Previewing WrestleMania 32

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Better than March Madness: Wrasslin’ Thursday 11/12/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from Manchester! First and foremost, we need to pour one out for Seth Rollins. Our beloved champion will miss between six and nine months after tearing his ACL, MCL, and meniscus at a house show in Dublin, Ireland last week.

via @TheCoachESPN

via @TheCoachESPN

The timing couldn’t have been much worse. We’ve been talking for weeks about WWE’s terrible ratings and lackluster product. Rollins was one of the few bright spots. He’s a five-tool player and a budding crossover superstar. He undoubtedly was going to be a big part of Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania. Now it looks like the wise course of action would be to hold him out until SummerSlam next year.

No one can say what the long-term ramifications will be. Rollins is arguably the only full-time A+ wrestler on the roster, so some phone calls could be made to popular part timers. The Rock, Batista, or Chris Jericho could get called back into action. WWE could beg John Cena or Brock Lesnar to come back earlier from their time off. Triple H could get back in the ring. The CM Punk dream could continue. Someone’s going to have to step into or replace Rollins’ shoes before ‘Mania.

In the short-term, WWE is holding a 16-man tournament for the championship that will culminate at Survivor Series. JBL says it will “absolutely blow away March Madness,” and he’s not one to exaggerate. Here’s the bracket:

survivor series bracket

Obviously, Roman Reigns won his first round match. No one will be stopping him. He was originally going to face Rollins for the title at Survivor Series, so he’ll undoubtedly still be in a championship match. No intrigue there. There was almost intrigue when Triple H offered to automatically put Reigns in the title match, so long as Reigns joined him on the dark side. That probably would have been the most interesting way to use Reigns, so it didn’t happen. Reigns gave a super-face answer along the lines of “I’ve earned everything I have, and I’m going to earn the championship.” Too bad.

While the left side of the bracket is a “who will lose to Roman” contest (Cesaro beat Sheamus on Raw, while Del Rio defeated Stardust and Kalisto upset Ryback on Smackdown) the right side of the bracket is a bit more interesting. It looks pretty clear that Kevin Owens will meet Dean Ambrose in the semi-finals, but I have no idea who would win that one. Owens is the heel Intercontinental Champion and would be a natural opponent for Reigns. But Ambrose and Reigns are supposed best buds, and pitting them against each other could be fun. One of them could turn heel, or they could just have a nice friendly face-on-face match. I’d prefer a heel turn, though. Not since Rollins turned on The Shield have we seen a crushing, heat of the moment back-stab. Anyway, Owens, Ambrose, and Ziggler won on Raw, while Neville won on Smackdown.

Will: The tournament for the championship belt seemed like a cool idea — for a minute. Is there any possible ending other than Roman Reigns winning it all? Like, is Kalisto gonna go on a run? Cesaro? Neville? I think this speaks to a larger problem in the title picture, which is that everyone has taken it for granted that Reigns will be the next to win the belt, even before Rollins’ injury. An ex-Shield triple threat match had been penciled in for WrestleMania for months, and I’ve seen nothing (other than Rollins’ injury) to suggest that that won’t be the case. This isn’t a slight against Roman — he’s gotten better and is generally over. I’m just hoping for something a little less predictable.

Derek: The other big story was the return of the Brothers of Destruction. Continuing the theme of being predictable, The Undertaker and Kane have come together to take on the Wyatt Family. The match at Survivor Series is official, though we don’t know who exactly will be in it. As it stands now, it will be a regular tag team match instead of a traditional Survivor Series match. So instead of the intrigue being around which two wrestlers would join Undertaker and Kane, it will be around which two Wyatt Family members will participate. That’s … decidedly less interesting.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Will: I got myself super excited for a moment during Bray Wyatt’s closing segment for reasons that wound up being completely stupid. It was late in the evening and I might have enjoyed a beverage or two. They can’t let Bray get beaten up so much, I thought. There must be something else in the offing here.

So I convinced myself — against all logic, I grant you — that when Kane and Undertaker came out, they would somehow be aligned with Bray. I hoped that they would make Bray a sort of apprentice, so that he could carry on the torch of weirdly supernatural heel. It wouldn’t have made much sense, but it would have been something. It would have been shocking. It would have been different. Instead, the reunited Brothers of Destruction beat the hell out of the whole Wyatt Family. The end.

I suppose I’m just frustrated. What’s the point of all of Bray’s promos if he doesn’t back them up with any sort of action? I get that his greatest power comes from convincing his underlings to do his bidding, but doesn’t he have to kick some ass one of these days? Or if the point of his getting his ass whooped was to show that he has no real power, then again, what’s the point of having him on screen so much? He’s like if Freddy Krueger was armed with pillows.

Are we headed for another Wyatt loss at a pay-per-view? It’s awesome to see Taker and Kane raise hell. They’re legends and icons and all that. But surely there’s a way to treat them with respect without making Bray seem like such a weenie.

Derek: Perhaps we’ll have some surprises yet. Survivor Series is a week from Sunday, and there are somehow only three matches currently on the card. There’s the aforementioned TBD vs. TBD for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Kane and Undertaker vs TBD and TBD, and Charlotte vs. Paige. Yet, for some reason, it looks like the semi-final matches are going to be on Smackdown. I’d like to know why they’ll have two huge matches on Smackdown instead of having them early on Survivor Series when there are pretty much no matches on the card. Are they really putting the (probable) Owens vs. Ambrose match on the SyFy Channel? I’d like to know who had that idea.

Seeing as this all took place in Manchester, Wayne Rooney made an appearance to “slap” King Bad News Wade Barrett. Were you impressed at all with the 5-foot-9, 183 pound forward going after the 6-foot-7, 246 pound Barrett?

Will: Have English soccer fans soured on Wayne Rooney? After that weak-ass slap he gave Barrett, I hope so. I know the man uses his feet for a living, but bloody hell mate, put your knickers into it. Stephen Amell’s cameo looks better by the day.

Is there a plan for Alberto Del Rio? Is there any way that the MexAmerica gimmick will be worth a damn in two weeks? Or, like, right now? The Masked Man — welcome back, by the way — brought up a pertinent question on this week’s Cheap Heat: Do Zeb Colter and Alberto Del Rio even know what MexAmerica is about? Yes, it’s about uniting two great nations, but what the hell does that mean? How does that manifest in WWE? It was a thrill to see Colter and Del Rio at first for the odd couple dynamic, but now I don’t know what they’re going to do.

Derek: Yeah, none of this seems well thought out. No matches on the card, no potential feuds for the non-vacant championships, and two guys starting a new country for no reason. So, this should be an interesting week. Either Raw is going to be particularly action-packed, or our Survivor Series preview is going to be the shortest and vaguest we’ve ever done.

Now that we’re just two weeks from Thanksgiving, let’s all be thankful for our ACL’s.

A Weekend in Brooklyn: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 8/26/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two/three/four days later) from Brooklyn/Brooklyn/Brooklyn! Boy oh boy, where to begin? The tables?


The ladders?

balorThe chairs?

stewart cena

Oh … oh my.

sting reveal

I’m starting with Sting, because that reveal gave me a raging mark-on. There were rumors that Sting was in Brooklyn during the three day run of shows, but I assumed if he got involved at all it would be in the Undertaker-Brock match to set up the long sought-after Undertaker-Sting match at WrestleMania 32. The Brock-Taker segments came and went with no sign of him. Then, with mere moments remaining on Raw, it was revealed that Seth Rollins’ covered statue had been Sting all along. I’m glad to see him back for more against Trips and his ilk. I didn’t like how Sting handled losing at WrestleMania. He should be out for revenge.

Sting attacked Rollins and Triple H ran away almost immediately. Then Trips revealed after the show that Sting would face Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship next month at Night of Champions. There’s a swerve I didn’t see coming.

Does Sting have any chance of winning next month? How do you see this playing out?

Will: Monday was the first time in months that I watched Raw live. I don’t have cable and thus don’t have USA, and the weekly shows are among the rare few not broadcast live on the WWE Network. The events of SummerSlam apparently got my juices flowing enough to find a (completely legal) means of watching Monday, and my god was it worth it.

I knew something was going to happen with Rollins’ statue unveiling, but Sting was definitely not what I had in mind. Interference from John Cena was the smart choice, but he was escorted out of the Barclays Center by security and, perhaps for the first time in wrestling history, the dismissed did not return to raise hell. Sting stood in place of the statue for a good long chunk of segment, enough for him to sweat through some of his face paint before attacking Rollins.

As to what they’re going to do with this, I’m glad to say that I have no idea. Rollins has two titles for the moment, and one would think that he’s going to lose at least one of them before long. I came across one theory that had Sting winning the title from Rollins, Undertaker taking it from Sting, and then having the belt on the line for the Brock-Taker rubber match. I don’t love the idea of putting the strap on a 50-plus-year-old, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t watch every moment.

Derek: Let’s move on to some of the weird booking in the two biggest matches at SummerSlam. First, Cena lost the US title to Rollins after interference from Jon Stewart. Stewart haters the world over celebrated as they learned that Stewart hates sick children. Stewart explained his actions on Raw, saying he didn’t want Cena to tie Ric Flair’s record for most world championships. Cena said he understood, and proved it by … well, giving Stewart an Attitude Adjustment.

cena stewart aa

I suppose it would have made sense had Cena’s opponent not been Seth Rollins. Stewart got into his WWE run because of a feud with Rollins. Yet, Rollins was the biggest beneficiary of Stewart’s actions. On Monday night, Stewart admitted he “didn’t think it through.” Oh, okay then.

Then there’s the ending of the Brock-Taker match, which could charitably be referred to as “confusing” and “unsatisfying.” So let’s walk through what went down. Brock had Taker in a kimura lock, and Taker supposedly submitted, but the referee didn’t see it.

taker submission

Then, for some reason, the timekeeper decided to ring the bell. Like pretty much any sport, the timekeeper isn’t supposed to do anything unless the referee tells him to. But we had a rebel timekeeper on Sunday, and he didn’t need no high and mighty referee telling him what to do. So the referee took some time to yell at the timekeeper, during which Undertaker took some time to hit Brock in the nuts again. Perhaps it’s time for Brock to buy a cup.

undertaker low blow

The referee restarted the match, and Undertaker capitalized on Lesnar’s swollen grapefruits and put Brock in Hell’s Gate. The match was stopped once Lesnar passed out, but not before he gave Taker a quick farewell.

hells gate

It just seemed like the whole thing turned into a bit of a farce. Taker didn’t show up on Raw, so the feud is on hold for now. There will undoubtedly be a rubber match at some point, but no one can say when that will be. Until then, we’ll just have to get by with fond memories.

The smarky Brooklyn crowd poo-pooed the screwy endings — and rightly so in my eyes. The fact that the matches didn’t end clean was fine, especially with Brock-Taker III penciled in for WrestleMania, but the execution was wanting. The same timekeeper who sat idly as Stewart gave Cena a chair to the ribs suddenly had eagle eyes on Taker’s meek tap-out? I know we’re in kayfabe here, but how about some kaysistency? It was just a bummer, especially after the slobberknocker main event.

I was slightly more on board with the Stewart angle, though his sudden dedication to preserving Ric Flair’s legacy was out of left field, as was ending such a big match with such a part-time player. We wondered last week how much of Stewart we’d be seeing in WWE, and this suggests that he could be around at least a little longer. (And kudos to him for taking an AA.)

Derek: There’s so much more to get to, and so little time. Let’s break the rest of the action down in quick hits.

The Dudley Boyz

Derek: Hey, they’re back! I had given up hope. Bubba Ray made an appearance back at the Royal Rumble, but that was seven months ago. Seeing Bubba and D-Von pulling tables out from under the ring gave me yet another raging mark-on. I don’t know that we’ll get the classic Dudleys due to their age and the PG era, but I’d much rather watch them feud with New Day than Los Matadores.

Will: They set their sights on New Day right away, and those squads could make some beautiful music together. The Dudleys return is not a ringing endorsement of the Prime Time Players, and I wonder how much of Titus and Darren we’re going to be seeing over the next couple months. The dreamer in me would like to see multiple feuds going in the tag division, but WWE has been steadfast in maximizing its teams per match ratio. In the meantime, sign me up for a good table spot every week.

Stephen Amell

Derek: It was no surprise that his team won. But he was actually pretty good! Sure, his move set pretty much consisted of a hip toss, an enziguri, and absorbing an ass whippin’, but getting your ass convincingly kicked is a skill in this line of work. He did it well.

amell match

I’ve also got to say that, as someone who used to watch Arrow, I was a little surprised that he didn’t look nearly as jacked as he looks on the show. What is CW doing to him?!

Will: The wonders of television! I LOVE IT MAGGLE. But seriously, well done by Amell. His initial springboard entrance into the ring was strong, his dive off the top rope to the outside was legit, and he ate up a good bit of time to set up the hot tag to Neville. Come back anytime, Steve. 

That New Guy in The Wyatt Family

Derek: Who the hell was that guy?


Well, I’m glad I asked! His name is either Braun Strowman or Braun Stowman, depending on what website you read, and he’s only been in dark matches so far. He’s also a former strongman competitor and is from the great state of North Carolina. Do you think he’ll add anything interesting to the Wyatts’ feud with Ambrose and Reigns?

Will: Strowman/Stowman is well on his way to setting a record for most different name spellings. I’m in; the reunited Wyatts have been fun, but I want the family to grow into a larger, more bizarre stable that can better terrorize the WWE. Strowman didn’t show much in the ring beyond his bearhug/chokehold and some intense no-selling, but that might be all he needs to run through some jobbers and inspire an appropriate amount of fear.

And my god, is he one ugly son of a bitch.


Derek: This might be heresy but, when taking the entire show into account, I didn’t love it. The final two matches (Bayley vs. Sasha Banks for the Women’s Championship, Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor for the NXT Championship) were awesome, but I was mostly uninterested in the other matches. Balor retained and Owens pinned Cesaro the next night at SummerSlam, so we may have seen the last of Owens on NXT.

Similarly, Banks lost her belt, so she may be moving up to the big leagues as well. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing, but we’ll cover that next.

Will: There was so much damn wrasslin’ over the course of 72 hours that I’m struggling to remember it all, and much of the NXT show falls into that category. The main events were terrific. I enjoyed bits and pieces of the leadup. This was my first real glimpse of Samoa Joe in action (against Baron Corbin). Apollo Crews’ debut was solid despite his awful name. The Vaudevillains were fun, though I absolutely cannot imagine them taking that gimmick to the main show.

Also, I will need a lengthy explanation before I can support someone who simply goes by the name “Blue Pants.”


Derek: It really doesn’t matter if you take the awesome women out of NXT, throw them on Raw and crow about the Divas Revolution every week when they get thrown in crappy storylines. Those three shows highlighted exactly why the NXT women are popular and the WWE Divas draw the ire of the crowd, like they did on Monday night.

Take the NXT match between Banks and Bayley. It was an incredible, one-on-one grudge match for the championship. And even though Banks lost, they were both elevated because it was a great match.

bayley banks

Compare that with the SummerSlam match. Nine Divas competed. None of them really had a chance to shine. The title wasn’t on the line. The most heated contest was the race for the dumbest team name. In a month’s time they couldn’t make any aspect of it interesting. It was like their only plan to sell the match was to have Stephanie McMahon say “Divas Revolution” so many times that people would believe it was true regardless of whether it was actually happening.

I feel really bad for the Divas. Especially the NXT call-ups who are there to wrestle, not be reality TV stars. But it doesn’t matter how good the talent is if the booking is bad. Sasha Banks had arguably the best match of the weekend on Saturday night. She had one of the most forgettable on Sunday night. I don’t think she forgot how to wrestle in 24 hours.

I guess the best way to sum it up: at NXT Takeover, two women got an 18-minute match with a title on the line. Meanwhile, at SummerSlam, nine Divas got a 15-minute match for no championships while Stephanie McMahon and the announcers repeatedly yelled “Divas Revolution!!!!” into a megaphone.

Will: Perhaps the worst part of the weekend was seeing the NXT and WWE matches juxtaposed against each other. Sasha and Bayley had one of the finest matches of the weekend, and not 48 hours later on Raw fans were doing the wave and generally defecating all over yet another bloated tag match. 

I get that WWE is going for with the team approach, but the best wrestling storylines come in 1-on-1 feuds. We have seen some singles matches over the past few weeks, but none have truly contributed to the narrative nor moved it forward. We need a better sense of these women as individuals in order to embrace them as a collective. Sasha Banks is a real character, and what do you know, hers was the name being chanted Monday night when she wasn’t even in the ring.

There will come a time when the alliances fracture and new rivalries emerge, and I’m hopeful that that will coincide with more worthwhile stakes for all parties involved. It isn’t hard to get excited about, say, Charlotte turning on Paige. The so-called revolution is trumpeted night after night, but that doesn’t make it mean anything. Don’t tell us that these women want to dethrone the Bellas and change the game. Show us why. Better yet, let them show us. They were doing just fine in NXT.

End of the Road to SummerSlam: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 8/19/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Minneapolis! SummerSlam is this weekend and, in the words of Triple H, Monday kicked off the road to SummerSlam! Better late than never, I suppose.

The Authority also touted this SummerSlam as the “GREATEST SUMMERSLAM EVER!!!” as tradition dictates. I wonder if there are people out there who hear this kind of stuff and are really affected. I just want one friend to sign up for the WWE Network because he heard Triple H and Stephanie McMahon say this would be the greatest SummerSlam of all time.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

So let’s start with Raw. For the first time in weeks, Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker were in the ring together. ‘Taker even positioned himself as a heel with another low blow on Lesnar. I was a bit surprised by that. I’m in the camp that thinks this match exists to get ‘Taker a win in response to Lesnar breaking The Streak last year. A common rule of thumb is the guy who looks best on the Raw before a PPV is destined to go down, so I expected Lesnar to hand out the beatings on Monday. But hey, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IN WWE.

brock taker

Will: I guess once you reach a certain age or serve a certain number of years you can just kick dudes in the balls. It’s a weird look for someone who is otherwise perhaps the most feared and respected wrassler in the biz, but given Undertaker’s age it’s at least kayfabe reasonable.

It was weird and enjoyable seeing Brock and ‘Taker so cleanly aligned as face and heel in Minneapolis. Lesnar got a proper hero’s welcome, with signs aplenty and even a LESNAR #69 Vikings jersey in the crowd. I can’t imagine Brock winning, at least not cleanly. Undertaker going out at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas has been penciled in since they first built Jerryworld, and one would think that he’d need a win to stay headline-capable. At the same time, I could see Brock winning such that these events play out all over again.

Derek: John Cena returned for the first time since Rollins rearranged his face. He even dressed in Miami Hurricanes attire for some reason!

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Cena gave some typical Cena insults as he promised to put Rollins down and join Ric Flair in the club of 16-time world champions. What he didn’t mention, though, was the fact that Jon Stewart would be hosting SummerSlam in his first post-Daily Show gig. Wrestling devotees will probably recall that time Jon Stewart kicked Seth Rollins in the balls. Could he come back for another round of ball-kicking? Stewart’s last appearance was before WrestleMania, and perhaps “Kick the WWE Champion in the balls” is on his bucket list.

We kicked around the possibility of Stewart joining WWE on a semi-regular basis back in March. Now that he’s gone from The Daily Show, could we be seeing more of him?

Will: It seems like Stewart is a real, true wrestling fan. He and Rollins had a solid little feud there, culminating with Stewart’s appearance on Raw, and he wouldn’t sign up for four hours of work unless he enjoyed it at least a little bit. Will we see more of him, though? I doubt it. Not to besmirch the good name of WWE, but it feels a little beneath Stewart to be a regular gig, no? He’s done the freaking White House Correspondents dinner and interviewed most of the relevant parties in American politics. One would think he has slightly loftier ambitions.

If not, though, I’m all for it. Wrestling is on a nice PR run lately (despite, you know, all the deaths) between Stewart’s hosting SummerSlam, ESPN covering SummerSlam, and David Shoemaker’s being interviewed on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. Stewart’s a pro. Bring it on.

Derek: Let’s run through the rest of the FOUR HOUR SummerSlam card and make some expert picks! Starting with …

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev

Derek: Ziggler came back! How nice. I thought there would be a mixed tag element to this since Summer Rae and Lana have been catfighting on an almost weekly basis. But we’ve never seen Lana in the ring, so maybe she’s just not ready.

I’m picking Rusev in this one. He got smacked around by Cena for months and then got injured, so he needs to get some mojo back.

Will: I get very, very uncomfortable any time there’s a Lana-Summer Rae segment. It’s really weird to see juxtaposed against our next match and the generally respectable work being done in the women’s division. Luckily, they’re only the managers in this one. I’ve never fancied myself much of a Dolph fan, but I was pumped to see him come back this week, and Rusev sold a hell of a tornado DDT. I don’t care who wins; I just want more of that. 

Team Bella vs. Team BAD (ugh) vs. PCB

Derek: WWE has somehow made me less excited for this match than I was a month ago. The esteemed team members met each other in a bunch of different variations in the last month, so it almost feels like this match has already happened. Add in the horrible names and brutal guest commentary from these teams and it almost seems like they’re all heels. PCB are still the fan favorites, but they haven’t done themselves any favors in my eyes.

I think the Bellas will come out on top. I only say that because I’m hoping Nikki loses the belt before she break’s AJ Lee’s record for longest reign as Divas Champion. This could be their last hurrah before Nikki drops the belt to … well, just about anyone. Paige? Charlotte? Sasha Banks? Take your pick.

Will: The buildup to this match has been worse than it has any right to be. Moments have been very good — I was glad to see Becky Lynch get a singles win, in part because I fucking love her entrance — but the overall story has been ham-fisted. The woeful team names have been more indicative of that than anything. 

I see the Bellas losing this one, with that setting the stage for whatever Nikki’s next title defense turns out to be. Look for Charlotte or Sasha to end it.

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett

Derek: Barrett and Stardust are referring themselves as both “The Lords of Darkness” and “The Cosmic Kings.” Okay, then!

barrett stardust

Surely Amell’s side will come out on top here. The team with a celebrity guest star is usually a safe bet.

Will: …I kinda liked Barrett with Stardust! Get him away from that king schtick and let’s see what happens. More than anything, I’m curious to see how Amell handles himself in the ring. Go Arrow go.

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

Derek: Much has been made of Kevin Owens’ weight over the last few weeks. There was even a “Fat, Owens, Fat” sign held up next to Owens as he entered Monday night. Did he gain weight? I hadn’t noticed. He was never exactly a skinny guy.

This is a tough one to call. Both of these guys are in line for a rumored push, and Owens has a rematch with Finn Balor for the NXT Championship the night before SummerSlam. It’s impossible to say if that will affect the outcome of the match. I would probably mention it if I were running things, but it sure didn’t seem to be a big deal when he was feuding with Cena and lost the belt in Japan.

I’m going with Cesaro. I think Vince is finally going to embrace the Cesaro Section. Though I won’t be surprised if Owens wins or it ends in shenanigans.

Will: This one could easily wind up being the match of the night. I don’t know or care who’s gonna win. Cesaro has been absolutely brilliant lately, and I trust Owens to play up to the level of competition. Even as both have pulled off some neat moves over the past couple weeks, I feel like we’re in for a rare treat or two.

(Now that you mention it, Owens’ paunch has looked a little paunchier lately.)

Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

Derek: This could be fun. It’s just two people short of the excellent Shield vs. Wyatt Family feud. Ambrose has been the highlight of this program, as he often is. He’s one of the few guys on the roster who is legitimately funny. I hope he gets back in the title picture in the next year.

ambrose chair

This is another tough one to call, because most of these guys have gotten the short end of the stick lately. Wyatt lost to Undertaker at WrestleMania, got injured, and had a very forgettable feud with Ryback. Reigns got pinned by Rollins at ‘Mania, lost the Money in the Bank match and went on a bit of a losing streak. Ambrose and Harper weren’t even on the card at Battleground.

I’m going with Reigns and Ambrose. Wyatt beat Reigns at Battleground, so I think Reigns returns the favor.

Will: Agreed. That said, I really, actively watching Reigns work. He doesn’t look natural. Nothing looks smooth. He pulls off some nice moves, but he doesn’t look like he was born in the ring the way some guys do. I still don’t like him on the mic, I still don’t like his moves, and I understand why some folks still don’t like him. Ambrose has been carrying plenty.

I wonder if this match will propel the winning side up the ladder a bit. We’ve seen all parties involved, except perhaps Harper, play on the main event level. I’d like to see a Wyatt Family victory and re-ascension, with Bray picking up more followers along the way.

(Now is about the time that I realize this PPV is going to be entirely too long. I think all of the matches will be entertaining and everything, but my god.)

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

Derek: How about Sheamus yelling “Respect the ‘hawk!” when the crowd told him he looked stupid? That was excellent. Sheamus might be interesting in a few weeks.

I’m picking Sheamus, also because Orton won at Battleground. They have to make Sheamus look good at some point.

Will: I’m worried about how much I’ve enjoyed Sheamus lately. He played the mohawk bit perfectly, especially when he tended to it after landing a big shot or two. I wonder if he can work this sort of magic for the beard braids too. Go get ’em, fella. 

The Prime Time Players (c) vs. The New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores for the Tag Team Championship

Derek: This is pretty much Prime Time Players vs. New Day with some high-flyers involved. But you gotta have guys like Los Matadores on speed dial when you’re planning a four hour show.

I think the only reason New Day lost their tag team belts is so they could have a big SummerSlam moment. They’ll get them back Sunday.

Will: I thought the tag match on Raw was oddly short, and I think that’s a commentary on the relative randomness of this match. New Day and the PTPers have done some nice work together, yet the other two teams have been thrown into the fray. Were we ever given an explanation for that? I’m thinking too hard again.

Ryback (c) vs. The Miz vs. The Big Show for the Intercontinental Championship

Derek: When was the last time Miz won a match? When he beat Mizdow? It seems like every episode he ends up unconscious, either at the hands of good guy Ryback or once bad then good now maybe bad again Big Show.

baron bad beaver

I’m thinking Ryback steals the show here. Then maybe they can get him in a decent feud. That hasn’t happened since he was being recruited by Team Cena and Team Authority before Survivor Series last year.

Will: I like Ryback to retain, and Miz to engage in some beautiful chickenshit work. As for Ryback’s next feud, I’d love to see Xavier Woods get in there, if only to get New Day some more shine and to see Woods talk circles around an increasingly confused Ryback.

John Cena (US) vs. Seth Rollins (WWEWHC) for both the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and the United States Championship

Derek: If I were running the show, Rollins would hold on to the belt a bit longer. He’d get the U.S. Championship and get the statue he wants and continue to draw nuclear heat. Maybe he’d even hold on to the belt until WrestleMania, when the inevitable Rollins vs. Reigns vs. Ambrose match could happen. But I’m not running the show, so …

cena wins

Will: My favorite throwaway note from this week’s Raw: Cena holding up his Never Give Up towel to the camera and saying, with great conviction: “Always.” Always never give up, kids. Always. Never. Give. Up.

I should know better, but I can’t see Cena winning this. He doesn’t need it! At all! Not even a little bit! He barely needs a storyline to be relevant; he is a storyline unto himself. Rollins has only gotten better, especially as an actor (and as a reactor; watch his face during the Cena promo), and he’s earned the chance to keep the strap.

Or, and I shudder to say this, could we see a Sheamus cash in? RESPECT THE ‘HAWK.

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker

Derek: The match probably won’t be the best of the evening, but it still might be the most exciting. No one has a read on who’s going to win. Undertaker’s heel tactics add an unexpected dynamic. Something tells me the winner won’t win clean.

As I said before, I’m going with ‘Taker. I think he’s getting his return win for WrestleMania XXX.

Will: I hope ‘Taker is healthy. I hope no one gets hurt. I hope the entrances are cool. I hope the crowd is up for it. I hope it’s well booked. I hope ‘Taker can walk the ropes. I hope Brock can give out some good suplexes. I just hope it’s a good match.

I hope Undertaker Wins, and I hope they run it back at ‘Mania 32.

A Gentleman’s Guide to WrestleMania 31

mania logo

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

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.

venom spidey carnage

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.

Eric 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.

The Finish

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

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.

The Finish

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: The Undertaker is Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper and Tom Brady among GQ's Men of the Year

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

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.

The Finish

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

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.

Mean Girls

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.

The Finish

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

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.

Gary Busey

Dolph Ziggler is The Professor from the And1 Mixtape Tour: a beloved show-off who has to overcome his relatively slight physique.

The Professor

R-Truth is Ezal from Friday: Scheming, strutting comic relief.

Ezal from Friday

Stardust is, well, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust: Costumed, weird, talented, and wildly intriguing.

David Bowie

The Finish

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Sting is Nolan Ryan.

ryan fight

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. 

Liam Neeson


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.

The Finish

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.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Roman Reigns is a Segway.

segwayRemember 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.

Mike Tyson

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.

The Finish

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.

Marred by a Tug of Bore: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 3/25/15

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Los Angeles! This is how Raw ended:

they quit trying

Yes, with their last chance to drum up even the tiniest bit of excitement for Wrestlemania’s main event, WWE elected to close the show with Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns having a tug-of-war for the WWEWHC Belt.

And really, Raw wasn’t that bad. I enjoyed the opening. The Divas got a decent match. Bray Wyatt managed to be entertaining despite my “Undertaker or GTFO” remarks last week. Axelmania ran wild.


Derek: But my lasting memory of Raw is openly laughing at this Sunday’s main eventers. I can’t remember the last time that happened. I’ve been disinterested plenty of times, and I’ve been occasionally embarrassed, but I can’t remember bathing in unintentional comedy like that. I think I’m more interested in the main event crowd than the main event match.

How excited are you for Wrestlemania? Is the main event the least interesting match on the card? Is it even close?

Will: It’s a real bummer they ended the strongest Raw in weeks on such a down note. I had the same reaction to the WWE credits rolling that I did to the screen cutting to black in the finale of The Sopranos: That’s it?!

I can’t even pretend to defend this one. WWE had one last (non-Smackdown) chance to build up the Reigns-Lesnar feud, and they have The Man Who Would Be Babyface grab the belt out from Brock like a child. No part of it made sense.

Why would Reigns—who comes from as prestigious a wrestling family as there is short of the Harts; who presumably has respect for the title and the work it takes to get it; who has cried up and down about how he will win the title—pull a move out of the current Intercontinental Title picture? I don’t know if snatching the belt before you’ve won it is as sacrilege in wrestling as touching the Stanley Cup is in the NHL, but it seemed like a really weird move.

And didn’t it seem out of character for Brock to just stand there? Heyman has told us that the belt is Brock’s until he decides it isn’t, whether he leaves WWE or not. It is his prized possession, his talisman, the object signifying his dominance. He’s just going to let a dude take it right out of his hand without putting up a fight?

So yes, that blew, and Reigns-Lesnar will rightly be graded on a harsh curve. The good news is that most every other segment got me pumped for Mania.

Let’s start with Rusev and John Cena. Rusev beat Jack Swagger in a surprisingly competitive match on Raw, and held in the Accolade on a passed-out Swags until Cena came out to confront the sort of Russian. A donnybrook ensued, with Rusev claiming the upper hand after sending Cena back-first into the barricade. Rusev beat Cena down with delightful menace, and finished the segment with an Accolade atop the announce table, a clever change from the slams through it that we’re accustomed to.

I’m more than a little insulted by Cena’s wrapping himself so tightly in the flag lately, but I’m all in on this bout. We were down on Rusev for a good long while. What do you think of this match now?

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Derek: I’m used to it! Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know, but this feud was actually done in a fairly entertaining way. Rusev has finally made me care about seeing him get his face mashed in, and Cena is excellent as our All-American representative. One of the reasons Rusev bored me so much was because he was beating up on mid-carders and everyone was talking about how unstoppable he was. And, well, I didn’t think he looked particularly unstoppable because he could beat R-Truth, Xavier Woods, Big E, and Jack Swagger. Ever since Rusev finally got a top face to feud with, he’s been much more interesting.

I’ll be shocked if Rusev wins, though. It’ll be such a beating the crowd won’t know if they’re watching a wrestling match or a 49ers game.

Michael Cole: Oh! A shot at the 49ers! Vintage Derek!

Will: Let us move on to the crowded Intercontinental Title belt picture, which will be decided in a seven-man ladder match featuring Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Zigger, Luke Harper, Stardust, R-Truth, and champion Bad News Barrett. 

The more I think about this match, the more excited I am for it. The Bryan-Ziggler match on Raw wasn’t as great as one might think, but the ladder match will be dripping with talent with those two and everyone else in the fold. I loved R-Truth’s ring work Monday, Harper is quietly one of the best on the roster, and the rest of the guys are all at least solid. With this many capable wrestlers, in a ladder match, at Wrestlemania, I have to think we’re in for a great show.

Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Kane pulling rank to take BNB’s belt for safe keeping until the match, if only for Barrett quietly saying, “It’s my bloody title” before the camera cut away. Sad Brits are always funny.

Anywho; you in on this thing? Is seven guys too many? Should we ask why and how they settled on seven instead of an even number? Will the ladder fall on anyone’s leg like it did Harper’s Monday?

Derek: Oh, I’m all-in. I’m most excited for Sting-HHH, but this is a close second. It’s tough to screw up a ladder match. Considering four of my favorites are involved, I’m psyched. Bryan’s probably got it locked up, but Ambrose, Ziggler, and Harper will do something insane. Stardust has been known to take some chances as well.

I’d be fine with seven, but I think Sheamus is going to be a surprise entrant. His vignettes went on for weeks, and he still hasn’t shown up. That leaves three options: 1) He’s in this match. 2) He’s in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. 3) He’s not showing up.

I think the first is the most likely because of the aforementioned odd number. I think the battle royal is going to belong to Ryback or Mizdow, and I’m not sure why they would show the vignettes if he’s not going to be at Mania. Also, I don’t know why they would give him vignettes if he’s just going to be one of 30 men in a battle royal. I think he’ll give us our eighth man.

Will: Brief aside: You know who had an awesome time on Raw? Snoop. He was superb, and it was great to see the Hulkster on the show while not aggressively pimping anything. I love that we live in a world in which Snoop Dogg and Hulk Hogan are bizarro peers.

Derek: Axelmania, brother! That segment was surprisingly entertaining. They even got a drug reference in! I didn’t think those were allowed anymore. He should manage New Day.

Will: The match I’m most excited for is also the one I’m most worried about: Bray Wyatt-Undertaker. The buildup has been superb. I rarely know what Bray is actually talking about in his promos, but they feel very large and important and mysterious, and they’ve grown more intense as he and Taker have come closer to clashing. I’ve been okay with the Dead Man not showing up in the flesh, if only because he’s one of the few legendary characters who can pull it off.

The concern is how these guys will actually do in the ring. We haven’t seen Taker in ages and have no idea what kind of shape he’s in. Bray is a fine wrestler, but not the sort of guy who can carry a match on his own. Neither is especially quick or graceful in the ring, but I suppose that’s the idea.

Whether their entrances are the best part or not, you will not be able to tear me away from this match no matter what. If you’ve been waiting for the chance to kidnap my whole family, Bray-Taker is the time to do it.

Do you reckon these guys can actually perform together for 15-plus minutes?

Derek: I’m not out on Taker just yet. He didn’t look great last year, but he was concussed. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s probably got two more matches in him, so I think he’ll go all out. Like many others, I’m really excited for the entrances–

Michael Cole: He calls them his fireflies!

JBL: The movement is spreading, Maggle!

Derek: Ahem. So we at least have those to look forward to. I think this match will mostly come down to theatrics. Maybe it won’t be the best match in the world, but what if Bray takes a Tombstone and totally no-sells it? What if, right before Undertaker crosses his arms, Bray does the Undertaker sit up? Then he does his creepy spider walk, as Taker gets the same look on his face that he had when Kane debuted? That would be incredible regardless of how the rest of the match turned out.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Will: We oughta talk Triple H-Sting. Sting, in an immediate declaration of this won’t be another crap Raw, opened the show with an in-ring promo. He was interrupted by Stephanie, the two bantered back and forth, and Steph took a swing at Sting. He grabbed her hand, at which point a displeased Trips came out to defend his wife’s honor.

Nothing really came of it, however, as a sledgehammer-wielding Triple H decided against climbing into the ring with Sting and his bat. It would have been a thrill to see them come to blows, but ramping up the tension with a little you put your hands on my wife?! works as far as a feud-builder.

We did, however, get this immediately legendary GIF:

Reservations about the premise of the feud aside (…has Sting been plotting his revenge for the past 15 years?), this is about as big a clash of yesteryear’s titans as you can get without the Rock involved. What do you hope to see out of these two?

Derek: Props to Sting for shooting down the WCW stuff. He’s done a great job of redeeming himself after that abominable taped promo they ran for him a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t think it will be difficult for this match to please me. These guys have so many trademarks and they wrestle so rarely that I think this will be dripping with nostalgia. The bat and sledgehammer should make an appearance. We’ll see some Pedigrees mixed in with an assortment of Scorpion Death Drops, Stinger Splashes, and Scorpion Deathlocks. I don’t ask for much.

Will: I can’t muster up much to say about Rollins-Orton. I think it will be a fine match. I don’t really care who wins. I’m not sure why. I suppose it’s because I wasn’t watching wrestling closely when they had their initial tiff before Orton’s injury. 

You’re more privy to their collective backstory than me. Does that mean you’re also more excited for their match?

Derek: Not particularly. I’m excited for the match, but not because of the story. It’s nice to see a Bad Guy vs. Really Bad Guy match on the card, but the most interesting part of this feud is Rollins’ briefcase, and he obviously can’t cash it in on Orton. Maybe I’d be more interested if they didn’t spend so much time on the facade that was Orton rejoining The Authority. It’s tough to say. Either way, Rollins has me excited for this one. He’s had some killer matches in the last year. Add some outta nowhere RKO’s and I won’t be surprised if this is the best match of the night.

Will: Hey, the Divas were given a chance Monday! Nikki and Paige had a lengthy, well-done bout that the champ won after AJ Lee mistakenly clocked her Wrestlemania teammate outside the ring. That incidental interference was apparently meant to foster discord between AJ and Paige ahead of their tag match with the Bellas at Mania. I wasn’t wild about that angle, but it was the best Divas match in recent memory, and I was just happy to see them treated with a little respect.

Derek: Looks like AJ has enough to worry about as it is.

I thought the discord was a bit strange as well. It would be more interesting if this turned out to be the Fatal Four Way match that I have been clamoring for. They were already reluctant allies, so I was surprised they went that way with it.

Will: No matter how much they try to make it matter, I’m out on the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Maybe it will turn out well, and it will likely be Miz/Mizdow-centric, but meh. I’m out! You out?

