This Week On The Road To WrestleMania

Shh! Look… shh! Keep your head down!

Look, we don’t want Andy to find out about this. He really doesn’t want me to blog about wrestling here. He doesn’t want me to get my peanut butter in his chocolate, you know? But I kind of do sometimes want that!  So we’re at an impasse. And by “impasse”, I mean “I write and post my own articles like an adult, so nyah”.

But even then–EVEN THEN!–I wasn’t going to do any wrestling blogs for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind. I don’t blog about WWE, Andy doesn’t get mad at me for blogging about WWE, everyone goes home happy.

Except then this week’s episodes of Raw and Smackdown happened, and I just… can’t NOT talk about them.

So buckle up, put on your tights with your name written across the ass, and get ready for a segment I’m going to sneak in as often as I can the next few weeks, as we review this week’s Road to Wrestlemania [34]!

The history of WWE is littered with “eras”. Ever since Vincent Kennedy McMahon took over the company from his father, he has loved to make bombastic note of what “era” we are in. The 1980’s boom of professional wrestling was the “Rock ‘n Wrestling Era” where Vince married the action of wrestling with the glamour of Hollywood stars and came up with the idea of Sports Entertainment. After the steroid scandal of the early 90’s and some of the (literally) biggest stars of WWE leaving for rival WCW, Vince came up with the New Generation Era to describe the rise of smaller and younger stars like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. This was also the cartoony, circusy era that saw WWE’s roster littered with gimmicked characters who were voodoo priests, repo men, and clowns. This valley of wrestling popularity eventually gave way to the emergence of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Degeneraton-X, and a general thumbing of the nose to censors and good taste in the form of “The Attitude Era”. Come the early 2000’s, many of the Attitude Era stars either left for Hollywood, toned down their routines, or left the business altogether. This, and the rise of John Cena, gave way to the “Ruthless Aggression” era. A few years after the controversy of Chris Benoit and his family’s deaths, WWE tamed down their act to a dramatic degree with virtually no blood or vulgarity or sexuality, and “The PG Era” dawned.

Why the history lesson? Simple. The modern WWE era is more-or-less known as “The Reality Era”. It’s a time where the curtain is pulled back in a way that not only would be inconceivable to fans and industry insiders from twenty or more years ago, but would have been considered downright abhorrent to the wrestlers of those times who sometimes went to extremes to protect the integrity of their occupation’s secrets. WWE Network itself airs documentaries and original specials that feature its talent talking off-the-cuff about their real lives and their development in the industry. Suddenly there are more to the folks you see on the screen. You can find out about Finn Balor’s love of Legos in a close-up look of his life. You can watch on-screen rivals play video games together backstage on a YouTube channel hosted by the superstars. The entertainers we enjoy are flesh-and-blood people now.

And that’s what makes this past week’s Ultimate Deletion match even crazier.

The quick and sloppy backstory to get you up-to-speed: About two years ago, in an effort to freshen up his character and push boundaries in rival federation Impact Wrestling, Matt Hardy created the Broken Universe, wherein he became increasingly crazy. This led to his doing over-theatricized matches at his property–the Hardy Compound–that featured the use of fireworks as weapons, dilapidated boats, and a lake that changed peoples’ identities. This was an incredibly polarizing idea, but it made Matt and his brother Jeff hot properties in wrestling again. WWE re-signed the brothers and returned them to their roots, and no one was sure the Broken Universe would work in WWE (also, it was tied up in legal hell for a while to sort out who owned the ideas). While Matt had since reverted to a “Woken” Matt Hardy version of his “Broken” character, aside from some goofball promos, the rest of the Broken Universe was left in the past… until this week, when Matt and Bray Wyatt finally had a match at the Compound.

And while opinions on it will and do vary, I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong… I love REAL wrestling, and watching AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura turn in a 5-star in-ring classic is glorious and wholly fulfilling, but stuff like the Broken Universe and the Deletion matches scratch another itch, a separate itch. It’s just so silly and ludicrous and different from everything else. Sometimes I want to see Matt Hardy look back and forth at a lawnmower and a wheelchair and cry out “Chair of Wheels! Mower of Lawns! Chair of Wheels! Mower of Lawns!” as he decides which to use as a weapon. There’s a joy in seeing “into” Bray’s head mid-match as he relives the burning down of his home. If I can enjoy seeing larger-than-life, spandex-clad heroes bashing each other around a city, I can laugh shamelessly at the absurdity of a drone entering Attack Mode to distract Bray Wyatt from finishing off its owner, or a caretaker hiding under a boat and throwing a globe at someone so he can sing “He’s got the whole world in his hands”.

So in my mind, Ultimate Deletion was a huge success. Not only did it give Matt and Bray unfettered access to do whatever they wanted without management interference, it actually assumed that the fans had knowledge of events that happened outside of WWE. While not an idea I want repeated monthly, I’d be happy to see a few more ventures into the Broken Universe this year. Good on WWE for giving us this and not watering it down.

On the OTHER end of the wrestling spectrum…

Two long years after being forced to retire from in-ring competition due to medical issues related to concussions, Daniel Bryan was finally cleared by WWE’s doctors to return as an in-ring competitor (there’s another long backstory here, but the lowdown is that Bryan has claimed for almost the entirety of those two years that doctors the nation over have cleared him medically, but WWE’s more business-focused doctors in a post-Chris Benoit world were hesitant to ever let Daniel compete again and refused to clear him).

Daniel Bryan is one of the most complete performers in WWE history. He is, honest-to-goodness, up there with Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin and Ric Flair and The Rock. When I had stopped watching wrestling on anything resembling a regular basis in the late 2000’s, it was the rise of Daniel Bryan who brought me back. Like the greats before him, he marries peerless in-ring skill with contagious charisma in perfect harmony. I went something like 14 years without buying any wrestling-related merchandise until Daniel Bryan came along, and to support him, I bought a “Yes! Movement” T-shirt.

The idea of having him back makes me giddy. He is the kind of person who brings everyone around him up, and he deserves this kind of next chapter to his story after he handled his forced retirement with such outward grace. Of course, no sooner was he cleared to compete than WWE allowed him to start taking bumps in the ring. Even in an angle that saw Bryan beaten down and defeated, I really and truly couldn’t win the smile off of my face. He was involved in the action. He is BACK.

(this video will open in another window if you click the link in it, but that’s fine)

The Ultimate Deletion was the kind of sheer silliness wrestling can provide when it accepts what it is.

The return of Daniel Bryan is the feel-good story that every medium should have.

And this week… this was a really good week on the road to Wrestlemania.

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