The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Eleven

This is the eleventh episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Monday Night Raw, originally televised on February 22, 2016.

Prior to this episode, an official WWE press release announces that on Monday Night Raw this week, Vince McMahon will present the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award. Vince tweets about the award in the hours after WWE Fastlane (Episodes 9 and 10), and rumours begin to spread as to who the recipient is going to be…

Monday Night Raw opens with Vince McMahon, standing in the centre of the ring, beside his newly created Legacy of Excellence Award. Vince talks about the foundations his father built, and the new heights he has taken the business to, and how he wants to start recognising the fantastic work that those that continue to further the business go to. And so, the award is presented to…

Stephanie McMahon.

Stephanie emerges and saunters to the ring, attempting to looked shocked, but coming across only as arrogant. She tells Vince she had no idea, that there were so many other more worthy candidates, but that she was grateful… and she did have a speech, just in case it was necessary. She opens her folder-

And Shane McMahon’s music plays. The crowd goes wild. The prodigal son returns, after years away from the company.

He comes down to the ring, soaking in the atmosphere, and enjoying being the only McMahon being positively received by the crowd. As the sound dies down, Vince tries to give him a hug, but Shane blocks him. He takes a microphone, and looks at his father, shaking his head.

“You had to do it, didn’t you.”

He explains that he’s watched the company slip further and further away from what it once was. Ratings are embarrassingly low. Crowd numbers are down. Sales. Stock. Wrestlers are leaving because they don’t want to be there anymore. And yet Vince is rewarding The Authority, and Stephanie, for it?

Shane says he wasn’t going to come back. He was done; free of it all. And then the Royal Rumble happened.

“You and Triple H have lost sight of everything our father built. You’re so obsessed with holding onto power that you soak in the glory on NXT and then rig the Royal Rumble to ensure Triple H is champion again. One more Wrestlemania Main Event. Just because you don’t like Roman Reigns. Just because you don’t want to listen to the crowd; you just want to give them what you tell yourselves they want.”

He turns to Stephanie, and tells her that several years ago, Vince McMahon screwed up. And it put the company at risk. But Shane stepped in and saved the day. And as a reward, they came to an agreement. Shane would be allowed to leave WWE. To start his own businesses and try new things. But that his place in the WWE hierarchy would remain, should he wish to return to reclaim it.

“I’ve spent more than a month talking with my family. We agreed I would wait until after Wrestlemania. But this?” He gestures at the Legacy Award. “This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So it’s done. I’m back. And I want control of Monday Night Raw.”

The crowd goes wild. Stephanie, seething with anger, looks at her father to get him to do something. But Vince refuses to make eye contact, and realisation that what Shane said is true dawns on her. She storms out of the ring, followed closely by Vince, leaving Shane in the ring alone, basking in the welcoming chants and cheers.

There were only a couple of issues with the original promo for Shane’s return. Firstly, the televised version wasn’t polished enough; it went too long, and they skirted around lines instead of delivering hard, edgy remarks at each other. Secondly, Vince’s response to Shane’s demands felt forced, because he had no time (in kayfabe, anyway) to come up with a plan. And Vince always has a plan. So in this instance he leaves the ring, retreating to safety, where he can put together a plan of attack to take down his son once and for all. In addition, the changes tie the two main matches at Wrestlemania together, something that was really lacking in the televised version. Shane wants control of Monday Night Raw. Yet Triple H has nothing to say about that?

Match #1: Alberto Del Rio and King Barrett vs Curtis Axel and Heath Slater

After their confrontation in Episode 10 at Fastlane, and the breakdown of the #1 Contenders Match, The League of Nations go looking for a little retribution from The Social Outcasts. A distraction from Bo Dallas allows Adam Rose to take King Barrett out, but Alberto Del Rio still manages to get the victory with a kick to Heath Slater’s head.

After the match, while The League of Nations (minus Barrett, who is still down at ringside) are celebrating, Adam Rose and Bo Dallas attack them from behind, before The Social Outcasts retreat.

