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AS I SEE IT: Is Vince McMahon listening to his audience?
Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

So how do you think Vince McMahon’s last seven days were?

Starting with the Royal Rumble, and John CenaRandy Orton match #3,256, the crowd crapped on the match, a match which was fine in and of itself. Given that a lot don’t want to see either John Cena and/or Randy Orton as champion, the crowd started with “Daniel Bryan” chants, loud enough that JBL, Michael Cole, and Jerry Lawler had to acknowledge, suggesting the crowd thought Bryan was the “uncrowned champion”. Since Layfield is known as Vince McMahon’s mouthpiece, Vince couldn’t have had much problem with the chants then.

Then came the Royal Rumble match itself. After failing to see rumored legends like Chris Jericho and Jake Roberts, the crowd started by sitting on their hands, then breaking out again in Bryan chants.

Finally, after Rey Misterio came out as #30, the live Pittsburgh crowd absolutely took a thermonuclear shit on the Royal Rumble, realizing Bryan wasn’t going to be part of the match. They loudly booing Batista, even booed Rey Misterio himself, and loudly chanted Daniel Bryan’s name. The crowd kept booing through the remainder of the match, only briefly getting into the match for a minute or so when it came down to Roman Reigns and Batista. When Batista went over at the end, the booing resumed, to the point where the crowd sound was killed and the Batista theme music cranked up at the end of the PPV telecast.

Well, post-show… the galactic interweb went nuts. Really. Not just the WWE Twitter “_______ is trending” crap. My PWBTS website had the most hits this month it’s had in a year, with a lot of the traffic coming since the Rumble.

The online furor was so pronounced that the BBC website (which never reports on wrestling, short of PPVs in the UK), ESPN, and Fox Sports.com reported on it; not on the event and the beginning of the “Road to Wrestlemania”…but on the fan response to the decision not to have Bryan in the Rumble and go to the Wrestlemania 30 main event.

In the middle of that, Mick Foley went bananas online about the Rumble:

“Does @WWE actually hate their own audience? I’ve never been so disgusted with a PPV” Foley said on his verified Twitter account. He then followed that tweet with a Facebook post in which he dropped a curseword while defending Bryan.  “Like many of you out there, I just don’t get it…This Daniel Bryan thing is a phenomenon. You get it. I get it. The fans in Pittsburgh .?.?. got it. But tonight, for the first time, I had to admit to myself that the powers that be are just not going to get it. And that makes me sad.”

Now…it’s hard to tell if the original plan was to see if the fanbase would react with storyline progressing as planned; or if what happened hours with CM Punk later played a part, or a little of each.

As everyone knows, CM Punk proceeded to quit the company before the next evening’s RAW.

Depending on which story you choose to believe, Punk’s frustration started last year over The Rock coming in as a part-timer and being moved to the top of the card over currently working talent…to the perceived Daniel Bryan situation…to Batista going over in the Rumble…and finally….to a reaction over being held out of RAW following a feared concussion at the Royal Rumble, or some combination of all the above.

Things start with the preceding Friday, when an interview with MMA writer Ariel Helwani had Punk saying “Everything’s up in the air [regarding my WWE status],” he said. Earlier in the fall/winter, reports had Punk paired with Randy Orton for the title at WrestleMania 30. Then  Batista comes in, and wins the Rumble. Then it was suggested that Punk’s next Wrestlemania match reportedly against Triple H might have been given to Daniel Bryan.

I don’t think Punk had a problem with Bryan getting a push, seeing as an online interview this past weekend at a ComicCon had him saying “it’s Daniel Bryan’s year”. But the overall direction of Punk’s character, seeing others getting pushed when he and other regulars work their asses off, along with the uncertain financial rewards for talent as a result of the WWE Network costing regular PPV buys; added to whatever happened with WWE fears of a Punk concussion  during the Rumble that night at RAW, may all have combined to push Punk over the edge and sent him home.

So, as a result of Punk walking out, what was reported as RAW being booked originally as a series of qualifier matches for Elimination Chamber, now turned into the six-man match that qualified Daniel Bryan for the Elimination Chamber, and theoretically, one of the main events at Wrestlemania 30, or AGAIN Triple H somehow screwing him out of it…and setting up a match between THOSE two at Wrestlemania.

Then, as RAW opened on Monday night (mind you, fans didn’t yet know about Punk’s leaving), HHH lets out with an (in-character?) comment as the crowd booed the hell out of him as he came out to start RAW “What’s the matter? Some people didn’t get what they wanted last night?” This could have meant Bryan, Punk, fans, or likely some combination of all three.

Maybe it’s me, but even if HHH’s crack was part of the whole Authority vs. Bryan storyline, it’s still not “best for business” in the real world to piss off the very people who’d be the first to order your new Network, and shoot them the middle finger on top of that. Especially when HHH/Vince knew what the fans didn’t,  that Punk got pissed and went home, AND that no matter who’s right, fans would be even MORE pissed when they found out. It just doesn’t seem the best way to make people want to get off streaming sites and pay WWE $55 for six months.

If what aired on TV wasn’t enough, a note, alleged to be from a WWE talent who asked to remain anonymous was sent to the Wrestling Observer website:

“Internet is so funny. You all read the sites so you all should know the ‘plans’ for Mania. None of those plans have Bryan in a title match so the internet exploding at the end of the show is beyond laughable. Plus dont hate on Rey, he didn’t book himself as #30. The way most of you were acting the company should have called an audible and put Brooklyn Brawler as #30 just to piss you off even more. over 50,000 mania tix sold and a network that will change your life for ever is about to launch, so just relax and enjoy the product the company gives you. By the way, didn’t you all shit on the wwe for the Sept – Nov ppvs last year and said you were done, but turned around to watch/buy the Rumble? Pittsburgh you were an awesome crowd and it was an honor to be in your building last night”

Sending something to a “dirt sheet” website, even if anonymous, is both telling fans there’s a storyline, and shooting them the finger if they don’t like it.

Even if Bryan-HHH is the storyline driven direction they go; say, as the result of a HHH interference in Elimination Chamber, too many fans right now have no faith that HHH would actually put over Bryan at Wrestlemania.

FINALLY, as I get ready to put up this column, John Cena gets poked in the eye by Randy Orton. Pictures show his eye badly swollen. No further information is available as of early Monday morning.

On top of that, when BBC, Fox, and TMZ are giving WWE bad press in the lead up to Mania; and fans are unhappy; this isn’t a good thing.  Some say any press is good press. In this case, I think it’s much like a turd in a swimming pool. No matter if the turd is really a Baby Ruth….people just empty the swimming pool, rather than bother to check it out.

Unless WWE sends fans some sort of sign that they’re talking to Punk, and that Bryan is put over in a way that makes fans think he has a chance to go over HHH…prepare for RAWs over the next six weeks to feature dueling Bryan and Punk chants and more fans shitting all over three hours of live TV; and people being hesitant to order the WWE Network.

So…not a good week for Vince McMahon. Let’s hope tonight is better for us.

Until next time….

— Bob Magee