Since the Royal Rumble pay-per-view (PPV) back on Jan. 26, 2014, in Pittsburgh, much has been amiss in the wrestling world. What happened? First and foremost, Batista. He inexplicably won the Royal Rumble match to deafening boos, and was therefore granted a "main event" championship title match at what's being promoted as the biggest WrestleMania ever, number 30 scheduled for April 6 in New Orleans. It was such a baffling, awful decision that it's driven the entire Royal Rumble PPV to live in infamy (despite actually being a pretty damn good show).
Then, what started as a rough week became a tumultuous one when CM Punk, arguably the company's number two star, decided that he'd had enough of WWE and headed home. While it can't be stressed enough that this was a decision made entirely by Punk himself, his apparent reasoning behind that decision goes right back to WWE management -- the same people we can credit with Batista's return and mega-push.
Now, these two actions have led to a persistently hostile reaction from fans, both in the live crowds and on the Internet, and it all seemingly came to a head with the one-two punch of this past Sunday night's Elimination Chamber and last night's Raw. In these two nights, it's been made (mostly) clear just what direction WWE is taking, heading into possibly the company's biggest show ever.
And what's that direction?
Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena
The most surprising of these matches is the one presumably lined up for the real face of the WWE, John Cena. It's the first year he's done something other than some sort of world championship or otherwise show-closing match at "The Showcase of the Immortals" since he beat Big Show for the U.S. belt all the way back at WrestleMania XX in 2004, a full decade ago. And now we see him facing an up-and-comer with no stipulation, in a match that he very well may lose and will (at best) get third billing. Having said that, I'd like to imagine nobody has any issue with this match. Wyatt's been doing stellar work, Cena's been doing the same, and their characters were made for this feud. We're all super excited to see Wyatt get such a huge match and hopefully he knocks it out of the park.
Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
We've seen this one coming for at least half a year. Nobody's complaining about this, right? Moving on.
Randy Orton vs. Batista for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Here is where there's trouble. What the hell were they thinking? This match was NEVER a good idea, even before Batista became "Boo-tista" on Jan. 26 in Pittsburgh. This is the show that's supposed to be a celebration of the past, present, and future of WWE, and the planned main event championship match is between a guy who was never a draw and a guy who peaked as John Cena's B-side nine years ago? The only explanation available here is they thought Batista was going to be a huge star on the level of The Rock. That was flat out awful judgement, but let's assume they've learned from that mistake. Now we've got a match that is destined to have a huge dump taken on it by 80,000 strong in the Superdome and it's for the top prize in the industry. Again, though, let's say they learned from their mistake. So far, Batista's accumulated all of maybe 20 minutes of TV time over a month, with two embarrassing performances on PPV (first in a Royal Rumble, then in a singles effort against Alberto Del Rio). He's had very short segments that have been buried in non-essential ratings slots of Monday Night Raw, and now they're outright acknowledging that everybody hates him on TV. What reason is there to think that he'll be treated any differently at WrestleMania? From where I'm sitting, we're looking at a match that will probably get 10 minutes of bell-to-bell time tops and be placed squarely in the middle of the card. It sucks that the top championship has to be buried in the middle of the card on such an important show, but this bed's been made for a while. We're absolutely, positively getting Batista in the championship match at WrestleMania, and there's no good way to make it the main event. So long as WWE's handling its mistake accordingly with the fan reaction to it, why should we complain?
Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan
I know Daniel Bryan's name has been absent throughout this, with plenty of spots where he's the answer to some hypothetical questions I've thrown out. Yes, you could say that handling the mistake by following fan reaction would be to put Bryan in the title match. This isn't wrong. Bryan could be added to Batista vs. Orton to make it a triple threat that closes the show with Bryan standing tall with the belt. And it's become clear that a lot of people would like to see that way, way more than the match that he appears to be set for. This is all for good reason, too. What's the logical payoff for the most over guy since Steve Austin getting screwed repeatedly out of winning the title for half a year? It's to give him the title in triumphant fashion to end WrestleMania. Booking 101, I agree. What this all comes down to, though, is that is still a case of the WWE's bed already being made, and now we all have to sleep in it.
Would it have been immensely more logical if Bryan had won the Rumble, gone over Triple H during the build for his title match, and gotten a fair-and-square championship main event against the champion (be it Orton, Cena, Lesnar, or even Punk)? Of course; there's no argument to made against that. Unfortunately, Bryan didn't win the Rumble, and the title match is a sinking ship I don't want to see Bryan thrown onto with hopes that he can keep it afloat. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista doesn't make any sense as a conclusion to Bryan's hunt. Bryan gets tossed into this match for the title, wins, and then what? He celebrates with the confetti and pyro? We've seen that before, twice, and both times we got burned. There isn't the backstory in place for a conclusive match. Story-wise, what reason is there for anyone to expect that this title victory would go any better than the last two? There isn't any. I want Bryan to win the title, but I don't want it to be rushed or thrown together. Yeah, it's been six months, but WWE went too far in a totally different direction with Batista. The only way to get Bryan back to that moment in time for WrestleMania would be to rush it.
In addition to this, Bryan vs. Triple H is a big match. Triple H is the man who has been screwing Bryan over and making his life hell for half of a year. He betrayed him in his moment of greatest achievement, and ever since, he's gone on to hide behind his employees and friends while coyly acting like a totally impartial leader, refusing to take any responsibility for what he's done. How is it not cathartic to hear Bryan grab a mic after beating Kane, pushed one too many times, and angrily call out the boss himself? To stand in the ring and say what's needed to be said for months? Yelling "Triple H is a COWARD" was one of the most satisfying things I've seen on Raw in a while, and it was just the beginning of this WrestleMania angle. The General said it Monday on Cageside Live: I want to see Triple H take all of Daniel Bryan's signature moves. I want to see Daniel Bryan beat the living hell out of Triple H once and for all.
Of course it'd be great for Bryan to win that title at WrestleMania and it won't quite be the same if he does it at Extreme Rules or Payback, but the fact is that the crowd is going to be mega-hot for it no matter what. It's going to be a happy, emotional moment no matter what. But Randy Orton and Batista aren't big bads for Bryan. Daniel Bryan's greatest adversary is Triple H, and I'm mega-excited to see them finally come face-to-face.
The "Daniel Bryan overcomes to win the championship" story may not get to close out WrestleMania, but it will get its payoff soon enough, and it'll be properly fleshed out when it does. The "Daniel Bryan's Ultimate Ass-Kicking Revenge" story will close out WrestleMania, on the other hand, and that's a huge story in its own right.
Seriously, who doesn't love a good revenge story?