Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Seattle! We have no choice but to dedicate today’s wrasslin’ analysis entirely to Daniel Bryan, who retired from professional wrestling Monday night at the age of 34. Will’s thoughts originally ran on WFNY. I’ve included them here, and I’ll jump in after that. Hope you’ve got your handkerchief nearby.
Will: Daniel Bryan has retired from professional wrestling. (If this does not matter to you at all, I will attempt to make an argument why it should.) He tweeted as much Monday afternoon, but fans held out hope that it was somehow untrue. Work me, they begged in wrestling parlance, hoping for it all to be part of a scripted storyline, let there be a swerve. But there was no script. There was no swerve. The unscripted nature of Daniel Bryan’s retirement is what made it so compelling — and so heartbreaking. He had to retire, in short, because he’d had a lot of concussions.
Appearing at the end of Monday night’s Raw in jeans in a flannel shirt, Bryan explained why he had to walk away. (There were two very good pieces of writing about Bryan that I intended to include excerpts of, but I got carried away and don’t expect you to read another thousand words on the topic. One was by Brandon Stroud at Uproxx, and the other was by David Shoemaker at ESPN. They both know the business way better than me, and I recommend them both.)
I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old. And within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’d already had three concussions. And for years after that, I would get a concussion here and there, and it gets to the point that when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years, that adds up to a lot of concussions. And it gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore. And for a long time I fought that because I had gotten EEGs and brain MRIs and neuro-psychological evaluations and all of them said this: That I was fine and that I could come back and I could wrestle.
I trained like I could come back and I could wrestle. I was ready at a moment’s notice if WWE needed me, I wanted to come back and wrestle because I have loved this in a way I have never loved anything else. But, a week and a half ago, I took a test that said that maybe my brain isn’t as okay as I thought it was.
The mention of concussion, not to mention three of them within five months of an 18-year-old’s life, brought solemnity to the proceedings. Even a couple years ago that might not have sounded like cause for retirement. Now it does. The crowd still pleaded with Bryan to stay, but more out of respect than anything. They follow the NFL, they know what’s in theaters; they know the score. They understood why he had to go.
Wrestlers are meant to be superheroes. This was a rare moment in which the performers’ very humanity was in the spotlight.
More than that, the spotlight was on the unique relationship between wrestlers and wrestling fans. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s its own thing, different than that between players and fans in any other sport. If you have the time and the inclination, a YouTube video called “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” sums up wrestling’s appeal as well as anything. One line captures it all: “Don’t get me wrong, a lot of wrestling sucks. But when it’s good, it’s fucking great.”
Daniel Bryan did a lot of good wrestling, most of it before he was ever on national television. He slogged away in the lower promotions, working high school gyms and bingo halls and armories. He was never destined for the world once inhabited by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant — he’s 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, if that. But as more fans discovered him, the more they learned about and disseminated his journey. They learned how he was a real-life Rudy. They saw how he left a bit of himself in the ring every time he entered. There was an ineffable joy in his work, a magnetic energy that took hold. What made him special, what connected him with fans, was this very real sense that he was living the dream. Once upon a time he was just a kid who loved wrestling, just like all of the other kids out there. Then one day, boom, he’s winning the championship at WrestleMania.
Bryan is so beloved because he shared so much with the fans. Indeed, his very presence at the top of the WWE pyramid only happened because of his fans. WWE brass was not itching to put a guy the size of Doug Flutie in the main event, but the fans made it so. An entire television segment, and eventually an entire championship storyline, were derailed because the fans demanded it be. They demanded Daniel Bryan be given a shot at the title. They demanded to see him on the biggest stage. They demanded to see their underdog overcome the odds, because damnit, that’s what wrestling is about. He did what every wrestler seeks to do with the crowd, and to a degree that few could ever replicate: He got over.
Bryan embraced the spotlight as much as he could when he got it, which people respected because the spotlight is the greatest wrestling currency there is. His passion and work rate never let up. What made Daniel Bryan great — and the past tense is regretfully necessary at this point — was how much of himself he gave in the name of his sport. You never watched him with a sense that you were being gypped. You never felt like he performed in a way that anyone else could. You never felt like anyone cared more than him. You never felt like anyone gave more than him.
Watching this, a man forced to walk away from the thing he loves the most, had me weeping like a baby Monday night. Precious few among us get the chance to realize our greatest aspiration, let alone actually do it. Daniel Bryan did — and he did.
Derek: Look, I get it. No one watches embedded videos in articles unless there’s some stupid autoplay feature. But I’ll tell you this: if you don’t watch the videos I’m about to show, you won’t believe anything I say. That’s the beauty of Daniel Bryan’s career. You could look at him, and he may not impress you. I could describe him, and he may not impress you. But when you watch him in the ring and see how beloved he is, and see how he has thousands of people with smart phones and gnat-like attention spans hanging on his every word, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the words of Morpheus, no one can be told how great Daniel Bryan is. You have to see it for yourself.
Watch 1:05-1:35 in the video at the top of the page, when he talks about potentially having kids and then makes one of the funniest remarks I’ve ever seen on WWE television. Watch the crowd’s reaction at 3:29 when he talks about the Seahawks. Watch 5:27-6:30, when he talks about the people he’s met, like Kane, William Regal, and Connor Michalek. Watch 7:50-10:30, when he talks about the time the Seattle crowd hijacked Raw in what would be the last time his father got to see him wrestle. Good luck getting through that without shedding a tear. God, just watch the whole thing. Any of you who wonder why I watch pro wrestling at my advanced age, watch the video and find out. Sometimes wrestling is so dumb and pointless that I watch for three hours and struggle to think of one interesting thing that happened. In fact, I’d say that happens most of the time. But sometimes you get nights like Monday, when something incredible happens that no sport could replicate. So much of what Daniel Bryan did I’ll remember forever.
Let’s start with that night Seattle took over Raw. I had just gotten back into wrestling at that time. Again, you need to see it for yourself.
As a Seahawks fan, I’m often told that the fans at CenturyLink Field are only loud because of the stadium’s architecture and/or artificial crowd noise. My response is this video. I got goosebumps watching it then and I get goosebumps watching it now. Triple H talked louder to make them stop cheering, which usually works. Instead, they just cheered louder. In the words of Michael Cole, “WHAT A MOMENT!!!”
Then, just over a month later, Bryan had joined the Wyatt Family because it was the only way they would stop assaulting him. Bryan leaving the Wyatts was one of the best Raw main events I’ve ever seen.
Then there was the time he filled the ring with fans to secure a match with Triple H and a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
He finally won the championship and, though it isn’t in the next video, he took his new belts and hugged Connor.
It was mostly downhill for Bryan after that. Neck injuries and concussions put him out of action and led to Monday’s retirement. All I can say is thank goodness there’s video of what he accomplished. There have been so many wonderful words written about Bryan over the last 48 hours, but all of them combined can’t say as much as a two-minute YouTube clip. He’s the most beloved wrestler of at least the last five years, and I’m sad to see him go. I’m sad I won’t get to see him feud with Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, or A.J. Styles. I’m sad his big farewell had to be a promo on Raw instead of a huge pay-per-view match. I’m sad that I didn’t know the last time I saw him wrestle would be the last time I saw him wrestle.
But you know what would have been more sad? If his dad didn’t get to see his son have one of the greatest nights a wrestler ever had. If he kept getting concussions. If he permanently injured himself before he could start a family. If he died well before his time, as wrestlers often do.
We’re lucky. We get to look back on Bryan’s career with reverence instead of guilt. We get to talk about what it was like to watch him command whatever building he went to. We get to talk about how he could hijack a segment just by silently standing. Then, when no one believes us, we can tell them to go to the tape.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Seattle! And while not all of the wrestling was top-shelf, did I ever enjoy those “SEA! HAWKS!” chants. I’m starting to hate football slightly less. At this rate, I might even start looking forward to it. Daniel Bryan got in on it! Seth Rollins mentioned Tom Brady! Miz admitted being a Browns fan despite slamming Cleveland relentlessly ever since he started his Hollywood gimmick!
Oh, who am I kidding. I can’t quit you, NFL. You never give me off weeks that make me struggle to think of things to write about.
So what say I refer back to my LEGITIMATE JOURNALISM TRAINING and give this bad boy the ol’ inverted pyramid treatment. Let’s kick things off with John Cena!
Assorted rumors have suggested John Cena might actually miss SummerSlam. We bemoaned his inclusion in the main event and, for the briefest of moments, it seemed like The God of Wrestling (Cena’s father?) would not allow it.
Well, not to worry, sports fans. Still your beating hearts. It looks like Cena and Rollins will indeed wrassle at SummerSlam. Had Cena not accepted the challenge (or if he has some kind of setback) the rumor is Rollins will face off against Randy Orton and Sheamus in a triple threat match.
Which is better? Cena v. Rollins or Rollins v. Orton v. Sheamus?
Will: I was wondering why Monday’s show opened with a match for a chance at Rollins’ title and more importantly, a chance to get involved in the main event feud. Cena’s face looked pretty jacked up when last we saw it, and it’s not as easy as it used to be to send a guy who just suffered a head injury out onto the biggest stage of the season.
In terms of putting on a better match, I think Cena-Rollins is the superior contest. I don’t quite trust WWE in multi-man matches, and both Rollins and Cena have been in the main event picture long enough to be considered a sure thing. They play off of each other nicely, and both elicit major crowd reactions. It would be great.
That said, I want to see the triple threat. We’ve long disliked Sheamus around these parts, but he won me over, if only temporarily, because he was such an incredible dickhead on Raw. We’ll get to what happened later, but here’s the gist of why I think this match would work: Orton and Rollins still have enough bad blood to make their end of the feud work. The word “excommunicated” was used to describe his being shunned from the Authority in favor of Rollins. One does not let an excommunication go easily. Sheamus and Orton have legitimate beef too, now more than ever. Sheamus and Rollins don’t have much between them, which could lend itself to a nice alliance against Orton.
God help me, let Sheamus main event SummerSlam.
Derek: When Rollins opened the show, Orton, Cesaro, and our old friend Kevin Owens came out and each demanded a title shot since Neville got one last week. Not sure I follow the logic, but OK. When Rollins (rightfully) said he didn’t have to give a title shot to any of them, Triple H emerged and ordered the three challengers to compete in a triple threat match, with the winner facing Rollins for the title in the main event. Trips even talked Rollins into being alright with it, as he said “If Cena can do it, so can I” and walked away from a proudly nodding Triple H.
