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!

Wrestling Flashback – The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels & Triple H Wrestlemania Feud

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The Undertaker’s streak. Many tried to beat it. Monsters like Mark Henry, King Kong Bundy and Giant Gonzalez have tried to crush the Dead Man. They failed. Some have put up championships against the Undertaker, hoping to be known as the great champion that ended the Undertaker’s streak. Batista, Edge and Psycho Sid all put their titles on the line against Undertaker, only to lose those belts they hold dear and become part of the streak. Men like CM Punk had tried to use head games as a means to break the streak, but could not get the job done. Many tried. One succeeded. However, none of the matches came close to the excitement and story-telling than Undertaker’s streak of matches against Shawn Michaels and Triple H.

It was not like none of matches before his encounters with Shawn and Triple H, that spanned from Wrestlemania 25 to Wrestlemania 28, were any good. There were some beauties that the Undertaker took part in against the likes of Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, Ric Flair and even Triple H at Wrestlemania 17. However, none of them stole the show quite like the matches in the saga between Taker, Michaels and Triple H.

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These matches were usually a thing of beauty but the story-telling of these matches were even more impressive. At Wrestlemania 25, Shawn Michaels was the first man to step up. With Shawn Michaels being almost an exclusive to the RAW brand and the Undertaker being almost exclusive to SmackDown!, these two legends never seemed to collide during the brand split of WWE. However, when the two of them would battle in the Royal Rumble, it was usually exceptional. Undertaker and Shawn Michaels produced possibly the best finish to a Royal Rumble match in 2007. While Undertaker won that particular encounter, Shawn returned the favour by eliminating Undertaker at the 2008 Royal Rumble. At Wrestlemania 25, we got to see Shawn and Undertaker go at it for the first time since 1998… in a match that put an end to Shawn’s career for four years.

Shawn was confident though, particular bragging pre-match about how the Undertaker had never beaten him. The two clashed and it was quite possibly the best Wrestlemania match we’ll ever see in our life time. These men kicked out of everything they could throw at each other. Shawn even kicked out of the Undertaker’s tombstone piledriver which caused Jim Ross to, and I quote, “have an out-of-body experience.” In the end, Undertaker prevailed in what was the match of the night by a HUGE margin. And they weren’t finished there…

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Both Undertaker and Shawn Michaels would take a hiatus from the WWE following Wrestlemania, returning in August 2009. Shawn had re-united DX and battled Legacy and Jeri-Show en route to winning the Unified WWE Tag Team titles while Undertaker dominated the SmackDown! roster en route to winning the World Heavyweight Championship. At the 2009 Slammys, Michaels and Taker won the Slammy for Match of the Year. While accepting the award, Michaels issued a challenge to the Undertaker for a rematch at Wrestlemania 26. Undertaker declined, so Michaels would try to force the issue at the 2010 Royal Rumble. If Michaels won the match, he could challenge for Undertaker’s World title and more importantly… the streak. Sadly, Shawn was not able to win the rumble match. Shawn’s life continued to deteriorate, as he was unable to accept his loss to the Undertaker the year before. Michaels’ obsession would lead to Elimination Chamber, where he cost Undertaker the World title. The next night on RAW, Michaels goaded Taker into a rematch claiming that Taker wanted revenge. Taker accepted with one condition… if Shawn lost, his career would be over. Michaels stated that if he couldn’t be Undertaker, he’d have no career and he accepted the stipulation.

While this match was not at the level of their match at Wrestlemania 25, this was still great. It was the main event of the show and rightfully so. Shawn kicked out of everything the Undertaker had and refused to go down. Michaels slapped Undertaker to get him to fight and Undertaker went into a fury. Taker gave Michaels one final tombstone and that was that…. Shawn Michaels’ career was over.

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Having beaten Shawn Michaels in two incredible Wrestlemania matches in a row, the question was this… what could WWE possibly do to follow up two of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history? Their solution was to put Undertaker up against the “Cerebral Assassin” Triple H at Wrestlemania 27…

Undertaker and Triple H had faced each other at Wrestlemania before but this one was very special and necessary for a few reasons…

  1. Their match at Wrestlemania 27 would be a rematch from their previous Wrestlemania 17 showdown ten years before… which Undertaker won.
  2. It’d make sense for Triple H to try and avenge his best friend Shawn Michaels, who had his career ended by the Undertaker.
  3. Triple H and Undertaker, like Shawn and Taker, have both been near-exclusives to the RAW and SmackDown! brands respectively. Therefore, they’ve not really had any big programs together for almost a decade. This was unique.

