2014. This is the year where we might possibly see the birth of a new professional wrestling era. I say possibly because this isn’t the first time we heard the term ‘Reality Era’ before. In 2011, CM Punk made note that we are entering a ‘Reality Era’ and positive change will soon envelop the WWE. While his vision wasn’t realized initially, I do believe that we are beginning to see what Punk forecasted nearly three years prior. I’m more hopeful that this is definitely a shift in the current philosophy due to fact that the WWE is beginning to acknowledge the IWC more than ever before and allowing it to affect booking decisions and promos.
Daniel Bryan’s short time as a member of the Wyatt Family was so due to it being extremely possible that Daniel Bryan was going to receive cheers as a member of the Wyatt Family. Daniel Bryan has transcended being a Face or a Heel, as his extraordinary wrestling ability will always garner him fan adulation. The point must be made that the “YES!” chants started when he was World Heavyweight Champion as a cowardly, spineless Heel. Adding him to a Heel stable that occasionally gets crowd cheers was certainly something that wasn’t going to get Daniel Bryan reviled. Bad timing was also a culprit as not long afterwards ESPN showcased the Michigan State football team engaging in a mass “YES!” chant that further illustrated Daniel Bryan’s massive mainstream appeal.
WWE couldn’t ignore that.
WWE’s thick skin has effectively been worn down. In the past, I’m confident that Vince didn’t care what kind of reaction he got to his creative decisions, as long as it didn’t adversely affect his pockets. Downturns in business don’t mean a thing to the WWE because they are the only game in town. The reality is, the existence of the WWE will never be threatened by another wrestling organization. The WWE is professional wrestling. However, that doesn’t mean you stop trying as hard.
A multitude of creative mistakes, start and stop pushes, failing to strike when the iron is hot, illogical booking, etc. have plagued the WWE for some time but due to the fact that there is no legitimate completion to capitalize on those mistakes, those mistakes continued.
And if you make the same mistakes more than once, they are no longer mistakes. They are choices.
2014 will be the year in which WWE will begin to exist on the brink of TV-PG parameters. Just because of the television rating WWE programming may be TV-PG, it doesn’t mean that content will be exclusively littered with immature jokes and pandering to children. I believe that if the beat down Triple H laid on Daniel Bryan two weeks ago was any indication, things will get edgier over the next few months as the company gets as real as the TV-PG rating will allow. Surfing the wave of monumental financial prosperity and positive public perception from the PG Era/Universe Era and the numerous opportunities capitalized on by WWE (higher Make-A-Wish Foundation awareness & activity; Susan G. Komen For The Cure; B.A. STAR; Superstars For Kids, etc.), the sports-entertainment conglomerate looked to reach a level of self-reliance companies strive to achieve when the open the doors for business. So far, the WWE is succeeding in that aspect with the launch of the WWE Network and parlaying their new weapon into bolstering their already massive social media identity and viewing scope.
With all this success and mainstream recognition both financially and culturally, a new Era must define the WWE’s push into the future. 2014 will be the year numerous new superstars enter the upper echelon of the WWE and make their claims to be at the helm to carry the company for the next 10-15 years. With the WWE Network giving WWE NXT an unprecedented amount of exposure, WWE debuts will be more purposeful. WWE Universe members now have the opportunity to see the progression of their favorite NXT talent from their time at Full Sail all the way to their debut on the main roster. 2014 will be the year where the structure of the entire business will change. WWE will begin to listen to its fans more intently. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every gripe the IWC has will be addressed by the WWE, it just means that the door isn’t completely shut.
The Reality Era’s Effect On WrestleMania
‘The Animal’ Batista made his long-awaited return from a nearly four year hiatus earlier this year in January. Suddenly, the ‘2014 Road to WrestleMania’ became painfully obvious. When it was becoming clearer and clearer that Batista was coming back to win the Royal Rumble and main event WrestleMania, many WWE Universe members voiced their displeasure with the possibility of Daniel Bryan or CM Punk not headlining the “The Showcase Of The Immortals”. The crowd was venomous at the Royal Rumble when they saw that Bryan wasn’t a participant. CM Punk left the company immediately afterwards and hasn’t returned since. Roman Reigns was vehemently cheered, as he was the last alternative to the expected outcome on that evening.
As great as it was to see a former 6x World Champion in Batista return to the company that made him a star for all of two weeks, he just wasn’t the person the fans wanted to see taking up a main event WrestleMania spot.
