It’s been a while since we last met, weary travelers on the dusty and dangerous Road to WrestleMania. When the last RAWlternative RAW Report (or as people, and by people I mean only me so far, call it, the R-3) was put to bed there was still a chance Daniel Bryan would win the Rumble, Seth Rollins was assumed to be cashing in his briefcase at the Rumble, RAW was going to be live from Hartford on 1/26, I was a WWE Network subscriber, Pete Carroll wasn’t known as the dumbest man in the world and the Ascension were incapable of standing up to old dudes. As The Flaming Lips said, Suddenly Everything Has Changed.

This is going to take a while. And because of how long this part is the actual R-3 will be pretty straight and to the point. So, if you don’t want to read me rehashing the past two weeks and just get to making fun of tonight’s show, just look for the picture of Koko B. Ware. That will be your cue to rejoin the party.

So my guy D-Bry right there, he did not win the Royal Rumble. He did not come close to winning. He was out somewhere around the halfway mark. His elimination was not epic, nor was it designed to spark some hot new feud that would be personal enough to distract him from his quest to regain the title that he never lost in the ring. Rather thing happened, he went over the top rope, hit the floor, looked sad, and then walked away to live on in angry chanting for the rest of the night. His elimination was as dramatic as that of Luke Harper, or Miz, or any other random guy.

You know who wasn’t treated like some random guy? Our best pal, the Acme brand Juggernaut, and man who is in fact related to Dwayne Johnson, the guy who no one can possibly boo. Mr. Elmer J. “Roman” Reigns. He was treated as a conqueror…sort of. He did the traditional “big powerhouse comes in and tosses people” spot. But beyond that he never really looked all that impressive. The elimination that was supposed to get him over as a giant killer ended up looking like he wandered in on a fight between mom and dad and snuck a bottle of Malibu out of the liquor cabinet when they weren’t paying attention to him. Then after calling in his bigger, cooler, more successful cousin in to help him in the fight, he eliminates his real final challenger in such a quick elimination that no one even had time to get into it.

(On a side note, if someone reading this were to create an image of Reigns in full Fudd gear, hat, gun, and hunting dog, that person would almost surely be able to pick anything they want for me to talk about running through next week’s column. If I have no idea what it is, I’ll learn it.)

So the coronation of Roman Reigns as the next big thing did not go as well as WWE might have hoped. I suppose on one level you have to applaud them for being so determined to go through with the idea knowing it would end up looking and sounding like it did. An angry crowd shitting on one of your marquee matches of the year, chanting for an EVIL Russian to come back in and destroy your post-Mania face of the company, and one of the 5 most beloved stars in company history looking nonplussed and unsure of what the hell was going on as the crowd boos him and Reigns basking in their victory. I have trouble believing someone in the inner circle of WWE did not see this coming. I do believe that wouldn’t change their opinion. And while I think the decision is a bad one for many reasons, I don’t blame them for not making their decision based on that night. While Reigns was obviously lukewarm as a face in the months leading up to the Rumble, he was at least a face. He wasn’t getting booed by the crowds. He just wasn’t getting much of anything. Rumble night was the first time he was turned on and given the business by the audience. Anything can be a one night instance…right?

One of the “Vince McMahon is a seriously weird dude with some major control issues” stories everyone likes to tell is how Vince hates sneezing. He hates when he sneezes, he hates when you sneeze. The man hates sneezing. Not because he’s a germaphobe (though I feel like OCD wrestler is a gimmick waiting for an indie promotion to embrace it) but because it is something out of his control. I assume Vince spent the entirety of Monday raging against the snow, cursing the CT governor who dared suggest he should cancel, and trying to fire everyone at the Weather Channel before Kevin Dunn had to gently inform him that he doesn’t actually own the Weather Channel. But he shouldn’t have been so angry. He should have fallen to the ground, knelt towards Canada, and thanked Negafok for this massive blizzard. Because that blizzard may very well have saved his WrestleMania main event and his dreams of a new Roman Empire. (I hate myself for saying that as much as you hate me for saying it.)

