Dean Ambrose Disrupts Seth Rollins Celebration
It has long been Vince McMahon’s top goal to make his wrestlers into pop culture icons on the level of rock stars or movie stars. When he finally hit pay dirt and helped turn The Rock into the biggest movie star in the world, he understandably saw that achievement as a sort of personal nirvana. Since The Rock’s ascendance to the top of Hollywood, WWE has repeatedly tried to market too many of its new stars in his image.
In the last decade, WWE has been so preoccupied with making John Cena, Batista, and Roman Reigns “the next Rock” that they have hesitated to accept that wrestlers like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan had become the leaders of their era in altogether different archetypes. That’s the secret of finding “the next” anyone- you never find “the next” one, you find the first Punk, Bryan, or Ambrose, and they make your forget why you ever needed the next Rock.
I recognize that it is wildly premature to crown Ambrose as a first ballot Hall of Famer. I am also aware that I was fully guilty of comparing him to Roddy Piper, Steve Austin, and Brian Pillman. But what I have seen from him over the last month, along with the consistently enthusiastic crowd responses, make me believe that WWE is on its way to catching lightning in a bottle if it allows itself to abandon its preconceived prototype of what its franchise player should look and sound like.
Monday’s episode of Raw was built around the ongoing tension between Ambrose and Rollins after enlisted the entire Authority to help him retain his title at Payback. Ambrose humorously offered Rollins a rematch to prove that he could beat him if Rollins would put his WWE Title on the line. Kane and Rollins obviously dismissed Ambrose and instead put him in a match with Bray Wyatt as punishment.
I was initially concerned that placing Ambrose so close to the adversary who brought him to his nadir in WWE was a bad idea, but Ambrose and Wyatt put together an extremely fun match. Both wrestlers broke out offense not normally seen, such as a suplex from the apron to the floor by Wyatt and a dropkick and leg drop by Ambrose with Wyatt tied in the ropes. Each wrestler fought out of the other’s finisher and Wyatt missed a second rope senton (a great addition to his arsenal). When it looked like Ambrose was on the verge of taking the match, J&J Security hit the ring, distracted the referee, and helped Wyatt hit Sister Abigail to get the win. The loss was so cheap that it did not hurt Ambrose as much as the tension with The Authority helped him.
Ambrose was not done for the night, either. After Kane presented a very strong video package at the “Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream” celebration, Ambrose confronted the entire Authority together. He reiterated his challenge for the WWE Title and Rollins laughed him off. Ambrose fought his way through J&J Security and placed Rollins’s head on a pile of cinderblocks he had concealed at ringside- a callback to the Curb Stomp that sent him out of action for a month last summer. He held Rollins there until Stephanie McMahon granted him the title shot he sought. J&J Security and Kane ambushed him to no avail, but Rollins came back to attack from behind and lay him out with a Pedigree- much better than the one from Payback- to end the show.
Rollins has been outstanding since his split from The Shield a year ago and he has wonderful chemistry with Ambrose. Their rivalry never got the conclusion it deserved, so the tension returned to a high level very quickly when they faced off again. Moreover, Ambrose’s feeling of entropy glues my eyes to the TV unlike many other stars who follow a blueprint that simply makes them too predictable.
Kevin Owens One-Ups John Cena in Debut
As if Ambrose’s ascent was not enough, another charismatic, nontraditional wrestler made a huge impact on the same show. After Cena reiterated his love for the US Title and issued another open challenge, Owens answered the call. He told Cena that he was the one responsible for softening up Sami Zayn before the great Cena-Zayn match a few weeks ago. He also bristled when Cena tried to give him advice, saying that he has been wrestling longer than Cena, even if he has not been in WWE as long. When Cena was not expecting it, Owens kicked him in the gut, delivered a big pop-up powerbomb, and posed over Cena while stomping on the US Title belt.
Later in the show, Owens told Renee Young that The Authority granted him a match with Cena at Elimination Chamber. Owens seemed very comfortable on the mic in his debut in front of a much larger crowd than that to which he is accustomed. Even better than his promo was the image of him stomping on the US Title. Like Ambrose, Owens is unlikely anyone who has come before him, and that uniqueness is a feature, not a bug.
