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 23, 2020
ORLANDO, FLA. AT PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED ON USA NETWORK
Announcers: Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton
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[Q1] -They opened with Paul Heyman in front of a blank backdrop. He said no one has been more dominant for so long as Brock Lesnar has. They showed clips of Brock giving F5s to Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Ric Flair, Steve Austin, John Cena, and “even the Undertaker at WrestleMania.” Then they cut to Drew McIntyre who said everything Heyman said was true. He said there hasn’t been anyone who has conquered everything in his path quite like Lesnar. “Then Brock Lesnar ran into me,” he said, smiling. They went to a clip of Drew eliminating Brock at the Royal Rumble. He said last week on Raw he showed Brock that it wasn’t a one-time fluke at the Rumble. He said he’s learned in his life not to make a Claymore promise he can’t back up, so he’s choosing his words carefully. “I’m going to Claymore Lesnar flush in the face, knock him on his ass, and pin Brock Lesnar to become the reigning, defending, undisputed WWE Heavyweight Champion of the World at WrestleMania.”
-They cut to the Performance Center with the hard camera aimed at the entrance stage this week instead of the empty chairs. In the ring stood Heyman and Lesnar. You could see Phillips and Saxton in the background. He said, “It’s time to be honest with each other for a change here.” He said we live in most uncertain times right now, and this time in history, they all just need a little certainty in their lives. “I give you that certainty in Brock Lesnar.” He said McIntyre can train his ass off, he can go to the gym, he can spar with mixed martial artists, and he can do anything he wants. He said Drew cannot beat Lesnar at WrestleMania, though. He emphasized it’s “a WrestleMania too big for one night.” He said God’s prayer line is going to give him only a busy signal right now. He said Drew will hope that Lesnar will answer the prayer of making it quick and painless, but after what happened at the Rumble and in Brooklyn, N.Y., Lesnar will make it quick but he won’t make it painless. “I assure you, when WrestleMania is over, Drew McIntyre is going to be just another bitch that tried, other wannabe that got douched out, by the greatest champion to ever stand in a WWE ring.” He closed with “Then, now, and forever.”
(Keller’s Analysis: Strong promo from Heyman. Made its points in an emphatic way – both Heyman’s words and Lesnar’s facial expressions – and made the match feel like a big deal. McIntyre has a certain credible confidence that no opponent of Lesnar has projected to date.)
-They cut to Saxton plugging the Lesnar-McIntyre match. He said it takes place a week from Saturday, so that answers which match is likely to headline the first night. They shifted to plugging Orton addressing Edge’s challenge later tonight. [c]
-The announcers commented on the A.J. Styles-Undertaker match at WrestleMania. Saxton said Styles joins them live on Raw later. Then Phillips and Saxton, on camera, threw to a replay of the 2015 Royal Rumble match with Lesnar defending against both John Cena and Seth Rollins.
(Keller’s Analysis: It appears Jerry Lawler isn’t there this week. That’s good to not have him, especially, traveling considering at his age the coronavirus is exponentially more deadly and he hardly qualifies as “essential personnel” in these times.)
[Q2] -The ring entrances aired and the match replay began. [c]
[Q3] -The match continued until Seth leaped off the top rope turnbuckle and crashed onto Lesnar and through the announce table. With Seth and Lesnar down, they cut to a second mid-match break. [c]
-More of the match aired. Lesnar was KO’d on the table. [c]
[Q4] -The announcers said Lesnar was suffering from at least a broken rib on the table at ringside. Meanwhile, Cena lifted Seth for an Attitude Adjustment, but Seth escaped and landed his Stomp for a near fall. Later, though, when Seth went for the Curb Stomp, Lesnar popped up and hit an F5 for the win to retain the WWE Title. The match lasted until 49 minutes into the first hour.
-The announcers commented on highlights of Rob Gronkowski appearing on Smackdown last week and, with help from Mojo Rawley, shoving over Baron Corbin. The Fox NFL music played as they hyped that he’d host WrestleMania a week from Saturday. Phillips noted that a week from Saturday, Styles will face Undertaker. (It’s sounding like Saturday might end up being the Raw-brand show.)
-They showed a video package on the Styles-Undertaker feud so far. [c]
-More clips aired of Styles-Undertaker aired.
[Q5] -Styles walked onto the stage with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Styles said for the first time in history, WrestleMania is too big for one night. He said it’s not official that he and the Phenom will go head-to-head at WrestleMania. He said he doesn’t care which night it’s on. He said Undertaker might care, though, because he’s not sure when his wife lets him out of the house. “He’s totally lost control of everything,” he said. He said last week Undertaker came out with big stretchy pants. He tried to come up with the name. Anderson offered, “Depends?” Styles said, “Those are diapers, but he may or may not have had those on too.” Gallows offered, “Maternity pants.” Styles said: “Yes! And he looked like a gothic version of Dog the Bounty Hunter. No, a gothic version of Tiger King. If you haven’t, you will. That’s a sweet burn. Trust me on that one.”
Styles asked Anderson and Gallows if they’ve seen Taker’s Twitter account. He said it’s ridiculous, but it showed Undertaker swimming with a tiger at a rescue thing or something. He pointed at the big screen and showed Taker and Michelle McCool in a YouTube video with an actual tiger saying the tiger needs them to be protected. He said Undertaker is talking about tigers now. “Who is this man?” he asked. “Has he lost complete control over himself?” He said he hasn’t been the same since he lost to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. “I wanted to take his soul, but his wife Michelle has beat me to it,” he said. He said his mystique is gone. He said he’s liking things on social media and posting selfie’s on Instagram. “Who is this man?” he asked. He said he doesn’t want the Mark Calaway who is posting selfie’s on Twitter. “I want the Undertaker from yesteryear, that’s who I want,” he said. “And he’s nowhere to be found.” He said he’s going to give the fans what they want. He said he will give them what they want to see and bring back the Dead Man in a match that he would love to be in. He said it’s right in his wheelhouse. “A boneyard match,” he said. “This is your match, Taker. This is for you.” He said when it’s over, because he vowed to bury him, he has the perfect plot picked out for him. He said ironically enough it’s the same plot his wife picked out when she buried his career. He laughed and said, “Got him again!”
(Keller’s Analysis: Styles was obnoxious, and I think he’s playing to the male audience who don’t like being told by their friends that they’re under the control of their domineering wives. He’s also going for heat with women who think such claims are often levied and are almost always unfounded and sexist. Now, what this does for Taker’s rep, I’m not sure. Styles isn’t wrong. The mystique is gone now that Taker has abandoned the long-protected mystique. But if he was ready to do public service announcements and be active on social media, more power to him, I suppose. It’s his life and his choice.)
-Saxton and Phillips reacted to Styles. They said The Street Profits will defend their Raw Tag Team Titles at WrestleMania against Andrade & Angel Garza. They said each would have a match on Raw tonight.
-Charly Caruso interviewed Angel Garza, Zelina Vega, and Andrade. Vega condescended Caruso. She said she’s not looking good, she’s “looking so.” She said they are the most charismatic team in WWE, and soon Andrade will be the most decorated champion in all of WWE. She said the Street Profits can dance forever, but not for long with the Raw Tag Team Titles. Garza gave Caruso a flirtatious look, walked off camera, the returned and made eye contact with her again and smiled and winked. She seemed smitten and flustered as she plugged the tag match up next. [c]
-The announcer on camera talked about the Bone Yard match challenge by Styles. Saxton wondered what it even is. He said Styles may regret asking for that. They threw to a video package on Edge’s promo last week.
(1) ANDRADE & ANGEL GARZA vs. RICOCHET & CEDRIC
So the empty chairs are entirely gone, which is a huge improvement. That was disconcerting staring at those. Instead, the camera’s aimed at the stage with the video entrance iron with the Raw logo. Early in the match, Andrade shoved Ricochet off the top turnbuckle to the floor. As Andrade distracted the ref, Garza threw Ricochet into the ring. Cedric chased him away. The Street Profits then came out to their music. They joined the announcers on commentary. They all shook hands. [c]
Back live, Andrade had Ricochet grounded in an armbar. The Street Profits provided commentary. Phillips asked Montez Ford what’s in his plastic cup. He said happiness. They cut to a break after some four-way action. Garza superkicked Ricochet in the chest, but then Ricochet caught him flying off the second rope with a dropkick to the chest. [c]
[Q6] The Profits cheerlead throughout the match and added a lot of energy, like Asuka did last week. For the finish, Andrade finished Cedric with a back elbow. The ref didn’t seem to know it was the finish as he let up on the third slap, but then quickly hit the mat to make it afterward. Cedric lifted his shoulder after that as if he wasn’t sure, either. Cedric looked like he was groggy legit from that back elbow.
WINNERS: Andrade & Garza in 19:00.
