Squared Circle Soliloquy 4.13.14: Volume 1, Number 1 - 'Changing'
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 04.13.2014
Were WrestleMania XXX and the following night's RAW a changing of the guard, or did the result of one match foretell the return of business as usual? 411's Wyatt Beougher examines this subject in the debut edition of Squared Circle Soliloquy!
Introduction: Welcome, all, to the newest addition to the Wrestling Zone here at 411Mania. My name is Wyatt Beougher, and you might know me as the host of 411's MMA Fact or Fiction for the past two-plus years, or for my coverage of The Ultimate Fighter and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. So what brings me to the Wrestling Zone? Well, as a lifelong wrestling fan (dating back to 1982, when I delivered a shoot devastating Superfly Splash from the back of our couch to my father, who was sleeping soundly on the floor), I actually applied to write for 411 in the Wrestling Zone back in ‘03 or ‘04, but I can freely admit that I was far too influenced by Scott Keith to have really had anything to offer the site back then. Since then, I've matured, and my interest in wrestling has fluctuated, with me taking a lot of 2008 and early 2009 away from wrestling due to a variety of reasons. I came back when Punk won the title from Jeff Hardy (something I was too jaded to believe would ever happen), and I've been a pretty consistent viewer since then.
So what is the ‘Squared Circle Soliloquy' all about? Basically, it's just my thoughts on whatever's happening in wrestling that I feel passionately enough to write about. By the time you read this, I'll have the first three or four editions of the column done, and this wasn't my first choice for the debut edition of this column, but in light of the awesomeness that was the Wrestlemania XXX/follow-up RAW combination, I decided to change plans and do a more introductory column. So if you don't like this one, hang in there, because next week's should be better.
Squared Circle Soliloquy: Changing
Premise: On April 6th, 2014, the WWE presented Wrestlemania XXX, a show that was almost universally well-received. Not only was the show historic and surprising, it marked a changing of the guard, with nearly every match on the card designed to defy fan's expectations going into the event. That upheaval continued the next night on RAW, and, if the WWE can maintain the momentum of those two shows, we could be entering into a whole new era of WWE programming.
History: Less than three months ago, many fans were ready to write off the promotion, as they snubbed popular Superstar Daniel Bryan for the annual Royal Rumble push to Wrestlemania's main event in favor of Batista, an aging performer who'd been away from the WWE for nearly four years while he dabbled in MMA and acting. Even worse, the following night, just thirty minutes before Monday Night RAW went on the air, another popular superstar, CM Punk, walked out of the company for reasons that are, to this day, only truly known to him (and, one would assume, Vince McMahon). Fans weren't shy about booing Batista, which forced a hasty heel turn just a few short weeks after winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Opportunity at the Royal Rumble. Some combination of this hostility, Punk's departure, and Bryan's continuing groundswell of popularity forced this Wrestlemania into becoming a completely different show than it had once been planned, and the WWE is better off for it, as evidenced by Monday's post-Wrestlemania RAW.
My Take: Wrestlemania XXX was not a perfect show, by any means - it began with a twenty-minute interview segment featuring Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the Rock that could've easily been bumped to the pre-show to allow the tag team championship match to actually appear on the PPV itself. The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was, at times, sloppy and hard to follow, and the ending of the Undertaker/Brock Lesnar match could've easily spelled disaster for the main event. That said, it was still the best Wrestlemania in years, maybe the best Wrestlemania of all time (one match prevents me from making it my personal favorite, but I'll get into that more later), and the WWE should be commended for not only doing the right thing as it pertains to the main card opener and main event, but also for pulling off so many surprises in a 24 hour span.
Rather than offer a match-by-match breakdown, I'm instead just going to point out the things that made me happy between Wrestlemania and the next night's RAW:
-The opening match was easily the best match of Triple H's career, and I can't even give all the credit for that to Bryan. Triple H came to WORK, and in a match where a lot of people expected him to win, or at least lose by disqualification for assaulting Bryan, he did everything in his power to put the younger man over. From selling Bryan's offense like he was being shot, to doing some of his finest heel work to make Bryan's comebacks look all that much more impressive, to eating the busaiku knee and eating a completely clean pinfall. Even the after the match stuff was on-point, with Helmsley again attacking Bryan's shoulder and making him an even bigger underdog in the main event.
