“Wrestling doesn’t owe me or anybody back there anything...We do this because we love to do this.” - Daniel Bryan
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that anyone reading this particular Monday Night RAW review is doing so because they want to read a take on the retirement of Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson. Of course, when I decided to return to RAW coverage, I didn’t think I’d have to write said take, at least not on my first night back. So upon learning that tonight was the night, I found myself trying in vain to follow along with the rest of the “smart mark” world and playfully suggest that maybe this was just an angle. I couldn’t commit to that line of thinking at all, but I knew just what to think in order to avoid the gravity and reality of what was going to happen, even after reading Bryan’s tweet and seeing the reveal of the new shirt for the occasion. I’d think:
- “It’s a work, you “jabronie marks.” He’s going to be interrupted by Kevin Owens/Undertaker/Nakamura/[insert dream match competitor here].”
- “Countdown to Daniel Bryan coming out in a salmon colored suit.”
- “He’s obviously going to endorse Brie for Fastlane and not even say a thing about his future.”
- “Something something CM Punk?”
Clearly, the closer it got to RAW’s airtime, the less sense the excuses made. But here we are, hours after Daniel Bryan’s onscreen farewell to professional wrestling (and appreciation of “that’s what she said” jokes), and I’m still not quite sure what to say about the entire situation. Other than “concussions are the worst,” that is. Funnily enough, the guy who was often criticized for his mic skills was never at a loss for what to say during his retirement speech. In fact, he gives the perfect speech. He talks about a charity that is near and dear to his heart; he makes a new sex joke to replace the old one; he tells the world how they made him feel like Superman; and he makes everyone in attendance and at home cry.
So while Daniel Bryan may think that wrestling doesn’t owe him anything, hopefully he accepts his fans’ beliefs that they themselves owe him something. Because that man gave everything he had to entertain audiences of tens, thousands, and everywhere in between. He didn’t do it to be a Superstar, even though that’s what he became. Actually, no matter what WWE officials said, Bryan was a Superstar even back when he was wrestling in high school gyms. (Nobody’s wrestled in bingo halls since the ‘90s, heel Michael Cole.)
Because the thing about professional wrestling is that it finds a way to get deep under your skin and make you feel it, even when you don’t want or expect it do. I don’t want to make Daniel Bryan’s retirement about me, but at the same time, this is the perfect opportunity for a wrestling fan to make something a little about themselves. That’s not to say that they should go on a rant about how Bryan quit and how that hurts them, but I honestly can’t imagine going into this review without bringing in my feelings for Bryan and the fact that he has to hang up his wrestling boots. It’s not about me, it’s about the way this athlete and artist did everything he possibly could to make me feel for him and be invested in his work. And not just me—millions of fans around the world. It hurts to not be able to see Bryan get back into the ring to do what he loves. That’s why I’m not the only one getting teary-eyed over Daniel Bryan listing the things that he loves or Michael Cole telling him “I love you, kid” when RAW goes off the air.
Now I can’t tell you why you love Daniel Bryan or Bryan Danielson or The Dazzler or Mr. Small Package or whatever you want to call him. You know why, and no amount of analyzing is going to change that (for better or worse), which is something WWE misunderstood for the longest time. There are the obvious things about his in-ring ability and his down-to-earth personality, but the way he (and any wrestler or or character or, especially given recent events, celebrity) makes each individual fan feel is deeply personal and quite possibly not even quantitative. What you love about Daniel Bryan or even just like about him may be shared by other people, but it’s still yours. So cherish that. Cherish all of it.
So let’s hear it one last time for Daniel Bryan, the vegan nerd who didn’t even own a TV and whose “goal [was] to headline WrestleMania.” And for even older time’s sake, let’s hear it one last time for Bryan Danielson, “the best goddamn wrestler this building has ever seen.”