And the triple threat match was pretty enjoyable. All three are great workers, and they didn’t disappoint. I continue to be surprised by Kevin Owens’ agility.
And Cesaro! I neglected to mention that I was impressed by his mic skills last week when he wanted to throw down with Owens. He also had his own Cesaro Section out in full force. Sadly, he took the pin in this one (from Orton) but he’s moving up. He may even get his long-rumored push soon.
Quick aside: there was a bit of commentary at the beginning I enjoyed quite a bit.
JBL: I’m going with the underdog, Cesaro!
Saxton: I’m going with the 12-time World Heavyweight Champion, the Viper, Randy Orton, tonight!
Cole: (shrugs) And I’m picking Kevin Owens!
There was audible laughter in the Norton household. Never change, Cole.
Will: WWE commentary really is an amazing thing. Are they in on the joke? I know they are sometimes, but are they all the time? Or are they so sick of hearing Vince’s voice in their ears that they just don’t care? I’m fascinated.
Anywho, yes, the triple threat to open the show was a treat. No, it didn’t really make any sense, and yes, it was a contrived excuse to throw those three into a match — I think the ends justified the means. Owens has lost a little juice since he and Cena ended their program, but he’s still a great performer. His athleticism is always a nice surprise, and he just plays his character so damn thoroughly. He’s always on. Much ennui in Monsieur Owens. It’s great.
The Cesaro Section has been a real, actual thing, and it looks to me like Cesaro is drawing power from it. At first I think he was moved and taken aback, but now he’s harnessed it and put it into his character. He gets to strut with a little more Swiss swag and better engage the crowd. He’s always had the chops. Now his overness is informing his character, not the other way around.
Derek: Stephen Amell made his long-rumored appearance on Monday night, entering the ring after getting slapped by Stardust. I used to watch Arrow until it started to consistently bore me, but the show has maintained its popularity over the last couple of years.
Amell asked for and received a shot at Stardust at SummerSlam, though it won’t be a singles match. He’ll be teaming up with Neville to face Stardust and King Barrett, whose characters seem like they would be really good friends.
It’s easy to forget Barrett held the Intercontinental Championship entering WrestleMania. Sure, he won King of the Ring, but it came at the expense of his beloved Bad News Barrett gimmick. Then he had a feud with R-Truth that most didn’t even realize was happening. On Monday, he was completely squashed by Neville. This was the same Neville he defeated to become King of the Ring. In kayfabe terms, perhaps Neville has passed Barrett already. I hope not, because Bad News Barrett was my favorite wrestler for quite a while. I miss his gavel and affinity for spreading misery. Come back, Bad News. Come back.
Will: I must first say that I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Stephen Amell’s performance. I was not familiar with Arrow, I had no idea who he was, and I thought the whole thing seemed contrived and stupid. But man, he won me over. He hopped over those ropes and had a solid takedown-punch combo on Stardust. He did well in the backstage sequence with Triple H (I suppose that shouldn’t be impressive; he is an actor) and actually made me care about this dumb, fun match. Now I’m just curious to see what his ring gear will be like.
I’m afraid our old friend Bad News is gone, at least for a while. We’ll leave the light on for him.
Derek: The Intercontinental Champion returned! I guess you could say he came … Ry-back. Heh. Yes, Ryback interrupted Daniel Bryan and Big Show on Miz TV to update us on his appetite. By all accounts, it is unchanged.
Will: This week really struck me as one where WWE struggled to fill time. There was a lengthy montage recapping the Brock Lesnar-Undertaker conflict since neither made an appearance. We got another segment about Charlotte’s rise from NXT (which I supported more; she’s getting an earnest push). Miz TV has quietly become an essential segment over the past month or so. Miz never wrestles, but he can eat 10 minutes by himself and keep the crowd interested. He’s a lowkey super valuable talent.
I gotta say, it was good to see Ryback. He’s a giant goddamn cartoon, but he really does mean well. Daniel Bryan in Seattle was also cool to see — though it was a bit sad given his uncertain status.
Should I bother wondering if Big Show is a face or a heel? Does it matter? Has it ever?
Derek: In the main event, Orton, like Neville last week, came awfully close to sealing the deal. We all know Rollins won’t lose the belt before SummerSlam, but it was suspenseful nonetheless. Some would say Orton had it in the bag after this RKO …
… but Sheamus interfered shortly thereafter, and the match ended in a DQ. Curse you, Sheamus! You ruin everything.
Unless he cashes in! Sheamus’ status as Mr. Money in the Bank is barely recognized, but he nearly-just about-almost cashed it in while Rollins was out cold in the middle of the ring. Unfortunately, by the rules of Money in the Bank cash-ins, the exchange has to take forrrrreeevvvveerrrrr when it’s inconvenient for the champion to lose his title. I’ve always wanted to hear the conversation that goes on during a cash-in.
Sheamus: I’d like to cash in.
Referee: Are you sure?
Referee: Are you really sure?
Referee: You realize the champion is unconscious, correct?
Referee: Are you okay with that?
Sheamus: Why wouldn’t … yes, it’s fine, take the damn briefcase!
Referee: Are you absolutely sure?
Sheamus: What’s the point of cashing in if I can’t–(Sheamus is cut off by a vicious RKO.)
Michael Cole: THE BELL DIDN’T RING! THE CASH-IN DIDN’T COUNT!
I realize they’re trying to build suspense when Mr. MITB pulls out his briefcase, but I don’t understand why the referees ever show any level of hesitation. The MITB contract says anytime, anywhere. Why the referee doesn’t just take the briefcase and start the match is beyond me.
Will: It was really, really dumb, even for wrestling. It didn’t make sense, in kayfabe or in anything else. It looked like the two were playing tug of war. Every few seconds one of them would pull away, only for the other to re-engage. It felt extra silly juxtaposed against the beautiful work between Rollins and Orton.
Yet, my biggest takeaway of the week is that Sheamus, that colossal Irish prick, made me kinda like him. His facial hair is the worst and he’s pastier than the Crest. I don’t care much for his moves or his music. On paper, I see absolutely no redeeming value.
But damnit if he doesn’t know how to be a dick. I gotta respect that.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (three/four days later) from Corpus Christi/San Antonio! We were bumped to Thursday again this week in part because one of your esteemed wrestling bloggers ended last week’s Wrasslin’ Thursday with the following:
Don’t worry, Kevin Owens. After CENAWINSLOL, you’ll be just fine.
Will: Kevin Owens has arrived.
That is the big takeaway from last Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view event. On an evening where much of the undercard was less than thrilling, the Kevin Owens-John Cena bout overshadowed all, even the Dean Ambrose-Seth Rollins WWE title match. Owens’ proper introduction to the WWE Universe could not have gone better. Even if his match with Cena wasn’t a proper five-star affair, it felt like the best match that these two possibly could have had in their first meeting.
Owens is a natural heel, and that much was clear from the jump. He talked shit as Cena made his entrance. He bellowed at Cena when he had him down, letting John know that it was him, not Owens, who had to prove himself. He bitched at the ref about slow three-counts. He dared to use Cena’s own moves — most notably the AA and the Five-Knuckle Shuffle — against him, and mocked his opponent’s ubiquitous you can’t see me gesture.
His character has been calm and sarcastic on the microphone, but in the ring he transformed into a brutal monster. His moveset is refreshing in its diversity. He mostly operates as a burly brawler, but he showed surprising agility and wrestling acumen as well. He performed a fisherman’s suplex off the top rope. He hit a package powerbomb, the setup a nod to the package piledriver that he used when he went by Kevin Steen. He landed a moonsault and a senton splash off the ropes. He did a little bit of everything.
It looked like the match would go the way that so many have, vintage CENAWINSLOL, but it didn’t. Owens won, and he won clean. He pinned Cena in the middle of the ring with no interference or shenanigans. I accidentally stumbled across a spoiler online moments before the match was decided, but even that didn’t ruin it. This was a huge moment. I couldn’t, and still can’t, quite believe it. What did WWE do with their new toy on Raw Monday night?
Derek: Owens waltzed out with a delightful air of superiority that I’m starting to love. There were no facial expressions or gestures that resembled happiness. Just an “I can’t believe how good I am” strut as he glanced around at the peasants of San Antonio.
He went on to talk about how he always does what he says he’s going to do, and told a (possibly true) story about how he called his son after the match and his son would only ask if Cena was okay. Owens ripped a page out of CM Punk’s playbook, blasting Cena’s popularity and lamenting the fact that Cena is more of a hero to his son than Owens himself. “I’m going to make sure that my son watches every single second (of our rematch),” he said. “And if you’re a parent, and you’ve got a little kid out there begging you for a John Cena shirt, or a John Cena themed birthday party, take my advice: sit them down, and make sure they watch it too. Because I’m going to show that a real role model doesn’t rely on marketing, catchphrases, and bright colors. A real role model says their gonna do something, and then they deliver. Just like I do.”
Naturally, Cena’s music hit a few second later, and he delivered a textbook impassioned Cena promo. Cena claimed he was going to give Owens the US title until Owens started shooting his mouth off. Cena spent a few minutes ripping into Owens by saying that, despite being a good wrestler, he can’t be a real role model because he’s not even a real man. He brought up all of the kids in the audience, including a young cancer patient, saying they cheered for him not because of WWE Marketing, but because he helps them believe. I wonder if heel wrestlers consider it dirty pool when their opponents kind of imply that they’re not on the same side as children with cancer.
Anyway, Cena went on to claim that Kevin Owens would lose at Money in the Bank, because a real wrestler can’t beat a real man. Cena then removed his shirt to signal his desire for a scrap, but Owens retreated. I wish Owens had a chance to respond. The only thing that would have made it better was a back-and-forth to go along with their solo monologues.
I’ll say this for Owens, though: he’s good at listening to promos. That sounds like a weird skill, but I loved his facial expressions while he listened to Cena Cenaing all over the place. I don’t know if he does this on purpose, but he always does this little snort that he pairs with chewing on … something … when Cena is talking. Toss in the occasional incredulous head shake and he’s just oozing defiance.
I’m looking forward to the rematch. As Michael Cole said, the first match featured “THE MOST MONUMENTAL WIN IN WWE HISTORY!!!!!!!!!!!” As JBL said, it was like that time “Joe Namath claimed he was going to beat the Chiefs!” As Booker T said, “Wow! My goodness!”
Will: Rollins-Ambrose wasn’t quite on the Owens-Cena level in my eyes, but it was still a very good match. It opened with the two doing some old school wrasslin’ with arm drags and shit before the pace slowed down to set up the 20-minute plus affair. It didn’t have the novelty that Owens’ debut did since we’ve seen these two so many times before, but their familiarity allowed for some clever reversals and neat spots. The commentators would have been well-served to point out that they knew each other’s games well based on their shared history together, but alas.
Things looked like they would take a turn in the Authority’s favor after Rollins shoved the ref into the path of Ambrose’s flying elbow. Ambrose held serve, however, and covered Rollins after hitting his still poorly named finisher, Dirty Deeds. The ref was still knocked out, but wait! Another came flying in from backstage, power slid across the mat, and counted 1-2-3. Ambrose won.
Ah, but WWE creative was in a cheeky mood Sunday night. They dusted off the old Dusty Finish, with Rollins retaining the belt on technicality as Ambrose was DQ’d for…something. The Authority beat down Rollins before Roman Reigns came in to save the day. Ambrose and Reigns shared the ring in triumph, with Roman presenting his old pal with the belt that he rightfully won. Ambrose then stole a page from R-Truth’s playbook, literally taking the belt and bailing. I presume they addressed this on Raw?
Derek: They did, and he still has it. They also pointed out his long history of stealing, like when he also stole Rollins’ Money in the Bank briefcase and Barrett’s IC belt. Reigns spoke for Ambrose most of the evening, since Ambrose claimed he wasn’t showing up unless he was guaranteed a rematch at Money in the Bank. So the two will face each other in a Ladder Match at MITB. A match that Rollins will no doubt win, as he heads toward his inevitable match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
Ambrose did make an appearance at the end. Because The Authority were mad at Reigns, they decided to make him earn his way into the MITB Ladder Match. First, he had to beat King Barrett, which he naturally did. Then he had to beat Mark Henry, which he did via count-out. Henry got mad and gave him a World’s Strongest Slam on the way out. The Authority decided to give him one more match against Bray Wyatt in the main event. Reigns won that one clean in the middle of the ring despite interference from J&J and Kane. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the folks at WWE Creative are talking about Bray Wyatt. I’m absolutely baffled.
Anyway, The Authority were really mad at Reigns for winning, so they decided to hurt him. That’s when Ambrose finally made an appearance with the stolen belt. Though, technically, he did give it back.
I’ll enjoy this feud as long as it lasts. Ambrose-Rollins and Cena-Owens are almost can’t-miss.
Will: Don’t get it twisted: Elimination Chamber was not a great pay-per-view. It was marred by clumsy work, botched spots, and shoddy announcing. The matches in the eponymous chamber were filled with action, but none of it was particularly interesting.
The six-team tag match was fun, I suppose, but I found myself wishing it was just a New Day vs. Kidd/Cesaro match. The other teams acquitted themselves reasonably well — the Prime Time Players looked perhaps better than ever, and the Ascension even looked strong for a minute! — but they just haven’t been given enough time to be compelling.
The same goes for the six-man Intercontinental Title match. Mark Henry was added as an eleventh hour replacement after Rusev was declared out with an injury, and that set the tone. I have nothing against Mark, but when was the last time we saw him? They couldn’t find anyone better to throw into the action? The match was tarnished by some combination of chamber malfunction and commentator ignorance, as Sheamus’ pod either didn’t open by mistake or because he deliberately kept it shut; it wasn’t explained. One way or another, Ryback won the match and the IC belt. He’s as good a choice as any — if nothing else, he takes Daniel Bryan’s mantle of “guy who just loves the wrestling biz,” although he does so with roughly one-tenth of the allure.
Derek: Agreed on both counts. The tag team division is suddenly crowded, and that’s without factoring in the return of Harper/Rowan. The lesser tag teams are running out of opportunities.
The way people behave in Elimination Chamber matches is so weird. Sheamus was acting like he wanted in the match when his pod wouldn’t open. Why? What does he care? Let the other guys knock each other around and clean up what’s left. Same for breaking up pin attempts. Who cares? This isn’t a triple threat match. If someone gets pinned, that’s one less guy to worry about. Someone else getting pinned is a good thing.
Though I suppose it’s possible Sheamus was deliberately keeping himself in, as you said. “Announcer ignorance” would be a fitting reason for the lack of clarity.
Will: The Divas match was meh, with Nikki Bella retaining her belt … one way or another. Bo Dallas-Neville was fun, with Bo heeling it up better than most these days can. Neville hit a Red Arrow to win, and there was an enjoyable amount of flippy shit.
Still, it was a very uneven card. We’ll forget everything that wasn’t Cena-Owens and Rollins-Ambrose, and that’s fine. Getting two excellent matches out of a PPV that was announced just two weeks ago seems like a decent yield. For all the kvetching we did last week about WWE’s relentless pimping of the Network, the two headliners from Elimination Chamber showed what the company can do when it has to produce big moments.
Derek: The big moments continued after Raw, too. Stone Cold had Paul Heyman on his podcast, which I would highly recommend. There were a ton of great anecdotes, but the part everyone’s talking about is when Heyman asked Stone Cold if he’d face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32. Austin didn’t laugh it off or give a non-answer. He cranked the dial up from Podcast Stone Cold to Wrestler Stone Cold and said “If I was gonna fight Brock Lesnar, I’d beat his ass.” He said he’d be willing to discuss it, in the event it was a Texas Death Match. He also said that Lesnar would have to spend even more time considering it, because all of his momentum would come to an end. Austin and Heyman had the following exchange:
SC: If you start messing with Stone Cold, you’re not gonna like what you get back. That’s as easy as I can put it, because I’m getting a little ramped up right now just looking at your sorry ass.
PH: I’m just an advocate.
SC: You’re about to advocate an ass whuppin’. And your man ain’t here to prevent that from happening.
And maybe the most delightful part of all was Austin not being able to turn off Stone Cold mode when he wrapped the podcast shortly thereafter. He had the same look on his face as he stuttered through thanking Heyman for helping him with his career. The whole segment fired me up. Now I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. We need a Lesnar-Austin Texas Death Match at WrestleMania.
The big news on NXT was the announcement of Kevin Owens facing Finn Balor for the NXT Championship in Tokyo on July 4. For those of you who don’t know, I live in South Korea. This announcement was … tempting. I’ll leave it at that for the moment.
And we haven’t even gotten to Sad Rusev! Look at the poor guy:
I take back every bad thing I ever said about Rusev. I’m never skipping one of his promos again. Not when he says stuff like “I have nothing. I have no championship. I have no career. I have no woman. I’m just a broken man. I have a broken ankle. Broken spirit. I am the one crushed, this time.” Hey, he’s already got a new entrance video. I propose some new music as well.
Wash away the rain, Rusev. Wash away the rain.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from Cincinnati! We were bumped by the NBA Playoffs again this week, but not to worry! Wrasslin’ Wednesday shall live on in Thursday form until Wednesdays are a bit more doable.
We’d also like to announce a new weekly feature we’ll be doing: The Monday Mash-up. Anything goes in that one. Come back on Monday and check ‘er out.
Well, that’s enough of that. Let’s talk wrasslin’.
The esteemed COO made his return after a few weeks of presumed vacation. Too bad he’s not working in a few post-Mania PPV’s like he did last year. Looks like he’s joined the Undertaker on a once-a-year schedule. Bummer.
The good people of J&J Security took it upon themselves to mouth off to the boss, who squatted down to their level to put them in a match with Ambrose. I enjoyed that.
And with that, everything was back to normal. Except for Stephanie. I guess she’s babysitting.
Will: It was good to see Triple H back, but I wonder if it’s telling that the best show in months happened in his absence. I enjoyed him at the top of the show, and “Daddy’s home” is a hell of an opening line. I suppose I’m a little bummed out that Kane’s role was again reduced as the story of his uneasy alignment with the Authority stubbornly inched along.
Will: I could listen to the new King Barrett say “Doulf ZIGG-LAH” on a loop for an hour. I’ll forever miss the peak of the Bad News era, but “obnoxious monarch” is a good role for Barrett. Sheamus did commentary during the Barrett-Ziggler match, with Barrett winning thanks to the Irishman’s interference. Sheamus looks stupid as all hell, as the crowds rightly chant, but he’s a good heel, and I’m enjoying his quest to rid WWE of everymen. His look sort of makes sense since his character is a total dick.
Derek: Almost anything Barrett says is incredible. If he ever has to retire, I hope he moves on to provide the audio version of every book ever written. Could I interest you in Romeo & Juliet narrated by King Barrett? Anne Frank’s diary? The Bible? Hell, I’d listen to Fifty Shades of Grey if he read it to me.
And yes, I did just Google “ridiculous lines from 50 shades of grey” and read them (NSFW) in Barrett’s voice until I was crying. Try it! He could practically print money.
The “Wyatt” Family
Will: Hey, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper are back together! I’m in on that; both have been better as individuals than I expected, but both seem to have plateaued since branching out on their own. As far as collateral damage, Fandango made for a fun squash.
Derek: Yeah, they might as well. WWE didn’t seem to have any compelling solo storylines for either of them. They can inject some more life into the tag team division until their characters have some sort of direction. I’m glad Harper has someone to accompany him to the liquor store now.
Will: It may not be great for WWE that the most consistently entertaining segment is John Cena’s open challenge. Neville was the challenger this week, and like his fellow NXT grad Sami Zayn last week, he had a hell of a match. Neville looked super duper strong, breaking out of an STF, kicking out of an AA, and landing a Red Arrow. Rusev interfered to rough up Cena, voiding a match that Neville conceivably could have won. My question is: When Rusev and Cena finish up their feud, will Neville set his sights on one of them?
Derek: Neville! The New Sensation! The Man That Gravity Forgot! He’s been in WWE for about a month and he’s already giving Apollo Creed a run for his money. Well done.
I’m surprised at how entertaining the Cena matches are, because the ending is pretty much never in doubt. Cena isn’t losing the belt, so he’s either winning or it’s ending in shenanigans like it did on Monday. Yet, somehow, they’re always entertaining. Part of it is due to his excellent opponents, but even the most avid Cena hater has to give him props for this run.
Will: Daniel Bryan’s segment was heartbreaking. Bryan has never meant as much to me as he does to many people, in large part because I wasn’t in on him from the jump. I witnessed some of his evolution, but not the entire struggle, and thus his story doesn’t resonate with me quite as strongly. Still, it’s impossible not to feel the connection that he has with the crowd. Though I don’t think it was, it felt like it could have been a retirement speech. When do you think we’ll see him again? Could he really be done wrestling?
