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A Fork in the Road for WWE by Jake Draper

The number one rule of life is this: Bad things happen and good things happen. People win the lottery, but might also get cancer. People find a penny on the ground, but also lose their homes in fires. People invent Croc Shoes and people get caught wearing Croc Shoes. No person’s life is ever fully good or fully bad. In a very personal case, I became very into fitness, but a broken arm and extremely invasive surgery wasn’t great for that. On the other hand (ha, hand pun), you’re reading this right now because of my misfortune. My little vacation from the reality of a 6am-5pm job was like stepping away from the tornado of life, looking into it and going, “Dude, I don’t really want to go back in there.” So here I am, writing for all of you fine ladies and gentlemen because I want to do something better and more meaningful with my life than make another really rich guy more rich.

The WWE touched very briefly on the concept of how we deal with bad situations. Rusev’s injury led to his “emo” promo about how he has nothing, but he will be back and he will reclaim what is his. A lot of people made their snarky remarks about how it was so lame and so emo, but I watched it and said, “F*** yeah, Rusev.” Because it resonated with me. I would like to point you to Kurt Zamora’s newest article regarding Ryaback’s transformation here. It’s something that I’ve noticed as well and really says a lot about Ryback as a person and his struggles since signing with WWE, and it also perfectly illustrates my point that Ryback’s response to negativity and bad luck have paid off immensely.

The WWE right now is in the beginning of a transitional phase. It’s almost like a swarm of little things that are pushing the company in a new direction. To put it in as nerdy a way as humanly possible, it’s like when Ronin’s ship in Guardians of the Galaxy is trying to land, and all of the little tiny ships link up and push it back. One of those ships with their little tiny engines aren’t going to make a difference, but all at once…they managed to hold it back. If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy then stop reading this at once and go watch it because you are really missing out. Plus it’s got Batista in it. And he’s good. Better than Age of Ultron.

We have the rise of NXT, which very few can deny has made a tremendous impact on the quality of WWE’s flagship shows, but also given us a reason to justify our $9.99 investment to the WWE Network. The crowds are smarter, seeing the talent of guys like Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and many others and our voices are heard, not only in the arenas around the world, but in forums like this. Backstage there’s the power shift where Triple H has begun to have more say in what’s happening.

Whether we like his on-air character or not, NXT is Triple H’s baby, he’s a big Daniel Bryan supporter and had a huge hand in his push last year, he has guided Seth Rollins since his time in NXT, and he’s one of the biggest Kevin Owens supporters out there. There is absolutely no denying that Triple H’s eye for talent and his ability to build and support and invest in new talent is making us very happy. Then there’s a writer backstage named Jimmy Jacobs. Without saying too much, this man is what a young Paul Heyman would be in modern WWE. His mind for wrestling and his ability to tell stories and help guys get over is beyond measure, and it cannot be coincidence that he began his role in the company just before Wrestlemania 31, which is where I believe the biggest changes for the company really began to come to fruition.

Through the injury of one of the most prominent stars in WWE, Daniel Bryan, and now the injury of one of their most talented up-and-comers, Rusev, WWE has had its share of bad luck. Yet, through that we have seen the rise of Ryback, a man I believe (and many of you are going to argue with me here) is deserving of a title and a push. The injury of Sami Zayn, one of the most exciting young prospects in the company, has led to the rise of Kevin Owens. We weep for the loss of Zayn, but we cannot be more excited for the future of Owens. WWE’s reaction to things that, for lack of a less crude word, suck, has birthed opportunities. That birth wasn’t without a bit of blood and some nasty afterbirth, but it’s not like yours was either. You’re a miracle, and where we are as wrestling fans just barely edges you out as the greatest miracle in your parents’ lives.

