Monday, January 27, 2014

Missing the Goat

Last night, WWE held one of its most fun events- the Royal Rumble. Four matches preceded the thirty-man extravaganza. The event was filled with many different superstars of various shapes and sizes, but there was one notably missing: Daniel Bryan.

Bryan has had his ups and downs with the WWE not only on air but in real life. The storylines bleed into reality. At Summerslam, he had finally broken through the glass ceiling- or so it seemed. In all actuality, the ceiling was put back together and raised seemingly ten stories higher. His nose isn't pushed against it because he can't even sniff it these days.

Bryan was placed in an intriguing feud with newcomer Bray Wyatt, one designed to elevate Wyatt into a star while also serving as a distraction so fans might not expect Bryan to win the Rumble. That second part proved moot, as that was never in the cards. Bryan even apologized on Twitter following the string reaction from his followers and those at the Rumble:

"Sorry guys, the machine wanted me nowhere near the Royal Rumble match. But I thank everyone for their support. YOU are the #YESMovement."

Mick Foley was one of those with plenty of disdain for the exclusion of The Goat:

"Does actually hate their own audience? I've never been so disgusted with a PPV."

That tweet generated a massive outpour of support and a reaction not even Foley could predict. It was retweeted over 22,000 times. At some point, this goes beyond a few nerds behind a computer screen in their basement and reaches critical mass. As evidenced by the live audience, Bryan is in demand- but the WWE refused to supply him. I suppose their philosophy is "when in doubt, keep Bryan out." Whether it is pride or simply ignorance, it's not what's best for business.

At one time when Bryan was kept down, initial uproar called for the heads of those in charge. But patience was a virtue I'd often preach. Not anymore. There is no wait and see after last night when the over-the-hill Dave Batista marched in, out of shape and out of sorts to win the treasured title shot at Wrestlemania. It didn't just come at the cost of Daniel Bryan being excluded entirely (thanks to spots being given to Kevin Nash, JBL, the Great Khali, El Torrito, the Miz and Alberto Del Rio). It directly came at the cost of the only other shining star in the company- Roman Reigns.

Reigns is part of the three-man Shield, a stable whose main goal is to eviscerate anything in their path. They have gone against the grain of typical WWE factions and booked strong as newcomers and kept together for well over a year; a rare accomplishment indeed. Lately they have teased the group splitting up, but after last night the foreplay if over. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were two of Reigns' record-setting twelve eliminated victims, and will search for answers tonight on RAW. The old record of eleven held by Kane had stood since 2001. But while it was impressive, it was all for naught as even Reigns could not outdo Batista. Even though all it took was Batista simply tossing Reigns aside like a straw wrapper, and falling down while doing so.

Reigns' time will come, but Bryan's is now. It was plainly obvious after the clock struck :00 and out came Rey Mysterio. Mysterio was in an absolute lose/lose situation. The crowd and audience at home had one man on their minds at the 30 spot, and Mysterio was far from it. It wasn't his fault, but those in charge- the "machine" as Bryan referred to them. Once everyone knew the Bearded One would not come out, the mood shifted towards extreme pessimism. Batista cold have walked on water, fed the crowd by multiplying a fish sandwich and promised them eternal life by sacrificing his own- and it still would not be enough.

The crowd voiced their displeasure, not only once they realized Batista had won but beforehand in the title match that preceded the rumble. The company's two golden boys, John Cena and WWE WH champion Randy Orton squared off in what seems like their thousandth match together. It played out predictably with fans sitting far from the edge of their seats. Chants of "Daniel Bryan!" and "We Want Divas!" broke out. "You Can't Wrestle!" and "Booooring!" were also heard. The divas chant was a first in all my years watching wrestling, and an act of desperation for a crowd who relied on entertaining themselves as opposed to Cena and Orton doing so.

One of the more fun things is watching the final two men square off in a battle not only of strength and physical endurance, but also of wills. It's the match inside the match. One of the better ones happened a few short years ago between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, leading to a classic match at Wrestlemania. Last night, this sort of cat-and-mouse game was not to be had, as Batista was likely winded and looking for a stunt double. He seemed out of sync all night, similar to last Monday on RAW. He wasn't just rusty. He looked like he had been buried deep underground during his time away. His moveset was lazy, sloppy and ineffective. Yet stars sold for him like he was Ironman. His spear on Reigns was awkward and off the mark, almost hitting Reigns in his shins.

And if the fact that Batista belongs no where near the WWE WHC title match at 'Mania, it was made crystal clear as he knelt in the ring after his win- grey chest hair and all. Daniel Bryan is known by his facial hair, and Batista's age is shown by his body hair. This isn't the grizzled, ring veteran kind either like HBK. It's the "Damn, he's OLD" kind. It might seem trivial to some, but more symbolic than anything.

After the event was over, Batista was caught flicking off the crowd, seemingly sick of their turning on him. But can you blame them? In retrospect, the win was telegraphed by his appearance Monday night. WWE chose not to deter from their chosen path....and fans rebelled. A simple cause and reaction.

The WWE did not just miss a chance to send their audience home happy. They missed a chance to make a moment that would be remembered years from now. Chances to make these genuine moments don't come often and can not often be so obvious to predict. But after Bryan struck down Bray Wyatt a few weeks ago on RAW, his leading a crowd of 20,000 plus seemed academic.

Bryan has not lost hope, at least not yet, as made clear by his Twitter:

"They try to keep US down and away from the top spots, but they can't ignore the reactions forever. Keep voicing your opinions."

The reactions will certainly be there, as long as fans worship the ground Bryan walks on. Thanks to the fans' adulation of Daniel Bryan, WWE has one more chance to create a special moment that will forever be etched in the history books and replayed years from now. Whether it's "YES! YES! YES!" or "Daniel Bryan!", their voice will be heard tonight on RAW.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

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