I’m a writer, and I’m good at it. A group of experts gave me a piece of parchment that proves it. And, as a writer, I appreciate things in the media I consume. Things like character. Symbolism. Narrative.
There’s a lot that goes into entertainment and art, but I’ve found from an early age that solidly-written character and narrative, with some good dialogue and maybe a bit of decent symbolism thrown in, is central to what I really enjoy. And, as a writer, I’ve had to get a good understanding of all of these elements, mainly because my Ph.D. supervisor was loathe to sign off on my political novel ending with Godzilla being declared Prime Minister after consuming Nigel Farage.
What I’m getting at in a roundabout sort of way is that WWE needs to get its act together in terms of storytelling. I don’t object to Wyatt losing the Championship, which I’ll argue it was far too soon for him to hold in the first place. I do, admittedly, object to the method, namely handing the title over to an old man who has spent two of his last three matches proving that his repertoire consists of two moves, at least one of which he’s not able to perform with a 100% success rate. I also object on purely moral grounds to this all happening in Saudi Arabia, but that’s a whole other article.
Taking the title from Wyatt and giving him his first loss were both things that would have eventually needed to happen, in this case at the same time. But it could have served a purpose. It could have been part of a 2-3 month storyline, starting slowly before erupting into an emotional, pulse-quickening sprint as we roared full-speed towards WrestleMania. Handled properly, the crowd could have been brought to a fever-pitch as the Fiend made what I still hope will be an otherworldly entrance, and whoever dethroned him would be established for the foreseeable future following a single program. It’s been done before, and far more quickly. We all knew that Drew McIntyre was a badass, but it was the second it took for him to blast Lesnar clean over the top rope in the Royal Rumble that stamped “WrestleMania Main Event” across his forehead. Him beating Lesnar served a purpose. Rollins beating Lesnar clean in the centre of the ring served a purpose, even if WWE went on to handle that with their very own brand of incompetence. Lesnar beating the Undertaker at WrestleMania served a purpose that’s still getting some mileage out of its message today: Brock Lesnar is our angry, terrifying God, and anyone who even gets him on the ropes is the real deal.
This whole thing might be salvageable. If Goldberg is handled properly, shows up week in and week out, and helps put together a well-written, emotionally-charged storyline with (let’s face it) Roman Reigns, then even his inability to move his body in a way that suggests “intimidating physical opponent” might not totally ruin SmackDown’s main offering to WrestleMania. On the other side of the coin, if the Fiend’s response to his only real loss (how on earth do you end a Hell in a Cell without a pin or submission) is to go absolutely mental, like Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson and every monster from Courage the Cowardly Dog ran a train on Myra Hindley and Wyatt was the result, then I think it could work. Find some wrestlers who want out of the company and make it look like Bray legitimately murdered them; WWE can tell the audience that AEW is the eighth level of hell if it helps sell the illusion. If he’s built up strong, starting around about right this second now, then Goldberg’s ego and McMahon’s love of tired old men might not ruined another one of Bray’s excellent characters.
But my prediction? Cena will beat Bray at WrestleMania, followed by a match where Goldberg is conquered by Roman Reigns, both of whom will be booed audibly throughout.
You might realise that I’m not exactly enthusiastic about this segment
And we start off with Goldberg because I’m not allowed to get through one of these reviews without cracking open something from my bar. Today’s anaesthetic of choice is a red wine that’s hopefully strong enough to mute my general outrage at the fact that this decaying lump of muscle and concussion has the Universal Championship over his shoulder, but I will absolutely beat myself around the head with the bottle if necessary.
The crowd’s booing him, which I hope hurts the old man emotionally. If I was getting the kind of money that he’s getting for what’ll end up being around ten minutes of physical activity, I’d not give a damn what anyone thought of me, but then again I’m not a professional wrestler.
Goldberg gets on the microphone, which is never his best move but probably one he can perform better than the Jackhammer these days. He says that it’s not about who was last, but about who’s next. I really hope that whoever’s next is last, Bill, because the only enjoyment I get from your matches any more is from the anticipation that you might finally have that massive heart attack.
And Roman Reigns’ music plays. Jesus Christ, have these people heard of organic storytelling? This is the most apathetic, “might-as-well” build I’ve ever seen in my life. At least we can see if Roman can get cheers purely as a result of him opposing Goldberg. My hopes aren’t high. The man literally beat cancer and people were telling him that he sucked a few weeks later.
The crowd doesn’t seem all that thrilled as the two men silently stare into each others’ eyes with what I’ll assume is passionate lust. Then Reigns says “I’m next” and leaves. Michael Cole calls it a “goosebumps moment”, and I’d like to take this opportunity to call Michael Cole “a worthless waste of skin”. Corey says that this sort of moment only happens in dreams. In my dreams, Corey, I’m usually running away from some kind of twenty-legged monster with my mother’s face and the voice of my childhood priest, and it’s weirdly preferable to this.
And throughout the evening we’ll be getting clips of John Cena’s career. The first one, of course, is that clip of him taking it to Kurt Angle and getting the rub from the Undertaker afterwards. God, I miss those days. I assume that there were plenty of problems with WWE back then, like racism and the terrible treatment of women in wrestling, but I was about twelve years old and blissfully unaware of any of that.
Lacey Evans can’t wrestle
And if you liked Thursday’s match between Naomi and Bayley, then you’ll hopefully like it even more without both women being forced to cover up their entire bodies in order to conform to the standards of a misogynistic theocracy.
Both ladies get in the ring, and Bayley doesn’t want to wrestle. That suits me, to be honest. She gets on the microphone, saying that this is ridiculous and that she already beat Naomi. Instead of fighting, Bayley reintroduces us to Sasha Banks, who gets a better reception than either Goldberg or Roman Reigns.
As Naomi is distracted by the sight of a single woman walking slowly towards her, Bayley jumps her and begins the beatdown. Naomi manages to fend her off with some kicks, taking control and hitting the Rear View before Banks breaks up the match.
I’m really in no mood, so not seeing a repeat of a match I put up with under sufferance on Thursday suits me down to the ground. 1 Star.
Oh Jesus, Lacey Evans is here to make the save with her veteran status and her lack of wrestling ability. As the male referees ineffectually try to separate the brawlers, the female ref makes this a tag team match.
One bottle of red wine is not going to be anything like enough.
The heels charge at the faces, with Naomi hitting a single-leg dropkick and Lacey sort of jumping vaguely in the air and flailing her legs. And then she tries to vault out over the ring onto Bayley, which she also messes up. At this point, my factual statements about the quality of Evans’ wrestling are starting to feel like bullying. That’s how bad she is at it.
When we return, Sasha Banks and Bayley are beating down Naomi, utilising some double-teams and frequent tags to remain in control. This goes on for a while, with Naomi making what I guess you could call “spirited” attempts to escape while Sasha or Bayley smack her around while occasionally making hurtful comments. My enthusiasm for WWE isn’t exactly sky-high right now, so you’ll forgive me for not going into close levels of detail.
Naomi finally manages to deck Bayley and stagger Banks with first a jawbreaker and then an enzuigiri to tag in Lacey Evans. The Sassy Southern Incompetent kicks both heels around before Naomi tags herself in, taking Bayley out with a flying crossbody. Banks sends Lacey out of the ring, then stalls Naomi with a backstabber. Lacey drags her out of the ring for a brawl, and Naomi randomly rolls Bayley up for the win.
I would actually pay money to ensure that Lacey Evans never became Women’s Champion. 1.5 Stars.
The New Day are backstage, and they run into Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler, the latest victim of Mansoor’s reign of dominance in Saudi Arabia and literally nowhere else. Kofi’s facing Roode in a match that should at least be decent.
