A Challenger to Roman’s Reign

Fantasy Booking/PPVs, Raw, Wrestling

Following the absolutely devastating injury to Seth Rollins’ knee, the WWE landscape is devoid of a top heel. It seems pretty obvious that Roman Reigns will come out of Survivor Series as the champion in a few weeks, but, with Rollins on the shelf, who is going to be his biggest dancing partner?

Could it be Brock Lesnar? The guy he main-evented Wrestlemania 31 with. It would make sense, given that the two have unfinished business from the match. Remember, that was the match that saw Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank contract to steal the title.

However, is that really the best the WWE can do? I mean, all of these injuries should light a fire under Vince McMahon and co. to start promoting more legitimate new-age stars. Is Brock Lesnar the biggest obstacle to conquer for anyone in the company? Yes, but I don’t know how many tickets a Reigns-Lesnar main event is selling.

Therefore, I think it’s important that the WWE brass dig deeper. Kevin Owens is a valid option. He already finds himself as the #1 heel in the mid-card division and, given his indie pedigree, it’s not a stretch to say he can handle an extended run in the main event scene.

That said, Owens is doing great work as the Intercontinental Champion. That belt needs a strong worker who puts on amazing matches night after night attached to it and Owens is performing that responsibility admirably. Owens’ time is coming; I just do not think right now is the best time.

Outside of Owens, your biggest heels are guys like Sheamus, Stardust, and Bray Wyatt. Sheamus is certainly a threat given his MITB contract; I just don’t think you use that here, especially against Reigns. In fact, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Sheamus successfully cashes in his contract. He simply hasn’t been booked as a threatening presence and a championship run seems unbelievable, at this point.

Stardust would be a very interesting opponent, but I don’t see Roman having much chemistry with the Cosmic Prince. He’s just too out there and Reigns doesn’t seem to be in a situation where he can have a jokey storyline this close to Mania season. He needs a feud that legitimizes his spot as champion.

Wyatt has too much on his hands right now with his on-going story between himself and the Brothers of Destruction. That feud probably comes to a head this month at Survivor Series; however, unless he can cleanly beat either the Undertaker or Kane, it’s hard to see Bray as a credible #1 contender.

So who should become the WWE’s #1 heel over the next few months and face down Roman Reigns for the title at Wrestlemania? Well, you what he says, “your time is up, my time is now!”

Just kidding, a John Cena heel turn doesn’t solve anything, instead, I think it’s time the WWE finally lets Dean Ambrose out of the Asylum. During his run with The Shield, everyone and their mother predicted that Ambrose would be the break-out heel from the faction. The WWE was smart to play against type and twist the dynamics of that team by having Rollins be the one to break the group apart. However, now is the time for Ambrose to take his rightful place on the bad side of the spectrum.

Ambrose was born to play a heel. As a face, he can be charming and hilarious, but always seems to be holding himself back from his true potential, especially on the microphone.

And it’s not like he’s been tearing the world apart as a good guy. Sure, he’s had a few high profile feuds, but the WWE wants to push Reigns to the moon and that means guys like Ambrose are left to languish in the mid-card.

This is the time to turn Ambrose. Well, actually last week’s Team Reigns vs. Team Rollins was the time to turn Ambrose, but the WWE couldn’t know about Rollins’ future at that point.

Unfortunately, the WWE missed the perfect chance to have Ambrose turn on Reigns when the two of them were the last men standing for Team Reigns last week on Raw. Had Ambrose stepped aside when Reigns went for a last second tag and let Rollins pin Roman to win the match, this feud would have been set and we might’ve been staring down a dream Ambrose vs. Reigns vs. Rollins match at Wrestlemania.

That said, the WWE still has a great opportunity to make things right. Say Ambrose meets Reigns in the Finals of the new WWE Championship tournament. Then, Roman wins the match, but does so through somewhat questionable methods, we’ll say a countout. Ambrose is incensed the next night on Raw and accuses Reigns of not giving him a fair match. That sets up a rematch because Reigns is trying to be a “good guy”. And then, when the match happens, Ambrose blatantly cheats and steals the title from his former friend, turning heel in the process.

That sets up a months long feud of Reigns chasing Ambrose, which culminates in The Authority, unable to control either wrestler, bringing back Rollins for a three-way match at Summerslam (or, of course, Wrestlemania, if Rollins is healthy by then).

It’s a near perfect long con to get Rollins back in the title picture in meaningful way when he comes back. Further, it lets Ambrose explore more of his character and get out from under Reigns’ shadow.

Is this the outcome we can expect from Survivor Series? Probably not, but it just might be the one that makes the most sense if the WWE is thinking about the long-term payout surrounding a Shield feud.You might say, it’s best for business.

Not Quite Yet, Kid (Raw Reactions May 4)

