Only in WWE can Daniel Bryan give an earnest farewell address about the history of concussions that ended his career mere minutes after millions witnessed Brock Lesnar smash Dean Ambrose's face into the mat. That surreal disconnect underscores the bipolarity of modern wrestling, wherein we know the damage countless F5s – no matter how well-rehearsed – can do to a competitor's long-term health, but suspend disbelief long enough to root riotously for three hours of carnage each Monday night.
It's not quite as dramatic as riding hearty steeds until they're broken down and sent to the glue factory, but there's definitely a sacrifice that, for willing wrestlers, is all theirs, and all for our entertainment. And Bryan put a fine point on that, and beautifully so. But let's not allow any of that to overshadow the evening's biggest news: Adam Rose and Tamina both won!
Alas, before I continue well beyond my allotted airtime and enrage everyone catching up with this on pre-recorded delay – I'll forgive you, DB – here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the February 8, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. About Del Rio's Finisher…
Firstly, what was wrong with the Cross Armbreaker? I can see where a blunt superkick to a sitting duck is a bit brutal in these concussion-weary times, but the Armbreaker had its own lead-in antics and everything – you know, when Alberto would keep gesturing to his imaginary slap bracelet and chanting, "Si!" But the decision to stick with the top-turnbuckle chest stomp is a dubious one, especially since it requires his victim to inexplicably clench onto the ropes while ADR puffs his chest rather than let go and lay less prone. Never mind it fitting into that maddening category of newfangled finishers that were long part of the wrestler's ancillary repertoire but have mysteriously started keeping opponents down for the count. Anyhoo, he and Rusev beath the Lucha Dragons, so that happened.
4. The Divas Will Dominate Fastlane
Tough to say whether Charlotte vs. Brie Bella will wow anyone, but odds are that Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch vs. Naomi and Tamina may well end up being the match of the night. Lord knows no one really knows why they're excited about the main event (more on that in a bit), and right now there's enough heat between Sasha and her former stablemates, not to mention intrigue far as how she and Becky will coexist, for them to sneakily steal the show. Folks can look at it as NXT vs. WWE, but really, it's about four badass women – Tamina might work stiff, but she's got a presence – fitting to put on one hell of a fight. And it's currently the only match I've got bookmarked as must-see.
3. The Dudleys Dig Their Heels In
And not a moment too soon. Their turn on the Usos was pretty easy to see coming from the moment they inserted themselves into the tables match against New Day. That notwithstanding, it was still pretty sweet. The Usos are such hard workers and so fun to watch, but they're also kind of goody-goodies, and who among us over the age of 15 didn't grin as D-Von and Bubba Ray fast-tracked them to Dudleyville? Maybe this will bring a new fire from the Usos, but it most certainly lights a spark in the tag division, which was coasting on New Day's theatrics. Like Charlotte, Miz, Del Rio and a handful of others on the roster who flirted with face-dom in recent times, the Dudleys were born to be heels. More importantly, they may have just saved their careers' third act from going up in flames.
2. Roman, Dean, Brock…Meh
I'm holding out for a serious swerve in the final minutes of Fastlane, but otherwise I've got little to love about main-event three-way, and we're a mere 12 days away from Reigns, Ambrose and Lesnar colliding. Granted, Brock cleared house in that opening contract signing with such violence that it effectively silenced those clamoring for Daniel Bryan. And we all wanna know who's facing Triple H at WrestleMania 32 for the title. But it's a bit like wishing you could fast-forward to find out how the movie ends rather than having to make it through 120 minutes. Steph keeps trying to drive a wedge between Roman and Dean, they keep getting in each other's way, Brock arrives on cue and wreaks havoc or, a la last night, gets a cheap shot in the balls. Is there anyone else who can abruptly announce their retirement prior to next Monday, cause that's the only way they'll see third-hour ratings like they did last night. Oh and speaking of retirees…
1. Bryan's Song
Between my op-ed on Bryan's retirement that published yesterday and my thoughts up top in this column, there's not too much more that can be said about the former American Dragon's farewell address. But let me say this: While Daniel acquitted himself with wonderful humor and grace and generous emotion, he also did good by wrestling fans. His speech exemplified why we love this crazy, somewhat antiquated, high-wire entertainment: Because the people crazy enough to get in between those ropes for a living are, by and large, driven with a passion that transcends ordinary ambition and mainstream recognition. Bryan's speech was the antithesis of contrived Hollywood acceptance speeches and pro-sports press conferences. It was a testimony to the fact that, when this business is at its best, it's the most inclusive spectacle on TV and in live arenas. That doesn't make the human cost any easier to swallow, for viewer or performer, but it maybe goes along way toward making sense of how we can respectfully say goodbye to Daniel Bryan while wishing (as does the man himself) he'd dive perilously through that middle rope one last time.
Below the Belt:
- Love him or hate him, Miz makes sense as a true-heel foil for A.J. Styles and Chris Jericho.
- And c'mon guys, A.J. deserves better than "redneck rookie."
- Also, Miz has now had his tooth knocked out and gotten a wicked gash from Kofi not long ago. Guy suffers for his art.
- So…Ryback and Big Show vs. a couple of the Wyatts at Fastlane? Uh, sure.
- And Bray, who said Ryback was my "colossus"?
- I love Bo Dallas.
- We've seen better spears from Charlotte.
- Wake me when Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler's feud is over.
- Move of the Night: Damn, that was some opening-segment F5 on Ambrose.
- Sign of the Night: Re: "Styles Clash Or I Riot"…I hear you.
- Line of the Night: Is there any doubt? "That's what Brie says all the time." He earned that one.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Oh, I get it: It's like The Voice for social tolerance. Was that an intentional Wire cast reunion in the Prius ad? And yay, Better Call Saul!
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Big Show, Stardust, Kane