Derek: Yeah, mostly. It would be better if it were Royal Rumble style instead of everyone starting in the ring at once. That would take forever, but it would be more entertaining. Like I said, it’s probably Miz/Mizdow or Ryback’s match unless Sheamus appears.

Well, that concludes the final Wrasslin’ Wednesday before Wrestlemania. I can think of only one way to end it:

they quit trying 2

Riled Randy, Baying Bray, and John Senile: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 3/11/15

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Pittsburgh! You know how The Walking Dead has those lulls when the characters spend 80-90% of the episode doing nothing before something happens at the very end to make you want to watch next week? That was wrasslin’ this week. A bummer, as I hoped we wouldn’t have to deal with episodes like this in the lead-up to Wrestlemania. In fact, the part of the evening that got the most of my attention was consistently rewinding to see if this sign actually said what I thought it said:

benoit is innocent2

So to sum up Raw: The Undertaker made lightning strike Bray Wyatt’s rocking chair and Randy Orton couldn’t believe Seth Rollins really thought they were cool. The rest of the show featured the entire roster wondering aloud if being in a world like this really counts as living.

Did I miss anything?

Will: Huh? What? Um. Oh right, wrestling. Sorry, I’ve been in a Raw-induced coma since Monday night.

Yes, it was an absolute snoozer for about two and a half hours. There was more tomfoolery with the ongoing Intercontinental Championship belt heist, Erick Rowan and Ryback squared off against Big Show and Kane to set up the latter getting a firm talking to from Stephanie, Wiz Khalifa performed, the New Day made an appearance, the Bellas cut a Flintstones-themed promo…it was rough.

There were some bright spots, however, and it’s actually nice to be able to gloss over all the crap while maintaining a clean conscience.

Let’s start at the end of the show, when we were treated to a Randy Orton tour de force. The top of Raw featured some aggressive banter between Rollins and Orton that stiffened the hairs on J&J Security’s necks, which culminated in the Viper threatening to make Rollins his bitch. Then Orton basically said j/k, bro we’re cool and reconfirmed his allegiance to the Authority before he and Rollins faced Roman Reigns in a handicap match in the evening’s main event.

Reigns won the match on the strength of Orton’s disinterest in joining the proceedings. After some back-and-forth action between Rollins and Reigns, Seth went to tag in his good buddy Randy. Alas, Seth had been duped: Orton withdrew his hand and backed away, leaving a lonesome Rollins to be speared and pinned by Reigns. The match wasn’t designed to build up Reigns as much as recent ones have been, though it is another feather in the Samoan’s cap ahead of his match with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania.

The real highlight came after the match, as Orton beat the living hell out of Rollins, coming through on his allegedly joking threat to make him his bitch. He beat him in, out, across, and around the ring, revenge for a curb stomp he received before going on his kayfabe injury hiatus. Orton growled rhetorical questions in Rollins’ face as he pummeled him, like You thought I would just let it slide?, Are you crazy? and simply, How stupid are you?

It was a savage beating, complete with chair shots, whips into the stairs, and an RKO through the announce table. Orton stalked Rollins like a lion, and even invoked Stone Cold Steve Austin by flipping a pair of birds. It was terribly satisfying to watch, which is a credit to how great Rollins’ heel work has been. He sold Orton’s savagery well, and it was a thrill to see the arrogant company man get his comeuppance.

Perhaps best of all, the commentators didn’t talk over it. There was no JBL shoehorning in bad jokes or Booker T burping up gravel. They just let it breathe and—what do you know?—it worked really well.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

I would marry that closing segment if I could. What was your takeaway?

Derek: I liked it. I just think it went a tad bit too long. The beating lasted over eight minutes, and at some point during that time I lost interest. At some point later, I even started feeling sorry for ol’ Seth. While most would agree that Rollins is the heeliest heel in WWE, I have my limits when it comes to watching him (or anyone else) take a merciless beating. When they were out in the crowd, Rollins was audibly begging Orton to “please stop” and I kind of agreed with him after minute six or seven.

It reminded me of last year’s Royal Rumble when Brock Lesnar teed off on Big Show with a chair for just a few minutes longer than necessary. The crucial difference: Lesnar was the bad guy in that feud. Orton was the first guy to make me feel bad for Rollins, and that was a strange feeling.

But really, anything that gets the announcers to shut up gets my support. The commentary surrounding the IC Belt was my own personal hell. The normal commentary is bad enough. Michael Cole acts like an android with a virus. JBL never met a non-wrestling reference or a “MAGGLE” that he thought was out of place. And Booker T … well, several years ago my vocal cords were partially paralyzed for three months and Booker T gives me unpleasant flashbacks.

Then WWE noticed a distinct lack of “izzle” at the end of each word and threw R-Truth into the mix, proving that things can always get worse. I turned my brain off at this point, and didn’t realize that the commentators didn’t call a single move during the segment. Well, it always gets worse before it gets better, right?



Now I’m sad. Let’s move on.

Will: It looked for a moment like we might see the Undertaker finally answer Bray Wyatt’s challenge, and indeed we did. The Dead Man didn’t appear in the flesh, but he accepted a match at Wrestlemania via Titantron, not unlike Sting did to Triple H a couple weeks ago.

While Taker didn’t show up, the theatrics surrounding the bit were neat. Bray came out and beckoned the Phenom to answer him. An urn that Bray brought to the ring began to bellow smoke, the lights cut, and the telltale gongs sounded. An Undertaker voiceover said that Wyatt would “rest in peace,” and a bolt of lightning set Wyatt’s rocking chair ablaze. Bray played all of this wonderfully, alternating between amused and horrified, ultimately welcoming Taker’s mind games with a haunting laugh.

I’m a bit skeptical of Bray and Taker in the ring, but I’m all in on the setup. Bray’s promos are terrific even when—especially when?—they’re nonsensical. His character is reminiscent of Bane, with allusions to anarchy and razing a crumbling society, and the Joker, inviting and embracing chaos. I thought we were past the glory days of the supernatural in wrestling, and it’s been nice to see a resurgence.

Where do you stand on the battle to be the most fearsome superstar in WWE?

Derek: I’d enjoy it more if The Undertaker would actually show up. I wasn’t a huge fan of yet another Titantron message. Maybe WWE doesn’t want to shell out the money for Taker to show up, as I’m sure he’s not going to be cutting long promos and he certainly wouldn’t be wrestling. I’d just like to hear him respond in some way.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Taker may not be as silent as Sting, but he doesn’t say much. That’s cool. But the feud loses some of its luster when his only response to weeks of challenges and insults from Wyatt is “you will rest in peace.” This is wrestling, and we all know this will culminate in a physical battle. But, the physical battle is not why most people would take an interest in Wyatt-Undertaker. Wyatt says he’s the new face of fear, and Taker’s response to all of this is a brief, pre-recorded Titantron message and some “supernatural” special effects.

