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An Elegy for the Authority. Plus: The Maskies!

Handing out awards ahead of WWE’s dismal-looking ‘Tables, Ladders, Chairs … and Stairs’ pay-per-view.

It feels like just last week, the Authority was domineering the WWE and persecuting our beloved heroes under the pretense of doing what’s “best for business.” Led by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, the group was ruthless, it was evil, and fans were delighted to see the team deposed after losing at Survivor Series. And now that the Authority is gone, we finally have the wrestling promotion of our dreams.

Except … we don’t. The Anonymous Raw General Manager (ARGM) has resumed authority, presumably retconning the ending to the previous GM story line, when Mr. Anonymous was revealed to be Hornswoggle. And despite Mr. Anonymous’s flair for grabbing the spotlight, this exasperating laptop computer appears to be running off a spreadsheet the Authority drew up months ago. How else to explain that the story lines have hardly advanced at all since last month? How else to explain that the ARGM seems to have no discernible managerial differences from the Authority?

Well, there’s the kayfabe answer and the real answer. The real answer is that story lines aren’t changing because the real, behind-the-scenes matchmakers haven’t changed. As for the kayfabe explanation, in all likelihood, WWE will abandon the ARGM rather than risk another unfulfilling payoff. For all we know, the company has abandoned it already. But the only ending it could pin on this story that would actually be satisfying would be conspiratorial — that the force behind the Anonymous Raw GM is none other than Triple H himself. What better payoff to a silly story line in the Reality Era than to have Triple H revealed, and then have him come out and cut a scathing promo, telling the booing fans, “That was a story line, you marks! What did you think, that my father-in-law wouldn’t let me run Creative? Hahahaha!”

That’s expecting too much. Maybe I just long for the days of the Authority because if absolutely nothing is going to change now that the group is out, at least back then we had Triple H and Stephanie to enjoy — or to enjoy complaining about. Now, all we’ve got to complain about are the matches and story lines. What’s the point of an Authority-free Raw if the ouster doesn’t bring about any change? It’s a call without a response: Instead of using the moment to launch a new era in WWE, the company seems to have mistakenly thought it was a meaningful story line in and of itself. Which is insane.

I came out of Survivor Series anticipating a battery of intriguing new feuds: Rollins-Ziggler, Harper-Rowan, and Rusev-Ryback. (And Cena–Big Show, which we’ve seen a million times before, but which isn’t a poor use of those two wrestlers.) Instead, with Sunday’s TLC pay-per-view, we’re getting the same stuff we’ve been watching the past two months, except with weaponized chairs and ladders. And to make matters worse, we’re getting it three weeks after Survivor Series — and one of those weeks was claimed by the infernal Slammy Awards.

At least in this time of despair, it gives me a reason to post that video — and to turn this column into the 2014 Maskie Awards! Without further ado …

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Most Poorly Assembled PPV

To this Sunday’s TLC: Tables, Ladders, Chairs … and Stairs, which has had almost no meaningful narrative buildup.

Most Unnecessary PPV Name Change

Another big win for TLC: Tables, Ladders, Chairs … and Stairs. It would be one thing if the previous title had specifically ruled out stairs as weapons, but it didn’t. Besides, the ring stairs have been a regularly used weapon for the past six months. At this point, the stairs are a more common weapon than ladders or tables. WWE might as well call the event TLC: Tables, Ladders, Chairs … and Stairs … and Fists … and the Announcers’ Table, in case “Tables” Didn’t Cover That. Now there’s a title worthy of $9.99.

Ctrl+V Booking Award

To John Cena versus Seth Rollins, the only main event in recent memory for which I have no explanation. I mean, I know the match is scheduled because Cena is WWE’s biggest good guy and Rollins is the biggest villain, and without a title match to buoy TLC, WWE decided to play it safe and put the two together. But I can’t for the life of me remember why, in story line terms, Cena and Rollins have a reason to fight. Team Cena deposed the Authority at Survivor Series, so that beef is squashed, right? What else is at stake? Thank goodness Wikipedia was there to remind me:

On the December 1 edition of Raw, Seth Rollins attempted to persuade John Cena to bring the The Authority back into power, but they were interrupted by the Anonymous Raw General Manager, who announced that Cena and Rollins would face off in a Tables match at TLC and added that if Cena loses, he will no longer be the #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Oh, right — they’re feuding because Rollins asked a favor from Cena and then a laptop told them they would fight in two weeks. And putting Cena’s no. 1 contender status on the line seems to ensure a Cena win. And if it’s not, well, that’s a worse payoff to a Guaranteed Title Match story line than when Damien Sandow cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase last year and John Cena squashed him to set up a title unification match between Cena and Randy Orton.

You know what would have made more sense? If the Authority had gotten a reprieve from being deposed because Sting interfered and lost the Survivor Series match for the group. That way, this match could serve as a final one-on-one to decide if the Authority would stay in power. Then there would be real stakes. Then the odds wouldn’t seem so stacked in Cena’s favor. Then fans might actually root for Cena. Then we might actually care.

