Friday, 30 January 2015

Beginning of the Reigns Era

Roman Reigns was the right choice to win the Royal Rumble. WWE has been in need of new top line talent for years. He has everything the promotion traditionally looks for in their top guys: youth, good looks, and basic in-ring competence. His promo skills aren’t the greatest, but he has time to improve and the company has ways of masking this particular shortcoming. Having him win was a step in the right direction.

But if you went solely on the reaction of the Philadelphia crowd you wouldn’t necessarily think this. In the arena the result was panned in spectacular fashion. There were two reasons for this. Firstly the Philadelphia crowd wanted Daniel Bryan to win. Secondly certain towns have reached the point where they can be expected to boo anyone management gets behind who haven’t been blessed as deserving beforehand.

The first is understandable. I imagine most people watching the 2015 Royal Rumble would have liked a D-Bry victory. He was a popular man making his return from serious injury. Had he won he would have earned his second consecutive WrestleMania main event and wrestled Brock Lesnar in one of the most perfect David versus Goliath bouts pro wrestling has ever been able to offer. It would have felt like WWE moving in a bold new direction with Bryan as the top star.

The second reason is not one I agree with. I think fans are entitled to react to what WWE produces in any way they see fit. That’s something that paying admission to the building should entitle you to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fans are entitled to expect certain results and lash out when they don’t get them, which is what happened with the Reigns victory. We can expect WWE to create new stars and react to audiences, but anything beyond that is too much. Wrestling is, after all, meant to have an element of unpredictability to it, just as non-predetermined sports do.

He may not have been the ideal winner, but it's nice to see someone new on top.
My view is that people should stop expecting winners and expect more in terms of match and overall storyline quality. We don’t have the right to just state the Reigns win was wrong because we don’t know what the full plan is. WWE have done something right in giving a new guy a shot. New guys are only going to get to succeed if they get to win. Daniel Bryan wasn’t even entered in last year’s Rumble. WWE learnt from that mistake by adding him to the WrestleMania main event anyway and having him win. They’ve also learnt that they need to concentrate on youth, which is what they’re doing with Reigns, along with Rollins, Ambrose and Wyatt (and nothing has happened to make it seem as though Bryan’s push as stopped).

The reaction the Reigns victory earned from the Philadelphia fans was always going to come. But I don’t think it as destined to be as vehement as it was. At least part of the reason Reigns’ win got the reaction it did was in protest to the way it come about.

The audience had seen their favourite, Bryan, eliminated after only ten minutes in the match. The logic behind this booking decision was sound: he was ousted by Bray Wyatt, who had dominated the first third of the Rumble and has historically been pretty capable at getting the better of ‘The Bearded One’. The idea was that Bryan would get his time to shine and then leave, with a cool down period between his exit and Reigns’ arrival designed to let the audience blow off steam about the development.

Obviously things were viewed differently in the building. They saw Bryan eliminated, booed because they wanted him back, saw Reigns enter as the obvious lead candidate to win, and booed more because they still wanted Bryan. Had Reigns been allowed to come in later, or with a greater number of disposable guys in the ring to immediately storm through, I think he would have had an easier time of it. Let’s not forget that Reigns was presented in this fashion as far back as the 2013 Survivor Series and got a good response there. His performance in last year’s Rumble, also matching the model I’m proposing, saw the crowd warm to him too.

People do not just want to see a babyface struggling with an uphill battle. That’s a very 80s and 90s mentality to wrestling booking. What people want now is someone who carves through his opponents with relative ease or who is talented enough to wrestle a lengthy, energetic and exciting match. Reigns is incapable of the latter in a singles setting, leaving only the former an option. WWE do not seem to want to present him in this fashion and so he’s suffered for it.

The closing moments, which saw Big Show and Kane team up to battle Reigns, were massively anti-climactic. Had Reigns shrugged them off and dynamically tossed or Superman punched them from the ring a portion of the audience would have been won over. The plodding pace was a turn off and only attracted boos. As did the casting. Had Wyatt and Rusev, who had dominated the majority of the match before the arrival of Big Show and Kane, been cast as the two men Reigns had to overcome the match would have seemed far more dynamic. They are capable of more physically and don’t carry the stigma of being part of the old guard. It would have been three young guns closing out the Rumble, two of them happening to be heels and one a face.

Reigns is a good choice to headline ‘Mania. Closing out the company’s most important show will do a lot to elevate him. Winning, which is what I’m expecting him to do at this point, will only elevate him more. But one match alone can’t and won’t have the effect WWE needs. They need a sustained effort presenting Reigns as someone of importance but in a way that benefits him. What they went with at the Rumble wasn’t it.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

That RAW Recap 26.01.15

For most people extreme snowstorms are life-threatening ordeals. I imagine WWE management felt differently on Monday night. The severe weather that hit the north-eastern United States caused the governor of Connecticut to announce a travel ban, effectively cancelling RAW. That effectively granted WWE a reprieve, something they were much in need of after the hostile evening they’d experienced at Royal Rumble the night before.

They made the most of the opportunity, doing some expert damage control on the standing of Rumble victor Roman Reigns. The show was constructed around five sit-down interview segments and a couple of announcements for Fast Lane. They were interspersed with links from Michael Cole, JBL and Booker T. It was a smart approach that made the most of what the company had at its disposal. If only that were true of their booking approach in general.

Slightly more questionably the decision was also made to air the two biggest matches from the previous night’s Rumble. That means that people tuning into RAW were treated to the triple threat WWE championship match and the Rumble itself for free. Monday saw WWE finally hit their goal of one million subscribers for the WWE Network so I’m sure they’re pleased with the decision to air those matches. The likelihood is that they convinced a number of people that the Network was worth a look. But it wasn’t the greatest idea with regard to customer satisfaction: everyone else had had to pay $9.99 for the event. Or £9.99 if in Britain. Or a staggering $54.99 to watch on regular pay-per-view. I’m sure refund requests have been sailing WWE’s way since Monday night.

The state of your briefcase, mate.
The first of the interviews was with Seth Rollins. He told Michael Cole that he thought his Rumble performance spoke for itself. He felt he deserved to be in match and that he did everything he could to win and become champion. I agree with him. Rollins did deserve to be in the match and he made the most of the opportunity. He took the pinfall but that didn’t matter. ‘The Future’ left the show looking like he belonged at the top.

The interview was brought to a close with Rollins being asked about what would happen in a Lesnar v Rollins singles match. Avoiding a direct answer Rollins admitted that he’d underestimated Lesnar but that Lesnar had also underestimated him and added that he had and has what Lesnar doesn’t: the Money in the Bank briefcase.

When Cole plugged the Lesnar interview that was to follow Rollins declared that he wouldn’t leave, Lesnar would have to kick him off his chair. This bravado turned out to be true when the show returned from a break. Rollins was still sitting on his chair, although he was looking less smug and more wary.  

Lesnar wandered up and, fairly politely, said to Rollins "I believe you're in my seat." Rollins got up, brushed the chair and then knocked it over. Lesnar laughed as Seth walked off and a stagehand appeared to sort out the seating situation. It was a good bit of character development for both wrestlers. Rollins was shown to be the coward who was all mouth until he had to back up his words in a fair fight. Lesnar was the intimidating monster who picks his fights with care.

Paul Heyman was on board for this interview but Lesnar did speak for himself at the start. As usual it was short and sweet. He acknowledged his broken rib but said it didn’t matter: when it comes to match time he makes sure to win.

Heyman was more talkative (obviously). He explained that Lesnar and The Authority have a symbiotic relationship. Lesnar's in WWE because The Authority needs a box office attraction. He’s also useful for taking care of problematic guys like Sting, The Undertaker and John Cena (although he failed to explain why The Authority finds these men so problematic in the first place). While they're paying what Lesnar's worth he's for hire. Mention of negotiations was made, which was pretty clearly included to weave in the thread of Lesnar potentially leaving after WrestleMania.

