Sunday 30 March 2014

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 49

I’m not going to write loads about this episode. Basically, I think it’s one of our better episodes and it functions as a nice jump-on point to what we do.

Can this be improved on?
The opening natter covers a variety of topics. Included are niche manga available in Japan, the recent series of BBC crime drama Jonathan Creek, and an idea Michael’s had for months for a detective wrestler gimmick. So if you’re into Jonathan Creek, or the career of tousley-haired, large-chinned comedian-cum-actor Alan Davies, this is something you may find interesting.

Yes, it’s still a wrestling podcast.

The main topic is our second Three Improvements instalment. Last time we discussed tweaks that could be made to WWE tag teams. This time we discuss the more sombre matter of three TNA performers. Specifically we look at Rockstar Spud, a talented wrestler who doesn’t wrestle; Samoa Joe, a once great wrestler who’s let himself go a bit due to the indifference that TNA instils in everyone; and TNA world champion Magnus, a man Michael and I have very different views on.

Mr Hustle, Loyalty, Respect

John Cena is rarely praised for his wrestling ability unless he’s facing the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Which I think is unfair. Cena has a lengthy list of excellent matches on his resume and warrants praise as one of WWE’s premier workers.

It’s true that the bulk of Cena’s more celebrated matches have been against rated wrestlers, the likes of Punk, Bryan, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Edge and Chris Jericho. It’s also true that his two matches with popular poster boy The Rock failed to set the world on fire. But let’s elaborate on these points a little.

As WWE’s top talent it’s to be expected that Cena would be facing top calibre opposition more than most. It’s what happens when you’re WWE’s top guy. When he first become ‘The Guy’ and for several years afterwards Cena was a limited worker who relied who a rudimentary selection of moves and employed little ring psychology. That he was so clearly limited got people into the habit of praising his opponents for any good match he had, and when Cena did improve it was overlooked because people were so used to awarding credit elsewhere.

Being in the ring with highly regarded opponents helped to create the perception that Cena was coasting or being carried through these matches. In recent times, particularly last year, he has demonstrated that he was able to carry his end of these matches. His outings with Bryan and Punk, and various six man outings against The Shield, are the obvious things to point to from Cena’s 2013. But just as impressive were his lesser regarded bouts with Alberto Del Rio and Mark Henry.

For the most part when Cena faces lesser names (a disparaging term I know, but there’s no convenient alternative) it’s usually a throwaway effort on RAW or SmackDown. WWE is not in the habit of building up any wrestler by having them look competitive against top stars. It’s just not the way things are done. During his time as the promotion’s number two name CM Punk worked just as many inconsequential matches that were nothing special as Cena did. Top stars in WWE do not have excellent matches with lesser mortals on television or pay-per-view.

This match was as much Cena as it was Punk
My point is that just because Cena’s not having thrilling back and forths with the likes of Darren Young and Fandango doesn’t mean he’s not capable of doing so. It means he’s instructed not to. When Cena, and other similar top acts, wrestles these matches (which is rare) it’s to remind everyone how good he is by dominating and disposing of his mid-card foes quickly. That’s the case with any top liner in throwaway matches.

The pair of outings with ‘The Great One’? Yes, they were bad. But I don’t think anybody could have done better. The first of those matches was only Rock’s second in around a decade. He was out of practice and not in the shape to wrestle a lengthy match in the style he was known for. Their second match was better because Rock had picked up on his limitations and the bout was laid out with this in mind. Even CM Punk struggled to get anything better than average confrontations from The Rock, only managing what he did because of various Attitude Era style shortcuts.

I like both Punk v Rock matches. But that’s because I’m a fan of that style of match, and it was not a style that could have been employed in WrestleMania main events with John Cena.

There are still problems with Cena’s inability to sell but his recent activity opposite The Wyatt Family shows that there is hope in that area. He is a hard working wrestler in the ring. He will never be as technically gifted as a Shawn Michaels or a Daniel Bryan or even a Triple H but that’s because he doesn’t work their style of match. Cena delivers a great performance in every big match he’s in no matter who he’s against.

If he does the ten more years he plans to and stays at the same level, or continues to gradually improve, I think he’ll have earned consideration for one of wrestling’s greatest performers of all time. He’s already one of WWE’s best.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Shielded From Failure

It seemed obvious a couple of months ago that one of the matches we’d be seeing at WrestleMania would be a triple threat match between the three members of The Shield. The trio had faced every significant tag team on the roster, wrestled names such as John Cena, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and Randy Orton in six man tag matches, and would be tangling with The Wyatt Family (the only other three man team of note in the company) at Elimination Chamber. On top of that Roman Reigns would be having a standout performance in the Royal Rumble, designed to prepare him as a singles star.

In short it felt as though ‘The Hounds of Justice’ had accomplished everything they could as a unit. And with WWE not in the habit of giving singles pushes to members of teams without going through the rigmarole of breaking said team up it seemed inevitable that The Shield would be split to give Reigns a memorable moment on the company’s biggest show to begin his shove into main events.

But that hasn’t happened. Instead Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns have stayed together and will be teaming to take on the (slightly peculiar) trio of Kane and The New Age Outlaws. There was a slight wobble shortly after Elimination Chamber but that was quickly forgotten and the split has, it seems, been put on hold.

Which I think is a good thing. With The Shield WWE has the chance to do something they’ve never done before. They can push a threesome of stars as a headline force. If you look at wrestling within its own logic bubble then it seems odd that units so rarely work together to capture singles championships. The numbers advantage seems to be overlooked by practically every wrestler on the planet.

The defensive reasoning is that any singles title is so prestigious and desirable that wrestlers simply cannot trust and rely upon one another in their quest to win. Which makes sense for the most part. Wrestling relies on larger than life figures to attract an audience, and there’s something about a guy going it alone that helps him be perceived as a larger than life figure more easily. Such figures manage to become such large personalities partly because they’re not linked to anyone else.

But The Shield is different. They have routinely been depicted as men who put the success of the team before personal glory. That’s pretty much the antithesis of the average wrestler. Were WWE to keep them together and have the three men support one another in singles and duo endeavours they kept, in theory, stay together as a popular act for years.