The first match was made No Holds Barred match. This helped appeal to the intensity of both these characters. These men could go all out and they did. It was hard-hitting and it just helped Taker and HHH thrive. This was not like the wrestling masterpiece that the Michaels/Taker matches were. This was a straight up battle. It suited both men well.

This match was also unique in it’s layout. The story of the match was last outlaw of WWE refusing to give up as Triple H was wanting to put him away. It was not like Undertaker and Triple H just had a great back-and-forth match. It was initially, but then Triple H just simply battered Undertaker. He battered him with chairs, pedigrees and even a TOMBSTONE of his own! However, Undertaker still refused to give. Triple H wanted to end things with his trusty sledgehammer, but Undertaker locked on Hells Gate to make Triple H tap and escape with the streak intact. However, Undertaker ended up being carried out on a stretcher. Undertaker won, but it hardly seemed like a victory. This match was the brightest spark during a pretty lame Wrestlemania 27. The ending was also the perfect set-up for a rematch…

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While Undertaker had spent the year on the sidelines, Triple H had been through a fair amount of character development. Following Money In The Bank 2011, Triple H would take the reins in WWE as the COO. He had traded in his wrestling gear for a suit as he started doing more paperwork than pedigrees. On an episode of RAW in January 2012, Triple H was about to fire Interim GM John Laurinaitis. As he was doing it though, we heard that all too familiar gong. Undertaker returned, hinting towards the rematch. However, Triple H seemed to take a pass on one final match.

Despite pressure from Undertaker and even Shawn Michaels, Triple H refused to face Taker as he didn’t want to destroy the “brand” of the streak that helped made Wrestlemania such a success. It was great that the build up to this match was also able to tie-in to Triple H’s role as COO as well. Undertaker was adamant about erasing the memory of Triple H forcing Taker onto a stretcher the year before and offered Triple H one more shot at immortality. Undertaker went as far as to call HHH a coward and claim Shawn was always better than him, which pushed HHH over the edge. Triple H accepted on one condition… Hell in a Cell.

This was an appropriate finish to this four year storyline. As pointed out, Taker and HHH had a lot of history inside the cell. A standard match might have not had as much impact. The Cell made more sense from a storyline standpoint. Shawn Michaels was also added to the match as he had the streak in the palm of his hand. The stage is set. At Wrestlemania 28, Taker beat Triple H in the cell to take the streak to 20-0 and end the era which I believe was simply this four year storyline. While a lot of people might not have gotten the “End of an Era” billing of the match, I think it was just this era of Wrestlemania matches which was centred around Michaels, Taker and HHH. Jim Ross was also brought into to commentate the match and did a great job.

Now, I’m going to say something which will not be a popular opinion… I was left disappointed by this match. This was by no means a terrible match. It was not as great as their match at Wrestlemania 27 but it was still a great match. However, there were a few things about it that really hurt the match in my opinion.

The first issue I had with it was Shawn Michaels as the special referee. The reason Shawn gets a bit of criticism is because it wasn’t really made clear what his motivation was leading into this match. It was kind of hinted on television that he was going to screw Undertaker. However, the storyline in the match became about whether Michaels would allow his friend to do what Michaels himself was unable to do or if he would help his friend end the streak of the man that had ended Michaels’ career. Therefore, everything Shawn was doing as the referee was just dead confusing to me. He teased calling for the bell, then he jumped in when Triple H was beating Undertaker with the chair and then he tried to screw Taker himself with the super kick. By the way, that Super Kick/Pedigree spot was the highlight of the night.

The point is, Michaels’ actions just came off as so confusing that it looked for all the world like he was Darth Vader struggling to decide between saving Luke or siding with the Emperor but it was done in such a complicated matter that it took way from his role as referee. There was also the use of the Hell in a Cell itself. Now let me just make clear that I did not expect HHH and Taker to do something crazy like going to the top of the cell. However, HHH said in a promo leading into the match that he and Taker should “go all the way.” To me, it didn’t look like they “went all the way.” It looked like they just did a repeat of the match from the year before, added Shawn Michaels and a Cell. They rarely ever used the cell. I would have preferred it if they just left it to being a singles match with Shawn as the referee. At least then, the cell wouldn’t have limited Triple H and Undertaker.

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With that being said though, this was still a great match. The hug at the end was great and it was a great way for this saga to end.