The next clip is of Cena’s first World Championship win against JBL. I liked this moment – loved it as a kid in fact – but I can’t believe that they’re not showing his United States Championship victory from the year before where he lifted the Big Show up onto his shoulders. Is it because he cheated to win that match? Because that just made me like him even more.
Shall I compare thee to a Dolph Ziggler? Thou art more wasted and more sleazy-looking
Robert Roode makes his way to the ring as Corey and Cole argue about him “stealing” Mandy from Otis. It’s nice to know that women still have no agency post-Women’s Revolution. I say nice; it’s actually really horrible, but I guess that’s WWE.
Anyway, Kofi shows up and the pair get to wrestling, both men struggling to gain control in the early stages. Kofi’s speed and athleticism allow him to stagger Roode in the early going, but the former US Champion is able to muscle him into the corner, chopping him across the chest before catching him with a monkey flip. Kofi lands on his feet, taking Roode down with a dropkick.
Roode hits Kingston with a few strikes, but Kofi manages to knock him out of the ring with a back elbow. A distraction from Ziggler allows Roode to pretend that he’s been thrown into the steps by Big E, causing the ref to eject him from ringside. That’s the first time I can remember seeing that little trick, and I’ll admit that it’s quite a good one.
After the break, Roode is in control of Kofi, having grounded him with a headlock. Mandy Rose is watching this backstage, which we’re probably supposed to read a lot into but I personally don’t care about. Kofi starts fighting his way back into the match, but Roode makes it tough going, remaining dominant with a suplex. A missed dive is the window that Kofi needs, however, and he grabs hold of the opportunity, striking Roode from every direction before hitting him with the Boom Drop.
Trouble in Paradise is ducked by Roode, but he’s not able to avoid a crossbody from the top rope that almost finishes the match. Roode counters the SOS, reversing the move into a full nelson slam. Now Roode wants a superplex, but Kofi fights him back down to the floor, missing a dive of his own before running into Roode’s spinebuster, only just kicking out at two.
The Glorious One stalks Kofi for the DDT, who reverses it into the SOS, and Roode is only saved by Ziggler putting his foot on the ropes. As Kofi argues with the ref, Roode rolls him up to finish the match.
This was competent, though I’m getting very bored of Ziggler despite his excellent in-ring work. Hopefully Otis literally eats him and he’s never heard from again. 2 Stars.
Mandy is still watching the screen backstage, where she’s been joined by Sonya. DeVille refers to Dolph as “your man” to Mandy who, if she had any self-respect, would challenge Sonya to a duel in response to that provocation.
In the locker room, Tucker is trying to talk some sense into a despondent Otis. His advice is that Otis should move on, which is an excellent decision in real life but a very boring one for wrestling.
Wow, we’ve already reached the Rock vs. Cena Part II in this little clip show. What, no Team WWE vs. the Nexus?
Braun Strowman is not a clever man
Renee Young is in the ring to officiate a contract signing between Braun Strowman and Shinsuke Nakamura, which gives her the same moral standing as an arms-dealer in WWE. People are going to get hurt and Renee Young is making sure of it.
Nakamura and his entourage arrive first. I’m just glad that Shinsuke’s okay following his head hitting the grand piano last week. It was an awesome spot, but it should never have been okayed in the first place. At the very least they should have had a fake piano that they could go straight through for the more impressive visual. Renee then introduces Strowman, who marches to the ring. It’s amazing how much like a regular belt the Championship looks on Strowman’s waist. He’s also got a new haircut that it seems fair to refer to as the “white trash” or, if you prefer, the “poorly-disguised bald spot”.
Renee is trying to rush through this actual signing, because there has to be a prize for whoever manages to finally have a contract signing in WWE without bloodshed. But then Sami starts talking and Braun hurls a chair out of the ring. So…maybe tonight’s not the night. Zayn says that they’re sick of being mistreated, particularly those members of the group who got put through a grand piano last week.
I mean, understandable.