Derek: It’s so difficult to predict. I’m trying to think of another beloved athlete who had such a mystery injury. Has there ever been another guy who has basically said “I’m injured, the doctors have no idea how to help me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be better”? That’s insane.
The comparison I keep is hearing is Shawn Michaels. He took off with an injury after dropping the belt to Stone Cold at WrestleMania XIV, but came back years later after everyone thought he was done. Sadly, we may have seen the last of him. Too bad, since I really don’t want my last memory of him to be a headbutt battle on top of a ladder with Dolph Ziggler.
Damien Sandow and Curtis Axel
Will: Macho Mandow is immediately one of my favorites. He does a really solid job imitating Randy Savage, particularly when pumping up the crowd, and he’ll only get better in time. The New Mega Powers angle is goofy as all hell, but it feels like a sure thing. Also, was the Ascension being ironic in critiquing Sandow and Axel biting old gimmicks, considering that they’re just a lame Road Warriors knockoff?
Derek: The whole thing is pretty funny, and that’s fine with regard to Curtis Axel and The Ascension. Those guys can be comedy characters, and that’s cool. But I do wish they would find a place for Sandow. In his first promo, he made a point that he was Damien Sandow again. He had a shirt with “Miz” crossed out. He got new music. I thought they were going to use his new over-ness to propel him to a singles push with a new character. Now, he’s right back to mimicking people. He’s good at it, but I hope they do something with him eventually.
Will: I was glad to see Ambrose get some shine in his hometown. Cincinnati treated their boy right, which made me wonder if Dean is especially representative of southwest Ohio like Stone Cold Steve Austin is of Texas. The handicap match against J&J was silly, but as decent an excuse as any for Ambrose to land a couple double clotheslines.
Derek: I wonder how he felt about the match. Thankfully, he got the spotlight at the end, because it would’ve been kind of dumb to put him in a squash match in his hometown. I imagine he’d rather have an awesome match and lose than take on some jobbers.
Will: Was Roman Reigns supposed to spear Kane through the announce table, or just on top of it? Seemed like the former to me, but maybe not.
Derek: HOW DARE YOU IMPLY THAT ROMAN REIGNS MADE A MISTAKE. OOO-AHHHHH!!!!
Will: The Cesaro & Kidd vs. New Day feud has turned out to be pretty good! Big E and Cesaro work really well together, though it seems like Cesaro works really well with anyone. I understand a little more every week why he has long been a smark darling. Do you think he’ll ever have the juice to make a title run?
Derek: That one’s totally up to Vince. He’s just about the only one who isn’t sold on him. Stone Cold especially makes a habit out of singing his praises on his podcast. I think this feud will definitely help him. I think it’s just a matter of time before Harper and Rowan get inserted, too. Everyone could come out of this a winner.
Ryback v. Wyatt
Will: I don’t understand how Ryback was standing in Bray Wyatt’s way. I don’t understand what Bray Wyatt is striving for. I’m not sure Ryback and Wyatt work well together. This feels like several steps down from Bray and the Undertaker.
Derek: It doesn’t make any sense at all. The whole thing feels rushed and I keep forgetting it’s even happening. Definitely agree with you about the Undertaker. I’m not sure why they gave him that match if they were just going to turn him into an afterthought afterward.
Will: Raw ended as only it could before a pay-per-view, with all four main event players squaring off after the night’s final match. Reigns, Ambrose, and Randy Orton all hit their finishers on poor Seth Rollins, and Ambrose closed the show by Dirty Deeds-ing Reigns. I wish I were more interested in the Payback main event than I am.
Derek: I’m more excited now that the “bonus” Elimination Chamber pay-per-view is coming up two weeks after Payback. Now I get the feeling that anything can happen. I don’t think Ambrose will win because of the announce team constantly asking “CAN YOU IMAGINE THIS LUNATIC AS CHAMPION?!?!?!?!” But any of the other three have a shot. Sure, if Rollins loses, he’ll probably get it back at Elimination Chamber. But at least the outcome is up in the air, and the Kane-Rollins storyline may finally advance.
It’s about time, brother.
Derek: We’re coming to you live for a special Saturday edition of Wrasslin’ Wednesday! Superkick Saturday? The Sports Monocle Saturday Slam? We didn’t really think of a name.
But we did think that, since our post-NFL coverage has been almost exclusively Wrasslin’, we should do a Gentleman’s Guide to the Super Bowl of wrestling, much like we did the actual Super Bowl. Hopefully this one won’t make me want to chug every poisonous chemical in my apartment.
Normally, our Wrasslin’ coverage is written with the common Wrasslin’ fan in mind. This guide is for the Wrasslin’ version of people who only watch college basketball when the tournament starts. So those of you who tell me you totally used to read this website during the NFL season but don’t anymore, 1) you’re not very nice, and 2) this one’s for you.
Will: What he said. WrestleMania is the single biggest day on the professional wrestling calendar, the event in which WWE pulls out all the stops. Wrestling has even gotten some attention from the mainstream sports world lately, most notably ESPN.
Brock Lesnar announced that he was re-signing with WWE on SportsCenter, while Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman were interviewed by SportsNation’s Michelle Beadle. Grantland’s David Shoemaker, a/k/a the Masked Man, covered all the angles in written and podcast form with his companion Peter Rosenberg.
But your Mania coverage is not complete without Sports Monocle’s take on it. Without further ado, here’s a primer for each match on WrestleMania’s main card.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins (Singles match)
Derek: At SummerSlam 2013, Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship. Despite fears that special referee Triple H would cause some shenanigans, he called a fair match and Bryan won clean. However, as Bryan was celebrating in the ring, Randy Orton emerged with the Money in the Bank briefcase he won the month before. Triple H then delivered a Pedigree to Daniel Bryan, accepted Orton’s contract, and counted to three, ending Bryan’s title reign after only a few moments. This was the birth of the heel faction The Authority, which counted Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Orton, and Kane among their number. Triple H proclaimed Orton “The Face of the WWE” and The Shield began working for The Authority the next night on Raw.
Ah yes, The Shield! The group consisted of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The Shield acted as mercenaries for The Authority, feuding with the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, until the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble. The Wyatt Family interfered with The Shield’s match vs. Daniel Bryan, John Cena, and Sheamus which, had The Shield won, would have gained each man entry in an Elimination Chamber match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Because The Wyatt Family attacked The Shield’s opponents, The Shield lost via disqualification. The Shield became good guys and distanced themselves from The Authority. Triple H began orchestrating and participating in attacks on The Shield with his Evolution buddies, Orton and Batista. The Shield faced Evolution at both Extreme Rules 2014 and Payback 2014. The Shield won both matches.
The night after Payback, Rollins famously turned on his Shield brethren by attacking them with a chair and aligning himself with The Authority.
Orton and Rollins, now both with The Authority, began passively feuding with one another. Orton disliked Rollins’ smug, cocky attitude that came with being dubbed “Future of the WWE” by Triple H and Stephanie. Triple H tried to mend fences between the two, but was unsuccessful. On the November 3rd edition of Raw, Rollins gave Orton a Curb Stomp on the ring stairs and Orton was taken out on a stretcher. We didn’t talk about it because that was the same episode when Vince came back.
Orton finally returned last month at Fastlane, understandably out to get Rollins for putting him out of action for so long. The two have gone at it since then, and will SETTLE THE SCORE tomorrow.
Oh, and remember that Money in the Bank contract Orton used on Daniel Bryan a month after he won it? Rollins won the very same contract in July 2014, but still hasn’t cashed it in.
Derek: Randy Orton is like everyone’s favorite Spider Man villain: Venom.
First, one of Randy Orton’s nicknames is The Viper. Second, Randy Orton is not a good guy. He’s done some pretty atrocious stuff during his WWE run. Venom has also done some horrible stuff, but he has his limits. He and Spidey even team up sometimes if the bad guy is bad enough.
So while Orton is the “good” guy in this feud, it really doesn’t have a good guy. There’s a bad guy and a worse guy.
Will: Seth Rollins is the worse guy, a bit like Eric, the antagonist from Billy Madison.
He’s obnoxious, he’s entitled, and he thinks that he deserves to have the future of the company handed to him. He doesn’t have a Sandler-esque foil, but that doesn’t stop him from whining and moaning and generally being a little bitch. He always has lackeys ready to do his bidding for him, and everyone is rooting for him to get his comeuppance.
He’s terribly unlikable, which makes him a terribly great heel.
Derek: This has the potential to be an incredible match. Orton is a seasoned vet and Rollins has been incredible in the ring. People are still talking about how good he was at Royal Rumble. I think Rollins wins, though some Authority shenanigans could be involved.
Will: Unlike some other matches on the card (Cena-Rusev, Sting-Triple H, Wyatt-Undertaker), the action will almost certainly supersede the storyline in this match. Rollins can do it all, and Orton is no stranger to big spots. It would be little surprise if these two stole the show.
Rusev (c) vs. John Cena (Singles match for the United States Championship)
Derek: Rusev debuted at the 2014 Royal Rumble. He is a Russian nationalist and has been slamming the US of A at every conceivable opportunity. Though many have tried, including R-Truth, Jack Swagger, Big E, Mark Henry, and Big Show, no one has ever pinned Rusev or made him submit. His only losses have come via disqualification or count-out. He is also the holder of the United States Championship, which our government has done nothing about.
Enter John Cena, the most popular wrestler of the last decade. Cena tried to put Rusev down last month at Fastlane, but failed. Now, Cena is primed for revenge, and the hopes and dreams of every American are riding on his success.
Derek: Two Marvel Comics references in a row? Is that allowed?
John Cena is Captain America. He must defend our way of life from the evil Russian regime. He’s a star-spangled man with a plan.
Will: Rusev is Ivan Drago.
He’s a monster athlete, he’s Russian (sort of; he’s actually Bulgarian), and he’s out to prove that his nation is superior to America. He is viewed with equal parts awe and fear, having dispatched numerous foes with great prejudice. He hasn’t actually killed anyone yet, however, so points off for that.
Derek: Rusev’s winning streak comes to an end. Cena beats him with a baseball bat, then makes him submit after submerging his head in a kiddie pool filled with apple pie.
Will: Cena may also force Rusev to write a five-paragraph essay extolling the tenets of capitalism and another explaining why the United States military is the best in the world.