After a video package reminding us that Brock Lesnar ended The Streak at ‘Mania XXX Cole asked how Lesnar overcame ‘The Dead Man’s’ “psychological warfare”. ‘The Beast’ said he did it the same way he’s done everything else in his life: he didn’t respect Undertaker. Heyman interjected to ask why people were so surprised by the WM30 result or the previous night’s result. Nobody has Lesnar’s credentials and he’s a true once in a lifetime talent.

Cole said he meant no disrespect and brought up Reigns. Lesnar looked bored during the apology but smirked at the mention of Reigns. Being rather blasé, Lesnar said he was happy for Reigns and hoped that he was up to the challenge. Then he threw out a “baby” and called himself a steamroller.

When Cole asked if Reigns could stop his client Heyman said “No.” The interview ended with Cole telling them he’d be interviewing Reigns later in the show and Lesnar saying he’d stick around to meet him. It was a great exchange that would have acted as a great introduction to the Lesnar character. It gave you everything you needed to know: he mentioned his amateur wrestling credentials and his UFC title win and Heyman made him out to be the biggest draw in wrestling. It left you with no doubt that he’s a bad, intimidating dude, albeit one who has inexplicably started calling people “baby”.

Byron Saxton was given the Roman Reigns interview. Reigns talked about his Rumble win being incredible, mentioned his family (who I won’t list here: if you’re interested check out that oracle of the modern age, Wikipedia) and admitted he’s not the most experienced wrestler on the roster but that he’s willing to get thrown in at the deep end and seize opportunities when they come his way. He also stole Cena’s line about how good, honest, hard-working punters are entitled to react however they like at WWE shows. Reigns is happy simply being allowed to perform.

Dishy, no?
When asked if he’d been hand-picked for success by WWE higher ups Reigns didn’t actually refute the suggestion. He simply said if he had been he’d have to thank them and explained that if it were true he’d still need to perform at a high level in order to continue getting opportunities. It seemed like an exchange designed to tease the idea that Reigns may be cool with the idea of getting a bit of preferential treatment.

A few minutes later a replay of the Rumble Fallout show was introduced. I’d highly recommend watching it in its entirety. It’s heavy on Reigns giddily marking out during Rock promos designed to get him over as a badass. But that wasn’t the focus here. What we were shown was Rusev interrupting John Cena’s dejected mutterings about not winning his sixteenth world title. We were told The Authority had “planned” Cena v Rusev for WrestleMania but had brought it forward to Fast Lane, presumably because Cena and Rusev had already put themselves on a collision course. Amusingly JBL ventured the thought that Cena might be the guy to best Rusev as though it would in some way come across as a controversial opinion.

In more Fast Lane news we were informed that Triple H had issued a challenged to Sting to meet him face-to-face at the show. Something tells me that challenge will be accepted.

A shot of Dean Ambrose arriving at HQ was shown. After a break Byron Saxton caught up with him and asked how he got there. Ambrose said he walked from Hartford to Stamford.Then he told a story about hitchhiking his way there. Both stories can’t be true, so what this told us is that Ambrose is a liar. But hey, ‘Lunatic Fringe’! Am I right?!

Ambrose said he’d turned up to prove a point: he's going to make it to WrestleMania. That was literally all the reasoning that was given for a man walking through a blizzard wearing nothing but jeans, a leather jacket and a T-shirt with his own name on it. It was an embarrassing, hard to watch segment. Ambrose is over based on his ability to connect with a crowd. He's a good promo guy but nobody could have turned what he was given here, which was essentially nothing, into something worthwhile. This is what Vince thinks a loose cannon is and it's awful. It could not be more obvious that nobody in WWE understands the Ambrose character or has any idea what to do with him.

Bryan's a Reigns fan. Who knew? Probably not even Bryan until he got the script.
Interview number five saw Renee Young maxing and relaxing with Daniel Bryan, who she described one of the most "newsworthy superstars to come out of last night's Royal Rumble". Just stop and think about that description for a few seconds and you, like me, will realise that it is meaningless. They started out talking about Bryan’s 2014, how elated he was to make it to ‘Mania based on the support of the fans and how difficult it was to find out he’d suffered a potentially career-ending injury. They ended nattering about Bryan’s casket match collision with Kane, which D-Bry vowed to win because he wants to move on from ‘The Big Red Machine’. But it was the stuff that sat in the middle of the interview that was most interesting.

Bryan said he’s disappointed Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble. Not because it was Reigns but because it wasn't him. He outlined the David v Goliath scenario that could have been his match with Brock Lesnar but said that the loss was ultimately his failure. It's on him. Reigns took the opportunity of being in the Rumble and used it to win. He did, however, mention that he didn't have The Rock helping him or WWE feeding him when he was a kid. Bryan’s final Reigns related comments were that he has no doubt that Reigns can make the same sacrifices as himself and Ziggler and Ambrose and put on a great show against Lesnar.

On the one hand Bryan’s words were very clearly designed to endorse Reigns. Bryan said he had the chance to win the Rumble, unlike last year, and he didn’t. He wasn’t being held down, he just didn’t deliver the win when it counted. But on the other hand that dig about Reigns getting help from The Rock wasn’t exactly subtle. Although the framing of him as currently being inferior to Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose was. I expect in a few months times we’ll be able to look back and point to this interview as the first sign of a Reigns v Bryan rivalry.

The main event (I use that term loosely) saw Lesnar and Reigns sit down with Cole. Although that didn’t last. Heyman immediately interrupted to shake Reigns’ hand and congratulate him on his win. When Reigns said he wouldn’t mind Heyman asking the questions (actually, his exact response was “I’ve got nothing to hide”, which is neither a yes or a no) Heyman put on his journalist hat and replaced Michael Cole.

Heyman said that he’s known Reigns’s family longer than Reigns himself. He told stories about meeting various family members (again, consult Wikipedia) during his time working as a photographer, promoter and manager earlier in his career. He acknowledged that he’d first met Reigns when Reigns was a kid and said he’s proud of him and respects him. It was interesting stuff because it was so obviously real.

Wall-to-wall promos. It's what WWE's always wanted.
The Rock was the last name he mentioned. The Rock knows Brock Lesnar. In 2002 Rock was the champ, the top guy. He lost the title to Lesnar and never asked for rematch. One match with Lesnar was all ‘The Brahma Bull’ could handle. What was interesting in that was that Heyman drew parallels between Reigns and the young Lesnar: he said that Rock came up against a new guy, like Reigns is the new guy, and stated his belief that Reigns is ‘The Next Big Thing’. It was almost like Heyman was courting Reigns as a client or hinting that he’d be willing to double cross Lesnar if Reigns were willing to take him on as an agent.

Heyman said he gets it: Reigns is the one to beat the one in 21-1. He told Reigns he wouldn’t be able to beat Lesnar and asked him how he’d cope with disappointing his family like that.

Reigns squeaked his chair around to face the champion. He told Lesnar he knows who and what he is and what he’s signed up for, but he doesn’t think Lesnar knows what he’s in for. He said he’d beat him and take the championship and that they both knew it. Lesnar’s response was to shoot to his feet and offer a good, old fashioned test of strength handshake. At that point Lesnar told Reigns that he’s not like Heyman, he doesn’t respect him.

"But you will" was Reigns’ action movie response. A smirk from Reigns would have been better there. It would have seemed more confident, like he doesn’t need to try convincing Lesnar or anyone else.

Michael Cole described the Reigns-Lesnar confrontation as “powerful and emotional”, before he, Booker T and JBL started shilling the WrestleMania 31 main event. Naturally they all agreed it was going to be amazing.

And that was RAW. Considering the limitations they were under I think it was a great show. They got Reigns’ push on track, acknowledged the disappointment people feel at Daniel Bryan not losing, set some stuff up for Fast Lane, covered the Lesnar, Ambrose and Rollins characters, and started working on the main event for their biggest show of the year. In fact it as so smooth that I can’t help but think WWE would rather present shows like this than bother with arenas and all that bothersome non-pay-per-view wrestling.

Monday, 26 January 2015

WWE Royal Rumble 2015 review

For the last few years WWE has struggled with its Royal Rumble shows. The titular gimmick match, which is always the central attraction no matter what else is on the show, has seemingly become a problem for them. In theory it’s an easy match to get right. You ascertain who the audience wants to see win and you have them win. Or you pick a hot heel that people really don’t want to see win. WWE’s booking crew seem to have forgotten this, which has led to a string of limp, uninspiring matches.

