Rocky Road to Wrestlemania

By Matt Angrisani

[Ed: Guest writer Matt Angrisani weighs in on a topic never before covered on The Read Zone: professional wrestling.  If you’d like to write an article for The Read Zone, contact us at mike@thereadzone.com or by using the form on the About Us page]

WWE started off 2014 with a Diamond Dallas Page-esque “BANG.”  The Royal Rumble, one of the most popular events of the year, was around the corner.   Former World Champ, Batista, was returning after a several year hiatus, along with Sheamus, who was out of action for almost all 2013.  Even bigger was the announcement of the long-awaited WWE Network, an online source for brand new WWE programming, classic matches, and live Pay-Per-Views.  WWE was flying higher and higher until they unexpectedly (at least to them) got too close to the sun.

The Royal Rumble is the first PPV of the year for WWE and is a fan-favorite, with its unique concept and platform for returning stars, surprise victories, and one night stands for retired wrestlers to get one more pop from the crowd. Previous years have seen stars like Edge and John Cena make dramatic returns from injury to win the prestigious event.  Often stars of the 80s and 90s like Honky Tonk Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, The Godfather, and Diesel brought nostalgia back to the older crowds.  This year, however, the WWE creative team went in a different direction, and the fans were quick to react.

Batista returned to win the Royal Rumble event, earning a championship match in the main event of Wrestlemania 30.  Normally, when a big name, like Batista, makes a surprise return, let alone wins the match, it is greeted with an eruption of cheers.  However, thanks to poor secret keeping by WWE, the Batista return was spoiled, and it became well-known several weeks before the show.  Even the return of Sheamus was semi-known, as he was advertised for an autograph signing that weekend in the same city.  Both superstars received weaker pops from the crowd than anticipated because the fans were already over these “surprises.”  On top of that, the only old-timer to show up in the match was Kevin Nash (sporting his 3rd different hair color in as many years), who already made his surprise appearance, then as Diesel, a few years earlier.

The only surprise to the fans was the lack of surprises throughout the match.  No Chris Jericho (who was at the same signing as Sheamus), no Christian (who is making his return on Smackdown – the Monopoly Jr. of WWE programming), and no other former wrestlers.  When #30 entry Rey Mysterio, one of the most popular good guys of all-time, entered the match, he was greeted with more boos than he has ever gotten because it became clear to the fans that the WWE had given up on trying to add any spectacular moments to this match.  Mysterio became the whipping boy for the fans’ disappointment, actually getting cheered when he was later eliminated.

The rest of the card was decent, but not remarkable, which is often expected as the Royal Rumble match itself usually carries the show.  Even during the World Title match between Randy Orton and John Cena, perhaps the 637th PPV encounter between the two, the fans were forced to entertain themselves with chants like, “We want Divas.”

The only bright spot to the Royal Rumble was the continued rise of Roman Reigns, who broke Kane’s record with 12 eliminations during the match.  Although, when it came down to Reigns and Batista, the fans already knew it was a matter of time before Batista won his 2nd Royal Rumble, starting him on the path to face Randy Orton for the title at Wrestlemania 30, a match we have seen almost as much as Orton vs. Cena, crushing the chances of the young Reigns of getting a well-deserved push.

If this was all that happened to WWE in January, one would think it could easily be rectified or made up for.  However, even bigger and more shocking news presented itself the next night.  If the fans were upset at the Royal Rumble outcome and the recent booking of the shows in general, CM Punk was fuming, so much so that he took his bag and went home to Chicago.  Punk told WWE after the Rumble and before Raw that he quit.  Speculation is this is over horrible storylines with little potential for growth and part-time wrestlers like Triple H, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, and Batista getting main event paydays over year-long workers like Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Dolph Ziggler.  Rumors are that Punk was considered to win the Rumble before Batista was re-signed.

This is the second time Punk has considered leaving WWE due to a disagreement on direction.  Years ago, Punk was hesitant to re-sign a contract until the very last minute, leading to the infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo.  After re-signing, Punk held the WWE title for more than a year and catapulted to main event status.  At that time, it was unsure whether WWE really needed to do anything to keep Punk, as he was not quite a headliner.  Now, though, he gets the second biggest pops from the crowds (next to Bryan) and is one of the few main eventers that does not leave for months after the Wrestlemania payday.  Punk quitting leaves a large hole in the WWE roster, and there is no one to fill it since they have done little to build up their younger talent.

This time of year is usually the most exciting.  Every Raw leading up to Wrestlemania 30 only gets more thrilling.  The Elimination Chamber PPV in February is the final step to finalizing the ‘Mania card.  This year, the exhilaration is just not there.  The rumored ‘Mania card consists of main event Orton vs Batista, two wrestlers creating very little reaction from the crowd, Triple H vs Daniel Bryan, which will be keeping their most popular talent, Bryan, out of the main event, and the Undertaker battling Brock Lesnar in what is sure to be uncomfortable to watch as the brutal Lesnar beats up the out-of-shape Undertaker.  The lackluster storylines and the need to rely on older stars rather than younger talent have caught up with WWE.  Their road to Wrestlemania 30 is shaky, one of their biggest stars has walked out and the fans are just not enthusiastic about what is to come.

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