Despite the complete absence of a recognisable undercard eight days out from Monday Night Raw’s (MNR) Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, there is deceptively a lot going on with Team Red right now. Every division is proving itself to be brimming with all manner of intrigue, and personal agendas are starting to really rub up against one another. Throwing this tense atmosphere at a structure and environment like that of an Elimination Chamber Match or two is probably only going to make matters worse for everyone.
So while we continue to wait on WWE to further pad out the big show set to air this time next week, I am here to shed some light on the complexities intertwining with one another throughout the MNR roster and ponder what consequences such a Gordian knot of intentions could spawn in just a few short days.
My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and this is the Performance Art Raw View.
Little Miss Bliss Sees the Big Picture
What has become clear since the defending MNR Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss started trying to re-forge her old bond with Mickie James over the last couple of weeks is the champion’s apparently singular ability to see the bigger picture when it comes to the division she currently sits atop. While the five other vested interests heading into the Chamber this time next week continue to prioritise their individual agendas, Bliss has remained admirably aware of the complexity of the evolving crisis.
We got a little of that Machiavellian analysis revealed this last week as James interrogated the champion backstage regarding her recent actions. Bliss was not wrong in her concerns regarding the threat posed by Absolution, which as she pointed out does indeed stretch far beyond the immediate title opportunity presented in seven days. The idea of Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville playing “keep away” with the gold might feel like a paranoid play on the part of the rightfully concerned champ – it’s unlikely MNR’s General Manager (GM) Kurt Angle would allow such a predicament to unfold for any notable length of time – but it nonetheless remains a very real threat to both the short and long-term championship aspirations of all the women of the division. For once, Bliss’s disingenuous overtures of friendship and sympathy might just be coming from a place of genuine, if somewhat self-motivated concern.
Unfortunately for Bliss, and perhaps fortunately for Absolution, the champion’s pleas for an alliance forged by urgent pragmatic need appear to be falling on deaf ears; you cannot help but wonder whether this is a case of the girl who cried wolf. For the sake of the entire division, we can only hope that tomorrow night, on the final MNR before the big pay-per-view itself, James can get past her consternations regarding Bliss’s intentions, and that Bayley and Sasha Banks can, if only for one week, look up from their self-obsessive competitiveness with one another for the sake of a greater good.
Therein is the true ingenuity of Alexa Bliss, though. If she is successful in creating such an alliance – and that’s a big if – and if she is able to forge that alliance into something stronger than a temporary measure – a bigger if still – it would not only negate the immediate threat of Absolution but could come up trumps at WrestleMania as well should she end up having to defend against the Empress of Tomorrow; most especially if Nia Jax is able to insert herself into the MNR title picture at the Showcase of Immortals too. Allies and triple threat rules together would give Bliss, who currently seems to be facing a pair of insurmountable challenges to first make it to and then leave WrestleMania with her reign intact, a genuine opportunity at pulling off the seemingly impossible.
Tomorrow night is going to be the final opportunity for Absolution’s assembled enemies to fashion a united game plan heading into the chaos of the Chamber’s environment, and for Alexa Bliss to solidify her footing ahead of the biggest title defence of her career to date. With the added complexities of Jax’s pursuit of Asuka and a title opportunity of her own, the next 24 hours and change could prove crucial for the outcome in a week’s time.
A Revived Revival Makes The Bar a Target
This week saw a major shift in the tectonic makeup of the MNR landscape at a time perilously close to WrestleMania. The decision of Seth Rollins to once again refocus on singles success, and his successful attempt to convince GM Angle to insert him into the multi-faceted Universal Championship chase atop the male singles division, means that, for the first time in six months, The Bar find themselves days out from a pay-per-view without any certain opponents to prepare for.
On the one hand, this shouldn’t necessarily be a problem for them. The Bar emerged as an elite, world-class tag team over the course of the last twelve months thanks to the necessity of adapting to more experienced teams opposite them. From facing life-long friends like those of The Club or The Realest Guys in the Room to facing brotherhoods like those of The Hardy Boyz or the Hounds, Sheamus and Cesaro have managed to build upon the war-forged bond they began with to transform into a near-brotherly unit in their own right by finding themselves swimming immediately in very deep waters. It shows too, with a record setting four MNR Tag Team Championships to their shared name.