Raw, Wrestling
  • Obviously, given the WWE’s fickle past, it’s tough to slot New Day in as major players after being on the opening to just a single Raw. However, it has to be said that they looked natural opposite Randy Orton and Roman Reigns in the opening segment. All three have decent microphone skills (though Kofi is noticeably behind his two stablemates)  and they demonstrated that tonight. Further, they’ve become a team that people love to hate, which is an underrated skill for wrestlers in the “Reality Era”. It’s too early to judge how far this team can go, but, if tonight is any indication, they seem to have the backing of the power’s that be. Now, they just can’t screw it up (see: Kofi a few years ago in his program with Randy Orton).
  • I must admit, I was very worried that Orton and Reigns would go over the New Day cleanly in this handicap match. It’s become typical for the WWE to book it’s big-time babyfaces as characters who can overcome anything, even when it makes no sense. We’re talking about two guys who have teamed together maybe twice going against three men who are a well-oiled tag team machine who are currently the champions in that division. So it would stand to reason that Vince McMahon would have his two “money-makers” overtake the three guys who are actually a team. Or at least, that’s what I assumed would happen. Luckily, they went another way and actually gave New Day a victory (though, it was an underhanded one, but that suits the New Day characters). Maybe the WWE is beginning to make its booking more believable and the storylines will start being good again. Of course, we’re probably two weeks from New Day bringing in Hornswaggle as the fourth member of the team and dancing with the Great Khali (or whoever) on Main Event.
  • It seems like WWE crowds have decided over the last few years that they are more important than what’s actually happening in the ring. They hijack the broadcast much often than they used to and try to make their voices heard through chants that are aimed at people in the backstage. I can get behind that idea every once in awhile, but it’s just happening too much these days. Yes, Ryback is not the most engaging character on the microphone and yes, he is absolutely boring. However, you don’t even give him a chance and now we have no idea what he had to say about Bray Wyatt because the crowd decided that they were more important than that story. Who knows, maybe that was Ryback’s first great promo and we just missed out on the start of a great program between the Big Guy and the New Face of Fear? Crowd’s should be allowed to do whatever they want. They bought their ticket and that gives them a right to make their thoughts known via chants. That’s how the WWE has worked. However, I just wish they would give people a chance to speak and let everyone understand what’s going on. Save the chants for bad matches and leave the promos out of it. And please, please, stop yelling “What?”, it’s the worst chant in the history of chants.
  • Thank you WWE for reopening the wounds from aborted program between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins last fall. That was, quite simply, the best thing the WWE had put on television in quite some time and we never got a decisive end to the best feud of the year. This match highlighted how incredible these two would be against each other in a significant feud. Think about it. That was a Raw on a random Monday. What if these two had a Wrestlemania match for the title next year? It’ll never happen, but a boy can dream. Payback’s main event just more interesting; however, I can’t see any scenario where Rollins doesn’t retain. He needs to have at least one matchup with Brock Lesnar as the champion and I think that’s coming at Summerslam. There’s just too much money to be made in fans seeing Lesnar finally get his hands on the man who cost him his championship. With that said, the dirt sheets have been claiming that Ambrose is no his way to a mega-push leading into Summerslam, so who knows what’s going to happen? I wouldn’t be surprised if even Vince is still trying to figure things out.
  • Rusev and Fandango fighting over Lana? I smell a walk-off.
  • Stardust wins by plastic (rubber?) spiders. How the mighty have fallen. This episode has quickly fallen off from that incredible Ambrose-Rollins match.
  • Bret Hart said it, Heath Slator is a “great wrestler”. If the Hitman says so, it has to be true.
  • Wow, this night just turned around. John Cena delivered a very Cena promo, that was about as good as you can expect from Cena’s current character (which sounds like I’m cutting him down, but is actually a compliment. Cena has just gone as far as he can with this character and therefore his promos always leave a little to be desired by their very nature) and then the Hitman came out to announce that Sami Zayn would be answering the Open Challenge for the US strap. I knew Zayn was in the building, but never in a million years thought he’d make an actual appearance. He still has a story to tell with Kevin Owens down in Florida and the WWE really needs to spend time continuing to build Neville up before bringing in another NXT star. That said, I peed a little when Zayn came out and am more than looking forward to seeing what he can do in the ring with Cena.
  • Zayn had an incredible first showing against John Cena. It wasn’t quite as good as Neville’s first real match against Seth Rollins, but it was a great way to show off how much fighting spirit Zayn has. Plus, I don’t think this match signifies Zayn’s true call-up to the main roster. Neville had to lose to Rollins, but making it a cheating victory kept Neville looking strong while furthering Rollins’ cowardly heel persona. Zayn, on the other hand, had to lose to Cena because Cena already has a rematch with Rusev at Payback. However, there was no need to protect Zayn like they did with Neville. Zayn still has quite a bit to do in NXT and shouldn’t be called up to Raw on a nightly basis for at least a few months. This was an opportunity to put him in front of a crowd that they knew would pop huge for him and make him look like a future contender for the viewing audience. This match accomplished that in every way possible, while still making it clear that Zayn isn’t quite ready to be on the main show (from a storyline perspective, of course). It was a masterfully booked match that did everything it needed to while making both competitors look strong.
  • “Man, I just can’t get enough of Kane” -said No One, ever.
  • This main event angle feels like it’s being changed every two or three minutes. Maybe that’s the point, but so far it’s just been a boring mass of moving parts that very loosely connect with each other. You could argue that they just want to keep everyone guessing and make the finish to Payback as ambiguous as possible in the lead-up; however, it was telling that all of the mid-card matches got a better reaction tonight than the main event. You have to figure that’s the opposite of what Vince McMahon sees and, frankly, the opposite of what any fan that is tired of being force fed Cena wants to see. That said, with such lackluster writing and the constant hamstringing of stories by Kane, it’s tough to see a scenario where we aren’t right back to Cena headlining everything in the next few months. This talent roster is deep and talented. The writing roster is not. Something needs to change.
  • Final Thoughts: When you let young guns like Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, Neville, and on and on just go out there and wrestle, this show is great. But when you saddle them with terrible material and an even worse supporting cast, then we have problems. Zayn’s debut against John Cena was amazing and that match between Rollins and Ambrose belongs in the main event of WrestleMania. However, the stories being told are always boring and often flat-out terrible since WrestleMania ended. There’s some evidence to support that they’re building to something good (putting Dean back in the title picture was a nice step and Internet rumblings suggest there might be some other big moments in store), but, after all the crap we had to slog through last fall, I need to see it before I believe. Here’s hoping the WWE can make me a believer in the product sooner, rather than later.

The Road to Extreme (Raw Reactions April 20)

Raw, Wrestling
  • Randy Orton doesn’t have the charisma to pull off the “screw the Authority” character that Stone Cold Steve Austin played so well during the Attitude Era; however, when they let him loose like this, you can see a little Austin in the Viper. The unhinged Orton has always been his best character and it’s a shame that when they turn him into a good guy, they tend to go away from that. He needs that “eff everybody” attitude no matter which side of the equation he’s put on. The unpredictability of Orton is what makes him and letting him use that in his current face run is what’s getting him so over with the crowds.
  • Seth Rollins is so masterful as the cowardly heel that I’m starting to wonder exactly how they’ll pull off a future face run. He’s just so fun to hate that imagining a world where people cheer Rollins because they’re supposed is becoming increasingly hard. If and when he does make that turn, it seems like he’ll be set up as a Dolph Ziggler-like character. Both Dolph and Rollins can talk, but their promo skills seem better suited to a heel character, so they have to use their incredible wrestling ability to get over. I mean, when’s the last time we got a really good Ziggler promo during his current run? There just aren’t many of them anymore from @HEELZiggler and I can’t help but feel like that’s the direction Rollins will ultimately be forced to go.
  • Booker T is on point tonight. “Ambrose is uncontrollable, but he looks good while doing it”. I know I’ve spoken about it before, but its been awhile since I’ve mentioned how much Ambrose’s moveset fits his character. Some wrestlers just seem like they’re going through the motions and their matches don’t really fit with the character they’re building. Ambrose is the exact opposite of that. I can’t think of any other wrestler whose moveset is tailored to his character like Ambrose’s is. Seth Rollins deserves some credit for knowing how to tone down his acrobatics to suit his heel character, but no one is as good as Ambrose right now.
  • That was incredible. Even though they’re the hottest baby-face tag team on Raw with The Usos out from injury, the Lucha Dragons just aren’t ready for a title run. Plus, they’ve always been better chasing the belts and impressing the masses with their excellent in-ring ability. Kalisto, in particular doesn’t really make a great champion. They just look too beatable. It’s the same problem I always had with Rey Mysterio as a champion. Smaller guys make excellent title chasers, but they don’t often have great runs when they actually get those titles. Thus, putting over the New Day and finally giving them a much needed heel turn was probably the best move. I’m an unabashed New Day fan, so my opinion isn’t entirely without bias; that said, Xavier Woods put on a masterful heel performance tonight that rivals some of the best dirty managers in the business. He was great in his role and Big E continues to impress in all facets of the game. Kofi Kingston is probably the group’s weak link for me, but even he can do things in the ring that no one else can. Time will tell if they actually get a legitimate run as a heel stable; however, if booked correctly, I see big things for this threesome.
  • Fandango has his music back and that means he picks up a victory over Axelmania. It’ll be a long time before Johnny Curtis is ever taken seriously, but at least they’re letting him go over with his gimmick now.
  • Wait, what happens to The Miz if he loses his gimmick? Does he just immediately become Mike the Marine or does he become Mizdow and have to be The New Miz’s stunt double? There are so many unanswered questions, Maggle!
  • Kane was more interesting in that last segment that he has been in every other appearance from the last two or three combined. Kane’s impassioned outburst felt real and amplified his beef with Seth Rollins to the next level. That said, the bigger picture coming out of that segment is the continued teasing of serious strife between Rollins and The Authority. I still can’t pin down where they’re going with this, but, if tonight is any indication, it almost seems like The Authority are becoming the “good guys” in their “feud” with Rollins. I’m probably reading too much into this, but Triple H keeps deliberately stepping away from the “Choosen Future of the WWE” in a way that makes it feel intentional. Could they be hinting toward a Triple H face run or is the company just doing a better job of embracing the shades of gray in its storytelling. I’m hoping for the latter, but it’s an important detail to pay attention to as we move forward.
  • An RKO at catering? What is this 2003? YES! YES! YES! Oh, also a very meh Diva’s match. Save us Sasha!
  • Bo Dallas is probably never going to become a legitimate performer at this level of the WWE, but the guy does an admirable job of working his gimmick. He is just so good at making you love to hate him and he really knows how to work the crowd with a microphone in his hand. His work on the stick is so subtle, that it probably will never be recognized on the level that his brother Bray Wyatt’s is; however, in some ways he might be a better talker than The Eater of Worlds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like they know what to do with him and he honestly might best served by going back to NXT and becoming a mainstay in their title division. He’s just too good of performer to be regulated to comedy status this early in his career. Come on Vince. If Roman Reigns can become a Boliever, then so can you!
  • I didn’t have high hopes for that segment when it started. There just aren’t many exciting matches involving Zack Ryder in the WWE. With that said, Sheamus was impressive throughout that match. He did an excellent job of getting his heel character over with the crowd and looked incredibly strong going into his match with Dolph Ziggler at Extreme Rules. Sheamus makes a better heel and it’s good that they’re finally going back to that. By putting him with someone like Ziggler, you’re going to really show off just how dominant and powerful he can be. Outside of maybe Seth Rollins, nobody can sell like Ziggler and he’s going to make Sheamus look stronger than the Big Show or Mark Henry on Sunday. This program is somewhat of a holding pattern for both guys, but they should both come out looking like a million bucks if the booking is right. From there, they can move Sheamus on to someone like Daniel Bryan, while Ziggler turns his attention to something like John Cena’s U.S. title.
  • Speaking of Cena’s U.S. title, the Doctor of Thuganomics’ Open Challenge continues to get more and more interesting as the weeks go on. We all knew that the chances of Cena dropping the belt before Extreme Rules were very unlikely, simply because the WWE loves to use that rematch clause built into every contract. That said, the caliber of opponents Cena has been facing each week has led to that title actually feeling like it means something. Plus, Cena is so over at this point that it doesn’t really matter what he does, so this is the perfect way to keep him from railroading the extremely crowded main event picture. That said, you have to wonder when someone will finally take the belt off Cena. I mean, that should signify a mega-push for whatever superstar manages to pull it off, which means the guy would have to be ready to compete in the main event the next day. My personal short list would have to be Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, and Finn Balor. Ambrose has been rumored to be getting a big-time push around Summerslam and having him take the title off of Cena at that show makes a lot of sense. Cesaro hasn’t been in the dirt sheet rumors, but he is one of the most talented individuals in the company. The WWE missed out on a big opportunity with the Swiss star after he won the Andre the Giant Battle Royale at WrestleMania 30, and it might be time to give him another try. He’s been impressive in the tag division with Tyson Kidd and you could easily see him being elevated to the title picture by the end of the year. Finn Balor is obviously the dark horse of these three, but, much like Neville, the WWE seems really high on this young gun and immediately putting a secondary title on him would demonstrate how seriously they take the man from Ireland. It’s easy to imagine Balor getting a full face paint debut at a major event like Summerslam and becoming one of the hottest stars in the company during the fall season.
  • Can Randy Orton just do this every week? It’ll be the newest drinking game. Take a shot every time the Viper hits an RKO or Rollins is seen watching him do it on a backstage screen.
  • Was that the end to The Miz and Mizdow angle? If so, that’s an extremely weak way of ending one of the more interesting feuds of 2015. Of course, the WWE continues to fail to deliver on mid-card feuds. Rollins-Ambrose stalled before it really got started (though that one was quasi-main event). The Dust Bros gave us a great tease at Fastlane, but that angle was dropped way too quickly. And now this. What’s the deal with taking all these great mid-tier feuds away from us and shoveling Big Show and Reigns garbage in its place? That feud is nothing and has been done before. Miz and Mizdow have worked for months to put together a story and it’s going to be dropped like this. It’s not quite the travesty that was Cody and Dusty not getting a Mania match, but it’s up there.
  • So, Bray Wyatt is losing to Ryback at Summerslam? That’s about all I got out of that promo. Wyatt talents are being completely wasted right now on terrible feuds that do nothing to advance his character or his career. At this point, I don’t even understand why he’s still getting TV time when they obviously don’t care about actually building him into a credible character.
  • Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins is one of those matchups that you think will produce a show-stealer every time they go out. Both guys are supremely talented and one would assume that their styles would mesh well. Unfortunately, when their matches are relegated to Raws both wrestlers are forced to tune it down and stay safe. These two need an elongated, two or three PPV program that lets them really go at each other to see what kind of wrestling-based feud Ziggler and Rollins can put on. It seems like the company doesn’t really trust Dolph as a champion, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be used to elevate Rollins as a performer. These two should be making gobs of money every time they wrestle, but they are instead hamstrung whenever they get a chance to show their stuff together.
  • That finish was being telegraphed all night and wasn’t the surprise they probably thought it would be. Contrary to what Michael Cole would have you believe, that RKO was out of somewhere. That said, it was a fun ending to an intriguing Raw.
  • Closing Thoughts: Tonight’s episode was kind of like a good episode of Lost. They answered a few questions we had, but they introduced about 20 more to ensure that no one would really know what was going to happen at Extreme Rules. There are so many moving parts right now and the roster is so loaded with talent that I legitimately have no idea where they are going. Depending on your perspective that could be a good thing or a bad thing. For my money, it’s good thing because uncertainty makes wrestling feel a little more real. When the outcomes are obvious, then the pre-determined nature of the business is that more apparent. When no one is completely sure what’s going to happen, then it’s a little easier to suspend your disbelief. The WWE has done a great job of putting together a solid Extreme Rules card that is basically just rehashing the major matches from Mania. However, unlike when we saw the same thing happen with TLC and Survivor Series, these matches actually feel fresh. Really, my only problem with this episode was the lack of Adrian Neville. That guy needs to be on TV every week. All in all, a quality go-home show that built up some solid intrigue for the weeks ahead.

Rollins vs. Neville – FIGHT! (Raw Reactions April 6)

Raw, Wrestling
  • I’m not sure I understand the booking here. Seth Rollins took the belt off of Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania and then Lesnar got himself suspended by the WWE for injuring everyone in the stadium last week. Okay, that’s fine because now you can keep him off of TV until his eventual rematch with Rollins at Extreme Rules. Or at least that’s what I assumed would happen. However, we now have three other guys who could potentially get a shot at the title before Lesnar even returns to the ring. Shouldn’t the champion get the first opportunity to take back his belt? How does it make sense to let anyone but Brock have a match for the strap at Extreme Rules? If they continue along this path, is there any way that Rollins loses? The booking just doesn’t logically work. Plus, none of three potential opponents are really viable. Sure, Randy Orton beat Rollins at Mania, but he’s never worked well as a face and really needs to move on from this Authority storyline. Ryback makes the least sense and is just there for numbers; however, wouldn’t he be better utilized in an actual feud of his own? Roman Reigns probably has the best claim to a match with Rollins, since he was in the title match at Mania. That said, he’s largely been kept out of storylines since Mania and just doesn’t feel like he’s on the main event level now. Plus, he lost his shot at the strap. Why does he get another shot over someone new? It’s just lazy booking that is probably tied to Lesnar’s contract. It’s pretty sad that they aren’t able to tell an effective story simply because of their over-reliance on part-time talent.
  • Outside of the Big Show, Kane is by far the least interesting wrestler in the company today. His match with Orton did what it needed to do, but I could barely make myself watch. Kane is like a black hole for entertainment and he needs to move behind the scenes sooner rather than later.
  • Obviously, you’d prefer to see the WWE give AJ Lee an actual send-off for her retirement, but if the relationship is as strained as we’ve been lead to believe, than that was pretty classy of them. They acknowledged her work and thanked her for everything she did for the company. Hopefully the #GiveDivasAChance movement actually takes place in her absence. It’s a shame to see the changes not occur while she’s with the company, but it seems like they’re slowly moving that way. Maybe she can come back someday and put on a classic with Charlotte or Sasha Banks.
  • HERE WE GO! Neville vs. Rollins. This is what we’ve been waiting for ladies and gentlemen. I’m marking out so hard right now.
  • What an incredibly booked match by the WWE. There was no way Neville could go over on the champion after just debuting last week. It would’ve been too much, too fast for a guy who needs to build up his credibility over the next three or four months before challenging for a secondary strap. However, they gave Rollins and Neville time to put together one of the better Raw matches you’ll see. Tons of false finishes, countless incredible moves, and some great heel work by Rollins. The only negative is that we didn’t get to see Neville deliver the Red Arrow, which is the move that’s going to get him over. That said, the only way they could’ve gotten it in there was for him to hit it on one of the members of J&J Security, which could’ve messed with the flow of the contest. Therefore, I’m not too upset that Neville didn’t get to hit his signature move. I just can’t believe we got a match that good on a television show, let alone that it was between two former NXT champions. For this segment alone, it’s a great day to be a WWE fan.
  • I really hope this John Cena’s open challenge storyline is going somewhere besides just a rematch with Rusev at Extreme Rules. They need to let Cena hold the belt for three or four pay-per-views before finally dropping the belt to a newer Superstar. Personally, I would love to see Finn Balor debut at Money in the Bank and have a good showing in the titular match. From there, Balor would kick around for a few months, building the mystique and credibility of his character. Meanwhile, Cena continues his open challenge all way into Summerslam. Then, at the Barclays Center, Cena comes to the ring and tells someone to come and face him. Balor answers the call in full “demon” regalia and beats Cena in a 15-minute match that has potential to easily steal the show. Balor could get fast-tracked to the main event scene; however, I think, as one of the best workers in the company, he could be another fighting champion who continues to build the prestige of the U.S. title. That would make Balor a legitimate title threat by the Rumble and gives whoever holds the title at Mania 32 yet another quality opponent to potentially dance with.
  • The #GiveDivasAChance movement seems to actually be happening. I forgot to set my stopwatch, but that match felt like it went for a solid 10 minutes. That’s not something we saw often even just a few months ago and it’s really encouraging that the WWE seems to finally be realizing they have some really talented women both on their main roster and in developmental who won’t just be satisfied to serve as eye candy like so many Divas before them. My ultimate dream is for either Paige or Charlotte to dethrone Nikki Bella and reintroduce the current Divas title as simply the WWE Women’s Championship. It unequivocally sends the message that the WWE is going to take its women competitors seriously and could actually bring in a more diverse viewing audience.
  • That Ryback vs. Luke Harper match seemed pretty lackluster when you compare it to all of the matches earlier on the card. We know Harper can wrestle after his series with Dolph Ziggler last year, so you have to assume that, if anyone is the weak link, it has to be Ryback. He’s been with the company fro quite awhile and you’d hope he would’ve added some moves to his repertoire. Unfortunately, he’s still too much like a modern day Goldberg. He has two or three really impactful moves that he does well, but everything else is super sloppy. I like The Big Guy as a character, but he just has yet to take that next step as an in-ring performer. It’s quite possible that he never needs to given his look, style, and charisma; however, I really hope Ryback continues to push himself in the ring.
