Worst: So, Uh, Do You Guys Know How A Flag Match Works
Two things I was hoping would happen during Jack Swagger’s entrance:
1. Rusev would charge down the ramp and start fighting these guys, or
2. They’d just point their rifles at the ring and start shooting at Rusev.
If I can get all book report on your ass for a moment, Webster’s Wikipedia defines a “flag match” as
… essentially the professional wrestling version of capture the flag. For the match two flags are placed on opposite turnbuckles, each representing a specific wrestler or team of wrestlers, and the objective of the match is to retrieve the opponent’s flag and raise it while defending the flag in the wrestler’s corner.
That didn’t happen. They just started wrestling a normal match and everybody went with it. It honestly felt like they’d forgotten it entirely and someone had to call an audible and come up with a way to salvage it. So Rusev wins the match, lingers in the ring for a little too long and then the announcer’s like “YEAH SO IN A FLAG MATCH THE WINNER GETS TO STAND HERE WHILE WE PLAY HIS NATIONAL ANTHEM AND RAISE HIS FLAG, BECAUSE GET IT, FLAG MATCH.”
On top of that, nobody even honored the stipulation. Rusev stood there while the announcers complained about how DISGUSTING this was (that Rusev had cleanly won a match and earned celebratory rewards per the agreed-upon pre-match stipulation) and how sad they were to see Russia’s colors flying. Note: Russia’s colors are red, white and blue. Nobody knows what we’re doing, it’s fine.
Best: The Actual Match, Minus The Flags
Flagfoolery notwithstanding, I really dug this match. Rusev deserves some kind of golden, star-shaped medal for selling on offense. Not enough people do that. Selling on offense isn’t just touching your leg after you’ve had your leg worked for 20 minutes and used it to hit all your signature moves, selling on offense suggests that the damage you’ve been taken is, you know, real, and that it continues to affect you even when you’re in control.
Compare and contrast it with Roman Reigns. Reigns took a ton of damage during the match, but when it was time to hit his moves and win, he just DID it. After the match, he looked as fresh as he did going into it. Same wet hair and everything. That’s fine if you’re part of a video game crowd who doesn’t want this to exist in real life, but the gravity and drama of pro wrestling largely revolves around people getting hurt and toughing their way through it to achieve spectacular physical goals. If a wrestler isn’t hurt and just wins, there’s no drama. If he’s barely able to stand and puts something together to come back and win, that’s a story. It causes us to admire and respect that person for things we admire in athletic humans. Guts. Determination. Skill. Adrenaline, whatever. Roman just wrestles a good match and then everything resets, because it’s time to start over. It’s why Rybaxel can target his shoulder and throw him into a ring post a bunch of times, but he’s still immediately gonna use his shoulder to attack them.
In contrast, Jack Swagger has been attacking Rusev’s ankle since they started beefing. It’s what he does. He even gets on an ankle lock before the match starts, putting Rusev at an early disadvantage. What’s great about that is that Rusev’s offense revolves around his feet … he throws a lot of kicks, but he also needs his legs and ankles to hold himself up for The Accolade. It even has a pre-move stomp to the back for emphasis. Jack rips Rusev’s ankle up, so when it’s time for The Accolade, Rusev tries to lock it in … but can’t. He’s in total control of the match, but his f*cking ankle hurts, so his f*cking ankle hurts. See how that makes sense? He has to switch things up and drop to a knee to lock in the hold. Because that version isn’t as strong or complete, Swagger’s able to reverse it. BEAUTIFUL PRO WRESTLING. The follow-up to that is Rusev realizing he’s got to take the pain if he’s gonna win, so he locks in the full version, and his normal look of confident boredom is replaced by him looking like he’s about to die. Sell. Ling.
Bill Simmons is just the Brie Bella Bitch Guy with millions of dollars. I wonder if he thinks WWE dropped Xavier Woods’ new faction because of Martin Luther King Jr.?
Footnote: This pay-per-view was just like Larry Bird.
Best: The Best Lumberjack Match I’ve Ever Seen
First things first, I think Macho Man’s jacket was the original “Lunatic Fringe.”
Second things first, this is absolutely the best lumberjack match I’ve ever seen. WWE is so thoroughly bathed in its tropes that when they break free and do something different, it feels revolutionary. Did anybody think when Dean Ambrose picked “lumberjack match” that they’d still fight throughout the arena, and that it’d be an excuse to get 20 random guys throwing hands at everyone everywhere? I guess my only complaint would be to ask WHY Dean Ambrose picked a lumberjack match if he was gonna fight Rollins up into the stands anyway.
I’m okay with it getting out of control, though, because everything Dean Ambrose does should be conducted using chaos theory. If he picks a table match and spends the entire time trying to climb up a ladder and pull something down from the lights, I’m in. He should be pro wrestling’s version of The Doctor … a mad man who seems like he’s ruining everyone’s lives and f*cking everything up, but he’s got a plan and you’re just too basic and human to get it.
Even without the lumberjack stipulation there was a lot to love here. Ambrose looking conflicted before hitting Rollins with a Curb Stomp was the GREATEST. I love the suggestion that Ambrose is only lashing out at Rollins like this because he’s still so goddamn heartbroken and doesn’t know how to express himself. So he’s just like I’M DOING YOUR OWN MOVE TO YOU, DO YOU SEE HOW F*CKED THIS HAS GOTTEN?? He’s not just ruining Rollins’ Money in the Bank cash-in chances, he’s transporting Rollins inside his brain, where lumberjack matches involve everybody fighting everybody everywhere, teased headlock drivers from balconies and Stardust creepily blocking off sections of a crowd.
I also really like that Rollins has finally “taken out” Ambrose and is now free to get in a few cash-in opportunities on the same night Brock Lesnar won the championship as both the most overpowered and never-there WWE Champion in history. Dude finally got a window and now boom, nothing.
Best: The Director Of Operations Directing Operations
Big ups to Kane for finally turning “director of operations” into a job. Normally his role is to stand in the background of Authority segments or be like “Raaaandy, you made me kind of mad so you’ve got a match TONIGHT.” General irrational heel GM stuff. Here, a WWE match stipulation has gotten out of hand and the lumberjacks are proving to be largely ineffectual, so Kane jogs out and starts handling shit himself. That’s GREAT. That’s how a 7-foot Director of Operations should work. And hell, a supplementary Best for Goldust getting in the ring and getting in his face about it, because “The Rhodes Family hates The Authority” is the story WWE needs to remember and bring back the most.
Best: Sign Of The Night