The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt (Singles match)
Derek: Not much to say here. The Undertaker is one of the most iconic wrestlers of all time. He was 21-0 at WrestleMania until Brock Lesnar defeated him last year in New Orleans.
Bray Wyatt is a cult leader, challenging the Undertaker to become “The New Face of Fear.”
This is the Undertaker’s first match since WrestleMania 30. It may also be his last match, though many believe that will be next year in his home state of Texas.
Derek: The Undertaker is Clint Eastwood.
He’s old school and past his prime, but you wouldn’t tell him that to his face. While his best days may be behind him, everything he’s apart of seems bigger simply because he’s part of it.
Will: Bray Wyatt is a less murderous Charles Manson
He came on the scene as the leader of the Wyatt Family, a backwoods cult that aimed to re-shape the wrestling world. Wyatt is defined by bizarre vignettes that talk about nothing while talking about everything. He’s weird and a little scary, yet wildly magnetic.
Derek: If Taker doesn’t win, I think there will be some kind of weird disqualification involved. I really doubt Bray will win clean. Surely they won’t have Taker lose two in a row after winning 21 in a row. I think Undertaker will face Sting (or both Sting and Bray Wyatt) at WrestleMania 32, and I doubt they’ll have him go into that match on a losing streak after so many years of dominance.
Will: More at stake than the actual match is the nebulous title of most feared personality in WWE, so a sloppy finish would be little surprise. Expect some neat spots in which Wyatt freaks out Taker with his creepy spider walk and Taker returning the favor with his ominous sit-up.
AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins (Tag team match)
Derek: Paige made her debut the night after WrestleMania 30, challenging (and defeating) AJ Lee for the Divas Championship. The two became enemies, then friends, then enemies, then friends, and now possibly enemies again. They refer to each other as “frienemies,” which is fairly accurate.
The Bella Twins feuded against each other for the latter part of 2014, but reunited for some reason. The story is too boring and stupid to recount. The two appear to be back on the same page now, hurling stereotypical high school cheerleader insults at the other Divas in the division.
Nikki Bella defeated AJ for the Divas Championship back at Survivor Series. That match lasted 35 seconds, because Brie Bella kissed AJ, distracting her long enough for Nikki to land a Rack Attack on AJ and pin her for the victory. AJ got a rematch at TLC, which she lost due to some more heel tactics from the Bellas. Brie managed to interfere with AJ’s pin attempt, earning her an ejection from the referee. However, as the referee was distracted by Brie, Nikki produced an unknown substance in an aerosol can and sprayed AJ’s eyes with it. After being blinded, AJ was not able to channel her inner Frank Dux and fell victim to the Rack Attack once more.
AJ disappeared until a couple of weeks ago, when she returned to rescue Paige from a double Bella assault. The two have struggled to get along, and their “team” may implode before the end of WrestleMania, if it hasn’t already.
Derek: Paige and AJ are Marcelline and Princess Bubblegum.
The two are friendly rivals (possibly ex-lovers?!) and one of them has really white skin. One minute they’re fighting, and the next they’re sharing a tender moment. Either way, it’s guaranteed to be short-lived.
Side note: while locating that GIF, I learned there is an alarming amount of fan fiction and art featuring two cartoon characters from a kids show dating. Maybe this is something else they have in common with Paige and AJ, but I don’t care to find out.
Will: Nikki is Regina George from Mean Girls, and Brie is one of her plastic hangers-on.
They’re arrogant, they’re obnoxious, and they delight in little more than embarrassing those who they deem uncool or unpretty. They’re morally reprehensible in most every way possible. Like Seth Rollins, this makes them marvelous heels.
Derek: Paige and AJ are the most popular Divas, and the Bellas run of success has to come to an end sometime. Mania is usually an event for the good guys, so I give a slight edge to Paige and AJ. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn on each other and send the feud in another direction, though.
Will: I really don’t know which way they’re going to take this one. I would not be the least bit shocked by some ‘accidental’ friendly fire that leads to one or both of these teams breaking up, though I’m hoping for a clean match that sees the babyfaces come out on top.
Bad News Barrett (c) vs. R-Truth vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Stardust (Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship)
Derek: As you might imagine, a background involving seven wrestlers would be pretty lengthy. I’ll just include a short blurb about each guy so this doesn’t take five hours.
Daniel Bryan had a chance to main event WrestleMania, but lost to Roman Reigns. He decided to chase the Intercontinental Championship instead. The IC belt is the only WWE title he has never held.
Bad News Barrett is the champion. People have been stealing his belt relentlessly ever since he returned from injury and defeated Dolph Ziggler for it.
Ziggler has had two reigns as IC Champion in the last six months. He and Luke Harper had a feud for the belt, and the two had a great ladder match at TLC.
Dean Ambrose is a former member of The Shield and should be involved with Seth Rollins somehow, but whatever. He was feuding with Bad News Barrett before Fastlane and made an unsuccessful attempt for the IC title.
R-Truth has been sneakily stealing the belt over the last few weeks, and has been surprisingly funny. He has done nothing of note over the last year except for his stints as fodder for Rusev and an early entrant in the Royal Rumble.
Stardust got shoehorned into the match after WWE decided not to give him a Mania match with his real-life half brother, Goldust. He’s a little crazy.
Sheamus could also enter this match, but that is unclear at the moment.
Derek: Daniel Bryan is Underdog.
Bad News Barrett is an English soccer hooligan.
Luke Harper is a former cult member who probably plays banjo.
Will: Dean Ambrose is Gary Busey: Unhinged, possibly unwell, and absolutely a fan favorite.
Dolph Ziggler is The Professor from the And1 Mixtape Tour: a beloved show-off who has to overcome his relatively slight physique.
Stardust is, well, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust: Costumed, weird, talented, and wildly intriguing.
Derek: Daniel Bryan is the most popular guy in WWE. He takes the title as “Yes!” chants contribute to an earthquake. People learn what it’s like to see fans cheering in the 49ers’ stadium. Zing!
Will: Yes, yes, yes, anything other than a Bryan victory would be a shocker.
Sting vs. Triple H (Singles match)
Derek: One could make the argument that this feud has been brewing for nearly 20 years, when the Monday Night Wars were in full swing. More recently, the feud started back at Survivor Series, when Sting put a stop to Triple H’s interference in the main event.
Sting was a loyal member of WCW. While most of the WCW stars eventually joined or re-joined WWE after Vince bought them out, Sting never did. He wrestled in TNA from 2003 to 2014, and was considered the best wrestler to never perform in WWE. Tomorrow will be his first (and possibly only) WWE match.
Triple H has employed a bit of revisionist history, claiming that he was the reason WWE outperformed and eventually overtook WCW. While Triple H undoubtedly helped, most would agree he took a backseat to the likes of Stone Cold, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Mick Foley. Many of Triple H’s greatest moments came after the Monday Night Wars had concluded.
Still, here we are. Triple H is the COO of WWE. Sting, dubbed “The Vigilante,” wants to put an end to his abuse of power. Triple H wants to prove he still has it. He participated in three matches in 2014 and was on the losing end in all three. He was last seen losing to The Shield at Payback 2014.
Derek: Sting is Nolan Ryan.
Sure, they both have popularity, Hall of Fame credentials, and the ability to kick Robin Ventura’s ass, but it’s their longevity that really made the connection for me.
It blows my mind that Nolan Ryan pitched in the Major Leagues from 1966 to 1993, just like it blows my mind that Sting has been wrestling since 1985. Sting is 56 years old! And he’s going to be in a match at WrestleMania! Fifty-six!
Will: Triple H is Liam Neeson from any movie of the past 10 years or so.
He thought he was done with the rumble-tumble action and that he could finally settle into a quiet home life. He gets goaded out of retirement by an enemy from his old life, and now he has to prove that he still has the goods to get the job done. His tactics may be underhanded, but the man has a proven track record and will go to whatever lengths necessary to get the job done.
Derek: Sting wins. I don’t think he would agree to this match if he was going to be booked to lose. I’m equally interested to see if Sting plans to stick around for WrestleMania 32 for a dream match with The Undertaker.
Will: Agreed that the Stinger is the likely victor. There could be some foul play involved one way or another, but I would be surprised if this match did not end with Sting beating Trips no matter what. Don’t be shocked if Triple H’s sledgehammer or Sting’s baseball bat get involved.
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns (Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship)
Derek: Brock Lesnar returned to WWE just before Royal Rumble 2014 and has pretty much been unstoppable since. He put an end to The Undertaker’s fabled streak at WrestleMania 30, then put a legendary whipping on John Cena back at SummerSlam for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He has had only two title defenses since then, but retained the belt each time.
Roman Reigns’ time in The Shield is documented above. While Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had the feud of the year in 2014, Reigns had lesser feuds with Randy Orton and Big Show. He had emergency hernia surgery before Night of Champions and lost even more momentum. He somehow won the Slammy for Superstar of the Year and won the Royal Rumble amidst a shower of boos.
Reigns is the “good guy” here, but people don’t like him. His matches aren’t particularly entertaining and he can be downright brutal on the microphone. He looks the part, though, and Vince is in love with him. He is in this match as a result of his Rumble win, and has spent the last two months futilely telling anyone within earshot he belongs there.
Derek: Roman Reigns is a Segway.
Remember how everyone thought Segways were going to change everything? Steve Jobs told Time it was “as big a deal as the PC.” Now, you probably don’t know anyone who has a Segway. If you do, they are probably ceaselessly mocked. Just like Roman Reigns.
Will: Brock Lesnar is a pre-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson: A frighteningly unstoppable force.
He doesn’t talk much, but he doesn’t need to as he has a world-class hype man to do it for him. A physical marvel like him hasn’t been seen in years, and that alone makes him worth the price of admission. There’s always a chance that he’ll brutally dispatch his opponent in mere seconds, and a greater chance that he’ll look happy doing it.
Derek: Brock wins. Fans would probably riot if Reigns won, and I don’t think WWE would want that at Mania. If Brock doesn’t leave with the title, Seth Rollins will via cash-in. However, Brock vs Rock is already rumored for WrestleMania 32, and I think the seeds for that will be planted here.
Will: Lesnar re-signing significantly boosts his chances of winning. It’s conceivable that his keeping the belt was part of his re-signing agreement, which provides WWE a nice excuse to slow down the Reigns train and give their would-be chosen one some more grooming.