I do not know what they had planned for RAW that night in Hartford, CT, before the snow fell and the world came to a halt. Perhaps they had something so perfect up their sleeves that by the end of the show Reigns and Bryan would be in the ring together, doing a dueling chant of “Yes” and the Roman Reigns howl, and everyone would love Roman and be excited to see him beat up Brock Lesnar.  Wait, Brock Lesnar. Crap. We can’t get to Monday before we get through Sunday. That sort of craziness would require one of those storage units from Primer and a dude named Abe.

Vince Russo said after the Rumble “Brock Lesnar is the most credible champion I’ve ever seen in wrestling.” Being that I wasn’t around for Lou Thesz or Strangler Lewis or Karl Gotch and the rest of the old legendary shooters, I’m going to have to agree with that statement. That’s how damn good Brock Lesnar is right now. He makes me agree with Vince Russo. Jack McCallum once said of the relationship between Michael Jordan and Jerry Krause, “If Krause said the first President was George Washington, Jordan would disagree and claim it was Trooper Washington, an old ABA forward.” That’s how I feel about Russo. If I like something Russo likes I go back and examine it because I’ve almost certainly overlooked something. But not this time. Brock Lesnar is so damn good. Too good. Despite being aligned with a sneaky dirty manager, and doing awful things to faces, you can’t help but enjoy Brock Lesnar at work. And in Philly, with the demi-god of ECW in his corner, Brock Lesnar was definitely the guy the fans wanted to win that match. They appreciated the work Seth Rollins was doing and applauded him thusly. John Cena on the other hand they mostly despised. But Cena’s used to that. A day when John Cena gets booed is as rare as a day with a sunrise.

As the crew loaded up their trucks and dragged the big top to Hartford, the wrestlers piled into rental cars, and people loaded up their homes with blizzard survival items there was a quiet time to take stock of what had happened. Daniel Bryan was beloved. Brock Lesnar was respected and feared like a war god. Roman Reigns was booed mercilessly. Seth Rollins was cemented as being a viable part of the main event scene. The Rock was thinking that maybe he needs to be more judicious in his appearances. And John Cena was John Cena. And that’s still a thing that really does defy all logic. We’ve all turned into Rex Harrison growing accustomed to John Cena’s face. John Cena has been something singular in my lifetime. He’s neither the first nor last wrestler to draw mixed reactions from the crowd. But in every other case eventually the blade stops being danced on. Tweener is not a way of life in American professional wrestling. Eventually you find your niche on one side or the other and you are cheered or booed or ignored. But not Cena. Cena just keeps plugging along with a 50/50 reaction, and more often than not that reaction includes almost everyone in the building. This is not a normal thing. Assuming this is something that can happen all the time is like hitting the Powerball, blowing through all the cash, and not worrying about it because hey, you can just go win the Powerball again whenever you want.

As we reach Monday it is very important to remember a couple things about WWE crowds.

  1. They like to be part of the show.
  2. They are quite suggestible.
  3. They like to top the previous crowd.

That Philly crowd, renowned as one of the most raucous crowds in America, set a high bar for Hartford to live up to. But they also showed them a way forward. Boo Cena. Cheer for Lesnar. Boo Rollins but cheer when he does something awesome. And boo Reigns. Boo the hell out of Roman Reigns. Not just because you don’t like him, but because booing Roman Reigns tells Daniel Bryan you love him. Boo him because hijacking the Road to WrestleMania is a thing now that crowds can do and for once you can have a little control over this thing that you love and pay money for. Boo him. Boo this man. It was going to be a delicious bowl of schadenfreude and smarkrage for all of us to lap up on this cold winter night (if it wasn’t cold where you were, keep it to yourself. We just got 19 inches of snow.) like so much hot soup. Hot delicious soup. NO SOUP FOR YOU! (old man uses Seinfeld reference, is laughed at by teenagers.)