-The Shield absolutely squashed the New Age Outlaws (and Kane). In a sub-three minute match, we still got to see stereo dives from Ambrose and Rollins, Reigns spearing all three of their opponents (including a double spear on the Outlaws), and a triple-team dual powerbomb on the Outlaws. This is what should happen every time midcard Attitude Era Superstars show up to take on the most dominant group in the WWE over the past 17 months. Yes, 17 months - the Shield haven't even been main roster performers for a year and a half yet, and they're already carving out a legacy that looks like the beginnings of a Hall of Fame career. I think going into this match, a lot of people expected Ambrose to join the Authority, or else some miscommunication to lead to the oft-rumored break-up. Instead, we got basically the perfect match to end the feud.
-The Battle Royal felt like it had a lot of filler, but the ending of the match was absolutely ideal - CESAROMANIA! Yet again, another match where people expected one thing (Big Show, ADR, Sheamus, or some other already established top-tier talent to win), but instead delivered another thing entirely. And man was that thing awesome! (Especially with the newly-nicknamed King of Swing announcing that he's a Heyman guy on Monday.)
-Bray Wyatt's spider counter to the Five Knuckle Shuffle was easily my favorite moment from a match at Wrestlemania that wasn't directly related to the finish of said match, and a huge kudos to Cena, who sold that better than he did Sandow destroying his arm for twenty minutes back in the fall. Bray's entrance was also outstanding, along with much of his dialogue during the match. The six-man tag was especially on Monday night was also especially good, and it was only made better by the crowd booing any offense from Cena or Sheamus and alternately cheering/singing/swaying for the Wyatt family.
-Taker looked old and tired throughout this match, and I haven't completely ruled out that he looked that way on purpose. Lesnar was never the man to carry Taker to a classic match at this point in his career, but the end result of this match was the perfect ending to the story for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, this wasn't a story about someone trying to end the Streak - it was about the Undertaker answering the Beast's open challenge, only to find himself lacking when it actually came time to get down to business. It's about as classic a story as there is in professional wrestling, and we were so focused on the Streak that we never saw it coming. And while I still think someone else could've benefited more from breaking the Streak (sup, Bray Wyatt?), in a weird sort of way, Lesnar actually makes perfect sense. Like Undertaker, he's a part-timer who's only guaranteed to be on a handful of shows a year. He's also an established veteran like ‘Taker, and while he left the company after being burnt out by the constant travel, by all accounts, he's been a model citizen since returning to the company on a lighter schedule. Most importantly, like the Undertaker, when Brock Lesnar wrestles a match, it feels important, especially now in the wake of him doing the unthinkable. Kudos to the WWE for keeping the result of this match such a well-guarded secret, especially if they were able to surprise both Paul Heyman and the match official, Chad Patton, as has been reported.
-The Divas match was better than it had any right to be and they had the unenviable position of following what might be the most shocking (and crowd deflating) moment in Wrestlemania history. There was the expected sloppiness you'd expect from a combination of Divas and the clusterf*** nature of the match, but there were also quite a few cool little things in the match - Aksana continuing to be the Brock Lesnar of the Divas division and either legitimately hurting her opponents or working so stiffly that you think she's going to, the Bellas' stereo dives and subsequent face-off dying a slow and agonizing death in front of the still-stunned crowd, Tamina's continued loyalty to AJ, and AJ's win (a submission win? in a multi-person spotfest? Niiiiiiiiiccccceeee). Plus, what happened the next night on RAW was even better for the division.
-I'm not entirely sure how the main event could've been better. Yes, it had the Authority run-in, but that played no role in the finish of the match and really made it feel like Bryan was overcoming all odds en route to his title win. Orton and Batista's double team Batista Bomb/modified RKO was brutal-looking, and Orton deserves a lot of respect for finishing the match after what was clearly an unplanned landing on that monitor that cut his back open. Bryan winning the title via submission was icing on the cake, and the post-match celebration was easily the best "Wrestlemania Moment" that the WWE could've booked for this show. Hard to believe they set the bar so high with a planned "70,000 masks" moment that would've given us a Rey Mysterio/Sin Cara match. Was Daniel Bryan winning the title the far superior choice? YES! YES! YES!
-In the interest of time, I'm going to lump everything about RAW together (at least the stuff I didn't mention): Paige's debut (minus the sloppy Paige Turner), Bo Dallas promos (Bo-Mos?), #BNB actually getting to wrestle (and win, with a supplemental nod to New Orleans following our lead at the Rumble and booing the crap out of Rey Mysterio), Rusev debuting in dominant fashion, and, of course, Bryan and the Shield joining forces to combat the Evolution of the Authority.
So where does that leave us? Well, between Wrestlemania and RAW, it looks as though the WWE is poised to start giving their younger stars (and RVD) the opportunity to make their mark on the future. More importantly, it seems like they're starting to listen to what the fans want, instead of trying to tell us what we want. Of course, by the time Extreme Rules rolls around, that could all go up in a cloud of smoke, but for now, it certainly looks like the WWE is looking to go younger. And with the current crop of NXT call-ups (the Shield, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro to an extent, Paige, and AJ, among others) looking so dominant right now, and talent like Sami Zayn, Bo Dallas, Aiden English, Adam Rose, Tyler Breeze, and Sasha Banks waiting in the wings, the future looks brighter than it has in a long time.
My only real complaint about this week of wrestling (other than the Wyatt Family/Shield rematch being on a show that a lot of people don't watch - that's right: make sure you watch Main Event on the Network) is the result of the Bray Wyatt/John Cena match at Wrestlemania. In a show that looked in February like it would be Wrestlemania HHH, with Triple H and his friends involved in both the main event and the biggest storyline matches on the show, we instead got YEStlemania. And yet somehow, in spite of all of the surprises that the WWE had in store, one match was unforgiveably predictable. In next week's edition of the Squared Circle Solliloquy, I'll delve into more detail regarding my issues with Cena's booking (a lot of which isn't his fault), but suffice it to say, Cena winning, cleanly, with Harper and Rowan at ringside, was exactly the kind of backwards booking that has cost the WWE several potential stars over the years, and also turned a large portion of the fanbase on Cena. Cena "NEVER GIVING UP" en route to Super Cena'ing a victory is the most boring, predictable route that they could've gone with this match, and sure enough, that's exactly what they did. The simple fact of the matter is that Bray needed the win at ‘Mania; Cena didn't, yet the WWE was still too gun shy to actually pull the trigger on what would've amounted to making a new main event star.
Yes, Bray is either going to win at Extreme Rules, or he'll "win" by making Cena snap and look like the monster that Bray's been calling him for a month now, but it's not going to feel as important as a win at Wrestlemania, the WWE's biggest show of the year. And no, the Bray Wyatt character isn't damaged because of a loss to the guy who's dominated the WWE for the past decade; however, the next three parts of this column will talk about missed opportunities, and I can't help but feel like giving Wyatt a win at his first Wrestlemania was the biggest missed opportunity of the show.
Still though, I'm wrapping up this column to watch NXT in a week where so many of its stars and alumni have been given a chance to shine, so I don't want to complain too much or sound ungrateful, so I'll instead take a minute to offer my condolences to the family and friends of James "Warrior" Hellwig. I was never his biggest fan, nor did I agree with some of his more socially conservative opinions, but he absolutely deserved his Hall of Fame berth, and I'm glad that he was able to enjoy it and share it with his family before his untimely death. And I can't tell you how happy I am to see the best wrestler in the company actually holding its top title (or titles, depending on whether or not you think this unification is going to last the year).
Wyatt Beougher is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling who has been writing for 411 for over three years now and currently hosts MMA Fact or Fiction and reviews Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Squared Circle Solliloquy is the manifestation of over thirty years of wrestling fandom and it represents the views of one man, its author.