In this episode of Wrestling Night in America, PWTorch columnist Greg Parks breaks down both nights of WrestleMania with callers and emailers. Topics include the quality of the Firefly Funhouse match, the decision to put Charlotte over Rhea Ripley, the potential of wrestlers getting more creative freedom in the current environment, and more.
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KELLER’S WWE RAW REPORT
MARCH 16, 2020
ORLANDO, FLA. AT PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED ON USA NETWORK
Announcers: Tom Phillips, Jerry Lawler, Byron Saxton
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-The announcers (showing zero social spacing etiquette) stood mid-ring and introduced the show. They threw to a brief video recap of A.J. Styles last week vowing to take Undertaker’s soul at WrestleMania. Then they hyped that Undertaker was present to have a contract signing with A.J. Styles. As Phillips plugged that Randy Orton was also present, Edge’s music interrupted them. He made his quick ring entrance as the blue spotlights in the empty stands shone and moved back and forth.
-Edge said it’s been a strange month and a half for him and his wife, Beth Phoenix. “Let’s roll the footage,” he said. They went to a video package.
-Back live, Edge said when his dad introduced him to Orton 21 years ago, “this young fresh-face athlete,” his gut told him everything from that moment was going to change and their paths would intertwine. He talked about stealing the show for the IC Title, Rated RKO destroying DX. “I was prove right,” he said. “Up and down all of those roads, exchanging stories, finding out that we disliked the same people, that we owed the same man for pushing them to their capabilities. That man’s name is Mick Foley.” He said Foley wanted to show them what they could do and hand the torch to them. “Randy, we grabbed it, we did,” he said. “But there was one lesson I took from Mick that you didn’t, and that lesson was grit.” He said that was what he needed after nine years of wrist and neck injuries and compete in the Royal Rumble. He said despite many similarities, Orton is “an entitled brat.” He said he got everything handed to him on a silver platter. He said it kills him and makes him so jealous that a guy like had to work for everything and got it. “I didn’t get it handed to me,” he said. “I got raised by a single parent who broke her back to make sure my visions, my dreams could come true – and they did.”
He said it makes Orton jealous that he threw him out of the Rumble after nine years away. “That’s what this is really all about,” he said. “This isn’t love. You don’t love me. You’re jealous. You are jealous because you can’t do what I do and that tears you apart.” He said two weeks ago Beth came back to give a medical update on him. “What no one realizes, what you don’t realize, Randy, is she was here to retire me again, She didn’t feel it was fair that someone should be forced to retire from what they love to do – not once, but twice. You just couldn’t let her finish, could you, Randy?” He said Randy pulled him out of a hole that Randy dug for him and kept him from making a terrible decision. He said it’s simple – at WrestleMania, if he’s got the guts, he wants a Last Man Standing match. “I write this story!” he said. “And this story isn’t a tragedy, man. This is a redemptive story, and at WrestleMania, you won’t stand back up.” He dropped the mic and left.
(Keller’s Analysis: Tremendous delivery. Intense, believable, admirable.)
-Lawler wondered what Orton thought of that. Then they went to a clip from earlier of a Becky Lynch semi truck arriving with her logo and face painted on it. “Lass Kicker” and “The Man” was also painted on it. It pulled up to the Performance Center. Phillips said, “I dig it!” Lawler said, “I guess.” Becky honked the horn and strutted out. She waved at three people standing within a foot of each other. [c]
-Phillips noted that Raw is live from the Performance Center. “This is Monday Night Raw’s most unique show in history,” he said. No allusion to the reason. They went to the trio of announcers who hyped that it’s “Stone Cold 3:16 Day” and Steve Austin would be out later. Saxton threw to the Royal Rumble match. They cut to a break ten minutes in. [c]
(Keller’s Analysis: They haven’t announced a match. I wonder if Vince McMahon disliked the matches without fans to the point that he discontinued it. Perhaps the viewership was solid for the replay of the Elimiination Chamber tag team match on Friday; I haven’t seen the minute-by-minute ratings quite yet. We’ll see as the show progressed, but what does that mean for WrestleMania, since it’s been moved to the Performance Center?)
Back from the break, Lesnar was still in the match pacing, waiting for the sixth entrant – Kofi Kingston.
-They continued to air the match with frequent commercial breaks until 53 minutes into the second hour.
-Back live with the announcers, first Saxton talked about it being a big night for Drew. Then Phillips updated that WrestleMania will occur at the Performance Center instead of at the stadium in Tampa. Lawler said, “They say anything can happen in the WWE, and the greatest show of all will go on, and it’ll go on right here.” Then they threw to a clip from Raw two weeks ago when Drew and Lesnar had a staredown and then Drew kicked Lesnar with two Claymores.
(Keller’s Analysis: With no crowd, it’s such an unfortunately flat way for Drew to beat Brock, so I’m not sure if they were planning that, they should go through with that. Yet, what a momentum-buster if Drew were to lose. So under these far-from-ideal circumstances, there’s really no option that doesn’t involve a pretty big compromise if this was supposed to be Drew’s crowning moment.)
-Lawler introduced the contract signing. Undertaker came out to his music, but he wasn’t in his Undertaker robe. Instead, he had a head scarf on and wrestling pants, but no robe. He angrily tipped over the autograph table. Lawler abandoned the ring as they cut to a break. [c]
(Keller’s Analysis: If there was ever an excuse to cut Raw back to two hours, maybe these circumstances are it. Theres a lot of reasons to do or not do a lot of things under these extraordinary circumstances, but three hours without a crowd going forward with flashback matches and in-ring segments without fans, and perhaps (or not) matches without fans indefinitely seems problematic. Two hours is just more manageable, although still a challenge to pull off. For instance, they could do a two hour Raw from 9-11, and then in the 8-9 window air original NXT episodes with today’s stars back before they became stars, but with the wrestlers who went on to become stars commenting on the show with added commentary. Relatively few people have seen those shows, but they’d be compelling content because of who those wrestlers went on to become.)
-Phillips threw to a video package on the Styles-Taker feud.
-Back live, Taker was impatiently pacing. Styles’s music played. No Styles. The music played again. No Styles. He eventually showed up on the big screen with the contract in hand, with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows behind him. He pointed out he was the one who challenged Taker to a match on “the biggest stage of them all.” (Can they still say that?) He said it’s 2020, and while he’s a Mount Rushmore WWE Superstar who carried the company on his back for a long time, he keeps showing up in an era that doesn’t want him anymore and would rather see him removed from it. He said you don’t see Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, or Brett Favre interjecting themselves into their sports anymore. Styles said you can sure as hell count on Undertaker injecting himself into WrestleMania season. “I think I know whose fault this is,” he said. “It’s your wife’s, Michelle McCool. Ol’ Money Michelle is what they’re calling her. She dusts off that crusty old jacket and hat and watches you walk down the aisle and embarrass yourself. Undertaker, Mark, you are a shell of your former self. That flame you once had is totally gone, Mark. Let it go. And somewhere, something should be telling me to have some sympathy for the old guy. I can’t find it, it’s not there. I’ll tell you why. Because not once, but twice, you have stuck your nose in O.C. business.” He said he stole his victory from him at Super Showdown, then cost him another victory at Elimination Chamber. He said at WrestleMania, the lights will go off, but he can’t hide. “And we know you can’t run,” he added. “When WrestleMania is over, I will gladly pay for your assisted living costs. I mean, I’m kind of doing everyone a favor when I finally have you rest in peace.” He did the throat-slice gesture.
Styles signed the contract and asked Anderson to bring Undertaker the contract. Anderson said no. Gallows said, “It’s your match.” Styles insisted and eventually Anderson and Gallows complied. “Quit back-talking me!” Styles said. Styles smiled in a self-satisfied way. Then Anderson and Gallows came out to their music. Lawler said Styles added more fuel to the fire. Saxton criticized Styles. Taker stood mid-ring and eyed Anderson and Gallows. They trepidatiously slid the contract into the ring, then backed away. The lights went out. When the lights came back on seconds later, Taker was standing behind them. Taker beat up both of them at ringside. Then Taker signs the contract and shoved it into Gallows’ mouth. His music played as Styles eyed hi with a snarl on the big screen. Taker approached the image of Styles and stared a hole into him.
-Phillips announced that Rey Mysterio vs. Andrade would take place next.
(Keller’s Analysis: That clears up the idea that WWE had decided for now not to have wrestlers interact physically in the ring. Between the Taker brawl at ringside and the announcement of an actual match, that is still on the table as a way to fill TV time.) [c]
-A commercial hyped that Rob Gronkowski would be on Smackdown this Friday.
(1) REY MYSTERIO vs. ANDRADE (w/Zelina Vega)
Asuka joined the announcers on commentary. (Make sense of that decision in a storyline sense. Obviously someone important gets a kick out of her energy.) Andrade took early control against Rey as Asuka cracked up Lawler by saying things in Japanese in hyper-active mode as Lawler made up that she was saying mean things about Phillips. Andrade scored a two count against Rey, then they cut to a break. [c]
Phillips said Asuka is apparently a big Andrade fans, as she kept getting excited when Andrade was on offense. Rey set up a 619, but Andrade moved and landed a back elbow leading to a two count. A minute later Rey made a comeback and hit the 619 to zero pop fro the empty seats. Then he landed his top rope splash for the three count. Asuka threw a bit of a fit afterward.
WINNER: Mysterio in about 7 minutes of TV time.
-A video package aired on the women’s Elimination Chamber match including Shayna Baszler vowing in a backstage interview that she’s going to take the title from her. “And there’s a not a damn thing you can do about it, bitch,” she said.
