Coming hot off the heels of one of the most divisive pay-per-view shows in company history, the 2015 Royal Rumble, is this much-anticipated episode of Raw live from Hartford, CT, the home of WWE. Only, it's not. So appalled was Mother Nature with WWE's booking of the Rumble match and their handling of Daniel Bryan in particular, that she sent a monstrous snow storm. Thus, Raw in its standard form is cancelled, replaced by a special presentation of the show from the WWE studios. Lucky they were in the area, really. What a way to avoid the guaranteed backlash against their future direction. Chaos on the post-Rumble Raw is becoming something of a tradition now. The original planned Raw will take place on SmackDown this week instead, so I guess we will have to cover that too! I am hoping for something akin to World Championship Wrestling from TBS Studios with tonight's replacement broadcast...
Hosts are Michael Cole and Booker T. We open with footage of the storm and Governor Malloy's declaration that no-one in the state is allowed to travel. It's the first time the weather has lampooned a WWE broadcast in this manner since the Beware of Dog pay-per-view back in 1996. We cut to JBL on the roof of the building, cold and dressed inappropriately for such inclement weather. He has little of note to say. Cole reveals that the broadcast will feature both the triple-threat title match and the battle royal from Royal Rumble in full! Wow, those "stupid" people who ordered last night on pay-per-view who didn't want refunds sure will now! I can't imagine Sky here in the UK are thrilled either. There goes every single replay buy. Cole promises that we will find out the main event of WrestleMania tonight, as if Reigns winning the Rumble and Lesnar retaining was a surprise. Maybe it would have been if they hadn't already showed stills of the results in the opening montage!
We open with the title match, which Arnold Furious covered in his Royal Rumble review. Seeing as I agree with everything he said, here it is:
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena
Cena predictably gets abuse from the moment his music kicks in. There’s no doubt the Philly fans prefer Lesnar to the other two options. Lesnar destroys everything from the bell, including J & J Security. It might as well be a handicap match as he mashes both Cena and Rollins without breaking a sweat. It’s like a suplex exhibition! Cena & Rollins have to team up, it’s the only way to stop Lesnar. FU for Lesnar but he kicks out at ONE and just goes back to destroying both guys. They manage to get Lesnar down on the outside to set up Cena running through his spots to heat only for Brock to come back in and destroy him again! Rollins has to use the ropes to stand any chance along with a stick and move offence. Meanwhile Cena tries to butt heads with the champion, clearly not learning from his previous matches. F5 for Rollins, after he was caught coming off the top in another freakish display of strength, but Cena saves. That gets him destroyed with more suplexes. At this point Brock realises he needs to eliminate one guy to stop the pinfalls being broken up and preps the Spanish table. Cena promptly hits him with THREE FU’s and Rollins breaks the pin. CURB STOMP for Lesnar and Cena breaks that up. Lesnar gets up first so Cena spears him through the rail. Lesnar has now taken five big spots consecutively. If there was ever a chance for one of the other two, it’s now but Brock won’t stay down! Cena has the look of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. He is made of iron! Cena bashes Lesnar with the ring steps to set up Lesnar on the Spanish table and up goes Seth; SAVAGE ELBOW THROUGH THE ANNOUNCE TABLE!
Rollins and Cena have a few tricks left up their sleeve and Rollins flips out of the FU only to get planted with a sitout powerbomb. Rollins innovation mixed with Cena’s power is a great match up. Cena has it won with the STFU but Mercury & Noble save, because there’s no DQ in a three-way match. Meanwhile EMT’s are working on Brock Lesnar. This leads to Cena fighting the odds and numbers game of Seth Rollins. DOUBLE FU ON J & J! FU for Rollins…for 2! Rollins escapes the FU again, twice and hits the CURB STOMP…for 2. Rollins figures he needs something different and goes for the PHOENIX SPLASH but LESNAR IS BACK UP! MORE SUPLEXES! Seth hits him with the briefcase but runs into the F5 and Brock retains in glorious fashion. Insane match. Will very probably be WWE’s match of the year. Best three-way match since TNA’s ones from 2005. It was made believable by Lesnar’s dominance and then injury break. I was expecting a good match but I got epic.
Final Rating: ****3/4
* Note, the match loses quarter of a star from the above rating when aired on Raw due to the incessant commercials, which do a swell job of taking you out of the moment every five minutes.
Sit-down Interview Time: Seth Rollins
"My performance last night at the Rumble will speak for itself." Okay, interview done then...
