Dean Ambrose Kills the WWE Universe

Raw Regurgitated, 2/15
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Having watched Deadpool almost immediately before Monday Night Raw, concerns over over-quipification and disillusionment were very real. And within the first three minutes of Dean Ambrose’s opening promo, I was already searching for the volume button the remote. It wasn’t the jokes – did he do any or was it just Cincinatti tough guy? – nor the difference between “comedy movie writer” and “professional wrestling Creative team member on weekly show”, or between professional actors of even Ryan Reynolds-quality relative to every one but a few of the most talented performers on the WWE roster. It was the reminder of how much comedy, and pretty much everything, works better outside of the constraints of family-friendliness and PG language.

It robs performers of an entire spectrum of emotions through which they can connect with the audience. The best parts of Deadpool – outside of TJ Miller’s breakdown of a love that dare not speak its name between two avocados – were the points of contention between the X-Men’s decidedly PG Colossus and the super R-rated Deadpool on language, violence and what it means to be a hero. Having a PG show as the flagship is great for ratings, for the long-health of the company and maybe even the future of wrestling. But having even one more “adult” show – maybe not TV-MA, but a TV-14 might not kill anyone – would do wonders for performers and, ultimately, the fans.

Now this may be the very definition of damning with faint praise, but Stephanie’s attempt at breaking up the Ambreigns bromance was not nearly as terri-bad as last week’s. Putting Roman in a win-win situation, at the expense of Dean, attaches stakes to something. This isn’t the kind of thing that will make one person turn on each other, but by constructing the stipulation in such a way that would render a decision for Roman even in absentia, it provides an opportunity for honest-to-God, well-earned dissension. And, if I’ve learned anything from the WWE, it’s that the most important thing the WWE can give someone or something is an opportunity.

All of this would have worked wonderfully, *IF*, of course, Dean Ambrose himself – and not just his title – were at stake. But, instead of filling the match with Authority goons – if they even exist anymore -- and Kevin Owens, they put in also-rans (of whom we are big fans in the Palace of Wisdom) like Stardust and Tyler Breeze along with KO. Which meant that it felt less like Dean Ambrose was in danger, and more like he should start focusing on Sunday, because one of these idiots was going to lose his title to another one. At least the match was somewhere between good and great, as Fatal Five Ways go.

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New Day’s promo was mostly a chance to sell the return of Edge & Christian to the WWE Universe proper. With their new show about to debut -- or having already debuted? I wouldn’t watch that show unless someone paid me to – they stand poised to have a second life in the company as one of the key components of the Network evolution. And given their obvious chemistry (Big E ate a kazoo during a trombone v. kazoo battle rap, y’all) with the pair, it could be a fruitful relationship in a torch passing kind of way. More fruitful than the last time they had to deal with past-their-prime Canadians, at least.

A less fruitful interaction was had by all in the match that followed this promo, however, as Mark Henry looked very much like a man on his literal last legs as an in-ring performer in there against Big E. The weird fall Mark took at the end of the match doesn’t seem to be indicative of any serious injury, which is good, but may be indicative of just how little Mark has “left in the tank”.

There has definitely been a lot of good to come out of Ric following Charlotte down to the ring, but it’s had a very odd effect on how I look at his character at this point. Beyond the weird botched interferences, the quasi-sexual assault on one of his daughter’s peers and the fact that his forehead appears to be entirely constructed out of tissue paper, he just seems like an afterthought and, quite frankly, a liability for Charlotte, both in and out of kayfabe. While Charlotte would almost assuredly disagree with this, her quality in the ring – and to a large extent, the mic – has made Ric not just expendable, but unnecessary. In situations like last night, where despite Brie’s STRUggle to grASP how to PROnounce things, Charlotte is able to command not just the ring but the entire room she’s in, having Ric there a-stylin’-and-profilin’ makes him seem like a breeder’s mix between a valet ready to be put at risk at any moment, a reminder of just how far Charlotte has to go to leave his shadow and the kind of friend who gets you into a fight at the bars because they can’t stop talking shit. Whether or not Charlotte wants that for her performance, and whether or not WWE wants that for her character, is something they need to figure out much sooner than later, and preferably with the kind of pomp and circumstance that befits having the most decorated champion in the history of the business rendered obsolete by his own daughter.

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I’ll continue to say this every week until it happens: someone needs to make a TV title and put it on somebody, preferably the Miz, so I can see his stupidly punchable face on TV every week making me hate him while working with essentially everyone in the company. Getting Miz to vamp for five minutes every week is already what you have him doing, so why not have him do it in a way that could eventually sell tickets and get someone else over.

Chris Jericho telling AJ Styles he’d have to wait until Smackdown! to find out whether or not they’d be having the match at Fastlane that’s probably already been advertised locally was the exact point in last night’s show when it became clear that, not only would this not be the normal go-home show, but that it was only going to be half of the five-hour go-home extravaganza. It’s also the moment we found out that everyone in the WWE Universe is a sentient bag of dicks. Chanting “What?” at a guy like AJ Styles, who you were actively cheering for literally five minutes earlier is pretty much the worst thing we do as people. Not, like, as wrestling fans, but as human beings. Please stop doing this, or we’re going to have to seriously think about taking Stone Cold’s Hall of Fame ring away.

