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On The Apron: Nothing feels good

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Every week within On The Apron, features editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer brings you his thoughts on the latest developments in and around WWE. 

Well, that was a rough one, everybody. Almost wish I hadn’t used that crying Big Show image for last week’s column. Instead, I choose the one above, because it’s always better to honor our fallen as they’d want to be remembered, not at the end.

1) Raw to me, last night: “HAHAHAH SUCK IT DOM.”

It’s hard to be a fan of pro wrestling, particularly a fan of WWE, as an adult. It really is, and for a lot of reasons. On the basic level, say you’re the epitome of the mark, someone who still thinks it’s real. It’s hard to imagine that these people can still exist in the era of the internet, but then, John Cena sells a lot of shirts. Those people have somebody just waiting in the wings, all the time, to tell them Wrestling Santa (not the Mick Foley one, the theoretical one) doesn’t exist and fuck it all up. If you’re the typical smarky type, you’re often trapped in an endless circle jerk with all the people who want to be more “in the know” than you. You’re not allowed to just enjoy shit without having to listen to endlessly tedious arguments about workrate and the like.

Let’s even set aside the various substrata of wrestling fandom for a second. Being a casual fan is hard, because a) wrestling isn’t the most glamorous hobby/fixation, b) most people stopped watching somewhere around the time The Rock went Hollywood and Triple H’s knee exploded, and c) trying to negotiate your way through all the levels of understanding that the more dedicated fan pores over is daunting. There are also the issues of social acceptability, of being able to look at everything about the Los Matadores gimmick and not be offended by the inherent racism. Or the sexism shown to the Divas division, and really women’s wrestling in general. (Just because SHIMMER exists doesn’t mean the indies are all that much more progressive; WWE is just bad enough that people tend to not notice.) I’m talking about being a WWE fan not just because it’s the biggest organization of its kind in the world, but because it’s synonymous with how people interpret and engage with wrestling.

All of this preamble is to build to what I’m going to say about Raw last night, which is that it was pretty terrible and that it portends a serious dark period on the horizon. Last night’s show, for the most part, was a gauntlet of the things die-hard fans tend to enjoy in wrestling being shut down in an aggressive embrace of the status quo. You like watching people get whipped into a frenzy by a guy who does nothing more to piss them off than smugly use big words and wear pink tights? Here’s John Cena, WWE’s stalest character by a mile right now, beating him clean and casting aside the whole Money in the Bank gimmick while he’s at it, because RISE ABOVE ANY SEMBLANCE OF DRAMATIC TENSION. You into Daniel Bryan’s sudden 2013 rise to superstardom? Here he is leaving the main event to get into a thing with dudes who’ve only talked in riddles and beaten up R-Truth so far. (More on that in a second.)

Down to the undercard, the only really promising moment of last night was The Real Americans being posited as future competition for the Rhodes Brothers. Otherwise, the whole three hours of Raw felt like a defiant “fuck you” to an audience whose tastes are moving on, who’d rather watch the guys in swat vests land on their heads than a Hulk Hogan telling the kids that they can overcome and becoming a real-life Superman. We’re going to watch the evil boss story, and we’re going to witness Vince McMahon come back probably, so that now the show can be focused on four non-wrestlers instead of the current three. And it’s a hard time to be into WWE, for sure.

2) But yet…the Wyatt Family.

Bray Wyatt is the kind of character WWE hasn’t really done since Undertaker’s McMahon-crucifying apex. He’s genuinely scary, and not in the JOHN I AM GOING TO BREAK YOU kind of way that normally passes for scary in the family-friendly era. (Note: It’s okay that Undertaker isn’t lynching people anymore. Probably for the best, actually, so let’s stop being nostalgic about it as a group.) Wyatt is a cipher, and like some of the best modern villains of recent cinema, what we don’t know about Bray is a lot scarier than anything we could know. Some of his NXT stuff probably won’t be called up to national TV, granted; the whole backstory about him murdering his father, for one, likely wouldn’t play well.

While it seems like a demotion for Daniel Bryan to seemingly now have a thing with the Wyatts instead of chasing the world title, him fighting an engaging character who desperately needs some good in-ring competition to finally get over with the audience is definitely the lesser evil if “six more months of Orton tomfoolery” is the ulterior option. For that matter, CM Punk can stop trying to sell a feud that should’ve either ended months ago or been tabled until Brock Lesnar came back and also fight a dude who needs credibility. Everybody wins, and pencil this in as the future coolest part of Raw for the next few months.

3) McMahon Family Theatre, you are a cruel mistress.

I’ve mentioned before in this column how much I tend to love McMahon Family melodrama when it hits its zenith, and how much it sucks until it does. Because for the glory that was the WrestleMania 17 family breakdown, what with Linda McMahon rising from her coma to kick her IRL husband in the dick in a moment that irreparably fucked up her political career forever, that was preceded by months of tedious backstage power-player segments where all the people not actually wrestling were the most important people on the shows.

Right now is arguably even worse, because at least before it’s always ended in fisticuffs of some kind. (For instance, the glory of the Vince-Stephanie “I Quit” match.) There’s little prospect of that happening these days, since Vince shouldn’t be in a ring, Shane’s long gone, WWE’s not in the business of men attacking women anymore, and Triple H still has enough juice left to put himself in matches with more capable competition. But that’s a hollow promise. Yeah, it’ll be satisfying when Triple H gets flying kneed (or in a lesser turn, WMDed) so hard he goes back to his day job, but we’re at a point where it’s harder and harder by the day to imagine a payoff so anarchically satisfying that it justifies the tedium of last night’s championship celebration.

4) AJ is still Divas Champion, and that’s a beautiful thing.

All I’m saying is she needs a CM Punk-level run, just so history (or at least WWE history) remembers her as the indisputable best female wrestler to appear on Raw in her generation. Because that’s not even a contest right now.

5) Just keep swimming, y’all.

Despite the sadness of this column, and despite my genuine belief that we’re all in for a few really rough months of television until Royal Rumble season rolls around, we’ve been through worse than this. Other than Cena, which is every bit as totally expected as it is completely unacceptable at this point, all of these stories will leave the forest eventually. In the case of The Authority it’ll probably last until WrestleMania 30, and that sucks, but it’s building to some sort of payoff, however half-assed it’ll feel by the time we get there. And realistically, nobody past their teens is still watching wrestling for the big stuff. It’s the little moments, the side characters you latch onto and root for, the hope that a truly stunning upset can still happen amidst the tripe. I’ll be tuning in next week, and all the other weeks, and hopefully you all will too. Because if nothing else, all the old guard will retire, and what’s being set up for the future is still as promising as it was a few months ago. It just sucks right now.