Reigns is the obvious guy to break off for a singles run. He has the looks, charisma, signature moves, and brooding promo skills to help him go far, and I’m sure he could make it to the top without his link to Ambrose and Rollins. But keeping the three together would help to provide a safety net and keep his weaknesses masked. Reigns can shine as the power man who comes in on hot tags but he’s unproven when pacing a major singles match. They’re different things and the period in which he adjusts could see him lose some of his shine as people start to see less explosive performances from him.

Ambrose and Rollins are both good enough to go off on their own too. But is WWE’s stagnant mid-card really something anybody would wish on either or both of them? It’s an area of WWE programming with no stories and very little prospects for advancement. With the other two members of The Shield still linked to them both Ambrose and Rollins could stand out should they make forays into the area but remain linked to the act which made them popular in the first place.

Recently Ambrose and Rollins have been working as the main two pairing of the team, with Reigns lurking at ringside as backup. This is a good role for them. Their new status as official babyfaces would allow them to work with a new dynamic, one that greatly benefits Rollins’ preferred big bumping style, and be placed into fresh matches. Tag matches have also proven to be a strength of all three men since their main roster call up and something that fans have shown enthusiasm for watching. WWE should embrace that.

Better together than they would be separate
The positives outweigh the negatives. The Shield are a popular act with an established continuity that people enjoy. They have a different look to everyone else and a unified team is something WWE fans aren’t used to seeing at a high level on the card. Why split them to get three singles acts, or a singles guy and a tag team, that wouldn’t be as popular? All three can be shunted in new directions, including up the card for a singles spot for Reigns, without a split occurring.

Theoretically the trio could move in and out of singles and tag programmes with other members of the roster for years. Ambrose and Rollins could spend some time as a team before being used more as singles guys, then come back together for a tag run. There would also be the option to have the three come together for six man tag matches. If that was something that happened only four or five times a year I think it could be presented and accepted as a big deal.

Their presence at ringside for each other would be something different, especially for the main event babyface Reigns is projected to be. Ringside aid is usually reserved for heel acts. Ambrose and Rollins could simply be there and not interfere, thus not making Reigns a poor sport for cheating. It would be a dynamic that’s not been seen in WWE for years and keep a popular unit together.

This is not to say that the three have to remain linked forever. A split is inevitable. But the longer they’re together the more it will mean when it comes. The Shield has been together for close to eighteen months now and it would be silly to say that a split at this point would get no reaction. It would. People would react strongly to a break because they are invested in the trio emotionally and it would almost certainly be a success. But it would mean so much more if they were together for years. The more the three men accomplish while working under the Shield banner the more impactful it will be when they turn on one another, and the more people will want to see a triple threat and the series of singles matches between them.

The Shield is more than the sum of its parts. I hope it stays that way for a while yet.

Thursday 27 March 2014

The Avenging Viper

It seems fairly likely that the months following WrestleMania XXX are going to see Daniel Bryan as a babyface champion. It seems almost as likely that Batista is going to officially ascend to lead heel status, quite possibly by officially aligning with The Authority as their new chosen one. Whether or not he will gain the on-screen epithet ‘Face of the Company’ is anyone’s guess at this point.  

These are developments which would leave Randy Orton strangely out of the loop. He could challenge Bryan in a rematch, but that would almost certainly have to be the end of their feud as they’ve been going at it on and off since August. There are no noteworthy gimmick matches left to put them through. Batista would be a fresher opponent for D-Bry and would make more sense in storyline terms, especially if he were The Authority’s new centrepiece.

It’s hard to tell what ‘The Viper’ will be given to do. The thing I keep imagining is WWE continuing with him in the title scene which, as already pointed out, would be a poor move. But luckily for WWE I’ve come up with an alternative they’re free to acquisition and use.

Have Orton lose the title at WrestleMania to either Bryan or Batista. For the purposes of this plan it really doesn’t matter which, all that matters is that Orton loses it. Between ‘Mania and Extreme Rules his relationship with The Authority would become strained, but they’d all still be aligned. Or as aligned as they already are, which is tenuously.

At Extreme Rules Orton would face Bryan and Batista again in a three-way rematch. He’d lose there too. And that loss would be the impetus for Orton to be kicked out of the group by Triple H on the May 5 post-Rules RAW. ‘The Game’ could cite Orton’s continued losses as a reason, as well as his inability to live up to his potential and a wish to go in a new direction with Batista.

From there ‘The Apex Predator’ could be presented as a neutral figure, not aligned with the lead heels but not liked by fans either. Over the course of a couple of months Orty could realise that he would have been better off embracing the fans rather than throwing in his lot with the McMahons to form The Authority. He could cut promos to that effect and say he wants to earn back respect by competing fairly and helping to bring down The Authority.

What does the summer have in store for Randy Orton?
During his realisation period Orton could be booked against mid-card wrestlers, the idea being that he’s being held back or punished by The Authority. In non-kayfabe terms this would be a nice chance to get some different matches on TV and give some people lower down the card the chance to raise their profile by competing with a main event name.

After cutting his babyface promo (assuming the fans accepted him trying to mend his mistakes) Orton could begin interfering in Batista matches and targeting, perhaps getting physical with Triple H too. Hinting at an Orton v Batista singles match should be avoided though. The last few months have taught anyone paying attention that WWE fans do not want to see Orton and Batista wrestle one another.

Orton would need to cost The Authority at least a couple of key victories in order to demonstrate that he really is against them and that he wants to see them fail. A good example would be Orton interfering in a Money in the Bank match to stop ‘The Animal’ winning, but it doesn’t have to specifically be that. Just any matches that in storyline terms The Authority need to win to regain control of the WWE championship.

The standard beatdowns from Kane, the Outlaws and Triple H himself could follow, with Orton always coming back for more the next week. Finally driven to his wits end, probably after the second key loss, Triple H could cut a promo talking about Orton not learning the easy way and needing to do things the hard way. The hard way would be revealed as a singles match between Orton and Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.

That would be a fresh match with a logical reason for happening. Orton would (probably) be established as face again with fans being encouraged to boo Lesnar for siding with The Authority and effectively acting as their hired gun. It’s an ideal number two match for a big event like SummerSlam.

‘The Pain’ could be used to keep Orty occupied for a further one or two shows after SummerSlam, and from there Orton could be moved into a role similar to Cena in which he’s used to help establish new stars. It could also be used as a launching point for a Lesnar face turn: it could be revealed (via Paul Heyman) when Lesnar returns for SummerSlam that he’s agreed to take out Orton in exchange for the WWE championship match he’s felt he’s deserved all year but hasn’t received because WWE have been trying to get the title on to Batista or Triple H.

Next year’s ‘Mania season could see Lesnar go full on face and oppose The Authority after being double crossed out of his title match. By this point the title could be on Batista and Bryan could be doing something else before slotting back into the title scene in the summer of 2015. Lesnar versus Batista is another fresh (albeit potentially hideous) bout and I think fans would rally behind ‘The Beast’ because they’d want to see his aura of legitimacy directed at Batista.

I’d love to watch all of the above. It doesn’t seem likely though.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

That RAW Recap 24.03.14

With two weeks left until arguably the most important show in company history WWE had a fair amount to accomplish on the March 24 RAW. Going into the show the undercard of WrestleMania XXX was distinctly lacking in shape. The big matches were, and remain, all in place but the rest of the card needed to be announced so that it didn’t feel cobbled together. Throughout the course of RAW it became apparent that building the WrestleMania XXX undercard was a priority.

Stephanie McMahon opened the show with thanks for the audience for attending and news that Daniel Bryan would not be competing. Bryan was not medically cleared to wrestle. At no point was this directly attributed to the beating he had suffered at the hands of Triple H the week before, even though said beating was the basis of a later segment. Which felt like a wasted opportunity. Steph justified the attack by saying that a message needed to be sent to the locker room so that nobody started to develop ideas above their station. Beating Bryan senseless was "the only way" to get him to listen.

Then she talked up her family. Again. Interestingly this included her saying she felt she is the only person capable of shouldering the responsibility of decision making. She then added that Triple H is the most powerful man (emphasising man) in WWE while talking him up. The more comments like that get made (and they're getting made routinely) the more material Vince McMahon will have to work with when he returns to TV. Which will surely be soon.

Randy Orton (wearing his ring gear even though he wouldn’t wrestle on the show) joined Steph in the ring to offer a suggestion: that 'The Game' simply end his WrestleMania XXX at beating Daniel Bryan, because Orty will have to batter him if he enters the triple threat. The suggestion was met with "Boring!" and "Daniel Bryan!" chants, the latter of which prompted Steph to reiterate her promise that he wouldn't be on the show.

Just when viewers were thinking things couldn't possibly get any more charismatic Batista mooched down to the ring. This week's natty ensemble was a merch T-shirt, sunglasses and some ripped jeans. It turned out hearing the two talking had compelled Batista to remind the world that he's going to be the next champion. His proof was that he's been saying he'll be the champion for weeks. On Planet Batista saying something repeatedly makes it true. He then said "Deal with it" three times. Whether you like him or not you have to admit he makes a compelling argument.

In fairness 'The Animal' did bring up something relevant to the storyline after that when he mentioned that Triple H has never beaten him. Then he said Orton's sucking up to The Authority makes him sick and cracked a joke about Stephanie being drooled over. Steph slapped the shades off Batista's face and left. Then Batista speared Orton and posed with the belts.

The segment did little other than establish that Orton and Batista are underestimating Bryan. The most entertaining part of it was Batista's microphone malfunctioning. He tried a witty, off the cuff remark when that happened, but it was poorly delivered and not at all witty anyway so he was booed for it. Orton turned around to hide his laughter.

The evening's first match was a four-way match to decide who'd get to challenge for the Intercontinental championship the following night on Main Event. The competitors were Sheamus, Christian, Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio. IC champ Big E sat at ringside and watched. It would have been nice to have him on commentary. The match was fun in places but was mostly unmemorable. It did have an above average finishing sequence though: Sheamus stood up while Del Rio had the cross armbreaker applied to him, at which point 'The Show Off' nipped in and delivered a Zig Zag to the arm barred arm. Before he could make a cover he was dropped with an Unprettier by Christian, giving 'Captain Charisma' the victory and the title match.

Big E entered the ring and offered a handshake to the veteran. Christian laughed and walked off. Backwards up the ramp, natch.

A Wyatt Family vignette was shown. Before he started the standard issue gibberish waffling Bray came out with some enjoyable stuff about people not believing in things they can't see, being able to see John Cena, and Cena not taking the time to "see" him. Luke Harper also got a few lines about being able to hear Cena whispering. He has a wonderfully dead stare that makes these sorts of statements particularly effective. Erick Rowan said nothing, although he was looking dapper in his sheep mask and boiler suit.

This sort of thing happens now. Get over it
After Sin Cara (accompanied by a bloke in a Scooby Doo outfit) had beaten Damien Sandow with a Swanton bomb there was a thirty second match between Los Matadores and RybAxel. Diego and Fernando won when The Shield walked to ringside through the crowd and distracted Curtis Axel. Ryback was isolated in the ring, speared and triple power bombed, all to the sound of cheers. People are not keen on 'The Big Guy'.

The first hour of RAW ended with a sitdown chat between Michael Cole and Triple H. The point of it was to discuss 'The Cerebral Assassin's' attack on a handcuffed D-Bry at the end of the previous week's show. Triple H's immediate response when asked about the attack was whether he should answer as the COO or a competitor. Then he mentioned Bryan's occupy RAW segment from March 10, calling it an attempted coup. Tripper's defence seemed to be that Daniel Bryan had done something wrong so it was perfectly reasonable for him to respond in kind. That's probably not how things work other publically traded corporate entities, but who cares about that, eh?

Cole replied that Bryan's occupation of the ring was "an inspiring act" while Triple H's attack was an act of "thug-like aggression". It's hard to disagree with the latter. Trip's response to that was that Bryan had asked him to be a competitor and that when he was a full-time competitor he did things like that all the time. Which is true of course, but doesn't exactly excuse his heelish behaviour. Basically the segment was proof that extended debating on the motivations of wrestling bad guys is ill advised.

The segment ended with Triple H working himself up and announcing the beginning of The Reality Era (something I don't think will catch on). He used the word "reality" what must have been at least a dozen times as he said he'd end Bryan's run on top and become the WWE champion. Reality is best for business.

'Crazy Legs' Fandango
Match four saw Cody Rhodes facing Faaaaaan... daaaaaan... goooooo. Summer Rae being at ringside was an excuse for the commentary crew to plug Total Divas. They seized it with gusto, Cole referring to Summer as a stooge (apparently for something that had happened on the previous evening's TD). Over at the ring Goldust and Summer got into a pose off at ringside, distracting Fandango and allowing Cody to win the match with a Disaster Kick.

