I’ve held off on an in-depth post about the Bryan Danielson situation because I had no special information on it and I was trying to get a fix.
A week ago Monday, on the USA cable network’s Raw, Danielson — among the best pro wrestlers in the world not to get the opportunity for stardom in World Wrestling Entertainment — participated in a shtick in which performers for WWE’s third-tier brand, NXT, “invaded” the Raw show. Danielson and company “beat up” everyone in sight, and Danielson himself was shown on camera “choking” an announcer with his necktie.
No one thought much of it at the time, but late last week WWE cryptically announced that Danielson had been dismissed. Eventually the word leaked that choking someone with a necktie violated the punctilious and evolving creative standards of the thespian troupe whose former CEO, Linda McMahon, is running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut.
Citing all kinds of mixed messages and clues — which I won’t take the time to get into because it’s my 5-year-old daughter’s last day in preschool and my 14-year-old daughter’s last day in middle school — wrestling insiders expressed skepticism about this official explanation. In particular, the gap of several days before Danielson was sacked, and the fact that the offensive scene had not been edited out of the Spanish network feed of Raw despite ample time to do so, led to speculation that Linda’s husband, WWE honcho Vince McMahon, was yielding to pressure from the USA network or a sponsor. The Danielson firing, when he just as easily could have been warned or suspended, certainly seemed draconian.
Immediate speculation centered on whether this was all an “angle” or soap-opera plot twist. But for that to be the case, Vince would have had to have “worked” not only the public, but also his own office staff, from top to bottom, and it was hard to imagine that he would have calculated such a ruse as cost-effective.
In recent days, another theory emerged: that the Linda McMahon campaign, not the network or a sponsor, got Vince to ditch Danielson. Wrestling media types received an anonymous and untraceable email from someone claiming to be a campaign staffer and making this assertion. I think wrestling journalists exercised proper discretion in deciding not to give the email legitimacy. So far as I know, only one published it.
The truth is that no one really knows what happened. We’ll have a better idea if Danielson returns to the WWE roster, either quietly or bombastically, but that does not appear to be in the cards for the immediate future.
I’ve paid special attention to the analysis of Bryan Alvarez, publisher of the newsletter Figure Four Weekly, because Alvarez co-authored Death of WCW, which may be the bestselling independently published pro wrestling book of all time. Alvarez chronicled how Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, which was clueless but had deep pockets, gave WWE’s predecessor company a run for the money in the late 1990s before descending into unprofitable (as opposed to profitable) chaos and dysfunction. One of WCW’s signatures was the so-called “worked shoot,” in which management pulled the wool over not only the fans’ eyes, but also its own wrestlers, and then congratulated itself for its skill at postmodernist mindfucking. The only problem was that the point of a business is to make money, not to prove what great postmodernist mindfuckers you are, so the ultimate joke was on management, as WCW imploded.
Linda McMahon campaign watchers should note that the involvement of family members in WWE storylines is a somewhat parallel phenomenon of overly aggressive and pointless script-writing. But the McMahons have a virtual monopoly on the business now, which means that bad creative decisions might hurt their business but can’t kill it. Besides, only on his worst days has Vince McMahon made business decisions as bad as the ones that Ted Turner’s hapless minions made habitually on their best days.
Anyway, here’s Alvarez’s take on l’affaire Danielson, and it seems reasonable to me:
Time will tell the real story, but to me, after examining both sides of the argument and talking to people close to both sides all weekend, it comes down to one of only two possible scenarios. Either Vince McMahon lied to many and perhaps all of his employees and Bryan Danielson lied to many and perhaps all of his best friends, or Vince McMahon did something irrational. In the end, especially based on recent history and what I know about both guys, option two makes the most sense to me.