Never Underestimate the WWE’s Ability to Shoehorn Old Talent into the Show
We open the show with Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Shawn Michaels flexing their way to the ring. Hogan and Flair end up in storylines every other week, but it was cool (and semi-unexpected) to see HBK. Even better, he was working heel! Shawn Michaels entirely doubts John Cena’s ability to win his rematch against Brock Lesnar! Because this is a WWE Hall of Fame Forum (???) called to evaluate Cena’s ability to overcome the odds next month! What? Who cares! The WWE is so enraptured with their own history that it always feels a little bit special when old men come out to their theme music, no matter the silly context. Which means words dribble out of a dazed Ric Flair’s mouth just like you’d expect from a dude who has nothing left to prove. Hulk Hogan is the world’s biggest John Cena fan because Hulk Hogan is boring, and Shawn Michaels was wearing a cowboy hat. What did we learn? That these guys didn’t really know why they were on TV either, and were just doing their best to fill time before John Cena ran out.
Speaking of which, John Cena runs out! Immediately after he was buried by HBK! And truth be told, he cuts a legitimately solid promo. I always love the way Cena pauses, eyes welling with hurt, as the “CENA SUCKS!” chants overcome the arena. He didn’t do any of that “SOME PEOPLE LIKE ME SOME PEOPLE HATE ME” nonsense either, he flatly admitted that he got destroyed by Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, and next month he would return the favor. No missed beats, no chucklehead ignorance, just good old-fashioned rasslin’ talk.
And Now, a Match I’m Officially Tired Of
I used to get excited when Jack Swagger put the Patriot Lock on Rusev. For all the weird xenophobia and awkward delivery, the WWE has done a legitimately good job building Rusev into the iron-fisted monster sent from ‘80s Russia to devastate good American values. But you can only wiggle out of a signature move so many times before it stops adding any drama. Over the last two months we’ve seen the exact same sequence of events happen; Jack Swagger locks on his hold in the center of the ring, and Rusev barely squirts away to the ropes to free himself up. Last night’s match up the stakes even more, by having Swagger counter the Accolade into the lock. Rusev still escaped. Why are we still doing this?
Part of it is that Jack Swagger’s character only works in high-stakes battles of national supremacy, but you can only lose so many times before people give up on you. It’s a shame, because last night featured perhaps the best match these two have ever had against each other, but the tension was hamstrung by the fact that we’ve been Pavlov’d into immediately shrugging our shoulders whenever Swagger starts to make a run. At one point JBL, in his usual heelish sneer, begins putting over that as Americans we should be disowning Jack, and honestly, I sorta agreed with him! I have watched this thick, American farm boy loses SO MANY TIMES against this evil Russian that I’m beginning to blame him! He’s not getting the job done! Get someone else out there to try and kill the Rusev legacy! When your booking becomes so redundant that you actually get your audience to turn against a guy who refuses to tap out do to his code of honor, I think it’s time for some new ideas.
Cesaro Wading Through a Sea of Wrestling Emptiness
I’ll say this, at least they’re giving him something. It’s not been an easy ride for Cesaro these past few weeks. We’ve watched him job, we’ve watched him wrestle entirely meaningless matches to put over lesser and much lesser talent, and we’ve seen his former manager, Paul Heyman, do exactly what we thought he would do, immediately re-up with the Brock Lesnar gravy train. Tonight, Cesaro wrestles an extremely boring match with Rob Van Dam (RVD’s fault, not Cesaro’s) and learn that Cesaro will be the guy Sheamus will be wrestling at Night of Champions for the U.S. Title, the most minor of minor championship belts. Cesaro and Sheamus have wrestled before, it’s been mostly okay, and this is a feud that seems destined to boil into exactly one fun house show match, and that’s about it.
If you don’t know, Cesaro is probably the best wrestler in the WWE. That’s not hyperbole, it’s just fact. Dude can go. If you listen to over-scrutinizing wrestling fans like me, you’ll probably know that there’s a sense that the WWE has misused their best talent coming out of Wrestlemania. I mean, the guy body slammed Big Show and hooked up with Paul Heyman. That’s grounds for a legendary run, but, nah.
