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