We were just here. Not all that long ago. WWE doesn’t like you. We thought when Triple H took over creative, things would change. They decidedly have not, and it’s a wonder whether he’s actually in charge of creative anymore. Or whether he was yesterday, and whether he will be tomorrow (we’ll get back to this). While wrestling storylines can shoot off in any direction or be in any style, there comes a time when you pay off your fans for investing all the time and emotion. They get to be rewarded. Eventually, the babyface hero does overcome the all-conquering heel, no matter how impossible that seems. The whole fucking company, the modern version, was built on this. Otherwise, why are you putting in the time, on either side?
WWE, like Mike Tomlin, does not care
Not in WWE’s world, fam. They’re not concerned about what the wrestling fan wants. They’ve had two chances to provide one of their precious “moments,” something fans would cherish forever. And they micturated all over both. They don’t care, and they’re not going to care. And with today’s news, there’s no reason for them to care.
The one excuse the WWE-apologists couldn’t wait to rush out after Sami Zayn was nerfed in his hometown of Montreal from beating Roman Reigns (even though that was the time to do it and would have been one of the most special “moments” the company had ever created) was that they were saving it for Wrestlemania. Cody Rhodes was the true star, they said. He looked the part. He had the legacy. He had more cred given the path of his career. He acted the part more, and convinced everyone he was no matter how much the emperor wore no clothes (beyond his Homelander outfit, of course). Sami being passed over will only make the Cody moment even bigger, they said. They’ll use the disappointment to feed the even bigger moment, we were told.
What should bother WWE, if it had any concerns at all or was at any risk of its fans turning away, is that the ending wasn’t met with boos or cheers, once again. Somehow, WWE took a really hot and raucous crowd of 80,000 and deflated them, just as they did the near-riotous crowd that was behind Zayn in Montreal. It wasn’t shock, it wasn’t even anger. It was just total deflation. Unfeeling, almost. If there was shock, it wasn’t in the story but in, “They’re doing this to us again?”
Why did you buy in again?
If you looked hard enough, you could feel just about every fan who was ready for Roman to be toppled, ask themselves, “Why would I buy in again?” And really, why would anyone? They will not create any more momentum and energy for two people like they did for Zayn and Rhodes. No one can whip a crowd behind him from being one of them like Zayn did. Rhodes, despite what I think, made a good amount of the WWE universe think he was the superhero that Zayn wasn’t and was what was required. WWE passed on both of them. Who could possibly generate buzz like this again? The mainstream was asking about Zayn for a second-level PPV because fans were so excited. They were calling Rhodes-Reigns one of the biggest main events ever at the biggest show in the industry. How are they going to get there again?
Sure, Rhodes could easily win the title at SummerSlam. Maybe even in London at Money In The Bank in front of another hot crowd that the UK always provides. But it won’t be the same. And it’ll give Rhodes more time for his bullshit act to grate even on WWE fans. If Rhodes was WWE’s guy, they missed the window. It’ll never be this again.
But WWE knows they have an unbreakable bond with their fans, as one-way and abusive as it might be now. It doesn’t matter what they want, because even though they won’t get it almost all of the time, more than enough of them won’t turn away to find something different. Wrestlemania is such a huge event that it acts as a beacon to make fans think this is the only way. It shapes the rest of the calendar.
You couldn’t help but feel the shadow of Vince McMahon afterward. Despite protestations from everyone, if you know your WWE history, you know Vince shoved Reigns down everyone’s throat for three or four years and all he got was utter rebellion from the fans. But Vince has never cared what the fans think, and now that Reigns is entrenched as the unquestioned and unreachable star of the company, you couldn’t help but feel he was the one deciding everyone’s going to pay now for their denial of it at the end of the last decade. HHH can say what he wants, talent can say what they want, other execs can say what they want, but if booking looks and smells like Vince…
And now he’s at the top of an even bigger company. Why will it get better? Everything smacked of being directed by a guy who was ousted from his job for the crimes he committed, and then got that job and even more money back anyway. This was the booking of a man and a company that feels untouchable. Because they are.
Wrestlemania: Night 2
It was a perfect, wonky ending to a very wonky Night 2. The first two matches–Brock Lesnar v. Omos and the women’s four-way tag–were utter dogshit. Rousey is so toxic and bad now they just have her win without actually doing anything and yet are terrified of using her to help make another star. Think UFC’s merger 24 hours later had something to do with it?
That was followed by the three-way of Gunther-Drew McIntyre-Sheamus for the IC title, which was the match of both nights. Just a brutal display of physicality and striking from some very large men. Asuka and Bianca Belair followed next, and while it was a very tough spot to be put in both women delivered a great match with Belair cementing her legacy as Mrs. Wrestlemania.
And then it was time for the night to turn back into the gutter. Finn Balor and Edge in Hell In a Cell was a mess, further made so because a cut opened on Balor’s face which WWE would not allow him to wrestle with, even though his facepaint concealed it. So a stodgy match was stopped for five minutes so it could be stapled up, and then his “Demon” character lost anyway.
In the weekend’s funniest, and probably best, moment was a return of Shane McMahon — that literally no one asked for — which was quickly ended when he blew out his quad 12 seconds into his impromptu match with The Miz. If only we had all really taken stock of the symbolism for what was to come.
And then the main event. A really good match, one of the better Mania main events in a while, completely neutered by the ending. WWE doesn’t reward you. They won’t pay you off. They’ll take you where they want to go, because they know you’ll always come back. And if you don’t? Well, they just were sold for $9 billion, so fuck you.
To follow all of Sam’s wrestling musings, @Felsgate on Twitter.