The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Twenty-Three

*This is the twenty-third episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Thursday Night Smackdown, originally televised March 31, 2016

Match #1: Baron Corbin vs Mojo Rawley

With a large percentage of the roster resting in preparation for Wrestlemania, attention turns to the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, and attempts to qualify for the event by those on the cusp of the card.

In the first of these matches, the Lone Wolf Baron Corbin takes on one half of the Hype Bros in Mojo Rawley. Rawley gets in the face of Corbin early, daring him to try and take him down.

Unfortunately for Rawley, that is exactly what Corbin does. Barely waiting for the bell to ring, Corbin swarms Rawley, punishing him over and over with heavy blows that only cease when the referee threatens to disqualify him. A short rally from the Hype Bro takes Corbin down briefly, but a missed lariat leaves Rawley victim to a crushing belly to back suplex, followed by the End of Days for the victory.

While many of the spots in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal are designated, making some of the spots earned makes the match a little more prestigious, and makes it something worth watching. Otherwise, it feels like a cheap attempt to give as many wrestlers as possible a Wrestlemania moment.

Match #2: Johnny Gargano vs Elias Samson

In the second qualifying match of the evening, Johnny Gargano takes the fight straight to Elias Samson, battering the Drifter with a series of blows to the chest and head. Samson takes Gargano’s legs out to create some separation, dragging him from the ring and throwing him into the ring steps.

Gargano tries to recover, but Samson knocks him back down, whipping him into the barricades and clotheslining him into the crowd.

A ten count is just barely enough time for Gargano to make it back to the ring.

Samson, frustrated he didn’t win by count out, grabs Gargano by his throat. Stands over him. Slaps him. Hard. Once, twice three- Gargano loops his legs around Samson and pulls him down, rolling into a cradle for a three count and the victory.

Gargano rolls from the ring, hand raised in victory as the Drifter fumes in the centre of the ring.

Johnny Gargano has earned himself an opportunity to compete on the Grandest Stage of Them All by beating Elias Samson just over a week since he defeated him on NXT. Now Johnny Wrestling will have his chance to shine brightest when it matters most.

Match #3: Tommaso Ciampa vs Apollo Crews

With his tag team partner through to the Battle Royal, Tommaso Ciampa hopes to earn his own spot on the card.

However, standing in his way is a 240 pound wrecking ball known as Apollo Crews. The rising star of NXT withstands the early offense, driving Ciampa into the corner and delivering a ring shaking dropkick to his head.

Ciampa rolls out of the way of an attempted Moonsault; a series of hard kicks gives him the momentum. A couple of suplexes and a near fall follow. A high knee to the jaw and a kick to the stomach. Crews stumbles back. Ciampa rushes him once more.

But Crews halts his stumble and shows the ruse, stepping too close for another high knee strike, wrapping his arms around Ciampa and suplexing him into the ropes.

Dazed, Ciampa attempts to come back swinging. But he walks straight into a Sit Out Spinning Powerbomb.

He kicks out.

Crews hits a Moonsault.

Ciampa kicks out.

Finally, Crews deadlifts Ciampa into the air and hits a massive Gorilla Press Drop, followed by a Shooting Star Press for the three count, and the victory.

Tommaso Ciampa gives as good as he gets, but in the end, he doesn’t quite have enough to take down Apollo Crews. The rising star of NXT is headed to Wrestlemania.

Well it’s a Big Show. Yes it’s a big bad show tonight.

The Big Show returns to Thursday Night Smackdown, declaring that as the reigning Andre the Giant Battle Royal winner, he would be defending his title against any and all challengers. Unsurprisingly, this draws out several of his opponents in the match, including The Ascension and Sheamus, who each in turn declare that they will be the one to hold the trophy at the end.

As more and more wrestlers come to the ring, fire burns from the turnbuckles, as the demonic Kane returns, and it seems that once again an episode will end in an all in brawl. But as Kane goes to once more draw fire from the turnbuckles, the power in the building short circuits.

The screen goes black. Confusion reigns in the darkness. And lofting through the speakers comes an eerie song…

“There is a house in New Orleans… they call the Rising Sun…”

Summary

Every thing has been left in the ring. There is no more time for discussion, or building of momentum. The Show of Shows is here. It’s time for Wrestlemania.

The next post of this series will cover an overview of the Wrestlemania card, and an opportunity for predictions. And then, onwards to Wrestlemania…

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
AJ Styles def. Heath Slater Baron Corbin def. Mojo Rawley
D-Von Dudley def. Jey Uso Johnny Gargano def. Elias Samson
Dean Ambrose def. Erick Rowan Apollo Crews def. Tommaso Ciampa
  Andre the Giant Battle Royal Promo

The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Monday Night Raw, originally televised on March 28, 2016.

Match #1: AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler vs Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Four wrestlers. One championship. A lot of history.

With Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn barely able to keep from attacking each other long enough to make a tag, AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler take advantage, working relatively well together to use Kevin Owens’ refusal to tag his partner against them, driving Zayn into their corner and keeping him trapped there; Owens, watching from the turnbuckle, seemingly struggles, stopping himself from shouting out several times. But his pacing becomes more frustrated.

And then Ziggler takes a cheap shot at Owens, knocking him to ringside. Looking to take advantage, Styles and Ziggler doubleteam Zayn in the centre of the ring. But Owens breaks up the pin attempt. He goes after Ziggler, but the referee forces him back to the corner.

Zayn breaks free of a second pin. He scrambles free and leaps towards the corner, and catches Owens’ arm with his hand, making the tag.

Owens attacks Ziggler, knocks Styles from the ring apron, and reverses an attempted Superkick from Ziggler to hit one of his own. He turns around, to see Styles flying high, about to hit a Phenomenal Forearm…

And Zayn shoves him out of the way and takes the hit.

Owens recovers to hit Styles with a Superkick, and collapses to the ground. Styles and Ziggler roll from the ring, leaving Owens staring at a slowly recovering Zayn. Zayn glances at his former friend and shrugs, saying “Old habits”, with a cynical laugh. The two wrestlers get to their feet, as Styles and Ziggler return to the ring. For a brief moment, no one moves.

