Time for the continued slow drive in the right hand lane through Nebraska towards WrestleMania. Boy, there sure are a lot of cows.

I don’t know about you (yes I do. I know the depths of your hearts and minds) but I think I’m going to need some laughs along the way to get through this one. So time to hop in the Wayback DeLorean and go back to a simpler, happier time on the internet. A time when people looked forward to a man in a wrestling mask reading his emails. Compy, run SBEMAIL_22.exe!

Three questions for tonight’s show:

  1. Who will hold the I-C belt at the end of the show? There’s really not much intrigue left in the leadup to Mania. No final traps to be sprung. So the last real piece of suspense is what is going to happen to that white belt which brings misery and despair upon its rightful holder.
  2. Will tonight be the night that Paul Heyman finally has a aneurysm inside the ring? A bald fat middle-aged Jew is trying to do all the work that literally everyone else in WWE has neglected to do in the last two months. He only has two weeks left to try and pull off the greatest miracle in wrestling since Stephanie McMahon vs. Trish Stratus was a legit *** match. I don’t know if he can pull it off. But if anyone in the world will do their damndest and drag us at least a little closer to giving a damn, it’s Paul.
  3. Will Sting talk? If so, will it actually be him talking? Supposedly, Sting is going to be in the building tonight. But would it be a surprise if he brings the microphone up to his lips and any other voice other than his is heard? I’m personally hoping that his promo is dubbed by Weird Al.

Newhart Update:

Season four is in the books.  And I’m noticing a disturbing trend. It seems after a TV show makes it past those first couple opening seasons, one of two things happens. Sometimes the characters begin to get new layers added to them, turning them from the first vague sketches that we knew them as in the beginning. They become fully formed entities with backstories and motivations that exist beyond being in service of a plotline. This is the best case scenario.

The other thing that happens is the show’s creators begin to pander. Take the things that the audience liked about the characters and ramp up those same things so that the audience will REALLY like the characters going forward. This unfortunately seems to be course the show is taking. People enjoy Dick Loudon being perplexed by the strange people around him? Make him react that way to everything so that even things normal people might do, such as renewing wedding vows on an anniversary, is suddenly so foreign to him that he can’t even fathom why anyone would do that. People like George Utley being naïve and unworldly? Turn him into an overgrown child with Asperger’s who gets petulant and throws tantrums when things change or don’t go his way. Enjoyed Larry, Darryl, and Darryl as occasional guests? You’re gonna get them every episode with their own subplots!

It’s easy to understand how this happens. By the third season the important cast changes had been made, and the show had settled into being a Top 20 show, drawing consistent but not spectacular ratings. The lowest rated season of the four so far was arguably the one that involved the most depth of character study and plotlines that had time and thought invested in them. But that scared off some of the audience. The show dropped from #12 to #20 in the ratings. By season three the cast that would be the core of the show until the end was in place, and the series began to become more absurdist with wacky plotlines almost every episode.  The change from the flawed yet vulnerable wacky neighbor Kirk DeVane to the purely comedic characters of Larry/Darryl/Darryl is the harbinger of this slow drift into easy humor, and a show no longer doing anything but the bare minimum to entertain.

Sure it’s entertaining still. The creators assembled an extremely talented cast, all skilled at the art of comedy. The eternally likable, even when he’s being a jerk, top star. The old veterans who can still go. Some young up and coming stars, ready to breakout but still obviously not the focus of the show.  So there’s always going to be excellent moments where the skill of everyone involved, and the sporadic great story, is enough to keep someone watching even though the flaws are unlikely to be addressed going forward. And even when not great, it will be familiar enough to make not watching it seem like some sort of defined breakup, rather than the slow drifting away of friends grown apart.

After a certain point only chaos can cause an institution to change. Being successful without risk is seen as a much better choice than attempting to be very successful but taking a chance on losing some of the people who will seemingly never stop watching. So the road is the one full of safe, easy, comfortable choices. Go with the familiar, the expected, the pleasing bits to sate a mildly interested crowd.

I can’t help but feel like I know some other tv show kind of like this.

With that said…

WWE Monday Night RAW
March 16, 2015
Wells Fargo Arena
Des Moines, IA

Old, Old, Short, Short, and Crossfit Promo: Mocking the crowd in Des Moines is some seriously big fish in a really small barrel. My wife is from Des Moines. There’s a reason she doesn’t live there anymore. Though they do have Zombie Burger, my favorite burger place in the world. So they got that going for them at least.

