Hey, folks! In case you missed it, Wrasslin’ Wednesday has a new home this week. Check it out over at Waiting For Next Year.
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.
We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Brooklyn! Well, sort of. It’s the last Wednesday of 2015, which means it’s time for the Monocleys! It’s the most Gentlemanly wrestling awards column on the internet. Without further ado …
Gentleman of the Year (WWE SUPERSTAR of the Year)
Derek: As indefensible as it may have been, I considered putting Paul Heyman here for a few minutes. But the clear winner is Seth Rollins. From his incredible match with John Cena and Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble, to his cash-in at WrestleMania, to his matches with Dean Ambrose at Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank, to his feuds with Lesnar and Sting … there was no one else who had as many big moments as he did. His ACL injury was a true wrestling tragedy. He can’t come back soon enough.
Will: I’ll make no argument against Rollins, but for the sake of variety I’ll take The New Day. They took a nonsense gimmick and turned it into gold. I have some lingering fears that they’ll start to grow stale after a while, but their collective mic work is still a draw unto itself. They are capable of being timely, topical, and funny in a way that WWE almost never is. Just this past week, Kofi threatened to fight your children. That’s the stuff Gentlemen of the Year are made of.
Cad of the Year (Worst WWE SUPERSTAR of the Year)
Derek: I’m cheating a bit and giving it to two people: Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension. I reacted to every single second of watching them with either laughter or disgust. I’ve enjoyed their disappearance so much that I haven’t thought about them in months, and the only thing that made me think of them was reflecting back on what made me roll my eyes the most.
Will: I was under the impression that those two were good in NXT, which I cannot begin to understand; they’re just awful. I too will pick a duo: The Usos. This is being a little harsh on them, but I don’t feel they’ve brought much to the table since returning. They were involved in the terrific Triple Threat match at TLC, and they pal around with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, all of which are functional wrestling things. I also have zero affinity for them whatsoever, and I’m not sure I would notice if they were to disappear again.
Lady of the Year (WWE DIVA of the Year)
Derek: This is a tough pick. AJ Lee left too early in the year to be considered, and my personal dislike for Nikki Bella’s work disqualifies her. This is something of a legacy pick, but I’m going with Paige. She’s managed to be a relevant Diva ever since her debut last year, which can’t be said for any of the other Divas. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte came into the fold too late to be considered. Paige stuck around at the top when others who got title shots, like Natalya, Cameron, and Alicia Fox, either disappeared or got relegated to sidekick roles. Paige wins by default.
Will: Paige all day. It took a while for her to regain her mojo/turn heel late this year, but she’s been as good as anyone since. I’m also just not sure who else it could be. I am also not a Bella supporter; Sasha hasn’t quite gotten there yet; and I fear that Charlotte is something of a charisma vacuum (although I have enjoyed her semi-heel work of late).
Shrew of the Year (Worst WWE DIVA of the Year)
Derek: I’m going with Naomi. I hate her music. I hate the Team BAD moniker. I hate that she’s the apparent leader of that group, even though Sasha Banks is better in every way. She doesn’t bring anything to the table in her current state. Nothing against her personally, but the only reason I’m ever happy to see her is because I might get to see Sasha do something.
Will: I gotta say, Naomi and Co. have grown on me a little. She’s hardly a draw on her own, and “Team BAD” is still just the worst, but they’ve been more fun since they’ve taken a page out of New Day’s book and taken part in some comedic bits. I also find it kinda funny that they wound up being the women’s team with the most staying power. The Bellas have been hamstrung by Nikki’s absence, while the former PCB fell apart due to infighting.
My pick is Alicia Fox. She might be alright on her own, but all I can judge her on is being a pseudo-Bella. Lame.
Quarrel of the Year (Match of the Year)
Derek: My criteria for this selection is simply the match I enjoyed watching most, and that’s Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins at Royal Rumble. Rollins had put himself on the map by turning on the Shield and winning the Money in the Bank contract several months before, but this was the match that made me think “this guy really is the future.” Brock Lesnar sold an injury really well. There was the added drama of Rollins possibly cashing in. People will remember his 2015 because of what he did at WrestleMania, and rightfully so, but this was the match in which Rollins outgrew the Authority.
