At last night's Royal Rumble, WWE did what they've become accustomed to doing over the last year or so: swerving the fans for the sake of the surprise.
When you hear a song on the radio or television, how would you feel if you bought it, and it was completely different to what you'd initially heard?
What about when you see a trailer for a movie? If you bought a ticket for that film, and it was nothing like it was presented in that trailer, how would you respond?
You'd be disappointed.
Chris Jericho may have tweeted "stop whining" after his elimination at the end of the Royal Rumble—partially because he knows his career can withstand such a blow—but the fact is, fans have a right to be disappointed.
People buy a product because of their expectations of it. It's no great creative achievement for WWE to swerve their fans to get one over on the "marks," any more than it was to continuously bury Daniel Bryan when he debuted in order to put the independent circuit in its place. Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn and their "yes men" may have a good little chuckle about it, but it's counter-productive for the company.
And speaking of Daniel Bryan, he came out of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view show with the World Heavyweight Championship belt around his waist.
Assuming babyface Sheamus chooses heel Bryan as his opponent at WrestleMania, it will actually be a repeat of last year's WrestleMania, where they fought under lumberjack rules for the United States title. Don't remember it? That's because it didn't air on TV—it was a dark match, held before the show even began.
That's right: Last year, Sheamus and Bryan were irrelevant afterthoughts.
This is what is absurd about WWE's booking. By "surprising" the fans and having Jericho eliminated by Sheamus, they're setting themselves up for a financial flop, expecting the audience to suddenly care about Bryan and Sheamus, who last year were fodder for the likes of Wade Barrett and Triple H.
This situation is yet another disaster as a result of WWE's stop-start pushes and erratic booking decisions, with re-writes taking place on the day of a show making them resemble WCW more and more each week.
And we know what happened to WCW.
Perhaps Jericho will spin his performance at the Royal Rumble as just the beginning of "the end of the world as we know it." We may have some explanations. There may be more to this story yet. Certainly, Jericho's status is such that he isn't harmed by this result, while Sheamus is, to an extent, elevated.
The problem lies in the inconsistency of WWE's devotion to elevating talent.
The next time WWE decides to get behind Mason Ryan, or Jinder Mahal, or even Drew McIntyre, who is going to pay it much more than a dismissive shrug?
If WWE don't commit to a consistent, coherent strategy of pushing and promoting talent, and insist on diluting their current product with nostalgia and comedy acts while betting everything on the marketability of one top star like John Cena, then perhaps one day it really will be the end of the world as they know it.
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