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.

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