Instead of three hours of a crowd that had the potential to blow up the Road to WrestleMania that night by crapping all over everything, a crowd that Vince and WWE could not control beyond just hoping for the best, they were handed a gift. Three hours of blank tv time. Three hours without anyone there to boo or cheer. Time to craft a narrative. Time to let the anger slowly seep out of people through hashtags and online message board rants and even, for a few people at least, deciding not to give WWE anymore of their money.

Much of the work done that night was positive. They gave the fans a chance to revel in an awesome title match from the night before. Rollins got to speak honestly and naturally, amazed that Lesnar survived his curb stomp and briefcase assault. They brought Lesnar and Rollins together in a manner where Rollins was still able to be confident, knowing that it was his own failure to properly assess the damage Lesnar had taken that cost him the title he felt he deserved, and that given another chance he would be sure to pound that final nail right into Brock’s heart. Lesnar meanwhile got to be Brock Lesnar, which is kind of the best thing in the world to be these days. John Cena did things, but amazingly for a promotion where being John Cena is the pinnacle of accomplishment, those things didn’t really mean a whole lot. Unless you’re Rusev, in which case you’re so screwed.

Then Roman Reigns talked. There are those who say Vince McMahon ignores crowd reactions he doesn’t like. I can’t say I wholly agree with this. Vince heard the crowd screaming for Bryan. He heard them crap all over Reigns. And he acknowledged it. He had the character of Roman Reigns acknowledge it. Of course, he did it in the worst way possible. By trying to tenuously bridge kayfabe and reality, having his questioner bring up the “controversy” around Daniel Bryan, when in the world of WWE there was no controversy at all. Daniel Bryan was eliminated clean as a sheet, long before Roman Reigns entered the match. This sort of thing is rarely a good idea, especially when dealing with two such clear-cut issues as the actual result of the match and the backstage intrigue behind it. It’s messy and muddles up the narrative. And it puts Reigns in a position where he is being set up to be John Cena. But so far only John Cena has ever been able to be John Cena for any length of time. Like wearing the One Ring, living in that shadowland netherworld between life and death will destroy a mortal man. But since Cena is apparently Tom Bombadil he can play with the ring and not give a damn. Roman Reigns is not Bombadil. I’m not sure who he is. Boromir? Denethor? Turin Turambar? *shrug*

By Thursday morning the world was moving again. Smackdown happens live, and WWE doubles down not just on the idea of Reigns as a tweener, but on the incredibly messy plotline that essentially admits “yeah, we picked Roman to win, even though it is all totally real, except that we pick who wins and loses…what’s that over there?!” And at the same time WWE is talking to the internet. A lot. And most of it is just variations on GFY.

The WWE Network reported reaching one million subscribers the same week that #CancelWWENetwork was trending worldwide on Twitter for over a day straight. I’d think I was living in Vince McMahon’s dreams except that my wife has not yet been throwing into a pool full of pudding and I haven’t been swirlied by Mason Ryan. The power of the internet, or more accurately the apparent lack thereof, to influence WWE was put into a perspective that appears to justify WWE’s disdain for them, us, we. If there was ever a moment when Vince’s vision had won over the basement dwelling nerds who love Daniel Bryan this was it. But I don’t think Vince can claim the great victory over the neckbearded horde quite yet.

I was one of those people who tweeted out that hashtag. And I followed through on it. And judging from a lot of things I saw on the internet the last two weeks that makes me a terrible wrestling fan, possibly a terrible person, and certainly overreacting and making a fuss when I shouldn’t be. And that made me wonder about the nature of what we, as fans, owe to a wrestling promotion and to the industry of professional wrestling. According to a not insignificant group of people the loyalty should be complete and without question.

Even though it is on tv, pro wrestling in America is perhaps more like the music business than anything else. Not just because both industries involve driving a lot at night, and possibly the use of drugs. Both industries have to reach out and effect a direct financial relationship with their fans. And both industries have fan bases ready to accuse someone of not being a “real fan” if they do not open up their wallets accordingly.

