Now that we’re on the service road to the road to Wrestlemania, it’s time for everyone in the WWE to declare how tough they are, and how they will all win their matches at the Royal Rumble at month’s end.
John Cena opens the show by asking the crowd to tweet #AuthoritySucks, because he is the human embodiment of whack-ness. No sooner has Cena requested the audience’s #online #engagement than the Authority swoops in to call Cena a crybaby, and then announce a lumberjack match, Cena vs. Seth Rollins for the chance to reinstate the jobs of recently-fired Cena allies Erick Rowan, Ryback and Dolph Ziggler.
A “lumberjack match” is a fight wherein the ring is surrounded by wrestlers who work for the Authority and hate John Cena, so when Seth Rollins exits the ring they defend him from harm, and when Cena exits the ring they gang up on him, beat him, and throw him back in the ring. Unsurprisingly Rollins picks up the victory over Cena after lumberjack Big Show uses his overpowered knockout punch to, you know, knock out Cena. Ziggler and co. continue to be “fired,” because there is a pay-per-view coming up at the end of the month and that’s how deus ex machinas work.
MIC MVP of the night: Paul Heyman. Always Paul Heyman.
MOST IMPROVED: Roman Reigns, who apparently received healthcare and acting lessons in equal doses during his medical leave.
THE SADDEST THING THAT HAPPENED: Someone in the crowd eschewing WWE signage traditions like “HI MOM” or “I AM SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO THIS WRESTLER IN PARTICULAR” for the sobering “RIP KATIE.” RIP Katie 🙁
Steph McMahon takes the Usos and Dean Ambrose aside backstage, claiming she knows and Usos are pro-Cena and reminding Ambrose that he’s perennially feuding with the Authority. Ambrose’s punishment is a psych evaluation by a fake “abnormal psychiatrist” she produces from hammer space, which, if Ambrose fails, would prevent him from wrestling. This leads to a series of promos where Ambrose eventually out-shrinks the shrink, tricking him into clearing him mentally fit for wrestling, and serves primarily as vehicle for making jokes at the Authority’s expense.1
The Usos aren’t directly punished for their thoughtcrime, but Jimmy Uso’s wife Naomi is instead set to fight with one arm tied behind her back in a handicap match/light SM ritual against Alicia Fox. Fox, who has become the Divas go-to heel, was recently added to the cast of the E! network’s Total Divas, which may explain said recent go-to heel status. Midway through the match — in which Naomi does an excellent job making it seem competitive by single-handedly bashing Fox’s head into things — replacement announcer Booker T admits defeat, asking “Can someone tell me what the Usos did?” Apparently one of them tweeted some criticism of the Authority or something equally petty, though the focus on the match was on Naomi’s light bondage and Fox’s recent reality promotion rather than the Uso/Authority feud. Despite impressive wrestling from Naomi, Fox picks up the inevitable victory, pinning her one-armed opponent. Next time, use a safe word.
The other Divas match tonight was between Total Divas anchors the Bella twins (Brie Bella, in this instance) and another go-to heel and new Total Divas hire Paige. Synergy! Vertical integration! #Branding!2 Brie beats Paige over a ringside distraction from Paige’s pseduo-partner Natalya’s husband Tyson Kidd.
PROMOS THAT INVOLVED FIGHTING:
Big Show cuts a promo in the ring reminding the crowd that he is a very large man, and also that he thinks Roman Reigns is a weenie. Reigns emerges sometime after Show declared the crowd “losers,” causing Show to scurry out of the ring to the top of the stage in a highly un-weenie-like manner. Reigns takes the mic and compares himself to Jack of the Beanstalk, noted giant slayer and goose-pilferer, and ends his allegory with a definitive “No, you’re the loser.” Reigns is much improved on the mic but wow, does the PG rating hurt this show’s #content.
Luke Harper enters the arena to be the one to actually battle Reigns, so this is where we pause to say Luke Harper is a joy. He’s huge, he’s shockingly agile, he has an increasingly interesting move set made of satisfying clotheslines and dropkicks, and he loses in the best match of the night to Roman Reigns.3 Big Show cuts Reigns’ victory celebration short by, again, hitting him with a knockout punch.
