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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: The Performance Art Raw View ~ The Road to WrestleMania is Becoming Awfully Personal
By Samuel 'Plan
Mar 4, 2018 - 8:33:37 PM

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Credit to @StevenFnBell

The Performance Art Raw View ~ The Road to WrestleMania is Becoming Awfully Personal


As was to be expected, immediately following Elimination Chamber 2018 the shade of WrestleMania began to take shape on last week’s edition of Monday Night Raw (MNR). We now know the Universal Championship Match we had been expecting is a certainty, we know two fewer men that MNR’s off-shoot brand 205 Live will not crown as its next Cruiserweight Champion on the big stage, and we are now are getting glimpses at what other matches are possibly in store for the rest of Team Red too.

Yet the true intrigue of last week’s evolving MNR scene was the seeds of personal animosity being sown throughout every division – from the broiling explosiveness of Asuka’s issues with Alexa Bliss et al, to the unhesitating declaration of war from Roman Reigns, to the continuing simmering tensions between Finn Bálor and Seth Rollins, right through to the fighting effort of Roddy Strong himself opposite Kalisto.

Emotions, it seems, are already running high this WrestleMania Season.

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

From Back Breaker to Brand Builder: Roderick Strong, the New Messiah of 205 Live

I know that this is a bit of a cheat because, from one point of view, 205 Live remains very much its own show. However it feels fitting to pass comment on it within the confines of the Raw View because, lest we forget, the division is canonically considered a part of MNR regardless. And while MNR plays host, seemingly without end, to throwaway filler tag matches featuring the best of the cruiserweights, 205 Live itself continues instead to host a series of strong in-ring efforts as the tournament to award the purple silver to a new champion continues to evolve.

I was disappointed to see TJP fall victim to the, in my mind, clearly less talented and much less nuanced Cedric Alexander, who seems to still believe he is riding the momentum he garnered in his noteworthy defeat to Kota Ibushi two years ago in the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC). Honestly, I find myself hoping that the Semi-Finals prove the end of the road for him. As athletic as Alexander is, his relative lack of experience in the ring shows – I cannot see in him a man around which an entire brand can be built.

Roderick Strong, however, and his subdued sense of charisma, very much feels that way. While Alexander struggled to perform at an elite level opposite TJP this last week, Strong not only took former champion Kalisto to the physical limit but demonstrated the buried depths of his own character; fascinatingly, it was not necessarily a nice one.

With more than a little cocky animosity, and evoking the spirit of the famous Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, the Messiah of the Backbreaker led Kalisto to the end of his heartache this last week with an unremitting massacre of the spine, targeting the Lucha Dragon’s back with a mercilessly focussed game plan. What was more, Strong didn’t seem to care much for his opponent, on more than one occasion physically manhandling the smaller man with overt contempt. He was happy to get down and dirty in the muck of their fight, and happier still when it allowed him to emerge the victor.

It was a side of Roderick Strong I have never seen before, a cut-throat ethic that could see him quite comfortably enter WrestleMania as one half of the prospective championship equation. He might not necessarily be an obvious choice to be ‘the guy’ of even a peripheral product like 205 Live, but unlike most of the rest of the remaining field he showed, through his morally dubious performance this last week, that he has no time for such an opinion. His hunger for the silver was palpable and sure to impress the vigilant and aspiring likes of 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick, whose own quest for a hungrier, more competitive roster has been well document.

Strong’s quest to attain the Cruiserweight Championship in Immortal fashion is, I hope, the beginning of something darkly glorious for him, transforming him from the Messiah of the Back Breaker to the New Messiah of 205 Live.

Finn Flips Seth’s Script

So it seems that Seth Rollins’ quest to complete his redemption with the reclamation of ‘Monday Night Rollins’ has shifted focus away from the blockbuster realm of the Universal Championship and instead turned to the workhorse realm of the Intercontinental Championship – a strap still being laid siege to by The Miz.

While many might find it curious that a man so driven to gain a Universal Championship shot at WrestleMania as to last over an hour in the ring last week would suddenly be content to pursue the championship ostensibly considered to be on the level below it, that’s truthfully limited linear view on the matter. In actuality, winning the Intercontinental Championship couldn’t be more vital for the Architect: he is now the only member of The Shield to have held every relevant male championship – the WWE World Heavyweight, the United States and the Tag Team titles - except for the Intercontinental.

This matters, and it matters for more than the sake of a cute little statistic. It matters because the entire reason Seth Rollins betrayed his brothers and dove in spite of himself head first into a personal hell that lasted over two years was to ensure he would become the most successful man in WWE, and certainly the most successful member of The Shield. Right now, when it comes the latter of those criteria, from the most basic championship perspective, he could be seen as quite the opposite: the least successful. If he does nothing to rectify that then everything he suffered, and everything he made others suffer because of his mistakes, was for nothing. If, however, he can rectify it, by winning his first Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania, then he can wipe the final dregs of his demons out of existence once and for all, excuse himself of his mistakes and complete his year-long journey towards redemption in full.

The problem is Finn Bálor: a man wronged by the complicated destiny of Rollins on more than one occasion and, as last Monday showed, a man apparently unprepared to forgive and forget.

This last week he flipped the script. This time, he stole Rollins’ thunder, emerging to defeat The Miz just like Rollins, and not even waiting until Rollins had started to celebrate before doing so. The tension in their stare-down was electric, and the visible reaction of the Kingslayer to the antics of the Demon King promised that, at this stage sooner rather than later, the vengeful Bálor and the redemptive Rollins will more than likely tear one another apart.

Ironically, that’s exactly the kind of situation that The Miz would thrive on, only bolstering his chances of walking out of WrestleMania the same way he seems set to walk in: the soon-to-be longest reigning Intercontinental Champion of all-time.

Reigns’ War

Wars escalate easily. Over the course of five short minutes last Monday night, WWE’s most volatile did just that.

The first time Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar clashed it was before the assembled thousands of WrestleMania 31, and swelled with all the physicality and blood-stained barbarism you would expect to see from two gladiators of their ilk. On that night, the Big Dog proved that the Beast could bleed, and were it not for the machinations of a political regime it is quite possible that the Big Dog would have devoured the Beast there and then.

Alas, fate stayed Reigns’ jaws in 2015; but it doesn’t look like it’ll do it again.

Lesnar has reason to be wary. The last time he met Reigns he barely escaped intact, and that Big Dog was a wide-eyed rookie still adjusting to life at the top, still unsure of his footing amidst the waves of resentment crashing against him. This second time, however, it will be a completely different Reigns. A war-scarred battle veteran with victories over the most powerful entities in WWE for the last decade, this is a Reigns who doesn’t leave jobs unfinished, is a cold hearted soldier with an unflinching focus and a warrior who knows exactly who he is and what he wants.

Never was that clearer than in his fiery declaration on the last edition of MNR. He stood in that ring, silent at first, surveying the war-mongering throngs of fans jeering him and booing him, and he soaked it all in with his new found disregard; it is a disregard earned by a silent understanding. Reigns knows, as so many wise and, more importantly, victorious generals have known throughout history, that the enemy of his enemy is his friend and, while the relationship between the fans and the Big Dog remains fraught with controversy and misunderstanding and ego alike, the understanding that the Beast has long since stayed past his welcome in our shared universe seems to have created a temporary bond to be feared.

It took me the better part of a day dwelling on the words of Roman Reigns before I came to understand how I felt about them. Unlike most, I’ve never had an issue with Reigns or with his spot at the top of the mountain; only a certain degree of envy that he seems to possess an uncontested monopoly when it comes the biggest moments and tallest achievements in WWE, such as his pending conflict with Lesnar. But I now realise, after Reigns so viciously derided the unsustainable and ingratiating part-time status quo in WWE that Lesnar now embodies more than anyone, that regardless of any extenuating circumstances I actually cannot wait to see the Big Dog finish what he started three years ago, rip the Beast to shreds and then piss on whatever might be left just to finish off.

In Closing

As fast as events escalated on the last MNR in the wake of Elimination Chamber 2018, I expect they’ll only escalate further this next week; and more so when Fastlane 2018 is in the record books too. Who it is that will emerge from the ether of tournament competition to become the new Messiah of 205 Live only time can tell. How long it is before the Cold War between Kingslayer and Demon King turns red hot only time can tell. How long the unholy alliance Reigns seems to have tried to forge with fans this last week in the name of a greater cause will last only time can tell.

For now, heading into another of precious few MNR’s remaining before WrestleMania itself, we can be certain of only one thing: it’s all going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better.

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!

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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