It is the learning experience of this very transformation that sees them now pose a threat to even the greatest tag teams on the planet, combining into a single package, as it did, their experience, respect, adaptability and an already impressively physical in-ring gamesmanship. Edging towards a pay-per-view without truly knowing whether or not they would have to defend their silver, then, shouldn’t intimidate them. I dare say, nine times out of ten, it wouldn’t.
The Bar have reason to feel intimidated, though. The vacuum left by Rollins’ departure for renewed singles competition was filled with the trilogy of matches between The Club and The Revival, which came to a head last Monday as Revival emerged the ultimate victors. This seems to set them on a direct collision course with The Bar. Neither team is a stranger to the mobile competitiveness of a post-Revival tag team world of wrestling in WWE, of course, but let us never forget that it was originally the current potential challengers Dash and Dawson who, ironically, ‘set the bar’ of success for this new environment.
So, while The Bar might be the first genuine product born straight out of the revitalised tag team game, a pure blooded post-Revival tag team who have known no other style of competition, it’s now feeling likely that they’re going to have to defend their championships against their own progenitors, and the real originators of world class tag wrestling as we now know it in 2018. Any other team, and you couldn’t be sniffed at for putting money on the reigning champions, no matter how short a time they had to prepare. Against The Revival, though, it’s a whole other game. In a strange way, if this prospective rivalry comes to bear fruit in seven days, it feels to me to be more than just a little fatalistic in its natural state of progeny vs. progenitor.
Finn Bálor Hates Monday Night Rollins
So let’s get this straight.
Finn Bálor was the first NXT talent drafted to the main roster, and to MNR. On his first night, he won a Fatal 4 Way Match and then defeated Roman Reigns to earn a spot to face Seth Rollins at Summerslam to decide who would be crowned the first ever Universal Champion (even though Rollins was simply handed his own opportunity). Bálor won the match fair and square, but had to surrender the championship immediately because of Rollins’ Bucklebomb injuring his arm and putting him out of action long enough to miss the same WrestleMania that, to Rollins, presented a chance at redemption.
Upon his return, Bálor gets given no rematch for the championship Rollins indirectly cost him and continues to have to earn opportunities, being consistently frustrated by mitigating circumstances. Eventually, he meets Rollins again in the ring and, again, beats him fair and square. Only the match gets restarted and, with an opportunistic Curb Stomp, Rollins is the one to walk away with the final victory instead.
Then, this last week, Bálor prepared for a Fatal 4 Way Match – the very kind of match he overcame to earn his first Universal Championship opportunity – to get into another match, all just to get the rematch he was never awarded for the title he never lost but had to surrender because of Rollins, and who manages to get himself handed the same opportunity for seemingly nothing yet again? Seth Rollins, who would later go on to mar Bálor’s apparent victory in MNR’s main event by doubling up on the same pin fall.
Now, Bálor finds himself not only having to go through an Elimination Chamber Match for a chance he should probably have already had, and would never have needed were it not for Rollins in the first place, but also finds that same Elimination Chamber Match made all the more complex because of Rollins somehow inserting himself in the middle of Bálor’s path to the top yet again!
There’s a reason why I keep writing about the escalating, if consistently unspoken issues between the Demon King and the Kingslayer in the final segment of these columns and it’s because of their fated collision course intimated by all of the above events. Those events are likely to only be complicated even further by the announced Gauntlet Match tomorrow night.
Both men need to be increasingly wary of the conflict that Destiny seems to be brewing up for them. I have written many times before about the sheer force of will that sees Rollins regularly attain the success he craves like a drug, and with his declaration last Monday of his intention to truly resurrect ‘Monday Night Rollins’ it is clear that sheer force of will is being deployed to its maximum capability as we inch closer to the Grandest Stage of Them All.
This means that Bálor has to remain wary; he has to remain wary of Rollins’ dangerous capabilities and he has to remain wary of what pursuing a vendetta against this kind of an easily-riled Rollins could unleash. Bálor isn’t the only one with a demonic side, after all, and if he chooses next Sunday as an opportune moment to take out his frustrations on the constant king-slaying thorn in his side, frustrating Rollins and denying him his fix, then Bálor could push Rollins back into a downward spin like that we saw in 2014 and 2015; and this time, perhaps crucially, there is no Dean Ambrose anywhere to be found, to act as his much-needed check.
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!