Short and Sweet Synopsis: If you liked McMahons or those married to them, you got plenty of it at the top of all three hours. The Undertaker spent more time walking to the ring than the rest of his segment. HHH looked like a dominant champion and heel force at the same time all the other male champions lose. Sasha and Becky’s fate must wait until SmackDown. The Freebirds are going into the Hall of Fame.
HHH starts us off and he waxes philosophical on “authority” and how we’re all helpless to fight it because we’re afraid. But it’s how we know our place. Roman should have listened to that fear, but he chose to challenge it. Roman should know his place. This should be a lesson and…*MOTORCYCLE REVS* Dean Ambrose wishes to retort.
Dean sells the effects of the beatdown by Brock from last week. Dean’s been on the phone with Roman and wants HHH to know that Roman’s coming. We get references to Oscars, movies and Shane. Dean wants to know about HHH’s rooting interests for Fastlane. After being insulted, Dean steps to HHH and says Dean’s the last guy HHH wanted to face. After verbal sparring, Dean challenges HHH to a match for the title. Roman gets to fight the champ at WrestleMania, but that doesn’t mean HHH has to be there. HHH dismisses the challenge and will take it under advisement, promising an answer by the end of the night. The benevolent HHH was going to give Dean the night off to rest, but instead HHH remembered his friends in the League of Nations. So it’s Dean vs. Alberto Del Rio.
Thoughts: It’s the night after the Academy Awards, so for the façade of relevancy, they had to shoehorn reference to movies and the Oscars. This HHH is just bad news for any face: the smarmy sarcastic, making self-referential comments undermining Dean’s gimmick. He literally asked if the unstable part was shtick and said Dean needed to wash his clothes. There’s ways to comment on gimmicks to make a guy look good while dismissing him—Flair calling Magnum T.A’s neck a “stack of dimes” which wasn’t close to being true). Then there’s how HHH and his friends do it— “Skinny Fat” “Troll Doll” and “Waffle House Cook”. It’s hard to maintain disbelief when the unstable violent force doesn’t punch the guy dressing him down as not really being true to himself.
Overall the segment was fine, and Dean held his own with HHH, milking the drama to the point where he got a physical cue from HHH to start talking. Dean doesn’t shrink from the spotlight when given and knows how to steal focus back to him.
Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
Charlotte is out to watch along with Ric Flair. Sasha throws a look to Team Flair before the bell. Early attempt at the disarmer and multiple pin and submission attempts. After a baseball slide to Sasha, Becky gets caught with a knee coming back into the ring, followed by a run into the turnbuckle as we go to break. Back live and Becky on the offense until Sasha pulls out her modified Thesz Press for two followed by Becky getting a Becksploder. A second attempt at knees to the shoulders by Sasha also gets two. Forearms exchanged. Becky hits a massive missile dropkick that kills Sasha. Sasha goes to the top, Becky meets her with headbutts, sunset flip into powerbomb by Sasha and a pin that results in all four shoulders being down. Match is a draw, but the boos turn to chants of “Triple Threat.” Commentary is selling that the WrestleMania match is up in the air.
Thoughts: Fun, hard hitting match, perhaps a bit off at times and perhaps my bias is showing as I like both Sasha and Becky. The crowd didn’t like it as much as I did, which is a shame. I think the false exchanges to begin the match seemed contrived to them. RAW crowds seem to have an issue with “women wrestling in a male style.” Finish could have better, but to do so would mean drawing attention to the blows Sasha took to the head, and that’s a slippery slope. It was a finish that looked good on paper, and was different than the similar stuff they’re doing in NXT, but just didn’t translate to television. I assume we will get a new creative double pin for SmackDown as well.
Bray and the boys interrupt. Did you know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different response? (People who book Bray don’t?). Join him for paradise, defy him and you’ll be conquered. Run.
Thoughts: Time to show and not tell. It’s a fine promo, but until they do something evil, no one is going to believe they’re what they claim to be. One week kidnappings and phony conversions aren’t going to cut it. It’s been 3 years, be an anarchist cult or drink the Flavor-Aid. I like Bray’s promos, this wasn’t a bad one. I think he’s fascinating but this is a treadmill going nowhere since they never heighten his actions.
Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz
Set up on the pre-show last week, Miz steals a clean pin after an irish whip into the turnbuckle that Dolph takes front first. Short and…short.
Thoughts: I assume this is 50/50 for the next few weeks and they’re added to a multi-person midcard title belt match at WrestleMania. Miz now spits at least once every match pretending to lose teeth. It’s unsanitary.
A recap of last week’s return of Shane McMahon
They call it “the most monumental moment in 20 years.” Alright, that’s laying it on a bit thick but I can’t knock the hustle. From the editing it looks like they’re going to try to give him the “Yes” chant. Maybe Daniel Bryan would have wanted it that way, or maybe they’ve been trying to do that for years. We get blackmail, gulping Vince, whiny Stephanie and allusions to truthiness of Shane’s claims. A recap of the promo interspersed with flashbacks. Shane’s lack of reaction and the fact that both McMahons lost their place is glossed over here, and that’s a net positive.
Stephanie and the Vincent J McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award
Stephanie McMahon’s hair is on point and she’s doing the pageant wave. If only I could get a Rob McCarron live reaction shot. She wants the respect she didn’t get last week. Stephanie tells us Shane’s not here tonight and won’t be after WrestleMania. She can’t get past “Legacy and Family…” in her prepared remarks and closes them. She holds the award like a baby and we get the weepy “I sacrifice my family time for you.” She knocks over the podium and is now angry Stephanie! Time to tear down Shane as not being there for the fans. This is shades of the Cena promo on the Rock from a few years back. She loves Shane but is tired of him stabbing her in the back. She says the nephews will have to fight her and her daughters for the empire. Now we’re getting growling Stephanie as the thought of working for Shane makes her vomit. Like the crowd, Shane is narcissistic and weak-minded. You will need to bow down to the queen!
Thoughts: If you like Stephanie, you’ll like this. I thought this started off great, and I especially loved the inability to get past the first few words of her speech and the metaphor of the award as a baby was a lovely touch going into her Lady Macbeth/Cersei Lannister monologue. Steph hit the feminist angle for sympathy that she won’t get, which was also well done. But then growling McMahon voice came out and it ended a bit cheesy for my tastes. I believe in the big finish but the delivery made it seem hokey compared to the first half. I’m not a Stephanie fan overall, but I liked the first half of this quite a bit to the point I’m willing to concede on the second half being fine or at least forgiving it. In my opinion, screaming ranting Stephanie wasn’t quite earned at that point, and the Vince McMahon School of Overdramatic Acting always comes off poor when she does it.
Lucha Dragons vs. Rusev & Sheamus
My first big laugh as the League of Nations all do Del Rio’s twirling finger after exchanging hugs! Hooray Friendship! Sin Cara’s wearing black with white trim and Kalisto is wearing white with black trim. JBL buries the “just having fun” (Byron’s words) New Day’s videos on the League of Nations, which are spectacular. Sheamus and Rusev have fun playing bully heels, beating down Sin Cara. Sin Cara finally reverses fortunes with a tornado DDT. Hot tag to Kalisto and he’s a ball of fire on Rusev. Sheamus breaks up a pin, is sent outside. Sin Cara dives then gets kicked. Kalisto off the top to Sheamus, and as Kalisto gets back in, Del Rio is on the apron to distract him. Head kick by Rusev for the pin and a post match beat down on Kalisto with the double stomp by Del Rio.
Thoughts: Love Sin Cara’s gear. Solid but not memorable match. They continue to play up Kalisto/Del Rio, which is not a welcome build given we’ve seen it the past two months. Perhaps a multi man match for Kalisto’s belt will include Del Rio while the Rusev/Sheamus team are the League’s tag team representatives.
Natalya and Renee chat about the challenges of being a diva, and how healthy Natty is that turns out to be a live read for Subway. Glad to see they no longer find Natty fat. Better than most product placement spots on WWE but still not great.
Ryback vs. Adam Rose
Inset promo by Ryback. “Last night Spotlight won Best Picture,” and now Ryback wants the spotlight. It’s like the stories match pop culture! Rose gets some initial offense before getting killed by The 400 Blows of Ryback. Ryback has snapped and finishes with the ShellShock.
Thoughts: The re-birth of Ryback as badass. I was hoping after the promo last week we’d get the “philosophical brute” angle. Commentary pushed heavy on the “Brass Ring” comments. This promo was terrible and Rose was there to be the catalyst for Ryback’s monster comeback. Ryback is feast or famine on the mic for me, and backstage promos always come off creepy as he stares at a random point.
The New Day vs. Y2AJ
Looks like they want Y2AJ to be a thing. Aww Nashville! Kofi says they are successful because they are a brotherhood. They are like other brotherhoods such as Edge & Christian (show plug) and..ugh…Booty-O’s and milk. This too appears as if it is going to be a thing.
Jericho is out with a new black eye courtesy of Kofi. It’s Kofi/Big E for the New Day. Jericho and Kofi start. Commentary pushing Styles/Jericho as a dream team which is a positive, despite never really establishing Styles on his own to the degree most hardcore fans want. After initial offense we go to break and come back to a Unicorn Stampede on AJ. Hard knee to the face by Kofi and a two count. After being sent outside AJ gets a hotshot on the apron and Kofi and Xavier do a joke with cards about having AJ’s number. Big splash from Big E only gets a two. A Pele Kick and the hot tag to Jericho. After a distraction, Jericho gets a Lionsault, but Big E breaks the pin and gets the springboard fist from Styles. Missed Trouble in Paradise by Kofi leads to the Walls of Jericho. Tapout.
AJ cuts a promo that this puts them on top of the list for the Tag Team Championships. Jericho says “Y2AJ is indeed a thing” as if reading my first sentence and it freaked me out.
Thoughts: Typical but fun match, but I again question the philosophy of letting Jericho get all the wins while Styles gets the occasional high spot save and takes the beating. Seems you’d want Styles in the Ricky Morton role as he (one would think) is going to be around longer. Unless the plan is the first time AJ gets the hot tag he gets pinned, loses the tag title match and it leads to the split, which is a possibility. It’s not a good idea but it makes sense.
The “get heat, hot tag while heel also gets tag, four-man brawl, distraction leading to pin or false pin/then real pin” formula is a bit overdone to the point that as a longtime watcher, it’s why the teams all feel like they do the same match.
The New Day are flaky heels or smart alecky faces depending on the opponent so they never turn the crowd too much, but as a result never get the crowd love when they play face. But they make it work. A lot of their comedy tonight wasn’t working for me.
Vince lays out the alternate universe where Shane beats The Undertaker and Vince is set aside at a desk, although Vince ending up like Mike Milligan from Fargo or Vic Mackey from The Shield amuses me. Only fools believe in miracles we are told, and Vince loves Shane enough to teach him a lesson. Vince gives a growl for the cold-hearted machine of destruction, The Undertaker.
Vince does the trademark gulp. Vince responds to the crowd’s chants with “This is my Undertaker and this is my force of destruction.”
The Undertaker grabs Vince by the throat. “You know what’s going to happen when that door closes at WrestleMania. You know what I do. The blood of your son is going to be on your hands.”
Thoughts: My only issue is it doesn’t explain why The Undertaker is willingly going to do Vince’s bidding other than being just another guy who always has to do what corporate says, which Undertaker always seemed above. Other than that, I loved it. Short, to the point, the Vince scenery chewing held to a min…oh no…wait, there’s throat clearing.
Vince is talking again
After WrestleMania Shane will have failed to defeat The Undertaker, and will have failed Vince as a son. He will have lost the match and lost his part in the will. It’s all going to Stephanie. He will renounce Shane as his son. He will not be his son, he will just be a son of a bitch.
Thoughts, part b: You *just* said you loved him, now all of a sudden he’s out of the family? This seems somewhat extreme. That part couldn’t have waited until the next week of the build when Shane is there and does something to piss you off? The Undertaker moment was fine and there was no need for a button. Learn from George Costanza, always leave on a high note.
Jey Uso vs. Bubba Ray Dudley
Jey starts out as a house of fire at the bell with punches in the corner. Bubba tears off Jey’s shirt for a big chop and Jey goes back to beating him. Superkick sends Bubba to the corner. D-Von pulls out a table and like a moron, Jimmy runs around the ring, jumps off the stairs and flies right into it. D-Von gets a superkick from Jey and as Jey goes back into the ring, Bubba catches him with a kick to the head. Bubba Bomb ends it.
Thoughts: Short but hard hitting. That ending was meant to get the Dudleys over as hypocrites, but instead it made the Usos look like dumb babyfaces. While I could forgive the Sasha/Becky ending, I can’t forgive this one. “Oh look a table, I jump in it.”
R-Truth and Goldust
R-Truth tells Goldust they’re done, then feels bad about it. One could say R-Truth feels bad about telling Golddust “our truth.”
Kevin Owens vs. Big Show
Big Show immediately starts beating on KO, leading to a spear that Owens sells like death. Owens reverses a slam to run Big Show’s head into the post and hits a superkick. When Show appears to be beating the count, Owens hits a tornado DDT off the apron. Show makes it back in again. Running senton by Owens for 2. Owens gets caught on top as Show goes for a chokeslam. Big Show throws him and Owens crotches himself. Owens gets counted out as commentary tells us this was just like SmackDown except the participants are reversed.
Thoughts: Fun short match with an obvious story, and the strategy then backfiring. Kevin Owens was great here and Big Show was good as well.
Renee and Brie
Wait, Brie’s still here? She’s proud of herself for her match with Charlotte. Daniel’s doing better. Oh wait, Lana is here. Daniel’s a failure of a husband and her marriage will fail. Brie says Lana should leave until she steps in the ring. The second Revenant reference of the show, because the Oscars were on last night as Brie compares Rusev to the bear and adds a “shave his back” for good measure.
Thoughts: Well, since Bryan isn’t coming back to face Rusev, I guess Lana will step in the ring? This is new. New is good until it isn’t. Also, if Brie knew how hard it is to shave one’s own back, she wouldn’t be so flippant.
Naomi vs. Brie Bella
Brie is starting to wear Nikki’s gear and it may be me but Brie might be doing some more powerlifting as well. Brie ends up on the apron outside and a hard kick to her head leads the ref to scold Naomi as Tamina throws Brie’s legs out from under her. Naomi hits a legdrop for two then a sweet bulldog to the middle turnbuckle. Brie kind of takes the “Speedball kicks” which then leads into Brie’s “Yes Kicks” with a finishing dropkick. Time for Brie Mode. Tamina tries to get involved and the distraction leads to a crucifix then Naomi’s unnamed submission which either doesn’t work or Naomi just adds punches to the head for effect.
Lana is out here to gloat. Sarcastic clapping ensues.
Thoughts: A shame that a pretty solid performance by Naomi was glossed over to get to Lana/Brie. I still have issues watching Brie “act” as she sells everything like she’s been shot in the abdomen. I assume Lana will be in whatever multi-woman deal they do at WrestleMania to protect her but to get these stories together with the Paige/Summer story.
Hall of Fame Inductees
Broken by Rolling Stone, the newest members of the WWE Hall of Fame are… THE FREEBIRDS. Yessir. I love the inclusion of Garvin, since in addition to his WCW work, he was always linked with the traditional lineup in other territories most notably World Class. I know a lot of purists dismiss the WCW run as not being “true Freebird” canon but the WCCW work more than makes up for it. My apologies if you’re a fan of Big Daddy Dink, Diamond Dallas Page, Steve Cox, “The Blackbird” Iceman King Parsons, Rocky “Little Richard Marley” King or Brad “Badstreet” Armstrong but they are not being included.
Sasha and Becky are having a staged argument over who was winning their match. Charlotte and Ric are here to tell them they have a second (and last) chance for a WrestleMania match. At SmackDown. Becky is beyond excited and Charlotte is disgusted at her behavior. One’s going home to obscurity and one’s becoming a trivia answer.
Thoughts: I lean towards not liking Charlotte getting too hammy and “moustache twirling,” but someone thinks it’s working. I think snotty and aloof is a natural fit. Ric just has this creepy grin on whenever he’s shown as if he’s having the time of his life just being a creepy old womanizer and doting father.
Dean Ambrose vs. Alberto Del Rio
The League of Nation are huggers! Rusev goes solo on the finger twirl then Del Rio does it to Lilian saying his name. Dean is bandaged up. After taking some kicks, and spilling to the outside it’s three runs into the barricade for Dean as the League of Nations applauds. Del Rio works on the arm and gets Dean in the Tree of Woe but gloats too long to hit the stomp. Back cracker on Dean and back to the outside. A Tree of Woe on the barricade and the double stomp to the ribs. Rusev Putria, Rusev Hugs. Dean beats the 10 count. Match continues as Dean gets hope spots only to be beat down by Del Rio again. Eventually Dean gets a dive onto the League of Nations and here comes HHH taking off the tie. The League of Nations gets HHH’s signal and beats down Ambrose. Superkick by Del Rio and we’re finger twirling! HHH shakes hands with the League of Nations and dismisses them.
HHH cuts a promo on Dean never learning and always fighting authority. Dean fires up starts beating on Triple H but is cut off with Kick! Wham! Pedigree.
HHH gives Dean a championship match and walks away but Dean speaks into the mic in pain. “Hey Hunter. Thanks” HHH not appreciating Dean’s courtesy, rolls up the sleeves and returns. He throws Dean out of the ring then over the announcer table. Then he throws Byron Saxton 20 feet in what will be Saxton’s finest moment on the retrospective montage in coming years. HHH lays out Dean on the table and beats on him until referees can peel him off.
Thoughts: I err on the side of the reaction they got from last week’s beatdown of Roman was not the intended one, and there was a need to emphasize that HHH is the heel. So they have him kill Dean, but in their mind Dean doesn’t “lose heat” because the League of Nations weakened him. It’s an interesting scenario: if Dean wins the title match, even by DQ, and HHH somehow retains at WrestleMania, you have a set contender, maybe two coming out of WrestleMania if Brock beats Dean. I find the scenario of anyone other than Roman unlikely. But, they also risk going to the well once too often with the “scrappy anti-authority babyface who gets his butt kicked and comes back for more” being seen as a glutton for punishment rather than a rebellious badass by the fans. Dean’s promo style is cool and organic enough to make it work. The larger story of Dean “valiantly” fighting HHH and Brock, then the weeks of beatings take their toll as he succumbs against 15 suplexes and 2 F5’s at WrestleMania is a hard one to tell because the commentary can push hard for it all they want, but the fans are eventually going to get tired of seeing a guy they like get killed (see Ziggler for a lesser comparison) in favor of building a guy to face the performer they don’t like (Roman).
Next Week: We’re in Chicago, the home of CM Punk, The New Day puts the tag titles on the line against Styles/Jericho and Shane O’Mac is back.