  • I have no idea where they are going with The New Day, but I know that I can’t wait to take this journey with them. They seem to be teasing a heel turn and, really, that’s where they should be going at this point. Here’s hoping we see them snap in the coming weeks leading up to Extreme Rules.
  • The Lucha Dragons are the best opponents for Cesaro and Tyson Kidd to face at Extreme Rules. The two teams styles play off each other well and Kidd is very familiar with Kalisto and Sin Cara from his time in NXT. Plus, an Extreme Rules style match suits both teams and should allow them to deliver an excellent curtain-jerker that really gets the crowd hyped. As much as I love The New Day, I don’t currently see a great spot for them on the Extreme Rules card unless the Lucha Dragons win the championship and New Day comes out to do a post-match beatdown and cement their heel status. Therefore, I think they continue to play games with The Primetime Players on Raw and Smackdown for the next few weeks and maybe make the pre-show.
  • This Austin, TX crowd seems oddly pro-Roman Reigns. Was his performance against Brock Lesnar good enough to get him over with the fans or is Austin just a casual fan city? Unfortunately, we won’t really know for a few weeks. Raw goes across the pond next week and UK crowds are traditionally anti-babyface. I expect that, no matter what the American response is to Reigns, the London crowd will boo him without mercy.
  • I have to give credit where it’s due. That was probably the best match Big Show has wrestled in the past four or five years. He gave Reigns a real beating and both competitors brought out moves that we don’t usually see from them. My only knock on the match is that Reigns needed to sell more. He still has that Cena quality about him where he gets his butt kicked for ten minutes and then just pops up like nothing happened. I’d like to see him struggle just a little bit more there at the end and really sell the damage Show did to him leading into his triple threat later in the show. That said, I can’t really nitpick too much because this match did exactly what it needed to and made Show look like an actual wrestler again. My hopes aren’t high that he can continue to perform at that level, but I was impressed.
  • Heel Sheamus is a big step-up from where this character was last year. Sheamus the cartoon character is so bland that it’s near impossible to root for him. Heel Sheamus can really bring the power and impact, which almost always leads to him actually having good matches. I don’t know if Ziggler is the best opponent for him to face (that’s Cesaro, but he’s busy at the moment), but he’ll do for now.
  • Bray Wyatt lost to Undertaker at Wrestlemania right? Isn’t that what happened? Because I’m pretty sure he just called himself the “new face of fear” even though he lost to the Dead Man. How does that even make sense? Wyatt is an amazing talker, but I’m becoming tired of him delivering master-class promos that don’t really lead to anything. When’s the last time this guy has won a feud? He just isn’t sufficiently believable as a competitor anymore and has quickly become one of the least interesting members of the Raw roster. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I would love to be proven wrong and for Wyatt to actually enter an interesting program with someone that actually sees him go over and legitimize his spot on the card. But until I see it, I can’t help but devalue all of Wyatt’s work.
  • It’s good that the WWE has the intelligence to hold onto Mizdow’s ultimate victory over the Miz until it can get its proper due at a PPV. I was a little worried that Mizdow was going to win that match on Raw and rob the company of big moment they’ll get when Mizdow eventually goes over. This feud fits into the Extreme Rules stipulation pretty well and I would be more than a little surprised if that match didn’t show up on that card very soon.
  • I said in the beginning that booking a title match without Brock Lesnar being involved felt pretty weak and that Triple Threat match didn’t do much to change my opinion. Sure, all three guys looked decent in that contest and Orton had to be the one to go over in that situation; however, it just doesn’t seem plausible that Rollins will lose his title before matching up with Lesnar, so this whole feud feels pointless. There is no logical reason for Rollins to lose here. He has to face Lesnar as the champion or the company is squandering a gigantic opportunity. It would make absolutely no sense, which makes this booking boring because the outcome is pre-ordained. The only way this feud gets interesting is if Lesnar shows up at Extreme Rules and kills everyone again. That’s the only way I can see this program being salvaged at this point.
  • Closing Thoughts: This was one of the best Raws I’ve seen in quite a while that was unfortunately bookended by some pretty questionable decisions. I just don’t understand why they would bother giving anyone a shot at Rollins before Lesnar gets his rematch. It makes no sense and leaves the end of Extreme Rules feeling pre-ordained (which to be fair, wrestling is always pre-ordaining, but its is at its best when you can’t predict what’s going to happen). That said, every match on the show tonight outside of Orton vs. Kane felt like pay-per-view quality matches and that Rollins vs. Neville match was something special. Heck, even the tag team and Divas’ divisions got some much-needed character development tonight and for once, it seems like the WWE is actually committed to telling more than one storyline. Of course, next week all of this will come crashing down as Teddy Long comes back to book a six-man tag match as the main event, while Paige and Nikki Bella have a “bra and panties” match. But for one shining week, Raw was good again. At this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Seth Trollins (Raw Reactions, March 16)

