The Road to WrestleMania Runs Through Bootyham

Raw Regurgitated, 2/1
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While there would, of course, be diminishing returns, but every show the WWE produces which can start with Brock Lesnar in the ring should. He – even more so than Heyman (whom I’ll get to in a minute) -- is the embodiment of pure professional wrestling, and sells what the WWE wants you to buy more than anyone else the company has ever had. This isn’t to say he’s the biggest draw, but the best advertisement for everything that sports entertainment can be in the form of a half man/half gorilla fueled by sandwiches and an abiding love of hate.

If, as we all expect, Brock Lesnar is interrupted from his quest to – as Paul Heyman put it -- “F-5 Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, then stack them on top of each other,” by Bray Wyatt and his Dueling Banjo Band, it posits an interesting question about what Heyman’s role should be in the feud. The relationship between he and Brock is relatively simplistic: Heyman advocates for Brock while providing emotional (and sometimes strategic) support during match, in exchange for a ride on the Jimmy Johns gravy train. But does Brock care about Paul? Would he be willing to do things to protect him – as it seems highly likely that there will be Wyatt-related/Heyman-targeted shenanigans -- and if so, is that channeled through his “death murder kill” mindset or does the Beast have an inner life with thoughts and feelings about the people around him? I sure hope it’s the former, as a world were Brock wants to talk about his feelings isn’t a world in which I want to live.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, this Dean Ambrose – who has a tendency to poke his head out much more often during backstage interviews and Michael Coles weekly sit-down interview on DotCom – is 90% heart and 10% head, which couldn’t be much better for the character. He is turning into exactly the right kind of WWE face: coupling an almost literal never-say-die with a self-awareness of what having that attitude means for him in the long run. It’s a fine line between being brave and acting stupid, but Dean Ambrose has finally seemed to figured how much doing the latter can help you become the former. Now if we can just figure out how to get him in the main event of WrestleMania.

***

As I mentioned last week, part of the problem with Kalisto is that with a high-risk high-reward style such as his, what makes him special can get lost if he’s only affording a handful of chances to get his stuff in. In a match with relatively few high spots like his work with Rusev last night, every attempt at spectacle becomes amplified and if every single bit of business isn’t crisp, it feels like watching a player mildly underperform in a playoff game his team wins: kind of disappointed but not enough to feel one way or the other about it. Until he has a “Curtain Jerker of Bash at the Beach ’96 against Psicosis” match of his own, where everything goes spectacularly in a premium spot on the card, he’ll continue to feel like he’s not quite reaching his potential even though he’s putting on perfectly fine-to-very good matches show after show.

Alberto del Rio on commentary was, for better or worse, not particularly memorable as he continues to struggle with what could best be described as “an overarching feeling that he doesn’t want to be there but doesn’t mind the money and wishes all of his friends weren’t hurt” or, as it’s known in some circles, “a case of the Monday Night Raws”.

When the highlight of this entire Uso-#SocialOutcasts experience – outside of the #SocialOutcasts weird beatbox bit during their nearly interminably long pre-match – was Lillian Garcia accidentally referring to the Usos as “Grammy Award Winning”, it’s time to start praying to the Wrestling Gods for us to be delivered from the evil of yet another Usos-New Day feud on the Road to WrestleMania.

***

Having watched significantly more TNA than is recommended by physicians, there’s an awareness I carry with myself about how incompatible certain performer’s voices are with what the WWE wants from their performers. And, at or near the top of that list is one AJ Styles. While totally fine for a normal person talking, his super-thick Southern twang is often the deathknell for performers working “Up North”. WWE nearly always throws these performers out to the audience as “BISCUITS AND GRAVY” level distillations of Southern culture because the WWE is seemingly incapable of equating “The South” with anything other than “mouthbreathers.” Which is what makes it so very interesting that the WWE – through this, his first interview last week which was interrupted by Chris Jericho and even Smackdown’s match again Curtis Axel – has kept him almost entirely silent since he’s entered the company. What that means, and how intentional it is remains to be seen, but it’s the first time someone’s been this hidden from the audience over the sound of their voice since Jeff Jarrett released “With My Baby Tonight.”

The Miz continues to be Da Real MVP, and has come into his own as a heat magnet in a way that really no one could have ever seen coming when he was hosting Diva Search or even as the (shockingly!) Shawn Michaels to John Morrison’s Jannetty. There’s not just an understanding of what the audience does or doesn’t want to hear, but a willingness to act upon and leverage that understanding in a way that leaves Miz with little else in the way of appreciation outside the respect of his peers for helping them get cheered when they’re punching him.

And, while he has his limitations, having the Miz work with AJ on Smackdown continues to highlight the care with which Creative is easing AJ into the different bits of the company’s house style in a variety of matches. Like Axel, and (weirdly) to a lesser extent, Jericho, The Miz has become a black belt in the art of WWE’s very specific kind of bombastic in-ring storytelling. There’s a reason he’s main evented a WrestleMania and it’s not just because he used to be on Real World-Road Rules Challenge.

***

I was wrong. I mean, you folks know this, but I’m wrong a lot. I was, however, wrong in particular as it relates to Charlotte Flair’s, uh, flare for the role she is in. I made the mistake of not appreciating Charlotte as a character entirely unto herself, and more importantly, that the goal of Ric being there isn’t to help her win, but prevent her from being unbeatable and untouchable. It doesn’t appear that you aren’t supposed to be annoyed by Ric, as much you are supposed to feel slightly bad that his old tricks don’t exactly seem to be as effective as they used to be and he’s the last person to realize it. It’s also a bit of surprisingly nuanced nostalgia, as it’s easy to forget that even in his glory days, cheating didn’t always guarantee Ric a win and sometimes tripping him up before he reached the finish line.

