We’re past Fastlane, which was better than that PPV has any right to normally be, and on the final stretch of the Road to WrestleMania. WWE has four weeks to develop, pursue and finalise storylines for the biggest show of the year. It might sound daunting, but my government (the possessive determiner here used in the loosest possible sense) has sixteen days to sort Brexit.
The lesson here is that it could always be worse, working under pressure doesn’t work for some people, and you shouldn’t trigger Article 50 before you’ve worked out a fucking Withdrawal Agreement.
That last one might sound situational, but I’d hate to think that I hadn’t prepared you, my readers, for the harsh realities of contemporary politics.
Shane McMahon: the least-racist McMahon
The show starts with Shane McMahon, whose actions on Sunday night were met with shock from the WWE Universe and malevolent glee from yours truly. I’d also like to draw everyone’s attention, for the nth time, to what a worthless father the Miz has, able to sit and sometimes stand there, face seized with an expression of mild bemusement as his own son cried out in pain, bare feet from him.
I won’t say that this fleeting insight into the Mizanin household answers for some of the terrible things that the Miz has done during his time here in WWE, but it paints a more complete picture of the man, and that picture is Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son with more Intercontinental Championship matches.
Shane absorbs the lukewarm hatred of the crowd in a taciturn manner, because the only moments Shane McMahon feels emotion are the seconds after he’s leapt off something tall and doesn’t yet know whether this is the stupid stunt that’s going to kill him. He then ushers a ring announcer into the ring and has the man announce him as “The Best in the World”. That title is very encompassing, in my opinion. Best in the World at wrestling? General managing? Consecutive suicide attempts on live television?
Yet Shane seems to find that there has been something lacking in the ring announcer’s performance, and I can tell because he grabs the man by the tie and growls unintelligibly. Mattell’s CEO is already on the phone, I just know it. He insists that the man “say it like he means it”, emoting and method acting being a huge, huge part of pro wrestling ring announcement. The announcer tries to it again, but everyone’s a critic, and Shane McMahon is the kind of critic who grabs you by the face and yells at you to do it even better, which is exactly what he does here.
The worst bit is, you can actually discern the difference in quality between each of the announcer’s attempts, meaning A) he was half-assing it at the start and B) physical abuse is a valid motivator in a professional work environment. B A Star, WWE.
Shane finally gets to the point of this segment, which is spelling out his motivations in big, clear letters lest the average WWE viewer actually be forced to infer something. And his motivation was: he was sick of everyone trying to use him to get ahead. The crowd is chanting for Kofi, whether in support of the man himself or in the hopes of moving to a more interesting storyline; either option is possible.
But McMahon Junior ploughs on, trying heroically to portray the tragic plight of a man born into a billion-dollar business. According to Shane, The Miz was representative of decades of people depending on his support to further themselves; it’s uncertain what Miz’s father is supposed to represent aside from horrifying neglect. Shane says that he is the Best in the World because he was born that way, making that tournament in Saudi Arabia seem more fixed than the average professional wrestling event.
So now Shane is giving into the typical McMahon instinct of being an real bastard to everyone and everything. Then he says that Miz’s father has a “big potato face”, causing me to pause the broadcast to laugh that one out. Don’t fucking make him say things like that if you want me to hate him, WWE. Shane describes his assault of the Miz like it was his own sexual awakening, both of which are examples of stuff that Shane McMahon is too old for now. And now he’s hooked on the dizzying high known as “beating the fuck out of the Miz” that John Cena and Randy Orton kept telling him about for all those years, so he’s going to get another taste of it at WrestleMania.
If this match doesn’t end with a weeping Miz beating Shane and his own father to death in the centre of the ring with the Best in the World trophy, I truly don’t know what WWE is thinking.
All of these teams are better than the Miz and Shane McMahon
Here’s Aleister Black, with his Wallace and Gromit spring-loaded coffin. This is an eight-man tag team match, otherwise known as “peak SmackDown”. Everyone else gets jobber entranced, but the teams are the New League of Nations/International Bar Association/Jobbers Without Borders vs. Team Tattoo/Team NXTreme/The New Meat and the Obsolete.