Will: I’m not sure if my choice is true match of the year stuff, but I’m picking Cena-Owens I. Roughly 75 percent of that is just because Cena lost, and the other 25 percent is rooted in Owens becoming a sociopath lately. He destroyed Dean Ambrose on this week’s Raw after losing to Neville, and he did so with an oddly sexualized sense of sadomasochism. My understanding is that as Kevin Steen he was billed as wrestling’s antichrist, and I’m optimistic that he’ll bring those sorts of bad intentions to WWE.
Donnybrook of the Year (Feud of the Year)
Derek: By WWE mandate, I’m required to give John Cena at least two awards. Therefore, Donnybrook of the Year goes to John Cena vs. Kevin Owens. I gave their match at Elimination Chamber consideration for Quarrel of the Year, and listening to these two cut promos on each other was outstanding. Of course it ended in CENAWINSLOL, but I’ll still remember it fondly.
Will: Right about now I’m realizing how much wrestling I’ve forgotten this year, so I’m also going with Cena-Owens by default. I remember the Undertaker-Bray Wyatt mehfest. I remember the Rollins-Sting mehfest. I remember 700 Orton-Sheamus matches. I remember lots of Usos and Matadores. I suppose what I’m getting at is that no one feud truly resonated with me. Not in a good way, at least — hey, speaking of which…
Banal Squabble of the Year (Worst Feud of the Year)
Derek: There was really nothing worse than Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler. My word, that was tough to watch. I thought of giving it to Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt because it was so forgettable, but Rusev and Ziggler win because they were unforgettable for all of the wrong reasons. Remember that time Lana and Ziggler “went public”? I sure do. Thank goodness they put a stop to this.
Will: Absolutely Rusev-Ziggler. Oh my god it was so bad. Let’s move on.
Spectacle of the Year (Best PPV)
Derek: I apologize for the chalk pick, but there was nothing better than WrestleMania in 2015. We got Daniel Bryan winning the Intercontinental Championship, a legendary RKO, Sting vs. Triple H, AJ Lee’s swan song, John Cena defending America, the Undertaker proving he can still go, and Rollins topping it all off with the biggest moment of the year. No other card came close to replicating that from top to bottom.
Plus, Michael Cole got an F5 the next day. I need to get around to sending Brock a fruit basket.
Will: Damnit, man, stop being so convincing. I’ll take Mania as well. That RKO alone was worth the price of admission.
Ennui of the Year (Worst PPV)
Derek: It may not have been the absolute worst, but in terms of sheer disappointment, I’ll say Survivor Series is the most deserving. The whole Brothers of Destruction storyline was botched, as well as the subsequent Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose match. We had to suffer through the absurd amount of confetti and the Sheamus cash-in. WWE had a good opportunity to do something wild in the wake of Rollins’ ACL injury, and they didn’t. I expected so much more from this show.
Will: I too am picking Survivor Series, though with the caveat that the next night’s Raw was outstanding. Considered together, the two shows made for a nice back-to-back job. On its own, however, Survivor Series stank. There were no actual Survivor Series matches of consequence, and the final match ended early enough for Sheamus’ cash-in to be a non-surprise. It was still fun. I guess. Whatever. Meh.
Wish(es) for 2016
Derek: I have several …
Finn Balor debuts after WrestleMania. And I hope he becomes Mr. Money in the Bank.
Sasha Banks turns on Team BAD. Sasha has a short feud with her former teammates, comes out on top, and finally gets to do her own thing. I will not mourn the end of Team BAD.
Asuka joins the main roster. I don’t get to watch as much NXT as I would like, but what I’ve seen from her has been incredible. She’s already one of my favorite workers in WWE, and she brings something new to the table. A Divas division including Paige, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Asuka, and eventually Bayley, would be a lot of fun if they’re used somewhat correctly. They probably wouldn’t be, but I can dream.