Cesaro will continue to dwindle in the mid-card before someone in the writer’s room says “oh man! We’re really screwing this up aren’t we?”
I’m Not Writing about This Feud until One of These Two Do Something Different
Paige beat Natalya and then there was interference from AJ Lee. Last week Natalya beat Paige due to interference from AJ Lee. I like the way Paige headbutts people, and the way she’s added a level of viciousness to her offense since she turned heel. And you know what? I did enjoy the interplay in the ring where AJ kissed Paige’s hand with a look in her eyes that could shrivel up a forest, but yeah, this is more of the same. These two say they love each other when really they hate each other. That was interesting, except we’ve learned absolutely nothing about their motivations, psychosis, whatever, other than that they both want the championship. I guess that’s fine, but when you have two deeply, deeply weird potential character arcs, it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Hey Look! Roman Reigns Remembered That He Used to be in The Shield!
So we get a hilarious “eulogy” for Dean Ambrose, who closed the show last week when his head was curb-stomped into a pile of concrete bricks to injury-angle his way out of the ring for a month so he could go shoot his movie. This is great, because the people hosting the eulogy are the exact same people who destroyed his brain, Kane and Seth Rollins. Rollins isn’t a great promo man, and his fake haughty laugh needs some serious coaching, but for the most part he does a great job being a tremendous piece of shit. But the best part is freaking ROMAN REIGNS showing up! Because he’s sick and tired of these two jokers disrespecting Dean Ambrose, you know, the guy he used to ride with up until a few months ago! It bothered me how the WWE refused to acknowledge the lineage of The Shield after they were broken up and Roman went on his babyface run, this feels like some self-correction. It sets up a Roman/Rollins match for Night of Champions, thus giving us the inter-Shield drama we always deserved. When you acknowledge kayfabe history, you give this entire universe you built a sense of gravitas. It’s something that’s forgotten all too often.
The Stupidest Heel Turn of the Year
I love heel turns. They’re one of the most exciting things in wrestling. When someone goes from good to bad, or even neutral to bad, it taps into the precarious shifts of balance that makes wrestling some of the best stuff on earth. But unfortunately my friends, this was not a good heel turn.
Goldust and Stardust are two fun-loving weirdos who talk a lot about the cosmic key and celestial pathways. For the last couple months on Raw they’ve either been cutting weird promos in a closet somewhere, or beating up Rybaxel. Going into Night of Champions, The Brothers Dust have finally been giving a meaningful plotline, which is a campaign for the tag-team belts currently held by the Usos. The Dusties won their non-title match against the Usos last week, and they win their title match this week by disqualification when one of the Usos injures his leg and can’t make it back into the ring in time. You can’t win a Title by DQ, it’s one of the oldest traditions in wrestling hype.
But for some reason, Goldust and Stardust get really mad about this occurrence, and start beating the crap out of the Usos. It’s classic heel stuff, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Let’s recap. You’ve built the Dusties into being these spaced-out hippies who’re into talking in Dr. Seuss riddles and blowing glitter into each other’s faces. The crowd loves them, because they’re bizarre, and have no tangible connection to the macho realities of wrestling.
Then, you have them come out to wrestle the tag-team champions, and get so angry about a disqualification that they start brutally disemboweling those champions in front of the crowd. They have shown absolutely no interest in the title up to this point, and they’ve shown absolutely no hint of latent animosity. So how is it that they suddenly morph from bedazzled cosmonauts to Angry Wrestling Men at the drop of a hat? That doesn’t make any sense. The WWE knows it doesn’t make any sense. But the WWE is lazy.
The only obvious answer is that Vince McMahon is so beholden to archaic ideas of bad guy/good guy rivalries, that if the Dust Brothers were going to contend for a championship against the Usos, one of them would have to turn heel. The Usos sell more t-shirts than Goldust or Stardust, so the awkward shift in character falls upon the guys who already had interesting characters. Never mind the fact that the Usos need a definitive rebranding more than anyone else in the company, let’s go ahead and squander all the intriguing banter about space mysticism on a two-bit feud built to keep the status quo for sub-Cena clones like Jimmy and Jey Uso.
