We're just 19 days away from WrestleMania, and that can only mean one thing: I've gotta do my taxes. Oh, and also, all the WWE's biggest names will be making their presence felt on prime time from now until then, paving the road to the Super Bowl of Sports Entertainment with premium talent and epic storytelling.
Thus far, the latter's not quite lived up to precedent, and the former's been mostly heard and not seen (or vice versa). But there's plenty of time to create anticipation for WM 31, and that started in earnest – with mixed results – on last night's nearly three-hour-and-20-minute marathon that both tested one's patience and rewarded their piety.
So without further contemplation of Wiz Khalifa's incongruously loose-fitting skinny jeans, here are five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar scuttlebutt) from the March 9 edition of WWE Raw.
5. TitanTron is the New Texting
Whatever happened to calls, emails or JibJab? (No, seriously, whatever happened to JibJab?) Nowadays, superstars essentially respond to challenges in absentia, opting to declare their participation in WrestleMania matches via elaborately produced packages broadcast on the world-famous TitanTron (is that corporate copyright still in effect?). First, there was Sting's spooky acceptance of Triple H's throwdown. Then last night, after making mist flume out of Bray Wyatt's decoy urn, the Undertaker said "You're on!" in voice and video only, complete with CGI lightning and telltale gong. There's more of a likelihood that Sting, rather than 'Taker, will show his face again on Raw between now and March 29, but at least in the interim we know neither spares any expense when it comes to multimedia mind games – too bad WWE couldn't have spent this much of their budget on compelling storylines for either of their supposed feuds.
4. Jon Stewart Is Seth Rollins' Obi-Wan?
Maybe not, but the Daily Show host has certainly rubbed off on the guy. Apart from his signature grating hag-cackle and having to act considerably more gullible than his "architect" reputation would suggest, Rollins was pretty darn funny during that opening segment. Not Emo Phillips funny, but WWE funny. Hanging with Stewart on his turf – but also inside the ring during last week's lengthy segment – obviously instilled Rollins with the confidence he needed to be that all-around entertainer within the business and an ambassador to those outside of it. And inside the Authority, his Rock-like ribbing ("Big Show…well, no one really cares what Big Show thinks,") is a nice contrast to Stephanie McMahon's almost uncomfortably humorless boss persona. That kind of ease could be the final missing piece in Rollins' repertoire, and something WWE desperately needs in a villain right now. Or, all due respect to Wizdow (hashtag implied), anyone in the upper ranks.
3. So, They're Really Dropping This 'Dust Brothers' Thing
Is Goldust injured and I've been none the wiser? Was the unduly indifferent response to he and Stardust's admittedly premature match at Fastlane so repellant that WWE truly spiked the whole story? And wouldn't this be at least the third time since Goldie's latest return that a family feud was teased then tossed? It's hard to see any scenario in which Dustin undermines Cody so unforgivably over these next two-and-a-half weeks that it alters Cody/Stardust's course to participate in the IC-title match and stokes interest in their brotherly brouhaha anew. Maybe, given the unceremonious abandonment of the Bella Twins' beef, there have merely been some snags getting across the classic sibling unraveling in recent months. What used to be money might feel counterfeit. But it felt like this was something some of us wanted, and the performers in this song and dance seemed in step. Que sera, I suppose. Or as Stardust might say…
2. Do We Really Love Junk Food That Much?
Thanks to the concurrently recording three-hour Bachelor finale (thanks again, wife), I was indentured into the unenviable task of taking in Raw live, in real-time, uninterrupted last night. And on a particularly overlong edition, that meant enduring roughly 40 minutes of advertising (some of it coming at the expense of whatever rhythm contests between Daniel Bryan/Wade Barrett and Dean Ambrose/Stardust were gathering).
Now, much as I make it my duty to at least conscientiously skim said spots, this level of exposure was an entirely different calling. And by answering it, I came to ask: Do WWE audiences really do nothing but shave, watch action movies and eat unconscionably unappealing food? Is the entire audience just stoned? Am I forgetting what it was like to be in college? Could Sonic's jalapeno-chocolate milkshake be that offensive? Is Taco Bell just in hopping on the Sriracha craze with their so-flavored Quesarito (and do you eat the foil on it too)? If I eat Doritos while drinking Mountain Dew Kickstart, is the effect akin to Pop Rocks and cola? And will the three feet of bacon en-fortressing my Little Caesars deep-dish pie also double as a noose with which to hang myself? Obviously last night's show gave my mind ample space to wander.
1. They Botched This Orton Thing
I don't get it. Have the guy out for months; have him come back not to seek immediate vengeance, but instead to work his way inside the system, Daniel Bryan/Wyatt Family style; then a week later, have him play out the latter scenario up until the main event, when he surprises no one (sans his supposedly wily adversary) by turning his back during their handicap match against Roman Reigns? And then, rather than allowing a frothing Randy Orton to explode and RKO Seth Rollins to hell – which is all anyone's wanted since last Monday – ask him to drag out the inevitable for several interminable minutes of clotheslines into steel stairs and tangos with folding chairs, before finally giving him a green light to belatedly throttle Rollins through the announce table with his signature, stunning move?
This one was overthought and overwrought. Randy should have just jumped a guardrail seven days prior and planted Rollins right then and there. It would have been thrilling for us and exhilarating for his character, and set up a clash of Randy's id vs. Seth's ego. Instead, the seed was planted for a feud predicated on who can mentally outmaneuver the other, and all it ended up doing was making Rollins look more oblivious than savvy and Orton more sadistic than heroic. Also, we know Kane and Big Show were sent packing (in retrospect, a decision totally out of character for a shrewd figurehead like Stephanie), but J&J were only implored to head backstage the match with Reigns. Were they less than compelled to return and come to Rollins' aid? Were they sulking and taking a shower? Was Jamie Noble still smarting over that Disneyland crack? Not much about the way those final minutes played out was optimal or added up, but in fairness, WrestleMania could be 10 times the show if Orton and Rollins are prepared to steal it.
Below the Belt:
- Rusev went from struggling to sleepy time in that STF pretty abruptly.
- I hate Captain America Cena.
- Would mixed-gender tag champs be such a bad idea?
- Even in a win, New Day just can't seem to get it right.
- Maybe Kidd wears headphones to tune out Cesaro's entrance theme.
- Weird dissolving font on that Bray Wyatt name graphic.
- A lot of pressure will be on Brie to keep pace with Nikki, Paige and AJ in their Mania
- Steph said "kvetching." Hehe.
- Contrary to what was teased, we didn't technically hear from Brock.
- The Paul Heyman mic stuff is a work, right?
- Good dose of reality by Heyman, but does it change the inevitable?
- Sheamus ain't back yet, but here's a wrestling-loving Irishman you can get behind.
- Daniel Bryan really needs a good rivalry.
- Everyone donate, or at least pay a visit, to Connor Cures.
- Line of the Night: OK, R-Truth, you win: "I'm the man of steel, but I didn't steal anything."
- Move of the Night: I could nominate Natalya and Naomi's entire match, but the nod goes to Orton's double bird-flip.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: I think we covered this above, but also, this is Robot (it's a hacker series for USA).
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Goldust, the Ascension, Prime Time Players (wouldn't they have been a better alternative to New Day in that match?)