No one would ever say I’m a bad fan of Game of Thrones because I watch it on HBO but do not buy the DVDs. No one would say I’m not a real fan of Lord of the Rings because I watch the movies but do not buy the replica One Ring (I’m holding out for the actual One Ring). But yet deciding that the WWE product is no longer satisfying me enough to justify giving them my money makes me a bad fan. And continuing to watch Monday Night RAW afterwards apparently also renders me a hypocrite.

Oh, and it makes me a whiner. Fealty to Clan McMahon is to expected at all times, lest ye be branded with the dread terms “nerd” or “smark” due to your betrayal. Fine, I can take that. Maybe all of those who canceled their sub on Sunday/Monday last week were overreacting to a single bad decision. But it’s not just those of us who stopped paying money to WWE who are criticized.

I saw many complaints that the crowd at the Rumble was reacting “wrong” and ruining the match because they were, to use the net’s favorite term for dismayed, “butthurt” over Bryan’s elimination. This is a level of insanity you usually only find in comic book shops. It isn’t enough to watch the product that is provided for you at no charge (if you only have cable/dish to watch RAW then I guess that misses you. Sorry.), it isn’t enough to pay money to attend a WWE live event at quite steep PPV prices. Nope, you are obligated to react the way that the company wants you to react. While paying to do so. At least when you go to watch Ron Popeil demonstrate a new product and make oooohing sounds at the right moments you get cash or a free set of knives. Here you pay hundreds of dollars for a scolding and booking designed to make you feel stupid.

One of the founders of this site said a few days ago something to the effect of there are no bad wrestling crowds. Only crowds that haven’t had anything to hook them into the show they’re watching. I concur with this thought. Even when the crowd turned on the Rumble they still cheered the things they liked. Problem was the things they liked got treated like crap. The crowd did not like the particular story WWE was telling that night and made it very clear.

As fans we are not required to do anything. Not to give our money to WWE, not to cheer and boo as they wish, and not to defend them at all times. Because they are not the whole of wrestling. If WWE collapses and never again does pro wrestling get time on a major network, wrestling will survive. Pro wrestling is a unique art form unlike any other in the world. Interactive improvisational theatre with no ending. A fluid mix of the story being told by the performers, the story being told about what is happening behind the curtain, and the story being reacted to by the audience. Pro wrestling is a beautiful thing that is more immersive than any book, any movie, any play, any painting. And pro wrestling, this thing that has a million fathers, will live forever.

But pro wrestling companies do not. There was a day in 1963 when there was no WWWF. Then the next day, there was. How many companies alive on that day were ground under the bootheel of WWF expansion in the eighties? To take your first breath is to condemn yourself to a death sentence. One day Vince McMahon will die. He might give a company over to his daughter and her husband. They may run it for a time. Perhaps even long enough to pass along to their children. But one day WWE, too, will die. And the day it dies there will be people in a ring, somewhere. Maybe a stadium in Japan. A tent in Germany. A VFW in Dayton. A bullring in Mexico. And they will wrestle. They will wrestle in a way that may as unfamiliar to us as watching a Dragon Gate match would have been to Farmer Burns. But they will still be performing the art of professional wrestling. A crowd will cheer for a hero, boo a villain, heckle a referee. I am loyal to this beautiful thing. But I have no loyalty to WWE or Vince McMahon. He is a provider of a product. A product that all of us may choose to reject, accept, or a little of both. The choice is ours. Never forget this.

And now tonight, HHH is making a “major announcement” about things and Rumbles and such. I bet he laughs at the fans. They can’t help themselves. They will always be the jocks giving the nerd a swirlie after the nerd helps them with their homework. C’est la vie. So, I guess we should let Koko B. Ware lead us into our show.

HHH’s Historic Announcement

And back to the show after a week of peace we start with HHH and Steph. It’s like I never left. And like they never left. Which really, they kind of didn’t.

Hey, if you’re gonna troll, then troll hard. Keep trollin’, trollin’ trollin’.

“We hate you people on your computers, and we’ll make fun of you, but please dear god subscribe to our network or we’re going to be out of business you assholes. Give us your money and shut up!”

