I've been saying it for weeks to anyone who will listen: WWE is about to have a big Dean Ambrose problem. It's a good kind of problem to have. It's the type of problem that could lead to a significant shake-up in the main event scene and vast improvement to the product as a whole.
It was about this time last year that WWE finally realized something that the world had known for some time: Daniel Bryan was pretty darn good. It set the course for SummerSlam, lining Bryan up across the ring from John Cena for the WWE title and we saw the beginning of a long, rocky road to Bryan's crowning moment at WrestleMania.
If it weren't for the unfortunate neck injury and subsequent troubles with rehabilitation, Bryan would be on top of the WWE at this moment and likely headed for a match against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
Now, we sit here again in the annual midsummer wrestling doldrums between major pay-per-views, waiting for something exciting to happen. Last year it was Bryan. This year it's the emergence of Dean Ambrose as a potential breakout star.
Ambrose's blend of Roddy Piper's loud mouth, Brian Pillman's loose-cannon tendencies and pathological obsession and Stone Cold Steve Austin's willingness to both give and take a beating in a wild brawl have turned him into a fan favorite within weeks.
While it needs to come up with something better than "The Lunatic Fringe," Ambrose is easily one of the most marketable anti-heroes the company has had since CM Punk dropped the pipebomb. The crowd pops at his mere appearance on the Titantron and has learned to chant his name when it anticipates his arrival during a show.
And don't think the WWE doesn't realize something is happening here. It knows Ambrose is talented and there was probably a long-term plan to let him grow organically into a star. I don't think it expected it to happen this fast.
See, Seth Rollins is the best worker of the former Shield brothers, but he's also a work-in-progress as a character. He needed the heel turn and alliance with Triple H and Stephanie more than Ambrose or Roman Reigns. If he didn't receive a strong-booked storyline, it would have been easier for him to drift.
Reigns is the chosen one, the successor to John Cena, the future face of the company. He's kept the Shield music and ring gear to help maintain his momentum coming out of the split. Unfortunately, he's still very green on the mic, and even more inexperienced in the ring. Yes, Reigns has been part of many classic matches with the Shield, but none of them were one-on-one.
The one drawing the biggest crowd reaction of the three, despite not being booked nearly as strong in the last two months, is Ambrose. WWE booked Ambrose to be in the main event of the go-home show for Battleground, but it wrote him out of the match.
The paranoid wrestling smark in me believes this is because WWE feared Ambrose out-popping his babyface teammates. WWE wants Reigns to get the biggest pop of the match because it is building tension between him and Cena as the old guard and the next big thing. This wouldn't happen with Ambrose out there, though, because the crowd would cheer him louder than the two chosen stars.
At Battleground, the main event may be the fourway for the WWE World Heavyweight title. The real match most wrestling fans are tuning in to see is Ambrose vs. Rollins. This match will likely get significant time and be an intense brawl between a pair of excellent talents who are hungry to prove they belong in the main event picture themselves.
I don't expect Ambrose to win this match. WWE is tempering him for a future launch. They know he doesn't need to win every match he has to be over. He doesn't need as much protection, because at any moment they can hand him the mic and let him rip. Within a minute of a promo, he'll have the crowd back in his hands and interested in his character.
The question is how long does the WWE wait to strap the rocket to his back and let him be the main man in the company? Does it attempt to hold him back with a heel turn before pushing him to the main event? Does it put a midcard belt back around his waist to appease ravenous 20- and 30-something males that crave an edgier, more dangerous babyface to cheer?
WWE is about to have a Dean Ambrose problem come SummerSlam and he'll be one of the biggest fan attractions in the company without them even trying. The question is whether or not they let him run with the ball, or if we are just teased for years at the prospects of a WWE product written around one of the most exciting talents they've had in years.