This year was no different. A man neither the live crowd nor the home audience really wanted to see win was the man that won. Not only that but he did so in the most underwhelming, clichéd manner possible. It was a poor end to a poor pay-per-view.

This was not helped by a generic undercard. The show kicked off with The Ascension versus the New Age Outlaws. It wasn’t a bad match, but that in itself made it a slight disappointment. The Outlaws should have been very quickly squashed by Konor and Viktor in an attempt to erase the memory of the Kliq and the APA, all of whom are well into their forties, easily dispatching The Ascension on RAW. Because it’s The Ascension who are going to be of more benefit to WWE in the future, not the stars form the 90s.

Facepaint.
But we didn’t get that. Instead we got a competent match that ended with Billy Gunn tagging in to take Total Elimina- sorry, I mean The Fall of Man. It was the right result but the wrong route was taken to get to it.

Because the card only had five matches it was heavily padded. The first instance of this was the deluge of ads that followed The Ascension’s victory. Mixed in with that was news that Vince McMahon had tweeted about Rock being in Philadelphia, the city hosting the Rumble. We were also treated to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon discussing Sting. They were concerned he’d get into the building again. Then Paul Heyman rocked up and told them that the solution to their Sting problem was Brock Lesnar. Nothing came of this on the rest of the show so presumably it was setting something up for the future.

The tag team title match went on second. The Miz’s music got a raucous cheer from the crowd. Miz himself was booed while Damien Mizdow, his bearded, super-over stunt double, got a massive cheer. The Usos were met with indifference, although people did get into their little cheering gimmick.

The match was similar to the one they had at TLC, only here Mizdow didn’t get to tag in at all. He spent the early minutes hamming around, mimicking ‘The A-Lister’ and being adored for it. After a while the seriousness of the situation got to him and he asked Miz to tag him in, reminding him it was for the titles. Miz teased that he would but pulled his hand away at the last minute, his ego demanding that he and he alone regain the straps.

It wouldn’t work out for him. Moments later Miz would hit Jey with the Skull Crushing Finale only for the champion to kick out. A “Mizdow!” chant rang out through the arena as Miz ran into a super kick from Jey and then got splashed. The humiliation continued for him when Mizdow snuck into the ring and hit Jey with an SCF of his own, which Jey again kicked out of.

Mizdow slumped down at ringside in disbelief. Back in the ring Jimmy reappeared (he’s been inexplicably absent for several minutes) and gave Miz a splash from the top rope after Jey had sunset bombed him from the corner. That was enough to put The Miz down for a three count.

Mizdow made no effort to break the pin up and mimicked ‘The Awesome One’s’ annoyance with him after the match. It wasn’t a bad match but it was the relationship between Miz and Mizdow that was the focus rather than the action. That’s not a bad thing but it would have been nice, two matches into a five match show, to have had a match where the action was the focus.

Theoretically the Divas tag match fit that description. In practice though it was something approaching a wreck. It started off looking promising, with Paige and Natalya making lots of swift tags and working over Brie. It didn’t last though. Eventually the Bellas turned the tables and isolated Natalya. She spent several minutes working towards and just before she got it Brie yanked Paige form the apron, leaving Natalya to take a match-winning forearm from the face from Nikki.

After comments from Roman Reigns, Stardust, Goldust, Rusev, Miz and Mizdow (who again teased dissension), Big Show (who bizarrely claimed he's not mortal), Fandango, and Daniel Bryan about their Rumble-winning plans it was time for the WWE championship match. The first three matches had been mostly inoffensive and forgettable. This was one of two matches people were expectign big things from, and they got them. It was the highlight of the show.

Early contender for WWE match of 2015.
John Cena got massive heat when he entered first. That was understandable. The smart fan-filled crowd was never going to give him an easy time. Seth Rollins got a pop, because he’s someone that sort of crowd appreciates. But it was defending champion Brock Lesnar, alongside Philadelphia legend Paul Heyman, who got the biggest reaction of the three.

Seth slipped out of ring as soon as the match began. Lesnar simply set to work German suplexing Cena. After a few seconds Rollins saw an opening and returned. He was instantly grabbed for a German suplex but J&J saved him. That came at a price though: they were left open to Lesnar, who easily hoisted both of them up for a double German suplex. The next several minutes were a haze of German suplexes from the champion to both of his challengers. The crowd ate it up.

Lesnar eventually tired of the suplexes and slapped a kimura on Cena instead. Cena made it to his knees and then to his feet before Rollins broke the hold up with a knee to Lesnar's head. Rollins kicked at Lesnar, then Cena joined him to hit a double suplex on the champ. Cena followed up with an AA and Rollins stole the cover. Lesnar kicked out at one.

The challengers briefly took out Lesnar by drop kicking him into the ring steps. Back in the ring Cena hit his belly-to-back suplex and went for the Five Knuckle Shuffle. Lesnar grabbed him for a German suplex before he could finish the taunt. Rollins broke up an attempted rolling German suplex with a super kick then kneed Lesnar in the back of the head to send him tumbling from the ring. Then one of those rare instances of Cena debuting a new move occurred. In this case Rollins turned round to take a Michinoku driver, the most stolen move of the 90s. Maybe he could start using it regularly and call it the Cena driver.

Rollins got a Blockbuster on Cena (and I was left disappointed that JBL didn’t namecheck Buff Bagwell). The subsequent pin attempt was broken up by Lesnar. Cena dropped ‘The Pain’ with a clothesline then got pulled out of the ring by Rollins, who springboarded back into the ring looking for a knee to Lesnar's head but got caught and F5ed. Cena broke up that cover to keep the match alive.

Lesnar German suplexed Cena then left the ring to pull apart the Spanish announce desk. When he returned to grab Cena he was blasted with three AAs in quick succession. Rollins pulled Cena off the cover but it didn't matter because Lesnar kicked out anyway. Rollins gave the champion a Curb Stomp, which Lesnar took really well, and Cena broke the cover up. Again it didn’t matter because Lesnar was kicking out.

Lesnar left the ring to recover. Cena followed him out and speared him through the crowd barrier into the timekeeper’s area, then pulled him back to his feet and threw him into the ring steps before smacking him in the head with them, sending Lesnar sprawling onto the Spanish announce table. A Rollins baseball slide wiped out Cena, who then hit a perfect elbow from the top rope onto Lesnar, bouncing off of him as he crushed him through the table.

Cena grabbed Rollins and put him back in the ring. Rollins surprised him with a small package for two. A super kick earned him another. Cena came back with an AA attempt. Rollins landed on his feet but then ran into a pop-up power bomb. Rollins kicked out and fired back with a buckle bomb. He attempted a Curb Stomp but Cena avoided it, latching onto his leg and pulling him down into an STF. J&J broke that up and helped Rollins hit a Shield bomb.

At this point a stretcher arrived for Lesnar and Michael Cole told us the champion may have suffered a broken rib. The inclusion of such an overplayed spot was the only negative thing about the match, but it wasn’t anywhere near bad enough to ruin it.

In the ring Rollins was handed his briefcase by Noble and Mercury. He tried to lamp Cena with it but was instead sent over the top rope (lucky he wasn’t in the Rumble match, eh?). Cena then hit a stacked up AA on J&J. Rollins returned and ate an AA of his own but managed to kick out. Then they staggered back to their feet and traded punches before Rollins scored an enziguri and a Curb Stomp for another two count.

Realising he'd need to try something special to keep Cena down Rollins went up to the top rope and hit Cena with a phoenix splash. But before he could make a cover he was grabbed and German suplexed by a returning Lesnar. Cena got one too, sending him rolling from the ring. Another German on Rollins didn't work out because 'The Future' managed to land on his feet, grab his briefcase and wallop Lesnar with it twice. He went for a Curb Stomp to Lesnar on the case but as he came off the ropes Lesnar sprang to his feet and caught him with and F5 for a successful title defence.

The match couldn't have been better. It was perfectly constructed, avoiding the awkwardness that often plagues WWE three-ways, and everyone got to look good. Cena entered one of his best performances in months. Rollins showed he belonged and was elevated by such a strong performance and not looking out of place with two far more experienced headliners. And Lesnar's status as an unbeatable monster was, astonishingly, not only kept intact but enhanced. It kept viewers guessing and made it clear that the WWE championships and something. Basically, we don't get matches like this anywhere near enough in WWE.

And we wouldn't get one in the night’s main event. The Royal Rumble match closed the show and it's the match that really let the card as a whole down. The opening half of the match was well put together but the back half was full of mistakes. It was basically a match put together according to a booking ethic that is decades out of date. I will touch on this again below.

The Miz and R-Truth started the match off. It made a nice change for the Rumble not to begin with someone announced for the number one spot. The battle from the number one spot has become played out. I was, however, disappointed that no one on commentary acknowledged the Awesome Truth reunion.

He's no longer a Bully, he's back to being a star.
They had a spirited exchange before being joined by entrant number three, the returning Bubba Ray Dudley. He hit the bionic elbow on Miz and then hit the Whassup headbutt and the Dudley Death Drop with R-Truth in the role of Devon. Bubba then eliminated both Miz and Truth as like Harper wandered out.

They traded some big lad moves before being joined by Royal Rumble debutant Bray Wyatt. Harper and Wyatt teamed up on Bubba as the crowd chanted for Devon. Instead they got a Bubba elimination. Bray and Harper exchanged words and then stepped apart, seemingly agreeing to work together.

Curtis Axel got attacked by Erick Rowan as he posed in the aisle. The commentary team made it very clear that Rowan was not an official entrant but Axel never made it to the ring and was never mentioned again. It’s also worth pointing out that Rowan exited the match over the top rope. It was a confusing move. If Rowan stole the spot that should have been made clear. If he didn’t then we should have been told why Axel didn’t make it to the ring.

Harper and Rowan agreed to go after Bray together (which got a loud response from the fans) but Harper turned on Rowan and sided with Bray. Both former henchmen would end up eliminated seconds later as they slumped themselves over the top rope and Wyatt simply tipped them out. ‘The Man of 1,000 Truths’ then stood in the middle of the ring and roared that it was his year. The crowd approved.  

The Boogeyman, Sin Cara and Zack Ryder all made their way into the ring. Each was quickly eliminated by 'The Eater of Worlds'. Number ten fared better. Because it was Daniel Bryan. The crowd erupted into a “Yes!” chant when he entered. He hit Wyatt with a clothesline, four corner drop kicks, smashed him with some kicks and then a top rope hurricanrana, all to a very loud response.

Fandango, Tyson Kidd and Stardust joined the fray. Kidd was quickly eliminated by D-Bry. Number fourteen was Diamond Dallas Page. He started hitting Diamond Cutters almost immediately. Stardust got one as he tried a scoop slam. Fandango was given one off the turnbuckle following a failed top rope leg drop. Wyatt found a haymaker ducked before he took his. The crowd loved it. It may not be a bad idea to look at booking Orton this way whenever he bothers to show back up.

Still a crazy over after nearly twenty years.
Rusev entered at number fifteen. DDP tried a Diamond Cutter on him but Rusev shoved him off and threw him out, quickly doing the same to Fandango. His faceoff with Wyatt was cut short by a drop kick from Daniel Bryan, who followed up with kicks to both men. Seconds later the match hit its turning point when Daniel Bryan was thrown over the top rope by ‘The Super Athlete’. He landed on the apron but that wasn't enough to save him: Wyatt charged in and knocked him off, officially eliminating him from the match.

This decision baffles me. This was Bryan's return to pay-per-view and his first Rumble in two years after being omitted last year despite being the company's hottest act. The people wanted to see him win the match. I understand WWE wanting to go with someone else but if the paying audience is so clearly invested in someone you’re not booking to win it’s a good idea to keep them in the match for as long as possible so the crowd can enjoy themselves. I'm sure the argument against keeping Bryan in until the end would be that it would detract from support for a certain other "babyface" entrant. But any babyface that wasn't D-Bry was going to face a tough time with the Philadelphia crowd once he’d been eliminated. WWE should have known that, embraced it, and kept Bryan in looking like a contender until much closer to the end of the match. It's what people wanted and it would have made the match far more interesting.

Goldust entered at sixteen. Stardust tried to eliminate him as he went for Shattered Dreams but Goldy kept his feet off the floor and returned to give him a slap. The audience’s response to that and the generic action that followed was to boo and chant for Daniel Bryan. 

Kofi Kingston headed in at seventeen (to hefty boos) and got his annual clever elimination evasion spot shortly afterwards: this year he was thrown over the top rope and landed on the Rosebuds, who were at ringside for Adam Rose’s entrance. Rose looked miffed at this as he entered and got lobbed straight out by 'The Bulgarian Brute'. Kofi followed within seconds.

The boos really intensified when Roman Reigns entered at nineteen, very probably because they could sense what was coming. He got in shots on everyone before eliminating Goldust and Stardust. Big E also got a frosty reception for not being Daniel Bryan. Mizdow did much better, bringing many in the crowd to their feet. He was interrupted by Miz, who told him he was taking his spot. When he was immediately pie-faced off the apron by Reigns Mizdow reconsidered (egged on by frantic fans at ringside) and entered the match. He got in moves on Bray and Big E before being eliminated by Rusev, at which point he went back to mimicking an irate Miz.

Jack Swagger, Ryback and Kane entered at twenty-two, -three and -four and did nothing of interest bar triggering a "CM Punk!" chant (you get one guess at whose entry got that). Dean Ambrose came in at twenty-five and immediately became the crowd's favourite. Titus O'Neil followed him in, immediately getting eliminated by Reigns and Ambrose. It was meant to become a new quickest ever elimination but Titus somehow botched gravity and lasted longer than the current record of four seconds.

Lucky number twenty-seven went to Intercontinental champ Bad News Barrett, followed by Cesaro at twenty-nine. Rusev eliminated Big E with a drop kick before Big Show came in at twenty-nine. A gaggle of guys swarmed him but he shrugged them off with power. He quickly formed an alliance with Kane and they threw out out Ryback and Swags. The final man in was Dolph Ziggler. He immediately swatted Kane, Show and Bray with super kicks, hit the giants with a double DDT, and eliminated BNB with a super kick.

Cesaro grabbed Ziggler for a Big Swing then threw him onto the apron. Ziggler pulled him out and super kicked him to the floor. He returned to the ring only to take a KO punch from Show. ‘The Giant’ and ‘The Big Red machine’ then poured him (yeah, poured him) out of the ring. Kane was set up for a Sister Abigail by Wyatt but Show saved him with another KO punch and they threw him out too.

A dreadfully booked finish.
That left Big Show and Kane on one side of the ring with Reigns and Ambrose on the other. Rusev had quietly slipped out of the ring in order to do a surprise return later. The Shield lads escaped choke slams and worked together to topple ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’. Their attempt at tossing him out didn't work and they ended up getting battered by the large lads. Ambrose took a choke slam from Show and then got tossed out, leaving just Reigns and the giants.

It was a scenario which stank of Vince McMahon. The crowd realised this and chanted “Bullshit!” Cole covered the lax booking by saying they were unhappy about Bryan and Ambrose being gone. That was true, but the problem was far deeper than that. It had become clear Reigns was going to win, and not just win but do so via the 80s cliché of toppling giants. Giants who, as Michael Cole ham-fistedly reminded us, were very accomplished Rumble performers.

Show tried to eliminate Kane as they worked over Reigns, leading to a falling out. As they leaned against the ropes, looking vaguely like they were humping one another, Reigns snuck in to tip them both out. The match was announced as a victory for him even though Rusev was still knocking about (and Curtis Axel never even got in). Reigns didn’t get to celebrate for long: The Authority lads were unhappy at their treatment so they got back into the ring and gave him a double choke slam. The audience’s response was to chant for Rusev, previously one of the most reliable heels in all of wrestling.

The Rock's music hit. He stormed down to the ring, gave Kane a spinebuster and a People's Elbow then gave show a Rock Bottom after Reigns had given him a Superman punch. At that point Rusev returned. Reigns made short work of him, spearing him, pointing at the WrestleMania sign (which is a taunt that always maxes your power bar), and then simply picking him up and chucking him out.

‘The Great One’ slipped back into the ring to pose with his cousin as Triple H and Stephanie came out to scowl. This was all part of Reigns’ elevation package. He was getting the rub from The Rock and being cast as the anti-authority rebel, WWE’s favourite trope, by being the object of Tripper and Steph’s displeasure.

It didn’t work. Reigns was subjected to heavy boos as he posed the show off the air.

It was a dreadful Royal Rumble, characterising everything that’s wrong with WWE in 2015. They want people to pay for the Network and live event tickets and all the rest of it but they don't want to push the people fans want to see pushed. I'm not complaining about Reigns’ win here. It wasn’t ideal but I expected it and, more to the point we’ve only seen the beginning of the story with his victory. But Bryan could have lasted far longer and gone out in a far more impressive manner than he did. The same goes for Ziggler, Wyatt and Ambrose. The latter two were sacrificed to Show and Kane to make them look good for when Reigns Hulked up and tipped them out.

Reigns. One of life's winners.
WWE don’t seem to get how to book for a modern audience. Reigns' initial victory was earned by him sneakily tipping two big fellas out as they humped on the ropes. Where's the dynamism in that? He should have been Superman punching them over the top rope to the ground. If Kane and Show can't take that bump forget 'em, they shouldn't be there.

A Philadelphia crowd was always going to boo this version of Roman Reigns. He’s a typical WWE babyface. That’s what Philadelphia does to them. But I think they would have been happier had a more intense final act been crafted, heavy on young guys as opposed to men who made their Rumble debuts well over a decade ago.

As a show this could have been a far worse starting point for WrestleMania season. The undercard tag matches were inconsequential filler, which is preferable to being actively bad, while the world title match was an early Match of the Year contender. It’s the Rumble that dragged the thing down. There was a right way and a wrong way for Reigns to win. WWE went for the wrong way.
***
Results summary:
The Ascension defeated The New Age Outlaws
The Usos defeated The Miz and Damien Mizdow to retain the tag team championship
The Bellas def Paige and Natalya
Brock Lesnar defeated Seth Rollins and John Cena to retain the WWE championship
Roman Reigns last eliminated Rusev to win the 2015 Royal Rumble

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Fantasy Booker: WrestleMania Season 2015

Last October I posted a lengthy piece about how I would have booked WWE from Hell in a Cell to WrestleMania 31. Not because I had or have any great affinity for Hell in a Cell but because it was the next pay-per-view at the time and I had some thoughts on how WWE could get themselves from the awkward autumn they were going through (still missing Reigns and Bryan and trying to establish Rollins and Ambrose as main event guys) to ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’.

But that was months ago and WWE’s created a fresh slate since. So I have a new batch of ideas to suggest for WrestleMania 31. The aim of this article is to record them. I’d tried to do it briefly but, well, it didn’t really work out.

I’ll start with some scene- and tone-setting. Firstly, I’ve assumed that The Rock won’t end up wrestling at the show this year. I’d like to make this as realistic as possible and that seemed the best way to go. Secondly, I’ve written this as if I would be continuing to run the company after ‘Mania 31. As such there are elements to it that are designed to set things up for the future that won’t really be detailed much here. There’s no way around this, it’s just the way I think about wrestling. It’s also resulted in several story points revolving around wins and losses. That’s a rarity with the current WWE product (outside of NXT) but it’s something I’d want to do more of. I’d phase it in gradually and that’s reflected here.

So, let’s start with the Royal Rumble card, which is already nicely laid out. Three undercard tag matches, a triple threat world title match, and the Rumble itself. I’d open the show with The Ascension squashing the Outlaws, then have Natalya and Paige lose to the Bellas via some sort of Tyson Kidd flavoured misunderstanding, and then have The Miz and Mizdow lose in their quest to regain the doubles gold. The last would happen after Mizdow mimicked Miz instead of tagging into the match, a decision which would result in Miz getting pinned. ‘The Awesome One’ would shout at Mizdow afterwards and Mizdow would mimic the shouting.

Would I keep the belt on Lesnar until WrestleMania? Read on to see!
The triple threat match, going on before the Rumble, would be won by… Brock Lesnar. No finishing sequence leaps out at me but I’d want Cena taking the loss. Not that he needs it but he could be protected by taking a Curb Stomp and then an F5, ‘The Pain’ wiping out Rollins with a German suplex after he’s Curb Stomped Cena.

A cash-in would be attempted by Rollins. It would be thwarted by Heyman grabbing Rollins’s leg and Lesnar F5ing him. The bell would not ring so it wouldn’t be an official use of the magic briefcase. Them’s the rules.

I’d end the show with the Rumble match because, as I’ve written before, I think it takes a really, really special championship match to follow the Rumble. WWE disagrees with this, as evidenced by the 2006 show being headlined by Kurt Angle versus Mark Henry. Yeah, Mark Henry main evented a Royal Rumble in a singles match.

I’ve fantasy booked several WrestleManias now and I’m convinced I’ve never come up with a half decent Rumble. For that reason I won’t go on too long about this one. Bray Wyatt would start the match at number one, because he’s a big name who’d get a good pop and it would allow for his full entrance. Rusev would enter somewhere in the first ten numbers, immediately eliminate several people, and get the longest lasting gong.

Roman Reigns would enter at fifteen. That’s a big name at the mid-way point and the bodies would have built up enough after Rusev’s clean-up for him to have a few people to immediately lob out. Reigns would be close to eliminating ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ when Big Show would enter at number sixteen. Show would “save” Rusev (by which I mean attack Reigns) only to be eliminated by Reigns single-handed. I’m not saying Reigns would pull a Cesaro and scoop slam Show out, but he’d get him over the top rope and he’d do it alone. Sheamus and Randy Orton would enter at indeterminate points dependent on when big names were required and Adrian Neville would make his main roster debut sometime during the match.

The only elimination spot I’d like to mention is one featuring Damien Mizdow and The Miz. ‘The A-Lister’ would be thrown out (it doesn’t matter who by, it could be a comedic figure getting an “upset” elimination or it could be someone being really efficient like Reigns or Rusev) and look shocked. Mizdow would still be in the match and see that his boss had been tossed out. Miz would leap to the apron and demand Mizdow mimic the elimination. There would be a moment’s pause where it’s clear that Mizdow’s torn between staying in the Rumble and trying to win and doing what his paymaster says. He’d briefly look reluctant then take a bump over the top rope to leave the match. He and Miz would leave together, Mizdow firmly back in character.

Daniel Bryan would enter at twenty-one. That would keep people waiting for him (and looking forward to Bryan’s entrance is going to be a theme of this year’s Rumble in actuality) but it would also get him in early enough that his popularity could buoy the match along outside of the closing moments. Because, yes, I’d have Bryan there in the closing moments. The match would come down to him and Big Roman (the other two members of the final four being Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler). They’d have a babyface versus babyface exchange with Bryan hitting the running knee after a few minutes, wobbling Reigns enough to eliminate him. The show would end with Bryan celebrating, Maggle Cole going crazy, and Reigns (briefly shown) slumped against a crowd barricade with his head in his hands.

There are several things I’d want to accomplish on the following evening’s RAW. I have no idea what order they’d happen in so this is a stream of consciousness coming up. The Authority would announce that Rollins would get another shot at the WWE championship in the main event of Fast Lane. The reason? He’d come close to pinning Cena the night before and his cash-in attempt had been unfairly thwarted. They’re heels, so they can be openly biased.

After the announcement Orton would rush the ring to try and get his hands on Rollins but would be attacked by Big Show, Kane and J&J Security. Rollins would escape unscathed. This would happen a few more times before Fast Lane, with Rollins always just managing to escape before Orton gets to him.

