Monday, February 15, 2016

The Sad Ballad of Sheamus

Bryan and Sheamus were more inextricable than most and not because of anything Sheamus did wrong either
Photo Credit:
WrestleMania XXVIII, in Miami, FL, was supposed to be the year that Daniel Bryan and Sheamus got the chance to tear the house down on the biggest stage in not only WWE, but in the wrestling world. A year prior, their scheduled bout for the United States Championship was bumped to the pre-show and turned into a schmozzy battle royale that neither one even won (that honor went to Great Khali). Sheamus came in as the Royal Rumble winner, and Bryan was the World Heavyweight Championship. Sure, at the time, the Big Gold Belt had taken a clear step back from the WWE Championship, but it was still supposed to be a marquee WrestleMania match. Everyone who was a fan at that time remembers how things did not go the way that fans expected them to, which set off a chain reaction that led to Bryan winning the day at Mania two years later.

The other consequence of that genesis of the "YES!" movement was an intensification of resentment for Sheamus, who has pretty much been seen as a goon for the WWE office from the time he was rushed to the RAW roster from ECW and given the WWE Championship in only his second ever pay-per-view match. He was accused of being the poster child for Vince McMahon's size fetishism and only receiving a push because he was Triple H's workout buddy. In truth, he was submarined by booking at every turn. He has been put in impossible situations with crud material, and instead of generating sympathy from fans, he's become reviled.

Nowhere has Sheamus' rotten luck manifested than with Bryan. He won the United States Championship from Bryan at the tail end of a disastrous spate of booking that left people wondering if he was being humiliated. Conversely, the end of Bryan's reign as US Champion left him rudderless, like Creative forgot about him. The bumping of their WrestleMania match to the pre-show didn't so much make people feel badly for Sheamus but claim that Bryan was getting "buried." Then, the infamous 18 second match happened a year later, and resentment for Sheamus grew to a fever pitch. Original plans for WrestleMania XXX had the two wrestling again in a match with a fraction of the cache of prior meetings, and the concussion that ultimately ended Bryan's career came in a match against the Irish superstar.

Yet, none of the above slights against Bryan by Sheamus, even the concussion, are truly his fault. Sheamus just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time booking-wise for most of the things that get heaped upon his doorstep. The situation's been the same for mostly everything in his career: getting the title too soon, the awful stories given to him against Alberto del Rio, and even now, when he was a "shock" winner of Money in the Bank and ended up as an underwhelming and interstitial titleholder between Roman Reigns' reigns. The concussion even may have just been the shit luck of pro wrestlers rearing itself in the worst way possible. Barely anyone means to injure their opponents, and even the best wrestlers, especially in modern WWE, slip up every once in awhile. Sheamus just happened to be the, pardon the pun, red-headed stepchild whose mistake cost millions of screaming fans their folk hero's career.

The shame part of all of this is that Bryan and Sheamus had phenomenal in-ring rapport. The two-out-of-three falls match at Extreme Rules '12 in many people's eyes is the best match on the best WWE card maybe ever for match quality, but they also made magic with each other on several television bouts, mostly on RAW during the sweet-spot period for cable TV wrestling between 2011 and the breakup of The Shield in mid-2014. In other circumstances, these two might have been eternal rivals, celebrated for years of encounters like Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat, Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes, Steve Austin and The Rock, or Manami Toyota and Aja Kong.

Instead, Bryan's career ends after a truncated run in the spotlight, and Sheamus is reduced to a punchline. Of course, of the two former road buddies, Sheamus is the one who may get the better break in the short-term. He's injured now, but he'll be back. Judging by the way WWE pushes him, no matter how terribly, he'll have a job for as long as he wants to be part of the company. But he gets a lot of shit just for what the writers, bookers, and agents have him go through. I can't tell anyone who to like, but maybe Sheamus shouldn't get the raw deal he seems to get, not in general, and certainly not in relation to Daniel Bryan. Looking at the Irish superstar as a sympathetic figure, especially in the gravity of Bryan's retirement, may seem farfetched, but at the same time, few wrestlers were as important to Bryan's career as Sheamus without getting the credit they deserve.