Previewing WrestleMania 32

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Hey, folks! In case you missed it, Wrasslin’ Wednesday has a new home this week. Check it out over at Waiting For Next Year.


Throwing up a Roadblock: Wrasslin Thursday 3/3/2016

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from Nashville! We were in the fast lane to WrestleMania, but now WWE has thrown up a surprise Roadblock. That’s what they’re calling this likely inconsequential WWE Network-only event taking place on March 12. I remain excited for the Spike Strip, Oil Slick, and Banana Peel PPVs.

At the moment, the event only has three matches on the card: Brock Lesnar vs. Bray Wyatt, Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose, and an NXT tag match that I’m not too psyched for since I haven’t been following NXT closely. Enzo and Big Cass are involved, so at the very least the entrances will be fun. Other than that, it’ll have to be a great match to get my attention.

Will: I don’t know how long this show was planned or when it was first announced or whatever, but the name sure seems silly. Isn’t the value of Fastlane necessarily lessened when it’s followed by a Roadblock? Has there always been this much traffic on the Road to WrestleMania? If it were in L.A. this year I would understand, but I can’t imagine that Arlington deals with that much congestion. I suppose I’m getting beyond the point.

Derek: Brock Lesnar is facing Bray Wyatt in the match we thought we were getting at WrestleMania. I’m having trouble envisioning anything other than a Brock victory. He’s higher up on the ‘Mania card, so he’s the one who’s going to end up looking good. But at least Bray gets to do … whatever it is he’s going to do for the next month.

Will: Bray has been so brutally neutered (breutered?) at this point that a competitive one-on-one match is out of the question. I only see a couple possibilities. One is Brock destroying Bray like he did Kofi at the Beast in the East Network special. Maybe Bray gets a little bit of offense going first, but then Brock hits a buttload of suplexes and finishes the whole thing in 10 minutes.

The other scenario is some sort of schmozz wherein the whole Wyatt Family gangs up on Brock like they did at the Royal Rumble. The problem is that they already did that. At the Royal Rumble. And it went exactly nowhere. Assuming Lesnar vs. Ambrose is still on for Mania, there’s no sense in revisiting Brock vs. Bray. Unless, that is, Ambrose has a legit shot at winning the title at Roadblock and/or getting into the main event at Mania. Hmmm…

Derek: Like Brock, Triple H is higher on the card so he’s getting the glory. Dean is, unfortunately, more than familiar with taking the pin in a big match. This may be WWE’s effort to try and remind us Trips is supposed to be a heel, but that won’t matter when Roman gets back in the ring. But hey, kudos to Vince for giving us the WrestleMania main event we really wanted a month early. What a guy.

Will: The fear is, well, what you said: That Ambrose is taking Roman Reigns’ place to gin up some heat for Trips and maybe get Roman a nice comeback pop whenever he returns. Reigns apparently underwent a real surgery, hence his not being on Raw this week. Ambrose stepped up to the plate for a tête-à-tête with Triple H, and did damn well doing so. Dean is more natural with Hunter than Roman is. Their conversations are actually conversational instead of robotic. It makes sense that Ambrose would get under Triple H’s skin, especially when the latter is playing up the whole “BOW TO ME FOR I AM THE AUTHORITY” thing.

I hold out a smidgen of hope, if only because the pressure is on to make WrestleMania into a major show. I think we’ll see a big surprise or two before the end of March. This may not be the storyline for one — it really does feel like Roman is going to be in that title match — but I get the sense we’re in for something. The Road to WrestleMania can’t be completely smooth, can it?

Derek: As for Raw, there wasn’t much to report this week. Shane’s return had the masses up in arms last week, but he was nowhere to be found this week. Same with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. The night was mostly carried by Ambrose deciding to challenge Triple H, Stephanie McMahon cutting a very Stephanie McMahon promo, and the Undertaker walking in and out of the ring. His contribution went as follows:

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He also took a minute to tell Vince to prepare to take the blame for whatever happens to Shane. He can say whatever he wants, but all I can think is CORPORATE MINISTRY REUNION.

Will: The Undertaker’s brief appearance received mixed reviews since it was so damn brief, and rightly so. That said, I didn’t hate it. He showed up, took issue with Vince referring to him as his “weapon,” made it sound like he was going to break Shane into a hundred pieces, said the blood would be on Vince’s hands, and bailed.

Okay, now that I type that out, it was pretty lame. I was duped into thinking it was better than it was because it was the Undertaker, and because his entrance alone makes for appointment viewing. Not much happened. We still don’t know what Shane has on Vince. We received no clarification as to why Taker would agree to this match — does he just fall in line with the boss’ orders like Zack Ryder would? We’ve gotten no Shane-Taker interaction. I understand that they’re stringing this thing along slowly, but come on guys. A little somethin’.

Derek: Finally, Sasha Banks faced Becky Lynch for the right to face Charlotte at WrestleMania. The potential triple threat match stayed alive, as as Becky and Sasha somehow managed to pin each other.

