Coming out of this past weekend, the wrestling world was abuzz with scuttlebutt about discord between Brock Lesnar and Vince McMahon. Not shockingly, any serious doubt regarding the Beast's status for WrestleMania was quickly assuaged during Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns' opening tête-à-tête on Monday night.
More unexpected was that the most popular man in Newark's Prudential Center not named Jon Stewart – who showed up, shouted out Jersey then booted Rollins in the balls – was arguably Curtis Axel. Though I suppose anyone who came out to challenge John Cena may have gotten a hero's welcome.
In any event (or as it specifically and exclusively pertains to this one), here are five key things I took away – in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly digressions – from the March 2 edition of WWE Raw.
5. Tighten the Reigns
Actually, Roman has been acquitting himself with growing confidence since being encouraged to flash a bit of smartass swagger rather than brute intimidation alone. The above play on words is more a nod to how much more effective last night's opening segment came across than in recent weeks. And all thanks to a bit of brevity, a lot less Authority (thank you, Sting), the right amount of braggadocio from Seth Rollins (love his topical references) and a concise exchange between he and Reigns broken up by a little high-impact violence (though poor Jamie Noble looks awfully feeble coming off those ropes). The message that fans have grown weary of watching Triple H and Co. circle the wagons for 20-odd minutes has been received, and for the first time in some time, Raw's opening bow delivered.
4. Unleash Barrett's Barrage
Since returning and reclaiming the Intercontinental Championship for a fifth time, Wade Barrett has neither been dispensing a great deal of bad news nor administering a bevvy of Bull Hammers. In fact, he's hardly been in possession of the actual belt, falling victim to thievish hijinks by Dean Ambrose, R-Truth, Luke Harper and Dolph Ziggler (when not getting pinned by them, as he was by Ambrose last night), who are among his opponents in a WrestleMania ladder match (plus Daniel Bryan, now the presumed sixth participant).
For sure, stranger things have happened than R-Truth winning a multi-participant title contest on WWE's grandest stage. Not to mention Ambrose is due for a bit of gold, Harper's been there and done that, Ziggler's always formidable and Bryan's possible inclusion throws everything into flux. But how on earth can a Barrett loss, coming on the heels of umpteen successive disappointments, do anything but signal yet another foreboding wind of change for his volatile career? Despite the myriad possible outcomes of their 'Mania bout, this story still feels like it can only have one sensible ending. But even if Barrett picking up a W won't come as breaking news, I'd rather see him look like a badass than continue to get his ass beat.
3. Giant Expectations
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd deserve and earned their tag team straps, but one has to ponder (they don't have to, but they might): Was Cesaro bestowed with new hardware to finally authenticate the supposed prestige of winning last year's inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal? Because let's acknowledge that if the Swiss Superman were still struggling for a belt, his failure to ascend would loom over the match's impending, second annual chapter like a curse.
Regardless of the King of Swing's varied fortunes since emerging victorious last April, the match is in serious flux. It's not entirely clear what's at stake or what it might do for one's career. Maybe, given recent snafus with the Royal Rumble's title-contention implications, that sort of reward can be reassigned to the ATGMBR (yeah, not a tidy acronym). Perhaps the victor can get a World Heavyweight Championship opportunity at SummerSlam, or guaranteed entry in the Money in the Bank ladder match? Then again, as hopeful entrant John Cena himself mused, the competitors thus far aren't exactly a murderers' row. Although whoever comes out on top better hope that triumph, as it nearly did for Cesaro, doesn't jinx their career.
2. Fuck Yeah, AJ
A cynical wrestling fan might theorize that all that brouhaha between AJ Lee and Stephanie McMahon over equitable Diva pay and screen time was ostensibly a work, a launching pad to her fiery return last night. But who cares? Lee cleaned house on the Bellas, had Paige's back, brought the crowd to their feet and created a real Raw moment for herself and the Divas division. With Natalya and Naomi being used purposefully in a mixed-gender feud, and the Bellas, Paige and AJ now entangled and generating buzz, all that's left is bringing up Charlotte and Sasha Banks, putting a great talent like Alicia Fox back to meaningful work and, presto, the Divas will demand and seize their chance.
1. Lag-Team Division
As the Divas gain steam and sentiment, WWE's tag-team ranks continue to flail. With duos like Goldust/Stardust and Miz/Mizdow parting ways to help make for a memorable WrestleMania card, and the Usos and Kidd/Cesaro caught up in a six-person imbroglio, there was effectively no tag action to speak of in Newark. As an exclamation point on their rise, the Divas most stoked that intrigue with afore-discussed tension between the Bellas and renewed BFFs Paige and AJ. On the guys' side, we caught glimpses of Prime Time Players and Los Matadores busting Miz's balls, the maligned Ascension were laying low and equally lamented New Day took a night's reprieve. Personally, I'm a PTP guy, and think there's plenty that can be done with the existing roster before turning to NXT (whose own tag ranks are, frankly, a work in progress). But there's no denying that with premiums placed on both the U.S. and IC championships at 'Mania, the tag-team prize risks dropping a couple rungs in significance if a fresh, ideally gimmick-free pair of upstarts doesn't throw down soon.
Below the Belt:
- The front-row ticketholder visibly yawning during Reigns v. Rollins spoke volumes about the caliber of main events lately.
- Alundra Blayze/Madusa: Hall of Famer. Exciting stuff.
- No, JBL, this isn't the "comedy channel."
- Who was that behind Darren Young backstage?
- Everything about that Miz/Mizdow vignette was pure gold.
- In general, between that and Jon Stewart, good comedy last night.
- Looks like Cesaro's got sweet headphones now too.
- Natalya sure can stomp around on that bad ankle.
- C'mon, Newark, you can do better than CM Punk chants and aping Philly's Cena heat.
- No disrespect to Curtis, but this is the original Ax Man.
- WWE and David Guetta…why not?
- That Daily Show theme song does have a certain immediacy to it.
- J&J: The new Bash Brothers.
- No one could ever be more furious at a bum mic than Paul Heyman.