Braun tells Zayn to shut up, saying it doesn’t matter what’s in the contract because he knows that he’ll be fighting all three of them anyway. He then says that he doesn’t even need to read the contract before signing it, which he does. By which I mean he signs it and also really does need to read that or any contract before signing it. If Strowman has a lawyer, which is admittedly unlikely, he’d be slamming his head against the wall right now.
And then Sami says that if Strowman really doesn’t mind fighting the three of them, then he’ll change the contract to make it so. He adds a bit of text to the contract, which can’t possibly be legal, and then Shinsuke signs it, apparently making the Championship contest at Elimination Chamber a three-on-one handicap match.
Sami tells Renee to take the contract backstage to the notary, which is the kind of worldbuilding I never knew that I needed in WWE, and tells Strowman that he’s going down. Braun gets up and batters both Cesaro and Nakamura, though the numbers game turns against him immediately. Cesaro and Shinsuke hold Braun up in the corner for two Helluva Kicks, then Nakamura blasts him with the Kinshasa before the three of them put Strowman through the table.
Honestly, I’m just giddy that we got to see Zayn hit some Helluva Kicks and we’re getting him in a PPV match next Sunday.
If Cesaro gets the pin and becomes Intercontinental Champion as a result, then that match gets infinite stars.
We recap Roman Reigns and Goldberg’s meeting from earlier, then it’s announced that the match has been made for WrestleMania. Yeah, I guess that a number one contenders match or really any kind of obstacle for Roman to overcome would be ludicrous, considering he could literally walk to the ring, say two words and be given a Universal Championship match at WrestleMania. I mean, it’s not like it’s a big deal or anything.
I hope the pair of them get booed out of the building.
We then get a clip of another old man showing up and beating a major talent for no reason other than money and, I assume, because it’s the next best thing to viagra. Yes, it’s the Undertaker beating AJ Styles with one terrible chokeslam. The saving grace here is that he didn’t go for the Tombstone Piledriver and thus probably injure Styles. If this ends up being a WrestleMania match, then I’d advise Styles to refuse to take the move at all and get some incredible health insurance.
I’d have popped for a Perfectplex
Here’s Daniel Bryan, who is facing…Curtis Axel? I mean, it seemed like there was a program ready-made with Drew Gulak there, but I guess that would make too much sense from a narrative perspective.
Oh, Drew Gulak is on commentary. Fair enough: WWE is able to provide a link between events that happen from week to week. I’ll try my best not to gush too much.
Anyway, Axel manages to put up a ridiculous amount of offence against Bryan as Gulak talks smack about Bryan’s wrestling strategy.
Bryan finally begins his comeback, but Axel fights him every step of the way, looking more dominant than he has been in years. Daniel’s able to counter a Perfectplex at the last second, turning it into a LeBell Lock for the tap-out win.
It is weird that Axel got in so much offence, but I’ve really got to be grateful for the fact that this match reminded everyone that Axel is a competent wrestler that can put on an entertaining contest. If this is built on, which it won’t be, then this could be a storyline that does everyone involved some good. 2.5 Stars.
The next Cena clip is of him beating AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble, which was a great match but not the one that everyone remembers.
I’m sure that two guys who drove drunk are responsible enough for that dangerous finisher
The Miz and Morrison are here in their capacity as new Tag Team Champions. The Miz mocks the audience for not giving them a “you deserve it” chant, then the pair of them crow for a while about having proved all the naysayers wrong – standard heel fare – and apparently that’s it. They’re just here to have a celebration.
And then a referee informs Greg Hamilton that the Miz and Morrison’s first Championship defence will be against the New Day, Lucha House Party, the Usos, Heavy Machinery, and Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode in the Elimination Chamber. Yeah: that match deserves a Chamber far more the match to determine a number one contender to the Universal Championship.
I mean, if we were going to have a match before announcing the number one contender, which we didn’t.
