Not long to go now before one of the most anticipated matches of the year. Cena v Bryan. Everyone is talking about it, hell, I’ve mentioned every week for a while now too. We’re excited. We’ve followed the transition of Bryan from 18 second embarrassment to a walking, talking ‘Yes’ man. We also know that, whether people like to admit it or not, Cena always raises his game for the big bouts. His matches with Punk, Michaels, even RVD at One Night Stand 2006 are the cast-iron reasons why the WWE trust him so much. It’ll be the full stop to a wonderful summer of wrestling and sport and sun. Done.
Only...it might not be. Coiled backstage. Waiting in the darkness. Slithering with intent is one Randy Orton. The holder of the WWE Championship Money in the Bank. To be honest, he is the most dangerous man to hold the briefcase in years because, face or heel, this is a man who’ll take anyone down in his pursuit of greatness. A nine time world champion. A Royal Rumble winner. A Triple Crown Champion. Yes, it would have been nice if any of the ‘all stars’ had climbed the ladder last month but, with Orton in charge, things took a darker turn. At the moment he’s still just about the ‘face’ with no friends. Yes, he tags occasionally with others but he’ll happily RKO them if it means he gets closer to his target. His target? The WWE Championship.
One train of thought right now is that if Bryan wins at Summerslam, Orton (perhaps backed by Vince) will come straight out and cash-in. After last week’s Raw and McMahon’s slightly bizarre in-ring opening promo, even if Cena wins this could be the case. With this week it looks like the slow Orton heel turn is continuing and he might be McMahon’s man. Now, that’s a lot of ifs and buts and I know that. We all know WWE likes to provide a swerve, the unexpected so none of this might happen but, if the first theory is close, and fan favourite Bryan wins and one minute later is RKO’d into nothingness, the crowd, the fans will be livid. They’ll boo perhaps louder than those at Money in the Bank 2011 for Cena’s entrance. People will clog up the message boards, the WWE twitter feed will be full of apoplectic fans decrying Bryan’s position in the company, many will say that’s it for them and they’re never watching again. If this happens though, it’s just one part of the jigsaw. It would create a heel turn, it would make Vince the evil corporate head again, it would make Bryan even more of a fan favourite, hell, it might even do Cena a few favours, stranger things have happened. If the whole story ended with Bryan (with HHH in his corner) and WWE title holder Orton (with McMahon in his) at Wrestlemania XXX and a Bryan win, the anger of Summerslam would make sense.
The whole point though is that the journey to the top should never be easy and so when one takes the easy route, they will be punished. All you have to do is look at Bryan’s initial World Heavyweight title run. He always claimed he’d cash in at Wrestlemania. He lied. He cashed in against the Big Show, just seconds after he’d defeated Mark Henry. He became a sneaky little man who’d do anything to win and he began to treat AJ like a piece of dirt. He got his comeuppance at Wrestlemania in a match that lasted as long as Big Show’s title run.
We know what happened after that match. The ‘yes’ chants that pushed Bryan to where he is today and, ‘yes’ we were all disappointed that he didn’t get his first real, extended Wrestlemania match but it was part of a longer narrative. Accepted, there’s no way WWE creative could have known that direction then but it was still part of the story of the sneaky heel getting his just deserts. Also, something else happened that night and may well happen again on the evening of August 18th. We will be angry and disappointed. We will boo and shout the house down because WWE have broken our hearts again. It needs to be done though. If you give the fans, all of us, what we want all the time, it will get boring pretty quickly. Our ‘fan favourites’ will have nothing to fight for because there are no challenges and they always win. Arguably, this is the John Cena conundrum.
WWE loves to play with our expectations and, if you’ll pardon the French for a moment, they love to ‘piss us off’. Before Bret Hart’s 2010 return to the company, almost every time the WWE were in Canada, particularly in Montreal, they’d play Bret’s music because they knew the place would go crazy only for someone else, some villain, to walk out onto the stage laughing at the crowd’s gullibility. It was heat of the cheapest kind but it always worked. Just like The Rock’s music playing and Miz, dressed as ‘the great one’, walking down the ramp. At its basest level this is the company creating in the crowd the necessary emotion for the story.
