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Thursday May 23 2019
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Rumblings of Discontent

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In sports, the crowd can affect the outcome of the game. In pro wrestling, the promoters try to dictate the crowd reaction.

At the WWE Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View this past January, the Pittsburgh crowd told WWE what they thought of the direction of the product. It was far from a ringing endorsement.

WWE (formerly World Wrestling Entertainment and World Wrestling Federation) staged the Royal Rumble, their second biggest pay-per-view of the year, at CONSOL Energy Center before an announced crowd of 15,715. The highlight of the event is the Royal Rumble match itself, where 30 participants enter the ring at 90 second intervals.

Competitors toss their opponents over the top rope onto the floor until only one remains; that man gets a title shot at WrestleMania (this year, in New Orleans on April 6th).

What made the Pittsburgh crowd turn hostile? The matches, for the most part, were better than average. The almost-ageless New Age Outlaws defeated Goldust and Cody Rhodes to win the WWE Tag Team Championship. The prophecy-spouting Bray Wyatt beat uber fan-favorite Daniel Bryan. Brock Lesnar (former UFC and NCAA wrestling champ) beat the 7-foot Big Show. Randy Orton successfully defended the WWE World Heavyweight Title with a pinfall win over John Cena. In the Rumble itself, muscleman Dave Batista, returning to WWE after a four year absence, won after last eliminating Roman Reigns.

The wrath of Pittsburgh may have arisen from many fans rejecting WWE "booking" (matchmaking and storylines in the male soap-opera). Fans wanted to see Daniel Bryan get a title shot. They were tired of seeing Orton face Cena. They were also disappointed by Batista winning the Rumble; he was portrayed by WWE as a returning hero, while fans didn't seem very impressed or interested.

Daniel Bryan is an extremely talented worker who is the hot commodity in WWE.  Fans clamor for him to run with the title, but management ("The Authority") intervened to take the title belt off him twice last year. Folks hoped he'd be in the Rumble (he was never officially announced to participate), but when Rey Misterio came out as the last entrant, he was booed mercilessly. Mainly because he wasn't Daniel Bryan.

Counting a non-title match two weeks later on television, Orton and Cena have faced each other 16 times in the last seven years. They've also been in back to back PPVs- overkill, anyone? Many were chanting during the match about any and all things except the match.

Batista's return was triumphed by WWE, but some didn't savor him getting the win and the title shot, with cheers barely offsetting the booing. Fans favored the menacing Roman Reigns, a superstar in the making who personally eliminated a record 12 participants.

At least one of the wrestlers was just as disappointed as fans with the direction of the product. Less than 24 hours after the Rumble, former champ C.M. Punk (who lasted 49:15 in the ring before being eliminated) told the company he was quitting. Although he hasn't addressed it publically, others suggested that Punk, another fan favorite, doesn't like the direction of his character. Contractual disputes quickly vanish if the money is right for both sides, but Punk carries the image of someone who may value image as much as money. Whether he reconciles with WWE by the time you read this is anyone’s guess.

Don't get us wrong: it was an exciting night of action that entertained for three hours. The spectacle of the Rumble itself is usually enough for most wrestling fans. Crowd members craving action over character development probably had few complaints, other than “bad guys/villains” winning all the matches (with the ostensible exception of Batista). 

WWE may not react immediately, but the message was received. People aren't happy and the status quo isn't acceptable, a view shared by many on the internet.

We'll see if WWE gets the message by WrestleMania. It won't be as if they weren't warned in Pittsburgh.

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