That was followed by another promo. This one featured Hulk Hogan, who got a loud reaction and avoided tearing his shirt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Joe Manganiello (no idea). After 'The Hulkster' had made the obligatory trip down memory lane he introduced the actors, both of whom were cheered, to put over WWE and talk up their film (and, in Arnie's case, Hogan's muscles). Arnie asked if there were spots for he and Manganiello in the battle royal but before Hogan could answer (his body language was supposed to make us think he was interested in adding two non-wrestlers, one of whom is 66, to the battle royal) The Miz interrupted.

Through a sequence of events too boring to relay 'The Awesome One' was expelled from the ring. The babyface trio celebrated. The entire ten minute sequence was mostly wretched but it was at least a good use of Hogan. And if celebrities have to appear on RAW (and the way WWE functions means that they do) then this is an effective enough way of using them.

After Big Show had beaten Titus O'Neil with a WMD punch we were shown The Authority and The Shield talking in an office. Triple H told the trio that their problem with Kane and The New Age Outlaws (a feud which has mostly built up on SmackDown) is nothing to do with him. Stephanie said if they were looking for vengeance she'd give them a match with The Real Americans later on in the show. She neglected to explain how exactly that classified as vengeance.

Elsewhere in the building John Cena was washing his face. The sheep mask of Erick Rowan was shown peeking around a door frame (too high to be on Rowan's head at the angle it was at, meaning it was held by hand) "watching" Cena. When the hero span round the mask was gone. I'd like to think this was a tribute to The Warrior appearing to Hollywood Hogan inside a mirror on Nitro.

Bray Wyatt, King of Expressions
The Harper v Cena match that followed was very enjoyable. The Brooklyn crowd backed the Family member over Cena, which ensured a loud and lively atmosphere. Harper used uppercuts, a super kick, a suicide dive, a Raven-esque DDT and a Michinoku driver to wear Cena down, but ultimately it wouldn't be his match to win (which I don't think would have surprised anybody watching). But it wouldn't be Cena's either. As he scooped Harper up for an AA the lights went out. When they came on seconds later Cena was tied up in the ropes with Rowan's sheep mask on his face. Bray laughed and called him two-faced as the crowd broke out in a "This is awesome!" chant. It wasn't awesome, but it was a nice step in building Bray up as someone who has a chance at toppling the unstoppable force that is John Cena.

Naomi v AJ Lee was next. That Naomi (currently wearing an eye patch) has not been repackaged as a pirate shows how uninspired WWE's creative department is. This has been a wasted opportunity to introduce a much needed gimmick performer to the Divas division.

The match lasted less than a minute. AJ took some drop kicks before scooting to the outside to take a count out loss. Vickie Guerrero reminded everyone of her existence when she wandered out and announced that AJ would defend her championship in a Vickie Guerrero Invitational at WrestleMania. Vickie revealed that everyone will get a crack at AJ Lee (insert your own jokes here), including the champ's bodyguard Tamina. She then did a lengthy Rita Repulsa laugh to close the segment.

Before the evening's final match it was announced that Razor Ramon is to be included in this year’s Hall of Fame honours. Not Scott Hall but Razor Ramon. Only work from that period of Hall's career was shown. He’s a deserving name and I think it makes sense to induct him as 'The Bad Guy'. Not only was that when he did his best work but it was also when he first became a star. It's the WWE Hall of Fame and everything of note he did in the company was done as Razor Ramon.

Cesaro v Rollins would be a nice, lengthy SmackDown match. Just saying
Ambrose and Rollins versus Swagger and Cesaro was, fittingly, the best match of the night. Ambrose found himself isolated for several minutes, eventually getting a hot tag that allowed Rollins to come in and take out both foes in a sequence that saw him monkey flip Cesaro over the top rope and immediately follow up with a suicide dive to each man. Moments later he did his single foot stomp to the head, now being called Peace of Mind, on Swagger to get the win. If they'd had twenty minutes the four could have produced something superb.

After the match The Shield pulled the announce desk apart and power bombed Cesaro through it. Then Kane and the Outlaws showed up, all three in suits, to announce a six man tag match for WrestleMania XXX: The Shield v Kane and The New Age Outlaws.

The final part of the show was a confrontation between Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. This started off with Paul Heyman doing some talking in the ring. It wasn't bad as such, but it is becoming apparent that Heyman doesn't have anything left to say on the subject of The Streak that he's not already said several times before. Basically, 'The Beast' will end The Streak.

Lesnar did a rare bit of mic work for himself. He simply said he was at RAW to fight, not promote. That brought 'The Dead Man's' druids out to the ring with a coffin. After lining it up neatly alongside the ring they filed back into the aisle, leaving Lesnar to kick at and then wrench open the coffin. Finding nobody in there he walked into the aisle and ranted at the druids.

Undertaker and Sin Cara share lighting
Annoyed, 'The Pain' slammed the casket shut and shouted that he was going to leave. Heyman talked him around, yammering about 'Taker being scared then seeking (and finding) cheap heat by calling Brooklyn a slum. The lid then opened, revealing that 'Big Evil' was inside (it's almost like these things are paced so Undertaker has time to climb into the coffin from a hiding place or something). 'Taker clambered out and exchanged blows with Lesnar before Lesnar was clotheslined out of the ring, landing head first on the coffin.

RAW went off the air with the two men staring at one another.

All told it was a successful show. They announced three ‘Mania matches (the third was RybAxel challenging the Usos for the tag straps) and reminded people why The Shield, Lesnar, Undertaker, and Bray Wyatt are significant names in 2014. Considering there was more talking than wrestling, and no Daniel Bryan, I think we should be impressed with how good the show was.

Next week’s the big test, of course. That’s the final RAW before WrestleMania XXX. Expect big things.

Monday 24 March 2014

"Let Me Sell You Something, Brother!"

Since officially "coming home" (a particularly saccharin term even by wrestling’s disingenuous standards) to WWE on February 24 we've seen Hulk Hogan cut two promos on RAW. One was about the then brand new WWE Network and his status as host of WrestleMania XXX. The other was the announcement of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which featured Hogan amusingly claiming that he’d been watching his ‘Mania III showdown with Andre all day. Both were far from electrifying.

