Sorry about last week, friends. Please always be aware of your mental health. It is as essential as going to the hospital after breaking your leg. Like most illnesses it is treatable, and the sooner you catch it, the better your chances of getting it under control.

In my prep for last week’s show, I put together my thoughts on the main event angle. Every word here was written on 2-23. I would have just put it into the bin, but given what ended up coming out of my head later in regards to Daniel Bryan it seemed like a nifty little experiment in how a thought process progresses. If you don’t want to read these week-old observations about things that happened even before that, just look for the picture of the Fabulous Ones looking Fabulous. That’s the time machine to bring you back to the present.

I didn’t watch Fast Lane. I never even gave any thought to watching it. I knew that there was potential for a couple of quality matches, but the stories being told had absolutely no appeal to me. Instead the mrs. and I ordered some sushi, watched the Oscars, and I enjoyed a nice glass of the bourbon she bought me for Valentine’s Day. Johnny Drum Private Stock. Excellent with a big ice sphere to help bring out the more subtle flavors. I followed the results on Twitter, and shook my head at the finish of Roman Reigns/ Daniel Bryan.

I probably would have been unhappy at anyone but Bryan going against Lesnar at Mania. I guess maybe Ziggler would have worked if they had built him up coming off of Survivor Series. But that was doomed from the night after the show. There was only one chance to stop the Roman Reigns express train to the main event of Mania, and that was Bryan.

We all knew. In our hearts we knew. But the teases kept coming. Every week Reigns would draw middling reactions and stumble through one terrible promo after the next. Bryan was drawing unanimously positive feedback and always one of the most over people on the show. Rumors would trickle out about mysterious sources reporting that Vince and Co. were beginning to waver in their certitude about Reigns going to Mania. By mid-January there was a sense of deja vu hovering over the main event scene. The heel champ waiting at Mania, the face who couldn’t stop tripping over his own feet (or tongue), and Daniel Bryan, with his beard and hair and Yes chants and being absurdly good at professional wrestling, waiting to step in again and salvage a WM main event seemingly on a collision course with disaster.

Then Philly happened. Bryan was tossed midway through the Rumble with no fanfare. Reigns eliminated Kane, Big Show, and Rusev to win. The crowd was merciless in booing Roman and the match itself from the second Bryan hit the floor. Even Rock coming out to help his cousin did nothing to stem the vitriol pouring down onto Reigns from this incensed audience in Philly. But it was done. Bryan was eliminated, Reigns was the future, and Brock Lesnar waited to lay down to the future of WWE in the main event of WrestleMania.

Maybe it’s all the fault of the blizzard. Had the fans been given a chance to boo Reigns the night after Rumble this whole thing wouldn’t have been necessary or seemed like a good thought to WWE. Or maybe the plan all along was to keep the con going. Kicking the can down the road a few weeks. Creating a convoluted angle where Bryan was able to remain in the title picture and still have a chance to return to the main event of Mania. With Bryan and Rollins and Reigns all still trying to guarantee the shot against Lesnar WWE bought themselves a few more weeks of uncertainty. Of time for people like me to talk themselves into the idea that the inevitable thing that had been inevitable since summer was suddenly not quite the fait accompli we all thought. Being the internet people twisted themselves in knots coming up with different head-to-head matches, three-way matches, even four corner matches to end Mania with.

Ever been walking and started kicking a rock or a piece of ice, booting it in front of you so that you can catch up to it and kick it again? It’s fun, and it can make the walk seem shorter than it really is. But eventually you get home. You can’t keep kicking it, whatever it might be. You have to let it be, open the door, and walk to your final destination. This time of year, for WWE fans, that destination is WrestleMania. So last Sunday WWE finally had to kick the stone into the bushes, pick up the can and drop it in the recycling bin. Time to start taking it home. So they did. Roman Reigns pinned Daniel Bryan clean after a spear. No excuses, no outs, no questions. Roman Reigns is going to WrestleMania. We never had a chance to change it. We never had a chance to do anything about it. We were slaves to prophecy, and the prophet is a crazy roid-addled carnie.

