Tuesday 1 April 2014

That RAW Recap 31.03.14

On March 31 1985 the WWF promoted the first ever WrestleMania. Hulk Hogan and Mr T would defeat 'Mr Wonderful' Paul Orndorff and 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in the main event. On March 31 1996 the WWF promoted WrestleMania XII. Shawn Michaels would defeat Bret Hart in the main event to win his first world championship.

On March 31 2014 WWE promoted an edition of Monday Night RAW. That's not quite as ground-breaking or auspicious as a WrestleMania but it did have links to 'The Granddaddy of Them All'. It would function as WWE's final significant sales pitch for the WrestleMania XXX card, a last chance for the company to make people care about the big event's matches and tie off storylines ready to be paid off on the supershow. And it also featured a match that was originally scheduled to headline WrestleMania XXX: Randy Orton versus Batista.

The weeks preceding this WrestleMania have been nicely paced and, for the most part, interesting from a creative perspective. Some match build-ups have received more attention and been more successfully prepped than others. Daniel Bryan versus Triple H has been the clear standout, and at least part of the success there is attributable to D-Bry's overwhelming popularity. Meanwhile The Undertaker's showdown with Brock Lesnar has failed to capture imaginations. It's disappointing but to be expected: the appeal of 'Taker's Streak is the match itself. The hype surrounding it is largely irrelevant.

It was 'The Phenom' and 'The Pain', along with agent extraordinaire Paul Heyman, who kicked off the March 31 RAW. They repeated the lines we've been hearing for weeks, Heyman saying his client would deal 'Taker his first ever ‘Mania loss and 'The Dead Man' saying that 'The Beast' would rest in peace, before getting physical. Lesnar, who has been outsmarted and outmuscled by Undie in their recent face-to-face encounters, flattened his foe with a clothesline and then dropped him with an F5.

Too little too late
Had Lesnar done this every single time he encountered The Undertaker during this feud I suspect more people would accept him as a credible threat to The Streak now. As it is the two have either been presented evenly or 'Taker has been awarded a slight advantage by the booking, depending on your view. I don’t think anyone could make a realistic claim that Lesnar has been built up as someone who could finally snap The Streak. With their match having the most obvious outcome on the card WWE should be doing everything in their power to convince people Lesnar stands a chance.

The next 'Mania match to receive attention was Wyatt versus Cena. Wyatt, flanked by Harper and Rowan, cut a promo backstage about the world craving change and people perceiving him as a monster. These videos are useful for demonstrating how unhinged the Wyatt character is but they are significantly less useful for advancing feuds.

Later on the evening 'The Eater of Worlds' would have a match with R-Truth. Bray made short work of him (I'm disappointed Little Jimmy's not a thing anymore because Wyatt could do some wonderful stuff with that) and then the entire Family took out Xavier Woods. Cena showed up wearing a sheep mask, which for some reason caused enough confusion amongst the heel camp to allow him to wipe out Harper and Rowan. An AA attempt on Wyatt was thwarted when Wyatt slipped out of Cena's grasp and left the ring.

Wyatt has done great work during this programme and has been protected from looking like Cena's inferior. Cena deserves credit for selling for his foe too. He does do that to the extent he has recently for just anyone (even though he should). He hasn't really had much offence against the Family until this episode of RAW. Despite these good points the build has still felt more like a mid-card attraction than a top liner's supremacy being challenged though. I think it’s attributable to the fact that Wyatt is a new face and we’re not accustomed to seeing Cena not challenge for a title or wrestle an icon at ‘Mania. In fact Cena has not been this low on the ‘Mania card since his debut at WrestleMania XX. That works in Wyatt’s favour though: he can be tacitly presented as the man who dragged Cena away from the main event of WrestleMania.

The final matches of significance to receive attention were bundled together. They're linked by a stipulation so it makes sense. For anyone unaware (not that that's likely) COO Triple H will wrestle Daniel Bryan with the winner advancing to occupy the third spot in the triple threat main event, facing Batista and champion Randy Orton for the WWE world title.

Draping your arm around your wife makes you a heel apparently
The Authority kicked off hour two with the promise that the Yes Movement™ would be ended at WrestleMania. They followed that with a speech designed to build up the audience's alleged fickle nature and Triple H's in-ring legacy. The former was achieved via a reminder of Fandango's incredible popularity last year and the fact that it dwindled away to nothing. According to 'The King of Kings' fans don’t care about Fandango, Bryan or any other wrestler, they just want to be a part of something. In actuality the case with Fandango was that WWE failed to capitalise on what they had. But the comments were fine in the context of a heel promo.

Tripper's in-ring legacy was built up with an ego massaging hype video narrated by Stephanie which showed (old) footage of Triple H beating Booker T, Scott Steiner, Chris Jericho, RVD, Jeff Hardy and Kurt Angle. The idea was that all of them were great talents with Hall of Fame careers, which Trips acknowledged himself, but that he'd beaten them all and stayed at the top because he's the best of the best. Within the context of the storyline it was supposed to be a propaganda piece so the fact that it featured a flattering portrayal of Tripper and unflattering portrayals of the other men made sense.

In another nice touch viewers were told that Daniel Bryan would not be on the show. It may seem odd to condone promising (falsely, as it turned out) your top star wouldn't be appearing but hear me out. Bryan had been absent from the previous week's broadcast due to a legitimate medical issue (concussion related). That made it completely believable that he would be absent from this show too. This approach allowed the power mad aspects of The Authority's characters to be highlighted and Bryan to be portrayed as an irrepressible babyface when he did finally show up.

The Authority's musings were halted by the arrival of Batista, this week sporting a Georgetown T-shirt, jeans, shades and a flat cap. The DC crowd provided a rare "Batista!" chant (because Big Dave is from there) but boos could still be heard. Not even his home town will fully support him. If WWE are after content ideas for the Network they could do worse than a sitcom called Everybody Hates Batista. Actually they could.

'Fashionplate' Dave Bautista
'The Animal' kicked off by reminding the world that Triple H has never pinned him (which will become completely irrelevant if Bryan ends up in the triple threat). Then Randy Orton joined the party. 'The Viper' repeated material from previous weeks too: specifically his request that Trips reconsider entering the three-way after his apparently assured win over Bryan. Tripper wasn't up for that, once again telling Orty that he'd have to rediscover his killer instinct to keep hold of his belts. Basically the idea was that everyone's overlooking Bryan. It makes sense, playing into the storyline and setting up all the heels for a fall should Bryan walk out of WM30 as champion.

The segment ended with Orton and Batista staring at one another. It was powerful, emotional stuff not for the faint hearted. The two would return to the ring for the evening's main event. The Authority stationed themselves at the commentary table for that. That once again played into The Authority underestimating D-Bry, Triple H presuming he would be in the title match and thus making the match to have his assumed foes wear one another out.

The match, fought under no DQ rules, featured more ringside brawling than wrestling. It was fine for the main event of a RAW but neither but did anything to make me think they could have pulled off an adequate WrestleMania headliner. If a triple threat match wasn't a plan all along (and the likelihood is that it wasn't) then WWE had a lucky escape not having Batista and Orton close their most important event of the year. Even overlooking the boos the match would have played to it simply wouldn’t have been of a high enough standard.

This is the real WrestleMania main event
As noted above Daniel Bryan rocked up at the end of the show, jumping Triple H at the announce desk, wiping out Batista with a running knee (after Batista had eliminated Orton with a spear) and finishing with a satisfying brawl around ringside with Triple H. 'The Game' sold desperately, bumped around wildly, and absorbed kicks and cane shots to whet appetites for their WrestleMania showdown. 

The programme ended with Bryan leading a "Yes!" chant from the ring as Triple H was held back by Stephanie in the aisle. Orton and Batista? Fittingly, they were nowhere to be seen.

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