I hope at some point in this promo Rollins is going to apologize to Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury for ignoring their wisdom.

Big Show’s sad face is still a thing of wonder. The little things like the giant hand on the shoulder. So deep, so full of feeling, so totally full of crap.

Noble is definitely the secret weapon of the Authority. He could murder all of these goobers.

Mercury has been so moved he can’t speak two weeks in a row. All the background players here are hilarious. Kane’s passive aggressive sniping, Big Show’s disingenuous sympathy, Noble’s indignant rage, and Mercury’s deeply felt sorrow.

Oh goody. Randy Orton is here. Randy Orton shouldn’t talk. It’s kind of the worst thing about his character. Ass bitch, ass, blah, snake pun, blah blah. Orton is at his best when he just looks crazy and fires off a billion RKOs. That seriously should be all he does. Become the human version of your own meme Randy! Winner: Quad City Crossfit

SBEMAIL: Guitar – This was the one that started it all. My younger and at the time much more cool sister (don’t worry, she’s old and married and lame now) was all about the hot new trends on the interwebs. One evening she told me I had to watch something on her computer. Certain it wasn’t some sort of odd Hungarian torture porn (that would be when my uncle told me to watch something) I gave it the old looksee. About 2 minutes later I was doubled over in laughter. I’m pretty sure I watched it on a loop 15-20 times in a row, laughing just as hard each time. AND THE DRAGON COMES IN THE NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGGHHHHHT!!!!!!

A Contract Signing! Those always end well! When I closed on my house it ended up in a giant brawl where I stabbed the seller’s lawyer in the hand with my pen. Then sadly someone else came in, signed the contract in my place, and now they own the house I wanted to live in.

WrestleMania starts at 7 Eastern. Thank jeebus. For a moment they said 8 eastern, and there’s no way in hell I’m watching for four hours until 11PM.

AJ Lee vs. Nikki Bella: Title match on RAW, tag match at Mania. Sounds right.

I’m pretty sure that both AJ and Paige have fought the Bellas a few million times there Booker T.

The fact that the announcers are pushing the eternal “women all hate each other” angle isn’t something that surprises me. Sadly neither is the idea that anyone would disagree with that is so laughable all three guys just start guffawing. B.A. Star.

I cannot envision AJ hanging around long. She really is moving around like she wants nothing to do with being on this show.

I’m willing to give Nikki Bella a small amount of credit for improvement. But she still moves like she’s wrestling her way through a flow chart. Every step is addressed, executed, and completed. Regroup and move on to the next step. If she ever actually begins to wrestle, instead of performing the actions of pro wrestling, then she might actually be able to take that next step. Winner: Nikki Bella

The Roman Reigns flashback to Smackdown, with mention of young bucks, makes me wish NXT would get a chance to host a superkick party.

Oh the old couple are squabbling again. Only Dr. Shelby can save these jive-ass fools. I bet their make-up sex is hot. Since Kane can control fire and all.

I’m sure this tension being teased will in no way be used to SWERVE~! us in the main when they come out to help Rollins. Speaking of swerves, did anyone else see Vince Russo’s post this weekend? This man could turn a drive-through order at Wendy’s into a 12 car pile up and an international incident.

Check This Out! – I rarely ever watch anything on USA other than RAW. Not because of the shows themselves, but because the endless promos during RAW just leave me hating everything about the show, the actors, the writers, the producers, even the gaffers and best boys. But I’m a sucker for shows about End Times prophecies and scary children, so I’ve given Dig, the new miniseries on USA, a chance. So far it has held my interest enough to keep me watching. This won’t make you decide to give up Game of Thrones or throw Breaking Bad out of your DVD collection just to make room for Dig on Blu-Ray, but as a way to kill a few hours in the spring it is certainly cromulent. Plus you can imagine Jason Isaccs doing everything as Lucius Malfoy.

Miz vs. Ryback: Very fitting that in Iowa they show off the trophy depicting Andre the Giant in butter. That is made of butter isn’t it?

Given the not so svelte physiques of many a wrestling fan (myself certainly included) WWE may be missing a goldmine in not selling “Big Guy” shirts exclusively in sizes with an X in them.

