We’re in Denver, Colorado. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T. Tonight Triple H will make an announcement that will “shake the WWE Universe to its core”. Or he’ll book a match. One or the other.
Triple H's Core Shaking Announcement
Triple H & Stephanie McMahon. Hunter doesn’t make us wait for the big announcement, concerning “controversy” regarding the Royal Rumble. Oh wait, no, they ramble on about the Superbowl and Hunter even jokes about the #canceltheWWEnetwork movement. Another “fuck you” to the fan base. Thanks, guys. The big controversy is The Rock’s involvement in the Rumble match. Hunter cuts a bizarre quasi-shoot promo about outcomes of matches and eventually gets around to blaming Sting for getting in his business. Finally, after plugging the Network (only $9.99 folks!), he gets back to the Rumble and blames Rock for skewing the outcome of the Rumble match. This brings out Royal Rumble winner Roman Reigns. With speculation over the ‘Mania main event out comes Daniel Bryan, the man the fans actually wanted to win the Rumble. Bryan points out he never got a re-match after he was stripped of the title only for Hunter to cut him down for being too stupid for not just asking for a title shot when he came back. This brings out Seth Rollins to declare himself the number one contender, for breaking Brock Lesnar’s ribs. Hunter books Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins tonight and the winner gets Roman Reigns at Fast Lane for the ‘Mania main event, if Roman agrees, which he does. Another chatty opening to Raw but at least this created some interest in the otherwise A to B booking of Lesnar-Reigns. It sure took an eternity to get there, again. This is one of the biggest issues with booking a three hour Raw every week. Creatively it’s always been a bad decision but the additional sponsorship keeps them up there. Actively making the product worse for quick cash. Does nobody see a problem with that in Titan Towers? Apparently Triple H does but the buck stops with Vince.
Roman Reigns vs. The Big Show
One of the worst aspects of Roman’s big push is that they’ve stuck him in with Big Show. Nobody wants to see Show as a hurdle for potential main eventers. Or Kane. He’s deathly dull in the role. At least Roman gets cheered for working him. The criticisms of Roman are largely because of how poorly his booking has been of late. Part of that is putting him in with Big Show. Nobody gets over working Show. Superman Punch but Seth Rollins whacks Reigns with the Money in the Bank briefcase and Show finishes with a chokeslam. I know people don’t want Roman as a main event just yet but having him get buried in the booking like this helps no one. Maybe they figured he should take a loss to take people’s mind off his win. There’s logic in there somewhere.
Final Rating: ¼*
Backstage: The Authority, on the air mind you, point out they couldn’t contractually strip Roman of the title shot and further point out they’ve got Seth Rollins positioned to take Roman’s ‘Mania match. Hunter goes on to say he’ll manipulate Steve Austin tonight on the Podcast too. Even through that’s a kayfabe killing shoot and this is ‘real’. What a mess.
Promo Time: Curtis Axel
He points out he was never eliminated from the Rumble match and claims he would have won if it wasn’t for Eric Rowan. Axel even gets in the ‘pointing to WrestleMania sign’ bit. He demands “justice”, which gets him beaten up by Dean Ambrose and thrown over the top rope.
Ambrose talks about trekking to WWE Headquarters through the snow last week to look at the photographs of legends and former champions there. He claims that because he beat Bad News Barrett, he’s next in line for the IC title (continuity is always welcome). Ambrose wants his picture in that hallowed hallway. Axel runs back in to eat the DDT and the crowd seem pleased enough with all of this. Ambrose is too good to be IC champion but so were plenty of other guys who had it. There are only so many spots. My main hope for this feud is that the IC title looks better because of it. Raise the profile of the champion and the belt means something. Secondary shouldn’t mean jobbers. It should mean guys who want to be main eventers and are nearly there. Book the champ strong, make the belt mean something and you’ll have another draw.
Video Control takes us to the WWE’s celebration of Black History Month. Firstly with some video of Ernie Ladd. I personally think the WWE should steer well clear of this, thanks to their questionable booking of black people as stereotypes in the past and The New Day, right now. Papa Shango, Saba Simba, Akeem “The African Dream”, Slick, Cryme Tyme, Nation of Domination, Kamala, Kofi Kingston (Jamaican me crazy), Virgil and the list goes on.
The Ascension vs. Goldust & Stardust
Booker T attacks JBL for continuing to bury the Ascension and this leads to bickering between the commentary team. Goldust gets planted with Fall of Man in a few seconds and the match is finally acknowledged by the “commentators”. “They’re not in the same league as the Power of Pain” says JBL. Worst. Commentator. Ever.
Final Rating: DUD
Promo Time: John Cena
He’s out here to ramble about Steve Austin’s podcast on the Network. He switches gears to “Triple H’s WWE”, which seems to involve him bringing up NXT guys to take John Cena’s spot. Well…good! That’s the point of the business. Bring up new talent and make the roster fresh, instead of recycling the same old matches and gimmicks over and over again. Cena just being Cena stopped being interesting years ago. Cena promises to never give up. Eventually he gets around to welcoming Ryback, Dolph Ziggler and Eric Rowan back to Raw. Steph pops onto the Titantron to book Ziggler against Bray Wyatt, Rowan against Rusev and Ryback against Luke Harper next. This segment was horrible. Are they trying to get these guys the rub by having them stand with Cena?
Ryback vs. Luke Harper
In a way I’m pleased this isn’t Kane but Harper is swiftly becoming just another big guy that the Authority use as an obstacle. Harper is quite mobile but when he hits a slingshot hilo JBL calls him a “zombie version of Eddy Guerrero”, which is pretty offensive. These guys get a decent powerhouse match going even though it rather exposes the lack of move set on Ryback. He’s still very much a quick squash guy. Much like Goldberg, the guy he’s basically based on. I’m actually quite surprised at how over Ryback has gotten based on a bunch of smashmouth power stuff. Shellshock finishes Harper off. Might as well strike while the iron is hot. Both men delivered here and had an entertaining match. The reason why Ryback is getting over is not so much the power moves but rather that he’s likeable too. He comes across like a nice simpleton. It’s hard to hate him based on that.
Final Rating: **
Jimmy Uso vs. Cesaro
This match has two backgrounds. One where Natalya and Naomi are friends and they want Tyson Kidd and the Usos to get along. The other is that Tyson Kidd just wants the tag titles. It’s weird to me that Cesaro is one of the best wrestlers in the WWE but all the commentators ever focus on is his freakish strength. Cesaro has way too much in his locker for poor Jimmy and he runs through an array of spots like the giant swing and a sick double stomp. Jimmy only has flying in his locker. He goes for the Superfly Splash but gets PLANTED with the uppercut. Cesaro wins. Good showing from Cesaro, working around Jimmy’s limitations.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control catches up with The Miz and Damien Mizdow and someone asks for Mizdow’s autograph (why is anyone backstage asking for autographs?). Miz gives him and Mizdow a dressing down. Mizdow continuing to mimic Miz during it. That is until Miz fires Mizdow as his stuntman and re-hires him as a PA. Mizdow continues the mimicry. He’s not all there. Elsewhere Eric Rowan has a heart to heart with John Cena, thanking Cena for being the first person to stand up for him. Cena manages to make it through the segment without making fun and wishes him luck tonight.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Bray Wyatt
Duelling chants for this one, which is a good sign. It means they’ve put two guys together who the fans actually care about. They don’t really deliver on the match, doing a lot of kick-punch stuff. The crowd continue to bite on both guys, which must be music to the ears of those in charge. Wyatt tends to avoid having Ziggler’s match and stalls a lot to avoid Dolph’s aggressive flying. There are way too many chinlocks though. Strategy is one thing but laziness is something else. I’m aware the WWE has a busy schedule and these guys can’t go all out, all the time but this style of match isn’t really acceptable anymore. Bray seems to be one step ahead of Dolph all match and having the heel boss proceedings, coupled with the feeling neither guy can afford to lose, creates a excitable atmosphere in the audience. Ziggler does a fine job of selling his shoulder, targeted by Bray throughout with nerve holds and such. Ziggler hits the Rocker Dropper but Wyatt pops back up and hits Sister Abigail for the win. Crowd were chanting “this is awesome”, which is a sign of how bad the WWE has been of late that this match stands out. They had a decent match if somewhat sluggish. The big spots worked and I was most pleased at a wrestler working a strategy throughout a match and it paying off with a logical conclusion. This doesn’t hurt Ziggler at all. Much like clean losses don’t hurt guys in the UFC when it comes to drawing. As long as they don’t get outwitted too often. A well-worked match, on the whole.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage again. This time with Seth Rollins making fun of the crowd. The Authority say Daniel Bryan has no chance tonight. Rollins stops off to bury Randy Orton, so it looks like he’s coming back soon. Elsewhere Paige gets into a scuffle with the Bellas. Paige is getting a title shot at Fast Lane.
Paige vs. Alicia Fox
Nikki and Brie join commentary to talk about the Superbowl and JBL even name drops #leftshark. They should totally sign Left Shark. He’s uncoordinated enough to be in the Divas division, bless him. Alicia controls until Paige wins with a roll up. The Bellas attack Paige with spray tan afterwards as the crowd chant “nWo”. I like Paige but increasingly she’s got nothing to work with.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us to footage from the show Sirens where The Miz guest starred as ‘injured guy in gym’. That’s on USA Network tomorrow.
The Miz vs. Sin Cara
Mizdow is still impersonating Miz, drawing the ire of his employer. Sin Cara runs through his offence, which is a bit flippy but not good in any way. The camera still drifts across to Mizdow, who’s standing around sheepishly. It occurs to me that Miz vs. Sin Cara could be for a new Spot-Blowing Championship. I think Sin Cara would win. He falls over at least once before scoring the upset pin with Miz distracted by Mizdow taking off his sunglasses.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control gives us another look into the mind of Bray Wyatt. “People used to fear you. You let all that fear turn into love and admiration”. “I know you’re listening, find me”. FOLLOW THE BUZZARDS! Bray clearly sending out a message to the Undertaker there. Not sure how I feel about that. Bray wins me over with promos alone and he’s decent in the ring but the Undertaker’s match against Brock Lesnar was just awful and the streak is gone. Maybe I’m in the minority but I’d rather he didn’t come back this year. I’d be quite happy for him to go into the Hall of Fame though.
Rusev vs. Eric Rowan
Rusev just dismantles Rowan before he’s even in the ring thus turning this into a no-contest destruction. Lana invites us to a movie premier as the crowd “what” along. Damn you, Steve Austin! The ‘movie’ is Rusev destroying various guys. Poor Eric Rowan, once again an afterthought. I notice his ‘friend’ John Cena didn’t bother coming out here to help. Rusev gets his Russian flag caught in the rigging, which JBL calls “an omen”. He’s having a shocker this evening.
Final Rating: N/R
Video Control takes us backstage where Daniel Bryan chats to Roman Reigns, trying to get him over by association. Hey, these guys are friends, you don’t need to boo one of them! Roman gets heat by telling Bryan to leave.
Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins
So the winner of this match gets Roman Reigns at Fast Lane and the winner of that match is challenging Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Seth Rollins has taken to this heel role extremely well and he’s the WWE’s best prospect at the moment. Obviously Bryan, Lesnar and Cena are ahead of him on the superstar ladder but if you were picking a guy to break into that top echelon it wouldn’t be Roman Reigns, it’d be Seth Rollins. Reigns position reminds me a lot of Diesel when he first won the title. But hey, he was awesome after the title run, when he turned tweener. They should just book Roman like that. Bryan wisely takes a lot of heat and feeds off the crowd on the comebacks. Bryan gets his jollies from lacing in kicks and knocking J & J Security over. Bryan looks to be in excellent condition, which makes his booking at the Rumble so much more befuddling. Seth plays his part and takes some fine bumps. Bryan brings the psychology on top of that by taking too many bumps on his neck and selling the hell out of the injury he just recovered from. Busaiku Knee is blocked into a powerbomb into the buckles. “This is awesome” chants the crowd for the second time tonight. Pleasing reactions and I’m sure Triple H at least feels vindicated in showcasing the wrestling tonight. Rollins is suckered into the Yes Lock but the ropes save. Show tries to help out so here comes Roman Reigns with a flying spear on Show. Awesome stuff. The distance between him taking off and actually landing it were amazing. It was like a tope outside the ring. Superman Punch to Seth. Busaiku Knee puts Bryan over and he’s going to Fast Lane to wrestle Roman Reigns. I really hope they know what they’re doing.
Final Rating: ***1/2
THE RAW RECAP
Most Entertaining: Bray Wyatt
Least Entertaining: JBL.
Quote of the Night: “Now, you’re eliminated” – Ambrose after throwing Curtis Axel out of the ring.
Match of the Night: Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins.
Verdict: There was a notable up-turn in the quality of the in-ring action tonight and you have to wonder if that’s the WWE’s response to the recent critical beatings it has taken. If the in-ring is good it makes it a lot harder to be critical of the product as a whole. With more emphasis on the wrestling the show came across well. It is bizarre that the WWE has basically repeated 2014 by messing up the booking of the Rumble match and having to dig their way out of a hole. At least it’s entertaining to watch them do that but why make the mistake in the first place? Is it just Vince McMahon’s blind ignorance of what people are interested in? The whole “I’ll tell you what you want” will not work anymore. The sooner Vince McMahon realises he can no longer dictate to his audience, like the megalomaniacal control freak he is, the better. I enjoyed this show though and the booking here reflected the strengths of their top guys. Bryan, Rollins, Wyatt, Ziggler, Ambrose and Reigns should *all* be hot right now. It’s almost WrestleMania. They need these guys to come in as stars and own that show. This was a step in the right direction.