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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Will Summerslam '13 be the IWC Version of Wrestlemania 21?
By The Doc
Jul 24, 2013 - 8:51:51 AM

Eight and a half years ago, an era in modern wrestling history reached its conclusion. Triple H, the face of the sport since his Attitude era cohorts hung up their boots, dropped the World Heavyweight Championship in the main-event on the same night that his successor became the WWE Champion. Wrestlemania 21 was deserving of the tagline that hyped Wrestlemania XX: "Where it all begins...again." It changed the industry, launching the headlining careers of, or laying the foundations for, several emerging superstars in John Cena, Batista, Edge, and Rey Mysterio.

Around the same time, the influence of the vocal minority - which, I think it would be fair to state, is at the very least heavily influenced by the Internet Wrestling Community - was starting to become more pronounced in the WWE. Mania XX saw two men adored by that crowd in Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero pushed all the way to winners of the World title matches; and Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar was ripped to shreds by fans "in the know" about the wrestlers' respective plans to seek employment/independent contractorship elsewhere. A year later, Matt Hardy took full advantage of the internet to expose Edge and Lita as a pair of cheaters. In the near-decade since, the vocal minority's influence has skyrocketed. Superstars well conditioned to the IWC have made frequent reference to its common idiosyncrasies on live broadcasts.

Currently, the calendar shows roughly four weeks until the 2013 Summerslam and the two announced main-events feature CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. As I reflect back to Wrestlemania 21, I see the next in a long line of cases in which the general viewership followed the WWE's lead and got behind their chosen few. As I look ahead to this year's Summer Classic, I see the vocal minority's influence coming to a head. Could there be two better examples of how far the vocal minority's influence on pro wrestling has come? CM Punk - the tattooed, totally against the grain 6'2", 215 pounder whose idea of getting dressed up is to throw on a hooded sweatshirt and the pair of jeans only worn three times since the last load of laundry. Daniel Bryan - the "Yetti" (as my wife calls him) who makes Chris Jericho look like a big guy and is the epitome of an underdog. Two incredibly skilled pro wrestlers, but each fitting key descriptions long since (fairly or unfairly) held about the scurge of the fan base - the short order cook at Waffle House with nothing better to do than watch guys in their underwear pretend to fight and the little dweeb who sits at home in his parents basement playing World of Warcraft.

Collectively, we love Punk and Bryan because they're different. Twenty years ago, "different" at the top of the WWE's biggest cards meant well sculpted, smaller athletes like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels who were not superheros personified like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior. Today, "different" means CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, who often make any fan of over a decade blink twice to make sure that who we're seeing in top spots on WWE TV are for real. It's the pro wrestling equivalent of Tony Parker and Chris Paul being legitimate candidates for best player in the NBA when clearly the alpha male positions look more natural on a 6'8" monster frame like Lebron's. Larger than life to pro wrestling success is what bigger, stronger, and faster is to football or basketball. As much as many of us love what we're seeing, how odd is it when you take a panoramic view of wrestling lore? We have to give ourselves some credit for it, ladies and gentlemen. We've been bucking the system for a long time, but never moreso than recently. The WWE is choosing to listen.

Being honest, the majority of the vocal minority do not wish to see the next John Cena emerge. Good looking bodybuilders who used to play college football are what the WWE is looking for in a #1 star, but there has to be something a little bit more "grass roots" (as Jim Ross stated about Bryan) - being held down or ridiculed for the lack of a physical attribute - in order to earn the adoration of the vocal minority. Two years ago, Punk spoke the "IWC" anthem for the next decade, catering his words as if to speak to the very insiders who would most resonate with his scathing, anti-establishment diatribe. Today, he boasts a resume that includes the longest championship reign since Hulkamania and major PPV feuds in 2013 with The Rock, Undertaker, and Brock Lesnar. A year ago, Bryan's booking sheet looked like it had been written in a poop pen by incompetent buffoons that could not see past his inadequacies, but he had made himself so beloved in such a short time prior to Wrestlemania 28 that the event that could have buried his career actually prompted his vocal supporters to catapult him to the brink of the WWE Championship.

While Summerslam '13 may not be the exact equivalent for Bryan and Punk as Wrestlemania 21 was to Batista and Cena, it feels very similar to me. If you add in Dolph Ziggler's potential World Championship victory to mirror for his career what winning the first Money in the Bank did for Edge (in the long-term), then the events carry a similar aura. Mainly, both events evoke a sense of change in the air. It will be awhile before the change potentially brought about by Summerslam this year can be confirmed, but here's the bottom line: Punk and Bryan are being asked to draw the PPV buyrate expected of one of the year's major events opposite two all-time box office powerhouses. Wrestlemania XXX could come along next spring and suffer from the same influx of old-timers that many felt that Wrestlemania NY/NJ did this year, but never before has so much been asked of two guys so beloved by the vocal minority (and who seem so out of place by historical comparison to their top star brethren). Remember, Wrestlemania 21 was followed by Summerslam '05, which relied heavily on a clash of era specific titans (Hogan and Michaels) to draw ahead of the newly crowned kings of the business. It actually took a few years for the trend begun at Wrestlemania 21 to fully materialize into a long-term change of the guard. It might be Wrestlemania 31 before we know, for sure, what Summerslam '13 meant for the company's direction. Punk vs. Lesnar and Bryan vs. Cena are unquestionably, though, a pair of main-events that I never thought I'd see as the two biggest matches matches of the year's 2nd biggest PPV.

Let's make something clearer - Punk and Bryan do not have to reach the zenith of the WWE (i.e., Bryan vs. Punk in the main-event at Wrestlemania) for Summerslam '13 to be the Internet Wrestling Community version of Mania 21. If they can both have successful, long-term runs as headliners, then that would do the trick. I do not believe that it's conceivable to think that wrestlers of their stature and look can be "The Man" unless something crazy happens (akin to the steroid trial opening the door for Bret and Shawn). However, to have two guys at the top of the card who the vocal minority are so deeply invested in would be great for the business/product. Bryan still has some work to do to create a permanent home at the peak of the mountain, where Punk has already established a residence that will be his for as long as he's healthy and motivated. Wrestlemania XX, if you'll recall, had similar potential to exhibit the influential voice of the IWC, but its vocal minority favorites fizzled out either due to lack of charisma (in Benoit's case), lack of confidence (in Guerrero's case), or lack of legitimate drawing power (in both cases). If Punk and Bryan succeed, particularly on the fiscal end (and steps have already been taken to ensure that, at least, Punk will), then this movement continues. Summerslam '13 needs to draw a strong buyrate. The domestic TV ratings do not drive the business, anymore (international TV contracts changed that). It's about PPVs.

I had a reader ask me recently via email, "How loud is the IWC voice?" In other words, what sort of influence does the internet really have on the product. I'll repeat my response: "The internet will never be the driving force in the WWE because its 'community' does not yield enough financial influence. However, it has the ability to steer the live audience. Young kids are like sponges - they're going to absorb what they see and hear. Much of the remainder of the general audience are easily swayed. If a hot, smark crowd goes bananas for CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, or Antonio Cesaro, the majority are going to be affected by that in some way. We're seeing it now with the number of IWC favorites who are so over everywhere in the world. The WWE will always find a John Cena or Randy Orton to be 'The Man,' but that doesn't mean that the vocal minority can't be responsible for finding his challengers." Our voice is being heard. You're blind if you can't see it.

Summerslam '13 will be two things, historically. It will be the culmination of many years worth of the vocal minority clamoring for "their" guys to be headlining and main-eventing top PPVs and it will also be "put up or shut up" time. The WWE is pushing the IWC heroes. The IWC is being challenged to collectively gather its forces - its dollars and cents - to purchase Summerslam. Wrestlemania 21 became historically significant, in large part, because its new stars became success stories, but that never would have happened if it had not drawn the strongest PPV buyrate in several years. Summerslam '13 does not have to hit a home run at the box office, but it must get past first base. A strike out now would send things right back to the pattern that has made the minority so vocal.

Question of the day: Will you both order Summerslam yourself and encourage others to do the same?

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Tonight at 6PM (EST) on LOP Radio, "The Doc Says..." is back with a discussion of the greatest Summerslams, Daniel Bryan's Raw, the Punk-Heyman-Lesnar feud, and an unlikely headliner who may emerge for this year's World Heavyweight title match at Summerslam.

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