So I guess on Thursday, WWE decided to take the interesting route of sacrificing the entire tag team division to the dark gods in hopes of firing up Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane. I assume the still beating hearts of Los Matadores were pulled from their chests by Bryan while Reigns chanted Aztec death songs. I’d have watched it, but Project Runway is on Thursday nights, and that takes precedence. Plus we’re up to Season Three of our goal to rewatch the entire run of Newhart in order on Antenna TV. Peter Scolari is now in the show, fresh off of his star-making run on Bosom Buddies. Shame the other guy from that show didn’t really do anything. Seemed like he had potential. But I digress. Since almost the entire show was comprised of the ritual destruction of every tag team there wasn’t time for much else.

But there is one other bit of news about tonight’s show that has me excited enough to watch this show without opening up the bourbon that my wife bought me for Valentine’s Day. The American Dream, Big Dust, if you weeeeell, is going to be on the show tonight. If you read this column every week (and you really should. It is full of antioxidants and Resveratrol) you know I have been eagerly awaiting this moment for at least a month now. I’m sure other things will happen and signs may be pointed to tonight, but I’m on board for the Dust Family and everything else is window dressing.

And there will be music! An ongoing complaint I’ve had over the last few months has been the sheer boring sameness of WWE theme music lately. Rather than listening to another 15 straight guitar riff entrances, we’re going to look back at some awesomely terrible themes. There’s also going to be a couple of new recurring things introduced to the column that hopefully you’ll like and will give things a bit more structure.

So with that…

Monday Night Raw
February 16, 2015
Amway Center
Orlando, Florida

Goddammit it’s John Cena. It’s always John Cena: They must still be writing the script for what’s going to happen in the inevitable HHH/Steph/Reigns/Bryan promo.

Watching John Cena reminds me of an English teacher in high school. He was also a football coach, and in the classroom he would be talking about persuasive speeches or outlines but everything came out like a locker room hype man at work. No matter what he was talking about it was always a motivational speech. He couldn’t help himself.

Okay, I will give Cena credit for actually making it sound like winning the US Title is of at least passing importance to him. Sure he mentioned it only at the tail end of his rambling but better than nothing. Crowd doesn’t like Cena, but they sure love America. Since Kurt Angle will never be coming back except in my dreams, only The Patriot can come back and be the right man to beat Rusev once and for all. At least he can use Angle’s music.

This really should be an awesome feud. Insanely strong freak of nature Cena vs. the Russian Bear. But there’s just so much baggage attached to Cena at this point that everything ends up just being part of the endless story of Cena overcoming things.

That sort of thing might accidentally get Cena over as a face with more than 40% of the audience. That crowd was hot and loud there at the end counting along with Cena as he beat the hell out of Rusev. It isn’t necessary for John Cena to turn heel to make his character compelling. They just need to make him human. Humans get angry, feel rage, lose control sometimes. A John Cena who is feeling fenced in by time, younger competitors, and a crowd that will never seemingly love him no matter how much he loves them, he could be compelling. Watching him try to stay on top and having to dig ever deeper to stay John Cena is a compelling story. I don’t need John Cena in a suit as the new Authority henchman. I want John Cena to be a man who lives and hurts like a man. Winner: John Cena. Not just because John Cena always wins, but because for once we saw what it could look like if he can’t always win.

How about we lighten the mood after that bit of angry violence? Let us revel in the horrible glory that was Dancin’ Lance Storm. Thanks to @AndrewTRich for reminding me of this abomination (and for having awesome Nakamura art on his Twitter page). The music itself is terrible. If it had been used for some one-note rapper character this would remain in the graveyard of just terrible terrible themes. But the video! The Lance Storm Cabbage Patch. The looks of joy that are less convincing than a hostage blinking their location in Morse Code while telling the camera how well they’re being treated by their captors. This gives me the strength to go on and make it through tonight’s show. This brings me joy on a blustery night. Thank you Andrew T. Rich and Lance T. Storm.

WWE trying to be relevant is somehow even more cringe-worthy than when they’re horribly dated and so out of touch that they may have been trapped in ice. My love of Dean Ambrose stops just short of shipping him in slashy fanfic. But even he couldn’t save that horrid turd of a segment.

Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper: It took less than a year for Harper to end up in the position of “big guy there to look scary before being beaten.” And that’s frightening when the guy doing the beating is Dean Ambrose. Dean Ambrose is called a loser by the Washington Generals. Barry Horowitz sent him a telegram suggesting he just give it up. When you’re being fed to Dean Ambrose, the clock has struck midnight and you are no longer being pushed. You’re no longer a scary swamp monster with possibly supernatural gifts. You’re just a big beardy jobber to the stars.

Loved Harper catching Ambrose as he was doing the plancha. It’s hard to take the move seriously when a smaller guy dives and is obviously being caught by the bigger man. Obviously some planchas look like a battering ram flying into someone (see Bryan, Daniel), but sometimes the big guy just needs to say enough is enough and plant the smaller dude for trying a bad idea at a bad time.

Ambrose’s style in the ring can best be described as “Stumblebum.” I wish he had been in the old school UFC shows so he could have been announced as being a master in “Stumblebum Fighting and Drunk-Fu Technique.”

YES! Someone finally figured out the rebound clothesline. At least a first time. At least the second time Ambrose hit the move it was a more organic sort of thing. The first attempt at the move was Ambrose taking a chance to bounce in between the ropes as a planned move. The second time was quicker, borne out of really being sent into the ropes and able to shoot back towards Harper, not giving Harper the chance to counter this time. The rebound clothesline is dependent on the sell by Ambrose. When he is doing it as one single motion where he seems like he could be about to tumble out of the ring, the move works and is cool. When he’s trying to find an excuse to fall between the ropes it is way too telegraphed. It’s like when a BJJ expert falls down at the slightest touch in a MMA match in the hopes his opponent will take the bait and come down to the ground. Don’t be that guy Dean. You’re better than this. Be the real Rob Lowe, not Guy Who Jams His Move Into the Match Rob Lowe. Winner: Dean Ambrose

Dean Ambrose is crazy. Which means a perfect segue into a song obviously created by a crazy person. A crazy genius, but definitely a crazy person.  Look! It’s the American Males! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! BLOOD MAKES THE GRASS GROW! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! PURITY OF ESSENCE! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES! AMERICAN MALES!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHAQiYz7NU0

BIG DUST IS COMING!

Can there be anything more compelling than tension between Kane and Big Show? Obviously not. What the hell is Big Show talking about regarding May 13th? (Editor’s Note: Big Show was trying to be funny and play off the “See No Evil” release date angle from SmackDown many moons ago. The problem: it was May 19, not May 13.) What are they doing to Sting who only appears every few months? This sounds like things getting testy at bingo night down at the nursing home.

Bray Wyatt should probably sit down with Chris Jericho sometime soon. Ask him for some ideas on how you build up a feud against a guy who isn’t there. Dean Malenko never was more over than after taking some time off and letting Jericho heat that feud up. Because Bray is going to have to do the heavy lifting in this one since Undertaker saw his shadow back on the 2nd meaning six more weeks of him Instagramming and looking like he’s 80 years old.

DUSTY IS HERE! HE’S HAD ENOUGH OF THESE DAMN KIDS SQUABBLING! TELL EM ABOUT HARD TIMES! Dusty Rhodes makes me want to call family members I haven’t spoken to in 20 years. Thankfully we cut to commercial quickly enough that I can’t get to the phone before the idea no longer sounds good.

Seriously though, Dusty is still a damn master. Even saying hardly anything, and just talking about family and blood and all manner of clichés, he still comes off saying more and meaning more than all the yelling of a HHH or a John Cena.

The New Day vs. Brothers Dust: If there is no Bionic Elbow tonight I will be sad. It’s the best way to discipline a wayward child.

New Day has already reached “already in the ring” territory.

JBL just listed the Steiner Brothers and the Brisco Brothers as teams where brothers fought each other. Booker then replied “but those aren’t brothers. It’s different when they’re family.” My head hurts and I don’t like things now.

The discussion about whether or not the Rhodes boys have lived up to Dusty’s career, and if Dusty is disappointed in them, was a storyline that I’d like to see as part of the final feud of the Rhodes brothers. As Dustin had to evolve to leave Dusty’s shadow, so Cody will have to evolve to leave the shadows of both his father and his brother.

At last, the fireworks factory. Now into the Mizdow car and try to get to the next factory on the road.Winners: New Day

So speaking of the Undertaker, he falls into this list. Before you light the torches and drag the pitchforks out of your riot closets I’m not talking about any of the multiple awesome gothic themes over the years. Those are part of the best awesome themes list, not best terrible themes list. No, I’m talking about Booger Red, the Bikertaker, and the Bizkit. Bikertaker is, and there really isn’t a close second here, my least favorite character in major promotion history. You have to go down to the indies to find someone I hate more. And what better choice for a terrible wrestler with a terrible gimmick than a terrible song? But I’m sure if you are over the age of 18 or so the song is stuck in your head now. You’re welcome. Everything bad about the early 2000’s with Taker and HHH just shitting all over everything is encapsulated right here. Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’. Keep rollin’ rollin rollin’. Ugh.

I wonder if Vince McMahon sees Byron Saxton on screen and wonders a) when the hell they hired Coachman back and b) why he isn’t doing the Charleston.

I honestly didn’t mind Roman’s promo this week. He spoke like a human being, and actually made some cogent points. Of course the whole thing is ending with one babyface who is less over than he was at the start and another face who is not as over as the cooled down face. Last year was great because the only person in the angle who anyone liked was Bryan. Here though every single person has a fanbase. People love Bryan. Some people still love Reigns. And Brock Lesnar is either feared or loved but either way people don’t root against him the way you would expect them to root against a mega-heel champ. These pieces don’t fit together with nearly the synchronicity that everyone involved in the Rise of Bryan did last year.

DAMN IT DUSTY! FLIP FLOP AND FLY THE BOY! DON’T LET HIM TALK TO YOU LIKE THAT! Stupid Cody.

Roman Reigns vs. Kane: There are nuggets of a fascinating angle here between Reigns and Bryan. Both men have fair and reasonable complaints against each other. In more nuanced hands this could have legs as a true tweener sort of thing.

The match is of course abominable. But thankfully everyone is ignoring it. The fans, the announcers, hell I’m surprised Kane hasn’t gone for a walk.

“You can’t wrestle!” “Yes he can!” That’s one of the better dueling chants I’ve heard in a while.

Bryan is doing a hell of a job straddling the line between enthusiastic underdog and disingenuous asshole.

Neither one of these men is a heel. Both of them want to win no matter what. I’m not sure I trust either WWE to keep telling this story or the fans to not demand it be simplified. I hope it isn’t. Sometimes it really is okay to let the fans choose how they want to react and tell the story you want to tell until it finishes. Winner: Roman Reigns

Now to open up the Book of Strange Tales and let Uncle Sean tell you a story. Younger fans may not be aware of this, but John Cena was not the first rapping wrestler. Once in a strange land filled with classic MGM characters, Little Richard impersonators, and Spider Man ripoffs there was one large man who might have been the oddest beast of all. His name was P.N. News. This man had a special gift that was his and his alone. This gift made fans clamor to see him wrestle, their breath held and seat edges sat upon as they waited for his magical finisher, the Broken Record. For when Mr. News would ascend the top rope and let the elated masses know he was about to fly there would be a tingle in the air. A telepathy between man and machine unlike anything this side of Silent Bob using his Jedi Powers in Mallrats. A tune surely dictated from the angels into the ears of Sir News would ring out through the arena bringing mirth and peace to all who heard it. That’s right, the fat white rapper dude’s music would start to play while the match was still going on. If you were lucky you would hear him atonally yelling “yo baby yo baby yo” in something slightly similar to in time with the music. I can think of no better way to sum up watching WCW in the pre nWo 90’s than that.

Paige! Mia Yim! Leva Bates! It’s a SHIMMER Vol. 42 reunion! Just need Sara Del Rey to pop up in the background.

Paige vs. Summer Rae: This outfit is confusing my brain.

The story they were telling early in the match should have been carried through. The way Paige was beating the crap out of Summer Rae and refusing to be distracted by the stupid outfit she ended up having to wear was a good example of telling a story through the work. Sure, Summer Rae didn’t have much offense but there shouldn’t have been any. This is the moment where a pure squash fits the narrative and helps build to Fast Lane.

The Scorpion Crosslock (PTO) is still the best submission move in the company. An absolute thing of beauty.

