The future for WWE’s roster seemed so bright a month ago.
Last month, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan kicked off a monumental WrestleMania XXX in what was quite possibly the greatest opening segment in WrestleMania history. It was at least the most star-studded.
It’s easy to read that last paragraph and immediately assume that WWE was once again relying on its past to sell pay-per-views.
It’s understandable cynicism. The last three WrestleManias have featured Attitude Era stalwarts like Chris Jericho, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Triple H and Undertaker at the top of the card.
However, the opening segment of WrestleMania XXX was anything but WWE relying on its past. In fact, it was the opposite.
In that defining moment, WWE’s three biggest stars stood in the same ring to encourage an awe-inspired viewing audience to look forward to the present and future, which are now one and the same because the future is now. More on that later.
During a fiery promo that had the chutzpa of a wrestling legend, but the smoothness of a keynote address from a Presidential candidate, The Rock said:
Tonight a man's going to come out here and he's going to fight in the name of hustle loyalty respect but that man doesn't have the guts to come out here and fight in the name of hustle, loyalty and respect unless someone 29 years ago vowed to say their prayers and eat their vitamins, brother!
He went on to make a similar comparison between antiheroes Stone Cold Steve Austin (then) and Daniel Bryan (now).
It was moving. It was passionate. It almost doubled as the Sunday sermon most wrestling fans skipped out on in favor of WrestleMania.
Most importantly, it drove home a theme that was reinforced through losses suffered by Triple H, The New Age Outlaws, The Big Show Batista, Randy Orton and, most shockingly, the Undertaker. That same theme was reinforced through wins by The Shield, Cesaro and Daniel Bryan.
Wrestling’s '90s zeitgeist was finally being killed off. The future is now.
A debut by Paige and the resurfacing of Bad News Barrett furthered that message the next night on Raw with WWE’s future looking as bright as ever.
But just as quickly as WWE has ushered in a new era, that era was again put on pause following Bryan’s sudden neck injury.
Even pre-injury, Bryan’s win alone exposed WWE’s ripening roster as being deficient of heels. Suddenly, a 46-year-old Kane was swiped from the Attitude Era and thrown into the main event spotlight to feud with the new champion.
Sure, the future is now—but so is John Cena.
Names like John Cena and CM Punk have been the most speculated in terms of WWE’s contingency plan should Bryan miss significant time. Several of the aforementioned prospects are not ready to even temporarily assume the position as the face of the WWE.
Cesaro was recently reset after being paired with Paul Heyman. As fun as that sounds for the Internet, his new theme music has basically narrated his current run as an ambiguous heel: generic, devoid of words and loud at the beginning—his theme song begins with a siren, which is the musical equivalent of Heyman cutting a promo before each of his matches to keep fans awake.
Bad News Barrett and Sheamus are on current upticks after being in limbo, but each has recently won a secondary championship.
A WWE World Heavyweight Championship victory for either would seem forced, although Sheamus as a hand-selected heel champion could garner desirable heat given his recent feud with the Internet Wrestling Community.
Roman Reigns has been a hot commodity for quite some time. However, an awkward promo Monday night on Raw served up a harsh reminder: Reigns’ deficiencies as a true freshman are being expertly hidden in a stable alongside two wrestling veterans disguised as rookies.
The same stories can be told across the roster. Damaged goods (Ziggler), too green (Rusev), no chance in hell (Big E Langston, Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, Titus O’Neil—you get it) and so on.
Bryan’s story wasn’t even supposed to be told to begin with. WWE took a major risk on Bryan as champion. It was a risk it had initially decided against until its hand was forced by Bryan’s tenacious fanbase.
If Bryan is forced to forfeit the WWE World Championship, it would be accurate to say the risk failed—for now.
With reason to be more risk-averse than ever, only a select few will be in serious consideration to carry the WWE World Heavyweight Championship should Bryan forfeit.
And, rest assured, they’ll be the same names you’ve seen in this position for the last 10 years. With Heyman still singing his praises for breaking Undertaker’s streak, Brock Lesnar seems viable at this point.
WWE’s next pay-per-view will be held in Chicago, so cue up the CM Punk rumors.
During a Kings of Sport podcast, Yahoo’s Marcus Vanderberg and Nate Milton of The Fight Network each threw Triple H’s name into the hat.
Translation? The future is still several months away.