Guys and Divas #13: (D-)Bry-nese New Year (Daniel Bryan, Aksana, Jake “The Snake” Roberts)

Happy 2014, everyone!

Welcome back to “Guys and Divas”; the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that found the hidden continuity in recent Wii U and Taco Bell commercials. I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday break, but now it’s time to get down to business.

In “Divas”, I take a look at a sudden winning streak and what it means for the division; plus, in this week’s “Bonus Ball”, I ruminate on the current value of some notable wrestling legends.

…BUT FIRST(!), it’s the story everyone’s talking about and FAR too many are stressed over. Let’s spin the legend of Daniel Wyatt in this week’s…

GUYS 

I’ll hold off on the “I told you so” dance until the story has completely unfolded; but sufficed to say, the past two weeks have made me feel pretty damned good about my prediction skills.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that–in addition to your possible insurance savings–Daniel Bryan has joined the Wyatt Family and is now training himself to be a “monster”. It happened a little differently than my infamously verbose forecast told it a few weeks ago, but otherwise it’s pretty much right on time.

Now, I could follow suit and spin another lengthy yarn about where this could (and is feeling more and more likely to) be heading; but first, a plea to the IWC.

CALM DOWN. STOP CRYING. GET A GRIP.

Ever since that deliciously bizarre ending to the New Year’s Raw went down, I’ve read countless columns, missives, comments, etc. declaring this development to be the definitive end of all the past year’s narrative momentum for our favorite goatfaced underdog. I’d like to address a few of the more repeated kvetchings, if I might.

IWC: “Well, WWE finally did it. They blasted Daniel so far out of the main event scene, he’ll never make it back.”

JEFF: Ummm…no. I know you were so busy sputtering angrily at the fact that the show didn’t immediately give us what we all want, you probably missed it but…did you happen to notice when Daniel’s surrender to the Wyatts actually occurred?–It was somewhere between 10:30 and 11:15pm. Hey…you know what?–I may just be blowing smoke here, but I believe that’s called THE MAIN EVENT. The image of Daniel slowly ascending the ramp to follow his new leader–strangely and poetically resemblant of a toddler taking his first steps toward his father–was the last thing we were left to think about in WWE in 2013. I’d say that’s pretty important.

IWC: “But…but…they’re telling us he’s a heel now! If we have to boo him, he’ll never be a main-eventer; let alone a face ever again.”

JEFF: Sigh. …Read and heed these words: YOU DON’T *HAVE* TO BOO HIM. YOU HAVE FREE WILL. It astounded me how often I read this complaint these past two weeks; how often so many (mostly) intelligent adult human beings immediately forgot that they–statistically speaking–very likely comprise the “CENA SUCKS!” side of things each week. If you can boo the character that has been positioned as the end all-be all of babyfaces, you can cheer a guy who you say you love who just happened to align himself with a less-than-reputable “family” of psychopaths. In fact, cheer him more than ever. If you’re so scared that a heel turn (which I would argue, this doesn’t entirely constitute; and our own Chris Sanders will back me up on this) means the systematic burial of your favorite person on the show, just remember: YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE IT. Keep cheering. Keep chanting. I have a good feeling about where this is all headed anyway.

IWC: “…but…but…Cena…Orton…Brock…Batista…burgaburrrrr…zorbs…nyeaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!! [head explodes]”

JEFF: …Whoa. Sorry, fella. Didn’t mean to make you go all “Scanners” there. Just listen to me, okay?–Yeah, it sucks that we’re getting Cena/Orton Part Eleventy Billion (although I would argue that it makes the most narrative sense for right now). Yeah, the return of Brock Lesnar and the impending return–and Royal Rumble Match appearance–of Batista are a bit worrisome for the Wrestlemania picture…but at the end of the day, there are far more ways this gets us to the pretty much universally-desired end result (Bryan wins the belt at Mania) than there are that don’t.

I know WWE can be a bit dense when it comes to giving the people what they want (no matter how many times they babble about everything being about the “universe”) and that the machinations of the people in charge don’t always go where we want them to…but they would have to be next-level oblivious not to notice how much the people love their D-Bry.

Thankfully, I don’t think they are. Let me just sum it up with this:

On this past Monday’s “Old School” Raw, the newly Wyatt-ified Daniel joined Luke Harper and Erick Rowan in a six-man tag team bout against Rey Mysterio and The Usos. Traditionally, it seems to be the norm that the more narratively pressing team will get the win here…but Daniel and the Wyatts lost; and as our own Matt Harrak pointed out during his live-tweet, that’s infinitely more intriguing. Not only that, but we got a backstage scene with Daniel berating his partners for the loss and explaining his mission to become a more menacing competitor, along with an announcement that he and Bray will team up next week.

If you’re not optimistic–or at least interested–about where this is all going, I guess you just don’t like fun…and for that, I’m sorry.

Now that I’ve said my piece about that, let’s head over to the fairer sex side of things and a look at an unexpectedly victorious two weeks for a once-floundering female in this week’s…

DIVAS

Over my countless year-end evaluations of the current Divas roster, I’m sure a few things have become glaringly apparent: I love AJ. I don’t care for Eva Marie. My girlfriend worships Tamina. Et cetera.

