Hey, folks! In case you missed it, Wrasslin’ Wednesday has a new home this week. Check it out over at Waiting For Next Year.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (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:
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.
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.
Hey, folks! In case you missed it, Wrasslin’ Wednesday had a new home last week. Check it out over at Waiting For Next Year.
Hey, folks! In case you missed it, Wrasslin’ Wednesday has a new home this week. Check it out over at Waiting For Next Year.
Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Seattle! We have no choice but to dedicate today’s wrasslin’ analysis entirely to Daniel Bryan, who retired from professional wrestling Monday night at the age of 34. Will’s thoughts originally ran on WFNY. I’ve included them here, and I’ll jump in after that. Hope you’ve got your handkerchief nearby.
Will: Daniel Bryan has retired from professional wrestling. (If this does not matter to you at all, I will attempt to make an argument why it should.) He tweeted as much Monday afternoon, but fans held out hope that it was somehow untrue. Work me, they begged in wrestling parlance, hoping for it all to be part of a scripted storyline, let there be a swerve. But there was no script. There was no swerve. The unscripted nature of Daniel Bryan’s retirement is what made it so compelling — and so heartbreaking. He had to retire, in short, because he’d had a lot of concussions.
Appearing at the end of Monday night’s Raw in jeans in a flannel shirt, Bryan explained why he had to walk away. (There were two very good pieces of writing about Bryan that I intended to include excerpts of, but I got carried away and don’t expect you to read another thousand words on the topic. One was by Brandon Stroud at Uproxx, and the other was by David Shoemaker at ESPN. They both know the business way better than me, and I recommend them both.)
I’ve been wrestling since I was 18 years old. And within the first five months of my wrestling career, I’d already had three concussions. And for years after that, I would get a concussion here and there, and it gets to the point that when you’ve been wrestling for 16 years, that adds up to a lot of concussions. And it gets to a point where they tell you that you can’t wrestle anymore. And for a long time I fought that because I had gotten EEGs and brain MRIs and neuro-psychological evaluations and all of them said this: That I was fine and that I could come back and I could wrestle.
I trained like I could come back and I could wrestle. I was ready at a moment’s notice if WWE needed me, I wanted to come back and wrestle because I have loved this in a way I have never loved anything else. But, a week and a half ago, I took a test that said that maybe my brain isn’t as okay as I thought it was.
The mention of concussion, not to mention three of them within five months of an 18-year-old’s life, brought solemnity to the proceedings. Even a couple years ago that might not have sounded like cause for retirement. Now it does. The crowd still pleaded with Bryan to stay, but more out of respect than anything. They follow the NFL, they know what’s in theaters; they know the score. They understood why he had to go.
Wrestlers are meant to be superheroes. This was a rare moment in which the performers’ very humanity was in the spotlight.
More than that, the spotlight was on the unique relationship between wrestlers and wrestling fans. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s its own thing, different than that between players and fans in any other sport. If you have the time and the inclination, a YouTube video called “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” sums up wrestling’s appeal as well as anything. One line captures it all: “Don’t get me wrong, a lot of wrestling sucks. But when it’s good, it’s fucking great.”
Daniel Bryan did a lot of good wrestling, most of it before he was ever on national television. He slogged away in the lower promotions, working high school gyms and bingo halls and armories. He was never destined for the world once inhabited by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant — he’s 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, if that. But as more fans discovered him, the more they learned about and disseminated his journey. They learned how he was a real-life Rudy. They saw how he left a bit of himself in the ring every time he entered. There was an ineffable joy in his work, a magnetic energy that took hold. What made him special, what connected him with fans, was this very real sense that he was living the dream. Once upon a time he was just a kid who loved wrestling, just like all of the other kids out there. Then one day, boom, he’s winning the championship at WrestleMania.
Bryan is so beloved because he shared so much with the fans. Indeed, his very presence at the top of the WWE pyramid only happened because of his fans. WWE brass was not itching to put a guy the size of Doug Flutie in the main event, but the fans made it so. An entire television segment, and eventually an entire championship storyline, were derailed because the fans demanded it be. They demanded Daniel Bryan be given a shot at the title. They demanded to see him on the biggest stage. They demanded to see their underdog overcome the odds, because damnit, that’s what wrestling is about. He did what every wrestler seeks to do with the crowd, and to a degree that few could ever replicate: He got over.