Raw, Wrestling
  • Seth Rollins handled the home state cheers exceptionally well tonight. Any time a main event player (or even midcarder) comes to the place they grew up, they’re going to be met with gigantic applause (even if they’re currently working heel). Often, heel wrestlers don’t really handle the cheers well, and tend to just ignore them. That makes Rollins’ acknowledgement and manipulation of the cheers so impressive. Rollins is one of the best in-ring workers in the company, but it’s the way he handles his business on the microphone that demonstrates why he’s going to be a top draw for the next decade or more.
  • I think everyone would prefer to see Rollins matched up with Dean Ambrose at Wrestlemania; however, Randy Orton isn’t a bad consolation prize, especially when he’s on top of his game. Orton looks revitalized after his time off earlier this year. I would expect some of that comes from the rest, but most of it has to do with him getting to distance himself from The Authority. Orton has always worked better as an insane mercenary who will fight anyone, anywhere. Now that he’s back to that gimmick, Orton is compelling TV again. It will be interesting to see what their long-term plans for The Viper are.
  • For a Bella’s match, that was actually pretty well wrestled. Of course, AJ Lee did most of the actual wrestling, but beggars can’t be choosers. AJ and Paige are much better performers than Nikki and Brie Bella and I would vastly prefer to see those two in a singles program at Wrestlemania. That said, it’s understandable to see the stars of Total Divas given a higher place on the card than their abilities probably warrant. It’s disappointing, but it’s part of the business. Vince McMahon wants to be seen as entertainment, not wrestling. and superstars who play that game with him will always get preferential treatment. Hopefully that changes when Triple H and Stephanie takeover, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
  • If this whole, “we’re mad at you Seth!” segment isn’t just a work to try and fool Randy Orton; I’ll eat my shoe.
  • Contract signings are almost always terrible, and it certainly doesn’t help when you’re casting local talent 15 minutes before the show. Rusev’s lawyer was the worst actor they’ve put on WWE TV in quite awhile (which is saying something when you look at guys like Roman Reigns). Really, the only redeeming thing about that overly long segment was Rusev’s prepared letter. The monster Russian is not a great talker, but he’s effective, especially when he gets to trash America. Rusev is what every USA-hating foreign heel should be, and he proved it tonight.
  • Brock Lesnar’s got a bit of potty-mouth, eh? Lesnar, much like Rusev, is not a good talker. He stumbles over sentences and has an extremely unintimidating voice. That said, Lesnar, because of his athletic exploits, can be an effective talker. When he says he’s going to give someone an ass kicking, you believe it. If he says he’ll end someone’s career, it’ll probably happen. When he gets to pre-tape his promos, he can actually hype an event in his own way. You want to tune in to see what Lesnar does to his opponents. You want to see if Lesnar really will beat the *BLEEP* out of Roman Reigns. End of story.
  • If you wanted to see a pointless segment that made two giants who were washed up five years ago look incredibly strong at the expense of quality young talent, you got your wish tonight. What does Kane or Mark Henry gain from that? We know they’re “huge threats” to win the Andre the Giant Battle Royale, so why do we need to be shown that at the expense of guys like Titus O’Neil and Curtis Axel? Guys like that actually need to be built up, not torn down to benefit “stars” that don’t matter. It’s just terrible booking and has been happening way too often over the past few years.
  • At first, I was just going to comment that bringing out Paul Heyman to hype Brock Lesnar just felt like overkill after Brock’s pre-taped segment. Then Roman Reigns came out and actually did a serviceable job on the microphone. Reigns didn’t stumble over his words like usual and handled the crowd chanting “Daniel Bryan” better than expected. That said, his final line, “I can. I will. And I believe that” was cringe-worthy. They’re trying to get that line over way too hard. It’s not organic and it’s not working. Catchphrases need to come about in the moment; they can’t just be manufactured like this if you actually want them to catch on. Hopefully they realize that soon and stop running it into the ground.
  • This circus of performers fighting over the Intercontinental Title might just be the best thing going right now. The main event storylines are interesting; however, the in-ring product is lackluster (some might say boring). The IC picture doesn’t have a narrative outside of “everyone’s stealing the belt” and “I really want that title”. That said, when the in-ring product is this good, it doesn’t really matter. This match is set up to steal the show at Wrestlemania (though the Seth Rollins-Randy Orton bout is my personal Dark Horse) because of the talent involved. If this match gets 20 minutes to actually give everyone enough time to play a meaningful part, this could be a Match of the Year contender; the field is that good.
  • Even though I have no real interest in this Bray Wyatt-Undertaker feud, I can’t help but feel this mounting curiosity over what kind of match Wyatt can drag Taker to. Wyatt’s style isn’t the kind that translates well to carrying someone like The Dead Man; therefore, I just can’t fathom the two men having a good match because of it. With The Streak over, Undertaker has no mystique, so you have to expect they wouldn’t bring him back for a situation where he’s set up for failure. Unfortunately, it seems like that’s exactly what they’re doing. I sure hope I’m wrong.
  • Can you just imagine for one second how incredible that final segment would be with Dean Ambrose in Randy Orton’s place? Ambrose would finally be setting up the finish to his feud with Seth Rollins and getting a mega-rub from Sting all at the same time. Instead, we get Randy Orton. A star who doesn’t need to be in the ring with Sting and whose program with Rollins is maybe an eighth as interesting as Ambrose’s would be. I realize that I just said that Orton is a good consolation prize, but it’s moments like these that show how much the WWE has screwed up this situation. This Wrestlemania card could be an all-time great. Instead it’s boring and uninspired. Hopefully, my low expectations lead to me being pleasantly surprised, but even that won’t change the fact that moments like tonight are largely being wasted.
  • Closing Thoughts: The Wrestlemania buildup is picking up, but that just makes it even more apparent how poorly booked this card has been. I can count on one hand the number of wrestlers that have been positioned well as we near Mania, and that’s a major problem. This card should have me more excited than any other event in the year and that’s just not happening. They have one more week to make it right. Can Vince McMahon and the WWE pull it off? Time will tell.