...Oh, he is still talking. See, this is why you shouldn't speak in clichés like a Premiership footballer. Michael Cole is the quizmaster here, asking Rollins a number of inane questions about some of the things he did in the match that we just watched. Rollins is broody about his defeat, and admits he underestimated Lesnar, but says the one thing he has that Lesnar doesn't is a Money in the Bank briefcase. That kind of talk defies logic. Lesnar is the champion, the thing the briefcase holder wants to be. Why does Lesnar care if you have a dented briefcase with a garish paint job? He has the belt! Rollins takes offence to Cole wrapping up the interview because Lesnar is up next. He claims he isn't going anywhere and Lesnar will have to kick him out of his chair to move him. Wouldn't it be hilarious if Rollins tried to cash in tonight in the studio? They could have a crazy brawl around the building a'la Jim Duggan and Harley Race at the 1987 Slammy Awards! This interview was largely pointless, just necessary filler to pad out the show.
When we return from commercial, Rollins is still sat there. Lesnar turns up and tells him to shift. Rollins does, though throws the chair over in a fit of petulant rage. All talk but ultimately a weasel, like a good heel should be.
Sit-down Interview Time: Brock Lesnar
Lesnar confirms Cole's report that he broke his rib last night, but says he got through it like he always has. If they are not turning him fully-fledged babyface then they really are completely lost. The way he has been booker the last three times he has been on television has screamed babyface, but I am not sure they know the difference anymore. Cole creates his own narrative with a theory that Lesnar is at odds with the Authority, but Paul Heyman immediately pooh-poohs that notion. Cole changes tact and brings up the Undertaker's streak being broken at WrestleMania, then in a current and relevant question, asks him how he managed to overcome Taker's mind games. Who cares!? That was a year ago! We have moved on to a much darker time since then. "You're now on a collision course with last night's Royal Rumble winner Roman Reigns..." says Cole, giving away the already given away result of a day old show that they were trying to keep as a surprise. Does that mean we can just skip the rigmarole of sitting through the hour-long abortion again? "Maybe I will meet this guy later," says Brock, much to my amusement.
Royal Rumble Match
I have better things to do than sit through this again. Once was bad enough, and the gall of WWE to show it again is remarkable. Arn did a grand job covering the whole thing in his show review, so I will just offer a few notes:
* Miz and Truth being numbers #1 and #2 really rather set the stage for the worst Rumble match that I can remember. A skinny aloof imbecile and a long since irrelevant throwback to the year 2000, entering to the sound of complete apathy.
* If Michael Cole says, "Oh my..." once more I might be forced to garrotte him.
* Bubba Ray Dudley's return was a genuine surprise and I was delighted to see him. But boy, was his fat! He had got into such great shape as the awesome Bully Ray in TNA, yet in WWE he looked to have piled on fifty pounds in just a few weeks. Maybe it's the gear. Actually, Bully Ray was a far stronger persona than Bubba and it would have been good to see him combine that with the Bubba stuff, but hey, no real complaints. This for me, was the highlight of the entire match. It was a one shot, but the pop he got might get him rehired permanently.
* Truth was clearly only in the match because he is black, and thus could serve as a fake shemp D-Von Dudley. Philly were slow on the uptake in asking for tables, and Bubba had to lead them into the chant, like an Indy guy.
* There were a lot of staredowns with little follow up in the early stages.
* Surely, judged on the reaction and the way Harper and Rowan have floundered of late, the Wyatts should be reunited. Of course, that would rely on WWE listening to its audience, which we all know is a laughable notion.
* I like the Boogeyman, and I am not sorry.
* The way Bray was dominating here, the logical payoff appeared to be a big fat "DONG" (ahem) and the arrival of The Undertaker to throw him out. That was the direction that screamed out at me, at least. Instead, he lasted until the end then got dumped out, pointlessly. I am fairly convinced that Taker won't be wrestling at WrestleMania based on this.
(Though as I write this, Undertaker had just tweeted a WrestleMania logo)
* Daniel Bryan is the most over guy in the company. He has been for over a year. But then, you all know that, everyone knows that. Only Vince McMahon and his band of idiots don't know that.
* DDP was a fun entrant, though did his back ever look like it was giving him hell after all those Diamond Cutters. I hope he brought his yoga mats with him. The good news is, the guy is so overwhelmingly positive that he probably consoled poor Roman Reigns after the show and made him feel better about himself.
* And there goes Daniel Bryan, and with him, at least a few hundred if not thousand WWE Network subscriptions. I actually think the #CancelWWENetwork movement was a brilliant idea. You can shout and holler all you want at WWE's decisions, but the only thing that resonates with crazy old Vince is the almighty dollar. Hit him in the pocket where it hurts, and changes will come. Cancel it for the next generic pay-per-view Fast Lane and reorder for WrestleMania. They get their numbers real time these days, so it could well force their hand.
