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WWE’s Meh Movement

It’s a very thin line as WWE walks along the tightrope of using fans genuine disengagement with its product as a storyline.

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This weeks RAW saw a more restrained approach to the ‘Yes Movement’, an anti establishment revolt against the WWE by their fans, as we approach this years historical Wrestlemania 30. The revolution and fans attachment to Daniel Bryan is proving to be lightning in a bottle for the WWE as it marches towards its equivalent of the Superbowl and has become the saving grace to an otherwise lacklustre build up. The ‘Yes Movement’ represented the fans desire for change from the company they loved and a need to be recognised and acknowledged by them in the product. Within the Daniel Bryan storyline it has transitioned perfectly from the real life ‘us vs them’ mentality into Bryan and the fans vs HHH and the WWE. It’s a very thin line though as WWE walks along the tightrope of using fans genuine disengagement with its product as a storyline. Beginning as little nods to the language of fans WWE were able to invest its audience but now all of a sudden the WWE have all the subtlety of a bulldozer and threaten to kill all the momentum of the YES Movement as they manipulate it into the YES brand.

It was a welcomed change in Brooklyn to see a more subdued push of the Yes Movement on its fans because what started with a resounding and vigorous YES is slowly corroding into an empathic ‘Meh’ as WWE heavy handedly and unsubtly try and monetise it.

As a consequence of the Yes movement fans created ‘Hijack Raw’, an organised petition trying to vocalise their detachment to the product and influence Raw in Chicago and Wrestlemania by mostly cheering for Bryan and chanting for Cm Punk. Something not so subtly acknowledged by Daniel Bryan and the WWE in Chicago and then acted out in a horribly unsubtle way in Memphis one week later as fans wearing Daniel Bryan t-shirts flooded the ring and literally hijacked the program. The fact that the fans were all wearing brand new yes-movement themed t-shirts with Daniel Bryan’s face made up as Che Guevara’s just fueled the disingenuous and over produced nature of the segment. The off screen Hijack Raw idea and Yes movement has been built by years of frustration from fans at the product that the WWE were presenting them. The concept for both is rather simple, to get the WWE to listen to their fan base and produce a product that they wanted to see, something not conveyed in Memphis or the on screen Yes Movement.

At its core it is not about pushing the fan favourites or giving certain wrestlers wins or losses but rather acknowledging that the fans exist and have supported the company to the heights it now enjoys. It’s about no longer accepting the WWE treating it’s fans as mindless zealots and telling its audience who to cheer and who to boo. And while although explained aloud both Hijack Raw and the Yes Movement sound almost comical when talking about a fictional fighting organisation the WWE’s attempt to capitalise financially off of both is coming off as rather insulting and wearing away at what made them engaging in the first place. Fans were livid and took it personally when the WWE seemingly disregarded them after they attached themselves to Daniel Bryan. They felt disenfranchised by the company after years of being fed the same characters and an exhaustion of the same storylines and wrestling tropes.

In Memphis fans seemingly got what they had been protesting for as Daniel Bryan had indeed been inserted into the main event of Wrestemania, that is if he manages to defeat HHH earlier in the night. An act out of necessity more than anything else by the WWE but one that is directly linked to the off screen Yes Movement and was a specific objective of the Hijack Raw petition. As the fans piled into the ring and HHH and Stephanie McMahon looked on helplessly while Bryan demanded his insertion into the main event it lacked all the fire and intensity the Yes Movement had gathered to that point off screen. The segment didn’t look like a simple integration of the off screen storyline playing out on screen or a nod to the actual acceptance by the off screen authority that they had been taken to task by their audience. It looked like WWE’s desperate attempt to build towards a big Wrestlemania chant, that would of happened organically anyway, and sell some t-shirts. Nothing about the segment in Memphis felt organic or real.

The Yes Movement was a natural progression that snowballed organically and created a mega star in Daniel Bryan. At one stage we considered that the WWE may have been playing puppet master behind the scenes the entire time, the all knowing WWE always in control and always with a plan. Which was a fun idea and is still completely plausible when you think about and all the subtle nods in the build up. However, since the decision was obviously made to focus Wrestlemania around Bryan it has shown that WWE is perhaps not capable of subtlety or anything rather than full steam ahead. Ever since the WWE abandoned Batista as a good guy everything around Bryan, the Yes Movement and Hijack Raw has felt just so forced and manufactured, so WWE.

