Fresh off the heels of WWE's very underwhelming Battleground (who'd have thunk it?), which featured more squash than your upcoming Thanksgiving dinner, we were treated to an equally ho-hum episode of the flagship Monday Night Raw. Continuing what has truly become one of the more irritating current trends, we received another healthy dose of some of the exact same action some poor souls actually paid for on Sunday.
Other than Bob Backlund's awesome promo (yeah, that was the best thing I can really say about Raw), the MEGA-globe-shaking news concerned the return of one John Cena, who will be wrestling World Champion Alberto Del Rio in a shocker on the upcoming Hell In A Cell PPV. Cena, as we know, announced on a Monday night in late August that he would be undergoing triceps surgery and be out approximately four to six months.
Since that time, JC has been extremely active on Twitter, updating the WWE Universe on pretty much everything while impatiently waiting for his return. The general assumption was Cena would return for the Royal Rumble, thus allowing him the perfect amount of build for WrestleMania. We received news a week or so ago that despite the injury, John Cena would be very much active in one form or another during the month of October due to his much-publicized promotion of the WWE's partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Now, apparently, John Cena is healthy enough to return to in-ring action, and way ahead of schedule. The announcement itself was so shocking that it allowed former cornerman Ricardo Rodriguez to pin Del Rio due to the latter's sheer terror at hearing his name. That's right, you don't even need your World champ to look strong when you're putting it up against Cena's moniker. That's a level of dread even The Undertaker would aspire to.
One cannot regard Cena's return with anything but the thought of an opportunity truly and clearly missed. It wasn't so long ago the pages of TJR were filled with excitement and hope over what a couple of months without WWE's cash cow might mean to the storylines and character development within the company. Nowhere was it more evident than in the personage of Cena's "hand-picked" challenger, Daniel Bryan, who many fans have been clamoring for months now to hold real gold for substantial, meaningful time. Cena's departure from the main event scene would surely mean that Bryan would get his opportunity to shine as the big dog in WWE's very full pound.
Rather than that coming to pass, however, we as fans have been treated to a down-in-the-doldrums storyline with Bryan and Randy Orton battling over a vacated title in a series of trick ending matches that have done little to sustain the energy. As a creative direction, this has been more about establishing Triple H and Stephanie McMahon as on-screen villains than helping out Bryan at all, despite his obvious momentum and crowd support. Even main event castoff The Big Show, despite his odd Big Emo developments, has been granted his big moment with his KO punch of Trips on last night's program. What gives?
My experience covering wrestling (and other sports) has been that having a healthy ego is a good thing. When it becomes a bad thing, however, is when it clouds reality and interferes with one's ability to separate their wishes from the facts. I don't hold Triple H as the primary issue here, precisely because this inherent wish-fulfillment complex is more than prevalent in the man that still signs the checks and runs the company, his father-in-law, Vince McMahon. If you need evidence that the in-law apple doesn't fall far from the tree, just check out recent reports that suggest Vinnie Mac is close to returning to television because the ratings haven't been doing well of late.
When all else fails, send in the McMahons! Except it's been nothing but Trips and Steph on our televisions since JC went down with his injury. Except it's been the creative team (led by that trio) that have given us poorly fleshed-out feuds, last minute matches, and finishes that harken back to the dark Vince Russo days. Given the stiff competition at this time of year from postseason baseball and the NFL on Monday nights, what did they expect? Have they not seen this vicious cycle before? But no, just as we saw with the knocks on CM Punk's reign, the issue must be with the main event.
The interesting thing about storylines pulled from actual or perceived events is that sometimes they do strike too near the bone. There is actual, authentic heat between the Rhodes family and the McMahons, and you don't have to look too hard to see ample evidence of that. Even with the current propensity to bring what's inside outside, the animosity hit the headlines again when Dusty and Stephanie had a flareup regarding their recent promos together. It's an alliance of convenience for the common good, and it's delicious. It's been so good, in fact, that it's brought Dustin to a level he hasn't been at in years, made Cody a bonafide breakout star, and gotten major heat for a midcard feud. Not too shabby.
Similarly, there's always been a thought that if Triple H & Company truly do have a plan for what's "best for business," it wouldn't involve internet favorites like Bryan. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be simply scripted. I can think of no other reason why the company has utterly failed to take advantage of having someone other than their poster boy at the main event level leading the charge for a few months. That opportunity seems even more fleeting with his impending return.
