A long time ago—about a full year ago—the Road To WrestleMania was still the time of year in which WWE finally stopped resting on its creative laurels long enough to set up for “The Grandest Stage Of Them All,” WrestleMania. Things weren’t all necessarily perfect or etched in stone in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania, but everything came together come showtime, and the event ended up being quite memorable. Fast-forward a year later, to now, and with two weeks left before WrestleMania, while everything may be etched in stone—for better of worse—you still wouldn’t really believe that WresteMania is upon us. Not even with all the reminders from the WWE Superstars and announcers.

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Think about it: Does it feel like the Road To WrestleMania to you? Other than people doing the obligatory “point to the sign” and LL Cool J telling us all how “spectacular” WrestleMania is, has WWE really done anything to make it feel like WrestleMania is fast-approaching? Does this season feel anything different than any other time of the year for WWE?

Simply put: no.

Think about it in terms of the championship matches in the pay-per-view for a moment: The Tag Team belts are being defended against two teams that have been nothing but jokes since their introductions into the division. (This doesn’t include the Usos, who may possibly be shelved because of Jey’s shoulder injury). The Intercontinental Championship is being shown to be a goofy Acme prop on a weekly basis. The United States Championship is a part of the match where a redneck rapper (is that Cena’s gimmick now?) beats up a foreigner who has said mean things about the United States, but it’s not the focus of the match. The Divas Championship is not on the line, because WWE thinks #GiveDivasAChance is something they made up and can mold into their own demonic image. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship is being chased by a millennial who thinks “Whatever, man” is the perfect way to punctuate a promo and who the crowd honestly doesn’t care about when he’s not in the ring (if at all). The Andre The Giant such and such is a who’s who of low and mid-card guys that WWE does not and will not care about… barring young bucks like Mark Henry, Kane, and the Big Show, that is.

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Even longer than a year ago, WWE got into this line of thinking where the pay-per-views needed to be nothing more than longer, less engaging episodes of SmackDown (so this was after SmackDown stopped being engaging), and while, for a time, major shows like Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble, Money In The Bank, SummerSlam, and WrestleMania were able to avoid that curse, it was all bound to catch up to them eventually. This year’s WrestleMania reads like a warped episode of SmackDown that can’t be turned off. It feels like an obligation and a chore, and it’s not even happening yet.

It doesn’t help that the weekly programming doesn’t sell the card at all. Again, SmackDown is treated as a joke, and RAW is where things that happened the previous Thursday night are simply re-done on Monday, whether they were good on Thursday or not. RAW is the “A-show” (in name only), and SmackDown might as well be the Q-show at this point. That means a Ryback versus Miz match that wasn’t particularly good the first time around needs to be seen again on this week’s RAW. As does a good six-man tag match that was luckily spared R-Truth commentary the first go-around—it now has to have R-Truth on live commentary to derail attention (and screentime) from the match for at least a third of the time.

I want to stay this will be the last time I bring this up in a review, but at this point, I legitimately do not understand the argument that WWE is—in their own roundabout, twisted way—attempting to build up the Intercontinental Championship and the competitors in this ladder match. These are all six good-to-great workers (and R-Truth, whose only role in this is to remind the WWE viewing audience that “black people are funny”—note that the only match he was a part of in this whole never-ending storyline was the initial one to beat Barrett), putting on good matches, only to made to look like “turds” (thanks, WWE) and cartoon characters, literally throwing the Intercontinental Championship around like the toy Vince McMahon must believe it is. No other belt on the show is being treated like this, not even the one that looks like a butterfly or the giant twin pennies. Good luck to the Wile E. Coyote cam at WrestleMania—for once, your nickname is wholly applicable to Jerry Lawler’s asinine commentary.

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Then there’s the fact that the anticipation for Roman Reigns versus Brock Lesnar—the main event of WrestleMania—at this point is based solely on train wreck potential. It doesn’t matter how “not ready” Roman Reigns is: This is all happening, and it’s happening with terrible t-shirts and stilted line-readings. It’s all happening as a crowd chants Daniel Bryan, causing Roman Reigns to have even more trouble remembering his lines. It’s all happening as the crowd goes mild for Roman Reigns. On a personal level, I am so excited for this mess, especially if it means one of Roman Reigns’ creepy zombie baby blue contact lenses falls out at one point, and it turns out to be chaos that reigns. Don’t tell him what he can’t do, because that’s how he ended up re-gaining his ability to walk after the plane crashed on the island.

