Just Business: The Performance Art Raw View ~ The WrestleMania Storm Gathers Momentum (On The Bar, Bliss, Asuka and the Intercontinental Championship)

Just Business: The Performance Art Raw View ~ The WrestleMania Storm Gathers Momentum (On The Bar, Bliss, Asuka and the Intercontinental Championship)


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The Performance Art Raw View ~ The WrestleMania Storm Gathers Momentum (On The Bar, Bliss, Asuka and the Intercontinental Championship)

Preamble

Still three weeks out from WrestleMania, there’s no denying that Monday Night Raw (MNR) has entered something of a holding pattern. With a number of stars now knowing what they’ll be doing come the Granddaddy of Them All, it seems everyone is being cautious not to make a mistake in exploring any and every avenue they can to gain an advantage.

Not many have been very successful, and in actuality MNR right now is a scene of devolving inter-personal relationships and escalating situations threatening to hurtle out of all control.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan, and this is the Performance Art Raw View.

The Bar Rises

Braun Strowman wasn’t shy this last week in proclaiming his desire to be featured heavily at WrestleMania, as he believes – and is right to believe – he deserves. Perhaps showing raging memory of his ‘relegation’ into pre-show battle royal territory last year, and reminding us of his thirst for competition that fuelled his earliest rampages on MNR, Strowman decided for himself he would, perhaps ironically, enter a tag team battle royal to garner that WrestleMania spot he hungers.

Needless to say, he won.

This raises intriguing questions. Will Braun Strowman now be forced to go out and find a partner in order to ‘cash in’ on his earned opportunity against the MNR Tag Team Champions The Bar, or will he be allowed to go on and challenge the champs alone? I doubt The Bar will be happy either way, of course. The war-scarred manner of their evolution into one of the most frightfully effective teams in all of WWE’s modern history has brought with it a growth in ego for them both, to the point it’s a wonder they fit through the door. It is a right they have earned, no doubt, but it is also a character trait that has landed them in hot water.

I would argue they shouldn’t be surprised. Whether facing Braun Strowman as a man alone or whether facing Braun Strowman alongside a makeshift tag team partner, The Bar are going to have to up their game to overcome the Monster Among Men who, only relatively recently, stormed his way to a dominant near-victory inside the Elimination Chamber Match. It is such fact of recent history that means the reigning champions cannot simply rely on the presumed equation of the world’s top team equalling one of the world’s top solo competitors.

Perhaps Sheamus and Cesaro should have been less eager to run their mouths on the back of their chain of victories. The ire of the rest of their division is one thing, and one thing they have proven able to overcome, but the ire of Braun Strowman is something else.

Now, then, more than ever, they need to ensure their name is the self-fulfilling prophecy I proclaimed it to be in last week’s Raw View. Tag team wrestling throughout WWE’s modern history has almost universally been about raising a bar of one form or another, and in its latest chapter Sheamus and Cesaro are going to have to raise their own before Braun Strowman decides to snap it – to snap them – in two, thereby bringing about an ignominious and unfitting end to a polished unity bred from discordant individuality.

How this one develops tomorrow night is going to be fascinating to see.

The Achilles Heel of Asuka and Alexa

The Bar weren’t the only ones facing the repercussions of their boasts this week. So too was Alexa Bliss, who at long last seems prepped to suffer, in most gloriously violent fashion, the outcome of her sociopathic manipulation of the Irresistible Force, Nia Jax.

The embarrassing on-camera revelations of Bliss this last week came about because of her frustrations at Nia Jax no-showing a well laid trap for Asuka, but let us not forget that Jax’s no-show would never have been an issue if Bliss could have simply let the sleeping dog of Asuka’s past challenges lie. Instead, Bliss just had to put her spin on the apparent slight of Asuka challenging Smackdown Live (SDL) Women’s Champion Charlotte at WrestleMania, instead of her. While Bliss was undoubtedly happy knowing she didn’t need to overcome the Empress of Tomorrow, it wasn’t within her to let anyone make her look less desirable than her Team Blue counterpart. Her decision to publicly run Asuka down as a coward not only ensured the MNR Women’s Champion was framed as the superior competitor to Charlotte, but also as a competitor Asuka feared. Without the complexities of her manipulation of Jax, it might have been a masterstroke in propaganda.

Those complexities, however, meant that Bliss, like The Bar before her, allowed her insatiable ego to cloud her better judgement. I needn’t recount what happened next. The memory of Nia Jax’s Alpha Predator-like rage should sit long in the memory – it will in Bliss’s, when the inevitable day of their in-ring clash occurs. If that day happens to be April 8th, then WrestleMania might not be a night Bliss will want to remember.

