”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What does Daniel Bryan’s return mean to you as a fan?
Professional wrestling is a tricky beast. By its very nature, it is injurious to anyone who participates in it. Long-term, it is the most dangerous impact sporting endeavor in the world, not just capable of but highly likely to ravage the human frames of its participants, especially those who make it to WWE and work its grueling schedule. Remember, we are talking about crashing on thinly padded wood for a living here and, like with football, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about whether or not the physical damage pro wrestling causes should be worth it to anyone.
Nevertheless, as we all know as fans, it is an incredibly appealing performance art. It is like a visual drug for us; once we get hooked, it is easy for us to become consumed by it. For the wrestlers themselves, their fandom translates at some point from a visual drug to the addiction of hearing the crowd come alive as they live their dreams and turn their pastime into a career.
The Rock has frequently stated that there is nothing quite on the level of the rush received from performing in front of a live audience. Certainly, Daniel Bryan can attest to that. The story he shared on Smackdown Tuesday night is something that most of us have known about for the last few years; we knew that he was determined to get back in the ring and we knew that, so long as there were doctors telling him that he would be okay to do it, he was going to wrestle, if not for WWE than for someone else. Even if you had no knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes, if you listened to him commentate the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016 or watched his promo on Brock Lesnar (on behalf of AJ Styles) last year before Survivor Series, you knew that the competitor behind the words was dying inside because he could not do what he loved.
Imagine the frustration, for a moment, that Bryan felt toward his situation. Elite doctors were clearing him to return to action, but other elite doctors were telling WWE that Bryan should never wrestle again. The ego in medicine is unbelievable, as surely Bryan and his family well learned; these types of situations could be handled swiftly with a little bit of open communication among physicians, but that still very rarely happens; Heaven forbid that a doctor be wrong. So, people like Bryan are consequently caught in limbo. Lest we not forget that the whole thing began with The Yes! Man’s career peak crashing to an unfortunate and abrupt end a month after WrestleMania XXX, during which time his father unexpectedly passed away. Then, for the better part of the four years since, he has had to be around wrestling like an alcoholic fresh out of rehab would have to be around booze if he/she worked at a bar. Now imagine what the words, “You’ve been cleared” must have felt like to him.
Such is why the narrative surrounding whether or not Bryan should ever wrestle again is a little ridiculous at this point. If we are being honest, nobody should ever wrestle; repetitive trauma sends the human body into a constant state of repair that becomes to the muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones the equivalent of spending far more money than you make, putting the body in an impossible debt from which it cannot realistically hope to recover. If you are worried about Bryan, worry about the entire population of professional wrestlers on this planet; sure, worry a little bit more about Bryan than the rest due to the concussion history but, while doing so, also take into account that he is a forward-thinking person who, rather than follow the dilapidated protocols that 95% of physicians suggest for neuro-cases like his, he did his own research, got different opinions, and got well ahead of the curve with some of the treatments that he was using (the types that the pharmaceutical companies suggest are inadequate because they are not approved by the governing body in their back pocket, but which get far better outcomes than the symptom-suppressors most patients comparable to Bryan are using to unsatisfying ends). The bottom line is that he got as well as he possibly could, and top doctors around the country cleared him to wrestle.
Bryan suggested that we hang onto our dreams like he did, so rather than question the motives or downplay the significance of the most universally loved wrestler since the Attitude Era getting a new lease on his career, let us instead dream big about what it could mean. There are potentially far-reaching implications for Bryan circumventing the “no” dialogue that surrounded his condition, not just for wrestlers and other athletes but for the general population, who should be inspired by Bryan’s refusal to adhere to one set of doctors’ viewpoints. His recovery should be used on the posters for the so-termed alternative treatments for head injuries that quite frankly, logically, ought to become the new standards, relegating the archaic models currently in place as the first-through-fifth options to the back of the line. Next week’s Doc Says podcast will cover the big picture implications more thoroughly.
Of course, as wrestling fans, the primary emotion that we should allow ourselves to feel – in spite of this “react to everything negatively” world – is elation. Daniel friekin’ Bryan is back! Yes! He is going to wrestle prominently on an already stacked WrestleMania card! Yes! Think of what he might do in the near future once he gets his legs back under him; it is a vastly different roster today than the one he left in 2014 and revisited only briefly in 2015 before retiring in 2016! Yes! At the top of the list for yours truly are matches with Seth Rollins and AJ Styles! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Catharsis comes in many forms to a pro wrestling fan, but perhaps there is none better than watching a wrestler who got robbed of his prime headlining years make a comeback. This is like Shawn Michaels coming back in 2002 after being forced into retirement because of his spinal injury. Like HBK, Bryan was in his early thirties and had rounded into one of the top stars in the company, a lengthy run at or near the top a reliable thought process about his shelf life. Fate intervened then, and it has intervened again! Now, he is coming back to the game with four years of healing time, and it seems reasonable to think that if Bryan gets a Michaels type schedule, then he too can have an amazing twilight run.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Would you like to see more “Ultimate Deletion”-style segments from WWE?
Nearly three years ago, I attended one of Jeff Jarrett’s initial Global Force Wrestling shows, during which the owner was challenged via satellite to a match at a local independent super-card by none other than Matt Hardy. I could not help but wonder about Hardy, “Is there not something more creative that someone with a mind for the business like him could be doing?” He opened his own promotion when he was basically still a kid, he knows how to get over in a variety of ways in front of wrestling’s largest worldwide audience, and he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so it crossed my mind that maybe he could eventually get hired by Triple H to work down in NXT or become a road agent for WWE proper.
Around a year after that, I watched the Final Deletion, joining the throngs of wrestling fans drawn back to TNA on account of Hardy’s “Broken” gimmick. I was an unabashed fan of the viewing experience, as it was such a unique piece of television that finally broke TNA free of their well-earned and disappointing status as “WWE Lite” (hell, TNA was like WWE Michelob Ultra – watered down sports entertainment). Was it utterly ridiculous? Of course it was, but it was also a prime example of a wrestler fully buying into his character, however off the wall it might be. The ridiculousness of the Broken Universe is what made it work and was certainly what made it a fun change of pace from the rather bland creativity on display each week from WWE.
The lingering question in my mind after the Final Deletion was whether or not it would successfully translate to WWE amidst rumors that Triple H wanted to bring back the Hardys. If “Broken” Matt Hardy ever found himself on WWE TV, would he be able to earn enough clout as a persona to bring something as absurdly maniacal as the Final Deletion with him? Last night on Raw, we got our answer.
If I’m honest, I will say that there was nothing about the Broken gimmick, week-to-week, that appealed to me at all. That same sense of indifference did not apply to the Ultimate Deletion, however. From the moment it was announced that Hardy and Bray Wyatt were filming the end of their “great” war at the Hardy Compound, all of the apathy that I had built up toward their goofy feud quickly dissipated and I bought in completely. Matt having become “Woken” was always just a segue, for me personally, for us to be able to see how WWE would handle such a thing as Matt left to his creative devices at his home in North Carolina alongside Senor Benjamin, King Maxel, Vanguard 1, the dilapidated boat, and all the rest of the hilarity that consumed so many of us back in 2016.
My general opinion of WWE’s version vs. TNA’s: it was a solid sequel, though nothing may ever come close to matching the originality on display in the Final Deletion. That is not really the point that I wanted to bring up in this column, though, because the Ultimate was never going to out-Delete the Final. What I want to explore is whether or not the Ultimate Deletion was successful enough to make weird segments like it a more consistent part of modern WWE in a way that the Wyatt-centered material (the fight with New Day, the pre-‘Mania 33 Orton stuff, and the lame House of Horrors) were unable to stimulate.
In terms of genres within professional wrestling, I think that there is certainly a space for “Deletion” sorts of segments to be utilized prominently for characters that are purposefully strange. As you will hear me say on tomorrow’s “The Doc Says” podcast featuring Mr. Tito, we are living in a wrestling world in which there is greater than ever acceptance of WWE as theater rather than “fake” sport, so now more than at any time in recent memory, WWE should embrace whacky ideas and take risks that result in television that breaks the mold of standard promos, standard brawls, and their consequent standard payoffs. For instance, why not allow the on-going skits from the Fashion Police on Smackdown to culminate in a pre-taped, goofy fight? It would do no harm and it would actually provide a more traditional purpose to be attached to what otherwise amounts to little more than entertaining filler.
WWE regularly insults our intelligence with nonsense like asking us to pretend like John Cena “might not make it to WrestleMania” (zip it, Golden Boy), so it may as well ask us to pretend like Wyatt is the spawn of the devil and that Matt Hardy somehow managed to conjure the right stuff necessary to slay him. Cena’s refrain is just plain old dumb (like sitting around with your college buddies throwing knives), while watching Hardy find immense joy in using his lawnmower in battle and “deleting” Wyatt by merely throwing him in a pond is just silly fun (like sitting around with your college buddies listening to fart jokes on YouTube). Considering how seriously we all take wrestling – WWE itself and us as fans – it would probably do the lot of us some good to get lost in something far more lowbrow; and, even if you disagree that lowbrow is worth your time, surely you can agree that there is a place for it in WWE like there is a place for those God-awful horror movies in Hollywood.
More where that came from, WWE, I say…but keep it off of pay-per-view (it’s a better fit for the otherwise laborious TV product)…
Other Raw Notes:
-I think that Braun Strowman’s partner is going to end up being Bray Wyatt actually
-“Struggling” would be the appropriate word for me as it pertains to buying what John Cena is trying to sell me this WrestleMania Season. I am very excited for Taker vs. Cena, though.
-WWE took it a step too far with the Roman Reigns angle this week, which basically means that they have veered into territory that makes me care even less about seeing his rematch with Brock Lesnar (whereas the two weeks following Elimination Chamber were actually getting me on-board); I think WWE would sometimes be better off not having to adhere to their live-TV format and just let matches like Reigns-Lesnar II get hyped through pre-taped interviews (see Ronda Rousey’s video package this week for a perfect example)
-No matter what WWE does in the hype department, credit where it is due for putting together a wonderfully varied WrestleMania 34 card that has the potential to be absolutely awesome