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:

undertaker vince

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.

double pin

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.


The Monocleys: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 12/30/15

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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)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

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)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

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)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

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)

team bad

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)

rollins phoenix splash

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)

kevin owens

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)

rusev summer rae

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)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

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.

f5 cole

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)

SurvivorSeries

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.

Will: Hmmm…

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.


Marking for ‘Mania: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 4/1/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two/two/three days later) from Santa Clara/Suplex City/San Jose! If you didn’t make it a point to watch seven hours of professional wrestling between Sunday and Monday, you missed out.

Yes, after all of our complaining and fantasy booking, WWE managed to deliver its best show in recent memory. Maybe I wasn’t in love with any one match or angle (I’ll remember WM 29 for the incredible Punk/Undertaker match and WM 30 for Daniel Bryan going over and Brock breaking the streak) but it had my attention from beginning to end. I wouldn’t have predicted that, seeing as they can barely make half of a typical episode of Raw interesting.

Speaking of Raw, the post-Mania crowd is typically the most raucous of the year, which made for some fun and occasionally controversial chants. We also got a couple of title matches and the greatest moment of 2015.

In honor of WrestleMania 31, Spencer Davies is joining us again to break down 31 burning questions from the Wrasslin’ Super Bowl and its aftermath. We’re ready.

1. Was Brock Lesnar giving Michael Cole an F5 the greatest moment of your entire life, or just the greatest moment of 2015?

Derek: Let’s just say I hope I live long enough to see the technology that would allow me to get a tattoo of a GIF.

f5 cole

 

Spencer: I think that the entire rampage was up there for being the greatest moment in 2015 already. Brock. Went. Ballistic.

Will: It was phenomenal. Cole is among the very largest punching bags in today’s WWE, and the pop as he hit the canvas told the tale. Kudos to him for sticking the landing, by the way.

2. What are your thoughts on daytime wrasslin’?

Derek: My motto’s always been: when it’s right, it’s right. Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night? Whennnnnn everything’s a little clearer in the light of dayyyyyyyyyy. Annnnnnnnnnd we know the night is always gonna be there anywayyyyyyyy.

But srsly, it was a bit distracting. I didn’t care so much at the beginning, but it did The Undertaker no favors.

Spencer: For the earlier portions of the show, it was fine. However, it significantly took away from everybody’s entrances—especially Sting, Bray Wyatt and of course, the Dead Man. Not only that, but you could see the superstars squinting and sweating profusely during matches. From now on, WrestleMania should be held either on the East coast or in a dome so it’s dark.

WillI was not a fan; it was like going to a drive-in movie at noon. As y’all say, it didn’t affect much of the early action, and it seemed like the lengthy Rock-Ronda Rousey segment was done in hopes that darkness would fall by the time the Undertaker’s music hit, but alas. It was a fun little experiment, and they’ll probably go back to that well, but it dampened my enthusiasm by roughly 10 percent.

3. How did it feel seeing D-Generation X vs. the nWo?

Derek: Naturally, I would rather have seen it 15 years ago. Scott Hall (exactly five months older than Sting) took a bump and I thought he was dead. It was a great bit of nostalgia, though.

razor

Having the nWo defend Sting was a little weird, but I see why they did it. Other wrestlers probably would have made more sense (Goldberg, DDP, Lex Luger, Ric Flair) but those guys may have been less willing or able to contribute than the nWo.

SpencerIf DX and the nWo would’ve came out in wheelchairs I still would have marked out. I don’t care what age they are and what year it happened in, because I’ve waited for that moment for over 15 years as a pro wrestling fan. I understand that it may have taken away from the Sting/HHH match itself, but if there was a time to make that moment possible, it was then.

I’ve seen arguments talking about how nostalgia wasn’t worth bringing out a bunch of old guys to renew a rivalry. News flash: When two of the most notorious, controversial factions in wrestling history agree to make a WrestleMania moment happen in front of over 76,000 people live, and millions more watching, you make it happen. And it delivered.

Scott Hall took his first bump in years, and Kevin Nash even ribbed the IWC (internet wrestling community) by faking a torn quad—now THAT’S funny!

WillIt was weird. I thoroughly enjoyed being taken back to the year 2000 like a Conan sketch, but the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. The Sting-Trips match was generally taken less seriously than I expected, but it was still nice to see all those familiar faces in the ring together.

4. Seth Rollins finally cashed in! Were you satisfied with the ending?

Derek: I loved it! We’ll get to see the champion more often. It was very typical of Rollins’ character. They threw us off by having Rollins lose to Orton earlier in the show. I’m really excited to see what Rollins does as champion.

SpencerAbsolutely. You now have a full-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion who is easily one of, if not the, best workers in the ring. The ending provided a new direction for creative as well, which opens up so many possibilities going forward (more Ambrose and Rollins, please!).

WillCompletely satisfied with the ending—and the whole match, for that matter. Reigns looked respectable in taking a beating, Brock kept face by delivering said beating, and Rollins’ cash-in was a deus ex machina that snuffed out any chance of a Reigns win that would have inspired boos loud enough to melt steel.

5. Ronda Rousey teamed up with The Rock to spar with Triple H and Stephanie. Are they going anywhere with this?

Derek: Looks like they’re headed toward a HHH-Rock match at some point in the next year. The two already alluded to such a match back in October.

Ronda is a bit more intriguing. It would be a little surprising to see her adopt pro wrestling training to go along with her usual MMA training. Some have called for a mixed tag Rock-Rousey vs. HHH-Stephanie match or a Rousey vs. Stephanie match. Those would be pretty cool, but I don’t know what kind of match Ronda and Stephanie would have. Ronda is a way better athlete, but Stephanie has more wrestling experience. I don’t know if that would make for a good match or a bad match.

But hey, Jay Leno and Dennis Rodman had matches with WCW, so I’m sure Ronda could if she wanted to.

SpencerI have a theory: WWE and UFC have a mutual partnership. Before you call me crazy, follow these bread crumbs and hear me out.

– WWE announced a partnership with TapOut coming in 2016, a company known for its relationship with UFC.

– WWE talked about Brock Lesnar’s negotiations with Dana White on Raw and social media before he re-signed his contract.

– Ronda Rousey showed up at WrestleMania in the front row (seemingly as a guest) until the Rock brought her in the ring to help him confront the Authority. The two both teased on their social media accounts that their partnership is just getting started.

– Dana White posted a picture of himself watching Rousey at WM 31 on the WWE Network.

– Crazy sub-theory that probably isn’t true, but because of the aforementioned three reasons has a slight shot of being true: CM Punk and WWE staged bad blood to let him enter the octagon in some type of deal with UFC.

Something is clearly going on between the two companies, and it’s something to pay attention to as the two move forward.

WillNo idea what’s going on here. The only way to book Rousey in WWE would be as a Lesnar-esque monster, and I’m not sure if that’s what the promising Divas division needs right now. Just having her name attached in the short-term was a win for WWE; pushing it any further might prove risky.

6. Did the Wyatt/Undertaker match move the needle for you, or did your worst fears come to pass?

Derek: I was fine with the match, with the exception of Taker’s hair, which was dyed to the point of distraction.

I was mostly disappointed in the entrances. There was way too much light for a Taker entrance, and I wasn’t a huge fan of Bray entering with a bunch of zombie beekeeping scarecrows.

bray entrance

 

SpencerI was actually quite disappointed with everything in the match to tell you the truth. The entrances were disappointing, Wyatt sprained his ankle earlier in the day and Undertaker looked…old. At 50 years old, the Dead Man just looked slow moving around the ring, and the signature win that Wyatt needed to be considered a true threat as a potential main eventer still hasn’t come yet.

It’s about time that Taker hangs up the ol’ boots.

WillMaybe my pre-match excitement colored my perception too much, but I enjoyed it. The Wyatt spider walk vs. Taker sit up spot was as awesome as it was predictable, it was great to see Taker walk the ropes so smoothly, and I thought the two battled with an appropriate amount of physicality. I’m surprised that the match ended as cleanly as it did. The bigger question is: what’s next for Wyatt?