Part of that et cetera has been the utter lack of recent notable appearances for the Lithuanian heiress-turned-raven-haired sexpot Aksana. While conditions in the division over the past few years have been on a visible uptick, she’s stayed pretty roundly out of the spotlight.

That’s all changed over the past two weeks, as Teddy Long’s former temptress has scored two decisive victories against Nikki Bella in two very entertaining matchups. (TWO!–Sorry. It just felt necessary.) While this hasn’t necessarily said much for the Aksana character as a whole, we’ve finally gotten a very good impression of what she brings to the table as a competitor. Please enjoy a brief bullet pointed-list(!) of such observations:

  • As befits the character, Aksana has a very slinky (almost serpentine) way of conducting herself about the ring. In the hands of others, this might come off as an all-too-desperate attempt to inject sexuality into the PG-era Divas division. Coming from her, it makes perfect sense; and unlike the Eve Torres booty pops of yore, it never strains the credibility of the match.
  • I’ve also noted this of her opponent Nikki Bella in recent columns, but Aksana’s strikes and other offensive maneuvers have a very measured and calculated delivery. Fast-paced (often botched) spot-fests became the norm in this division in the days of Kelly Kelly, but there seems to be a concerted effort to pace these matches believably and effectively and that’s good for everyone concerned.
  • As my girlfriend keeps pointing out…girl can stomp.

Now, do I think this means Aksana should be the next to challenge (my spirit animal) AJ for the butterfly belt?–Not necessarily; but a widening field of competition, and rivalries not entirely based on a championship or whether or not someone is on a (very entertaining) reality series are sorely needed and infinitely appreciated right now.

I say, bring on Nikki/Aksana III!

…and lastly this week, “Old School” Raw brought out lots of familiar faces. Well…familiar to some anyway. Let me ramble about the young folk and the old folk in this week’s…

THE BONUS BALL

As our own CB and I have discussed in countless comment sections lately, gimmick episodes have a VERY spotty track record. (“Raw Country” will go down in history as one of my most hated episodes of any wrestling show ever.)

That being said, I always view “Old School” episodes to be a bit of a breath of at least somewhat fresher air. They tend to be oddly more match-intensive, they seem to always bring us another edition of “Piper’s Pit” and–as CB and I have noted–the final segment always seems to bring the house down.

On that last tip, this week’s take on the theme did…a fairly decent job.

“But, Jeff! Jake “The Snake”!”

I know, reader (and good to see you survived that head explosion); and it made me happy to see the troubled legend in such great shape. (I saw him in person about three years ago while interning at a radio station. To put it mildly, he wasn’t looking his best.) However, after the parade of cameos that preceded it, it also filled me with a mix of sadness and dread.

Throughout the episode, it became distressingly clear just how young the majority of the current WWE Universe really is. From the uncharacteristically lukewarm reception Ric Flair received at the top of the show to the stark silence of “Mean” Gene Okerlund’s WCW Hotline comedy bit in the last hour, I felt like I was watching the latter-day adventures of Randy “The Ram” Robinson all over again.

To make matters worse, the debatably-entertaining “Bad News” Barrett even chimed in; saying outright some of the things that it saddened me to be thinking as I watched the show.

The validity of that flea market analogy (and the use of the non-word “fruitile”) aside, it raised the question: is there a true sense of history in the up-and-coming generation of wrestling fans?

In this post-Benoit time of tighter health restrictions and longer careers, will WWE’s ostensible current core audience (21st century children) even be able to reminisce? Will there be demand for cameos from the faces of decades past to a generation who’ve watched John Cena be the star of the show for over eleven years now?

I think Vince McMahon’s quest to diminish the word “wrestling” in World Wrestling Entertainment may be working a little too well. In this that some have termed the “reality era” of sports entertainment, there isn’t much room for colorful characters like (God love him) “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

Not that they aren’t people of merit or faces I’m glad to see on my screen, but this may not be a business that can appreciate them anymore…and that is very sad, indeed.

Don’t let me be misunderstood. I have a deep and abiding love for everyone (well…most everyone) who has ever played a role in this wonderful industry. I was happy to see every returning legend on this past Monday’s show, and I wouldn’t trade their presences during that three hours for the world…

…but I just can’t help thinking about the future.

To be fair, isn’t that the job of the wrestling columnist?–On that ponderance, I think it’s time to punch the clock for this week’s edition of “Guys and Divas”; and speaking of ponderances, here are a few to chew on for the week…

  • The arrival of “Daniel Wyatt” is one of the most polarizing events in a long while. Where do you stand? If you can muster the optimism, where do you think this could be heading?–Gab about the newly sheep-faced Goatface.
  • Aksana is coming out of…well, relatively nowhere and turning heads as a competitor of late. Who are some Superstars and Divas who’ve surprised you with their skill?–Ramble about repressed and hidden talents.
  • “Old School” Raw was a fun–if somewhat saddening–flashback to Superstars past. Of the current crop of Superstars and Divas, who do you think you’ll remember fondly on future “Old School” episodes?–Speculate about speculative retrospectives. (Ooh!–Nice one, Jeff.)

As always, join me for my weekly Raw live-tweet (@biscuitman18; #GuysAndDivas) and (I know I’ve said this before…but seriously now…) stay tuned for some exciting news about my future media endeavors. I think your ears are about to be entertained, folks!

Until next week, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying “Please pass the jelly!“. Good day, all!

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