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And I will say that, despite the cop-out finish, I really enjoyed the match. I’ve gotta say, there’s a huge drop-off on the ‘Mania card after Dean-Brock, Shane-Taker, and the Divas match. This has not been a good year for fantasy booking.

Remember last year? “Dallas is going to be the biggest ‘Mania ever! Rock vs. Triple H! Shield triple threat match! Stone Cold vs. Brock! Undertaker vs. Sting! NXT Divas! Other shenanigans with John Cena, Randy Orton, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and A.J. Styles!” How foolish we were. We’re getting NXT Divas and that’s it. I loved the Shane return and I’m looking forward to Dean-Brock, but I expected so much more. This might not be the worst ‘Mania of all time, but it’s shaping up to be the most disappointing.

Will: I retain some hope that business will pick up. If there’s one thing in this world powerful enough to force WWE to make some exciting decisions, it’s Vince McMahon’s ego. Selling out Jerryworld has been his mission ever since the place was built. Let’s see if he can put together a show worthy of doing so.


Roman Reigns’ Ridiculous Royal Rumble Challenge: Wrasslin’ Thursday 1/7/16

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from San Antonio! Monday marked the first Raw of 2016, and it was nice enough to give us this:

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Yes, that man is 70 years old. Nothing weird about any of this. Bless you, wrestling.

So as you can see, Mr. McMahon did a bit of special refereeing this week, as he took it upon himself to call the match between Roman Reigns and Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Chaympiachiaaa. Regular viewers will recall Reigns beating up the boss in recent weeks, so Vince (to my delight) has taken a more active role in relieving Reigns of his title. He made sure to pull out some special referee staples, such as fast counts for Sheamus and slow counts for Roman. Roman finally realized his best course of action was to attack Vince, seeing as he can’t lose the championship via disqualification. Anyway, after Vince (and another referee) went down, Referee Number Three came in and Roman won the match via pinfall.

Will: The second ref was the apparently notoriously crooked Scott Armstrong. (I’d forgotten about him; well done by the announcers to explain who he was.) He went so far as to hold Reigns in place for a Sheamus attack. He caught a Superman punch for his efforts, which led to a third, fair ref coming in and counting an impartial 1-2-3. It was all a bit convoluted, but it was entertaining enough.

I think Vince has to fire that third ref and blame Roman for it and make him feel awful for taking food out of that man’s family’s mouth. Mr. McMahon wouldn’t let that sort of insolence go unpunished. I expect the whole thing to never be mentioned again.

Derek: As you can imagine, Vince wasn’t very happy about the match result. So he decided that Roman is going to defend his title at Royal Rumble, but he’s going to defend it in the Royal Rumble match —

Will: Michael Cole explained that that stipulation had been in place for the Rumble once before (1992, when the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was vacant; Ric Flair won the match). He then referred to Vince’s decree as “an unprecedented decision.” It was wonderful.

Derek: — So instead of the winner of the match earning a shot at the title at WrestleMania, the winner will earn the championship and presumably the right to defend it at WrestleMania.

That is, of course, assuming Roman doesn’t win. And he might. There’s some ROMANWINSLOL potential here, in which Roman enters the Rumble second and somehow fights off 28 other people to retain his title. That’s entirely possible, and I almost think that’s going to happen. But let’s pretend, for a moment, that WWE won’t screw this up.

This could be one of the greatest Rumbles of all time, which would be very much welcome after the last two years. With the title on the line, every decent wrestler should want to enter. Will Brock enter? Triple H? Daniel Bryan? Undertaker? A returning part-timer, like Rock or Batista? And for every one of these awesome or popular wrestlers that enters, that’s one less “no chance” candidate we have to watch. There’s nothing worse than the clock ticking down at the Rumble and seeing it’s one of the Usos or the Ascension or Los Matadores. The more guys in who actually have a shot, the better.

And that’s one of the things that has killed previous Rumbles. There were three or four guys who might actually win it, two or three fun cameos from old-timers, a few acrobatic moves from the high-flyers, and a bunch of filler. I know it’s not realistic to have 30 potential WWE Champions, but what about, say, eight? Let’s say Roman, Brock, Trips, Taker, Rock, Batista, Bryan, and Cena enter. I’m sure that’s far too optimistic, but that would be a hell of a Rumble. Any of those guys could headline ‘Mania, and they could start a feud with one of the others during the Rumble. I’m giddy just thinking about it, until I realize hoping WWE does something incredible with an incredible opportunity leads down the path of extreme disappointment. I’m sure of the guys I listed only Roman and Cena will enter, and Cena will win.

BUT WAIT! Just moments after I wrote this, it looks like John Cena is injured and out of WrestleMania. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Did Vince break a mirror or something? Is this The Curse of CM Punk? We’re now down Cena, Rollins, Bryan, Cesaro, and Randy Orton. Is there anything we can do to reinforce the ACL’s of Brock, Ambrose, Kevin Owens, and everybody in the New Day? Something tells me a Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman main event wouldn’t sell out AT&T Stadium.