The Wyatt Family would reform. I don’t think they ever should have split. Luke Harper’s been given more to do than I thought he would but Erick Rowan has faltered (and no, a fake firing storyline doesn’t count for anything). I think both are better off affiliated with Wyatt. There’s nothing to say that Harper can’t be treated with more autonomy while still being someone’s henchman. They’d reform in Sheamus’s RAW return match. Across the following month Wyatt would talk about cleansing the world of the greatest evil there is and Harper would talk about wanting to play with toys. Wyatt wouldn’t wrestle, but both Harper and Rowan would have matches against Sheamus and Harper would begin targeting Dean Ambrose, interfering in matches, mentioning him in promos and so forth. Harper would want to make Ambrose his “toy.” These two feuds would (obviously) dovetail at Fast Lane.

Rusev (via Lana) would announce that he’d grown weary of being the greatest thing to hit America since sliced bread and give Fast Lane as the date he’d retire the United States championship. We’d throw in something about the US not deserving a champion of Rusev’s capable too. A string of American wrestlers would take issue with this across the next month of TV, providing a reason for Rusev to have a few more-spirited-than-usual title defences against a range of faces and heels. All would fall to the might of the Accolade or a brainbuster, a new finisher.

Cena would do nothing of interest between Rumble and Fast Lane. But because he’s John Cena I feel I have to address what he’s doing even if it’s nothing. The night after the Rumble he’d talk about refocusing and having the best ‘Mania season possible so that he’s considered first in line for a title shot after the WM31. Then he’d just wrestle some lads until Fast Lane.

Mid-air shot. Exciting, no?
Adrian Neville would wrestle matches against lower card guys on RAW, SmackDown and Main Event. He’d get long enough to have good matches and encourage people to get behind him. The idea would be to draw audiences into his performances and make audiences feel they’re seeing a major new star. His first loss would come at the hands of Cesaro on the February 19 SmackDown. After the match Cesaro would shake hands with Neville and nod, as though he’d noticed something in the plucky youngster.

The January 26 RAW would see Dolph Ziggler and Bad News Barrett agree to wrestle for Barrett’s IC title at Fast Lane. The next month would see them trying to one-up one another. They’d face the same opponents each week, one on RAW and one on SmackDown, and always win. They’d be presented as being evenly matched. This would also, hopefully, help to erase the stigma that the IC champ loses non-title matches all the time.

Damien Mizdow and The Miz would continue working as a tag team. They’d win some matches and lose some matches. Miz would berate Mizdow for every loss and hog the spotlight for every victory, nor matter who had taken or made the pin. The plot would see Mizdow gradually getting more irritated with Miz’s posturing and spotlight-seeking. Miz would remain oblivious to this.

Finally, the January 26 RAW would feature Daniel Bryan celebrating his Royal Rumble victory and being interrupted by Roman Reigns. This would be a tough segment to get right. I’d want Reigns to come across as a babyface but with a hint of whining to his character. It would be implied that he felt it should be him headlining WrestleMania, showing signs that he’s begun to believe in his own hype with regards to being WWE’s next top guy. He would be told to state that the Rumble “could have gone either way” at the end.

D-Bry would be the all-round nice guy with a fighter’s spirit he’s usually presented as and tell Reigns that he’d be willing to face him again. He’d offer Reigns a match at Fast Lane. Reigns would ask for it to be for the number one contendership. There would be no pause from Bryan: he’d agree instantly. Because that’s the heart of a champion, right there. They’d shake on it and Reigns would leave.

After a commercial break we’d be shown shots of Reigns heading backstage, gathering up his stuff and exiting the building. He wouldn’t appear in-ring for the next month. Instead we’d be treated to weekly updates of him working out, beasting masked jobbers in a private ring, jogging through woods, and other assorted training montage activities. Bryan would stay on TV, facing anyone and everyone, and beating them really quickly. Because he’s willing to turn up to arenas to see the fans and he’s hyper-competent when it comes to winning.

Fast Lane would open with the Dust Brothers v Miz and Mizdow. The Dusts would win the match and Miz would flip out afterwards. He’d attack Mizdow and storm backstage. Mizdow would be helped to the back by officials. The attack is the only reason this match would be happening. I don’t really like that but I’d only be able to get rid of so many silly tropes in the first few months. Meaningless PPV matches would have to stay for a bit.

After that Orton would run the gauntlet against, in order of entry, Jamie Noble, Joey Mercury, Kane and Big Show. In storyline terms this match would exist to punish Orty. In real terms it would exist to re-establish him as a big deal who wins. He’d eliminate Noble within thirty seconds, do the same with Mercury, drop Kane within two minutes, and then finish off Show with a single RKO after he’d entered the ring. It would be quick and explosive. The goal would be to make Orton look exciting.

Sheamus and Ambrose would defeat Harper and Rowan with Bray at ringside. After the match ‘The Eater of Worlds’ would attack the faces with a chair. Rowan would then hold down Sheamus (after checking that they don’t have some sort of matter and anti-matter deal due to them basically being exact opposites) and Harper would hold down Ambrose with Wyatt again talking about destroying the greatest evil… ending with him challenging The Undertaker to return and face him at WrestleMania.

Rusev’s US championship retirement ceremony would follow that. It would be interrupted, of course, by John Cena. I’d want him to cut a spirited promo decrying Rusev’s attitude but putting him over as a great talent who could go far in WWE and become a world champion. I wouldn’t want silly jokes or anything belittling Rusev or Lana. Whether this could be achieved is questionable, but let’s assumed it’d be managed.

Rusev (via Lana) would come back about America being wasteful (or something) before moving on to the more pertinent point that Cena, despite his nationality, is amongst the most accomplished WWE stars ever. Lana would challenge him to face Rusev at WrestleMania. Cena would accept. The ceremony would end with Cena and Rusev going face-to-face, but not fighting. For the record a bloke dressed in a drab suit would be there to be handed the United States championship. He would be referred to as a representative of Russia’s government.

After a Divas match, Paige defeating Brie Bella to earn herself a title match with Nikki at WM31, we’d get Barrett v Ziggler for the IC title. They’d be given fifteen minutes and encouragement to try and steal the show. The finish would see Bad News sidestep a super kick and Bullhammer Ziggler in the back of the head.

Bryan and Reigns would take the semi-main event spot. They’d get somewhere in the region of ten minutes, because Reigns is better in smaller doses but anything less than ten minutes wouldn’t seem substantial enough. The opening moments would see Reigns throw Bryan over the top rope to the floor, nodding to himself afterwards. Obviously the point of this would be Reigns “proving” he could have thrown Bryan out of the Rumble and won the thing as he’d claimed. The finish of the match would see Reigns give Bryan a Superman punch and then ready himself for a spear. Bryan would stagger to his feet and then turn the spear into a small package (or similar pinning predicament) for the three.

After the match Reigns would sit in the ring looking dumbfounded. Bryan would celebrate on the turnbuckles. A handshake would be offered to Reigns by D-Bry but Reigns would just get up and walk to the back. At this point I’d want there to be heavy boos for Reigns.

The main event would be an Attitude Era special. It would be announced as being no DQ just before starting and would feature interference from J&J, Kane, and Big Show. Orton would run out in the early going but be wiped out by The Authority lads and hit with a Curb Stomp by Rollins to eliminate him from proceedings. Lesnar would essentially be the lone wolf babyface. He’d whittle away all the Authority goons and just be left with Rollins. Even with no assistance Rollins would be shown to be capable against ‘The Pain’, using his speed to survive. Eventually Triple H would appear and get Brock’s attention by grabbing Heyman (because everyone loves it when Heyman is presented as the monster’s sole weakness, right?). That would allow Rollins to use a chair and then get in a Curb Stomp.

At that point the lights would immediately cut out, coming back on a few seconds later to reveal Sting in the middle of the ring. He’d Scorpion Death Drop Rollins, spurring ‘The Game’ to get into the ring. He and Sting would trade some punches before a recovered Lesnar wiped out Triple H with an F5. He’d then stare down ‘The Stinger’ and grab him for an F5. Rollins would try to Curb Stomp Lesnar immediately after he’d given Sting the move but Lesnar would block or dodge it and get another F5, this one on Rollins, for the three.