The Reverse Jinx Award

To Dolph Ziggler. I’ll be rooting hard against him in Sunday’s Intercontinental Title match with champ Luke Harper. Ziggler was the star of Survivor Series, but since then he’s been crowded out of the spotlight by John Cena. If there’s any hope of Ziggler getting a main-event run, he’ll have to leave the IC title behind. So even though he needs every PPV win he can get, Ziggler deserves to be beyond this feud. I understand that you could say that about every wrestler in every match on this card, but for Dolph it’s a moral argument. He deserves a push. So join with me: “Boooooooooo!”

Best Reason to Watch Smackdown

To Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt. If it seems as if these two are feuding in a different dimension from the rest of your favorite WWE superstars, it’s because they are. Most of the good stuff they’ve done for the past couple of months has happened on Smackdown. Which is a good thing — they have more space to operate there, and the energy of their Raw segments usually gets sapped by the show’s three-hour slog. But disappearing to Smackdown does sort of diminish what should be an epic feud between Ambrose and Wyatt. There are only so many times you can say, “This matchup could be headlining WrestleMania in a year or two” before you realize there’s nothing else positive you have to say about it. Their TLC match could be a lot of fun, unless they just use it as a promo for their match next month, which is what they did at Survivor Series.

The Bathroom Break Moment of the Night

I like Ryback! I like Kane! They’re fighting on Sunday and I don’t like any part of it. They’re both serviceable role-players when used in a specific feud or as part of a larger story line, but against each other? With only the loosest narrative supporting their grudge? You’ll excuse me if I make a quick exit. (And WWE made this a Chairs match, which is always the dopiest stipulation on the TLC card.)

Lifetime Achievement Award in the WWE Tag Division Over the Past Four Years

To the Usos, who have been the backbone of the tag division seemingly forever, to the point that I can’t remember tag matches without them. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. At this point, I’m pretty sure they wrestled Demolition and the British Bulldogs in a triple-threat match at WrestleMania 9.

Sadly for them, the Miz and Damien Mizdow have brought more joy to wrestling fans with their baby-oiled Marcel Marceau routine over the past couple months than the Usos have in as many years. So when the two teams square off on Sunday, let’s hope it’s an official changing of the guard.

The Jim Ross Memorial Bowling-Shoe Ugly Slobberknocker Award

To Big Show versus Erick Rowan in a Stairs match, which will be like a normal match where they throw each other into stairs and hit each other with stairs, except now the stairs are technically legal and presumably they’ll be brought into the ring. I’m intrigued by Rowan’s babyface magnetism, and he has pretty good chemistry with Show. But outside of the stare-down and the, um, stair-down, I’m not sure what else is going to fill up 10 or 15 minutes here. These are two semi-mobile guys who would be best suited just to wail on each other for 10 minutes à la Stan Hansen and Vader, but that’s not WWE’s style. I’d make a joke here, but Kayfabe News already beat me to it.

Most Inauspicious Beginning

To the New Day — the trio of Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E — who disappeared from TV several months back and finally emerged as a kid-friendly squad of upbeat inspirational fellows. I really have no idea what to make of the team, but make no mistake: The WWE universe was on the verge of giving these guys Rocky Maivia heat on Monday night. (For the uninitiated, that means WWE made New Day so obnoxious that fans wish the group were dead.) If this is a setup for a big heel turn, then it’s coming along well. If WWE wanted to inspire anything other than a sudden need to wretch, then it’s failing wildly.

The Déjà Vu Award

Rusev and Jack Swagger feuded a couple of months ago, and despite Swagger being more over than he’d ever been in his career, he fell victim to the never-ending monster push of Rusev. Now, even though Survivor Series opened up an opportunity to set up new feuds between Rusev and Ziggler, Ryback, Rowan, or Cena, he’s back to beefing with Swagger. If everything else on this card didn’t feel like so much of a placeholder, I might think WWE had something special in store for us this time. But it doesn’t. Sorry, Swags.

Most Likely to Be Drowned Out by “CM Punk!” Chants

In a parallel universe, Nikki Bella versus AJ Lee might be the women’s feud of the year. In this universe, it’s a platform for fans to titter about the participants’ significant others: Nikki’s on-again, off-again boyfriend John Cena and AJ’s husband CM Punk, whom you may have seen a tweet or two about lately. (Nikki’s twin and cornerperson, Brie, is married to Daniel Bryan, the long-injured hero of WrestleMania 30, which only compounds matters.) All of the good that AJ has done over the past 10 months has been drowned out by semi-ironic “CM Punk!” chants from fans who want to prove that they read wrestling dirt sheets. Now that Punk has formally exited the business, maybe the chants will taper off, but not before Sunday, when the crowd will want to make sure WWE knows they know all the trash that Punk talked on the Art of Wrestling podcast and that they know Punk signed with UFC. Because WWE wouldn’t know you knew that stuff unless you ruined Punk’s wife’s match.

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At the moment, I’m half inclined to chant too. I miss Punk, and I’m a bit down about WWE’s current direction. And yeah, I miss the Authority. Because when the WWE brain trust doesn’t have a proxy for us to cheer against, we’re left to boo other things. And there’s nothing fun about booing a sentient laptop. Especially when you know that, at the end of the day, the real Raw general manager has never changed. It’s the same figure who booked TLC to come three weeks after Survivor Series, and the same person whose favorite day of the year is probably the Slammys. It’s this guy: