In its effort to continue circling laps around the wrestling competition, WWE is launching its inaugural Fastlane PPV this Sunday. Accordingly, the ensuing summation of last night's go-home edition of Raw will brandish occasional puns (see: headline) on its high-octane theme, all while attempting to read between the lines of what went down between the ropes and beyond.
So without any further loitering around the starting gate, here are five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar scuttlebutt) from the February 16 edition of WWE Raw.
5. All Hail Stardust!
For the sake of all things entertainment, let's hope the Rhodes' inter-family dysfunction doesn't end with Cody's spell being broken. Stardust has the goods, and for all his character's fantasticalness – man gets lost in the stars, and his eccentric family can't ground him back on Earth – there's a truth in storytelling (i.e. boy feels overwhelmed by expectations and becomes stuck in his delusions) that makes this wannabe orphan-alien's saga the most relatable on WWE's roster. And as I've averred in the past (ooh, look at me, I say things then reference them), Cody is so committed to his alter ego's persona and performance that it would be a shame if Star simply faded into dust.
4. Miz/Mizdow = DiBiase/Virgil
And to be sure, this is a good thing. There's a semi-popular opinion to the contrary from those who feel the rift between Miz and his stunt double/assistant has fissured to soon. And yet, so many fans lament how speedily conflicts are stoked and abandoned between competitors. Invariably, anytime master-and-servant arcs are summoned in WWE, comparisons must be drawn to the most carefully teased out coup d'état of them all: Virgil's insurgence against his longtime boss, the Million Dollar Man. Or, more recently, when Miz's former weary protégé Alex Riley took it to his derisive boss. So far as I see it, getting extra mileage out of making Miz the foil – with a tip of the hat to DiBiase by inserting the errand boy angle – is gold. And for ex-Money in the Bank winner Damien Sandow, cashing in on his sudden face appeal could be more valuable than any briefcase ever was.
3. TNA = The 'Disappeared'
You gotta love how WWE relishes its role as the only game in town (though, FWIW, I recommend tuning in to reruns of New Japan, now airing on AXS TV on Friday nights). Per his nom de sports entertainment, Triple H is the face of that corporate cockiness, and of late has been quick to patronize Sting's career as the embodiment of Ted Turner's Double-Ya-See-Double-Ya. Hell, he even sent mentor Ric Flair down to the mat when Nature Boy implied Hunter's intimidated by his elusive foe. But the real adversary Trips is trying to bury during these segments is TNA, who've generated real buzz since their move to Destination America on Fridays (man, the rest of the wrestling world really wasted no time filling that SmackDown vacuum). In fact, he'll only acknowledge Sting's time between WCW's demise and emergence as the "vigilante" within WWE's ranks as a period in which Steve Borden "disappeared." Ouch. Granted, this spin is less about potshots than polishing Sting's mystique, but if I were the Impact folks (or, for that matter, Sting himself), I might take umbrage with being boiled down to active obsolescence.
2. So, Ascension Not So Good?
Which is it, WWE? I was willing to go long on the Ascension as a pillaging force after they basically decimated the company's signature good guys during SmackDown's Tag Team Turmoil. And while having them square up against a returning Darren Young and his literally anonymous jobber partner (whose identity was quickly revealed by the intrepid IWC) seemed like half-a-step in reverse (much as the broadcast team tried to sell otherwise), my prevailing thought was, "They'll just pummel them before the bell even rings and take a DQ. Mission accomplished."
But then Titus O'Neil ambled in, he and Young cleaned house, the aforementioned enhancement talent vanished (to TNA, perhaps?) and we were left celebrating a Prime Time Players reunion and speculating about a welcome-back rivalry with the Ascension. Which is all well and good. And despite O'Neil's awkward entrance and a lackluster pop (par for the course last night), I like seeing Young back in action and he and O'Neil on the same side. But the way it played out sent Ascension's stock plummeting.
1. The Plain Event
Unless this is SmackDown, and especially the week of a debut PPV, you simply can't conclude Raw with Daniel Bryan vs. Big Show, no matter how many times the commentators cite that they haven't gone toe-to-size-22-EEEEE boot in a relative minute. Naturally, their bout was a mere red herring. The real payoff came after Roman Reigns caused a DQ in Show's favor and he and DB went at it like Rottweilers, with requisite separation by SWAT team of refs to boot.
Don't get me wrong: I'd rather a perfunctory David vs. Goliath battle close out the show than a Dean Ambrose vs. Wade Barrett contract signing. Rusev and Cena's second consecutive throwdown might have felt fresher and kept my eyes glued more concertedly come 11:05 p.m. But realistically, Fastlane is engineered around this title-contender match between Reigns and Bryan, and it's more than a test run to see whether these two can lap their locker-room peers. But I can't be the only one who senses that their dynamic with Kane and Big Show is running on fumes.
Below the Belt:
- Is it just me, or is Michael Cole looking svelte?
- I liked the Ziggler-Rollins finish, though would have liked more time.
- Stop calling DB "Bryan." It's confusing.
- I like Booker T as a relatively neutral voice.
- Hmm, wonder where they got the idea for Reigns to toss swag around as a distraction. (I can't find the clip, but it's Dean Ambrose.)
- Increasingly sold on the presumed Bray-Taker buildup.
- Uh-oh, Cena: Rusev's going to crush your "little, little will." Is he Professor Hinkle?
- Dolph does a pretty mean Triple H.
- There really is something to be said for a clean finish (see: Ambrose over Luke Harper).
- Move of the Night: Nattie and Naomi's simul-kip-up.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Eww. And more blood eagle!
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Fandango, Curtis Axel, Randy Orton