What you need to know
Disney be damned, WWE finally did what their fans have been begging them to do since the novelty of hearing "I Walk Alone" thirty seconds into Batista's return. The Animal is once again a heel. He's told us that he's a better crossover star than Hulk Hogan or The Rock, and he's a much better pro wrestler than the vanilla midgets we puppets have been cheering in today's business.
Dolph Ziggler did his best to be the hero of the people, but that only got him spinebustered and powerbombed. Alberto Del Rio still thinks he can take down Batista, but his request for a rubber match was put on hold while he got placed in the middle of the burgeoning feud between Sheamus and Christian.
Most of the fireworks from Friday night involved the WWE's two dominant trios. While the friction between the members of The Shield seems to be as much about dealing with their first losing streak as it is about Dean Ambrose, The Wyatts are united behind Bray's quest to take down the head liar in the company, John Cena.
The Hounds want The Family to know that they won't be brushed aside after one pay-per-view (PPV) loss, and Triple H doesn't want to give away a rematch to an early match of the year candidate without any hype. So that match will happen tonight...a sign of fealty to the Chief Operating Officer that The Eater of Worlds sees as another sign of weakness from his prey.
Zeb Colter's Real Americans do not seem to be on the same page, either. Neither Cesaro or Jack Swagger is doing anything resembling a heel turn, though, and as a result they've created something legitimately intriguing.
The same can not be said for whatever is going on between the longest reigning champ in the history of the butterfly belt, her enforcer, and The Funkadactyl without the broken face.
From the news that will surprise absolutely no one department, Daniel Bryan remains over.
Today's trivia question is: The Usos win a lot (a) when teamed with D-Bry, (b) when the belts aren't on the line, (c) in matches not on PPV or (d) all of the above.
What to look out for
Well, they're in Chicago. What could possible go wrong? Aaron Paul will be there to find out...will you?
In addition to the Elimination Chamber rematch between The Shield and The Wyatts, keep your ears open for any news on John Cena's kayfabe injury that may be being used to cover up a nagging real one.
Batista has embraced the hate...is he also co-opting Ryback's gimmick? WWE is hyping his war against keyboard warriors...which fan favorite will he go after next on his path toward WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton?
And now that Daniel Bryan has been victorious over Director of Operations Kane and The Authority's hand-picked tag champs the New Age Outlaws, will Triple H grant his request for a match at WrestleMania?
There's something else that people are talking about for tonight...but it escapes me right now. I'm sure it will come to me.
Oh yeah, Paul Heyman is set to address Undertaker's innovative approach to signing contracts!
What they should do
I agree with The Boss of Cageside (yes, I am adapting Sasha Banks' nickname for Geno. Will I be fired on tonight's Cageside Live podcast? Tune in to find out!) that Creative has two clear choices if a certain Chicago Made Chick Magnet returns tonight.
As a long-time advocate of The Game vs. The Beard being Daniel Bryan's true main event, I'm not at all in favor of putting Punk back into a story that was never his in the first place by giving him a match against Hunter in New Orleans.
A triple threat for The Viper's belts makes more sense, if only because it provides the final piece of the Batista puzzle, without having to turn Orton into the kind of (dick)face that none of us bought or enjoyed when a more talented character actor like Punk was trying to do it a couple of years back. But the questions of what a win there would mean for the future of all three men and why he would come back to job to a part-timer seem to make that as far-fetched as it is appealing.
No, with or without an agreement for The Second City Saint to show his face in The Allstate Arena tonight, I think the best move for WWE is to continue on without him.
For one thing, there really is no such thing as bad publicity. At least not when when you have offerings that will excite all segments of your audience: kids (cheering Cena against the Wyatts), casual/lapsed fans (Lesnar/Undertaker) and smarks (whatever The Shield end up doing, Bryan, Cesaro). So a non-violent fan meltdown that happens tonight and rolls through the next couple of weeks will only generate buzz for the product. And provided that the other elements of the show continue to deliver, I don't think that crowds in cities without an absent Superstar who wears their flag on his trunks will be universally hostile.
Even if Vince McMahon has brokered a peace with his Straight-Edge Superstar, plans have been set up to proceed without him. Trying to reinsert him now only adds to the chaos of the on-the-fly booking they have already had to do because of his exit and fan reaction to Batista.
Let the buzz around a potential WrestleMania fan revolt build - WWE's bigger concern should be making sure the Network stream is flawless anyway. Drop some hints through the wrestling press that he might be there (similar to what they've been doing for tonight). He could then return at the show or the next night on Raw (where a fan revolt is a damn near certainty compared to the possibility of one among the casuals and big spenders at the SuperDome) as a surprise.
Either as a face - the first challenger to The Animal's "I'm gonna destroy all your 190 pound favorites" reign - or a heel - charging in to back Cena when he's outnumbered by the Wyatts, only to GTS him and leave him to the Buzzards - a couple of months of Punk following Mania could continue to generate interest in the product and fuel WWE Network subscriptions even after the buzz of The Showcase of the Immortals is gone.
That's having your cake and eating it too. That's...best for business.
What we're afraid they will do
I truly hope that don't antagonize the Chicago-Land faithful tonight. It might be painful at times (mostly like during Batista segments, but I wouldn't expect the WTF-eud between Christian and Sheamus to get a pass either), but responding to fan outrage by continuing to put the best available product front and center is a better strategy that trolling the crowd with Living Colour, or Batista wearing Punk merchandise.
It's often in the nature of WWE to try to antagonize the audience, but tonight may be too fragile a situation to handle business as usual.
Will he or won't he (and by that I mean "will Batista be able to have a match that last longer than five minutes, of course)? Tune in tonight to find out!