WWE: FastPain (2015)

★★★

Ouch. See that pain chipping away at your lower back? That’s the unwanted product of a pothole-filled Road to WrestleMania. WWE could’ve smoothed over the tarmac last night. HA! Wishful thinking, I know. Instead, whoever drove the car through Fastlane — sorry, WWE Fastlane — just rolled down the window and marked a big, black line under weeks of dreadful storytelling post-Royal Rumble.

Let’s recap. When Daniel Bryan returned from injury before the Royal Rumble and announced his involvement in the rumble match itself, the story that made the most sense at that point was Bryan versus Brock Lesnar. The talented, hard-working fan favourite against the dominant, viscous monster. Roman Reigns went on to win the rumble and that was that. Fine. From then, the next two months should have been spent building up Reigns as a credible and respectable threat to Lesnar, with Daniel Bryan nowhere in sight. Two RAWs later, Bryan’s in the title picture.

With one section of the audience rooting for Bryan and the other rooting for Reigns, the only justifiable scenario coming out of Fastlane should have been a triple threat match at WrestleMania 31 — where every fan who had invested emotion into either Bryan, Reigns or Lesnar would still have that same investment come March 29th. Fastlane is over and we’ve now got a WrestleMania main event involving a babyface who half of the audience won’t cheer for and a monster heel (one probably leaving the company) who half of the audience will applaud vociferously. And last year’s WrestleMania headliner — and opener, because Bryan is that good — is totally directionless with only five weeks to go until this year’s WrestleMania.

Fastlane - Bryan and Reigns

Sure the Royal Rumble was a royal shambles but at least the outcome, the end result on the night, made sense. Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble match worked from a story perspective. It wasn’t the best story they could have told but it was still a perfectly decent route to venture down. Daniel Bryan’s inclusion in the rumble match was the spoiling factor. The booking sucked, not the premise.

Fast forward to Fastlane and the whole scenario is a mess. We’ve had Royal Rumble winner Reigns gladly give up his ticket to stardom for a match against Bryan; Bryan being offered the chance to main event WrestleMania by his good buddy Triple H (you know, the same guy who fought tooth and nail to keep D-Bry out of the main event last year); and Brock Lesnar out doing some gardening because they haven’t been able to do much with him without an opponent. Ignoring the obvious story complications, the supposed vindication for Reigns versus Bryan doesn’t even make sense. Daniel Bryan — the ultimate underdog — should not be the guy who is used to get the much bigger, much stronger Roman Reigns over.

Reigns defeated Bryan clean at Fastlane and then the two shook hands. Bryan poked his opponent’s chest whilst saying, and I quote, “you better kick his ass,” referring obviously to fellow booking this rubbish. IWC smark marky markers everywhere, that is our cue to start cheering Roman Reigns. Be civil guys. The match was excellent and it’s absolutely logical therefore for people to bemoan complainers such as myself. We did get to see a brilliant match after all. But the issue is how the match came to fruition, the repercussions of the match and the likelihood that we’ll see booking disasters similar to this one again in the future.

I’m not going to defend Reigns much because I don’t think there’s much to defend. Yes, he done very well last night and, yes, he absolutely could be a big star. But as of this moment, he’s not that good. He’s not WrestleMania headliner/opener good. He’s not even WrestleMania headliner good. The match at Fastlane was great because Daniel Bryan wrestled in it and Roman Reigns just about managed to keep up. If the Samoan Boss Man had wrestled Sheamus, or Orton, or even Cena, I really don’t think the bout would have been half as entertaining.

Fastlane - Hand Shake

Fastlane was a bit of a dud show in general. The crowd weren’t on great form — no Slammy for you Memphis. Randy Orton’s return was one of the high points and I’m looking forward to seeing his match against Seth Rollins at WrestleMania. Orton isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he does tend to have excellent matches with smaller guys (Christian, Bryan and Rollins himself all spring to mind). Bray Wyatt delivered the most exciting moment of the night as he finally called out the Undertaker. This one has a ring-load of potential. Check out Inside The Ropes for some genuinely thrilling thoughts on how to book that programme, and lots of other top chat too — they’re always on the ball.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Sting and Triple H. I never watched WCW so the whole ‘defending the honour of a now defunct promotion’ angle doesn’t resonate with me at all. Hey, if they’d waited a few more years Sting could have showed up looking to defend the honour of a lifeless TNA. Kidding. The worry for me is that Sting versus Triple H will play out much like Brock versus Triple H did at WrestleMania 29. There is still time to generate more buzz.

However, it looks like there won’t be enough time to rescue Roman Reigns before the big showdown, at least not fully. If booked correctly, he could have had an army of followers vying for him to win the title. Now at least half of that army are too busy mourning Bryan’s mistreatment. As for the bearded warrior — he’s the most popular guy in company, but we shouldn’t let that silly insignificance get in the way of any undermining that needs to be done, right?

He literally is the Boyhood of wrestling: under-appreciated by those inaccessible elites but loved for his authenticity and talent by us lowly peasants. I’m off to watch the WWE Network and buy a Sting t-shirt.

Fastlane - Bryan

Images credit: WWE

WWE: The Royal Fumble (2015)

★★

Film folks, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.

I want to talk about that old rasslin’ thing for a moment. I’ve watched wrestling for over fifteen years and, just as it’d be stupid for me to claim uber knowledge in how to direct or write a movie, it’d also be stupid for me to claim that I know better than the people who slave away with pens and paper behind the scenes in WWE. Those guys and girls have probably been constructing stories within and outwith the world of pro wrestling for most of their professional lives. But I do think that a decade and a half of persistent viewing has chiselled at least a small amount of know-how into my brain as relates to the genre.

Everything was going swimmingly during the Royal Rumble last night. Sure, the hour-long tag team extravaganza was a bit much, but the Philly crowd were loud and made sure the show remained entertaining to watch — on a side note, let’s not forget that without an interactive and energetic audience like the one last night, the first half of this show wouldn’t have been nearly as good. Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins then had an outstanding triple threat match. All three guys were brilliant in their roles (Lesnar as the ruthless monster, Cena as the seasoned threat, Rollins as the imperious upstart) and Brock looked stronger than ever picking up the victory.

Rumble - WWE title

The Royal Rumble match itself started incredibly well too. We saw the return of Bubba Ray Dudley — once again, a deafening reaction from the Philly crowd elevated the moment — and there was a cool spot involving the Wyatt Family. Then Daniel Bryan arrived and the place exploded. Going into the match Bryan and Roman Reigns were the two clear favourites (murmurings of The Rock’s presence gave him a late boost).

I’m not going to lie: I wanted Bryan to win, and why shouldn’t I have? Randy Orton jokes aside, he is the guy that I love to watch more than anyone. Having said that, I — like many other Bryan fans on Twitter — was pretty much consigned to the fact that for the second year running he wasn’t going to pick up the victory and Reigns would receive that honour (or poised chalice) instead. Which, honestly, is fine. WWE needs new stars. Badly. Reigns could be a star. He looks fantastic, is young, can get better in the ring and can improve promo-wise too. Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble is not the problem.

Now, after last year’s debacle where Bryan was kept out of the Rumble match and the crowd booed eventual winner Dave Batista out of the building, fans had every right to believe that somewhere backstage the conglomerate of writers would come up with a smart plan of action. One that could get Bryan out of the Rumble without lauding heat on Reigns. As I mentioned earlier I’m not trying to book wrestling here, but I have watched long enough to know that what happened after Bryan’s entrance was abysmally conceived.

D-Bry was the eleventh wrestler/superstar eliminated. The fans in the arena, who for all intents and purposes had helped make the show as great as it had been up until that point, hated it. Just like last year they booed and hissed and chanted for Bryan and chanted for CM Punk and demanded refunds. Roman Reigns then entered shortly thereafter and they booed him too. Reigns would go on to win the match as expected, eliminating two proverbial giants and the undefeated Rusev in the end. Philly hated it. I hated it. Many people on Twitter hated it (some didn’t).

Bryan out

There are people in WWE who have been part of wrestling for decades. Triple H is smart guy. Vince has run the biggest wrestling company since before time. Yet for some reason nobody backstage suspected this toxic outpouring — or, at least, nobody important enough did. Of course fans were going to hate on Bryan getting eliminated because they love him; he never lost his WWE title, he’s the best babyface on the roster and he’s bloody amazing at doing that wrestling thing that sometimes happens. Of course fans were going hate on Reigns winning because a lot of them dislike the direction he’s going in; he’s cutting promos containing embarrassing content, he wears terrible gear and he is being booked just like John Cena who a lot of fans also dislike. Incidentally, none of this is Reigns’ fault.

Reigns entering at a point when Bryan’s elimination was fresh in the audience psyche and then going on to show superhuman abilities by eliminating three monsters was never, ever going to end with gargantuan smiles and patted backs for all involved. And having The Rock arrive to (unsuccessfully) give Reigns some shine compounds the overarching point: for some reason, the WWE creative team are feeding Reigns burgers and pizzas when his body is still at the baby food stage. At the Royal Rumble last night, they pulled the rug from under him by booking his victory terribly.

The Philly fans have been getting a lot of stick online for their negative reaction to the whole fiasco, as are us cry-babies on the internet. “They should stop watching if they don’t like it”; “it’s about more than just the IWC”; “stop moaning, it’s only wrestling”. As much as I felt bad for Roman Reigns, I do think the crowd were totally justified in delivering their outpouring of hostility. People have as much right to complain about shocking booking as they do complain about complainers.

Rumble - Rock Reigns

There is a prevalent notion that the IWC are a small ragtag band of scallywags who whine in darkened rooms on their WWE Network-compatible devices (in fact, that sounds about right). I don’t know the answer to this one, but I wonder how many of the four million RAW viewers fit the scallywag bill. Besides, it’s not just the smart-marks who love Daniel Bryan. More people are behind him than they are Roman Reigns. Surely as a company that wants to sell tickets and Networks and make money, you push your most popular star with greater purpose than your semi-popular stars, especially while the popular one is still in his prime.

CM Punk spoke to Colt Cabana last year and told him about a conversation he once had with Ryback, where he said: “you either tell me right now you’re dumb as fuck and you suck or you did it on purpose”. Does Vince hate his fans? Does he allow this level of ignorance on purpose? Or are those running the company just dumb as… well, you know. The booking at the Royal Rumble suggests the latter. The problem isn’t Roman Reigns, it’s the feeble and fruitless creative effort.

It is just wrestling. But having invested fifteen years of my life into it, I’m not so keen on walking away. Like me, I suspect lots of the IWC fans are long-term viewers with many years of investment. There’s no need to abandon something just because you don’t like it. If I’d stopped watching anything Matthew McConaughey was in after Sahara, I’d never have seen Interstellar or Mud or True Detective.

The reason this whole booking catastrophe has infuriated so many so much is because it has never been so plainly obvious that something in the creative department is terminally wrong. This means there’s an inherent lack of faith in how storylines are booked, and therefore a lack of faith in the future. Sure, WrestleMania will still be great. WWE will still alleviate our pain with special moments, but it’ll never be consistent and there is nothing more frustrating than watching ponderous and unnecessary inconsistency play out in front of your eyes.

And where the hell was Randy Orton?

Bryan

Images credit: WWE, Bleacher Report