As you said, it’s tough to get excited about this match in the ring. These two have never worked together, and Taker only has one or two matches left in him. That doesn’t mean it can’t be great. As John Cena once said, the match between The Rock and Hollywood Hogan at Wrestlemania X8 isn’t nearly as good if you mute your TV. The buildup and atmosphere are what make people remember it positively. Bray is carrying all of the buildup, but Undertaker is the main draw. He needs to show up at some point.

Will: We’ve trod on this ground plenty, but when Paul Heyman cuts a promo, it has to be discussed. Once again he came out to proclaim that 1) Roman Reigns is a mighty foe, and 2) he stands exactly zero chance against the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar.

At first—and I feel like a fool saying so—I wasn’t interested. I thought it would be the same old dreck to make Reigns look strong. There was a bit of that, but when Heyman channeled his righteous indignation, I was all the way in. He declared that the belt no longer belonged to WWE, but that it was Brock’s until he didn’t want it anymore. He spelled out recent WWE history in such a way that put Lesnar at the center of all of it: it was Brock who sent The Rock running to Hollywood; it was Brock who destroyed Undertaker so badly that Bray Wyatt now has to revive him; it was Brock who proved John Cena’s never-give-up ethos wrong.

He’s so damn good. I want him to take control of the Cleveland Browns’ game day operations. Maybe the whole front office.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

We talk about him all the time, but what is it that makes Paul Heyman so perfect on the microphone?

Derek: He has incredible delivery, and he has no fear. I couldn’t believe he addressed Brock’s UFC rumors by saying Brock would unify the UFC and WWE titles if he felt like it.

But the most important thing is it always seems like he’s saying something different, even if he isn’t really. The thesis of every Heyman promo over the last year has been “Brock is awesome!” except for when he was doing the same thing for Cesaro. Either way, we know the gist of what he’s going to say when he comes out, and he still manages to make it seem fresh. I’d ask him how he does it, but it’s probably like asking a great author where his/her ideas come from. It just happens.

Will: The last event I can be bothered to discuss was the latest in the John Cena-Rusev feud. Rusev had previously refused to grant Cena a rematch for the United States Championship, and Cena spent the last week or two getting chopped down to size.

After Rusev squashed Curtis Axel (long live Axelmania!), Cena came out to confront him. The two had previously exchanged words backstage, with Cena defending our fair country’s honor and telling Rusev not to besmirch the American Dream. Rusev spouted some anti-American drivel after beating Axel, inspiring Cena’s entrance.

Cena immediately put Rusev in the STF, some tasty revenge for Cena’s passing out in the Accolade. Cena released Rusev briefly only to lock in the STF again, and he held it until the Bulgarian passed out. Then he poured water on Rusev to wake him up (…is that all it takes to resuscitate someone?), just so he could hit him with third STF.

At this point Lana could hardly watch, and she begged Cena from ringside to let Rusev go. She offered him a match. Cena did nothing. She offered him a match at Wrestlemania. Cena held fast. She finally offered him a title match at Wrestlemania, and Cena released the hold. We have long known that these two would meet at Mania, and now it is official.

I love this version of Cena. The content of his promos is a little stale, but he still delivers them well, and the crowd is eating up his patriotic indignation. There were snarkless Ce-na chants as he beat down Rusev. We may never see Cena as an actual heel, but he’s basically playing the part right now, even as he is cast as the American hero against the Russian enemy.

For all the crap Cena gets, he’s still a hell of a worker in and out of the ring. Are you in on this darker side of never giving up?

Derek: I loved it! We get a preview of Heel Cena! Look at this face:

He’s crossing over! He’s lived long enough to see himself become the villain! Rusev has forced Cena to break the rules to stop him!

We’ve kicked around the notion of Heel Cena more than once on this site, and Monday was the first time he looked kind of evil. His music didn’t play when he came out. He just waltzed out, sprinted to the ring, went out of his way to harm and humiliate Rusev, and punctuated it with the above sneer. It sure looked like he wasn’t going to stop beating down an unconscious Rusev until he got what he wanted. Previously, Cena might have shown some restraint, for the children or Hulkamaniacs or whatever. The Cena of Monday night did not look like a good dude. It was great.

Will: There was some other stuff that happened, including a Sting promo and some lame tag matches, but I don’t have the heart to spill ink over them. Do you?

Derek: Boy, that “Sting” promo was horrific, eh? Rough day at the office for everyone involved.

Let’s end on a bit of a somber note. Last night’s WWE Hall of Fame inductee was Connor “The Crusher” Michalek. Will gave an explanation of the induction here. WWE also posted his induction video to YouTube.

I had to get a bit of dust out of my eyes after that one. Loved when he told A.J. Lee to stop being crazy.

The reality of sick children sucks. Connor’s life lasted less than a third of my current age, and if I get obliterated by a soju truck tomorrow, people will say I died young. So while we love to please our friends, family, small audience and drunk Googlers with our wrestling snark and crackpot theories, we thought it would be tasteful to carve out a spot for Connor in this week’s edition of Wrasslin’ Wednesday. Hats off to WWE for putting him in the Hall.

Will: As much as we enjoy poking fun at WWE (and do we ever!) the company occasionally does something really, really well, and the entire segment devoted to Connor receiving the Warrior Award was such a case. It showcased the inexplicably huge role that wrestling can play in its fans’ lives, which is no less impactful than that of any “real” sport.

Connor’s story is as simple as it is sad. At four years old, Connor Michalek was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer. At seven, he and his family made a YouTube video requesting for him to meet Daniel Bryan, his favorite wrestler. WWE caught wind of it and made the meeting happen. Connor met Bryan and the rest of the roster, and got to pin Triple H in the middle of a real ring as every superstar cheered on from ringside.

Perhaps the most touching moment was immediately after Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania last year. There was Bryan, basking in the Yes! chants of 75,000 fans in the Superdome, holding up his belt in triumph during the greatest moment of his wrestling career. And then there was Bryan, stepping out of the ring and heading straight for Connor, who was sitting with his dad in the first row. The champ embraced the lad as the cheers reached their crescendo.

Connor passed away less than three weeks later.

WWE often appears out-of-touch or outright stupid. But every once and a while, they show an acute awareness of how important their product is to so many people. Honoring Connor Michalek like they did was an inspired, touching move. The segment ended perfectly, with Connor receiving the greatest endorsement that anyone can in the wrestling world: the entire arena standing and chanting his name.