Question: what did WWE expect to happen at the Royal Rumble?

I hate to quote myself, but I was right, wasn’t I?

Thing is, if I could predict this, why couldn’t the WWE?

In case you missed it, the Pittsburgh crowd for the Royal Rumble spent three hours last night cheering solely for Daniel Bryan, and booing everybody else they were being expected to support.

This started early on, reached a peak during the John Cena-Randy Orton title match, and after an engaging start to the Rumble it became increasingly evident that Bryan was not going to be the final entrant into the match. I felt bad for poor Rey Mysterio, running out on his candy-floss knees and being booed simply for the crime of not being Daniel Bryan, but seriously – what did they expect?

Bryan himself tweeted as soon as the show finished.

Mick Foley went on a rant about suspecting that the WWE hate their audience (I think this quite a lot, but I don’t think I’d ever say it if I were an ambassador for the company); Lance Storm jumped on the Meltzer-kickstarted bandwagon suggesting that if Bryan drew more money, either in ticket or merch sales, he’d get more of a push. This seems to be a bit of a flawed argument, really; the live audiences clearly love him (this isn’t a Punk-only-in-Chicago-type pop, this happens EVERYWHERE) so maybe if WWE made more Bryan-themed merch it would shift. Bryan can only do the best with what he’s given; it’s up to Creative, surely, to take the risk and put him in that money-spinning position. (And maybe stop telling his fans that he’s crazy, a troll, a loser, or whatever else.)

Then I logged on to the BBC website to see this.

bryan

It’s been there hovering at the top of the most-read stories all day. This is one of the biggest global news websites, and a story about Daniel Bryan not being in the Royal Rumble is the third most-read story. I had a quick look through their archives – they don’t mention WWE often. There was a story in 2011, when The Rock was announced to host Wrestlemania. They mention WWE every so often when the local BBC teams do a story about a hometown wrestler (there’s a story about Mason Ryan on there, for example). They’ve mentioned the WWE games. They did a business story when they changed their name. And of course they’ve covered the big-name deaths, with Davey Boy Smith’s death receiving a few stories.

But never, ever have they run a story about the content of a show.

Now, as you may know in my other life I’ve been doing some research into the WWE’s media presence. I’m currently writing a paper about the Divas which argues, along with some other critics, that the WWE are using Total Divas to attract a whole new audience. If there’s one thing I’m sure about with WWE, it’s that (obvious tragedies and criminality aside) they think no publicity is bad publicity – particularly when it comes to the mainstream media.

I expect to see the Daniel Bryan section of the WWE Shop quietly and slowly fill up with new products over the next two months.

Because if we’re complaining on the internet and buying merch to support Bryan because we think he’s being treated unfairly, WWE win.

But if casual wrestling fans – or people who’ve not watched for years – log on to the BBC website and see that Bryan’s omission from the Royal Rumble is headline news, they might be tempted to check out what’s going on in WWE – and, yes, WWE win.

So to return to my question at the start, if I could anticipate it, why couldn’t the WWE?

The more I think about it, the more I think – well, they did. They knew exactly what would happen. They knew they’d give Batista the win because they want him talking about his Wrestlemania title match when he’s doing the mainstream media rounds for his movie. And they knew their audience would be waiting for Bryan.

I too am sick of thinking, “Well, wait and see,” when it comes to WWE’s treatment of Bryan; it seems to have been dragging on for too long. But at the moment the waiting is just making the anticipation more intense.

Bryan may not be Triple H’s best friend, or former colleague, or former stable-mate. He may not be a potential movie star.

But he is a scrappy underdog – and a mainstream audience can get behind that. They’ll join with us, the whining complaining internet smarks. And by the time the summer rolls round, I fully expect there to be gold around Bryan’s waist.

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