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On The Apron: Bound for Payback

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Every Tuesday, Heave features editor Dominick Mayer runs down the latest developments in WWE in On The Apron.

For this week, since I’m on the verge of finishing college for good and Raw was largely slower than usual because it’s a pre-PPV show and WWE evidently has little idea how to set up Backlash Payback right now, I’m going to move away from my usual editorial approach and just offer a six-pack of spare observations about last night’s Raw.

1) No more fat-bashing. Pretty please?

To paraphrase Chief Keef, last night’s Carl’s Jr. commercial/backstage segment with Vickie Guerrero, Brad Maddox and special guest Hateful Suburban Dad is quite emphatically that shit I don’t like. The product placement is fine, even if nothing will ever top WWE’s “May 19th” buildup to the release of See No Evil a couple years back, but the mockery of Vickie Guerrero’s weight is not. Setting aside that she’s built like a completely normal human being for a moment, it’s also just tasteless to continually humiliate Eddie Guerrero’s widow on a weekly basis, a woman who’s morphed into an excellent onscreen villain in her own right, just for not having the Generic Fitness Model #474B look that Vince McMahon fancies in his female employees. I can’t say any more on this, other than please stop. Be a star or something.

2) Still believing in the Shield.

While I’m not a fan of Randy Orton and his DDT being inserted into the Shield/Team Hell No program just for the sake of trying to get heat on arguably the stalest character in WWE right now, virtually everything the Shield is doing is still effective. Rollins-Bryan was awesome (and one of those OMG IT’S A BLACK-DANIELSON MATCH ON TV things that everyone will point out in writing about it), and Orton-Reigns was at least watchable. Payback is taking a strange, roundabout approach to this whole thing, putting Kane in a U.S. Title match that’s hit or miss on paper, and teaming Bryan with Orton in a strange continuation of the Team Hell No split. If WWE is smart, this ends in Orton turning on Bryan, Kane getting hurt trying to protect his little buddy and Orton finally getting the heel turn he wants and feuding with Bryan as the underdog to Orton’s alpha male until SummerSlam. The Shield will go on to finally let the crowd cheer for them as they take on the Wyatt Family, and Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt put on the best match of 2013. Or something.

3) But seriously, Daniel Bryan.

His character is out-of-control good right now. Like in every way. The crowd loves him, he’s believably walking the line between paranoia and an inferiority complex and unlike most undersized guys who get big-ticket pushes in WWE, he’s being booked to look like a total boss. (For examples of how to do this totally wrong, see Rey Mysterio, Jr. from his World Heavyweight Title run forward, or anything that ever happened to Evan Bourne.) This is finally the Bryan Danielson that people fell in love with in the indies, a nondescript, nerdy guy who could snap every single one of your limbs before you ever figured out how it happened. If the dirtsheet rumors are true and Bryan-Cena for the WWE Title is going to be a thing, I can’t wait. This is the best Bryan’s been to date in his WWE run, and Cena is great about rising to his opponents when needed. Also, I’d like to submit “Goatface Killah” as a sign that somebody should have in Rosemont this Sunday.

4) The triumphant return of McMahon Family Theatre!

In about two weeks, there will be no rationalization for the amount of TV time that Triple H’s retirement tour is getting, and I’ll be just as aggravated as everybody else that he’s assigning himself Iron Man matches against Curtis Axel and trying to prove how awesome he is because he’s capable of Rising Above Concussions. But right now, in this moment, I’m so excited. One of the integral parts of WWE’s late-90s golden era was the melodrama, and setting aside the beer baths and milk baths and Satanic rituals, the interplay between the members of the McMahon family redefined how wrestling tells its long-form, overcooked stories. From Stephanie’s fake-nonconsensual Vegas wedding to Linda McMahon rising from her shock-induced coma to kick her real-life husband in the dick at WrestleMania XVII, the utter hilarity of those stories made for some of WWE’s most memorable television. Granted, there’s no way it can be the same again; Shane’s no longer part of the family business, and Linda really, really wants to be taken seriously as a politician. But still. The nonsense is back. I can’t even wait for Stephanie to betray Triple H and make out with Paul Heyman, or for one of their daughters to come out and Shining Wizard Brock Lesnar, or whatever it is they have in mind as an endgame for all of this.

5) Damien F***ing Sandow.

When you get really into pro wrestling, it’s easy to become the fake sports version of a homer, where you pledge loyalty to guys that nobody cares about against all logic. They don’t even have to be that good, you just root for them for the sake of being a contrarian or whatever. For a casual fan, being into Damien Sandow would seem emblematic of that kind of behavior. Despite being a funny mid-card act, the Rhodes Scholars (his tag team with Cody Rhodes) was inexplicably buried, leaving Sandow to sort of flail as a solo act until this current program with Sheamus, in which Sandow is smarter than Sheamus and Sheamus responds by repeatedly kicking him in the face. Aside from the wrong guy being the face in this scenario, it’s been good stuff all around, and proof that Sandow is one of WWE’s most underrated assets. He’s a capable wrestler, a fantastic promo and generally just funny as all hell. There are few guys wrestling in any company right now that inhabit their characters as well as he does, and hopefully this feud is the beginning of better things.

6) John Cena cuts a go-home promo to sell a Pay-Per-View.

That’s all for this week, folks. See you after Payback!