This “No More Tables” business the Dudleys are going through is one of the rare cases of the WWE doing exactly what they should do with an act that isn’t working the way they want it to. They clearly -- without “breaking kayfabe”, inasmuch as the concept of that action exists anymore -- acknowledge that this run isn’t what they want out of themselves, the crowd or the directions both are moving relative to each other. Coupled with what they did last night to Roman Reigns, and the fact that Bubba Ray continues to be a thoroughly underappreciated promo -- especially relative to a guy who can’t get his catchphrase on the right cadence anymore -- their burgeoning feud with the Usos helps spread the floor to allow the stars (Big E. and them) open lanes to slam dunk on the poor, unsuspecting head of whomever is unlucky enough to be “playing hard in the paint” this time.

The level to which Total Divas season turns the Divas division into the lead-up to the Royal Rumble is the Burning Man of professional wrestling: it’s stupid and everything’s on fire, but you can’t look away because of an oddly high level of begrudging respect for how quickly a small group of dedicated people can build something so profoundly meaningless.

There are moments when you can see performers become who they will eventually be while still holding on to what they are now, and there’s really never been anyone better at articulating that then Paul Heyman. As the avatar of wrestling’s NPC contingent, it’s easy to remember how much physicality he brings to his performances. Standing toe-to-toe in the ring with someone like Roman Reigns is difficult for anyone, but to do so in a way that has you in a position of power while looking like Oswald Cobblepot is a testament not just to Heyman’s ring presence but his acting chops as well. And, let’s not forget about those Damned Dudleys attacking Roman after the interaction, which may or may not be the first step in the road to a reboot of the Dangerous Alliance. Hey, you know what, a boy can dream, can’t he?

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

CAUTION: DEADPOOL SPOILERS AHEAD Creators of things that don’t have to appeal to the widest possible audience usually not only have more trust in their audience but in the meta-narrative that surrounds their work. Deadpool -- which, did I mention I saw it this weekend? -- works, in particular, because it uses this facet of the meta-narrative to speak to the underlying ethos of the character and inform audiences watching outside of time and space as to why the movie looks and feels the way it does.

Anyone who didn’t already know the movie had a third of the budget of similar movies or that this was because Deadpool has been, for much of his career, treated as a canker sore on the mouth of the X-Men would become acutely aware in roughly five minutes worth of footage, and all without feeling like they had sat through a reciting of his Wikipedia page.

Perhaps the only place in the movie where it starts to feels like that way is near the very end of the movie, when Pool’s friendly neighborhood X-Men give him a lecture on the meaning of heroism. It is, of course, cut short by a complete (and completely wonderful) subversion of the trope. And it’s in that moment that the “hero” articulates himself not as the “good guy” but as the “protagonist”, less “anti-hero” than “hero of circumstance”. He’s an okay guy with a terrible job who does awful things to the worst people.

Which, of course, brings us to Dean Ambrose. Watching on Monday -- both Deadpool and Monday Night Raw itself -- it became increasingly clear that while, as we mentioned last week in the Palace of Wisdom, his greatest strength is “ability” to be too dumb to stay down. And there’s certainly a segment of fans that like very specifically that aspect of Dean’s personality.

If need be, “boy who didn’t know when to give up” has worked in the past -- including with Roman in his hidden-gem match against Brock at WrestleMania: JUST PUSH PLAY -- and will continue to work in the future. Mick Foley has made a career out of being all of the great taste of Deadpoolian sadism on the part of the reader, just with a lot more filling.

There’s never, however, been a guy who uses that as a narrative weapon on a consistent basis. Sure, Mick Foley’s most famous moment is getting up for the third time in his “match” (read: stunt show) with Taker at King of the Ring 98. But the moments that he used to touch us and make him someone we wanted to root for were far removed from that part of his persona.

That’s just not the case with Deadpool, and it shouldn’t be with Dean. Like Wade, if Dean ever wants to become the star he feels like he should be, he’ll need to learn how to use that to tell stories themselves instead of it being something the narrator has to tell you on the way there or you find out through elephant-assisted evisceration. Or, they start to let Dean break the fourth wall -- maybe even SIXTEEN WALLS -- and turn wrestling into the post-modern cluster kerfuffle it was always meant to be.

*** WARNING! YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE *** PLEASE ENJOY YOUR COMPLIMENTARY CHILI CHEESE PRETZEL DOG MILKSHAKE FROM SONIC ON YOUR WAY OUT ***

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This was the first of four matches to end Raw, which while somewhere between awesome and super fun, started to make the whole night feel like they split the last movie of the franchise into two separate stories but didn’t tell anyone before they bought a ticket. Although it began earlier in the night, with Jericho teasing an announcement on Thursday of a match we all knew was happening since the Raw after Royal Rumble, having Zach Ryder, former Internet Wrestling Champion, lose via distraction to the Social Outcasts felt so much like a replay of a Main Event main event that it pretty much had to be the popcorn match for a five hour long story about life on an existential treadmill.

In a move that doesn’t bode well for anyone involved, the US Title match has been relegated to pre-show status on a show that is essentially a three-hour WrestleMania pre-show in and of itself. Hopefully this means that there’s no plans to change the title, and the WWE just wants as many eyeballs to see Kalisto as is humanly possible. And not, you know, them desperately trying to tread water with a championship which will be functionally meaningless until the guy who made it relevant comes back again.

Even Sasha’s presence couldn’t save this match from being anything other than Generic Build to a PPV Tag Match Theater (presented by GEICO). When juxtaposing this with what Bayley, Carmella, EVA FUCKING MARIE and Nia Jaxx are doing to build towards, it’s hard to believe they are in the same art form, let alone the same company.

I have a confession to make to everyone reading this: I actually like the idea of the Wyatt family and three hamhocks punching the shit out of each others faces this Sunday. In fact, I’m looking forward to the idea. As long as it ends with Luke Harper and company putting fools through tables and/or foots through heads, what’s a little hoss action between friends?


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