Come at the King, You Best Not Miss

Raw Regurgitated, 12/14
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Stephanie McMahon’s ascendance to Vince’s throne has been as fun to watch as it appears she’s having getting there. But there’s always an elephant in the room for segments like this: Roman Reigns will never be able to give Stephanie her true “come-uppance” for things like slapping the bejesus out of him.

It’s not difficult because she’s a woman, though. While that certainly doesn’t help, and an attack on Stephanie by a male performer – especially one ostensibly playing a protagonist -- for any reason would play about as well as a Big Show match in Chicago, no one ever really wanted to see Vickie get punched or thrown through a table like so much Attitude Era misogyny.

Stephanie’s real issue is her last name. McMahons get hit, a lot. All the time, pretty much. It happened (SPOILER) at the end of this show.

In fact, in a way that exists against all logic like only professional wrestling can, there’s a presupposition on the part of the crowd that at some point, a member of our country’s most prominent living Irish-American family is going to be taking a finisher from dude they pay to jump around in spandex.

This isn’t Stephanie’s fault, and it’s for the best that she doesn’t have to take a Spear or a Superman punch from a 6’3” 260LB Samoan guy. But that’s why I really want the Divas Revolution to get their shit together: So Sasha can show Stephanie her Banks Statement.

***

Life is a series of choices. Like the WWE, for instance, chose to break my heart by having Kevin Owens lose clean on Sunday night. Then, instead of giving me the rematch I want, we get Dolph Ziggler wearing Shawn Michaels’ long lost tights from his ill-fated tag team run with Bret Hart (called The Hartbreak Kids) vs. Dean Ambrose, who was wearing his hairline for the evening. While I can understand having a match without Owens the night after the PPV, booking matches like this show what happens when half their roster is on the shelf.

It wasn’t bad – in fact, it was an actively good match worked by two genuine professionals that really started to hit its stride before being ended at the right time – but it’s certainly one that could have been done with any number of other performers if they were available. If the goal of the match was to have Kevin Owens come in and run train on someone people think is good in addition to Ambrose – to make him not just look like an opportunistic dick, but a tough guy who also happens to be an opportunistic dick – guys like Cesaro, Orton, or even Barrett (who has been MIA since that weird roundtable promo immediately before TLC) fit much better than Dolph Ziggler's Marty Jannettying ass.

HAVING SAID THAT, there is no pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater than the simultaneous feeling of joy and revulsion I feel watching Kevin Owens destroy people with the best-worst move in professional wrestling today: the pop-up powerbomb. While the move is the g’damned business when done organically, the set-up version (which require wrestlers to bounce off of the ropes and then run back towards him despite knowing for a fact what he’s going to do) only works in situation like this, where Owens is in full God mode.

And as his promo later would seem to indicate, we’re just getting started. Pretty good news, eh?

***

While some people may see getting kicked out of your totally meaningless match by your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss as getting buried, I’m sure R.Truth and Bo Dallas were just happy to be on TV in a segment someone might actually see.

For all his perceived flaws as a business man, the character of Mr. McMahon – and his more metatextual stint as the announcer/secret owner of the WWE directly beforehand – is one of the great antagonists in the history of television. Not surprisingly, considering his legendary career as promoter, he is able to get heat out of an icestorm and when the crowd is as hot as last night’s, there can be genuine magic.

Adding intrigue to already interesting situation is the way in which Vince vs. Roman cuts entirely differently from Stone Cold or any of the milquetoast imitations of him who have come after. With McMahon-Reigns, it's not just because Roman does best to not talk all that much – which spares him from having to spar on the mic with a guy playing God – but because he, like McMahon, comes from a rich wrestling heritage.

One that it can be argued (strongly) has been belittled and misrepresented in the WWE’s wholesale slaughter and reconfiguration of wrestling history. Which is to say that it seems like there’s more behind Roman saying “your whole family is a disgrace” than just being the quickest way to get slapped fifty times.

***

Del Rio/Rusev v. Swagger/Ryback Just a good old fashioned tag-team match of mid-card importance where friends can help one another deal with the jerks they are feuding with as a way to leverage your chemistry for career advancement. Thankfully, this is wrestling, where the heels are the only ones with friends, so Swagger and Ryback never really stood a chance.

This Neville/Miz business could really turn into something fun if they let it breathe at least half as much as they did with MizDow. Neville is a much more complete character than Sandow and Miz is slowly but surely becoming an invaluable mid-level asset as a talker, shit stirrer and potential manager. And his tendency to (possibly unintentionally) lean towards the post-modern could really blossom if he ends up honing this “match director” schtick.

For all the seeming (pardon the pun) shortcomings and potential pitfalls of this storyline, Neville is a good enough talker for a professional wrestler that it isn’t going to be an embarrassment everytime he gets near a mic. And with storylines like these that are so character -- and specifically interpersonal character dynamic -- driven, that’s key. Having one person forced to carry the burden of expository, motivation and character beats almost never work out.

***

You’ll find very few people who write about professional wrestling with any kind of frequency who hate ECW as much as I do. WWE has always been my jam, for better or worse, and while I can certainly see the influence that it had on the Attitude Era, I’m also one of the few, the proud, the people who preferred the New Generation. Between those two things, this kind of feud can be like fingers on a chalkboard for someone like me.

Thankfully, they’ve managed to do right by everyone involved, and have made the ECW Originals look like valiant veterans who are just overmatched by the New Faces of Fear. And with all four possible Hall of Famers, it’s nice to see them giving back to the business by being run through barricades and slammed through tables doused in lighter fluid.

