The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Three

This is the third episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Monday Night Raw, broadcast on February 1st, 2016.

“Thou shalt not intentionally provoke the Beast.”

That is the commandment Paul Heyman lays down as he and Brock Lesnar open Monday Night Raw. Determined to reclaim what is rightfully his, the Conqueror’s advocate pulls no punches as he states that for conspiring to eliminate him from the Royal Rumble, Brock Lesnar will, at his convenience, and with great pleasure, retaliate in kind…

He goes on to discuss WWE Fastlane, and how Lesnar will destroy Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. As he talks about how Reigns needs to explain to Ambrose what is going to happen to him, Ambrose emerges to refute claims he is crazy. He’s just not scared of Lesnar. And much to Lesnar’s amusement, Ambrose begs him to take him to suplex city, and see what happens…

Dean Ambrose is the perfect counter point to Brock Lesnar, and his casual disregard for safety around the dominating Beast is both endearing and tantalising, as you know what is going to happen but yet what if Ambrose gets back up. This promo, like many of the ones in this storyline, remains exactly the same, building towards Fastlane.

Match #1: Titus O’Neil vs Tyler Breeze

The early going of this bout is largely all Breeze, as he focuses on O’Neil’s knees, and looks to bring the big man down with a series of dropkicks and cheap shots. However, as the match wears on, O’Neil begins to get a head of steam, eventually driving Breeze to the mat with repeated shoulder charges before catching him in the Clash of the Titus for the pinfall victory.

Moved from later in the televised night in order to open the show, this match looks to further a solid push into contention for singles championships for Titus, and provide him with more time in the ring with a well-rounded talker, to develop a better understanding of how the crowd will respond to the things he does.

Match #2: Charlotte vs Brie Bella (Non-Title Match)

Charlotte mocks Brie Bella’s injured sister, leading to an aggressive attack at the outset of their match, but Charlotte quickly takes charge, dominating Bella around the ring, and gloating over said dominance. Any attempts by Bella to get back into the match are thwarted by timely distractions from Ric Flair, and the Women’s champion soon positions herself for victory.

However, in deference to her father, her pre-finisher stylin’ and profilin’ leaves her open, and Bella catches her in a rollup for the victory. Bella scrambles from the ring, leaving Charlotte fuming.

While very little changes with the match itself from the televised version, a few adjustments have been made to how the match feels, and the impact it may have. It’s far more obvious how lucky Brie Bella is to escape this match without serious injury, let alone with a pinfall victory. It’s also clear to everyone that Ric Flair’s presence, while largely positive, in the end influenced the behaviour that cost Charlotte the match.

Once he is finally done telling the crowd how awesome he is, The Miz introduces his guest: AJ Styles. The Phenomenal One, coming off two victories the previous week, is, according to The Miz “The Internet Darling of 2016”, and barely lets the man talk, answering his own questions before going on about comparing Styles to other small, less interesting wrestlers.

Styles, sick of Miz’s voice, lashes out, driving him into the corner with a series of strikes and kicks, before chasing him from the ring.

The essence of the Chris Jericho/AJ Styles rivalry is Styles’ success outside of the WWE rubbing a few veterans the wrong way. While Jericho is the focal point, The Miz provides greater context to the dynamics within the locker room about this incredibly experienced “rookie”. This episode of MizTV draws Miz into the rivalry, and, though it will only focus on two WWE veterans, it is representative of Styles’ journey to integrate into the new company.

Match #3: Rusev vs Kalisto (Non-Title Match)

In this non-title match, Kalisto finds himself facing one of the other League of Nations members, in preparation for Alberto Del Rio’s rematch at Fastlane. Despite the size disadvantage, Kalisto does his best to keep the pace up and continue to fly, until it costs him badly, leaping through the ropes straight into a hard kick to the head.

Rusev takes the battle outside, tossing Kalisto around, hoping to injure his tag partner’s rival. However, Kalisto is able to avoid an attack and leap from the steps to take Rusev down, scrambling back into the ring in time to win via countout. While not the most dominant performance, Kalisto does get the victory, and eludes a sneak attack by Del Rio to live to fight another day…

The only thing that has changed here is the match’s place on the schedule. No longer opening the show, it puts a little more focus on the rivalry between Kalisto and Del Rio, and provides a good segue into the next promo…

The Tag Team Champions, The New Day, come down to the ring hoping to impart a little truth to the audience. Having comprehensively defeated the Usos at the Royal Rumble, there is little left in the tag team division for them to concern themselves with.

They are interrupted by The Dudley Boyz, who declare that their history makes a championship opportunity their right. The Usos dispute that point though, arguing the Dudleys have had their time with gold around their waists, and The Usos were still at the top of the contender chart. Finally, The Social Outcasts emerge, lambasting all before them as they declare that no team is as talented or fresh as they are. It is their time, and no one can say otherwise.

Enter Stephanie McMahon. Acknowledging that, while The Usos have done well, they did lose their shot at the title, she makes it clear that every team will have a chance to earn a shot at the title. And better yet, that shot will be at Wrestlemania. A Tag Team Tournament is arranged, and at Fastlane, there will be a Fatal Four Way Tag Team Match, for the #1 contender.

Oh, and the first match starts right now…

There are a number of things happening with the addition of this promo. Most importantly, it creates a new story arc that will take the Tag Team division through to Fastlane. Beyond that, it creates friction that can be used for later rivalries and storylines, and creates opportunities to introduce new talent to the main roster.

Match #4: The Ascension vs The Usos

The Ascension arrive, ready to fight for a place in the Fastlane Fatal Four Way. While The Social Outcasts and The New Day leave The Usos to their match, The Dudley Boyz decide to park themselves at commentary to watch. Jimmy Uso is isolated by Viktor, pinning him in the far corner, keeping Jey Uso out of the match for a long time.

Bored by what they are seeing, The Dudley Boyz get up to leave, saying that neither team impresses them at all. At the same time, Jimmy breaks free and hits a Samoan Drop on Konnor. Bubba Ray and D-Von, walking towards the ramp on opposite sides of the ring, briefly pause as they reach the steps. Bubba shouts at the referee, and when he is distracted, D-Von trips up Jey, preventing Jimmy from making a tag. Chasing after D-Von, Jey runs straight into a clothesline from Konnor, while Viktor send Jimmy crashing to the mat, pinning him for the victory, and sending The Ascension to Fastlane.

The Usos lost their match at the Royal Rumble, and have had several opportunities recently. Their continued presence in the chase for the title has prevented the development of opportunities for other teams, while also oversaturating the audience with their presence and leaving them feeling a little stagnant. Eliminating them from the competition this way pushes The Ascension up the card, while pushing a rivalry to boiling point.

After the break, Triple H confronts Brock Lesnar, questioning why he didn’t crush Dean Ambrose when he got in Lesnar’s face earlier in the night. Lesnar is unperturbed, making it clear his focus is entirely on regaining his championship.

While only a brief glimpse backstage, this promo does a couple of very important things. Firstly, it foreshadows events later in the night. Secondly, it reinforces the confidence Lesnar has that he will win the championship at Wrestlemania, and more importantly, hints that maybe Lesnar is so unimpressed by Roman Reigns and Ambrose, that he might be looking past Fastlane already…

Match #5: Ryback vs Jack Swagger

Jack Swagger comes running to the ring, ready to take the fight to The Big Guy, and while briefly hesitating, does not chant “We The People” at the top of the ramp before doing so. Ryback and Swagger trade shoulder charges and blows, and Swagger’s amateur wrestling background comes to the fore as he targets Ryback’s knees before dismantling him with a series of arm drags and stretches.

As Swagger prepares for a Swagger Splash though, Zeb Coulter emerges, making his way slowly to the ring. Swagger hesitates; the return of his former manager a distraction. When he turns to charge, Ryback has recovered, and pounces with a Meathook Clothesline for the victory.

The purpose of this match is two fold. Firstly, it continues to add depth to Swagger’s struggles with his identity - he rushed the ring without his normal chant and took the fight to Ryback, but Zeb Coulter (and the reminder that he is of what Swagger has been of late), threw him out of his game and cost him the match. That frustration will build over time. Meanwhile, this match also helps develop the building blocks of a couple of pay-per-view storylines, which will happen down the road…

Match #6: Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch

Prior to the match, Sasha Banks announces that she is breaking away from her former team to focus her attention on the Women’s Championship. Naomi and Tamina come to the ring and wish her luck on her quest, and acknowledging that they may be rivals in the future.

The match between Banks and Becky Lynch is as back and forth an affair as any of their clashes in NXT, until Banks tosses Lynch through the ropes, right in front of Naomi and Tamina. The Team B.A.D. cohorts move in. Banks though cuts them off, demanding they leave the ringside, as she doesn’t need their help.

When she turns back to Lynch, Tamina kicks her in the back, and Naomi joins in to stomp away at Banks. After a few moments of confusion, the match ends in disqualification, but the beating doesn’t stop until Lynch comes to her former friend’s aid, clearing the ring area.

This match creates the rivalry that will carry all four women to Fastlane. While the primary rivalry within the Women’s division is obviously Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks, some work needs to be done to dismantle the “Diva’s Revolution”, to allow the platform that exists to be raised. Part of that involves expanding the potential main event candidates, part of that is ensuring more matches have meaning, and part of that is breaking apart the various teams that existed.

Match #7: Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs The New Day

Hoping to undermine any momentum Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns might have been building, they are put into the main event of the evening against The New Day. The numbers advantage plays well for the Tag Team Champions, distracting the referee and countering many of the opportunities to tag.

However, Reigns, despite being thrown over the announce table, recovers enough to take out both Woods and Kingston from the apron. Distracted, Big E hesitates, and Ambrose catches him with Dirty Deeds for the victory.

There is no victory music though, as Brock Lesnar emerges and charges the ring. The sudden arrival provides The New Day a chance to pounce, separating Ambrose and Reigns and knocking Reigns down to the floor. Left alone in the ring, and weary from the match, Ambrose can do little to prevent Lesnar slamming him to the floor with an F-5 as punishment for his earlier disrespect.

The build up to Fastlane continues as planned, as this match follows along with the televised one moment for moment. While a number of things over the first few episodes have needed to be changed, this storyline was handled well, and so remains untouched.

Summary

The start of an entirely new storyline for Fastlane is the main highlight from this episode. The Tag Team Tournament will be a building block towards Wrestlemania, with a number of threads and storylines building off of it. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fastlane card is starting to take shape, with slight adjustments and subtle nudges away from the original path.

In the next episode, the Women’s championship will take centre stage, the Tag Team Tournament will continue, and The Miz will go looking for retribution…

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

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Brock Lesnar Promo Brock Lesnar Promo
Kalisto def. Rusev Titus O’Neil def. Tyler Breeze
The Usos def. The Social Outcasts Brie Bella def. Charlotte
MizTV MizTV
Brie Bella def. Charlotte Kalisto def. Rusev
Big Show def. Erick Rowan Tag Team Tournament Promo
Titus O’Neil def. Tyler Breeze The Ascension def. The Usos
Brock Lesnar Promo Brock Lesnar Promo
Dolph Ziggler def. Kevin Owens Ryback def. Jack Swagger
Sasha Banks def. Becky Lynch by disqualification Sasha Banks def. Becky Lynch by disqualification
Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose def. The New Day Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose def. The New Day