Will: My favorite new conspiracy theory is that Daniel Bryan has actually been cleared to participate in the Rumble. He tweeted “Can @WWE clear me already?!!!”, which led Redditor r/obcdexter to write, “He’s already cleared. They are trying to trick us into thinking he won’t show up at the Rumble. Right? Right??” I’m in love with that idea, not just because it would be awesome to see Bryan in the Rumble but because there’s nothing better than a wrestling promotion working an entire audience.

Including Roman, there are 17 declared Royal Rumble entrants. That leaves 13 unclaimed spots. Here’s who we know will be in:

Big Show
Curtis Axel
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan)
Ryback
Dolph Ziggler
Chris Jericho
The Miz
The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E, Xavier Woods)
Goldest
Neville
R-Truth

We’ll talk more about the Rumble later, but there are some things we can bank on. The Wyatt Family is going to make some noise, because there’s no way the Wyatts would get a huge build-up just to unceremoniously lose. (Crap, they might be the first four out.) We know Kofi will have a close call, possibly with New Day cooperation (hanging on to Xavier’s trombone, perhaps?) Kalisto and Neville will do some cool flippy shit. R-Truth will do something funny.

I hope Roman doesn’t win, but that’s what I’d wager on.

Derek: In other news, Charlotte and Becky Lynch had another “friendly” match, and they are friendly no more. Becky won, which led to Charlotte administering a post-match beating. It looks like WWE is going full steam ahead with a Charlotte-Becky feud, as Paige was nowhere to be found. Maybe she can enter the Rumble?

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We have a new, powerful stable, as Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas, and Adam Rose have joined forces to create The Social Outcasts. Damien Sandow is conspicuously absent. This is probably doomed to fail (unless the Insane Clown Posse gets involved) but it’s nice that they have something to do now. I’m fine with whatever puts Bo Dallas on TV more. And I’m pretty sure nobody ever thought the New Day would become as popular as they are now. Maybe they’re on to something.

Will: I enjoyed them! Bo is hilarious. I like Heath Slater but I can’t explain why. It’s fun to think of Axel as Ryback’s drunk cousin. Adam Rose is legitimately weird. With all the injuries and everything else, why not throw a few jobbers together and see what happens? I especially enjoy that Slater’s nickname is the One Man Band, his music speaks of a Three Man Band, and now he’s part of a four-man stable.

One last note about Chris Jericho, who returned to 1) cut a promo on the New Day, 2) lead the arena in a chant of “rooty tooty booty,” which was as delightfully strange as it sounds, and 3) celebrate the 16th birthday of the Y2J gimmick. Most interesting to me was how much he addressed WWE’s falling TV ratings, and juxtaposed himself as the savior. It was a very Reality Era move — whereas the Reigns-Vince clash is very Attitude Era.

I embrace the nostalgia of a good ol’ Mr. McMahon storyline, but I suppose it’s worrisome that WWE is responding to sagging interest by leaning on old structures. That’s been the big picture problem for a while now, right? Cena getting injured — he’s 38, mind you — tilts the spotlight further that direction. I think that’s why the company is so hell-bent on turning Roman into a super-duper-star. WWE as a whole has a ton of talent, but it needs tentpoles to prop up the rest of the show.

That makes me fear that LOLROMANWINS will be the order of the day come January 24. Still, with 29 other guys involved and the big belt on the line, WWE has a bunch of ingredients to work with. Let’s see if they can’t make a good soup out of them.


Behold the League of Nations: Wrasslin’ Thursday 12/3/15

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Rollins in the Deep: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 9/2/2015

Wrasslin Wednesday HeaderDerek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Tampa! After three days that were varying degrees of good last week, we were due for a bit of a clunker. Sting kicked off the show, which is tough to screw up, but, well, Sting got a little too … friendly with Triple H.

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Will: As excited as I was to see Sting last week, I do not understand his angle whatsoever unless kissing Triple H’s ass was explicitly included as a clause in his contract. Going in on Rollins for being a weak champion I get; it’s a slightly recooked version of John Cena’s beef with Seth. What makes zero sense to me is Sting putting over Trips by saying that Seth has nothing on him as a champion. Last we saw Sting, he was terrorizing Triple H, right? Now he’s just a fan? I know they shook hands and all, but good grief.

Derek: I didn’t care for that at all. Last week, I applauded Sting for finally getting revenge on Triple H for his antics at WrestleMania, and instead he acts like he’s got a shrine to Triple H in his closet.

Allow me to digress for a moment. My favorite video game franchise, Metal Gear Solid, has a new chapter as of yesterday. I haven’t had much time to play yet, but there was one particularly relevant feature. The main character, Big Boss, has a Mother Base that is filled with his soldiers and other various followers. I like them because if I kick one of their asses, they thank me for it while onlookers salute.

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And I couldn’t help but think of Sting. Triple H won, but he didn’t win clean, and now Sting acts like just getting in the ring with Trips was the thrill of a lifetime. So, yeah, not the best start for The Icon, The Franchise, The Vigilante. I wish he would have just stuck to “I’ve never been WWE Champion and I want to change that before I retire.”

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After Sting made his advances at Triple H, it was revealed that there would be a “Beat the Clock” challenge to see which member of PCB would challenge Nikki Bella for the Divas Championship at Night of Champions. Charlotte ended up with the prize after dropping Brie Bella in 100 seconds.

Nikki also unveiled the “Bellatron,” which counts down until she passes AJ Lee as the longest reigning Divas Champion.

Bellatron

Which means, unless something screwy happens, Nikki will break the record. Night of Champions is in three weeks, so Nikki would have to drop the belt on one of the next two Raws. I suppose it’s not unheard of. Paige won her first Divas Championship the night after WrestleMania XXX. Of course, that’s not a typical Raw.

I really don’t get why Nikki is getting so many accolades. What can she do better than Sasha Banks or anyone in PCB? I’m really starting to lend a little more credence to the rumors that John Cena is involved.

Will: Can we launch a Divas counterrevolution? Can there be a Great Divas Schism? The “Beat the Clock” challenge almost had me interested, but that faded in a hurry. Wasn’t putting a massive timer showing how short the women’s matches are the last thing they needed to do? I could see it eventually yielding fruit in the form of a PCB dissolution, but WWE has been content to let that baby burn nice and slow.

My hope is that someone, be it Charlotte or Sasha or whoever, puts an end to the streak. I plain and simple do not get the appeal of Nikki, nor the Bellas at large. I suppose Nikki is a decent heel, but she hasn’t even been a heel consistently! With all of this considered, the Cena rumblings make sense. Bleh.

Also: how about letting the new talent have separate entrances sometimes? Do we need all of Paige, Charlotte, and Becky coming out together three different times in one night? How about letting them develop and define their own entrances and personalities? I’m going to err on the side of skepticism and cynicism until given reason to act otherwise.

Derek: Perhaps we’re worrying about the Divas too much. We’ve got bigger problems.

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Will: BRAUN STROWMAN IS THE APOCALYPSE, or so he said Monday. He has all the charisma of overripe grapefruit, but I like how strong Strowman has been booked in his early action. He doesn’t pull off the weird-and-beard look as well as Bray Wyatt or Luke Harper, and his face is way too small for his head, but that makes him oddly endearing — he is the black sheep, after all. It’s always fun to watch a new guy rampage for a while, and Strowman’s introduction allows Bray to step back into more of a puppetmaster role, for which he is particularly well suited.

Derek: Strowman is indeed a large man, and he has behaved and wrestled as large men often do. They’re portraying him as being completely unstoppable, as Dean Ambrose’s chair shot to the back gave him little more than a slight tickle. This is nothing new, though. Let’s not forget that the Undertaker once lost to The Great Khali. I just hope it doesn’t go on for too long. Rusev was unwatchable for about six months while he squashed a new mid-carder at every pay-per-view. I don’t want to watch Strowman do what he did on Monday every show until Payback 2016. Especially now that the New Day have shed some light on the plight of tables in Dudleyville.

Will: God bless the New Day. The Dudley Boyz targeted the tag champs in their return last week, and New Day showed this Monday that they were up to the challenge. They didn’t just cut a promo on the Dudleys — they cut a promo on table abuse altogether. They’ve positioned themselves as table saviors! They wasted no time in going after the very thing that the Dudleys stand for, which is the very best thing that a wrestling foil can do. They are so goddamn good. Big shout to Xavier Woods’ new hair.

xavier hair

Derek: They really are incredible. It took me a moment to remember what they were doing before New Day. I think Big E (Langston) was trying to act like Russell Wilson, Xavier Woods was funking things up with R-Truth and the Funkadactyls, and Kofi was ambiguously Jamaican. Thank goodness they finally turned heel. And we, unforgivably, did not give them credit for their incredible trombone celebration last week.

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Will: Shame, shame, endless shame on us for not highlighting Woods’ trombone playing more. What a talent. What a hero.

Derek: Finally, let’s cover the “main event” of the evening: a segment featuring Seth Rollins, Stephanie McMahon, and John Cena. Rollins still wants his statue and won’t stop talking about it. Stephanie took Sting’s side regarding Triple H (another bad sign for Sting). Cena, pointing out that every championship should be on the line at Night of Champions, asked for a shot at the U.S. Championship before Rollins’ match with Sting for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Stephanie granted the request amid demonstrative protests from Rollins. Do you think Rollins will drop either (or both) of his belts at Night of Champions?

Will: My first instinct is that he’ll absolutely drop one of them. Having two titles on one guy seems to limit those titles’ very significance, and WWE has a tough enough (heh) time filling out their weekly shows without consolidating the championships. For better or worse, Cena made his U.S. title reign mean something and his segment became a staple of Raw for weeks. Rollins has been consistently terrific for a while now, and I’m sure he could continue to carry the show while holding both belts, but I worry that that would come at the expense of other angles and characters.

Assuming Rollins does lose one, I’m truly not sure which it would be. Triple H has apparently made Sting his house boy, and thus I would be shocked to see the most famous WCW holdout get his hands on WWE’s greatest prize at age 56. It isn’t hard to see Cena winning the U.S. title back, but his new t-shirt makes me think that his eyes are on the big belt more than his old one. (I’ve put way too more thought than I should have into Cena’s new t-shirt.)

Part of me would just like to see Rollins keep both and gloat on for another month, and even get his statue. Seth could have it all. But is he in too deep?


You Never Forget Your First: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 7/29/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Oklahoma City! It was a “night of firsts” to combat a few days of racism, and some of them were fairly entertaining! But we should probably start with the racism.

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As has been reported ad nauseam, Real American Hulk Hogan said a bunch of horrendously racist stuff on a sex tape he made with a buddy’s wife (the triple crown!) eight years ago. As a result, WWE almost gave him The Full Benoit, firing him and removing every mention of him from their website. I know the general rule in WWE is “never say never,” but we may have seen the last of Hogan on WWE programming.

Mostly, I’d say WWE did the right thing. I’m not sure they actually care about the stuff Hogan said, but I know they care about the appearance they care about the stuff Hogan said. Nowadays, nothing hurts PR more than racism/sexism/homophobia and the like. The judgment had to be swift and unmerciful. And I think we can all agree that Hogans comments were pretty messed up.

Will: He didn’t exactly have a sterling reputation in the wrestling world as is, but yowza, he said some very not okay stuff. WWE is a huge company with a pretty atrocious track record when it comes to non-white people, and that’s without considering any actual news events like what happened in Cincinnati this week. WWE decided not to muck about with any half measures and sent the Hulkster off the reservation, apparently for good.

It was jarring news, but I think WWE’s reaction was more surprising than Hogan’s words. He is far and away the most famous pro wrestler ever, and they severed ties with him in a second. It’s just bizarre. It’s like KFC disowning Colonel Sanders or Papa John’s Pizza without John. That said, I don’t know what else they could have done. As a wrestling company, I don’t think the McMahons are held in the same regard as, say, the Gateses, but they probably could have figured out a way to save face publicly while keeping Hogan in the fold.

But they didn’t. And frankly, they look better for it.

Derek: My one statement in Hogan’s defense is the conversation happened in private, and it sucks to lose your job over stuff like that. He shouldn’t have said it, and it sure sounded like he was serious, but if that standard were applied to everyone in the world then the entire world would be unemployed. I think most people have said things in private, either in jest or in some emotional state, that would be generally frowned upon. I also think said people wouldn’t be too pleased if someone produced a secret recording of those things and gave them to the media. I feel for him in that regard.

Or maybe I just don’t want Hulk Hogan to be an evil racist bastard. Pretty much this exact same thing happened to Donald Sterling last year and, if this site had existed then, my defense of Sterling would have been considerably shorter than a paragraph. I did consider it a bit of a bummer that Sterling was punished for a private conversation, but he has a long, storied history of being a scumbag. Hulk Hogan is no angel, but he’s a legend to all wrestling fans and a hero to most. Sterling made me think “that figures” and Hogan made me think “say it ain’t so.” So there’s the full disclosure on any Hogan sympathy.

Will: The privacy element definitely adds a weird wrinkle, but I suppose that’s how things are today. That tape would have been inadmissible evidence a court of law, but in the court of public opinion it doesn’t matter how it was acquired. So it goes. 

Hey, let’s talk wrasslin’!

Derek: I wasn’t a huge fan of Raw this week, but that may be because of the higher standard I apply to shows leading up to SummerSlam. We’ve got three more Raws to go, and let’s hope the Lesnar-Taker levels rise significantly. Considering that’s the main event at SummerSlam, there sure was a strange absence of references to it. I don’t think they were even mentioned outside of flashbacks to last week. Usually WWE takes every conceivable chance to sell the Network with PPV matches. We didn’t even get a famed Paul Heyman promo.

Instead, the spotlight went to Seth Rollins and John Cena’s Nose.

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The prophecies were confirmed, as Cena and Rollins are indeed headed for a match at SummerSlam. The two had a good match at Royal Rumble (granted, Lesnar was involved) so I suppose not all is lost. They have potential to put on a great match and they’ll no doubt have extra motivation for one of the biggest PPV’s of the year. I just don’t want Cena to win. I have no interest in seeing him back at the top of the card. I was just starting to warm up to you, John. Don’t disappoint me.

Will: Cena’s great. He’s one of the best in the business. He puts butts in seats and t-shirts on backs. But damnit John, let someone else have this spot. He doesn’t need a title feud to stay relevant, and Rollins doesn’t need him either. They could easily work this same angle with someone else. Why not Cesaro? Why not Ambrose? Rollins and Cena have had and will have great matches, but they don’t need to play that card right now. Cena gets a lot of crap for putting himself over, and this is a particularly egregious example, to the umpteenth degree if he wins.

Rollins and Cena put on a solid show Monday. That broken nose looked legit. They didn’t pull out all the stops, nor should they have at this point (though Rollins’ double suplex was super cool). Something I liked about their match that I didn’t expect to: JBL’s commentary. It wasn’t great, but he leaned on his experience as a past champion and actually made some decent points about the necessary mindset to be a main eventer. It wasn’t just lame jokes and forced lines. He talked like a person for a minute, and it was mildly compelling. Bravo, John Bradshaw.

Derek: We bemoaned the lack of Dean Ambrose at Battleground, and last week it looked like he would team up with Roman Reigns against Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. Reigns was also absent on Monday night, and Ambrose was left to do battle with … The Big Show?

That was a bit of a head-scratcher, but I’m reserving judgment until next week. Maybe they just wanted to add another “first” and were struggling to fill time. At least I hope that’s what happened. No one’s going to win a Big Show-Ambrose feud.

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Will: I hope hope hope that this was a one-off. If that’s the case, I like it. Show is actually an interesting measuring stick opponent. His matches are necessarily different because of his size, and sometimes that produces some fun. Ambrose mostly got the hell beaten out of him, which the commentary team equated to lunacy — that would be an example of bad JBL — and he came out of it looking alright. It felt, however, like they might try to keep it going for more than one match. Please dear god no.

Some random positives to take our minds off of a potential Ambrose-Show feud:

  • Cesaro and Owens look like they’re going to tangle at SummerSlam. Yes, yes, all day yes. It was a shame to see the Owens-Orton match spoiled by Sheamus — who I kind of enjoyed on commentary, if only because he opened with “What’s the crack, fellas?” — but it was worth it to see Cesaro and Owens interact even for a minute.
  • Neville had a match with Fandango. Night of firsts, indeed!
  • SummerSlam is going to be four hours long?! I don’t think this is actually a positive.
  • Titus O’Neil said the words “professional wrestling” on commentary, so he’s probably getting canned. Sports entertainment, Titus!
  • New Day >>>

And, the ladies showed out once more.

Derek: The “Divas Revolution,” as WWE calls it, continued on Monday with two Divas matches yet again! Sasha Banks made Paige submit, and the team of Charlotte and Becky Lynch beat Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox when Lynch made Fox submit. While I’m enjoying the “Divas Revolution,” I’m growing a bit tired of it being constantly referenced. I’ve mentioned before that WWE could benefit from some show-don’t-tell aspects in their storytelling, and this is one of those times. It is in fact possible to simply have a “Divas Revolution” without pointing it out every other sentence.

And while we’re here, I feel it’s necessary to once again mention that Team BAD need to change their name. I just can’t take them seriously.

Will: They were both solid matches, and I’m still digging how the new talent is being used. Everyone is getting a shot in the spotlight, wins are being passed around, and most everyone is looking strong (except Tamina. They haven’t quite figured her out yet, nor have I). Sasha especially looks like budding star — if not a ready-made one — and she and Paige got a good chunk of time to work with. 

I’m completely on board with you as far as bashing us over the head with “The Divas Revolution,” but I’m afraid that’s just the way it is. Subtlety is not a WWE strong suit. Whether it’s because they’re afraid to not make things absolutely obvious to their younger viewers or because they just aren’t able to, who knows. They’re giving the Divas a chance. How about giving us one too?

(“Team BAD” is sooooooooo bad. Oh my god it’s the worst. If Sasha weren’t such a talent that bunch would be DOA.)

Derek: Lana attacked Summer Rae with a fish.

lana summer rae fish

Your thoughts?

Will: It’s good to be reminded every once in a while why wrestling is so easy to mock.

I will say, however, that it was a first.


Independent Women: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 7/15/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Atlanta! The plot advanced! The plot advanced! GOOD GOSHAMIGHTY, THE PLOT ADVANCED.

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That’s right, I’m talking about the Divas! At long last, stuff happened. It wasn’t the Bellas featuring Alicia Fox going Mean Girls against a friendless Paige. Finally, Charlotte (Ric Flair’s daughter) got promoted. That was no surprise, because it should have happened months ago. Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks were unexpected, though. Charlotte and Becky Lynch joined up with Paige, while Sasha Banks joined Naomi and Tamina. Three factions! And at least one of them is interesting. Maybe more!

This will presumably conclude with a big SummerSlam match, which will surely be a step up from last year’s Brie Bella-Stephanie McMahon showdown. It has the potential to be several steps up, but it also won’t surprise me if Vince decides it should be a five minute farce in between R-Truth-Barrett and Sandow-Axel.

