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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE and Its Fans - Managing Great Expectations
By The Doc
Mar 4, 2014 - 10:57:56 PM

The Snowman is a genius

QUESTION OF THE DAY: On a scale of 1-10, how much are you looking forward to WrestleMania XXX and why?

The start of WrestleMania season brings about more emotion than any other time on the wrestling calendar. Like the NFL’s Super Bowl or UEFA’s Champions’ League, WrestleMania transcends a single moment in time. The hype for each year’s top contenders gets combined with memories to create a potent recipe for incredibly high expectations and a volatile passion among the most rabid of diehards. The companies whose annual payoffs have sparked such attachment from its fanbases have a lot at stake, too. In sports entertainment, both the fans and the WWE have their WrestleMania standards that while different are intricately linked.

Personally, 2014 has not provided the Road to WrestleMania that I had expected. I had my heart set on John Cena vs. Undertaker in a match that I felt perfectly fit the theme of such a seemingly important anniversary edition of the “Showcase of the Immortals.” About six weeks ago, that bubble was burst when it became apparent that they’d each be otherwise occupied and I had to reevaluate my position. Hell, Mania XXX is not even being treated as an anniversary. It was also six weeks ago that those of you pinning your hopes to Daniel Bryan winning the Royal Rumble had your bubbles’ burst. A few days later, we were dealt another crushing blow when CM Punk took his ball and went home. It would be safe to state that, to some extent, all of us have had to change our perspectives on what we thought Mania XXX might be. What was once destined to be a no-brainer classic event in the making, both in hype and in payoff, seismically shifted and most of us have spent the last month or so trying to wrap our heads around it. I suggest, though, that we not forget that the WWE has had to do the same. In all likelihood, the WWE has had Mania plans set in stone for several months. Just as likely, they had no idea that Dave Batista’s return would go over so poorly at the Royal Rumble or that Daniel Bryan’s fanbase would work its way into the mainstream. They sure as hell did not know that CM Punk was going to abruptly leave the company during the most important time of the year. It’s the middle of the winter in a brutally cold part of the country, but I’d imagine that the Stamford, Connecticut offices have had the air conditioning on with all the bullets that must have been sweat over changing plans for Mania with the WWE Network’s launch looming.

Last night’s Raw felt like both the WWE and its fans were scrambling to live up to the great expectations that come with each WrestleMania season. Live from CM Punk country, “Cult of Personality” hit to thunderous applause and the collective sigh of relief of many in the WWE audience. Just as quickly, the rug was yanked out from under the people of Chicago and across the globe in an admirable WWE attempt to shift the crazy heat from Punk’s departure onto the Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker feud. The reaction to Punk’s no show has proved that a lot of people simply were not ready to shift their expectations. The WWE is lucky that they have Paul Heyman under contract right now. Nobody else in the business could have as successfully grabbed the audience’s emotions by the figurative ears and forced them to listen to the reality that CM Punk – for a variety of reasons – is not coming back for Mania XXX; nobody could have told that tale so well as to have the focus wind up on Punk’s Summerslam 2013 foe rather than Punk, himself. Yet, all the while, it was really nothing more than the WWE trying to capitalize on an unfortunate situation and the fans, in turn, trying to cope with it (and, arguably, failing to do so).

I had mixed feelings about Punk coming back. The further removed we became from his late January walkout, the more convinced I had become that we did not need him. Daniel Bryan was deservedly moving into the spot Punk left vacant and the Orton-Batista situation was working itself out. In a 165 comment Facebook thread, started by the Dave Meltzer rumor about Punk’s Monday night return, I worked my way through the various Punk-associated emotions. Oddly, I was not initially excited at the prospect. I had spent 6 weeks coming to terms with the fact that the primary reason that I had continued to watch wrestling religiously these past 3 years (Punk) had dropped off the face of the earth. I wondered, rather, what kind of effect that Punk coming back would have on Daniel Bryan’s momentum. I surmised that Punk had hit his peak already and that he should not be given main-event priority over the #Yes!Movement. Suffice to say, it was not a rumor that evoked sunshine and rainbow tinted thoughts. Yet, by the start of Raw last night, I was primed and ready to see him back. Then, after Heyman’s promo, I knew that it had been just another rumor and I didn’t hold my breath the rest of the night. I know that some of you did and I get that. The WWE has become its own worst enemy when it comes to surprises. They spent their most popular period (the Attitude Era) going against pro wrestling’s history of logical, well-paced storytelling and attempted to shock-TV their way into every worldwide household. Today, even if they flat out tell you not to expect something, it doesn’t matter; they convinced the fans for years that when they said “No,” the answer was actually “Yes” (and vice versa). It’ll take years to undo their conditioning of the audience to expect to be shocked even when told they will not be.

When Punk did not show up, I went back to focusing on what could be. Given my concerns as to how Punk’s return could affect Bryan, I was actually somewhat relieved. This is Bryan’s time. Punk was on the downward slope in his career, as was to be expected from having standout rivalries with John Cena, Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, and The Rock within the same year. There was nowhere to go from there but down. Bryan, on the other hand, is very much on the upswing. I am unsure of his full potential as a top level WWE star (and the WWE probably is, too), but the wrestling world and I are anxiously awaiting the chance to find out. The heel vs. heel dynamic for the WWE Championship match at Mania suggests an addition to the match, putting Bryan in the driver’s seat to both defeat Triple H and, also, maybe even main-event Mania and win the title on top of that. It makes a lot of sense to this writer, having been witness to the majority of the shows that left the WWE Universe wondering when the payoff might finally come. Never before in Mania history has a heel vs. heel match headlined. Raw heavily teased during the Bryan vs. Batista match, before it with The Animal’s interview about 195 pound wannabes, and the melee that led to the closing moments of the show that Bryan might get added to make the title match a triple threat. Punk coming back to be added to the title match would have made the championship bout better, but would have put a roadblock in the way of the logical, natural D-Bry story that has been going on since last August. As one of my Twitter pals best put it, “Honestly, if Punk (had come) out to close (the) show + was inserted into (the WM) main event it would've been great tonight then disappointing 2morrow” @TheSharpShoot. Some think Bryan’s logical story arc has to involve Triple H. I’m in that camp. Some think his journey is all about the WWE title. The reality is that the end game should be a combination of both. Without Punk, the sky is still very much the limit for Daniel Bryan.

The final segment of Raw was fascinating to me. It was a microcosm of how much everyone has had to adapt this WrestleMania season in an attempt to salvage the most wonderful time of the wrestling year. The WWE, by all accounts, once seemed content to give Bryan a headlining 4th or 5th biggest match at Mania. I give them a lot of credit for many things, but I think that they were thrown for a loop by the Rumble reaction to Bryan and I, for one, no longer believe that they originally intended to push Bryan to the moon on April 6th. Reflecting back, they apparently put him back in the upper mid-card in November and were poised to keep his underdog story brewing into and potentially beyond Mania, perhaps refocusing on his quest for the title in the summer. Punk’s departure made it easier, but the WWE has listened to its fans – Bryan is on the cusp of something that defies their usual formula. The WWE has had to call an audible with Bryan’s path to Mania, Triple H’s opponent for Mania, and the originally expected dynamic to the Batista vs. Orton match. All of those things were evident as the involved parties took center stage to end one of the longest Raws in recent memory (getting past my bedtime, man). Batista was a full blown villain just weeks after coming back to be the conquering hero. Here he was a “made man” with the Marvel Universe backing his play, ready to enhance his legacy in wrestling, make a ton of money, and win the Undisputed title that he so coveted back in the days of a split World Championship. I commend him for his two nights as a heel, thus far. He has done well to switch gears. Gone is the Evolution 2014 tale that was set to be told, replaced by two men forced into strapping their main-event careers to a post stuck twenty feet in the figurative ground as an F5 tornado of swirling demand for change threatens their decade-long positions. Yet, even as the WWE continued to try and right the ship, the fans continued to rebel. I’ve never seen anything quite like what’s going on.

With Punk definitively gone and Bryan’s story back on the upswing, my hope is that we can now all turn our attention to remembering this year’s WrestleMania for the right reasons. Initial expectations can shift and now it’s time to get down to shaping our actual expectations – the ones based on the card that we’ll get and not the one that we wanted.

Being a sports fan of any kind is an exercise in managing expectations. College football fans here in the States know very well what I’m talking about. I go into every Notre Dame season quietly hoping that they go undefeated. Sometimes that is realistic; more often than not it isn’t. Yet, the entire 12-game schedule helps shape your expectations for each week that follows. If the Irish are undefeated through mid-October, I’m thinking national championship or bust. If they lose in September, my expectations shift to BCS Bowl or bust. If they lose three games before mid-November, I start thinking about just getting to a decent bowl game to help with recruiting. As a fan, that’s all that I can do without driving myself crazy. I love Irish football. My dad’s remains are on that campus. Great, good, mediocre, etc, I’m going to enjoy Notre Dame games. I feel the same about WrestleMania season.

So, let us assume that we get no addition to the WWE title match and wind up with a top 5 line-up that includes Taker vs. Brock, Trips vs. Bryan, Cena vs. Wyatt, Shield Implosion triple threat, and Batista-Orton. Last year, everyone balked at the lack of new stars in key positions. This year, there’s plenty of youth in the top matches. There’s a little something for everyone on this card. Four of the top five could be absolutely awesome. It is not what I wanted, but it could still be fantastic. Remember this – even the greatest Manias of all-time had some pre-event disappointment. Mania 17? Why isn’t Triple H in the main-event? Mania 19? Most the feuds stink! It is understandable. Expectations are always astronomically high, but if we can learn to manage them from here on, then we can let this be the thrill ride that it is meant to be.


Join us for “The Doc and Super Chrisss Show” on Wednesday at 5PM. We will be discussing the roles of wrestling fans, the Road to WrestleMania, and give our WIN/FAIL of the week.

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