Rather a lot’s happened in the span of a week, which has culminated in the news that Roman Reigns has taken the sensible and completely understandable step of not taking part in WrestleMania this year on account of his less-than-stellar health record and him not wanting to die: the bastard.
And while we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief that any desire we felt for Goldberg vs. Roman Reigns won’t come at the price of a man’s life, it does leave us with something of a question mark hanging over the Granddaddy of Them All: an extremely large question mark which occasionally screams for a protracted period of time and that appears to be drawing inexorably closer with each passing moment.
The WWE does, at least, have options. Braun Strowman could quite easily be slotted into Reigns’ place, playing the Giant or the Kevin Nash to Goldberg’s…well, Goldberg. Nakamura’s another option, with a narrative being written around Big Beardy Baldy Bill’s predilection for introducing his skull and the brain it guards to solid objects at every opportunity and at a speed approaching Mach 1, and that narrative would be “Goldberg murdered via Kinshasa, no flowers upon request”.
There is also the option to place Cena vs. the Fiend on the first night of WrestleMania, with the winner going on to try to wrest the Universal Championship out of the hands of a part-timer, though potentially into the arms of a younger and slightly-less-bald part-timer. If there was ever a time to turn Cena heel, embracing the hate six years too late and cheating to topple Goldberg and become – finally – a seventeen-time World Champion is definitely a decent opportunity. Wyatt getting his win back would be another direction to go, for all the good that it might do in the long term.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that WWE could go full pants-on-head, pencils-up-their-nostrils bananas and book Matt Riddle vs. Goldberg. I’d watch that; I’ve spent the last several days of my quarantine watching Sense and Sensibility, Howard’s End, and North and South, and I would turn off any of those classics in a heartbeat in favour of watching Riddle erase Goldberg’s memory of his own family’s faces through what brain surgeons refer to as “a shitload of knees to the skull”. I would also massively enjoy Keith Lee getting shipped in to wreak his own athletic brand of havoc, mainly because I’d like to watch Goldberg’s mind try to rewrite physics to explain his opponent in real-time.
So, there are some of our options, ranging from the competent to the dangerously amazing. I wonder how WWE will play it.
We are, once again, in the Performance Centre, America’s proposed sacrifice of the elderly to the stock exchange apparently cutting no ice with COVID-19’s exponential growth. At the end of civilisation and, perhaps, even time itself, Michael Cole will still be there, broadcasting and commentating whatever he can find as his tenuous grip on sanity slackens and slips, most of which will be fights between two raid survivors he’s contained and is now forcing to battle each other for medicine (“Vintage weeping amputee!”)
Tonight’s particular flavour of fiddling while Rome burns will be the New Day vs. the Usos to determine who’ll be facing Miz and Morrison, as well as Alexa Bliss vs. amateur commentator extraordinaire, Asuka. They’re also showing us Roman Reigns vs. Triple H, I guess to reassure us that there are worse things than death and that one of those things is WWE’s obsession with ramming the Big Dawg so far down our throats that our toilets have to bump for a Superman Punch.
In another timeline, Dana Brooke was part of this segment
First up tonight, however, are Bayley and Sasha Banks, who will be in action at WrestleMania against each other and, apparently, anyone else who wants some. There’s a haunting feeling at seeing the graphic of that match, which now no longer bears any mention of Dana Brooke and has been requalified as a “Fatal 5-Way Elimination match”. On the other hand, there’s also the sense that if Lacey Evans and Tamina were forced to drop out too, the quality of the match would skyrocket. You’ll note that I’m not suggesting letting certain wrestlers die to improve the overall health of sports entertainment, and that’s because I’m not a Republican.
Michael Cole is still trotting out the propaganda that WrestleMania is “too big” for one night, despite them making Elias vs. King Corbin last week in a move that is morally comparable to genocide.
Bayley and Sasha also repeat this lie (Elias vs. King Corbin), which is arguably one of the most villainous things they’ve done. Once they’re done pretending that a global pandemic isn’t really that bad, they turn their efforts towards abusing Paige: something that we can at least find some common ground on. Bayley is trying to convince both herself and Sasha Banks that their friendship is as strong as ever, which is like watching someone undergo Stockholm Syndrome directed at themselves.
