Much has been made of late about the road to this year's WrestleMania. Some have opined that it's been paved with aplomb, while many more would argue it's been pocked with potholes and plot holes alike. My own feelings have, much like fresh cement, been rather mixed, and later this week I'll be unveiling a report card of sorts for how WWE has built anticipation for its signature event.
Meanwhile, there is plenty to pore over from last night's final, pre-'Mania Monday night. So without further flexing of my pre-rambling pythons, here are five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) from the March 23 edition of Raw.
5. Snoop Should Co-Host 'The Chew'
Or could at least be a worthy stand-in for the ABC chat-and-chow daytime show's co-host. Prior to Snoop Dogg tearing off his pajamas (?) to reveal a Hulkamania tee, tell me he wasn't bearing an uncanny resemblance to TV chef extraordinaire Carla Hall – or at least as of her recent adoption of a salt-and-pepper, dreadlocked 'do. The only question is: Could Hall have tossed poor Curtis Axel, who came out to antagonize the Doggfather and Hulk Hogan, over the top rope with Snoop's same conviction? OK, chances are, yes. But could one Calvin Broadus whip up the perfect pie crust with little more than some sugar, butter, salt and flour? Well, yeah, probably.
4. No More Rusev vs. Swagger, Ever
Remember how MTV's Total Request Live used to retire videos after a certain number of appearances on their countdown (even if each day's airing constituted a roughly 10-second clip, but I digress)? WWE television may need to consider a similar moratorium on how often we can watch Rusev decimate (or play a bit of defense before decimating) "Real American" Jack Swagger. The Bulgarian brute should be able to generate enough heel heat against any fan-favorite by now, not just G.I. Joe. Though all anyone really wants to know is, where's the Russian-federation Tarzan's Jane these days? Because as the crowd reaction to Lana's absence suggests, the only thing wrestling fans love more than America is an attractive woman who hates them.
3. 'Mania' Lives and Dies by Two Matches
And those would be the ladder match for Wade Barrett's Intercontinental title and Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. That was made very clear by last night's strong emphasis on both bouts, the former of which looks to restore luster to a vintage belt, while the latter hopes to cement the significance of a fledgling annual showcase.
Raw's contests between R-Truth/Dean Ambrose and Stardust/Luke Harper and, later, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan, both wisely unraveled into big spots and choreographed chaos. It's still a bit shocking to see DB go down to DZ by consecutive three-counts, but it was no less unusual that R-Truth would score a pinfall, or that Barrett would emerge virtually winless since reclaiming his Intercontinental belt. All the participants in Sunday's ladder match have gotten a bit of shine since their 'Mania moment was announced, and virtually any result can do justice to both the title and its owner if all seven of these guys leave it all on the line.
Likewise, the 10-man tag featuring participants Prime Time Players, the Ascension (poor Ascension), Ryback, Zack Ryder (hey-oh!), Adam Rose, Erick Rowan, the Miz and Mizdow was a nice reminder that it might be fun to see some typically elusive superstars get a chance to stand out. Even if a Ryback, or perhaps the returning Sheamus (or maybe even Mizdow, after dumping his boss to the floor?) is the presumed winner. And even if we really don't have any idea whether the victory is anything more than symbolic. Whatever the case, WWE needs – and its universe deserves – these 30 individuals' collective best.
2. Dare I Say It: Sting's Still Got It
Granted, the guy's got three decades of experience under his scorpion-designed tee and fashionable flavor savor, but hot damn if Steve Borden hasn't retained the gift of gab. Not in the Paul Heyman, master-orator tradition, mind you. Nor in the Bray Wyatt, spell-casting sense. But when the Vigilante grabbed that mic to open Raw, let out a couple primal screams and defiantly addressed Triple H with that old-school Stinger swagger, it generated more nostalgia than months of illusory vignettes and stoic poses.
In retrospect, it's fair to say that classic talkers like the Rock no doubt grew up awestruck by Sting's charisma, eventually appropriating it into their own contemporary sensibility. He and Stephanie McMahon's little face-off was arguably more thrilling than Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns' to conclude the show (more on that in a minute), even if Steph's slap attempt was a bit abrupt and it might have been nice to see Triple H punish his 'Mania opponent a bit before stalking back toward the ramp. But far as taking some of the pressure off Brock, Roman, Undertaker and Bray to carry the day, mission accomplished, and game on.
1. Brock vs. Roman: Who Knows?
It's hard to tell much from that anticlimactic, closing faceoff between WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and polarizing adversary Roman Reigns. Heyman himself overstated that there's little story left to tell between these two behemoths. The first and final chapter will, and always was going to be, written inside that ring as the culmination of WrestleMania.
I gotta say though, it was a bit jarring to watch what coulda/shoulda been a powder-keg confrontation cool down to a veritable UFC-style stare down. After Roman ripped Brock's title from his paws and raised it in premature triumph, it seemed a lock that Reigns would get taken to the ground for a Kimura. Although perhaps squaring up jaw-to-jaw and locking eyes was more of a message saying, "This is how we do things in my world, Roman. We're not on the football field or even in a WWE arena. We may as well be in the Octagon, and I'll throw down under the lights at Levi's Stadium." As Roman himself promised in our interview, I have no doubt their main-event clash is going to be a physical, unforgettable fight. Doesn't mean I don't wish their only in-ring interaction until that point wasn't more entertaining.
Below the Belt:
- AJ be skinny.
- A bit of a cliché direction for the Divas storyline.
- No more Dean Ambrose comedy, please. Just let him be a badass.
- It really is remarkable that Ascension lost their spot to Los Matadores.
- Bill Simmons had to hate being asked to shill the Network like that. Or maybe he was just happy to be there.
- I get it, but it still would have been nice to see Undertaker last night.
- More excited for possible Rollins involvement in main event than he vs. Orton.
- Aren't all PPVs four-hour spectaculars now?
- "Let's go Lesnar" chants, eh? Sunday will be interesting.
- Line of the Night: "Bow wow wow, yippee yo yippee, #Axelmania is here to stay."
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Paul Blart is, uh, back, and yes, that Tyson Kidd/Natalie spot for BK's chicken fries did actually occupy an in-program Raw segment (and, naturally, it's officially posted on YouTube by WWE).
- Noticeable In Their Absence: I still can't fathom how the whole Stardust v. Goldust (absent) angle was ditched.