet another Triple H buddy and a man who hasn’t been able to work a match in well over a decade, due to some notoriously repeating injuries.
But, like I said, Bautista is a bodybuilder. He is a perfect symbol of what Vince and Triple H believe the perfect image of a WWE Champion is. It also exposes Triple H as a liar. He said, as we discussed earlier, that all you need to do to get the top spot in the company is to get the audience on side. Bryan has the audience, but not the body, so they won’t give him a damn thing. It is a damming indictment of everything CM Punk threw at him in 2011. And the fans are letting him know it.
It’s long been believed that WWE management have been out of touch with the audience since the end of the Attitude Era. They have been slow to accept the internet as a viable breeding ground for their fanship. Triple H has been dismissive and insulting towards the internet audience for ages. He was unaware of their growing numbers and ignorant of their influence. Now they have been forced to accept social media as platform of their promotion, dubbing their fan base the WWE Universe. Before this, Triple H would have called them all pencil-necked geeks.
The problem with that though, is that they think they could use social media to promote their own vision for the company. What they should have been doing is using it to listen to what the fans want. This happened back in 1997 when WWE were desperate to put Stone Cold Steve Austin over as a bad guy. The audience had different ideas. He went on to be one of the most profitable good guys the company ever put any trust in. Now the internet has given the audience even more power over the product, but this time WWE is unwilling to listen.
The internet is a powerful source of information. Using it, this generation of fans know more about wrestling than any other generation combined. They know the good from the bad. This is why guys like John Cena get booed by half the audience everywhere they go. The kids can fall for the promotional efforts, fans who have been around a bit longer, though, the ones that have read the books and listened to the podcasts? They know he’s not a great worker. Likewise, they recognise the likes of Punk, Bryan and Roman Reigns as the best in the world.
WWE cannot ignore their cries forever. They cannot have fans chanting the name of a wrestler in the main event of WrestleMania who isn’t involved in the match. What’s most damming though is that, unlike every other major player in the company, Bryan has no clear path on the road to the “Gran-Daddy” of them all. Reigns is fighting his stablemates in The Shield, Punk is set to face Triple H, Wyatt is ending his feud with Bryan and is moving onto Cena, while The Undertaker looks locked in with Brock Lesner. The most popular wrestler of modern times is languishing in booking hell.
Something has to happen and it has to happen on tonight’s Raw. It’s gonna be one hell of an interesting show after last night’s debacle of an ending. One thing’s for sure though. If booking won’t give Bryan his own WrestleMania Moment, the fans will make it for him.