By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Undertaker and Shane McMahon: Creative did nothing to fill the giant plot holes, and it’s still asking a lot of the fans to view Shane as a physical threat to Undertaker. The bottom line is that it’s working. This is the true main event of WrestleMania regardless of what goes on last. This is the match that fans are buzzing about. The live crowd was hot for the entire segment. It was stunning to see Shane perform the big elbow drop through the table if for no other reason than WWE has been so injury plagued. I’m surprised that Vince McMahon flirted with disaster by having Shane perform that stunt just days before WrestleMania. Fortunately, Shane appeared to be fine afterward and this seemed to be the one segment that left viewers more anxious to see WrestleMania than they were coming into Raw.
Chris Jericho and AJ Styles: Zack Ryder didn’t really gain anything from winning the way he did, but at least he didn’t lose again heading into WrestleMania. The focus was wisely on Jericho and Styles, and it turned out to be solid final hype. The crowd was hot for Styles, and Jericho’s post-match meltdown on the mic was nicely done. The official announcement of Jericho vs. Styles for WrestleMania didn’t get the big crowd pop. It’s not because the fans are not looking forward to the match as much as the fans never doubted that the match was going to occur despite Jericho’s best efforts.
Paul Heyman’s final hype for Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose: I wanted a home run from Heyman and I felt like I got a double even though this was his best mic work during WrestleMania season. I blame the subject matter more than the performer. There’s only so much Heyman can say about Lesnar working a hardcore match at WrestleMania. This might be one of the top three WrestleMania matches, but there’s no denying that this is a step down for Lesnar following his win over Undertaker and his role in last year’s main event. Ambrose walking out and gathering weapons in his little red wagon would have been fun a couple weeks ago, but it felt underwhelming as the go-home angle.
WWE Raw Misses
WrestleMania Go-Home Hype: WWE succeeded in delivering strong final hype for Undertaker and Shane McMahon, and there was solid hype for Jericho vs. Styles. Beyond that, nothing left me more excited about WrestleMania than I was going into this show. We saw the same old WrestleMania video with The Rock. There was no mention of Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, or John Cena appearing on Sunday. Let’s be real, the build to WrestleMania 32 has been a massive letdown. Yes, there are some key wrestlers sidelined by injuries, but it’s not like John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Cesaro were all injured in February and the company was left scrambling. The WrestleMania card would have surely been better if those wrestlers were healthy, but WWE had plenty of time to put their best card together and deliver compelling storylines leading into the big event. Vince McMahon developed a reputation over the years for doing his best work when his back was against the wall. He did not rise up to the challenge this year. WrestleMania may still turn out to be a great show, but WrestleMania Season was a flop.
Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Roman Reigns: Hunter and Stephanie had one talking segment in them. Unfortunately, they were asked to carry another segment and it felt all too familiar. Of course, the real problem is that the fans continue to reject Roman Reigns. Actually, the problem isn’t the fans rejecting Roman, it’s Vince McMahon’s apparent refusal to back down. So we head into WrestleMania with the fans telling the babyface contender that he still sucks. And that’s become the real attraction of this match. I’m not anxious to see who wins and who loses. I don’t care about the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. I’m not invested in the Triple H or Roman Reigns characters. Rather, I am looking forward to seeing how the WrestleMania crowd treats Reigns and whether Vince McMahon blinks. Maybe Vince will surprise us with a double turn on Sunday or just a Roman heel turn coming out of WrestleMania. I haven’t picked up on any definitive foreshadowing, but it’s not like WWE is doing a masterful job of storytelling these days.
Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, and Sin Cara vs. Kevin Owens, The Miz, and Stardust: WWE couldn’t even get through the go-home show for WrestleMania without giving us a time filling match. Of course, all six men are in the ladder match for the Intercontinental Title, so it’s not like this was your usual six-man time filler with the Uso Brothers teaming with Neville to face three heels who had nothing better to do on that given night. Still, the first priority seemed to be eating television time with only a halfhearted attempt made to sell viewers on the ladder match.
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch: The final push for the Divas Championship match consisted of Ric Flair cheating and Sasha Banks sitting silently at ringside. We’ve known the Triple Threat match was in the works for some time, yet I still have no clue how I’m supposed to feel about Sasha’s character. Is she a heel? Is she a babyface? I honestly have no clue. We watched Sasha beat Charlotte in a non-title match on Smackdown. We saw Becky lose to Charlotte on Raw. Does that mean they want us to see Lynch as the weak link? The only thing I really know is that this failed to increase my enthusiasm for the match. Fortunately, I enjoy watching all three women and I think they can have a great WrestleMania match. In other words, I’m looking forward to the match in spite of the way the creative approach. Thank you, NXT.
Eva Marie: There was a dramatic pause as the world waited to see which woman would join the babyface bunch. Was Lita making a one-off return? Maybe Nikki Bella made a miraculous recovery? No, Eva Marie walked out and joined the babyface team. If WWE wants to plan for its future, they will pay Roman Reigns and Eva Marie to help them create a test tube baby that will surely become the most hated wrestler in the history of WWE. Of course, Vince McMahon will outlive us all and insist that the child is his greatest babyface creation.
New Day vs. League of Nations: I still have no clue whether the tag titles are on the line. They indicated that the titles were on the line during a Raw Pre-Show recently, and I believe the official preview once listed this as a tag title match. However, they’ve never made it clear on Raw. What’s worse? I care less about whether the tag titles are on the line than I did about Jonathan Coachman returning last night, which is really saying something. League of Nations needs to disband, not win the tag titles.
Big Show and Kane vs. Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas: The best thing I can say about the match is that it was kept short. However, I am confused by the Big Show and Kane relationship. Big Show hugged Kane recently only to be chokeslammed by him. Suddenly, they are teaming together as if nothing happened. Did I miss something when I fell four years behind on WWE Superstars? This match isn’t a tribute to Andre the Giant, it’s a participation ribbon battle royal with a prize that has led to nothing for the first two winners.
Kalisto vs. Konnor: I still maintain that the open challenge for the U.S. Championship should have been transferred to the underdog Kalisto character. It’s amazing how meaningless the title feels when we are not that far removed from the big boost that John Cena gave it. Shockingly, Ryback coming out and saying his catchphrase while staring at Kalisto did not leave me anxious to see their title match.