It’s going to be fun if they try to have Reigns come through the crowd at Mania. They should start the show with him on the highest level of the stadium and just cut to him throughout the show slowly working his way from level to level, stopping for snacks, and finally reaching the ring for the main event. By that time he’s so tired he gets F-5’d and loses in 20 seconds. Best Mania ever.

WWE is making sure we know that Roman Reigns is a badass who can beat anyone, but he’ll stand there quietly while HHH, the truly baddest man in the world, threatens him with taking away the thing he worked so hard for.

Well, this should be some epic trolling now that Bryan is here. Call him goatface and kick him out of the ring so the real tough guys can play.

The fact that J&J Security is coming out with Rollins is wonderful. They’re so indoctrinated into the Rollins cult they have to come protect him from their own bosses. This is the kind of loyalty you only see from truly great seconds like Ralphus or Lamont.

If you’re not going to have any wrestling in the first hour I’m going to need a Konnan music video at some point.

Hey, Roman Reigns is willing to just chill out when evil bosses and the guy who betrayed him are out there talking smack to him. Quite the badass Roman.

The Sign Pointing Season is in full effect.

It took us a half hour to get to “Double Dog Dare you Roman!” Time well spent. Can’t think of a better way to spend my life.

Ooh, Reigns vs. Big Show. That is a shocking match!

At this point in the show I’m not sure if I’m watching the most complex and wonderful trolling in WWE history, or if they’re kicking the can forward a few weeks to see how the fans react. Guess I’ll know tonight when Rollins wins and faces Reigns at Fast Lane.

Big Show vs. Roman Reigns: Back from commercial into a bear hug by Big Show. It’s February 2nd and I’m feeling like I’m in a time loop.

For a guy whose entire job is to defend HHH and Stephanie JBL is using the wrong script. He should be talking about what a great idea this series of matches is, while Booker talks about how classy and brave Reigns is for agreeing to do this. Saying Reigns is stupid for agreeing to this whole thing, while wholly accurate, is not helping tell the story that WWE is trying to tell here. Winner: Big Show

WWE Did You Know: HHH is not only the toughest guy in the world, but the smartest as well. Also apparently there are no lawyers in that huge extended family of Roman’s.

Oh dear. It’s Curtis Axel. And he got to point at the WrestleMania sign.

I would have laughed my ass off if Ambrose had just left after tossing Axel.

Dean already loses every match. If he wins the IC belt he’ll become such a loser it will end up like the DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight title where Dean loses to a ladder or a Hello Kitty doll. As much as I would love to see President Ramu as the IC champ I couldn’t bear to see Dean suffer such a fate.

Ernie Ladd was a badass. This can never be pointed out enough.

Dust Bros. vs. Ascension: Well, since they fought on Smackdown might as well have them go at it 60-70 more times.

Booker T and JBL are doing a good job here, even though it still makes no sense with who is playing which role. But I’ll take two people taking a role and playing it with consistency and having it make sense. To that end it seems like this week now they’re giving Ascension a chance to try to get over. As wonderful as it would be if the weird announcing and the squashes and the inconsistent presentation was part of a long story arc where Ascension earns respect over time, more likely someone just threw out the scrap of paper that said “Ascension is poopy” and now they don’t know what to do. Winners: Ascension

Only one man can help get the Brothers Dust back on track. I demand the American Dream returns.

Hey, John Cena is going to welcome back the guys he caused to get fired because they fought with him in a match where if they lost they’d be fired but they won and still got fired because of John Cena. Good thing he’s ready to make it all about his struggles. What a freaking jerk.

Hey John, why don’t you ask those questions? Why leave it to a retired wrestler with a broken neck? I guess he wasn’t as tight with Austin as he was with Edge. Nothing brings you closer than one guy beating up another’s dad apparently.

How can HHH’s vision of a WWE be one without John Cena when he has made very clear he will fire everyone but John Cena?

