The WWE Universe is buzzing after Daniel Bryan did a thing that may or may not have been a heel turn on Raw this week. Was it a smart decision? Is Bryan doomed forever? I have plenty of strong opinions about what happened, but I also have opinions on Brock Lesnar returning, The Shield, and Bad News Barrett! What a bargain, right? Totally worth checking out. I would read it.
If you're just joining us, I'm Brooks, and I've been filling in for Kendra for most of December. Feel free to check out my walls of texts about That Episode Where The Announcers Took A Selfie or That Episode Where Mark Henry Was Santa Claus. Without further ado:
RAW Is Blogged: Why You Should Fear Daniel Wyatt
CM Punk Calls Out The Shield; CM Punk vs. Seth Rollins
- The Shield Mythos - The past few weeks, WWE has really been hammering the narrative that The Shield is a legendary team, and that 2013 was their year. And you could easily argue it was. What I enjoy more than that, though, is that they've kept the strength of The Shield constant, even after all the dropped angles (Heyman paying them, etc.). If you ask a young fan what make John Cena John Cena, they would probably say something like "He never gives up" or "Hustle Loyalty Respect." He's not just "guy who wins a lot," like we like to say. There's a narrative to his character, something you can explain to people, however flawed that character may be. The Shield is lucky enough to also have a constant character: their cohesiveness. The Shield doesn't win "because they win a lot." The Shield wins because they are incredibly efficient at working together. They all complement each other, and WWE reinforces that. Whereas most characters lose their luster after a year or so, The Shield has not, and all that character work is looking to lead into a logical dissolution of the group. The Shield used to come out silently and destroy people together. But lately, they've been buying into their own hype, so they've started opening their mouths too much and their egos are getting in the way of their cohesiveness. Even better, Punk is actively driving a wedge between them by playing into their egos. He knows they all think they are the strongest member of The Shield, so he makes them realize that. It's really great, simple storytelling, and it's really appreciated with the current state of WWE's storylines.
- Quality Opening Segments - With no Cena or Orton in the building tonight, we were spared a lengthy opening promo. Instead, we got a succinct promo about the past year (nods to history are always a plus) followed by a logical confrontation leading to a logical match. The match was fun, too. It's the kind of match that should be opening shows. It sets the tone and still leaves the crowd with enough energy to react throughout the night. Whoever is producing these logical segments and good matches for The Shield should be promoted and the senile toddlers producing everything else should be demoted to the mail room.
- Seth Rollins Thinks He's The Strong Link Of The Shield - Hahahahahahahaha. I like Seth Rollins, but that really set up the "I am totally delusional" thing. "Dean Ambrose is the legally insane mouthpiece, Roman Reigns is the menacing enforcer who legally murders people with spears on a weekly basis, and I, Seth Rollins, sometimes do a jumping knee attack and uh, check out my Kaitlyn hair."
Stephanie McMahon Announces Orton/Cena Rematch
Honestly, I'm glad this feud is getting out of the way now, so it has less of a chance of taking place at Mania. I'd rather have an average match at the Royal Rumble than at the main event of WrestleMania. We've already had two years of overrated main events, so let's not make it three in a row, if possible. The video package made the segment itself worth it, because as always, WWE put together a great video package about Orton's championship wins. Stephanie wasn't her usual vindictive self here, but that's okay. It makes the characters more real when they have days in which their evil is subtle. While I'm not particularly excited for the match, the "Only Pinfall or Submission" stipulation adds plenty of intrigue, especially during the Authority era. It's hard to believe that Cena would beat Orton for the title so soon, but it's also hard to believe that Orton would beat Cena clean. The Rumble match sells the pay-per-view, but it's nice to have a title match that seems important, however lukewarm the feud actually is.
Curtis Axel vs. Dolph Ziggler
- Those Entrance Promo Things - Both Axel and Ziggler got those little pop-up boxes during their entrances where they cut a quick pre-match promo. They didn't say anything groundbreaking, but those can be important avenues for guys like Axel or Ziggler to get their characters over. Even though there are over 1,000 hours of WWE programming per week, there is apparently still not enough time to ever let Ziggler anywhere near a mic, so whatever step lower-card talents can take to getting mic time is a step in the right direction.
