Lots of people watch wrestling every single week, but just as many people tune it out between WrestleMania and Royal Rumble before coming back for WWE's best events of the year. If you're planning on watching the Rumble without having watched WWE in a long time or you flipped on Raw for the first time in a long time on Monday — something over a million people did — you probably have no idea what the hell is going on.
Today is your lucky day, because I watched nine months of WWE television so you wouldn't have to. Here's everything you need to know before you dive back in to the wonderful world of pro wrestling.
Daniel Bryan is a big deal
When you last saw Daniel Bryan, he was part of the lovable Team Hell No with Kane. After WrestleMania, they had a lot of arguments about who the "weak link" was in their team after a series of matches in which one of them screwed up, leading to their eventual breakup and Bryan's run as a new singles star. Some great matches and the 'YES!' chant led to live crowds going nuts for him, culminating in a title match against John Cena at SummerSlam.
Bryan won that match with the debut of the flying knee as his finisher, only to lose the WWE title seconds later when Randy Orton cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and Triple H, the special guest referee, hit Bryan with a pedigree. A three-month feud ensued, with Bryan continuously getting screwed by Triple H, Orton or those aligned with the two. He's now a two-time WWE Champion, but he's been champ for less than 24 hours total. He's so over with the fans that they hijacked a segment where Orton, Cena and Triple H were attempting to promote a title match between the former two at the TLC pay-per-view, chanting so loud for Bryan that they forced Cena to improvise on the spot and include Bryan in his promo.
After getting screwed for the final time by Shawn Michaels, Bryan moved on to a new program with a cult called The Wyatt Family. He's beaten them in matches, gotten beaten up, joined their cult, then turned back into the old Bryan during this segment, which featured some insane crowd participation.
Bryan's huge with the people who watch wrestling all the time, but he hasn't had a legitimate singles match at WrestleMania to establish himself as a star yet. That should change this year.
Randy Orton is a bad guy
When you last saw Orton, he was a babyface without any kind of serious direction. He'd get on pay-per-view and would main event Raw occasionally, but he wasn't really doing anything for anyone. He was just there. Ever since cashing in Money in the Bank on Bryan and aligning with Triple H, he's become the company's top heel.
He's been running with the belt since early fall and has to defend it in a rematch against John Cena, whose dad he beat up out of frustration after losing to Kofi Kingston on Raw. That led to a rematch with Kofi on Monday that got cut short by Cena's interference. Orton ran away from Cena, out of the arena, and jumped into a random car. Who just picks up a dude standing outside in wrestling trunks?
There's plenty of potential with Orton as the top bad guy in WWE, but it doesn't seem like he or WWE knows what to do with his character. He's alternated between being an unstoppable psycho monster, a total coward and a Rick Rude knock-off. They're all decent ideas, but they need to pick one and stick with it for a bit.
The Authority are at the center of everything
Vince McMahon has been mostly off-screen since the Smackdown before SummerSlam. Since then, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon have been the company's main authority figures on television, dubbing themselves ... The Authority. It's not creative, but at least it's new. They're joined by Kane, who has shed his mask to become director of operations, Raw GM Brad Maddox and Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero.
The Authority spent the entire summer and fall being huge jerkfaces to everyone that questioned them, leading to some pretty excellent storylines. Cody Rhodes got fired and Goldust, his real-life half brother, failed to win a match to get his job back. That led to a tag team match against Shield members Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns for both of their jobs, which they won when their father Dusty stopped Dean Ambrose from interfering by beating his ass with a belt. The Shield have also been made to beat up Bryan and CM Punk while working for The Authority.
This wonderful segment set up awesome potential stuff heading into Mania season. Note the Bryan chants when the ending of the segment is absolutely not about him at all.
The Shield are amazing and Roman Reigns is their breakout star
The community at our pro wrestling blog Cageside Seats put together their list of the 50 best matches of 2013. An incredible 17 of those matches featured at least one member of The Shield, with Seth Rollins appearing in 16 of them. There's no doubt that Rollins was the best in-ring performer of the group when they debuted, but Roman Reigns is going to become the star of the group.
Reigns owns the most protected finisher in WWE, a spear that no one has kicked out of and that no one will kick out of until he faces a massive star at WrestleMania in a year or two. It sounds unoriginal, but he's a former defensive tackle, so it fits, and it looks 10 times more devastating than any spear Edge ever delivered. He's added a couple of other fun signature moves to go along with it, a Samoan drop and a Superman punch.
Even though Reigns was the least polished of the group when they came up from NXT, WWE's developmental territory, everyone should have seen this coming. WWE loves big guys, athletes from other sports and family lineage. He's about 250 pounds, he played at Georgia Tech and he's related to The Rock, Rikishi and two dozen other Samoan pro wrestlers.
WWE have started his push by having him pin some big stars clean and tie the eliminations record at Survivor Series. Expect him to rack up a crazy number of eliminations at the Rumble.
The Wyatt Family are the best new act to debut in years
At least in terms of their characters and their storyline potential. The Shield are outstanding wrestlers who have put on the best matches of the last year, but they have a pretty one-dimensional gimmick and their only value is in beating people up and putting on great matches. It's a very effective gimmick for pro wrestling, but they don't match the range of things the Wyatt Family can do. There are so many places WWE can go with a redneck cult intent on teaching people that the world is corrupt and no one cares about them.
Their leader, Bray Wyatt, is better at wrestling promos than you will ever be at anything.
The Reigns-Wyatt match for the title at WrestleMania 35 is going to be awesome.
Batista is back
He's going to promote his new movie, "Guardians of the Galaxy," extensively while he's with WWE. He's looking less fake muscly these days. He'll probably go deep in the Rumble and win a title at some point. I can't tell you one mildly interesting thing about Batista's return or his character. Hopefully WWE comes up with something.
Miscellaneous and less important things
Big E Langston could rival Reigns and Wyatt as the top young star in the company. He's not getting the same monster push, but he's the Intercontinental champ and he has the giant bodybuilder look that Vince likes. Before making a singles run, he was the bodyguard for Divas champion AJ Lee, who now has a very intimidating female bodyguard. AJ has taken up the character of a crazy person who kicks and screams. She also carelessly skips around the ring giving approximately zero shits while her muscle, Tamina, is losing.
Chris Jericho has been off WWE television for a while, along with Sheamus. Jericho works on and off so he can do things like tour with his rock band and write books, while Sheamus picked up a nasty shoulder injury six months ago. They could both make surprise Rumble returns, along with Rob Van Dam, who returned for a three-month run with the company this summer. Brock Lesnar, who works a limited schedule with the company, is back after taking an extended break post-SummerSlam. Expect him to get into the main event picture shortly, though he may not stay there since he's never going to sign a full-time contract with the company.
Oh, and *Spoiler alert*, Sting might show up at some point in the next three months. The biggest star in pro wrestling to never work for WWE is getting written off TNA television on Thursday night, so don't be surprised if he shows up soon. It might not come at the Rumble, but it'll come eventually.