I’m sorry, this just made me really mad. Let’s move on.
Sometimes Wrestling is Genuinely Funny
Oh no it’s going to be another limp Ziggler/Miz match. Oh wait? Miz says he has a stunt double? Oh of course, it’s just Damien Sandow dressed up as The Miz!
Yeah not bad WWE, you have a low win-rate on your humor, but every once in a while right?
No Steph, No Heat
Brie Bella and Nikki Bella are now in the ring with Jerry Lawler who’s “moderating” a “reconciliation” between the twins, who, if you don’t remember, started feuding back at SummerSlam.
There was exactly one good moment in this segment, which was when Nikki Bella told Brie Bella that she wishes her sister would’ve died in the womb with her. Which, damn. Like I don’t care how awkward a promo is, if you end it with a twin sister wishing that she prefers a world where she developed in her mother’s stomach alongside a stillborn corpse, that’s pretty great. Vince McMahon will always prove that he’s enough of a carney to exploit every possible gross angle.
But yeah, this was mostly bad. It was essentially one grown woman telling another grown woman that she used to kick down her sand castles when they were kids. Nikki also says she hates Brie for her environmentalism? Or something? This is would’ve been a lot better back in the TV-14 days because at least it would feel a little real, I mean wouldn’t it be great if Brie started calling her sister out on sleeping her way to the top, and then a quick cut to a shrugging John Cena?
But mostly, this story needs Steph. Steph is so much better at talking (and wrestling) than either of these women, and it should be her job to curate this story the best she can. Nikki should nestle under Steph like a cub taking shelter with her matriarch, and Brie should end every show crying bitter, betrayed tears. I can only hope we get more Steph next week.
I Literally Didn’t Need To Be in the Room
Up next is Kane and Rollins vs. Roman Reigns in a handicap match. I left the room to go make dinner, because I knew this match was ending in a no-contest DQ with Reigns standing tall at the end. And, yep!
Does it make you sad that Roman Reigns has become the most predictable superstar in the WWE? It makes me sad.
Okay, deep breaths.
I hated the main event. Of course I hated the main event. This main event existed specifically to piss people like me off. Why? Let me count the ways.
- John Cena, only a week after suffering the most crushing, physically devastating loss of his entire career, is completely no-selling any lasting damage. Apparently after being broken in half by Brock Lesnar, you can be ready to go if you miss a Raw.
- John Cena and Bray Wyatt had three great, competitive, and completely underrated matches through Wrestlemania. In each of those John Cena sold Bray Wyatt as the trademarked Eater of Worlds. It showcased the best of Cena’s generosity, and the scariest of Wyatt’s talent. But here, Cena throws him around like a helpless ragdoll. Wyatt gets maybe three seconds of offense, which is immediately laughed off by the Cenation.
- Remember Wyatt is 26 years old, he just beat Chris Jericho as clean as can be. Why, why, is being booked to job to a 37-year old, fifteen time champion? Cena doesn’t need anyone to make him look strong anymore, he’s John Cena. This is the sort of booking decision that makes you think the WWE might deserve whatever hell they find themselves in.
- The fight ends in a no-contest DQ, the worst ending in sports entertainment.
- Big Show and Mark Henry, who both have shown other interesting angles over the last few weeks, show up as essentially John Cena’s bodyguards to fend off the rest of the Wyatts. That sucks. Big Show and Mark Henry are far too engaging of personalities to be relegated into second bananas.
- Luke Harper taps out to an STF.
- More than anything else, WE DIDN’T GET A REAL MATCH. I really like watching John Cena and Bray Wyatt wrestle, when they’re actually wrestling. When it’s the John Cena Superman Show? I begin to doubt the sanctity of the entire business.
Big Show’s elbow drop was nice though. I’ll give you that.