Anyway, the Usos arrive for a match against the Miz and Morrison and I just…don’t…care. Nothing has grabbed my attention for this whole night, and I really doubt that that’s going to change over the foreseeable future.
The heels are in control, knocking Jimmy Uso around for a bit. Jimmy finally does fire up, tossing the Miz out of the ring and knocking Morrison down with an enzuigiri, but Miz is able to drag Jey off the ring apron, with Morrison capitalising with a Disaster Kick to Jimmy.
After a commercial break, Jey’s just tagged in and is going up against the Miz, whom he flattens in short order. A Wrecking Ball misses and a Samoan Drop is countered, with a quick tag to Morrison allowing the heels to take control. But the Usos can play that game too, with a blind tag to Jimmy putting Morrison’s back against the wall momentarily, but Jey’s splash attempt sees him land across the Friday Night Delight’s knees.
Morrison tries to take the fight to Jey, but he’s caught on the top rope. Morrison fights off both Usos, but another blind tag and a kick to the face mid-Starship Pain allows the Usos to take control, hitting a Canadian Destroyer off the top rope followed by a splash. I’ll give it six months before that move cripples or kills someone.
That was a decent match, but that finisher is a tragedy waiting to happen. 2 Stars.
Cena wants to make way for the future until he doesn’t
John Cena’s music hits, and the crowd goes…pleasantly enthusiastic, I guess. It might just be the sheer level of Cena saturation in my WWE experience, but it really feels like he’s not been gone for more than a week or so. Big Match John runs to the ring, grabs a microphone and asks for a bigger and bigger reaction from the crowd: the wrestling equivalent of a “please clap”.
He says that it’s time to answer the question of what he’s doing at WrestleMania, as if there was tremendous interest in the topic. Apparently Cena will be doing “something different” because he’s aware of how much all WWE superstars want a WrestleMania moment and because he listens to what the WWE Universe wants. Which, to be honest, makes a nice change from the old days of him beating literally everyone forever and ever, amen. Cena says that he knows we’re passionate about the future of the WWE, and so is he. Is this leading up to him challenging Goldberg to a match right now and then killing in the ring? Because Cena getting arrested and convicted of murder in order to save WWE from itself would be the greatest end to any wrestling career ever.
More wrestling legends should be willing to commit murder in the service of WWE is what I’m saying.
Having got the crowd firmly behind him, Cena says that he’s going to do the right thing, and that is letting WrestleMania go on without him. Good God, I never thought I’d see the day. I mean, sure: someone’s about to attack him and give him a match, but I’ll take what I can get right now. Cena says that he’s betting on the future and reiterates that he’s sitting this one out, God bless him.
Cena then thanks the crowd graciously and leaves the ring, stopping to shake hands with some little kids. There’s like a minute and a half left to go and…there it is. The lights go down, and then we see the Fiend standing behind Cena in what is objectively a great visual: solid camerawork there.
Cena turns to look at the guy whose career he helped ruin, and then the Fiend points at the WrestleMania sign. The worst part is that I’m not even that interested. Cena says yes, making his whole speech about making way for the future meaningless, particularly if he wins.
Tags: bayley, Braun Strowman, Braun Strowman vs. Nakamura Cesaro and Zayn, Bray Wyatt, contract signing, Curtis Axel, Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan vs. Curtis Axel, Drew Gulak, Elimination Chamber, Friday Night Smackdown, goldberg, Intercontinental Championship contract signing, John Cena, John Cena vs. The Fiend, Kofi Kingston vs. Robert Roode, Lacey Evans, Lacey Evans and Naomi vs. Bayley and Sasha Banks, Miz and Morrison, Miz and Morrison vs. The Usos, naomi, Number one contender, Roman Reigns, Roman Reigns vs. Goldberg, sami zayn, sasha banks, Saudi Arabia, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown, Super Showdown, Tag Team Championships Elimination Chamber, The Fiend, the usos, Three-on-one handicap match, wrestlemania, WWE