There’s a golden rule in wrestling (and, as of late, a Golden Truth), and it is this: If your adversary is in hot pursuit, don’t be seen anywhere near a WWE arena getting inside a limousine or similarly super-sized vehicle. Odds are, your rival will impede its progress and wind up either entrapping you in it or using it as a weapon.
Triple H neglected this crucial tenet last night, and thus wound up on the receiving end of another Roman Reigns sneak attack. Better the Game limited his appearance to the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center, as Philly fans seemed intent on giving most competitors either the silent treatment or a chorus of boos once they walked through that curtain. Apparently, with less than two weeks till WrestleMania, they’d expected to see any or all of the main-event combatants make significant cameos. Instead, they got Braun Strowman, Fandango and Zack Ryder.
But before I say the wrong thing and inadvertently enter myself in the ladder match for Kevin Owens’ Intercontinental title, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the March 21, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Dudley Due Right
Or is it stage left from which thespians make their exit on cue? (I’ll defer to Snagglepuss on this one.) Point being, the Dudleys’ return was fun while it lasted, but last night’s antsy Philadelphians helped put a simple reality in stark relief. No matter how meta Bubba and D-Von get about fans taking their nostalgia and shoving it, even if it means fewer foes getting 3D’s through tables, diehards only want one thing when they show up. Actually, two things: Dudes going through tables, and a middle-aged man in 2016 aping a Budweiser campaign that dates back to the Attitude Era and promptly head-butting his opponent in the balls. This isn’t all the Dudleys’ fault. It’s hard to fathom how the legendary tag team wasn’t booked for a historic 10th title run on their arrival, making good on their constant rhetoric about holding the belts nine previous times. But at present, this feud with the Usos is a non-starter, and as New Day and League of Nations dominate the division, the Dudleys stand out as a thing of the past.
4. Lunatic Fringe Benefits
Being Dean Ambrose comes with plenty of perks. You get to wrestle in jeggings, shave if and when you feel like it and balance comedy bits with spurts of dead-serious menace. And now, it means you’re welcomed into Mick Foley and Terry Funk’s fraternity of loose canons, complete with initiation gifts like baseball bats covered in barbed wire and live chainsaws. It’s always nice to see the Funk man – even if you get the feeling his Funk U shirt was an insurance policy in case viewers didn’t recognize him on sight – and who doesn’t like a good dive-bar vignette? And it’s heartwarming to see that Dean has so much support heading into his ‘Mania street fight against Brock Lesnar. Now if only Ambrose – and we – likewise benefitted from any real momentum heading into their bout. Since they’ll be violently clashing all over Dallas, it would be nice if, in the interim, they came within 30 feet of one another.
3. IC-Challenger Challenged
‘Twas a time when ‘Mania title matches, along with their stipulations, would represent the culmination of an ongoing personal saga. This is not that time. Strapped for time and talent, WWE has instead put Kevin Owens’ IC belt up for grabs rather arbitrarily in a several-man ladder match (following Raw‘s equally arbitrary premise of a three-way tussle to contend for his gold), with substantive story or angle presumably to ensue. This all seems rather backwards. Not to mention, is anyone expecting Stardust, Zack Ryder (who at least is getting his ‘Mania moment) or Sin Cara to believably compete after they were belittled last night in service of conveying KO’s cowardice? And does Sami Zayn really deserve a title shot already? It’s chaos, I tell you! Utter chaos!!!
2. Undertaker XXIV: The Final Mania
OK, so I guess we kinda sorta know what the Undertaker has to fight for. In one of his less coherent promos, Mr. McMahon announced that if ‘Taker loses at ‘Mania, it will mark his final such appearance. Isn’t that a bit like taunting a long-indentured worker by saying, “So help me, if you fall short of my expectations, I’ll be forced to offer you freedom”? It’s enticing to think this could be the Dead Man’s last stand at the event he headlined for so many years. The premise adds needed intrigue to his clash with Shane McMahon. Although wouldn’t it be odd to conclude the Phemom’s ‘Mania history one year shy of his 25th showing? If you ask me, Vince’s ultimatum all but made a ‘Taker victory virtually guaranteed.
1. Roman vs. Triple H is the Only Game in Town
Take it or leave it. And at the risk of being an overly zealous Roman Reigns advocate, I’m gonna fall on the side of enthusiasm for his Heavyweight Championship main event against Triple H. Actually, that’s largely a credit to the Game, who’s picked up Brock Lesnar and Undertaker’s slack by being present at Raw and SmackDown, getting his hands dirty and making us feel like his beef with Reigns is long-simmering and about to boil over, even if it’s arguably been taken on and off low heat. The champ yet again took terrific bumps last night, ones his integrity can absorb after doling out that vicious assault a few weeks back. And his challenger, haters be damned, did just fine holding his own opposite Stephanie in the opening segment, and in a sense has nothing to lose and everything to win. It’s no Hogan vs. Andre, but I’ll take it.
Below the Belt:
- Wake me when the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal is over.
- Nothing says opening-match momentum like two commercial breaks.
- What was up with Styles and the Torture Rack?
- Speaking of the Torture Rack, how was I not aware of this?
- Nice to see some attitude from AJ later in the show.
- That was kind of a weak-sauce New Day promo.
- What the fuck is the Wyatt family talking about? Seriously.
- Big ups to the ballsy Mets fan ringside in Philly.
- So will Hansen get a Stan-ding ovation at his Hall of Fame induction?
- Fandango can’t even get a full entrance?
- Fandango can’t even get a cheap win off a distraction?
- The Divas title match will be great. The buildup, however, has gotten complacent.
- Gonna guess the ratings took a hard dip by the time Ambrose vs. Strowman ended in DQ, regardless of Heyman at ringside.
- Move of the Night: That was some sweet, New Day-style booty shaking by that nameless staffer backstage.
- Line of the Night: Admirable gesture by Big Show to tell Philly, “You guys always say what you feel and keep it real. Thank you.”
- Sign of the Night: “The Guy Behind Me Can’t See” is worth a giggle.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: There is no effing way George Takei eats Quesalupas. The Path looks weird and maybe terrible. Weirdable? And I don’t know what Kmart’s on about.