This demographic of fans typically are males above the age of eighteen, and cannot be swayed by pandering good guys. Yes, I'm looking at you, John Cena. No, this market of "smart" fans is fueled by pushing boundaries, provoking thought, creating new and fresh storylines with depth, twists and character development. In short, these fans put far too much thought into a fake sport- myself included.
The opposite of "smart" fans? Everyone else. (Read: parents, females and children). They watch it solely to be entertained and to get lost in a world where human beings are super heroes capable of amazing feats of strength. Good guys save the day, and bad guys are the worst. These families, females and children feed the machine. They are the people Vince McMahon goes after to sell the headbands, the foam fingers, t-shirts, hats, backpacks, action figures, lunch boxes- the list goes on. In an era known to most as the PG one, these non "smart" fans are who the product is aimed at. Not dorks who post on message boards about how Ring of Honor is real wrestling and WWE is too mainstream.
"Smart" fans had nothing to look forward to as of a few months ago. Rumors about the Wrestlemania 30 card were swirling about, with nothing locked in. That was, until the Royal Rumble when Batista "triumphantly" returned to claim the number one contendership to Randy Orton's WWE World Heavyweight championship. By triumphantly, I mean as rough a return as there is. Fans booed, jeered and voiced their displeasure in arenas, on Twitter and anywhere they could. Batista was waltzing in after all to promote his new film, Guardians of the Galaxy. He'd likely get the belt, have it for a month then toss it aside like table scraps to a pack of dogs. The eighteen to thirty year old male contingency would cry foul, as Daniel Bryan would get seemingly pushed down the card once again. Except this time the interests of the "smart" and non "smart" fans intersected. They all wanted to see Daniel Bryan in the main event for one reason: they liked him. Weird, huh? But as Bryan seemed to be the one glimmer to making the thirtieth edition of Wrestlemania memorable, more hope would sprout up soon after.
That hope would also come in the form of Roman Reigns' 2014 Royal Rumble run. He set a new record of eliminations with twelve, breaking a thirteen-year old record held by Kane. While he would ultimately succumb to Batista, his showing was a microcosm of what the future could be for the WWE. Along with his two comrades Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, the trio would night in and night out show why they were the best and brightest the 'E has to offer- as they had been for the better part of a year and a half. They've managed to turn the six-man tag match- a previously ho-hum affair- into an absolute art form. The "Hounds of Justice" had no leash. Management threw them out there to sink or swim, and they went balls-to-the-wall, earning the respect of not only the boys in the back, but the fans as well. Their collision with the newest stable (The Wyatts) at Elimination Chamber will be remembered for years to come.
While back in December people had foreseen the three cracking and breaking up, the WWE knew they could get more mileage out of the young trio. Everything about them has been anything but cliche, in a business where cliche is the status quo. Stables aren't supposed to last this long in modern day wrestling, as fans are supposed to lose interest after a few months. New blood such as the Shield are not supposed to be dominant for long periods of time- especially over some of the biggest names in the business. The Undertaker, Ryback (when he was at his peak), the Rock, John Cena, CM Punk and a slew of others have fallen victim to the vicious attacks, punctuated with their trademark triple powerbomb.
Whether you despised them as bad guys at first, eventually there was nothing left to do but to slowly turn the Shield into faces (good guys). The reactions they had gotten ultimately forced the decision. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the previously mentioned Wyatt Family. The stable is led by Bray Wyatt, with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan as his two followers/henchmen. They were introduced with creepy vignettes. Promos that were out there, but in a good way. Not an Ultimate Warrior way. The best part? Wyatt (real name Windham Lawrence Rotunda) wrote his own promos. What sounded like it came from professional scripts or best-selling books was the product of a twenty-six year old "rookie". His Husky Harris run excluded.
Where the Shield was cool and badass and the big dogs of the yard, the Wyatts were cunning, crafting and just as vicious. Harper and Rowan would do the dirty work at first, but Wyatt hasn't been afraid to mix it up, and look good doing so. He worked briefly with Daniel Bryan, then moved on to a month long feud with the Shield and now has his sights set on John Cena. What better way to make a statement?
The latest collision Monday on RAW saw Harper give Cena all he had, and then some. Cena did a great job of making Harper look like his equal. The two had a match that was beyond physical, and ended when the lights went out right before Cena was about to hit his finisher. The lights came back on, and Cena was tied up in the ropes in the group's trademark lamb mask- an eerie visual etched into all fans minds instantly. This did so much in such a short amount of time. Sure, Cena can say he's scared and unsure of himself- but nothing makes him look more vulnerable than being at the mercy of Wyatt and his cronies.
This momentum should not be halted by a by-the-numbers Cena victory at 'Mania. Wyatt is so much more than just an Umaga, Khali, R-Truth or Mark Henry. He's not only physically imposing with his build and beard, but how intelligent his character comes across. The points he make are right, and the decisions he makes in the ring are calculated and not careless. The WWE has a chance to build a real star here, and a convincing win in New Orleans would most assuredly be a huge feather in Wyatt's cap.
The WWE already has proof pushing young talent can work with the Shield. They need to keep it up with Bray Wyatt and his family, not only because its beneficial in the short term, but because it is imperative for the long term.
My Two Sense:
1. Really, Undertaker? - Monday saw the Deadman get the psychological advantage over challenger Brock Lesnar. Out came the smoke, the druids and the casket- things we have all seen before. Taker was no where to be found, before mysteriously appearing in the casket and laying the beatdown on Lesnar.
While some may have eaten it up, I found it wildly predictable. When it comes down to it, the Undertaker's age has never been so apparent. The only person who is less physically capable than him in the WWE is the almost-immobile Hulk Hogan. This limitation lends itself to a more realistic storyline.
Lesnar isn't the average challenger. He is big, he is quick and powerful. He's faced Taker before and beaten him in Hell in a Cell, for Heaven's sake. Why would he be so quick to be intimidated by Taker's tactics? The storyline's build has been mailed in, which is a shame. It's not like it requires a lot of creative thinking- just ingenuity. Have Lesnar show no fear, not just by his words but by action. Toss the druids aside. F-5 them. powerbomb them. Put them through a worked casket. Have Lesnar laugh in the face of Taker and his pseudo-Jedi mind tricks. Have him beat down Taker. Make Taker into the aging fighter he is. Don't just make Lesnar look like a challenger. Make him look like the man who WILL defeat Taker at the grandest show of them all. This doesn't mean Lesnar has to win- he just has to look like he can, while Undertaker has to look vulnerable.
The con to this is that it essentially puts Taker's fake "powers" on blast, and trashes his whole gimmick that he has spent over two decades building. But it's not 1990 anymore. It's 2014. We understand that Mark Calloway is getting older, and can't fly around the ring like he used to. Use it to your advantage, WWE. Also- make use of the two's confrontation back from Lesnar's UFC days. The fourth wall was shattered by CM Punk in 2011, while HHH works to keep it broken. Pull out all the stops, Vince.
2. We, the Tag Team Champs- While the Shield has perfected the six-man tag match, the Real Americans have proven they are one of the best, if not the best duos in the WWE. Cesaro only continues to build his brand, and Swagger has found his niche as a bruising and very capable teag team wrestler. The two gave Rollins and Ambrose a run for their money on RAW, and are even in the four-way tag title match at Mania. While the Usos could stand to keep the belts, the Real Americans have earned the right to be called champions.
Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron