By way of challenging Rollins to a match at Wrestlemania — and accepting the terms that he fight Rollins that night, fully aware that he will likely be attacked by everyone in the Authority — Randy “The Viper” Orton declares “I have enough venom for each and every member of the Authority.” While not the porno intro it sounds like, it is where we begin the penultimate RAW before Wrestlemania.
Rollins delineates between his betraying the Shield and Orton’s betrayal of Rollins and the Authority by calling his move a “business decision” and Orton’s “sociopathic.” Obviously there’s some traitor comeuppance on the way for Rollins, but I can’t imagine that’s why anyone will be watching Rollins at Wrestlemania. The man is Mr. Money in the Bank. Either the night of the pay per view or on RAW the next day, that briefcase is being cashed in.
For all intents and purposes, Rollins is still as much a Heavyweight champ contender as Reigns is, the man who will actually challenge Brrrrrrrock Lesnar for the title at Wrestlemania. Conspicuously absent from the Heavyweight title fight are once and future champs John Cena and Daniel Bryan. While it’s diminishing returns from Cena here on out that certainly won’t stop the WWE from using Cena until he’s a husk, and Bryan is in as much of his prime as a man recently recovered from a major neck injury can be considered to be. But it appears the WWE has decided to use their two biggest stars for an unorthodox purpose at this upcoming Wrestlemania: restore some meaning to the United States and Intercontinental titles.
I’ve previously mentioned that the U.S. and Intercontinental titles have become signs that you’re a not-quite-ready-for-primetime player, someone who isn’t main eventing and won’t be any time soon, rather than trophies in their own right. Putting Cena in a Wrestlemania match for the U.S. title against the Evil, nominally Russian Rusev — and all the jingoist pro-America “USA”-chanting rhetoric that comes with building up to such a match — imbues the U.S. title with more meaning than it’s had in recent memory. Who can argue that Cena isn’t a main eventer? If it means something to him, it must mean something, right? So far it seems to mean you can drop your country’s flag from the ceiling once you win a match with the title, so prepare for a victorious Cena and a massive American flag backdrop behind him at Wrestlemania.
The Intercontinental title is a slightly different ordeal — with as many superstars claiming their right to the title as nobility claiming the throne of Westeros, the Intercont’l title will be decided by a ladder match at Wrestlemania1 with what appears to be wrestlers in the double-digits populating the match. To remind viewers that this will almost certainly be the best match at Wrestlemania2 a three-on-three tag team match occurred this Monday.
Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan squared off against Luke Harper, a finally-solo Stardust and current Intercontinental champ Bad News Barrett, all contenders for the title come Wrestlemania. As none of the men have any allegiance to each other whatsoever, the match was a solid 70% smozz, frequently featuring “teammates” throwing their opponent over the ropes into their other “teammates.” Needless to say, it was a delight.
While Ambrose would eventually pin Barrett for the win, Barrett won the after-match Smozz, walking away with the/his title (which was passed around to several wrestlers after the match, R-Truth having stolen it before the match and brought it with him to the announcer’s table while chatting it up with them on the mic).
It could be argued that the Intercontinental title was meant to reward guys with obvious talent, but who were too physically small to realistically compete for the Heavyweight title. Of course, Daniel Bryan smashes that concept — his whole shtick is that he’s small for a wrestler and won the Heavyweight championship anyway.3 And it’s obvious Bryan will be the man to beat for the Intercontinental title — anyone who goes over Bryan, especially in a one-on-one match, goes over in a big way. Win or lose, Bryan’s appearance in this match lends the Intercont’l title (and, therefore it’s holder) relevancy that no amount of other entertaining, technically skilled wrestlers (and there are an awful lot of them in this match) could. Bryan has popularity that makes him formidable, regardless of how many losses he’s coming off when he enters the ring.
This Wrestlemania is shaping up to largely be about passing torches (Wyatt-Undertaker, anyone?) and strengthening the franchise’s weaker areas — most obviously the stakes attached to their lower-tier belts. This could be a sea change in the WWE, which is finally making more use of the talent in its stables4. Or, this Wrestlemania could go the way of Monday’s RAW.
With Orton alone in the ring, surrounded, as he expected, by the half-dozen or so Authority members, he grabs a metal chair from ringside and wields it above his head, ready for a brawl. Just as the Authority descends — BLACKOUT, CROW NOISE — Sting appears in the ring beside Orton, baseball bat in hand. Rather than take those still incredibly favorable odds, the Authority retreats, all conflict undercut by the ~supernatural~ powers of wrestling veterans too old to fight consistently in weekly matches. That’s been the pattern in the last several PPVs, and it’s very possible Wrestlemania will be no different.
Paul Heyman spoke on behalf of Brock Lesnar this week, delivering his weekly reminder that Brock Lesnar will literally murder someone on live television if he is not fed and cared for in the precise manner his instruction manual dictates. In delivering this message he calls out the WWE’s new slogan: “Then, now, forever.” While Heyman used it as a springboard to remind the audience that Lesnar is an eater of worlds to whom time is irrelevant, it begs the question: if the goal is “forever,” what’s more valuable to the WWE — then, or now?
much like how the Money in the Bank match is formatted ↩
barring another Lesnar-Rollins cross-over ↩
This is to say nothing about how wrestlers like Ambrose, Harper, Ziggler and Barrett are, while not colossuses like Lesnar, not exactly tiny dudes. ↩
Nothing on this earth would make me happier than Harper winning the Intercontinental title, and subsequently every other title available. This is a man whose catchphrase is bleating like a goat, you guys. ↩