-Lynch made her live ring entrance. Becky said she knows Baszler is watching her because “my mere existence drives you crazy.” She said as long as she’s holding that title, nothing in her world makes sense. “You have been taught, you have been trained you can just bully your way to the top,” she said. She said she did it for two years in NXT, but now she’s run into a “loud ginger absolute legend of an Irishwoman that makes you question the whole natural order of things.” She said she wanted to explain it “in terms an animal scumbag like you can understand.” She said she every word, action, Tweet, and interview is meant to get Baszler to think what she wants her to think about her. She said Baszler can walk around with her mouthguard in and her cold dead eyes, and cut through the rest of the division, but it enrages her and all her little buddies, but she wants her to do something she never does – think about how it’s going to feel when she beats her. “I watched you demolish the entire division at Elimination Chamber, and it woke me up to a little bit of reality, but at WrestleMania I’m going to prove that your whole life is a lie and it’s going to hit you like a truck.” She slammed the mic down on the mat. They showed Baszler watching on a monitor backstage, fuming mad. Becky returned to the stage as her music played.
-Phillips plugged Austin would be out next. They showed a clip of him attacking Vince McMahon in a hotel bed. [c]
-Phillips narrated a brief video package on the Performance Center. Then the announcers again talked about the news from earlier that WrestleMania will take place at the Performance Center and it will still air on PPV and on WWE Network. Then they threw to a video package on Charlotte-Rhea Ripley segments on Raw and NXT last week.
-Charlie Caruso interviewed Kevin Owens backstage. She asked where he’d want the match with Seth Rollins to take place. KO took the mic, after asking nicely. He said he accepts Seth’s challenge. He said it’s going to happen at the Performance Center. “There’s no better place,” he said. “I mean it.” He said when they get in the ring at the PC, he has the home field advantage. KO said he started his WWE career at the PC. “This is where I went through the hardest experience of my career, when I had my WWE tryout” he said. “Prior to that, I heard so many times from so many people that I don’t belong in WWE, that I’m not a guy for WWE, that’s just not me, I wouldn’t make it there.” He said Seth said it before his tryout and after he got signed, and again a few months ago. He said he made so many memories in those walls and he will always consider them mentors. He said when they face each other at the PC, he will add one more memory to that list in the same building where he earned his place in WWE. “And I’m going to do it at WrestleMania,” he said.
-Back to the announcers, Lawler said KO has bitten off more than can chew. Phillips threw to a video package on the “Austin Era” beginning at WrestleMania in 1998 when Austin beat Shawn Michaels. [c]
-Phillips hyped that next week Randy Orton would appear. (Didn’t he say earlier he was there this week?)
-Austin made his ring entrance wearing a “3:16 Day” t-shirt. He did his entrance routine including catching beers. He opened two and poured them into his mouth and then flat-back bumped. The announcers laughed. Austin said he already blew himself up on his entrance. He then declared March 16 is forever more Austin 3:16 Day. He said, “If you want to know what Austin 3:16 is all about, give me a hell yeah!” There was no noise. They showed empty seats in the crowd. Austin tried again. Byron then yelled, “Hell yeah!”
Austin said 3:16 Day is giving someone a certain hand gesture with one finger when they give you a hard time. Saxton held up an “8” sign. Austin asked if he’s rating him. Saxton said yes. “Thank you for the participation,” Austin said. Austin read his card upside down, then turned it right side up. He said Austin 3:16 Day means you can open a can of whoop ass on anyone you want. Saxton gave it a “6.” Austin said it’s a tough crowd. Austin said 3:16 Day means speed limits are only a suggestion. Saxton gave him a “10.” Austin said 3:16 Day is when happy hour is 24 hours long and, if you burp, it’s considered poetry. Austin said 3:16 Day means your boss works for you. Saxton gave him a “7.” Austin told him to reconsider. He said 3:16 Day is when you can have been instead of your morning coffee. Saxton gave him an “8.” Austin said, “Tough ass crowd here.” Austin said 3:16 Day means four-letter words are always acceptable. Saxton, of course, gave it a “5.” Austin asked him to reconsider. Saxton stuck with it. (Of course.) Austin said Saxton has been so helpful, he offered to have him celebrate 3:16 Day with him. Saxton said, “Yeah! Are you kidding me?” Lawler said, “Byron forgot to take his brain pill today.” Saxton walked to the ring as Austin evaluated his salmon colored ties nd red socks. They shook hands.
Saxton said he was just being honest, but he loves him. Austin said he appreciates the level of depth and fabric he brought to the show tonight. He proposed a toast. “One-hundred perfect unadulterated jackass,” he said. They drank beer together. Austin kicked Saxton in the nuts and gave him a Stunner. As Austin celebrated, Lynch came out with a cooler. Austin and Lynch shared a beer. Austin helped Saxton to his feet, poured beer over his head, then kicked him in the gut and gave him another Stunner. Lynch trash-talked Saxton briefly and then the show closed with Austin yelling at the hard camera, “That’s the bottom line because Stone Cold…” and they cut him off. (What was he going to say?! I need to know!!)