There are currently two four man stables within the WWE (or at least there were when this episode was televised), that aren’t really doing anything. Yet they represent exactly what should be opposing the other - The Social Outcasts rail against the fact they haven’t been given a fair opportunity, and the League consider themselves better than everyone else; all former champions, dominant as individuals and used by The Authority as their muscle, and JBL refers to them as the new Four Horsemen (he needs to stop this, by the way). Building upon this rivalry sets up a couple of storylines, while appearing to be leading towards a four on four match at Wrestlemania…

Match #2: Kalisto vs R-Truth

Having successfully defeated Alberto Del Rio at Fastlane, Kalisto begins his drive towards Wrestlemania with a match against R-Truth. While R-Truth brings a more upbeat and fast paced offense than Kalisto has faced in recent days, the champion weathers the early storm, before taking flight in and outside the ring, culminating in a Salida Del Sol for the victory.

While R-Truth has not been in the championship mix for a little while, the key focus of this match is to start separating the US Championship from the Intercontinental Championship. In the televised version of WWE, the US Championship has fallen by the wayside of late, being put on the pre-show again and again. Separating the two championships to focus on different things (high flying/first step from NXT vs technical/light heavyweight etc) makes them both viable again, without diminishing either.

After the break, The New Day come down to the ring, to discuss the events of the Fastlane #1 Contenders Match. They announce that The Wyatt Family have been named the #1 Contender, based on the dominance they showed at Fastlane, overcoming all of the other challengers. Mocking the Wyatts, Xavier Woods declares that it won’t matter who challenges them at Wrestlemania. The three then settle in at commentary to watch the next match.

Now that they have a #1 Contender for Wrestlemania, The New Day turn their attention away from the rest of the division, and focus on The Wyatts. This rivalry is yet to truly be explored, and the interaction between Xavier Woods and Bray Wyatt over the next few episodes will begin to set the tone for the next couple of months of storytelling.

Match #3: The Ascension vs The Wyatt Family

This is less of a match than a statement. The Ascension look to dominate early, hoping to earn their way back into the title picture. Their hopes though are dashed the moment Luke Harper tags into the match, as Bray Wyatt’s most loyal follower drags Viktor away from his corner, preventing a tag, and allowing a distraction from Erick Rowan to give Braun Strowman the chance to attack Konnor from behind. After that, a Discus Clothesline is all that remains before the three count.

Both wrestlers are dragged into the ring, as Bray stands over them. He kisses their foreheads and hits them with Sister Abigail, before falling to his knees and declaring that soon the world would see the rise of a new sun, and that it would tremble in fear.

While the Ascension make enough of an impact in the early going to start rebuilding their position within the tag team division, this match is all about positioning the Wyatts as the absolute dominant force in the WWE. Beyond wins and losses, the numbers advantage the Wyatts hold over everyone is used to full effect, and the post match beatdown simply emphasizes that. Meanwhile, Bray Wyatt’s spiel at the end speaks to the storyline building throughout all of these episodes, and begins to set in place some of the pieces…

Match #4: Sasha Banks vs Natalya

Sasha Banks continues to build the case for a shot at Charlotte’s Women’s Championship with a victory over Natalya. While taken to the edge, and locked into the Sharpshooter to boot, Banks is able to reach the ropes, and use them to knock Natalya off balance, setting her up for the Bank Statement.

An after the bell assault by Tamina and Naomi on both Natalya and Banks is broken up by a fast reacting Becky Lynch, and the three stand tall as their rivals slink away to reconsider their attack.

This match pulls together all three story threads in the women’s division leading towards Wrestlemania, and pushes them towards their endings. Naomi and Tamina’s attack on Sasha Banks draws out Becky Lynch, which furthers the narrative of her tentative alliance with Sasha Banks, despite their potential impending clash for a shot at the title, while the inclusion of Natalya in the attack provides Naomi and Tamina with a new foe, who will draw their focus heading to Wrestlemania.

