On this week’s podcast, I summarized why this week’s installment of Monday Night Raw, the final episode before the SummerSlam PPV, was once again a mixed bag. The two main event angles are polar opposites of each other in their storytelling. I will go into more detail here to fully illustrate my point
On one hand, there is a fine, time honored story being told. The evil Paul Heyman, jilted that his “friend” CM Punk no longer wants him involved in his matches, betrays him and costs him his shot at the WWE Title. Now in order for Punk to get his revenge, he has to deal with Heyman’s brutish ally Brock Lesnar. Brock is bigger, meaner, stronger, and possibly tougher than Punk is, so Punk is laid out multiple times by the big brute. Punk has to resort to his brains to overcome the brawn.
Simple and effective right? Now let’s take a look at the other main event angle.
It could be the example of the underdog Daniel Bryan hanging tough with the biggest star in WWE, John Cena, sometimes called the 21st Century’s Hulk Hogan. It could be that Bryan may just beat the 11x WWE Champion. It’s even simple enough adding in Randy Orton waiting in the wings with his Money In The Bank contract. It’s all over the title, right?
Make no mistake, John Cena and Daniel Bryan had a verbal confrontation in which “epic” can be an accurate adjective. John Cena showed the fire and drive that makes you realize why he’s been the biggest star of the last decade in wrestl… er “Sports Entertainment”. He made it practically impossible for you to boo him as he talked about visiting cancer stricken children who just want to see him in person. Daniel Bryan countered that he’s been scraping and clawing for the last dozen years while John Cena stood in the spotlight. This was all great personal drama on par with many of TV’s primetime shows.
…and then HHH’s music hit to remind you that he got his way through Vince McMahon to become the guest referee, and that The McMahons are still behind the whole thing. Sure the title is mentioned. But Stephanie McMahon wants a “corporate” image for Daniel Bryan. HHH thinks Bryan is fine the way he is. Vince McMahon doesn’t want either guy as champion, but thinks Bryan may be the lesser evil if he plays ball. Not only does this needlessly complicate the SummerSlam main event, but it subconsciously sends the message that the WWE Title is secondary to being in the favor of a McMahon. It also strongly implies that at least one McMahon will be involved in the finish of the match, because of course we can’t have a simple winner and loser.
I honestly believe that this hurts more than helps the WWE Title picture. The most prestigious title in “Sports Entertainment”, and the bigger story being told is once again the power of the company.
Can you imagine The Chicago Cubs going into the World Series against The New York Yankees and one of the main stories being told is whether Bud Selig approves of either team? Or if that analogy doesn’t work, Captain Kirk having a knock down drag out with Khan only to have Gene Roddenberry step in and say “You know, I don’t approve of either one of you…” That’s how this comes across to me. Rocky challenging Apollo Creed wasn’t marred by corporate politics, and I din’t think this should be either. Daniel Bryan is Rocky, the smaller guy that’s finally got his shot at the true big time, and all that is secondary to whether the corporate power is in league.
This is one of the things that has been constant in wrestling for the last 15 years. And it’s one of the things that has grown beyond tired since we saw McMahon to the same things years ago. It’s as stale as last month’s bread.
And yet, Punk vs. Brock still feels interesting because it isn’t following that tired mold, it’s following a natural progression that audiences will feel like they’re taking part of. Daniel Bryan’s journey could be that, but we’re constantly reminded that it’s not, and that’s what’s most frustrating.