The following night’s RAW would have the classic opening: a heel promo. Triple H would say he’s tired of Sting interfering in his business and challenge him to a match at WrestleMania. Rollins (who, let’s not forget, would still have the magic briefcase) would say it’s the fault of Sting and Randy Orton that he didn’t beat Lesnar. Trips would announce Rollins v Orton for WrestleMania.

Ziggler and Barrett would have a non-title rematch from the night before. It could be explained as The Authority being impressed with Ziggler’s performance the previous evening or as Ziggler having challenged Barrett to a non-title bout. The important thing is that they’d wrestle. They would again get fifteen minutes but there would be no clean finish this time. Instead Roman Reigns’ music would play and he’d march to the ring, now down the aisle instead of through the crowd. He’d be so over crowd entrances. He’d be all about looking moody in the aisle at this point.

This would happen. I've put a picture of it and everything.
Ziggler and Barrett would continue their match, unaffected by the music playing (because this is a good time to drop the wrestlers-being-distracted-by-music-they-hear-playing-all-the-time scenario). Reigns would get into the ring. Barrett would put Ziggler between himself and Reigns and Reigns would attack Ziggler. Barrett would leave and Reigns would maul Ziggler with power moves and a Superman punch. Reigns doesn’t really use many power moves now. That would need to change and he’d need some in his arsenal by this point. This would be part of that process. Reigns would leave without saying anything. Ziggler would be helped backstage during the break, shown exclusively on the WWE App!

A Sami Zayn vignette would also air for the first time. It would announce him as “coming soon.” The following weeks would reveal Zayn would debut on the March 30 RAW, the night after WrestleMania.

The final things of note for the February 23 RAW would concern Rusev and John Cena. Rusev would cut the main eventer treatment and come to the ring for a promo. He (via Lana) would talk about everything he’d accomplished over the last year and everything Cena has accomplished in his decade-plus. Lana would promise that Rusev would defeat Cena at WrestleMania, go on to capture the WWE championship, and make 2015 his year.

Cena would get a promo spot of his own in which he’d again put over Rusev’s ability but put down his attitude. Maybe he could tie this in with his “hustle, loyalty, respect” and “rise above hate” mantras. Because that’s what the kids love, am I right? He’d also say he needs to beat Rusev in order to justify his position at the top of WWE. Though in a more colourful, Cena-esque manner.

The following weeks would see Orton continuing to try and get his hands on Rollins, always just coming up short. Rollins’s excuse for ducking out of these confrontations would be that he doesn’t want to make Orton look good until ‘Mania. Orton would get closer and closer to getting his hands on Rollins but he’d never quite manage it. They’d go into the show without Orton getting in any offence on Rollins. I’d want people desperate to see Rollins take a pasting.

On the March 2 RAW (or maybe the March 5 SmackDown) Adrian Neville would be mocked by Bad News Barrett for not having beaten any upper mid-card names. Neville’s response would be to challenge Barrett to a title match. Barrett would offer him a non-title match on the March 9 RAW, which Nev would accept and win. That win would be used to set up an Intercontinental title match between Barrett and Neville at WrestleMania, with Neville continuing to rack up wins beforehand.

Sheamus and Rowan would head off into their own feud, as would Ambrose and Harper. Wyatt’s challenge would be accepted, in person, on the March 2 RAW, with ‘The Dead Man’ appearing in person at the top of the ramp to tell Wyatt he’d see him at ‘Mania. He’d return on the March 23 RAW to go face-to-face with ‘The Man of 1,000 Truths’. They’d fight, Bray throwing the first punch and ‘Taker getting the best of the exchange, ending it with a choke slam.

Reigns would not be seen until the March 9 RAW after attacking Ziggler on the post-Fast Lane show. Upon his return he’d cut a promo designed to give him a discernible character with understandable motivations. He’d say he’d like to be able to apologise to what he did to Dolph Ziggler. He’d like to but he couldn’t. He’d lay into Ziggler for being like Daniel Bryan, a guy who thinks just because they get talked about on the internet they should be on top of WWE. Basically I’d want Reigns to become the embodiment of WWE’s anti-internet view. He’d argue that he should be on top, should have won the Rumble, should main event WrestleMania, should get a WWE title match because he’s obviously the next breakout star, not Bryan or Ziggler or anyone else.

Ziggler would return four nights later on SmackDown. He’d wrestle a match and also challenge Reigns to a ‘Mania match. This would be accepted in the following weeks and Reigns would tell Ziggler he’ll pulverize him because he no longer cares about being nice. Mean ol’ Reigns, eh?

Cena and Rusev would each record videos that could be played weekly on RAW and SmackDown in which they’d discuss why they’d want to beat each other and put over their own accomplishments. The idea for the Cena v Rusev match would be to have Cena taking Rusev dead seriously and wanting to beat him not only for national pride but because he wants to be the first man to say he pinned Rusev. ‘The Super Athlete’ would obviously want to beat Cena for the immense bragging rights.

They’d confront one another for the second time on the March 23 RAW. Rusev would stoically promise to defeat Cena at WrestleMania. Cena’s calm façade would slip slightly and we’d get him looking slightly worried in the face of an opponent who doesn’t seem intimidated by his status. Angrily Cena would say he doesn’t just want to beat Rusev for all the reasons he’s given until that point, he also wants to beat him to teach him some humility. Cena would try to provoke Rusev. Rusev would remain calm, telling Cena (via Lana) he’d see him at ‘Mania, and leave.

Sting would accept and the world would have its mediocre match.
Triple H would continue to call out Sting for a ‘Mania match. Sting would appear on the big screen on the March 16 RAW and say the words “I accept.” The following week, the pre-‘Mania episode, he’d appear in the ring to even the odds in a show-closing brawl pitting Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Triple H and the lackeys against Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton.

Why would Lesnar be sharing a ring with The Authority after they’d tried to rob him of the title at Fast Lane? Glad you asked! The March 9 RAW would feature Lesnar and Heyman (mostly the latter) putting over Rollins as a tough, talented guy who took Brock to the limit and is undoubtedly the future of the company. They would profess that they have nothing but respect for him but urge him not to do anything foolish with his briefcase. That would segue them to the topic of Daniel Bryan. Heyman would bring up Bryan’s shaky medical history and urge him not to do anything foolish, like compete in a match with a wrecking machine like Brock Lesnar.

Bryan would join them in the ring and say he respects Heyman and Lesnar but that he doesn’t fear them. He’d be willing to go through ‘The Beast’ to regain the championship he never lost. I’d want him to mention the history of the title since SummerSlam 2013, how Bryan defeated Cena to win the championship and never lost it fairly in the middle of the ring, always being stripped or screwed out of it instead. Probably the most important thing with this would be emphasising that Lesnar beat the same man Bryan did, Cena, to become the champion, but that he never beat Bryan. Bryan v Lesnar would need to have a sports vibe to it. It fits with the characters of both men and the match they’d likely have.

Lesnar’s response would be something short and sweet, but more substantial than his usual dinosaur-like wailings. A simple “At WrestleMania, I’m going to eat you up and spit you out. You’re nothing” would fit well enough with Lesnar’s character and establish that Lesnar doesn’t see D-Bry as a threat.

Lesnar wouldn’t appear again until that show-closing brawl segment on the March 23 RAW. The rumours of his imminent departure could be subtly acknowledged by Tripper and not-so-subtly acknowledged by Maggle Cole. Trips would casually write off Bryan’s chances and make a remark about vacating the title should the need arise. Bryan would come out to remind The Authority how writing him off worked out at WrestleMania XXX. Rollins would pipe up about “Plan B” in response to Bryan and Heyman would tell Bryan that he wouldn’t be able to overcome Lesnar, let alone Lesnar and then Rollins. Lesnar would look irked at Heyman for this comment. Then Orton would come out to round things out, mentioning that once he’s done with Rollins he’ll be going after the championship too. Lesnar would attack Bryan and Rollins would join in, triggering Orton dashing to the ring only to be cut off by the various Authority henchmen. They’d be cleared out but Rollins, Lesnar and Triple H would overwhelm Orton and Bryan before Sting appearing to make the save.