If it’s any consolation for the self-proclaimed Goddess of WWE, though, she wasn’t the only one to reveal her Achilles Heel this last week. We now know Asuka’s challenge to Charlotte is official, and honestly this is a competition that could go either way. Both women, the two most elite of their class, are going to be searching for any and every advantage they can garner over the next three weeks. You know they’ll be watching the other like a hawk. So when Asuka allowed her zeal for competition to get the better of her in her match with Mickie James on the last MNR, resulting in a mistimed kick that saw her shin kiss the ring post in bone-shattering fashion, she might have made a mistake that costs her at the Showcase of the Immortals.

Whether the damage she caused herself, and that Mickie James sought to inflict thereafter, proves long-lasting enough to force the Empress of Tomorrow to limp into New Orleans, or whether she heals fast but has simply revealed her over-eager temper in the ring to be liable to cause her to make a mistake, Charlotte seems to have her in. The Queen, the daughter of the Dirtiest Player in the Game, is the canniest competitor Asuka will have ever faced, and whether by capitalising on pre-existing injury or waiting the match out long enough to let Asuka make a similar error in judgement, the truth is, on April 8th, Charlotte will now have a strategy she can rely on courtesy of its apparent friendliness towards he patented Figure Eight Leg Lock.

Rollins vs. Bálor: A Problem That Solves Itself

It was without hesitation that the commentary team once again referenced the Summerslam encounter between Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor during the latest clash of Kingslayer and Demon King this last Monday night, reminding us of what now stands as the mere beginning of their continuing on-again / off-again rivalry. It is a rivalry I have been covering quite extensively throughout these Performance Art Raw Views, and never has it felt quite this tense.

The haste with which their competition played out betrayed the ever-growing fury of their feud that sits now ready to erupt like Vesuvius any week. Their physicality was tooth-loosening in its contact, packed full of ‘nasty rights’ like that from Bálor that floored Rollins early, and like that of Rollins’ reciprocal elbow. The equality of their greatest advantages – the capability of Bálor and the will of Rollins – created a constant back and forth, momentum swinging relentlessly like a pendulum, with a body-bouncing aesthetic that made their brawl all the more immersive. It was visceral, nasty, ill-willed and on more than one occasion there were worrying flashes of the old Seth Rollins we all, including Rollins himself, thought was long gone, whether it was toying with a floored Bálor, smiling as he inflicted a series of grinding wear-down holds or looking fit to spit venom upon yet another defeat at Bálor’s hands. It has never been quite so clear that both these men have perhaps reached a point where they just plain don’t like each other, and moreover are bringing out the absolute worst of one another in forcing themselves to compete at their absolute best.

In all, I must say that their latest TV clash was, frankly, in my mind, a borderline classic, quite fittingly exhibiting brief flares of the spirit of some famous WrestleMania classics. It reminded specifically of the punchy Batista / Undertaker WrestleMania 23 encounter in its fluid speed and broiling bad mood, and there were even faint vestiges of the immortal Randy Savage / Ricky Steamboat WrestleMania III match in the manner with which it was so naturalistically choreographed in spite of some of its more fantastical exchanges – not to mention its surprise roll-up finish. All in all, it raised a simple but compelling question: why aren’t these two going to dance their own tango at WrestleMania 34 without being gate-crashed by the Intercontinental Champion? Well, if The Miz is smart, he’ll stand back and let that very thing occur, picking his three second moment cleverly to ensure he can walk out on April 8th still clutching his precious white gold strap.

Not only has such a laissez-faire method previously proven to be successful, in the form of the one other time this very Triple Threat Match occurred where Miz walked out the victor (as reviewed in my column from last Wednesday), but the Miz TV run in between these three men early on during the same episode of MNR this last week only reinforced such a strategy’s necessity for the defending champion, who is in danger of overplaying his hand – when he clumsily tried too overtly to play Rollins and Bálor off against one another, it almost backfired catastrophically. Instead, as the latest of many matches between the two proved several nights ago, Miz is much better off sitting back and letting the evolving saga of Kingslayer and Demon King combust in its own right.

In Closing

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!

Recently, LOP Forums’ Columns Forum has seen the debut of a brand new column concept brought about by one of our most promising talents – resident cruiserweight mega-fan 205 Clive. The first of his new weekly 205 Live recaps is an absolute treat of a read, and I thoroughly recommend you head on over and check it out (and when you’re done, sign up and have a go yourself!): 205 Clive’s Purple Brand Review (March 13th 2018 Edition)!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

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