Before things can get awkward – more awkward, that is, than downplaying a global pandemic with a death toll in the tens of thousands – Lacey Evans arrives. She’s not dressed to compete, which is automatically the best thing that I can say about Lacey Evans. She drawls random southern morality at Sasha and Bayley, who head back to the whole “we have an irrational hatred of your child for some reason” well. Damn it, ladies, that woman’s a mother, not to mention a veteran.
I mean, WWE has mentioned that a couple of times.
Naomi arrives, and which allows me to play my favourite game of “imagine what Lacey Evans is thinking but is trying desperately not to say”. I should say now that I have no evidence whatsoever that Ms. Evans is anything but a tolerant and progressive human being, but I’ve been stuck in quarantine for almost a week on account of my flatmate suddenly coughing a lot and having trouble breathing, so I’m getting my entertainment wherever I can find it, and part of that is in reading Lacey Evans as a closeted racist because…well, find me a character in WWE who better fits that role who isn’t called “Lars Sullivan”.
Anyway, Naomi claims that she and Bayley have unfinished business, which is one way of describing challenging for a title and losing because of a misogynistic theocracy. Bayley desperately tries to end the segment before Tamina is summoned, but she’s too late, and Tamina officially ends her streak of being in absentia that’s she’s been working on since July, minus a 24/7 Championship segment and showing up for the Royal Rumble only to get eliminated in less than a minute. What more qualification is needed to be part of a championship match at WrestleMania?
More. Like…a great deal more.
Tamina says that actions speak louder than words, which is a lesson applicable both to life as a professional wrestler and to life as a man who allegedly beats his girlfriend so hard that she dies like, you know, her Dad. And then Tamina starts smacking around Lacey and Naomi, hitting a headbutt and a superkick to bring her amount of televised offence up by about 200%. Bayley and Sasha jump in to pick the scraps, but they quickly abandon the ring when they realise that Tamina is staring at them with murderous intent: third-degree murderous intent with involuntary manslaughter if we’re being exact.
Tamina stands tall to end the segment: words I would not think to find myself writing in this, the Year of Our Lord 2020. Is it a sign of the apocalypse?
Drew Gulak has served his purpose and can become a jobber again
It’s time for our weekly addition of Daniel Bryan’s Excellent Wrestling From Indie Wrestlers Quality Segment: the sole comfort in this time of plague and panic. You can keep your TikToks of human kindness and videos of you applauding the NHS: my faith in a better world comes from these five fighting each other forever.
Gulak and Bryan make their way to the ring: two small men with beards and technical ability to spare. They’re followed by Nakamura, Zayn, and Cesaro: three total bastards with a belt. Zayn hops on commentary, Shinsuke takes off his Carmen Sandiego coat, and the match is on.
Shinsuke starts off with that tried and tested strategy of kicking his opponent to death. Gulak finally fires back with a front dropkick, stalling Nakamura’s boot-flavoured hate crime. Cesaro manages to save Shinsuke, dragging him out of the ring to safety. Drew follows, right into the waiting feet of Nakamura, who shows how happy he is to see Gulak by kicking him a lot.
Despite a rally from Drew once back inside the ring, Shinsuke’s concussion-based offence seems to be doing exactly what it was designed to do, and Sami sounds very happy at the prospect of not receiving a WrestleMania payday. In fact, this storyline becomes a great deal more intense if you read this as Zayn trying desperately to avoid exposing himself to the coronavirus by having to defend his Championship. I imagine there might be some problematic elements to portraying the act of social distancing as a villainous trait, but this is the same company who’s claiming that WrestleMania is “too big for one night”.
Elias. Vs. King. Corbin.
Nakamura winds up for the Kinshasa, but now it’s Bryan who saves Gulak, pulling him out of Shinsuke’s line of coma. Drew takes advantage, rolling Shinsuke up and…winning?
Remember when Drew Gulak took Bryan to the absolute limit through incredible technical prowess and excellent strategy? Neither does WWE. 1.5 Stars.