Rollins makes a full recovery. Sooner rather than later.
CM Punk and AJ Lee return. Because these are my wishes and you can’t take them from me.
Brock Lesnar in the Royal Rumble. It would probably push everything else to the side, but screw it, I just want to see Bork wreck like 15 people in a row. I’d enjoy a Samoa Joe appearance as well, although I’m wary of anyone from NXT getting the call-up.
A worthwhile Wyatt Family feud. Pun not intended. Bray and the boys have gone from a fearsome foursome to, I don’t know, just four weird dudes who talk a lot before losing? They have one of the most original gimmicks going, and they should be able to raise some legitimate hell. They don’t need to be a new-era Ministry of Darkness or anything, but c’mon boys, fuck some people up.
[Insert Big-Name Face Here] turns heel. At this point I don’t really care who it is, but I want a big name to break bad. Cena is a pipe dream, and Reigns might be too, but how about Dean Ambrose? Isn’t he primed for one? Maybe Kevin Owens will knock some ill will into him.
Shane-o Mac returns. I miss Shane McMahon so much. Vince can’t do it forever. Come on home, Shane-o. Bring the Mean Street Posse with you. It’s time.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Minneapolis! If you missed our apology yesterday, sorry for the lack of wrasslin’ coverage last week. It wasn’t a great week to miss, seeing as Vince made an appearance and Roman Reigns won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on Raw, which was the first time such a title change has taken place since 2011.
But I guess we’re not that sorry, because it’s Christmas week and not too much happened on Raw except for Seth Rollins showing up on crutches to accept his Superstar of the Year Slammy.
So we’re just going to wish you a Merry Christmas, and we hope you’ll powerbomb someone you love through a table. We’ll be back next week to pass out some yearly awards and discuss the State of the WWE. Merry Christmas!
Will: May you open something on Christmas morning that brings you as much joy as that chair brought John Cena. We’ve made it through another year of wrasslin’, and the hope is that things will get better and better as we approach the Royal Rumble. The much ballyhooed WrestleMania 32 is just a few months away.
We’ll be on the fast lane to Mania before you know it, Maggle!
Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from Pittsburgh! December is here, meaning we’re now at the low point of the wrestling year. Yes, it’s possible things can actually get worse than they have been. Even longtime company man Mick Foley was downright despondent talking about how he may give up watching wrestling on Steve Austin’s podcast.
The good news is this week’s episode of Raw … wasn’t that bad. Granted, my expectations couldn’t be much lower, and I still fell asleep watching and had to re-watch parts of it later, but there were some legitimately entertaining segments. Let’s run through them in chronological order.
The New Day kicked off the show, and I’m now convinced they should kick off every show for the next month.
Now, I don’t want to give WWE too much credit, but could there have been, dare I say, subtlety in this promo? The New Day entered the ring in a shower of confetti, which called back to Roman Reigns’ much-mocked celebration at Survivor Series. Usually Michael Cole points out everything, no matter how obvious it is, but he didn’t mention it. I imagined New Day asking Vince if they could have a bunch of confetti when they entered, to which Vince replied “Yes! More confetti, damn it!” while New Day snickered.
Will: We saw a whole lot of the New Day this week. As they briefly did with Seth Rollins, they have softly aligned themselves with Sheamus and his new friends, who we’ll discuss more later. They thankfully are not explicitly Authority-approved. They’re doing their same old thing, but on a bigger stage. I was worried that they might be overexposed or that being closer to the main event picture would necessarily sap some of their juice, but that didn’t happen. Instead, they seem to have rejuvenated everyone they associate with; didn’t the roster seem to be having more fun than usual Monday?
It started at the top of the show, when they celebrated Sheamus’ championship win and mocked Roman Reigns’ short-lived title — damnit, there’s no other word here — reign.
Derek: Sheamus, with a new suit and a slicked back mohawk, came out to join the festivities. He got a Superman Punch (out of nowhere!!!!!!) for his trouble. That made Sheamus so gosh darn angry, that he didn’t want to wait until TLC to fight Roman — instead opting to channel his inner Kane and have the match … right now. Well, later that night anyway. But there was a catch: to win the championship, Roman would have to beat Sheamus in less than five minutes and 15 seconds, which was how long Roman’s championship reign at Survivor Series lasted.
Will: My first thought is that I could have done without that match. A common refrain is something to the tune of why give away your PPV main event on free TV, and I’m not a fan of beat-the-clock challenges. It didn’t spoil too much, however, and it wound up serving a worthwhile purpose. The time limit and Authority-placed stipulations were silly enough to indicate that some shenanigans would be coming, and oh how they would come.
Derek: Next, Dolph Ziggler defeated Tyler Breeze, followed by Rusev and a returning Lana appearing on Miz TV. At last, the idiotic Rusev-Ziggler feud is over! But they had to get one last parting shot in, as Lana said she “never went all the way” with Ziggler (cheers to the Pittsburgh crowd for the “Yes you did!” chant), while Rusev also retained his purity in his brief Summer Rae courtship. Thank goodness.
Will: None of that segment qualified as “good” in my book. Woof.
Derek: The Dudley Boyz are entering a feud with the Wyatts, which should be an interesting clash. The Dudleyz, realizing that they wouldn’t be able to beat all four Wyatts by themselves, decided to call in some help in the form of ECW legend Tommy Dreamer.
I was super excited for that, until I remembered this is the PG era and a predominantly hardcore wrestler won’t be able to do anything hardcore. This was on full display as he brought a garbage can full of weapons to the ring and proceeded to not use any of them. I’m not excited for this Tommy Dreamer run.
Will: Nor I. With all of the kvetching about WWE’s ability to develop and market fresh stars, I’m thrilled that they brought out a 44-year-old. I have to admit that I popped when he came out, just as the arena did. But…now what? He’ll presumably be involved in whatever Dudleyz vs. Wyatts match happens at TLC, the pay-per-view for which he’s best suited. But again, so what? Is there real beef between these two sides? Will their feud exist in three weeks? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to care about here besides, “Hey, Tommy Dreamer! Cool!”
Derek: Becky Lynch and Charlotte met backstage, and Becky convinced Charlotte to have a friendly match with her. Charlotte agreed, as long as Becky was cool with Papa Ric accompanying her to the ring. Becky said that was fine, which would prove to be her undoing. Charlotte faked an injury, which caused Becky to walk over to Ric with concern. Charlotte promptly shot up and rolled Becky into a small package for the win. I’m sure Daddy was proud of those sudden heel tactics. I approved of them, too.
It doesn’t make a ton of sense with the way her character has been portrayed so far, since she’s spent about as much time crying as she has wrestling. She hasn’t given any indication that she would be so ruthless. Now Charlotte is going heel, but not as heel as Paige, while Becky is maybe considering joining heel Paige to get back at heel Charlotte. It’s great! Reminds me of the Attitude Era. It’s about time we have some intrigue in these characters. It may have been a small part of Raw, but it was also my favorite.
Will: Totally agree. The whole “it doesn’t completely make sense” part puts a little kink in things, but it’s undeniably the most interesting thing that has happened to these three since they named themselves after a porno flick. In just one night, we have a clearer idea of what distinguishes each of these women from each other. Charlotte is the purebred champion learning that it ain’t easy to stay on top. Paige is the jaded veteran who is at peace with not having any friends in this business; she would do nicely on Survivor. Becky is all pure-hearted naivete. This could actually be something. In a related story, I don’t think we heard the term “Divas Revolution” once. (Or maybe I’ve trained my ear enough to ignore it.)
Derek: While Roman Reigns prepared for his match with Sheamus, the Authority decided to go around and make mischief with all of Roman’s buddies. If Roman didn’t win his match in under five minutes and 15 seconds, then Dean Ambrose would lose his shot at Kevin Owens’ Intercontinental Championship and the Usos would be cut out of the triple threat Tag Team Championship match at TLC. This led to the one acceptable outcome: Roman winning by disqualification in under five minutes and 15 seconds. That way, Sheamus retained the belt but Roman and Friends retained their title shots.
But the main story was how the match ended in disqualification. Sheamus’ buddies — King Barrett, Rusev, and Alberto Del Rio — pulled Sheamus out of the ring and announced the formation of a new stable called the League of Nations. Thank goodness. Maybe the stable will become the bad guys instead of everything being run by the Authority. One of my complaints last week was that Sheamus was just getting shoehorned into Seth Rollins’ role instead of being given his own. This is way, way better for everyone involved. Del Rio’s directionless MexAmerica storyline is on the back burner. Barrett is doing something other than challenging soccer players half his size. Rusev’s feud with Ziggler (I can’t overstate how bad it was) is finally in the rearview mirror. I’m all-in on the League of Nations.
Will: As am I. The name is a little hokey — if only Woodrow Wilson knew what his creation would become — but it works just fine. Sheamus and Barrett already had a relationship, and Rusev fits in easily enough. Del Rio’s inclusion is a bit stranger, but whatever. (Adios, MexAmerica?) The best part, as you said, is that they aren’t just lackeys for the Authority. If only for one week, they existed on their own. Each player seems to have a clear role. Sheamus is the leader. Rusev is the enforcer. Barrett can do a bit of everything, including provide comedic fodder. I’m not sure how Del Rio fits in, but whatever. I buy these guys.
Derek: The Authority decided to make an eight-man tag match, with the League of Nations facing off against Roman, Ambrose, and the Usos. Just before the match, the New Day came out and revealed that they were joining the League of Nations for the evening, so it became a good ol’ fashioned seven-on-four handicap match. The match ended with Sheamus giving Ambrose a Brogue Kick and pinning him in the middle of the ring. So the evening ended with a bunch of undeserving, cheating heels celebrating their victory in the middle of the ring.
A perfect ending for Pittsburgh.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Denver! Riding high (heh) after the Broncos’ Sunday night win over the Packers, the people of Denver were awfully happy this evening. Everyone was happy about everything! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd so excited to see Roman Reigns.
Though I admire Denver’s unexplainable (heh) happiness, I didn’t totally share their enthusiasm. Sure, the episode wasn’t a sleep aid like some of the episodes of Raw leading up to Hell in a Cell, but only some of the storylines advanced. Specifically, the Reigns-Rollins feud and the Divas Championship feud.
First, Triple H and Stephanie pit Reigns and Rollins against each other in a traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series match. Rollins recruited Kevin Owens and all three members of New Day. Only one of those four was recruited via sorcery.
Reigns recruited Dean Ambrose, Ryback, and the returning Usos. As far as I know, no sorcery was involved. But the Usos are indeed back, and it wasn’t lost on me that they were opposing New Day. Perhaps they’ll be the next group to challenge for the Tag Team Championship.
Anyway, the match ended with Ambrose, Reigns, and Rollins in the ring together. Presumably uninterested in receiving a beating, Rollins pulled out a chair and took a loss by disqualification. So there wasn’t really a resolution and maybe I’m overselling the plot advancing, but it was at least an entertaining match. I can’t remember the last time a match got nearly 30 minutes on Raw.
Will: The time allotted to various matches and wrestlers was an encouraging development. I was pleasantly surprised when New Day’s music hit with a half hour left in the show. I wasn’t in love with the 5-on-5 match — I could have done without Ryback, anyway — but it was nice to see a match loaded with talent get some time to breathe. I imagine I’ll be changing my tune when someone (Reigns?) gets 45 minutes to cut an awful promo. Believe that.
The Lucha Dragons were another group that got an unusual amount of time and shine Monday. They were the subject of a brief video package — the sort that is more commonplace in NXT; Kevin Owens had a prerecorded promo as well — before their match against Sheamus and King Barrett. The Luchas put on a good show, elicited enthusiasm from the crowd, and beat the would-be ascendant tag team from the British Isles. The cynical side of me wonders if this was just a gambit aimed at winning over Hispanic-heavy Denver, but perhaps it signals a push for the Lucha Dragons. I’m intrigued, anyway.
