1. Odd Direction to Point the Spotlight
Two weeks before WrestleMania 33, Raw opened with its general manager, Mick Foley, on center stage—forlorn, strangely quiet, his eyes pointed downward.
Foley teased an apology to the brand's commissioner, Stephanie McMahon, before shredding his note cards and berating his boss. The Billion Dollar Princess then fired him, invoking her father's trademark guttural delivery. It was an engaging scene from two talented actors, and it proved to be a powerful, dramatic farewell for a man set to undergo hip surgery.
The moment, though, did nothing to set up the April 2 pay-per-view, the company's biggest event of the year.
There will be no in-ring follow-up. Foley isn't going to fight for his job in a thrilling match. Stephanie isn't going to clash with anyone between the ropes as a result of this.
Even so, the authority figures were among the show's most prominent stars again.
That's long been the trend on Raw. SmackDown has focused plenty on its own executives as well.
The previous Monday, Stephanie tasked Foley with firing one Superstar by the end of the night. That story permeated much of the episode, with Foley's dilemma standing front and center on Raw.
Kate Foray pointed out on her Raw Breakdown Project that Foley appeared during every hour of the March 13 edition of Raw, including three times in both the second and third hours.
On the blue brand, SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon is in one of WrestleMania's major matches. General manager Daniel Bryan has become increasingly involved with the roster, especially when it comes to squabbling with The Miz.
Stephanie and Foley are tremendous talkers. Bryan has proved plenty charismatic in his new role.
Still, this trend has grown tiresome. The show's authority figures are too often overbearing, too often the focal point.
Andrew M. Swift of Cageside Seats had a tongue-in-cheek response to a recent Raw:
That's what it feels like the show is built on sometimes. We're watching the coaches and owners butt heads rather than the players on the floor.
This choice to lean on the GMs and commissioners so much means wrestlers get shorted.
Brian Kendrick vs. TJ Perkins ended after only a minute and 25 seconds on Monday's Raw, per CageMatch.net. That kind of truncated clash has been commonplace. The cruiserweights consistently get the shaft when it comes to airtime.
Raw has struggled to develop its women's division outside of the highest-level stars. Emma is still waiting to re-enter the fray. Dana Brooke has gone missing for weeks at a time. Summer Rae has been nonexistent.
SmackDown, meanwhile, hasn't had the time to flesh out its tag team scene.
Too many of its duos have zero momentum. Breezango may not be marquee material, but the flamboyant pairing has the potential to do so much more than it is.
But when WWE is arranging its booking puzzle, Foley and his peers are given precedence over those grapplers.
To what end?
Those stories can't climax in collisions in the ring for the most part.
The Miz's escalating issues with Bryan can't progress because of the GM's history of brain injuries. Foley's age, 51, and health mean that no matter how much he angers Braun Strowman, those two won't fight to settle their differences.
And WWE has spent so much energy to build up Stephanie as a heel but has yet to translate that into momentum for a babyface.
Foley's firing on Monday is a chance to scale back on this part of Raw's narrative. Stephanie could choose not to hire a replacement while also sliding more into the background. There are Superstars standing on the sidelines, waiting for the bickering administrative officials to step out of the way.
2. The Usos Add to their Collection
The Usos defeated American Alpha on Tuesday's SmackDown to once again rule the tag team division.
The win put them in a club only they belong to. They are the only team to have won both what are now the Raw Tag Team Championships and the SmackDown tag belts.
Jimmy and Jey also held the FCW Florida Tag Team Championships, per Wrestling-Titles.com. And the brothers are the only team other than Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith to win those titles and go on to reign as tag champs on the main roster with the same squad.
They still have a lot of work ahead to catch up with Matt and Jeff Hardy's impressive collection of tag team gold, though.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Jim Cornette
Jim Cornette, the tennis racket-wielding manager, is making a comeback to WWE of sorts. Bobby Melok of WWE.com announced that Cornette will induct The Rock 'n' Roll Express into the Hall of Fame this year.
Cornette long stood on the opposite side of the battlefield from The Rock 'n' Roll Express as The Midnight Express' manager.
His induction speech will be the first appearance he's made for WWE since 2005. Here's hoping his address that night has the fire that this 1992 Smoky Mountain Wrestling promo did:
This diatribe is a reminder of how much of a lost art being a wrestling manager is outside of exceptions like Paul Heyman. Cornette always added depth to his clients' rivalries as a mouthpiece and an irritant at ringside.
4. Goodbyes in Orlando?
Make sure to savor the stars who comprise the NXT TakeOver: Orlando card. This may be the last time we see many of them as part of the NXT brand.
