It feels like WrestleMania has reached a tipping point. The pace of events these last two weeks on Monday Night Raw (MNR) has slowed considerably, indicating that, now that most men and women in WWE know what their role is going to be on the 34th Showcase of Immortals, nobody wants to make a crucial misstep this close to the big event: doing so could come to cost them massively.
Nonetheless, even with the universally adopted defensive postures of WWE’s roster of combatants on all of its shows, there remain tells in almost every quarter revealing what the mindsets of some of WrestleMania’s most prominent participants are right now.
My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and this is the Performance Art Raw View.
Heart and Soul / Tangible, Intangible
Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander are set to face off for the Cruiserweight Championship at WrestleMania and, in spite of their friendship, we have, quite naturally, seen tensions begin to develop between the two of them. It’s a familiar sight to any of us who have seen two morally upstanding denizens of WWE’s universe clash before, of course, but this time there’s something different going on – this is a world of hard work clashing with empty rhetoric.
It was Ali himself who first called this pending championship clash the fight between the heart (Ali) and soul (Alexander) of 205 Live, and as an observation he couldn’t have been more accurate if he had tried.
Alexander has long been the soul of Team Purple. His presence on the roster has loomed constantly in the ether, his name never far from being a talking point because of a reputation that precedes him. His performances since 205 Live emerged have been eye-catching to say the least, he certainly has amassed a legion of fans and his near-victories in championship competitions past have proven, repeatedly, his desire to carry the silver; and all of this began with his memorable CWC encounter with Kota Ibushi, the memory of which lingers still to this day with a reputation he is unafraid to thrive off of.
But is that all he does?
Both Ali and Alexander have spoken of overcoming adversity, striving to reach the mountain top to craft a better life for their families and attaining their destiny by becoming champion. Yet while Alexander has faced adversity in losing weight to compete, moving past manipulative girlfriends and, ultimately, losing championship matches, Ali has faced the struggle to build a reputation without the handicap of one match’s infamy, has had to craft a positive image for himself against the tide of social stereotyping and has had to fight even harder just for a title opportunity. While Alexander’s fight against adversity has seen him talk repeatedly of little more than wanting to become champion, Ali’s has done the same and more, touching on the haunting ghosts of his own personal past and his responsibility to do his part in creating wider social change. Put simply, one has talked the talk while the other has been walking the walk.
So this truly is spirit vs. heart, a clash between an improvable, intangible concept and a proven tangible fact: Alexander’s inward looking journey of personal consequence against Ali’s outward looking mission of personal betterment and social change both.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m firmly on the side of heart over soul.
An Architect’s Promise: The Best Seth Rollins We’ve Ever Seen
“That’s not the way I saw things going tonight. You know, Finn Bálor and I, we just keep going back and forth and back and forth, and I’m sick of it! Because it’s a mountain I just can’t seem to climb, and to me, if I’m not at the top of the mountain, then that’s failure.
“And I’m just better than that, I feel like I’m better than that. Last night, I built some momentum and that’s what WrestleMania is all about, and with WrestleMania with just one week away I’ve got to figure out a way to get some of that momentum back. And this Monday at Raw, that’s my last chance, so Finn Bálor, you better be ready; the entire WWE Universe better be ready, because they’re about to get the best Seth Rollins they have ever seen.”
These were the frustrated, impassioned words of Seth Rollins this week coming out of a loss to Bálor at a house show in spite of a victory over the same man at a similar show the night before. It is a story, as we know, that extends much further back than just this last week, or the build to WrestleMania, or even to their riveting contest last December. These two men keep running into each other in the ring, keep running through each other in the ring, and their tug of war over the status of ‘best’ seems endless.
As an addict to success, and possessed of a will power that, at its height, is indomitable, Rollins’ words feel like a promise. Their honesty certainly cannot be questioned. His frustrations over his inability to succeed at Bálor’s expense are now beginning to bite so deep, he looks like a man at the end of his rope.
