For those of you who might still be unaware, Titus O’Neil got suspended for 60 days for an incident that happened on last week’s Raw. It happened right after Daniel Bryan exited the stage after his retirement speech. If you watched the post-Raw exclusive on the WWE Network, right before the camera faded to black you could see Vince McMahon turn to the side and look at someone as he was leaving the stage. It was kind of hard to tell what happened, but that was Titus grabbing Vince’s arm. Titus apparently jokingly said “ladies first” indicating that Stephanie should be allowed to exit the stage in front of Vince.
Kind of a dumb move, right? It’s one thing to joke with the boss backstage, but in front of the camera it’s a different matter. Titus probably should have known better and should probably have been reprimanded, but was the offense worth a suspension equal to a second wellness program violation? Someone who gets caught doing drugs TWICE would get the same suspension that Titus did. And according to an article on What Culture, Vince initially wanted to fire Titus. Why? Because he felt like one of his employees got too relaxed with him on camera? Because of something that pretty much no one else gives a damn about?
The WWE has rightly been getting a lot of bad press and reactions from the fans over Vince’s overreaction. It seems they’re trying to suppress the negative reactions too. The official WWE YouTube account has the post-Raw segment but it cuts before the incident. Comments have also been disabled for just that video. The WWE Network has the same cut of the footage now. Initially and at least a day after it originally aired it had the entire incident, but it’s since been cut. They’ve even been cracking down on other uploads that have the incident intact. The New York Post posted an article about it with a video but the footage has been taken down on a copyright violation.
(The NY Post article is garbage, by the way. It focuses on fans calling Vince racist for suspending Titus, of which there is no basis for. It’s trash reporting in my opinion.)
So, as usual, I have a couple of theories.
My first theory is that everything is as it seems and Vince is grossly overreacting. Unless Titus has a history of insubordination backstage (which I doubt), the absolute maximum penalty I could see should be 30 days, equal to one violation of the wellness policy. Honestly though, it should probably be less than that. It seems like a fairly innocent mistake by a guy that got too comfortable in his position. Titus O’Neil genuinely seems like a really good guy. I’ve never heard anything bad about him and he is one of the most prominent superstars when it comes to being involved in charity work. Not that any of that should excuse him from being reprimanded, but my point is that I can’t imagine it was his intention to do anything that would hurt the images of Vince McMahon or the WWE. Quite the contrary, he absolutely improves the WWE’s image with all that he does. And now he’s going to miss Wrestlemania for a boneheaded but innocuous mistake. I’d say send him home for two weeks, tops, then get him back on TV. Have him go do some more charity work in his two weeks off TV. I’m sure he’d love to anyway.
My second theory is that this is in fact a rather genius yet risky maneuver that has been orchestrated to try to build strong fan support for Titus. Titus has been getting a decent mid-card push lately, and he’s been getting pretty good reactions from crowds. It’s also well-known by fans that Titus is tireless in his charity work and he has a reputation for being a good person. His mic skills, though better than they used to be, aren’t great, so the writers want to try to get him to the next level in a different way. Vince is the ultimate heel in the company, but doing a normal “wrestler versus Vince” story probably wouldn’t get Titus a huge increase in support. He’s just not that great on the mic. But if fans think it is real and that Vince is actually being a megalomaniacal ass-face to the closest thing the WWE has to a boy scout, then the fans will likely rally to his cause and demand that Titus be reinstated and pushed harder on TV.
Think about it. Was it a coincidence that this incident happened at the retirement speech of Daniel Bryan, the man that the fans demanded be given the opportunity to be the WWE champ? It was more than storylines that the fans reacted to with Daniel Bryan. It was the perceived unfairness in how he was treated and the deliberate nature of how they held him back despite the fans’ reactions to him. No, it wasn’t a coincidence, it was a passing of the torch. The WWE is trying to recreate the grassroots phenomenon that helped make Daniel Bryan the biggest man in the company for a brief moment in time.
Can Titus reach the same heights as Daniel Bryan? No, I don’t think so, but the theory is still sound. Fans feel the most passion about something in the WWE when they feel like they are actually helping to control what is happening on TV. They feel such a strong connection with Bryan because they feel like they played a pivotal role in helping him get to the title, and they did. If the WWE can help subtly guide fans to show a similar support for Titus O’Neil, then his star will grow in ways that won’t be achieved through conventional means. I think in today’s wrestling environment where everything is scripted and everything is known, trying to make something seem real and important is extremely difficult. This is a way to do it.
Of course, my first theory could be correct and Vince could just be overreacting because he’s lost his sense of scale and proportion (if he ever had a sense of those things). Let the punishment fit the crime. Sixty days is too much. Besides, even if theory one is correct, the WWE can still spin it to turn it into theory two if they’re smart.
Regardless of which theory is correct, I hope to see a swell of support from the fans for Titus O’Neil. I’m not the biggest fan of his work, but I like the guy and would like to see him do well. If we can replace the dumb chants for Michael Cole or JBL or whatever other stupid thing the crowd wants to chant during a match they’re not into with a Titus O’Neil chant, then I’ll be happy.