Bryan embraced the spotlight as much as he could when he got it, which people respected because the spotlight is the greatest wrestling currency there is. His passion and work rate never let up. What made Daniel Bryan great — and the past tense is regretfully necessary at this point — was how much of himself he gave in the name of his sport. You never watched him with a sense that you were being gypped. You never felt like he performed in a way that anyone else could. You never felt like anyone cared more than him. You never felt like anyone gave more than him.
Watching this, a man forced to walk away from the thing he loves the most, had me weeping like a baby Monday night. Precious few among us get the chance to realize our greatest aspiration, let alone actually do it. Daniel Bryan did — and he did.
Derek: Look, I get it. No one watches embedded videos in articles unless there’s some stupid autoplay feature. But I’ll tell you this: if you don’t watch the videos I’m about to show, you won’t believe anything I say. That’s the beauty of Daniel Bryan’s career. You could look at him, and he may not impress you. I could describe him, and he may not impress you. But when you watch him in the ring and see how beloved he is, and see how he has thousands of people with smart phones and gnat-like attention spans hanging on his every word, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the words of Morpheus, no one can be told how great Daniel Bryan is. You have to see it for yourself.
Watch 1:05-1:35 in the video at the top of the page, when he talks about potentially having kids and then makes one of the funniest remarks I’ve ever seen on WWE television. Watch the crowd’s reaction at 3:29 when he talks about the Seahawks. Watch 5:27-6:30, when he talks about the people he’s met, like Kane, William Regal, and Connor Michalek. Watch 7:50-10:30, when he talks about the time the Seattle crowd hijacked Raw in what would be the last time his father got to see him wrestle. Good luck getting through that without shedding a tear. God, just watch the whole thing. Any of you who wonder why I watch pro wrestling at my advanced age, watch the video and find out. Sometimes wrestling is so dumb and pointless that I watch for three hours and struggle to think of one interesting thing that happened. In fact, I’d say that happens most of the time. But sometimes you get nights like Monday, when something incredible happens that no sport could replicate. So much of what Daniel Bryan did I’ll remember forever.
Let’s start with that night Seattle took over Raw. I had just gotten back into wrestling at that time. Again, you need to see it for yourself.
As a Seahawks fan, I’m often told that the fans at CenturyLink Field are only loud because of the stadium’s architecture and/or artificial crowd noise. My response is this video. I got goosebumps watching it then and I get goosebumps watching it now. Triple H talked louder to make them stop cheering, which usually works. Instead, they just cheered louder. In the words of Michael Cole, “WHAT A MOMENT!!!”
Then, just over a month later, Bryan had joined the Wyatt Family because it was the only way they would stop assaulting him. Bryan leaving the Wyatts was one of the best Raw main events I’ve ever seen.
Then there was the time he filled the ring with fans to secure a match with Triple H and a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
He finally won the championship and, though it isn’t in the next video, he took his new belts and hugged Connor.
It was mostly downhill for Bryan after that. Neck injuries and concussions put him out of action and led to Monday’s retirement. All I can say is thank goodness there’s video of what he accomplished. There have been so many wonderful words written about Bryan over the last 48 hours, but all of them combined can’t say as much as a two-minute YouTube clip. He’s the most beloved wrestler of at least the last five years, and I’m sad to see him go. I’m sad I won’t get to see him feud with Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, or A.J. Styles. I’m sad his big farewell had to be a promo on Raw instead of a huge pay-per-view match. I’m sad that I didn’t know the last time I saw him wrestle would be the last time I saw him wrestle.
But you know what would have been more sad? If his dad didn’t get to see his son have one of the greatest nights a wrestler ever had. If he kept getting concussions. If he permanently injured himself before he could start a family. If he died well before his time, as wrestlers often do.
We’re lucky. We get to look back on Bryan’s career with reverence instead of guilt. We get to talk about what it was like to watch him command whatever building he went to. We get to talk about how he could hijack a segment just by silently standing. Then, when no one believes us, we can tell them to go to the tape.
We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Brooklyn! Well, sort of. It’s the last Wednesday of 2015, which means it’s time for the Monocleys! It’s the most Gentlemanly wrestling awards column on the internet. Without further ado …
Gentleman of the Year (WWE SUPERSTAR of the Year)
Derek: As indefensible as it may have been, I considered putting Paul Heyman here for a few minutes. But the clear winner is Seth Rollins. From his incredible match with John Cena and Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble, to his cash-in at WrestleMania, to his matches with Dean Ambrose at Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank, to his feuds with Lesnar and Sting … there was no one else who had as many big moments as he did. His ACL injury was a true wrestling tragedy. He can’t come back soon enough.