It’s Nakamura, Rusev and the Bar vs. Ricochet, Black and the Hardys.
Shinsuke and Aleister start the match off, clearly looking to continue their concussion arms race, but Black quickly tags in Ricochet for flips and giggles. Matt now enters the match before the pace gets too exciting, and the heels bring in Sheamus. High off their Hate Crime match victory on Sunday, the Bar pick apart Jeff Hardy, combining frequent tags with giving Jeff a few smacks (the use of the words “smack” and Jeff Hardy in the same sentence is entirely coincidental; Jeff actually prefers opium, cocaine, steroids and vicodin, according to police reports).
Rusev tries to put Jeff to sleep, but if it ain’t opium or a Randy Orton match, then it ain’t working. More frequent tags from the Foreign Four, but Jeff finally hurls himself in the vague direction of his corner, allowing Ricochet to enter the match and dispel the suspicion that the broadcast was moving at half-speed.
The One and Only bamboozles Rusev with offence that would make Spider-Man mutter something about showing off before the villains take control with some vague cheating and then there’s a commercial break. When we come back, Sheamus has Ricochet in a sleeper hold, which I’m willing to believe was all that happened during the commercial break. And then Cesaro tags in to fuck everything up and allow Matt Hardy to unleash his mild fury, then we get some nostalgia offence from Matt and Jeff.
Finally, the younger athletes realise they’d rather be unconscious than watch the Ghosts of Tag Teams Past’s performance, so everyone kicks everyone else in the head like concussions are this month’s must-have fashion accessory. Jeff hits a Twist of Fate to Nakamura, then hits one to Cesaro before heading up for a Swanton. It connects, but the Quadruple Alliance all pile in to make the save.
Matt and Sheamus get up and keeping punching each other, starting a real trend as everyone starts fighting before the New Day rush the ring and fuck up every white man, face or heel. And Nakamura, just because. Shinsuke eats a Shining Wizard from Woods, then Kofi lays Rusev out with Trouble in Paradise. Somewhere, the Nation of Domination are smiling.
I’m over the Hardys in a huge way, but if the New Day were going to flip the metaphorical table like this, I’m glad that the match itself got to run for a while: far more impact that way. 2.5 Stars.
Backstage, the Usos still can’t remember whether they’re faces or heels: it’s Big Show Syndrome. They hint that they want the Hardy Boyz at WrestleMania in what will be less a competitive match and more a ritual sacrifice, only with superkicks instead of chanting.
The Legend Killer, The Viper, The Landlord
And here’s Randy Orton. I assume that this is about the Phenomenal Forearm from AJ Styles on Sunday, which would be outlandishly hypocritical considering that the event in question happened seconds after Orton RKO’d Elias. And at least Styles and Orton had actually interacted before AJ took him out; Orton’s attack on Elias was carried out with all the emotional distance and lack of motivation of a hitman.
By which I mean an assassin, not a wrestler who writes an autobiography whining about how everyone in the world mistreated him and can’t wrestle as well as he can.
Orton takes issue with AJ claiming ownership of the house he claims to have built, possibly for insurance purposes. His main beef appears to be that AJ Styles hasn’t been here all that long, being in the indies and Japan and TNA whilst Randy Orton’s been here since 2002, which is why the WWE Universe is so dreadfully, thoroughly tired of him.
AJ arrives, because you can’t expect Randy to be in the ring for too long without someone to stomp, headlock or sleeper hold. He joins Orton, noting the creepy attention to his career that Randy must have paid to get all the details right. He says that he’s proud to have come from the independent scene, where Orton would never have made it. He says that Randy was tailor-made for the WWE: harsh words in the pro-wrestling circuit.
AJ says that there are plenty of indie wrestlers in the WWE now: they are legion. He says that Orton’s always had help, whether from his Dad or Evolution. Orton gives a rundown of his legacy, stating that he’s headlined every PPV including WrestleMania, giving you a real notion of how many times Michael Cole must have said “vintage” over the past decade.
