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The Smark Henry RAW Report (2/29/16): Much Ado About Nothing


The Undertaker returned to WWE TV this week for the first time since Survivor Series, and his return was supposed to answer the questions that we asked since Vince McMahon put his son Shane in a Hell in a Cell match against the Deadman at WrestleMania Star. The expectations were two-fold: (1) that Taker would explain why he allowed himself to carry out Vince McMahon’s bidding and (2) how he felt about being caught in this family feud.

When Vince introduced the Undertaker this week, he referred to the latter as his own “instrument of destruction.” I thought the Phenom would take exception to it, especially Vince taking possession of the Undertaker. Or Taker could have gone the other way by turning heel and somehow acknowledging his real-life status as one of Vince’s most loyal, long-term employees. 



We got neither of those things, as all Taker did was make his grand entrance, choke Vince McMahon and essentially say he was waiving himself of all liability from whatever happens to Shane at WrestleMania. While that was something we would expect Taker to do, it still didn’t tell us why he would agree to be Vince’s “instrument of destruction” in the first place.

Is Vince the “higher power” once again? Has he taken control of the Undertaker’s urn? Is Vince the Undertaker’s benefactor who allows him to indulge in his fantasies and play Deadman every spring? Wait. Don’t answer that last one.

It’s problematic that the Undertaker’s presence in this storyline can’t be explained when it’s the hardest to justify. Had Brock Lesnar not beaten the Undertaker’s streak two years ago, I could somehow understand why Vince would choose Taker as Shane’s opponent. Vince is the evil despot who will do everything in his power to make life difficult for anyone who crosses him, even his own son. So he might as well match his son up against the only man who has never lost at WrestleMania. That also gives Taker an incentive to go all out and not spare Shane.

As it stands, though, the Undertaker’s motivations aren’t clear and he risks being a bit player trapped in what should be a marquee matchup with all the marbles on the table. He’s a mema opponent, someone you’d put in the picture just to stack the deck against Shane McMahon the babyface and to shock the world. But when the dust settles, not even the Undertaker knows what he’s fighting for, and that makes his WrestleMania arc for the year pretty sad.



Survey Says…

Speaking of Vince McMahon, he likes going on record to say that WWE listens to their weekly test audience to determine what works against what doesn’t. It’s funny that for all of those claims, he sure as hell is stubborn and dense after ignoring all the hate for Roman Reigns and sticking with the Big Dog as his WrestleMania main eventer.

For whatever it’s worth, Dean Ambrose’s appearances on RAW this week, especially next to Triple H, proved that the WWE Universe is ready to accept him as their next leading man. He may not have the gorgeous long hair, bulky arms, or even the family-friendly good looks of Vince’s archetypal top guy, but Ambrose knows how to make the plucky, loony, scrappy underdog schtick work, and he’s got the fans wrapped around his tiny finger.



As a character, Ambrose continues to get a lot of love from fans with the way he charges into trouble head-on without a care for his well-being. The audacity with which he challenges Triple H to a championship match is also endearing because Trips’ initial refusal somehow mirrors Creative’s own refusal to make Dean Ambrose Triple H’s rightful babyface foil.

I think the reason why audiences embrace Ambrose as their leading man the same way they once did Daniel Bryan is because their storyline is the reality of them being held down. Conversely, it’s hard getting behind Roman Reigns, who is written as somebody who is being held back by a fictional authority figure, when everybody can see flat-out that he’s being blatantly elevated to stardom.



Ambrose is getting his WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against Triple H at Roadblock, but it’s highly doubtful that Trips will just drop the title to Ambrose before the huge WrestleMania showdown against Roman Reigns. But Creative should use that opportunity as another sample—a gauge—to see that Ambrose is the guy people want to see, and not Reigns. Deano will go on to WrestleMania to have his own huge match against Brock Lesnar, and win or lose, he will get a huge rub from being in the ring with the Beast Incarnate. 


Or better yet, here's an idea. What if Deano gets the upset win at Roadblock, leading to a heel turn for Roman Reigns as we get towards 'Mania? You can keep Trips in the match since he's entitled to his rematch clause anyway. The only problem after that will be where to place Brock Lesnar, which won't be too big of a problem since he's Brock fucking Lesnar. Or they could insert him into the match and make it a Fatal 4-Way.

In any case, that main event is in dire need of saving, especially if a double turn between Trips and Roman is not in the cards. What makes this year especially tough is that Creative no longer has the Money in the Bank contract as a way to prevent a catastrophic fan reaction should they fail to build Roman Reigns up as the babyface number one contender they so desperately want him to be.