Then Owens and Zayn move in unison, attacking Styles and Ziggler with matching ferocity. Zayn ducks a leaping attack from Styles, who runs straight into a Superkick from Owens, and when Ziggler attempts to take advantage of Owens, Zayn slips around the side and hits an Inverted Exploder Suplex. Ziggler is sent crashing back into the turnbuckle, and while Owens clears the ring of Styles, Zayn hits a Helluva Kick, before shoving Ziggler back into a Pop Up Powerbomb for the pin.

The referee attempts to raise their hands in the aftermath, but the two wrestlers simply stare silently at one another.

So this one has a lot to it, and a few things that people may question. The match itself was set up in the last episode, and the reasons for the tension are obvious. But this is not about a face turn for Owens or anything like that. These two know each other so well, and fight so well together and against each other, that there will be inevitable comparisons to them and the Triple H/HBK rivalry. This just helps to build the complexity of their relationship into the WWE Universe’s mind. It gives everyone a taste of what may happen one day if these two end up on the same page, while not forcing a character change. They were put in a match together, and a brief moment of unity sparked. Nothing more… for now.

Match #2: Naomi vs Natalya

Ready for their match at Wrestlemania, Natalya takes on Naomi, hoping to knock her down a peg or two. Brie Bella paces at ringside, hoping to limit any impact Tamina may have on the outcome. However, in an attempt to alert the referee of Naomi removing the turnbuckle padding, she turns her back on Tamina, allowing her to kick Brie’s feet out from under her.

With Brie taken out of action, Natalya can do little to prevent Tamina rushing the ring, ending the match in disqualification, but leaving only Naomi and Tamina standing at the end.

Once again, Naomi and Tamina prove they are a real threat to the rest of the division when working together. They don’t care about wins and losses. Only victories. But will their momentum carry them through Wrestlemania?

Vince McMahon, Triple H, and Dean Ambrose in the ring.

Surely this will go smoothly.

Triple H is given all the time in the world by Mr McMahon to tear Dean Ambrose’s challenge apart, mocking the former Shield member for always being several steps behind the Game. He signs the contract, and shoves it towards Ambrose.

The Lunatic Fringe, having pushed his chair as far back as possible when he arrived, lounges casually in the chair, smiling. When he speaks, he starts jovial, but shifts slowly into darker tones. He talks about Seth Rollins’ betrayal, and the collapse of the Shield. He talks about how every step of the way since he came to the company, The Authority has been kicking people while they were down. Wasting talent. Ruining careers.

And now it was all coming to an end. He was going to take that title away from him. Because the Game couldn’t beat him. And Triple H knew it.

And then, when he is at his lowest, Shane McMahon would take the rest of his power away.

He scoots forward, and picks up the contract, signing it, and shoving it back across the table. The two wrestlers stare each other down, a chaotic grin spread across Ambrose’s face.

“Do it. You know you want to.”

Triple H rises to his feet, hands planted on the table. But Ambrose remains seated.

Suddenly, Triple H flips the table at him, forcing Ambrose to dive backwards. The Game reaches under the table…

And comes up with nothing.

The Game looks up to find Dean Ambrose standing there, sledgehammer resting across his shoulders. Triple H and Vince scramble out of the ring, but the point has been made:

Dean Ambrose is not a step behind anymore.

The contract has been signed, and all the hatred has been laid bare. This match has been a long time coming.

Jack Swagger comes to the ring, accompanied by the Social Outcasts. Armed with a microphone, he speaks quietly and simply, declaring that he is as ready as can be to face Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. He believes that his time is now. He was never given the opportunities other former world champions are given, and now was his time to rise to the top of the company. And Lesnar was his ticket. He dares the Beast to come to the ring.

The League of Nations emerge. Sheamus denounces the Social Outcasts, declaring that Swagger would have been better off joining the League of Nations since he was a former champion, though not one worthy of notice.

Before the two sides can come to blows though, Heath Slater grabs the microphone, and challenges the League to a match right there…

Match #3: Bo Dallas, Heath Slater, and Jack Swagger vs Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, and Sheamus

The League of Nations do everything they can to brute force their way to victory against Jack Swagger and the Social Outcasts. With Alberto Del Rio watching patiently for an opening at ringside, Sheamus and Rusev pick apart Heath Slater, overwhelming him with strength, and keeping Swagger out of the match as much as possible.

Del Rio times his attack well, and catches Swagger offguard. But he is largely rescued by a leaping Bo Dallas, who clotheslines Del Rio and tumbles to the floor. Slater gets free, and Swagger scrambles back to the apron in time to make a hot tag, driving Sheamus from the ring and trading blows with Rusev. The Bulgarian Brute attempts to trap Swagger in a submission hold, only for Swagger to reverse it and hit a spinning clothesline, knocking Rusev to the ground.

For a single moment, Jack Swagger stands tall, alone in the ring.

And then Brock Lesnar’s music hits.

The Beast and Paul Heyman walk calmly to the ring, with Swagger standing fast… until Alberto Del Rio hits him from behind. The Social Outcasts rush the ring, and chaos erupts as the Social Outcasts and League of Nations start their Wrestlemania match early. Jack Swagger looks to assist, only to find himself face to face with the Beast. Lesnar doesn’t give him a chance to react. A crushing clothesline, followed by a German Suplex, followed by an F5, leave him crumpled in the middle of the ring, as the chaos rages around the Beast.

Once again, Brock Lesnar and Jack Swagger face off in the centre of the ring. And once again, Lesnar leaves Swagger a crumpled mess. At Wrestlemania, even with the potential of having the Social Outcasts in his corner, can Swagger withstand the might of the Beast?

The Miz comes out to the ring to host the next episode of MizTV. His guests? The tag team champions The New Day, and their #1 contenders, Enzo and Cass. The two teams trade barbs back and forth, as Miz constantly tries to insert himself into the discussion.

Until his microphone stops working.

Confused, he goes to ringside, while Enzo cuts a beautiful promo about the staleness of The New Day, and how they’d end The New Day’s reign. Xavier Woods responds in kind, outlining Enzo and Cass’ many failed attempts to win gold, and promises that The New Day will still be the champions next week.