This week’s RAW has both the blessing and the curse of being the “Daniel Bryan retires” episode. What exactly does that mean? Well, just in terms of criteria, the episode itself doesn’t have to be a memorable or even entertaining one outside of the stroll down memory lane and the Daniel Bryan end segment. On the macro level, this episode doesn’t need to matter. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember a single thing that happened in the Edge retirement episode of RAW, and I can say the same for the Mark Henry “retirement” episode. This is often the case for much smaller big event episodes: No one remembers that the infamous “#AJALL” WWE vote was in the same RAW as John Cena’s trainwreck (pun slightly intended) of a promo about Star Wars. In the grand scheme of things, this week’s RAW really doesn’t have to be any thing other than the “Daniel Bryan retires” episode.
But it tries anyway.
That’s where the curse part of all of this comes in: This week’s RAW takes the fact that C-pay-per-view Fastlane is in two weeks and that WrestleMania is on the horizon and tries its best to do things about that. Because this week’s RAW knows what Daniel Bryan knows. This week’s RAW (and obviously the people behind it) knows that wrestling and sports entertainment and the show goes on after Daniel Bryan. Yes, that hurts to write and even think, but as easy and typical as it would be for WWE to give a half-assed episode, it doesn’t. Every other wrestler is injured, and nobody cares about Fastlane, but WWE is still trying. That’s kind of a big deal, and it at least deserves points for effort.
For the second week in a row, the opening segment isn’t unnecessarily long. While it doesn’t cut to the chase of last week’s Ambrose interruption, it does a previously unannounced contract signing relatively quickly, getting it out of the way for the rest of the show. That’s just plain unheard of on main roster WWE.
Upon initial review, anyone but Daniel Bryan coming out first is sacrilegious and just another stupid decision on WWE’s part. But really, imagine the Daniel Bryan announcement occurring in the first segment of the show, and then imagine the next two and half hours trying to dig the audience out of that pit of despair. Instead, we’re treated with beautiful moments from Bryan’s career throughout the show while the WWE world spins madly on. WWE remains a world full of rude “adults” who constantly interrupt each other, but it does so in a pretty brisk manner in this opening, even if you’re not a fan of the narrative. And it’s easy not to be a fan of certain parts of the narrative, like the “Ambreigns” miscommunication stuff or the supposed suspense that’s supposed to come from a story where everyone and their mother “knows” Triple H and Roman Reigns is the WrestleMania main event.
But at least Dean Ambrose looks good. It’s actually fascinating, as the story continually calls Dean Roman’s “sidekick” or “little brother,” even though this is the first time in which his character does not act like that at all. In fact, after months of Roman’s Framily Plan causing Dean to look even more like a joke than usual in his role as “Roman’s friend,” the storyline that finally acknowledges that somehow actually writes Dean as a competent singles competitor. Dean was the one who was face-to-face with Triple H in the Royal Rumble. Dean is the one calling out the actual biggest dog in the yard—Brock Lesnar—and not backing down. Dean is the one who has no time for Authority “mind games.” WWE is actually finally writing Dean Ambrose the way fans and critics have been begging them to write Roman Reigns for years now, and it’s working… While Roman continues to have no character other than “dominant.”
Sure, it’s not perfect for Dean, as he’s not “the guy,” and this episode veers into ridiculous territory as it keeps saying that Ambrose will confront Lesnar “next.” But the actual moment of confrontation between Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar is a sight to behold. It’s exciting, it’s new, it’s engaging it’s fresh. That’s what WWE always promises and rarely delivers on. The closest thing I can compare it to is Undertaker versus Jeff Hardy, even though it feels like more equal footing in this scenario. It makes me excited for the possibility of a (not-at-all rumored) WrestleMania match between the two of them. It makes me excited for any interaction between the two of them. As for Fastlane, the reason that’s not where the excitement lies all sort of comes down to the third, dull point in the upcoming match: Roman Reigns.
