I tried hard to not write about this week's Raw. Considering how much everyone seemed to be dreading it, Monday’s show has generated a lot of articles. Before it even aired, TJR’s Brandon Lasher wrote about why he hates the Slammys. Then John Canton gave us the Raw Deal, Mike Holland followed with his own reflections, and Hugh Firth took a cerebral look at Orton and Cena. Andrew Johnson harvested The Best (And Not Best) Tweets about the Slammys, and the Briggs brothers podcasted about the show. Do we really need another article about this week’s Raw?
I’m sorry. We do. I just couldn’t let it go, because I loved it so much. We fans are like squirrels, eating stale breadcrumbs left out for us by WWE, thinking that if we hang around long enough, they might give us a piece of bread. But what if the piece of bread turns out to be a three-layer carrot cake with cream cheese icing? Squirrels’ little minds can’t handle such a huge disjoint between expectation and payoff. It turned me into a couch-jumping rodent at 6 on Tuesday morning.
It all started at 5:30. I’d been awakened by the thunderous grind of a snow plow on my street. I rolled out of bed and checked my phone. Long-time TJR supporter Ed Eastin Jr. had written, “Raws that end like THAT make the WWE, and the entire wrestling industry itself, worth it, even if the product is complete garbage up to that point...me and Travis were MARKING THE F*** OUT!” I decided to see what Ed was talking about. I made a coffee, cozied up on the couch, and fast-forwarded to the last segment of Raw.
You know by now who was in the ring and the purpose of the Ascension Ceremony. First of all, Stephanie McMahon is perfect. I love the way she enunciates and fawns over her husband. She conducts herself in such a businesslike way, yet the words coming out of her mouth are nauseating, AND she knows it. She’s nobody’s fool, which gives her credibility when she needs it.
The Seattle crowd chants madly for Daniel Bryan while The Authority tries to speak; it is a beautiful, unscripted moment on live TV. What makes it even more delightful is Daniel Bryan’s face. If this were a movie, you could hire a crowd of extras to chant for Daniel Bryan like that. But you could not “act” the way Bryan does in response to the chanting. It is so natural, it made me feel so happy to watch him. His incredulous smile says it all: “This is awesome, thank you.” Big Show is smiling too. This is a glimpse into Punk's reaction when Steph raves about Triple H:
Triple H can feel control slipping away from him, as he pronounces, “WE ARE ALL HERE TO WITNESS AN EPIC MOMENT IN TIME! A GAME-CHANGING MOMENT IN TIME!” The chanting gets so loud that he stops talking. This is almost like a scene from a comic book, with The Authority desperately trying to spew their propaganda but the masses rejecting it.
Stephanie rolls her eyes and The Miz breaks out in a smile too. You just can’t write stuff like this. Holy cow, we have all been so down on wrestling lately, because it has sucked, and here we have fans drowning out Triple H’s promo as they chant for the guy Triple H has buried. I feel so joyful watching this, like I was a part of it even on my couch at home. We can complain about wrestling. We can say we’re going to boycott it. But we continue to eat the breadcrumbs in hope that something special will happen.
I had tweeted that HBK was starting to look like a Muppet. Yes, he’s getting older, and I think the both of us are having trouble dealing with it. He kind of darts around with his gestures now, and his brow is getting more furrowed and wispy by the week. He even has the googly eye. He’s in a weird void here: he’s happy to have hung up the chaps, but when he’s back on Raw his instincts tell him to act like Good Ol’ HBK, except he doesn’t quite know how. He’s overcompensating a lot on this show. When the “Daniel Bryan” chants get too loud for Triple H to bother speaking, Shawn cuts to the front of the pack and gestures for everyone to stop chanting. Being Triple H’s best buddy, this move only adds fuel to the flames, and it takes Mark Henry raising DBry’s hand to break the chant (of course, everyone erupted into cheers instead, and THEN Henry gave the sign to stop – seriously fantastic work on his part).
JBL: “This is maniacal! The WWE Universe is going wild! I love it!”
Swagger is dressed like one of the Sopranos, and he whispers to Ziggler in amusement. One by one, everyone is losing their solemn demeanor. Who knew this Ascension Ceremony would give us a view into something real? Something spontaneous and organic playing out of anyone’s control – a great irony on the night of the Slammys, right? The insulting snooze that was Rock vs. Cena may have won Match of the Year, but it’s all good right now. I am happy.
Triple H tries to restore order and prestige to the situation, bellowing “THESE TWO MEN WILL WALK TO THE RING IN A QUEST TO BECOME IMMORTAL!” I’d say he’s about three chants away from getting the sledgehammer out from under the ring. He introduces Randy Orton.
I know there are lots of comments on the internet about Randy never wearing pants, and it’s something that I get a real kick out of. However, it strikes me now that perhaps he never wears pants because his quads are frickin’ huge! Is this new? Or has he been ripping the thighs out of his pants for years? And I love the little detail of Steph being the only one to continually clap for him as he enters. Otherwise, there’s not a huge reaction.
Cena comes out to a pretty negative reaction. He is wearing a LOT of swag at once, and Steph is the only one in the ring clapping again. I like that they’re not all playing some kind of part, like the babyface champs clapping for Cena, and the heel ones clapping for Orton (who does Miz clap for?). I also like Cena getting right in Orton’s face with the title belt. I’m not a big fan of either guy, but it makes me feel a bit edgy when anyone gets up in anyone’s face with sincerity.
Once Cena’s music stops, Triple H calls for both men to surrender their belts. The “Daniel Bryan” chant starts again, and John Cena shows how savvy he is by sneaking in a quick handshake with the hometown favorite. It puts his stamp of approval on the guy everyone loves, and it makes him likable by association.
Randy’s statement that “Sometimes when you’re that much better than your peers, you lack motivation” rang awfully true. Not because he IS that much better, but because he’s always fancied himself as such, and it has resulted in an unsavoury attitude. The crowd chants “Bor-ing!” during his promo, which seems a little much, and I wonder if Randy finds his motivation because all of a sudden he hulks up and starts yelling about the TLC match.
I don’t know if it’s Randy’s sudden outburst or the crowd chanting “Yes!” but CM Punk cannot contain himself. He looks like a kid trying not to laugh in church. I’ve been there. But he immediately switches back to serious mode when he realizes the camera is on him. He’s a polarizing figure for wrestling fans – you either love him, or you think anyone who loves him is a fool. I think he’s enjoying himself more than he expected to here, which adds to the genuine flavor of the moment.
H B Shizzle is muppeting all over the place because his buddy’s Ascension Ceremony has gone off the tracks, and when Orton calls him out, he does a cartoonish “Who, me?” Bret Hart has the good sense to play it casual when Orton talks some trash about him. I think it’s a great path to take towards what eventually happens, because it’s building tension amongst everyone in the ring.
When Cena takes the mic, there is more cheering than expected. He waits a beat (so savvy, for the cheers to pick up) then says “It’s funny. I couldn’t help but notice you said the word ‘work’”. He then brings DBry into the center of the ring and gets him to confirm that he had to work for everything he has, because his parents were not wrestlers. This sparks another “Yes!” chant and a wicked stink eye from Randy Orton.
“You want these championships because you’re selfish, because you feel you deserve it. Maybe if you win this you can walk around and say, ‘Hey guys, look! I’m finally what I was supposed to be 10 years ago.’”
TELL ME MORE.
Cena is giving me a pipe bomb vibe, make all the more real by the absence of his I’m-fired-up-fake-Boston accent. “Whether these guys in the ring like me or not, they respect me,” says Cena. THEN he refers to nobody wanting to give Ziggler a chance, but Cena did. Keepin’ it real! Even Randy’s like, “Damn, girl!” And Cena refers to Bryan getting his only legit shot at the title from him, and winning that match fairly. Big eruption from the crowd, Cena’s cue to shake Bryan’s hand again and guarantee him a re-match if he wins the title at TLC. Cena’s playing the upstanding guy here, so he also extends his hand to Orton, who shakes it. They stand frozen in place, creating a picturesque scene with the titles hanging between them. And then Triple H puts his hand on the titles, because of course he needs to inject himself into the moment. As the titles are raised upwards, Orton takes a cheap shot at Cena and they brawl until pulled apart. Here’s where things get crazy good.
Punk is in the group of people trying to hold Orton back, but Triple H throws Punk to the mat. Looks like Triple H was wearing his Bad Idea Slacks that day, because Punk’s all, “Oh NO you didn’t” and Steph’s all, “Look out, Paul!” before Punk attacks him. Triple H makes it look devastating, and HBK intervenes with an “I’m the Muppet Who’s Still Got It, Homeslice!” superkick to CM Punk. Daniel Bryan gives Shawn a running knee, and Randy Orton comes in to RKO Bryan. Bryan pushes him out of it, and into Stephanie. This is the most redneck square dance ever. Stephanie is down on the mat, and when Randy comes over to check on her he gets Pedigreed. At this point, I realize how much I enjoy seeing men tussling about in their formalwear. I think I love the idea of something proper being interrupted by a choreographed brawl.
Where to start? In general, I thought everyone in that ring was fantastic. From Mark Henry, getting his money’s worth out of that salmon suit and raising Bryan’s hand, to Christian, who looked like he spent the whole time trying to determine what someone’s fart smelled like. It was all over the place, and yet so very symbolic of the Ascension Ceremony. Everyone was assembled to witness Triple H’s theatrics, but instead they got improv theatre at its best. This is the beauty of live TV, coupled with the chance to hear how John Cena (probably) REALLY feels about his opponent. And it was one of the few times I’ve seen Randy Orton give a shit about how he represented himself.
Thanks to Ed Eastin Jr. for pointing me this way. And a belated, extra-spicy public thanks to my friend Hilary. She gave me the idea for a recent column about Roman Reigns. Thank you for always having my back.