Miz returns to the ring, snatching a microphone from Woods’ hands… only for it to not work when he tries to talk into it…

Enzo and Cass and The New Day get plenty of mic time, without the interference of The Miz, to work off each other and build a successful promo. Meanwhile, The Miz has a mystery on his hands…

Match #4: US Championship Qualifying Battle Royal

With the Lucha Dragons watching from ringside, the last spot in the Wrestlemania Ladder Match is put up for grabs in a Ten Man Over the Top Rope Battle Royal. Goldust, R-Truth, Zack Ryder, Apollo Crews, Mojo Rawley, Darren Young, Damien Sandow, Mark Henry, and Elias Samson throw everything they have at each other, as alliance are created and break down in moments, in a scramble for that one last Wrestlemania slot. The commentators can barely keep up with the action, as Henry, Rawley, R-Truth, Goldust, Crews, and then Samson are eliminated, leaving Ryder, Sandow, and Young.

The three remaining take the action to another level, but a miscue from Young during a brief alliance with Ryder leaves them caught in the open, and Sandow takes advantage to tip both wrestlers out of the ring.

Sandow raises his arms in triumph, and the crowd goes wild.

But no bell rings.

The commentators are confused. The referees continue to pace the ring, as if the match is still going.

And then the commentators realise that only nine wrestlers had been in the ring.

Just as Sin Cara slides into the ring, shoving Sandow from the turnbuckle to the floor.

The bell rings. The Lucha Dragon’s arm is raised.

And the crowd boos.

Kalisto, Sin Cara’s tag team partner, comes into the ring, confused, demanding to know what is going on. But he is met with a kick to the gut and a Spinning DDT.

Sin Cara picks up the United States Championship, and holds it aloft, as the show goes to a break.

A tag team with limited team success, and an individual championship, is always a dangerous mix. Sin Cara has now turned heel, forcing himself into the United States Championship picture, and putting himself directly in the path of his tag team partner’s way. The Ladder Match card is now stacked with intrigue and rivalries,

Emma and Paige make their way to the ring to be guests on The Highlight Reel. Chris Jericho largely gives them the platform to tear each other apart, only entering the debate to prompt them closer and closer towards violence. Jericho seems to take a perverse pleasure from goading them on, but Paige backs down at the last, deciding instead to wait till Wrestlemania.

As Emma and Paige leave the ring though, Jericho is blindsided by The Miz. Accusing Jericho of turning off his microphone in an attempt to silence The Voice of WWE, he declares that at Wrestlemania, he’d end The Highlight Reel permanently.

There are two separate parts to this promo. The first part is all about Emma and Paige setting the stage for the culmination of their rivalry at Wrestlemania. Chris Jericho does everything he can to provide them with the platform and let them run with it, and doing a masterful job of guiding the promo. The second part though is all about his own match at Wrestlemania. Having interferred with The Miz’s show earlier in the night, vengeance was served, and the two men who see themselves as the Voice of WWE now will see which show remains on the air after Sunday Night…

Before Miz can leave the ring, the lights fade, and in a slow, southern drawl, Bray Wyatt says “And I’m… Awesome…” He laughs, his voice echoing in the rafters of the arena, as Miz looks around for an attack that doesn’t come. Bray Wyatt continues to speak, his voice drifting out through the speakers. “I know what you are brother. You think you’re the voice for these people. You think they come just to hear you speak. But they don’t… no, no, no, they do not come here for you. They are here for me and mine. All shall fall and all shall rise.

And that? Will be Awesome.”

Match #5: Sasha Banks vs Charlotte

In the main event of the evening, the Boss takes on the Women’s Champion. Though the title isn’t on the line, Sasha Banks finally gets Charlotte one on one, and from the start it is clear she has no intention of letting the opportunity slip.

Before the match starts though, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Tamina, Natalya, Brie Bella, Emma, and Paige make their way to the ring, circling around and taking up places nearby to watch the action.

Neither wrestler is able to gain advantage in the opening exchanges, as holds are reversed and countered, and brief bursts of offense are quickly halted, and turned into a counter attack that drives the other back. When the action moves outside the ring though, it seems for a moment as if the referee will lose control with all the wrestlers pressing closer.

But the myriad of rivalries force a stalemate of sorts, allowing Banks and Charlotte to return to the ring. Charlotte hits Natural Selection. She stamps on Banks’ back, and drags her to her feet to slap her.

Only for Banks to reverse it into a Backstabber, locking in the Bank Statement.

Charlotte desperately struggles to break free, but despite an amazing effort to reach the ropes, she is forced to tap out; all the momentum now belongs to Sasha Banks heading into Wrestlemania.

While Sasha Banks’ victory doesn’t win her the title, it is a clear statement going into Wrestlemania: the women’s division is stronger than it has been in a long time. Possibly ever. And there are more than a few challengers to the throne once the Wrestlemania match is over…

The Undertaker returns to Monday Night Raw to make one single thing clear: he would not be denied at Wrestlemania. The Golden Boy’s blood would be on his father’s hands. And when all was said and done, Shane McMahon would Rest in-

Here comes the money. Shane McMahon interrupts him, once more stating that he has nothing against the Deadman, but that this would be his last Wrestlemania. So the Undertaker should soak it in and enjoy every moment. Nothing would stop him from regaining control of the company, and saving his family’s legacy.

Once Shane is in the ring, the tension becomes too much, and the two wrestlers quickly come to blows. The Undertaker quickly takes control, and almost Clotheslines Shane through the announce table, only for Shane to slip away and land a vicious kick to the Undertaker.

He climbs the turnbuckle, ready to hit a diving elbow…

But The Dudley Boyz arrive to shove him off, sending him crashing to the floor.

The locker room erupts, as Jack Swagger, The Social Outcasts, Damien Sandow, The League of Nations, the Usos, and more than a dozen other wrestlers charge the ring. The entire ring area becomes a chaotic brawl, as Brock Lesnar and Triple H charge their Wrestlemania opponents, with Dean Ambrose and Lesnar briefly going toe to toe, before Jack Swagger clotheslined the Game.

The episode ends with a flood of referees and backstage personnel desperately trying to stem the violence, as Damien Sandow helps Shane McMahon escape the madness…

Summary

With one last episode to go before Wrestlemania, all of the storylines are fully prepared for the Show of Shows. Who will emerge victorious? Well…

In the next episode, Thursday Night Smackdown is all about the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. A giant will return, a demon will rise, and the Road to Wrestlemania will come to an end…

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Hell in a Cell Promo Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn def. AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler
Zack Ryder def. Chris Jericho Naomi def. Natalya
Charlotte def. Becky Lynch WWE Heavyweight Championship Contract Signing
Big Show and Kane vs The Social Outcasts Jack Swagger Promo
Roman Reigns Promo Bo Dallas, Heath Slater, and Jack Swagger def. Alberto Del Rio, Rusev, Sheamus by DQ
Kofi Kingston def. Alberto Del Rio MizTV with Enzo and Cass and The New Day
Kalisto def. Konnor Sin Cara wins 10 Man US Championship Qualifying Battle Royal
Dean Ambrose Promo The Highlight Reel with Emma and Paige
Emma def. Paige Bray Wyatt Promo
Sin Cara, Sami Zayn, and Dolph Ziggler def. The Miz, Kevin Owens, and Stardust Sasha Banks def. Charlotte
All In Brawl All In Brawl

The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Thursday Night Smackdown, originally televised on March 24, 2016.

Match #1: Curtis Axel vs Rusev

With just over a week before the Social Outcasts collide with the League of Nations on the Grandest Stage of Them All, Curtis Axel looks to regain a little momentum against the Bulgarian Brute, Rusev.

The only problem is that Rusev is an unstoppable monster.

Despite the numbers advantage, despite timely distractions from Adam Rose and Heath Slater, and despite a stellar effort from Axel, an attempted Perfect Plex leaves him trapped in Rusev’s grasp, and a Belly to Belly Suplex puts the Outcast away.

Curtis Axel is a talented wrestler. But Rusev is returning to his dominant status in the upper card, and no one will stand in his way. The Social Outcasts are going to have their work cut out for them.

The Miz welcomes Dean Ambrose to MizTV to discuss his return, Brock Lesnar, and his Wrestlemania opponent, Triple H. Ambrose acknowledges he fell short against Lesnar, but points out he took the Beast further than anyone else has, and lived to talk about it. He knew what it took now, and he was the only one that would walk away from Wrestlemania with the title.

Before Miz can get a response in, Chris Jericho interrupts, coming to the ring and declaring that Miz isn’t fit to interview the #1 Contender. It was his fault that Jericho wasn’t on his way to another Intercontinental Championship, and so he was taking over.

“This is now The Highlight Reel. Get out of my ring.”

Ignoring Miz entirely, Jericho starts asking Ambrose the exact same questions he has already been asked. When Miz cuts him off, the two begin arguing, while Ambrose perches himself upon the turnbuckle.

“Welcome to the Ambrose Asylum, ladies and gentlemen,” he quips, as Miz and Jericho begin trading blows. Ambrose heads to commentary, and sits back to enjoy the brawl, until security force them apart.

And with that, the card (though not all the wrestlers) is finalised. Chris Jericho will go one on one with The Miz, to determine who is the rightful voice of the people, and to seek vengeance over costing him a shot at the title.

None of them get a chance to leave the ring though. Darkness. Fireflies. Laughter.

“You’ve got the whole world, in your hands… a world of ash and dust. The rains will wash you away, and leave nothing but my mark.”

Match #2: Brie Bella vs Tamina

Ahead of their tag team match at Wrestlemania, Brie Bella goes one on one with Tamina. While she has the speed advantage, Tamina has an overwhelming power advantage, and uses it to great effect, wearing Brie down before booting her in the head to pick up the three count. Natalya is able to chase off Naomi before a post match attack can occur, but the Queen of Harts has to worry that the damage may have been done…

The women’s division is incredibly strong at this stage in development. There are 3-5 women that, were they in championship matches, would not appear out of place. Even though Brie Bella lost, it gives more of a boost to her opponent than anything; with Wrestlemania around the corner, everyone will get a chance to show they could win.

Match #3: Damien Sandow vs Stardust

The second attempt at their US Championship Ladder Match qualifier, Damien Sandow and Stardust start off slow, feeling each other out, reversing any attempted hold; former tag team partners, they know each other better than Stardust would like to admit.

Sandow pokes and prods at Stardust, talking to him throughout, constantly calling him Cody, and causing Stardust to lose his temper and lash out wildly. But Sandow is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take advantage. The wrestlers go back and forth, trading attempted pins. Finally though, as Sandow whips Stardust towards the ropes, a quick reversal is turned into a Beautiful Disaster, followed by a tights pulling rollup for the victory.

Breathing heavily in the centre of the ring, both wrestlers find themselves staring the other down, before Sandow nods a brief sign of acknowledgement. He rolls from the ring, disappointed, leaving a confused Stardust looking on…

One step at a time. You can’t throw Stardust out in one go, as the character has been given too much time to grow stale. You need to shift Cody Rhodes back into the spotlight, and then tear the walls down around the Stardust gimmick.

Match #4: Paige vs Summer Rae

In an almost mirrored match from episode twenty, Paige takes on Summer Rae in singles competition, with Emma watching from commentary. Paige systematically attacks Summer Rae’s shoulders and arms, finally locking in the PTO for the submission victory.

After the match, Emma saunters to the edge of the ring, casually threatening to start something, but decides against it; circling the ring and waving goodbye, Paige is left on edge until her Wrestlemania opponent heads backstage.

There is nothing left to say between these two. They were the originals at WWE NXT, before the Four Horsewomen came along. Now, at the Wrestlemania that will see three of those Horsewomen fight for the title, Emma and Paige will settle their own rivalry.

Backstage, Paul Heyman is being asked a couple of questions about Brock Lesnar’s preparation for Wrestlemania. He jokes that mostly he’s been catching up on sleep, since it isn’t as if he has a real opponent.

He goes on to say that once his Wrestlemania obligations are out of the way, the Beast will return to preparing for a real fight. And to take back his championship.

At that moment, the Social Outcasts wander into view, chatting to the interviewer and ignoring Heyman. A little perturbed, he shakes his head and turns to leave - only to walk straight into Jack Swagger.

