One of the biggest wrestling related stories of the weekend was the announcement that Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns would be teaming with a mystery partner to take on the Wyatts (Bray, Harper, Stroganoff) at Night of Champions.  On this weekend's NAIborhood podcast (available wherever NAIpod can be found), Doc Manson and I discussed it a bit, though I made the mistake of thinking the 6 man tag was at RAW, not NOC.  My bad.  Ryback would have made sense, but he won't be wrestling twice at Night of Champions.

People are still buzzing about the mystery so I thought that today, I'd lay out some of the likeliest, and of course, the unlikeliest options.

Let's start with the easy ones. . .

 

Erick Rowan

Rowan's been on the shelf for a while and is due back in November, though it wouldn't be at all surprising if he had recovered early.  His role as "sheep" has been taken over by Braun, so it would make a lot of sense from a storyline perspective for Erick to join Dean and Roman at Night of Champions.

I don't think this is the answer, both because Rowan's likely still recovering and he's not really "big" enough for such a moment.  As I mention this weekend, the next time we see Erick Rowan is either in NXT trying out a new gimmick (pair him with Solomon Crowe?) or on the "Future Endeavor" page on WWE.com.

Baron Corbin

I feel like I spent the entire weekend having to shoot down the "leaked" screenshot that everyone in the world seemed to buy into.  If you're one of those people, go back and take a look at the whole image, including the text.  Read it.  It made NO sense, from a grammatical standpoint.  Say what you will about WWE, but they usually proofread their writing for the website.

Still, this wouldn't be the worst option, I suppose.  #TallAndTerrible isn't THAT bad.

Yes, yes he is. . . This isn't happening. . . I won't allow it.

Cesaro

Apparently there was seemingly the beginning of a Cesaro / Miz feud on Smackdown, but the Swiss Superman is currently not doing anything of note and is strong enough to be able to somewhat counteract the "Black Sheep".

This is the easiest option for WWE, and the one I think is most likely to happen.  It cements Cesaro as a "periphery main event" babyface and its right in front of their noses.  WWE enjoys lazy booking when it presents itself, and this is perfect.

Kane

We haven't seen Kane in a while, and everyone assumes when he makes his return it will be the masked Demon, not the corporate henchman.

This would be an odd place for him to come back - He would be ignoring Lesnar and Rollins completely and starting a feud for no rational reason, but when has logic and rational reasons ever stopped WWE?

Kane, in his mask, with a red and black Shield outfit?  I'd watch it.

 The unlikely options

 

Chris Jericho

He was Bray Wyatt's first big feud and he's still somewhat active.  Plus, he enjoys making "surprise returns" more than any other talent.

Jericho seems happy doing live events at random times, so I don't hold out a lot of hope for this one.

Finn Balor

This is the pipe dream of fanboys and fangirls everywhere.  Balor comes out in full Demon regalia and feuds with Bray.

Sounds nice, but WWE can't keep sending their NXT champions up to the main roster.  Finn needs to stay in the developmental territory until they can build enough of a singles division around him.  Sorry, friends.

Dylan Miley

A bunch of you just read that name and are saying "Who?", and that's exactly what happened when Braun Strowman made his appearance.

Miley is the other NXT big man that has yet to make a Full Sail appearance.  He's the other guy in that picture at the top of this article, and really he's the one I want to focus on.

Just look at him. Not as tall as Braun, but certainly as powerful.  His hands are bigger than Balor's head.  He would make an instant impact just from a physical appearance standpoint and as long as he is even remotely capable in the ring, he'd be an excellent total surprise.

This is my dark horse.  I'm hoping it's him.

Daniel Bryan

We defined this scenario on the podcast as "Pie in Space" - Beyond pie in the sky, a total fantasy situation.

There isn't a lot of info on Bryan's health that I've been able to find, so its entirely possible (in a completely irrational way) to hope that he's healthy enough to wrestle and comes back IN FULL SHIELD GARB to take on his old foe Bray Wyatt.

Your ideal mystery partner is someone who can match up physically with Braun, OR the complete opposite of that - a David to Strowman's Goliath.  Daniel Bryan would be that guy.

If Bryan is healthy, this is the perfect way to bring him back.  The 6 man tag element allows him to ease in and not work too hard.  Truthfully, Bryan's probably better off being in tag teams for the remainder of his career.  If he has a career left.

Good morning and welcome to my newest feature, “The Chief’s Briefs.”

Wait a minute. . . Why are you chuckling?

I’m Chief of Staff of the New Age Insiders and this is the column where I’ll post quick thoughts on the world of wrestling.  Brief thoughts from the Chief.  “The Chief’s Briefs.”

Seriously, stop laughing!  What could possibly be so. . .

Ohhh, now I see it.  Grow up, you children!

The Costume Controversy

Jason, Liam and Bill covered this pretty extensively on this week’s NAIpod, and since I don’t often disagree with the fellas, I have very little to add that hasn’t already been said.

From the Twitter page of one of the front row fans, it looks like WWE acted without provocation, simply because people might pay more attention to the IRS guy than the car wreck that Ryback vs. Miz was inevitably going to become.  However, that is only one point of view on the issue, so I hesitate to call WWE to the carpet when I don’t know all the facts.

I also don’t take much stock in the reports that Daniel Bryan signs were confiscated, perhaps because “they already had too many of them.”  First of all, I take issue with the sheer logistics of it.  Having been to a handful of WWE shows in my life, I know that fans are streaming in from all angles, and many of these signs are either rolled up or not even made yet before the show begins.  I highly doubt there was one (or more) stadium employees with clipboards, making sure the WWE-decreed quota on Bryan signs was being met.

My guess is that for the costumes, something happened that WWE brass didn’t like.  Maybe it was just the guys being “method” actors and happening to get picked up by the microphones.  Who knows?   As for the signs, this strikes me as a rumor that the Daniel Bryan “uber-fans” used as another reason why their hero is getting screwed.

Crowded Wrestlemania

With just over a week to go before “The Show of Shows”, I wanted to explain my opinions on the tag title situation, and why I feel they should just scrap the match entirely for Wrestlemania.  While I just said that I often do not disagree with the boys on the podcast, in this take our opinions do diverge.

We all know that the tag division in WWE isn’t doing well, and the injury to Jey Uso makes a thin collection almost see-through at this point, so much so that on RAW we were asked to believe that New Day and Los Matadores are the major contenders for the big copper pennies.

Let’s ignore that lunacy for a second.  Mania is featuring 5 singles matches, which means 10 talents are already spoken for.  Add the 7 (or 8, depending on what they do with Sheamus) from the IC match and then 20 guys for the ATG battle royal (Eighteen are currently announced, including the winner of the NXT tournament) and that’s pretty much the entirety of the roster.  Do we really want to “waste” 6 talents on a tag title match, and that’s presuming there’s only going to be those 3 teams?  The NAIpod boys suggested a Tag Team Turmoil match, and while I love that idea, now we’re talking about 8-10 guys.

I understand that the tag title match is a virtual lock for the pre-show anyway, so some of these talents could pull double duty, but why even bother at this point?  The division is weak, the talents can be used elsewhere, just drop it.  I adore Cesaro and Kidd and I really hope we start seeing signs of a New Day heel turn sooner rather than later, but it doesn’t need to happen at Wrestlemania.

The NXT Day

I didn’t feel there was enough NXT news to warrant a full column, especially since I found this week’s episode to be lacking.  Perhaps it was the foreign feeling of being in a new location, but I wasn’t as drawn in as I have been in previous weeks.

Kalisto and Breeze are both ready for the main roster, I think that’s clear.  My opinions on Prince Pretty are well-documented, but Kalisto, either as part of Lucha Dragons or as a singles talent, can do more on the main roster than in NXT.

Having said that, I don’t think either of those talents are going to wind up winning the NXT Tournament I mentioned earlier; this is Adrian Neville’s spot, I’m almost positive.  Neville has been absent from NXT for a few weeks and this seems like the most natural spot for Mighty Mouse to make his WWE debut.

I’m still not sure exactly what Neville does on the main roster (if Rusev wins at Mania, Neville should be the one to beat him), but after the last few matches he’s had, I’m confident he finds his niche.

