LOS ANGELES, February 1, 2014 — Strange things are indeed afoot, but this time they are not located at the Circle K, but deep in the heart of the WWE. If you were not paying attention to the World Wrestling Entertainment this past weekend, you missed their yearly Royal Rumble pay-per-view extravaganza. You also missed the bombshell dropped by CM Punk. The Royal Rumble is one of the Big Four events which help shape WrestleMania Season, which is April 6 this year.
The WWE is unlike professional sports or television shows, which have an off season or a re-run schedule. WrestleMania is the Granddaddy of Them All, and it signifies the end of the WWE’s season. Feuds are settled and storylines come to an end, while new storylines emerge, which will unfold on the season opener the following night on WWE Raw.
The Royal Rumble is a pay-per-view event based around the Rumble match itself. It is a 30 man, over the top elimination Battle Royale, in which wrestlers are eliminated by being tossed over the top rope, with both feet touching the floor. Two WWE Superstars start the match and every minute and a half another wrestler enters the ring. The winner of the event is the last wrestler standing in the ring. This is a real life “Thunder Dome Rules”, only with 30 men, not two.
The survivor of this match will earn an automatic Championship match at WrestleMania. The favorite to win this golden ticket is sometimes predicted by fans weeks before the event. Generally, if a bad guy or “heel” is the current WWE Champion, fans can usually predict that one of two good guy or “face” wrestlers will win. The “face” will then battle said bad guy, hopefully defeat him and his dastardly ways, and thus a happy ending at the WWE’s season finale.
The current champion is Randy Orton, a heel. With that being said, fans generally assumed that the wrestler who was getting the best odds to win the Rumble was current fan favorite and leader of the YES Movement, Daniel Bryan. Daniel Bryan’s fan base has grown exponentially over the past two years. He was a “heel”, but as result of his work in the ring, overall likeability, and an everyman appeal, Bryan has become the overwhelming fan favorite recently.
Fans chant Bryan’s catchphrase “YES!” when he makes offensive moves, and “NO!” when his opponent dares to land a punch or kick. Fairly simple, but extremely effective when 30,000 fans are screaming in unison. Daniel Bryan leads the masses chanting “YES”, dictating the speed in which the crowd says “YES” like some sort of orchestral conductor leading his cult of manic followers.
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However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the Royal Rumble gears when former multi time champion and current actor, Dave Batista made an announcement to the WWE. After a three year hiatus where he tried his hand at MMA fighting first and then moved on to acting, Batista wanted back in the WWE and he had his sights set on championship gold. Batista signed a two-year contract with the WWE to return to active duty. “The Animal” let the WWE Universe know that he would make his return in the Royal Rumble match and he planned on winning the match and thus going to WrestleMania to win the title. Needless to say, when Batista made that announcement, the crowd did not agree with what they had heard. They realized that the former champ was cutting in the title shot line, right in front of their hero, Daniel Bryan.
While the WWE had never actually announced Daniel Bryan would be in the Royal Rumble match itself. In fact, that night he was slated to face his current tormentor, the bearded leader of the Wyatt Family, Bray Wyatt. WWE fans generally believed that Bryan would be one of the surprise entrants in the Rumble later in the evening. Fans predicted the scenario of Bryan being a late or final entrant. The crowd would explode with cheers, and after a few dramatic teases of him being eliminated, Daniel Bryan would win the Rumble, go on to WrestleMania, and win the title.
At that very moment, a wave of catharsis would wash upon both Daniel Bryan and the fans would experience a feeling of joy, which would bring tears to even the most hardened of souls. It would be a textbook happy ending and redemption for Daniel Bryan’s character and career. Two years ago at WrestleMania 28, Daniel Bryan was defeated for his World Heavyweight Championship in a record 18 seconds in the first match of the evening. Needless to say, fans were not happy with that result one bit.
When Batista made his announcement to return to the WWE, fans believed that the main reason was to cross promote the Marvel Comics summer movie, The Guardians of the Galaxy, which will be released on August 1, 2014. Dave Batista will play “Drax the Destroyer” in the film who is described as “an alien warrior in search of vengeance.”
The WWE is no stranger to cross promotion with their former or current stars when they star in films. In 2011, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who last wrestled in 2004, made his triumphant return to the WWE. The Rock became WWE Champion once again, and just in time to promote his film, Fast & Furious 6. Fans loved The Rock’s return, but slowly soured to a part time wrestler/full time actor returning to the squared circle to be handed a title for which every full-time professional wrestler on the roster sacrificed blood, sweat and tears.
