A Quick Word on Structure
Here’s the thing. I love this Ambrose/Cena feud. I love Ambrose as this young-gun quasi-drifter who exclusively wrestles in jeans and absolutely believe he can take on anyone in the company no matter how inflated their legacy might be. I love John Cena as the distant, vaguely annoyed soccer dad, who wants to serve as both a mentor and a competitor with a younger talent, who can’t hide his pride behind diplomacy. They opened the show with a great dueling promo tonight. Cena’s “you’re in over your head” met consistently with Ambrose’s “don’t talk to me like you’re my dad.” Great stuff!
But here’s the thing, the whole idea of this feud is that the winner of their match gets Seth Rollins.
Don’t get me wrong, Rollins is a great heel and a compelling character, but the Cena/Ambrose bad blood vastly outweighs anything else. Part of that is the mere fact that any babyface brave enough to call Cena the heel will consistently be compelling, but don’t let that undercut the pure chemistry these two have together. This lawful-good company man vs. chaotic antihero stuff hasn’t been done this well since CM Punk. Seth Rollins waiting at the end of this struggle can’t help but feel anticlimactic.
Maybe that’s all temporary though, and once Ambrose gets done wringing Rollins’ neck at Hell in a Cell we’ll return to this talking point. A little later, we’ll get to the main event, which certainly implies that there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Okay, I Guess This is Acceptable, but Barely
There were two Cena/Ambrose events tonight. The first was when (surprise!) Triple H walked out to interrupt their promo, and announced that they were going to be in a tag-team match! Everyone had a stark moment of anger, because we’ve literally been watching Cena/Ambrose tag matches for… three shows in a row now? So if I was going to watch these two face off against Kane and Orton (with a shocking DQ finish thanks to an interloping Seth Rollins!) I was prepared to drop my TV on the floor and swear off professional wrestling forever.
Luckily that didn’t happen. We still get a tag team match, but instead it’s a Triple Threat tag-team match with the Usos and the Dust Brothers serving as the other combatants.
Okay, so it’s still a tag match where John Cena and Dean Ambrose have to PROVE they can work together (which has been the storyline for every single Raw this month,) but at least we’re getting some fresh opponents. Does it bug me a little bit that WWE brass doesn’t have anything individually compelling enough for the tag division, forcing them to jam the main event picture into a totally unrelated feud? Well, sure. But this was a fun match, even if ended with Stardust eating an Attitude Adjustment. And to be fair, this was the first bout of the show, which then lead to the somewhat surprising announcement that the Ambrose/Cena Contract on a Pole(!) match wouldn’t be at Hell at a Cell, and would instead headline tonight’s Raw. That’s exciting! That’s a match with stakes! We’re moving in the right direction!
If you’re Lacking Content, This isn’t a Bad Way of Compensating
So here’s the thing with last night’s Raw: there were a lot of long, decent wrestling matches. That might seem completely insignificant if this was 1994, but the modern product routinely features fights don’t last as long as your average commercial break. Part of this might be the well-cited absences of top guys; the Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryans, CM Punks, and currently-getting-reintroduced Bray Wyatts of the world. And you know what? That’s fine. I’ll always take a house-show match with Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler over Adam Rose and the girls from The Today Show. Is it the most meaningful content? No. But who cares? RKOs! Catapults! Drop Kicks! Fun wrestling things!
To the WWE’s credit, this wasn’t just some flaccid, fireworks time-waster. They were actually approaching this fight from multiple angles. You have Cesaro, the guy Ziggler is feuding with, on commentary, reminding the world once again that despite how much we love his in-ring style, dude is going to have to learn to talk if he ever wants to main event. There’s Seth Rollins, who sulks out to the ring halfway through, essentially making sex-eyes at Orton while he slowly, steadily wins the match. After Orton gets the pin, Rollins climbs in and curb-stomps the already ailing Ziggler. More sex-eyes.
Nothing is stated outright; it’s the most subtle storytelling WWE can accomplish. They just wordlessly try to punk each other with their gaze. It’s one of the few moments where the product realizes that they don’t need any lengthy, roundabout exposition to let us know that Randy Orton is fed-up with the entitlement of The Authority’s coddled upstart. It was perfect! The tension was clear! I hope they continue their silence throughout the course of this feud, even if it takes a toll on Ziggler’s neck.
My only complaint? A few minutes later when Seth Rollins is having his equally decent match with Jack Swagger, the exact same thing happens, except it’s Orton returning down the ramp to initiate the eyes thing. Like, it was fine, but we got it the first time. At this point I know better than to complain about the WWE expecting the absolute worst from our attention spans.
Hoss Fest 2014
Rusev and Big Show have a legit, elongated match, because apparently saving stuff for the PPVs is irrelevant in the WWE Network era. A couple things. One, as was extensively mentioned on Twitter, Lana talking mess about the Braves should be considered a babyface move. Two, seeing Big Show do the tomahawk chop while he was slapping Rusev was really funny. Three, Big Show can still look big, mean, and scary when he needs to, just check the first 10 minutes of this match. Four, before he came out, in an interview backstage, Big Show said how excited he was to be in “Hot Atlanta.” Um. Dude. It’s “Hotlanta.” I guess Big Show doesn’t read 2DopeBoyz.
This match ended in DQ when Mark Henry interrupted. But like, Show was already fully entangled in the Accolade. You’d be a fool for believing that a guy this close to retirement would ever be breaking Rusev’s undefeated streak, but a disqualification while the face is in a submission hold? I don’t know, it doesn’t really fuel the fire.
A Kayfabe Stunt Double is More Over Than Someone Who Main Evented a WrestleMania Within the Decade
Damien Mizdow, more popular by the second. Would this gimmick work as well if he was mirroring someone with a modicum of athletic ability? You know, like Cesaro or something? I think part of the magic is that Miz’s limitations always force you to pay more attention to Mizdow’s phantom selling. Next time you grumble about Miz’s limited in-ring repertoire, know that it single-handedly turned someone who was previously dressing up as Magneto on a nightly basis into a cult icon.
I Don’t Know Who NeNe Leakes Is But Jeeeez
NeNe looks like she should be booked in some three-on-one handicap matches on some Goldberg business. How is Cameron going to give attitude to a woman that tall? Huge missed opportunity having her special guest appearance treated like some random valet. I know having reality stars go over full-time talent is bad, but you know, they’re still walking out to the Total Divas theme.
John Cena, The Secret Final Boss
Our finale pits John Cena and Dean Ambrose against each other in a no-holds-barred, no-DQ match. That sounds pretty exciting! Except the added Contract on a Pole stipulation. Whoever climbs up the pole and grabs the contract is guaranteed a match against Seth Rollins at Hell in a Cell. It’s also a perfect way to ensure that Dean Ambrose can go over without actually pinning John Cena.
There’s maybe five minutes of honest-to-god wrestling here, a couple fun top-rope spots, and eventually Cena is so preoccupied with punishing a randomly inserted Kane that Ambrose just kinda walks over and grabs the contract, winning the match. A fairly meandering end to what’s been an exciting chapter of pro wrestling mythology.
But there was one moment, as John Cena was about to run Ambrose into the steel steps, where something was unmistakably, consciously amiss. The Authority, Seth Rollins, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Kane and Randy Orton, were sitting ringside, and unabashedly cheering for John Cena. They wanted him to destroy Dean Ambrose. He was their pawn. John got this dark, uncomfortable look on his face, and continued his assault.
Famed wrestling writer Brandon Stroud often writes about how he thinks John Cena is the shadowy overlord of the whole company, that he’s The Authority’s true chairman, the kayfabe iron fist hiding in out of sight. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but open, sneering endorsements from a cabal of villains? It certainly feels like a nudge in that direction. The payoff to these hints are probably still years in the making, but if the WWE does cash in on the conspiracy theories, the world will never ever be the same.
Come on Vince, give us the Lost finale we deserved.