Well, if there’s one thing that WWE did successfully last night, it was that it created a buzz. It might not be a positive one, but it is a buzz.
For a long time now, Daniel Bryan has been considered the “internet darling” along with fellow former independent talents like CM Punk, Seth Rollins, and others. After paying his dues on the independent scene, Bryan took part in the failed Nexus angle (before being released for choking Justin Roberts) then came back and became a part of a comedy tag team of sorts with Kane, forming Team Hell No and holding the tag titles for a while.
But a funny thing has happened since then. Daniel Bryan got over. Big time over.
Arenas everywhere love chanting “Yes!” along with him. He gets a big pop every time he comes through the curtain. His offensive flurries are fun to watch and are generally crowd-pleasing. Last night in Pittsburgh, fans were on the edge of their seats waiting for Bryan to emerge through the curtain one more time to enter the Royal Rumble match after he and Bray Wyatt stole the show in the opening match.
That moment never came, and Pittsburgh let WWE know about it.
Hall of Famers Mick Foley and Jim Ross questioned the booking decision, with Foley threatening to throw a brick through his TV if Bryan didn’t enter and/or win the Rumble. Fans in Pittsburgh booed Batista (the eventual winner) and even (normally) fan favorite Rey Mysterio when he came out as the #30 entrant. The booing was bad enough that WWE didn’t show wide angle shots of Batista posing on the ropes after his victory and it’s said they adjusted the sound levels to help drown out the negative reaction.
But as I eat my lunch, I wonder if is this simply that fans want Bryan to be the man, or if is this a sign of a bigger problem in WWE?
Last night, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was defended as well. Randy Orton, the champion, was successful in retaining his title against John Cena. During that match, Pittsburgh left both men have it. Chants ranging from “boring” to “you both suck” to “we want divas” rained down on these two men. Arguably, Orton and Cena have been the top men in WWE for quite some time now and their title match was good (albeit nothing spectacular).
This is what hit me when I think back to last night: I think what fans are really looking for is change. Fresh faces. Something new and different.
Roman Reigns was cheered, even as The Shield’s heavy, as he made what seemed like an improbable run to the final pairing of the Rumble. The live crowd chanted for Bryan all night long. They even cheered Bray Wyatt’s attack on John Cena at the end of the title match. Perhaps they are tired of Randy Orton and John Cena. They only mildly cared about bringing back Batista (and last night threw him under the bus in only his second appearance back).
WWE right now feels like they’re in a transition period that they don’t know how to address. If you go back as many years as I do, it feels like the period in the late 80’s into the 90’s all over again. Vince continued to ride his “old stars” and didn’t take chances on his younger talent.
Today, John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, and to some extent Triple H continue to be pushed heavily in the big picture. Younger talent like Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, and others remaining just below the surface. Fans are behind these younger talents, but Vince and Co. have yet to fully utilize their talents.
The only way Vince McMahon was willing to take a chance on his new talent back in the early 90’s was when the crowds completely turned on his veteran talents. Perhaps last night, Pittsburgh, PA truly sent a message to WWE that it’s time for Vince to take that chance, yet again.