Will: I’ll make no argument against Rollins, but for the sake of variety I’ll take The New Day. They took a nonsense gimmick and turned it into gold. I have some lingering fears that they’ll start to grow stale after a while, but their collective mic work is still a draw unto itself. They are capable of being timely, topical, and funny in a way that WWE almost never is. Just this past week, Kofi threatened to fight your children. That’s the stuff Gentlemen of the Year are made of.
Cad of the Year (Worst WWE SUPERSTAR of the Year)
Derek: I’m cheating a bit and giving it to two people: Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension. I reacted to every single second of watching them with either laughter or disgust. I’ve enjoyed their disappearance so much that I haven’t thought about them in months, and the only thing that made me think of them was reflecting back on what made me roll my eyes the most.
Will: I was under the impression that those two were good in NXT, which I cannot begin to understand; they’re just awful. I too will pick a duo: The Usos. This is being a little harsh on them, but I don’t feel they’ve brought much to the table since returning. They were involved in the terrific Triple Threat match at TLC, and they pal around with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, all of which are functional wrestling things. I also have zero affinity for them whatsoever, and I’m not sure I would notice if they were to disappear again.
Lady of the Year (WWE DIVA of the Year)
Derek: This is a tough pick. AJ Lee left too early in the year to be considered, and my personal dislike for Nikki Bella’s work disqualifies her. This is something of a legacy pick, but I’m going with Paige. She’s managed to be a relevant Diva ever since her debut last year, which can’t be said for any of the other Divas. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte came into the fold too late to be considered. Paige stuck around at the top when others who got title shots, like Natalya, Cameron, and Alicia Fox, either disappeared or got relegated to sidekick roles. Paige wins by default.
Will: Paige all day. It took a while for her to regain her mojo/turn heel late this year, but she’s been as good as anyone since. I’m also just not sure who else it could be. I am also not a Bella supporter; Sasha hasn’t quite gotten there yet; and I fear that Charlotte is something of a charisma vacuum (although I have enjoyed her semi-heel work of late).
Shrew of the Year (Worst WWE DIVA of the Year)
Derek: I’m going with Naomi. I hate her music. I hate the Team BAD moniker. I hate that she’s the apparent leader of that group, even though Sasha Banks is better in every way. She doesn’t bring anything to the table in her current state. Nothing against her personally, but the only reason I’m ever happy to see her is because I might get to see Sasha do something.
Will: I gotta say, Naomi and Co. have grown on me a little. She’s hardly a draw on her own, and “Team BAD” is still just the worst, but they’ve been more fun since they’ve taken a page out of New Day’s book and taken part in some comedic bits. I also find it kinda funny that they wound up being the women’s team with the most staying power. The Bellas have been hamstrung by Nikki’s absence, while the former PCB fell apart due to infighting.
My pick is Alicia Fox. She might be alright on her own, but all I can judge her on is being a pseudo-Bella. Lame.
Quarrel of the Year (Match of the Year)
Derek: My criteria for this selection is simply the match I enjoyed watching most, and that’s Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins at Royal Rumble. Rollins had put himself on the map by turning on the Shield and winning the Money in the Bank contract several months before, but this was the match that made me think “this guy really is the future.” Brock Lesnar sold an injury really well. There was the added drama of Rollins possibly cashing in. People will remember his 2015 because of what he did at WrestleMania, and rightfully so, but this was the match in which Rollins outgrew the Authority.
Will: I’m not sure if my choice is true match of the year stuff, but I’m picking Cena-Owens I. Roughly 75 percent of that is just because Cena lost, and the other 25 percent is rooted in Owens becoming a sociopath lately. He destroyed Dean Ambrose on this week’s Raw after losing to Neville, and he did so with an oddly sexualized sense of sadomasochism. My understanding is that as Kevin Steen he was billed as wrestling’s antichrist, and I’m optimistic that he’ll bring those sorts of bad intentions to WWE.