Styles lists all the teams that Orton was a part of, including the Wyatt Family: less a team and more a horrifying display of gaslighting and abuse that culminated in BRAY WYATT’S HOUSE OF HORRORS. I guess the point Styles is trying to make is that Orton needs to be paired with other people to look good, or that he uses people to stay on top and then RKOs them, depending on how meta your outlook is.
Randy finishes by calling himself “The Landlord” and tells Styles “rent’s due, you son of a bitch”. Is it bad that I can picture this gimmick being a real thing in the Eighties? Orton then tells Styles to make the cheque out to “RKO”, which is a real sign that Orton isn’t great at finance. But then Styles says he’ll only pay up at WrestleMania, which is also terrible financial practice.
Maybe wrestlers just aren’t good with money.
Nice to see a Champion being put to good use like this
Oh wow, Asuka’s alive. For a while she was like Brock Lesnar, only with a varied moveset and less appearances on TV. She’s facing Sonya DeVille, here representing the side of Fire and Desire that belongs in the ring with Asuka. The headline from Fastlane is that Mandy Rose is accident-prone and Sonya is paranoid that Hornswoggle still lives under the ring.
The match begins with some tussling before Asuka tries for an ankle lock. Sonya answers with some kicks, which the Women’s Champion returns in kind. The next Mixed-Match Challenge should team Sonya with Aleister Black, Asuka with Shinsuke and the finale would be an exercise in brain damage.
Sonya channels Goldberg, spearing the holy hell out of Asuka. The Champ’s still not finished, striking back at DeVille before elevating Sonya right into a knee to the face. Sonya ducks out of the ring, then dodges a baseball slide from Asuka, which strikes Mandy. Sonya bundles Asuka back into the ring, but then Mandy pulls at the ring apron, causing DeVille to lose her footing and get walloped right in the skull before Asuka applies the Asuka Lock, forcing Sonya to tap out before she passes into the void.
Sonya continues to improve, and at least she’s getting a feud now, even if WWE has faith in Mandy’s ability to be a major player despite her still-present awkwardness in the ring. 1.5 Stars.
You can just tell that Sonya thinks there’s something fucky going on here, but she doesn’t make anything of it just yet: Mandy Rose is the sort of psychopath who’d try to wreck your marriage over a grudge. I’m sure she’ll get around to it before WrestleMania.
The IIconics film a segment in which they make the valid point that if Sasha and Bayley are the Women’s Tag Team Champions, they need to show up on SmackDown as well. I’m still not used to having sensible words come out of IIconic mouths.
Becky Lynch was the Higher Power behind Ronda’s attack
Here’s Becky Lynch, and she throws her crutch away in way that makes it seem like she might have been faking an injury for all this time. Considering how unnecessarily convoluted this angle has been, I’d not even be surprised if WWE pulled that.
We see a recap of Ronda Rousey leaping between face and heel like Big Show Syndrome has become airborne (unfortunately, the ability to deliver a promo competently is not one of the side-effects of Big Show Syndrome). Becky says that it feels great to not be injured, just in case the WWE Universe is having a hard time empathising. She reviews her frankly insane journey to get back to where she was way back in January, so I guess WWE is still weirdly proud of themselves for that one.
Becky claims responsibility for tricking Ronda Rousey into attacking her on Sunday, which seems to rely on an absurd number of factors. But, then again, needlessly convoluted. Charlotte Flair then arrives, saying that she’s been putting in all the work in this feud and that this is her main event. She claims to be the greatest female wrestler in the world, forever and ever, amen, which is why Vince could just stick her into the match with zero explanation.
Charlotte attacks Becky for getting hand-outs for doing nothing, auditioning for her eventual run as a Republican congresswoman. Becky fires back, saying that Charlotte did nothing with the division but keep herself on top. She says that they don’t need a Queen, but the Man.
You could really misread that statement if you were feeling mischievous.
