It was Jim Cornette who first popularised the idea of the ‘Seven Year Rule’ in the minds of adent wrestling fans. For the unfamiliar, said rule works on the theory that, over the course of a seven year period, a product like televised pro wrestling -sorry, sports entertainment- will have experienced a big enough turnover in fanbase that old ideas can be reused without the paying public really noticing.
If the company are even aware of such a concept, they’ve certainly never felt it all that important to adhere to it, choosing instead to rehash old plots, characters and events as often as they like. So it comes as a bit of a surprise then, that WWE haven’t gone back to one idea which they could -in theory at least- have used at least three times over by now.
The Lex Experiment
Cast your mind back, if you will, some 21 years to the neon-clad days of 1994. Bill Clinton was still the US President, Mrs. Doubtfire was about to top the Box Office charts, and Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation was still reeling in the wake of what has become known simply as The Steroid Scandal.
Losing a number of headline players like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior in the process, Vince was on the look out for a new bona fide superstar, a larger-than-life hero capable of carrying the company forward and putting the company back in the mainstream media spotlight for all the right reasons.
After experimenting with smaller, more technically-savvy workers such as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, McMahon seemed to have found the kind of main event player he was looking for in the carved-from-granite shape of one Lex Luger.
Strapping the proverbial rocket to Luger’s mammoth back, the Lex Express had spent the previous summer travelling the length and breadth of the United States, all in the hope of creating a groundswell of support for the former Total Package not seen since the heights of Hulkamania. The plan did not pay off quite as Vince, his team, and Luger himself, may have hoped, and when the latter was booked to win his over-hyped Summerslam main event against Yokozuna by countout (thus keeping the title on the super-sized grappler), it seemed Lex and his red-and-blue Express had all but run their course.
The Fans’ Choice
In the eyes of McMahon however, there was still mileage in Luger as a top draw. OK, so Luger may not have been dynamite with a microphone, but he had the look of an ancient god and could hold his own between the ropes, and for Vince, that was enough to maintain his determination to force the fans into falling in love with Big Lex.
The fans of 1994 however, had other ideas.
Already an established veteran by 1994, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart had been putting on excitement matches with just about everybody he locked up with for a good number of years, and had combined this quality workmanship with a relatable, Hero for the Common Man gimmick to ensure that WWF crowds were rooting for The Hitman to become THE Man.
Sounding familiar yet?
If you’re drawing parallels to Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan, we’re both on the same page.
Roman as Lex, Bryan as Bret
On the one hand, we have the muscular, larger-than-life Superstar favoured by Vince, on the other, we have the smaller, yet undeniably talented workhorse beloved by both casual and diehard fans alike. Though rather than march stubbornly onwards with his plan to make the former the focal point of his company,back in 1994, McMahon had a rather different idea when it came to booking the annual battle royal.
And its this idea that he could, probably should, have pulled out of his oversized sleeve this past January: That of the Royal Rumble Co-Winner.
In an effort to see who the audience would accept as their star attraction going forward, Vince had Luger and Bret -the final two men in that year’s Royal Rumble- eliminate each other at the same time.
After teasing one man as the victor, then the other in a blatant attempt to gauge fan reactions, both men were ultimately declared the winner, receiving a title shot a piece at Wrestlemania 10 against defending champion, Yokozuna.
Fast forward some 20+ years later, and is there any reason WWE wouldn’t have benefitted from repeating the same trick with Bryan and Reigns?
A legitimate contender
Sure, fans would have booed Reigns mercilessly if he had to share the win with Bryan, but then they did that anyway, and probably would have done even if he’d filled the ring with cute puppies as part of his post-victory celebrations.
On the other hand, holding his own alongside the undisputed People’s Champion may well have been just the ticket in getting Roman over as a legitimate contender to Brock Lesnar’s WWE Championship
The two could have even gone on to have their upcoming Fast Lane bout to determine the true number one contender, and if Vince was still adamant about making Reigns his guy, have him pick up the win come February 22nd.
The end result -Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar- is still ultimately the same. The big difference however, is that fans become a little bit more accepting of Vince’s ‘Chosen One’ whilst McMahon himself proves wrong those detractors who claim he’s long since stopped giving much a damn what his own audience really wants.
Or maybe not. One thing’s for certain though, repeating the 1994 Royal Rumble finish in 2015 certainly couldn’t be any worse than the finish we actually got.
So there you have it. I really don’t think this is much of a surprise at all. Unfortunately it may be a big drink of reality for some of you Bryan fans that were hoping they wouldn’t have to drink.