2/29/16 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Consider the run that Dean Ambrose has been on for the last few months. He worked his way into the finals of the Survivor Series tournament before he lost to Roman Reigns in the WWE Title match. The next month, he got his first gold since his Shield days when he beat Kevin Owens for the Intercontinental Title in the best singles match at TLC. He had several excellent matches with Owens, including their show-stealing rematch at the Royal Rumble. Later that night, Ambrose again brushed up against the main event when he was the last man eliminated by HHH in the Rumble Match for the WWE Title. He dropped his Intercontinental Title without being pinned and came out of the triple threat #1 contender’s match at Fastlane looking both crazy and strong. It launched him into a program with Brock Lesnar that would lead him in a straight line to a street fight at Wrestlemania. Or would it?
On Raw, Ambrose stepped up to HHH and challenged him to a title match. He had a phenomenal verbal exchange with the champion in which he confidently asserted that HHH knows that he can’t beat Ambrose. His confidence was contagious and the fans started to share in his belief.
Ambrose returned for a fresh main event match with Alberto Del Rio. The odds were stacked against him with the League of Nations at ringside. Ambrose was already taped up from the beating Lesnar gave him last week and he entered the match heavily taped. Del Rio added to the problems when he hit his stomp on the barricade at ringside. Ambrose continued to fight back and eventually hit an elbow drop to all of the LON at ringside. HHH came to ringside and the LON jumped Ambrose to cause a DQ. After they laid him out, Ambrose tried to fight back against HHH, but ate a Pedigree instead. The last gasp baited HHH into accepting the title challenge at the upcoming Toronto Network Special. HHH punctuated the confrontation by beating Ambrose on the announce table, leaving him badly beaten.
Ambrose has started to occupy the 1A babyface spot that has been held down by wrestlers like Randy Savage and CM Punk in the past. Perhaps they were all out of the mainstream in a way that made WWE less comfortable with them as the head of their marketing juggernaut. Nonetheless, guys like Savage, Punk, and Ambrose are the reward for hardcore fans who sit through the pomp and circumstance of Hulk Hogan, John Cena, or Roman Reigns.
-Stephanie McMahon’s brilliant heel promo on her brother did quite a few noteworthy things. She made Shane a sympathetic figure while also explaining why she hates him. She weaved in some gender politics between Shane, his sons, her and her daughters. She also got heat by comparing the “entitled” Shane to the fans.
-On the same subject, Undertaker blanched at Vince McMahon’s assertion that Undertaker is his personal instrument of destruction. He said that Shane’s blood will be on his father’s hands, which gave Vince second thoughts about the matchup. It’s still slightly illogical that Undertaker would punish Vince by beating the man Vince wants beaten, but he’s plausible enough as an amoral vigilante that I’ll go along with the logical leap.
-Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch “tied” in their #1 contender match when both women had their shoulders down off of a sunset flip. The match was very good and I don’t mind seeing both face Charlotte at Wresetlemania, but the “draw” finish has been overdone lately, especially between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn in NXT.
-Big Show returned the favor to Kevin Owens and got a count-out victory after crotching his opponent on the top rope. I know that WWE still regards Big Show as an important character, but it would be a big letdown for fans of Owens who were hoping for a higher-caliber opponent.
-Y2AJ continued to function as a tag team in a fun win over New Day. When Styles took out Big E with a springboard forearm, Jericho countered Trouble in Paradise into the Walls of Jericho for the submission win. After the win, Styles said that their win should earn them a Tag Team Title shot. Y2AJ has worked in the ring, has showcased two veterans wrestling brilliantly, and keeps me on the edge of my seat, waiting for one of them to turn on the other.
-The Fabulous Freebirds were announced as HOF inductees. Their career is definitely HOF-worthy, but the optics are questionable. It is fair to second guess inducting a team that wore Confederate flags and has a checkered racial history in the same era that Hulk Hogan was revealed using racial slurs and fans complained that Titus O’Neil’s suspension was racially insensitive.
-Before their participation in the main event, Sheamus and Rusev teamed against the Lucha Dragons. Rusev got the win with a superkick to a distracted Kalisto. I am enjoying the depth in the tag team division at the moment, even if there isn’t much top-end quality next to the New Day.
-The Miz stole a pin from Dolph Ziggler in a singles match. After the excellent work Miz did between AJ Styles and Chris Jericho, he deserves to generate some singles momentum before Wretlemania.
-Ryback dominated Adam Rose and gave a taped promo that channeled Batista circa 2010. It’s not totally clear whether Ryback is a traditional heel or just a vicious, no nonsense babyface. Either way, I could see fans responding to this character tweak.
-Lana seemingly initiated a feud with Brie Bella when she insulted her during a backstage interview. Brie proceeded to lose to Naomi’s Rings of Saturn-like submission hold and Lana gloated over the loss. Brie has a hard enough time wrestling decent matches against very good opponents. I’m afraid of what will happen if she faces someone as green as Lana.
-Bubba Ray Dudley used a table-aided distraction from Devon to win a physical match with Jey Uso. The Dudleys haven’t done a lot since turning, but they definitely have more of an edge.
-R-Truth told Goldust to leave him alone. I would have preferred this angle if Goldust spent his time recruiting an upcoming wrestler who could use the screen time, like Tyler Breeze.