Well, this should be interesting. I’ve not seen a full episode of Raw in about five years. Not only that, but I stopped watching WWE completely around 2009 and I’ve only seen bits and pieces since (mostly CM Punk stuff). The only WWE show I’ve watched in full over the last year was WrestleMania (compare that to around seventy events from Japan), and from their biggest show of the year alone I could see major issues with the booking and the in-ring. "New York Style" isn’t something I particularly enjoy anyway, but the flaws in the work are gaping and obvious. What’s worse is that this Raw follows New Japan’s biggest show of the year; Wrestle Kingdom, which featured two phenomenal main events (Okada-Tanahashi ***** and Nakamura-Ibushi *****) and set a bar so high that WWE just can’t compete with it. So, why am I even reviewing Raw then?
Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Booker T. Last time I watched a full episode of this show, both former wrestlers were still active and Booker T was in TNA.
Video Control gives us some clips from last week, making me really confused as Edge & Christian seemingly now have a chat show? [Editors note: It was a one-off deal, combining Edge's Cutting Edge with Christian's Peep Show). The booking is already a bit weird as Seth Rollins threatens to break Edge’s neck if John Cena doesn’t bring back the Authority. But surely Edge hates Cena, and vice versa? They had a bloody violent feud based on that mutual hatred. It pretty much defined Edge as a champion. Apparently that’s all been forgotten about because they had a brief moment together backstage last week. Super. Also, the Authority were booted off TV for all of a month. I’ve only been back for three minutes and I’m already totally confused.
Promo Time: John Cena vs. The Authority
The ring is full of the WWE roster to greet the returning Authority, which means Raw kicks off its new year, "WrestleMania Season" and my return to watching the show with a long, rambling Triple H promo. Some things never change. This goes on for a while, then the Authority bring out Seth Rollins and add him into the already announced John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar title match at the Royal Rumble before booking Cena’s Survivor Series buddies into shitty matches, with Dolph Ziggler against Bad News Barrett taking place right now.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dolph Ziggler (c) vs. Bad News Barrett
I did a quick look through the Intercontinental title history to see what I’d missed out on over the past five years, but there’s really nothing memorable. Barrett is actually a four-time former champion though. How did that happen? I seriously miss the days of the IC title being an important and worthwhile championship. It can still be done though. Take New Japan and their obsession over the importance of title belts. All of their titles mean something and their version of the IC belt headlines PPVs and is held by one of the biggest stars in the company, Shinsuke Nakamura, and is used to elevate talent. Just the day before this show Nakamura defended the belt against Kota Ibushi, practically MADE Kota as a main event, tore the house down and had a match of the year contender. The WWE’s version of the same belt? Not quite so important. Yet another note, before we get underway, about ring announcer Eden Stiles. She’s competent, has a decent voice, inflection-wise, and she’s a lot better to look at than Howard Finkel. I totally would. I get that the WWE hire people based on appearance rather than talent but it’s nice when they get both. Cody Rhodes, the lucky bastard, is married to her.
1st Fall: I’m well aware this isn’t announced as 2/3 falls, but it will be. I’ve always liked Ziggler but his lack of forward momentum in the WWE shows how little they care about making new stars. Maybe it’s because Ziggler is so good at selling. Wrestlers like that tend to get stuck in a niche and are forced to get everyone else over. The first fall is all Barrett dominating with boring holds until Ziggler rolls him up for the win. Corporate Kane strolls out here and makes this 2/3 falls. So it’s 1-0 Ziggler.
2nd Fall: A word on the camerawork; it’s fucking abysmal. ZOOM IN, ZOOM OUT, ZOOM IN, ZOOM OUT. Just hold the fucking camera still, monkey, you’re giving me a headache. It actively makes me hate watching. Barrett continues to boss the second fall, hits Wasteland and levels the scores. 1-1.
3rd Fall: Seeing as Ziggler is lying around selling, they play Barrett’s music. What a promotion. Ziggler’s injury becomes the focus for the match but he kicks out of Wasteland. Okay, cameraman, we have to come to an agreement here before I puke on my keyboard. Just stop zooming in and out. Just stop it. Barrett, not content with slipping two rest holds into the first fall, then slaps on a rest hold so they can have a chat. Top work. Chinlock. Chinlock. Chinlock. Chinlock. Zzzzz. Is the match going on for the entire rest of the show or something? Speaking of which, why is Raw three hours long now? Isn’t it bad enough that Hollywood has no idea how to keep their movies at a reasonable length anymore (Peter Jackson, I’m looking at you). Chinlock. Ziggler runs into the Black Hole Slam for a near fall. Ziggler returns the favour with a superkick. They lie around for a bit and then Barrett hits the Bull Hammer for the win. His FIFTH IC title. Both of these guys could be good, given the right circumstances. At least Ziggler can sell like a champ.
Final Rating: **
Video Control gives us a recap of John Cena’s first big WWE moment: coming out to challenge Kurt Angle on SmackDown in 2002. Shame he botched the handshake with Undertaker. Oh yeah, I may have forgotten to mention; it’s "John Cena Appreciation Night" tonight. There are clips of him all night. I won’t bother detailing the others. This is followed by clips of Big Show and Roman Reigns from last week.
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
His personality stays at home. They try to make him compare himself to Superman. He’s not very good at it.
Video Control takes us to Bray Wyatt, who shows Roman Reigns what an actual promo should sound like. I could actually listen to Bray talk for the entire show, which leads me to believe he should become a commentator when he retires.
The Ascension vs. Jobbers
Konnor & Viktor come out here, dressed like dime-store Road Warriors... to make fun of the Road Warriors. Which is perfect because it sets up... nothing, and makes them look stupid. Okay, not so perfect. The WWE are so respectful of the enhancement guys here that they don’t even have names. The Ascension win in thirty seconds flat. Nobody cares. The only thing this team has to look forward to is WWE.com wishing them the best of luck in their future endeavours.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control gives us a word from Rusev and Lana who big-up Vladimir Putin. Okay then.
Roman Reigns vs. The Big Show
Whenever I saw the Shield wrestle, which I admit wasn’t often, Reigns always looked like the one that the WWE wanted to push but that no one was that into. The Shield was ideal for Roman because it concealed his flaws. Most notably that he can’t talk, but also that his work is WWE-generic. Given the stature of both these guys the match is all clubberin’. I don’t expect much and it delivers. The crowd are dead by the way. Considering the match is only five minutes long it’s so, SO boring. At one point Show just hooks a bearhug and I swear Reigns falls asleep in it. It’s like watching two guys working in treacle, it’s so slow. Show then uses the ring steps and mercifully it’s a DQ. I don’t think I could have stood much more of that crap.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control replays the opening promo, just in case you’ve forgotten what happened an hour ago.
Nikki Bella vs. Natalya
Nikki has her sister Brie out here so Paige turns up to even the score. This is pretty sloppy. Natalya wins with a roll up after about a minute.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us backstage for words from Dean Ambrose. I have no idea why they’ve booked Ambrose and Wyatt together when they can both sell an issue with someone a bit straighter. Their promos are great but they’re both a bit crazy. Putting them together just doesn’t make sense as all it does is nullify their strengths. The usual mind games don’t work.
Erick Rowan vs. Luke Harper
These guys both used to be in the Wyatt Family. I’m not quite sure of the logic behind why they were removed from that stable and pitched against each other. Special referees for this are Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury, heels representing the Authority. They side with Harper, who seems to be heel. I say “seems to be” as he has only one facial expression. Harper wins, with a very fast count, and nobody cares. You know what they should do with Luke Harper? Give him a My Name is Earl gimmick where he tries to make amends for the bad things he’s done. Not only because that would interest me, but also because he looks like Jason Lee.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control goes backstage to see Alicia Fox attack Naomi.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
This is WWE’s fourth ambulance match, according to Wikipedia, and I vividly remember the first one between Kane and Shane McMahon… because it was awful. They actually stole the gimmick from WCW! It was Mike Awesome’s speciality match. The problem with a gimmicky match like this is you lose the thrills and spills of near falls. "Nearly" putting someone in an ambulance doesn’t count. The match does mark an important turn in the show though, as the fans actually seem to care about it and Ambrose in particular. Shame WWE are pushing Roman Reigns and not him. The work in the match is a lot tighter than anything else on the show, the opener aside. The similar personalities seem to have the crowd divided though, and it’s a snoozer for Corpus. I appreciate the WWE feeling the urge to let this develop and giving it twenty minutes to do so, but it may have been a mistake. Or the lack of big spots is the mistake. The focus is Ambrose having his leg worked over before they give up on that and just brawl around aimlessly. The spots look painful, rather than good. Ambrose ups the ante a bit by hitting a dive off the ambulance to put Bray through a table. I like his selling of the knee afterwards as it harks back to the work they put in earlier. Bray hits Sister Abigail a few times and that’ll do it. What a strange piece of booking. Match was okay, certainly better than anything else on the show.
Final Rating: **3/4
Video Control replays that same promo from the top of the show. Again. Is this just so we don’t forget who Stephanie McMahon is?
The Usos & Naomi vs. The Miz, Damien Mizdow & Alicia Fox
Part of my research for this show was watching about twenty minutes of Damien Sandow impersonating The Miz. He’s a funny guy. Apparently these aren’t men and women, they’re superstars and divas. That is why I could never commentate on WWE: I’m not part of the "WWE Universe", thanks, I’m a wrestling fan. Mizdow taking Miz’s bumps on the apron is good for chuckles. Headlocking the ropes while Miz has a headlock on also makes me laugh. Mizdow is popular as hell too, mainly because Miz cuts him off before he does anything in the ring. The wrestling in this is fun enough and Miz wins with a roll up after Naomi causes an accidental distraction. Really short at four minutes though. I like my trios matches to have time to develop.
Final Rating: *3/4
Ryback vs. Kane & Seth Rollins
If there’s a wrestler I give less of a shit about than Ryback I’ve yet to see him. Meanwhile Kane still wrestling in 2015 is ridiculous. Did he not save anything? Has he got a massive gambling problem? Just retire. The crowd gets on Seth’s case for being a sell-out, but at least he has heat, which puts him in an elite bracket if this crowd is anything to go by. The crowd seem to like Ryback too, which most people are putting down to his shoot-esque promo last week. It’s a pity this match is such a non-event until Ryback’s comeback. It’s very Goldberg-y. Kane has to save Rollins from Shellshock, which earns him a Shellshock, but Seth is able to run back in and Curb Stomp the Big Guy. I know they’re calling it a curb stomp but it’s not. Super Dragon’s curb stomp is a fucking curb stomp. Ryback eats another and stays down.
Final Rating: *1/2
Adam Rose vs. Big E
The New Day faction (Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) = three guys Vince McMahon put together because they’re black. Adam Rose I’ve never seen before, but he’s just a super-bland WWE style worker, actively boring in the ring. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro, wearing masks, run in for the DQ. What in the world are the WWE doing with Cesaro? He should have had at least one run with the WWE Title by now, not be slumming it with all these useless twats.
Final Rating: DUD
John Cena Appreciation Night
Triple H and Steph come back out here to jaw some more. They talk for ten minutes, bring out John Cena, thank him and then bring out Ziggler, Rowan and Ryback to fire them. Because *that* will stick beyond a week. Nobody "grabs the brass ring" and does a goddamn thing. I must admit, the peppy music and confetti that plays us out makes me laugh. Especially with everyone looking so miserable in the ring.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Dolph Ziggler. Put in a decent shift in the opener. Can’t blame him for Barrett’s malaise.
Least Entertaining: Roman Reigns. It either him or Big Show for their colossal bore of a five-minute match. Reigns had a promo that sucked too so he wins.
Quote of the Night: “The devil is real, and he’s not just a man with pointy horns and a curly tail. He is suffering. He is pain” – Bray Wyatt.
Match of the Night: Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose. It wasn’t a good match but at least some of the spots were cool. The elbow drop off the ambulance was a bright point in an otherwise dull show.
Verdict: It’s been a while since I saw one of these so it’s hard to really gauge if this is a good Raw or a bad Raw or just a normal Raw. Three hours is way too long, yet even at that length the matches seem to get stiffed for time. At least the ambulance match got some time to play out, but the wrestling in the WWE is so insipid I’m almost thankful some of the other matches were kept brief. Show vs. Reigns felt like an eternity and it was only five minutes long. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by watching New Japan so much over the last year, but it’s hard to get an investment in the WWE.