Ryback’s matches on RAW are always nice and brisk affairs. It’s really how everyone on this show should be wrestling unless they’re in one of the main matches. If you have 4-6 minutes tops to work with then go all out. Make every second count.

I cannot wait for the Mizdow turn at Mania. Winner: Ryan, 33

SBEMAIL: Dragon – This one defines the majority of the characters succinctly enough that anyone who had never seen an email before would understand them. The talented but easily bullied Strong Sad. The large and insane Strong Mad. The cruel yet hilarious Strong Bad. The Cheat in all his evil sidekick glory. One of the purest distillations of the genius that was and is the Brothers Chaps. AND THE TROGDOR COMES IN THE NIIIIIIIIIIIGGGGHHHTTTTTT!!!!!

Rocky vs. Drago Contract Signing: Actually John the whole point of Rusev being lucky enough to be here is that he can say bad things about this country. If we wrote the Bill of Rights on some weight plates perhaps he might learn something about civics.

As usual the heel is introduced first. Cena comes out to what could be charitably called a mixed reaction. I’m counting on San Francisco to treat him as the bullying brute of a bad guy that he really is.

I hope one day a heel pops on the tron, announces that he signed the contract via certified PDF and emailed it to corporate headquarters, and the face is left standing confusedly in the ring.

“Rusev represents America and Rusev represents each and every one of you.” Pretty sure Cena turned heel last week and he just hasn’t been made aware of it.

Going to be interested to see how the super patriot thing goes over at Mania, with a fairly international crowd.

I’m really beginning to think John Cena never took a damn history class in his life. Or maybe he took one of those Oklahoma versions where Moses handed George Washington the Constitution on some stone slabs then was borne into the sunset by an eagle named Small Government.

Lana looks terrible this week. (Sorry. Had to be done.) Rusev is looking quite swag this week. Dressed like a real champion, not some sort of gutter trash like Cena.

Wow. This dude is a sub-Boris Badinov when it comes to Russian accents. I mean they’re in Iowa. Ah crap. Now the announcers are making fun of it. The humor has ended. The joke is never funny when your grandparents are laughing at it.

Damn it, I wish Rusev would have just pulled out some Howard Zinn and read for the rest of the show. I mean you don’t get this kind of opportunity often. Wasting it on a bad Star Spangled Banner joke is just bad work on Rusev’s part.

I thought at first Rusev didn’t sign the contract before flipping the table. Now THAT would have been some quality heel work on Rusev’s part. Winner: Corky Badinov, Master Thespian

I’m going to need someone to let me know if Extra Strength Five Hour Energy gives you more time with high energy or if it makes the five hours like being on a pound of cocaine.

New Day vs. Swing Cats: Holy bulgogi Catman, that inset interview was amazing!

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole New Day being awful thing is that I would want to see a heel team of Kingston and Langston. The Hart Foundation template only with a higher flier and a bigger stronger man is not a bad idea at all.

Best I can tell this entire feud is based on who can clap the best. The moment that the Spirit Squad was waiting for has finally arrived, and it is too late. We’ll never forget you Johnny and Ken. Winners: The Euro-Can Clap

If there was one more silent guy in the Seth Rollins security team my Newhart comparison would be staggeringly on point.

SBEMAIL: Radio – So many highlights. The shock and fear in Strong Sad’s voice after he’s momentarily corrupted by morning DJ’s. “Smooth and smarmy” public radio. Every single second of the discussion of college radio.

Viking Space Lord Talking Time! Brock Lesnar is the most frightening nihilist ever. Walter Sobchek would not tell Donny not to fear nihilists if Brock was hanging out with them.

That actually was not a bad way to bring up the contract issue with Lesnar. Brock is so beyond contracts. If Brock decides to show up on the site of the Daily Show there will be no question who the next host is. If Brock shows up and tells Alex Trebek to get, we have our new Jeopardy host. Brock plus a plane to Wellington a few years back could have given us a totally different Bilbo Baggins. He is Brock. Like Bombadil, “He is.”

Since the Big Show vs. Erick Rowan match never officially happened I am not contractually obligated to talk about it.

Larryland Goes to the Hall: I will say this. I loved the angle with him and Regal. Not sure why someone decided to pick him for this year, but whatever.

Guess they’ve made up and moved on past that lawsuit Larry filed. That or HHH is pissed at Jericho again. Winner: Anyone who likes their speeches with a 12 minute delaying tactic.