To get ready for tonight, here’s three things I’d like to see out of tonight’s show:

  1. Jon Stewart raising the stakes: Like any good liberal of a certain age I think Jon Stewart is as close to a Voice of God that the tv has had since Walter Cronkite hung up the necktie. But that doesn’t mean I have any desire to see him showing up on RAW during the Mania season and act like he’s having a goof with something he’s always wanted to do. Either Stewart has to convince the fans this is important, or Rollins has to do something to raise the stakes. My gut tells me Stewart isn’t leaving under his own power tonight.
  2. Establishing the Mania card: Right now the only things that really seem established on tv are Reigns/Lesnar, Cena/Rusev, and Sting/HHH. A lot of matches that seem likely are still not yet formed enough for the people involved to start heating them up for the big night. Some movement towards what the IC title kerfluffle is going to be, what the Diva’s title match will be, and how Orton fits into the Daily Show Dance are all things I would hope for tonight.
  3. Bring the focus back to the ring: Things were running pretty nicely for a while when it came to the in-ring part of the product. Sure the stories surrounding the matches were as dreadful as ever, but at least inside the ring guys were doing some real work. But the last few weeks have seen a drop in match quality that makes the shows feel every minute of their 185 or so minute run time. When the talking stinks and the wrestling stinks, that makes for a grumpy review.

It’s Jon Stewart’s nemesis, Mr. Seth Rollins. All kidding aside, it is utterly hilarious to think that Tyler freaking Black, flunky of Jimmy Jacobs in the worst group of all time, is a main event level heel in an angle with a legit A-list celebrity.

March 2, 2015
Prudential Center
Newark, New Jersey

I almost put “start getting everybody into their own lanes for Mania” as a thing that I wanted to see happen tonight. I guess I should have.

“I can outeat Mark Henry.” That’s a very specific and interesting sort of boast. I mean I know he’s a large man who probably eats a lot. Just not sure he would be the touchstone for gorging. Would a Takeru Kobayashi or a Pat Bertoletti reference have been too much. I know a Crazy Legs Conti or Badlands Booker would have been too much. I know the limits of things.

The crowd is so enthralled by Roman Reigns talking that a rather substantial C.M. Punk chant broke out.

How much more effective would that whole segment have been if the only words Roman Reigns has spoken were “I could just punch you in the mouth” followed by spearing and Punches Superman and howling? Instead he sounds so disingenuous I bought a car from him while he was talking, displays the comic timing of your friend’s terrible improv group, and keeps on depleting whatever goodwill he had from the Shield Era.

Which Fireworks Factory Are We Waiting to Get to This Week?: That would be the Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins one. Watching Randy Orton play the worst Tom Sawyer ever was not enough of a justification for this Mobius Strip of an angle.

Dean Ambrose vs. Wade Barrett: It’s a non-title match where the guy who is not the champion has the belt with him. The I-C title has become such a horribly cursed artifact it might as well be out of a Universal horror picture. No one should even get within 20 feet of the ladder at Mania. With the show in California the odds that the title will infect the winner with Measles, Whooping Cough, Rubella and Ebola.

“Why they can’t use those small ladders like they do with Hornswoggle and Dean Malenko?” R-Truth’s lunacy is underrated in terms of humor value. He’s a terrible wrestler but he’s one of the few actually entertaining people in the company. His reaction to Luke Harper and his awesome Wyatt Camp project jacket was awesome.

The match? Who cares? R-Truth compared Dean Malenko and a leprechaun AND gave us our second “he’s right behind me isn’t he?” joke of the evening. #GiveRTruthAChance Winner: Dean Ambrose

I don’t know that they really shoot many commercials in random halls of a backstage area with a tiny green screen and a crew of one. I’d ask about this one getting to the fireworks factory but I’m pretty sure we just passed a billboard that says “Fireworks Factory, 4 weeks, Exit 6.”

I think the director may be a cousin of Pete Gas.

Holy god. If there was a gas leak at this jobber party Wesley Blake would have to lose 14 times a week on RAW and Smackdown. Also, was that Eva Marie? She actually works for this company?

Of course it’s a dick joke. It’s always a dick joke. Once I wrote long theses about the dangers of domestic terrorism in unsecured urban settings, or methods of translating the works of Basho. Now I write for hours about a show that always has a dick joke as the punchline. I should have done this under an assumed name like Chris Hyatte or The Scotsman or Rich Kraetsch.

The ironic thing about the Miz/Mizdow angle is that it all hinges on how bad an actor Miz is supposed to be, but he is really doing a hell of a job with this. His barely contained rage and betrayal at Mizdow’s actions were on the damn point.

Bray Wyatt’s Talking to a Dead Man

NaUsomi vs. Swing Cat Lovers: I really was hoping that this feud might have ended in the week I missed. 

Any time Cesaro brings back the Claudio “HEY!” it makes me smile and everything gets a little hazy around the edges, as always happens when I get a nostalgic flashback. It is a real pain in the ass when something makes me think of the past during meetings.