Swagger stares down at Heyman, who makes it clear in a very concerned tone that he is just the manager. That gets a quiet laugh out of Swagger.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Paul. You said that yourself.”

Heyman switches immediately into selling Swagger the idea that he should just concede defeat. It’ll only do damage to his career. It may even end it entirely. Brock Lesnar has no qualms hurting him. Swagger sighs.

“He’s going to have to, if he wants to beat me at Wrestlemania. Cause he won’t keep me down. Suplex me a dozen times. Hit me with an F5. I’ve seen the top of this company and I’ve seen the bottom. You better bo-lieve” he winks at Dallas, “no one is keeping me from rising up again.”

The fire in Swagger’s words shocks even Heyman. Dallas raises both hands in triumph, and the Social Outcasts start high fiving each other. Swagger never breaks eye contact with Heyman, though.

“Tell Brock I’ll be at Monday Night Raw.”

There are a couple of really important things happening with this promo. The thing to note though is that this rivalry is not ever going to be about the microphone. Lesnar rarely speaks, and while, if given enough time, Jack Swagger could develop his abilities, right now he is better suited to a similar limited role on the mic. So this promo serves two purposes: firstly, it gives Paul Heyman a chance to mouth off about the WWE, the fact Brock Lesnar has a client neither he nor the Beast consider a challenge, and to set the stage for a true David vs Goliath match; secondly, it shows that the Social Outcasts are really starting to come together. To Bo-lieve, as it were…

The Intercontinental Championship contract signing doesn’t take place in the ring. Instead, it takes place in a conference room at WWE headquarters. Numerous security personnel are in place as Stephanie McMahon passes the paperwork out to the four wrestlers, who take turns signing the contract. But not without some fairly targeted banter between them, and before long Dolph Ziggler has leapt across the table at Kevin Owens.

However, Owens ducks out of the way, and Ziggler takes out Sami Zayn instead. As AJ Styles takes advantage by slipping quietly out of the room with a smile on his face, Zayn shoves Ziggler backwards, straight into a Super Kick from Owens.

Ok, fine, this is a little self-indulgence. There is no reason to show this segment. Well, no major plot developing reason for it. Mostly it is here because a. It sets up a tag team match for episode 22 which is just what we all want, and b. any opportunity for Kevin Owens to run his mouth is gold. Plus, seeing Owens and Sami Zayn briefly work in unison? Picture perfect.

Match #5: Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch

Third time is a charm? Sasha Banks comes out of this match with all the momentum in the world, and a slight distaste for the events that conspired to make the Wrestlemania match a Triple Threat Match - with Becky Lynch not quite 100% after her match with Charlotte earlier in the week, Banks takes full advantage of a couple of missteps, reversing an attempted suplex into a Backstabber, and forcing Lynch to tap out to the Bank Statement.

With Charlotte looking on from commentary, Sasha Banks wins the main event of the evening, making it clear she will not be denied at Wrestlemania. With the momentum now in her corner, she now gets the champion one on one, with a chance to cement that momentum heading into the Show of Shows.

Summary

Two episodes left before Wrestlemania now. Will challenging the Beast to come to Monday Night Raw be the undoing of Jack Swagger? Will the Beast show himself? Can Dean Ambrose play the Game? And what will the Authority do to retain their power?

The next episode is the final Monday Night Raw before Wrestlemania. The WWE Heavyweight Championship contract will be signed. Brothers will unite and alliances will crumble. And the Deadman will speak…

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Sasha Banks def. Charlotte Rusev def. Curtis Axel
Sheamus def. Kofi Kingston MizTV with Dean Ambrose
The Usos def. The Ascension Bray Wyatt Promo
Dudley Boyz Promo Brie Bella def. Tamina
Sami Zayn and Dolph Ziggler def. The Miz and Kevin Owens Stardust def. Damien Sandow
Bubba Ray Dudley def. Roman Reigns by DQ Paige def. Summer Rae
Golden Truth Promo Paul Heyman Promo
AJ Styles def. Tyler Breeze Intercontinental Championship Contract Signing
Brock Lesnar Promo Sasha Banks def. Becky Lynch

The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Twenty

This is the twentieth episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Monday Night Raw, originally televised on March 21st, 2016.

For the first time in years, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Vince McMahon, and the Undertaker stand together in the ring, though the wariness of all concerned is obvious. Damien Sandow paces at ringside, clearly still hurting from the attack the previous week, but still on both feet.

Vince and Stephanie rant at Shane, denouncing his claim to the throne. But the Undertaker remains silent.

Shane McMahon steps up to the table, and signs the contract; his eyes never leave the Undertaker. He says that he remembers when the Undertaker was unbeatable at Wrestlemania. But then he also remembers when the company was strong, and creative. And he remembers cord phones. And VCRs.

“You’re time has passed, Taker. And there is nothing that you, or T-“

Triple H’s music hits, and he emerges, flanked by the Dudley Boyz. The distraction leaves Shane open to attack, and Vince shoves him into the Undertaker, who grabs him by the throat. Shane fights briefly free, but with Sandow dealing with the Dudley Boyz, Undertaker grabs him again and Chokeslams him through the table.

Triple H steps into the ring, and with the fight still going on outside, for a moment he stands face to face with his Wrestlemania nemesis.

And then Dean Ambrose’s music hits.

Still bandaged up from the beating he took from Brock Lesnar, Ambrose stalks to the ring, Barbie in hand. Vince and Stephanie scatter, but the Dudley Boyz aren’t so lucky. Both are taken down by blows from Ambrose. Triple H tries to stand tall, but flees in the face of the barbed wire, leaving Ambrose standing over the fallen Shane McMahon; Vince and Stephanie fuming in the corner.

And then the Undertaker steps forward, and the Lunatic Asylum comes face to face with the Deadman. Undertaker looks at Ambrose. Lowers his gaze and looks at Barbie, and everything it represents.

And he smiles. Ever so slightly.

As should always have been the case, the closer we get to Wrestlemania, the more intwined some of the stories become. Triple H’s desperate attempts to hold onto his power start spreading into other matches, distracting him from his own championship defense. Will he get back on track before Wrestlemania arrives?

Match #1: Emma vs Summer Rae

With her match with Paige at Wrestlemania on the cards, Emma takes on Summer Rae in a singles match. Paige watches on from commentary as Emma methodically targets Summer Rae’s neck and ankle, finally locking in the Emma Lock for the submission victory.

There is plenty of backstory to the feud between Paige and Emma. Little build up is needed when the wrestlers can play off so much history, and with Emma announcing her return to the main roster by costing Paige a shot at the championship, this rivalry is already ready to explode.

Match #2: Enzo vs Kofi Kingston

With Big Cass, Big E, and Xavier Woods patrolling at ringside, Enzo Amore goes one on one with Kofi Kingston. Enzo shows that he can more than hold his own without Big Cass, taking the fight to the former Intercontinental Champion. But a timely distraction from Woods causes the referee to miss Enzo’s pinning attempt, and his mouth gets him in trouble, snapping at the referee and opening the door for Trouble in Paradise, and a Kingston victory.

The lead up to their match at Wrestlemania gives both teams an opportunity to showcase their versatility individually and as a group. The New Day shift back and forth between being babyfaces and heels, but with Enzo and Cass the clear crowd favourite, they now have a chance to really open up their bag of tricks.

Match #3: Fandango vs Zack Ryder

In the next United States Championship Ladder Match qualifier, Zack Ryder takes Fandango to the very limit. Wanting to get back into the main roster title race, Ryder hits a Rough Rider, and climbs the turnbuckle for an Elbro Drop…

But Fandango is waiting for it. He springs to his feet and hits Ryder’s feet with a drop kick, dragging him from the turnbuckle and climbing high to hit a Leg Drop for the victory, and the fifth spot in the Ladder Match.

Fandango and Zack Ryder are both young talents, and this match gives them both a chance to show the fans what they’ve got. Fandango gets the win, and generates a fair amount of heat for beating a crowd favourite.

Fandango’s music never plays. The lights go out, and the Wyatt Family’s fireflies light up in the crowd. Bray Wyatt’s haunting voice mocks the competitors.

“You climb your ladders, you grab your gold, and round and round and round it goes. It never changes, and you. Never. Listen.

The wolves will rise, my brothers. They will howl to the moon and you will see this falacy that you have believed to be nothing but a lie.”

Soon.

Match #4: Becky Lynch vs Charlotte

In the first round robin match leading up to Wrestlemania, Becky Lynch takes on Charlotte one on one. Submission after submission is countered and reversed. Natural Selection. A clothesline. A big boot reversed into a Dis-Arm-Her.

Sasha Banks watches from ringside as Ric Flair shouts encouragement at Charlotte. The champion stretches out, reaching the ropes and breaking the hold. The referee pulls Lynch off of her. She tries to get back to Charlotte, but the champion pulls her into the ropes, and a break in the referee’s line of sight gives Ric Flair a chance to trip Becky up, leaving her at the champion’s mercy and a three count.

Banks makes sure there is no post-match assault, but the win still goes to Charlotte…

A round robin competition gives all three wrestlers a chance to test their skills against their opponents, while giving the crowd a chance to see all of them in singles competition against the very best. These three are the very top of the division, and the more face time they get now, the better for the division going forward.

Bo Dallas and Jack Swagger head towards the arena, talking about the next training match for Swagger. They are interrupted by the rest of the Social Outcasts, who demand to know why Dallas is here with Swagger instead of preparing for their match later. Dallas tells them that he believes that this is important. That Swagger could be one of them.

They needed to trust that he would be ready for the match. They need to Bolieve.

Bo Dallas is starting to test the strength of his group with his split attention. His desire to help push Jack Swagger to the top could cost him a lot more than a match at Wrestlemania if he isn’t careful…

Match #5: Jack Swagger vs Mark Henry

The World’s Strongest Man rushes Jack Swagger as soon as the bell rings, pounding him into the turnbuckle and putting on a show. In less than a minute, Henry hits the World’s Strongest Slam, and shakes his head in disgust.

But Swagger kicks out of the pin.

Bo Dallas shouts encouragement from ringside, and Swagger gets back to his feet. Henry throws a punch, and Swagger responds in kind. The two wrestlers throw punch after punch, until Swagger slips beneath a wayward strike and lifts Henry up, hitting him with a German Suplex. Driving the advantage home, he hits a running clothesline and a big boot for the victory.

A couple of things happen here. Firstly, Swagger makes a huge impression. Dallas’ belief in him is starting to pay off, building some momentum headed to Wrestlemania. But more importantly, Swagger didn’t win with a finisher. Which is important. Because the lack of non “finisher” finishes to matches dilutes the meaning and impact of those moves.

Match #6: Natalya vs Naomi and Tamina

From the first moment that Naomi and Tamina come to the ring, it is clear they aren’t all that interested in a singles match with Natalya. Both wrestlers wait patiently in the ring, and when Natalya’s music hits, they beckon for her to join them in the ring, holding the ring ropes apart, waiting for their prey to approach.

But Natalya hasn’t come to have a match. She’s come to fight. And she isn’t alone.

Brie Mode time.

Natalya and Brie Bella charge the ring, not giving Naomi and Tamina enough of a chance to respond before they are suddenly fending off blows from both attackers. Naomi scampers from the ring, followed closely by Tamina, their attempted beatdown turned on its head just two weeks before Wrestlemania.

Brie Bella has been out injured for several months, and now she is back, and raring to go against the current queen heels. Naomi and Tamina might well have their hands full with this new change in the division…

Match #7: The Social Outcasts vs The Dudley Boyz and The Ascension

An eight man tag team match between The Social Outcasts, the Dudley Boyz, and the Ascension takes centre stage, as the Outcasts try to get on the same page ahead of their match at Wrestlemania with the League of Nations.

The match goes back and forth, as Slater and Dallas struggle to work together effectively, and the Dudley Boyz and Ascension bicker over who can beatdown their opponents best.

As the match reaches its climax, the bickering between the Dudleys and Ascension becomes their undoing. A miscommunication allows Curtis Axel to knock both Viktor and D-Von to the floor. Rose takes out Bubba Ray, leaving Slater and Dallas in the ring with Konnor; a Big Boot Bo Suplex combo later, and the Social Outcasts have the victory.