And welcome back, Xavier Woods. Kofi and Big E held the fort admirably in his absence, but it is Woods who provides New Day’s delightfully goofy foundation.
Derek: Before the evening’s brodown, the Divas had a Fatal 4-Way match to see who would face Charlotte for the title at Survivor Series. Paige, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Brie Bella squared off, with Paige coming out on top as we predicted. I’ve enjoyed Paige as a heel, but I still feel like most of the Divas have nothing to do. Now that Paige has the title shot, how are the rest of them going to continue to matter? Are they going to continually be thrown in tag matches and tread water until someone else gets a title shot? Because that’s been going on for a long time, and it hasn’t been successful.
Here’s something to consider: a Women’s Tag Team Championship. If the belt is the only thing WWE can come up with for the women to fight over, then why not make some tag team belts? Paige and Charlotte can feud with each other, and all of the other Divas can fight over something else. I’d prefer that over every single Diva on the roster fighting for the Divas Championship to some degree.
Will: I don’t know, on all counts. We’re still hearing the phrase “Divas Revolution” entirely too much; I suppose I should stop worrying and love that bomb. I’m trying to map out potential angles for the rest of the women and having a tough time doing it. Becky Lynch has legitimate beef with Paige, but Paige is busy angling her way toward Charlotte. I suppose Becky could try to make Paige’s life hell in the meantime, but that feels redundant. Sasha Banks is primed for a push one of these days — I have to think she’ll get the next title shot once Paige and Charlotte run their course — but what to do with her now? I’ve been anti-Bella for the most part, but it would make some sense for Sasha to target Nikki and Brie as a means of making a name for herself in the big leagues. Where does that leave the rest of Team BAD? Who knows. A tag team title could go a long way.
(Also, Becky is going to have to explain her ring attire one of these days. The goggles are one thing. The copper-colored Tin Man pants are another.)
Derek: Hmmm, what else. Oh, the Wyatts have powers now! Bray Wyatt can make lightning strike and fire come out of the ring posts. He has decapitated Undertaker and Kane and absorbed their power. There can be only one!
This was the most disappointing storyline of the evening. It was unfortunately reminiscent of the buildup to WrestleMania, when Bray tried to carry the feud with Taker by himself. If they are indeed going to throw down at Survivor Series, I hope Kane and Taker actually show up. I have no interest in watching Bray come out to babble about nonsense every week and then they throw in a match on the final Raw before Survivor Series. Couldn’t they talk and play mind games with each other like Sting did to Triple H? Come on, WWE — please, please, please advance the plot in this feud.
Will: I sort of liked this; someone has to conjure flames out of those turnbuckles. But I agree that Bray needs someone to work off of. He’s as good on the mic as anyone these days, but I can only take so much one-man show. Whether it’s Undertaker and Kane returning or Bray targeting someone else just for kicks until they do, we need to see some Wyatts in the ring. That old show, don’t tell thing comes to mind.
One running subplot of the Wyatt Family fireworks show I enjoyed: Bray kept talking about how he had absorbed the souls of Kane and Taker. Commentator Byron Saxton said things to the effect of, “But did he really??” It was a wonderful bit of dissonance in a largely post-kayfabe era. Byron took no issue with the premise of one man stealing the souls of two others. He just wanted to know if he did it for real. Wrestling is the best.
Derek: As for the lower tier feuds, Jack Swagger returned to briefly confront Alberto Del Rio and his former manager, Zeb Colter. Seems like a placeholder feud for Del Rio, who will squash Swagger because he doesn’t have anything better to do until Cena comes back. Swagger’s a pro at this; he did the same for Rusev last year.
Will: Yes. Meh.
Derek: Finally, Dolph Ziggler and Tyler Breeze continued their feud of narcissism over a girl who looks like she has coconut Malibu breath 90% of the time. Breeze is probably going down the Adam Rose path, meaning he won’t really do anything of note for a year until he feuds with a bunny and said bunny eventually turns into Frank from Donnie Darko.
Will Summer Rae be a serial killer at this time next year? Stay tuned!