The WWE is certainly going to like whatever makes them money. Cena is a proven commodity and there's no rule that nobody else can be pushed (and pushed well) while he is around. But his return naturally becomes THE story for Hell in a Cell, and that's inexcusable. If the only concern is buyrate, perhaps they should have done a better job selling Battleground. Do you know anyone who was excited about seeing that show? Even if they were, between power outages, barely-worth-it no-build midcard slugfests and the absence of Trips/Steph on a PPV that was built on the backs of their power tripping, how could WWE expect good numbers here? It was a throwaway PPV with a throwaway main event ending in a couple of months that have had far too many of them.
The issue isn't simply with Bryan, either. Take the case of The Wyatt Family. They've gone from short squash matches against Zack Ryder to slightly longer squash matches with Kofi Kingston. They've developed Bray's finishing move better than they've developed him. Or look at Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel. He's gone from one pointless feud to another while being coupled with one of the biggest heat magnets in the industry right now. These should be some of the more compelling surrounding cast that can divert attention away from the three to four main event players and it's not happening. Failure to elevate anyone from Dolph Ziggler to Damien Sandow and the stalling of The Shield in their bodyguards-with-belts roles seal the deal.
Not giving people what they want exactly when they want it is understandable. It's a major part of very good storytelling. The sword doesn't get removed from the stone on the first page. Replacing the tension with unnecessary plot twists, however, turns you into wrestling's version of Dan Brown. I see no need to continue observing your quest for the Holy Grail when you're off in an alleyway with another conspiracy theory and faux suspense. The past few months have not made me miss John Cena. I appreciate what he does and think a short break would give him time to freshen up the act anyway. It's patently obvious, though, that the creative team's gun cabinet has run out of bullets that don't involve him. His return signals yet another tepid, moribund return to the status quo. The song remains the same, and this viewer doesn't like the station.
*Another week, another pointless WWE shilling for their mobile app for a stipulation that's obvious from the beginning. Is there anyone in existence who doesn't know how to download an application for their mobile device? And, if there are, is it likely they are tuning into a professional wrestling show? Shawn Michaels should have been involved in Battleground. It's been a given from the start that he'd make an appearance and it would have given that PPV some much-needed hype. HIAC already has some just from the nature of the event itself. I'm all for fans getting to pick matches and such, but to give such obvious selections as a shortcut for the appearance of interactivity is something I've railed against in this space before. For the record, I voted for Bob Backlund, purely on the strength of him suggesting he'd put people in the crossface chicken wing.
*There is absolutely no way anyone should wrestle the Undertaker at WrestleMania 30 besides Brock Lesnar. Besides having the MMA-based feel that the WWE seems to crave, it's a feud based in reality with enough behind it to make it fresh. Lesnar taking the loss would do nothing to tarnish his legacy, as he's a part-time performer anyway. The only other candidate that would shake things up in my view would be Bray Wyatt, but the WWE can't afford to have him take the loss. As to Ryback and his recent comments about getting a shot, it's ludicrous. Ryback has not progressed very much in the ring, and his recent match with Punk (far below CM's usual standard) demonstrates that point even more. In addition, he's been booked so shoddily that I don't see anyone giving him a chance in hell at defeating the Deadman. You could book this thing through promos starting now without even putting Lesnar back on TV. That's how you build something special.
*Negotiations with Rob Van Dam apparently continue at this hour, following Sunday's loss to ADR in an extreme rules match. Van Dam's contract situation has been much publicized, and it's unlikely given his recent interviews that he will ever be desirous of putting himself through the rigors of a full-time schedule. He's always been an original and a free spirit, and he puts on a hell of a show. I was worried we might have seen the last of the old RVD during his TNA side trip, but the last couple months have shown me that was unfounded. One thing I have enjoyed this summer was seeing Rob get his groove back in a major way. The WWE needs to get this deal done, no matter what it takes. Van Dam (like Chris Jericho and Christian) is at a point in his career where he can get talent over and still put on a heck of an effort. On a sidenote, he is one of the most down-to-earth and enjoyable wrestlers I've ever gotten a chance to meet. Make it happen and keep him on our screens.
*Three days ago marked sixteen years since the death of one of pro wrestling's most mercurial, interesting, and over-the-top personalities in "The Loose Cannon" Brian Pillman. I'd be remiss to let this week go by without giving some space to honor someone who doesn't get nearly enough credit for being a trailblazer and groundbreaker in this business. Pillman is one of the people who ushered in the era we live through now, with no walls and multiple realities. His return to ECW in 1996 was one of the most kinetic, insane and brilliant things I have ever seen in a wrestling ring. Even with all the people in our world, there was only one Brian Pillman. I am convinced we'll be searching in vain forever for the next one. RIP.
That wraps it up for this week. I'd like to thank you for reading my thoughts and encourage you to leave yours below. You can also reach me on my NEW (and lemon scented) Twitter feed @DharmanRockwell. I will return on Friday with the headlines. Until then, have an excellent week!