Lana and Rusev Part Ways
Rusev came to the ring alone and denied that he quit against John Cena at Payback and also distanced himself from Lana. He repeatedly shouted at the fans, “There is no Lana!” Eventually, she came to the ring and came off as very sympathetic in saying that she ended Rusev’s match because she cares about him and believes in him, and she did not want to see him in any more pain at the end of the match. Unpersuaded, Rusev banished her to the back.
Later in the show, Lana sidled up to Dolph Ziggler after his easy victory over Stardust. They kissed each other, which provoked Rusev to come back to the ring. He shouted at Lana until she slapped him. It appeared that Rusev was about to attack Lana when Ziggler hit a Zig Zag and left with her. The slow build to the split between Lana and Rusev has made both of them more compelling. My only hope is that the story does not lead to the exceedingly obvious double cross at Elimination Chamber, where Rusev and Ziggler will both vie for the Intercontinental Title.
- Luke Harper and Erick Rowan def. Fandango and Zack Ryder
While I still have no idea why Harper and Rowan have chosen Fandango as their target upon their reunion, it is pretty fun to watch them squash him every week. After a short rally by Ryder, they hit a cool new combination finisher that starts with a Harper superkick and leads to a Rowan side slam. I was left wondering why Harper and Rowan were not entered into the tag team Elimination Chamber.
- Tyson Kidd and Cesaro def. New Day by DQ; New Day Remains Tag Team Champions
A night after they had the best match at Payback, these teams got another chance to show off their creativity with Xavier Woods banned from ringside. After an early hurricanrana off of the apron by Kidd, New Day isolated Cesaro. Kidd finally got back into the match and put Kofi Kingston into the Sharpshooter, which required a save from Big E. New Day double teamed Kidd in the corner until the referee called for the bell. Woods ran to the ring to stop a Cesaro swing, and he was followed by the Lucha Dragons, Los Matadores, The Ascension, and the Prime Time Players- the teams slated for Elimination Chamber. The DQ was not a very artful way to resolve the title match (and redundant with the Divas match), but the tag team onslaught was exciting and a fun change of pace.
- Nikki Bella def. Naomi by DQ to remain Divas Champion
As if they were booking from the same script as the Tag Team Title match, Stephanie McMahon held Brie Bella back from ringside out of concern for her “mental health.” Nikki neutralized Tamina’s interference early with a suicide dive. When Nikki put together a rally, though, Tamina broke up the Rack Attack and helped Naomi beat on the champion. Paige ran to the ring and fought off Naomi as retribution for Naomi turning on her at Raw in London last month. After she chased Naomi and Tamina out of the ring, she hit Nikki with the Rampage to make it clear that her goal is the Divas Title rather than friendship.
It was nice to see some logical consistency and thought in the Divas division for a change. Paige has no reason to like the Bellas, and her skill properly puts her near the top of the division immediately upon her return.
- Bo Dallas Targets Neville
Neville got his first chance in WWE to speak with a mediocre interview with Renee Young. Dallas interrupted him and insulted him. Michael Cole effectively planted the seeds for a rivalry with the idea that Dallas is jealous that Neville beat him for the NXT Title, had a better title reign, and has been more successful on the main roster.
Neville dealt with a bad knee throughout his rematch with King Barrett and it eventually led to a Bull Hammer by Barrett for the win. After the match, Dallas attacked the injured Neville and did more damage to his knee around the ring post. Dallas was so effective on commentary and in his attack that it will mean something for Neville to eventually go over him in this rivalry.
- Sheamus def. Ryback
After some very good mic work by both Sheamus and Ryback to build hype for the Elimination Chamber Intercontinental Title match, they faced off with Ryback’s injured ribs as the focal point of the match. Ryback fought through the pain to hit a powerbomb, a spienbuster, and a slam onto the announce table. Sheamus feigned having something in his eye to get a ref break and delivered a Brogue Kick on the break. Sheamus consistently finds ways to get heat for his wins, which is a unique talent. Ryback has found his groove both in the ring and on the mic in a way I never anticipated and belongs near the top of the second tier of faces in WWE. Finally, I have missed “taped ribs” as an in-ring storyline.