The narrative continued through into the postmatch shenanigans. Paige didn’t do the usual thing and stand in the ring while the heels insult her and talk all they want. She acted pissed but not out of control. Refusing to let the Bellas talk, shutting them up in order to make her point was solid storytelling. Of course the promo had to be as much about Paige wanting the title as Paige talking about how she’s better looking than the Bellas. Oh well. At least the gravy bowl has been kept in mothballs so far. Winner: Paige

And since I found a way to shoehorn in my weekly SHIMMER reference, how’s about one of their themes? Technically not written for her but rather borrowed from an anime, Ayumi Kurihara’s theme…MY GOD, THE EARWORM! Sorely missed after her retirement in early 2013, there are many things that I remember fondly about Ayumi. Her skill inside the ring, her joy she seemed to take from performing and being loved by the crowd, and her propensity for the color orange. A thing I will remember, dear lord will I remember it, but not quite so fondly is her theme song. It’s playing in my head right now just thinking about it to type this. It’s been playing in my head for hours since I thought about this idea. I’ve been Stockholm Syndromed into loving it. Not just because it would herald the arrival of one of my all time favorite performers, but because it has taken control of my brain in a manner not unlike Solanum. It is insidious, it might be part of some Japanese plot to win World War II deep into overtime, and my head is bouncing now with the sound careening around my brain case like a 5 year old who snorted a rail of Pixy Sticks and cocaine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-hTBGlJrLA

Halfway through the show it is striking how awful the actual in-ring wrestling has been. The best thing so far was a pretty by-the-numbers Harper vs. Ambrose match. Everything else has been barely a match or a backdrop for other things. It’s really making the show drag tonight. During the last two months I feel like I’ve been getting some decent matches to fill the time between long droning promos. I liked those matches. They’re what keeps the company from being World Wide Entertainment.

Seth Rollins Promo: We learned things last week. Chief amongst them is that Seth Rollins is no Robert Fuller. But then who is? Except maybe 2 Cold Scorpio.

Dissing Jon Stewart? Now that’s some heel talk.

Should we ignore the fact that Rollins wants to be in the main event of ‘Mania, has a briefcase that lets him be in any title match he wants to be in, and is upset that he can’t be in a title match he wants to be in? We’re just letting that slide right now? Okay.

Wait…this isn’t a promo segment? We’re now having dueling promos before matches? This seems designed to both annoy me and cause me to have to go back and delete text on a regular basis. Which also will annoy me.

I really hope Dolph’s line are written for him. Because if that was original material then I think I would rather go see Gallagher smashing melons and going on racist rants live than Ziggler. That was just awful. The jokes, the timing, the delivery. Ziggler needed to take some stand up lessons from Kevin Marshall when he had the chance.

Before heading into this match, time for a new feature here in the R-3. It’s time to CHECK THIS OUT! Every week something totally non-related to wrestling that I think is worth giving a look to. It might be something new, it might be something I rediscovered, it might be something I love and want you to love too. This week it’s a new song. As you may have guessed I’m a sucker for acoustic and folkier music. One of my favorite albums of the last decade or so was Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens.  For years he went into the mini-symphony (and sometimes full out symphony) route. With his new single “No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross” he returns to the simple sound of a man and a guitar. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. Hope you do too.

Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler: The logic issues in this segment are killing me. Now the ref can toss Noble and Mercury, even though they do this every match. If the tease by the announcers that Peanuthead, Jr. is going to get in trouble with HHH for doing so pays off I’ll rescind said criticism.

Ziggler may have just hit the first ever sunset flip style move that actually looked like a real pinning combination. Usually that move is so business exposing, but Ziggler cinched it in and locked it up tight.

This match feels like the definition of wrestling just to fill time. They’re working at about ¾ speed and doing the things they usually do, but no one is investing much into it. Perhaps because both guys are staring at being near the bottom of the Mania card.

Damn it I love overly enthused Ryback. It’s like he’s done his weight in cocaine before every time he comes out. There are nights when he seems like the only person on the show who is really excited to be there. If you’re thinking about John Cena here, we all know he’s a cyborg made of steroids, Vince McMahon’s grapefruit juice, and a box of Fruity Pebbles. Winner: Dolph Ziggler

HHH Promo: Clash 1 was a 45 minute draw. Just sayin’ Student of the Game.

Even Ric Flair can’t make me be interested in this segment.

I like to assume Flair just wanders around airports. He’s not flying anywhere. He just goes to the airport, chats with the luggage handlers, WHOOs at people in the security line, and eventually gets asked to leave after security gets a report that “Oh God he’s dropping his pants again!”

This segment is going to go blind one day. You can’t be this masturbatory without a long term impact. If this bit had hands they would like a damn yeti’s paws. The show was dragging before. Now it has reached the point of serving as a cure for insomnia. I just watched 10 minutes of HHH and Ric Flair talking about how awesome the other one is. What the hell was the point of this? Here’s how the same point could have been achieved:

INT. BACKSTAGE

HHH is standing in a backstage office, talking on the phone. The door opens and Ric Flair walks in.