It’s going to be a phenomenal night. The match will be outdoors, and beautiful weather is forecast. Every match has a compelling backstory, significant in-ring talent, or both. If you’re going to watch wrestling just once a year, this is the night. Here’s hoping for a brilliant show that leaves us in awe like the aliens from Toy Story.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Des Moines! Wrestlemania is just 11 days away, and I’m really excited for two of the matches! Yeah!
Monday gave us another chapter in the “Why Raw Shouldn’t Be Three Hours Long” encyclopedia. Though like most great WWE shows in the last five months, it ended with an appearance from (cue Michael Cole) the vigilante … the franchise … Sting!
Seeing Sting and Orton together made me mark out more than I have in months. Until Cole opened his mouth again, that is. He called it “one of the greatest moments in Raw history.”
I was debating whether I should unload on Michael Cole this week or take a break from beating that dead horse again. Luckily, a gentleman over at r/squaredcircle took care of it for me.
Derek: Anyway, let’s run down how we got to Orton and Sting standing side-by-side with weaponry.
The show opens with a brutal, pre-taped interview in which Cole asks Orton about being “excommunicated from The Authority.” This could be a long night.
Will: At this point I slunk low in my seat and did the sort of soul-searching that comes with being a grown man watching three hours’ worth of wrestling programming.
Derek: Seth Rollins and The Authority (sans Triple H and Stephanie) are waiting in the ring, and they make amends after Rollins received a savage beating from Randy Orton last week. Rollins accepts Orton’s Wrestlemania challenge, but only if Orton agrees to meet Rollins in the main event that evening. Orton emerges from backstage and, despite having the “dack stecked” against him, he agrees.
Will: Setting up the five worthwhile minutes of the night, which are inevitably the show’s last, in the first five minutes. A Raw tradition unlike any other.
Derek: Our first actual in-ring action is … a Divas match? A.J. Lee faces off against Nikki Bella, with Nikki coming out on top. A.J.’s buddy Paige also got into it with Brie Bella outside the ring, which also featured a victorious Bella. Any excitement at all for their ‘Mania tag match? Would it be better or worse as a Fatal Four Way for the Divas Championship?
Will: I was super excited when A.J. returned, and I enjoy the interactions between she and Paige, but I’m not all that in on the ladies tag team match. The Bellas are supremely unlikable, but not in a good heel-y way. Their characters feel lazy and stereotypical. Bullying has a long, proud history in wrestling, but the Bella brand of bullying leaves me cold. Making fun of a pale girl and then spray-tanning her; that’s their thing?
I also think that A.J.’s stature (she’s only 5-foot-2) hurts her in the ring. It’s harder to look good running the ropes when the top one is at neck-level, and that tarnishes her matches a bit. I thought Monday’s A.J.-Nikki match was a good one, and I was glad that they actually got some time to work with, but something about the A.J & Paige vs. Bellas matchup doesn’t quite click for me.
So sure, why not make it a Fatal Four Way?
Derek: Kane and Big Show meet backstage and bicker over what appetizer to order at Cracker Barrel. It is eventually decided that neither will accompany Rollins to the ring during the main event. Too many feelings are hurt. We all need time to heal. Or should, I say heel? Get it? Because they’re heels?
Will: Any time those two start bickering, my immediate reaction is a string of all-caps expletives.
Derek: Next, Ryback makes quick work of Miz. Ryback had set Miz up so Mizdow could take a free shot at him, but Mizdow was indecisive and missed his chance. Miz took the loss out on Mizdow, delivering a Skull Crushing Finale to him after the match. Any chance Miz and Mizdow are the last two in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal?
Will: I reckon there’s a strong chance of that. This week was probably the pair’s weakest in a while, but I’m still interested in them. One kayfabe question: how does Miz conjure the strength to hit Mizdow with his finisher moments after being half-dead on the mat? I know this is wrestling, but geez.
Derek: John Cena and Rusev follow with their contract signing. An interesting segment for accents. Cena perfected his occasionally southern accent while Rusev’s “lawyer” had a “Russian” accent that made him sound like Christoph Waltz’s black sheep brother. No one gets thrown through the table, and the contract is signed. The match will take place on Christmas Day, in Russia, for no money.
Will: I am convinced that Cena’s promos are subsidized by the United States government. I get that they’re pot-committed on the US-Russia thing, but when Cena said that he can barely look the troops in the eye when he Rusev holds the United States title, I kind of wanted to dump an apple pie in the trash and let a corner of Old Glory touch the ground.
Derek: New Day vs. Kidd and Cesaro. Whatever.
Will: I think the word whatever was created for all of these guys. Kidd and Cesaro ostensibly smark favorites—at least Cesaro is—but they don’t do a thing for me. I think the New Day falling under a dump truck could make for a compelling storyline.
Derek: I’m fine with Kidd and Cesaro. I just have zero interest in their feud with the New Day (feat. Los Matadores). It looks like the shoulder injury Jey Uso suffered on Smackdown is legitimate, so the Usos are out. So the reason we don’t get a Stardust-Goldust match or a Miz-Mizdow match is because the world needs to see Kidd/Cesaro vs. New Day vs. Los Matadores. FACT!
Cole promises a CANDID AND CONTROVERSIAL Brock Lesnar interview. It was candid, I guess, but that’s kind of how Brock Lesnar talks all the time. It was also controversial, because he said “ass” four times, and it was never censored. Won’t someone think of the children?
J&J Security then quit the Authority, leaving Rollins to face Orton alone. Afterward, Show beats up Erick Rowan for some reason. We gt to see Show perform a clumsy elbow drop from the second rope, but it’s otherwise pointless.
Will: SHOW IS ANGRY! THE GIANT IS BACK! HE’S UNSTOPPABLE! (But please don’t ask why Rowan was the object of his scorn, just be amazed—look, he’s really big!)
Derek: Larry Zbysko to the Hall of Fame! Would it have been in poor taste to induct both him and Connor “The Crusher” Michalek last week? They were in Zbysko’s hometown of Pittsburgh, but I believe Connor’s family was in attendance and I could see WWE not wanting to share the spotlight.
Will: Is there any rhyme or reason to WWE HoF inductions? Is there any set time or number of people to be inducted? I suppose it was cool. Rock on, Larry.
Derek: Now’s the time for the pre-battle royal pissing matches. Mark Henry is the last man standing, which almost guarantees a loss. Did you see him come back to put Reigns over on Smackdown last week? What are your thoughts?
Will: I only saw the highlights of Smackdown. My thoughts are hey look there’s Mark Henry trying to do what a hundred other guys couldn’t. Good luck, Mark. I guess I’m happy to have Henry back in the fold, but I don’t understand why he’s been thrust into the Battle Royal picture so suddenly.
Derek: WWE announces the following match on this week’s Smackdown:
Derek: Women are another species, amirite?
Derek: Ugh. I give this company $10 a month. Anything you can say that will help me sleep at night?
Will: Um. You’ve probably done worse?
Derek: That didn’t help at all.
Paul Heyman comes out to do Paul Heyman things. Roman Reigns responds with Roman Reigns things. I mainly just want to talk about Heyman’s mic constantly being cut and Reigns’ eye color constantly changing. Any theories on those?
Will: I’m kind of baffled by Heyman’s microphone issues. My theory would be that it was an actual accident the first time it happened, and then WWE figured hey, Paul handled it well and people liked it, so let’s do it to death! Heyman plays indignance very well, so it isn’t a wholly bad thing, just weird.
Another thought is that it’s a passive-aggressive move by Vince to needle Heyman for mentioning UFC so much.
As for Reigns’ eyes, I have no idea. I would guess that somewhere in WWE headquarters there’s a glass case with blue contacts in it that says “Break in case of emergency,” and Reigns’ inability to get over is such an emergency.
You’ll note that this explanation doesn’t make sense. I don’t get it. Are artificially icy blue eyes supposed to make him look tough? He looks like he’s on his way to becoming a White Walker or something.
Derek: Heyman promises Lesnar will be on Raw next week to talk to Reigns face-to-face. This could have gone down last week, but whatever. Wizdow is important.
Derek: Intercontinental festivities ensue. The team of Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose faces the team of Bad News Barrett, Luke Harper, and Stardust. Despite R-Truth continuing his theft of the Intercontinental Championship Belt, it was surprisingly entertaining. Is this the premier match at Wrestlemania?
Will: It is in the sense that it’s the one match with the most WWE talent that is sure to be around for more than three months. Reigns-Lesnar is the on-paper main event, but the masses have rejected its validity. Triple H-Sting is two dinosaurs battling for a hundred million year-old bone. Bray Wyatt-Undertaker will either be the Dead Man’s final match period, or at least his final match until next ‘Mania.
Cena-Rusev or Rollins-Orton are probably the best of the bunch in terms of current star power and in-ring ability, but the former is rooted in the Cold War and the latter is a grudge match that feels destined to continue for a while.
So yeah, I guess the Intercontinental title match is the showstopper. It has two of WWE’s finest workers in Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler, some reliably enjoyable guys in Stardust and Luke Harper, the still-very-over Dean Ambrose, a wildcard in R-Truth, and the apparent straight man in the whole thing, champion Bad News Barrett.
Putting that much talent in the ring, and in a ladder match, is a virtual guarantee of a good show. We’ll see some wild spots and exciting sequences. I can’t imagine Bryan letting this match be anything less than an 8/10, even if he doesn’t win.
That said, jamming so many guys into this match and doing the same thing with the Battle Royal feels like tossing every ingredient into the soup. Why not be more selective and make each match a little more special? Why not let Bryan and/or Ziggler shine in singles matches? Why not see Goldust-Stardust all the way through? Even a Miz-Mizdow singles match would be ideal for the undercard.
I understand and appreciate the desire to get everyone on the ‘Mania card, but the whole point of ‘Mania is that it isn’t for everyone. How would you prefer to see some of these guys used?
Derek: R-Truth probably shouldn’t be involved at all. If memory serves, he has competed at one PPV in the past year. That was his four minutes in the Royal Rumble.
While it would be nice to get some singles matches out of the six remaining guys, I’m actually okay with throwing them all in a Ladder Match. It has a Money in the Bank feel to it. I do wish they would be more angry about not being part of the main event. They could say stuff about how this is the “real” main event of Wrestlemania, and they’re all going to prove that they’re number one. Vince would never allow it because it would undermine The Great Roman Reigns, but it would make for a good story.
After Bray Wyatt babbles for a bit (Undertaker or GTFO) we come to find that the Authority leaving Rollins’ side is all a ruse! Rollins confronts Orton with his entire gang. Orton snags a chair and waits as they surround him. Lights cut, Sting appears with the bat, and it’s awesome.
Will: Amazing moment. It was tarnished a little bit by the preceding 175 minutes of drivel and the crowd knowingly chanting “We want Sting” before the man himself appeared, but it was still superb, which is a credit to Sting’s character. I’m not sure if I totally buy into underlying premise of the Sting-Trips feud, but those guys don’t need more than a seed to make lemonade.
Derek: I do wish the chants would stop. I had a good idea Rollins was just setting Orton up, but I had no idea Sting was supposed to be there. I’m assuming word leaked that he would be there, much like A.J. Lee’s return a couple of weeks ago. It would be nice if they could keep it to themselves.
Sting gave a Network-exclusive interview after the show, and it was good to finally hear him speak. It was brief, but much more effective than that atrocious “Sting” voice-over from last week. He didn’t say anything about WCW, thank goodness. He just said that he’d been waiting 14 years to get in a WWE ring and he couldn’t wait to take Triple H down a peg. He also said it with an intensity that would make Ric Flair proud.
And hey, who cares that JBL apparently doesn’t know the name of Sting’s finishing moves? It’s just Sting. He’s no Roman Reigns.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Orlando! Raw visited my old stomping ground to give us the penultimate wrasslin’ show before Sunday night’s inaugural Fastlane … event? Pay-per-view? Are they still pay-per-views now that the WWE Network exists?
Monday’s focus continued to be on Fastlane’s main event between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. The two toyed with each other throughout the evening, as Daniel Bryan started up some “Yes!” chants during Roman’s match with Kane, while Roman walked around the front row signing autographs and posing for selfies during Bryan’s match with Big Show.
Bryan’s match was in the main event spot, and it came to an end after Reigns interfered and gave Show a knuckle sammich for kicks. Bryan and Reigns spent the final eight minutes of the show in a good ol’ fashioned donnybrook, which was eventually separated by the legendarily competent WWE officials. I enjoyed when they seemed to be done and gave each other a congratulatory hand slap, followed by the immediate continuation of said donnybrook. I thought for sure we’d have our clear-cut heel at that moment when one of them would assault the other from behind. It was cool that they had the same thought at the same time.
What were your thoughts on Bryan-Reigns?
Will: I recorded Raw, and my DVR cut off the very end, so I actually didn’t see the resolution of the skirmish. I heard it turned into a brawl in which neither party sold the others’ punches, which could be seen as shoddy work, or as to-hell-with-work-I-really-wanna-beat-this-guy’s-ass.
I’m not sure who I’m pulling for in this feud, but it’s been nice to see Bryan incorporate some sarcastic dickishness into his character. He is slowing moving away from teacher’s pet territory, and not a moment too soon. Reigns have been at least semi-salvaged, and their characters work given what we know about them: Bryan’s confidence comes from a place of legitimacy as the superior wrestler, and Reigns’ comes from his pedigree and the fact that he’s a hundred pounds bigger. I’m warming up to this one.
Derek: It probably would have been my favorite part of the evening if it weren’t for—
Will: I was pleasantly surprised by Ric Flair! I was terrified that he would be in over his head, but I thought the exchange between he and Triple H was well done. It provided a nice history lesson (I didn’t know that Flair was Sting’s first opponent), and there were shades of Adrian & Rocky with Flair telling Trips to be careful with Sting.
My only hangup: So Triple H had this hypothetical desire to run Sting out of WWE, if he ever joined, some 15 years ago. And Sting has just known this all along? Like, has he just been simmering over Hunter’s distant, theoretical hate since the ball dropped on Y2K? And now he chooses to get his vengeance?
Also, do you think Sting will actually show at Fastlane? How are they going to extend this to Mania?
Derek: The WCW stuff needs to be mentioned, no doubt. Of all the great WCW wrestlers, Sting is the only one who resisted the call of WWE. I get that this needs to be pointed out. I just hope that it comes to an end soon. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be heavily invested in WCW vs. WWE. I also used to be heavily invested in Shaquille O’Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon. They were both a long time ago. I don’t need to be reminded of the times I said things like “Shaq was in Kazaam!” and meant it as a point in favor of Shaq. The average John Cena fan wasn’t even alive during WCW’s heyday. Let’s just keep it simple. Sting is a good guy, and pretty much always has been. Triple H is a bad guy, and pretty much always has been. I’d rather that be the major angle.
I do think Sting will show up at Fastlane. I don’t know if they’ll have a classic mic-on-mic confrontation in the ring, since that’s not really Sting’s style. Honestly, I have no idea what they’re going to do. Triple H likes to talk, and Sting likes to intimidate. I’m interested to see where they go with it. Flair pointed out that Sting was already in Triple H’s head, which was a new addition to the feud.
I wonder if Sting will just silently torment Trips over the next month as Trips slowly goes insane. Couldn’t you see a half-angry/half-terrified Triple H storming around the ring and shouting “Come out here! Come out and face me!” while the lights are flickering on and off or something? At the very least, WWE’s worst-kept secret will be revealed this weekend as the HHH-Sting match at Wrestlemania is finally announced.
How do you see it?
Will: I doubt that an actual Triple H-Sting match will happen at Fastlane, but they’re going to collide somehow. The idea of a rattled Trips barking at Sting to face him like a man while the Vigilante toys with him from afar sounds reasonable, as is Sting interfering in an Authority-centered match.
Also, if I were a WWE writer, I would absolutely pitch a promo in which Triple H calls Sting the “Vag-ilante.” Being a grown-up rules.
Let’s get to Cena-Rusev, particularly Cena beating down Rusev on the ramp: pretty heelish behavior, no? John’s show-opening promos are as fresh as recycled cardboard—hey, did you know that he is unlikely to give up?—but I do like how Rusev has brought out a darker side of Cena. I think I’m legitimately interested to see their match, which is more of an endorsement than I ever expected to give.
Derek: Very heelish behavior indeed. Cena has gotten some strong pushes to heel territory by Brock Lesnar and Rusev. I’m dubious that Cena will ever turn heel, but they have a prime opportunity after Wrestlemania. I still think Cena is going to lose on Sunday before getting his vengeance at Wrestlemania. Maybe he goes a little too far at ‘Mania, then uses that momentum toward taking down whoever emerges as champion? It would be a good time to do it, as there won’t be another premier PPV(?) until Money in the Bank in June. They could at least test it out and see how it goes, kind of like when Daniel Bryan briefly joined the Wyatt Family last year.
I’m less excited for this match, in that I think it’s going to end the same way all of Rusev’s matches end: a win via submission. I’m much more excited for their ‘Mania match than I thought I would be, though.
Will: On to some Monocle favorites who are stuck in midcard hell: Dean Ambrose and Bad News Barrett. Ambrose squared off with Luke Harper in a match was a bit slow, but well-executed and which had a narrative arc. It also felt like Dean is refining his moveset a bit. His punches looked more boxing-style than I’ve seen before, and I don’t remember him doing a spinning elbow off the second rope. Harper reversing Ambrose’s off-the-ropes clothesline into a big slam was tasty, and one of the few times that Dean’s trademark strike failed. I’m really impressed with Harper overall; I’d trust him in the ring with most anyone.
Later in the evening, I loved Ambrose’s gambit to get Bad News Barrett to sign a contract for an Intercontinental Title match; why wouldn’t everyone who wants a title shot do that? I lol’d at BNB yelling “This is illegal!” while forced to sign the contract while zip-tied. I’m not sure how contract law works in the UK, but Barrett raised a valid point.
Derek: That was a lot of fun. “That’s not my signature!” was also a valid point. I only wish BNB had stayed tied up longer. How fun would it have been if the next match took place with Barrett zip-tied to the turnbuckle, shamefully brooding before finally caving and signing the contract on his own accord? That would be a Match of the Year candidate, even if the Ascension were involved.
Let’s jump into some quick hits!
On Miz and Mizdow:
Will: They are still terrific, and Miz is a dynamite heel. I’m still not optimistic that those guys can survive independently, but they’ve given us a lot. I will thank them for their services whenever they part ways.
Derek: Miz gets a lot of crap, but I think he’s excellent. He’s not a main event guy or anything, but he’s always highly entertaining. That’s all I really ask.
On Kane and Big Show:
Will: They bickered backstage like an old married couple, which made me think that they should just get married, in kayfabe or real life. Has there ever been a—for lack of a better term—gay turn in WWE?
Derek: Sort of! More on that in a minute.
On Bray Wyatt’s cryptic promos:
Will: I am all in on Bray’s promos. The sudden cuts in and out, the weird foggy stage, the way he talks about matters of deep cosmic importance while also talking about nothing at all. He has incorporated plenty of “you”s throughout, seemingly addressing the Undertaker. How do you feel about that? I think I like it.
Derek: That seems to be the case. He asked, “What shakes the heart of a man that can never truly die?” before claiming that he could. This all was said in-between sessions of what appeared to be hammering a nail in a coffin. He ended with “Find me! Or I’ll find you!” which I thought was excellent. Yes, all of those are telltale signs of an Undertaker challenge. Pretty good ones, too. Bray is very enjoyable when he makes sense.
On the Dust Bros:
Will: I thought the Dusts/New Day match was fiercely lame (holy crap the announcers were brutal), but the Cody/Dusty backstage bit was incredible. It was heartfelt and did a nice job of blending the kayfabe Rhodes family with the real. I’m really curious to see where they go with him. Will he double down on the weirdo Stardust? Will he come back to his roots as Cody? Or will he go off in an even more bizarre third direction?
Derek: Tip of the cap to Cody on his “You’re dead to me!” remarks to Dusty. That hurt. I hope they use him more after the Stardust gimmick wears off. Unrelated, but did you know he’s married to the ring announcer that isn’t Lilian Garcia? He totally is!
Will: Paige rules. She’s good in the ring, good on the mic, and prowls the canvas with real aggression during matches. It’s a bummer that the Bellas have become little more than Mean Girls adjace, but Paige is making lemonade with her side of it. Borrowing clothes from a Rosebud was a nice touch.
Derek: She’s been my favorite Diva since she debuted the day after Wrestlemania last year. I was worried she would become terrible after joining Total Divas. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened.
On the Prime Time Players:
Will: The Ascension lose—hey, alright!—leading to reunion of the Prime Time Players, Darren Young and Titus O’Neil. Is there anything here? Could the PTP be good? They look like impressive wrestlers, and WWE needs new tag teams, so I suppose I’m in on it.
Derek: First of all, what happened to Darren Young?! Last time I saw him, he looked like this:
On Monday, he looked like this:
Whoa! When did Darren decide to go Man on Fire on us? And why is he suddenly back on TV now? Oh, right. The PR nightmare that somehow wasn’t.
If you didn’t click the link under Big Show and Kane, Darren Young is real-life gay. He is the first (and so far only, to my knowledge) openly gay wrestler. There have been others, but they didn’t come out of the closet until after they retired. Young did it in the middle of his career.
What does his sexuality have to do with him suddenly being back on TV? Well, last week, WWE went on a tour that included a three-day stop in the United Arab Emirates. Homosexuality is illegal there, and so Young was instructed to stay home. He wasn’t happy.
Then, magically, he makes his return to television on Monday night to reunite with his old tag team partner. Looks like WWE is looking to kill two birds with one stone, trying to keep Young happy (and quiet) while also injecting some life into the stagnant tag team division. Honestly, I’m surprised this story isn’t a bigger deal. It seems like the sort of thing that would make the internet and cable news explode: He was specifically asked not to come to work strictly because he was gay.
I suppose reasonable folks could debate if the company was looking out for his safety by not asking him to come along or they were monstrous for even doing business in a country that wouldn’t allow Young to perform just because he’s gay. However, one thing is for sure: if this were the NFL instead of WWE, and it were Michael Sam instead of Darren Young, you wouldn’t be hearing about anything else in the sports world right now. Vince dodged a bullet.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Washington D.C.! The Authority is back in power and Daniel Bryan is back in the ring. Yes sir, wrestling just might start to get fun again.
Let’s start with Daniel Bryan, who gave a heartfelt speech about his past. (It was, strangely, our second of the night, as Ryback gave one earlier in the evening.) He did a really good job of making it seem like he was going to retire up until the very end. He was tearing up and talking about his phone calls to Raw’s co-host, Edge, who retired three years earlier due to neck injuries. So … is his career over?!
Will he return to action as an entrant in the Royal Rumble?!
And if that weren’t fun enough, The Authority has returned! As you may recall, Vince made a stipulation before Survivor Series that only John Cena could bring The Authority back. So, as part of a stretch of heel brilliance, Seth Rollins surrounded Edge with as many Authority lackeys as he could. Then he put Edge in position to receive a Curb Stomp which, if executed, would “paralyze” Edge, who was forced into retirement by real-life neck and back injuries. Cena, thinking of Edge’s wife and child, reluctantly agrees to put The Authority back in power. After a brief skirmish in the ring, Triple H and Stephanie waltz out, champagne glasses in hand, ready to do what’s best for business yet again.
And I haven’t mentioned the return of Bad News Barrett yet! How is that the third most important thing from an episode of Raw?
Are these enough reasons to get excited again? The return of Daniel Bryan and BNB are great, but is the return of The Authority a step forward or backward?
Will: So, so, so many good things this week. Top Raw, everyone.
The Rollins-Cena-Edge segment was really dark, and I loved it. It was a legitimate hostage situation. Rollins spoke pointedly about crippling Edge and leaving him unable to lift his child. He sold it well, and Cena did some terrific non-verbal acting. And even after Cena relented, Rollins went to Curb Stomp Edge anyway, and was stopped only by Cena’s intervention. Holy crap.
It seems a little odd to bring the Authority back so soon. It would be better if that payoff came as the result of a big match, ideally at a pay-per-view. That said, I have no problem with it. The Cena-Rollins staredown was awesome. More than that, we have lamented the thin state of the WWE roster and how hard it is to fill up three hours. Bringing Triple H and company back into power means there will be more quality talent—namely Trips and Steph, and maybe Vince—available for any given show. I know that those three entertain well above replacement level, so I’m in on the Authority’s return.
But man, what a show. There was a promo devoted entirely to showing Ryback’s human side, and it wasn’t bad! Who knew that The Big Guy was so sensitive? He was real-life voted out of the show Tough Enough, and he spoke of the ensuing depression and avoidance of his family. He claimed to have turned it all around thanks to The Secret, a self-help book. I can’t quite believe it, but I really enjoyed the whole thing. The Big Guy put a bow on it by saying that his feud with Rusev is not a US-Russia thing; it’s just one-big-guy-kicking-another-big-guy’s-ass thing.
It was just weird and awkward enough to be perfect. Oh, and he also said this, “I take negative things, negative people, negative things that people say, and I eat them. I put them in the pit of my stomach, and I turn them into positives.”
He’s the best. Did you love it? Tell me you loved it.
Derek: It started to grow on me after a few minutes, as I think it started to grow on the crowd. At first, they were punctuating his sentences with the typically disrespectful “WHAT?” chants, before settling into applause by the end. I was also only partly invested in it, thinking it was weird and out of nowhere. After attacking Rusev, he ended up just standing in the ring for the entire commercial before launching into his life story. It was a bit perplexing.
Our readership might roll their eyes at me inserting CM Punk into this, but I thought Ryback’s promo would have been way less meaningful had Punk not ripped into him for being an idiot and a bad worker. We wrestling fans tend to be huge Punk supporters, and I’m certainly guilty of that. It’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction (at least for me) to side with Punk whatever he says. I can’t be the only one. When Ryback shows himself as a human and not a cartoon character, you can’t help but feel for him.
I obviously have no inside information, but I wonder if that was the reason why he did it in the first place. As rabid as Punk’s fan base is, can’t you imagine random fans ripping him constantly? What do you think his Twitter mentions looked like after Punk’s interview? I wonder if he was directly addressing dumb internet trolls and telling them what to do with their negativity. Good for him.
As fun as Ryback has been lately, he’s no Bad News Barrett. What are your thoughts on his return?
Will: I was so happy to see Bad News Barrett back. What a nice surprise. Just imagining him saying I’M AFRAID I’VE GOT SOME BAD NYEWS makes me smile. I am not a fan, however, of him saying “It’s me, it’s me, it’s B-N-B.” Like, bro, Road Dogg much?
Still, it’s great to have him back in the fold, and he and Cesaro put on a fine match. I’m keen on Cesaro’s disillusioned professional schtick, and it’s a nice nod to his smark fans when he alludes to everyone knowing that he’s the best. He and BNB pulled off some nice spots, and I was especially impressed with his ax handle smash off the top rope; he got some real air on that baby.
I was disappointed, however, that Barrett’s finisher is an elbow, which is basically a punch. That makes three guys with a punch as their finishing maneuver: Barrett, Big Show, and Roman Reigns. In Reigns’ case, I suppose the Superman punch sets up the Spear, but what happened to finishing suplexes and powerbombs and top rope attacks? I would have liked to see a bit more creativity there.
You were aboard the Bad News train before I was. How’d it feel to see him in action?
Derek: It was glorious. It’s really inexcusable that they haven’t used him at all during his recovery. His work in the ring is fine, but it’s his work on the microphone that makes me such a big fan. Him popping up each week to deliver bad news would have been the best part of Raw for the last month.
Now I’m wondering how they’re going to use him. He was the Intercontinental Champion when he messed up his shoulder six months ago, so I imagine they’ll have some sort of storyline for him. A feud with Rusev would be fun, but they won’t go that way since Barrett isn’t American. Maybe Ziggler? If Ziggler dropped the belt to Barrett, then Ziggler could be freed up to feud with the top guys in the company, as it seemed he would after being the biggest winner at Survivor Series.
Either way, thank goodness he’s back. The bad news and smug smiles were sorely missed.
Will: I never thought I would say this, but let’s talk about the Usos for a minute. They put on a tremendous match against Miz and Mizdow, the best that I can remember involving those parties. The crowd was predictably dead early on, but some inspired moves and back-and-forth action livened them up. There was a deserved “This is awesome” chant, and a solid finishing splash. For once, Mizdow’s pantomime was not the unequivocal highlight of the match.
Are you with me on this? I know that I was surprised by how much I dug it.
Derek: The last few minutes of the match were definitely pretty cool. As Ready to Rumble taught us, you rarely see someone kick out after a finisher in a non-PPV match, as one of the Usos did after Miz’s Skull Crushing Finale.
I have to disagree on one point, though: Mizdow’s pantomime was still the unequivocal highlight of the match. It never gets old. The bump he took slamming himself looked harder than the one Miz took when the Usos actually slammed him. He’s the best.
Will: The Ascension, which did not even try to be anything other than a Road Warriors reboot, debuted this week. Did they move the needle for you at all?
Derek: Not at all. You’re exactly right. Like you and probably many others, I looked at them and saw a shameless ripoff of the Road Warriors. They were trying really, really hard to look intimidating, which was having the opposite effect. Granted, that double finishing move they had was pretty cool, but at this point I’d say there’s nothing to see here.
Will: One guy we haven’t mentioned: the reigning WWE champion, Brock Lesnar. He showed up a few times Monday. He appeared at the top of the show to intimidate guest hosts Edge and Christian (who aren’t awful as a comedy duo, by the way), and at the bottom of the show alongside Paul Heyman, who came out to congratulate Rollins.
Lesnar is a Heyman guy, but he hasn’t shown any allegiance besides that. He just shows up and terrifies people, which I enjoy. Did you take anything away from his presence?
Derek: Nah. This has been his deal for a while now. Even dating back to last year, when he had that Royal Rumble “match” with Big Show and beat him with a chair for 15 minutes, he has mostly been motivated by violence. That’s cool with me, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of depth to his character.
I’m more interested in Paul Heyman and Seth Rollins. Those two are probably the sneakiest heels in WWE, and Rollins still hasn’t cashed in his Money in the Bank contract. To me, that’s the dynamic to watch. Probably nothing will come of it, though. There’s a reason why Heyman does all of Brock’s talking for him. As interesting (and fitting) as it would be to see Heyman turn on Lesnar to team up with Rollins, it would probably be seen as a bad allocation of resources since it would mean Lesnar talking more and Heyman talking less. It would be a lot of fun, though. A more realistic expectation would be planning for life after Brock, since he’s still labeled a part-timer. Maybe after Brock is gone, Rollins is in line to be the next Paul Heyman guy?
I’m just glad we have stuff to talk about again. December has been an excruciating month for wrestling. Just four weeks to go until the Royal Rumble, too!
‘Tis the season.