Pruett's Pause: WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Daniel Bryan's plight demonstrates WWE's lack of confidence in their own star-making abilities, Roman Reigns breaks out, Batista is booed, and more!
By Will Pruett
In the last five years, WWE seems to have lost confidence in its own ability to make new stars. I don't believe they are refusing to do so, they just don't feel right about doing it. Every time a new star in on the precipice of breaking through, there is an odd pause in their push. C.M. Punk was the most over wrestler in the world, but Kevin Nash had to run in and "stick" him. Dolph Ziggler was gaining the support of hardcore fans and set up for a nice run until he had to turn babyface. Ryback was a monster fans could believe in with a simple chant, but he had to turn heel. Alberto Del Rio seemed destined for a long run after winning the 2011 Rumble, but never captured the gold he desired.
In all of these situations, a character change or a story twist halted what was otherwise a great story going on. WWE seems to have lost the ability to take stars through to the top level. Meanwhile, the stars available to them at the top level continue to thin out. WWE even has a youth movement happening almost everywhere on their roster, except at the top.
While all of these stars have flirted with the top of the card, WWE has been far more comfortable bringing in stars from the past who have already achieved a breakthrough. They are more content with Batista, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Triple H, Undertaker, John Cena, Randy Orton, The Rock, and other former main event stars carrying the load instead of generating new ones.
This was never more evident than in the conclusion of the Royal Rumble match. The crowd begged for a new star to be made. Fans at home begged for a new star to be made. I'm sure many of the wrestlers in the ring and in the back were begging for a new star to be made. Sadly, WWE isn't in the business of elevating stars to the next level.
When Rey Mysterio entered the Rumble at number 30, he was booed. This wasn't because the fans don't like him, they just wanted something new. When Batista won the Royal Rumble, he was booed. The fans wanted something new. Throughout John Cena and Randy Orton's match, the fans begged for something new.
Daniel Bryan is not getting buried. Daniel Bryan is in no way being buried. He is one of WWE's top stars. He was given the opportunity to have an early match of the year contender with Bray Wyatt. He has been protected more often than not on television. He is not being buried.
What is happening is a frustrating lack of awareness on the part of those in power in WWE. While Bryan is not being buried, he is being treated like an upper-mid-card wrestler instead of a main event wrestler, despite garnering the strongest and most passionate crowd reactions every night. It's impossible to watch WWE programming and not see how much people love Daniel Bryan.
WWE would rather invest in their own past. They are too shy when it comes to pulling the trigger on making a new stars, thus they refuse to. They had a chance to add a major moment to their catalog of moments with Daniel Bryan and they didn't take it. There are rarely opportunities to make these moments happen, but WWE is content with ignoring them. The crowd is begging for something new and exciting. They know what it is. The crowd is screaming for what they want.
I don't understand the hesitance. I don't understand why WWE would rather invest in stars who were the young guns ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. I don't understand why Daniel Bryan didn't win the Royal Rumble match.
And now for some random thoughts...
- Jim Duggan seemed to alternate between completely insane and surprisingly coherent. It was a tad bit awkward.
- Ric Flair just seems crazy when he's on WWE TV these days.
- We live in a world where the New Age Outlaws are the WWE Tag Team Champions. I'm not sure this is a wrestling world I want to exist in.
- Goldust and Cody Rhodes seem to be on the road to breaking up. I'm not too enthused about this. They have been doing a great job as a team and could have lasted another year. My main worry is for Cody Rhodes. Will he be able to get over in a program with his very popular brother?
- Closing the pre-show with Daniel Bryan making his way to the entrance was a nice touch.
- Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt's match was simply amazing. It was the highlight of the show and could end up being the best WWE match we see this year. Wyatt stepped up and proved he could work at the highest level. Bryan proved just how great he is. This match ruled.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show was the exact enhancement match for Lesnar I expected it to be. I still wish we could have seen someone else stand up and go toe-to-toe with Lesnar. Big Show didn't need this spot and so many other wrestlers could have filled it better.
- I think Brock Lesnar has become aware of his awkward pterodactyl screams. It makes me sad. I loved dino-Lesnar.
- No one knows how to troll an uncooperative crowd like Randy Orton knows how to troll an uncooperative crowd. I'm not sure whether I love him or hate him for it.
- John Cena and Randy Orton fought an uphill battle to have an okay match the crowd didn't want to invest in. They popped the fans for some near falls, but the fans very clearly wanted something else.
- Launching into a Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena program worries me. Cena has a habit of quickly disposing of rivals. He also has a habit of not enhancing wrestlers he ends up in a program with. Wyatt is a character who could last a very long time in WWE, if given the chance. Will this program with Cena ruin his chance?
