Professional wrestling is more like Japanese Kabuki Theater than it is like any other form of sports or entertainment. The idea of wrestlers riffing within a loose script and a repetition of the same general parameters is precisely the reason that wrestling can be both familiar and exciting at the same time. Even if we have seen a variation on a story before, it can be fun to see a wrestler provide his take on the same story.
That’s why I have no problem with WWE reprising its Steve Austin-Vince McMahon angle with Ambrose playing Austin’s role. An authority figure does not want an uncontrollable challenger to become the champion, so he puts bizarre obstacles- including a contrived arrest- in his way, yet the popular challenger finds a way to humiliate the authority figure in the end.
In this case, WWE has abandoned all subtlety. The authority figure is named “The Authority” and the unstable, fringy challenger is known as the “lunatic fringe” and has “unstable” plastered on his t-shirts. Even if Ambrose’s particular kind of uniqueness is visible from a mile away, I appreciate his talent and I appreciate that it’s something different to give a three-hour Raw at least a couple of segments that feel distinct from the rest.
On this show, Ambrose and The Authority had to fight through several cringe-worthy appearances by the cast of Entourage and a mostly depressed crowd for the last-ever Nassau Coliseum show. At the start of the show, Seth Rollins embraced Ambrose’s comparisons to the successful Justin Bieber and said that Ambrose like a cockroach who can survive but never thrive. He was not afraid to enter the ring full of members of The Authority to sign the contract for his match with Rollins at Elimination Chamber, but they fought him off. Roman Reigns came to the ring in support of Ambrose and Stephanie made them wrestle Rollins and Kane.
Ambrose and Reigns had to deal with interference from J&J Security. They nearly won the match when Reigns hit a Superman Punch on Kane and Ambrose hit an elbow drop. Rollins broke up the pin and followed it with a flying knee to Ambrose. They countered one another repeatedly until Ambrose put him down with a backslide and got a surprise victory over the champion. It seemed so natural headed into the match that Kane would eat a pin that the deviation was interesting.
Despite the win, Ambrose still had not signed his contract. He continued to look for the contract backstage when J&J Security came after him again. A scuffle broke out and Ambrose accidentally clocked ROH’s Will Ferrera, moonlighting here as a WWE cameraman. HHH made sure that Long Island’s finest cuffed Ambrose for the assault and had him hauled away in a paddy wagon.
The Authority returned to the ring at the end of the show to gloat over the success of their plot. Instead, Reigns came to the ring and tried to take them all out individually. During the skirmish, Ambrose drove the same paddy wagon back into the arena and into the entrance area. He rushed the ring with a police hat and a billy club and helped Reigns clear house. With The Authority in retreat, Reigns found the contract and let his friend sign it to ensure the main event at Elimination Chamber.
John Cena def. Zack Ryder to Remain US Champion
A mostly dead crowd finally woke up for Cena and chanted for Ryder during his promo. Ryder was a fan favorite all night for the last show at Nassau Coliseum. Cena addressed his upcoming (non-title) match with Kevin Owens and planted the seeds for deuling chants of “Let’s Go Cena” and “Fight Owens Fight.” When he issued his open challenge, the cast of Entourage emerged and introduced Ryder.
Cena controlled the start of the match and set Ryder up for a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) jumped into the ring and distracted him, which allowed Ryder to roll Cena into a schoolboy for a two count. Ryder also hit a version of the Killswitch, a Broski Boot, and the Rough Ryder, each for a two count. He missed a 450 splash, Cena hit the AA, and got the pin.
There were no hard feelings between Ryder and Cena. They celebrated together with the Entourage cast after the match for a feel good moment. Unfortunately, the match did not live up to the high standard for Cena’s US Open Challenge. It felt rushed and basically consisted of about five random spots.
While Cena mugged for the crowd, Owens jumped into the ring and hit him with another pop-up powerbomb. Once again, Owens stood tall over Cena with his foot on the US Title belt. Everyone- Cena included- has made Owens look as strong as any debuting wrestler in a generation. The way his match with Cena goes on Sunday will say a lot about his immediate future.
Rusev and Lana Permeate through Elimination Chamber Build
As Rusev built his impressive winning streak over the last year, there was always a lingering question over what he would become after his pro-Russia run of dominance ended. It always seemed likely that Rusev’s next phase would come about through a schism with Lana. Sure enough, that division has impelled the newest iteration of Rusev.
The more surprising part is his hard turn away from Russia and toward his Bulgarian heritage. Rusev came to the ring with a Bulgarian flag and tights to face R-Truth. He quickly dispatched Truth with the Accolade and called Lana to the ring. She eventually joined him, but showed no sympathy. She called him a liar, a quitter, and a coward in a segment made to look like an abused spouse confronting her abuser. Lana left Rusev angry and walked away with Dolph Ziggler to further enrage her former suitor.
Lana returned to the entrance ramp when Ziggler faced Sheamus. They wrestled another stiff match that included a brutal powerslam by Sheamus on the floor outside the ring. Ziggler started to rally back with forearms until Rusev ran to the ring. Ziggler gave Rusev a big superkick, but the time he spent on Rusev allowed Sheamus to recover and hit a Brogue Kick to win. It went from bad to worse for Ziggler when Rusev put him in the Accolade while he shouted at Lana outside the ring.
The development between Lana and Rusev has been far more interesting than I expected. Both characters have become more interesting as the story has moved along because there is not glaringly obvious outcome. Ziggler is a good addition to the love triangle because it fits his persona and he does not have to change to make the storyline feel relevant.
Ryback def. King Barrett
Elsewhere in the build for the Intercontinental Title Elimination Chamber, the reign of King Barrett remained wildly disappointing. Ryback continued to sell his rib injury suffered at the hands of Bray Wyatt. Barrett targeted the ribs and controlled most of the match. His offense looked impressive on the huge Ryback. When he started to taunt Ryback for not being able to make it to his feet, Ryback hit a spinebuster. He followed it with Shell-Shocked and got the win.
Tamina def. Paige
No part of this segment made sense. On commentary, the Bellas once again vacillated between face and heel behaviors. In the ring, Tamina got the advantage with some sloppy interference by Naomi. Tamina hit a Samoan Drop to get the win- a pinfall victory on a title challenger by someone not in the match. Once again, it seemed like our fears were confirmed that there was simply no thought put into the Divas match.
New Day Wins a Handicap Match
The Divas were not alone in nonsense booking. After the heel New Day insulted Long Island and its former hockey team, Kane booked them against the 10 wrestlers they will face in the Elimination Chamber match. Predictably, the 10-on-3 match was a complete cluster. New Day somehow won by DQ when the other team could not coordinate to get out of the ring and tag in. The segment ended with Kidd and Cesaro one-upping New Day.
The idea that the heel Kane would book the heel New Day in a handicap match against a mix of faces and heels is highly perplexing. New Day somehow winning the match in a sympathetic way after they insulted the fans makes just about as much sense. Here’s hoping there is more thought put into the Chamber match itself.
Neville def. Stardust
Stardust got in an argument with an actor in the crowd from a show called Arrow. With his recent results, I can only assume that Stardust would enter a match with him as a sizable underdog. Sure enough, Neville fought through an injured knee to hit a great tornado DDT and a Red Arrow to win. Bo Dallas rushed Neville after his win and attacked his bad knee once again. The rivalry between Neville and Dallas works very well for a program at the bottom of the card. They have a reason to fight, the heel has garnered some heat, and their match has promise.