* This match is now worthless. The air has left the building thanks to Bryan's elimination and the crowd HATE everything. Literally, everything and everyone. Kofi? Hate him. Goldust? Hate him. Adam Rose? Hate him. Roman Reigns? LOATHE HIM.
* When your audience, the people who buy tickets, not just those on the internet who like a rant, but the paying public turn on what they are seeing and chant "Bullshit" and "We want refunds" that is not just a few people trying to get themselves over. They are giving you a message, they are actively telling you what they want to see and what they are willing to pay and see. They are also making it very clear what they don't want to see, yet that is the exact thing you give them. Why? Arrogance? Refusal to accept that anyone else is right? Bull-headed determination and balls the size of grapefruits? No, it is sheer, unadulterated stupidity. WWE has held a wrestling monopoly on a global stage (yes, NJPW and others exist, but nothing has the international exposure of WWE) since 2001, they should be MUCH bigger than they are. Wrestling is cyclical, they say, but WWE hasn't been truly hot since 2001. It has had moments, but not sustained eras. Bryan, genuinely, could be the guy to change that. Of course in this hyper-managed, PG, ultra-dull and screamingly generic era, WWE can never be truly huge again. There are too many Vince idiosyncrasies that have turned into baffling doctrine ("WWE Universe", use of writers, every set looking identical, every TV format being identical, emphasis on roid guys, etc) for anything to change.
* I feel bad for Roman Reigns. I thought he was great in the Shield, he genuinely was the next breakout star. People would have been behind him if his character hadn't become a John Cena facsimile overnight. His horrible promos and cheesy Rocky Maivia-esque grin have killed him. As well as his not being Daniel Bryan. Reigns is not the problem, he is not the target of the hatred, he is just the one on the receiving end of the fans' resentment towards WWE's way of doing things because everyone knows he is the chosen one. The hatred is absolutely vicious, so sustained that it sounds like vuvuzelas.
* Big E is horrible. People used to yammer on about how good he was before he got called up, but I think he looks like he is suffering a seizure every time he comes to the ring. The way he gyrates and judders is not natural!
* The Mizdow stuff was okay, but the endgame will no doubt see him punished for daring to get over with a silly comedy gimmick and he will become 2015's equivalent of Fandango.
* Remember when Jack Swagger was World Champion? It really happened!
* JBL claims Lex Luger is the only person to win the Rumble who didn't go on to win the WWE Title. Except Jim Duggan. And John Studd. I barely count the "World Title" as a real belt either, which eliminates another half.
* Kane beat Shawn Michaels' total eliminations record. Why? Now all the record holders are crappy. Rey Mysterio longest time? It should be a stamina guy like Greg Valentine or Ric Flair. Kane most eliminations? For what purpose? Roman Reigns most eliminations in one match? Contrived.
* They even tried to break the one-second quickest elimination record with Titus O'Neill in this match, but their golden boy, Dean Ambrose and Titan combined to make an arsehole of it. Instead of one second, Titus went in four. I mean, wow.
* I bet CM Punk is genuinely thrilled that his name is now codeword for "We hate this product" when chanted by fans. It is somehow fitting.
* Is there anything more distressing than the sight of the Big Show as a main event guy in 2015?
* Other than Kane as a main event guy in 2015?
* Hey, remember that time when Kane and Big Show combined to eliminate everyone on the roster with a shot at being a future star in the company? It's Vince McMahon Booking #101.
* When The Rock gets booed (and yes he got cheered briefly first) then you know there are problems. Having him wheeled out to endorse Reigns is a complete waste of time and money from a company that can barely afford to squander resources so flagrantly.
* Listening to the announcers after Reigns wins is comical. It is as if they are commentating on something occurring in a parallel universe, because what they are saying doesn't match what is on the screen whatsoever. They push Reigns' win as a great ascension, his crowning glory, but the hatred aimed at him is inescapable. I guess he is just "polarising" like John Cena now.
* I hate all of the pointing that goes on at this time of year. "Look, it's a sign... Oooohhh". Rumble winners are all like those little green aliens in Toy Story, wowed by the simplest of things.
* Where were all the NXT guys? Any of them would have been better than the likes of Titus O'Neill, Curtis Axel, Fandango... Well, pretty much the entire roster, actually.
* On that note, where was Randy Orton? He should have been involved really, because this match showed how little depth there is in this roster. Actually that is not true, they have a great roster, it is just horrendously utilised.
* Sting was teased earlier on in the show. While we are at it, why wasn't he at the show?
I don't care who wins and who loses, it's all just nonsense anyway. What I do care about is that a company can be so blind to what its audience wants and so unwilling to give even an inch. They have done it for years with Cena, they are going to do it for years more with Reigns. That, combined with the numerous other idiotic booking decisions, the horrible use of talent and the overuse of talentless, plus the generally tedious nature of the whole thing means this is the first negative star Rumble I have ever seen.
Final Rating: -*
Back in the studio, JBL thinks he saw Roman Reigns come of age last night. Which means, that in Vince McMahon's head, that's what he thinks happened.
Sit-down interview time: Roman Reigns
Byron Saxton gets the honours this time. To WWE's credit, they do tackle the issues of the tough crowd (Roman says they paid for a ticket and so can boo and cheer whoever they want, but really, what else would he say?) and that he has been handpicked for success. Though, that second question is one of those bizarre quasi-shoot comments that doesn't make sense in a kayfabe context. Reign's, who comes across far better here than in his Vince-scripted bullshit on the usual TV, says "thank you for the opportunity" before saying he is still the one who has to perform and deliver, regardless of what opportunities are given to him. It's a strange old answer for a strange old question given the context. Reigns discusses his family ties (every wrestling Samoan and The Rock, is the gist) and says he is looking forward to meeting Lesnar. I actually think that will be a good match, I just don't think it is the right match. It just feels so force-fed. Hell, I have known that it was likely he WrestleMania main event since around SummerSlam.
Perhaps concerned about the spate of Network cancellations, WWE has moved Rusev vs. Cena forward from WrestleMania to Fast Lane, which is strange. Either they do a copout finish or they do Even Steven booking and kill the program. Or maybe they will do Cena and Hogan teaming against Rusev and whoever at Mania. Golly. On that note, Hunter and Sting are going to have a face to face "confrontation" at Fast Lane too. Swell. In other news, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. What, for a handful of guest appearances on Raw and SmackDown!?
Meanwhile, a doped up Dean Ambrose has hitch-hiked to headquarters with the message that he is going to make it to WrestleMania.
Sit-down Interview Time: Daniel Bryan
The beautiful Rene Young hosts this, which should be an interesting insight into where things are going. "The people have the power," says Bryan, which is the ironic statement of the night. "They were disappointed because Roman Reigns won, but not because Roman Reigns won, but because it wasn't me," he offers truthfully. He outlines how good a match him against Lesnar would be, and he is right. He blames himself for not winning the Rumble, which is a tactic to stop the fans blaming Reigns and booing him, but it won't work. They can have him cut all of these little speeches as much as they want, but the only thing that will stop the booing is the one thing they won't do. On Thursday Bryan is wrestling Kane, again, this time in a casket match. Who cares!? Really, who cares at all about that?
Roman Reigns meets Brock Lesnar
This is another face to face, with Reigns and Lesnar sat side by side as Cole conducts the interview. Paul Heyman steps in and takes over from Cole as the question master, giving this segment a chance. Heyman says he has known Roman's family longer than he has, and goes over his history with them throughout the years. Nice personal touch. Heyman puts Samoan workers over big, and says he is proud of Reigns. But then he notes that in 2002, Brock beat Rock to win the WWE Title for the first time. That is something WWE rarely acknowledge, primarily because they wanted to do it again. I guess they are not going in that direction again anytime soon then. Heyman says Rock never asked for a rematch because he couldn't beat Brock, and that Reigns has no idea what he is in for. "You can't beat Brock Lesnar," explains Heyman calmly. Reigns turns to Lesnar for his response, and cuts a calm, intense and really quite excellent promo at him. Lesnar jumps out of his seat, Reigns follows and they staredown. "Unlike him, I don't respect you" - Lesnar. "But you will" - Reigns. This is really good actually. It is probably a blessing in disguise that the Blizzard of 2015 has hit because this show has done far more for Roman Reigns than his horribly scripted live promos in front of a hate-fuelled audience ever could have. Based on tonight, it seems very, very clear that they are going with this regardless though, fan revolt or otherwise.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Brock Lesnar. For his performance in the triple threat.
Least Entertaining: The Big Show and Kane. Two guys who need to retire.
Quote of the Night: "The people have the power" - Daniel Bryan. Oh, but they don't.
Match of the Night: Triple Threat. Which now, as wrong as it may be, will without question be the Raw match of the year.
Verdict: It is a tough show to rate due to the nature of it, but it is certainly a unique one. I think many aspects did more for the guys involved than the regular live show would have. WWE seems set in its decision and is sticking to its guns, so let them do what they want to do and suffer the consequences as a result. I actually don't hate the idea of Reigns-Lesnar as much as I did before the show, so in that sense I guess it is a success. The full re-airing of the two biggest matches from Royal Rumble is one that might get them some heat though, and could see fans wanting their money back. We shall see what happens. The non-Rumble portions of this are worth checking out because of how different they are from the norm, though they could have had a lot more fun with the unique setting than they did. An opportunity missed perhaps!