7. Roman looked strong and didn’t win, but he’s still getting booed. Is that okay?

Derek: Count me among the folks who think paying customers at a sporting event/concert can boo whenever they feel it’s necessary. I personally wouldn’t boo him, though. ‘Mania is over, so he gets a restart. He has some more time to work on his promos and develop a few more moves. It was fitting that he only used the Spear and Superman Punch during the ‘Mania match. So if those folks feel he’s still worthy of boos, I don’t have a problem with that.

SpencerI agree that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but Reigns shouldn’t be booed from here on out. It’s completely unnecessary. The man is working his butt off, and he is becoming a better wrestler already. Not everyone has mic skills. Lay off of him, IWC.

WillNo, and I thought the Raw crowd was being a bunch of dicks. Reigns looked good in defeat at ‘Mania; isn’t that all anybody wanted? Has everyone decided that he will get never get any benefit of the doubt? Brock hurled Reigns all over the ring, Reigns mounted a token counteroffensive, and he lost. He did his job. Consider me on Team Roman.

8. Were you okay with the fans being smarky dickheads?

Derek: Sure! Some of it was inappropriate, but it’s usually only like that once a year. I think the post-‘Mania crowd is a very special treat.

Spencer: In some portions of the show, they were fantastic. In others, they were just getting obnoxious and annoying. The wave was dumb, that’s for sure.

WillNah. I maintain that they were being a bunch of dicks, and I didn’t care for it one bit.

9. They did the wave!

Derek: Yeah, Kane and Big Show were in the main event. What were they supposed to do?

SpencerMy sentiments exactly. But the wave is still dumb, and it will be forever in any capacity.

Will…I kind of liked it. I don’t know why. I probably shouldn’t have.

10. What were your favorite/least favorite chants and signs?

Derek: It’s always a treat when the fans sing “John Cena sucks” during his entrance. I enjoyed the “Suplex City” and “Please Retire” chants on Raw.

suplex city

Like many others, I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the things they were chanting at the Divas, but I’m glad those chants were overtaken by other chants. That just proved that wrestling is the highest form of entertainment.

SpencerI didn’t catch what they chanted at the Divas. But I’ll list my favorites:

  • “John Cena Suuuuuuuucks, John Cena Suuuuuuucks!” That’s going to be the new thing moving forward. See YES! and Fandango-ing.
  • “New, Day Sucks, New, Day Sucks!” Both catchy and true. Wasting talent in that faction. Time to repackage!
  • “Please Retire, Please Retire!” Again I agree with San Jose. Big Show and Kane are neither entertaining nor technically sound in the ring. Find two new henchman, Authority.
  • “How you doin, clap-clap-clap-clap-clap!”A Raw crowd praising NXT’s Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady was music to my ears. And the fact that they were aware of NXT is a very good sign, but we’ll get to that.

Will: “John Cena suuuuuuuucks” was terrific, and it was made even better by Cena playing off of it. I’m really enjoying Cena embracing his pseudo-heel status and egging the crowd on.

Anything alluding to CM Punk has to go away, especially during an AJ Lee match. I understand he’s still a wrasslin’ darlin’, but the man has moved on. We should, too.

11. Triple H’s Terminator-themed entrance: cool or stupid?

Derek: Really, really weird. I knew it was coming, but it had to be way out of left field for those who didn’t. Just like Sting’s Japanese drumline entrance.

I know WWE isn’t known for turning down a marketing opportunity, but was that really necessary? Though it was nothing new for Trips, I suppose.

SpencerBoth entrances were really awkward and left me raising an eyebrow.

WillSuper stupid, which kind of made it perfect. I feel like Vince saw T2 for the first time Saturday night and started hollering “Get me some robots, dammit!” until it became reality.

12. Should Sting and Triple H have shaken hands after their match?

Derek: Absolutely not. Trips didn’t win clean. Did they announce this as a no DQ match prior to the entrances? I thought the ref would have to go down for some bat on sledgehammer action.

This was the only part of the show I wasn’t a fan of. I wanted Sting to win, sure, but it was how he lost and the aftermath that bummed me out. Sting broke HHH’s hammer and could have gone to town on him with the bat, but tossed it aside. All he got in return was a cheap shot with the remains of the sledgehammer and some Sweet Chin Music. Then he shook his hand after? I hope that wasn’t the last we see of Sting.

SpencerIt’s not the last we see of Sting, don’t worry about that. That being said, it was intriguing to see them shaking hands after all that bad blood. I think it was more of a burying the hatchet between WCW and WWE after all those years, but that’s just me.

WillNo way they should have shaken hands. It made no sense, and that match was strange overall. I was expecting a brutal grudge match, and a 40-year high school reunion broke out. I wanted to see Sting and Trips out for blood, but instead they were like old football rivals finally burying the hatchet.

13. Were you a fan of Brock completely losing it?

Derek: I’m okay with anything that directly or indirectly leads to Michael Cole receiving an F5.

It was an interesting way to handle Lesnar since he still won’t be around full-time. The bigger question: how will Paul Heyman be used in Lesnar’s absence? Sounds like we’ve got question 14!

SpencerBrock Lesnar VICTIMIZED everyone (thanks Paul Heyman). It was a great way to write him off for a while, and it was believable. Also, the announce table he flipped may have literally flattened Booker T.

And the F-5s. ALL OF THE F-5s!

WillHell. Yes. It worked given his general unstoppability, and introducing a little chaos into the proceedings makes Brock all the more compelling. There was a nearly-real sense of fear when he started wrecking shit, and there was a feeling that no one in the building could stop him if they tried. I don’t know what this means going forward, but I’m on board.

14. How will Paul Heyman be used in Lesnar’s absence?

Derek: Last year, Brock disappeared after WrestleMania and returned at SummerSlam. In the interim, Cesaro became the newest Paul Heyman guy. That didn’t really work out. Will Paul Heyman get a new wrestler to manage? Can he still be only Brock’s guy while Brock is gone? He’s too entertaining to keep off TV.

Spencer: He’ll be off of TV until Brock comes back. Or he’ll just come out and update us on what his client’s plans are. UNLESS we find out that HE was the one behind Rollins cashing in. THEN things could get interesting!

Will: There have been rumblings that a Brock-Heyman split may be on the way, with Heyman becoming the advocate for a new wrestler, maybe even Roman Reigns. That might happen eventually, but I think Heyman will be out of the limelight for a few weeks, which will only make his inevitable return that much greater.

15. How did Byron Saxton do after Lesnar smashed the announce table?

brock table flip

Derek: Standards are pretty low, but I thought he did fine. But it was mostly because he was the anti-Cole. Cole is an over-seller, and Saxton is an under-seller. I’m sure it would drive me crazy at some point, but for one night it was fine. I wish WWE could find someone who’s somewhere between the two.

SpencerWWE got this one right. In order to go along with the storyline, Saxton came in and called the rest of the show. He botched a few names and moves, but he was probably just nervous; but he’ll get better. This was very valuable experience for him, and I think it was kind of a test for the young up-and-comer.

Will: Maybe I’m being harsh, I thought Byron was rough. I couldn’t tell if he was instructed to act somber or if he was just that nervous to be handed the reins. I thought he got better as the night went on, especially with Jerry Lawler to work off of, but it was not an auspicious play-by-play debut for Mr. Saxton.

16. Why didn’t they just fix the announce table?

Derek: It was on its side! There’s no way to fix that.

SpencerI love you, WWE creative.

WillHey, look! Question No. 17 is next!

17. Did the NXT guys have good debuts?

Derek: For sure! I’m not a huge fan of changing Adrian Neville’s name to just Neville, but he made me want to see more of him. The Lucha Dragons were fun too. They could be the boost the tag team division desparately needs.

