The Anti-Antagonist: Second Fiddle

Adam Gorzelsky

Daniel BryanEvery time I put finger to keyboard to write this column, I do my absolute best to bring it. Apart from a desire to hold myself to a respectable standard as a professional, my goal in writing is to enhance your enthusiasm as a fan if at all possible. If you read for that purpose, anything less than the best from me is unacceptable.

To this end, I’ve crafted the column around the premise of avoiding overt criticism of the product and, in doing so, have shied away from playing armchair booker on a regular basis…Unfortunately, I have to apologize in advance because I’m breaking the pattern this week…I’m a bit fired up and justifiably so. Ultimately, I swear there is a positive message to be taken away from this article…I’m just not entirely confident that this outcome will come to fruition.

Three weeks ago, I wrote a column absolutely gushing over the prospect of seeing a prolonged feud between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship. I explained how the feud tugged favorably on every aspect of my fandom and how it all but guaranteed numerous 5-star-quality PPV matches for as long as the program was permitted to run.

If it is possible to have a man-crush on a wrestling feud, Punk and Bryan’s match at Over The Limit pushed this crush into full blown restraining order territory. To say that the artistry displayed in the ring stole the show is to sell the concept of stealing a show woefully short. I was thoroughly enthralled with every aspect of the encounter…that is, until I remembered that this instant classic bout for the company’s richest prize was not the main event for the evening (brace yourselves for the negativity).

Let’s get this out of the way now…I understand that wrestling is a business and that a technical masterpiece between two Internet darlings doesn’t necessarily equal money, no matter how much of a wet dream it may be for the IWC. I also fully understand the value of John Cena to WWE and recognize the strong temptation to fall back on his broad shoulders in order to benefit from the predictable yet respectable level of entertainment that he brings to the table…This is not a column to bash John Cena, as I more than respect his unwavering desire to bust his ass for the good of the fans, the business, and most importantly, the rest of the boys (and girls) in the back.

With all of that said, I just don’t get it…I don’t understand why Punk/Bryan has been mired in the shadow of the Cena/Laurinaitis storyline…why a collective groundswell of support and excitement has been so obviously ignored as to raise legitimate questions regarding potential underlying motives.

The most confounding factor in this situation is the emerging reality that Punk and Bryan already have transcended the notion that they are nothing more than technically sound Internet/Indy darlings. CM Punk single-handedly thrust WWE back into the mainstream when he repeatedly climbed atop his soapbox last summer and delivered a series of awe-inspiring and thought-provoking rants. Likewise, Daniel Bryan managed to captivate an entire city during the biggest week of the professional wrestling year, only to see the YES chant become the default rallying cry for smart fans, casual fans, young fans and older fans alike.

Look around any arena and you realize how much merchandise these two sell…Listen to the pops and the crowd chanting “This is Awesome!” and you get a sense of just how far these two are over…Read commentary from lifelong students of the business and you understand the undeniable magic that is created when these two lock horns.

Bottom line…Any myth that these two cannot draw and perform on a main event level has or should have been dispelled months ago. While there certainly is risk associated with thrusting any program ahead of one involving the de facto “face of the company,” pulling the trigger in this instance is as calculated a risk as WWE has encountered in quite some time. I obviously understood the top billing for Cena/Rock at Wrestlemania and can’t argue with the mainstream lure of Brock Lesnar, but I can’t for the life of me begin to understand why the WWE Title has not overtaken the Cena/Laurinaitis power struggle in terms of importance and time dedicated to storyline development.

Ultimately, I’m left with the impression that the WWE Title is being used merely as a tool to appease CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and the legions of fans that they have procured…as a proverbial bone thrown to what apparently still is considered to be nothing more than a niche audience….The WWE Title certainly isn’t a bone, and given what we’ve seen the last few months, this niche following now encompasses even those fans who once vehemently doubted the ability of Punk or Bryan to reach this level….Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as though the powers-that-be have gotten or are willing to accept that message.

In the end, there is no denying that I am going to enjoy every moment of this feud as it progresses…To be fair, I would enjoy a bout between these two as the last match of the evening, as the first match of the evening, on the Youtube preshow, in an abandoned warehouse, or even back in Ring of Honor (Sorry, I thought I was Mark Madden there for a second…scary thought).

Nonetheless, to truly maximize the excitement, enjoyment, and monetary success of this feud, Punk and Bryan need and deserve an opportunity to sell this program as a must-see….An opportunity to tell every fan that the finishes to their matches MATTER because they are competing for the one prize that, for decades, has led countless superstars to shed blood, sweat, and tears in its pursuit…No matter the quality of the men involved, you simply cannot accomplish this feat while playing second fiddle.

Unfortunately, it appears as though some degree of unfounded doubt remains…some degree of uncertainty or fear that is preventing WWE from escaping its comfort zone…a fear that is preventing WWE from taking a small leap of faith that would go a long way toward re-legitimizing the WWE Championship and satisfying a fan base that has been clamoring for a refreshing take on the main event for quite some time.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’m hoping that this message is heard before the opportunity has passed…After all, pure talent emerging at the right place and right time is one hell of a thing to waste.

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