Except the League of Nations take their chance to charge down the ramp into the ring, and four on four becomes seven on four, and despite Adam Rose grabbing a kendo stick from under the ring, there is little they can do.

Until Jack Swagger’s music hits, and he charges the League, clearing the ring. Ducking an attempted Brogue Kick, he takes Alberto Del Rio down with a spinning clothesline, and Adam Rose tosses a second kendo stick into the ring for Curtis Axel.

The League scurry away to regroup. The Dudleys and Ascension lick their wounds. And the Social Outcasts stand tall, Jack Swagger at their centre.

This is one hell of a stacked episode. All the pieces are on the board. All the twists and turns and betrayals are coming home to roost, as alliances strengthen and crumble. And we’ve still got a main event to go…

Match #8: AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, and Dolph Ziggler vs Chris Jericho, The Miz, and Kevin Owens

They don’t even wait for the bell. All six men brawl, the violence barely containable by the referee. Mini alliances seem to pop up here and there, but at times it feels as if there are no teams in this match.

But slowly, things start to take shape. The Miz and Chris Jericho start to take control. Kevin Owens goes on a tear, taking out all three of his opponents with Cannonballs. Jericho catches a flying Sami Zayn with a Codebreaker.

Dolph Ziggler breaks the pin.

AJ Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm.

The Miz rolls out of the ring before he can be pinned.

And then, as the pace picks up, Miz tags himself back in, hitting AJ Styles with the Skull Crushing Finale. He takes too long to gloat though, and Ziggler and Zayn, deciding to take the initiative, rush across the ring, catching Jericho and Owens off guard and connecting with a Super Kick and Helluva Kick respectively.

Miz is shocked, and hesitates, giving Styles enough time to recover, roll him up, and claim the victory.

Owens snatches up his title and stalks off in disgust, refusing to acknowledge that his title match at Wrestlemania will now be a fatal four way. Jericho, meanwhile, loses his mind at ringside, throwing an epic tantrum to close out the night.

Only a Chris Jericho tantrum could finish this episode.

Summary

With only three episodes left before Wrestlemania, the card is almost complete. Now it’s all about momentum. Who can grab it? Who can hold it? And who will end up with all the power?

In the next episode, a contract will be signed, rivalries will push towards their final climaxes, and the United States Championship Ladder Match qualifiers will continue.

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Roman Reigns Promo Hell in a Cell Promo
Kevin Owens def. AJ Styles Emma def. Summer Rae
Big E def. Rusev Kofi Kingston def. Enzo Amore
Big Show Promo Fandango def. Zack Ryder
Chris Jericho def. Fandango Bray Wyatt Promo
Zack Ryder vs Sin Cara vs Stardust Charlotte def. Becky Lynch
Roman Reigns Promo Jack Swagger Promo
Charlotte def. Natalya Jack Swagger def. Mark Henry
Bubba Ray Dudley def. R-Truth Natalya vs Naomi (no contest)
Hell in a Cell Promo The Social Outcasts def. The Dudley Boyz and The Ascension
Braun Strowman def. Dean Ambrose by DQ AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, and Dolph Ziggler def. Chris Jericho, The Miz, and Kevin Owens

The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Nineteen

This is the nineteenth episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Thursday Night Smackdown, originally televised on March 17, 2016.

Thursday Night Smackdown opens with The Miz talking about how he wants to challenge Kevin Owens to an Intercontinental Championship title match at Wrestlemania. But first, he has two people he needs to explain a few things to.

With that, he welcomes his two guests to MizTV: AJ Styles, and Sami Zayn.

The Miz tears them apart, verbally chastising them for thinking they are anything but mid card rookies. Neither has been around long enough to deserve a shot at the title. Miz is first in line if for no other reason than because he is awesome.

Styles and Zayn point out how he had his chances to beat Owens, and couldn’t get the job done. So he should move to the back of the line.

Chris Jericho emerges, and Styles jokes “Speaking of the back of the line…”

Jericho, Miz, Styles, and Zayn, get into a heated argument about who deserves a title shot, until Miz tries a cheap shot at Zayn, which sparks a brawl between the four wrestlers. Security are forced to rush the ring, drawing Stephanie McMahon out from the back, to create a new opening match for the evening: Jericho and Miz vs Styles and Zayn.

Once security has the ring back under control, a referee is sent out, and the wrestlers head for their corners…

Now that the other matches on the Wrestlemania card have had some time in the spotlight, we bring the focus to the Intercontinental Championship. There is no challenger for Kevin Owens’ title yet. Will this match clear things up?

Match #1: AJ Styles and Sami Zayn vs Chris Jericho and The Miz

AJ Styles and The Miz are already circling each other, when Kevin Owens’ music hits. The champion saunters to the ring, ignoring everyone and everything on his way to commentary. There, he takes control, talking about everything BUT the match. As Chris Jericho and Miz start working more and more as an effective veteran team, Owens turns his attention to deriding the two of them, not even mentioning Styles and Sami Zayn by name, referring to them only as the “local unknown indie tag team”.

But when the action spills outside the ring, Owens gets involved, attacking Zayn as soon as his back is turned, and clotheslining Styles before he can react. The attack gives Styles and Zayn the disqualification victory, but leaves them open to the 3 on 2 attack that follows. Jericho, Miz, and Owens use the numbers advantage to great effect, setting Styles up for a Pop Up Powerbomb on the commentary desk.

Until new music hits. All three are confused, and look back and forth between each other… until DZ appears on the titantron, and Dolph Ziggler emerges, fresh and revitalised. His hair longer than before but not bleached, his ring gear remains pink and black, but without as much flair. He sprints to the ring, going straight after Kevin Owens, who left him in hospital back in episode 11. Styles and Zayn recover now that the numbers advantage is gone, and the three wrestlers are able to chase Jericho and Owens from the ring, leaving Miz all alone. Trying to scramble away, Ziggler catches him with a thunderous Lifting DDT in the centre of the ring.

Ziggler stands tall, as Owens flees the many challengers to his crown.