- Ziggler Winning - Defeating Curtis Axel was presented like a big deal (which it absolutely shouldn't be because Axel makes Zack Ryder look like a guy with momentum). It's nothing that's going to push Ziggler up the card, but it's something more than losing to Fandango on the pre-show. Ziggler is one of the guys that is suffering from only one world title and a crowded main event scene, but giving him a TV win is an indicator that maybe they haven't completely given up on the guy forever. I'm steadfast in my belief that Ziggler is lower than he should be on the WWE totem pole, but as long as he's tearing it up on the midcard instead of losing to Del Rio in 3 minutes, then I can't complain too much.
- Ziggler's Selling - Selling is Ziggler's strong suit. He's much better at being the face in distress than he is at dominating a match (which is part of why he never really went anywhere as a heel). It's more believable, and he makes every move look devastating. However, the first two moves of the match were Ziggler taking hugely unnecessary bumps. One of the bumps was an Irish whip that Ziggler sold by doing a front flip over the top rope and landing on the mat. He doesn't seem injury prone as long as Jack Swagger's foot maintains a 50-foot radius, but if I were a promoter, I would have a hard time getting behind a Superstar that seemed so reckless with his bumps. I've never taken a bump in my life, so Ziggler knows what he's doing far more than I do, but I can't shake the feeling that a guy who flings his body to the mat at terminal velocity 50 times a night is going to hurt himself eventually. Be careful, dude. Watch Mick Foley's DVD. Save your body.
Big E Langston vs. Fandango: Intercontinental Championship Match
- Importance - While the IC Title is still not where I want it to be, giving a title match plenty of time (in the 9:00 slot, no less) lent some importance to the title. It's not much, but it's a step up from Ziggler and Kofi playing championship hot potato for 6 months. I'm also going to give Summer Rae some props for something other than her outfit (outfit game was on point, though). She's constantly invested in Fandango's matches. She could be the disinterested, vapid blonde trope, but she's always watching and offering advice to Fandango. I can't remember any non-WrestleMania Fandango match that had any real sense of drama or stakes to it, but Summer Rae treats every match like it matters to her. This week, she looked devastated when Fandango lost. Invested valets will always trump Maryse valets that just twirl their hair and text.
- It Takes Two To Elevate A Title - I'm happy for the success of Big E Langston. He's charismatic, talented, and he deserves it. The IC Title already feels a million times more important than it did when Curtis Axel had it. That's still not very much, though, and a lot of that has to do with Langston's opponents. Big E is Big. Damien Sandow and Fandango are small and they barely ever win. There is not a person living or dead that ever thought Sandow or Fandango had a tiny chance of winning, which is especially bad when your champion is a face. If you're building an unstoppable heel, then sure, have him bash some nerds. But if the champion is a face, who cares if he's just steamrolling a bunch of scrubs? There's no drama, and drama is what elevates belts. It's time to give Langston a viable challenger. WWE is short on bad guy hosses, so call up Alexander Rusev from NXT or something. Having Langston wrestle/Big Ending a similarly large person would be worlds more entertaining than having him beat Small Dancing Man Famous For Constant Boring Countout Losses.
Bad News Barrett Interrupts The New Year's Spin-A-Roonie
Gotta say, I was actually interested in Bad News Barrett this week. Previously, Barrett randomly stood at a podium and said LOCAL SPORTS TEAM IS BAD AND YOU LOCAL PEOPLE ARE FAT and that was it. It felt like WWE trying to force a new meme, but it had no distinct character to it. Now it's been taken to a ridiculous extreme. Barrett slowly ascends on his podium while his theme music drones on, and he interrupts makeshift dance parties. It's stupid in the best way, and doesn't feel like some unexplained inside joke anymore. I will say that I wish Barrett was getting less WHAT and more BOO, because I was taken aback when he actually made fun of the fact that people lost their homes in a natural disaster. Stuff that cutting should be met with a swift chorus of BOOOOOO, not "he paused so let's say the thing." Since WWE can never commit to anything Barrett-related for more than 3 months, the Bad News thing isn't so bad. Ideally, he would be bareknuckle fighting people to death, because he's a believable fighter, but he would inevitably fall back into meaningless "Kofi Gets Elbowed" matches, so giving him a different gimmick, even a ridiculous comedy one, is probably a step in the right direction.