That is not to say that it hasn’t been successful because the WWE have been able to masterfully turn their off screen anarchy into a storyline and integrated it seamlessly into the Daniel Bryan narrative arc. What’s more is it has turned the HHH v Bryan Wrestlemania encounter from something the fans didn’t particularly care about into the hottest match on the card by far.Adding the language ‘hijack’ and ‘yes movement’ to the storyline has turned the match into Daniel Bryan and the fans vs HHH and the company which could have been the biggest match the event had seen for the last few years. Adding Bryan into the title match has in many ways devalued the potential to a much bigger match in HHH v Bryan but has been done so seemingly out of desperation to save the otherwise redundant main event. The point is that the more we get this forceful ‘inside’ language and phoney segments the more WWE threaten to devalue their hot property as they reprogram it.

Because the irony is not lost on fans, especially when it is presented in such a condescending and manufactured way. The Yes Movement is now officially the Yes Brand, it’s now completely owned by the  WWE, not Daniel Bryan. The WWE have their audience doing exactly what they want after hijacking the revolution and what they want is fans thinking they have beaten the machine. Which is great! and one of the best wrestling storylines in recent memory, it writes itself, but the problem is that the way it’s being presented has been so heavy handed we as an audience are being reminded about why the Yes Movement began in the first place, because fans were tired of being treated like they are stupid. Yet the audience are being beaten over the head with the fact that their cause has been copyrighted and put on a t-shirt, one that comes with a free #YesMovement sticker no less, and you have to wonder how long the corporate Yes brand will be fun and perhaps how long it will take before fans turn on it. You also have to wonder if Daniel Bryan will continue to be as popular now it is clear that WWE want us to cheer for him because even the  biggest Bryan supporter will tell you that some of his appeal was that the WWE seemingly didn’t want us to cheer him.

Daniel Bryan, wrestling’s 2014 anti establishment personified, would be the biggest casualty if fans did begin to reject the corporate makeover of the Yes Movement. For the moment it seems to be having no adverse effects, even as Bryan shills out things that make me nauseous like “Lets hijack Raw!” and “You don’t own this ring HHH! These people do!” the audience appear to still be eating it up. It’s a fine line though and as much as I enjoy the ‘Internet persona HHH’ character we are currently getting on television who plans to, as he said on Smackdown, “bury” Daniel Bryan the more he and the WWE push the Yes Movement, Hijack Raw, Occupy and hashtags of all three on to us the more yes just feels like meh.

The more WWE tells us to do something the more we don’t want to do it and the less fun it seems, it was the reason the Yes Movement picked up steam in the first place. Fans hated the fact that Batista was brought in to main event Wrestlemania without being tested in front of the audience first. WWE told its audience that not only was Batista the guy that would face Orton for the championship but that he was the number one good guy, and fans wholeheartedly rejected it. Something that could just as easily happen to Daniel Bryan if the WWE continue to encourage the phoney corporate Yes Movement so forcibly and drain the life force from him.

So it is thankful that in San Antonio during the final segment of last weeks Raw that HHH and Daniel Bryan finally brought some real intensity and fire in to their feud. Although there was still some nods to the Yes Movement HHH only touched on it briefly and then really breathed some life into not only his character but also Daniel Bryans. When used as the backdrop in this way the WWE can hope to maintain the same passion that fans have had for Daniel Bryan leading up to this. This segment was all about the bad guy using nefarious tactics to one up the good guy and in this case HHH gave Bryan the type of brutal beating the underdog needed leading up to Wrestlemania. All of the condescending nods to the Yes Movement, the merchandise and the hashtags were gone and in their place was simple wrestling, just the number one bad guy destroying the number one good guy. It was great and the fans were incensed as HHH killed a handcuffed Daniel Bryan while Stephanie McMahon screeched from ring side. Exactly the kind of segment the WWE needed to do if it hopes for the Yes Movement to survive and exactly what the build to Wrestlemania needed.

So without really even realising it fans have transitioned from the Yes Movement to the WWE Yes brand rather seamlessly. The anti WWE movement has ironically become a pro WWE story of their ability to use and manipulate their fans. And while the Raw in San Antonio has gone along way to salvage the corporate yes movement the WWE have run the risk of killing their audiences passion for it by encouraging it so vehemently. This week we saw a much welcomed step back from the Yes Movement push, perhaps an acknowledgment by the WWE that they need to let it evolve organically as the backdrop to HHH vs Bryan.

The only thing that will stop the 80,000 strong Mania crowd chanting for Bryan is the WWE encouraging the chant too much. Fans want to chant because the WWE don’t want them to not because they fake don’t want them to. This is the best thing the WWE have had for awhile, so much so I can genuinely see the match between HHH and Bryan ending in a draw eventuating in HHH winning the world title in a 4 way at the main event of Wrestlemania. The crowd at mania and then the next night at Raw would be at riot level and the WWE could still get there giant Yes chant earlier in the night. But then the happy ending and logical conclusion for Bryan might be too good to pass up. In any case the WWE have lightning in a bottle, all they have to do is not mess it up.

