So long, WrestleMania. You entertained a hundred thousand (maybe) live and millions more around the world with spectacular swerves, scintillating celebrity cameos and more than one major title change.
But now you are history, finito, so as always, attention turns back toward WWE, and the urgent inquiry is: What have you done for me lately? The company’s answer arrived in the form of several more NXT favorites getting their call-ups, nearly usurping the spotlight from new champ Roman Reigns and the revelation of his next adversary. The rookies’ red carpet also nudged out a who’s who of midcard mainstays (e.g. Ryback, Lucha Dragons) for the night, which will be worth monitoring.
But before I come down from covering nearly 10 total hours of wrestling mayhem this past day and a half with a marathon of Total Divas recordings, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the April 4, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Hacky Zack
Ya know, cause it’s like Zack Ryder’s being kicked around as if he were a hippie’s footbag. I loved the Long Island underdog’s ‘Mania win, and how it set a tone of unpredictability that evening. I also anticipated his IC title reign would be short-lived, owing to the likelihood of Kevin Owens reclaiming his belt on Raw. But dropping his belt 24 hours later to the Miz, seemingly in service of reintroducing the latter’s wife, Maryse, as part of a push for her husband? Not cool, bro. I’ll reserve judgment until after SmackDown, when Ryder gets his rematch. And much as I love the Miz and do genuinely think he deserves it, let’s hope this isn’t another anticlimactic case of WWE admonishing its fans that you can’t always get what you want.
4. Swiss Missed
It took more than a year and some time on the shelf, but when Cesaro returned to participate in last night’s main event to determine the number-one contender for Roman’s belt, his generally abrasive entrance theme finally felt like the perfect fit. Smirking behind a pair shades, wearing a snazzy breakaway suit, the Swiss Superman was the coolest man in the building as he soaked in the cheers. Naturally, he didn’t overcome the odds and defeat Chris Jericho, A.J. Styles and Kevin Owens to leap to the front of the line. But he did immediately elevate the caliber of collective performance in the ring and served an emphatic rebuttal to the rookie revolution (see below). It’ll be worth tuning in to see where Cesaro fits in the current mix from here forward, though in the short-term, he and Y2J – who’s having one hell of a part-time run this year – could put on a show-stealer of a program.
3. Young-ian Psychology
There are times when I feel disconnected from the WWE Universe. Specifically, every time Enzo – or as I prefer, Scotty 2 Briscoe – and Cass deliver one of their manic, warmed-over Attitude Era promos. But last night wasn’t merely about the popular NXT tag team’s debut. It was a coming-out party for the next generation, Triple H’s big statement in absentia. Fie to the old and hobbled and hoorah for the young and able-bodied! Baron Corbin? Boom! Apollo Crews? Bam! And don’t forget Sami Zayn, Eva Marie and Emma having recently been situated in main-roster rotation. The Dallas smarks (who, like every other live WWE crowd, still seems to think chanting for NXT is some kind of eff-you to the brand’s delighted parent promotion) went bananas, but will the welcome party last when the high from ‘Mania wears off and the machine starts turning its energies toward Payback? And can all these young bucks keep fit and capably fill the void left by ailing veterans? Hopefully. Although, a harmless kayfabe Enzo injury never hurt anyone.
2. ‘Taker for Granted
Remind me again why Shane McMahon and the Undertaker did battle (however gamely) last Sunday night? Oh, right: something to do with Shane wanting control of Raw, something Vince would cede if he could conquer the Dead Man. Which he didn’t. But yet, last night, the Chairman stepped aside and relinquished the reins of his flagship broadcast – albeit just for this week – to Boy Wonder. Say what? And apparently, Shane “running” Raw amounts to some backstage meet-and-greets. Vince’s acquiescence was a gesture to the fans, but one that ultimately undermined and unraveled an already tenuous storyline. Though given that shares of WWE rose 5 percent, the McMahon clan likely cares less about narrative logic than shouting, “Here comes the money!”
1. Roman Reigns: Anti Anti-Hero
There’ll only be one true “bad guy” in WWE lore, and that’s Zack Ryder’s (presumably disappointed) idol, Razor Ramon. And the people have spoken on whether they’ll permit Roman Reigns to be their alpha good guy. So last night, we were introduced to a World Heavyweight Champion who just doesn’t give a fuck. Which is, frankly, an optimal fit for the real Joe Anoa’i. No more fairy tales and thankless heroics. This Roman Reigns saunters and sneers and slings his belt over his shoulder with suggestive nonchalance. He’s the end result of this collaborative tug-of-war that’s been going on between WWE and its fans over his creative direction dating back to the moment Seth Rollins smashed a chair into his back and liquidated the Shield. And now he’s got a chance to let his talent speak for itself against a world-class challenger in A.J. Styles. Time for the Empire to strike back.
Below the Belt:
- Jericho’s 100-percent right: the hijacking is lame.
- Does this mean the Wade Barrett-is-leaving gossip is true?
- And, uh, Wyatts vs. League of Nations…sure, why not?
- Loved Reigns’ cocky, “step aside son” hand-motioning to Zayn.
- Seems the tag-division focus has shifted to a record New Day run.
- Apollo Crews is thrilling to watch, but so was Neville. (Sorry, Neville.)
- Is it too early, or rather late, to make Baron Corbin Bernsen jokes?
- At least Dolph Ziggler didn’t have to outright job this one.
- What’s more patronizing: JBL and Cole putting spin on the Reigns backlash and tech issues during Zack Ryder’s entrance, or fans chanting, “You deserve it” for the new IC champ?
- Can’t blame Ryder and Miz for being gingerly with their punches after Sunday night.
- That women’s segment didn’t go exactly as imagined.
- And far as the women being badasses, Becky Lynch’s banged-up face said it all.
- Bubba Ray really made himself comfy getting up on that table.
- Looks like the Usos are ready to move back into position for a tag-title quest.
- Fuck Dr. Phil
- Move(s) of the Night: Due respect to Crews, but Corbin’s Deep Six and End of Days are pretty badass in comparison.
- Line(s) of the Night: Good for Jericho, warning the crowd, “You’re not gonna hijack the show on my watch.” (Honorable mention to Ryder’s “sucks to be you bro” to an inconsolable Miz.)
- Sign of the Night: “Okayfabe” would make an amazing hip-hop/wrestling blog. (P.S. What was with the “Thank You For All This” guy?)
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: So is season two of Fear the Walking Dead basically zombie Waterworld? Sure, Old Spice’s body wash can destroy dirt, but does it promise to avoid inducing rashes? And if USPS can afford a primetime ad buy, then why can’t they have more than one counter person working at my local branch?
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Big Show, Kane, Stardust, Lucha Dragons, Ryback, Goldust, R-Truth