Hogan is one of the greatest ever, perhaps the greatest ever, at manipulating an audience into responding in the way he wants. He knows how to protect his image and play on the nostalgia factor he carries with him. Back in his prime he could harness his charisma to bring a crowd to their feet in support of him.

Because of these traits we know Hogan is more than capable of delivering a great piece of mic work. It’s what got him to the top and the trait he has most relied on throughout his career. So why did he not come up to par with his material on 24 February and 10 March?

If Hogan's knees were better this could be the 'Mania main event. Worrying...
I think it’s safe to say the problem he had was the content. Ol’ Thunderlips was given a checklist of subjects to burn through and phrases to plug during both of his appearances. As such what he had to say felt unnatural and stilted. His regular approach of falling back on bluster, catchphrases and overcoming adversity (there's no easy title that encompasses the essence of the average Hogan promo) could not be applied to the subject material he had to address. You can’t easily work in a reference to twenty four inch pythons when discussing a video on demand service.

Basically the role 'The Hulkster' has been brought back to fill is infomercial salesman. He's there to shill WrestleMania XXX and the WWE Network. It's not a position he's especially cut out for, because he doesn't know how to sell technology or an event on which he won't wrestle. His strength is and always has been selling himself.

I imagine the promos will become smoother as time goes on. Hogan will work out how to apply his routine to the material and WWE’s writing team will pick up on his limitations and strengths. It will be interesting to see what he’s given to discuss while hosting ‘Mania. It hardly seems like the place for an extended WWE Network plug, leaving the only realistic option a spot of reminiscing about his (two decades in the past) glory days. That won’t be exciting, but Hogan’s presence will add something to WrestleMania and help to make it seem a little more special. At this point in his career that’s the best way to use Hulk Hogan.

The Difficult Third Reign

It seems incredibly likely that Daniel Bryan is going to win his third WWE championship soon. Whether it happens at WrestleMania XXX, Extreme Rules, or on a hyped episode of RAW the title change it’s going to be a special moment for WWE. D-Bry has been the company’s hottest star for at least a year now and people have been desperate for him to capture the WWE championship and go on to enjoy the long reign they feel he has earned.

WWE have done a good job of stoking the fire and keeping people interested in and supportive of Bryan, with his first two reigns contributing significantly to the support for him. His first title victory started when he defeated John Cena clean in the main event of SummerSlam, a significant moment for any wrestler these days: Cena doesn’t get beaten by just anybody, let alone clean. That lasted only a few minutes thanks to a heel turn and Pedigree from special ref Triple H and a Money in the Bank cash-in from Randy Orton.

Reign number two lasted longer, but still wasn’t long. Bryan pinned ‘The Viper’ at Night of Champions but was relieved of his prize the following evening when referee Scott Armstrong1 implied he had been paid off by D-Bry to make a fast count (even though Bryan clearly had Orton down for longer). Bryan denied this, natch, with the implication being that ‘The Game’ was actually the man who’d paid Armstrong off to make a fast count so he’d have an excuse to strip Bryan of the title. A contingency plan should Orty lose.

Future three time champ?
That Bryan’s first two reigns with WWE’s premier prize lasted less than a day combined (making him the shortest reigning two-time champ by a significant margin) helped to rally fans behind him. That he had been slighted, held down by his bosses in such an open manner, made him hotter. People wanted to see him fight back for what he’d earned, uncowed by the significant odds stacked against him. It was an effective storyline choice, taking feelings fans already had and causing them to become more fervent. That’s what a good wrestling storyline should do.

WWE need to have a good plan in place for Bryan’s third reign to meet the high expectations of fans. Viewers have been kept waiting for a Bryan title win that would last. They were ready for it last August when he beat Cena. The intervening time has, as I’ve already said, only made people more desperate for him to win and keep hold of the championship. But the build can’t go on indefinitely. At some point Bryan needs to win the title and hold it for a while to validate the belief people have placed in him. Burning him too often burns the fans too often, and WWE can’t afford to do that if Bryan’s going to be a star for them long term. If it’s going to meet expectations the manner in which he wins it and the length of time holds it for has to satisfy fans.

I’m not advocating Bryan being the champion for a year or equalling CM Punk’s vaunted 434 day reign. But a period measured in months rather than minutes is called for if people are to be left satisfied in their chosen hero’s quest. Bryan keeping the belt(s) until SummerSlam would be good. That would be long enough not only to satisfy but also to prepare someone to take the prize from him, and a storyline to tell.


1 With the Triple H character since becoming a man who uses his power and old pals to hold down deserving talent I’m surprised the fact that Armstrong is Road Dogg’s brother hasn’t been mentioned. Road Dogg has become one of Tripper’s enforcers and a beneficiary of his favourtism over the last few months. Acknowledging it was his brother that made the fast count, even in a minor, off the cuff way that could go unnoticed by most, would add a lot to the story.

Sunday 23 March 2014

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 48

Anyone who’s watched an episode of RAW will know that WWE is very keen on advertising. They have a large number of sponsors and advertising partners who pay good money to flash graphics up on screen promoting their services and products. Behind the TV deals themselves they’re probably WWE’s chief source of income.
Many people would argue WWE goes too far in this area. While I don’t agree with that stance I can understand why people think it. Adverts within RAW are incredibly prominent and frequently overshadow the wrestling and the wrestlers. Never is this more apparent when a backstage segment is shown in which wrestlers are made to awkwardly shill some product that it’s highly unlikely they genuinely use.
Jerry Lawler accepts a fast food delivery mid-show.
He would have a heart attack later in the year
But as much as WWE pursue partnerships with outside organisations they don’t go as far as they could. Wrestler’s outfits have a lot of space on them for company logos and I’m surprised a company as savvy as WWE haven’t made use of that. It’s all too easy to imagine a wrestler with a logo for some prominent American food brand, Chipotle, for example (mostly because I think it’s a funny word) emblazoned on their tights.
I’m not arguing in favour of this. I think it would be a poor sign in wrestling if it were to actually happen. But it’s such an obvious thing that I feel it’s something we should have seen.
Observant readers will have noticed that Brock Lesnar already wrestles with various sponsor logos on his trunks. That’s nothing to do with WWE. Those are deals he worked out privately during his time in UFC, where such deals are common enough (another reason I would have thought WWE would make the move). WWE sees nothing from those agreements: it was a stipulation of ‘The Beast’ returning to the promotion that he would get to keep the logos and all the money from them.
The closest I think WWE has ever come to tying a sponsor directly to a wrestler was The Zombie. That wasn’t a regular character of course, it was a jobber character that appeared on the ECW Sci Fi channel show, but the reason it was made a zombie, as opposed to a generic wrestler or some other gimmick, was because WWE felt the need (for whatever reason) to tie the loser into the theme of the channel he was to appear on.
I’m perhaps even more surprised that this is something we haven’t seen in TNA. That’s a promotion notoriously strapped for cash, squeezing every cent for all it’s worth. Sticking a logo on a pair of tights could bring in money for, essentially, nothing.
Could it be that those in charge in the wrestling business simply don’t think this is a good idea? I can’t believe that. These are the people who have given us The Dicks, The Johnsons, Tank Abbot matches, the Misfits in Action, a Judy Bagwell on a Pole match, The Boogeyman, Isaac Yankem, S7ven, King of the Mountain matches, The Kiss Demon, The Great Khali, and the sumo monster truck competition between Hulk Hogan and the man now known as Big Show. There are no depths they won’t stoop to.

Saturday 22 March 2014

The Budding Rose

It’s easy to compare the regular NXT audience to the one which flocked to every ECW Arena in the nineties. Both groups have an above average understanding of wrestling and its associated tropes, are passionate about their respective promotions, and are inventive with the chants they direct at the wrestlers that perform for them. Both audiences also add a great deal to the shows of their respective companies. The importance of having a good atmosphere is something that can’t be overstated.

But for all the similarities there is one important difference. The NXT crowd doesn’t have the malicious streak the ECW regulars did.

Take, for example, the recent debut of Adam Rose. It’s not a secret that he is the artist formerly known as Leo Kruger. He’d only made his final appearance under the former name on the New Year’s Day episode of NXT. With such a significant character change taking place in such an obvious fashion in so short a space of time (the Rose character’s first appearance was on March 6) it would have been easy for the crowd to mock it with a chant. But they didn’t.

Had a wrestler changed their character in this short a timeframe in ECW they would almost certainly have been met with derisive chants. Heyman never booked such a rapid change to people already on his roster, but those who made the move from WCW or the WWF and adopted new ring names in the land of Extreme found themselves mocked. The obvious example is Justin Credible. When he first rocked up in ECW he was met with chants of “You’re still Aldo!” in reference to his previous stint as Aldo Montoya in the WWF.

It was only last year that Bray Wyatt found himself confronted with chants for Husky Harris during his debut segment on RAW. His new character has caught on to such an extent that Husky has for the most part been dispelled from our minds. But that the fans thought to chant it to begin with, when the Husky Harris name hadn’t been uttered on a WWE broadcast in well over two years, shows that wrestling fans still get a kick out of making character changes awkward.

The NXT gang seem a generally more positive bunch. And here I’m not simply talking about them choosing not to chant about Leo Kruger. They did more than that. They embraced Adam Rose.

One of the greatest acts in wrestling today
That’s exactly what the Rose character needed in order to work. Had has aisle partying, hip thrusts, and mid-match dancing been met with indifference it wouldn’t have recovered. He’s the sort of character who needed immediate acceptance in order to work. Characters of this type suffer from becoming overfamiliar (because there’s not a huge amount of progression they can make without drastic character alterations) and so need a strong start to create as much a fan base as possible.

The NXT crowd has been a big part of the character’s success, but it’s not been the only part. Adam Rose is a unique character within WWE. His large entourage of quirky characters helps to set him apart (and puts me in mind of seventies spy-fi shows, though I can’t really see why).  The same goes for his prancing entrance (which extends into matches) and his catchy music. At first I thought it was the sort of character that would only really work in front of the small, regular crowd that NXT provides. But I’ve since changed my mind and think that it could work on the main roster, if WWE reused the approach of showing his backstage parties and rotated peculiar characters in and out of the entourage.

Adam Rose is a fun character and one that works. Wrestling, and WWE, needs more people like that. I want to see him succeed. And I’m thankful to the NXT crowd for not burying him as they could have done.

Thursday 20 March 2014

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 47

This episode sees the debut of a new recurring feature. It is imaginatively titled Three Things. The premise of it is simple. We take three wrestlers, tag teams, or other role in wrestling and think of things (three to be precise) that could be done to improve them.

Here we apply it to three WWE tag teams. I won’t mention any specifics because I think finding out who we’re talking about and how we think they could be bettered is a large part of what makes the episode enjoyable. Although it’s possible you can guess through a process of elimination.

I will say that I think WWE is overlooking their tag team division and not doing as much as they could with the teams they have. It’s not that the doubles scene is bad. It’s been improving for around eighteen months now. In that time we’ve seen Team Hell No, The Rhodes Scholars, The Shield and the Rhodes bros doing everything they can to make the division and the titles mean something. The spate of six man tags involving The Shield and The Wyatt Family has helped too.

Do we have ideas to improve Goldust and Cody Rhodes
But WWE are at risk of losing this. The Rhodes brothers seem to have been cooled off a little since losing the championships in January and The Shield have been moved away from doubles action this year. Even The Prime Time Players, a duo who had lots of potential to work as a fun supporting act but never got the chance to be as good as they could be, have been split (read my thoughts on that stupidity here). The division is currently in the hands of teams that are mostly proficient but seem unlikely to keep the momentum of recent times going.

Of course, wrestling well is fine. It’s better to have good wrestling than bad, especially when it comes to an aspect of WWE programming that hasn’t been handled too well for much of the last decade. But there’s more to wrestling than just putting on good matches, especially in WWE. The tag scene is the perfect place for WWE to be experimental with characters and gimmicks or for humour to be inserted into shows. These things are important to keeping shows varied and for experimenting with guys who could be stars for the company in the future.

If the Usos are left as the centrepiece team of the division it’s not going to take long for the good work of Daniel Bryan, Kane, Cody Rhodes, Goldust and ‘The Hounds of Justice’ to be undone. Even if Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, the obvious choices to oppose Jimmy and Jey in the post-‘Mania season, are moved into the division it will lack the variety of the last year and a half.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

New Japan Goes Forth

Is 2014 the year New Japan are going to crack the west? The reason I ask this is because they are, as a company, doing various things that seem designed to help them gain acceptance in a part of the globe that equates big time wrestling to WWE.