SpencerNXT’s takeover of Raw was fantastic. The Lucha Dragons looked fantastic, especially Kalisto. Adrian Neville made a solid debut and got to show off a nice glimpse of what he can do in the ring. They even gave him a cape, which is fitting because he’s the closest thing to superman in real life.

Side note: Why is Vince McMahon obsessed with removing first names? It’s unnecessary. Maybe it worked with Rusev, but Antonio Cesaro and Adrian Neville sound fine. You’re weird, old man, Vinny Mac.

WillNeville’s and the Lucha Dragons’ debuts were everything that the Ascension’s wasn’t, which is to say good. Neville (who should use his first name, but whatever) came out with a distinct look and moveset, as did the Dragons. I’m always a sucker for top rope moves, and I’m especially excited to see Neville get more shine on a weekly basis.

18. What kind of impact is NXT making on the main product?

Derek: Strange as it seems, NXT is kind of like the new WCW. It’s already bigger than Smackdown, and it’s closing the gap on Raw. I’ve only watched a few NXT shows, but I’ve really enjoyed them. Let’s just hope the writers and bookers don’t screw them when they get called up.

Spencer: As, ahem, SPORTS MONOCLE’S RESIDENT NXT AFICIONADO AND EXPERT (end plug), the impact that NXT on the main product is very apparent through signs and chants. For example, what I mentioned earlier with Enzo and Big Cass, as well as the Lucha Dragons. There were “SAWFT” signs everywhere and the entire crowd popped and chanted for Sin Cara and Kalisto, which honestly was the least over tag team in NXT.

People are tuning into the network on Wednesdays, and this may be the most beneficial development tool WWE has ever had.

WillAs much as improving the actual product, adding more NXT to WWE is an olive branch to smart fans. The secret is out that NXT is favored by many to the big leagues, and calling more guys and gals up from the farm team sends a message that WWE recognizes what the modern crowd likes and respects. Triple H runs the show in NXT, but I’m dying to know what kind of say Vince has in all of this.

19. Is there another call-up on the horizon?

Derek: From the few NXT shows I’ve seen, I’ve been a huge fan of Finn Bálor. In his interview on the Cheap Heat podcast last week, he said the only way he’s not on the WrestleMania 32 card is if he’s dead. Well, I don’t want that. I hope he gets called up soon.

SpencerEverybody says Bálor is the next one up, and that could be true because of an intensely crowded main event picture. But my guy to lookout for is Sami Zayn. Once he finishes his rivalry with Kevin Owens once and for all, get ready for Zayn on the main roster (as I grin from ear to ear typing this).

As for a call-up on the women’s side- look for Charlotte and a newly turned heel Emma to be up next.

Will: Indeed, Bálor has been tabbed as the next star-to-be, and I almost wonder if that could work against him for reasons beyond his control (i.e. Vince resenting him for no good reason). If and when Bálor gets the call, it is crucial that WWE not screw up his look and entrance. His donning warpaint exclusively for big shows is a great wrinkle, and the sort of thing that lets you know you’re watching a match that matters. Fingers crossed.

20. Are the Divas getting a chance?

Derek: They are getting more match time, and those matches have been decent. I imagine the NXT women will make a move up at some point. I’m surprised Charlotte still isn’t on the main roster.

SpencerYes, and it’s a nice breath of fresh air! Nikki Bella’s clearly put in a lot of time into improving as a competitor, and Paige and AJ are the best at what they do. Now just wait for those NXT Divas to trickle on up.

There’s so much NXT love in this piece. I feel like a proud father.

WillI do believe they are. The longer matches have been very encouraging, and the Bellas have developed solid chemistry with AJ and Paige. I’m not sure that the storylines totally make sense, but that qualifies as equal treatment in WWE.

21. What are your thoughts on Stephanie McMahon?

Derek: She’s really good at what she does. Of all the heels, she’s the only one who makes me root for some kind of comeuppance. Even Rollins, at his absolute heeliest, is entertaining. I spent most of WrestleMania hoping Rousey would put her in a never-ending armbar. That’s quite an accomplishment.

SpencerStephanie McMahon is the baddest woman in the company. She does a great job at making you think, “Wow, what a [female dog] she is!” Steph is a cruel mastermind and is flawless (and heartless) on the microphone. She’s easily a top heel.

WillI love to hate her. She’s a McMahon, through and through. I too was hoping that Rousey would snap her arm clean off. I just wish Shane-o-Mac were still around.

22. Should Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler just have matches every show?

Derek: Hey, why not? I’m not sure how many times they would have to wrestle before the match became less interesting than a Rusev squash match, but it’s in triple digits.

SpencerYes. YES. YES! YES!!! An ironman match between the two needs to happen as soon as possible.

Will: At risk of losing whatever wrestling cred I have, I was actually lukewarm on them at first. As they’ve gotten more familiar with each other, however, the results have been terrific. They’re like catnip to technical wrestling fans, but I particularly enjoy when the (relatively) little guys square off and exchange haymakers in the middle of the ring.

23. Who is Cena’s next foe for the US title? Will Rusev get a rematch?

Derek: Rusev’s booking on Raw was a little weird. He didn’t answer Cena’s open challenge, then appeared only to squash Goldust. The announcers pointed this out more than once, too. I’m not sure what that means. All signs point to Ambrose looking to regain his old belt.

SpencerI honestly thought it was going to be Sheamus, but it looks like he’s going to be involved in a program with Daniel Bryan again. Maybe it’s Rusev, but I don’t think it’s Dean Ambrose.

WillI have no idea, but the good news is that there are plenty of guys who seem worthy of that spot, including Ambrose. I would think Rusev will get a rematch, but maybe Vince has decided to tear down that wall.

I thought Ambrose did very well in his match with Cena. Even more impressive is that Ambrose (and Cena, among plenty of others) put on a legitimate, full-length match just one night after taking a nasty spill through a ladder. Never forget that these guys are freaking nuts.

24. Dean Ambrose sort of teased a heel turn after a fantastic match with Cena. Is one in the works? Should there be?

Derek: They’ll probably try, but it’s tough for someone like Ambrose to be heel against someone like Cena. Rusev did it, but he did everything short of urinating on the American flag. Ambrose doesn’t have the same heel options that Rusev does.

SpencerI do, but I don’t think it’s the right time. Ambrose has been stuck in lower-card limbo ever since his feud with Bray Wyatt, and it’s shameful. He has way too much left in the tank as a face to be turned heel this early. He eventually needs a program back with Rollins for the WWE WHC to get back to where he was before.

But when Ambrose turns heel, you’ll know it. He’ll be the top heel in the company. Trust me on that one.

WillThe treatment of Ambrose has been puzzling, dating back to his backstage psychiatrist segment on Raw weeks ago. He’s the only Shield member not to be in the main event picture, but the fans pop for him just as much as Rollins. I see him as more of a babyface antihero, a sort of Stone Cold Lite, but I’m afraid we’ll be encouraged to boo him before long.

25. Is Randy Orton is becoming likeable again?

Derek: Angry Randy Orton will always be my favorite Randy Orton, but it was cool to see him remind Rollins that he beat him at ‘Mania. That RKO was a thing of beauty.

rko

SpencerAbsolutely he is. It’s like this feud with Rollins has given him the opportunity to find himself again, and you can see how much he’s enjoying it on the show. He’s still the same sadistic Randy. The only difference is that he’s a face. Orton and Rollins as the main focus of the main event will be a great feud heading into summer.

WillHis promos still don’t do much for me, and I’ll forever think of him as an Ed Hardy t-shirt come to life, but hot damn that RKO was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

26. Who will be Rollins’ first title defense?

Derek: Orton. I won’t be surprised if Orton vs. Rollins is the main event at Extreme Rules.

Spencer: Both Orton and Reigns. With the way Raw ended, I think that’s clear as day.

WillCo-sign Orton (though Reigns will probably be involved, too). Let’s let those guys put a bow on this thing for real.

27. Are you excited by the return of Sheamus?

Derek: When Sheamus returned, he looked like this:

sheamusYeah, I’m excited.

SpencerThe crowd chanted, “you look stupid!” but I think that Sheamus’s new look is freaking awesome. He was in dire need of a new direction and attitude, and now he’s got it. Bryan and him have excellent chemistry in the ring, and we haven’t seen heel Sheamus in quite some time.

WillI cannot wait until they explain why the hell he looks like that. Better yet, I cannot wait for them to skirt the issue altogether.

28. No Bray Wyatt on Raw. What’s next for him?

Derek: Apparently, Bray got hurt warming up before his ‘Mania match. I don’t know if the injury had anything to do with his absence, but it’s possible. He may disappear for a bit, then return in the form of interference like he did at Hell in a Cell.

SpencerThis is why I was disappointed that he didn’t go over Taker. Creative now has to find a formidable opponent to give him his momentum back. He’s stuck in limbo again. They’ve done this with him way too many times, and it’s going to bite WWE in the behind if it keeps happening.

I think reviving the feud between Wyatt and Ambrose would do both of them wonders. They have great back-and-forth promos and in-ring chemistry.

I could also see Roman Reigns facing off with him, maybe in a potential heel turn scenario for the big Samoan with Wyatt playing mind games talking about the crowd or something. That’d be something to tune into for sure.

WillI would like to see him start a sort of Reign of Terror, killing the lights and interfering in all sorts of matches for no clear reason, possibly with new lackeys at his side. It would be a sensible way to build on his New Face of Fear angle, and in lieu of a clear feud, that seems as good a direction as any.

29. Were you bummed that Taker and Sting weren’t on Raw?

Derek: Sting did make an appearance on the post-Raw WWE Network special, which didn’t tell us much. He left the door open to wrestle in the future, as the crowd chanted “Under-taker!” It would have been cool if Undertaker came out right then, but alas. We may never see Taker on Raw again. I hope Sting sticks around in some capacity, though.

SpencerI really didn’t have a problem with it, but I also don’t know what’s going to happen. I will say that Sting looked to be in great shape on Sunday, and I can’t say the same for Taker.

WillIt would have been great to see one or both during the main show, but it was always going to be a pipe dream. Those guys are literally 106 years old combined. They deserve a night off.

30. Seth Rollins thanked Roman Reigns as he pinned him. Your thoughts?

Derek: I thought it was pretty cool. I’m sure Rollins could barely contain himself and thought no one could hear. He’s been a singles wrestler for 10 months and he’s already reached what many would consider the pinnacle of professional wrestling. Nice of him to thank Roman for doing the job.

SpencerPure class from both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. That was one of those moments that hits you in the feels. Derek, you’re right. He’s been a singles wrestler on the main roster for 10 months.

He’s climbed his way up through the independents, Ring of Honor, Florida Championship Wrestling, NXT and more for over 10 years. And he’s only 28 years old. Twenty-eight!

Rollins was a natural face with few mic skills when he came in. He has evolved into the company’s top heel and earned the WWE’s most prestigious prize. THAT is what you call hard work.

WillLoved it. The wrestling brotherhood seems as tight-knit as any in the world, and it almost makes me proud as a wrestling fan to see Rollins treat the strap with that sort of respect. He and Reigns have plenty of shared history, and it’s just cool to see them appreciate each other’s efforts.

31. What do you think will be the big storylines at WrestleMania 32?

Derek: Early feuds look like Lesnar-Rollins and Rock-HHH. Taker and Sting looked good, and I think they could have a good match. My dark horse participants: Stone Cold and CM Punk. Stone Cold is still in decent shape and the show is in Texas. Punk should have his first MMA fight over the next year. Maybe he gets destroyed and Vince offers him a boatload of money and the opportunity to main event WrestleMania like he always wanted. AT&T Stadium is a big place. They’ll have to make some kind of splash if they want to sell it out.

But hey, who knows what could happen in the next year? At this time last year, Seth Rollins was one third of The Shield and the image of him going over in the main event at WrestleMania was unthinkable. Maybe it’ll be Mizdow next year.

SpencerWrestleMania 32 in Jerry’s World has to be epic right?

My dream is an All-Shield main event for the WWE WHC. Rollins (C) vs. Ambrose vs. Reigns for the gold. That card would also include a Daniel Bryan-Dolph Ziggler Ironman match for the IC championship. Rock and Brock are also going to square off, I think.

If there’s no Shield triple threat, I’d love to see Ziggler get his moment against Rollins for the WWE WHC. That might be my favorite WrestleMania moment ever.

But for now, the card is too early to call in my opinion!

Will: Man I can’t even remember if I put on underpants this morning. Don’t ask me to predict what’s going to happen in a year. Let’s just bask in ‘Mania 31 for a few more days.

(Main Event Mizdow or GTFO)


A Gentleman’s Guide to WrestleMania 31

mania logo

Derek: We’re coming to you live for a special Saturday edition of Wrasslin’ Wednesday! Superkick Saturday? The Sports Monocle Saturday Slam? We didn’t really think of a name.

But we did think that, since our post-NFL coverage has been almost exclusively Wrasslin’, we should do a Gentleman’s Guide to the Super Bowl of wrestling, much like we did the actual Super Bowl. Hopefully this one won’t make me want to chug every poisonous chemical in my apartment.

Normally, our Wrasslin’ coverage is written with the common Wrasslin’ fan in mind. This guide is for the Wrasslin’ version of people who only watch college basketball when the tournament starts. So those of you who tell me you totally used to read this website during the NFL season but don’t anymore, 1) you’re not very nice, and 2) this one’s for you.

Will: What he said. WrestleMania is the single biggest day on the professional wrestling calendar, the event in which WWE pulls out all the stops. Wrestling has even gotten some attention from the mainstream sports world lately, most notably ESPN.

Brock Lesnar announced that he was re-signing with WWE on SportsCenter, while Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman were interviewed by SportsNation’s Michelle Beadle. Grantland’s David Shoemaker, a/k/a the Masked Man, covered all the angles in written and podcast form with his companion Peter Rosenberg.

But your Mania coverage is not complete without Sports Monocle’s take on it. Without further ado, here’s a primer for each match on WrestleMania’s main card.

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins (Singles match)

Background

Derek: At SummerSlam 2013, Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship. Despite fears that special referee Triple H would cause some shenanigans, he called a fair match and Bryan won clean. However, as Bryan was celebrating in the ring, Randy Orton emerged with the Money in the Bank briefcase he won the month before. Triple H then delivered a Pedigree to Daniel Bryan, accepted Orton’s contract, and counted to three, ending Bryan’s title reign after only a few moments. This was the birth of the heel faction The Authority, which counted Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Orton, and Kane among their number. Triple H proclaimed Orton “The Face of the WWE” and The Shield began working for The Authority the next night on Raw.

Ah yes, The Shield! The group consisted of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The Shield acted as mercenaries for The Authority, feuding with the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, until the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble. The Wyatt Family interfered with The Shield’s match vs. Daniel Bryan, John Cena, and Sheamus which, had The Shield won, would have gained each man entry in an Elimination Chamber match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Because The Wyatt Family attacked The Shield’s opponents, The Shield lost via disqualification. The Shield became good guys and distanced themselves from The Authority. Triple H began orchestrating and participating in attacks on The Shield with his Evolution buddies, Orton and Batista. The Shield faced Evolution at both Extreme Rules 2014 and Payback 2014. The Shield won both matches.

The night after Payback, Rollins famously turned on his Shield brethren by attacking them with a chair and aligning himself with The Authority.

Orton and Rollins, now both with The Authority, began passively feuding with one another. Orton disliked Rollins’ smug, cocky attitude that came with being dubbed “Future of the WWE” by Triple H and Stephanie. Triple H tried to mend fences between the two, but was unsuccessful. On the November 3rd edition of Raw,  Rollins gave Orton a Curb Stomp on the ring stairs and Orton was taken out on a stretcher. We didn’t talk about it because that was the same episode when Vince came back.