-After the match, the Street Profits gave them props. They stood and applauded from the announce desk on the stage. As Garza and Andrade gloated for too long, the Profits lost patience and walked to the ring wearing their tag belts. They entered the ring, but were swarmed by Andrade and Garza. The Profits fought back and got the better of them quickly. The heels fled to the back and the Profits waved and smiled at them. Phillips said the Profits would be in action live next on Raw. [c]
-A clip aired of Kofi Kingston winning the WE Title last year at WrestleMania. The announcers reacted. Saxton said he still gets goosebumps and he’ll never forget it. Phillips said that’s what WrestleMania is all about. Phillips threw to a clip of the Steve Austin appearance last week. Saxton got a panicked look and said they didn’t need to air any of that again. Phillips asked if he was sterile after that. Saxton said he’s surprised his voice is still low.
(2) THE STREET PROFITS vs. SHANE THORNE & BRENDON VINK
They went right to the match without ring entrances. Phillips quickly introduced Thorne and Vink as being from NXT. Dawkins got a hot tag a few minutes in. Ford tagged back in and landed his finishing frog splash on Throne for the win.
WINNERS: Street Profits in 4:00.
-They showed Riddick Moss jogging in his neighborhood. A referee drove by. Moss told the ref he knows he can’t afford to live in his neighborhood, so he knows what’s going on. He ordered the ref to pull over and get out of his car. When he did, R-Truth rolled him up on the grass for a three count to regain his 24/7 Title.
-The announcers hyped that Shayna Baszler was coming out next live. [c]
-A commercial said Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa have gone too far and now they have to answer to Triple H on NXT on USA this Wednesday… A WrestleMania 36 hype video aired. Then the announcers talked about Gronk hosting. The announcers said Elias vs. King Corbin is now official for WrestleMania. They ran down the rest of the line-up.
[Q9] -They went to Caruso standing by with Baszler mid-ring with a spotlight over them and a darkened background. Baszler snarled at her. Caruso talked about Baszler dominating in the Elimination Chamber. She asked how she will conduct herself as champion if she beats Becky Lynch at WrestleMania. Baszler didn’t respond. Caruso tried again. Baszler said she sure looks nervous and asked, “Why are you nervous? Are you afraid I’m going to bite? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.” She smiled in self-satisfaction. Caruso said she bit Becky in the back of her neck. She asked if Becky should expect that level of aggression and tactics at WrestleMania. Baszler said what Becky should expect is that she’s going to lose. Baszler said what Caruso actually wants to know is why does she want the Raw Title so much. “Because I love to destroy,” she said. She said beating Becky at WrestleMania for that title will destroy Becky. She said from the beginning, she has shown everyone who she is. Caruso then was about to throw to a clip from Survivor Series, the last time she and Becky shared a ring. Instead, Becky surprised Baszler with a chairshot to the back. Becky swung and hit her across her back again, then looked down at Baszler wincing in pain, smiled, and walked away as her music began to play. Phillips asked, “How is the cage fighter going to respond before WrestleMania?”
(Keller’s Analysis: That was good. They didn’t belabor the beatdown, but Becky got a shot in to show she can strike back at Baszler, but is leaving enough of her to beat her at WM. I like Baszler saying she’s into destroying things, and beating Becky for the belt at WM will destroy Becky. The demeanor of being difficult with Caruso during the interview helped establish her intense personality, too.)
-The announcers hyped that Aleister Black was up next. [c]
(3) ALEISTER BLACK vs. LEON RUFF
Phillips said Ruff looks terrified, “and he should be.” Black took him out quickly and decisively with his Black Mass. Saxton talked about how scary Black is.
WINNER: Black in under 1:00.
-The announcers shifted to hyping Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens. Phillips said Rollins would be out live next. [c]
[Q10] -Philips talked over scenes of the Performance Center and said it will host WrestleMania one week from Saturday.
-Owens stood mid-ring as his music played. He said last week he was there to answer his challenge, but Seth was nowhere to be found. He asked if he’s got something to say. “What are we waiting for?” he said. “Come on Messiah, grace us with your presence.” Out came Seth to his music. He walked to the ring and asked KO if he honestly believes that fighting him in that building gives him the home field advantage. Seth said it’s true that he didn’t train there and KO did, and that KO earned his WWE job in that building. He asked him if he understands how he got the opportunity to do all of those things.