As fun as that all sounds, that’s not the reaction that WWE’s booking should bring out when it comes to the main event of what is supposed to be its equivalent of the Super Bowl. And yet, that’s what’s happening as the clock ticks. After all, tonight’s RAW is only one worth discussing in terms of the general concepts presented within it, because it’s as much of a filler or throwaway episode as you’re going to get in televised professional wrestling. Again, that’s not something that should be happening at all in The Road To WrestleMania. WWE may make the rules in the wrestling or sports entertainment game, but that means it’s all the more obvious when they break their own rules. Vince McMahon describes WWE as being all about telling compelling stories, and yet the major story of this week’s episode—pretend WWE is a procedural and let’s call it the case of the week—is Seth Rollins and the implosion of The Authority.

If anyone wants to throw out the argument that WWE truly is for children, then this storyline is the evidence to prove that, because anyone over the age of 14, or at least someone who has watched a decent amount of wrestling (or television, in general), should be able to see the “twist” coming a mile away. The twist: The Authority is not actually breaking up and are only doing such publicly in order to catch Randy Orton off-guard. The arrival of Vigilante (in a T-shirt) Sting at the end doesn’t change any of that. If Randy Orton coming back to The Authority upon his return from kayfabe life-threatening injury, only to turn on them, is insulting to the audience’s intelligence, than this condensed implosion in the span of one episode is insulting to the world’s intelligence. I actually flashed back to childhood memories of D-Generation X’s ever-changing alliances in WrestleMania 15. That’s not a good thing, especially since WrestleMania 31 doesn’t promise a Brawl For All.

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It’s especially frustrating when WWE finds itself on the cusp of something good in all of this disappointment, obviously despite itself. Nikki Bella and AJ Lee put on a good, decently-timed match this week which devolves from a commentary standpoint as soon as Booker T says all women hate each other and JBL and Cole give him over-the-top crap for it, clearly agreeing but not wanting to be attacked by “the PC police” (also known in this instance as people who want women to be treated like human beings—see also the promo for SmackDown’s “6-Being Interspecies Match”). This is all after the intial gut punch of a Bellas’ picture-in-picture promo featuring the two of them saying “Give Divas A Chance? Give Us A Break.” If you play that on repeat, you can practically hear WWE saying “Share your voice? We don’t care about your voice.” There’s also maniacal laughter in that version. What WWE is doing is appropriating a hashtag they don’t believe in, pretending they care about it, only to say that it’s worthless. In a sense, it’s WWE doing what it always does—burying people and things that get over by themselves and not by the help of the WWE machine.

This is no more evident (again) than when the circus of the forgotten show up in the ring for Kane’s Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal “demonstration.” Chants of “AXELMANIA” don’t make Curtis Axel any less of a joke in the eyes of Vince McMahon and the people who “matter,” so he is fodder for Mark Henry, a veteran who is fully capable of being entertaining but really shouldn’t be a featured player. Mark Henry is basically the best case scenario of the Kane and Big Show, “over the hill” type wrestler, and yet that still doesn’t mean he should be gunning for a notable position. The only way any of this can be righted is if Curtis Axel does go on to win the battle royal, but just based on who was in the ring during RAW, would it really make a difference if Curtis Axel is crowned the winner of the losers? The mid carders who “matter” (there’s that word again) are in a different match all together, so it’s not like Axel (or anyone in the match) will be beating anyone worth a damn.

Like it or not—and sadly, there aren’t many reasons to like it—WrestleMania is coming. On the bright side, at least this year’s theme is catchy and not in the obnoxious Flo Rida way.

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Stray observations:

  • Hey, didn’t watch RAW? Well, after you’ve fully read this review, do not go and watch RAW (unless I’ve yelled at you directly to watch RAW), and instead watch Max Landis’ short film, Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling. By the way, if you’re reading this, Max Landis, I am available to throw bricks in your next short film.
  • Rusev shows up to a contract signing (with Dr. Borat Evil) dressed to impress, as it is technically a business affair. Cena shows up like a cranky toddler who dressed himself in the dark, and he ends up undressing over some mean words.
  • By the way, if WWE wanted to do Daniel Bryan versus Dolph Ziggler at WrestleMania, they should have just done Daniel Bryan versus Dolph Ziggler at WrestleMania.
  • It would be nice if JBL could pick whether he’s a heel or a face. He somehow manages to laud and insult Bill Simmons in single breath, and during the abysmal R-Truth commentary of the week, he offensively jives with the guy, only to constantly call him out for stealing the championship, then to eventually cheer for him to steal the championship.
  • Randy Orton: “I’m just a guy…” Standing in front of a “little bitch”? Also: Is it possible that Randy Orton truly believes he’s an actual snake at this point in his life?
  • If Undertaker’s not going to show up before WrestleMania, is there any way Michelle McCool can? Follow-up: Is there any way she can return specifically to reform LayCool and not to address the Undertaker situation at all? All while Bray talks at an urn with mythology that is spotty at best?
  • At least Larry Zbyszko is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
  • And saving the best for last: I’m being given the opportunity to write at least another month of RAW reviews. Make sure you keep commenting and sharing, because all of this determines whether or not we can have reviews of fun wrestling shows.

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