How Randy Got His Groove Back (Raw Reactions, March 9)

Raw, Wrestling
  • Jamie Noble needs more time on the microphone. There’s something about that heavy (HEAVY) southern accent that makes me want to see him take over JBL’s slot on the announce desk. At the very least, let him manage a young tag team and become the modern day Jimmy Hart. I need that in my life.
  • That’s the Randy Orton we need. Orton has the skillset and character to be a more athletic version of Stone Cold Steve Austin; he just doesn’t consistently kill it on the microphone. Tonight was another example of the fact that Orton can talk; he just doesn’t do it that well on a regular basis. It’s difficult to pinpoint why he’s so inconsistent on the mic, but it surely is some combination of laziness (or a general lack of passion for that side of the business) and booking. It’s well known that Orton would rather play heel, if given the choice. Unfortunately, the RKO is such a face finisher that it’s always going to be hard to get people to boo him. He had a great heel move in the punt, but that’s been made so “dangerous” that he can’t use it normal matches. Thus, Orton is stuck in the tweener role, where he kind of has to play both sides. Seemingly, that leads to an uninterested Orton, whose promos are sub-par and in-ring product is often dull. Nights like tonight demonstrate the boundless potential of Randy Orton. Sadly, these nights don’t come around very often.
  • In an interesting turn of events, R Truth continues to be the reason to watch the ongoing feud for the Intercontinental title. Truth is absolutely killing it on commentary the last few weeks, quickly becoming the guy in this run-up that people are talking about. That’s impressive when you realize that his opponents are Dean Ambrose, Wade Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, and potentially Daniel Bryan or Stardust. This ladder match is the most likely Mania match to steal the show and even though Truth has no chance at winning, you know he’s going to have a great time out there. Truth isn’t a star, but when he gets TV time, he knows how to entertain. That’s an important trait for a WWE superstar and it’s what has given him such a long career in professional wrestling.
  • That Heyman guy can do a promo, eh? The attempt to make it feel like a “pipebomb” fell a little flat, but otherwise, that was an A+ effort from Brock Lesnar’s advocate. I love when they bring some real-world business problems into feuds and Heyman did that tonight with Lesnar’s ongoing contract negotiations. Obviously, we all know that there’s no way Lesnar will “unite the WWE and UFC belts”; however, it’s fun to get lost in the moment and entertain the thought every once in awhile. Heyman is doing everything he can to make people care about the Wrestlemania Main Event, if only he get Lesnar a better opponent.
  • It’s great to see such quality up-and-comers like Kane and Big Show get so much TV time. Wait, what? They’re both well over 40 and can barely move in the ring anymore? Seriously, how are these two still in so many segments week after week? There is so much young talent in the WWE that could really enhance the product and instead we’re treated to this garbage each and every week. Oh WWE, I really wish I could quit you.
  • I’ve never been a Sting fan and, until recently, I didn’t watch much wrestling outside of the WWE, so forgive me if what I’m about to say is completely off base. That said, I find it interesting that Sting’s first promo on WWE was pre-recorded instead of in front of that smarkie Pittsburg crowd. Does the WWE not trust Sting’s ability on the mic in front of a live audience? Again, I don’t know much about Sting, so maybe he’s notoriously terrible at talking, but you would expect he can handle himself well enough given the longevity of his career. Of course, maybe it just all comes down to money. If that’s the case, that’s too bad. Pittsburg would have undoubtedly popped huge for a Sting appearance and with just 20-some days to go until Mania, an appearance would certainly make big headlines.
  • So many questionable things happened in that segment between Rusev and John Cena. First, even though there are no refs, Cena reset his STF when Rusev was nearing the ropes. Cena, there are no refs! You don’t have to let go of the hold when he grabs the ropes. If anything, it makes you look more intense and ready to do anything for your country. Then, Lana demonstrates how limited her acting range is by being completely unbelievable when she folds and gives Cena a title shot. And finally, Cena’s face to end the segment was probably the creepiest thing I’ve seen on WWE television. I don’t know if I want to see Cena go full-on Heindenreich-crazy or what, but that segment was nothing if not eventful. I’m not saying it was good, just that….things happened. Many, many things.
  • This Undertaker-Bray Wyatt feud continues to be unimpressive. The mystique of Undertaker is gone, so this mostly just feels like a normal match with a legend putting over a young gun. At this point, Undertaker is like an older, less able Chris Jericho. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that this feud isn’t going to have the kick it seems the WWE are expecting. I’m sure it’ll be a solid match, but this buildup just feels like another example of Vince McMahon and his team being extremely out-of-touch.
  • Did Orton just give Seth Rollins the double birds? I can confirm Orton just dropped the double birds. Remember what I said about him being a more athletic Stone Cold? There you go. As JBL said, “Randy is being Randy tonight” and I, for one, am loving it. When Orton gets to go on a mercenary tear like this, it’s compelling television. That said, I wonder where they go from here. Orton already delivered his revenge on Rollins, so a singles match would be relatively redundant. Could we have a situation where Orton gets thrown in a handicap match against three or four Authority members? That has some potential; however, it probably means we’d be getting Kane and Big Show in another match, which no one wants. It will be interesting to see how this feud develops over the next couple of weeks. The best case might be a tag match between Orton and two partners against Rollins and J&J Security.
  • Closing Thoughts: That was a decent Raw in September and a terrible one for a Raw leading up to Wrestlemania. The buildup just hasn’t had that Mania feel of years past. This seems like a middling Summerslam with an underwhelming Undertaker match thrown in for good measure. At least Randy Orton made this one watchable. He’s really back on the top of his game after taking a few months off to film a movie. Hopefully his impending Mania match with some combination of The Authority can build the card up. Otherwise, the only exciting match on the docket will be the six-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Title.