SBEMAIL: Japanese Cartoon – Or, as I call it, Why I Don’t Really Get Anime.

Goobers in ring: Curtis Axel is smart. He knows this could be misconstrued as being eliminated from the Rumble were he to be eliminated from this match. This is of course untrue. You can only be eliminated from a Royal Rumble at a Royal Rumble. I confirmed this with Matt Brock who pulled out his dog-eared copy of the WWF Rulebook and checked it out.

So does Mark Henry even turn anymore? Or have we all reached the point where we accept that he’s a grumpy old bastard and doesn’t give a damn whose wig must be split?

Winner:Wig Makers of America

SBEMAIL: I love youThe birth of fhqwgads. Important because it eventually led us to this.

Paul F’n Heyman: I can assure you Paul, from the bottom of my heart, Brock Lesnar has never been confused with a pacifist.

Paul is going for the heel side of the Lesnar equation tonight. “You are all stuck with Brock Lesnar.” The problem is that Brock is just so damn awesome that short of having Brock demand the title be fought for in a WWE2K15 match on Xbox, there’s nothing you can do to make Brock less than amazing.

Roman has the inspirational shirt thing going on. I look forward to six months from now when Reigns is calling Rollins “Mr. Poopyhead” and photoshopping his head onto wacky photos.


Two weeks out from WrestleMania, and half the crowd is chanting for Daniel Bryan as the next alpha dog of WWE is talking. He’s not doing anything egregiously wrong, but people have already made their decision on him.

Winner: Me, for not making any jokes about Roman Reigns being violated. Oh crap…

SBEMAIL: Yes Wrestling You know this one had to be in here. Also, I will support to the death any indie that brings in The Wild Vacationers.

The Wasted Talent Jamboree: R-Truth is the single redeeming thing in this whole angle. Most everyone else in this angle is too damn good for this. R-Truth on the other hand is the kind of total midcard joker who I don’t mind seeing have fun with this. After all, what could the IC belt to Truth that 15 years of midcardery hasn’t already done? I don’t anyone else involved in this to end up becoming the drummer for Spinal Tap.

If they have Little Jimmy grab the belt for R-Truth I won’t speak ill of WWE until Summerslam.

Dolph Ziggler tries to make every match epic. And I appreciate that.

The last few minutes of this match proves a truth that has been so forever. If good wrestlers are given an opportunity to do the thing they do well people will get excited. Also that on RAW having fast paced matches is always a good thing.

Dean Ambrose won a match. That fills his quota for the year

It says something that people stealing the IC title is more interesting than any IC title feud has been in forever. Winner: Dean Ambrose! My fingers didn’t know how to type those words in sequence. I had to put them in different documents and cut and paste them into place.

SBEMAIL: Crazy Cartoon – I have few regrets in my life. One of them is that I have never had a close friend named Steve. That way, every time I talked to him I could ask him to say his catchphrase “HEY STEVE!”

Hey, it’s Steph and HHH. Was beginning to fear we might not see them tonight. At least they don’t seem bothered about Randy Orton betraying them and attacking their prize pupil. Hate to see something minor like that get them down.

I really wish that WWE would be kind enough to put up a flashing light that says “THIS IS NOT A SWERVE!” It would only be turned on when a swerve is happening.

Cheeses H. Rice you can’t even have a live Bray Wyatt promo? We are two weeks out from Mania, and out of the top 4 matches we have seen zero wrestle, two sign a contract, two do pretaped promos, one backstage not talking about Mania at all, one intimidate a middle-aged manager, one who may still be backstage eating grapes, and one Sir Not Appearing In This Movie. This Mania is so full of absenteeism you’d think the card was full of city workers.

I really hope Drew Magary comments on Bill Simmons appearing on RAW next week.

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins: Wow! I never thought this would happen! They weren’t really angry with each other at all! By pulling all these shenanigans they got Randy Orton alone in the middle of the ring for an ambush. The same thing he said he knew would happen at the beginning of the show and agreed to the match anyhow. This scheme is so far from cunning even Baldrick would see the pointlessness of it all.

Remember people who said no one at WWE shows would know who Sting was? That doesn’t seem accurate.

Shame they couldn’t build up Reigns 1/10 as well as they’ve built up Sting for Mania. If you didn’t know better you’d think he was going to be in the main event for the title.