And then Becky drops the microphone and she and Charlotte stare each other down like that was the natural end to a conversation, let alone a wrestling show segment.
Kayla is hanging around outside the McMahon Family office on the basis that Vince might put her in the WWE Championship match if it meant keeping Kofi down. Bryan and Rowan suddenly emerge from the room whilst showcasing the WWE Championship “Autumn Flannel” collection. Kayla demands answers, like the only reason they could be in boss’s office is for nefarious deeds or some clandestine affair. I don’t know, Kayla; maybe they needed to talk to their employer?
Bryan tells Kayla to mind her own beeswax, but this lady’s not for turning. She asks whether the meeting was about Kofi Kingston, and Bryan states that it was, but remains mum on whether it was about the WWE Championship match or just your average everyday hate speech.
Mocking Eddie Guerrero activates Mysterio’s trap card
Rey Mysterio is here to team with R-Truth against Samoa Joe and Andrade, because this quartet can do no wrong. Andrade and R-Truth start off, with El Idolo being frustrated in the early going by the former US Champion. Rey enters the ring, allowing the two luchadors to pick up their rivalry. Mysterio puts Andrade in position for an early 619, but Joe tags himself in, slamming Rey against the canvas before tossing him into a commercial break.
When we come back, Rey’s still not having a great day at the office, which is a fun way of saying that Joe’s trying to rip his arms off. Truth comes to Rey’s aid, but then leaves him to face some hot Latin punishment from Andrade. Andrade goes for the Three Amigos, pausing before the final one to mock Eddie Guerrero some more, and he just triggered the fuck out of Rey Mysterio, because he gets his ass flipped into a powerbomb.
R-Truth tags in, heading right into the the Greatest Hits of John Cena. An Attitude Adjustment is thwarted when Joe tags himself in, and he takes out Truth before Rey collides with him in a missile dropkick. Both Andrade and Joe are put in position for the 1138, both men eating the move before Rey frogsplashes Andrade. Truth and Rey really are the “Now That’s What I Call Wrestling” albums of SmackDown Live.
Joe breaks up the pin with a back senton, only for Rey to counter the ura-nage and roll him up.
Obviously a solid match from these guys, even if it lacked the chaos of a Fatal Fourway. 3 Stars.
Samoa Joe takes out both R-Truth and Andrade after the match, because Samoa Joe does not process disappointment easily.
Mustafa Ali needs to stop jumping into other moves
Kevin Owens is here, fresh from his brush with announce table-related death. He’s teaming up with Mustafa Ali to take on Bryan and Rowan, pitting the might of Canada and Middle East against Mother Earth herself. The WWE Champion and his snarling, sleeveless gimp make their way to the ring, and if you’re not counting down to the New Day trying their damndest to kick off a race riot, then you and I think about things very differently.
Owens and Bryan pick up from where they left off at Fastlane, Owens still playing the face in what I still believe is the most low-effort prank in history. Bryan peaces out quickly, tagging in his rescue Wyatt to savage Owens. This works up to a point, that point being when KO slams a boot into the side of Rowan’s head, allowing himself time to tag in Mustafa Ali.
Ali soars through the sky into Rowan’s arms, who catches him as neatly and safely as Nia Jax doesn’t. Ali slips out of his big, safe arms, playing evasion until he runs right into a brick wall made of hipster Viking. Bryan now tags in to take advantage, planning on butchering Ali and then using every part of the carcass in an environmentally-responsible fashion.
After a break, Ali’s situation hasn’t improved unless he gets off on getting hurt and dominated by two hairy men. Because if he likes that, then he must be in paradise. Bryan locks in the LaBell Lock, but Mustafa manages to get to the ropes, forcing a break. The WWE Champion continues to beat on Ali, who suddenly breaks out two hard dropkicks, leaving Bryan laying. Ali crawls over to Owens, gets caught by Bryan but catches him with a backstabber.