Later in the night Dean Ambrose, free after his “psychiatric evaluation,” interrupts a Rusev promo informing the audience that he, too is a large man who plans on winning the Royal Rumble. The Ambrose interruption becomes a match, albeit with an “injured” Ambrose (his knee) from last week’s ambulance match loss to Bray Wyatt. Ambrose seems like the most likely candidate thus far for breaking Rusev’s undefeated streak, though an official called the match off (citing Ambrose’s knee after Rusev spent most of the fight targeting the injury) before a definitive winner emerged.
“Positivity” and “too positive” are the WWE’s new code words for “Black” and “too Black.” Relatedly, the harbingers of positivity the New Day (with Kingston and Woods fighting) defeat Cesaro and Tyson Kidd, despite Adam Rose’s attempt at interfering on Kidd and Cesaro’s behalf.
Miz and Mizdow topple the Usos in a match that sees Mizdow’s copying-the-mix antics increasingly overshadow the Miz during matches, going so far as leaping onto the ropes and off again, certainly hurting himself, to mimic a hit Miz took moments earlier.
NXT call-ups the Ascension again fought and won a tag-team match against nameless jobbers, acting like housecats who “killed” a toy mouse. Why the allegedly-dominant tag team hasn’t been let loose on foes with things like “talent” and “names” remains unclear.
SIGN THE CONTRACT, BIG BOY:
Brock Lesnar makes an appearance in the ring in order to sign the contract for the triple threat Heavyweight Title4 match, accompanied by manager Paul Heyman. Lesnar and Heyman take issue with Rollins re-instating the Authority and turning the Lesnar/Cena belt match into a triple threat, as he’s liable to double-cross Lesnar. In an promo earlier that night Heyman and Lesnar inform Rollins the two men will team up against Cena, take him out, then fight it out for the belt; in the final contract signing promo, Cena tells Lesnar they should team up against Rollins, take him out, then fight it out for the belt.
In the ring, Rollins is accompanied by J&J security and the Authority, Lesnar is accompanied by Heyman, and Cena is accompanied by the crushing guilt of his three fired comrades. As all contract signings do, this one ends in chaos — Lesnar suplexes Rollins and Cena, Cena AA’s Lesnar through a table, and Rollins finishes both men with a curb stomp.
From here on out, we just slouch towards the road to Wrestlemania.
The best joke comes at the beginning of a “free association” rorschach-esque test, to which Ambrose responds by immediately screaming “THURSDAY!”, clowning the WWE commercials for the new Smackdown timeslot. The second best joke is Ambrose calling Kane “toothpaste.” ↩
Does the WWE use RAW to promote their Total Divas stars to the RAW audience so they tune into Divas, and/or does Total Divas exist to draw that audience to RAW? ↩
This match was also a highlight for Booker T, replacing the ailing Jerry “The King” Lawler at the announce table. As a lifelong Mets fan, King reminds me of Keith Hernandez in the booth – not doing nearly the amount of work his co-hosts do calling play-by-play or expanding upon existing narratives, occasionally so adrift in conversation he’ll say something that makes so little sense his co-hosts have to rapidly change the topic just to dig him out; yet despite all that both Hernandez and King manage to be the most charming guy at the table and occasionally provide a lucid thought or two. Booker T can’t hope to fill King’s role exactly — like Hernandez’s drunken mastery, King’s bumbling enthusiasm is impossible to replicate. Still, between JBL’s role as Authority straw man/guy that enjoys the sight and smell of blood the most and Michael Scott’s pencil-neck dedication to fairness and perennial pro-babyface stance, one imagines it would be difficult for a new man to find a middle ground to straddle without seeming like a flip-flopper, or to consistently side with either man without becoming redundant. Wisely, Booker T appears to have decided the answer is to actually call some play-by-play while Scott argues with JBL, and it works. ↩
“The Only Title That Means Anything Anymore!” (TM) ↩