Craving Cruiserweight Champions

Something that Kalisto, Neville and even Tyler Breeze could benefit from would be the return of a cruiserweight or lightweight title to the WWE scene.  My Hall of Friday column this week highlighted a number of Japanese talents, all of whom (with the exception of Muta) made names for themselves in the Cruiserweight scene.

Friend and fellow NAI team member MagnumNAI has suggested a “World Middleweight Championship”, a title that would hold the same cachet of the WHC but be for the smaller wrestlers that are seeming to permeate WWE.  I’m not sure that would ever be an idea Vince or Triple H would go for - I imagine they would see a “smaller talent” title as more of a mid-card belt than anything else.

Having said that, imagine a division where Kalisto, Neville, Kofi, Tyson Kidd, Fandango, Hideo Itami and Stardust battled it out week in and week out.  Just for fun, every so often guys like Rollins, Ziggler, Bryan and Ambrose joined it.  Tell me you wouldn’t watch that.

RIP Perro Aguayo Jr.

You’ve undoubtedly read about the tragic news today, as Mexican wrestler Perro Aguayo Jr. passed away after an in-ring accident.   The death of an active wrestler (or really anyone) is sad, even more so when it happens in the ring.  What makes this one particularly painful is that it involved other talent.  Owen Hart’s death was probably the most tragic moment in wrestling that I can remember, but I can’t fathom what it would have been like had he passed while grappling with other combatants.

I am comforted by the number of people from the wrestling community, both Internet and otherwise, who have expressed sympathy and basic human decency regarding this incident.  It would be easy to try to turn this into a joke or an opportunity to get on some sort of trollish soapbox, but for the most part, we have been shocked, saddened and stricken with the reality of professional wrestling.

These athletes literally do put their lives on the line for our enjoyment each and every week.  For that, they should be lauded and encouraged to do so as safely as possible.

---

Thanks for making the journey to. . .

Man, I’m going to need a new name for this column.

Anyway, Be Heard.

One of the most anticipated matches at this year’s Wrestlemania, at least according to the NAIbors I’ve spoken with, is the ladder match for the IC title.  Not only is it impressive because it’s received so much TV time, or its, in just a couple of weeks, seemingly revived the multiple-time-dead career of one R-Truth, but it also is going to be, it seems, the Wrestlemania spot for one Daniel Bryan.  You know, the guy who won the World Heavyweight Championship at the main event of last year’s Mania.

This got me thinking.  How does this rank among others who have won a World title at wrestling’s greatest stage?  Specifically, I looked at those who won in the main event match.  The results, as expected, were surprising.

Randy Savage - Wins title at Wrestlemania IV, in main event at V.

It’s weird to think that the World title didn’t change hands at a ‘Mania until this one, isn’t it?  Of course, these were peak Hulkamania years, so I suppose its not that unusual.  Savage held onto the belt until the following year, dropping it to. . .

Hulk Hogan - Wins title at Wrestlemania V, main event of VI.

See above - Hogan holds the belt until his match with. . .

Ultimate Warrior - Wins title at Wrestlemania VI, in retirement match with Savage at VII.

This is the first time the victorious champion “takes a step back”, as it were.  Again, knowing what we know now about Warrior’s career, this makes sense.  Still, being the one to (supposedly) retire Macho Man isn’t anything to sneeze about.

Hulk Hogan - Wins title at Wrestlemania VII, wrestles Sid in main event of VIII.

While Hogan continued his main event run, his match with Sid was not for the title, which when you add this to the fact that the World title wasn’t even DEFENDED at the initial Wrestlemania, proves that certain superstars, in the mind of Vince McMahon, eclipse the championship.  Remember that when Cena vs. Rusev or HHH vs. Sting is the final match in 27 or so days.

Side note here:  Randy Savage wins another World title at WM VIII, defeating Ric Flair.  The following year?  He’s on commentary in Las Vegas.  Mr. Macho is going to appear in tomorrow’s “What If Wednesday” as well, so stay tuned.

Yokozuna - Wins title at Wrestlemania IX, wrestles Luger and Bret for the belt at X.

Hulk Hogan - Wins title at Wrestlemania IX, is gone from the WWF months afterwards.

Most Daniel Bryan fans should take solace in this fact, though those who enjoy ROH, Japan or are excited for the prospects of GFW might be wishing the American Dragon was there instead of in the mid-card of WWE.

Bret Hart - Wins title at X, in an “I Quit” match with Bob Backlund at XI.

Many, I imagine, have forgotten (if they were aware at all) how big this feud was back in the mid-90’s.  Bob Backlund doesn’t get enough credit for completely rejuvenating his career by. . . Well, by being insane.

Shawn Michaels - Wins title at XII, is on commentary for main event of 13.

I don’t recall specifics, but I imagine injury was involved here, so HBK gets a pass.  Again, Bryan fans, be grateful DB isn’t on the sidelines.

Undertaker - Wins title at 13, faces Kane at XIV.

This was the first showdown between the two brothers, thus essentially a second main event.

Steve Austin - Wins title at XIV AND at XV - doesn’t appear at Mania 2000.

Stone Cold was rehabbing from neck surgery, so like Michaels, he gets a pass.  Winning the title at 2 consecutive Manias is quite the feat, though, only duplicated once.  Sorry, folks, you knew we were going to have to talk about Cena at some point, right?

Steve Austin - Wins title at X-7, wrestles Scott Hall at X8.

This is definitely a big step back, though to be fair, its partially Austin’s fault.  Refusing to lose to Hogan (Hogan would also refuse to lose to Austin, it should be mentioned), Austin was booked with Hall instead.  Let’s call this a self-imposed step back, with some chemical assistance.

Triple H - Wins title at X8, wrestles Booker T for a title at XIX.

Note the use of the indefinite article “a” here, for XIX is the first time there were 2 “top titles”.  HHH and Booker T was for the World Heavyweight Championship and was not the final match of the evening.  That honor was shared with Kurt Angle and. . .

Brock Lesnar - Wins title at XIX, wrestles Goldberg at XX.

The name value for the Brock and Bill showdown was huge. . . As for the match, well. . . You can ask Jason Moltov about that. . .

Chris Benoit - wins title at XX, is part of the inaugural MITB match at XXI.

This looks familiar, doesn’t it?  Keep that in mind, we have a little longer to go yet.  I’ll try to speed things up a bit, since we’re entering a more modern, Cena-filled era.

Batista - Wins title at XXI, is injured for 22.

Undertaker - wins title at 24, wrestles HBK at 25.

Having just seen this match from 25 recently, I can tell you that actually Taker had a step up in this instance.

John Cena - wins title at 29, wrestles Bray at 30.

We are lucky that most of Cena’s Wrestlemania title wins didn’t take place in show-ending matches.  In fact, I think that tells us quite a bit, don’t you?

Daniel Bryan - Wins title at 30, presumed to be in IC ladder match at 31.

 

Conclusions

So what can we learn here?  Well, aside from the fact that there’s been a whole LOT of title changes to end Wrestlemanias (this is where the Roman Empire squeals with glee), Daniel Bryan’s professional wrestling career. . . SOLELY IN TERMS OF HIS “WRESTLEMANIA MOMENT”. . . seems to be most mirroring the Canadian Crippler, Chris Benoit.

Note:  While I don’t feel like I really need this disclaimer, just to be safe, I am only referring to Benoit the wrestling talent.  I am able to distinguish between the performer and the man. . . As we all should.

Benoit had one of the more emotional and personally satisfying Mania moments in history.
Benoit overcame a series of obstacles and his fairly diminutive size to achieve wrestling glory.
Benoit’s title run was relatively short.
Following that, Benoit was back to winning mid-card titles.

Sound familiar?

This, my friends, like it or not, is what Daniel Bryan is.  He had a momentous achievement in his career. . . And he’ll almost certainly never reach that pinnacle again.  He might win 4-5 Intercontinental and US titles, he’ll likely have another couple Match of the Year candidates, and that’s going to have to satisfy us.

