”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 #1: What do you think and/or hope that Seth Rollins is going to be doing at WrestleMania 34?
QUESTION OF THE DAY #2: Do you think Daniel Bryan will really come back to wrestle for WWE?
The heat is on; Daniel Bryan’s contract with WWE is set to expire this year and he has publicly made clear what many have privately assumed for some time: that if WWE does not allow him to wrestle, he will not re-sign and will resume plying his trade in the ring somewhere else. Bryan is an interesting case because he is the first high profile star of WWE’s to question its doctors’ decision not to clear him on account of the fact that other doctors across the country have told him that he would be fine to wrestle. It is unprecedented.
Bryan’s case is right up my real world alley, so here are my thoughts from the outside looking in. First and foremost, you would hope that there has been dialogue between the doctors who cleared him to wrestle and the doctors associated with WWE who will not clear him. Doctors are notoriously egotistical, especially in the field of neurology, but the fact of the matter is that there is no tried and true test that would help a team of doctors determine the health of Bryan’s brain in relation to returning to the ring, much less a test that would help determine the further damage he might do if he was to suffer another concussion; this is more about how one set of doctors interprets the data available versus another’s interpretation.
Concussive force is present in each and every wrestling match, that much should be made clear. Think of it on a scale of 1-10, with eight a strong enough concussive force to create a bell-ringing type moment that even the well-conditioned body of a well-seasoned wrestler would struggle to overcome beyond a few minutes and ten being the force that would put a wrestler on the shelf for a lengthier recovery period. Bryan’s diving headbutt off the top rope would surely rate at least a five on that scale, as the belly-flop bump forces a whiplash effect that goes against natural range of motion; in other words, it’s easier to look down than up because you have more motion that way, so its safer to experience whiplash when landing on your back because your head can more easily spring forward. A simple hard shoulder tackle would likely rate around a two or a three on the aforementioned scale. Don’t try it at home, indeed. I would think that if Sting was cleared at 57 years old, Ric Flair was cleared at 59 years old, and Kurt Angle was cleared given his lengthy history with neurological problems stemming from wrestling, then Daniel Bryan surely could.
Now, if you ask me if he should wrestle, then my answer is different. His body has already endured enough structural decay from a decade and a half of wrestling that doctors thought that he was an obvious candidate for neck surgery before he had reached his mid-thirties (a major red flag beyond the scope of athletics), so that is worth mentioning. Add in his concussion history, specifically that he had a seizure at one point after a concussion suffered earlier in the decade, and for his own good, he should never wrestle again, but let’s be honest here – you can make the argument that nobody should wrestle professionally, or play football for that matter.
It puts WWE in a tough spot. Going with the public idea that the company is trying to protect Bryan, then shouldn’t it cross WWE’s mind that it would be better for him to wrestle under its guidance, like parents would rather know their teenager is drinking and attempt to curtail it on their watch, instead of letting him wrestle elsewhere? Of course, the flip side to that is, as a corporation, WWE would naturally rather someone else take on the liability and potential backlash if he really wants to wrestle that badly.
Personally, and with all due respect, I’m not buying the concern from WWE for the person ahead of the business. You know as well as I do that this is not about should, but about could; and, conservatively, Bryan could wrestle a part-timer schedule for a few years and honestly not do much more physical damage to his brain and body than has already been accumulated in his past.
Recall that, a week ago, I referenced getting back into more of a pure-fan state of mind and that I accordingly marked out when Finn Balor reunited with The Club and main-evented Monday Night Raw. Well, in this week’s Raw main-event, I got to see a rematch of one of my most anticipated matches of 2016 between my two favorites of the modern era, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. I highly suggest that you take a step back from your fandom in some similar fashion as I have these past few weeks; I cannot tell you how refreshing it feels as a fan to be really excited to watch two guys face each other on Raw solely because you think well of them both as performers. I’m really enjoying this rediscovered sense of purer fandom. Borrowing the 1-10 scale again, if where I was at in the back end of 2017 was a 10 signifying jaded smarkdom and where I was in I was a nine years old was a 1 signifying total markdom, then the place to be, folks, is somewhere between 4-6. I’m in a fine enthusiast’s groove at a 5, my friends.
Anyhow, wrestling each other one-on-one for the first time since the ill-fated Summerslam match for the Universal Title that put Balor on the shelf, the pair put on a very impressive showing, good enough to elevate the match beyond the level of most thrown-together, unannounced TV battles with nothing obvious at stake; it was the type of performance that would make fans clamor to see more from them as opponents, perhaps on a stage as grand as WrestleMania 34.
Most noteworthy was the comeback of The Architect’s old finishing move, The Curb Stomp, which was instantly renamed to its pre-WWE moniker, The Blackout. It was memorable not just because it gives Rollins back the very impactful, natural match-closing maneuver that he had lacked since being stripped of the stomp three years ago, but also because Balor sold it like he had been bludgeoned with a tire iron, creating an arc heading into the Royal Rumble go-home show that interests yours truly far more than any returning star at Raw 25 possibly could. More than anything, I just want to see the contemporary generation have a chance to reach its peak. Someone like Rollins, to avoid leaving his peak three years in the past, could really use the Blackout to aid in his cause for returning to the main-event in 2018; I really think the lack of a go-to finisher was going to hold him back – it was either the Phoenix Splash or the Curb Stomp – and preferably it will be both. Balor, meanwhile, just needs a storyline to sink his teeth into, thereby allowing him to further develop a character that can get over to a greater extent. Said it on Twitter and I’ll echo it here: more please.
In other news, it could be that my rosier outlook is partly responsible for the forthcoming appraisal or it could be the accumulation of a few months of regenerative booking – and, truthfully, I guess it does not matter which – but Braun Strowman is getting his upper-level mojo back these past two weeks. The grappling hook was just insane enough to work in an over-the-top sort of way and then last night being the centerpiece of a night-long story that we just don’t see enough interesting versions with the current product has Strowman feeling like he is again on the brink of the championship. Even if he does not win it, the momentum he has gained and likely will gain through the booking of the triple threat next Sunday ought to put him squarely in the mix for one of the top mid-card matches at WrestleMania, where perhaps a date opposite Samoa Joe would suffice as a consolation prize (for both men). WWE is another consistent week or two away from restoring roughly 80% of what Strowman was prior to Lesnar mowing through him last September; if they get him to another peak precipice again before the year is out, it will be one of the best reconstruction projects pulled off by WWE creative this decade.
Though I continue to be baffled by the lack of continuity, both of push and of character, from the NXT main-event level to the WWE main roster, it was nice to see Bobby Roode have his first real moment since debuting on Smackdown after Summerslam. If he is not going to help solve the top tier talent depth problem via an immediate push to the main-event – I was thinking it remotely possible that he could win the Rumble and face AJ Styles at WrestleMania 34 before Tuesday night – then why not make him the centerpiece of the Smackdown mid-card scene and have him in a US Championship match on the grandest stage; and he has to be on the card at Mania, folks, because the world needs to see that guy’s entrance using the brightest possible lights, trust me when I tell you after having seen it in person at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III.
Interesting if not sort of absurd one-night stories taking place both on Raw and Smackdown in the same week is a very unusual occurrence. Neither proved overly moving, but I appreciated the effort. The story on Tuesday was about both the starring role that Roode was elevated to as the new titleholder and the prestige of the United States Championship, which recall has been defended in two of the most high profile mid-card bouts in recent WrestleMania memory over the past three years. For the title and its tournament, the Xavier Woods vs. Jinder Mahal match was a clash of booking ideologies, with Woods representing the potential to see a mid-card singles champion crowned classically as a result of tag team success (and its promise of something greater) and Mahal indicative of the tried and true scheme of putting the title bearing the American flag on an evil foreigner. I was hoping to see Woods and Roode win their respective semi-finals and maybe have a career-enhancing Rumble opener, but WWE went to the experiment that dominated its creative decisions last summer and set Mahal up as Roode’s final hurdle.
All I can say is THANK GOD The Modern Day Mediocrity did not capture that belt. Mahal would have value if he were not so ridiculously average or worse at everything but lifting weights. From an in-ring standpoint, Mahal’s involvement guaranteed us some bland wrestling as the centerpiece of the show, rendering the action complimentary to the arc that played out, once again putting Daniel Bryan and his decision making at the forefront of the runtime. Some have called it a blatant heel move to push the title match up a week right after Roode was attacked by Mahal’s henchman, but The Glorious One asked for it and then backed it up in the ring by winning the title, so I think it was, by comparison to recent weeks, a night off for the authority figure tension.
Dolph Ziggler likely returns next week to set up a match at the Royal Rumble, maybe with a Ladder Match stipulation, which remember was brought to major storylines via two men with legitimate claims to the title. For the record, Ziggler showing up at random after two months of “we’ve got nothing for you” to win the title is not my cup of sports entertainment tea, but immediately afterwards quitting, followed by a tournament for the vacant title, and ultimately a featured mid-card match for the title that Harley Race won for the first time over forty years ago? Sign me up for that.