When I began writing a weekly review of WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, back in 2011 there were two names who inspired such a practise. One of those was the straight edge, pipe bomb-dropping rebel, CM Punk and the buzz he was creating in the mainstream media for the first time since the Attitude Era. The other had created less of a buzz at the time, but had become a firm favourite of mine through a character adjustment and the adoption of one word to propel himself to the forefront of this fan’s mind.
In honour of one of those who, in my mind, helped change the direction of the WWE product, I am rechristening this review as Yes! Yes! Yes! The Raw Review for one night only.
As for the content of this week’s Raw, we got a mixture of chaos and emotion. The build to the second annual Roman Reigns-centric special, WWE Fastlane, was surprisingly light on Reigns content, AJ Styles’ still-fresh run in WWE continued to benefit two long-standing members of the roster, and some Attitude Era alumni asked a question of the current tag team division, “do you know who we are!?”
Oh, and Mark Henry showed us how hands are born…
“I am grateful” – Daniel Bryan
“Tomorrow morning, I start a new life, a life where I am no longer a wrestler” were the words uttered by a sure-fire WWE Hall of Famer last night. After tweeting the news no fan wanted to hear in the last two years, Daniel Bryan announced his retirement from competition in a WWE ring hours before this week’s show began, siting “medical reasons”.
I would usually analyse the motivation behind the things I see on Raw, but this does not feel like something to analyse. I know there are a lot of fans who feel the decision is forced by WWE in order to avoid a Benoit-esque situation in the future, but I would rather just leave it at this.
Thank you Daniel Bryan. Thank you for inspiring the name of my initial blog, the countless moments which made a now-25 year old WWE fan shout “Yes!”, and the complete dedication to stealing the show each and every night. #YEStleMania was a personal highlight, and one of a few times I’ve known how a WrestleMania would end and loved every second of it.
As a fan of pro wrestling, and WWE, I am grateful to have enjoyed the career of Daniel Bryan.
“I swear to God, before this night is over, I will get Brock Lesnar!” – Dean “Fucking” Ambrose
The road to WWE Fastlane has been surprisingly entertaining despite the obvious route the powers that be are going to go down after Fastlane. Perhaps the most predictable part of this is that WWE World Heavyweight Champion-elect Roman Reigns is featuring very little in that exact same build.
The main focal point in the last few weeks has seemingly been Dean Ambrose, and while I have no problem with this it seems to be yet another temporary measure to protect Reigns before he more-than-likely gets jeered by the Dallas crowd at WrestleMania 32.
Tonight’s episode of ‘Dean Ambrose: Lunatic Fringe’ saw the Brock Lesnar/Ambrose saga continue, and showcased Ambrose as a fighter who could “take a licking and keep on ticking” from WWE’s resident Beast. It is a really interesting way to build to Fastlane, as many would have guessed Reigns would continue his battles with Triple H to try and get the fans invested in Reigns as a legitimate threat to The Game. The fact is that this could be the B-level feud in the build to Fastlane, since there is already a six month story to feed off of. The problem is obvious though, as it gives away the finish to the Fastlane Triple Threat to some extent.
As a result of this, the Triple Threat match build has seen Reigns very much in the shadows and firmly established all three contenders’ major characteristics for two weeks’ time.
Brock Lesnar: The near-unstoppable Beast. Much of the Triple Threat will be dictated by Lesnar and many trips to Suplex City.
Dean Ambrose: The fearless Lunatic. Ambrose will be the focus of Lesnar’s assault, and refuse to stay down. He will be the fans’ choice to win, and win the sympathy vote via his Mick Foley-esque ability to get up no matter what.
Roman Reigns: The obvious winner. Much like The Rock dethroning Kurt Angle as WWF Champion at No Way Out 2001 to lead to the classic versus “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-Seven, Reigns will obviously leave the Triple Threat as the Number One Contender. His role in this build is no coincidence, and he will be unseen for much of this match.
The seeds for more Ambrose-frustration lay in the foundation of this Triple Threat match, and it seems more likely that the Lunatic Fringe will play a role in the WrestleMania main event with each consecutive week.
On the bright side of this obvious build, Ambrose is getting an awful lot of exposure as a main event talent and will likely begin his own climb to the top in the next twelve months, completing the always inevitable trifecta of Shield-themed WrestleMania moments.
I just hope we get THAT Triple Threat at WrestleMania 34.
AJ Styles, The Miz, and Chris Jericho
Three-way feuds seem to be popular in WWE right now, and the mid-card fracas between the “Redneck Rookie” AJ Styles, “Y2J” Chris Jericho, and a resurgent Miz is one of the better ones on the card. Unlike the main event scene, there are more than one instances of character development.
The obvious development of AJ Styles into being a “WWE guy” is the main point of having him feud with Jericho (who seems to be the modern-day safe pair of hands, much like X-Pac was for the 1999 debut of Y2J), but I hadn’t expected a heel turn to be in the works for the veteran Jericho. It seems needed as Jericho is often asked about his many returns with reference to “Y2J” being stale, but has never revisited the 2008-era Jericho which is fondly remembered as a great heel. The slow build and teasing for the turn makes for great television too.
What is most surprising about this rivalry is how it has drawn in a superstar who has been in need of a solid run for a long, long time.
The Miz was arguably a transitional WWE Champion during a dry spell in WWE’s writing room, but he got to that pinnacle by being a fantastic and loath-able heel. During his ten-year tenure in WWE he has had a Cody Rhodes-like tendancy to make his character work no matter what, and I believe he deserves another chance to make a run at a major title.
My main cause for this is the timing of his first run as champion. At the time WWE seemed to be looking to find its feet and ultimately found them in the now infamous CM Punk “Pipebomb” and following “Summer of Punk”. Miz, despite his run as WWE Champion being a fresh change from the then-popular John Cena model, is often forgotten for his efforts as a heel.
Fortunately, it seems WWE are starting to see some value in the heel tendencies of The Miz again, and throwing him into the middle of the AJ Styles/Chris Jericho tension offers a chance to play antagonist.
Despite being a third wheel in this rivalry, he has the most to gain. Jericho will remain a thought by the fans regardless of how he ends this feud, AJ will continue his slow climb to potential main event status, and The Miz could propel himself back into a major place on the card if he can steal the spotlight for any length of time.
Also, kudos on breaking two teeth and continuing his match on SmackDown.
“Do you know who we are!?” – Bully Ra… Bubba Ray Dudley
There have been rumblings of a Dudley heel turn in the last few weeks, and it may have tipped me off during the Dudley/Usos segment this week. I half saw the betrayal coming, and I love the idea of heel Dudleyz in 2016.
The idea is well-established that Bubba Ray is a great heel, arguably the best heel for a year during his TNA Aces & Eights run, and it refreshes a duo whose return has been dampened as of late.
The true mark out moment for this whole segment was hearing Bubba delve into his inner-Bully Ray repertoire and ask the Usos “do you know who we are!?”
I think the real question here is, “do you know what we are!?” in reference to their face/heel alliance.
WWE has hit the road running in this year’s Road to WrestleMania in this fan’s opinion, and actually knows where they want to go.
That is not to say I am a fan of everything that seems to be in the works, most notably the Roman Reigns ascent to WWE World Heavyweight Champion. But this is in no way a bad thing.
As WWE fans, we cannot expect to love everything presented to us, as the product tries to reach two major demographics. I am usually unsettled by the booking of a WrestleMania main event towards the younger end of that spectrum, but WWE is hitting all of the right notes with this build. An undercard which promises to develop some younger or underutilised talent is strangely intriguing.