NOTE: I wrote this blog with such anger and seething frustration that I may have made several grammatical errors, and my thoughts may seem scattered. Such is the case when trying to defend the WWE's actions tonight...
I occasionally mention my love of wrestling on my weekly podcast, Stay Cool, Geek. Nonetheless, let's get this important fact out of the way right up front…
I am not a wrestling internet "smart" fan. I do not belong to the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community). I do not watch ROH or other independent wrestling promotions. In fact, I don't even love Daniel Bryan. I like him just fine, but also see the inherent need for established "names" to work within the WWE in order to attract a larger, casual audience.
I tell you this up front because all too often, it seems anyone criticizing the current WWE product is labeled a very specific type of fan. The smark. These fans, while I have deep respect for, tend to attack almost anything popular within the WWE. Their most notorious target is the face of the WWE, John Cena. I admit, I don't like Cena. I'm bored of him. I tune off when he comes on the television set. I wish he'd turn heel, or not, just something to make him interesting. BUT, I also understand his value to the company. And don't forget, it IS a global, publicly-traded company. John Cena is needed for reasons that don't even involve wrestling. So is Triple H, the guy who couldn't hide his open contempt for internet fans if he tried.
Point is, I can reasonably see the balance.
But what happened tonight at the Royal Rumble was indicative of not only how little the WWE cares about their core audience, but worse, I think it shows they care just as less about their wrestlers.
Let me explain…
This wasn't a one-time situation. The infectious, non-stop Daniel Bryan chants have been invading nearly every show for months now. First it was "Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan". Then it was "Yes! Yes! Yes!", a chant so huge that Alberto Del Rio even got a sideways bump of love from the fans by mere association.
The Yes chants have even crossed over into the mainstream, with the recent Michigan State crowd being the most obvious one. People love this guy, love to chant his name, and want him desperately to get the acclaim he so rightfully deserves after years of dedication.
Now, if WWE was making a case for the big money being in the chase, I'd buy it. The problem is, they're not. Tonight at the Royal Rumble, Daniel Bryan lost to the latest hot newcomer in the WWE, a Jake Roberts-esque madman named Bray Wyatt. Wyatt is fantastic by the way, and having him beat Bryan made absolute sense. They had a fantastic match, and having Wyatt win kept his heel persona strong… and at the same time, kept the underdog story of Daniel Bryan alive and well… provided he enter the Royal Rumble later that night.
NOTE: For those uneducated, the Royal Rumble is the ticket to a main event at Wrestlemania, a ticket no one deserves more than one Daniel Bryan. Every two minutes, a new competitor enters the rumble, and one by one, thirty wrestlers comes out and attempt to throw every else out over the top rope. The last man standing (the winner) wins the opportunity to main event Wrestlemania. Simple enough.
But tonight, as the numbers ticked down, and less surprises happened, only one thing would quench the rowdy Pittsburgh crowd's thirst. Daniel Bryan needed to enter the Royal Rumble. The seconds and minutes ticked off, anticipation growing. The chants started again, and grew with each number announced until finally only wrestler #30 remained. Surely, it would be Bryan.
Instead, Rey Mysterio came out and faced a thunderous swath of boos he likely wasn't prepared for. To be clear, Mysterio is a legend. He's beloved. He wears cool costumes and flies through the air. But anything short of Bryan wasn't going to satisfy the crowd. The boos kept going, even causing returning superstar Batista's night to be spoiled. Bet he didn't see that coming.
It wasn't just at the end ether. Earlier in the night, fans booed all manner of phases during the John Cena-Randy Orton championship match.
"You two suck. You two suck."
It was loud, palpable, and actually kind of painful. Cena and Orton don't deserve to be booed, they've worked their asses off for over a decade. They've both been apart of monumental moments and five star matches. I actually felt bad for them, but understood completely the frustration dedicated fans feel over having the same two guys in the limelight month after month. Especially considering their hero, Daniel Bryan, is regulated to anything but the title picture.
Again, this happens EVERY. DAMN WEEK. Even the WWE seemed to see the errors of their ways by switching Daniel Bryan back to babyface just a few weeks after turning him heel. It seemed they had finally got it. But here we were again, as if the past few weeks mattered nothing.
Vince McMahon says they listen to their fans, but all indications from tonight's show they say otherwise.
More than anything, it's embarrassing to the wrestlers trying to make the audience invest emotionally in their story. They are crushed with choruses of boos, all while trying desperately to do their jobs. Imagine if this happened at your job? Wouldn't you eventually feel so ashamed that you beg the boss to give Bryan your position? It's that bad people.
The poor wrestlers don't have a chance.
Do I think Daniel Bryan should have won the Royal Rumble? Maybe. But he sure as hell deserved to be in it, and make it to the end. From a writer's perspective, either option would work… as yes, the big moment and money lie in a Wrestlemania coronation. They may even still do that after tonight's reaction, but it's not good enough for this fan.
The Royal Rumble showed tonight that this wasn't their plan, so any adjustments here on out almost make it more infuriating.
As fans continue to chant obscenities at the WWE's top stars, you'd think the front office would care. Because let me tell you, Batista wouldn't have been booed as heavily had Bryan been in the match and been eliminated in some nefarious fashion. I don't even think the fans would boo Randy Orton and John Cena as much, but no one is safe right now. The WWE simply is not listening to the fans, and so ANYONE out there is going to get booed.
What's baffling most of all, is the way the WWE reacted to one RAW crowd's healthy Fandango reaction many months ago… they seemed to think they hit jackpot and did whatever they could to capitalize on the fleeting success of Fandango's theme music. But with Bryan, it almost shows their arrogant ambivalence for the guy's popularity. Instead, they'll probably shove Sheamus down our throats. He's a solid guy, but the WWE does't seem to understand that they're actually doing Sheamus a disservice by pushing him while the crowd begs for another. Of course they're going to yell "No!" at him, they want Bryan!
More than anything, it's very sad.
I'm an intelligent fan, and I've been defending the WWE for a long time now. I've even been able to sway decidedly non-WWE fans into checking out the product, most notably getting them interested in the CM Punk backstory/storyline.
I can't do that anymore.
When the WWE announced the WWE network, I saw it as truly revolutionary. I felt the WWE and my WWE stock were in good hands. In fact, on the heels of their enormous network announcement, I vowed to not only sign up, but to even shell out good money for the Royal Rumble.
In my opinion, this was an important pay per view. You needed to show your core fans that they meant something to you, that their needs would be taken care of, despite the ever-changing multimedia landscape.
Their voices are loud. They've been loud.
The WWE simply doesn't seem to care. Well, if they're not going to listen to the crowds and the wrestling sites and the casual fans…
Maybe they'll listen if we don't buy their network.
In fact, this long-time dedicated fan isn't going to. Maybe you shouldn't either.