It’s Martin Luther King Day so the WWE start off with a tribute to a man who didn’t want people to be judged by the colour of their skin. Which is exactly what WWE fail to understand. Their faction The New Day is a classic example of this, as it’s three black guys, in a stable together, because they’re black. Martin Luther King would have hated it.
We’re in Dallas, Texas. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Booker T. This is the go-home show for the Royal Rumble. Tonight is also Raw Reunion, whatever that means, so a bunch of old-timers will be back.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
Brock shuts down Heyman’s usual introduction to call out Seth Rollins. Brock’s assertion that when he shows up it’s “business time” makes me chuckle, because it reminds me of the Flight of the Conchords song. Rollins doesn’t show up, but Triple H does. Lesnar threatens him so out comes Steph, Kane and the Big Show. That in turn is interrupted by Seth Rollins from the Titantron. “This will be between the adults, if you don’t mind” – Heyman. Paul goes to “spoil” the Rumble by saying Brock will win, but now out comes John Cena. His promo is deathly dull and he has to resort to cheap pops to wake Dallas up. Everybody talks some more and we eventually get to the point: if Cena wins at the Rumble then Ziggler, Ryback and the other guy get their jobs back. Hunter changes that, and tonight Cena has a match. If he wins the fired guys are back, if he loses he’s out of the title match at the Rumble. These twenty minute opening promos are so boring. It took them eighteen minutes to get to the point. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s been the same way every week, every year since Attitude. I hated it then and I hate it now. It only works when someone actually has something to say. Here it just came down t; Cena vs. The Authority… again.
If that wasn’t spectacularly boring enough, Michael Cole explains how to install the WWE App on an Android phone.
Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan
Now this is how they should have opened the show! Great to see Bryan back in a WWE ring after his serious injury during 2014. Bryan dominates with kicks and hits a dive, showing he’s not scared of being injured again. Then Korporate Kane strolls out WITH HIS MUSIC PLAYING to watch. Why play his music? There’s a fucking match going on! The distraction allows "Idiotic Babyface Guy" to be jumped by the heel. Bray works the neck as Cole suggests Bryan might draw #1 in the Rumble, so that’s happening. The neck being the focus gives Bryan something to sell throughout and Bray amuses himself by smacking him with a massive LARIATOOOOOO. Despite the match being a touch off Bryan’s best, due to his slight rust after such a long absence, the crowd are still into it. Kane interferes and Sister Abigail finishes. I get they’re building a hill for Bryan to climb but you always worry where WWE is going with their booking. This made Daniel look weak. If a guy who hates the babyface is standing at ringside, then surely someone like Cena should know about it and wouldn’t let it cost him the match. I just hope they’re not building to Bryan vs. Kane at WrestleMania because that would suck.
Final Rating: **3/4
Post Match: Bryan gets his heat back... by letting Kane pound the crap out of him for a while. The crowd will still cheer Bryan, WWE, regardless of how often you book him this weakly. The one positive is this at least logically builds to Kane vs. Bryan on SmackDown where if Kane wins, Bryan is out of the Rumble match. Not that the WWE would dare do that after hyping the Rumble itself based on Daniel Bryan being in it.
Backstage: Triple H hangs out with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, which is strange because they’re being faces but Hunter can’t be, and when Shawn Michaels comes in it’s even more palpable how awkward it is that Hunter is a heel. Damien Waltmandow completes the Kliq, only for the actual Sean Waltman to show up. The Miz doesn’t care for that. This segment was painfully forced. Damien Sandow was the only good thing about it.
Royal Rumble Legends Panel
Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels are here to chat about the forthcoming Royal Rumble. I don’t envy them. Shawn gets blown up during his entrance, which is supposed to be funny but no one laughs because he’s clearly in far better shape than anyone else in the ring. The legends are quizzed on potential Rumble winners. Shawn’s pick for is Bray Wyatt (which draws heat). Hogan doesn’t agree and Michaels is all, “here we go, SummerSlam 2005, here we go BROTHER” before backing down, trying to follow on from the earlier joke to still no reaction. That is the problem with having the whole show pre-written. Hogan picks Daniel Bryan, jack (you can tell this was scripted from that alone). Flair picks Dean Ambrose and that gets the biggest pop. Big Show takes umbrage at not being mentioned and joins us. Shawn hiding behind Hogan is funny. Show accuses the legends of jealousness before calling them has-beens. Flair chops him for it and gets knocked out. Roman Reigns runs down for the save. I honestly thought they were going to do something monumentally stupid here (like Shawn, Hogan and Flair beat up Show for cheap pops. I even had the order figured out; superkick, leg drop, figure four). Instead they used the segment to put Roman over. He could have used endorsement from the legends (none of whom picked him), but this didn’t hurt. More importantly he didn’t speak, he just kicked ass. It was a very long segment but at least it ended with a fight and nobody from the active roster got buried. The biggest problem with the "chat" was how forced and scripted it felt. You’ve got three legitimate legends out there and all they’re doing is reading the same boring lines that everyone else reads. It is virtual proof that hardly anyone in wrestling history would have gotten over with this creative team behind them.
Royal Rumble Possibilities:
Seeing as they discussed possible Rumble winners, let’s take a look at that while we still can. Basically the WWE has three options and none of them are good.
Option #1: Daniel Bryan
This is the most likely plan as Bryan can provide WrestleMania with a much-needed over main event. He’ll always have that crowd love and, let’s face it, he should have won the Rumble last year. Having him win this year would be a way to atone for that. The problem is, they already did atone for that at WrestleMania XXX, so they’d just be re-treading their own fire-fighting with this option.
Option #2: Roman Reigns
This seemed like a no-brainer for a while. Reigns was really popular after the Shield collapsed and has the size, power and look that WWE is after. He was hand-picked to join the Shield and he’s the guy the WWE want as champion. The problem is, his momentum has waned, the fans have turned on him and the writing for him, promos especially, has been dire of late. If he wins the Rumble there’s a chance the crowd will turn on him. He’d be better off losing to Bryan, getting frustrated and turning heel. It’s a lot easier to buy a wrestler as a champion the first time around as a heel. The only stumbling block with that would be Seth Rollins.
Option #3: Dean Ambrose
This is the long shot, but the fact Flair mentioned him and got popped for doing so shows the WWE has a slight inclination to consider him. The problem with this choice is the booking has left Ambrose looking fairly useless of late. It might turn out to be their best option as he got over without the office’s help, but the booking has killed him. WWE has effectively painted themselves into a corner and then let Vince McMahon have the paintbrush.
Bad News Barrett vs. Dean Ambrose
I’d like to see the WWE use the IC title as a TV title and have it defended every week on Raw. It’d give the belt some much needed prestige, seeing as nobody cares about it as it is and the champion does needless jobs. Barrett’s title is not on the line. Ambrose sells the knee here, even though Barrett doesn’t go after it. Barrett instead goes after the Bull Hammer, which is blocked and Wasteland, which is countered into Dirty Deeds for Ambrose to win. Another job for the reigning IC champion. On the upside, at least they didn’t pointlessly beat Ambrose again.
Final Rating: *1/4
The New Day vs. Masters of the WWE Universe
Cesaro’s freakish power combines with Kidd’s flying to create the kind of double teams that Roderick Strong & Jack Evans used to innovate. The match is 99% Cesaro & Kidd, and they look great, but Kofi gets a fluke pin on Cesaro for the win. This was depressing.
Final Rating: *
Promo Time: nWo
Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman represent the faction. Apparently “three great gentlemen who changed this business” according to JBL. Yeah, I bet that’s exactly what he was calling them in the nineties. “…Hey, yo”. Nash whores himself out to shill the Network before taking credit for the entire Attitude Era. “We are probably responsible for everything great that has ever been created” – Nash. Their rambling is interrupted by The Ascension. Nash kills them with smirks and shrugs. You started out as a goddamn bodyguard. Show a little respect. JBL jumps up off commentary to BURY the Ascension. He pulls his shirt off to reveal an APA t-shirt and out comes Faarooq! That’s interrupted by the New Age Outlaws, cheap popping their way to the ring with Dallas Cowboys t-shirts. Ascension take a beating and WWE might as well release them now because they’re done. This was fun but at the expense of poor Konnor and Victor.
Paige & Natalya vs. Summer Rae & Alicia Fox
The girls, sorry “divas”, put in a decent shift. There are no botches and the Paige & Natalya team get to look good ahead of the Rumble. Incidentally they’re wrestling the charisma-void Bellas, whose monotonous commentary dragged this one down. Paige submits Alicia for the win.
Final Rating: ¾*
Rusev vs. R-Truth
R-Truth is the linear WWE Champion* so we could be in for a significant title change here. Rusev mashes Ron Killings (on his birthday) and beats him with the Camel Clutch.
