I’ll be the first to admit that I lack any and all practical experience within the sports entertainment industry. Perhaps then, taking my business acumen into account, it is not a surprise that I find myself baffled by the current state of the WWE. I’m speaking, of course, regarding the creative decisions that resulted in the booking for the 2015 Royal Rumble match. The Road to Wrestlemania is before us, and the main event seems set; Brock Lesnar will defend his WWE World Heavyweight championship against the destined face of the WWE, Roman Reigns.
A lot of wrestling fans were put off by Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble, as evidenced by the worldwide #CancelWWENetwork trend that appeared on Twitter. Since the Shield imploded in June 2014, Roman has had only a limited run as a singles wrestler. This was compounded by his emergency hernia surgery on September 20th, which saw him out of in-ring action until December 16th – nearly three months. All told, Roman has had 4 months experience as an active roster singles competitor. I won’t downplay his impressive physique and athletic ability, but I suspect that his meteoric rise has done little to prepare him for a title match on the grandest stage of them all.
Perhaps the most troubling part of Reigns’ win at the Rumble was its predictable nature. A quick Bing search reveals that this outcome has been widely known and expected since stories began circulating regarding Reigns’ planned Rumble win in July 2014. How can talent be expected to step up and grab the proverbial brass ring, recent words from WWE CEO Vince McMahon, when major plot points are mapped out 6 months ahead of time?
All said, I’m not placing blame on Roman Reigns. He’s doing his job as well as he can, but the crowd reaction is exacerbated by a perceived injustice played out against a number of fan favorites that have been passed over for that main event spot, including Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, and, of course, Daniel Bryan.
I’ll focus here on Daniel Bryan, which in my opinion is the most egregious example of mishandled talent in wrestling today. Based on crowd reaction, Bryan is arguably the most popular wrestler in the WWE. Last year, fans reacted to his run up to WrestleMania 30 with such vigor because of the perceived truth in the story line; Bryan truly felt like a B+ player breaking through the glass ceiling imposed by WWE management. His injury and subsequent need to relinquish his hard earned title robbed fans of the opportunity to bring that story to its natural and cathartic end.
After nearly a year off, Bryan has now returned with most of his momentum intact. It should seem obvious to capitalize on the expectation of the crowd and to propel Bryan to the main event in an attempt to regain the title he never lost. Instead, WWE has chosen to push Reigns over Bryan, to manufacture a new top face when one has already been chosen by the fans. For a company which seems to pride itself on social media interaction and which constantly asks for its fans to make their voice heard on Twitter, WWE seems quite content ignoring the desires of their fan base.
And that’s what #CancelWWENetwork was really about; fans using the only voice they have in an attempt to get WWE to listen. For all of the primping and preening that they do regarding their socially engaged audience, the WWE seems all too willing to ignore their most vocal fans.