Hmmmm, okay, I guess he answered my question. Touché John Cena. Nice of John to point out that he is the real face of WWE. I mean it. This is the first time Cena has truly made a point of the fact that all of the company’s branding and marketing is around this guy the authority supposedly doesn’t want. Of course the question of why they would want to do this is still unanswered, but we’re at least one small step closer to John Cena just finally admitting he is the true boss of the company.

Why exactly is having to wrestle some sort of punishment?

Ryback vs. Luke Harper: Ryback’s in-ring chatter is a highlight. The trash talk and self-hyping adds a feeling of naturalism to the product. When the wrestlers are focused on making sure they do everything right and don’t forget something the performance becomes a routine rather than a wrestling match. Embracing their humanity in the ring makes a wrestler more compelling.

Booker T says Rowan, Ziggler, and Ryback should come to work and do their job. THIS IS THEIR JOB! This might be the stupidest thing that could possibly be said. If this was a handicap match or some other unfair setup it would be a different story. Ryback is wrestling a one-on-one match which, so far, has no interference and no sneak attacks. I cannot even begin to fathom how this proves that Ryback is being treated unfairly.

This was a fun little hossfight. Both guys kept things moving at a quick pace and hit each other with some solid shots.

So Ryback fought a 1-on-1 match that he won cleanly. If that’s not unfair I don’t know what is. To make a wrestler wrestle on a wrestling show. They need to unionize. Winner: Ryback

Jimmy Uso vs. Cesaro: Remember all those times Robert Gibson fought Bobby Eaton? Or B. Brian Blair fought Jim Neidhart? You don’t? Oh, this having tag teams fight in series of singles matches against each other must be some great new idea to make tag team wrestling bigger than ever.

The Usos seem to be getting less and less air every time they get Uso Crazy. Perhaps they need to get Uso lo-carb. I don’t care about wrestler physiques but if you’re going to make being agile a big part of your gimmick you need to remain agile.

I may make jokes, but I would really like to see these two teams in a nice 15-20 minute match. It could be the sort of thing that reaches **** if given the time and minimum of bullshit involved. I’m going to keep hoping for the tag teams to be given a real push, and prepare to be annoyed when in 2 months the only team still intact from now is the Usos. Winner: Cesaro

Miz kind of has a point here. And I thoroughly intend to use the phrase “human prop” as an insult at some point. Finally we’re starting to move to an end to this angle.

This Rowan is not nearly as fun. How am I supposed to make jokes about him being Esteban’s guitar partner, or how he was the brains behind the Screaming Eagle winery, when he’s being all serious and dour?

Bray Wyatt vs. Dolph Ziggler: The dueling chants early in the match had the feel of fans enjoying themselves because they like watching both guys, rather than because Ziggler is not drawing proper face reactions. His entrance pop was pretty unanimous. Some people are just always going to like Bray Wyatt. People like me.

I know Bray’s offense isn’t always the most fun to watch, but it makes sense, especially against smaller wrestlers. He uses his size, lays down on people, makes them hold his weight. Constricting their breath and trying to make their limbs feel leaden. And Ziggler keeps fighting from underneath with an offense based on speed and high risk strikes.

Ziggler is a great pairing for Wyatt. Ziggler is able to die a thousand deaths with every one of Bray’s hard strikes. Wyatt is able to bump around when needed for Ziggler’s hope spots. And Wyatt keeps Ziggler grounded so that the match isn’t constant overselling as Dolph’s matches sometimes can be.

Dolph lost nothing by taking that pin. Bray gets to keep looking like a killer, but Dolph obviously can hang with him throughout. Bray Wyatt just happened to catch Dolph one more time than Ziggler caught him. Winner: Bray Wyatt

This hour of wrestling has been pretty damn good by WWE standards. Ryback and Harper was a fun hoss fight, Cesaro and Uso was perfectly acceptable wrestling, and Ziggler vs. Wyatt was a very good match.

I am actually kind of sad to jump back into the main event angle. That was a nice fun hour of wrestling.