When one thinks of the great feuds in history they go on for a very long time. But this is able to happen because they don’t fight every single day. Hell, Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant didn’t spend every day around Petersburg going at it. Some days guys just sat in trenches and cut off their gangrenous limbs and beat each other to death with hardtack.

I bet this whole thing would be more interesting if I watched Total Divas. Thankfully we have Maia Nolan-Partnow to cover that thankless job. Winners: Swing Cat Lovers

Watch This!

Twilight Samurai. A quiet, introspective, yet surging with power look at a downtrodden samurai in the fading years of the Meiji Restoration. A study of a man who has been broken and shamed, left behind by everything he knew. But still with a flicker of greatness, waiting to be kindled by love or desperation. Both heartbreaking and uplifting, this little known gem is one of my favorite movies, and one worth seeking out. 

Oh FFS it’s John Cena: John Cena sure does act entitled like one of those whiny millennials. I wonder if John Cena has forever changed the way we think of faces and heels. The idea of a face that everyone likes is so foreign now. A face that only about ½ the crowd cheers for would have been preposterous at one point. Now it is good enough for a guy to be given the rocket push in the main event of WrestleMania. There still are faces that everyone can cheer for, so it isn’t like the notion is left in the past along with body slam finishers and every card having midget matches. 

I appreciate a good running joke. John Cena entering the ARMBAR every year only to find a better match later on would be a good running joke.  

I want to enjoy the stuff happening between Cena and Stephanie, but as I’m sure I’ve said about this very angle, I have no faith in them to take it somewhere worth going. Especially when there’s potential for a big post-Mania dip that will almost certainly drive Vince back into John’s always safe embrace. But no matter how much everyone else around him tries to make the story work, Cena just can’t do it. How does he prove how brutal he is and how angry he is at Curtis Axel? He hits his finisher, puts on a submission, and lets go the second the guy taps. Real dark stuff there Jern.

The story of “guy being left behind by the tides of history” for John Cena isn’t a bad one, but when does that ever happen in WWE? Sammartino got pissed at Vince and left. Hogan got pissed at Vince, left, came back, left, came back, and still thinks he could do a run with the belt even though he can’t really stand upright or take bumps. Austin was told he would die or something if he kept going. Rock found a better way to make a living. Bret Hart had his brain scrambled and had to leave. Edge had to leave or risk being crippled. HHH still puts himself in main event angles. Michaels could have gone this route, but even he left in storyline only because of his obsession with beating Undertaker. They have an idea here that requires nuance and a deft touch. And they’re putting John Cena at the center of it. That’s why, as much I loved Steph and Rusev’s work tonight I just can’t buy into any of it. 

Curtis Axel is doing his damndest to take being mocked by the company and make something of it. He should ask Zack Ryder how this story ends. 

Curtis Axel vs. John Cena: Axel’s Axelmania trunks are about the best thing ever. They should be in the Smithsonian right next to Archie Bunker’s chair and Fonzie’s leather jacket. Curtis Axel did walk out. In my mind that makes him the real winner. Rusev doing what a damn heel should do when the crowd is getting on his side.  No, these people will never like John Cena, but he is going to remind them that they love America and hate him. For someone so young in ring years Rusev has fantastic instincts. He handles a crowd like a 15 year vet. Winner: Curtis Axel for living and dying on his own terms

 HHH vs. the WrestleMania Sign: Booker T has now been in WWE for longer than he was in WCW, but he will always be WCW in my mind. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Makes him a good choice for someone to be the herald of Sting. HHH sure does love the internet when he’s pushing NXT as a reason to subscribe to the Network. But the twinkle he gets in his eye when he laughs at the internet is all too real.

Considering Booker just got up about 15 minutes ago from the Pedigree he took at WM 19 it is probably for the best that he didn’t fight HHH. Sadly the fake out means my dream of Stevie Ray coming in to finally claim his rightful chair at the commentary table will not come true. Oh how I long for cries of “YAK!” one last time. Winner: Booker T? He’s not fired, so I guess he wins. 

Newhart Update: The wife and I finished Season 3 just before I started to watch RAW. The show is definitely beginning to lean on the antics of Larry, Darryl and Darryl. The inn rarely ever has guests anymore unless they are a necessary plot point. Also, they keep trying to make Harley Estin happen as a recurring character. It’s not a good idea. If you wish to follow along, we’re starting Season 4 later this week. 

Paige vs. Nikki Bella: Has anyone created any fanfic involving Paige and His Swagness Shinsuke Nakamura? Asking for a friend.

The Divas division should have a rule that along with holding the Divas title means you get to use a full name. Once you lose it, say goodbye to having a real name like an actual human. The basic trappings of being a fully functioning adult seem like the sorts of things that could make the belt worth fighting for.

If the Bellas want to complain about not having enough time in the ring, maybe time-killing chinlocks might not be the best way to use the time you do have.

Apparently if you chant enough for Punk his wife appears. I wonder how many more times they’ll have to scream his name to make Colt Cabana appear. Are there enough voices in New Jersey to summon Crazy Ace? Winner: C.M. Punk. He escaped all this.

That’s some quality #Hashtag work there AJ.

Seth Rollins Auditions to Replace Jon Stewart: Joey Mercury could be this generation’s Ed McMahon if given the opportunity.

All I want out of life right now is for them to cut to a segment with Corporate Kane out in the field. 

Mick Foley is nodding somewhere at the quality of the cheap pop work being done by Stewart. And just as I say this Stewart invokes Foley. The circle is unbroken.

That wasn’t where I expected that to go. Jon Stewart mindfucking Seth Rollins, disturbing him to the point where he has to lash out rather than continue to let himself be taken down that path. I think Jon Stewart, Voice of Reason and Teller of Uncomfortable Truths, would be an excellent recurring character. The conversation he could have with John Cena would be able to take up an entire episode of RAW. I hope this eventually leads to Stewart taking more roids than Anderson Silva in order to play Vince McMahon in the Lifetime Movie of his life.

Jon Stewart is also the first guy to ever recognize that just going backstage doesn’t mean you’re safe and chooses to act accordingly. Jon Stewart. Truth Teller. Trope Breaker.

Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper: Watching Daniel Bryan’s desperate fight to come back from career threatening injury in order to be part of a multi-man laddercluster in order to win the least prestigious title this side of the Western States Heritage Title is really depressing. If this is what they said was in store for him coming back when he did I’m thinking he would have proven himself a much wiser man had he just said “Yeah, see you post-Mania. Gonna go home and make babies with Brie Bella.” 

Along those lines it is much less enjoyable to watch Bryan wrestle now. It feels pointless and dangerous. He’s still working like a maniac, taking ugly looking suplexes on his head and neck, and for what? To be guy #4 in match #8 of Mania? I love watching Daniel Bryan wrestle. He’s so good at what he does it is like watching a great band in their prime or an athlete having a season for the ages. But I don’t want to see him be great. I feel a sort of personal protectiveness of Bryan. I know I don’t know him yet I feel like I know him. And I don’t want watch him killing himself just to be a guy. There’s lots of guys for whom being just a guy is their natural ceiling and that’s just fine.

But some people are destined for a certain greatness. To be born with a gift they might not even know they have until the right moment comes along. And when they tap into that gift those of us who get to watch them share their talents with all of us are blessed beyond measure. In the movie Searching For Bobby Fischer Joe Mantegna’s character says of his son “he is better at this than you or I will ever be at anything in our lives.” That’s Daniel Bryan. He is better at being a pro wrestler than any of us reading this will likely ever be at anything in our whole lives.

My all time favorite athlete is Bo Jackson. I consider myself lucky to have watched his career, including seeing him in person multiple times when he joined the White Sox. Living in Chicago the local media kept close tabs on his efforts to come back to baseball. How Bo was pouring his heart and soul into rehab with one goal. To make it back to the majors. To play in The Show. And when he came back there were grown men weeping with joy because even though he would never again be the near-mythic figure that he was before he was injured, he had found his way back home. He was in the big leagues, the only place someone like a Bo Jackson could ever be.

What if Bo had rehabbed and worked and fought only to be told he would be playing for the Birmingham Barons? That he would be risking never being able to walk or run or play with his child just so he could be in the minors playing in the obscurity of the Southern League? Would we have laughed and cried if we had known Bo was risking everything just to be riding the bus from town to town? Maybe people would have said the sacrifice was too great for such a small reward. Will someone have that conversation with Daniel Bryan? Tell him that he has a great life without ending up in a car wreck match that no one will give a damn about for a title that is a running joke? I did not read Dave Meltzer’s piece about Reigns and Bryan, but I’ve seen enough talk to get the gist of it. And if WWE really sees Bryan as just another guy, then I hope he decides to go home. He has a great life and seems like he could probably find many things to make him happy away from wrestling. We’ve seen Daniel Bryan as Jordan in 1996, as Plant in 1971, as Coppola in the 70’s. I don’t need to see him making Godfather 3 or playing for the Wizards. I don’t want to see it. If this is what Daniel Bryan’s future holds, I hope he chooses to have no part of it. Even though I would be very sad not to see him doing the thing he is one of the best in the world at doing.

So yeah, Bryan won a quick match with a Yes Lock and then everyone stole the IC belt from each other and now I’m pretty sure they should dispense with matches for that title. Just make the rule that whomever has the belt is the IC champ. Winner: R-Truth’s suit

I guess anyone can come back eventually. Except Chyna. She’s never allowed back. Given that young Spiffie had a significant crush on Madusa I’m good with this decision. And hey, she was the semi-main on the biggest drawing women’s card of all time.

Randy Orton is turning into Sean O’Haire. There could be humor value here. There is definitely humor value every time Jamie Noble talks. Given that this show has been going on for approximately 29 hours now, I’ll take what I can get.

Paul Heyman Hates Newark: If anyone reading this would like to hear the story of the most frightening cab ride in the history of the world and why Newark is a bad place to enter a new millenium ask me on Twitter at @spiffie6123.

Paul Heyman left the ring before Roman Reigns could get there. That has to rank in the ten smartest decisions in wrestling history. 

Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins: Not sure they’ve used a Tale of the Tape before on RAW. Seems like an odd time to suddenly try to make it seem like an athletic contest, but who am I to judge?

Main event matches on RAW are really in the death spot. By this point everyone is burnt out, the match is always a backdrop for some angle that means the match will eventually end with shenanigans, and we’ve seen the people involved two or three times already that night. The time from 9:45 to 10:02 is just pointless.

The very slow burn for Orton is actually being executed well, even if it stems from a very flawed premise. The idea that anyone in the world would trust him as far as they could toss his oily body is absurd. Seth Rollins, a guy who is presented as being quite sharp, should be putting his fingers in his ears and going “LALALALALALA!” every time Orton opens his mouth. Even Sting thinks that Orton might not totally trustworthy.

With that, we call it a night with Orton winking at the camera and furiously trying to grow a proper twirling mustache. At the start of the night there were three things I wanted to see WWE do with this week’s show.  How’d they do? 

  • Jon Stewart raising the stakes: Home Run. Stewart played his role better than I ever thought he would and summed up why Rollins is a bad guy in 5 minutes better than anyone has done since the Shield broke up. Plus there was a kick to the junk. Can’t say they did anything but great with this.
  • Establishing the Mania card: Sure they tried to add some intrigue to whether or not matches would or would not happen, but for all practical purposes they set a good chunk of the card in stone. At this point we have Reigns/Lesnar, Sting/HHH, Cena Rusev, The IC ladder match with Ziggler, Bryan, Barrett, Truth, Harper, and likely another couple of guys (Sheamus? Axel?), Wyatt/Taker, Rollins/Orton with some sort of Jon Stewart angle., either a tag match or a four-way Divas title match with the Bellas, Paige, and AJ, and the ARMBAR. Eight matches so far. Throw in maybe something with Ryback and Rowan vs. Kane and Show, toss an NXT match on there, and I think our card is set. I wish they wouldn’t still have multiple matches that are not officially set yet, but that’s just me. They get a solid B+ from me on this one.
  • Bring the focus back to the ring: This was a disaster. The matches were all backdrops for angles, everyone seemed to be working half speed except for Bryan, and multiple matches were happening only so people could steal the most accursed prize in wrestling. Not even close on this one, and I fear it may be that way until once we get past Mania. 

Who were the top performers on the show this week? Who flopped hard? Who was pure ugh?

UGHHH: I swear I don’t intend to give this to HHH every single week. But when he puts up another segment that just goes on forever and is solely designed to show how awesome and powerful HHH is, there’s not much I can do. I realize it is not easy to heat up a feud when ½ of it is not on the show (something that is happening with almost every other Mania match), but surely there has to be a better way than week after week of HHH talking about HHH.

Honorable Mention: R-Truth for making two segments entertaining with his lunatic energy, some quality reactions, and being a better voice at the table than the three hopeless bums currently there. Miz for doing some actual acting in his bit with Mizdow. Rusev for being the best heel on the show as shown once again with Cena. And Seth Rollins. Not every segment he had was a winner, but he was all over this show and was part of the best part of the night.

MVP: Jon Stewart. In a span of a few minutes Stewart showed himself to be one of the top 2-3 mic workers in WWE. He was clearly enjoying himself out there and did one hell of a pivot from “old time fan just happy to be here” to “guy who is going to tell Seth Rollins some hard truths” with aplomb. Excellent work.

Well, that’s a wrap. You know the drill. If you read and enjoyed, tell everyone in the world. If you want to tell me I’m an idiot, comment here or hit me on twitter @spiffie6123. Thanks for reading!