There’s something off about the build to this year’s WrestleMania, and it’s not just that we now have a “special event” called FastLane, which seems more suitable for a Sparky Plugg retrospective. This appears to be the season of the invisible protagonist, and it’s already infecting the card top to bottom. Nowhere is that perhaps more prevalent than in World Wrestling Entertainment’s main event, where Roman Reigns has summarily and handily dispatched of the popular choice to challenge Brock Lesnar, one Daniel Bryan, to attempt to halt the Beast’s slow roll of success at the top of the heap. While the true intrigue regarding this match involves both Lesnar’s future plans and current issues with his management, the smoke and mirrors at the front end involve the ever-fascinating attempts to book World Heavyweight Championship matches without the presence of said champion. This is a game the WWE has played with varying degrees of success for months on end, harkening to the light show provided by the Wizard of Oz before the curtain was pulled back.
No matter how effective Paul Heyman may be as Lesnar’s mouthpiece (and he’s incredibly effective), this situation has only frustrated fans even further who felt the sting of the poor way Bryan was booked in January’s Royal Rumble. Regardless of whether or not you feel Bryan was the right choice to face Lesnar, it’s nearly impossible not to admit that his story deserved a better delivery to say the least. Triple H’s admitted “do-over” resulted in some temporary excitement with the prospect of the Yes man getting his just desserts, but the resulting “passing of the torch” speech did little more than cement Bryan’s pole position of the little guy who’s really nice and tries hard but can’t sell tickets. Does anyone in the upper echelon of Titan Tower truly think Bryan’s fans will support Reigns because they made nice and shook hands? Let’s hope not.
The big hubbub over Lesnar’s absence from last Monday’s Raw overlooked the obvious: It didn’t seem like a big deal because he hasn’t been around for long pretty much ever. The WWE has done a better job making his infrequent appearances count, but it’s fitting that Groundhog Day just passed because Brock appears to come out once a year to tell us how many more weeks of wrestling winter we’ve got left. Another example of the Invisible Man ruling the day can be found in the announced match of Triple H defending the Authority’s honor against the face of WCW, Sting. While Sting gets his WrestleMania moment and everyone can appreciate the McMahon clan getting the heat applied, most of this feud has been without the Stinger uttering a single syllable. The use of an obvious stunt double and mood lighting a few weeks back recalled the “nWo Sting” saga of WCW, and was largely unpleasant. Fans are smarter now, and that kind of thing smacks of budget cuts. Will we understand Sting’s motivation before the road to WrestleMania has reached its destination? I’m not sure, and I’m even less sure that they’re sure. It’s great that Sting gets a reaction every time he appears, but more meat must be applied to those bones.
Ditto the creatively interesting but equally befuddling decision to have Bray Wyatt call out the Undertaker week after week. While the news that Taker might feature prominently in this year’s card is anything but earth-shattering (his visage has been plastered on WM trucks for months), it appears we might reach the fated day before getting a look at Wyatt’s target. Whether that’s a writing decision or a result of his physical condition is anyone’s guess. What’s less up for debate is why on earth we’re even going down this road after last year’s debacle. Taker has clearly earned the right to go out on his own terms, and perhaps Bray is, as Jake Roberts eloquently and rightly observed recently, “like me in the sense that he doesn’t need [the] belt to make him.” Wyatt’s character development has been free-form and brilliant, and it simply hasn’t mattered whether he’s won or lost along the way. So what is to be won or lost in this eventual battle? Closure for fans despondent over the violent and cruel way one of their greatest heroes had their streak summarily ended? Or a vaulting point for a future main-event-level evildoer? Only the stars know for sure.
And it’s this trifecta of nebulous connecting of the dots that calls to mind the true fundamental nature of this beast: WWE’s inability to turn the corner when it comes to curating and varying their multiple levels of mind-bogglingly good talent. When the roster has swelled to the point where Rey Mysterio isn’t needed and rumors of Samoa Joe are whispered from every nook and cranny, the stark truth is that a company built on the shoulders of two or three superhero stars appears on the precipice of that yet again, despite every warning and attempt to perform the contrary. From Roman Reigns potentially assuming the indestructible mantle to Triple H lacing them up yet again to Undertaker doing anything but resting in peace, the calculated brain of Vince McMahon has opened to page one of the only playbook he knows. That doesn’t mean there won’t be epic performances and memorable moments this year. One thing the WWE has always done early and often is pump up the spectacle. Perhaps what the Network is lacking in its quest for world domination is recognition and self-awareness. The only way to appeal to those who’ve not yet purchased isn’t giving the milk away for free, it’s rebranding the cow.
One thing that was remarkably and sadly obvious me to as I watched SNL‘s bloated retrospective is that a show that has delivered so many hilarious moments and amazing comic performances over the years got cold feet when rolling back the sands of time. It seemed that acknowledging the best of the past risked alienating the current. That kind of thinking is off the mark in my view. Celebrating those who came before, then taking what they did and finding some way to make it different, if not better, should be the goal. Vince and company are suffering a similar fate. Immersing themselves in the activities of the past has served only to heighten the pressure of the now. Dolph Ziggler, Kidd and Cesaro, the NXTers…you don’t have to look terribly far to see the cogs capable of creating some fantastically new machinery. What’s the worst that could happen? The buy rates are no longer relevant anyway.
Tantalizing us with forces unseen starts nearly at the very beginning of our days. Just like the Tooth Fairy, though, eventually the story runs out of steam. There’s only so long you can accept what’s fed to you before you ask the big questions. Who’s the MVP of early 2015 in World Wrestling Entertainment storylines? The mystery opponent. That in itself is notable for all the wrong reasons.
To close, I’d like to thank everyone who followed us over to our new site. Your support and opinions have always been incredibly important to our team and certainly to me as a writer, and we need it now more than ever. I look forward to giving you plenty to think about (and comment upon) in the months and years ahead.