Rowan breaks up the pin, causing Owens to take issue with him and relay his frustrations by superkicking him in the face. Ali gets in on this, and they channel the Usos with stereo superkicks rather than, say, by almost crippling Sasha Banks with an incredibly sloppy Samoan Drop. Rowan is sent out of the ring to try to remember who he is and why he feels like he should be holding a huge hammer; Owens follows him and ends up being thrown into the barricade as Rowan’s Bludgeon Brother instincts take the wheel.
Ali is left fighting off two men as Rowan tags in, and the big man catches the cruiserweight for a terrible face-chokeslam to end the match.
This was fine. Not sure what the road ahead holds for Owens and Ali, though there should be something worthwhile for them to do at WrestleMania. 2 Stars.
Ouch: Rowan doesn’t even have his own theme music anymore. Apparently he calls the move the Iron Claw, and that’s missing an opportunity to call it the Bamboo Claw or the Plastic (Made From Renewable Components) Claw.
And as Bryan and Rowan wander off to have a kale ale or a cauliflower cocktail or to double-team Brie Bella, Vince McMahon swagger-strut-strides out to the ring to edge ever-closer to the line without actually crossing it.
This got pretty close to the knuckle
Vince starts off by saying that he’s here to give us what we want. I’m not enthused, as this man thought we wanted Randy Orton vs. Batista at WrestleMania 30. He says that he’ll give Kofi an opportunity to compete at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship. There’s still a lot of wriggle-room in those words.
He shows us how he masterminded the organised beating of one of his black employees by two white Europeans on Sunday, and dear God, it’s worse than I remember. I have to hand it to WWE: I know what they’re doing here, and even I was hoping that Kofi could somehow make it through.
Vince says that he never actually said “Kofi Kingston is in the WWE Championship match”, because he’s a student of the Monkey’s Paw school of wrestling management. He says that everything he does is a “teachable moment”, which is a interesting way of saying “racist, misogynistic or in some other way terrible”.
Before Vince can get any further, the New Day arrives. We’ve got ten minutes left, and if most of that is Vince getting putting in a wheelchair by these guys, I’m on board. The New Day say that they’ve been loyal, hard-working and always willing to go the extra mile, but get nothing for it. Big E says that Kofi Kingston deserves a good deal more, and Vince refutes that by saying that no-one deserves anything: not even him.
Big E says that this is bigger than Vince thinks it is, and Woods says that maybe no-one does deserve anything, but if that’s the case then Kofi earned something by everything he’s done. E claims that the WWE Universe demands that Kingston be given his opportunity, which the crowd agrees with vocally. Vince, however, is unmoved, speaking directly to Kofi and telling him that if he was worthy of a WWE Championship match, then it would have happened a long time ago.
McMahon continues to say that Kofi’s great and all, but the only way he’ll be in the Hall of Fame is as a part of New Day. Jesus, Vince. The Chairman keeps on damning Kofi with faint praise, finally saying that Bryan called him a “B+ Player”. This understandably gets the New Day riled up, but Kofi stops them, finally speaking up. He says that he’s had a wonderful life and career doing everything he’s done, but the problem is that Vince still doesn’t think that he’s worthy compared to far newer faces.
Honestly, I’m more into this than the Daniel Bryan pre-Mania build.
Kofi says that he’s never complained, and all he wants to know right now is what he needs to do so that he can do it. Before Vince can say anything, Randy Orton comes out, and Vince says that all he needs to do is beat Orton…and then Joe comes out too…and the Bar. Good God. Oh, and Erick Rowan. Holy shit: he does have his own entrance music.
The heels rush the ring, but the New Day take them out, hitting everything that moves as the show comes to an end.
Tags: AJ Styles, Aleister Black, Asuka, Becky Lynch, charlotte, Daniel Bryan, Erick Rowan, Kevin Owens, Kofi Kingston, Mandy Rose, Mustafa Ali, Randy Orton, Ricochet, Ronda Rousey, rusev, Samoa Joe, Shane McMahon, shinsuke nakamura, Sonya Deville, The Bar, The Hardy Boyz, The Miz, The New Day, the usos, WWE