The mess surrounding the construction of the Roman (Reigns) empire.
I wasn’t even planning on doing another Wrestling related article this week, but it seems the WWE had other plans (Get it?). With what went down and the backlash that it spawned, It was something I wanted to write out. Besides, There is a WRATH OF GOD blizzard outside, what the hell else am I going to do?
For those that aren’t wrestling fans, let me give you some context on this. The past Sunday, the WWE held it’s annual January event, The Royal Rumble. This event is important to WWE fans as it is the first step in building towards WWE’s BIG event, Wrestlemania. This show usually is the show where the main event match is determined, this year by way of a 3 way match for the WWE Title with Champion Brock Lesnar taking on corporate Golden boy John Cena, and up and comer Seth Rollins. The winner of that match would most likely face the winner of The Royal Rumble match, a match consisting of 30 men coming to the ring at timed intervals and throwing each other over the top rope until there is one man left. This match usually lasts over an hour and not only does it determine who gets to fight for the title at ‘Mania, but also serves to spotlight other stars, even if they don’t win the match.
This particular year however there was a lot of rumblings in the WWE fandom about the Rumble match. Realistically out of the 30 guys who are in the match, even to relatively novice fans only a handful of guys have a chance of winning and making any sense in the WWE storylines. This year the main favorites were break out star Roman Reigns, and crowd favorite Daniel Bryan.
This is where the schism starts.
Going into this event a lot of fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win the Rumble match. For the last few years, Bryan has been THE most popular star they have had (He’s “over” with the crowd in Wrestling talk). He would get the biggest reactions from the crowd, going back to at least Wrestlemania 2 years ago, if not further back than that. His popularity has a base of fans who watched him rise on the smaller time circuit for over a decade and get into the WWE despite not having the “look” of the typical WWE guy, which is 6’ or taller and jacked full of muscles, while Bryan is around 5’9″, and is of lighter weight. He’s become the poster boy for fans who want to see a more technical based style of wrestling instead of having big lumbering bodybuilders who only do a few moves and give long winded interviews like have been spotlighted in the company for 30 something years. In the WWE storylines, he was given the spotlight 2 years ago (When John Cena was injured) of winning the WWE Title a couple of times, only to have it taken away from him by “the Authority” of The owner’s daughter and her husband the COO of the company. However for all that was done, the story was never resolved as Cena returned by the end of that year and Bryan was pushed into a lesser storyline.
However, the following January at last year’s Rumble match, the fans were hoping that Bryan would win the match and redeem himself, getting the main event of Mania and getting the spotlight back. However this did not happen, Bryan was never entered in the match and the Rumble was given to Dave Batista, a large muscle bound man who had not wrestled in over four years and was starring in Guardians of the Galaxy. Even though Dave was supposed to be a goody guy on the show, he was booed relentlessly that night and for the week’s following. The WWE had little choice but to turn him into a bad guy and change thins up so that Daniel Bryan would be in the main event of Wrestlemania. He won the title, got his moment, and the fans were happy. Unfortunatly Bryan suffered a real life neck injury and had the title stripped from him, after which he sat on the shelf for 8 months, returning just in time to enter this year’s rumble match. He was spotlighted on the shows leading up to the Rumble and the fans were still behind him.
However there was a problem. A large number of fans were aware that the WWE planned on using the rumble match to spotlight Roman Reigns. Reigns has been a pet project of the WWE for a few years now. He tall, built, and part of the same family as the UBER star The Rock. Reign had been a bad guy for a few years up until the middle of last year when he was turned into a good guy. He got cheers, no where near what Bryan was getting, but he was featured on the show a lot. However, Reigns was not known for his interviews skills, and wasn’t a technical style wrestler at all, most relying on a few big powerful impact moves during his matches. Also going against him was in the time he became a good guy and the Rumble, he had only been on one big main event (featuring 3 other guys), had been injured and off screen for four months with a hernia, and when he returned was given some truly terrible interviews. Not exactly showing the qualities of being the big star of the show. It wasn’t fans hated Reigns totally, it’s that most felt he wasn’t ready, while Daniel Bryan was proven to work on the big stage.
Anyway, back to Sunday night. The Royal Rumble show is being held in Philadelphia, a city known for rowdy, outspoken fans on ANY sporting type event, let alone a wrestling show. The thought of wrestling fans was that if Daniel Bryan didn’t win the rumble, that this crowd would boo whomever won (most likely Roman Reigns) out of the building even WORSE than the end of the rumble the year before, making fans wonder if the WWE was willing to make that mistake again for the sake of their pet project and against the fan’s wishes. The crowd is loud, even if the first hour of the show is boring and uneventful. The WWE Title match however turns into one of the best matches in a long time, so Fans are pretty hyped about the rumble match going on last. As per the rumble match 2 men came to the ring with each man entering at intervals of around 2 minutes (I believe this year was closer to 90 seconds). The crowd is very responsive during the first 18 or some minutes as the first nine participants enter the match. Daniel Bryan appears in the match at number 10, making the crowd REALLY cheer. Now, common sense would have it that the most popular guy in the company would last the remaining 40 minutes in the match, eliminating bigger guys than him and being there at the end.
Bryan was tossed out 10 minutes after he arrived. No big drama, no big spotlight, just chucked out from the match like he was just another guy.
Needless to say the crowd was PISSED.
The crowd instantly started booing, largely giving up on the match. Reigns entered the match 6 minutes later, to a loud chorus of booing, ultimately going to rest of the match, where as the crowd largely checked out by the end and didn’t care.
The WWE had taken a loud, engaged, cheering crowd and in one fail swooped had the entire arena against them. Roman’s more famous cousin The Rock even came out near the end of the match to try and turn the crowd back, and they cheered the Rock, except when he was standing next to Roman.
THE most popular star in WWE history couldn’t save the crowd from booing.
The fans reaction was pretty vocal discontent. Fans at the arena were refusing to let the wrestlers leaving the building for a time, cursing them out as they did. within hours #cancelwwenetwork was a top trend worldwide on Twitter, gaining the attention of mainstream outlets like Time and Rolling Stone. The cancelation page for the WWE Network (The subscription service where WWE shows most of its events now) crashed from overloading. Even the WWE stock dropped slightly in overnight trading. This wasn’t just some grumblings, it was a full scale backlash of the WWE and it’s methods.
So what’s the big deal right? So their favorite didn’t win a scripted match. What’s the problem? The problem goes a lot deeper than that. This wasn’t just about Daniel Bryan. This was about audience disenfranchisement and the apparent disconnect between the WWE and its audience.
The WWE likes to portray the image that it listens to it’s fans and that the fans really are what make the shows. However a good chunk of the WWE audience (especially older fans who have watched the programming for a while) have a much different opinion of the product today. They (and me too honestly) feel that the WWE is largely marketed to the whims of Vince McMahon, owner and CEO of the company. What we see in TV isn’t for the fans benefit, but to Vince’s benefit so that a bunch of stuffed suits are able to keep their comfortable jobs with a large publically traded company. The idea that the audience “Doesn’t know what it wants. I tell you what you want.” has been used on screen, but that it’s a lot truer than what the WWE wished to tell you. The main bullet in that argument is the fact that Top Star John Cena rousingly gets booed by half the audience, yet has been the WWE’s top good guy for over a decade. Also, much like Bryan, stars who are popular with the audience such as Dolph Ziggler and Zach Ryder in years passed have been intentionally buried on cards in favor of less popular stars like Dave Batista. This feeling is not only acknowledged by the WWE by used by “The Authority” characters in mocking fashion on WWE TV shows, furthering a spilt between a publically traded company (That scam is a topic for another day) and its public.
So with the events of Sunday, a sizable portion of the WWE audience feels like the company is ambivalent to what the audience really wants, that they will do whatever Vince likes that the WWE is smarter than its audience for doing so.
So with all this venom directed against them, how did the WWE respond?
Well, thanks to this very blizzard I’m hunkered down for, the live RAW event last night was canceled, forcing them to film a show from their headquarters. The three hour show featured interviews from Reigns, Bryan, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose, along with showing the World title Match and the entire Royal Rumble match.
Bet those people who paid for the $9.99 subscription to the WWE network feel great about that. During Monday’s show the booing was acknowledged, and for the most part blown off. No big surprise there, they are taking a non storyline reason and trying to address it in character. Reigns says he’s ready to be the guy, Lesnar thinks he’s going to win, and Daniel Bryan was disappointed, only making a small reference that Reigns was “fed” his spotlight since he was a kid. The real reaction should happen Thursday night when the company presents it’s Live Smackdown show.
However, the much bigger response came today as the WWE proudly announced on their website that the WWE Network had finally reached it’s coveted 1 million subscribers. Now, there is a chance this is unrelated, but honestly I don’t believe it. The stock went up instantly. THIS was not a signal to the audience, in fact it was largely a slap in the face of those who didn’t like what happened. This was a signal to those few stock investors not named McMahon. This was the WWE telling the people they really care about that everything was fine and nothing to see here. They usually don’t announce numbers until the quarterly reports, but that is a few weeks away.
So what do we take away from all this?
I only speak for myself, but this pretty much proves what I’ve been feeling for years. It does not matter what I think. The WWE doesn’t care. The ratings are crap? Doesn’t matter. People booing your new top good guy out of the building? Doesn’t matter. Vince will push whoever he wants, no matter what happens. Hell, he lost $300 MILION last year after the WWE network failed to deliver up front numbers he promised and the last TV negotiations fell well below expectations and didn’t do squat. Any kind of decent or show that people aren’t happy are just met with ambivalence. The audience is just stupid marks who will cheer who we tell them to cheer, and they are just idiots on the internet if they don’t.
So if this is how I feel? What to do? Anything I damn well want to that’s what. I’m not under any obligation to give them my money. I’m not subscribed to the Network nor to I plan to be right now, if ever. I’m not a neilson family so I can watch their programming or not and it’s of not effect to them either way. Hell, even if my viewing habits WERE monitored it seems they don’t care anyway. I am REALLY enjoying the New Japan wrestling show on AXS TV and ROH’s show (I don’t watch TNA anymore either) and those make me happy. I may watch Smackdown, or not.
As I posted the night of the Rumble on Facebook: “Well gang, we all pretty much saw it coming. Whether you agree with it or not, there isn’t anything that can be done now. If you want to keep watching, more power to you, if you want to change the channel, There are alternatives out there. Either choice, the WWE is going to do whatever they want anyway. Booing crowds don’t stop them, sinking ratings don’t stop them, stocks plummeting doesn’t stop them, we all know that by now. So, we can cheer what happened tonight, or we can swear until we are blue in the face, but in the end the only thing we can do as people is make the choice for the better of ourselves.”
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