When You Say Best Friends, It Means Friends Forever

Raw Regurgitated, 1/25
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I love HHH. He’s my argument that Ric Flair isn’t the G.O.A.T. But there’s nothing about these twenty-minute framing segments that I don’t hate. It’s made even worse when it’s based around some half-baked “we are going to watch out for someone to impress us” premise and HHH reciting a Vox article about How This One Single Month Proves How Much of a Dick Roman Reigns Is. The WWE has to figure out if it wants to be a TV show or a wrestling show when it comes to starting the whole thing off, instead of turning these bits into the show’s vegetables every week. Though, in giving them the benefit of the doubt, if they lean enough on the meta side of this story – establishing how, even in the world of kayfabe, they are still God and the machine – this storyline could fun to hear about on the Authority’s end. It’s just hard to imagine Roman being able to play the kind of aloof but ultimately vulnerable character that this kind of meta-fictive self-awareness requires, like so much Jeff Winger. He feels like he could be, at best, Todd.

I don’t normally comment on the appearance of non-Chris Jericho performers, but where did Stephanie get her outfit? It’s hard to tell at this point if she was preparing for board meeting, or a battle on the shores of Themiscyra.

For all its considerable faults – of which there were *several*, most of whom we’ll get to later – this segment did provide us again with justification for its existence: the joie de vivre that Vince and Stephanie bring to their performances. While some of their interactions with Roman can sometimes – read: pretty much always – feel stilted, the use of this storyline to attempt to reestablish a post-Rollins version of The Authority, while obvious, is certainly making the best of a terrible situation. In addition to re-invigorating the concept, it allows them to completely replenish their “roster” with a mix of freelance mercenaries – like the League of Nations -- and eventually, some kind of centerpiece performer to build up as the new Seth Rollins. Which would make him the new new HHH.

***

The Kevin Owens show was a rerun tonight, but one of those fun episodes that’s not attached to any specific storyline. Dolph Ziggler and Owens is a joke that always pays off, even if we’ve seen the punchline a thousand times.

In addition to joy that his nearly weekly defeat of Dolph brings to my heart, Owens also represents the most intriguing wildcard as the “Road to WrestleMania enters THE FAST LANE”. Brock is busy and the title nowhere near him, sure, but pretty much everyone he’s ever hated attacked him at the Royal Rumble, which means that while Owens is currently storyline-poor with the end of his Ambrose feud, coming out of the Rumble there is an embarrassment of riches waiting for him in Dallas. And, like 8 million Helluva/Pele kicks straight to the face.

There are so many things to love about the Social Outcasts – though I hope they didn’t get rid of that super fun mug shot shirt that I eventually want to buy – but your correspondent’s favorite is that they understand what the group is, and should be, going forward. Bo in particular seems to grasp that the charm of the stable is that they teeter on the edge of “why are these idiots on my television screen” awkwardness before pulling it back with a level of professionalism – or, feigned non-professionalism, I should say – that is so endearing it actually made me willing to sit through a Flo Rida appearance in 2016. That I was rewarded with Bo in a Kangol should tell you all you need to know about why I love wrestling so much.

Unabashedly Southern – with an accent that thick, you’d pretty much have to be – he has existed entirely outside of the “WWE style” of performing in a way that feels both deliberate and necessary to what his career prospects are in the WWE. Technical without being pretentious and flippy-spinny without being ostentatious, he’s perhaps closest version to a true “mixed wrestling artist” -- the professional wrestling analog to MMA fighter – that the WWE has ever had, outside of Daniel Bryan. Although light years ahead of him the ring, especially at this point, the WWE providing him with the opportunity to work with someone who has successfully adapted an older version of the same basic model is a much better use of Chris Jericho than “uncool cool dad who is unintentionally mean to your black friends in a way that he doesn’t get is kind of offensive because ‘jokes’.”

Speaking of Cool Dad, this was the best use of Ric Flair since he’s been brought in to work with Charlotte: I wasn’t totally aware of the fact that he was there with her on the way down to the ring, but it felt like she was definitely channeling his spirit. In the best possible way, this is the most Ric Flair shit I have ever seen. She needs a group of friends to eventually, like, break Bayley’s arm (again), but it’s been incredible to watch her – along with Becky, Sasha, Bayley, Paige, AJ and all of the performers that came before them – finally reach a tipping point where I know and understand what happens with her feud outside the context of “this is the women’s storyline.” I appreciate and understand the motivations of the characters as people, not just pieces in the weird, limiting, wrestling-as-magnetic-poetry-using-only-the-words-‘betrayal’-‘backstabbing’-and-‘ugh, just the worst’ version of the Diva’s division that they’ve had for the previous, uh, eternity.

And speaking of “uh, eternity”, one has to wonder how serious the discussion is right now about the end game of Kane’s career is going to begin manifesting itself. It’s also still unclear where (and with whom) the Undertaker is going to be on the card WrestleMania, especially with his rumored opponent – the venerable John Cena – likely out for this year’s show. Seems as good a time as any to start the road to Never Have To See Bray Wyatt versus Kane Again.

***

The Rock is, for lack of a better term, the worst best thing that’s ever happened to wrestling. While he himself is obviously the definition of a transcendent talent, the amount of poorly rendered replicas that he’s left in his (slightly more than mildly) misogynistic and (super) homophobic wake is just as bad as the positive attention he’s bought to the product is good. Sure, making dirty jokes about unequivocal “bad” guys has its time and place, but this mostly just felt gross. Especially when you consider that Dwayne has a child whose birth was publicly mentioned on WWE social media. Obviously, the Rock and Dwayne Johnson aren’t necessarily the same person, but when you spend so much time using his real life as leverage for your brand, to completely ignore it when he’s on television for the sake of a cheap joke is every major problem WWE has in a single segment.