Say what you will about the tenets of the Wyatt Family, but at least they have an ethos: use big dudes to beat up even bigger dudes. And, sure, they’ve done this before, but it’s still nice to see them dancing with what brung them. Same goes for Eric Rowan continuing to get the loss – in this case, after what’s essentially a straight squash – then getting to do Eric Rowan things, like spinkick giants in the face. That’s how 50/50 booking should work.

Titus O’Neill’s entire gimmick being “he’s literally the best human being in our company, like, even relative to John Cena, guys” is JUST THE WEIRDEST. He’s somewhere between serviceable and fun in the ring, to be sure, and he’s got a look and athletic pedigree that would have guaranteed a world title program for much of professional wrestling’s history, but the fact that he is literally a Father of the Year candidate is part of his gimmick seems to be both what’s keeping him afloat and holding him back from a more fruitful run. It’s a great thing to have as a company, but It’s something that Titus is going to have to move past if he wants to be a serious star with the company. Because, as we all have heard a thousand times: There’s only room for one “he’s a really good dad” gimmick at the top of the card, and Kevin Owens has that shit on lockdown.

***

You’ll never meet someone who is less of a Kevin Owens alarmist than me, but this best-of-seven Battle of Who Could Care Less makes me very nervous regarding the Owens-related plans for WrestleMania. And it’s less of a concern about how the WWE feels about Owens -- in particular, he seems to have the support of “All The Right People”, outside of Kevin Dunn -- than what something like an Owens-Ziggler feud would mean for the rest of the card. At best, it puts them in some kind of clusterkerfuffle for -- presumably -- the IC title (again) and worst, it turns a fun one-to-two month feud into an interminable slog of superkicks and overly earnest Dolph promos. Also, if someone can give me one reason this booking made sense, I'll give them a dollar. 

If you are going to insist on having Sasha split from Team B.A.D., them being fundamentally okay with it, only to turn on her after she refuses to continue being a heel isn’t the worst way to do it. HOWEVER, for a division whose entirely storyline structure is based on deleted scenes from Mean Girls, it’s basically the moral equivalent of the RybAxel. Now we just have to pray to the Big Guy -- no, not that Big Guy, the other one -- that this doesn’t lead to some kind of situation where we are forced to watch Tamina work a singles match.

Sam-Diane. Josh-Donna. Golddust-R.Truth. Don’t screw this up, WWE. That kind of chemistry comes along once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. ***

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

Another week, another wonderful New Day promo. Hopefully, if there is a wrestling god, the same prayer we made to prevent yet another Usos-New Day feud in Dallas also prevents them from being involved in the Rock-centered Shit Twister which it feels like they are being pulled into like so much Dorothy. That seems unlikely, of course, but at the very least, the New Day are on such a hot streak it’s hard to imagine even a botch program with The Rock would do much to cool them down.

Though, after discussing with with friends, it’s feels at least mildly dangerous for the WWE to insist on having Rocky work with E, Kofi and X for his sake. Not only are they on a somewhat unprecedented roll of being good at their jobs, he’s not nearly smart or “hip” -- meaning, in the traditional sense, “down with what the kids are into” - enough to try to trade barbs with them. As friend of the program, Daron DeMont Jackson, put it, “It’s just weird to see a guy who’s been five years behind for ten years straight.”

For the most part, this hasn’t been a problem for the Rock, who has often found himself working with people who either exist outside of time and space -- like John Cena -- or are too low on the totem pole to be able to speak up for themselves. But the New Day are stars, major merchandise movers and the kind of performers you can build a company around. They ain’t Rusev or Lana, which means they are able to say things like “Watch the product” while The Rock, as Daron says tries to keep up by, “firing off starting points to rants until he gets a reaction, chaining them together with eyebrows and ‘yeah yeahs’.” The Rock, as we discussed last week, is a pulsating ball of manufactured masculinity primed to explode all over anyone who tries to puncture that bubble of heteronormative manliness he’s created for him.

Ignoring for a second the dichotomy between this persona and him (meaning Dwayne Johnson) being the very model of a modern man in real life, what New Day represents is not just a push away from this -- (to wit: the t-shirt of them riding a unicorn on a rainbow) -- but essentially everything that he stands for as a comedic performer. Having him run up against the New Day may end up feeling like watching the Clippers play the Warriors over and over again: an inevitable train wreck for the former which you can turn away from because the latter is so much fun to watch run the train off the rails.

How the feud plays out, them cutting a promo without him there to defend himself this week, makes it even more obvious that they are hurdling towards some kind of Rock-based bit of business with New Day for The Grandest Stage of Them All. So, it’s something they should probably start thinking about, and soon.

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

This is usually the point during our weekly adventure through the RAWISWAR ZONE where I’d normally say, “and now in weekly defense of Roman Reigns: yadda yadda yadda.” But as I said earlier, the (R.) truth of that matter is that Dean Ambrose has officially surpassed Roman Reigns as the guy who -- for the time being, at least -- they are best served building the future around. That’s not to say Roman should be thrown to the wolves, but that if they haven’t started figuring out a way to push Roman out the backdoor of the car so that he safely lands in the warming embrace of a high-profile match.  Maybe Brock and Bray'll be free?


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