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The Roman Empire (Raw Reactions, Feb. 23)

Raw, Wrestling
  • This entire Randy Orton feud that’s started to play out during the Road to Wrestlemania would be so much better if he was fighting Triple H instead of Seth Rollins. Orton and Hunter have, arguably, the most interesting history of any two wrestlers currently in the company. Triple H helped make Orton a champion while they were both in Evolution. Then Hunter got pissed that Orton had taken “his championship” and had Batista kick The Viper out of the group with a devastating Batista Bomb during the group’s celebration of Orton’s title. What followed was a deeply personal and extremely entertaining feud between student and mentor. The WWE has explored the two men’s relationship a few times since then (2003!), but it’s been awhile since they really went all out and gave these two the historical feud their relationship deserves. That feud has an opportunity to be, at the very least, comparable to Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho from 2008, which is saying a lot about Orton and Triple H’s potential. Sadly, Hunter is locked into his Mania angle with Sting and, by the time he finishes that, the window might be near closing for Orton vs. Triple H, at least for the time being. I suppose Rollins is a great consolation prize, I just want to see what Orton and Hunter can put together in a singles Mania feud.
  • JBL summed it up perfectly; Bad News Barrett has had a very bad week, which is pretty typical for mid-card titleholders in the WWE. I’ll never understand why champions are booked to be so weak in the WWE these days. I mean, you have a guy who should be the second or third best wrestler in your company (if we’re assuming that the WWE champion is your number one and the mid-card champions are two and three. You could argue that whoever’s feuding for the main strap is number two, but you get the picture) and he’s just constantly losing each week? It just doesn’t make much sense and really tarnishes the luster of those middle-tier belts. This has been discussed ad nauseam in other places, so I won’t go into more detail. It was just so obvious tonight how poorly the WWE views anything that’s not the WWE title that I felt the need to comment. It’s so sad to see the belt Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, Chris Jericho, and others made so famous reduced to this.
  • This better be a slow burn to Randy Orton just wrecking The Authority at Wrestlemania. There’s no way Seth Rollins is getting out of this one without repercussions and you have to expect Orton will abandon him tonight in their tag team match. That should lead up to a match between the two at Mania. Or at least, that’s what better happen.
  • The smarks are not going to like that segment. The WWE have taken this hard stance that “we’re going to make Roman Reigns look strong no matter what”. Both Daniel Bryan and Paul Heyman came out and spoke at length about how great Reigns is, trying to build him up for the hardcore fans. That feels like a mistake. After all, the smart fans all know that everything is a work and won’t believe for a second that DB and Heyman actually believe everything they said. Instead of trying to make Reigns everyone’s favorite wrestler, wouldn’t it be smarter to let him be a partisan champion like John Cena? Cena’s the obvious template for the Reigns character and, if he’s going to be the face of the show, he’s going to be hated just as much as he’s loved. In fact, Reigns only real chance to be universally loved is probably to continue what he started against Bryan last night. Reigns has to be the most physically dominating superstar on the card if he’s going to succeed. His matches need to almost look like shoot fight to really solidify himself as one of the WWE’s toughest star. Bryan and Heyman’s praise will only go so far, and certainly won’t get the smart fans behind the new face of the company.
  • If the UpperCats can just keep winning matches for forever, I’ll be a happy man. There probably isn’t a heel in the WWE that I love to watch more than Tyson Kidd right now, and I’ve always been a Cesero guy. Unfortunately, this title run probably ends at Mania, but a man can dream, can’t he?
  • Does The Undertaker coming back still move the needle in the WWE after The Streak was broken? Obviously, he’s still a huge name, but that mystique is gone. Will he be as big of a draw now that he doesn’t have that to defend anymore? And who goes over in this feud? Bray Wyatt needs the win, but two losses in a row could tarnish Taker’s Mania career. This is going to be a feud to watch, if only because no one really knows how it’s going to turn out.
  • The Acolyte, eh Cena? I guess it’s not just Roman Reigns that flubs all over his promos. To be fair, Cena is almost always great on the stick; I just couldn’t help but point out his screw-up. Also, it clearly looks we’ll be getting an “I Quit” match between Cena and Rusev. Unfortunately, that sets us up for a Cena victory over the Russian. However, if the WWE is serious about Rusev being the next monster heel, he needs at least one clean victory over The Former Dr. of Thuganomics. Then, you can have Cena finally win the belt at Extreme Rules; get one for America, and all that. Cena isn’t exactly known for putting over young guys, but this is a great opportunity for the WWE to change that image and let Cena put the future of the company ahead of himself.
  • That ending was unexpected. Seth Rollins screwed up and lost the main event match for Randy Orton and himself. At first, Orton seemed livid and it appeared that he would quickly turn on his Authority teammate. However, Orton showed restraint and didn’t do anything to Rollins (though he still gave Jamie Noble an RKO because if we can’t hashtag RKOOuttaNowhere what can we do?). It wasn’t the most likely outcome, but that doesn’t make it a bad one. The WWE is injecting interest into this feud by keeping us guessing. Everyone expects Orton to turn on The Authority and set up a match against Rollins for Mania. When he doesn’t do it, you’re forced to watch next week to see where the story goes. For all the struggles WWE’s creative have had booking surprising feuds over the past few months, this was a good sign for the state of the Wrestlemania card.
  • Closing Thoughts: Looking back, there’s a lot for people to hate about this Raw, especially as it relates to Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. No matter who you have come out and praise Reigns, you’re never going to get the smart fans behind him. The only way that’s happening is if Reigns demonstrates an improved in-ring product that screams “bad ass”. He began that move during Fastlane with some truly vicious strikes against Bryan. That needs to continue as we move forward toward Wrestlemania. With all that said, I thought this was actually a pretty good Raw to set up some of the stories for Mania. The WWE did a great job of building their stories without making the finishes completely obvious. That’s been a problem of late, so it’s great to see a Mania card that has some built-in intrigue. Here’s hoping the trend of solid booking continues over the next few weeks.