Match #5: The Miz vs Kevin Owens

Kevin Owens, having secured his place as the Intercontinental Champion at Fastlane, looks to make a statement against a former title holder in The Miz, who himself is looking to get back in the title picture with a signature win. Owens’ aggressive streak pushes the limits of what the referee is willing to allow, and it almost gets him in trouble as The Miz catches him with a quick burst of offense, and almost hits a Skull Crushing Finale. But Owens reverses it, rolling Miz up into a quick pin, before kicking him in the head in disgust and skulking off with his title.

Building towards the Intercontinental Championship match, Kevin Owens continues his dominant run against top superstars, to further cement him as one of, if not the, top heel in the company. Meanwhile, the ending, and Miz’s almost success hitting the Skull Crushing Finale, plays on his ego and leaves him still looking strong, and giving him the belief that he can beat Owens if given another chance.

The main event of the evening is the contract signing for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestlemania. Dean Ambrose comes to the ring, alternating between looking ready for a fight and being as relaxed as possible. He’s followed out by Triple H, who walks to the ring, microphone in hand, telling Ambrose that winning at Fastlane doesn’t matter; The Authority isn’t going to let some lunatic like Ambrose be the champion. He couldn’t even beat Seth Rollins.

Ambrose replies that Rollins knew he couldn’t take him one on one. Just like Triple H knows he can’t beat him either. And that at Wrestlemania, he was going to take that title from the Game, and leave him with nothing. Or rather, he’d take the title, and Shane McMahon would leave him with nothing.

“Good to have Shane back, isn’t it?”

Triple H’s eyes darken, and he gets right in Ambrose’s face and says “You think you have it all right now, boy. But you’re playing my game now. And you won’t even make it to Wrestlemania.”

At that moment, Brock Lesnar’s music hits. The Beast comes storming to the ring, and when Ambrose takes his eyes off Triple H for a second, The Game hits him with the championship belt, and Brock Lesnar picks him up and hits him with a crushing F-5, before walking calmly back out of the ring.

Triple H crouches down beside him, smiles, and tells him that he has to get through the Beast before he can face The Game. He then picks him up, and Pedigrees him in the centre of the ring.

Dean Ambrose’s victory in Episode 10 comes back to bite him here. Denying Brock Lesnar a chance at victory with a steel chair, and setting himself up to face Triple H at Wrestlemania leaves a bad taste in The Beast’s mouth, and he comes looking for vengeance, which Triple H is happy to give him. The setup for the next two pay per views has now begun, with the announcement of Roadblock coming after this episode is concluded (and before the next one), and Dean Ambrose’s matches on the televised Roadblock and Wrestlemania are essentially reversed - Lesnar vs Ambrose at Roadblock, Triple H vs Ambrose at Wrestlemania. That story makes far more sense, and the progression works effectively for a number of other storylines.

Summary

With Shane McMahon back in the fold, the foundations of every storyline leading towards Wrestlemania have begun to take shape. Swerves and betrayals may be on the horizon, but for now, the only thing left is for Dean Ambrose to drag himself back to the emergency room again…

In the next episode, the Wyatt Family continue their reign of terror, while Dean Ambrose looks to make things worse for himself…

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

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Shane McMahon Returns Shane McMahon Returns
The New Day def. Neville & The Lucha Dragons The League of Nations def. The Social Outcasts
Dean Ambrose vs Brock Lesnar Promo Kalisto def. R-Truth
The Usos def. The Ascension The New Day Promo
Chris Jericho & AJ Styles def. Heath Slater & Curtis Axel The Wyatt Family def. The Ascension
The Wyatt Family def. Big Show, Kane & Ryback Sasha Banks def. Natalya
Sasha Banks def. Naomi Kevin Owens def. The Miz
Roman Reigns def. Sheamus via Disqualification WWE World Heavyweight Championship Contract Signing