The Stomping Ground: Twice As Nice – The WWE’s Big Two (Rock, Austin, Punk, Cena)

It is hot as balls here in NYC as I type this (105 degrees, to be exact) and if that’s not a sign that Summer is upon us, I don’t know WHAT is.

With all the drama unfolding around John Cena and Randy Orton’s behind-the-scenes issues as of late (allegations that Cena was unfaithful to his wife, Orton’s alleged reliability issues with management, and Kenny Dykstra’s insinuation that Cena wanted Orton fired years ago), I think we’ve come to a crossroads here in the WWE. We’re approaching the milestone 1,000th episode of Raw and seem to be transitioning away from Superstars made in the past ten years. One cycle is ending, and a new one is right around the corner.

Typically in any given wrestling promotion, there are two top stars who provide the company with fan support and cash flow for a sustained period of time while lesser wrestlers are given the chance to step up their game and achieve that same level of success. Sure; there are plenty of main event-caliber guys on the roster at the same time, but they don’t even come close to the hype and monetary generation of the top two cash cows. The reason I brought up Orton and Cena earlier has a lot to do with the fact that both seem to be distracted by outside influences and might need to step down from their lofty positions.

So who will take their places?

During the initial boom of Wrestlemania, the two biggest names in wrestling were Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. When the audience began to move away from clamoring for circus acts and chose to root for the more athletic stars on the roster, they turned to Randy Savage. Together with Hogan, the Mega Powers ran roughshod over the competition until Macho Man turned on the Hulkster. From there, the spotlight on Hogan began to dim, making way for smaller guys who could handle more grueling contests. Bret Hart broke the stereotypical mold and was a full-fledged top dog by Wrestlemania X. As Bret continued his rise to the top, Shawn Michaels wasn’t far behind. By the mid-90s, we had gone from Andre and Hogan to Bret and HBK.

As the Attitude Era boomed, Michaels shared the spotlight with Stone Cold Steve Austin until he was dethroned at Wrestlemania XIV. At the 1998 Survivor Series, The Rock joined Austin as the big man on campus when he was awarded the title. Despite attempts by guys like Triple H and Kurt Angle to surpass them, no one really captured the audience’s favor quite like Austin and Rock.

When Austin walked away and Rock turned to film, the WWE split Raw and Smackdown into two separate entities. The biggest names of the time were Triple H and Brock Lesnar. When Lesnar took his ball and went home after Wrestlemania XX, Batista and John Cena stepped up to the plate. Injuries sidelined Big Dave and Randy Orton was on his way to the top, cemented by his run as Legacy’s leader. Although the group failed to make much of DiBiase or Rhodes, it did propel Orton to Superstardom.

Right up until last June, Cena and Orton were Superman and Batman (respectively) of the WWE. The Summer of Punk dissolved all of that, providing CM Punk with a fanbase that nearly rivals Cena’s. With Orton seemingly out of the WWE’s good graces, and Cena embroiled in a huge divorce, who can become CM Punk’s “second”?

Not Sheamus.

Not Zack Ryder.

Not Alberto del Rio.

Daniel Bryan.

Just listen to the fans at a live event whenever he heads to the ring. They chant “YES!” at the top of their lungs. I dare say “YES!” chants rival “WOO!” and “WHAT?” chants these days. The man turned a simple, sniveling, cowardly heel gimmick and made it work.

Good heels can get the crowd to hate them.

Great heels can get the crowd to openly despise them and send death threats.

Awesome heels can get fans to boo them and STILL buy their merchandise.

That means Bryan has loyalty and a strong link to the fans. And that’s MONEY for the WWE.

If the company’s plays its cards right, Punk and Bryan can be the top two guys for the WWE and, hopefully, this will change Vince’s view that big, muscular freaks are the only real draws in wrestling. Let me know what you think.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

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