On the one hand, this week’s RAW sees Roman actually be a good friend and help out Dean with Brock. That’s unfortunately a rarity, and it really shouldn’t be the case if he’s as ride or die for all of them as he claims. On the other hand, Roman ignores Dean’s request to stay out of it, again making things all about him. At the very least, he didn’t need to play “his” music when coming out during the Dean/Brock segment. Logic dictates that Roman become the heel simply because he simply can’t get enough of the spotlight. It’s not like he’s show to care about the WWE World Heavyweight Championship—unlike Dean Ambrose, he barely cares about the match at Fastlane. But WWE logic—and this isn’t even necessarily a slight on it—says that Dean turns heel as a way to get out of Roman’s shadow and set forth on his own. None of this has even happened yet, if it will happen at all, but I will say: If Dean does turn heel for these reasons and said heel depiction is that of a coward, then will come the slight on WWE logic. WWE knows everyone is expecting a heel turn of some sort sooner rather than later, and WWE logic says it sure as hell won’t be Roman, even though that makes little narrative sense. It’s enough to drive a person crazy just thinking about it, and that’s all that’s happening now: thinking about Roman doing something, not Roman actually doing something.
Actual match-wise, the best match of the night is unsurprisingly Dolph Ziggler versus Kevin Owens, a feud that both showcases two high class talents and reminds everyone how much WWE likes to assume its audience has the attention-span of a goldfish. For the second week in a row, Michael Cole says that Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler are “renewing [their] rivalry” that never even ended. That’s simply not how words work, and it would be slightly less frustrating if WWE just acknowledged that. The ring work from Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens is impeccable though, and if nothing else, WWE knows that these two are an “I could watch these two wrestle each other forever” match-up. At this point, it’s both a more mature Dolph Ziggler/Kofi Kingston and a far less depressing Sheamus/Alberto Del Rio, which is good on both sides. But it’s a rivalry that felt aimless until now, and if WWE doesn’t capitalize on the outcome of the match this week, then maybe it is. I’m of course talking about Ziggler’s rope-assisted win after spending about 75-80 per cent of the match getting destroyed by Owens.
Last week, I was actually happy to see Ziggler win against Owens, because let’s face it—the guy needs the win. On SmackDown that week, the way in which Ziggler “distracted” Owens in order for Kalisto to win was also much better than the usual distraction finish, so I was looking forward to this week of the story. Seeing Owens lose again would be upsetting if it didn’t add more to said story, but Ziggler pulling out a dirty victory does just that. That’s desperation, and from every “scratching and clawing” promo that Ziggler cuts and every pin attempt he flops out of, Ziggler’s desperation is always on full display. The natural progression of that—heel turn or not—is cheating to win, even if it’s just once. (Or maybe he is going to turn heel, and just like The New Day, it all begins with him learning that it’s possible to cheat and win.) Eddie Guerrero was a phenomenal wrestler who cheated to win because it was fun and he was good at it. If Ziggler is as desperate and obsessed with “entertaining” as we’re constantly led to believe he is, then what’s to stop him from cheating when the going gets tough? Other than antiquated and warped face dynamics from WWE?
The rest of the matches aren’t wrestling clinics, but it’s hard to deny the effort going into them. Charlotte versus Alicia Fox happened on last week’s SmackDown and led to a momentary return of Crazy Foxy, so this week’s RAW does a slightly poorer facsimile of the same match. Tamina versus Becky Lynch is good for Tamina’s catchy, terrible entrance theme, but it’s also a Tamina match. Plus, as far as this storyline goes, last week’s Main Event (which introduced the team name “NAOMINA”) and SmackDown really did a lot more competent work, even if they didn’t have Sasha Banks come out in her “Legit Boss” shirt and boss around the commentary team. But it’s hard not to be excited for both Divas matches at Fastlane, at least just a little. Charlotte is going to destroy Brie Bella, and Team BAE is back together for one night only.