Let me close here by drawing yet another comparison between the American Dragon and the Rabid Wolverine.  If Twitter had existed back in 2003/2004, Chris Benoit (among others) would have been the IWC’s darling.  We’d all have been wondering when the hell this guy. . .This supremely talented guy. . . was going to get his day in the sun.  We’d have worshipped the ground he walked on while also lambasting the “chosen one” with the family history who may or may not have taken his spot.  (In this case, Randy Orton, who beat Benoit for the title 4-5 months after he won it.)

When WM 21 rolled around, we’d have howled at the audacity of WWE for putting our hero in such a “low-tier” spot. . . Until the match happened, when we’d have loved every second of it.

Daniel Bryan can still be our hero, even if he is never again our champion.  He doesn’t need a belt to be a phenomenal wrestler, and frankly, isn’t that what we want?

Plus, if the career path (and ONLY the career path) continues like this, we’ve got a Best of Seven series coming up with Bryan and Dolph Ziggler.  Admit it - you just got chills thinking about that possibility.

In the middle of 1990’s Great American Bash (or honestly it might have been a Clash of the Champions, this journey to get through all the NWA / WCW PPV’s makes everything blend together), there was an entire segment of the show devoted to revealing the “updated” top 10 rankings for the World Heavyweight Title and the World Tag Team Titles.  Back in the day, professional wrestling was not quite sports entertainment, especially when it came to the NWA - There was still an underlying sense of legitimacy when it came to contending for a championship.

25 years and a whole lot of breaking kayfabe later, there’s nothing quite resembling a ranking system in WWE.  Sure, there’s the “Top 25”, or whatever they have up there on WWE.com, but that doesn’t count.   Storylines have trumped competition (along with everything else), and the titles are really just a means to an end.

I miss the old days.  I miss where wrestlers fought to move up the ranking ladder, where a guy like Stan Hansen could become enraged at being ranked sixth and immediately set his sights on the talents above him; that’s all the storyline you needed.  I also miss the days where you could actually have a TOP TEN rankings for tag teams.  When was the last time you could confidently say WWE had ten tag teams that all qualified as contenders for the Giant Pennies of Fame?

So, having this soapbox as I do, I decided to craft my own rankings.  Rather than my NXT top ten, which ranks potential for WWE success, this is actually done in terms of vying for the World Heavyweight Championship and Tag Titles.  There will be elements of kayfabe in here, but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

A couple notes beforehand:

I decided to do a Top 5 for tag teams, as a listing of 10 teams would have to include Shoot Nation, an NXT team that hasn’t even made its on screen debut yet.

While in the past, the Intercontinental and United States titleholders were deemed the number one contenders, there’s really no way that works in today’s WWE.  For one thing, there’s two of them, so they would wind up being number two contenders. . .

(Cheap Plug: Doc Manson and I are at it again, to some extent, over at Number Two Contenders.  Hope you take the time to come check us out.)

While Bad News Barrett and Rusev will automatically make it into our top ten rankings, they are not guaranteed any specific spot.  The same goes for Seth Rollins - the MITB briefcase earns him a place among our rankings, but it could be anywhere.  Given his abysmal winning percentage in 2015, it’ll likely be pretty low.

Speaking of which, I have gone ahead and calculated the winning percentage for talents this year, which is where I have decided to officially start the rankings.  I’ve decided to only count PPVs or “televised events” (Smackdown, RAW, Superstars and Main Event).  While, in the future, I may weigh these events differently, along with the quality of opponent, for our initial rankings, we’ll stick to just a simple win-loss record, while also, non-scientifically, consider the competition and the overall “hype” of each talent.

Are we all set?  Any questions?  No?  Good.  On with the countdown!

Tag Team Rankings - 2/10/15

Champions:  Usos

 

#5 -  The Miz and Damien Mizdow

Being the former champs earns them a place in our countdown, even if they seem to no longer be a tag team.  They’re a closer knit group than the Dust Brothers, and are also wrestling at .500 for 2015 (3 wins, 3 losses), so that’s a good thing.

The Dusts, in case you’re curious, have only won a single match this year.  Dustin, save your brother before he’s lost for good!!!