Your Finish Sounds Familiar

The number one contender’s match between Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch ended in a draw after the referee ruled that both women’s shoulders were down on the mat for a three-count. It’s funny how NXT, Lucha Underground, and now RAW have all used that as plot devices over the last two weeks as they try to extend some of their bigger storylines. 



Personally, I’m not tired of this just yet because it means that Creative isn’t rushing the story, which it shouldn’t. After all, we’re a whole month away from WrestleMania Star, and that’s more than enough time to execute a properly fleshed-out story surrounding the Divas Championship. In fact, it’s been so long since we’ve seen a women’s championship match at WrestleMania that wasn’t a clusterfuck, the last time we had one of those was at WrestleMania 23—when the Women’s Championship was still active.

As for the match itself, you can argue that the finish made Sasha look incompetent for not realizing that Becky was also on top of her and not getting her own shoulders up from the mat. But I don’t think that’s the case because the match was structured in such a way that both women were made to look like they really were equally matched. So a finish like that—even though it came out of nowhere since it used neither woman’s finisher—made sense because I got the idea that they pushed each other to their limits until they both just gave out. It was by no means perfect because they could have busted out a finish like that (1) at the peak of the tension between Sasha and Becky and (2) when both women have really exhausted their options by successfully performing all their big moves on each other.

All that being said, I think this week’s match still achieved its goal of extending the storyline such that both Sasha and Becky will eventually be named as Charlotte’s opponents at WrestleMania. The bigger question is if either of them should defeat Charlotte for the title at ‘Mania. My easy answer is yes, but after hearing the opinions of David Shoemaker and Peter Rosenberg on last week’s Cheap Heat podcast, I can see the value in letting Charlotte retain at WrestleMania, so that she can continue looking so strong as a despicable heel that when she finally loses, that moment becomes so much bigger, regardless of when it happens. There is potential in seeing Charlotte surpass Nikki Bella’s record-breaking title reign because it also elevates the Divas Championship in value, but that’s if and only if Charlotte’s title defenses are treated seriously.


Quick Hitters
  • Y2AJ is growing on me as a tag team because they’re not just two meandering midcarders put together because there wasn’t any place for them as singles guys. Their story makes sense organically and watching them challenge the New Day feels refreshing because both guys seem to have something to prove as individuals, therefore giving them something to fight for as a team. 

  • I’m pretty glad that Y2AJ didn’t immediately challenge for the Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania. AJ Styles, in particular, showed a bit of self-awareness when he referenced the fact that whenever someone beats a champion in WWE, they immediately deserve a title match. I want the New Day to screw Y2AJ over next week, which gives Jericho and Styles an edge to want to eventually put Big E, Kofi, and Xavier in their places on the grandest way possible—at WrestleMania.


  • Angry Ryback just going apeshit and trying to maim his opponent makes sense if you’re trying to write him as a heel. I know he’s supposed to be turning heel, but pairing him up with Adam Rose in the ring didn’t help. Sure, the Social Outcasts are the lovable underachievers, but they still act heelish and try to piss off both babyface characters and the audience, so I didn’t know whether I should have felt sorry for the Radical Mongoose or not. They could have made it much easier for Ryback to get heat by feeding a more universally beloved guy like Zack Ryder to the Big Guy.

  • Great to see Lana back in some capacity. It appears she’ll be in a storyline with Brie Bella, which is more relieving than underwhelming because at least it doesn’t look like she’ll be future endeavored anytime soon.


  • Can we please give the Lucha Dragons, and the League of Nations something meaningful to do? I get that the LoN are on-again, off-again henchmen for Triple H, but can we make that more permanent so they don’t have to keep dragging out what is essentially a finished story with the Lucha Dragons? I guess the only downside is that turning the League into Trips’ official bodyguards completely reduces Sheamus from WWE Champion to J&J Security in less than three months. Whoops.

  • Watching that match between Miz and Ziggler made me do a double-take and ask if they actually got the pre-Divas Revolution treatment that the women used to get. Damn.


*****

RAW was a mess this week, with too many segments going on and not a lot of action that actually advanced storylines in a logical way. I particularly disliked seeing Steph, Vince, and Triple H all come out to do their own long-winded promos, even though they were spaced out across separate clock hours. We’ve said this time and time again: RAW has three hours, and if the time was just managed better, we can have meaningful stories week in and week out. So much for listening to your test audiences, WWE. This week’s show was just a clusterfuck with a capital C.

Photos from WWE.

*****


Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date.

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