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With Roman Reigns out for a few weeks with the mumps, which I honest to god didn't think anyone could still get in 2017; WWE has tried to make up to fans by having his role filled in by both Kurt Angle, who teamed with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins at the TLC PPV, and by Triple H who has been working with them on their European tour. Angle at least made sense because it was an obvious emergency situation and his return to wrestling in WWE was arguably more interesting than a Shield reunion. Triple H, from a storyline perspective, makes no sense since the last time he was on the main roster he was trying to end Seth Rollins' career. Kayfabe has been dead for a while, but when you do stuff like this, even little things like Triple H working a house show, it teaches the fans to never really get invested in a storyline, because WWE themselves will often show that sotrylines can easily be forgotten depending on the situation.
Perhaps more troubling is that Angle working with The Shield, or Triple H working with The Shield, is more enjoyable for the fans than having Reigns be apart of The Shield. When Reigns comes back it will almost feel like a step down for The Shield, as opposed to getting a huge pop and filling a huge gap on the card. It also cheapens the importance of The Shield. Part of the attraction of The Shield was always that they were a specific three-man unit that operated with seamless teamwork and precision. However, if anyone can seemingly join The Shield and the faction remains dominant, than the idea that The Shield is a collection of three specific members and those members working together are the secret to their success, is debunked. At the end of the day though, it is a minor issue and The Shield reunion is really just a placeholder for WWE to kill time before they start building Brock Lesnar vs Reigns for the main event of WrestleMania.
Season of the Witch
Unfortunately for anyone that enjoys watching wrestling, Stephanie McMahon returned to RAW on Monday and made up for lost time by humiliating Angle and setting up another feud between McMahons, this time with her brother Shane. One of the better aspects of RAW since WrestleMania have been the absence of a heel authority figure, something that has plagued WWE for years and years. Without a heel authority figure, the show flows much better because WWE does not have to build dated storylines around the authority figure chastising the babyfaces, and the show is centered around the performers and not a non-wrestling persona. With Stephanie back on RAW, the show is sure to feature numerous 15+ minute promos where she runs down a babyface and makes them look powerless, like she did to Angle on Monday.
Stephanie isn't a bad talker, but her character at this point is incredibly uninteresting. Whether it was Vince McMahon, Stephanie, Shane, William Regal, Eric Bischoff, Angle, Triple H, John Laurinaitis, The Anonymous RAW General Manager, or about 5,000 other people, WWE has pretty much had some form of heel authority figure on their programming since 1998. That is nearly 20 years ago; think about that. Imagine using the same promotional tool for two decades and expecting it to still work. In 1978, Bob Backlund was the WWWF Champion and was known for having 60-minute draws with his top challengers. Could you imagine in 1998 if the WWF was still promoting frequent 60-minute draws with Steve Austin as the champion? Wrestling evolved over the years to the point that having that many 60-minute matches was not going to be a realistic tactic to promoting interest in the promotion. The same is true for today; in 1998 the heel authority figure with Vince McMahon was a great idea that was very successful, but the business has evolved over the years so that same idea is no longer going to be very successful. The worst part is that the storyline on SmackDown seems to be indicating that either Shane McMahon or Daniel Bryan is about to turn heel, meaning we will have a heel authority figure on BOTH shows soon.
This week in retirements
Two remarkable Japanese icons retired this week. Manami Toyota, 46, who many believe is the greatest female wrestler in the history of the industry, retired on Friday with her final match being a string of 50 consecutive matches wrestled to a one-minute time limit. Toyota emerged as a teenage sensation for All Japan Women during the late 80s and early 90s and was known for her athleticism and realistic selling (mainly her piercing screams while being stretched by an opponent). Her matches against Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, Kyoko Inoue and others are among the best matches in wrestling history, and if they took place today in WWE, people would lose their freakin' minds about how great they were. Toyota continued to wrestle in Japan well after the popularity of women's wrestling had cratered, and was an icon for millions of Japanese girls who aspired to achieve in the field of athletics. Just watch some of these highlights:
Another unconventional icon, Atsushi Onita also wrestled his "final" match this week. Onita, 60, whose career idol has been Terry Funk has retired about a dozen or so times throughout his career and continues to come back so we will see how long he stays out of the ring this time. Onita had one of the most fascinating careers in wrestling history. He started out as a promising junior heavyweight, the first ever graduate of All-Japan Pro Wrestling's training dojo, and was set to become a star in the division until a horrible knee injury ruined his career in 1983. Onita would not return to wrestling until 1989, when he would remodel himself as a jean-wearing violent brawler who relied on weapons and gimmicks in his own ragtag independent promotion, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling. FMW would become a sensation and Onita a massive star, consistently drawing over 30,000 people to Kawasaki Stadium for ultraviolent matches, an astounding feat when you consider FMW wasn't on television and there was no internet at the time. FMW would inspire Extreme Championship Wrestling, which in turn directly inspired the WWF, and to this day is the inspiration for hardcore matches the world over. Here is a video of him throwing people into barbed wire and a bunch of explosions:
Braun Strowman is not trash
In my review of TLC I was critical of the apparent murder of Braun Strowman when he was tossed into a garbage truck and compacted. That being said, the events since then have changed my mind. Strowman's return on RAW was handled extremely well, mainly because The Miz and the presentation of his return wasn't really taken seriously, thanks to comedic reactions and goofy camera angles. I'm actually fine with that, because it acknowledges the preposterous aspects of The Miz actually killing another WWE talent and going unpunished for his actions. When The Miz saw a bag of trash and immediately assumed Strowman was back (great detective work by the way, since bags of trash are probably laying around an arena all the time, only a true Sherlock Holmes could deduce Strowman was returning based off such a clue) it was tremendous. When his limo stopped and Strowman emerged from an obviously different garbage truck from the one he was compacted in and the camera angle was completely ridiculous, it actually had a positive impact on the feud. It wasn't being presented as serious, so it didn't feel insulting to the viewer, instead I think it will help Strowman get over as a babyface.
Must Watch Matches:
Cody Rhodes, Hangman Page and The Young Bucks vs Jay White, Jonathan Gresham and The Motor City Machineguns: **** - ROH Global Wars Chicago
Will Ospreay vs Flip Gordon: ****1/4 - ROH Global Wars Chicago