Seth said he didn’t train in the building because it didn’t exist when he got to WWE. “This building was built on my blood, sweat, and tears, Kevin,” he said. “On my sacrifice, on my success.” He said his first day in WWE was at a dilapidated warehouse. He said everything he did before he got there didn’t matter. He said his whole life’s work went up in smoke and he said KO will never understand that sacrifice. He said he had to come back and persevere. He said it wasn’t about him, but rather he had to succeed so people like KO could have an opportunity to train in a beautiful facility like that. He lately said he’s been trying to rebuild the system again, and KO has been standing in his way. He asked if it was selfishness or ego getting in the way. Seth said KO refuses to fall in line. “None of this exists without Seth Rollins,” Seth said. “NXT doesn’t exist without Seth Rollins. The Performance Center doesn’t exist without me.” He said everyone owes it to him because there’s no Gargano, no Ciampa, no Takeover, no Women’s Evolution without him. He said without him, most of all, there is no Kevin Owens.
KO said he won’t sit there and listen to his delusional speech. Seth interrupted and said he wants to finish. “Please,” he said. “Can I finish, please?” He said he wants to know and needs to know why KO picked WrestleMania of all places to try to make an example out of him. He asked if he knows his track record at WrestleMania. He talked about his big moments and wins at WrestleMania over the years. He said KO has zero WrestleMania Moments. He said KO’s track record reads like this: “Failure after failure after failure after failure.” He said last year, he wasn’t even good enough to be on WrestleMania. He said he can’t beat him on his worst day and WrestleMania is never his worst day because under pressure he becomes a god. KO soaked up what he was saying. “You really don’t stand a chance,” Seth said. His music played and he walked away.
-Saxton wondered what happens if KO beats Seth at WM. Phillips said Seth isn’t lying about his track record. Then he plugged Orton’s live interview later. He hyped Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte. He threw to Flair vs. Asuka at WrestleMania from 2018.
-Charlotte’s ring entrance aired. [c]
[Q11] -They aired Asuka’s ring entrance. Then the match aired. The finish came at the end of the 11th quarter hour.
[Q12] -The announcers hyped that Orton was next.
-A commercial for Friday’s Smackdown hyped a new Firefly Funhouse, plus The New Day vs. The Usos with the winner facing Miz & Morrison at WrestleMania. [c]
-Orton walked onto the stage, mic in hand. Phillips said there are no pinfalls, submissions, or countouts in a Fall Count Anywhere match. He said over the past few months, he’s said some things that have been misunderstood. He said what he said came from a place of love, but it’s been seen and taken as an act of brutality and violence. He said he’s asking to Edge to respond to his challenge from last week, but first he wants to get something off his chest. He said he needs to apologize because three weeks ago he lied to his wife, Beth Phoenix, when he claimed Edge was a junkie for the roar of the crowd. “You’re not a junkie for the roar of the crowd, Edge,” he said. “You’re junkie for your own ego. Adam Copeland is a junkie for Edge.”
He said last week there was something Edge said that rang true, and that’s the fact that never had to pay his dues to earn an opportunity. He said he will be the first to admit he was handed an opportunity because of who he was and what his last name is. “Just because I was handed an opportunity doesn’t guarantee a Hall of Fame career, does it?” (I was anticipating here he’d list all of the other second and third generation wrestlers who flopped. He didn’t.) Footage aired of Orton with big early wins including for the IC Title and facing Mick Foley. He said he went from “a prospect to the three most deadly letters in sports entertainment.” He said that wasn’t handed to him. He said it’s because he had grit. He said grit to him isn’t sitting at home for nine years looking at the sky and asking “what if?” He said grit to him is longevity in an industry that seldom has any. He said it’s being the one constant in the WWE locker room. He said when he looks to his left and right in the locker room, he doesn’t see others who have accomplished what he has accomplished. He said nobody has as much grit as him, including Edge.
He said laughed at the idea of Edge calling him an “entitled brat.” He said Edge would have done the same thing had the opportunity presented itself. He asked if he would have said no to Triple H if he had asked him to join Evolution. He said everything he has done to Edge and his wife was because he loves him and his family. He said he loves their daughters, so he sent Edge home to them. He said Edge wants him in a Last Man Standing match, and while Edge thinks he’s writing their story, he accepts the challenge he’s going to write the ending to the story at WrestleMania. Hs music played. (I wonder without a crowd there if they’ve gone to teleprompter to just deliver the words for him to read as he looks at the camera?)
(Keller’s Analysis: Strong promo from Orton. Great deliver, good mix of vintage clips, and successful at building a vibe of big magnitude at stake at WrestleMania)
FINAL THOUGHTS: WWE vastly improved the Performance Center appearance this week. They also found a rhythm that feels sustainable with the mix of past matches, live matches, in-ring promos, video features, and backstage segments.