The big thing they’ve done is announce a pair of co-promoted shows with Ring of Honor in May. Most people that watch ROH are going to at least be aware of New Japan, even if they’ve never watched a full show before. But there’s still a chance the move will open them up to fresh eyes. It will certainly put them in front of fans who wouldn’t otherwise attend a NJPW show.

More to the point even the viewers who are aware of New Japan likely won’t have watched a New Japan show and understood everything that’s happening. Co-promoting with Ring of Honor gives New Japan access to an English language commentary team who can provide backstory and context to the matches and personalities presented on a dual company event.

These shows will encourage new and established western fans to watch a New Japan show. As the biggest wrestling company in Japan by a considerable margin expanding into new areas is a major way for NJPW to make money (although by all accounts they’re doing pretty well in Japan). ROH comes as close as a US promotion can to emulating the Japanese approach to presenting wrestling, which makes them a good company to pair up with.

London, Toronto and NYC will all see Nakamura in 2014
Far less significant but still something that indicates New Japan have plans outside of their homeland is the confirmation of Shinsuke Nakamura wrestling for Revolution Pro Wrestling in June. The venue for the event, York Hall, holds around a thousand people. That’s not a huge number, especially compared to many of the buildings New Japan uses for their own shows, or compared to many other sporting events held in Britain. But it’s still a thousand more people watching a New Japan contracted performer wrestle live than would otherwise. It’s another example of New Japan getting their talent, and their own company name, into the west.

Something that could be overlooked, especially by people who regularly watch New Japan shows, is that in many ways the IWGP world champion Kazuchika Okada is a very western act. He has a big, flashy entrance, grandiose music, a manager that talks him up as the best wrestler in the world, and an arrogant, condescending character.

They’re not being framed in an American way but these are still not things typically seen in puroresu. It’s more a Magnus or Randy Orton top heel approach, albeit done far better. Obviously Okada having the title is more about his own ability and New Japan creating a fresh star to help them continue to attract fans, but it’s interesting that a less traditional champion is in place as New Japan is in a position to expand to fresh regions.

New Japan have already put on a number of excellent shows this year. Wrestle Kingdom 8, New Beginnings and their anniversary card were all enjoyable affairs. The moves the company is making to open itself and its talent up to fans outside of Japan is promising and hints at bigger things. But I don’t think it means that 2014 will be the year New Japan cracks the west.

They made a significant foray into North America in 2011 and ultimately that led to nothing. I think their cards with Ring of Honor will be more successful and will be likelier to receive follow up but they won’t help New Japan make it big. Only one thing will do that: English language commentary. Until there’s a regular commentary team in place that understand the storylines, history and roster of New Japan enough to do a good job explaining it to English language audiences New Japan cannot hope to compete with even TNA, let alone WWE. People like to understand what they’re watching after all.

I want New Japan to do well outside of Japan. I hope it does happen. New Japan don’t have to scour around for someone incredible, just someone capable with a passion and interest in helping them grow. Of course an incredible announce team involving Jim Ross would be nice but it’s not a prerequisite. Nor is it likely. Someone who can call moves and who is dedicated to learning and helping expansion is what New Japan need from a commentator. That’s what I want to see them get. Because that’s what will give them a chance to become the world’s lead wrestling promotion.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Sting: The Final Holdout?

It’s the time of year when Sting moving his career over to WWE becomes a thing. I’m not going to write about how close the two parties are to reaching a deal because we don’t know, and we won’t know until an announcement is made. Or perhaps even until Sting shows up one night on RAW.

What can be talked about is whether Sting has anything significant to offer WWE. Looking passed the in-ring possibilities for a second there are various uses he could be put to. A DVD looking back on his career would be the obvious first project. His TNA stint would have to be omitted but, really, that’s not much of a loss. It’s his days in WCW, and earlier stints in the UWF and Memphis, that would be of most interest. Those are periods of his career that have not been satisfactorily documented.

In a similar vein ‘The Stinger’ could contribute to future projects centred round defunct promotions and wrestlers he worked with. In truth many of the DVDs Sting could make interesting contributions to have already been released. There are various releases out there covering the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and World Championship Wrestling, but WWE aren’t known for their restraint. It’s not impossible they’ll produce more documentaries on these wrestlers and companies in the future.

There are a handful of wrestlers WWE haven’t ever given the DVD treatment whom Sting could speak on at length. Vader, Diamond Dallas Page, Lex Luger and the Steiner brothers for example. None of these would be amongst the biggest money releases ever, but there would be a market for them. They could add something (I’ll diplomatically say content) to the WWE Network too.

Speaking of which, appearances on whatever shows are coming our way on the Network would be a certainty too. Which is fine. Whatever Sting has to say on any subject to do with wrestling it will at least be something we’ve not heard a dozen times before. His is a perspective that won’t necessarily be overly familiar to WWE viewers.

What most people will be excited about regarding a potential WWE-Sting deal are the matches. I can understand this in theory: he’s a big name in wrestling that has never worked for the company or faced many members of the roster. There’s a feeling of freshness to Sting joining the promotion.

Sting does not look like this anymore
In practice it’s a different story. Sting will be presented as something akin to the final holdout from WCW. That league last promoted a show thirteen years ago. It’s arguable that it wasn’t relevant or worth watching for a significant amount of time before that. WCW is not a company people care about in a meaningful sense anymore. And a lag time of thirteen years will make Sting look old, something that won’t be helped by the fact that he is old for an active wrestler at fifty-four. Without TNA footage to span the gap WWE will be forced to remind people of Sting via footage of him in which he looks significantly younger, even under the face paint.

On top of that you have the fact that, well, Sting’s just not very good. He was never the greatest wrestler around but he had a certain charisma to him that many responded to. I didn’t see any trace of that during his decade in TNA. Yes he was cheered and yes people reacted to him, but not in the same way as in his heyday.

Part of that may simply be attributable to the fact that he was working for what is essentially a glorified indy promotion. It’s possible that WWE will be able to work their magic and make ‘The Icon’ appear significant again. Using him in a reduced role, which WWE surely would, would help too. Being a TV regular, essentially making him just another name (as was the case in TNA), is not something that helps ‘The Stinger’s’ aura or standing.

But whether he’s good or not there are enough fresh matches on the roster to keep him busy for a year or two (assuming he worked a schedule that didn’t see him on every pay-per-view). Sting versus Triple H, Sting versus Brock Lesnar and Sting versus Batista would probably be among the first we’d be offered. I suspect Sting and ‘The Game’ would turn out something best described as proficient. I certainly can’t imagine it feeling special. The same goes for Sting and ‘The Animal’, although that would be less proficient and more a train wreck. for Sting v Lesnar would probably be a train wreck too, although it would be a compelling one, in the style of all Lesnar matches since his 2012 return: less a wrestling match, more a wild fight where part of the appeal lies in seeing what ‘The Pain’ will do to get himself over as a wild man.

Matches with The Rock and The Undertaker could be presented as the loyalist WWE performer against the loyalist WCW performer (it would only work with whichever bout went first, although that wouldn’t necessarily stop WWE from using the approach twice). The loyalist thing is something that’s so obvious that I think WWE would have to acknowledge it but it would have had far more impact and meaning had Sting moved to WWE within a few years of WCW’s closure, rather than waiting thirteen years. Both matches would be reliant on the limited schedules of the WWE boys though, natch.

Sting versus ‘The Great One’ would probably be fine. Neither man’s strength is actually wrestling, but they’re both good enough to put on something decent. It would be a spectacle.

Sting versus ‘Taker would also be a spectacle, and probably the better match. The trouble here is that Undertaker making an appearance at a pay-per-view not named WrestleMania seems unlikely and Sting doesn’t feel special enough to challenge The Streak. Had Sting signed on for WrestleMania XXVIII, held in WCW stronghold Atlanta, the match could have worked and the show, and Hall of Fame, could have been given a WCW flavour. But now, with Undertaker winding down and likely only having a few Streak defences left in him, I think younger guys like Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt deserve a ‘Mania match with ‘The Dead Man’ more than Sting.

The Bryans and Wyatts of the roster, along with potential pushees Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes, would be the opponents I’d most like to see Sting face. CM Punk too, if he were to return. They’re all good enough to have great matches with Sting and are, or could be with a bit of work, meaningful enough to fans that the matches would feel like big deals.

If Sting shows up in WWE any time soon I think it’s going to be on April 7, the RAW after WrestleMania XXX. Whether I’m right or not if he does move to WWE I hope they don’t overuse him and select his opponents with care. And keep him away from The Streak.

Monday 17 March 2014

Washington Hero

A special moment seems almost certain to come Daniel Bryan's way at WrestleMania XXX. A match between him and Triple H has been confirmed for the show, with the stipulation being that if he wins Bryan will be added to the evening’s main event, which will pit Batista against WWE champion Randy Orton (although I wouldn't put it passed WWE to alter to this to a more generic inner progressions stip). Bryan seems guaranteed to beat 'The Game', because WWE are not in the habit of advertising matches like these and not having the stipulation outcome and because they’d have an incredibly angry, vocal crowd on their hands to ruin the show if ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ won. A Bryan win will undoubtedly provide him with a WrestleMania Moment™. A second one is possible if he wins the title later in the night. But that's nowhere near as definite.

Whatever happens we're definitely getting this match at WrestleMania
I can see two ways for WWE to go with the triple threat main event. The first is to give Bryan a second WrestleMania Moment™ and have him relieve 'The Viper' of the title. The second is to have Batista win and have Bryan start his third reign at Extreme Rules. Basically, the third reign seems like it’s coming soon, it’s just a question of how soon.

Both options have their good points. D-Bry winning the belt(s) at 'Mania would give him a second big moment of the night, provide him with a career highlight (albeit one not as impressive as beating ‘Stone Cold’ and The Rock in a single night), and produce the popular result on the company's most watched show of the year. Two big moments, one of which would be a title victory, would be a great payoff for everyone that's followed and supported Bryan during his journey up the card. WrestleMania should be about feel good moments and drawing a close to long term storylines. That ‘Mania will be WWE's most watched event all year makes it the natural place to do it.

There are, as already mentioned, arguments to be made for holding off on Bryan getting the title back until Extreme Rules. Let's start with the fact that Batista is the hottest heel in wrestling. It may not have been planned and it may be more about not being Daniel Bryan but 'The Animal' is the proverbial heat magnet. The reaction to him winning the title would be extraordinary. If WWE could bring themselves to have such an important show end with boos they could send Batista’s heel character into uncharted territory. The heat he would get on TV shows would be incredible, and if handled right that could be channelled into a successful pay-per-view at Extreme Rules. Make use of him while he has something to offer.

A rematch at Extreme Rules, either a singles encounter between Batista and Bryan or another three-way involving Orton, could be big for WWE (and they should be looking for a strong follow up show to keep encouraging people to sign up to their Network). ER is being held in Washington state, Bryan's birthplace. Having him win the championship in his home state, by pinning mega bad guy Batista, would be a great moment. It would also keep him in the challenger role for another month, one I think his current character is better suited to than champion.

Something similar could be achieved by keeping Orton as champion until Extreme Rules. The main difference is that he's not as hot an act as Batista, although also in 'The Animal's' favour is the fact that he feels like a fresher opponent for Bryan because Orton has been linked with the bearded one, on and off, since last summer.

And of course we can't entirely rule out the prospect of Triple H altering things so he can progress to the title match. I think the chances of that happening if the Bryan v Trips stip is changed is massively unlikely: WrestleMania feels like Bryan's night. That said the scenario of 'The King of Kings' beating Bryan and then being the one to face him at Extreme Rules (however such a match would come about) would have something to it. It would again keep Bryan as an underdog for a month and allow him to go into his home state to get the career highlight victory. I don't think this is likely though. I'm certain Triple H will lose that initial 'Mania bout, no matter what the stipulation may become.

The situation as a whole reminds me of WrestleMania XX. That show saw Chris Benoit go in as one of two challengers, with the following month's Backlash being held in his hometown of Edmonton. It was clearly a sequence designed by WWE to help the charisma deficient Benoit gain acceptance as a leading act. The desired reaction came WWE's way both at 'Mania XX and Backlash '04, but long term Benoit failed to hack it at the top. That was a result of Benoit's inability to connect with fans, not a lack of support from WWE.

Bryan doesn't have that trouble, which is part of the reason I think he'll be headlining for a lot longer than Benoit managed. The similarities between the setups makes me think that WWE are going to do what they did with Benoit and have Bryan win the title at WrestleMania, the right result on the right night, and go into Washington as the hero.