And while the work he did backstage is something that’s ultimately a plus on the balance sheet, what he did in the ring was, for the most part, every major problem with the Rock in a single segment. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s that he’s all over in the place in a way that it’s extraordinarily difficult to follow up on the show or compete with in the segment where he is itself. Like, how on earth is Roman Reigns supposed to look cool when the Rock spends five minutes talking to guys cosplaying in the crowd and asking them about the weed sitch in the 305.

The New Day, tho. They continue to be incandescently brilliant as the last line of defense for a specific kind of wrestling fan. The kind, ironically, who goes to WWE shows to dressed as Macho Man and the Undertaker. And, ultimately, that should be the goal of segments like this. So, good for them and, you know, pot heads in the greater Miami area.

***

I know I spent sometime last week about the breaks in the Total Divas time space continuum makes these segments where Paige is friends with Natalya – after feuding with her for weeks -- because she’s in a fight with Alicia Fox on the show weird but fun ways to change the presentation of a specific segment of the show. It is no longer that. It is now a dumping ground for the exact type of storylines that the top level feud has worked so hard to move away from. It’s not that you can’t have a feud about former friends breaking up, but when they break up for the sake of creating interest – as opposed to a philosophical difference in how to operate in the WWE universe, or over something of importance, something that Charlotte-Becky has in spades – it’s just refried Diva beans.

Kalisto is going to be a star someday, one thinks. But WWE crowds in particular have a tendency to – in both directions – prefer what they’ve seen before and it’s not just nostalgia. The assumption that the move will work the way it is supposed to because we’ve seen them land it before is perhaps the most important thing for a spectacular move to get over after the initial novelty. He’s not Sin Cara to be sure, but given the underlying nature of his style, framing him in the same way you would Neville -- a heavily protected move-set that focuses almost entirely on him doing spectacular thing in a way that could be done just as easily against a broom -- seems like the best way to get him over. Thank god the Miz isn’t busy. That man is one hell of a broom.

***

*** WARNING: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE *** PLEASE KEEP EYES AND EARS INSIDE OF KAYFABE AT ALL TIMES *** This was fun, at least for yours truly. While the ending was obvious – that the Authority would be “impressed” by Dean and Roman, then put them in a match together – the way they got there was a nice bit of vengeance-twinged-with-nostalgia for the baby faces AND presented them with a dilemma.

We may not – and by “we” I mean “a specific part of the audience, who are possessors of entirely valid philosophical positions about the product, but not ones that are holistically representative” – all love Roman Reigns, but if the goal is to put on a good match, it’s hard to find a better potential pairing that people want to see than he and Dean Ambrose. When you include Brock Lesnar in the mix, it should be a slam dunk (or, whatever the wrestling equivalent of a slam dunk is) for everyone that likes watching dudes pretend to fight other dues while dressed in their underwear.

So what’s the problem? Beyond, of course, that specific part of the audience not liking Roman categorically. At least as has been articulated, the issue many have with this is that it seems to make absolutely no sense for The Authority to constantly provide Roman Reigns with opportunities for the title. There is, of course, some validity with this. It presupposes that Roman is a people’s champion, without recognizing that the title is most often given to people ironically or as a stand-in for being the actual champion. The kind of booking they’ve provided for Roman has left them with this impossible paradox to overcome: how can you be the “people’s champion” and the people’s champion.

And some of that is on Roman, of course. He’s had his moments of the precise kind of necessary greatness to “put butts in seats” at the level you’d need to be in his position as one of the faces of the company’s future. But the idea that “The Man” would struggle so much with such basic things as “cutting a promo that makes me want to watch you fight anyone other than a 70-year-old billionaire” is the kind of tonedeafness that causes such cacophonous reactions for pretty much everything he (and the company) have done “wrong” over the last two years.

But there’s also a significant amount of this that falls at the feet of the viewers complaining: the Authority made it very clear *why* they are doing the things they do, even if we don’t like/agree with the answer. They want Roman Reigns – and presumably every babyface on the roster – to play along when put in a position of power, and will remove him from that position of power. They wanted Cena out of the way, so they brought in The Conqueror to German suplex the title off of him. They rigged the Money in the Bank match so Seth Rollins would be able to make any necessary changes to the title picture going forward, and have routinely tilted every match in their favor since almost literally their inception (See: Bryan, Daniel at Slam, Summer).

To be surprised that they would, to mess with Roman and try to force compliance, put him in a match against Dean Ambrose – as though it was, SHOCKINGLY -- the plan all along is the most kind of willful ignorance about these things. We know they are bad guys, we know their MO, and we know on whom they are going to be using their Bad Guy-ness .

So why do we continue to be surprised or confused when things like this happen? If we know that anyone worth their salt fighting Superman is going to get their hands on Lois, why is there still surprise a surprise when the Bad Guy GM puts the good guy in a fight against his “best friend” and some other, overpowered bad guy? And how many times does it have to happen before we stop complaining about it making no sense?

Roman's going to win eventually, and that has its own problems. But it's something the Authority is cogniscant of even in kayfabe. And because of that, they are forcing him to make choices along his way that they hope will turn him into the champion/performer he "needs" to be for their wants and desires. Or, as you may have also heard it: "motives" and "reasons for their actions".

The quicker we all learn and accept that this is the story they are going to tell -- one where Roman Reigns becomes a conquering hero or lives long enough to see himself become the villain -- the better things will be for all of us to enjoy the shows as much as the crowd in Miami seemed to enjoy Roman Superman-punching people. Or, as you may have also heard it: If you don't like it, you better to learn to love it. Because it's (going to be) the best thing going. 

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


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