Adam Rose versus Titus O’Neil is a match that would be a Father Of The Year Trophy On A Pole match in a different era. Lucha Dragons versus Alberto Del Rio and Rusev does a lot to remind us all of how great Rusev is, but it’s also mostly a reminder that “mosquito” is the buzzword for a little wrestler who is not retiring any time soon. Then, proving that Black History Month only makes The New Day stronger, we’re given the gift of honorary unicorn Mark Henry, even though it ends far too quickly. Bubba Ray Dudley is now heel because of table property law, and even as someone who found a lot of his pre-Aces & Eights Bully Ray work in TNA mindblowing, it feels too little too late. But on the other hand, it does give The Usos something to do far, far away from The New Day (at least in one-on-one circumstances), and that’s a win. D-Von was there too.
Bray Wyatt versus Ryback is a match that I still have so many questions about. Why is there a Ryback video package in this week’s RAW? Is Ryback going to debut a moonsault? Who do we have to talk to in order to prevent Ryback from debuting a moonsault? Is the WWE Universe seriously supposed to be upset with The Wyatt Family for taking out Kane, Big Show, and Ryback? On a less question-filled note, this match is an interesting case in defense of Ryback, who puts on far more work in this match than anyone would ever expect, especially if they usually fastforward through his matches. However, the Seattle crowd reacts like most other crowds react to Ryback: with silence until a “FEED ME MORE” chant can begin. At this point, I can’t see how Ryback can ever legitimately become anything more than he is now, after about 12 years in the company. Sure, we can all see him adding more moves to his arsenal, but “more moves” doesn’t necessarily mean anything or “better.” (After all, those high knees have yet to be hit with a camera angle that makes them look good.) I absolutely understand and accept that, like the Goldust/R-Truth bits, Ryback is not and never will be for me, but shouldn’t he be for anyone else at this point?
Outside of matches on RAW, The Miz continues maintain relevance in 2016, and it’s about time. The man may never be Daniel Bryan in the ring, but he’s still far too talented to be in the non-wrestling purgatory that he’s been in for far too long. He’s also been a pushover, as the narrative says The Miz is a heel solely because he’s kind of a douchebag and that supposedly gives everyone the freedom to interrupt him or make him look like a chump. Now, he’s managed to find himself in a three-way feud with Chris Jericho and AJ Styles, and that’s the type of thing you have to really take a moment to appreciate.
Now that the moment’s over, let’s get real. Chris Jericho’s latest return has essentially been a dud for anyone who looks at wrestling through a critical lens or the eyes of a mature adult, which has led to Jericho telling said critics to go “watch some Kierkegaard” while he wears more and more ill-fitting clothing (if clothing at all). He says things like “rooty tooty booty” and thinks Alvin & The Chipmunks are responsible for “All I Want For Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth.” “Out of touch” is the watchword when honestly discussing Chris Jericho’s latest run. And it’s not because everyone is a fun-hating critic who wants to tear down what the masses likes. By the way, when I say “the masses,” I mean the people who chant “WHAT?” or “HUSKY HARRIS” at Bray Wyatt or “USA” in matches even when the face wrestler isn’t from the United States.
As this is already a pretty personal review, I’ll acknowledge the fact that Chris Jericho is my favorite wrestler of all-time, and I absolutely hate every single “joke” he’s made since returning to WWE. Before the Royal Rumble, it was absolutely embarrassing to watch him, especially if being a new Jerry Lawler was his reason for coming back. Then he had his match on RAW with AJ Styles, leading to this feud, and it’s bringing out a reason to care about Chris Jericho again. On SmackDown, he does guest commentary on Styles in absolute seriousness and that’s a reason to care about Chris Jericho again. Now, on this week’s RAW, the combination of Miz not being taken seriously and Chris Jericho being wacky (without a shirt) initially brings pause, but with the exception of the Chipmunks part, it also works as a reason to care about Chris Jericho again. The switch from Miz TV to The Highlight Reel is a fairly inspired one, and as far as the humor goes, bringing in Roman and Dean’s stool and (now dead) potted plant presents is really a nice bit of continuity. And in case there’s still a question of whether Jericho is here to play games or here to play, he lets out an “I’m the best in the world at what I do,” the one true sign that soon, business will pick up. As much as it makes sense that Chris Jericho or any WWE star would want to hang with The New Day, the Rumble was the logical return for Jericho and start of this story. So let’s just pretend that’s where it started.
