Every week, features editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer discusses the latest happenings in and around WWE inside On The Apron.
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
Last night’s Raw pulled off the inexplicable task of making Providence, Rhode Island the home of a moment that could go down as a benchmark in the next decade of WWE history, depending on how the next few months along the road to Wrestlemania XXX unfold. Particularly after Baltimore’s tepid crowd the week prior, it wouldn’t have been hard for the good folks of Providence to come off like a Chicago or Toronto-level rabid fanbase. But how could we have been prepared for that ending?
(Also, an addendum: There’s going to be fanboying this week. If that bothers you, and I genuinely get where it might, you may not wish to read on, though it’d be a lot cooler if you did.)
To conclude last night’s show, Daniel Wyatt (nee Bryan) teamed up with the kids’ favorite demented swamp cult leader Bray Wyatt to take on The Usos in a rematch from last week’s Raw. (Incidental pro tip: Jey has the pec tattoo, whereas Jimmy does not.) It was put inside a STEEL CAGE by lustrously locked Raw co-GM Brad Maddox, and Business Kane even came out to secure the lock on the cage himself. This will probably be important later.
Bryan, still under the influence of the machine-decrying Wyatt, had a decent enough match that ended in The Usos escaping the cage despite the best efforts of The Wyatt Family. That’s not the story, even if The Usos winning a Raw main event clean is admittedly pretty great. The story was Bryan’s refusal to submit to Sister Abigail for the second time in three hours, and being removed from his brainwashed haze of self-loathing and futility by a Providence crowd emphatically chanting his name. Bryan even got the “Yes!” equivalent of a slow clap moving with the aid of a crowd eating out of the palm of his hand by the time he built up to delivering the busaiku knee to Wyatt.
That visual, of an entire crowd slowly pumping their pointer fingers toward the heavens, has the potential to be truly iconic. As many have noted online in the hours since the conclusion of the show, who’s had consistently massive, enthusiastic crowd reactions on this level? At any point? I’ll readily admit to being a Bryan mark; I met him at Chicago’s Congress Theatre during his post-Tiegate run of Dragon Gate USA shows, and seeing the sweaty dude who’d just trucked YAMATO for a half hour being treated like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at his apex of popularity was nothing short of incredible. But honestly? I’d put last night’s reaction, and for that matter his reception in Seattle leading up to last month’s TLC, against Austin or The Rock or John Cena before it was cool to hate him.
And it’s heartening to see this, to see people refusing to play ball. I’m not jumping on the “Bryan’s getting buried” bandwagon, because that’s nonsense; look at Zach Ryder in 2014 if you want to see what burial looks like. But Bryan has done something few other wrestlers ever manage. He’s staying over no matter what plotlines he’s handed, no matter how many times other guys get the main event spots, no matter anything. People are loudly voicing their dissent from the traditional WWE narrative of “we’ll tell you who your favorites are,” and picking the guy who’s their absolute favorite. This has a chance to be a moment, to be WWE’s biggest acknowledgment of their audience flipping the script on them since Austin became Stone Cold and The Rock found a pair of sunglasses and a litany of catchphrases. If handled well, this could be a sea change.