HHH

(surprised)

Hi Ric. Didn’t expect to see you here.

RIC FLAIR

WHOO! I’m here because I think you’re talking Sting lightly!

HHH

No Ric. I’m pretty sure I’m taking him seriously.

FLAIR

WHOO! That’s great! Can I borrow $6,000? WHOO! WHOO!

HHH

(sadly unsurprised)

No Ric. Here’s fifty bucks though.

FLAIR

That’s good enough for the Naitch! Time to go hang out at the airport! WHOO!

HHH walks away while Flair elbowdrops his jacket.

See how much simpler that was? 30 seconds and we move on. Winner: Me for making use of that screenwriting class I took.

Since we’re talking about James O’Barr’s favorite wrestler, let’s remember a happier, blonder Sting. To be fair any of the immortal classics from WCW Slam Jam could have been listed here. “Steinerized”, “Don’t Step to Ron”, “Mr. Bang Bang”. The music was appropriate for a company that was filming tv in Disneyworld and still very much in the 80’s template. The music is terrible. This is unquestionable. But it is so charming. Each song is tailored to its wrestler in a way that is rarely duplicated. Sure every once in a while someone gets a theme that is just theirs and could never work with anyone else. John Cena, Santino Marella, the Bellas. But most WWE music, even for their top stars, is interchangeable. The music CM Punk came out to the night of his epic win at Night of Champions was once earmarked for Randy Orton. Brodus Clay took Ernest Miller’s music. But really, outside of Barry Windham in Sting makeup, could anyone else have used “Man Called Sting” other than the Stinger? I don’t think so.

Ascension vs. Darren Young and Jack Splat: JBL is much like me. He has no idea who the other guy is in the non-Ascension team. Michael Cole says his name is Splat. JBL says his name is Jack Splat. That’s all the information I need to label this match.

The announce team is currently in “Take Ascension Serious” mode. I’m sure a few weeks from now they’ll flip again after Vince finds out they are not, in fact, the Powers of Pain. Also expect Hideo Itami to be de-pushed due to Vince not being able to give him Mr. Fuji as a manager.

PRIME TIME PLAYERS REUNITE! MILLIONS OF DOLLARS! Please, if there are any deities reading this, help a guy out and give me some more Pancake Patterson in my life. Bonus points if they feud with New Day and it culminates in a Washrag On a Pole match.

I suppose if you’re going to tell a guy not to speak his mind, giving him a mini-push isn’t the worst thing to do by way of apology. Plus when you’ve wrecked your entire tag team division in one night you need to get some new teams. Or at least new old teams. Winners: Ascension

The Ascension looks like the indie knockoff version of the Road Warriors. But that’s okay. Sometimes indie knockoffs are hilarious. Like Rhett Titus, the bastard child of the Fabulous Ones and Rick Rude. Accepting this award on behalf of all hilariously bad uses of popular music, with a twist to personalize the song for the wrestler, is Rhett’s entrance theme. The fact that it’s just the song “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer with the words “Rhett Titus” spoken over the song at appropriate moments is just the sort of thing you can’t believe was done but then you can’t believe it isn’t done more often. In the event that the Rhett Titus theme song is unable to perform its duties the runner-up, Chris Hero’s mashup of “Holding Out For a Hero” from Shrek and “Requiem For a Tower” by Clint Mansell, will assume the title.

Mizdow vs. Barrett: The spirit of Lawler seemed to enter into JBL when he made a “Fifty Shades of Hay” joke. Hopefully Lawler doesn’t invade his wardrobe next.

Miz is a true heel. Not only does he screw with his one friend in the world, but then he immediately leaves when Ambrose arrives. Miz cares about no one else, heel or face. That’s a true heel. He got what he wanted from Barrett and then left town. I love it. The last couple months of Miz has been his best work since before his WWE title run. Just a complete bastard, wracked with insecurity, lashing out against the one person who has stayed by his side. Miz and Mizdow are a Lifetime movie. Wait, no one gets murdered. They’re a Hallmark Original Movie in search of a happy ending.

Wade Barrett makes some very valid points about the legality of this contract. Sadly under the precedent set in Michaels vs. Benoit any time someone can get a signature on a contract, no matter the circumstances, it is to be considered valid in Wrestling Court. Winner: Theoretical Physicists who postulate that the WWE Universe is, in fact, distinct from the universe we assume is our own.

