Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
WWE’s Fastlane seemed on paper like one of the more pointless events on the calendar but, outside of a few odd story decisions, it was a mostly good affair, delivering some fun match-ups (The tag team triple threat and Bryan/Owens/Ali), while also moving us towards Wrestlemania. The main event of the show was billed as the final time we would see the members of The Shield together as they battled the random trio of Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley.
Now, having watched my fair share of wrestling, I was immediately skeptical that this would actually be the last hurrah for one of the biggest stables to ever enter wrestling. Then, Monday rolled around and we opened with a very heartfelt and sincere goodbye from the group (well, mostly Roman.) Couple that in with the vicious beating McIntyre put on Ambrose and it did feel like the end of the Shield Era. It is still entirely possible that I am being worked into a shoot right now, but something felt different than if this were merely an angle. It felt authentic in a way that WWE rarely is when building a story. The Shield were not the only people facing the end of the road on Raw this week. In fact, in it’s build to Wrestlemania, this week’s Raw felt like a swansong for some competitors, namely Batista and Kurt Angle.
Returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh, Angle announced his plans to retire after Wrestlemania and to have one final match on the biggest stage of them all. His challenger has yet to be announced, but it has been clear this past year that Angle is far from the competitor he once was. Still, there is no denying that he is one of the best to ever grace the ring.
Coming from an amateur background, Angle took to the entertainment aspects of American wrestling quicker than few ever have and he immediately made a name for himself during the latter days of the Attitude Era. Angle eventually jumped to TNA, becoming their biggest signing and the focal point of their roster for years. Ultimately, TNA’s mismanagement is what hurt Angle more than anything else, keeping him off the radar of millions of former fans. Still, Angle’s body of work is impressive and while his retirement comes much later than it probably should have, I’m hoping we can get some lingering greatness out of the gold medalist.
Unlike Angle, Batista took time to come into his own in wrestling. Never one for the in-ring mastery that Kurt displayed, Big Dave got by on his impressive look and raw physicality. It certainly worked for 10-year old me, who named his first cat after the big man. It helped that Batista’s feud with Triple H featured one of the most iconic moment of the mid-00s with the dissolution of Evolution and Batista’s thumbs down to Hunter.
Batista eventually left the company and found his way into movie stardom, a stardom that WWE failed to capitalize on when he returned in 2013. Six years later, Dave is back and once again focused on Triple H. After finally goading the Game into agreeing to a match at Wrestlemania this week, Batista let it be known that this would be his final bout. While we could argue that a retread of a Wrestlemania match from almost 15 years ago isn’t very exciting, I’m cautiously optimistic. Will it likely be overbooked and ridiculous? Of course, but I’d have it no other way.
With the Shield potentially gone and both Angle and Batista looking to wrap up their careers, this Wrestlemania is looking to be a pivotal transition into the next era of WWE.
A Unique Opportunity
Giving us his best Dario Cueto, Mr. McMahon summoned Kofi to his office during the Fastlane pre-show with talk of an “opportunity.” Naturally, the talk of putting him the championship match was all smoke and Vince was merely playing a mean trick on the New Day member. Why? Because he is a big asshole and everyone who works for him always seems to acknowledge this when paired with the character.
In terms of it’s three biggest title matches, this year’s Wrestlemania seems to be built around underdog stories. Rollins battling the bigger and stronger Lesnar. Becky Lynch facing former UFC fighter, Ronda Rousey, and the Chairman’s “chosen one,” Charlotte. Now, we have the build-up to Kofi facing the Planet’s Savior and all-around smug douche, Daniel Bryan. This focus on the underdog has me worried that one of them is going to have to lose, but we’ll cross that bridge when it happens.
For now, the build to Kofi/Bryan is working and the closing segment of Smackdown made that clear. While I’ve disliked the seeming need to include the McMahons in the big angles, Vince did a great job getting the crowd further behind Kofi and Kingston’s passion as he discussed the work he did to get to this point only added fuel to the fire. The groundwork is also being laid for the eventual promos between Bryan and Kingston as McMahon remarks that Bryan called Kofi a “B+ player” when asked about him.
It is that small remark that makes the focal point of the feud. Daniel Bryan, in his zeal to remain champion, has become the thing he originally fought against. Kofi, meanwhile, is the new hero that the audience desperately rallies behind and wants to see get his moment to shine. He is everything Daniel once represented to the audience. He is their proxy and, perhaps, the only person who can dethrone the once beloved champion. There is still more than enough time for this to change, but currently, there is not a match on the Wrestlemania card as engaging as this.
What Goes Around
Speaking of engaging storytelling, we got the culmination of the never-ending DIY saga this week on NXT and to call it bittersweet is an understatement.
During their semifinals match against Aleister Black and Ricochet, two men DIY have had issues with recently, Johnny Gargano appeared to injury his knee, forcing Tommaso Ciampa to valiantly battle two-on-one before succumbing and ending DIY’s dreams of winning the Dusty Classic. Gargano failed Tommaso once again and the NXT champion could barely contain his disappointment, which led to his crucial mistake.
Ciampa believed so firmly that he had lured Gargano back to his side that he never considered him capable of turning. Not only did Gargano do just that, he revealed that the knee injury was a ruse, a ploy to get Ciampa to make the first move. Ciampa’s desire to once again banish Johnny from his good graces backfiring and causing him to be betrayed. For Johnny, it is a moment of clarity after months of uncertainty.
Sadly, as we already know, this story will end here for the time being. Ciampa recently had surgery for neck issues that looks to put him out for the foreseeable future. While not the conclusion any of us probably want I think I can find a measure of enjoyment in Gargano forcing Ciampa to vacate his precious championship. Besides, it only adds further resentment for Tommaso when he returns. DIY may be over once again but Johnny Wrestling is finally back.
Performer of the Week: Kota Ibushi
With both Fastlane and the start of the New Japan Cup, this has been a stellar week for wrestling and no match was more stellar than the opening round bout between Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito. Ibushi was returning from a concussion and easily went toe to toe with one of the very best New Japan has to offer, coming out on top after a hellacious match. It is a joy to have Kota back and I’m eagerly looking forward to what he gives us throughout the rest of the tournament.
If you made it down here, thanks for reading! Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers