Wrestling Flashback – The CM Punk/Daniel Bryan/AJ Lee Love Triangle

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Lighting up WWE television in 2012 was the “mentally unstable” AJ Lee, becoming the most popular woman on the roster since her major push began as she was the squeeze of World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan. AJ was the neglected girlfriend of the World Champion, who had started to become cocky following his World title victory at TLC 2011. Despite this, AJ still continued to stay with Daniel and even accompanied him to ringside for his big WrestleMania 28 title defense against Sheamus. Daniel requested a good luck kiss from AJ after the bell ran. After the kiss, Daniel walked into a Brogue Kick by Sheamus who pinned him after 18 seconds.

Deeming the kiss as the “kiss of death” Daniel dumped AJ, leaving her heart-broken. AJ began becoming psychologically lost in the ring, with the end of her relationship taking a major toll on her. In one particular match on SmackDown!, Natalya attempted to console AJ during their match. AJ suddenly snapped and attacked Natalya, with the match thrown out due to AJ being unable to control her emotions.

This lead to a major angle involving three men “vying” for the affection of AJ,  with one of those men happening to be the WWE Champion CM Punk. Her ex Daniel as well as the “Big Red Machine” Kane were feuding with CM Punk over the WWE title, with AJ becoming the puppet-master. These tactics included kissing Kane in order to win herself and Punk a tag team match on RAW and even dressing up like Kane. After No Way Out 2012, Kane distanced himself from the feud, even calling AJ “mentally unstable.”

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Punk and Bryan continued to fight for the WWE Championship, with AJ doing her best to gain the attention of both men. AJ’s antics included kissing Punk and pushing both men through a table and even proposing to CM Punk on RAW. AJ was the special guest referee during Punk and Bryan’s no disqualification match at Money In The Bank. AJ continued to play both men before Punk eventually picked up the victory.

I really enjoyed this program between AJ, Punk, Bryan and Kane. How none of their matches never got a pay-per-view main event is beyond me, but AJ became the first diva in years to become a major part of a main event program. The thing I really liked about AJ and this program is that everybody’s actions made sense – EVEN AJ. AJ was playing as the puppet-master all along, manipulating the situation initially to get the affections of CM Punk. Punk did console AJ as soon as Bryan dumped her, so it made sense for Punk to be of AJ’s interest. Even CM Punk’s actions make sense, doing what he thought was best for AJ. He didn’t love AJ but he liked her enough as a close friend in order to take whatever craziness AJ had in store. Punk was not really made to look like a fool, as his main intention above all was to still be the WWE Champion. This mindset actually played into Punk’s heel turn at RAW 1000, with Punk doing whatever it took to protect his title reign.

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Unfortunately for Kane, he was the bumbling boob of the entire story. Kane was initially brought into the program by Punk and Bryan, in order to play them off against each other in matches on RAW. Following this, Kane interjected himself into the WWE title picture. Then AJ started messing with him, which leads to Kane eventually stepping his foot down after No Way Out. The main focus of the feud was Punk, Bryan and AJ, but Kane played a small but necessary role in this storyline. Finally, there’s Daniel Bryan. Daniel’s character in this storyline was really well written. Bryan broke up with AJ due to his selfish desires to become champion. When AJ gets involved, Bryan still insists that he has no feelings for AJ. Despite this, he still continues to try and stir the pot with Kane and Punk. Bryan’s main concern is becoming the WWE Champion, so why not mess with the guys that AJ has feelings for?

When AJ is made the special guest referee for Money In The Bank, Bryan must change AJ’s perception of him in order to try and win her influence. He gets her roses, shows concern and even proposes to her himself. At the end, Bryan’s efforts are unsuccessful as Punk retains. Bryan’s main goal was to become WWE Champion. Punk’s goal was to become WWE Champion but also support AJ. Kane’s goal was to cause destruction, with everybody else using him as their “hired gun” if you will. AJ, on top of all of this, is messing with EVERYONE but not totally evil. She’s just… mentally unstable.

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Leading into RAW 1000, Daniel still continued to court AJ and proposed to her once again. She accepts and the wedding is set for RAW 1000. However, it is revealed that AJ has accepted a proposal from Vince McMahon to become the general manager of RAW. At the end of the day, AJ gained power and now can mess with Daniel Bryan officially as his boss.

Overall, I think this was a great program. I have more Wrestling Flashbacks planned with regards to AJ but I will state that I believe that this was the best that AJ was ever written by WWE. I’ll have a lot to say as AJ’s character is so badly messed up in the last few years of her career when thinking about it in hindsight. What her character would become is nowhere near as detailed and fleshed out as what her character was like in this storyline. This storyline gained her insane popularity and it’s not like she was playing your average crazy diva. She was a sweet but calculated master manipulator… that the fans still cheered!

Everything That’s Wrong With The Dolph Ziggler/Lana/Rusev Storyline

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There have been many bad love triangle storylines in WWE over the years. There are many reasons why storylines like this hardly ever work. You do get the odd little gem from time to time, like Stephanie McMahon, Kurt Angle and Triple H from 2000. However, most of the the time, they are incredibly hard to get into. It’s not necessarily down to the people involved but it’s for one simple reason. Bryan Alvarez said it best. If the casual fan base wants to watch actual soap opera storylines and scripted television, they are not going to watch RAW. They’ll watch the likes of Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones. If you want to watch soap operas in England, you’d watch Coronation Street or Eastenders. These fans would not watch wrestling for a cheap imitation of a soap opera. That’s usually the jists of why these storylines usually fail. Guess what… that’s exactly the issue with this current storyline between Lana, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev and Summer Rae.

Let me just say that I feel bad for everyone involved in this storyline. I especially feel sorry for them after watching this week’s RAW. This storyline is one of the worst aspects of WWE television nowadays… and it was more prominently featured than anything else on the show. The other thing is the timing of every angle from this storyline on Monday seemed all messed up. Firstly, they had the match between Dolph Ziggler and Rusev FIRST. This was a rematch from Summerslam that was announced two days before RAW. Fans would normally be getting excited about the prospect of seeing a clear winner after their Summerslam match solved nothing. However, they just shot this match on first like it meant nothing. It was basically there to act as a prelude for the rest of the night with regards to this storyline. The only PROBLEM with that is, the ending of the match didn’t do anything that would lead into the storyline later on in the show. It was essentially the same finish from Summerslam! That’s why this infuriates me. With everything that happened later on, surely those would be the sort of things that would hype up a match for later on?

Why not have Lana and Dolph Ziggler cut the promo about the match at the start of the show? They can talk about their relationship and making out in Disneyland, etc. Whatever. Then, Summer Rae goes into Dolph Ziggler’s locker room. After that, Summer comes out and Ziggler is seen with his towel on in his locker room. We then hear from Summer Rae as she does her interview about the incident with Ziggler. To be fair, Summer’s actually playing her role really well and she’s actually a pretty good talker on the mic. I’ll give her credit for that. Lana is asked about this interview by Renee Young but she walks off. Ziggler then tries to explain what happened to Lana but she leaves the building sad and upset. This would leave Ziggler all alone to go up against Rusev. Rusev would be pissed because Ziggler was apparently “fooling around” with Summer Rae while Ziggler would be mad at Summer and would take his frustrations out on Rusev in the match. Without Lana at ringside, Rusev beats him in the middle. Or if you still want the DQ finish, Summer attacks Ziggler to cause a DQ. That’s it. It’s simple booking that would lead to people POTENTIALLY getting more anticipated for the match between Rusev and Dolph Ziggler later on in the show!

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I’m not going to lie. Even IF they tweaked the timing of the angles, I still probably would have hated it! However, I am not a casual wrestling fan. If you want to get a soap opera storyline over with the casual fan base, you have to at least have it make SENSE. When you’re watching something like Game of Thrones or the Walking Dead, they usually don’t have a big fight scene or the most important part of the storyline be shown at the start of an episode. The writers build up to that point. These writers in WWE didn’t build up to the big advertised match of Dolph Ziggler vs Rusev. Why would anyone care if you’re just going to shot the match on first with the same finish that you delivered on pay-per-view?

Then there’s the character’s involved in the storyline. Unless you are legitimate actors, it is very hard to convince someone that you’re in a relationship with somebody when you’re not ACTUALLY with them. Dolph Ziggler and Lana have the hardest jobs in the world to try and convince everyone that they ARE in fact in a relationship. How do you convince the WWE Universe that you are in love with this girl when her kayfabe ex-boyfriend Rusev IS her real life boyfriend? I give Lana and Dolph Ziggler all the credit in the world. They’re trying so hard for this stupid storyline to work. WWE have to constantly try to force this relationship upon you in the most cheesiest of ways. The Instagram photos of Ziggler and Lana kissing in Disneyland was mentioned so much during this show! However, you’re putting two characters that are polar opposites together. It’s like when you start off in school or college. It’s the typical relationship that all your friends are trying to put together, but since you’re not that invested, it falls apart. If Ziggler and Lana don’t seem romantically involved then how is this POSSIBLY going to work?

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However, I feel that the person that gets the most sympathy from me… is Rusev. This lad was a cold-hearted destructive Russian power house. He went ONE YEAR undefeated and beat the likes of Sheamus, Mark Henry, Big Show and even JOHN CENA on television and PPV. That’s one hell of a bragging right. However, what this storyline has reduced Rusev to is a heart-broken, sensitive ex-boyfriend. If you’re seeing your ex with somebody else for the first time, of course you’re going to feel emotionally wound up. It’s an extreme reaction which has lead to Rusev doing crazy things like dressing Summer Rae as Lana. He’s the VICTIM of this entire storyline! How do you not feel sympathetic for him in this situation?

Rusev did break up with Lana and was apparently “cruel” to Lana during their relationship. However, Lana was over his relationship with Rusev… in an hour. An hour after Rusev broke up with her, she kissed Dolph Ziggler! Furthermore, with Rusev’s leg injury, he was reduced to crutches having to watch Lana and Ziggler make out every week in the first few months of this storyline! How does Rusev get credibility back as this dominating monster? Considering that WWE has now exposed Rusev as a man with exploitable weaknesses and emotional feelings, it has taken away the fear of the mighty Rusev that made him such a force to be reckoned with in 2015!

This is why I hate how monsters are used in WWE. As soon as you reveal an emotional aspect of these big, bad monsters, it complete ruins the fear factor that they hold. How do you expect Rusev to be taken seriously when he’s going into fits over his ex and having comedy angles involving fish and puppies? This storyline… sucks.

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I really wished this wrapped up at Summerslam. I really did. All they did on Summerslam itself was just waste everybody’s time. In their match on RAW, they wasted everybody’s time. In the segments following that match, they made things even worse. I’m still amazed that Ziggler and Lana are still getting massive reactions after being put through all this. All I’m hoping for at this moment is that they pull the plug on this storyline. Rusev doesn’t deserve this. Dolph Ziggler doesn’t deserve this. Who benefits from seeing this storyline? Why do we need to see this storyline? How badly do you need to cripple the careers of these two great workers until we see this tedious storyline meet its end?