The Money in the Bank contract is the perfect way to break the hearts of fans. The Bryan/Cena/Orton situation is remarkably similar to 2009 when Jeff Hardy, a huge fan favourite, finally beat Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship only for pseudo-face CM Punk to cash in seconds later. The fans were livid, Punk turned heel and then we had a great summer of matches between Punk and Hardy. Then, 2010 with Miz cashing in against Orton and creating mass hatred and, of course, the ‘Miz Girl’.
You can go back to Chris Jericho’s undisputed title win at Vengeance 2000. Now, we all know what a fan favourite he is now, but back then, after a brilliant entrance into the company, things had stalled slightly and he was against two of the biggest names in the history of the company. After a lot, and I mean a lot, of interference Jericho won after Booker T clocked Austin with the belt. The crowd were booing, they’re thumbs were down and people were livid. They broke a lot of hearts that night as their guys, Rock and Austin, had lost out to a pushy upstart. People were ‘pissed’ off. Yes, he’d had a few high profile feuds but did this cocky, long-haired rock star of a wrestler really deserve this highest of high accolades? I remember a lot of people I know saying how much they hated Jericho and someone like him shouldn’t be in the company because he wasn’t good enough. Now, years later, it all makes sense though. In fact, fast forward to Swagger cashing in on Jericho to claim the belt. Even though Jericho was heel, we hated Swagger for doing it. I remember his in-ring celebration the week after, you couldn’t hear him for the boos. People were not happy. Yes, we can look at Swagger now and say his journey is definitely not that of Chris Jericho’s but back then, that heat worked.
Now, I’m obviously not talking about ‘upset’ victories here. If I was, a whole list of Maven beating Undertaker/The 123 Kid over Razor Ramon matches would be here. I’m talking about when we’re so angry with what has just happened that we leave the arena, turn off the television in disgust and threaten never to watch wrestling again...only to tune in the next night just to, you know, see what happens. WWE is savvy enough to play with this idea too. When Alberto Del Rio ran down the ramp to cash in against CM Punk at Money in the Bank we all thought that was it. They’d toyed with our expectations and now Punk would lose in seconds and leave the company. It didn’t turn out that way though. He kicked Del Rio in the head and left through the crowd. For a moment though, a moment, we thought that was it.
To go full circle though, the WWE often likes to take a fan favourite, even if their current role is that of a heel, and shove their loss down our throats. At Wrestlemania XXVIII, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus were finally having their moment in the sun after being bumped to the pre-show the year before. It would be great. Everyone loved the internet darling Bryan and Sheamus had proved himself a useful face. Even Michael Cole, that erstwhile Bryan hater, pointed out ‘all of the Yes’s in the WWE Universe’ before the bell rang. Eighteen seconds later and it was done. It’s interesting watching the match again because, initially, the crowd is pleased for Sheamus. Big cheers can be heard as he pins the champ. It’s what happened afterwards though and, indeed, the night after on Raw that mattered. The ‘Yes’ chants were everywhere. The ‘universe’ was making their position clear. To be honest, Sheamus’ problems probably began that night too as ever since then he’s been the bully that we’re supposed to cheer for. If he’d have won that night in a ten minute match, we might not mind him too much, but to beat someone who could ‘steal the show’ in eighteen seconds was a step too far.
Of course, the other big question with regards to this question is ‘The Streak’. What if someone broke it? I’m a huge fan of The Undertaker and his unbeaten run at Wrestlemania. If he lost, against anyone, I’d be angry. I might switch off the PPV and vow never to watch again. That would be my heart talking. My head would, an hour or so later, watch the rest of the PPV and then probably tune into ‘the best Raw of the year’ (TM) the next night. That’s the thing, decisions made might infuriate us but sometimes they work out for the best. How else can we fathom how, at the biggest wrestling PPV in history, an eighteen second defeat can be more beneficial than an eighteen second win?
Fast forward to now though and it all sort of makes sense. Would Bryan be as big a favourite without that loss? Maybe not. Will WWE break our hearts again a week on Sunday? It’s very likely. By having Orton cash in on Bryan though they not only create a stead-fast villain again, they’ll also make Bryan even more of an underdog, the little man fighting for the chance to stand atop the mountain and say, ‘I did it’. For that to happen though, the WWE might have to break our hearts and have us, as fans, threat to turn our backs on the company...only to tune in the night after and see what happens.
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Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.