Bryan's rise, Punk's departure put WWE at crossroads
MATT BISHOP - SLAM! Wrestling
WWE is at a crossroads.
Sunday, the fans in Pittsburgh revolted and took over the show in response to yet another Randy Orton/John Cena WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, and then again when Daniel Bryan was not a participant in the Royal Rumble Match.
It continued Monday at Raw in Cleveland. Although the Daniel Bryan saga is clearly being turned into an angle, WWE fans are starting to voice their displeasure at the product and continually seeing the same thing show after show after show.
Bless both Alberto Del Rio and Kofi Kingston, but did WWE really think putting those two in the ring against each other for nearly 15 minutes was going to go well? The company has given fans exactly zero reason to care about either wrestler, then expect the crowd not to turn on the match and find other ways to amuse themselves?
Then Tuesday night, word came out that CM Punk has gone home. As in, heís gone. Possibly even done. Although itís too early to call exactly how the situation is going to play out, Punk, a supremely talented and popular wrestler, has been downplayed since WrestleMania 29.
Losing Punk is a damaging blow to the brand. It might not be felt right now because itís WrestleMania season and everybody will be coming back, but once April 8 rolls around, the depth of the top of the roster will basically be down to John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus. Thatís it. And how many times already have we seen any combination of those five wrestle each other already? Itís not a pretty sight. Full-time, proven main event talent is at a tremendous premium right now in WWE. Although you can make a case that losing one person is not going to be a death blow for the company, and it really shouldn't be, the WWEís ability to harness new main event talent in recent years has been, to put it nicely, suspect.
Roman Reigns is in the wings, but itís not his time yet (same goes for Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins). Big E Langston has loads of potential, but itís far too early. Antonio Cesaro is more than good enough to hang, but seems stuck for who knows what reason. And weíve all seen what theyíve done with Dolph Ziggler ever since his concussion last year. There are scores of talented wrestlers in Orlando, but no one who is going to help come April. There are so many great performers in the company, but WWE seems unwilling or unable to use them correctly.
CM Punk leaving is a big crisis for WWE if it doesnít change the way it operates. Cena, Orton and Batista arenít going to be around forever. When your main event scene basically revolves around five guys (three of which have a serious injury history), thatís not good.
This brings us back to Daniel Bryan. Hereís somebody that the fans have demanded WWE do something with, much like theyíve done with Eddie Guerrero in 2003 and Jeff Hardy in 2007-08. Itís incredibly frustrating to watch. The reaction to the Royal Rumble mightíve been a little too much, but the fans are passionate about this guy, and theyíve been jerked around so many times by WWE, theyíre starting to get sick of it.
Itís clear the fans want new blood. If Orton/Batista for the title goes on last at WrestleMania, itís going to be booed out of the building. Nobody wants to see that. Orton is as dull as they come as champion, and Batista has yet to click in his return (albeit itís only been a week). To me, thatís part of the reason Bryan is catching on so big. Heís not the same cookie-cutter WWE superstar thatís been shoved down our throats the last 10 years. And if WWE hasnít smelled the roses on this one, they might be beyond hope.
Make no mistake, WWE is in great shape. The stock is soaring, excitement is building for the WWE Network, things are rolling. But when it comes to the in-ring product, fans are no longer willing to settle for the same old, same old ó and itís starting to hit the breaking point.
As Owen Hart said, ďEnough is enough and itís time for a change.Ē
Raw in Cleveland
Raw took over Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Monday and I was on scene, braving the near sub-zero temperatures on the shore of Lake Erie.
The arena was mostly filled, and loud and enthusiastic fans saw a good night of wrestling. Fans were chanting ďYES!Ē before the show even began and let Triple H and Stephanie McMahon know their feelings before nearly blowing the roof off the place when Bryan came out.
As mentioned above, they did lose the crowd during much of the Del Rio/Kingston match, but the action was good enough to bring the crowd back in for the finish, so good for those two.
After Raw went off the air, Ambrose grabbed the microphone and was rather upset about the Wyatt Family interfering in The Shieldís match. He demanded the match restart, but he and Reigns were quickly thrown over the top rope by Cena and Sheamus and bailed up the ramp. Rollins was stomping Bryan in the corner and was gloating, but backed right into the good guys. He was surrounded now by Cena, Sheamus and Bryan.
Rollins did everything he could, from stealing their poses and mannerisms, to getting on his knees and begging, to kissing Bryanís boots, everything. Unfortunately for him, he ate all three of their finishers. A fun cap to the show, definitely better than a dark match destined to end in a disqualification.
For Superstars, Summer Rae took on Natalya and Los Matadores took on Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre of 3MB.
WWE returns to Cleveland on June 16 for Raw.
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