Final Rating: SQUASH (Not rated)
*The WWE linear title is determined by all singles match outcomes being title changes. Sometimes the actual WWE champion is the linear champion, but at the moment it’s R-Truth. Well, now it’s Rusev.
Backstage: Brock Lesnar hopes Seth Rollins puts Cena out of the title match at the Rumble so he can get paid to take Seth out. Seth sells Brock like Arnold Schwarzenegger sold the Predator. Lots of sweating and heavy breathing.
Jay Uso vs. The Miz
JBL making fun of Cole for saying the Rumble might come down to Miz and Mizdow is good stuff. The best thing about watching the Miz is watching Mizdow selling the match better than Miz, only outside the ring. So much so that the camera focuses on him, and I don’t mind! Jay promptly beats Miz clean with a Superfly Splash. Hey, remember when Miz main evented WrestleMania?
Final Rating: *
Backstage: Hulk Hogan gets asked about John Cena’s chances tonight. He predicts Cena will win the WWE title, brother. So that’s what gonna happen, jack. Oh, and Ascension vs. Outlaws is actually happening at the Rumble. Good lord.
John Cena vs. Seth Rollins, Big Show & Kane
So if Cena wins, Ziggler, Ryback and Rowan are back. If he loses he’s out of the WWE title match at the Rumble. Naturally we get the standard “Let’s go Cena” chant from the kids and “Cena sucks” from the adults. The whole match is Cena fighting against the odds and is dominated by the Authority goons. It’s actually Triple H, watching from ringside who makes the headlines though, by accidentally making a little kid cry by being too much of a heel. Like Chuck Taylor. Hunter is quick to make amends and consoles the poor kid for his heelness. See, he’s a good guy. Kayfabe be damned! Shame about the match. Luckily Seth gets quite a lot of it and gets to look good at Cena’s expense. Even if he’s blatantly beaten clean with the FU only for Kane to pull the ref out. The match grinds to a halt though as STING appears on the Titantron for his first appearance on Raw. The distracted Rollins gets rolled up and Cena wins, thus reinstating the fired trio of wrestlers from two weeks ago.
Final Rating: **
Post Match: Triple H gets the mic and yells at Sting while the crowd chant “YES”. “STIIIIIINNNG”. Hunter sold the shit out of Sting’s appearance here. Not quite like with Mick Foley being Cactus Jack, but that’s the importance of Hunter’s reaction. Brock Lesnar runs down to add to the misery for the Authority by laying out Seth and kicking his ass. F5 for Kane. F5 for Show. Rollins runs, Lesnar sets down a marker. Shame the WWE saved all the fun stuff on this show for the last three minutes or so.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Daniel Bryan.
Least Entertaining: Stephanie McMahon. Hunter redeemed himself selling for Sting, and Cena put in a decent shift in the main, so the only culprit for the opening twenty minutes of boredom is Steph.
Quote of the Night: “When I show up it's business time, baby” – Brock Lesnar.
Match of the Night: Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt.
Verdict: James is of the opinion this was a better than usual Raw, due to the involvement of the "legends". I don’t quite agree with that. The booking on the show was weird. When bringing an assortment of high-profile names in, surely the aim is to enhance your existing talent and try to improve your product? So what did they do with Hulk Hogan? Shawn Michaels? Kevin Nash? Scott Hall? X-Pac? Dull in-ring talking where nobody got over and nobody on the roster got the rub. That’s five guys they brought in, probably at quite the cost, for nothing at all. The only guy who took a bump was Ric Flair and that was to put over Big Show, as if he needs it. The ongoing booking was bizarre too, as the last two weeks have meant nothing. Ziggler, Ryback and Rowan are all re-hired and Cena is still in the Rumble main event. It all felt like a bit of a waste. The bad overwhelmed the good. The opening twenty minute conversation with nothing happening and no confrontations was unbelievably bad. There was way too much talking on the show in general. The IC champion losing in a non-title match was a bad idea too. The IC champ shouldn’t be jobbing at all, for the good of a belt that’s been booked so badly. You don’t improve matters by booking the champion as a loser, again. Rusev is still being booked strong, but it’s gotten to the point where they don’t know where to take him, other than squashing people. Even the main event, which is the one time WWE got the reactions they wanted and the right results, was with the wrong guy. John Cena, again, two weeks after getting everyone fired and a week after failing to get them re-hired. Cena, Cena, Cena, Cena, Cena. Hey, tune into Raw next week to see what happens to John Cena! It’s gotten to the point where it’s a three hour weekly show to put over John Cena, and that’s working oh so wonderfully well for everybody over the age of twelve.