|Fuck off with your transphobia, Paige|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The first match of the night was a sort of preview for the upcoming Tag title defense at Elimination Chamber, featuring Tyson Kidd and Cesaro versus Los Matadores versus Lucha Dragons versus the Ascension. The two remaining teams, the New Day and the Prime Time Players, were both on guest commentary. As could be expected, the presence of so many bodies and voices made things pretty chaotic and occasionally too overwhelming for my taste. Wisely, Xavier Woods and Titus O'Neil mostly took on speaking duties for their teams. Both men are witty and quick with a response, which was entertaining, but they also both had a clear agenda to hype up the Elimination Chamber match and the teams in it while maintaining a heelish bravado. Lord knows the WWE has done very little to make much out of the Tag division lately, so it's nice to see some of its members take it upon themselves to prove that the tag teams are worth watching. The match itself was too short for my liking, but definitely high-energy. I chose to look at it more as a brief teaser for what we're in store for on May 31. All the teams had time in the spotlight to show their stuff, and Kalisto pinned Diego for the win. I'm pretty sure most people expect the title match to eventually come down to Kidd/Cesaro and the New Day, but having the Lucha Dragons win here, as well as spending a lot of time with the Ascension in control of the match, made it seem like it could be anyone's game. Considering the WWE's chronic inability to focus on more than two teams at once, I appreciated the possibilities that this match opened up.
Most Upsetting Friendship Break-Up – Rusev and Lana
Rusev and Lana are on the outs, which has led to Lana cozying up to Dolph Ziggler for some reason. This toothless, blandly smiling version of Lana is the worst possible outcome of her breaking with Rusev. Not only do I have to deal with losing an effective and oddly endearing team, but I also have to watch Lana's character lose everything that made her awesome. I also had to deal with Jerry Lawler, of all people, condemning Rusev's treatment of women, which would be hilarious if it wasn't so tone-deaf. Fuck you, Lawler. Ziggler seems to think that something is up and that Lana is just faking her newfound affection in order to aid Rusev, and I dearly hope that's true. At any rate, Ziggler's match and subsequent win against King Barrett were fine. Not great, but good. Like the tag match, I saw it as another indication of the kind of action we'll be in store for at Elimination Chamber, where both men will be in the match for the Intercontinental title.
Doesn't Deserve a Friend – Paige
Paige came out to the ring to address her return and immediately dropped some ugly, transphobic remarks regarding Tamina. Because Tamina isn't a twig she obviously looks like a man! See, it's funny because...wait, no, it's not funny. Fuck you, Paige. Finally, we have the real reason why her character is a lone wolf with no friends – not because she's a special, unique snowflake, but because she's awful. She also turned me off with her condescending manner toward Naomi, sneering about Naomi's past as Brodus Clay's dancing cheerleader. Naomi replied with some more of the verbal fire she's been spitting lately, pointing out that Paige got a title shot on her very first day on the main roster; she's never been presented as anything but a badass or as a legitimate alternative to the Bellas. It's Naomi who had to go through the former version of NXT, in a season where it was no secret that no one gave a shit, then come out and dance and smile through an endless series of being attached to other people – Brodus Clay, Cameron, Jimmy Uso – before finally going into business for herself. I have no idea if there is actually supposed to be a single face in the women's division, but given the options of Paige, Naomi, and Nikki Bella, it's pretty hard to NOT pick Naomi here.
Deserves a Friend – Stardust
Poor Stardust lost another match against R-Truth when Truth distracted him by throwing a glove in the air. Seriously. What does an interdimensional being have to do to get some respect around here?
Should Not Be Friends in Their Current States – Macho Mandow and Curtis AxelMania
I was really hoping this whole thing would stay on RAW and I wouldn't have to talk about it. I don't want to harsh anyone's mellow. If you are entertained by the Mega Powers, it's cool. But, my lord, I hate this gimmick. And the issue is not that I want so much more for Damien Sandow. Someone has to be at the bottom of the card, and it's fine. It's even fine when the people in question are my faves. In fact, “Mandow” and Curtis Axel had a good match against Adam Rose and Heath Slater, with Axel getting the pin. All four of those men are good at what they do and if they never break into the major title scene (which they probably won't), it's fine. What I don't think is fine is Axel's and Sandow's characters being stripped of what made them endearing and turned into a one-note “joke.” They're dressed up as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage! It's funny because...reasons? Go to any convention and you'll see a dozen Hogan and Savage cosplayers and everywhere they go other people will join in with their best “brothers” and “oooh yeahs,” like a chorus of Captain Americas in The Avengers going “I understood that reference!” It's annoying and, even worse, it's stale.
The strange beauty of Curtis Axel came from him deluding himself that not being eliminated from the Royal Rumble made him as great as Hulk Hogan, not from thinking he was ACTUALLY Hulk Hogan. Damien Sandow won us over by soldiering gamely through a series of costumes, then suffering through Miz's tutelage and eventually discovering that he just needed to be himself all along. Welp, that's all been thrown straight out the window in favour of yet another funny costume. Not that there's anything wrong with a funny costume or a funny character, but giant dork Curtis Axel and long-suffering good sport Damien Sandow won us over in their own right, and there's no reason for them to fade into the thousands of other people who have ever done a Hogan or a Savage impression. I'm not averse to the two of them teaming up, but not like this.
Best Friends, Still – Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns
Payback came and went and Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns are still friends, much to my delight. Once again they find themselves at potential odds, as Reigns plans to win the Money in the Bank chance to win the title that Ambrose plans to win in his title match against Seth Rollins. With that acknowledged possible clash, I really liked Reigns exasperatingly pleading with Ambrose to just once have a long-term plan and to think about the consequences of his actions. It must be exhausting to be best friends with Dean Ambrose. Reigns was shelved by Kane for the rest of the show (so much for his much-touted return to SmackDown), but he reappeared during Ambrose's match against Bray Wyatt. Reigns' dispatching of J&J Security and punching out of Wyatt allowed Ambrose to win. I admit that I'm ambivalent about this outcome.
While I always like to see friends helping each other out, it's pretty hypocritical to take out the Authority for interfering and then turn around and interfere pretty decisively. Wyatt isn't even a part of the Authority and was kind of an innocent bystander in all this. I really wanted Luke Harper and Erick Rowan to run out and help him, but no such luck. All that aside, I did love the final shots of Rollins and Ambrose sniping at each other at each other from a healthy distance. They still secretly love each other so much. I can tell.