Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Others: Raw Regurgitated, 2/17

Daniel Bryan goes to church and battles the Devil's favorite demon, Cesaro goes swingin' and The Hounds of Justice finally try to protect their yard

WARNING YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE PLEASE KEEP EYES AND EARS INSIDE OF KAYFABE AT ALL TIMES *** Normally, when the WWE want you to feel like an event or match is going to be life changing – or, you know as life changing as interpretive dance performed by half-naked mean in baby oil can be – it’s largely am illusion, or at the very least an exaggeration. This is partially because the business model of professional wrestling is predicated almost entirely on maintaining the money making status quo, while simultaneously making it seems as though the entire enterprise is dedicated to precisely the opposite.

But, regardless of whether or not it will ultimately come to fruition, the build to this Elimination Chamber match has managed to feel like things might actually be changing. It could be the way they’ve booked Orton’s running of the gauntlet – with Daniel Bryan AND Cesaro winning entirely clean decisions against the guy who is at least nominally the best. Or the promos being cut by John Cena regarding the changing of the guard – which scream of a self- awareness, regarding both himself and the product, which has been sorely missing from people in his position for far too long. However, it seems tied more than anything to, oddly enough, actual change.

While there on-screen personas are seen as their real-life personalities sprinkled with a helping of wrestling heel magic, in reality, the Authority has managed to make it so the crowd’s perception of them is what’s been sprinkled with wrestling heel magic. If it were the former, the insane scrutiny done by every idiot with a keyboard every time someone they loved were made to look like anything other than Superman would be a lot more problematic than the fly buzzing around the ass of professional wrestling it currently is. But because of the clear distinctions between, for instance, NXT HHH and Raw HHH that at the very least, HHH is not totally the monster egomaniac that a certain segment of the fandom (and the #InternetWrestlingWriting community) likes to think he is.

This has allowed the pair to establish themselves as agents of change while also being actual agents of change. They, not Randy Orton or John Cena or even Daniel Bryan, are the future faces of the WWE to the people that actually matter: WWE shareholders. And while it’s clear that Vince still has the final say, the input that he receives from the head of development and the person in charge of branding for the company while he and the organization shift into the uncharted waters. They are now content creators whose creative/financial motivations will shift from the short term concerns of monthly PPV buyrates and house show gates to several-years-long television rights contracts and subscriber fees that come in six-month commitment cycles.

While the WWE has long been a TV show, it’s likely with the massive changes coming in the near future that it will actually begin functioning like one. One based on a fake sport where those deemed to be “winning” will be those that are most able to create a brand that resonates across multiple platforms.

Like Netflix, the meat of the WWE Network’s popularity will initially come for nostalgia, convenience and commerce – which is why the main selling points are “original programming” like Legends House and repackaged footage in the guide of anthology shows, being able to watch the WWE on any device and the 9.99 price point. But as they seek to expand the subscriber base, things more along the lines of the JBL and Cole Show (with Renee Young!) will likely take up residence on the Network. As such, it is likely that those brands that resonate best with will be treated like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are, as parts of the WWE Network experience nearly as essential as the cheap PPVs and old episodes of Raw. This will give those capable of actually entertaining folks in a way that helps bring eyeballs to the “Universe” the opportunity to do so, while allowing those in development the opportunity to do the same with just enough people watching to matter but not enough to make what happens there permanent in any real way.
And all that will start on Sunday. Or, okay, next Monday at 11:05, but you get the idea. So, that’s probably why it feels different. WARNING YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE PLEASE ENJOY YOUR COMPLIMENTARY CHILI CHEESE PRETZEL DOG ON THE WAY OUT

Christian’s entire essence is that of a heel: whiny, needy, and hell-bent on using the same moves with the same set up over and over again. So, him “aggressively” going after Daniel Bryan is about as welcome a change as I can think of. “Aggressive” still being code word for “heel”, less so.

Hopefully, after whatever shakes out on the road to WrestleMania shakes out, and Daniel Bryan finally has time to stick it to everyone who screwed him on the way up, we’ll get an actually Daniel Bryan/Kane feud. But until then, let’s only have Kane fight impromptu matches in dress pants and tank tops, okay?

Nothing on earth would make me happier than Santino and Emma becoming the Josh and Donna lf the WWE, but matches between Fandango and Summee Rae being the reason they never get together and not Josh’s pathological fear of people he loves getting hurt.

The dynamic between Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose is almost entirely unique in the history of wrestling, at least in the sense that they’ve continued to seem like they like each other. When most factions split the way this one looks like it’s going to, there’s much more open disdain or jealousy between the two or three belligerents based entirely on the arbitrary decision of a booker. This seems, instead to be established characters reacting to established characters that they have genuine affection and respect, while also thinking that the other one is being a total Dick.

Jack Swagger will always be the Marty Jannetty to Cesaro’s Shawn Michaels, but unlike Marty, Swagger doesn’t have to worry about Cesaro stabbing him back by undermining him to his bosses and trying to get him blackballed from the company. Only Mr. WrestleManias can get away with stuff like that.

While I wouldn’t say that people don’t care for Big E., I think it’s clear at this point that they don’t care about him. They like him just fine, but they aren’t excited about him as much as they care about him as means to a narrative end. Big E. excites people in the same way they care about dramatic reunions at the end of romantic comedies: something presented to them as a thing to care about, with insufficient evidence to the contrary to make them not.

Cena needs to win matches like this far more than Cesaro does. For someone like Cesaro, a victory, on Raw, over someone like John Cena means higher expectations than necessary from both people that are in on the joke AND people that aren’t. It’s significantly better for him to come impossibly close, especially after beating the champion just a few days before. John Cena is the final boss, and beating him at the very beginning of the game (or, in this case, Cesaro’s massive push) makes everything else that follows anti-climactic.

This match was not nearly as good as the Main Event tumble between these two groups, but it was still a fantastic showcase of the importance of wrestling to character. Oh, and I’m so excited for whatever type of unstoppable monster they are turning Brat Wyatt into, I could pee.

The reaction to the members of the Elimination Chamber match was nice, especially to Cesaro making his way down – he’s almost officially established himself as a dominant bruiser capable of nearly anything – but the reaction to The Shield and the Wyatt FINALLY coming to blows is what mattered. The WWE is in as good a place as it has ever been, and that its hottest feud is between a team of handsome mercenaries and a fake family of gothic hillbillies tells you everything you need to know about why professional wrestling is the best thing on earth.