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