Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
Every week there is a new addition to Dean Ambrose’s heel turn that leaves me feeling more and more ambivalent than the last. It’s been almost two months since Ambrose turned on his “brother,” Seth Rollins, and there has yet to be a moment as exciting as that initial incident. So much raw emotion and acting was on display as Ambrose wore his conflicted feelings on his sleeve and continued to brutally attack Rollins long past the point of reason.
That moment springs to my mind every time I’ve seen him sit on a rental car next to a burning trash can, like an old school Twisted Metal character, and vaguely talk about why he attacked Seth or stand around backstage and bring up Roman, for no reason other than to get people to boo him. Because that moment, more than anything else since, shows what Ambrose could be. He doesn’t need to be wacky or goofy, he just needs to be angry. So overcome with rage and anger that he can’t help but unleash it on those poor souls who cross him.
Of course, this betrays another key problem with Ambrose since his turn. He still does all the weird and goofy stuff we’ve become accustomed to him doing as a face. Goofy can work wonders for certain heels (Kurt Angle is a prime example), but for this version of Ambrose, wacky just doesn’t cut it. Mainly because the writers seem determined to have their cake and eat it too.
This week is a good example. Sirens blare (WWE sure does love adding sirens into wrestler’s themes), as a dozen or more folks in gas masks walked out. Soon being led to the ring by a gas mask clad Ambrose, doing an obvious Bane impression right down to the jacket. Dean attempts to explain to the audience, who can’t seem to hear him in the arena given their befuddled response, that all this security is to protect him from Rollins. Something that doesn’t at all line up with what we’ve seen of Ambrose so far, but let’s roll with it. Ambrose eventually takes off the mask and delivers a surprisingly good promo. He does the classic “you people” taunt to get the crowd to boo him and while I still don’t think he has any reason to care about the crowd, when Dean is talking about Seth he is doing some fine work. While the gas mask is a nice visual it all feels a little goofy for a guy who, in the same segment, brutally attacks Rollins and promises to keep doing it.
Maybe the balance between the goofy and dangerous sides of Dean are suppose to showcase his fractured psyche. The “lunatic” that lies beneath his laid-back exterior. Under a deft storytelling hand it might work, but as it currently sits the two parts of Ambrose feel incongruous. The easiest solution would be to remove the wacky parts of Dean’s character, but WWE has been reticent to do that for his entire career. For every promo about how he will “dissect” and “dismantle” his opponent, there is a Mitch the Plant or red wagon full of random weapons that softens his edges. Those edges no longer need to be softened though. If we are truly suppose to dislike this man, show us just how much of a bastard he can be. Let the lunatic loose and I guarantee he will not disappoint.
Rhyno Rides Off
Heath Slater and Rhyno turned up on Raw this week only to immediately be put in a position where they had to fight each other to stay employed. This might, at first, seem random and unnecessary, but watching the actual match proves that yes, it was random and unnecessary. Lasting all of 75 seconds, Rhyno is quickly pinned by Slater and dejectedly leaves the ring, and the Raw roster. What is actually interesting is the bit they didn’t show on the broadcast.
During a commercial break, Rhyno announced to the live audience that he was retiring. As this year has proven, the word “retirement” means almost nothing in pro wrestling. Rhyno could easily show up at TLC and gore Corbin through a table and end up with a job all over again. Still, we’ll assume it is legit and I’ll write some thoughts on the legend of Rhyno.
Rhyno first got attention during the last years of ECW, where he became the company’s final World and TV champions. Not long after the company shut down, Rhyno signed with WWE and debuted during the, much maligned, Invasion angle. Teaming up with real-life friends, Edge and Christian, Rhyno had a good initial showing, winning the Hardcore championship and making it to the semi-finals of that year’s King of the Ring.
By the time I started watching WWE in 2004, Rhyno had been relegated to a bit player. An injury years prior seemed to have stalled his momentum and he eventually departed the company in 2005. It wasn’t until that summer, when he made his debut for TNA, that I started to take notice of him as a performer. TNA was still establishing itself in those years and Rhyno was treated like a huge deal. While not the original opponent, Rhyno filled in for an injured Kevin Nash and defeated Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World championship at Bound for Glory, the company’s premiere event. He lost the title a day later, but it was still his biggest achievement.
As TNA grew, Rhyno fell by the wayside, always remaining a reliable midcarder but never rising back to the level he came in at. He left in 2010 and after a stint in ROH and a return stint in a, very different, TNA in 2014, he ended up in NXT. The crowd treated him like a big deal from the jump and while he lost most of his big matches, including a feud with the man who fired him, Baron Corbin, he impressed enough to be brought back up to the main roster.
As seemed to be the story of Rhyno, he became a bit player yet again before teaming up with Heath Slater during the early days of the new brand split with the duo eventually becoming the inaugural Smackdown Tag Team champions. Slater and Rhyno were both a reliable act and one that was decidedly liked by the audience. Their odd couple dynamic worked well and gave both of them the most prominence they had experienced in years.
Sadly, once they moved to Raw the team struggled to make it on the show, usually residing in the wasteland that is Main Event. To see them turn up this Monday was a reminder of what could have been if that momentum continued and what a poor send-off it ended up being for him. Rhyno’s legacy will remain that of a reliable talent who could have done more, but didn’t really need to. His reliability is what kept him going for so long and it’s what he’ll leave behind. That and a reminder of how great he made the Gore look every time.
Count the Sins
If we want to talk about a heel turn that is working more than I ever expected it to, Daniel Bryan, excuse me, the NEW Daniel Bryan has really hit the ground running. Bryan was absent from last week’s Smackdown, but made up for it this week by stealing the show. Bryan appeared on Miz TV to discuss his recent actions, a smart move as it gives Miz a chance to claim that he was always right and Bryan finally listened to him.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Miz and Bryan is the Mania endgame and while I’m not gonna rule it out, Miz doesn’t really do anything this week to signal a turn to the good side. If anything, he has gone from Neutral Evil to True Neutral, to put it in D&D terms.
As for Bryan, he also plays into the “you people” taunt, but it makes much more sense coming from him. As his constant refrains of “fickle” tell us, the fans have turned their backs on him after all the hard work he did to make his comeback. They started to die down in response to him after the high of his return and he realized that he could no longer rely on us. The New Daniel Bryan needed to take over. He also made sure to reject Miz’s claims that he has gone bad, because he has only kicked someone in the groin. After all, it’s not like he is constantly harming the environment with his consumption and waste. That bit is where Bryan hits on the biggest nerve for the audience. Playing up a “holier-than-thou” attitude because of his green lifestyle, Bryan calls them fickle some more before AJ Styles comes out. Styles hits the Miz trying to get to Bryan which leads to Miz attacking Styles and we got ourselves a main event for Smackdown.
The match between Styles vs Miz was a fun affair, but it was overshadowed by Bryan’s trip to the commentary booth. If I wasn’t already sold on Bryan’s new persona, saying that he hoped his daughter would grow up to kick as many men as possible in the groin was an easy way to do it. The NEW Daniel Bryan is here to stay and Smackdown is all the better for it.
Performer of the Week: Daniel Bryan
I don’t think I need to go in to much more detail on why Bryan is the best performer this week. He is killing the game in his new persona and just take a look at how vicious those kicks to Style’s head look. He’s more dangerous now, despite having not wrestled since Survivor Series, than he was before winning the title.
If you made it down here, thanks for reading! Sorry for a shorter than usual article this week, I’ve been very busy the last few days. Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers!