Tuesday, 11 March 2014 00:05
By: Todd Martin
Date: 03/10/14 from Memphis, TN.
The Big News: Daniel Bryan launched Occupy Raw, netting himself a match with HHH and the opportunity to be added to the title match if he wins.
Why, hello. Rob’s out of town for the week. And with it being WrestleMania season and all, I decided to take up the offer to fill in. First time in 22 months. Can you believe it? The last time I did one of these, Barack Obama was president, the Redskins were coming off a last place finish and Memphis Bleek was one hit away. Ah, how times change. So, let’s do this. Rob will be back next week. Hulk Hogan came out to start the show. As one would expect, he got a big reaction with lots of signs in the crowd. He claimed to have been watching his match with Andre the Giant on the WWE Network when he came up with a big idea for WrestleMania. He announced a 30 man battle royal at the show for an Andre the Giant memorial trophy. I’m always in favor of the big multi-person match to get as many people as possible on the biggest show, and the Andre tie-in is a nice way to link to the past and give added importance to the match.
John Cena came out. He embraced Hogan and said that it is good to have Hogan home. He put over the Hogan vs. Andre match and said he wants to be in the battle royal. Before he could get an answer, the Wyatts came out. Bray said that he is fascinated by pride. He labeled it his favorite sin, with the power to blind even the most powerful men. He accused Hogan and Cena of being liars who prey upon the weak and fill them with hope. “Hope is dead,” he said. Well, you couldn’t have expected to him to live to 110. Bray labeled himself a god.
Cena asked if Wyatt even listened to his own crap. He noted that Bray just said that pride is the fall of man and then proclaimed himself a god, which is a pretty damn good point. Cena said he doesn’t see a god but a homeless guy. He started singing Jimmy Buffett and cracking jokes. He challenged Wyatt to a match at Mania. Wyatt said it is always fun and games with Cena until he is caught in the spider’s web. Nah, I’m pretty sure he’d joke his way through that, too. The Wyatts approached the ring as they went to a commercial break.
John Cena beat Erick Rowan in a short match. The match was in the ring when they came back. Hogan was in Cena’s corner while Wyatt and Luke Harper watched from the ramp. This was a strange little bout. Rowan dominated pretty much the whole thing. He hit a pump handle back breaker, elbows, a fall away slam and applied a bear hug. Then Cena just abruptly rolled him up for the pin. This was awfully sloppy at points. After the match, they teased Rowan and Harper would attack Cena and Hogan, but Bray called them off like they did in the Shield/Wyatts teases. Cena and Hogan proceeded to pose in the ring together. Cena was clearly having a blast.
HHH and Stephanie McMahon came out for a brief statement. Stephanie said that last week Daniel Bryan viciously attacked HHH and then suffered the consequences when HHH laid him out with a pedigree. Stephanie said Bryan’s actions are grounds for termination but they will lead by example and apologize. She said there is value in the Bryan brand, albeit not as much as A+ brands like Randy Orton, Batista and HHH.
Stephanie said they won’t fire Bryan as long as he returns the favor and publicly apologizes to them. That seems reasonable. Stephanie said it is time for Bryan to admit he isn’t man enough to be in the ring with HHH. Stephanie said HHH is above Bryan professionally, figuratively and literally. The New Age Outlaws then came out and greeted HHH and Stephanie warmly on the way to commentate the next match.
The Usos beat Ryback and Curtis Axel in a fun short match. The heels briefly worked over Jimmy. Jey got the tag and hit a clothesline, low kick, Samoan drop and running butt to the face on Axel. He gave both Ryback and Axel crescent kicks and then tagged back in Jimmy as he hit a plancha to Ryback on the floor. Jimmy then hit a splash off the top on Axel for the win.
Backstage, Kane reprimanded Shield for having problems. Dean Ambrose asked if there was a point. Kane replied that Shield has been a valuable asset in the past and he wants to know if they will be one in the future. He said that they started showing cracks when they lost to the Rhodes brothers so they will face the Rhodes brothers again to see if they can exorcise those demons. Rollins was cool with that but suggested Kane is trying to deflect focus from his repeated losses to Bryan. Kane told them to step up. Ambrose said they would, like they always do. Reigns added that they will get rid of any demon that gets in their way. This was one of those overly scripted WWE segments that feel fake and unnatural as a result.
Big E beat Jack Swagger. Swagger dominated the match and basically just worked over E. Big E did have an inset promo where he talked about wanting to win the WrestleMania battle royal. Swagger was in control when he became angry at Cesaro for not interfering behind the referee’s back. Swagger turned his back on his opponent to yell at Cesaro and was rolled up for the pin. That was a lame finish. Cesaro laughed at Swagger and a furious Swagger got in his face. Zeb Colter said they were both at fault and ordered them to shake hands. They shook but Cesaro squeezed hard before releasing.
Undertaker made a long entrance into the ring. Before he could say anything, Paul Heyman interrupted. Heyman put over the streak, noting how many of the WWE’s biggest all time legends couldn’t win as many as five WrestleMania matches in a row while Undertaker has reached 21. He asked Undertaker not to face Brock Lesnar. He said that if Taker takes the match, Brock will end the streak that means so much to the fans.
Undertaker’s face was lit so that you couldn’t see it very well at all. It looked almost like a cartoon, presumably to hide his age as much as possible. It worked in that regard. Taker called Heyman Lesnar’s messenger boy. He said he had a message for Lesnar. Undertaker said that the fear of death is far greater than the death itself. I don’t know about that. He added that the fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all. Taker told Heyman to let Brock know that if Brock shows up, Brock will rest in peace. This was a good segment. Heyman in particular did well with his role. It wasn’t a big angle by any means (and shouldn’t have been given they had plenty else planned) but did a nice job of advancing the story.
Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns beat Cody Rhodes and Goldust in a great match. If there was a downside, it was that the crowd was disappointingly flat, particularly at the beginning. But the work was just tremendous, with all sorts of different moves, great build and excellent execution. The Shield worked over Cody early. Cody got the tag and Goldust came in with clotheslines and a spinebuster on Reigns. Goldust used a top rope crossbody on Reigns and Rollins and then sent them both out of the ring. Goldust and Rhodes hit simultaneous dives to the outside as they went to a break.
Coming back, Shield dominated Goldust. Reigns hit a leaping kick to the face that looked really impressive. Goldust hit a powerslam and got the tag. Cody hit a springboard dropkick on Reigns and moonsault on Rollins for two. Cody followed with the muscle buster on Rollins but Reigns broke up the pin attempt. Reigns speared Goldust out of the ring. Cody threw Reigns out of the ring and went for the crossroads on Rollins. Rollins got out. Cody then went for the disaster kick but Rollins caught him and power bombed him into the corner. He then hit a sort of modified curb stomp on Cody for the pin. That was a really good finishing sequence.
The Bella Twins beat AJ Lee and Tamina Snuka. Natalya did commentary. The heels worked over Brie. Nikki tagged in. AJ went for the widow’s peak but Nikki countered into the shock treatment for the win. After the match, Nikki posed with the title. Natalya got on the apron to look on.
Next up was quite the segment. Daniel Bryan came out and said he didn’t think Stephanie’s apology was sincere. He accused Stephanie and HHH of trying to scare him. Bryan added that if HHH lays his hands on Bryan, Bryan is going to fight. Bryan said he won’t apologize for standing up for himself and that it ends tonight. He vowed to make Hunter listen and announced Occupy Raw.
Bryan said that he wouldn’t leave until he got his match with HHH at Mania. He then had a bunch of plants all wearing the exact same Daniel Bryan t-shirt come out to fill the ring and ringside area. They all chanted yes together. This was so goofy and inorganic. And the more the plants all chanted together in unison, the less you saw the people in the actual audience doing it. Even the most unobservant fans have to notice the irony in a supposed protest movement so obviously comprised of WWE selected participants wearing identical WWE merchandise. It had all the populist authenticity of a Michael Bay biopic about Woody Guthrie.
HHH came out to mock this display. He told them all to get out or they’ll be arrested. They all yelled no and HHH only had two security guards so he was powerless. Bryan suggested they could all go out into the parking lot and they could have Raw in front of an arena of empty chairs. HHH ordered the show to go on. Damien Sandow came out but the fans blocked the ring so he left. Poor guy never got his match, either.
Stephanie and HHH came back out. Stephanie began shrieking that she owns Bryan and the fans. She ordered them out. Bryan said they wouldn’t get their show back until he got his match. HHH said that he likes Bryan and has been protecting him. HHH posited that he wouldn’t fight Bryan for Bryan’s own good because HHH will end Bryan. HHH told Bryan to be careful what he wishes for, because Bryan will get his match. HHH at least was very good here. Bryan then said that isn’t all he wanted. He demanded that he be added to the Orton-Batista title match if he beats HHH. HHH flipped out and was held back by the two security guys. HHH agreed to this.
Sheamus beat Christian in a Memphis street fight. Fans got to choose the stipulation with the street fight winning handily over a falls count anywhere match or 2 of 3 falls match. They had guitars and a drum set at ringside, because apparently street fights in Memphis are fought in music stores. They fought around ringside. Sheamus tried to hit Christian with a guitar but missed. Christian threw Sheamus into some other guitars and they all broke apart in hilariously easy fashion. They fought to the stage, where Christian pushed Sheamus off the ramp and hit a tornado DDT off the stage to the floor. That was an impressive spot and they went to break.
After break, Christian hit Sheamus repeatedly with a kendo stick. Sheamus came back with a knee lift and rolling fireman carry slam for a near fall. He hit white noise for another two. He hit his punches against the ropes and a powerslam. Sheamus went for the Brogue kick but Christian left the ring. Christian tried to crotch Sheamus, but Sheamus pulled Christian into the post. Sheamus hit the Irish curse back breaker off the steps to the floor.
In the ring, Christian hit Sheamus with a chair, placed two chairs on Sheamus, and hit a frog splash off the top. He covered but Sheamus kicked out at two. Christian flipped out and grabbed a drum. Sheamus hit the Brogue kick through the drum for the pin. This was a fun match. They needed to go a long time without a ton of fan interest in the issue going in, but they absolutely pulled it off.
Backstage, Brad Maddox told Randy Orton and Batista that the A+ players need to work together to take out Daniel Bryan and Big Show. Orton said that he was willing to make it work but Batista just walked off. Lana and Alexander Rusev came out again after this and spoke in a foreign language.
Luke Harper in a backstage vignette said John Cena made a big mistake. Bray Wyatt said that he is not of this world. He teased that Hulk Hogan’s present is John Cena’s future. He didn’t really spell out what he meant by that but one can figure. He accused Cena of being every bit the monster Bray is. Bray said that underestimating him is the most foolish thing Cena will ever do. Bray accepted the match for Mania. He said Cena is the one with everything to lose and sung that time is on his side.
Daniel Bryan and Big Show beat Randy Orton and Batista. The heels worked over Bryan at first. Bryan got the tag to Show, but the heels quickly took over on Show. Show then made the tag back to Bryan. Bryan came in with kicks on Orton but missed a top rope head butt. Orton rolled up Bryan but Bryan reversed into the yes lock. Batista broke that up. Big Show took out Batista with a kick but Orton gave Show the RKO. Orton was setting up for the RKO on Bryan but was speared by Batista. It was ambiguous who Batista was targeting. Bryan then gave Batista the busaiku knee. He went for another busaiku knee on Orton but missed. Orton gave Bryan the draping DDT and went for the RKO, but Bryan countered into a backslide for two. Bryan then hit the busaiku knee for the win.
I very much enjoyed this show overall. It had two excellent matches and a few other good to very good ones. The Cena/Wyatt and Undertaker/Lesnar build was solid. And they pulled the trigger on the right championship picture for the show. WrestleMania feels stronger coming out than it did going in. On the downside, I thought the most important angle of the show hit the wrong notes. WWE has a continuing issue with coopting fan movements in a way that undermines their original power and basic identity.