Is the WWE bending rules? The Rock's inconsistent booking tells part of the story.
It sure is WrestleMania season, because those whom WWE is banking on for a successful pay-per-view are getting away with a bunch of company no-nos. The vast majority of those not in the immediate plans for April 7's WrestleMania 29 still have to be law-abiding employees, but those in the biggest matches for WWE's largest event of the year can expect, at worst, a slap on the wrist.
The whirlwind week began last Tuesday night when Jack Swagger, the No. 1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship, was pulled over and charged with a DUI. Swagger, whose real name is Jake Hager, was also reported to have marijuana in his car.
Superstars and Divas have been found to drink and drive repeatedly in the past, but usually don't get fired over it. A suspension or a demotion in storylines usually follows, though we saw virtually no change for WWE Diva Cameron when she was pulled over last August.
Rising star Alex Riley was in similar trouble in late 2010, but did not have his stock suffer, mainly because of his character's alliance to The Miz. Riley would go on to have a pay-per-view victory over The Miz in 2011, only to have little happen for him since.
It isn't the DUI issue, but rather the marijuana possession. WWE prides themselves on their wellness policy, which has existed longer and is more strict than any of the four major North American sports. That policy also includes being busted for marijuana with drug tests.
Being that Swagger returned from a hiatus just weeks earlier, it has to be implied that Swagger had drug tests in recent memory. Did he finally just decide to get into smoking marijuana? Swagger may not have been tested positive for it, but the policy also includes being arrested with the drug.
Arda Ocal, one of the more respected wrestling insiders today, spelled out the entire violation that Swagger could have faced. It seemed likely that in order to enforce their wellness policy, WWE would suspend Swagger and bring him back prior to WrestleMania. Reports emerged that Swagger was being pulled from performing at house shows, which made it all the more shocking when Swagger was wrestling on Raw Monday night. Any idea of Swagger being written off of programming for a time was debunked when Swagger emerged victorious.
Later on in the night, an incredible main event between John Cena and CM Punk graced wrestling fans who tuned in. The match was one of the best that has been seen on broadcast television in quite some time, but it featured an uneasy moment for fans.
Toward the end of the match, Punk put Cena's head in between his legs, lifted him up and sat straight down. Punk had performed a piledriver on live television. Shock rang out from fans, both in person and through social media, and even took the commentators by surprise.
The piledriver has been a banned move in WWE for more than a dozen years in an attempt to make the product safer for the competitors. Superstars have famously injured themselves seriously by not positioning their neck correctly when performing the move. The move is performed very seldom, usually by The Undertaker. Even still, the Tombstone Piledriver is performed differently and in a safer way than the classic style of the move.
An outcry over the move's inclusion didn't come from fans or even fellow wrestlers, but rather the boss, Vince McMahon. The move apparently saw McMahon show a lot of displeasure for it happening, especially on a live broadcast during a very crucial matchup. It has sparked a large debate between fans, but what it will ultimately result in is no more than a fine for two of the brand's top stars today. Cena will still be in the main event of WrestleMania against WWE Champion The Rock, while Punk seems to be on a collision course with The Undertaker, according to reports.
So, in just a few weeks, WrestleMania will take place with (at least) three main event matches. Of the six men confirmed or rumored to be involved in these matches, three of them were involved in controversy surrounding WWE this week.
This doesn't include The Rock, who is the current WWE Champion that is not featured every week live on programming, considered to be a taboo in pro wrestling. The Rock's only mention this past week was a look back at him unveiling the new look to the WWE Championship from the week before.
What message does this send from WWE, who has seen stars break rules and traditions of the company? If it was Damien Sandow and not Jack Swagger, would a pink slip be handed out? If it was The Miz and Antonio Cesaro, not Punk and Cena, would there still be a WrestleMania match for either one of them? It sure is lonely at the top of WWE, but when you get there, there are just as many rules as there are superstars.