#4 - ZyBack

Full disclosure - I only included them in the rankings to use the name somebody mentioned on Twitter.  If it was you, make sure to take credit in the comments below.

We’ve only seen a single match with this tandem, but that’s enough to include them.  Such is the state of tag wrestling, my friends.

#3 -  The Ascension

Konnor and Viktor are undefeated in 2015 (the only team to be so other than the aforementioned ZyBack), but since the majority of those matches took place against either Los Matadores or actual, bona fide jobbers, they don’t count for much.  Still, they’ve gone from being complete jokes to just slightly dumb, so that’s something, I guess.

#2 - New Day

I’m still on board the New Day bandwagon, even if the crowds seem to be faltering a bit.  I hope we continue to see growing signs of frustration and being “messed with by ‘The Man’”, though I imagine it’s going to take a while.

Still, with 5 wins and 2 losses, that’s the highest win percentage next to The Ascension and ZyBack.  They deserve this ranking.

#1 - KiddAro

They may be the Masters of the Universe or the Brass Ring Club, but they’ll always be KiddAro to me.

While their win / loss record doesn’t show it on the surface, this team has wins over the current champions, both in singles matches and as a duo.  Plus. . . Come on, it’s Tyson Kidd and Cesaro!  How could they not be amazing?

Alright, there are the rankings for the tandems.  On to the singles stars.

WHC Rankings - 2/10/15

Champion: Brock Lesnar

 

Honorable Mention: Fandango

You’d laugh me off of the message boards if I ranked him officially, but its worth mentioning that Fandango is undefeated in 2015.  5 wins, 0 losses.  His character is still going nowhere, but how crazy would it be if he wound up shocking Barrett for the IC title or something?

Ok, ok, back to reality.

10.  Luke Harper

He might be going nowhere right now, but Harper is .500 right now, a former IC champion, and one of the few men on the WWE roster that wouldn’t look small compared to Brock Lesnar.   Just. . . Just change that damn shirt!

9.  Ryback

He’s 3 and 1 since being re-hired by WWE and while he might be being moved to the tag team division for a while, he’s yet another guy who can stand up physically to the champ.

8.  John Cena

I don’t know what’s stranger - That John Cena has only wrestled 3 matches on TV / PPV in 2015 or that he’s only won one of them.  I know the eye injury is an issue, but this is as positive a sign as I’ve seen since he got his gluteus maximus handed to him at Summer Slam.

7.  Bad News Barrett

Oh, how the IC title has fallen.  What was once a number one contendership barely registers these days.  While I’m a fan of the BNZ thing, it’s not doing a whole lot in making him look like a serious contender, especially when you consider he’s only wrestling .500 this year.

6.  Dean Ambrose

Ambrose has had, for the most part, higher profile matches in 2015 and has a far better winning percentage (71% to Barrett’s 50), so he gets a nod over the champion.  I really think a Lesnar vs. Ambrose feud would be fascinating - Dean would offer a different kind of challenge that Lesnar has had before, so perhaps someday we’ll see it.

5. Seth Rollins

The briefcase does come in handy here, along with him really and truly being THE next top talent in WWE.  He’s only won 2 matches in 2015 (giving him a dreadful winning percentage of 20%), which hurts him, but at the same time, all of these matches have been ‘main event’ contests, which is a plus.

The beauty of being Mr. Money in the Bank is that you don’t even need to be a ranked talent to contend for the title, so this shouldn’t bother Seth so much.  I suppose he has enough to worry about right now.

4.  Rusev

The US title, at this point, has more significance than the Intercontinental belt, though only by a slim margin.  Rusev earns this spot in the rankings because while he and his manager talk FAR too much for my liking, when Rusev wrestles, he is dominant.  He’s won two thirds of the matches he’s wrestled and has only lost one by countout.

Like some other talents on this list, Rusev also earns bonus points for sheer size.  I can’t be the only one who salivates over a matchup between the Russian and Brock Lesnar.

