Tuesday 3 May 2011

Man of the Peeps

On Sunday May 1st at WWE’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view fans witnessed something that many thought would never happen: Christian won a WWE world title.

For years Christian has been considered “a good hand” by company chairman Vince McMahon, a polite way of saying his work is sound but he doesn’t have that special something to set him apart and allow him to connect with the masses as a main event star. For years it has seemed that Christian’s lot in WWE was to be an upper mid-card talent used in an enhancement role for others. This was the thinking form WWE management even though fan reactions had directly contradicted it for years.

Christian first made a name for himself alongside childhood friend and storyline brother Edge, in stunt-filled tag team ladder matches against the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz. This was at the tail end of the Attitude Era, when business was at its strongest and younger acts were getting the chance to shine. While it was clear that Edge and Jeff Hardy were the men with the best chance of advancing to singles stardom, Christian earned himself a loyal fanbase who wanted to see him make it to the top too.

When the inevitable split with Edge came the resultant feud was a mild disappointment. Their matches weren’t bad, but they were anti-climactic. The two had been involved in such memorable matches as an act that I think audiences expected the same thing from their singles feud. It wasn’t until it was over that Christian really began to hit his stride as a cocky, arrogant heel, honing his ability to turn crowds against him with clever touches to his already strong promos. His ring work stayed solid too, and Intercontinental, European, Hardcore and tag team titles all came his way. None of those belts were “the big one” but it showed the office trusted him in a prominent position on the card.

The real sign that Christian was someone fans would embrace as a top guy was the reaction he got when he began calling out John Cena in 2005. For months RAW wrestler Christian taunted SmackDown star Cena, until the Draft finally brought them face to face in June. Even though Cena was a babyface (back when audiences were generally fairly pleased to see him) the fans sided with Christian and wanted to see him given a WWE championship. At Vengeance 2005 the planned Christian v John Cena singles match had Chris Jericho added to it when management realised that fans would completely turn on Cena if he were in a fair match with Christian.

While that may sound par for the course now, it was a big decision in 2005. It was the first time a major pay-per-view matchup was changed to protect Cena from an undesired crowd response. It not only shows how unpopular the Cena act was becoming but how ready fans were to embrace ‘Captain Charisma’ as a headline act.

Christian left WWE for TNA later that year, and became the NWA world heavyweight champion the following February. But it wasn’t the significant world win his fans wanted for him. The NWA title hadn’t been the important title it once was for decades. While having it showed TNA’s faith in him, he wasn’t going to win a significant world title without returning to WWE.

That’s what he did. It took two years wasting time in WWECW and treading water on RAW, but ‘The Instant Classic’ finally got the chance he deserved when Edge was forced to retire and he was picked as the man to replace him as the face of SmackDown. I think they’ve made the right decision. Christian’s proven his dedication to the company, he’s a great worker, a better talker, and fans (a.k.a. the WWE Universe) are keen to embrace him.

If his reign is given the attention that The Miz recently received then he could establish himself very quickly as the newest member of the company’s main event club. Ideally this would involve him holding the title beyond SummerSlam so as to give him a lengthy run and establish him as someone the fans are right to put their faith in. Reports that Mark Henry is to be Christian’s first challenger don’t sound promising, but I think the new champion should be able to carry him to at least a decent match on pay-per-view.

I will end by offering my congratulations to Jay ‘Christian’ Reso. An entertaining, hard-working wrestler who finally has the chance to crack the big time. I’d wish him luck, but he doesn’t need it.

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