Rehire a Wrestler Without a Contract: Kayfabe In The Age Of The Internet
Rehire a Wrestler without a Contract?? "Why would i sign a petition to bring back someone who never even made it to the WWE roster??? Idiots....". So wrote Dolph Ziggler recently on his Twitter account, and by doing so, he bought clarity to many issues regarding the recent firing of Bryan Danielson from the WWE (clarity from Ziggler? Yea, I know; bear with me...). Much has been written about this (as one person noted, the internet exploded because of it), questioning the legitimacy surrounding the firing, the reasons behind it, and whether this is a work or a shoot.
Personally, I think it's a shoot, but one being handled by the WWE in a way I've never seen. Cena brought it up. WWE.com has made it a question of the day. And all of this for a person who never really had a contract with the WWE. Who is this person? This person is Daniel Bryan, internet sensation and rookie on season one of NXT who had some above par matches with the likes of Batista and Chris Jericho, but could never quite pull off that win. This Daniel Bryan was given a one day contract by Aston Kutcher to have a one-on-one match with The Miz, which Bryan subsequently won. This Daniel Bryan choked out a ring announcer, spit in the face of Cena, and the next week didn't show up with his peers because he felt remorse for what he had done. And yes, this Daniel Bryan never had a contract with the WWE.
Now, Bryan Danielson on the other hand has been contracted numerous times by the WWE with little success in the early part of the decade. This Bryan Danielson had a lot of success at home in ROH and abroad in Japan. This Bryan Danielson was named best technical wrestler 5 years in a row by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, where he was also named most outstanding wrestler for the last 4. He signed a deal back with WWE in 2009-- not a developmental contract, but a contract-- and spent time in FCW before debuting as the Daniel Bryan character of NXT. In the character of Daniel Bryan, Bryan Danielson participated in one of the most talked about angles on RAW in years, and was subsequently fired over it for what appears to be business or political purposes.
Now, this Bryan Danielson is waiting for the right moment to speak and is taking bookings for indie shows. Confused yet? That's what happens when you get such a cluster of work and shoot, of kayfabe and real life, that nobody knows what is really going on. You get a Daniel Bryan voted off of the NXT competition by 'WWE management' while at the same time giving a Bryan Danielson promo on the same show. You get people like Cena who say he needs another chance, yet in kayfabe he never had a chance to begin with as he never had a contract. You get WWE.com making it a question of the day, yet it shouldn't even be a question. You get two worlds conjoining but not quite meshing and it comes off as rather bizarre to the observer.
First of all, the average wrestling fan doesn't care about wrestling news on the internet. I had a friend who forbade me from even mentioning anything I'd read on the internets when we watched RAW as he felt it took from the experience of wrestling. In some ways, he's right. We know the Undertaker isn't really in a vegetative state. We know Mysterio hit him rather hard on Smackdown recently, breaking an orbital bone and taking him out of action. We know HHH was experiencing neck issues and wasn't really taken out by Sheamus. We know these things, but it doesn't matter because we watch wrestling and we suspend out disbelief like we would with any work of fiction. That said, the average wrestling fan doesn't care right now about Bryan Danielson or Daniel Bryan. We do.
Here we have an internet story that is taking on so many different levels, beyond the bounds of injury angles and Wellness Policy Violations, that it's hard to sort out, and having characters and even the company itself not staying in character makes it all the more complicated. Some see Cena's twitter message as signs of a work, but I just don't see that. It's more logical to think he was an individual voicing his opinion on the matter and probably taking flack for it the next day from the higher ups. Bear in mind this isn't Cena's first mishandling of a twitter message. After the NXT beatdown, he tweeted about suffering a concussion, then made sure the next day to point out he was clear to wrestle as the WWE protocol forbids any competitor with a concussion from wrestling. Nor do I think he necessarily had a mishandling of the message, but it didn't come out 'in character', which is something WWE expressly wants out of its wrestlers (you listening, Matt Hardy?!?).
At the same time, if this is an elaborate work, what does this say about the status of WWE's announcement of wrestlers released. If it's a work, then what is the average IWC fan going to think when they see somebody else being wished the best of luck in future endeavors. Is Carlito not really suffering from a pain medication problem? See what I'm saying. The WWE wouldn't jeopardize the validity of their 'real world' message.
In all, what we've seen here is the mishandling of information in a new era of metawrestling, where wrestling isn't merely a thing consumed on Monday nights but something actively participated in. The world of wrestling, the real lives that go on there, are sometimes just as exciting, and lately more engrossing, than wrestling itself. Wrestling is trying this whole new internet thing that has sprung up on them, and this episode with Bryan Danielson shows how far they have to go before they get their message under their control and what boundaries they set between the IWC, WWE.com, Twitter, and the ring.
Kayfabe may not be what it used to be. I'd agree with those who think it is being remastered, but it's flubbing up along the way. I'm reminded of Ted DiBiase's acceptance speech recently at the HOF ceremony where he spoke about having to travel in limousines and act extravagant in real life because that is what kayfabe demanded of his character. Today's wrestling doesn't do that anymore, but we've been taught recently that wrestling's new social norms dictating kayfabe are mailable and confusing for all participants, including on the highest levels. So far, the only person who has done it right is Dolph Ziggler. Why hire a wrestler who was never hired or fired to begin with?
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