This is bad news for Bálor, and for Rollins too; and not just because of what I have written about in the past. Should these frustrations drive Rollins back to that dark but successful place he was in during his time in the Authority, it’ll present one issue; as I have written before, I hope the best Seth Rollins we have ever seen doesn’t ultimately equate with the worst Seth Rollins we have ever seen. Given his own awareness of his demons, and how successful he has been in fighting them thus far, I believe firmly that it won’t.
I have been wrong before though.
But there is another danger: tunnel vision. Seth Rollins cannot afford to become so obsessed with this apparent inability to definitively defeat Bálor once and for all that he loses sight of the defending Intercontinental Champion The Miz. This last week on MNR, we saw that, even with his back up, Miz is likely going to struggle to walk out of WrestleMania with his championship intact, especially if Rollins and Bálor aren’t distracted with one another. We also saw, however, that even in temporarily presenting a united front, Rollins and Bálor are absolutely obsessed with Bálor and Rollins, and that might just prove to be Miz’s meal ticket.
So while the Architect’s promise is to show the world the best Seth Rollins we have ever seen, he must ensure his folly is not to think that equates to a man who can beat Bálor definitively. The best Seth Rollins we have ever seen is the Grand Slam Champion version of Seth Rollins, and the only way he can make that happen is to beat Bálor and Miz together.
The Empress and the Queen
If Asuka’s victory this last week on MNR was anything, attained as it was with a swift and brutal bone-breaking kick to the jaw of her opponent, it was a statement to the champion she is set to challenge who recently underwent dental surgery, and a promise to the world that their pending first-ever confrontation is going to be special.
Some may feel frustrated at the apparent lack of linear progression in the storyline of Asuka challenging Charlotte Flair for the Smackdown Live (SDL) Women’s Championship – my fellow LOP writer The Doc intimated as much himself on my Facebook this week in fact – but as was demonstrated by another typical excellent video hype package on WWE’s part on this last week’s episode of SDL following on from Asuka’s statement kick the night before, and without wanting to read like an apologist, I think such a fact is irrelevant. I believe it to be irrelevant because, quite simply, this is a story that has already written itself.
Charlotte’s ascent to the position of primary female star in WWE’s landscape has been perhaps the most successful of any new star, male or female, in years. Unmitigated by circumstance in comparison to her male peers, and largely unchallenged by her NXT contemporaries upon their arrival to the main roster, the reigning and defending SDL Women’s Champion has not only compiled an unrivalled championship library in her relatively still short career in WWE, she’s also been at the forefront of the most prominent changes wrought by the Evolution, by the Revolution she helped spearhead. Truly, her self-anointed nickname of the Queen is deserved.
In comparison, though Asuka has come after Charlotte’s fact, her own ascent is unparalleled in its own right. Undefeated for over two straight years, she might not boast the same championship resume as her opponent come the night of WrestleMania, but she has racked up a series of dominant, impressive wins and some of the most fiercely smash-mouth contests the women of WWE have ever seen. Charlotte may seem unstoppable, but Asuka’s own charge is unremitting, destructive and downright frightening. Like Charlotte before her, her own self-anointed nickname of the Empress of Tomorrow is truly deserved because the case isn’t so much that nobody is ready for Asuka as much as it is nobody can seem to stop her.
All of this presents itself without help. The individual continuities of these two characters feel like they were designed, even destined to clash against each other. I even dare say a more hands-on traditional storyline being written for them would threaten to spoil the purity of this contest carved organically by history; such turns of events are rare come by in as inconsistent days as these.
Not only is it, outside of the match featuring my favourite wrestler of course, the one bout I am most looking forward to come the Showcase of the Immortals – perhaps because WWE have simply allowed it to be what it is – I remain utterly convinced that, if they were men, there would be no question about them closing out the show.
So let them.
That’ll do it for this week’s instalment of the Performance Art Raw View. If you have any thoughts on the events currently transpiring on WWE’s flagship show, or if you have any thoughts on anything I haven’t covered, feel free to share them in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!