With WWE doing more listening than ever before, Daniel Bryan’s career has been forever changed thanks to the WWE Universe. The fans made their voices heard and the company surely took notice. The 2014 Royal Rumble may be the first ever Royal Rumble event to grant a WWE World Heavyweight Championship main event opportunity at WrestleMania to some not even included in the match.
The overwhelming negative reaction surrounding the Royal Rumble and the creative circumstances surrounding CM Punk’s departure, creative decisions had to be made on the fly to try and remedy fan discontent. The original plans had called for CM Punk vs. Triple H, Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus, and Randy Orton vs. Batista all facing off in respective one-on-one contests at WrestleMania. When CM Punk left, the WWE had to call an audible and pair Triple H and Daniel Bryan together. All is well with the world, right? Nope. The WWE Universe wanted more than that. We wanted justice for Daniel Bryan and wanted his story to conclude in historical fashion.
As for our titleholder, the man claiming the WWE World Heavyweight Championship as his own effectively became the least important person in the program leading up to the WrestleMania XXX main event. Bottom line, Randy Orton has been a terrible WWE World Heavyweight Champion. However, it wasn’t his fault; he was booked in truly awful fashion, similar to Chris Jericho on the ‘Road To WrestleMania X8.’
Cowardly heels are nothing new in professional wrestling, however, why continually portray some kind of possibility of the Viper (a cold, calculating, malicious individual who arguably doesn’t need much help in getting the job done) being unleashed and then have him cry to everyone in power about his lack of protection? Constantly crying for The Shield to have his back in matches and for The Authority to make stipulations in his favor, Randy Orton has been stripped of all his venom and is just a tame garden snake at this point. It was clearly illustrated that Randy Orton is only champion because The Authority has allowed him to be champion, at times looking extremely weak against The Big Show leading up to Survivor Series and every challenger he had to face in the Elimination Chamber (sans Christian).
Speaking of the Elimination Chamber event, I believe it became apparent that the true story wasn’t Randy Orton looking to claim his first Elimination Chamber victory and make it to WrestleMania by hook or crook; it was keeping the WWE World Heavyweight Championship away from Daniel Bryan at all costs. Randy Orton and to a lesser extent, Batista have become sideshow attractions in the real centerpiece World Championship angle: Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority. Again, this is very reminiscent of the build to WrestleMania X8 between Triple H and Chris Jericho for the Undisputed WWE Championship. That program was more focused on Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley and Triple H’s failing marriage and the custody of their bulldog Lucy than trying to wrestle away the Undisputed WWE Championship from Jericho. If anyone has anything to gain from losing this Sunday, it’s Randy.
Predictably, Bryan will go over Triple H, but, I think he will be viciously assaulted by Triple H following the contest and WWE will tease that Daniel Bryan may not be medically cleared to compete in the main event later in the evening. Of course, Bryan will be a part of the triple threat, the WWE will just work the fans over by having Orton and Batista come out first and square off for about 5 minutes before Daniel Bryan makes his highly anticipated return. Daniel Bryan will win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and the night will belong to him, effectively bringing his 8-month odyssey to championship gold full circle.
The Future May Be Now
This new Reality Era, spearheaded by Daniel Bryan, and featuring the rises of WWE Superstars like Cesaro, The Wyatt Family, The Shield, Ryback, Big E, The Usos, and Dolph Ziggler, will all look to find their identities and become staples of a new breed of professional wrestling icons. The crowds are giving the WWE doses of the reality that they have been longing for. It is common knowledge that the plans for Daniel Bryan weren’t for him compete for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, let alone battle Triple H at WrestleMania. With all of the unprecedented coverage the WWE Network allows members of the WWE Universe, it gives the wrestlers of this new ‘Reality Era’ a chance to earn people’s respect and rightfully earn their places in the card. This is a stark change from wrestlers receiving pushes that were meritless.
New eras and WrestleMania go hand in hand. Austin’s WWE Championship victory effectively ushered in the infamous Attitude Era. In order for Daniel Bryan to truly initiate a new era in professional wrestling, he will first have to defeat one of the representations of the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras of the past.
Daniel Bryan defeating Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton in one night will be his biggest career victory to date, even more significant the him defeating John Cena in the main event of SummerSlam last year for the WWE Championship. The victory in the main event of professional wrestling’s premier event will cement Daniel Bryan’s spot at the top of the mountain and in the annuls of WWE history.
Once that happens, the floodgates will undoubtedly open and a wider variety of superstars will get an opportunity to showcase their talents.