Dr. Spain’s Literature Class
When we come back, Michael Cole is talking about the storyline between Ziggler and Otis, which revolves mostly around taking away a woman’s agency and treating her as a prize to be won. Michael Cole calls it a “saga”, which indicates that he thinks that what’s happening is in fact a prose story or history, written either in Iceland or other parts of Scandinavia, dealing with contemporary politics, episcopal biographies, or fighting dragons. Michael Cole doesn’t know literature.
We’re shown the footage from last week of Ziggler showing disappointingly tame photographs of himself and Mandy to Otis – if this isn’t the perfect time for wrestlers to wear a lot less clothing and start having full-on satanic orgies, then there’s never going to be a perfect time – and Otis getting rather angry about it, “rather angry” in this case meaning throwing chairs, throwing people, hitting people with chairs, and hitting chairs with people (depending on whether you consider Dolph, Miz, and Morrison to be people). What there isn’t, and what there should be if you want to keep calling this a “saga”, are migrations from Iceland, voyages made by Vikings, or any use of Old Norse. Am I saying that the natural end of this storyline is Otis vs. Grendel’s Mother in a Very Deep Underwater with a Massive Sword match, with the winner going on to fight a dragon decades later?
That being said, Tucker giving Otis a cooldown hug at the end of that segment was an example of the emotional depth that has really carried this entire storyline, and Otis and Tucker really need to get a good run with the belts once this is all brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
Backstage, Dolph Ziggler is talking to his phone. He could, conceivably, be using his phone to talk to someone else, but that scenario rests on the premise that anyone in the world ever wants to talk to Dolph Ziggler. There could be a journalist, dying of gunshot wounds, with information vital to the survival of global civilisation and one phone call to pass that intelligence on before bloodloss claims him, and I have to imagine that he’d hang up on Dolph Ziggler.
This is then interrupted by Otis, whom referees and Tucker are preventing from reducing Dolph to a thin streak of grease on the Performance Centre floor for some reason. So, has Otis remained at this level of fury for a whole week? Has he been actively looking for Dolph, or just staying in a sustained rage, secure in the knowledge that he’d be able to find him on Friday night?
Dolph Ziggler, a man who dresses like Dolph Ziggler, says that Otis looks “pathetic”. He challenges him to a match at WrestleMania, saying he wants the whole world to watch (from a safe distance) while he beats Otis. The two are finally separated by the referees and security officials, who were polite enough to wait while a WrestleMania match was booked.
Otis maðelode, beotwordum spræc
niehstan siðe: “Ic geneðde fela
guða on geogoðe; gyt ic wylle,
frod folces weard, fæhðe secan,
mærðu fremman, gif mec se mansceaða
of eorðsele ut geseceð.”
I’m surprised Michael Cole didn’t call this “Shakespearean” on account of there being a balcony
Elias is standing on a balcony, here to bully a coworker through song and comparing King Corbin to excrement. Toilet humour: WWE’s got it!
Suddenly Corbin strikes, beating Elias until he’s got him Hans Grubered over the balcony. After some drama, he finally hits the singer with his sceptre, sending him plummeting to the ground below. Well, it wouldn’t be a Corbin WrestleMania storyline without at least one murder attempt, and it wouldn’t be WWE unless there were no arrests made and not even a single policeman asking questions.
My only question is: did WrestleMania just get not-too-big for one night?
Michael Cole is here to sum up these events, using the grave voice that he reserves for attempted murders, Jerry Lawler having a heart attack right next to him, and Vince McMahon faking his own death before getting upstaged by Chris Benoit. He tells us that Elias has been taken to a local medical facility, which is step two of King Corbin’s master plan: make sure that Elias catches COVID-19.
Step 3: ???
Step 4: profit.
Asuka’s even better without crowd sound
But that attempted murder is now in the past, and it’s time for the Empress of Tomorrow, and “tomorrow” is a period in the future. The Day After Tomorrow is a science-fiction movie that I can’t remember a single detail about and which has nothing to do with any of this apart from the fact that it involves the apocalypse.
