At some point, you shouldn’t watch wrestling anymore.
I know this. I’m 31. I need to grow up.
People that visit my blog will often ask me – “How can you still watch wrestling?” And most of the time, I don’t have a good answer. I’ve written before about how the WWE as a monopoly has ruined professional wrestling. Whereas 20 years ago, there were multiple promotions that ran different types of shows to fit your interest – there is only one game in town today.
And it’s not like the WWE has given me a lot to get excited about in the past, oh, 5 years.
The closest I got to become a full-fledged fan again was thanks to CM Punk. First in the summer of 2011 when it looked like he was about to revolutionize what “sports entertainment” was all about. Instead, he ended up feuding with a way, way, way past-his-prime Kevin Nash.
They almost had me again in early 2013 when CM Punk and his epic title reign – 400+ days – met up with the returning Hollywood superstar, the Rock. I used to love the Rock. I gave their match at the Royal Rumble a chance. The match sucked. The Rock won in a stupid ending. Punk’s historic title reign, and all the possibilities that went with it, were quietly cast aside for Rock/Cena II at WrestleMania. Which was funny since the first Rock/Cena match was billed as “Once in a Lifetime.” The first match was okay. The second Rock/Cena match sucked and I tuned out WWE as a result.
But a funny thing happened over the past few months. Daniel Bryan, he of the infamous 18-second loss at WrestleMania 28, had gotten over. This does not mean he wasn’t over before – Bryan has been a consistently solid performer with a knack for pulling out 4-star matches against anyone, including broomsticks, at every available opportunity. His tag team partnership with Kane and all of its wackiness was one of the more pleasant surprises in recent pro wrestling history.
That’s the beauty of Daniel Bryan as a performer – it doesn’t seem like it should work. He’s small. He’s funny-looking. He doesn’t give the best promos. However, he makes you believe. Like great actors, the great wrestlers draw you in and suspend your belief for long enough to make you believe that is a real person you’re watching. Think of any great wrestler – from Hulk Hogan to Ric Flair to the Ultimate Warrior to the Steve Austin – their “characters” may have seemed absurd, but they felt real at the same time.
So as Daniel Bryan was given an opportunity post-WrestleMania this year, the crowds immediately responded. The “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants were thunderous. People I follow on Twitter – the ones that bring up wrestling only during WrestleMania – were suddenly filling my timeline with tweets like, “You should watch Raw right now.”
And I did. I instantly got it. The secret of Daniel Bryan is that he bridges the gap. No one else in pro wrestling today can even come close to what Daniel Bryan could potentially do.
See, pro wrestling has become a fractured audience because there are 2 distinct subsets of fans watching at home. There are the 30-somethings, such as yours truly, who have been hooked on pro wrestling practically since birth and we can’t give it up. We were in grade school when Hulk Hogan was everywhere. We were in high school and college when the Monday Night Wars, nWo, Stone Cold and the Rock were mainstream icons. Pro wrestling is something we’ve always watched, we’ve always been entertained by it and, frankly, we can’t quit it. Sure, we know too much about the backstage shenanigans and care too much about booking decisions. But we still watch.
Then there are the John Cena fans – the kids of today who will be the me of two decades from now. They are just getting into pro wrestling. They don’t know what the “Attitude Era” means. The Ultimate Warrior is ancient history. Bret Hart never existed in their world. They know the blown up, family-friendly, overproduced WWE of the 2010s.
No wrestler has been able to appeal to both groups. John Cena doesn’t resonate with me. CM Punk never resonated with the kids.
Daniel Bryan does. He is a hero to kids for the obvious reasons – he’s small, he’s quirky and he’s always being doubted. It’s like central casting for appealing to kids. It’s right out of a Hollywood script factory. It hits all the right buzzwords – overcoming the odds, standing up for yourself, being better than you thought you could be.
Yet, Bryan is also a hero to us jaded, older fans because he’s an underdog in our eyes too, but for different reasons. It has been well-established that Vince McMahon – and to be fair, almost all wrestling promoters in history – has a fetish for bigger guys, the ones with muscles on muscles. The guys that look like John Cena, chiseled out of a 6’5’’ piece of granite. No one will ever say Bryan is out of shape – but he doesn’t look like Cena, or Randy Orton, or Dolph Ziggler. He’s just a guy.
We know what he’s had to overcome from the backstage politics. When he first debuted on Raw in 2010, he was quickly fired because he broke the rules – he “choked” out a ring announcer in too violent of a manner, this in a new PG-friendly WWE world due to the Chris Benoit fallout. When he finally made it to WrestleMania, he lost to Sheamus in 18 seconds. Whenever it seemed like he was given a chance, it would be pulled out from under him.
In true underdog fashion, Bryan has remained committed to be the best in everything he does. What could have been a throwaway partnership with Kane turned into arguably the most interesting, intriguing and entertaining bit of business the WWE did in 2012.
Now, the rumors are flying around again that Bryan is being groomed for a big run on top. That the preverbal “rocket ship” has been strapped to his ass and he’ll be pushed to the moon. It makes sense because while Vince McMahon and company may not like small guys, they like money. Correction, they love money.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – I certainly am not – to figure out that Daniel Bryan has the type of audience-unifying, broad appeal that pro wrestling has missed since the initial push of John Cena and Batista in 2005. The WWE has tried to push and promote new stars that would be faces to 100% of the audience and failed almost every time, usually spectacularly. Whether it was the derisive “Goid-berg” chants aimed at Ryback, the deafening silence the greeted Alberto Del Rio or the overwhelming apathy that overwhelmed Sheamus, they have been searching for Cena’s successor unsuccessfully for years now.
Who would have thought the answer would have come in the form of a guy who has a goat beard?
Daniel Bryan has me interested in pro wrestling again. But I’ve said this before. I’ve done this dance before.
This time, though, I am cautiously optimistic. Why? Because of the pitch found in those thunderous “Yes!” chants for Daniel Bryan. It’s high pitch. It’s kids. It’s the future. It’s where the money is.
Fingers crossed, maybe the WWE will get it right this time.
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