Oh dear God they’ve dropped Orton’s name. Is he back from his coke rehab yet?

WWE never wants you to forget they hate you. Never forget that the things you like shouldn’t be liked unless WWE approves of these things. Chanting Yes is not approved by WWE and they want you to stop doing it. Minimize it at any possible opportunity and make people feel stupid for doing it.

Paige vs. Alicia Fox: JBL is the guy who keeps up with the internet memes I see. Left Shark is best shark.

I would re-up my Network subscription if they brought in MsChif to help Paige as a scream team partner.

Somehow the same company that does this is the same one that reduces their women’s title feud to “Paige is jealous she’s not as pretty as the Bellas.” This seems like a good time to note that SHIMMER will be out in San Fran during Mania weekend. If you’re going out for Mania, you should check them out. Tickets available here.

God help me I laughed at the nWo chant when they hit Paige with the spray tan. I was hoping they would tag her with “beLla” on her stomach. Winner: Paige

Miz vs. Sin Cara: Mizdow not doing anything is more tension filled than most WWE main events. First they got over Mizdow taking phantom bumps and such. Now they have Mizdow not taking phantom bumps and just standing still into something compelling and something the fans are hanging on.

I’m sorry I said nothing about the wrestling in this match. But I figure since WWE’s announcers didn’t care, why should I? Winner: Miz

Well that was quite the jump cut.

I am surprised they actually seem ready to pull the trigger on Wyatt vs. Taker. The leadup should be fun in a campy way, but my god that match is going to be about 3 levels beyond bowling shoe ugly. It’s going to be pimple popping videos on Youtube ugly.

Erick Rowan vs. Rusev: I still find Rowan’s entrance music hilarious. It almost sounds like something they would have used for a random Japanese jobber in the 80’s but with a touch more twang in the music.

Some weird camera stuff happening in this segment. The camera work was weird during the Rumble too. I wonder if WWE has some new people in the truck lately.

This is way too brightly colored for Russian cinema. Also, needs more wolves.

If the flag not coming down was planned then that was a good bit. If it wasn’t planned then props to Rusev and Lana for playing along and making the most of the moment. Rusev’s hyperactive and angry flag waving was a nice improv. If the flag not coming down will eventually be shown as John Cena messing with Rusev then whatever. To waste emotion on the details of life in the Cenaverse is to stand in a blizzard holding a shovel in the air to try and keep your sidewalk clean. Pointless, absurd, and ill-considered from the start.

Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins: Well, this could invalidate a lot of what I said at the top of the article. But I’d rather be wrong and enjoy myself than be right and hate watching everything come to pass.

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders why they wouldn’t show Bryan’s entrance.

Even though these are two quite good wrestlers, this match is in no way about the wrestling. It is all about the presentation, what story are the announcers telling, how are they trying to portray Bryan and Rollins (and Reigns)? The clotheslines and armbars and such are just the background against which the important narrative will unfold.

The Big Show arrives at ringside. Bryan is working as a massive underdog. If he loses it certainly isn’t his fault. He was overwhelmed by numbers. He had a chance but the darn Authority ruined it for him. If he wins he’s an even more persistent and gutty fighter who deserves to be given his fair shot. Would losing his shot due to evil wrestlers in the ring defuse the lingering anger towards WWE? What if Rollins wins clean?! Find out in a couple minutes and a couple weeks I guess.

One of those moments where the Big Show proves he’s awesome: Bryan gets his momentum for the dive, runs towards Big Show’s side of the ring, Big Show, even though not on camera, gets the hell out of the way. Big Show is great at everything but having fun matches to watch. That he’s not good at.

It really is not a surprise that Rollins and Bryan are having a good match. One day they’re going to main event a show, have 25-30 minutes to work with, and put on a 4 ½ star match. I might even go to someone’s house to watch it.