Another big return in the lead up to Wrestlemania. Having been given some time to change up his image and move away from the “Show Off” moniker towards something a little more technical focused as he is best suited for, the revitalised Dolph Ziggler is another thorn for Owens to pluck if he is going to make it out of Wrestlemania with his title.

Match #2: Alberto Del Rio vs Bo Dallas

Alberto Del Rio takes on Bo Dallas, as the rivalry between the Social Outcasts and the League of Nations continues to boil over. The League are outnumbered, but seem completely indifferent to that fact. Instead, they quickly find themselves toe to toe with the Social Outcasts at ring side, with Alberto Del Rio yelling for the Outcasts to back off from the ring.

Bo Dallas takes advantage, slipping into the ring and hitting Del Rio with a dropkick, followed by a crushing suplex for the pin. Dallas scrambles out, only to roll straight into the path of an oncoming Sheamus, who connects with a Brogue Kick, before the two sides create a little separation, and Heath Slater and Curtis Axel help Dallas from the arena…

Now we are reaching a point with this rivalry where the two sides are really taking shape for the crowd. The League of Nations is a group of elite powerhouses, while the Social Outcasts are young, hungry, and talented, and pushing for an opportunity. But they don’t have the veteran experience of the League, who know that a victory only counts if you walk away.

Backstage, Kevin Owens storms into Stephanie McMahon’s office, demanding that Dolph Ziggler be fired for attacking him like that. Stephanie, on a phone call, is forced to raise a finger to silence him, a look of annoyance brushing her face, before finishing the conversation on the phone; an apology added for the interruption.

She glares at Owens, snapping at him for barging into her office. She says she saw the match, and given he got involved first, she doesn’t particularly have any sympathy. But… the attack raises an interesting point. He doesn’t have an opponent for Wrestlemania. In fact, the Intercontinental Championship is the only title not being defended at Wrestlemania.

Yet.

“So, you don’t think any of them deserve a title shot. Fine. Prove it. Next week on Raw, we’ll have a six man tag team main event. AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, and Dolph Ziggler will take on Chris Jericho, The Miz, and you. Win? Your match at Wrestlemania is a triple threat with Jericho and Miz. Lose? Fatal Four Way.

Now get out of my office.”

Now we really have something to look forward to in the episode 20 main event. Will the Intercontinental Championship match at Wrestlemania be a Fatal Four Way or a Triple Threat Match? Can the seven wrestlers vying for the title coexist in any functional way?

Match #3: Big E vs Big Cass

Enzo and Cass make their way to the ring, tearing up the mic as Enzo carves The New Day into tiny pieces. The Tag Team Champions interrupt before Big Cass can call them SAWFT though, with Xavier Woods drawing his own micsaber to crush the opposition.

The two teams face off in the ring, before the referee takes control and rings the bell.

Throughout the match, Enzo is harrassed at ringside by Kofi Kingston and Woods, distracting Big Cass. But an attempt from Big E at a diving tackle goes awry, and gives Cass an opportunity to clean house, dragging his opponent back into the ring to pick up the victory.

It is important for both teams to get a chance to showcase their skills both individually and as teams in the lead up to Wrestlemania. Here, Big Cass shows that he is the powerhouse, and more than capable of going toe to toe with The New Day. How Big E responds will say a lot about their chances at Wrestlemania…

As The New Day regroup in the centre of the ring, laughter fills the arena. The lights go out. And Bray Wyatt’s voice echoes through the darkness.

“It’s a New Day, yes it is brothers… but not for you. No, not for you. I see it, in the darkness. Rising in the deep. The dawn will come. Soon. And it shall be red…”

The sun rises. And the Wyatts come…

Damien Sandow arrives at the arena for his US Championship qualifying match with Stardust. On the way through the corridors, he finds himself face to face with his opponent, and smiles. Stardust glares at him, demanding to know what he is looking at.

Sandow shakes his head, somewhat disappointed. “Nothing. I just wish I was facing Cody tonight. Not… whatever you are.”

He turns as if to head towards the arena, and walks straight into a clothesline from Bubba Ray Dudley. D-Von Dudley cuts shoves Stardust away, telling him to go glitter somewhere else, as the Dudley Boyz beat down on Sandow, then drag him out of shot.

So this is the start of a thread for post-Wrestlemania. I know, a little frustrating, but it is the first seed, and good booking requires planning ahead. Stardust is a tired gimmick, and Cody Rhodes has far more potential. With Damien Sandow an equally misused wrestler, and a former tag team partner, he is the obvious choice to start pushing Rhodes towards a return.

The Dudley Boyz drag Damien Sandow to the ring, and despite his attempts to break free and fight them off, the surprise attack left him significantly disadvantaged. They toss him into the ring, hitting him with a 3D and a Bubba Bomb.

And then the Game’s music hits.

Triple H walks out to the ring, no emotion on his face at all. He steps inside the ropes, picks Sandow up, and Pedigrees him in the centre of the ring.

Without a word, Triple H and the Dudley Boyz walk back up the ramp, leaving Sandow a broken mess in the centre of the ring.

This is simply a message. The Game does not get crossed by anyone. Any uncertainty that the Dudley Boyz were working as the Game’s muscle is now put to rest; Ambrose, Shane McMahon, and anyone else that gets in his way better be ready.

Summary

A week’s break for some of the titles, as the mid-card and tag team divisions come to the fore here. Plenty of rivalries are brewing for Wrestlemania, but which ones will get blown off? And have we seen them all yet?

In the next episode, the Hell in a Cell contract will be signed, the women’s division will come to the fore, and the fate of the Intercontinental Championship Match at Wrestlemania will be decided.

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Roman Reigns Promo MizTV with AJ Styles and Sami Zayn
Dolph Ziggler def. The Miz AJ Styles and Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho and The Miz by DQ
Dean Ambrose Promo Bo Dallas def. Alberto Del Rio
Bubba Ray Dudley vs Goldust Kevin Owens Promo
Women’s Championship Promo Big Cass def. Big E
Kofi Kingston def. King Barrett Bray Wyatt Promo
Dean Ambrose Promo Damien Sandow Promo
Kevin Owens def. AJ Styles Damien Sandow vs Stardust never starts