I'm going to start off this week's column with a confession. The confession is that you won't be seeing your regular dose of wrestling wackiness in this space this week. You won't be seeing the Four Corners, either, because I need every bit of space maximized to deliver the message I have for wrestling fans around the world: The WWE product right now is nearing an all-time low. As a columnist for TJR, it's not only my job to report on professional wrestling, it's my privilege. I love the sport, love watching it, love communicating with those that also watch it, and love giving my opinion on the state of affairs. Sunday night was the opposite. My only comfort was that I didn't drop the fifty dollars on Hell in A Cell before discovering the absurdities that went on. I plan to dispense with some ranting all the same.
Lest you think this reaction is completely about Daniel Bryan once again failing to win the WWE Championship by yet another phony finish in a feud that's had about 75 of them, it's not. I've written freely in this space about how WWE is missing the opportunity to cash in on a wrestler that is big-time over with the audience despite not looking like or sounding like the champions of the past and it's obvious at this point. While anyone tuning in to a pay-per-view to watch a particular outcome is rather foolish to begin with, there's simply no excuse for failing to deliver a satisfactory conclusion time and time again. I'm never going to be Randy Orton's biggest fan, but continuing to book him with faux finish after faux finish does just as little to strengthen him as a champion as it diminishes Bryan's stellar work. Sooner or later, perhaps, we'll all just give up and move on and then they can put the belt on Bryan.
I suppose I give Shawn Michaels credit for agreeing to turn heel on a national stage in a very unexpected fashion. Had this been the second match of the series, that would have been even more of a shocker, but I digress. To have someone the fans adore at this late stage in his career with stuff to sell and DVDs to hawk agree to participate in an angle that will generate mega-heat in a negative way shows he has grown as a performer in a way that might shock those who witnessed his first "real-life" brush with this attitude in his very real feud with Bret "Hitman" Hart during the '90s. Michaels has never had an issue being hated, and that's fine. What's not fine is lazy creative, and this development is most certainly that. Take Shawn's own explanation on last night's Raw. Essentially he's admitted that he will put his friendship with Cliquester Triple H over anything else ever in wrestling. So there you have it, wrestling fans: not only do you once again fail to see Bryan get his just due, you also now get to put retired Shawn Michaels into the same category as Trips. WrestleMania can't get here soon enough.
As mentioned, though, the main event is one thing. WWE has shown over the last four PPVs that they aren't interested in the direction they should be going. I'm all for a slow burn, but at some point it's actually got to burn. This festers. This reduces the real talent in their organization so they can continue to push the Evil Corporation angle. Enough has already been enough. Let's discuss instead the development of your NEW World Champion, John Cena. Yes, the same John Cena that's delivered the same promos and had the same comic book matches and been jammed down our collective throats as much as the WWE App. Incidentally, did you know how to download the WWE App? You turn that sumbitch sideways...
Were you shocked when WWE delivered a title change to you by having John Cena hulk up his bionic frame all over the beleaguered Alberto Del Rio? Yeah, I didn't think so. ADR has been as boring as dishwater for months now, so to take the belt from his waist is no crying shame. Once again, though, Cena returns from surgery to blast his way through guys holding championships and gets the gold again. Because, you know, he needs it. Heaven knows he hasn't been pushed for a few weeks. In fact, did you even know he was out? Between the Twitter surgery updates and the video packages, I'm not quite sure. Adding Damien Sandow to the mix (as WWE teased) might have made for some interesting viewing. Fear not, however, creative has your answer: Rather than taking on John Cena after a particularly grueling match, the guy whose entire gimmick is that he's smarter than you or I does something completely and utterly stupid. He attacks John Cena after a show-opening promo and then cashes in the briefcase. Huh?
Forget Sandow's booking since he won the case (so did the WWE). Let's just go back and read that again. The guy who has touted his genius doesn't even pick a moment after somebody else beat the hell out of the new champ. In addition to that GIGANTIC miscalculation, Sandow's offense is barely registered against the Bionic Man and the predictable ensues. Say sayonara to Sandow's momentum, instantly forgotten as Del Bore-o trots out to deliver the same heel promo he's been doing since birth. Mil Mascaras might be wearing a mask for a reason at this point. All of the energy, the passion, the juice created by allowing an unproven commodity to capture the MITB briefcase vanishes in a whiff of baby oil and broken dreams. And for what purpose? To demonstrate that John Cena is king. Didn't we already know that?
Others have already lamented the ridiculous waste of time that was the other main attraction, CM Punk proving for the hundredth time that Ryback should be selling pencils on a street corner instead of plying his trade in a wrestling ring. Just in case you weren't sure, Punk beat him on Raw handily again in a match that you'd think would favor the bigger opponent, before making way for someone WWE actually cares about (Bray Wyatt) laying him out. Wyatt vs. Punk is a feud with serious potential, but it's going to have to taste really minty fresh to drown out the sour taste of boredom that occurred the previous evening. Heyman the evil genius has a master plan of hiding on top of the cage? Punk's big retribution is the same thing he's done to Heyman already, with the addition of the admittedly photogenic GTS on top? Is anyone even trying here?
Match of the night (by most accounts) was the opener, with the red hot Rhodes brothers defending and retaining against The Shield and The Usos. I'm fine with tag team wrestling, but before we begin painting a picture of a glorious renaissance, let's note that on Raw the Rhodes boys lost to The Real Americans, who had already lost to Los Matadores on the PPV. Got all that? Who is being booked strongly here? How many rhetorical questions can I ask? Los Matadores looks like a bad Halloween costume to me. Two guys who are marginal with a guy in a bull costume who clearly didn't get the memo that bulls see red, not pink. You too can be a matador with a smoke machine and some Eyes Wide Shut headgear. I'm praying for Tito Santana to arrive.
I don't know if Curtis Axel missing the show due to injury was a blessing or a curse, as the Intercontinental Champion is so unimportant to the product neither he nor his title was even really mentioned on Raw. Big E Langston did a reasonable job against US Champion Dean Ambrose, but the ending was weak and typical. Is there some unwritten law that challengers never leave the ring to go get their opposition during a championship match? Langston winning the belt clean (remaining on the preshow) might have convinced me to tune in for the full package, and isn't that what the idea is supposed to do? Instead you got full view to the over-written, under-thought booking that has plagued the last three PPVs at least.
At least Langston got onto the PPV (sort of). His former running buddy Dolph Ziggler (remember him?) was relegated to the "expert" panel along with MIA Kaitlyn (most exciting thing about the current Divas division? Who's changed their hair color! Golly gee!) and R. Truth, who incidentally was the cover boy for the event. I'm sure Dolph really enjoyed putting over the exploits of John Cena as he mulled over whether he was better off with the Spirit Squad gimmick at this point. I have no idea why R. Truth was on the poster to begin with, but this gives you an idea of the time and thought spent on merchandising the event. They don't care, but we should. Got it.
I'll say no more of the fact that The Great Khali had a match on a PPV where they didn't use Ziggler. I'll assume that WWE just did it so people like me would go on and lament about it. It's their loss, not mine. I will say that it would be nice if the WWE stopped pretending that NXT doesn't exist when they are consistently raiding their china cabinet at this point. With an extra needless hour of Raw and Main Event, can it be possible that World Wrestling Entertainment, the billion-dollar brand, doesn't have the stroke to land these guys their own network show? Which would most fans rather see, some more Total Divas or the next generation of talent? Maybe then we can stop acting like all of these guys and girls are rookies who have never even left their own hours before, much less see action inside a wrestling ring. Why are we continuing to pretend when we're breaking the fourth wall with all of these ripped from the headlines storylines? I'm supposed to know that Daniel Bryan is going to marry Brie Bella and that Cody Rhodes is getting married but I'm not supposed to know that Big Show isn't really suing the WWE and that people from NXT have wrestled before. Difficult to keep track of, I know.
So, in the end, we're right back where we started. Despite the story arcs and character development and (most importantly) hard work of guys like Bryan, Ziggler, and Sandow busting it in the ring on a nightly basis, we've got Randy Orton as the WWE Champion and John Cena as the World Champion. We've got Triple H at the top of the food chain monopolizing opening segments and main events in a desperate attempt to recreate the Austin/McMahon era (little hint, Hunter, you're no Vince). We've got people getting title shots as a result of losing to a different guy the week before who already lost to the champion. And we've got The Great Freaking Khali being plopped into a match with Fandango with zero build on a PPV, not that the most massive amount of build possible from the best promoter in the universe would accomplish the objective of making that entertaining to anyone. This is starting to read like a Heyman promo.
The point is, WWE, you had a chance. You had the chance to use this time and series of gimmicky PPVs to set the stage for the big dances to come, starting with Survivor Series. You had every opportunity to round out the stories of these very good wrestlers and set the stage for them to take the company to the next level. And you didn't do it. You didn't even try. You went with the tried and true formula of having Triple H screw somebody so he can continue delivering the same lines night after night. You brought Kane back from being carried out by the Wyatt Family to fight the Wyatts for a couple seconds, beat the hell out of The Miz (who doesn't?), and then apparently apply for the position of Stephanie McMahon henchman on Raw. I think we've earned Kane coming out in suspenders and a porkpie hat, don't you?
At the end of the day, the WWE seeks to be an interactive company. They want you to participate in their polls, watch their shows, buy their events, go to their shows and for all that is holy buy their merchandise (free shipping on ShopZone by Prime Time Players! Help Vince make millions of dollars!). They want you to vote in Shawn Michaels so they can swerve you. They want you to cheer Daniel Bryan so they can keep the belt off of him until WrestleMania. The fact that it's painful and boring television, the fact that Shawn F'N Michaels can't execute a superkick anymore because he's river adventuring, doesn't bother them in the least. Just download the app. Did I mention there's an app? But true interactivity, that is, listening to what the fans are saying and making accommodations for what they'd like, well that sort of interactivity is years away. What we're all clamoring for is the return of Vince McMahon, right? Hasn't that been what you've all been filling my comments section with week after week? Yeah, I didn't think so either.
TNA is on the ropes. The product is really bad, the Carters are apparently selling, and no matter who buys it they are light years away from standing any reasonable chance of competing with the WWE for your entertainment dollar. The sad part is as bad as TNA is doing, the WWE is not capitalizing. They have a huge opportunity to win back some of the fans disenfranchised with the state of affairs, who went to TNA as an alternative because ANYTHING was better than the WWE. Competition is good for us as wrestling fans. Hell in a Cell is an example of what no competition looks like. Makes me want to buy a TNA pay-per-view just because, quite frankly. ECW did more with a budget that was below my grocery bill than what we're seeing here, and it's just not acceptable.
Maybe it's indigestion, maybe it was watching that Eagles/Giants game on Sunday, but I feel as wrestling fans we deserve better. We've stood by the product through thick and thin. We've endured the catcalls and jokes at our expense and we've stayed with the WWE through the lean times as their major players got old, got hurt, and got out. There needs to be a time where we are rewarded for our service, not mocked and belittled further by poor execution and silly logic holes. HIAC should be offensive to you as a WWE fan. It certainly was to me. It's patently clear to me that the current powers that be aren't interested in the opinion of "internet" fans and smart marks, because hey, look over there, shiny object! And by the way John Cena's back and indestructible and hey, we've got an App. But two (or two thousand) can play at that game.
We've lost our smile too, WWE. How about you help us get it back?