That would (finally) lead us into WrestleMania 31. The pre-show would open with Sheamus defeating Erick Rowan then feature a four-way tag title match, the Usos defending against The Ascension, the Dust Brothers and the Masters of the Universe. The MOTU would win. I’ve not really touched on the tag scene much because I’ve only concentrated on sketching out the feuds I’d be building for WrestleMania. I’d have tried to make it more prevalent and meaningful on TV. Cesaro and Kidd would get the tag straps because they’re a good team and because it would be a surprise for the crowd. I’d have made it a point to build them as stars in the division.

Miz and Mizdow would close the pre-show. Mizdow would get the victory. I think this would be Miz’s first loss at a WrestleMania. Yeah, I’d end a streak. Deal with it.

I’ll rattle through the card in the order I’d book it. Orton v Rollins would open the show and Orton would beat ‘The Future’ clean in the centre of the ring with the RKO. Second would be the Intercontinental title match, Adrian Neville defeating Bad News Barrett with the Red Arrow to win gold in his ‘Mania debut.

Reigns v Ziggler would follow. The match would be relatively short and set out to make Reigns look like a dominating beast and Ziggler to look like a man who doesn’t give up. Reigns would win after a sequence of power moves (established across the previous two months) and the Superman punch. That would be followed by Dean Ambrose defeating Luke Harper.

Rusev v Cena would be match number five. I think twelve minutes is a decent amount of time for this. It allows them time to milk the atmosphere and put on a good match but also ensures they wouldn’t overstay their welcome. Cena would come close to powering out of the Accolade but wouldn’t quite manage to do it. He’d make it to the ropes instead. Rusev would strike him with some kicks and a brainbuster to win the match via pinfall.

Wyatt and The Undertaker would follow. With no Streak to be concerned with the match could go to either of them. Ultimately I think it would be better if Undertaker won, so that he was coming off a win for WrestleMania 32. That’s expected to be his retirement match so it makes sense for him to look as good as possible so that a fresh face could be given a win over him and have it mean more.

Paige defeating Nikki Bella would have a story behind it but that’s not included here in an attempt to keep this article close to a readable length. Sting v Triple H would go on last. I could see arguments for both guys winning the match. As it wouldn’t really have any long term effects I’d decide nearer the time who’d win. I’d lean towards Sting though, because it would very probably be his one WrestleMania appearance and his inexplicable popularity means a win is probably the right call. When in doubt, put the face over.

Best possible ending.
The main event would see Daniel Bryan defeat Brock Lesnar for the WWE world championship. I mean, how could it not? It’s too obvious a story what with the size difference and Bryan’s comeback and Lesnar leaving. It’s the only result the match could have. Afterwards Seth Rollins would appear and cash-in his Money in the Bank contract. Heyman, still at ringside from Lesnar v Bryan, would trip Bryan as he went for the running knee, with Rollins Curb Stomping him and pinning him for the title straight afterwards. Lesnar would shout at Heyman from the ring, Heyman warbling back that it was just business. Rollins would smack Lesnar with the championship belt, Curb Stomp him on it and then pose in the ring. Heyman would join him after a minute or two. WrestleMania would close with Heyman raising Rollins’ arm.

The following night would need a big angle. Because post-‘Mania RAWs have big angles now. It’s the done thing. Mine would take place in the final segment of the show. The Authority and Heyman would throw Rollins a lavish in-ring celebration for his first WWE title win. Stephanie and Triple H would put him over as the future of the company and the industry as a whole. Heyman would gush about his ability and declare himself Rollins’s new agent, met with questioning glances between Stepher and Trips.

Rollins would be handed the mic and would acknowledge that, yes, he truly is the best thing ever. But he’d also say that while he appreciated The Authority’s help he didn’t need it. He’d have made it to the top without them sooner or later, because true talent can’t be held back. He’d mention Reigns’s complaining, stating that his face fits but he’s not the talent Rollins is. He’d get more openly aggressive, talking about how WWE holds down wrestlers who are capable and deserving of so much more than they’re given. He’d end by saying that as champion he considers it his responsibility to lead from the front, making sure everyone gets what they deserve and putting on the best match every night.

Triple H would get in Rollins’ face, berating him and having a go and blah-blah-blah. What you’d expect from him in this sort of segment basically. With the camera closed in on the two of them we wouldn’t see Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, and Adrian Neville until they were in the ring. They’d make quick work of Kane, Big Show, and J&J, then take their time with Triple H. Heyman would applaud this from ringside and the show would go off the air with every male champion on the main roster standing on a turnbuckle with the COO laying defeated beneath them.

The intention would be for wrestling ability to become more important to WWE from this point, and this group would be able to have good matches with everyone on the roster. They’d also work as tweeners. Rollins would be a heel against someone like Daniel Bryan because he stole his moment and his title at WrestleMania. But he’d be a face against someone like Reigns who’d be arguing that he should just be given everything he wants because he is so obviously imbued with the traditional requirements for the top spot. The intention would be to expand the group quickly with the very good wrestlers. An initial story would be the group trying to recruit Sami Zayn, who would have debuted hours before their formation, and Zayn declining, wanting to earn his way to the top rather than get it through politicking and a gang mentality. I’d avoid including Dolph Ziggler at first so that he could feud with the group. If it caught on he could join later.

Long term there would be several title contenders ready for Rollins. Bryan would be entitled to a rematch. Orton would have pinned Rollins hours before he won the championship. Rusev would have pinned Cena, a major accomplishment within WWE. Reigns’s attitude would fit well with The Authority would contrast with the new group’s, and he’d have already stated his desire to be the top boy.

Cena and Reigns would both have lengthy arcs to occupy them. Reigns could do his entitled routine until people became sick of booing him and embraced him as a cool heel. At that point a slow turn could be started, with an eye to having him win the world title as the culmination of that. Cena would be plagued by self-doubt after his loss to Rusev (shut up, yes he would) and would decide he wants to work his way back up, having a match with everyone on the roster to prove to himself he’s still as good as he and his fans thought. That could culminate in a rematch with Rusev, a title match, or challenging Undertaker at WrestleMania 32. He could even take a few months off to “rediscover himself”, giving the younger guys time in the spotlight.

Would this be better than what WWE will give us? We’ll know in a few months. But I don’t think it would be dreadful. If only because it would give WE the shakeup it’s been needing for a long time.

***

For ease and simplicity here are the matches I’ve laid out above.

Royal Rumble (25.01.15)
Daniel Bryan to win the Royal Rumble, last eliminating Roman Reigns
Brock Lesnar to defeat John Cena and Seth Rollins to retain the WWE championship
The Usos to defeat The Miz and Damien Mizdow to retain the tag team championship
The Bella twins to defeat Paige and Natalya
The Ascension to defeat The New Age Outlaws

Fast Lane (22.02.15)
Brock Lesnar to defeat Seth Rollins to retain the WWE championship
Daniel Bryan to defeat Roman Reigns to retain his number one contender status
Bad News Barrett to defeat Ziggler to retain the Intercontinental championship
Paige to defeat Brie to earn a Divas championship match at WrestleMania
Rusev US title retirement ceremony
Sheamus and Ambrose to defeat The Wyatt Family
Orton to defeat Jamie Noble, Joey Mercury, Kane and Big Show in a gauntlet match
The Dust Brothers to defeat The Miz and Damien Mizdow

WrestleMania 31 (29.03.15)
Daniel Bryan to defeat Brock Lesnar for the WWE championship
Sting to defeat Triple H
Paige to defeat Nikki Bella for the Divas championship
Undertaker to defeat Bray Wyatt
Rusev to defeat John Cena
Dean Ambrose to defeat Luke Harper
Roman Reigns to defeat Dolph Ziggler
Adrian Neville to defeat Bad News Barrett for the Intercontinental championship
Randy Orton to defeat Seth Rollins
(Pre-show) Damien Mizdow to defeat The Miz
(Pre-show) The Masters of the Universe to defeat The Ascension, the Usos and the Dusts Brothers for the tag team championships
(Pre-show) Sheamus to defeat Erick Rowan