By Jeffrey Lutz
During Raw last Monday, I turned to my wife (who surely had better things to be doing than watching wrestling with me) and said, "WWE is as good as it has been in a long time." I felt strongly about that comment because the product was finally making me feel something. I don't have emotional reactions to wrestling very often but I have found myself, like so many others, actually becoming upset at what heel characters such as Triple H and Randy Orton are doing to babyfaces like Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Big Show.
During the week, though, I heard more criticisms of that angle, and WWE in general, than I expected. While there might be holes in the story, and while it might be difficult to look ahead and come up with a way the babyfaces -- Bryan in particular -- will get over in the end, I feel as if most of this criticism is unwarranted, or at least hasty. WWE has been known for its failure to map out story lines from start to finish, instead often relying on week-to-week writing, but the angles involving Bryan/Orton/Triple H and C.M. Punk/Paul Heyman have produced such compelling television that I'm holding off complaints for now.
Here, then, are my responses to some of the most prevalent criticisms I heard over the past week:
1. Daniel Bryan's popularity pales in comparison to that of legend "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
This, of course, is true. It's almost unfair to make the comparison between the two performers because Bryan's character is light years away from that of Austin due to the eras in which they wrestled and because they have vastly different looks, mannerisms and natural abilities. But since both Bryan's and Austin's first main-event programs involved feuding with an authority figure, it's difficult not to evaluate their pushes and popularity side-by-side.
Austin was the centerpiece of WWE's most successful period, the Attitude Era, while Bryan is fighting for a top spot with several other wrestlers within a PG product. The comparison, really, should end there, but Bryan isn't getting nearly enough credit for the positive qualities he has in common with Austin.
Bryan isn't some passing fancy. The "Yes!" chant isn't a fad, either -- it started at WrestleMania. Twenty-eight. Seventeen months ago. And now it's stronger than ever. Fans aren't behind Bryan because of a chant, anyway. "Yes!" isn't much different than R-Truth's "What's Up?," yet Bryan is a main-event player and R-Truth struggles to earn television time. Bryan is the most popular star in WWE -- just like Austin was at one time -- and the "Yes!" chants supplement his act, they don't carry it.
Besides, you know who else isn't as popular as Stone Cold? John Cena, and he has been in almost every main event for the last nine years.
2. WWE's babyfaces are cowards for staying on the stage while Bryan and others are attacked.
Triple H has threatened to fire any wrestler who intervenes on The Shield's ambushes of Bryan, overseen by Orton and Triple H himself. That shouldn't matter to babyfaces who want to do the right thing no matter the circumstances, right? Not exactly. For example, let's say Big Show barrels past Triple H on his way to help Bryan even the fight. He gets in a few shots at The Shield, but then is fired on the spot. How is that worth it?
Not only is Big Show now fired, but his decision probably didn't make any difference and now Triple H will make life even more miserable for Bryan. It's difficult for Big Show, or any other wrestler, to create change if he's not around to do so. Helping out a friend in the face of termination may be noble, but getting yourself fired and leaving your friend to fend for himself against an overpowering enemy with one less person to help is just stupid.
When, by the way, is the last time we heard fans chant Big Show's name, like they did at the end of Raw last week? Never, probably, right? This angle has given his character new life, and could lead to a huge payoff if WWE capitalizes on it quickly. The key is to show how conflicted Big Show is about helping Bryan, given the circumstances, and Big Show played that part perfectly last week.
While he was a heel, we learned that Big Show has an ironclad contract. It seems that WWE is doing its common revisionist history, where the company doesn't acknowledge something, therefore it doesn't exist. But if WWE goes for continuity and Triple H can't fire Big Show, he can torment him, and that's enough for Big Show to think twice about his actions.
3. Triple H is a mark for himself for inserting his character, once again, into WWE's hottest story line.
Another potentially fair criticism. Triple H has been known to show up, sometimes unwarranted, just when a WWE wrestler achieves a major breakthrough. It happened with Punk two summers ago and appears to be happening again with Bryan.
I'm not sure how much influence Triple H (the WWE executive) has over the angle, but his presence, to me, only enhances it. Triple H is putting additional heat on Orton, Brad Maddox and The Shield, and has quickly become possibly the most hated character on Raw. A month ago, he was one of the most beloved. It takes skill to pull off that shift.
True heel heat, like Triple H and Heyman are earning currently, has been a missing element within WWE in recent years. Not long ago, the cowardly heel was most prevalent in WWE, and it was painful and annoying to watch bad guys win matches by cheating week after week. Now WWE has actual heels who earn actual reactions, and having non-full-time wrestlers like Heyman and Triple H around to magnify those reactions is a good thing.
This is professional wrestling, after all. Good guys always win in the end, and Bryan and Big Show and Ziggler will probably win in the end here, too. The process may be painstaking for fans and observers who enjoy or are paid to analyze, but it's not always about the process. It took one week for me to feel like WWE was on top of its game, and maybe this week will be even better. I can't wait to find out.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lutz's Blog: Dissecting the criticisms surrounding Daniel Bryan, Triple H, Big Show and others over the past week
Sep 2, 2013 - 02:00 PM
Sep 2, 2013 - 02:00 PM
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