I’m curious to see if the new Divas are here to stay. Kevin Owens was a mainstay on Raw even as he was NXT Champion, so Sasha Banks could be as well. Surely Charlotte won’t go back any time soon. Becky Lynch is the wild card. Like a highly touted MLB prospect, she may just force WWE to keep her around.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing of all is we’re leading with the Divas. Yes, Sports Monocle isn’t exactly the first website folks visit for wrasslin’ talk, but we are wrestling fans and we (well, at least I) think it’s the top story of the week. I can’t be alone in that belief. Maybe the Divas will get a chance after all?

Will: I could barely believe it even as it was happening. Stephanie hadn’t appeared except to be a cruel authority/Authority) figure in a while, yet there she was shepherding in a whole new era of women’s — pardon me, Divas — wrestling. It was a very cool moment for a bunch of reasons. The distinct looks of each stable-to-be were cool. All three Bellas being locked in submission holds was cool, as was Charlotte’s modified figure four. The newcomers getting legitimate pops was cool. Seeing the ex-NXT girls celebrate their newfound WWE-ness together was cool. It was all very cool, and very exciting, and a very welcome change from the norm.

The challenge, of course, will be figuring out how to actually use all of these people and give them stories that make their time worthwhile. Monday night was promising, but it’s relatively easy to make the beginning of a storyline exciting. The hard part is getting that seed to grow, and then harvesting at the right time. I don’t want to throw too much water on the fire — this may be the best we’ve seen of WWE women since Paige’s debut. I’m just curious to see what happens next.

Derek: Let’s move on to Sunday night’s main event between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar. Monday night gave us the obligatory contract signing that ended in violence. Rollins attached an axe handle under the table, and Brock did not appreciate that. One might consider that what Paul Heyman calls “breaking the 11th Commandment.”

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J&J Security were strangely absent, leaving only Kane as Rollins’ bodyguard. You’re not going to believe this, but Rollins turned on him yet again! What a twist.

I’ve been watching old Attitude-era Raws when I go to sleep, and my #FreeKane beliefs have never been stronger. He went toe-to-toe with the Undertaker! At times, the Undertaker was scared of him! HE DESECRATED THE GRAVESTONES OF HIS OWN PARENTS!

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t need to make a comeback, but the rest of it does. The Kane of 1998 would not be tolerating Seth’s behavior. And even if the Kane of today is willing to tolerate it to some degree, this stuff with Rollins lost its luster months ago. Let it go.

Will: One would hope that when Kane eventually returns from his latest vacation — maybe he’ll go to Hawaii again! — that he’ll set his sights on Rollins and finally right some of the many wrongs that the champ has brought against him. He’s long been the unsung workhorse of Rollins’ ascendance, and I’m thirsty for some revenge.

In the short term, however, I kinda like what they did with Kane and J&J. Seth and his cronies were able to give Brock one good beatdown, and nearly a second, but Brock has worn away Rollins’ defenses and left him a king with no castle. Their match is now (or seems to be) a proper 1-on-1 affair, which spells doom for the champion on paper. If we’re keeping kayfabe, it will be as one-sided as the Lesnar-Cena match that birthed Suplex City, but I have a hunch that things will be a little more interesting this time.

A couple other asides:
– I’m out on the whole 11th Commandment thing. It’s just corny.
– Rollins declared that he would burn Suplex City to the ground, but I think it’s been beaten into the ground enough already. I get why it’s happened, and it could be a lot worse. It’s just a bummer to see an awesome ad lib corrupted by the man, you know?
– Rollins is such an asshole. I love it.

Derek: What say we mix the rest of our Raw recap in with picks and thoughts for Battleground?!

King Barrett vs. R-Truth (Pre-Show)

Derek: I’m still not totally sure where this feud came from. Truth pretends to be a king sometimes, and Barrett doesn’t like it? I think I speak for everyone when I say Bad News Barrett should make a comeback.

Will: This has been a very odd running subplot, even if it’s just meant to be comedic filler. It’s so absurd that I can’t even take issue with it — it isn’t like Truth’s plunger-wielding kingdom is any more ridiculous than Barrett’s, itself born out of a not-that-important pseudo-PPV. Bad News is definitely Barrett’s strongest angle, and I hope he gets back to the pulpit at some point. In the meantime, at least the crowd seems to like Truth, and I think that’s enough for him to get the win. Also, there’s a strong chance that I don’t watch this match.

The Prime Time Players vs. The New Day (Tag Team Championship)

Derek: I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I could see either team winning, and I could see it being the best match of the night or the worst. I’ll say the Prime Time Players successfully defend with New Day taking back the gold at SummerSlam.

Will: I’m not sure either. The PTPers have done well with their push to the top, with Titus O’Neil especially looking like someone who could stand on his own. I enjoyed their match (with Mark Henry) against New Day Monday night, and their little leaning dance thing is kinda fun. I still don’t quite have a sense of who Titus or Darren Young are, but New Day has enough personality for that to not really matter.

Something from this match that applied to a few others as well: I’m really enjoying the ongoing trend of taunt- and move-stealing. New Day mimicked O’Neil’s barking thing, and I just can’t not love it, especially for a heel. It’s an age-old device, but Kevin Owens revitalized it when he started biting Cena’s schtick.

Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt

Derek: I’m cautiously optimistic. This feud has gotten a bit less screen time than I thought it would get, but it’s fairly interesting. They don’t like each other and they’re going to settle their differences through the magic of violence. I can get behind that.

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While we’re here, there are two things I can’t get behind. The first is no Dean Ambrose. He hasn’t managed to insert himself into any of the storylines and looks to be getting the night off. I still wish he had entered into a mutually beneficial partnership with Brock Lesnar.

The second is (facepalm) no Divas match. Come on, guys! I just talked about what a good job you were doing, and now there’s no Divas match on the card?! It’s entirely possible that Stephanie will announce a “surprise” Divas match on Sunday (or maybe on Smackdown) but as it stands now, the Divas won’t be making an appearance. As the mass bewildered of Twitter would say, SMH.

Will: I don’t get the Ambrose non-usage at all. Even if he isn’t going to be in a match, he should somehow be involved, right? He and Reigns are still friends as far as we know, yet during the Reigns-Wyatt brawl — which was meant to be an Ambrose-Wyatt match — Dean just chilled out while his boy went to work. I suppose one could argue that he wanted to let Reigns handle his own business, but that’s awfully reasoned logic for an alleged lunatic.

The lack of a women’s (I’m just gonna call it women’s now) match sucks too, and it makes me wonder how long the whole NXT takeover plan has been in the works.

As for the actual Reigns-Wyatt match, who knows? As with many matches on the card, I’m not sure which way they’ll take it. Will it be a clean finish? Will a third party be involved? Will we be seeing a rematch or re-imagining at SummerSlam? As much as I enjoy Bray’s promos and vignettes, he’s a tough guy to peg with how little ring work he’s been doing recently.

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

Derek: I keep forgetting Sheamus is Mr. Money in the Bank. I’m struggling to identify the most interesting thing he’s done in the last month. And he’s probably going to be champion before 2015 is over. I’ll enjoy watching that play out. Those won’t be fun Wrasslin’ Wednesdays.

I’m predicting an Orton victory because I remember he exists from time to time.

Will: I actively enjoy not caring about Sheamus. I don’t even dislike him. I just don’t care. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about him. He’s a big pasty idiot with dumb hair and a worse goatee — is that what I’m supposed to think? I get that these guys have some history, and they’re not bad workers. They just don’t do much for me. 

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (US Championship)

Derek: The weeks go on, and no one is tired of this feud. God bless these two.

Last week, we wondered how Cesaro would fit in to the picture, and WWE responded by tossing a recovered Rusev in as well. While Rusev appeared in this feud, Dolph Ziggler and Lana didn’t appear at all. Perhaps WWE realized everyone in that storyline is being run into the ground and they want to call a mulligan. That’s probably the wisest course of action.

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As for the match, I think Cena wins again, but only because I think Owens is going over at SummerSlam. Cena hasn’t been on the winning side at SummerSlam since 2010, and that was a 7-on-7 match. The last time he won a singles match at SummerSlam was against Randy Orton in 2007. While CENAWINSLOL typically triumphs at WrestleMania (and most other times), he has mostly given the spotlight to others at SummerSlam. Since Owens is probably full-time WWE now, a SummerSlam win over Cena and US Championship run would do him some good.

Will: I would absolutely watch a three-hour show that was variations of matches with these four guys. Cesaro pulled out so many incredible moves that I lost count. Rusev survived the creative abortion that was the Ziggler feud, and looks like he could stay relevant post-Lana. Owens continues to excel acting as a sort of Joker to Cena’s Batman.

How about this: For all the lamenting we (and others) do about the pervasiveness of CENAWINSLOL, he is the guy who’s been at the center of all of this. All three of the other guys deserve credit for putting in good work in a big spot, but I think it says something that some of the best action of the summer has been the most Cena-centric. Maybe that’s just due to his longevity and thus our familiarity with him, but whatever the reason, here’s a tip of the cap to John Cena for making me care about all parties involved.

Ryback vs. Big Show vs. Miz (Intercontinental Championship)

Derek: Errrrrr. Ryback wins? Maybe he gets something more interesting to do before next month?

Will: This could be a fun little popcorn match. I’m looking forward to Miz’s inevitable begging not to get his ass kicked.

Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

Derek: I still can’t believe this match is happening at Battleground. A couple of weeks ago I predicted this match would end in shenanigans, and I’m sticking by that. The two have a great match, but something weird happens and they meet again next month for their “real” match.

Will: You’ve seen enough to know a thing or two about how this sort of match tends to go. It’s a legitimately huge one, and probably bigger than Battleground deserves. It’s a bit like the Reigns-Wyatt match in that I feel like something screwy will happen, but I have no idea what. Something screwy almost has to happen in any Lesnar match because he’s such a monster. Rollins’ smarminess only increases the odds. I can’t wait.