3.  Bray Wyatt

Outside of Fandango, Wyatt is the only undefeated talent who has wrestled more than 2 televised matches.  Unlike the dancing fool, however, each and every one of Bray’s wins has been big.  This is truly shaping up to be the year of Bray Wyatt, and I for one couldn’t be happier.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating.  I’m hoping that if Reigns does win the WHC, Bray Wyatt spends the summer stalking him.  I think that feud could be really good, both for Bray and for Roman.

2.  Daniel Bryan

Despite most other talents having a 2 week head start, Bryan has wrestled 9 TV / PPV matches in less than a calendar month, and more importantly, he has won 8 of them.   While most of the IWC keeps bemoaning his fate, winning nearly 90 percent of your matches isn’t exactly being buried, is it?

Bryan might not wind up winning at Fast Lane, but he’s done everything you’d hope a talent to do in order to be a top contender.

1.  Roman Reigns

He won the Royal Rumble, he’s won 90% of his matches and he’s the heir apparent to the World Heavyweight Championship.  As much as fans might detest it, The Roman Empire IS the big story right now.

Believe that.

There can be no surer sign that Daniel Bryan is truly considered a B+ player than his treatment since his return from injury. Although his return to the ring was announced and advertised, the match was scheduled for Smackdown. This begs the question; why would the return of Daniel Bryan, the former World Heavyweight Champion, the champion that never lost his title, the champion that won that honor after beating Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton all in one night at Wrestlemania XXX - why would the return of the crowd favorite be relegated to the B-show?

This is not to disparage the Smackdown brand - anyone that enjoys WWE programming no doubt has reason to tune in and watch. The bottom-line is that the ratings for Smackdown are considerably lower than those for RAW. So, was the return of Daniel Bryan pushed to Smackdown to try to boost ratings, or was it done to hide Daniel Bryan from the mainstream WWE audience which only watches RAW?
One can hope for the former, but my money is on the latter. Subsequent treatment of Daniel Bryan seemed to only confirm this sentiment. He went into the Royal Rumble as one of the odds-on fan favorites. There was little hope to believe that Bryan would go on to win, however, with reports of Roman Reigns winning the Rumble leaking online as early as July of 2014 - six months before the event. Bryan was the tenth entrant into the Rumble match, and was eliminated early. Why? To distance him from the intended winner, Roman Reigns, who did not even enter into the match until several entrants after Bryan's elimination.
Unlike the 2014 Royal Rumble match, in which Daniel Bryan was not featured, WWE tried to show the audience that Daniel Bryan had gotten his fair chance and had been eliminated. I can appreciate them tipping their hand to the audience in this way, but it is an empty gesture when the product is scripted. The obviousness of how Roman Reigns was protected - to the point of having the Rock come out in an attempt to control and create a positive crowd reaction - only made the result of the Rumble match that much more flat.
Post-Rumble, I predict that the future of Daniel Bryan depends entirely on the continued support of the WWE Universe. The pro-Bryan movement was hampered by the blizzard which canceled the live taping of RAW the night after the Royal Rumble. These peculiar circumstances allowed the WWE to further the Roman Reigns storyline without a live crowd to offer feedback. It was hoped, no doubt, that the week off would allow the audience to cool on Daniel Bryan. Despite this, the positive reaction to Bryan has remained strong - strong enough, it seems, for Roman Reigns to defend his WrestleMania title shot against Bryan at the upcoming Fast Lane event.
It is my suspicion that the match at Fast Lane was pitched as a way of showing audiences that Daniel Bryan has once again had his fair chances and that he simply isn't good enough to compete for the title at WrestleMania. I imagine that it was proposed that Bryan and Reigns would have a hard fought battle and, after Reigns emerged victorious, Bryan would lift Reigns' arm in a symbolic passing of the torch. The problem? This is a complete replay of the Royal Rumble aftermath, but with the Rock replaced by Daniel Bryan.
This is decent storytelling, in theory, but again gives no credit to those most-vocal members of the audience that knows the product is scripted. Instead, it only cements the view that Daniel Bryan - the man, not the character - is being held back by management. Such an outcome at Fast Lane would only boost the pro-Bryan movement and direct more heat towards Reigns. This would be an extremely counter-productive move in the near-term, particularly if the company truly believes that Reigns is the long-term, future face of the company.

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.

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