Less condescension and inside nods and more genuine anti establishment us vs them. 

Less meh and more Yes!

Sports

AEW and the Way Forward for Pro Wrestling

With their first PPV success in the books, a new TV deal signed, we crystal ball what is in store for AEW, as well as predict the future for WWE.

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In the second part of our AEW special feature, we continue the discussion of fledgling professional wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling. In our first part, we covered their new television deal with WarnerMedia channel TNT- once home to WWE’s chief competitor and losing pugilist in wrestling’s Monday Night Wars that took place in the late 90s.

We now turn our focus on AEW’s future in the ring and talk about the current and future stars of the promotion and ask the question, who will be their rising star and first champion? We also spotlight the year ahead for AEW and what fans can, and should, expect from the company before wrapping up the feature with our look at the next 5 years of professional wrestling. We crystal ball what is in store for AEW and the mountain of sports entertainment, WWE.

Who Will Be the Rising Star of AEW?

It is perhaps a bit strange to nominate Kenny Omega as a rising star, considering he’s been widely regarded as the best wrestler in the world for several years now and was subject to a huge cash offer to join WWE, but the reality is that Omega isn’t really known to people outside the Internet Wrestling Community. With the might of the TNT corporate muscle behind him, it’s time for the Best Bout Machine to be delivered to the masses.

Beyond Kenny Omega, the most obvious pick to be a breakout star is Pentagon Jr. From his days on the much loved Lucha Underground where he transformed from evil villain into badass anti-hero, Pentagon Jr has already developed a cult following that seems ripe for expansion. With the best catchphrase in wrestling (Cero Miedo) and an incredible moveset, it won’t take long for Pentagon Jr to get over with the crowd despite the language barrier.

Managing Fan Expectations

So far AEW hasn’t put a foot wrong; it’s constructed an exciting roster of talent, signed a big TV deal and its first show was a runaway success. Since Double or Nothing, social media has been awash with praise, rave reviews and think pieces about AEW’s golden future. Yet all the positivity and good vibes need to be taken with a grain of salt. While Double or Nothing was a terrific show, it was made to feel all the better against the drivel that WWE is force feeding its audience. Anything looks brilliant when compared with the current state of affairs in Stamford and it’s not surprising that fans are flocking to AEW and its promises of a better, more intelligent wrestling product.

But it’s worth remembering that the highest point is reached just before the fall. Fans will need to prevent their emotions from running too far ahead. AEW will have missteps along the way. Some storylines won’t go exactly to plan. Some angles will not work out and some feuds will be disappointing. It will be important for fans to expect some bumps in the road and to keep a fair perspective on the product before rushing to snap judgments in the heat of a social media moment.

Who should be the inaugural AEW Champion?

In the aftermath of Double or Nothing, it was announced that Chris Jericho will face off against Hangman Adam Page for the honor of being the first wrestler to raise the championship belt that Bret Hart debuted to a shocked Las Vegas crowd. The match will take place at their next major show, All Out, in Chicago at the end of August.

This booking is smart. Jericho is the legend whose presence automatically brings legitimacy not just to AEW but to whoever he’s in the ring with, while Page is immediately been pegged as one of the young studs that AEW is hoping to build around.

Diehard fans will want to see Page be crowned champion, but pro wrestling is all about, long term storytelling, gradual builds, and delayed gratification. Page is undoubtedly championship material and AEW is wise to hitch their wagon to his star, but he’s still a relative unknown. What better way to build him up by having him lose to Jericho in their first match, most likely through nefarious means, then tell the story of the rookie chasing down the veteran over several months.

Jericho winning now will give prestige to the belt and make Page’s eventual victory all the more meaningful and satisfying for the crowd. As wrestlers since time immemorial have always said: “the money is in the chase.”

Sasha Banks
What does the future hold for Sasha Banks?

Predictions for the next 12 months

Last week Jon Moxley gave a tell-all interview on Chris Jericho’s podcast Talk Is Jericho. Over 90 minutes Moxley pulled back WWE’s curtain to reveal a stifling and idiotic creative process that has seemingly led to several unhappy performers biding their time until they can escape WWE for pastures new. Fans were shocked by what they heard, yet they weren’t surprised by what Moxley said, rather they were shocked by how much Moxley’s revelations corroborated the rumors and innuendo that have been haunting WWE’s creative process for over a decade.

Naturally, upon hearing Moxley’s account, fans immediately began fantasy booking all the wasted WWE talent that will be gracing an AEW ring in the near future. Yet while we can’t stop rampant speculation over who might jump ship, we shouldn’t expect more than a handful of WWE stars to switch to AEW. There also won’t be any main event or upper card talent leave WWE. What we can expect is to see some overlooked and wasted lower-card performers move over. Tag teams such as The Revival and The Club seem tailor-made for AEW and now that they have a viable alternative to languishing in the WWE doldrums, there’s a good chance that some of them will head to TNT’s new show.

The great unknown is Sasha Banks. The victim of misuse and bad booking, Banks is allegedly unhappy with her status in the company and wants out. In the past, WWE might have granted her wish, comfortable in the knowledge that there wasn’t anywhere she could go, but now that AEW is on the scene, there is no way WWE will fathom allowing someone like Sasha Banks and her potential for megastardom to join their competition. If WWE was unwilling to release the unused and forgotten Luke Harper from his contract despite not having anywhere near the star power of The Boss, there’s zero possibility of WWE setting Sasha Banks free.

TLDR: One or two ex-WWE talents will join AEW at some point in the next twelve months but don’t expect a stampede. Instead, AEW will need to rely on its creative booking and match quality to build their roster of unknowns into stars.

What will wrestling look like in five years?

The last few years really have been the best of times and the worst of times for pro wrestling. The standard of in-ring action has never been higher with breathtaking athleticism almost taken for granted in every match, the WWE roster has never been this loaded top to bottom with incredible performers and thanks to the power of the internet, indie wrestlers have been able to build huge fanbases by themselves that would have been impossible even a decade ago. Wrestling has also gained a level of mainstream recognition that it hasn’t had for twenty years and in October WWE’s second show, Smackdown, will debut on Fox Sports in a huge multi-million dollar that will flood Vince McMahon’s wallet with even more cash.

Yet for all that, there is an undeniable smell about the WWE product. Repetitive booking, various members of the McMahon clan putting themselves over at the expense of the actual wrestlers, a never-ending series of pointless and meandering promos that always end up with a three-man tag match that already happened the previous week and that’s just the first hour. Then when you factor in the prevalence of juvenile and childish angles at a time when the wrestling audience is skewing towards older men who want more logical and sophisticated storytelling that doesn’t make them feel stupid for spending their time watching men and women fake punch their enemies, it’s unsurprising that there’s considerable dissatisfaction with WWE.

It’s in this context that the arrival of AEW has been so eagerly anticipated among wrestling fans. Given the state of WWE, AEW has a golden opportunity to carve a market share for itself.

While it’s nigh impossible that AEW will ever supersede WWE as the biggest and most well-known wrestling company in the world, the very presence of AEW on a major television network will force WWE to look more closely at what it’s presenting to audiences on a weekly basis. For the first time in nearly twenty years, WWE is facing external competition. If AEW can garner any kind of critical acclaim and further momentum behind it, logic suggests that WWE will be shaken from its creative stupor and begin rejuvenating its storylines to keep pace with the upstart company from Jacksonville and keep the attention of a fanbase that will suddenly have a viable alternative to WWE.

What could this rejuvenation look like? Believe it or not the best wrestling brand on the market right now, isn’t AEW and it certainly isn’t Raw or Smackdown but rather it’s WWE’s third brand, NXT.

While NXT is still nominally WWE’s development brand where young prospects hone their craft and characters before being promoted to the bright lights of Raw or Smackdown, NXT has grown into something far more than that. Its incredible matches and long-form storytelling that add layers to the characters and culminate in the quarterly Takeover specials have become the modern pinnacle of the artform. NXT by itself is enough to justify a subscription to the WWE Network.

So far NXT has existed mostly in its own little universe and none of its unique flavors has found its way to Raw despite its obvious success. The emergence of AEW could force the WWE to integrate more elements of the NXT style into the rest of its products and finally put aside the stale and frustrating crutches that have plagued Raw and Smackdown for years.

Long term it’s hard to project where AEW will be in five years. There are so many variables. Its best wrestlers could get godfather offers from McMahon, the ratings may not be there or TNT might decide to pull the plug. Regardless, wrestling fans can’t lose. More wrestling shows means competition and competition will compel WWE to stop resting on its laurels and lift its game. Even if you’re the biggest WWE mark this side of a McMahon family dinner, you should be cheering for the success and good fortune of Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and AEW because their already considerable achievement of building a wrestling promotion from nothing will go a long way to determining the quality of the wrestling we will be watching into the future.

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