This week on Monday Night Raw, the WWE smashes their Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns action figures together like a child unsure if they want their toys to fight or kiss, and eventually settles on both.
Reigns opens the show in-ring on the mic, but is mercifully interrupted early by Daniel Bryan’s arrival. Bryan earnestly thanks Reigns for his truthfully unmotivated assistance on last week’s RAW, and in the same breath says he’s a better wrestler than Reigns and, in so many words, is going to kick his ass at Fastlane.
The Authority emerge and do their thing. Trip promos his Triple H vs. Sting promo coming later in the show; Steph burns the camera while reminding the audience WWE Network subscriptions are free this month. Then they declare a match happening immediately, Reigns and Bryan against Kane and the Big Show, acting as though they’re twisting Reigns’ arm in making him fight alongside Daniel Bryan and gain fan credibility.
More interesting than a match with two wrestlers in their prime against two wrestlers who were in the twilight of their carriers half a decade ago1 were the ostensibly fan-generated tweets scrolling along a ticker at the bottom of the screen during the match. All of them commented positively on the burgeoning Bryan/Reigns alliance, or at least on the dynamics of the forced team-up. Bryan and Reigns pick up the inevitable win, but when a post-match brawl erupts Bryan accidentally kicks Reigns in the head. ~Drama~ ensues, and Steph and Trip take the opportunity to pair the now-fighting men up again in the main event, taking on Kane, Show, Rollins and J&J security.
Mizdow loses a singles match to masked wrestler Sin Cara after multiple degrading instances of Miz interference, distracting Mizdow enough to give Sin Cara a shot at an easy pin. If this sounds familiar, last week Miz lost a singles match to Sin Cara after Mizdow interference (by way of spotlight-hogging) was distraction enough to give Sin Cara a shot at an easy pin.
And so drags on the comically long breakup foreplay precipitating the Miz/Mizdow feud’s official start. Look for a tag-team feud-related rearrangement of teams Miz/Mizdow and Stardust/Goldust, who apparently split tonight after Stardust walked out on a match with Goldust against the New Day,2 handing an easy win to the New Day. Following the match Stardust and Goldust cut a promo wherein Stardust shoves Goldust to the floor for calling him “Cody”3 again.
Speaking of tag team drama, in a match clearly meant to tie-in to some Total Divas tension, the Usos take on the objectively talented but utterly wooden tag team Ceasro and Tyson Kidd. Apparently Kidd and Jimmy Uso’s respective wives/Divas Natalya and Naomi wanted to be friends but, you know, their husbands are in opposing tag teams, so this did not go over well, which is to say Naomi and Natalya also sort of fought as the Usos and Ceasro/Kidd fought. Kidd and Cesaro distract the referee, leaving the in-ring Uso open to a cheap hit, giving the win to Kidd/Ceasro.
Triple H calls out Sting, demanding that he publicly accept his invitation to a match against him at Fastlane. Sting accepts by conveniently shutting off all the lights while the stadium plays crow caw-ing noises,4 then appearing behind Triple H, causing Trip to pratfall hilariously.
Brie Bella starts strong in her match against Paige, but as every wrestling fan knows once two wrestlers exchange a mutual slap-and-fall, it’s anyone’s game. After a simultaneous hit-and-collapse, Paige rallies, throws Brie Bella into Nikki Bella (who was standing on the ring’s lip) and picks up the win.
Twice tonight the same “Sheamus Returns” promo ran, though I honestly hadn’t noticed his absence. That’s got less to do with Sheamus’ skills than it does a card overwhelmed with mid-carders just-this-side of main event-level talent and charisma, and Sheamus’ return likely won’t help the overcrowding.
Ryback and Seth Rollins duel, and by “duel” I mean that Ryback battles Rollins and J&J security, who exist to detract from anyone enjoying Rollins’ wrestling prowess and cause matches to end in disqualifications. So it goes with this match, with J&J interrupting the match at the point of Ryback’s would-be victory and ganging up on him after the match’s non-ending.
Rusev and Cena will match up at Fastlane, as a Rusev and Lana in-ring promo reminds us, which either sets Cena up as David poised to defeat a Russian (technically Bulgarian) Goliath, or positions him for redemption at Wrestlemania. Rusev rushes Cena on stage after he arrives to deliver a retort to the “Rusev crush” bluster and smashes Cena’s head into the gigantic screen at the head of the stage and hits him in his mysteriously afflicted Bob Costas at-the-Olympics-looking eye before exiting. I sincerely hope we get a Rocky IV training montage of Cena working out in Siberia (or downtown Boston) out of this.
Dean Ambrose dispatches Curtis Axel almost immediately, but the better story is in the lead-up to their non-match. Allegedly Axel was never thrown over the top rope at the much-maligned Royal Rumble, so he was never technically disqualified. Alleging there’s a conspiracy against him getting his fair shot at main eventing Wrestlemania, Axel has spent his time on the mic in the past weeks touting #AxelMania and demanding he too gets a shot at the heavyweight title, which is played to be ridiculous but is in fact a pretty endearing little side-plot among the Royal Rumble fallout.
Dolph Ziggler and Bray Wyatt face off in easily the best match of the night. Both men play to the other’s strengths, and since they’ve both gone over as almost irrepressible forces and masters of the kick out at two-and-a-half, the match’s considerable length felt warranted rather than a slog. Ziggler busts Wyatt’s nose with a drop kick early in the fight5 giving Bray a beard full of blood that only adds to his Charlie Manson Jr. gimmick. Eventually Wyatt hits Ziggler with a wicked clothesline and follows it up with Sister Abigail, winning the match and, by my highly unscientific measurement, going over as the wrestler with the most stamina not currently main eventing.
Speaking of the main event, will Bryan and Reigns be able to use the power of teamwork in the face of an accidental kick to the head in order to win in an uneven match-up? Despite a pre-match beat down of Reigns and Bryan at the hands of the five-man Authority team, it’s apparent early in the match that J&J are bigger liabilities to their team than they are useful. Rollins interrupts Bryan nearly pinning one of the J’s, and in exchange Reigns interrupts a pin attempt on Bryan, who spends most of the match getting crucified by the Authority. Just when it looks like the Authority’s numbers and latitude to cheat spells doom for the babyfaces, Erick Rowan, Dolph Ziggler and Ryback arrive to occupy Rollins, Show and Kane6 while their inferior teammates focus on the match proper.
Meanwhile, Bryan wrestles J&J simultaneously in the ring, kicking them as the audience conveniently provides winding-up noises so J&J know exactly when to start standing up, in order to get crushed by another boot to the face. Just when victory seems imminent Reigns tags himself in off a tap to Bryan and pins one of the Js for the win. Of course the two men fight once more, Bryan now the one filled with righteous anger at having the glory of a match he largely fought and won taken from him. Reigns responds to this by spearing him in the chest and knocking him to the ground.
Will Bryan and Reigns kiss and make up, or is this the beginning of a full heel turn for Reigns? Does Fastlane have anything to do with cars outside its name? Tune in next week.
Suspension of disbelief dies the moment the booking is uninteresting. ↩
Who were once again granted time for a long introduction full of chanting and “brother” jokes; in an ideal WWE this would happen no less than once an episode, because the New Day are a joy. ↩
Stardust’s given name ↩
It can’t be overstated how much disbelief a WWE viewer must consistently suspend in order to watch the program — acting as though a stadium’s AV can be toyed with and altered by the mere presence of a wrestler, for some reason, is the one that takes me out of the show the most. ↩
Somehow carrying on despite a bleeding and probably decently damaged nose impresses me more than wrestling despite years of bodily trauma from wrestling itself; perhaps it’s because noses don’t get broken on RAW every week. ↩
Outside of an unspoken “faces stand up for other faces” code, Ziggler and co. remain at least loosely allied to Cena, who is perpetually in pursuit of the Heavyweight title. Wouldn’t his pals want the other Heavyweight contenders to destroy each other so their friend could have a title shot sooner than later? ↩