Well, we are officially into uncharted territory now. Or maybe not. Winner: Daniel Bryan

Before getting into what the hell everything means now, first I have to say that for a show with a 30 minute opening promo, and an extended John Cena promo, it moved very briskly. And there was some solid wrestling. Ziggler/Wyatt, Cesaro/Uso, Rollins/Bryan, and Harper/Ryback were all ranging from quite decent to pretty damn good. And the crowd was into it. The easiest way to get the audience in a good mood is to provide them with something fun to watch. Those matches were all fun, and the crowd wasn’t chanting for Daniel Bryan or CM Punk or JBL or whatever. They cheered the good guys and booed the bad guys. A good show will lead to a good crowd. Easiest math there is.

This whole lead up to Mania thing on the other hand is either as easy as 2+2 or as difficult as advanced calculus. What could happen in the next two months? The most plausible scenarios, in order for what happens between now and when WrestleMania goes off the air (I’m not crazy enough to guess what happens the next night on RAW.):


  • Business as Usual – Reigns beats Bryan at Fast Lane, remains face, beats Lesnar for title at Mania. This is still the by far most likely scenario. WWE gets a few weeks of trying to improve Roman’s standing with the crowd, a few weeks of Bryan in the main event picture to keep his fans placated, and shaves a few weeks from the time they have to build up a match between a guy who isn’t there and a guy who isn’t always able to talk so good. Bryan somehow ends up with Ziggler. The show ends with Reigns celebrating with all the Samoans. Also this scenario allows WWE to play with the emotions of the Bryan fans by letting them spend the next few weeks dreaming that Bryan could be in the main event. Never discount how important it is to WWE to tell their paying customers how wrong they are.
  • You Want to Boo Him? Then Boo Him! – Reigns beats Bryan at Fast Lane, turns at least semi-heel, beats Lesnar for title at Mania. If WWE decides that Reigns is just destined to be booed the next two months, then maybe they run with it. Let Lesnar end up playing the role of not quite a face, but guy who has no love for the Authority either. The Mania crowd will be at least 50/50 for Lesnar under the best of conditions. Might as well goose the rest of the crowd along. Bonus points if Reigns celebrates with the Samoans the next night on RAW and rips his dad for never doing what he did.
  • The Money’s In the Chase – Reigns beats Bryan at Fast Lane, remains face, beats Lesnar for title at Mania, loses title to Rollins cashing in MitB: Honestly, the crowd reaction to this would be totally pro-Rollins that night. The next night it would be rabidly pro-Rollins. But after that things would like settle into a nice, lazy post-Mania doldrums where the crowds return to normal. Then they could build to Summerslam where Reigns finally gets the title for an extended run with more experience under his belt, and hopefully less sense of outrage from the fanbase.
  • The Beast is Back, and so is the Shield (kind of) – Reigns beat Bryan at Fast Lane, remains face, loses at Mania: There be rumors afloatin’ that Brock may actually be with the company beyond the post-RAW Mania. If this happens I don’t see Brock vs. Reigns 1-on-1 as neither of them should eat the pin in a clean match. Somehow Rollins finds his way into the match. The uneasy alliance of the Shield members against Lesnar adds intrigue. Lesnar retains the belt, Reigns goes off into a feud with Rollins for a while while WWE throws a couple plucky underdogs at Lesnar.


  • We’re Sorry, You Were Right All Along – Bryan beats Reigns at Fast Lane, beats Lesnar for title at Mania: The ultimate mea culpa angle. WWE decides they don’t want a trainwreck at Mania, so they go the opposite way and give the crowd exactly what they want. Rollins and the Authority decide that Bryan is so weak he can’t have a chance against Lesnar. Rollins interferes and somehow costs Reigns the match at Fast Lane. Reigns vs. Rollins at Mania. Hell, throw Ambrose in there and give us the Shield three-way.

These seem to be the most likely possible outcomes. Sure anything could happen, but trying to predict every possible outcome in WWE can only lead to the vapors.

What I can predict is that I will, as usual, ask, beg, plead, grovel with you to share this with your friends, tell them usually it is sillier than this, post the link everywhere you can, and I’ll be back next week with less words, and MORE HORRIBLE WRESTLING THEME SONGS!