As for AJ, WWE is treating him like he’s an absolute cancer on the mic, which is far from the truth even though he’s not the best talker. It’s hard to believe he’s going to say anything worse (in a scripted promo) than WWE’s new favorite words, “redneck” and “pitbull,” so hopefully this whole unintentionally mute aspect of his character isn’t here to stay. Everything else can continue.
Like I said, this week’s RAW is one with the unenviable task of existing in the same space as all things Daniel Bryan and his retirement farewell. It’s by no means a classic episode outside of the Bryan aspects, but it holds its own and doesn’t quite tip its hand with regards to the future. Not bad is just that—not bad.
- RESULTS: Dolph Ziggler defeated Kevin Owens; Charlotte defeated Alicia Fox; Bray Wyatt defeated Ryback; Adam Rose defeated Titus O’Neil; League Of Nations (Alberto Del Rio and Rusev) defeated The Lucha Dragons; Tamina defeated Becky Lynch; Dudley Boyz and The Usos defeated The New Day and Mark Henry (Tables match)
- You may notice a lack of frustration in this review. That’s because all of my frustration with WWE this time around came in the form of seeing that Zoolander 2 comes out this week, and WWE dropped the ball so badly by not strapping a fashion-forward rocket on Tyler Breeze’s back during the build-up to said movie.
- As I mentioned briefly above, last week’s SmackDown had a losing Alicia Fox having a minor meltdown, which allowed me to explain the beauty that was Crazy Foxy and her one-sided love affair with Tom “Did You Get My Restraining Order?” Phillips to my mother. Just a reminder: If you haven’t seen the Fox/Phillips WWE App love story, do yourself a favor and get into that WWE.com/Youtube spiral. It’s completely worth it.
- Part of the saving grace for me as a selfish wrestling fan in this type of retirement is knowing that Daniel Bryan and Edge got to literally do everything possible in this business and company. That’s enough to make me smile.
- I had completly forgotten there had been a Goldust/R-Truth segment until the second one. A couple of things: 1. There’s really not enough segments that take place out of the arena, despite those types of segments being gold. My brother and I still talk about the Natalya/Tyson Kidd/Cesaro and Naomi/Uso Naomi double date. That restaurant, you guys. (It’s not the DB/DB DD, but it’s still good.) 2. I know it’s not intentional, unlike a certain segment, but Goldust cos-playing as Jimi Hendrix is kind of, sort of blackface.
- Does anyone know if the “ROMAN LOOKS STRONG” sign was confiscated? I assumed it would be, and since I didn’t see it past the opening segment…
- I actually do hate to pile-on Roman, because it’s so old, but is there any way he can try again with the acting classes? His blank stare reaction to Dean saying he was going to go after Brock was the last straw on his non-changing facial expression.
- My two favorite Daniel Bryan eras are NXT Coach Daniel Bryan and heel World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan. The former honestly led to some of the funniest things to ever occur in WWE (way before the alternative comedy goldmine that was NXT: Redemption), and the latter was something that I remember feeling like a well-kept secret at the time. I knew Daniel Bryan could play heel, but I didn’t know he could play the delusional and abusive heel as well as he ended up playing it. The combination of Daniel Bryan becoming an amazing tool, AJ Lee becoming an actual main roster character, and Booker T’s “Fave Five” will stick with me forever. As for my favorite Bryan Danielson era, say hello.
- I might be going to RAW next Monday, so this RAW review schedule is working out perfectly so far.
- I recently purchased this WWE poster, so I’m feeling even better about the decision: