The Be Here Now of wrestling shows.
You have to admire the hubris. Expecting an unlikebale, unfit semi-star one week back in the company to be cheered for winning the Rumble. Having your most over performer in years do the job clean in the opening match. A world heavyweight title feud which has never drawn an atom of heat. It’ll be fine, right guys?
I enjoyed this PPV more than I’ve enjoyed anything since Summerslam. First, the action in the ring was splendid. Bryan / Wyatt was an exhibition by these performers of what they’re capable of. It felt like Shawn Michaels was talking for the company when he described them as the starts of the future. The problem is that the audience want them to be the stars of now. Cena / Orton was absolutely fine as a by the numbers heel title defense. Orton deserves credit for acknowledging the protest, but the problem is bigger than him. Listen again to the entrance pops for these two: Orton mild disapproval, Cena’s jeer more resigned than ever.
I’m even going to defend Lesnar / Big Show. This is a misbegotten feud and a complete waste of Lesnar. But just as their segment on Raw was unexpectedly fun, the encounter at the Rumble at least had an element of surprise and violence. Be honest, would you rather have seen them work a twenty-minute match?
And then there was the far more entertaining meta-show. This was outright rebellion by the crowd. It also might be the first Royal Rumble in history where the Rumble match was not the most entertaining thing on the card. Lacking in surprises and of course lacking in D-Bry, it felt like the party all the used-to-be-popular kids got invited to. Cesaro was great, Reigns was kind of great in his vanilla-ish way. Seth Rollins worked as long as Punk, and it should be noted that unlike Punk he managed not to take a twenty minute nap in the corner. Batista, it has to be said, looked awful. Rusty, inexplicably breathless, angry, arrogant and baffled by the crowd. Rehabilitating him must be their top priority.
What WWE creative have forgotten is that back in 2000, Rock and Austin weren’t the old guard. They weren’t the guys back for a couple of months between making movies – they were the new stars. They were Daniel Bryan, and ridiculous as it sounds given how badly they’ve been booked, they were Ziggler, Ryback, Cesaro. The great thing about WWF back then was that the old guard weren’t there. They had defected to WCW. They weren’t around to hold down the talent and slow down the show. This is why fans cheering the current exodus from TNA are gravely misguided. You think Hogan coming back to WWE is a good thing? You trust them to intelligently book Sting? You want *more* old guys for creative to make the actual talent job to? You do remember what happened to WCW, don’t you?
The problem is that this has become like a divorce. Bitter and personal; a matter of pride between creative and the fans. It’s thrilling and makes for great TV, but you’ve got to hope a peace can be brokered. With a landmark Wrestlemania and the Network just around the corner, the next three months are momentous for the company. It seems unthinkable that management can press ahead with Wrestlemania as planned. If they do, and pull it off, they deserve enormous credit. But after Sunday, they may well be wondering whether discretion is the better part of valour.