WWE is making people wait for the reveal. I don’t know if it’s tonight, or Fast Lane, or next Monday, but they’re inching closer and closer to showing the handiwork of Bray Wyatt, casket maker. Life in the Wyatt cult sure seems mighty arts and crafty. Rowan playing the guitar, Harper working on his sewing skills to make his nifty vests, and Wyatt woodworking. They’re a couple pot smoking poets away from being Naropa.

NO! NO NO NO! I CAN’T DO ANY MORE USO MATCHES! sigh. I’ll do it, but I am so not happy about it.

Jimmy Uso/Naomi vs. Tyson Kidd/Natalya: This is just too damn late in the show for this. In hour one I can appreciate the cowardice of Kidd and the athleticism of Nattie and Naomi. In hour two I can try to align this universe with the other universe of Total Divas.

But in hour three, all I can do is hate. I hate everything happening here. I just want the ring to open up and everyone fall into Kane’s fire pit. Winners: No one. No one ever wins in these endless feuds. Everyone just wrestles and wrestles and Godot never shows up and all becomes void and nothingness.

Before crashing into the main event, we save the best for last. Steven Regal. The Real Man’s Man. The undisputed King of awesomely terrible entrance music. The reigning, defending, undisputed, undefeated champion of the universe. The best part is that WWE decided to take a guy who is so pitch perfect at being an aristocratic British jerk and gave him the gimmick of a hard hat. This is the idea Beaver Cleavage compares itself to when it doesn’t want to cry itself to sleep at night. They might as well have added some bells to his outfit and called him “Ding Dong” Steven Regal. This awful music did however lead to one of my favorite public ribs ever.

Daniel Bryan vs. Big Show: And one last match that exists solely for angle advancement. I’m sure Bryan will work hard because Bryan always works hard. But this match is just an impediment to the eventual post-match with Reigns. Might as well protect your star coming back from injury and make this 3-4 minutes tops.

Reigns is too cool for commentary. Or finally someone realized Roman Reigns should never talk on live television. Either way it is really for the best.

Daniel Bryan is coming off as the jealous guy who can’t stand anyone else talking to his wife. Reigns isn’t doing anything ostentatious, yet Bryan is acting like Reigns is trying to make the fans turn on him. The insecurity is strong in Bryan right now.

Did Big Show somehow turn face and then heel in the last two shows, or is Smackdown being counted only as a face turn tease?

JBL just called David and Goliath “a fairy tale” which seems like it could offend some people. Not me, but others who take that book seriously.

Roman Reigns may be from Pensacola, but he knows the lesson of Chicago politics. Give people free stuff to make them like you. If Roman promises to clear our snow promptly I’ll vote for him as our Mayor. Can’t be worse than Rahm.

SIGN POINTING~!

Bryan is doing his level best to help make Reigns seem like the cool badass WWE desperately wants and needs him to be. Winner: Big Show

That post-match brawl did a decent job of heating up the Bryan/Reigns match. Most importantly is that at no point have they done anything to make it seem like Bryan has to overcome incredible odds to win this match. They’ve been presented as equals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. If it was just whether widdle Bwyan could beat Big Bad Roman Reigns this would flop like Public Enemy in the WWF. But, as this company does on a semi-regular basis, they’ve stumbled their way into an interesting story. Not the one they were planning to tell these last six months, but an interesting one nonetheless.

I’ll have extended thoughts on this in the Voices of Wrestling Fast Lane Preview later this week. Be sure to check it out. Much smarter people than me will be involved as well.

To wrap up the week I thought I would try something. Who were the top performers on the show this week? Who flopped hard?

Ugh: HHH and Ric Flair wasting everyone’s time. That segment sucked. Flair tried, and was more focused than usual, but that was just so full of navel-gazing and rehashing the Monday Night Wars that nothing was going to make this anything but a crapfest.

Honorable Mentions: Paige for making that angle entertaining when it could have run so far off the rails. Dusty Rhodes because he’s Dusty F’n Rhodes and he still brings it on the mic better than damn near anyone. Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns for putting some fire into their angle.

MVP: John Cena I’m as shocked as you are. But the beatdown of Rusev was the best part of this week’s show. I’m curious about this match in a way I haven’t been about a non-Lesnar match of Cena’s in years. I know I’m setting myself up for disappointment, but I would be ecstatic if this was a touchstone in the evolution of Cena’s character.

That’s all I’ve got for this. See you at the Fast Lane preview.