The big news in the world of pro wrestling last week was the announcement that Daniel Bryan, just a month into his WWE world championship reign, will be sidelined for an indefinite period of time with a neck injury serious enough to require surgery.
The good news that followed the minimally invasive surgery on Thursday was that the injury wasn't quite as serious as initially thought, and word behind the scenes is that Bryan could return to the ring in a couple of months.
The bad news is that Bryan, whose long, hard road to the title has been well documented, will undoubtedly lose some of the strong momentum he had built leading up to his championship win at Wrestlemania.
After months of a "Yes Movement" campaign waged by vocal Bryan fans, WWE was literally forced into placing Bryan in the title picture when C.M. Punk abruptly left the company, leaving a prime spot open for Bryan.
WWE couldn't help but complete the storybook scenario and give fans what they wanted at Wrestlemania.
It was a bittersweet two-week period, though, for Bryan.
He married WWE diva Brie Bella less than a week after his title win, but upon returning from his honeymoon, Bryan was hit with the tragic news that his 57-year-old father had unexpectedly passed away.
A child he befriended through the Make-A-Wish Foundation also died at the age of 8.
WWE issued no timetable for Bryan's return, but it is expected that the company will use his recovery and work it into an angle where he will return sooner than announced.
WWE described Bryan's "lingering neck injury" as a nerve issue in the wrestler's neck. He underwent a procedure known as a cervical foraminotomy to decompress the nerve root.
Hopefully, Bryan will be able to pick up where he left off, but WWE has not yet said whether it will strip Bryan of his title due to his not being able to defend the belt in a specified period of time.
Bryan is scheduled to appear on this week's edition of Monday Night Raw from London to possibly discuss the status of his title.
Bryan's short reign thus far has been rather uneventful. A feud with Kane has played second fiddle to more significant programs, namely Evolution vs. The Shield, and many Bryan followers have expressed concern that the powers-that-be were already setting up Bryan to fail as champion.
New deal, stock crashes
WWE and NBCUniversal Cable and Entertainment last week reached a multi-year agreement that will keep Raw on USA Network, and Smackdown on Syfy.
Raw will remain three hours, and there was no indication that Smackdown will change from its pre-taped Friday night timeslot.
The two programs are the longest-running weekly episodic entertainment programs on cable TV with a combined reach of 10.8 million viewers each week, according to a WWE release.
WWE stock, however, plummeted on Friday, with its price nearly cut in half in the wake of the announcement of the new TV licensing deal - for less than some investors had hoped - along with the latest WWE Network figures.
Before the market opened on Friday, WWE fell to $10.11 per share after closing at $19.93 on Thursday, a drop of 50 percent and the lowest stock price since October 2013.
The stock finished at $11.27 per share at market close, with almost 41 million shares trading hands.
WWE noted in its revised business outlook that the company will report a loss in 2014 under virtually every business scenario due to initial start-up costs for the network.
WWE financial executive George Barrios told Bloomberg on Thursday night that he's not concerned about the stock price.
"If we got to a million (Network subscribers) by the end of the year, we'd feel pretty good. I make it a point not to comment on the stock price."
Barrios later offered little to clear up the confusion. "I don't want to talk about the specifics of how the contracts are structured," he told Forbes. "I think it's pretty typical that there is some escalation in them, but we haven't gone into detail on any of that."
Forbes reported that Vince McMahon lost $350 million on Friday, knocking the WWE boss out of the billionaire ranks, putting his net worth now at an estimated $750 million.
Barrios and McMahon will host a conference call to address the situation on Monday.
Meanwhile, Lemelson Capital, LLC, a private investment firm that acquired shares of WWE, has asked the board of directors to replace executive management.
The firm cited a period of consistent losses, execution issues and material misstatements.
"WWE has affirmed that even with one million subscribers for its WWE network, the company stands to lose between $45 million and $52 million in FY 2014, which validates the original short thesis," said Emmanuel Lemelson, Chief Investment Officer of Lemelson Capital Management.
"This follows what we believe to be material misrepresentations by the company about both the performance and operating profit model of its WWE network, which the company has wrongly labeled 'a home run.'"
Batista, whose return to WWE was far from what he expected, is leaving again to begin his "Guardians of the Galaxy" worldwide media tour.
Batista saw his planned mega-push after winning the Royal Rumble derailed when fans turned on him en masse. Bryan's "Yes Movement" saw Batista as a threat to their favorite getting a world title shot at Wrestlemania, and booed Batista even though he was being cast as the returning babyface.
Sources say Batista balked when asked to do a second job to Bryan prior to his injury, and at that point Batista made plans to take an early exit from the company.
The short-lived reformation of Evolution is expected to be over after the group's match with The Shield at the Payback per-per-view on June 1.
Next big stars?
One of the most common questions I'm asked these days concerns the future of WWE and, more specifically, who will lead the company as its next big star.
Is there a Flair, Hogan, Austin or Rock on the immediate horizon?
First off, I doubt that there's a performer out there today that would even contemplate filling the shoes of those once-in-a-lifetime figures.
That being said, the opportunity certainly exists for a rising star to blaze his own unique path into the rarefied air that separates the stars from the true superstars.
Established main-eventers such as John Cena, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan will continue to occupy top spots in the company hierarchy. But like any sports roster, the depth chart needs to be constantly evolving.
A lack of depth on top has been exposed. The next generation of superstars need to step up to the plate and knock the proverbial ball out of the park.
The short list of those currently on the WWE radar includes Antonio Cesaro, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns.
Reigns, in particular, has been unofficially tabbed as the next major star in the company. In his relatively short time in the business, the former All-ACC defensive tackle at Georgia Tech has shown he can deliver the goods.
More importantly, Reigns possesses that elusive "it" factor, and has resonated with fans.
WWE has plans to eventually break him out of The Shield, but those plans were recently put on hold. The time will come, though, when Reigns will get his opportunity to prove whether he can join that select list of greats who can spike TV ratings, generate big PPV buyrates and move tons of merchandise.
Former WWE champion C.M. Punk (Phil Brooks) and former WWE divas champ A.J. Lee (April Mendez) are tying the knot.
Punk, who sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the Cubs' seventh-inning stretch Saturday at Wrigley Field, announced in a pre-game interview that the two are getting married next month.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.
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