The Big Dog, Vol. 2: One vs. All (The Boos)

Raw Regurgitated, 3/14
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This show starting with a New Day promo appears to have clouded my judgement for the rest of the show. Even though the match that followed only between them and Alberto del Rusev (of the League of Nations) was one for which the crowd barely Got and definitely didn’t Stay Hyped, Big E. and Rusev performing ballet together will never not make my heart sing with joy. And, sure, X not being able to play the trombone during the Unicorn Stampede turned the crowd’s volume down, but he’s also secretly one of the more fun “cruiserweight” workers in the company. So, I’ll learn to live with it.

The level to which the New Day challenge the heel-face orthodoxy could be intriguing going forward, at least on the current trajectory with the crowd (and merchandise sales). At some point, either X and Kof will stop doing things that would be considered untoward by modern standards, or they are going to be among the people at the head of the charge to a more, shall we say, “freeflowing discussion” idea of bad guys and good guys. And, ultimately, that’s where wrestling should go, maybe?

What’s unequivocally right now about the idea of good and bad, is that they finally figured out the only good way to make sense of Alberto’s double stomp: That thing looks like a billion dollars when it’s being performed on a guy whose held up via a t-shirt wrapped around his neck. In general the beatdown did, for the first time, get LoN actual heat. There are still questions about what kind of match they’ll have WrestleMania – will it start with The New Day flying in on unicorns and how many different objects will be in its title on the official match card, to name two – but at least I kind of could see why they’d want to fight now. This feud needed some sort of kindling if they hoped to have anything burning by Mania, and choking someone with a ripped t-shirt will work just fine.

***

Dean Ambrose’s promos remind me of Brock Lesnar matches. There’s an exaggerated brutishness to them, jagged in execution until the point of contact, when the natural way in which they can articulate their perspective on the situation becomes so seamless as to appear smooth. Like Brock uncanny ability to tossing people and chairs with roughly equal ease, Ambrose’s way of getting the character in the other corner to want to fight him allows things to feel more credible. Ambrose doesn’t attack Lesnar for standing behind Heyman, he calls on him to fight him because he thinks he can convince Brock it’ll be fun. And, if not, Mick Foley brought him a present to liven up the festivities later on that night.

Just as natural as Dean’s reaction was Paul Heyman’s: why the hell would he want his client to give away beating the shit out of Dean Ambrose for free. Dude’s gonna get rocked, might as well get paid to do it. The problem, inasmuch as one exists, is that at this point his promos feel like they formula and not some kind of spontaneous explosion of improvisatory genius. To be fair to Paul, they’ve always been formulaic – in fact, he’s been very clear of his intentions in every promo pretty much every time he’s ever been interviewed by someone not directly in the business.

Which makes it almost seems intentional that the fastball has been put back in the holster a bit. And it’s become increasingly clear that while Brock and Dean aren’t afraid of each other, Paul’s ever escalating fear of what Dean might to do to Brock to beat him is making him start to pivot Brock out of situations Paul doesn’t want him in, as opposed to one’s Brock doesn’t want to deal with. Like, for instance, talking him down from trying to fight a dude with a crowbar in his jacket, as he will likely have more tables that he’d ever be able to throw at Dean Ambrose in ten lifetimes waiting for him at WrestleMania.

***

It’s not so much that I don’t care about Ryback, as I wish less and less that the crowd agreed with me. He’ll get to where he needs to be eventually, but whether or not he does so while having the right timing to make it worth the time is a discussion that can be found in the minutes of every single The Ryan Back Big Guy Fan Club meeting.

If one were to be willing to entertain an argument that Dolph Ziggler was buried last night, the place you’d find evidence is the promo Stephanie and HHH cut. There’s a fine line between running down a good guy to make yourself look like a real so-and-so and making the dig their own grave with your gold plated shovel. This was closer to the latter, and “I’ll never give up” only helps if you’ve got the John Cena-branded step ladder to get out of the hole in the first place.

At least we get another match with HHH, because you can never have too much knee based offense and punches/kicks where water goes flying in your life. Unless Gallagher shows have gotten as dark as everyone says they have after he got Single White Female’d by Gallagher II.

***

This match was, uh, disjointed to say the least. And, while I love his work – no matter how much he makes fun of poor Byron – Kevin Owens on the commentary table didn’t help matters. It also felt weird that Sami would so blatantly use interference like that to his advantage. While they definitely toughened him up emotionally in NXT when it comes to being squeamish about taking advantage of things like that, it still sat uneasy for me.

The Usos feud with The Dudleys has reached a place where I am both excited that it’s happening and ecstatic for it to be over. If this is what the Dudleys are from now on, no one will be happier than me. But if that’s the case, I’d much rather see them work with people who would actually need to get a boost, like the Lucha Dragons and whatever NXT teams are coming up in the next few months. In theory, it shouldn’t be a concern of mine that a feud because these two would be the kind of thing that would last for forever and a day. But, in reality, these two teams have the potential to take a good 2 month feud and turn it into the seasons of Frasier after Daphne and Niles got together: you’ll want watch to see them kill someone off or end the thing for good, but that’s pretty much it.

I know the Neville-Chris Jericho match – and corresponding super depressing Neville injury – came at the end of the show, but given that it’s super deflating and really unfortunate, it feels better to separate it from something that mostly just made everyone angry for being bad instead of for being sad. Get well soon, Neville.

***

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

It’s nice to finally have an explanation of how in the world they expected Brie Bella and Lana to carry a WrestleMania match: they didn’t. Not even kind of, not even a little bit.

Instead, we’ll see a match with a half dozen people, three of whom – Paige, Alicia and Naomi – are good workers, two of who are mediocre (at best) – Tamina and Brie – and one person who appears to have the professional wrestling acumen of Snooki (which is slightly less mean than it sounds). Maybe they could have found some way to include Nattie in this, but all things considered, it’s the best off-brand Divas match at WrestleMania since, well, pretty much ever. It’s definitely better than the Miller Lite girls match from WrestleMania XIX, which put the “sexism” in “I think the women in the WWE should file a class action lawsuit against the company regarding this shockingly over sexism”.

And it’s probably better than roughly 90% of the Divas matches ever booked before. That you’d get that, along with a highly-anticipated triple threat – which features three performers on varying levels of awesome – shows exactly how far the Divas division has come.

At least in terms of the company’s presentation of it and the value it holds for that part of its product portfolio.

But it was Charlotte’s promo last night that showed how far the Divas division has come in terms of wrestling. Promos, especially ones like the one Charlotte cut last night, are just important on selling the match as anything, and can become just as important in our collective memory of the experience as anything else.

In doing so, they have finally turned the father-daughter relationship between Charlotte and Ric into something that make sense for both of them, even though only one is really benefitting. Ric is so clearly proud of the monster his daughter has become, and wants to nourish that part of her so that she can become the great he was.

The pathology of that, the idea that one of the moments that Ric is palpably most supportive of in his daughter’s entire life is her pledging to undermine two people who wanted to be her friend, that’s the kind of stuff that we love about wrestling. And exists almost entirely unique to it.

You can try to fake that kind of relationship in other mediums. It’s not impossible to come close. But, to have a father be genuinely proud of his daughter – even if he’s not actually proud of the thing he’s saying he was proud of, because it never happened (oh, wrestling/politics) – for being like him is something that only an artform that plays truth and falsity in the extramoral sense in this way can.

So, I’ll take a match where I’m cheering for the evil authority figure because he’s fighting a Samoan Ken doll with kung-fu grip. And I’ll take a fight between the boss’s son and his oldest performer in a giant steel room for control of the company. I’ll even take an obnoxious musical performance from someone I’ve never heard of or desperately want to forget.

I’ll take it all if it means that I can have even one match where I actually care about what happens, and after last night, I can say I do.

*** WARNING YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE. PLEASE ENJOY YOUR COMPLIMENTARY GILLED DOGS FROM BURGER KING ON THE WAY OUT ***

***

Anyone that thinks that Ziggler was buried in this match – as opposed to before, with an Authoriry promo that cut him down to size, or after, when Roman Reigns came out and stole his heat – is insane. Though, in general, the idea of burying seems to be either completely misunderstood or absolutely insane. There’re so many things that go into having someone beat another, especially if one of them is the champ. And sure, there’s was a stipulation that would have made at least some semblance of sense to have him pull out the victory. But there’s just no logic or math on earth that has a sentence that starts with “guy loses to 14-time champion in hard fought 20-minute match” and ends up “to make him look bad”.

And, what’s unfortunate about all that is how completely disposable he became after Roman Reigns made his way down to the ring. It felt less like Superman was coming to save the Flash and more like Mario coming down to save Peach but deciding instead to beat the shit out of Bowser for 20 minutes.

Which sucks, because it’s becoming increasingly unclear whether Roman is playing with fire or completely unaware that his clothes are a flambé. The chorus of boos was genuinely shocking, as he came off – and rightfully so considering the amount of work HHH has put in over the last few days – as a bad guy taking advantage of a good guy. The booing was resounding and relentless, and for the first time, it felt justified in a very real way. If that’s the direction they are going – and god only knows/hopes to know whether that’s the case – then so be it, but make it clear to us that he doesn’t care what anyone else things. Make it clear he’s not above taking the advantage if it’s there. Don’t make it about the Authority and some guy trying to overthrow it. Make it about some dude who wants to be the new Game in town.

***

This entire segment was not so great -- it presupposed the importance of ( without any actual stakes or interest surrounding,) the match it was promoting -- but Vince is pretty much never actively bad on television. He cares too much and is too willing to do pretty much anything to get the crowd give a shit. HAVING SAID THAT, if he -- or literally anyone involved in this -- were able to explain any part of why this is happening, that’d be super nice.

Not that anyone should have expected this to be great theater, but it’s become clear the Shane’s just not where he needs to be on the mic and it’s not doing any good for what’s already rapidly becoming the albatross on a rapidly deteriorating Mania card. And the Undertaker, like Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar, should never speak into a microphone. Seriously. Dude, maybe stick with the choking and the slamming.

Don’t mean to sound alarmist here, but the end of last night’s show was the most this show has ever felt like a post-Bash at the Beach ‘96/pre-Crow Sting episode of Nitro. Between the awful punches, terrible promos and all-over oldness, we were just one dude spray painting on another dude’s fake hip from our worst nightmares.


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