The Revival has long proved it is ready for the main roster. Should the former champs lose the Triple Threat tag team bout at the April 1 event, there's a good chance it heads to Raw or SmackDown afterward.
Asuka's long reign as NXT women's champ could end against Ember Moon that night, leading to the Japanese warrior's exodus.
Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura could lead to a similar result. The King of Strong Style is a top candidate for a call-up to WWE proper. A defeat against the champion would likely spell his exit from NXT.
All these potential moves add quite the interesting element to TakeOver, as speculation will be crackling long after the show unfolds.
5. The Heir to Mr. Ass
Billy Gunn's son has officially followed his footsteps.
Austin Sopp made his in-ring debut over the weekend, teaming with his father. Gunn posted a clip of the action on Facebook.
Kevin Thorn tweeted a shot of the generations of Gunn:
It's exciting to see wrestlers take the first steps of their journeys in the squared circle. Who knows whether fans just witnessed the starting point of the next big grappler.
6. An Infusion of Southpaw, Please
WWE's mock promotion Southpaw Regional Wrestling needs to live on past the episodes that surfaced online this week.
The alter-egos Chris Jericho, John Cena and others created resonated. The spoof of old territorial wrestling was flush with fun and showcased memorably campy characters.
The company needs to find ways to blend this world into its own. A surprise appearance in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal from Tex Ferguson or La Barba Grande would be tremendous. Otherwise, a backstage sighting of Clint Bobski on Raw would be a welcome sight.
7. WrestleMania Debuts
Even with Goldberg and Brock Lesnar at the top of the card, WrestleMania 33 will be a celebration of the New Era.
The Show of Shows is set to feature a flood of Superstars standing on that grand stage for the first time. The PPV will be Neville's first WrestleMania, as injury prevented him from competing last year.
He's far from alone. The list of wrestlers set to enter their first WrestleMania match is long:
- Alexa Bliss
- Apollo Crews
- Austin Aries
- Big Cass
- Curt Hawkins
- Enzo Amore
- Karl Anderson
- Luke Gallows
- Mojo Rawley
- Nia Jax
Either Aries or Neville will walk out of Orlando as the cruiserweight champ. Jax has a shot to claim the Raw women's title from Bayley. Golden opportunities are everywhere.
In fact, 10 of those 13 names are involved in title bout at WrestleMania.
8. A Manami Toyota Playlist
Manami Toyota's legendary career is coming to a close. As Dave Meltzer reported on Figure Four Online, the longtime All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling star recently announced this will be her last year in the ring.
WWE can talk about Trish Stratus, The Fabulous Moolah or Charlotte Flair being the best female performer ever all it wants. Toyota outshone all of them.
For a look at a solid case for why Toyota is the G.O.A.T., check out these bouts:
- Manami Toyota vs. Toshiyo Yamada: AJW Mid Summer Typhoon
- Manami Toyota vs. Aja Kong: AJW Doumu Super Woman Great War
- Manami Toyota vs. Mayumi Ozaki: AJW Wrestlemarinepiad 1993
- Manami Toyota vs. Aja Kong: AJW Queendom 1995
- Manami Toyota vs. Akira Hokuto: AJW Destiny
As tremendous as Stratus vs. Lita was, Kong and Toyota's rivalry is in a class of its own.
9. Ways to Inject Energy into the Battle Royal
The hype for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal is minimal, but a few quick fixes could bolster it in a hurry.
Increased star power would do wonders for it, for one. Crews, Hawkins and Rawley are not cutting it. That field screams lower-midcard filler.
In addition to booking Sami Zayn, Braun Strowman and Luke Harper for the bout, WWE should bring another talent up from NXT, as it did with Corbin last year. A surprise celebrity would be fun too.
Not placing it on the pre-show would help it feel more important.
Lastly, the victor should claim a prize other than the trophy the winner traditionally receives. Perhaps a U.S. or Intercontinental Championship match awaits the last man standing. Momentum and pride are one thing, but having some gold to battle over would up the drama of the contest.
10. Saraya Knight on Paige
The recent leak of Paige's private sexual photos and videos has become a major story, one that has brought out the worst in some people. The former Divas champion has suffered a flood of disrespect and online disdain as a result.
Paige's mother, Saraya Knight, tweeted about the effect all this has had on their family:
For those fans firing off jokes, posting memes or typing vile things to Paige, don't forget about that part of the equation. There's a human being at the end of that punchline, a daughter and a sister.
The golden rule applies on the internet too.