Damien Sandow vs. The Great Khali
- Voting For The Great Khali Over Kofi Kingston Or The Miz - Here's what I think happened. The WWE Universe likes Damien Sandow, and they know that The Miz and Kofi win exactly 50% of their matches, while The Great Khali will die if he tries to kneel down for a pin attempt. Voting for The Great Khali was a slick way to save their intellectual savior. The unwashed masses are learning well.
- How The Mighty Have Fallen - How scary is it that the guy who was the future World Heavyweight Champion 9 weeks ago is clinging to employment by barely defeating Khali? It's a shame that Sandow was a victim of "hey why don't we unify the titles next month" and had to lose the briefcase, but there's no reason for Sandow to have fallen quite this far.
- You Can't Do A Roll-Up On A Man Without Knees - Khali botched Sandow's roll-up and actually had a shoulder up during the pin, which led the commentary team to bury the segment. I'm 99% sure it was a genuine botch because the roll-up was the fastest Khali's body has ever moved, but Cole did allude to the fact that Khali may have a beef with Sandow after that botched call. Probably just an on-the-fly coverup of a mistake, but Sandow/Khali is probably the worst idea for a feud this side of Sheamus/Jinder Mahal.
R-Truth vs. Brodus Clay
- JBL Adds To A Match - For the first time in 2013, JBL decided to not talk about twerking and discuss relevant wrestling angles instead. He had history with Xavier Woods, who was at the announce table, so they had a back-and-forth, discussed the current Brodus angle, and JBL ended up admitting that he's coming around on Woods. It was a fascinating preview as to what commentary would be like if commentary happened anymore, and I hope this new trend of "talking about relevant things" continues.
- Brodus Clay Already Losing To Distractions - It wasn't even a roll-up win. R-Truth got him with a second-rope variant of his finisher. That's probably not what should be happening to a newly-turned heel with potential. Brodus should probably have eaten Tensai, R-Truth, and Xavier Woods alive by now. If an evenly-matched feud with an NXT rookie is as far as heel Brodus is going to go, maybe he should have kept Gangnam Styling into 2014.
Brock Lesnar Returns
- Triple H Bringing Lesnar Back - I can't believe I enjoyed Triple H inserting himself into a cool thing for no reason again, but this time it made sense. I don't know if it'll ever be explained (maybe HHH will eventually recruit Lesnar into an enforcer), but the fact that Triple H, who had the world's longest blood feud with Lesnar less than a year ago, is happily announcing his return is noteworthy. If it's never fully explained, it just adds to Triple H's soulless "Best For Business" character.
- Heyman's Back Too - Paul Heyman had an incredible 2013, cutting what were easily some of the best promos of the year. Heyman is just too talented on the mic to have him sitting around doing nothing, and having him be Brock's hype man instead of Axel and Ryback's leader is clearly a big step up.
- Trim Lesnar - I'm pretty sure it was just the tank top, but to me, Lesnar looked trimmer. Still an enormous beast, but more athletic than gargantuan. Part of his appeal originally was his combination of athleticism and strength, and since his return, some of the athleticism aspect has been overshadowed in favor of his MMA experience. There's nothing really wrong with MMA Brock, but having him look intimidating because he can kill you AND catch you if you run away is a plus.
- CAAAAAAAW - Mid-homicide, Lesnar started letting out these hilarious high-pitched shrieks, and the bird calls only got more intense after a really impressive F5 onto the floor (there's a joke about a murder of crows in there somewhere, but I can't quite get it). Lesnar screaming is exactly as great as him speaking is awful. The beatdown of Henry was really special and it's the kind of thing you only get when Lesnar is around, but like most Lesnar moments, I remember the screaming more than anything. Pretty much the only thing I remember about his WrestleMania match with Triple H is this. That's almost as good a WrestleMania moment as a shooting star press.
- Cena vs. Lesnar Again? - I loved that Lesnar was declared the next #1 contender for the WWE WHC Title because he's Lesnar, but there's no way they'll program Lesnar with Orton, so does that mean that Cena is winning the title and facing Lesnar? Lesnar's #1 contendership may not be set in stone yet, but if it is, that is the only way I can see this playing out, and I don't like it. Cena vs. Lesnar I was a great and different match and I have no doubt that Cena vs. Lesnar II would be a similarly great match. But after three Triple H matches, I want to see Brock face some different guys on the roster. Cena has plenty of enemies on the roster he could face at Elimination Chamber (or he could be in the Chamber itself), and working with Lesnar is immediate elevation for anyone. It makes storyline sense for Lesnar to be facing the champion, but after this, let's move away from rematches for a while.
- Face Mark Henry - Mark Henry is a brilliant bad guy. Hall of Pain-era Henry was the perfect monster heel. He's so good at being bad that you want to cheer him, which makes it even more frustrating when he turns face and his power levels immediately drop to zero. He should not have gotten the upper hand on Brock Lesnar here, of course not. But speaking generally, when Henry goes face, he becomes a jobber to the stars, and he has the ability to be so much more.
Total Divas vs. Regular Divas
- Aksana??? - Brock Lesnar returning? Seen it before, whatever. Aksana's music playing at the end of the match? What?! Anything can happen in the WWE, I guess. This may mean some added relevance for Aksana, which is...fine. She hasn't done anything since almost marrying Goldust on NXT, so maybe she's getting her turn as the relevant Diva of the month, but this was probably just because AJ was MIA this week. Next week, AJ will return, get beaten by a Bella Twin in a non-title match, Aksana will return to Teddy Long's office, and the cycle will begin anew.
- The Heel/Face Dynamic - I know there were reports going around that WWE was saying there are no faces and heels (which has been said plenty of times over the last few years), but this is not how you do it. The Divas division is the most one-dimensional division in WWE (by WWE's design), so fans are actively trying to figure out which team to cheer for. In this match, you have Eva Marie heeling it up on the team that has been presented as faces for months. You also have beloved Divas like Kaitlyn on the heel team wearing eeeeevil black colors because surprise she's bad now. Here's to hoping 2014 brings a new angle to the division, because "cheer these reality stars sometimes but also respond to their heel taunts, also whatever you do please don't cheer for AJ" isn't cutting it.
Daniel Bryan Joins The Wyatt Family
- Daniel Bryan's Acting - With all the hubbub surrounding the big main event swerve (which I will get to), it's important to give Bryan some credit for his acting here. This segment had every right to be grade-A 80's era pro wrestling cheese. So much melodrama. But it worked, and it worked because Bryan sold it. And it's so funny to go back and look at his early criticisms about his lack of charisma. All he had to do was start breathing heavily at the top of the ramp and the crowd was in the palm of his hand. Excellent work.
- It's Good Filler - During the match, I was hoping the payoff to this feud would be tonight. This is not a knock on the abilities of Bryan or The Wyatt Family, but this feud has felt like "pre-WrestleMania filler feud" from the first week. It's featured solid in-ring work and storytelling for the most part, but nothing about the feud particularly intrigued me. It seemed like a definite demotion at first ("Come on Bryan, get out of the spotlight and let The Big Show finally get his chance"), but as it became evident that it was just a "We Can't Screw Bryan Out Of The Title For 6 Months Straight Or Else The Audience Will Get Even More Jaded And No One Will Care At WrestleMania" feud, I was fine with it. It makes sense to give Bryan a side feud before the Road to WrestleMania and it elevates The Wyatts in the process.