- The Shield's backstage promo was excellent. I'm enjoying the emerging personalities of all three members. Roman Reigns had an amazing performance all around on this show. Seth Rollins helped to hold the Rumble together. Dean Ambrose had a few major key moments as well. Good things are happening for The Shield.
- Speaking of standout Rumble performances, C.M. Punk had quite a night. His elimination defied logic with Kane pulling him over, but it's a long-establish Rumble trope. Perhaps WWE will see fit to fix it going forward, but my hopes are not high.
- I was wondering whether Kane would be in the Rumble and if he would wear his tights. Rocking the slacks and dress shoes was a charming option.
- There is no match as fun to watch with friends as the Royal Rumble is. There is also no better drinking game in all of wrestling. The Rumble was a delightful match, despite the poor ending.
- Alexander Rusev had a nice showing for a guy coming into the Rumble with no prior main roster exposure. He currently looks a little plain, but he could develop quite a bit. I wonder if Rusev will end up turning this Rumble exposure into a main roster run.
- Zeb Colter's signs were hilarious.
- Kofi Kingston's stunts this year were really well done. They were some of my favorite slightly silly moments in the match.
- I was bothered by the large Royal Rumble sign hanging over the ring. It clashed with the WrestleMania sign and made the setup look sloppy. I was also quite unimpressed with the entrance stage, which just looked like the Raw stage. Come on, WWE, why not do something new or different?
- The commentary team, and especially JBL, being armed with past Royal Rumble stats definitely enhanced the match for me. I'm quick to criticize JBL, Cole, and Lawler, but they did some nice work.
- I was legitimately sad to not be able to fast forward through R-Truth's Rumble appearance. Why can't he just be on the roster, but not on the show, like JTG?
- Kevin Nash was a waste of a Rumble surprise. I understand why WWE would book him, but it was another example of investing in the past instead of the future. Legends always get a little love during the Rumble, but Nash's run in 2011 was much better than this one.
- The short confrontation between Reigns and Nash did work for me.
- Sheamus' return was a welcome surprise. His physical style was fun to see again. I can only hope his character matches his in-ring style once he gets a chance to talk. Sheamus was woefully underutilized as a character before his injury.
- Missing from this Rumble were a few spots we see basically every year. No one skinned the cat. No one had just one foot graze the floor. I missed these touches, even though they don't make or break the match.
- El Torito's appearance was spectacular. I honestly wish there was some way for WWE to use him a little more as a wrestler. The bull act is silly, but the wrestler under the mask is awesome.
- I'm not sure Luke Harper and Eric Rowan really needed to be in the Rumble. There was a serious lack of impact from them in the match. It just didn't seem important.
- JBL's Rumble spot was also pretty pointless. It was a nice callback to Jerry Lawler's performance in 1997, but it didn't pack the same comedic punch.
- Antonio Cesaro swinging people in the middle of the Rumble was a nice highlight for Cesaro. Hopefully he will have a decent 2014 to back up a decent Rumble spot.
- Batista was the victim of crowd apathy from his entrance to the time the show went off the air. He also looked rusty in the ring. I know this was his first match back and there is a lot of time for him to warm up before WrestleMania, but he didn't seem to be in great shape. His conditioning was suspect and his rhythm seemed off.
- Could Big E Langston have been covered in more baby oil?
- The palpable disappointment from the crowd when Daniel Bryan was not number 30 was like nothing I've seen before. It was fitting for WWE to send out the aging and breaking veteran Mysterio instead of the new and exciting Bryan. It's like WWE was trying to embrace the narrative. The crowd dying when there was no Bryan was excellent.
- Reigns, Punk, Sheamus, and Batista was a decent final four. The spotlight was on Reigns and he benefitted more than any other performer in the Rumble.
- I want my own WrestleMania sign to point at.
- Batista's spear is awful. He should ask Roman Reigns (or bring Kaitlyn in) for spearing lessons.
- Watching Reigns, it is crazy to see how he is getting better every week. This was a standout performance from the six-man tag specialist and he even showed improvement from Raw just a few weeks ago. Reigns is learning. He is going to be great.
- I hope Batista didn't return solely for the admiration from live crowds, because I don't see them giving him much.
This show was disappointing, not because of bad wrestling or bad wrestlers, but because of bad storytelling. WWE has lightning in a bottle with Daniel Bryan and they refuse to showcase it. Ultimately, it will be their loss. Opportunities to make true moments like this don't come along often. Batista winning this Rumble felt like Ultimate Warrior winning in 1998 when Steve Austin was the hottest star in the world would have.
Once again, I don't think WWE is outright against pushing Bryan. They aren't confident in their ability to create new main event stars. They don't believe they can. It's sad, because Bryan is already a star. They just need to get out of the way.
So, what did you think of the show? Agree? Disagree? Either way, feel free to email me at email@example.com or to follow me and interact on twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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