By Jason Powell
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WWE Raw Hits
Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech: The easiest and biggest Hit in the history of the Hit List. As a sports fan, I’ve seen numerous retirement speeches. Some are emotional. Some are upbeat. Many are eloquent. None compared to the speech that Bryan Danielson delivered on Raw. I give him credit and the company credit for acknowledging that the injury was related to head trauma. Sure, it makes WWE look good to some extent, but the company has gone out of their way to avoid public acknowledgement of concussion related injuries, Bryan’s included. Here’s hoping that some good can come from this and that this served as a wakeup call for the entire wrestling industry. If one of the biggest names in pro wrestling being forced into retirement at age 34 doesn’t do it then I’m not sure what will.
I love the way Bryan kept the mood light despite the heavy subject matter. Whenever it seemed like the mood was going to turn completely melancholy, Bryan was there to lighten the mood with his lovable wit and infectious smile. And despite the fact that this is a speech he clearly did not want to make at this point in his life, he never seemed so comfortable with a microphone in hand. There were no scripted lines to remember or pay-per-view matches to hype. He may not have ended his pro wrestling career on his own terms, but Bryan certainly said farewell in his own words. It’s a speech that no one wanted to hear going into Raw, yet one that we will never forget.
The Dudleys turn on The Uso Brothers: Wait, something else happened on Raw last night? This would have been a key talking point on any other show, but like everything else on Raw it felt inconsequential after Bryan spoke. And if you want to know why WWE didn’t open the show or have Bryan deliver his speech earlier, it’s because everything else would have been a letdown in comparison. All of that said, I really like the heel turn. It breathes new life into the Dudleys and may even be a sign that WWE is finished treating them like a nostalgia act. I also hope this feud gives the Uso Brothers a chance to establish their personalities. If nothing else, it will be nice to see a tag team feud in WWE that has a true babyface vs. heel dynamic.
Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose: Roman who? The focus on the Fastlane main event has focussed on Lesnar and Ambrose thus far. Ambrose is doing his best “thank you, sir, may I have another” routine with Lesnar and I think it’s effective in terms of showing the craziness and never say die spirit of his character, yet not so effective in making it seem like his character has any chance of winning at Fastlane. The opening segment was the best moment we’ve seen from Lesnar on WWE television in some time. His attack on Ambrose and Reigns was ferocious. After some recent slips, particularly at the Royal Rumble, Lesnar looked like the most dangerous man in WWE again.
Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles hype: Whether it was Miz TV or The Highlight Reel, the segment served as real hype for a Smackdown match. This was so much better than the quick graphic teaser for a Smackdown match that may or may not actually take place when the show is taped a night later or the obligatory talk show segment. WWE actually announced the match on Smackdown, then followed up with a segment dedicated to promoting the match on Raw. And it’s a match that I am really looking forward to watching. I don’t even remember the last time I felt that way about any match that has been advertised for Smackdown.
Charlotte vs. Alicia Fox: A nice showcase win for Charlotte after her recent non-title loss to Brie Bella. It will be interesting to see if they work Daniel Bryan into the Brie story either at Fastlane or perhaps even at WrestleMania. I assumed her feud with Charlotte was just a quick one off before Sasha Banks and/or Becky Lynch challenged Charlotte at WrestleMania, but I wonder if plans have changed given the recent developments with Bryan.
Becky Lynch vs. Tamina: A nice setup for the tag match the women are having at Fastlane. Naomi’s attack on Sasha at ringside was vicious and immediately grabbed my attention.
WWE Raw Misses
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens: Maybe we’ll look back and feel like Owens’ recent losses served some purpose. In the meantime, I see a company that is downright desperate for meaningful heels, yet they take the best one them have and have him lose back to back matches to a wrestler they have clearly branded as mid-card for life. I assume that Owens will eventually win this feud, but WWE should be doing everything they can to protect several heels. They had to bring back Vince McMahon to television and Triple H to the ring because none of the heels mattered enough to help Roman Reigns get over, yet they are still making the same mistakes by failing to push any heels in a way that will have them positioned strongly coming out of WrestleMania.
Bray Wyatt vs Ryback: It’s that time of year again when WWE gives Bray decisive wins as they scramble to make up for months of incompetent booking in hopes of making him a meaningful foe for a top babyface at WrestleMania. The problem is we’ve seen it all before. We know Wyatt wins matches now, talks about the Apocalypse, and then inevitably loses to the big babyface at WrestleMania. And then the cycle repeats itself from late April through the end of the year when WWE once again comes to the realization that they don’t have enough strong heels to feed all of the babyfaces at WrestleMania. Maybe this year will be different. Seeing his believing.
Titus O’Neil vs. Adam Rose: WWE actually held a production meeting on Monday and yet somehow no one noticed that this was the first of three matches that heels won thanks to temporary distractions. Anyway, this match had WWE Superstars written all over it. The Social Outcasts are 3MB minus the air guitar and plus one man.
Alberto Del Rio and Rusev vs. The Lucha Dragons: Having the challenger Del Rio pin the champion Kalisto would have worked just fine had they not played hot potato with the U.S. Title. I have no idea why WWE felt the need to have Kalisto win the belt, lose it, and regain it. This doesn’t feel like a rivalry. Give these guys some mic time. Show us that Del Rio truly despises Kalisto. Make Kalisto vulnerable during his actual matches, not by having him lose every other match he wrestles.