Keynotes: The Brodus Clay Delay, or, Didn’t See That Coming, Did You? (Brodus Clay, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, Daniel Bryan…)

Professional wrestling is an absolute pain to write anything about, because invariably whatever topical issue one tries to discuss on any given day will have completely changed by the time one has finished writing. You could say the same about proper, real-world journalism, of course, except even real world events, by and large, tend to unfold with some degree of predictability. George Bush and Tony Blair didn’t spend three months slyly hinting that they were going to invade Afghanistan before revealing that it was all just a massive swerve-turn, bah gawd!, and they had decided to nuke France instead.

In the cartoon world of pro wrestling, however, “predictability” is one of those made-up terms, like “workrate” or “women’s division.” Case in point: the April 2007 issue of the UK’s Fighting Spirit Magazine published an interview with Chris Benoit which discussed how much he was enjoying his run on Smackdown. And you all know what happened two months later. He was drafted to ECW.


All of which is to say that whenever you think you’ve got anything to do with this ridiculous business sussed out, you should slap yourself on the wrist and remind yourself that the unstable, ever-changing, convoluted nature of a fictional sport founded on a plethora of abstract correlatives is not for the ken of mere mortals. And that you’re a very naughty boy / girl / xenomorph.

Why this diatribe? Because I am a victim of circumstance – specifically the ever-changing circumstances I just mentioned. To wit, this article has made the rounds more times than Kelly Kelly (I kid, I kid). Way back in October I was initially going to discuss the brilliant prospects of Bobby Roode as he headed into Bound for Glory. I began to scrawl down my thoughts under the naïve assumption that TNA would stick the Heavyweight Championship on him in an effort to, you know, pay off the four-month-long angle that was the Bound for Glory Series. Except then Bobby Roode lost, and was made to look like a chump in the process. So I started to write about that instead. But then James Storm won the belt and, with the pressure of the column building up inside me like a verbose food-baby, I was forced to swiftly rewrite. And then, just when I thought that the article was finally ready to be expelled from my system, Roode defeated Storm for the title on Impact, making my well-though-out ideas for the months ahead utterly redundant.

Thus I accepted that the TNA Heavyweight Championship scene simply wasn’t going to play ball, and gave that particular journalistic thread up as a lost cause (although I can still feel the unpurged soul of the article eating away at my insides. I may need columnic irrigation). Seeking out pastures new, I though “where better to look than that IWC stalwart, Daniel Bryan?” The MITB briefcase-holder had weathered a tricky few months, but more and more his promise to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania looked like a genuine possibility. My theory was that WWE were in fact trying to repeat the success of Jeff Hardy’s meteoric push between 2007-8 by cementing Bryan as a Hardy-esque underdog: a crowd favourite who, despite possessing immeasurable potential, simply couldn’t seem to capitalise on his momentum. Remember how uplifting it was when Hardy, after a year of “never quite winning the big one” finally snapped, became a super-babyface and defeated Undertaker and Triple H on consecutive weeks? And then went on to pin Edge for his first Heavyweight Championship? I thought – hoped – that after a year of being overlooked, and weeks of barely losing out to Big Show and Mark Henry, Bryan would have his “Jeff Hardy” moment and unveil new aggression, going on to beat both giants and become the first MITB winner to get the strap without using his briefcase. Smackdown was going to have a new saviour – and one who didn’t spend his weekends off his tits on painkillers and Listerine!

And then Bryan cashed in his briefcase on a sleeping Big Show, and turned into a cowardly heel. Nothing wrong with that unless you’ve just spent a week diligently writing about something completely different.

And so I gave up for a brief time. Instead of seeking out inspiration, I allowed my consciousness to wander to the prison showers of the ether, where it stood facing the wall provocatively, and kept chucking the soap around in the hope that red-hot inspiration would eventually seek it out.

Which is where Brodus Clay comes in. (No, not like that.)

It occurred to me that the biggest story no one seemed to be writing about was, in a sense, something which hadn’t happened yet and – crucially – didn’t look as though it was going to happen anytime soon: the long-awaited re-debut of Brodus Clay, that gigantic powerhouse who lost out to Johnny Curtis in NXT Season 4 and briefly accompanied Alberto Del Rio to the ring prior to Extreme Rules 2011. Clay’s re-emergence had been teased by video packages painting him as a ferocious monster. On television Johnny Ace had promised Clay’s arrival for weeks and weeks. Clay even began trending, may the Lord have mercy on my soul, on Twitter (which, although relatively meaningless, is still quite impressive for an invisible man).

Every time that it seemed like Clay’s return was imminent, however, it got pushed back. On television, Ace’s initial excuse was that he wanted to “make sure Brodus was really angry” – but then the excuses stopped, and mentions of Clay were dropped. Was this simply canny marketing? Was it punishment for Clay making comments on Twitter about John Morrison and the Hall of Pain? Or was it, as the dirt sheets reported, simply a case of poor time management that for one reason or another kept delaying the arrival of a new monster?

Or, as I thought, was the painfully drawn-out nature of Brodus Clay’s hyped-up debut something else entirely – an attempt by WWE to work casual and hardcore fans alike? What if the internet rumours had been manufactured in order to elicit sympathy for Clay from the IWC? And what if the televised mentions of his delay were intended to annoy casual fans? My theory was that WWE were making it appear as though Clay was being held back and forgotten about for no good reason by management both on television and behind the scenes. The reason for this, I surmised, was that WWE were attempting to manufacture the kind of public outcry usually reserved only for storyline underdogs like Jeff Hardy and Steve Austin, or real-life underdogs like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. WWE had already witnessed the kind of excitement that could be generated by combining the two kinds of fan sympathy in the Summer, with CM Punk’s ascent to the top. But while Punk’s story happened organically, Clay’s was to be artificially designed to encourage casual and hardcore fans alike to perceive Clay as a mismanaged underdog. And if there are two things you can be certain of about wrestling fans across the board they are this: we all love an underdog, and we all hate seeing talented guys held back.

The video packages, the Laurinaitis comments, the backstage excuses… it all added up to one thing. “Brodus could be an absolute monster, and you’ll really enjoy seeing him tear guys apart,” WWE were saying to us all, “but we’re not going give you what you want!”

Let’s pause here. You see the flaw in my theory, don’t you? It’s a prediction. Moreover, it’s a prediction about WWE predicting what its audience will predict. A threefold prediction. About professional wrestling. You see the problem, here, don’t you?

So it was that last Monday, the Funkasaurus happened.

Yes, it was quite funny. Yes Clay seemed at least to be greatly enjoying himself. It may go somewhere, it may not, but I’m so tired of trying to guess what the purpose of this was that I’ll just assume that it was WWE ribbing us all. So congratulations, WWE, you worked everyone. In a putrid cave somewhere, Vinnie Russo is chuckling to himself.

In conclusion, it’s probably just as well that there aren’t any McMahons involved in global politics just yet. The real world may be predictable, Vince, BUT AT LEAST WE’VE STILL GOT FRANCE!

Class dismissed.

(And no, no matter how desperate things got, compiling a list of numbered thoughts was never an option.)

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