SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The Authority goes Face-to-Face with Kurt & Ronda…
Recap: The show opened with a Q&A Panel for Triple-H, Stephanie, Ronda Rousey, and Stephanie McMahon, moderated by Jonathan Coachman.
The situation was tense. At one point, referring to Ronda, Stephanie claimed that she would “shine her up and polish her up” after her impending WrestleMania loss.
Later, Stephanie chastised Ronda for speaking out of line. Kurt jumped in to remind Stephanie that she was talking to “Ronda Freakin’ Rousey.” To that, Triple-H retorted that Ronda’s accomplishments outside of WWE are totally meaningless within a WWE ring. He emphasized the massive WWE learning curve, stating Ronda would be at a huge disadvantage and calling her WrestleMania loss a “foregone conclusion.”
Stephanie stated that the Authority’s victory at WrestleMania would show that when there is an uprising backstage, management would be quick to “bite the head off the snake.” She then reminded Ronda that “the world knows how you handle losses.” Ronda responded by asking Stephanie which and she writes with, so that Stephanie can keep signing her checks after her arm is ripped off during the match.
The segment ended with a cheap shot from behind by Triple-H to Kurt Angle, followed by Ronda putting a choke hold on Triple-H. Stephanie exploited the melee to put Ronda through a table.
Evaluation: I was skeptical of this angle at the beginning, but Stephanie was been phenomenal over the past few weeks. She’s arguably the best female heel character in WWE right now.
One of the keys to her heat has been her self-delusion regarding her training, and how it would provide her an edge in the ring. To that end, my one negative comment about this segment was that early on Michael Cole hyped the aforementioned training regimen, which unfortunately put over Stephanie’s statements as grounded in reality rather then delusional.
Stephanie herself was great in the segment. She literally oozed smugness from start to finish, from her dance moves on the ramp to her point at the WrestleMania sign at the segment’s conclusion. Even her public displays of affection with Triple-H were designed to annoy fans.
Stephanie’s comments that she would “polish” up Ronda, paired with her comments about quelling any and all complaints backstage were a masterful appropriation of “smart” fan complaints about WWE management for the purpose of gaining heat.
The reference to Ronda’s real-life reputation as a sore loser doesn’t help get Ronda over as a face, but did effectively add more tension to the encounter.
Forecast: Ronda will submit Stephanie at WrestleMania to an enthusiastic crowd solidly behind her. WWE will get the “WrestleMania moment” it is looking for. Long term, it still may make more sense for Ronda to play heel, because as a face going forward she won’t be able to rely on being across the ring from someone with as much heel heat as Stephanie.
John Cena Addresses the Fans…
Recap: John Cena approached the ring for a promo. He expressed disappointment at the Undertaker’s non-response to his challenge, and again reiterated that he would be attending WrestleMania as a fan.
He addressed fan criticism that he could simply enter the battle royal, stating that considering his part-timer status and recent string of losses, such a move would take the spot of a full-timer who was more deserving. He said he challenged the Undertaker because that was the one match he could take without being accused of holding anyone back or taking anyone’s slot.
After putting over all the other WrestleMania matches and stating he was proud to be attending as a fan, he goaded the Atlanta fans into attempting to summon the Undertaker once last time. The attempt again failed, and the Undertaker didn’t appear.
Evaluation: John Cena addressing why he is attending WrestleMania as a fan rather than entering the battle royal was a good touch. The reasons he gave were perfectly believable and legitimate. This cuts off the main weakness with this angle up until now.
Forecast: With no answer from the Undertaker yet again, it’s likely that the Undertaker will make his first appearance at WrestleMania itself. Instead of the John Cena vs Undertaker match taking place at WrestleMania, perhaps the confrontation between the two will actually be the start of the angle, setting up the ultimate match between the two for later this year.
Mixed Reaction for Lesnar and Reigns…
Recap: Backstage, Kurt Angle approached Paul Heyman, asking him to ensure the integrity of the WrestleMania main event. Heyman indicated that he understood, and that he would simply come to the ring, make complimentary comments about Reigns, and leave. Angle asked him not to say anything that would incite Reigns to injure Lesnar. Heyman laughed at the suggestion that Reigns could injure Lesnar.
Separately, Kurt also approached Roman Reigns. Roman said that out of respect for Kurt, he would be willing to hear Paul Heyman out, but that if Paul said one thing out of line, he was headed to the ring.
When Heyman and Lesnar did later hit the ring, at the direction of Angle, a blockade was formed by the locker room to keep Reigns away.
Heyman guaranteed victory over Reigns, and stated that if Lesnar did lose by some act of god, the fans would never see Lesnar or Heyman in a WWE ring again. He said that no one in the locker room could win Lesnar’s title, and no organization could pay Lesnar what he was worth. Heyman closed the promo by referring to Reigns as Lesnar’s “bitch”.
Reigns then came to the ring. The locker room blockade initially tried to keep him away. Reigns successfully appealed to them, however, stating that full-time guys like them should not protect a part-timer.
Upon Reigns entering the ring, Lesnar briefly fled, but returned with a chair. Reigns hit Lesnar with five Superman Punches. laying him out. Reigns then diverted his attention away from Lesnar, who recovered and hit him with the F5 to end the show.
Evaluation: It was hard to gauge fan reaction to this one. On one hand, the fans cheered when Heyman mentioned Lesnar never entering a WWE ring again, and also cheered when the locker room blockade parted to allow Reigns into the ring. On the other hand, the crowd cheered “Daniel Bryan” when Reigns first confronted Lesnar, indicating lack of interest in either of them.
Forecast: Reaction has been all over the place week to week. I can’t predict anything other than the usual mixed reaction when Reigns wins the title at WrestleMania. Nothing tonight stood out as drastically altering fan perception of the ultimate result on Sunday.
•The wisdom of offering free WWE Network subscriptions at WrestleMania time has been talked about a lot, but the constant scrollbar advertising WrestleMania for free indicates WWE isn’t backing down….
•Miz’s comments on commentary regarding the birth of his daughter were 100 percent pure babyface. If Miz were working heel on Sunday, WWE should’ve avoided the topic on-air. This may therefore have been a turn…
•I’m hesitant to write this, as my readers may label me a loony conspiracy theorist, but I truly believe that Braun Strowman and Brains Strowman may actually be the same person…
NOW HCHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: TOP 3 DEVELOPMENTS – RAW 3/26: Lesnar beats on Reigns again, another Undertaker no-show, Triple H & Stephanie prepare