Donnybrook of the Year (Feud of the Year)
Derek: By WWE mandate, I’m required to give John Cena at least two awards. Therefore, Donnybrook of the Year goes to John Cena vs. Kevin Owens. I gave their match at Elimination Chamber consideration for Quarrel of the Year, and listening to these two cut promos on each other was outstanding. Of course it ended in CENAWINSLOL, but I’ll still remember it fondly.
Will: Right about now I’m realizing how much wrestling I’ve forgotten this year, so I’m also going with Cena-Owens by default. I remember the Undertaker-Bray Wyatt mehfest. I remember the Rollins-Sting mehfest. I remember 700 Orton-Sheamus matches. I remember lots of Usos and Matadores. I suppose what I’m getting at is that no one feud truly resonated with me. Not in a good way, at least — hey, speaking of which…
Banal Squabble of the Year (Worst Feud of the Year)
Derek: There was really nothing worse than Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler. My word, that was tough to watch. I thought of giving it to Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt because it was so forgettable, but Rusev and Ziggler win because they were unforgettable for all of the wrong reasons. Remember that time Lana and Ziggler “went public”? I sure do. Thank goodness they put a stop to this.
Will: Absolutely Rusev-Ziggler. Oh my god it was so bad. Let’s move on.
Spectacle of the Year (Best PPV)
Derek: I apologize for the chalk pick, but there was nothing better than WrestleMania in 2015. We got Daniel Bryan winning the Intercontinental Championship, a legendary RKO, Sting vs. Triple H, AJ Lee’s swan song, John Cena defending America, the Undertaker proving he can still go, and Rollins topping it all off with the biggest moment of the year. No other card came close to replicating that from top to bottom.
Plus, Michael Cole got an F5 the next day. I need to get around to sending Brock a fruit basket.
Will: Damnit, man, stop being so convincing. I’ll take Mania as well. That RKO alone was worth the price of admission.
Ennui of the Year (Worst PPV)
Derek: It may not have been the absolute worst, but in terms of sheer disappointment, I’ll say Survivor Series is the most deserving. The whole Brothers of Destruction storyline was botched, as well as the subsequent Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose match. We had to suffer through the absurd amount of confetti and the Sheamus cash-in. WWE had a good opportunity to do something wild in the wake of Rollins’ ACL injury, and they didn’t. I expected so much more from this show.
Will: I too am picking Survivor Series, though with the caveat that the next night’s Raw was outstanding. Considered together, the two shows made for a nice back-to-back job. On its own, however, Survivor Series stank. There were no actual Survivor Series matches of consequence, and the final match ended early enough for Sheamus’ cash-in to be a non-surprise. It was still fun. I guess. Whatever. Meh.
Wish(es) for 2016
Derek: I have several …
Finn Balor debuts after WrestleMania. And I hope he becomes Mr. Money in the Bank.
Sasha Banks turns on Team BAD. Sasha has a short feud with her former teammates, comes out on top, and finally gets to do her own thing. I will not mourn the end of Team BAD.
Asuka joins the main roster. I don’t get to watch as much NXT as I would like, but what I’ve seen from her has been incredible. She’s already one of my favorite workers in WWE, and she brings something new to the table. A Divas division including Paige, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Asuka, and eventually Bayley, would be a lot of fun if they’re used somewhat correctly. They probably wouldn’t be, but I can dream.
Rollins makes a full recovery. Sooner rather than later.
CM Punk and AJ Lee return. Because these are my wishes and you can’t take them from me.
Brock Lesnar in the Royal Rumble. It would probably push everything else to the side, but screw it, I just want to see Bork wreck like 15 people in a row. I’d enjoy a Samoa Joe appearance as well, although I’m wary of anyone from NXT getting the call-up.
A worthwhile Wyatt Family feud. Pun not intended. Bray and the boys have gone from a fearsome foursome to, I don’t know, just four weird dudes who talk a lot before losing? They have one of the most original gimmicks going, and they should be able to raise some legitimate hell. They don’t need to be a new-era Ministry of Darkness or anything, but c’mon boys, fuck some people up.
[Insert Big-Name Face Here] turns heel. At this point I don’t really care who it is, but I want a big name to break bad. Cena is a pipe dream, and Reigns might be too, but how about Dean Ambrose? Isn’t he primed for one? Maybe Kevin Owens will knock some ill will into him.
Shane-o Mac returns. I miss Shane McMahon so much. Vince can’t do it forever. Come on home, Shane-o. Bring the Mean Street Posse with you. It’s time.