There was a point about a year ago when it became clear that 2013 was Daniel Bryan’s year. He wrestled so many good matches against a series of rivals that he elevated to their highest level- John Cena, Randy Orton, HHH, Bray Wyatt- that he stood head and shoulders above the rest of WWE for the calendar year. While most years probably do not have a singular star who shines as brightly as Bryan did last year, Dean Ambrose has started to distinguish himself from the pack in a distinctive way. Ambrose is different from Bryan in many ways, but one distinction in his rise has been that he and Seth Rollins have ascended together. While Ambrose gets to stand out as the likable star, Rollins continues to do his job as a loathsome heel very effectively. Despite the shared credit, Ambrose stood out the most this week with a couple of good matches and a stunt straight out of the Attitude Era.
Although Ambrose and Rollins have been joined at the hip, either as allies or rivals, since their WWE debuts, Ambrose got to branch out a bit last week. After a confrontation with The Miz and Damien Sandow on last week’s Main Event, Ambrose faced Miz in a singles match on Smackdown. Interference and distractions from Sandow allowed Miz to control the match for quite awhile at the start, but Ambrose managed to lock Miz in his ow Figure Four Leglock. A sudden appearance by Rollins and Kane on the entrance ramp allowed Miz to hit a Skull Crushing Finale. Ambrose impressively kicked out of the finisher, responded with Dirty Deeds, and won the match with a pin. When Rollins and Kane came to the ring to attack Ambrose, he grabbed the Money in the Bank Briefcase and escaped through the crowd.
The theft of the briefcase was a major plot point on Raw. Rollins got The Authority to deploy Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble to chase down Ambrose to get the briefcase. Meanwhile, Ambrose contiued to poke at John Cena as more of an obstacle in the way of Rollins than a potential ally. Mercury and Noble failed to find Ambrose, so he was able to come to the ring with a duffle bag full of t-shirts from the WWE mercandise stand. He started to auction the shirts to fans and eventually thew them into the crowd. The moment and the sort of anarchic energy that makes live wrestling feel unpredictable and exciting at its best. Rollins and a host of security guards eventually joined Mercury and Noble and Ambrose continued to insult them and anyone else on the roster. Ambrose left the ring peacefully and allowed Rollins to recapture his briefcase, but when Rollins opened it, a plume of green mist shot him in his face and body. Even if the prank was a bit childish, it was funny and memorable. More importantly, it dials up the tension between Ambrose and Rollins even more.
Later in the show, Ambrose teamed with Cena to face Orton and Kane in the main event. Cena, the bigger star for certain, took a beating from the two opponents while Ambrose eagerly awaited a tag. The fans went crazy when Ambrose tagged in and overwhlemed Orton and Kane. He was seconds from a win via Dirty Deeds when Rollins reemerged and attacked him. Because Cena and Ambrose could not get along to fight Orton, Kane, and Rollins off, the The Authority was able to take them out. Ambrose and Cena each got finishers from the heels culminating in Curb Stomps onto the metal briefcase. The heels have to look good along the way to bulid sympathy for the faces and create anticipation for the eventual face triumph. This conclusion was a great example of that sort of temporary roadblock.
The year is far from over and much can change between now and the rolling over of the calendar, but Ambrose has taken the biggest step forward of any wrestler in 2014 and has been the most impressive wrestler in WWE at the same time. Rollins has been vitally important as a foil who allows Ambrose to work as the rebellious, tough fan-favorite. Even with good heel work, it can be very tough for good guys to get unified support from different segments of the fanbase, and there is no doubt that Ambrose has achieved that balance. WWE needs to look to the future and identify the wrestlers who can have the worldwide recognition that Cena has provided for the last decade. Ambrose is on the top of the list of current wrestlers who have the potential to reach that level.