Flash back to when Batista made his announcement that he was coming back to win the Royal Rumble. At first, fans cheered, but quickly realized that if he won the Rumble, their golden boy, Daniel Bryan, could not win, and would not be in the WrestleMania Championship match. Was the WWE telling the fans that this would actually happen, or would the winner be a surprise?
On January 26, a perfect storm hit the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the words of the late Gorilla Monsoon, “the fans were jam packed to the rafters”, and every one of them were Daniel Bryan fans. The aforementioned Daniel Bryan/Bray Wyatt match started the evening and it was indeed fast and furious. The match lasted 22:11, and never once did the pace slow down.
While Daniel Bryan did not win the battle, fans hoped by the end of the night he would win the war. Fans were already connecting the dots and planning a potential “YES” serenade for the Royal Rumble winner. The night’s happy ending of redemption could be seen from miles away. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the Royal Rumble.
As the Rumble match unfolded, wrestlers entered and were eliminated. The match itself was one of the best in the last few years. When entrant Number 22 showed up, the arena crowd became visibly and audibly antsy and anxious, which could be seen and felt while watching from the television set.
They chanted his name, “DAN-IEL BRY-AN! DAN-IEL BRY-AN!” Then entrant Number 28 marched down to the ring. It was Batista, and the crowd immediately started booing him out of the building. When Number 29 walked down the entrance ramp, the crowd was now a combination of nervousness, insanity, with a just a pinch of getting ready to riot. They still believed in their hearts that the next entrant would be their hero. At last Number 30 came out, and time stopped for a brief nanosecond. Number 30 was not Daniel Bryan. “But there is no joy in Pittsburgh–Daniel Bryan never came out.”
The ending that fans predicted, but did not want to believe would actually happen, actually happened. While the ending for which everyone hoped, wished and prayed, sadly never came to pass. Batista returned to the WWE and made good on his promise to win the 2014 Royal Rumble. What should have been a celebration for Batista was not so.
Batista was booed and fans were angry that this twist of fate had occurred. The general consensus was that a part time former wrestler used the bargaining chip of a summer blockbuster movie to vault the fan favorite and be handed a title shot and more than likely the title belt on a silver platter. A professional wrestling storyline if this writer has ever heard one.
The next night on the January 27 episode of RAW, the Cleveland crowd voiced their overall displeasure with the Royal Rumble results. The WWE obviously did not anticipate this ground swelling of fandom for Daniel Bryan, either did not check the crowd’s reactions recently, or frankly did not care to do so. One thing is for sure, if the WWE goes forth with Batista fighting current champion Randy Orton at WrestleMania XXX, the match will be booed the moment they start the match introductions.
The WrestleMania crowd is generally the most hostile and rabid crowd, consisting of lifelong wrestling fans from around the world. Rumor has it that the WWE is feverishly trying to cover their tail by changing around the booking to accommodate this recent turn of events.
In another twist in this bizarre storyline, fan favorite CM Punk, aka “Best in the World” and the “Voice of the Voiceless,” apparently has quit the WWE. On Wednesday morning, Twitter and other wrestling sites started reporting that Punk had left the WWE Raw taping in Cleveland and told WWE owner Vince McMahon he was “going home.”
With WrestleMania just a few months away, this is akin to Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch, or Richard Sherman retiring at the NFL’s Media Day before the Super Bowl.
Currently there are only rumors and speculations as to why CM Punk abruptly quit, ranging from his disgust with how the Daniel Bryan situation is being handled, his displeasure with Batista walking in and taking someone’s spot, his displeasure with WWE’s Chief Operating Officer Triple H, his refusal to inform the Cleveland crowd that he had a concussion and that he was taking some time off when he had passed all tests, or possibly Punk may have endured all he could from management and just decided to walk.
Also, in this day and age where wrestling news is almost instantaneously reported and spread via Twitter and other social media sites, this could in fact be a “worked-shoot.” A worked-shoot is a term for any event or occurrence that is scripted by the creative team to come off as unscripted and therefore appear as though it were a real life happening, but is, still part of the show and storyline. Time will only tell if that is the case, but for now, the WWE is short one main event wrestler and are apparently trying to incorporate Daniel Bryan into their championship plans so the crowd does not hijack any future shows like they did the Royal Rumble.