And that’s our show. Only one more RAW to go before the big day. How did this one do in getting us all hyped up?

Not bad. Obviously there’s only so much that can be done for a card that is as fundamentally flawed as this one. But they did what they could.

There were questions earlier. Now, answers are upon us.

  1. Somewhat surprisingly Wade Barrett left with the belt tonight. Kind of figured we would have another week of hot potato, and then Wade would get the belt back just in time to have to give it up for hanging above the ring. I still hate everything about the match, but I know that I will enjoy the spectacle in spite of myself. Tonight’s match probably also should have been held off until next week. Though if they’re going to have a bunch of time spent on the bigger matches, probably best to get this out of the way now.
  2. Paul was surprisingly measured, and a little all over the place tonight. He couldn’t seem to quite find the sweet spot, as he would go from trying to heel up Lesnar to making him seem like a dangerous badass which is basically making him a face. Hopefully Paul is saving it for a final epic rant next week. The Brock Lesnar sitdown was much more effective at making the WM main seem worth watching than the Heyman/Reigns interaction.
  3. Sting appeared! On the Network postshow he talked! In his own voice! And he kicked a whole lot of ass. I was waiting to see if we would get the Sting from the ceiling entrance, but I can live with him staying earthbound. Best segment of the show, hottest crowd of the show, and best built Mania match. You’re a sly one Paul.

The angle that is hitting its stride going into Mania is HHH/Sting. Is that just sheer luck, or because HHH is always finding a way to come out on top? Who knows? Really, I don’t care too much. This is the only thing that has me excited so far. From the first commercial with Sting and the Sting Players until now, WWE has made very few missteps with him. Changing his music was still an indefensible move. And that weird promo with the fake voice was just odd. But other than that they have built his mystique to the point he seems like someone more than human. Also he looks good. He’s not the ripped young Blade Runner of old, but he seems to be moving around the ring with some quickness. If he has the stamina to do 15-20 minutes of that, we might actually have a decent match with a well-built angle on our hands.

As for the main event, I just don’t know that anything can get the crowd to care about Reigns at the level you expect for a main event match at WrestleMania. I get a goodly amount of material from laughing at Reigns, but even tonight, when he wasn’t horrible and kept things brief, he still just couldn’t get traction. I don’t think we’re calling Des Moines a bizarro-world crowd or a smark mecca. But even so there was a rather large Daniel Bryan chant going on, followed by the barest of enthusiasm for Reigns. The only heat on this match is the “what will Brock do?” story, and in the end we all know what he’ll do. Whatever guarantees him the most cash. And that is almost surely going to be lying down and taking a clean as a fresh from the laundry sheet 1-2-3.

Tonight was also not really good for Bray Wyatt/Undertaker. I love Bray’s stuff, even though I can agree with many of the complaints people have about it. It just gets me, and I get him. But tonight was a total dud. He needed to be in front of the crowd, and letting everything go. Instead it was an easily ignored pre-tape that I cannot remember just a little while later.

As for everything else, it moved along. The IC title match, though in the end a meaningless car crash between guys who mostly deserve better than dying to win Thomas Busby’s Chair, should be a high-speed clustermuck of epic proportions. Dolph will likely get a concussion during the entrances, and Wade Barrett will actually explode after falling of a ladder. The ARMBAR is coming together, and teasing us with the potential Mizdow turn. The tag titles will be clapped for. And John Cena is just the dirt worst American Hero possible.

Tonight’s awards:

  • MVP: Sting. The crowd was hot for him before and after he arrived.
  • Honorable Mention: R-Truth for being insane. Everyone in the six man for bringing the energy and letting everyone know that the IC match will be cuh-razy. The guy with the Big Show Fears Leg Day sign, you’re a damn hero.
  • Ugh: Lana for not being there. You were missed. Not just for being Ravishing, but for foisting the worst actor in the world upon us all. I’d love to know who was being ribbed there, it’s the only way that made any sense.

And with that, we get back on the road. One last sketchy gas station left to stop at on the Road to WrestleMania. Just don’t use the bathroom there.

Please share the column if you liked it. Put it on Reddit and Livejournal and Google Plus and Xanga. Tell me “Great column!” or “Your mother should have thrown you in a dumpster when you were born!” on Twitter @spiffie6123. And come back next week for what should be one heck of an ok show.