Daniel Bryan vs. The World...also starring The Big Show and Cody Rhodes
The headlining angle in today's World Wrestling Entertainment, featuring Daniel Bryan's war against the all-powerful Triple H and his hand-selected champion in Randy Orton, has resulted in some of the most focused, interesting and entertaining booking from the promotion in years.
Monday night's episode of Raw continued The Game's reign of terror across the entire three-hour broadcast of the company's flagship show, as no less than four different Superstars felt the wrath of the COO.
Dolph Ziggler's continued punishment has already been discussed in this article. New to the equation this week was Cody Rhodes, who had the audacity to speak up to Triple H about the boss' determination to keep Bryan away from the WWE title. Rhodes, who is days away from his wedding, was punished with a match against Orton in which the young second-generation star's career would be in jeopardy.
Rhodes and Orton had an outstanding match that had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands late. The WWE champion fired up the crowd, inciting a chorus of boos as he signaled for the RKO. He grabbed Cody around the head, but Rhodes countered into the Cross Rhodes and appeared to be seconds away from the biggest win of his career.
Then Orton kicked out. Seconds later, Rhodes missed with a Disaster Kick and injured his own knee, making him prone for the RKO. As Orton celebrated his victory, Triple H appeared on the ramp and fired Rhodes, much to the dismay of fans and announcers alike.
The career of one of the company's brightest young stars was brought to a premature end in a bit of booking brilliance that allows the COO to look like a heartless, vile businessman and also sets up the eventual triumphant return for Rhodes, who suddenly finds himself the object of fan support, something he was having trouble obtaining in the first month of his babyface turn.
Later in the night, Triple H and his wife, Stephanie, set their sights on making Big Show's life miserable after the giant refused to face Bryan in the night's main event. During an in-ring promo in which she was the perfect, disingenuous "friend" to the giant, she exposed his personal business, revealing that the World's Largest Athlete had a number of bad business decisions cost him millions and that now he needed his job with WWE to support his family (despite an iron-clad contract that awards him his guaranteed money even if he is fired, but really, who's keeping track?).
Show turned on the waterworks and sobbed as he was faced with doing something he did not want to do, for people he did not want to be associated with. As the main event approached, something would have to give.
Bryan was tremendous in the role of determined babyface, unaffected by his friendship with Big Show, his sights set solely on continuing his quest back to the WWE title. Big Show pleaded with him, telling the tenacious-yet-smaller star that he did not want the fight and that Bryan could walk away and end it.
That did not go over well.
The match went on as scheduled. Later on in the contest, Big Show was poised to deliver the knockout punch and pick up a huge win over the top contender to the sport's most coveted prize. Instead, he walked away and climbed over the ropes, drawing Triple H and The Shield to the ring. Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns triple-teamed Bryan while Show watched from the aisle.
This brought out Stephanie, who reminded Show of everything he had to lose. Tears poured down the face of the giant as he re-entered the ring and teased hitting Triple H before finally knocking Bryan out and leaving to a chorus of "you sold out" chants.
Orton made his way to the ring and posed over his fallen top contender to close out the evening's broadcast.
The main storyline on Raw is a layered one that has, in recent weeks, built up the evil empire as a dominant and corrupt force that will, eventually, be defeated by a triumphant hero. Bryan is that hero and, with the inclusion of Big Show, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler in fringe storylines, will potentially lead a group of surging babyfaces into battle against the proverbial machine.
It is a war the likes that have not been seen since the glory days of the National Wrestling Alliance, when the Four Horsemen would target top threats to their dominance. Eventually, men such as Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, Barry Windham, the Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff and Lex Luger—men with little or nothing in common—would band together to battle their common enemy. Jim Crockett Promotions made a lot of money settling those rivalries in War Games, a two-ring steel-cage battle between teams.
While it is unlikely WWE will ever bring the fan-favorite match out of mothballs, it has crafted a storyline that takes the best of the 1980's NWA and the 1990's Attitude Era and has molded it together in one of its best angles in years.
Cody Rhodes' exit interview
One Superstar deserving special mention after Monday night was young Cody Rhodes, who delivered the promo of his career as he was escorted out of the building by security following his loss to Orton earlier in the evening.
Rhodes, with passion in his voice and tears in his eyes, discussed how WWE has made a mockery of his family in the past and how the loss adversely affects his impending marriage.
Like CM Punk earlier in the evening, Rhodes showed real emotion and conviction, and it was not difficult for the audience to believe every word he said. It was the type of promo everyone believed Rhodes was capable of cutting but, for whatever reason, was never given the opportunity to.
It was a star-making two minutes that hopefully will be followed up on in a satisfying manner.