Orton finally returned last month at Fastlane, understandably out to get Rollins for putting him out of action for so long. The two have gone at it since then, and will SETTLE THE SCORE tomorrow.

Oh, and remember that Money in the Bank contract Orton used on Daniel Bryan a month after he won it? Rollins won the very same contract in July 2014, but still hasn’t cashed it in.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Randy Orton is like everyone’s favorite Spider Man villain: Venom.

spider_man_vs__venom_by_peejaycatacutan-d7da69y

First, one of Randy Orton’s nicknames is The Viper. Second, Randy Orton is not a good guy. He’s done some pretty atrocious stuff during his WWE run. Venom has also done some horrible stuff, but he has his limits. He and Spidey even team up sometimes if the bad guy is bad enough.

venom spidey carnage

So while Orton is the “good” guy in this feud, it really doesn’t have a good guy. There’s a bad guy and a worse guy.

Will: Seth Rollins is the worse guy, a bit like Eric, the antagonist from Billy Madison.

Eric Billy Madison

He’s obnoxious, he’s entitled, and he thinks that he deserves to have the future of the company handed to him. He doesn’t have a Sandler-esque foil, but that doesn’t stop him from whining and moaning and generally being a little bitch. He always has lackeys ready to do his bidding for him, and everyone is rooting for him to get his comeuppance.

He’s terribly unlikable, which makes him a terribly great heel.

The Finish

Derek: This has the potential to be an incredible match. Orton is a seasoned vet and Rollins has been incredible in the ring. People are still talking about how good he was at Royal Rumble. I think Rollins wins, though some Authority shenanigans could be involved.

Will: Unlike some other matches on the card (Cena-Rusev, Sting-Triple H, Wyatt-Undertaker), the action will almost certainly supersede the storyline in this match. Rollins can do it all, and Orton is no stranger to big spots. It would be little surprise if these two stole the show.

Rusev (c) vs. John Cena (Singles match for the United States Championship)

Background

Derek: Rusev debuted at the 2014 Royal Rumble. He is a Russian nationalist and has been slamming the US of A at every conceivable opportunity. Though many have tried, including R-Truth, Jack Swagger, Big E, Mark Henry, and Big Show, no one has ever pinned Rusev or made him submit. His only losses have come via disqualification or count-out. He is also the holder of the United States Championship, which our government has done nothing about.

Enter John Cena, the most popular wrestler of the last decade. Cena tried to put Rusev down last month at Fastlane, but failed. Now, Cena is primed for revenge, and the hopes and dreams of every American are riding on his success.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Two Marvel Comics references in a row? Is that allowed?

cap

John Cena is Captain America. He must defend our way of life from the evil Russian regime. He’s a star-spangled man with a plan.

Will: Rusev is Ivan Drago.

Drago

He’s a monster athlete, he’s Russian (sort of; he’s actually Bulgarian), and he’s out to prove that his nation is superior to America. He is viewed with equal parts awe and fear, having dispatched numerous foes with great prejudice. He hasn’t actually killed anyone yet, however, so points off for that.

The Finish

Derek: Rusev’s winning streak comes to an end. Cena beats him with a baseball bat, then makes him submit after submerging his head in a kiddie pool filled with apple pie.

Will: Cena may also force Rusev to write a five-paragraph essay extolling the tenets of capitalism and another explaining why the United States military is the best in the world.

The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt (Singles match)

Background

Derek: Not much to say here. The Undertaker is one of the most iconic wrestlers of all time. He was 21-0 at WrestleMania until Brock Lesnar defeated him last year in New Orleans.

Bray Wyatt is a cult leader, challenging the Undertaker to become “The New Face of Fear.”

This is the Undertaker’s first match since WrestleMania 30. It may also be his last match, though many believe that will be next year in his home state of Texas.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: The Undertaker is Clint Eastwood.

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

He’s old school and past his prime, but you wouldn’t tell him that to his face. While his best days may be behind him, everything he’s apart of seems bigger simply because he’s part of it.

Will: Bray Wyatt is a less murderous Charles Manson

Charles Manson

He came on the scene as the leader of the Wyatt Family, a backwoods cult that aimed to re-shape the wrestling world. Wyatt is defined by bizarre vignettes that talk about nothing while talking about everything. He’s weird and a little scary, yet wildly magnetic.

The Finish

Derek: If Taker doesn’t win, I think there will be some kind of weird disqualification involved. I really doubt Bray will win clean. Surely they won’t have Taker lose two in a row after winning 21 in a row. I think Undertaker will face Sting (or both Sting and Bray Wyatt) at WrestleMania 32, and I doubt they’ll have him go into that match on a losing streak after so many years of dominance.

Will: More at stake than the actual match is the nebulous title of most feared personality in WWE, so a sloppy finish would be little surprise. Expect some neat spots in which Wyatt freaks out Taker with his creepy spider walk and Taker returning the favor with his ominous sit-up.

AJ Lee and Paige vs. The Bella Twins (Tag team match)

Background

Derek: Paige made her debut the night after WrestleMania 30, challenging (and defeating) AJ Lee for the Divas Championship. The two became enemies, then friends, then enemies, then friends, and now possibly enemies again. They refer to each other as “frienemies,” which is fairly accurate.

The Bella Twins feuded against each other for the latter part of 2014, but reunited for some reason. The story is too boring and stupid to recount. The two appear to be back on the same page now, hurling stereotypical high school cheerleader insults at the other Divas in the division.

Nikki Bella defeated AJ for the Divas Championship back at Survivor Series. That match lasted 35 seconds, because Brie Bella kissed AJ, distracting her long enough for Nikki to land a Rack Attack on AJ and pin her for the victory. AJ got a rematch at TLC, which she lost due to some more heel tactics from the Bellas. Brie managed to interfere with AJ’s pin attempt, earning her an ejection from the referee. However, as the referee was distracted by Brie, Nikki produced an unknown substance in an aerosol can and sprayed AJ’s eyes with it. After being blinded, AJ was not able to channel her inner Frank Dux and fell victim to the Rack Attack once more.

AJ disappeared until a couple of weeks ago, when she returned to rescue Paige from a double Bella assault. The two have struggled to get along, and their “team” may implode before the end of WrestleMania, if it hasn’t already.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Paige and AJ are Marcelline and Princess Bubblegum.

treasure

The two are friendly rivals (possibly ex-lovers?!) and one of them has really white skin. One minute they’re fighting, and the next they’re sharing a tender moment. Either way, it’s guaranteed to be short-lived.

Side note: while locating that GIF, I learned there is an alarming amount of fan fiction and art featuring two cartoon characters from a kids show dating. Maybe this is something else they have in common with Paige and AJ, but I don’t care to find out.

Will: Nikki is Regina George from Mean Girls, and Brie is one of her plastic hangers-on.

Mean Girls

They’re arrogant, they’re obnoxious, and they delight in little more than embarrassing those who they deem uncool or unpretty. They’re morally reprehensible in most every way possible. Like Seth Rollins, this makes them marvelous heels.

The Finish

Derek: Paige and AJ are the most popular Divas, and the Bellas run of success has to come to an end sometime. Mania is usually an event for the good guys, so I give a slight edge to Paige and AJ. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn on each other and send the feud in another direction, though.

Will: I really don’t know which way they’re going to take this one. I would not be the least bit shocked by some ‘accidental’ friendly fire that leads to one or both of these teams breaking up, though I’m hoping for a clean match that sees the babyfaces come out on top.

Bad News Barrett (c) vs. R-Truth vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Stardust (Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship)

Background

Derek: As you might imagine, a background involving seven wrestlers would be pretty lengthy. I’ll just include a short blurb about each guy so this doesn’t take five hours.

Daniel Bryan had a chance to main event WrestleMania, but lost to Roman Reigns. He decided to chase the Intercontinental Championship instead. The IC belt is the only WWE title he has never held.

Bad News Barrett is the champion. People have been stealing his belt relentlessly ever since he returned from injury and defeated Dolph Ziggler for it.

Ziggler has had two reigns as IC Champion in the last six months. He and Luke Harper had a feud for the belt, and the two had a great ladder match at TLC.

Dean Ambrose is a former member of The Shield and should be involved with Seth Rollins somehow, but whatever. He was feuding with Bad News Barrett before Fastlane and made an unsuccessful attempt for the IC title.

R-Truth has been sneakily stealing the belt over the last few weeks, and has been surprisingly funny. He has done nothing of note over the last year except for his stints as fodder for Rusev and an early entrant in the Royal Rumble.

Stardust got shoehorned into the match after WWE decided not to give him a Mania match with his real-life half brother, Goldust. He’s a little crazy.

Sheamus could also enter this match, but that is unclear at the moment.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Daniel Bryan is Underdog.

underdog

Bad News Barrett is an English soccer hooligan.

hooligan

Luke Harper is a former cult member who probably plays banjo.

banjo

Will: Dean Ambrose is Gary Busey: Unhinged, possibly unwell, and absolutely a fan favorite.

Gary Busey

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

The Professor

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

Ezal from Friday

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

David Bowie

The Finish

Derek: Daniel Bryan is the most popular guy in WWE. He takes the title as “Yes!” chants contribute to an earthquake. People learn what it’s like to see fans cheering in the 49ers’ stadium. Zing!

Will: Yes, yes, yes, anything other than a Bryan victory would be a shocker.

Sting vs. Triple H (Singles match)

Background

Derek: One could make the argument that this feud has been brewing for nearly 20 years, when the Monday Night Wars were in full swing. More recently, the feud started back at Survivor Series, when Sting put a stop to Triple H’s interference in the main event.

Sting was a loyal member of WCW. While most of the WCW stars eventually joined or re-joined WWE after Vince bought them out, Sting never did. He wrestled in TNA from 2003 to 2014, and was considered the best wrestler to never perform in WWE. Tomorrow will be his first (and possibly only) WWE match.

Triple H has employed a bit of revisionist history, claiming that he was the reason WWE outperformed and eventually overtook WCW. While Triple H undoubtedly helped, most would agree he took a backseat to the likes of Stone Cold, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Mick Foley. Many of Triple H’s greatest moments came after the Monday Night Wars had concluded.

Still, here we are. Triple H is the COO of WWE. Sting, dubbed “The Vigilante,” wants to put an end to his abuse of power. Triple H wants to prove he still has it. He participated in three matches in 2014 and was on the losing end in all three. He was last seen losing to The Shield at Payback 2014.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Sting is Nolan Ryan.

ryan fight

Sure, they both have popularity, Hall of Fame credentials, and the ability to kick Robin Ventura’s ass, but it’s their longevity that really made the connection for me.

It blows my mind that Nolan Ryan pitched in the Major Leagues from 1966 to 1993, just like it blows my mind that Sting has been wrestling since 1985. Sting is 56 years old! And he’s going to be in a match at WrestleMania! Fifty-six!

Will: Triple H is Liam Neeson from any movie of the past 10 years or so. 

Liam Neeson

 

He thought he was done with the rumble-tumble action and that he could finally settle into a quiet home life. He gets goaded out of retirement by an enemy from his old life, and now he has to prove that he still has the goods to get the job done. His tactics may be underhanded, but the man has a proven track record and will go to whatever lengths necessary to get the job done.

The Finish

Derek: Sting wins. I don’t think he would agree to this match if he was going to be booked to lose. I’m equally interested to see if Sting plans to stick around for WrestleMania 32 for a dream match with The Undertaker.

Will: Agreed that the Stinger is the likely victor. There could be some foul play involved one way or another, but I would be surprised if this match did not end with Sting beating Trips no matter what. Don’t be shocked if Triple H’s sledgehammer or Sting’s baseball bat get involved.

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns (Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

Background

Derek: Brock Lesnar returned to WWE just before Royal Rumble 2014 and has pretty much been unstoppable since. He put an end to The Undertaker’s fabled streak at WrestleMania 30, then put a legendary whipping on John Cena back at SummerSlam for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He has had only two title defenses since then, but retained the belt each time.

Roman Reigns’ time in The Shield is documented above. While Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins had the feud of the year in 2014, Reigns had lesser feuds with Randy Orton and Big Show. He had emergency hernia surgery before Night of Champions and lost even more momentum. He somehow won the Slammy for Superstar of the Year and won the Royal Rumble amidst a shower of boos.

Reigns is the “good guy” here, but people don’t like him. His matches aren’t particularly entertaining and he can be downright brutal on the microphone. He looks the part, though, and Vince is in love with him. He is in this match as a result of his Rumble win, and has spent the last two months futilely telling anyone within earshot he belongs there.

Non-Wrestling Comparisons

Derek: Roman Reigns is a Segway.

segwayRemember how everyone thought Segways were going to change everything? Steve Jobs told Time it was “as big a deal as the PC.” Now, you probably don’t know anyone who has a Segway. If you do, they are probably ceaselessly mocked. Just like Roman Reigns.

Will: Brock Lesnar is a pre-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson: A frighteningly unstoppable force.

Mike Tyson

He doesn’t talk much, but he doesn’t need to as he has a world-class hype man to do it for him. A physical marvel like him hasn’t been seen in years, and that alone makes him worth the price of admission. There’s always a chance that he’ll brutally dispatch his opponent in mere seconds, and a greater chance that he’ll look happy doing it.

The Finish

Derek: Brock wins. Fans would probably riot if Reigns won, and I don’t think WWE would want that at Mania. If Brock doesn’t leave with the title, Seth Rollins will via cash-in. However, Brock vs Rock is already rumored for WrestleMania 32, and I think the seeds for that will be planted here.

Will: Lesnar re-signing significantly boosts his chances of winning. It’s conceivable that his keeping the belt was part of his re-signing agreement, which provides WWE a nice excuse to slow down the Reigns train and give their would-be chosen one some more grooming.

It’s going to be a phenomenal night. The match will be outdoors, and beautiful weather is forecast. Every match has a compelling backstory, significant in-ring talent, or both. If you’re going to watch wrestling just once a year, this is the night. Here’s hoping for a brilliant show that leaves us in awe like the aliens from Toy Story.


Who Got NeXT: Developmental Hits Columbus

NXT-Logo

What’s up NXT faithful! Welcome to another edition of Who Got NeXT.

If you didn’t already know, for the first time outside of Full Sail University, the NXT roster and some main roster talents were in Columbus a couple of weeks ago at the annual Arnold Classic. There were autographs signed, shows performed and all kinds of fun things happened.

But here, I talk about the show itself so lets get to it!

Wednesday’s show kicked off with a bang as Tyler Breeze and Kalisto battled in a singles match. Overall, this would be the best match of the show in my opinion. The luchador formerly known as Samuray Del Sol can hold his own in the ring by himself, and I would like to see him in singles action more away from Sin Cara. My highlight of the match was when he hit Tyler Breeze with a beautiful 450 splash that almost put Prince Pretty away. The bout went back and forth, but in the end Breeze hit his beauty shot to pin Kalisto for the three count.

After showing a clip from the convention, the NXT Tag Team Champions Blake & Murphy came out to the ring. But the real fun was when Enzo Amore’s music hit. The crowd popped the loudest that it did until that point (yeah, they’re REALLY over). Heck, every crowd knows the promo word-for-word and chants along with them, something I haven’t seen since the New Age Outlaws for god’s sake!

Anyways, Amore and Big Cass came out on the stage and did their usual awesome promo schtick, except they personalized it a bit for the champs. Enzo went to the mic and cut a hilarious bit.

“And as for ah, the Australian kid (Buddy Murphy). Why don’t you didgeridoo yourself a favor while you still have that NXT Tag title? Kick rocks in flip flops, break a toe and skidaddle sweet boy!”

Pure awesomeness that is Enzo Amore. But as for the match, it was a decent one that ended with a rollup by Buddy Murphy grabbing the tights and beating Colin Cassady after he was distracted by Carmella being accidentally hurt on the outside of the ring.

We then get to the women’s bout between Alexa Bliss and NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks, and unsurprisingly it was awesome. Alexa Bliss, a Columbus native and former cheerleader at the University of Akron, has a unique set of tools in her arsenal. She’s small, but she’s quick and agile which works to her advantage. Bliss is great in the way that she goes from a happy-go-lucky tinkerbell with glitter in her entrance to a fiery aggressor in the ring.

Banks and Bliss started off with “The Boss” dominating, but things eventually turned when Bliss hit a flipping knee on Banks and the two made their way to the outside. Bliss would eventually shove Banks into the turnbuckle pole and make it into the ring before the 10-count to defeat the women’s champ. This earned her a rematch and an NXT Women’s title shot next week.

Then we finally get to the moment Alex Riley was waiting for: his match with NXT Champion and resident bad man Kevin Owens. The match began with Owens absolutely decimating the former commentator. He picked him apart like he said he would, using brutal punches, senton splashes and a sleeper hold as the crowd chanted “Kill Owens Kill!” Riley looked like mincemeat to start, but eventually the man with “RAGE” gained a little momentum when he knocked Owens square in the face with a forearm and a huge spinebuster.

But this only enraged the champion, and he took it personally. After a few more beatings, Owens put Riley away with a pop-up powerbomb. When the match was over, Owens was set on making Riley his next victim and started attacking him on the outside. Once he set Riley up for another powerbomb on the apron, Finn Bálor’s music hit, and he jumped from the stage and started attacking the champion. The brawl would move to the ring where Bálor would set up for the Coup de Grace, but Owens escaped and the two stared each other down separated by the ring and the stage.

Next week’s WrestleMania edition of NXT should be epic. With all three championships on the line, it is sure to deliver a masterful show as WWE approaches closer and closer to the “Grandaddy of Them All.”


The Daily Low Blow with Jon Stewart: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 3/4/15

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Newark! Last week, I begged WWE to show me why Roman Reigns should main event Wrestlemania instead of constantly telling me how great he is. They responded by … having Seth Rollins beat him with a surprise roll-up pin so fearsome that the referee could have counted to five if he wanted to

Although, in fairness to Roman, he did unleash a spear on Rollins that looked like it BAH GAWD BROKE HIM IN HALF.

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We also got the Michael Cole version: “Roman Reigns I think split Rollins in half! And I’m not exaggerating!” Far be it from me to accuse you of that, Michael.

So where should we take this party from here? Additional thoughts on Reigns? The prop known as the Intercontinental Championship Belt? Paul Heyman heeling off? The return of A.J. Lee? Jon Stewart kicking Rollins in the balls? The Miz’s “Niagara” commercial? What stood out most?

Will: I feel obligated to start with Reigns, but I don’t want to do something just because I feel obligated to do so. This is America, dammit. And few personalities have A) stepped into a WWE ring and B) become important, respected voices in American politics, so let’s dive into Stewart’s appearance.

He didn’t seem to get a huge pop when he came out—I’m curious how many Raw attendants are also voters—but he said his piece and handled the room like he’d been in WWE for years. He ginned up the Prudential Center crowd by invoking old horses like Austin and Foley, and by leaning on his Jersey heritage. In one joke, he showed more wit than the entire WWE creative team. It was a strong appearance, and family McMahon is fortunate that Stewart was willing to play his part.

He was simply superb. Years of hosting The Daily Show, hosting the Oscars, acting, and doing stand-up mean that he knows what to do with a mic in his hand, which is more than can be said of most humans, least of all the WWE roster. Stewart looked a little weird out there by virtue of the size differential between wrestlers and actors, but his voice was more important. He could have mailed the whole thing in, but he didn’t; he hand-delivered and confirmed the shipment to boot.

He cut a legit promo against Rollins, pointing out that the self-proclaimed future of WWE hasn’t earned a damn thing, least of all respect. He teased the inevitable, if distant, Rollins-Authority split, and pointed out the biggest kayfabe flaw in the Wrestlemania card: If Rollins is the future, the franchise, the biggest star in the biz, then why isn’t he headlining?

Rollins played along nicely, and his threats against Stewart were stopped only for the interference of one Randall Orton. Orton’s music hit, Rollins was distracted, and Stewart cemented his cameo as a great one by kicking Seth straight in the pills. It worked better, and felt better, than I ever expected a Daily Show-Raw crossover to. Kudos.

stewart kick

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What do you think: any chance Jonny Stew sticks around WWE for the long haul? They could certainly use the help.

Derek: There’s definitely a chance. Stewart likes wrestling, so why wouldn’t he spend the twilight of his career as a highly paid part-timer doing something he enjoys? The question is how they would plan on using him versus how he would want to be used. I imagine Stewart would (understandably) balk at Vince barking in his ear constantly and telling him exactly what to say, so things would have to change for Stewart to join as a studio guy or commentator.

The much more fun (and much less likely) scenario involves Stewart as a manager or mouthpiece or onscreen GM. The promo he cut was already better than a good deal of the guys on the roster, and it was his first one! Though I suppose you could make the argument that he’s been cutting promos on FOX News for years.

WWE has had plenty of celebrity guests over the last year–Betty White, Aaron Paul, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hugh Jackman, Kevin Hart, Flo Rida, Grumpy Cat, Larry the Cable Guy–and Stewart was the only one I hoped would come back. Sadly, he and Vince are like oil and water. I have my doubts that they could maintain a good working relationship.

Reigns time?

Will: I’m not ready to touch on Reigns yet. Let us go from one multimedia star, Stewart, to another: Damien Mizdow. When last we saw Miz and Mizdow, the former was interrupting the latter’s commercial shoot in wonderfully obnoxious fashion.

Monday, Mizdow was backstage, preparing to show the spot to stray wrasslers not seeing Raw action. Miz showed up and demanded to see the ad, and overwhelmed Mizdow’s insistence to the contrary. The tape ran and the world saw that the ad was for “Niagara,” a Viagra knockoff, with Miz unwittingly playing a gentleman having erectile issues and Mizdow as the stud with no such issues.

Everyone present laughed at Miz, and his embarrassment was almost visceral enough to be sad. Miz snapped at Mizdow as one would expect him do, and he went so far as to slap his former stunt double straight in the mug. Mizdow did not take kindly to this, and made an incredible angry face as the two went nose-to-nose. I’m not sure if Miz/dow are going to make the Wrestlemania cut, but I am still enamored of this duo.

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We have to be nearing the end of the Miz-Mizdow rope, right? How much longer can they stretch it out before these two come to blows in the ring?

Derek: No doubt. That was the first time Mizdow really looked like he was going to hit Miz. That look he gave Miz was incredible. Wrestlemania is obscenely long, so surely they’ll find a place for them. Everybody loves Mizdow.

Unrelated, but this was also the first show in a while that didn’t touch on the Dust Bros. Could that be relegated to the pre-show? Let’s run through a potential ‘Mania card with a bit of my own speculation and wishful thinking thrown in.

1. Bad News Barrett vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper vs. R-Truth (Six Man Ladder Match)

2. Rusev vs. Cena (I Quit Match)

3. Nikki Bella vs. Brie Bella vs. Paige vs. A.J. Lee (Fatal 4-Way)

4. Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

5. Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker

6. HHH vs Sting

7. Brock vs Roman

This hypothetical card omits a likely pre-show match and a likely eighth match on the main card. This hypothetical card also omits Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Sheamus, the Dust Bros, Miz, and Mizdow. So who gets the last spot on the main card? Does Rollins face Orton, or does Orton do something else so Rollins can save his energy for a cash-in? Where does Sheamus fit in? Would they really cut him from the show after all of the vignettes? And would they really relegate Goldust from the main card in what might be his final match? Will WWE concede that the tag team division is so boring that they’re not even worthy of a pre-show match? I’ll be interested to see who gets snubbed.

Ready to talk about Reigns yet?

Will: Nope, it’s still not Reigns time. Let’s give Divas a chance, shall we? Paige and Nikki Bella squared off in a title bout, which Paige was poised to win via her PTO submission (a really neat move, by the way). Nikki’s sister Brie intervened and Nikki maintained the belt in the DQ loss.

The Bellas—who have disappointingly devolved into little more than Mean Girls extras—were primed to humiliate Paige again, but A.J. Lee’s music hit, and she and Paige cleared the Bellas out of the ring. Paige looked upon A.J. with a bemused curiosity, and A.J. later deemed the pair friends by virtue of their shared enemies.

It was a legitimate bit of story for the Divas, and I was nearly brought to tears by how happy I was for them. The ladies of WWE have been relegated to the gutter for ages, it seems, and it was jarring to see them treated with some respect. Paige and A.J. are both witty, compelling characters, and it turns out that goes a long way in making someone work on-screen.

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Your gut feeling: Is this a sign of more good things to come, or was AJ’s return the real draw here?

Derek: I do think it’s a sign of more good things to come. After the Divas backlash last week and the continued love the NXT women are getting, they may actually try to make the matches something other than a Total Divas commercial. Paige and A.J. could feud for the next year and it would be better than what they’ve given us.

(By the way, speaking of backlash, did you know there was once a tag team match that featured Vince and Shane McMahon vs. Shawn Michaels and God? It’s true!)

Since we’re discussing the womenfolk, we should probably point out that Alundra Blayze became the latest inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. She is best known for bolting WWF for WCW as Women’s Champion, then dropping her belt in the trash in an Oscar-worthy performance on WCW Monday Nitro.

WWE usually inducts one woman each year, which means that somehow Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth are not going into the Hall of Fame together. I hope there’s a good reason for that.

Now will you talk about Roman?

Will: Nah, not yet, Roman; we’ll get to you and your dreamy blue eyes later. Let’s hit on the finest non-Jon Stewart promo of the night, brought to us by Paul Heyman.

It’s self-evident how good Heyman is. His voice, his delivery, and his diction are all top-class. He speaks like Pedro Martinez pitched: he changes speeds, he changes locations, he mixes up his deliveries, and then he breaks out the high heat at the best possible moment.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

His microphones cut out multiple times on Raw, and he played it beautifully: “Obviously our sound guy is from New Jersey.” He managed to tie every production gaffe into his promo, using the mistakes as a springboard to crow about Reigns’ hopelessness against Brock Lesnar. He incorporated more than a few “Believe that”s into his speech, using Reigns’ catch phrase better than Roman ever could.

He’s brilliant, and I can’t imagine where WWE would be without him. Is there any wrestling scenario in which you wouldn’t trust Paul Heyman?

Derek: Maybe the creation of match stipulations? Google ECW’s “Born to be Wired” PPV if you have a strong stomach. Reading about the Barbed Wire Match between Terry Funk and Sabu was quite enough for me.

Other than that, he’s money. I loved watching him complain about the broken microphones, then mocked poor Lilian Garcia after she gave him hers. I might just watch him when Lesnar and Reigns square off.

Will: A couple quick hitters:

Curtis Axel is somehow the most over guy on the roster. I died when he interrupted John Cena and proclaimed that he had been in the Royal Rumble for 35 days. He’s completely, totally, unabashedly biting Hulk Hogan’s gimmick, and somehow it’s working. Then he got a match with Cena, and Cena destroyed him while wearing a weary, grumpy expression that would suit him well if he ever turns heel.

Cena will only get a match with Rusev if the big Bulgarian agrees to it. He hasn’t done so yet, but it isn’t difficult to imagine. Cena tried to put himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but Stephanie appeared to put the kibosh on that. She used a 30-year-old picture of herself with Andre as a means to exercise total, ahem, authority over the match, and took the air out of Cena’s sails by saying that this shit is bigger than him: “You’re not special. You’re not unique. It’s not where would WWE be without John Cena, it’s where would John Cena be without WWE?”

The Intercontinental Belt changed hands three times since I started writing this sentence. Bad News Barrett is the rightful champion, but Dean Ambrose, R-Truth, Luke Harper, Dolph Ziggler, and Daniel Bryan have all staked a claim to the belt at some time during the past week or so. Every one of those guys laid hands on the belt Sunday, and they will duke it out in a ladder match for the IC belt at Mania. It’s like a casserole assembled out of leftovers, but such casseroles can be good sometimes.

I skipped the Uso & Naomi-Kidd & Natalya match. I give it 10 mehs out of 10.

So, um, what do you make of all this stuff? Which storylines are worth paying attention to?

Derek: Axel has been incredible. I can’t wait to see him in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Him doing his Hulk Hogan antics as John Cena looked on was one of the highlights of the night for me.

axelmania

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As I pointed out earlier in my fake Wrestlemania card, I do think the Cena-Rusev match is a certainty. I just hope they make it an I Quit Match. I don’t know if WWE would have the guts to do that since they won’t want to make either of them quit for future booking purposes, but with all the talk of Cena “submitting” that seems like the most entertaining way to go.

Passing the IC Belt around is a little silly, but I’m not going to complain about a huge ladder match. R-Truth is a bit of a head-scratcher, as pessimists will tell you his inclusion is WWE’s version of the Rooney Rule at work. But hey, I’m rooting for you Truth. Unless Ric Flair or the Hardys plan on suiting up, you’re the best WWE wrestler North Carolina has to offer. Shock the world!

Uh … anything else?

Will: Alright, we’ve avoided it as long as possible, but we have to hit on Roman Reigns.

I don’t know that I appreciated how big a deal it is to headline Wrestlemania until this week’s Raw. That importance is largely due to WWE’s own legend-telling, but that’s how the industry goes: if something is said to be significant, then it is.

I’m not terribly well-schooled in WWE history, but here’s a brief list of wrestlers who never main evented ‘Mania: Ric Flair, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Eddie Guerrero, and CM Punk. The first two on that list are all-time icons, Steamboat appeared in some all-time great matches, and Guerrero and Punk were among the roster’s best during their time in WWE. And none of them ever headlined Wrestlemania. And now Roman Reigns is going to.

I had generally been disappointed in all of the Reigns hate, thinking that people were boo-hooing because they weren’t getting what they wanted. But it isn’t about what people want; it’s about what wrestling deserves. The main event at Wrestlemania is as sacred as wrestling ground gets, and throwing Reigns in there, despite his incremental improvements, doesn’t sit right with wrestling fans, and nor should it.

He had some fine moments during Raw, including his spear of Rollins, his rollup-into-sitdown-powerbomb, and the suicide dive onto the Authority, but for me it was largely ruined by the subtext: it’s all a gambit by WWE to make Roman look strong. He’s still lame on the mic—to that end, why did smartass, squinty, jokey Reigns return? Didn’t they alter course to make him a stoic badass like a week ago?

It’s just a bummer, man. Is he winning you over at all? Can they make his main event feel someone legitimate by the end of the month?

Derek: I don’t think so. Whenever he takes a step forward, he takes two or three steps back. That midair spear was great, but the way he lost does not sell me on him beating Brock. I also picked up on his sudden switch in character on the mic. He sounded a lot more like the Roman Reigns who cut this promo:

Then there’s the commentary. Yet again, the announcers went out of their way to tell us how great Roman was. Even the heel announcer was talking about how worried Brock Lesnar should be. My goodness. The only thing about this match that excites me is the possibility or Rollins cashing in. Unless Lesnar drops out, of course.

I’ll just say this: if my fake Wrestlemania card comes to fruition, the Brock-Roman match would be the one I’m least interested in. I suppose that could change over the next four weeks, but I doubt it. You listed all of those guys who never main evented Wrestlemania, which is even more egregious when you point out that The Miz and Lawrence Taylor both did. While Lesnar-Reigns isn’t exactly Bam Bam Bigelow-Lawrence Taylor … I’m not thrilled.

Can’t we just get Lesnar to face Shawn Michaels and God?