- Precedent - This is an intriguing angle and I already see a lot of people excited. That's fine! You possibly should be excited, because it possibly will lead to something cool. Unfortunately, I, as the resident Guy With Far Too Much Daniel Bryan Merchandise In His Apartment, can't let myself be excited about this. If this ends up only making Bryan hotter when he inevitably breaks off from the Family, wins the Rumble, and main events WrestleMania, then I am so, so happy to be wrong. But over the past 3 years or so, WWE has trained me to not be excited about promising new angles for promising new stars. I am usually one of those "well let's just see where it goes" people, but I can't do that this time. I've been burned too many times.
"Well, John Cena just beat Nexus at SummerSlam, but I'm sure they'll keep their momentum."
"Well, CM Punk is feuding with Kevin Nash now, but I bet the best of the Summer of Punk is right around the corner."
"Well, Zack Ryder is in a wheelchair now, but it'll lead to something good."
"Well, Ryback just got a huge pop for attacking Cena. They wouldn't throw away all that momentum."
WWE just cannot keep an angle hot forever. Daniel Bryan is an incredible performer, but even he has a shelf life. If WWE is trying to keep Bryan over until WrestleMania, good. That's what they should be doing. But this is a risky way to do it. Remember when Dolph Ziggler got a huge pop for cashing in Money in the Bank on a decidedly-lukewarm face Alberto Del Rio? It was a huge feel-good story, because fans know how passionate Ziggler is. But instead of capitalizing on it, WWE stuck to their guns, and on his first Smackdown as champion, Ziggler greeted his adoring fans by saying he doesn't need them, blah blah blah uninspired WWE heel stuff. WWE, for whatever reason, rarely allows organic reactions to alter their narrative, which is what makes the Daniel Bryan story so special (and even he's fallen victim to it before. "The fans are chanting 'YES?' Make Bryan hate that! He's a 'NO' guy now! Give 'YES' to Sheamus!") He's the guy that's really forced WWE's hand. So far, at least. A heel turn (which this may not be, all clearly-symbolic turning-his-back-on-the-crowd aside) may just be enough to cool Bryan off. He's never going to get the Zack Ryder treatment where it's just sad how much no one cares anymore. He's a star, and he'll always be on the show. But WWE will never be able to force the genuine reactions Bryan has been receiving in 2013.
The JRs of the world always talk about how you can't "make" stars and "lightning in a bottle." Daniel Bryan in 2013 is lightning in a bottle. After all this, Bryan will either become a beloved utility guy or a bona fide draw. It's completely up to WWE at this point. The fans have spoken, but if WWE wants to throw that away because "well Sheamus is coming back and he was over sometimes, right" then that's their mistake. Bryan will undoubtedly be in a great match at WrestleMania XXX. But when you have an opportunity to make a genuine, organic WrestleMania moment by having Bryan in the main event, anything else is a waste.
The big silver lining to all of this is that organic reactions don't go away easily. If this is a genuine attempt to turn Bryan heel, I imagine it'll go about as well as Stone Cold's heel turn (i.e. not well). It very well could have been an attempt at a heel turn. How many top WWE faces have been emasculated like Bryan was? John Cena or Sheamus would never grovel and beg like Bryan did. But more likely, this is another stopgap for Bryan on the Road to WrestleMania. Overall, it seems like Raw is starting to slowly pick up steam with storyline progression and the return of Brock Lesnar. It's imperative that they start the 'Mania build early and do it well. Buyrates are going to drop again if the feuds only have a couple weeks of build. It looks like the title scene is on autopilot until the Rumble, because Cena/Orton have already done every wrestling tactic ever to each other and the Rumble sells itself, so we'll probably be looking at another few "good, not great" shows until February at least. Not the most exciting future to look forward to, but it keeps angles like Bryan's and Punk's in the spotlight, which is important as we head into the Season of Part-Timers.
This is my last RIB until I'm called upon again, but I had plenty of fun writing these and interacting with the WNWniverse. As always, you can catch me nitpicking and complaining in the live threads and on my Twitter. Until next time, thanks for reading.