Alexa and Nikki arrive, with Nikki jumping on commentary and hugging Michael Cole. Social distancing: “fuck that,” says WWE, “embrace your co-workers”. Nikki babbles on excitedly into the microphone, her accent the verbal equivalent of six cans of Irn Bru and deep-friend Mars Bar.
Asuka and Bliss feel each other out, with a hard dropkick from Alexa staggering Asuka but not managing to stop the Empress. A kick manages top topple Asuka from the top rope and out of the ring, with Alexa catching her with a hard forearm on the apron. Asuka manages to regain the advantage, hurling Bliss into the steel steps as we go to a commercial break.
When we come back, Asuka is in full control of Bliss, but Alexa manages to rally as she dodges a hip attack, kicking Asuka right in the spine. Both women wind up on the apron, with Bliss countering a DDT attempt to wrench Asuka’s arm right onto the edge of the ring. Alexa tries to take advantage with a cover, but Asuka’s not done yet.
Undeterred, Bliss stays on the arm, dodging each charge by Asuka, remaining laser-focused on the limb before building momentum with a series of strikes. Asuka’s down, but she manages to dodge a standing moonsault, rolling out of the ring. Alexa pursues, shoving her opponent into the ring apron as Nikki hollers her support. Both women are in rough shape but still fighting, with Asuka countering a DDT into an attempted Asuka Lock.
Alexa backs Asuka into the corner, breaking the hold, then manages to strike with a DDT for the win!
I don’t like to see Asuka lose, but this was a commendably hard-hitting match and a reminder of how good Alexa can be. 2.5 Stars.
Backstage, the Usos are talking about a lockdown, by which they mean their fake, imaginary prison one, rather than the real one that’s happening in a number of countries.
It’s filler o’clock, which means that it’s time to watch Roman Reigns vs. Triple H in a match best described as “why?” I can’t tell if they tried to edit the crowd noise or not, but you can definitely hear the boos. It took a cancer diagnosis to recover from booking this atrocious.
God, the audience went all in on Triple H, didn’t they? These are some of the loudest reactions I can remember, and they’re the exact opposite of what WWE wanted.
At least you got to see Stephanie McMahon take her annual big bump, which is always a nice WrestleMania bonus.
Post-match, we get a talking to from stern but loving father, Triple H who, with a nostalgic twinkle in his eye, talks about facing both Goldberg and Roman Reigns. It’s like How I Met Your Mother, although at least Ted Mosby didn’t drug, kidnap, and rape the eponymous Mother, which canonically is how Triple H and Stephanie’s first fling started out.
Triple H’s opinion of the two men is that they are both intense, but different flavours of intensity: Roman Reigns’ intensity builds, while Goldberg goes all-out from the outset. He says that the key to Reigns’ victory is his ability to outlast the current Universal Champion’s initial onslaught which, to be honest, is the best analysis I’ve heard on a match from WWE since they used to do Tazz’s “Tale of the Tape”.
After this, Big E and Kofi Kingston are backstage, talking about their opportunity to go to WrestleMania by beating the Usos. Big E declares himself and Kofi Kingston to be our “daddies”, which is all I got from that segment and all I really needed from it in the first place.
There’s a quick flashback of John Cena hopping out and then back into WrestleMania, meaning that once he shakes it all about and does the hokey-cokey, he’ll have shown us what it’s all about.
Dolph Ziggler is a human herpes sore
Then, somewhere in the Performance Centre, Dolph Ziggler and Sonya DeVille are discussing some plan that the two of them have devised before they’re interrupted by Mandy. Miss Rose wants Ziggler to lay off Otis and also maybe take a shower and undergo a complete change of personality. She says that she doesn’t mind Otis and Dolph having a WrestleMania match as that is, basically, their job, but she doesn’t want to be fought over like she’s some kind of prize.
Man, it’s hard to believe that Mandy Rose still doesn’t get WWE.
Ziggler agrees, promising to merely beat Otis and leave it at that.
Not enough child-friendly TV incorporates severed heads
Time for a Firefly Fun House episode, and Bray is here to talk to us about his mental instability, which is on full display. He’s got his own severed-head lamp in the Fun House, which he yells at for a while before creating the “secret recipe to beat John Cena”, using ingredients like rage, resentment, self-loathing and disappointment and, of course, Ramblin’ Rabbit: the Sean Bean of unsettling puppets.
Bray then transitions into creating an infomercial for his insane and probably not FDA-approved recipe, before officially challenging John Cena to a Firefly Fun House match at WrestleMania. This could either be a Haunted House match or a Hardy Family Compound match, and there’s no way of knowing which it’s going to be.
It’s like the Miz and Morrison couldn’t see this coming
It’s time for tag team action, with WrestleMania implications. The Miz and Morrison are on commentary, and they’re joined in the ring by the New Day and the Usos, who immediately start wrestling for the chance to continue to expose themselves to a virus.
Both Kofi and whichever Uso happens to be the legal man struggle to gain the advantage, both trading moves back and forth until Kofi scores with a flying dropkick. The Miz and Morrison taunt the brothers as they take some time out on the outside, then Big E and…the other Uso tag in.
Big E manages to gain some measure of control with his incredible strength. Schroedinger’s Uso fights back with an uppercut but runs into a huge elbow, with Kingston tagging in to take advantage. A blind tag from the Usos allows them to hang Kofi up on the top rope, stalling all of his momentum. Kofi’s not out, though, and he ducks a kick before tagging in Big E, who’s got belly-to-bellies for all the good Usos and other Usos. He hits a splash to an Uso on the apron, fully in control of the match as we go to commercial break.
When we return, a double-team by the Usos helps them put Big E down on the mat. The Samoan wrecking ball strikes, laying the New Day member out in the corner, but a ura nage out of nowhere allows Big E to make the tag to Kofi, who explodes into the match with a surge of energy. The Boom Drop connects, but Trouble in Paradise misses, with Kofi managing to pull off a hurricanrana. Miz and Morrison distract Kingston with a “New Day rocks” clap, which allows apparently Jey Uso to lock in a half-crab. Kingston finally escapes, hitting the S.O.S. for a near-fall.
Kofi tags in Big E, who gets Jey up into a powerbomb position. Kingston tries to hit the Uso with a flying clothesline, but Jey drops down to avoid it, and Jimmy hurls Kofi into the ring post, shoulder-first, before superkicking Big E for two. Jey tags in for a double-team, and they take Big E up to the top rope. The New Day member fights them off, getting thrown out to the floor. Kofi gets involved, low-bridging both Usos and throwing himself out onto one of them. As the Miz and Morrison get involved, both the Usos and the New Day take them out while still fighting each other.
And, of course, Miz and Morrison cause the DQ by attacking Big E, way before they attack either Jimmy or Jey. So, technically, the New Day wins.
This was a really good match with a bad ending, but if we’re getting both teams plus Miz and Morrison at Mania, I’ll go with it. 3 Stars.
A brawl breaks out, but suddenly Michael Cole HAS RECEIVED AN EMAIL. And he quotes: it’s a Triple Threat Ladder at WrestleMania. Man, it’s not like Miz and Morrison could have seen this coming. A distracted M and M are taken out by the Usos and the New Day, and the show ends.
Tags: Alexa Bliss, Asuka, Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss, bayley, Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Naomi vs. Tamina vs. Lacey Evans, Bray Wyatt, Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena, Cesaro, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Daniel Bryan, Daniel Bryan vs. Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Drew Gulak, Drew Gulak vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Fatal Five-Way Elimination match, Firefly Fun House, Goldberg vs. Roman Reigns, Lacey Evans, Michael Cole, naomi, Nikki Cross, otis, Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler, Performance Centre, Ramblin' Rabbit, Roman Reigns vs. Triple H, sami zayn, sasha banks, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown, Smackdown Women's Championship, Tamina Snuka, The Fiend, The Miz and Morrison vs. The New Day vs. The Usos, The New Day, the usos, The Usos vs. the New Day, Triple H, Triple Threat Tag Team Ladder match, tucker, wrestlemania, Wrestlemania 36, WWE, WWE SmackDown Tag Team Champions