The Wyatts, with feuds like these, are finally being developed/groomed into the kind of stable that worked so well in the late 80s before being stigmatized by WCW’s fumblings with the genre in the early-to-mid 90s. More Howling Commandos meets Varsity Club than Dungeon of Doom, all four men have been able to get some shine in this feud, and have been able to establish both a hierarchy (Rowan-Luke/Strowman-Bray) and the kind of team work that was able to get The Shield so over.

And while it’s not exactly time to put rocketboots on him, the trajectory of Strowman’s career seems like it could get a lot farther than we expected originally if he continues to reach the level of impact he had in his high spots last night. Flying busses don’t go on trees, Maggle. But beards do, apparently

***

This was the weirdest, least enjoyable, best and most important New Day promo so far. It is trying to either establish them as unrepetant heels playing with the emotions of their competitors and the crowd or as tried-and-true babyfaces that the WWE harvests out of the fertile heel forest every so often.

It also felt like a subverted use of the Edge and Christian-Hardy Boys mutual respect-fest bit following their first tag team ladder match. The New Day now has several options of how to respond -- with kindness, with unmitigated jackassery, with a mixture of the two, or with the resignation of “'Trying' to be good guys and it got us nowhere” turning into them destroying the Usos as we know them and possibly making the Lucha Dragons into stars -- all of which look potentially interesting.

Becky and Charlotte’s storyline flows in the opposite direction. Lynch now has a taste of the “good life”, even if it was without her explicit knowledge. This makes the question not “When is Charlotte going to turn on Becky”, but “What is Becky going to do with Charlotte and Ric?”, which is a much more interesting existential question for Becky and Charlotte.

In both cases, *how* they (meaning New Day and Becky) react to this (and, for Becky, similar incidents in the near future) will end up shaping their divisions going forward.

***

***YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE*** PLEASE KEEP EYES AND EARS INSIDE OF KAYFABE AT ALL TIME***

I spent the weekend in Philadelphia with some friends, and spent a considerable amount of time with wrestling fans, including my host and his co-workers, who also run a little site called WrestleDelphia. Being me, in the first hour after meeting them, I was already yelling at them over their entirely legitimate concerns regarding Sunday night’s show.

“It’ll be great, like it always is”, I said. But, truth be told, I wasn’t sure. I knew *I* was going to like it, but as I mentioned earlier, I think that the New Generation is the best thing to ever happen to wrestling, so my objectivity as it relates to the WWE’s core product is shaky, at best. I love the product right now, and spent much of the last month complaining about what writers siginifcantly more dedicated and accomplished than I had to say about the show.

But ultimately, as much as it pains me to admit in the heat of the moment, it’s not people like me that people like Roman Reigns have to appeal to. Guys like him have marks like me in the bag the moment they do something that surprises me even once, as I’ll continue to chase them down that rabbit hole for, if not the rest of their careers, significantly longer than most people.

I’ll make excuses for them, not necessarily to make myself feel better about liking them -- I am very secure in my opinion being objectively right at all times, just ask my fiancee -- but to get others to see things the way I do even if they don't agree. Wrestling has always more fun for me when people are enjoying the show, even if we disagree on who we enjoy the most.

A base level of love (and/or appreciation) of the product is what I shoot for as a fan and, to a lesser extent, as someone who tries to think about these things critically.

The last few months were hard, however.

It seemed that the WWE was actively unable to prevent the loudest part of their universe from alienate itself from the product. The disconnect was made worse by the complete decimation of the roster, to be sure, but it also put the company’s inability to create new stars the way they had in previous years in the spotlight.

The ability to form a connection with the performers best suited for the top of the card -- in the way that Clinton or Rubio is for their party’s nomination in a general election relative to your Donald Trump/Dolph Zigglers of the world -- put the company in an almost unwinnable positon. They found themselves forced to contort the people who the crowd cared about in positions of prominence -- the belated WWE WHC celebration for Sheamus hosted by The New Day, who had abandoned him the week before during a PPV match -- without also shifting too many of the pieces, to leave space for the rest of the roster when it returns.

And when the position a performer finds themselves isn’t believeable, it hurts both them and the product. We tie our expectations of what we think they should do to what we perceive performers can do, and those perceptions can be hard to shake.

Just ask Roman Reigns, who spent most of the last year trying to make up for not being Daniel Bryan. And while he’s done himself no favors in promos that he’s made which felt both forced upon him and entirely his idea, his performances in big match after big match seemed like it should have been enough to stem some of the tide of hatred that flows his way.

But, like any fanatics, those who believed Roman wasn’t ready or didn’t deserve made their opinions known.

They continued to do so at every show, through every big match at a PPV when the begged for the sweet release of John Cena or every terrible, overlong promo that had them reminiscing about the days of 20-minute promos to start every show by people who could at least compel us to listen.

That all changed on Sunday night, though. Roman was able to will himself, if not to victory, than the adoration of a crowd that was making it explicit they didn’t want anything to do with Reigns, Sheamus or the damage they were inflicting to their bodies in the name of entertainment. It wasn’t until Reigns pushed the Superman metaphor to its asymtotic limit with a Superman punch that put Sheamus through Chekov’s table from the top of the “championship” ladder.

Everything he did after just built up the goodwill for Roman, culminating in his majestic arena-long sprint headlong into a death spear to HHH. In that moment, Roman Reigns became champion of the WWE universe. Last night’s match? That was his coronation, spiked by his knockout punch on the Dragon at the End of the World.

Now we get to see who comes for the throne.


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