Still, power and fame and success corrupt. Our golden boy, John Cena, was once one of the best parts of WWE, but his own success nerfed what we loved about him. 2015 John Cena is my favorite John Cena ever, but that doesn’t mean that for years his own success was his biggest weakness. It’s a story as old as time: Power and fame change things. Metallica used to be the thrash metal band, but the moment they became rich and famous they couldn’t be angry any longer. How were they to continue making authentic angry music? We turned on them because we sensed that they were faking it. It happens with people. It happens with franchises. It happens when the heart of something that is truly magnificent is corrupted and lost, usually in some greedy bid to monetize it. This is why so many people love independent wrestling, independent films, and music that isn’t “mainstream.” It’s because success hasn’t altered them, so they still feel different and they have something that the mainstream can’t offer: Heart.

WWE is right there right now. Their years and years of success in the 80’s led to that feeling of invincibility, which led to a huge decline in the quality and success of their company in the early/mid 90’s. That, in turn, led to the WCW nearly taking them out of business. But Vince McMahon didn’t drop his head and puss out. He fought back. He realized what had happened to his precious brand, and he opened up a can of whoop ass. That phrase was so fitting right there that I actually think you should stop and read it again. Then there was the Attitude Era. Again, that was followed by a decline in the quality of the show in the mid 2000’s and up until I would say around 2011. Now they’re climbing back up again.

Now it’s time for them to continue the trend they’ve started. It’s not merely the current situation that matters, but how they respond to it. In all things, both good and bad, the attitude and response to it is what will go down as the most vital piece of the puzzle. At Money in the Bank, we might see Kevin Owens soundly defeat John Cena once more, cementing his place as more than a “fluke” who got the better of a guy on one of his off nights. We might see Roman Reigns win the Money in the Bank match, setting into motion a Shield triple threat match at Wrestlemania next year. Or…we might see Super Cena give Owens 18 Attitude Adjustments and beat him in three minutes, then Randy Orton win the briefcase and cash on Seth Rollins a night later to set up the new Summerslam main event….Orton defending against a new-and-improved John Cena who conquered the threat of Kevin Owens and earned his place at the top of the mountain.

The fork in the road is pretty clear for the company right now. In one direction there’s the safety of guys like Orton and Cena and Big Show, and in the other there’s the risk of gambling on guys like Owens and Neville and Tyson Kidd and Cesaro. To take the safe road things will go on as usual. Cena and Orton can draw ratings and they can make money, so it works for the casual fan. On the other hand, the risk of letting Owens pin the biggest star they have isn’t going to pay off in one day, but in a year of his momentum continuing it’s got the potential to dwarf the “safe route.” There’s a chance it won’t, let’s not deny that. There’s a chance that all of these new guys might stall out and we will look back and say, “I miss when Orton and Cena made the main event believable.” That’s the truth, whether we want to admit it or not. But I, for one, truly hope Vince McMahon and friends continue to take risks and continue to push for something new and exciting because, as a fan, this is the most invested I have been in the company in a very, very long time.

Now you’re left with a choice to make. You could follow me on Twitter @JakobDraper and all of your dreams and hopes can come true within 3-6 months…or you could opt not to and your dog will get hit by a car when you’re not looking. I don’t mean to tell you how to run your life, but you need to make the right choice. Think about it. Agent Smith couldn’t beat Neo because he couldn’t understand Neo’s choice to fight on. The Universe can’t beat you because it can’t comprehend why you’d make the choice to follow someone who primarily posts about fake fighting and how funny the GIF he found is. Do what you will, friends, but, no matter what, make sure you can live with the choice you’ve made.

I’ll be back this week for the Smackdown review. I missed last week because I had birthdays and I went on a hunting retreat in Africa to take down lions with nothing but a butter knife and I had to defuse an atomic bomb under the streets of New York. I’m a very busy man. This week Kevin Owens is issuing an open challenge for his NXT Championship. Combined with the fact that he just signed to be on the main roster and Samoa Joe just signed a full-time contract and is feuding with him in NXT, I can make an educated guess what direction they are heading here. That doesn’t mean I won’t watch and it doesn’t mean I’m reading the spoilers. So do yourself a favor, avoid the spoilers, and watch that without letting the dirt sheets ruin the moment. Most of all, read my review because that’s the best way to find nirvana and improve your odds of winning the lottery.