I know what you’re thinking: Phew, that was one hell of a Roadblock. It’s gonna take me months to come down from that high, at which point we’ll only be a few months away from Roadblock II, which will surely surpass its predecessor in pomp and grandeur. Too bad we have to wade through the morass of pedestrian PPVs like WrestleMania first. Can’t it just be a Saturday in mid-March every month?
The good news is, WWE’s not resting on their laurels. They’re still setting enough storylines in motion to make ‘Mania more than just a footnote to Roadblock, momentum or continuity be damned. Brock Lesnar was in the house last night, though he was warded off by Dean Ambrose’s crowbar; the Dead Man fought off Shane-O Mac’s fists of fury and Roman Reigns and his newly fixed face finally got his mitts on Triple H – even if Pittsburgh was loathe to cheer on their predetermined protagonist.
But before I sequester myself in a windowless den with Big E’s big-booty workout video, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the March 14, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Skanks for the Memories
Slight nitpick: I’ve never quite taken to Sami Zayn’s Quebecois rude boy shtick. I’ve no doubt the recent NXT call-up is a bona fide ska aficionado – be it of the more overtly reggae-rooted, first-generation style or Warped Tour-era, punkish iteration – but something’s been a bit off about that entrance. CFO$’s theme song for Zayn sounds more like a Mighty Mighty Bosstones lullaby than convincing two-tone homage. Although Zayn’s not helping with his arrhythmic skank, which is closer in spirit to this than this. Anyhow, Zayne did put his boot down promptly with a Helluva Kick, and has a solid few weeks to keep reminding us why we were so damn pumped for he and Kevin Owens to get it on as main-roster combatants. Oi!
4. Luchas Draggin’
Kalisto was the hottest thing going for a minute there, and then he got stuck in a program with Ryback that feels less concerned with cementing him as a legit U.S. Champion than helping reaffirm the Big Guy as an alpha dog. Sin Cara, whom Ryback took out last night with ease, has been at sea since returning from a shoulder injury. His best success in WWE was as one-half of the Lucha Dragons, who are mostly observing the tag-division revival as outsiders while Kalisto splits time as a budding singles star. Color me meddlesome, but I’d love to see Sin Cara cost his partner that title at WrestleMania, launching an inter-lucha rivalry the likes of which we haven’t seen in American wrestling since WCW’s Cruiserweight days. Otherwise, why bother having Sin (if I may call him Sin) and Kalisto come out in telltale new black and white wardrobe last night, respectively? Time for Sin Cara to top it off by lacing up his heel mask.
3. Brock’s Falling Stock
At the risk of critiquing WWE’s booking (a generally tiresome and speculative exercise), it’s hard to fathom what’s been done to Brock Lesnar. Wins and losses aside, let’s be real: the Beast’s been relegated to midcard duty at the biggest event of the year. Both he and Dean Ambrose have an uphill battle to restore a sense of immediacy to their rivalry and resulting No Holds Barred Street Fight in Dallas, but that’s not on them. We can all thank the brain trust behind Roadblock for that. What’s the point of staging a stopgap event to seduce more subscribers in time for ‘Mania if it ultimately diverts attention away from the marquee name hundreds of thousands will be paying to see? Paul Heyman, and even Mick Foley, did their best to bring Lesnar vs. Ambrose back to life, but it appears ‘Mania‘s buy rate may rest largely on the shoulders of a 50-year-old dead man walking.
2. Roman – If You Want, Boo
Hey, there’ve been worse B-52’s puns in wrestling-column headlines, no? And there’s also been less compelling feuds than Triple H versus Roman Reigns. But have any of them been dictated by this level of live-audience hijacking and insurgent IWC noise? The Game did his darndest to be a bad guy last night, rattling on about what losers we all were and continuing to crush Dolph Ziggler’s spirit in his first in-ring Raw action since the disastrous Curtis Axel push. Yet it was all for naught. When Roman’s music hit and he appeared atop the ramp, making his way down for revenge on the man who mangled his face (man, he really did a number), the crowd went virtually silent, a reception more hostile than boos. I’ll be the first to admit Reigns’ subsequent whoop-ass was a little light on the whoop, but hey, the guy’s gotta make sure he doesn’t smash his schnoz into pieces again, and you can’t expect 46-year-old Triple H to withstand punishment equivalent to what he dished out a few weeks back. This is a real difficult impasse for WWE, and I don’t envy them. They’ve dug their heels in behind a guy whom a certain, vocal segment of fans have scapegoated for their frustrations with the product. Personally, I think it would speak louder to stop watching than buy tickets to rain on Roman’s parade. Good thing they pay me to write and not think, so carry on.
1. Taker vs. Shane Looking Grave
Antagonize Reigns if you wish, but odds are he and Triple H are gonna give viewers a knockdown slobberknocker for their money. Whereas, if we’re being truthful (I can see you’re lying!), who knows what we’re gonna get from Undertaker and Shane McMahon in their Hell in a Cell clash? The initial shock and awesomeness of Shane-O Mac’s return has quickly faded into something resembling a collective shoulder shrug and, “Sure, why not?” We still have no real idea what skin ‘Taker has in this family feud, Shane’s been a bit rusty on the mic and looks more spastic than scrappy when he jabs and shuffles and Stephanie’s redirected her onscreen energy toward her hubby’s championship defense. A betting man would wager that something of major narrative consequence might stem from their battle. If not, we’re basically looking at a couple middle-aged dudes with no real beef who perform at opposing speeds interminably building up toward a couple requisite daredevil spots. Injury-plagued roster or no, ‘Taker’s been nearly as overexposed as Lesnar of late, and Shane’s return – while thrilling at first and still potentially revelatory – has already begun to underwhelm.
Below the Belt:
- Wasn’t hard to see Shane’s “Vince’s bitch” diss coming.
- Ditto for Sheamus’ “comedy… tragedy” bit.
- League of Nations = rising heels.
- League’s New Day beatdown should have happened by now.
- Glad Wade Barrett got to look strong.
- We get it: Lana’s hot and dudes love her so you retooled her to return, leapfrog the likes of Naomi and Paige and be a top Diva.
- We get it: Burger King has hot dogs.
- Hey there, Jack Swagger.
- Was that Wrestlezone’s own Justin LaBar that Triple H called out in his promo?
- A.J. Styles and Chris Jericho telling the best story so far.
- Move of the Night: Solid moonsault off the barricade from Zayn.
- Line of the Night: Oh, Steph: “Pandering – how very Cena-esque of you, Dolph.”
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: My man, Jacob deGrom. Ice Cube loves a sequel. And, really, Cicis? Spinach Alfredo? Ew.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Wyatt Family, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Big Show