Writing these columns every Sunday has driven home to me one aspect about WWE’s product today: the pace with which events unfold has never felt slower despite there having never been more content than there is now. It’s sometimes a toxic combination that doesn’t make for the best television.
Thankfully, however, there are a number of tremendous character performers on Team Red who are lighting beacons of hope amidst the dreary inevitability of WrestleMania Season’s predilection for part-timers and non-entities, and it was those beacons of hope that shone most brightly this last week.
My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and this is the Performance Art Raw View.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Named ‘The Bar’
Since arriving on the main roster, The Revival has suffered numerous unfortunate setbacks thanks to ill-timed injuries to both Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson. Now that they are both healthy and beginning to gain traction, hopes rightly remain high for their future. This was, after all, the team that revolutionised the scene of their division in NXT – a revolution they were at the forefront of.
I suppose it was always a bit much to expect that, during that tumultuous period of change in NXT, the main roster would have stood still, and events on this last Monday Night Raw (MNR) demonstrated such was not the case. The Revival are no longer the only act in town, and when they crashed for the first time against the MNR Tag Team Champions – the most successful MNR Tag Team Champions since the Extension was reinstituted, I might add – they ultimately came to burn.
The Bar are a team forged from the fires of war, and their wars were fought against some of the greatest teams in the history of WWE. They dethroned the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of all-time, the New Day, to win their first taste of crimson silver. They fended off the repeated challenges of the legendary Attitude Era staples, the Hardy Boyz. They outlasted two thirds of the history-shaping Shield to attrition. They’ve suffered defeats throughout these experiences, to which their climbing number of title reigns stands tribute, but they have always bounced back, better for having learned from their experiences; to which, again, their climbing number of title reigns stands tribute. Their self-anointed name of The Bar might, at first, have felt emptily braggadocios, but their continued ability to eventually defeat, and in finality survive, any and all challengers has ensured that name, in the end, has proven to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, they really are the bar.
It is a truth Dash and Dawson, and their legions of fans, are liable to have choked on several days ago. While seeing The Revival lose in their pursuit of that vaunted crimson silver and a challenge on the shimmering stands of the Showcase of Immortals might gall those of us who admired their tectonic alteration of tag grappling in NXT, it goes to demonstrate that the curve has caught up to them. They’re no longer one step ahead, and if they want to get back on top they need to learn, adapt and return like The Bar have before them.
For now, though, Sheamus’s question is both warranted and earned whether we like it or not: is there really no-one else?
Little Miss Panic
Alexa Bliss is prone to panic. In spite of her seeming insurmountable ability to survive the challenges thrown at her by MNR General Manager (GM) Kurt Angle, her panic is always evident. She gets angry. She lashes out. She reverts to the basest of type. Indeed, it might be her panicked reactions that stand as her greatest attribute, augmenting her resourcefulness to come out on top no matter what. Whether that’s playing mind games to drive a wedge in friendships built on a foundation of competitive respect, or swallowing pride and re-forging alliances with wronged ex-partners she considers herself better than, or playing on her friendships to derail incoming challenges she fears she might not be able to beat, Bliss is prepared to go to any measure to keep hold of her MNR Women’s Championship, and her panic helps her define what those measures are.
It’s a dangerous game, especially when it comes to Nia Jax.
After failing to defeat the Empress of Tomorrow Asuka for a second time this last week on MNR, Jax was eventually found looking dejected and frustrated while icing her arm. That frustration was transformed into self-pity when Jax’s best friend, Bliss herself, showed up with words of ‘comfort.’ Some might say those words came from a place of emotional honesty; I might be able to believe that, once hell freezes over.
From day one, Bliss’s friendship with Jax has been based on a single question: what have you done for me lately? In the Irresistible Force, Bliss saw a two-tiered means to protect her title reign. First, in making friends, she carved for herself a piece of muscle she could manipulate to help derail oncoming challengers. Second, she prevented that muscle from getting too close to challenging for the title in a one on one situation herself.
So, when the Irresistible Force was proven to be quite the opposite by the woman Bliss presumes is coming for her at WrestleMania, the friendship lost all its value. Only the threat remained – of Asuka; of Jax.
Seeking to take one of those threats out at a time, Bliss’s words to Jax this week were designed to defeat the Irresistible Force at her lowest ebb; to stick the boot in when Jax was already in the ground, face down in the dirt of her own defeat, and essentially avoid any confrontation in the ring altogether. Remove Jax’s drive, remove Jax herself is a simple, clever tactic.
There’s just one problem. Asuka hasn’t made her opponent official, and we’re still hours out from Smackdown Live’s last pay-per-view before WrestleMania where the Empress of Tomorrow might just choose the emergent victor, if that victor proves to be a Queen. Should that happen, then Jax being unable to challenge Bliss at WrestleMania is no longer a certainty and the champ may have fuelled the fire of her own downfall, and why? Well, because just like always, Little Miss Bliss panicked.
The Advantage of The Miz’s Disadvantage
The Miz vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor is a match that seems to, on the surface, put the man seeking to become the cumulatively longest reigning Intercontinental Champion of all-time at a disadvantage come WrestleMania. As the old adage goes, he won’t even need to be involved in the decision to lose his cherished strap of white gold. Given the ever intensifying cold war being waged between Rollins and Bálor and the promise of the ferocity of their pending conflict, such a scenario unfolding is a very real possibility. Perhaps this is exactly what the sometimes vindictive MNR GM Angle had in mind when he made Miz’s title defence a three-way; further, it might be what he has in mind if he does, indeed, come to make the Triple Threat a Fatal Five Way.
Much like Alexa Bliss, though, The Miz is a Machiavelli; he’s a master manipulator of ego, and in a three way bout with Rollins and Bálor there’s plenty of ego to go around. If the reigning Intercontinental Champion is on his game, he will already be researching how Triple H once manipulated broiling tensions between duel WrestleMania challengers in 2004 to put himself at an advantage heading into his own Triple Threat title defence fourteen years ago, for that’s exactly the situation that could unfold over the coming weeks.
Right now, the war between Rollins and Bálor remains cold, but like a pro wrestling Missile Crisis, the tension continues to ramp up with apparently every action either one of the two men take. At this fragile stage in proceedings, all it’s going to take is the slightest of pushes from a vested third party interest and the Kingslayer and the Demon King will undoubtedly turn their war red hot and become completely engulfed by their respective need to prove themselves the superior competitor. What’s more, that’s likely to eventuate in a fall from grace for at least one of the two of them.
This is why, rather than having handed The Miz a disadvantage, Angle has instead handed him an outright advantage. We saw, just a couple of weeks ago in the two hour Gauntlet Match, that The Miz’s greatest weapon is his ability to take advantage of mitigating circumstance; a fact that came to be supported by his struggling performance inside the isolated, segmented environment of the Elimination Chamber Match. Against either former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins or former MNR Universal Champion Finn Bálor, the current Intercontinental Champion might have struggled, but against them both? That gives The Miz an invaluable opportunity to do what he does best: work within the known confines of his abilities while bolstering them with his best impression of WWE’s own Iago to carve a victory in the face of superior opposition.
The Road to WrestleMania might now be a month old, but the face of WrestleMania is only just beginning to get fleshed out. Tonight will continue that process; it might be all about Smackdown Live’s Team Blue, but it will have continued ramifications for MNR’s Team Red, and for the Showcase of the Immortals, regardless. It’s going to be an interesting few nights.
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!