Twice this year, I’ve been compelled to write about pro wrestling.
Twice this year, I’ve been brought back to a show I wasn’t watching.
Twice this year, I’ve been horribly disappointed.
Twice this year, I’ve given up on pro wrestling.
In January, the WWE stumbled into a tremendous opportunity – CM Punk had held the WWE Title for over a year before facing the Rock at the Royal Rumble. In this era of frequent title changes and monthly pay-per-views, the fact that Punk’s streak was among the longest since Hulk Hogan’s historic first run in the mid-1980’s was relatively mind-blowing.
The possibilities were endless. Yes, the WWE was hell-bent on running Rock/Cena as its WrestleMania main event. But it didn’t need the title – even if they desperately wanted Rocky introduced as WWE Champion during his media appearances leading up to the show*. Imagine if Punk was still champion, going on 18 months, leading into WrestleMania. Imagine how epic his match with the Undertaker at that show – the one that stole the show anyway – would have been.
*Spoiler Alert: He wasn’t.
Instead, Punk lost the title to the Rock. Then he lost to the Rock again. Then he lost to Cena. Then he lost to the Undertaker.
Then we come to Daniel Bryan, he of the infamous 18-second WrestleMania loss. Like Punk before him, the WWE stumbled into a tremendous opportunity. Except this was even more organic and wrought with even more possibilities.
As I wrote then, Bryan does not fit the WWE stereotype. He is smaller. He has a long beard. He wrestles a unique style. He is the anti-John Cena in almost every possible way. This summer, the WWE crowds went apeshit for Daniel Bryan.
Leading up to SummerSlam, it seemed like the WWE had founds it new superstar – the one that could unite the younger generation of fans with the older, cynical ones like myself. He was the new Guy.
He beat John Cena in a tremendous match at SummerSlam for the WWE Title. His moment, however, was cut short, because Triple H turned heel and Randy Orton won the title.
Last night, Daniel Bryan again went after the WWE Title. This time, he was screwed by a returning Shawn Michaels.
Over the past two months, Daniel Bryan has headlined four straight PPVs.
Over the past two months, Daniel Bryan has been “screwed” out of the title on four straights PPVs.
Over the past two months, Daniel Bryan has been overshadowed in his own storyline by Triple H, Big Show, Stephanie McMahon, Randy Orton, Brie Bella and, now, Shawn Michaels.
And this is the guy that was supposed to be the Guy?
In June, Grantland.com’s resident wrestling expert had the audacity to praise the McMahon family and the WWE for “trolling the audience” – as if Vince McMahon knows what the fuck trolling means. The conceit of the story is that the WWE is actively pissing off the audience on purpose to keep us watching.
The WWE hates its fans. That much we can agree on. But they aren’t doing it to engage us. They are doing it because they can, because they will and because we have nowhere else to go.
The WWE is a monopoly. As such, they have no impetus to give fans what they want, regardless of marketing spin. Because if they wanted to give fans what they want, Daniel Bryan would be WWE Champion right now.
Not only is he not champion, he has been effectively buried on television for the past 2 months – highlighted and punctuated by Triple H referring to him as a “B+ player.” If Bryan had won the title and shoved that comment back in Triple H’s face, no harm, no foul. Instead, Bryan is still not champion. Ratings are cratering. Buyrates are at all-time lows. The WWE doesn’t care.
The WWE knows that it has a core audience of 3-4 million people that will Monday Night Raw each week. In world of fractured television audiences, you can print money off of 4 million people watching your show for 3 hours every week. The NHL would kill for that weekly audience. Most college football games don’t come anywhere near that number.
The WWE knows that its core audience will remain no matter what. It hasn’t had serious competition in over a decade. It won’t have serious competition for at least another decade.
The worst part is how it reduces pro wrestling fans to apologists. Monday Night Raw is our shared routine, like tuning into the Simpsons at 8pm every Sunday night or Saturday Night Live even though all three are far cries and miles removed from the glory years.
The apologists for Daniel Bryan began as soon as Randy Orton swooped in at SummerSlam to win the title with the help of a newly-turned Triple H. The WWE, they said, was simply providing Daniel Bryan was an insurmountable obstacle – the “chase” in wrestling parlance – that would make his eventual title win even that much more satisfying.
As if beating John Cena clean during the second biggest PPV of the year wasn’t satisfying enough.
If you’re a Daniel Bryan fan, there’s a good chance you’ve bought the last four PPVs – roughly $200 worth – to see your hero get screwed out of the title.
Are you really going to pay for the next one and bring your sad total up to $250?
The WWE knows that for many, the answer is yes. The pro wrestling addiction is a sad one – one that is almost impossible to kick.
I know this from experience. So stop if you’ve heard this from me before – I’m done with the WWE.
PS – See you for the Royal Rumble. Sigh.
Follow me on Twitter