Welcome back to another edition of WFNY on WWE. In our last installment we previewed Fastlane, the final pay-per-view before WrestleMania 32. Aside from a couple strong matches — Kalisto vs. Alberto Del Rio on the pre-show and the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns/Dean Ambrose triple threat led the way — the show was a dud. Roman Reigns won himself a place in the WrestleMania main event, much to the chagrin of the so-called WWE Universe. The following Monday’s Raw, however, brought the goods and added some juice to the WrestleMania 32 card. Today, we look ahead to the potential headline matches.
Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker (Hell in a Cell match)
Will: Just writing that out feels weird. It’s like a wrestling Mad Lib gone wrong. Shane McMahon, who hasn’t been seen on WWE television in some six years, battling the Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell in what may be the latter’s final match. And if Shane wins, he gets control of Monday Night Raw. (The fact that Raw specifically is on the line has inspired many a thought of another brand split.) WrestleMania 32 has lacked for buzz in the absence of John Cena, Seth Rollins, and the rest of the injured roster. Now, one “Here Comes the Money” later, and everybody who’s had half an interest in wrestling since the turn of the century is all ears.
I’ve buried the lede here: Shane McMahon — Vince’s son, WWE minority owner, and longtime on-screen fixture — returned to Raw after a lengthy hiatus. He left the company in 2010 to tend to his own business ventures. He came back Monday in Detroit, however, to interrupt a sham of an award ceremony. Vince Sr. was presenting Shane’s younger sister Stephanie with the first-ever Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award (named after Vince’s dad), a heat-getter if there ever was one. Shane rained on Steph’s parade, deemed that she was undeserving of the VJMLoEA, spoke ill of her management, and revealed that he held some kind of (kayfabe) leverage over their old man. Shane made a power play, asking for control over Monday Night Raw. Vince responded that he could have it, provided that Shane won one match: against Taker in the Cell.
Shane-O Mac’s return was as good as a pro wrestling return gets. Most important, it was completely unexpected. There were some semi-credible rumors floating around Reddit earlier in the day, but they offered nothing in the way of specifics; a user named falconarrow, who has posted some accurate information in the past, simply said to watch because there was going to be something worth watching. No one would have guessed Shane if given a dozen chances. But there he was, strutting out in some crispy Jordan 1s and shuffling around the stage like it was 2001. He looked pretty damn good out there despite being a little grayer and a little plumper, and his mic work was as good as ever.
My favorite part was how genuinely surprised he was by the reaction. The post-Fastlane Joe Louis Arena was electric, and they gave Shane the appropriate welcome back pop. Aside from Chicago or Brooklyn, I’m not sure how many cities would have done Shane-O’s return justice. There were “Shane-O Mac” chants and “Yes!” chants and “This is awesome” chants and “Holy shit” chants all. I never thought we would see Shane back in the ring. It was huge.
As for his match with Taker: There is healthy skepticism that something will come up between now and April 3, and rightly so. Shane is 46, Undertaker is 50, and between them they’ve fought like three matches in the past two years. The early thinking is that Shane hires some proxy — John Cena? — to wrestle on his behalf, or perhaps a special guest referee will be involved. I hope Shane-O is still good to go, if only because I want to see him go coast to coast one more time. Welcome back, Mac.
Derek: This really doesn’t make any sense in kayfabe terms. Shane had similar and/or better chances to return in previous storylines. He could have shown up after Survivor Series 2014 when The Authority was deposed. Instead, he showed up because Stephanie got some award that was only prestigious because WWE told us it was. Okay, fine. Maybe that was the moment he finally snapped. But Shane just automatically agreeing to Vince’s terms of “one more match, any opponent, any stipulation, any place, any time” was just plain wacky.
That said, I loved every second of it.
Sure, it didn’t make any sense, and it’s probably not the best use of the Undertaker, but at least there’s something to get excited for. Shane is nuts and would probably do something memorable but, as you said, he hasn’t wrestled in years and Taker is seemingly always one match away from the end.
Shane hiring a fill-in is certainly a possibility, and I can’t decide what I want. Someone like Cena would probably have a better match with Taker, but I would like to see Shane wrestle again. I have a feeling I’ll be simultaneously excited and bummed no matter what happens.
One thing I’m really pumped for is seeing the McMahon promos over the next several weeks. There’s a tinge of reality to this angle, as it’s rumored Shane left the company in 2010 because Stephanie passed him over as Vince’s successor. When Shane is pointing out bad ratings and injuries and generally saying he thinks Triple H and Stephanie have been doing a shitty job, I wonder how much of that is real. Trips apparently wasn’t out during this segment “for a reason,” whatever that means. Yes, this should be fun. I went in to Raw having zero reasons to be excited for WrestleMania, and now I have two. Huzzah!
HHH vs. Roman Reigns (WWE Championship match)
Will: On Monday night, WWE champ Triple H interrupted Roman Reigns’ match with Sheamus and beat the absolute crap out of Roman. Roman was wearing the crimson mask by the end of it, Trips pedigreed him onto the stairs, and the crowd ate it all up. It was great. I’d gladly take another month of that.
It’s silly. Triple H is supposed to be the evil authority figure and Roman the handsome babyface. If WWE had its way, the crowd would be seething at the notion of Trips winning the WrestleMania main event. He has been criticized for years for putting himself over at the expense of, well, everyone, and now fans everywhere are clamoring for him to bury Roman on the biggest possible stage. If they can go meta with it and use the storyline as a way to change Roman’s character, that’s the best case scenario.
Derek: Remember when I said I have two reasons to be excited for WrestleMania? This isn’t the second one. I don’t really have that much of a problem with the notion of these two facing each other. I just have a problem with it being the main event.
That may sound ridiculous to any of you folks who aren’t regular wrestling fans who have made it this far, but let me explain. The main event at WrestleMania is supposed to be the biggest match of the year, just like the Super Bowl is the biggest football game and and Game 7 of the NBA Finals is the biggest basketball game. Now, imagine that you have the power to pick any two teams you want to play in those games with the ultimate goal being maximum entertainment value to the broadest possible audience. You can think of some pretty badass matchups, can’t you? It’s really not that hard.
Now imagine Adam Silver pops up and says, “Alright everyone, I’ve been paying attention, and I know exactly what you all want to see. Who’s ready for Lakers vs. Raptors?!?!?! Wait, why are you booing? The Lakers are an American classic! And the Raptors are awesome! You’ll love it!”
You’d be pissed off, right? Maybe you could talk yourself into watching the game at some point. The Raptors are number two in the East and the Lakers have Kobe Bryant in his final year. But as the top game of the year? When you and everyone else would rather see the Warriors, Spurs, Cavs, or Thunder? It’s idiotic.
Roman Reigns does not belong in the biggest match of the year. He doesn’t belong in the second or third biggest match of year. You could maybe talk me into fourth or fifth–not first. Yet WWE is still telling me I want to see it more than any other conceivable wrestling match. Make fun of me all you want, but you’d be pissed too if Roger Goodell spent months telling you how much you’d enjoy a Rams-Jaguars Super Bowl more than any other matchup.
Anyway, we’re stuck with it now. Hopefully Trips will win and Roman won’t get caught applying fake blood on camera.
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose (street fight)
Will: I’m getting everything I want out of these two. We’ve seen Brock against someone who’s terrified of him (Seth Rollins). We’ve seen him annihilate someone who we might think is close to his level (John Cena). Now we’re seeing him against Dean Ambrose, who is finally living up to his crazy gimmick. He’s getting under Lesnar’s skin by refusing to concede defeat, and Brock is responding by destroying him at every turn.
It’s a different sort of destruction, though. It started out with curiosity, a Saint Bernard batting around a chihuahua. Now Brock is getting pissed off. Now he’s taking it personally. Now he’s attacking Dean backstage. Now he’s stepping on Ambrose’s face. Now he’s in his beast lab cooking up new ways to fuck this guy up. It’s great. The only issue I have is that the Royal Rumble storyline between Brock and the since-neutered Wyatts has vanished, but if that’s what it takes to get these to together, so be it. An Ambrose victory would be a mild shock, but he doesn’t need to win to win. He just needs to do what no one else will: keep going after Brock, no matter how broken he is.
Derek: Continuing the previous basketball analogy, this is like Warriors-Cavs game that’s somehow less important than Lakers-Raptors. But at least we get the Warriors-Cavs game. This is the second thing I’m excited for. I’d absolutely rather see Lesnar face Ambrose than Wyatt, and the street fight stipulation takes it to next level. Ambrose wouldn’t stand a chance against Brock in a fair fight, but a street fight serves his gimmick well. And now we get five weeks of Heyman vs. Ambrose promos combined with Ambrose’s weekly Black Knight impersonation. This is the main event in my book.
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks and/or Becky Lynch (Divas Championship)
Derek: We know Charlotte will defend her title in this one. That much is for sure. Sasha and Becky teamed up to put Team BAD to rest (hopefully for good) and now they’re going to duel for the right to face Charlotte. Charlotte has been incredible as a heel — an astronomical jump from her babyface gimmick that involved little more than crying.
I still say they all three end up at WrestleMania one way or another. It’s just such a shame that Paige joined Total Divas and lumped herself in with the reality stars instead of the wrestlers. I’ll miss you, Wrestling Paige.
Will: This one could be great, especially compared to the haphazard team-based approach that colored the women’s division over the past few months. Sasha and Becky have formed an uneasy tag team, and Charlotte will surely try to drive a wedge between them over the next few weeks. Fans will undoubtedly hope for Charlotte to drop the title, but, as David Shoemaker pointed out on this week’s Cheap Heat podcast, she should retain the belt. People hate her in the best way. She invoked Daniel Bryan’s retirement while cutting a promo on his wife, Brie Bella. Papa Ric Flair is showing her the heel ropes, and she’s learning admirably.She’s getting real heat, and a legitimate heel is the best way to build support for a face.
The whole card is subject to change between now and April 3. The break between Fastlane and WrestleMania is longer than that between most PPVs, leaving another couple weeks to play with the plot. Still, these matches, or at least some version of them, are near locks to go down. It isn’t yet the big, bright, star-filled show that WWE is hoping for, but it’s a good start.