Promo Time: Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns starts things off, heading out to a John Cena-like mixed reaction. There are plenty of cheers, but a whole lot of boos too. They must turn him heel if they are going to put him in with Daniel Bryan. He is going to get booed in that match, there is no doubt about it. Actually, once he starts talking here he gets nothing but boos. He does a Bret Hart circa 1997/Diesel circa 1996 promo, complaining about his lot and cutting a fairly heelish promo, threatening to cut down anyone in his way. Daniel Bryan heads out to his usual decidedly unmixed reaction
Via his conduit JBL, Vince McMahon tells us exactly what he thinks of Daniel Bryan: "I can describe him in one word: 'cockroach'. He just won't go away." I don't doubt for a second that McMahon feels that way. "Goddamn this kid who doesn't eat meat, why do these people like him? He is short and ugly! He doesn't look like a WWE Superstar!" Conversely with Reigns, I suspect he has the same attitude as he did with Sid Eudy in 1996. When asked for his justification in putting the title on him despite his inability to work to any degree of quality, Vince just replied, "Well, look at him!"
The story is that Vince has recently done one of his trademark about-turns and ceded to pressure, agreeing to put Bryan into the main event at WrestleMania. Y'know, I understood it last year because the crowd was just SO into Bryan that he had little choice, but this year the swell of support on the live shows just doesn't seem anywhere near the same level. It certainly was in heel town Philadelphia for the Royal Rumble, but it hasn't really been since. It's a strange one.
Bryan doesn't say much, he merely outlines once again the permutations of the match at Fast Lane, then calls himself a "wrestler". Dirty words for this show. That brings out the Authority, clearly annoyed that Bryan forgot he was a sports entertainer. Triple H deals with the two by... talking about Sting. Demanding that he give him an answer about their Fast Lane confrontation tonight. A challenge to accept a challenge to meet for a challenge to a match. That is what we have been reduced to with WWE booking all of these part-time guys.
To the joy of all, Steph gets to speak and says idiotic things about Bryan being vile for stuffing Kane into a casket on SmackDown. Of course, it was a casket match and they are the rules, as Bryan quickly points out. He then delights all long-time fans by noting, "Considering what your husband has done in caskets, I thought you would appreciate it." A Katie Vick reference! Wow. The gist of this is the usual pre-babyface PPV match tactic of dumping them together in an odd couple tag team. Their opponents? Why Big Show and Kane of course! Oh Jesus Christ, no!
Daniel Bryan & Roman Reigns vs. The Big Show & Kane
How much more flogging can this long-since deceased horse endure? Reigns takes a slow beating before making a hot tag to Bryan, who batters Show with kicks and causes him to bail out of the ring. Bryan decides to dive onto both opponents, which is obviously a really silly idea. He gets caught and thrown neck-first into the ropes, which I don't enjoy seeing given his well-noted injuries. When Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin were both injured going into WrestleMania XIV they were protected and kept out of the ring. Bryan gets put with two bumbling giants. I guess that says everything about either the era we are in or the attitude towards Bryan's worth. We head to commercial and return with Show boring everyone with restholds. Swell. The effort of it all makes Show sweat like a hog, Kane too, actually. How? They haven't done anything! Like I have said before, both of these guys need to be put out to pasture. At the very least they need to have their roles reduced. What they do not need to be doing is working top line programs with the headline stars. This rumbles on, and they miss a good opportunity for a hot tag by having Kane knock Reigns off the apron. Bryan makes his own comeback, putting the Yes Lock on Kane but getting pulled out of the ring by Show and hurled into the timekeeper's table for the DQ. What a flat finish. At least one of these guys is headlining WrestleMania, you would think they could be the tedious tenured twosome.
Final Rating: *1/4
Post match, chairs come into play in an assault on Reigns, but he fights both guys off. Bryan returns to the ring and tries to deck Kane, but he moves so Bryan takes out Reigns. That causes the expected problems, much to the delight of the Authority. Hunter is so tickled that he puts them in another tag match later tonight against... Big Show and Kane! And J&J Security. And "this man", as if it is some sort of surprise that it's Seth Rollins. Two Show and Kane matches in one night! What have I done to deserve that? Why do I always get the terrible shows? They are following the generic booking manual to a tee tonight, they really are.
Seth Rollins vs. Ryback
Michael Cole spends the first minute of the match trying to establish his street cred by confessing his fandom of Eminem. Booker T thinks it's hilarious and calls him on it, asking him to name some tunes. Good one, Book. He spends the next few minutes giving pointless history lessons about who Seth Rollins is, why he has the briefcase and what it means. It's like he is speaking to new fans every week rather than the established audience. Believe me, this show is so bad that it doesn't have new fans. It barely still has the old ones. Nothing happens at all in this before J&J run in for the second DQ in as many matches. It's awful. Ryback gets hit with the curb stomp afterwards, because god forbid Rollins hit him with it in the match and actually beat him. There would be too much risk of it making him look good and helping him get over further as a top star. We can't be having that now, can we?
Final Rating: 1/2*
A video plays hyping the return of Sheamus. I can barely wait. I see an Andre the Giant Battle Royal in his imminent future.
Paige vs. Brie Bella
Earlier today came the sad news that Drew McDonald, a legendary British wrestler who got Paige her break in WWE, passed away at the age of sixty from cancer. Because she wears black anyway and an armband wouldn't be obviously visible, she has written "RIP DREW MCDONALD" in stencilled font on both arms. JBL references it, though he very nearly accidentally says "McIntyre". The worst thing about the Bellas reunion after their pointless split last year was that Brie didn't ditch her remarkably crap music. I don't know if I am just getting old or what, but to me that is not what music sounds like. It's what screeching, dying cats sound like, sure. Despite Paige's usual efforts, she isn't given a lot to work with here and this is the usual Divas crap. Brie is horrendous. She could really do with some tips from her husband. Paige wins with an elevated DDT after Nikki accidentally hits Brie in the back with her Divas title. At least it was short.
Final Rating: DUD
Promo Time: Rusev & Lana
Lana talks about how great John Cena was, but says he is vulnerable after so many years of abuse. We even get a video package highlighting the various tribulations he has endured (and survived) over the years. Rusev says Cena's fighting spirit and ruthless aggression are gone, and now he is weak. This is going to make him look pretty bad when he inevitably does the job to Cena at Fast Lane or more likely, WrestleMania. Cena comes out, with his right eye looking even worse than it did last week, questioning why he is being labelled as an old has-been. It is a good question, actually. Cena looks exactly the same now as he did when he debuted, he has barely aged at all.
It is a strange route for WWE to go down. The more sensible option that pushing him as an old superhero, which is doomed from the get go, would be to give him the Undertaker role. Reduce his schedule on television (not house shows because he is the biggest draw and merchandise seller) and make his appearances special. Make his matches mean something. Create a new line of fresh opponents that he hasn't worked with repeatedly. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and one of the reasons Cena has always generated such a mixed response is because he has been on top repeatedly without a break. As his brief hiatus prior to the 2008 Royal Rumble proved, if he goes away and comes back, people will be more willing to cheer for him. Well, for a few weeks at least.
This segment is fairly good, with Cena calling Rusev out and telling him to fight, and Rusev taking him up on it. They meet in the aisle and Rusev gets the better of it, attacking Cena's eye and then hurling him into the set, leaving him out cold. Officials drag him away, bringing to an end one of the more satisfying heat-building segments on the show in a while.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Bray Wyatt
There is another unintentionally amusing exchange between the announcers at the start of this, when Michael Cole tries to do his cringe-worthy quotation of Wyatt's promos (he does the same thing with Stardust's tweets), but gets continually cut off by Booker and JBL talking over the top of him. He doesn't relent, chipping away until he can get it out. He comes off as such a complete goon. The crowd do duelling chants at the start but soon get bored once Wyatt takes over. Wyatt bleeds a little from the nose from a Dolph dropkick, and Cole actually mentions it. In a bizarre visual, the referee is donning rubber gloves to protect himself. What would he have worn in a Ric Flair match from the eighties? A full hazmat suit? Katie Vick and blood on the same show though; a landmark night to be sure. The hot crowd are now silent thanks to Bray's chinlocks and Dolph's limited offence, but they wake up when he makes a comeback with a big DDT. "This has been an incredible match-up," says the pre-programmed automaton Cole. He is lying. Ziggler hits the Fame Asser followed by a superkick, but Wyatt kicks out. Yeah, he isn't losing again until he puts Undertaker over at WrestleMania. "This is awesome," chant three people in the crowd, who clearly don't know what "awesome" wrestling is. As expected, Wyatt wins cleanly with the Sister Abigail, then looks around after the match, as if expecting someone. Following the win he pulls Dolph out of the ring and exposes the concrete under the ring mats, but the referee and a similarly gloved second throw it back down and tell him not to do it. He doesn't, he just crouches next to Dolph and smiles. What was the point of that?
Final Rating: *1/2
This week's black history month feature focuses on Junkyard Dog, one of Bill Watts' favourites. Naturally his worst run was with WWE, like most major stars who were big names elsewhere. WWE think it was his best run, because they have a very skewed view of pro wrestling history.
Promo Time: Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman
Another promo that doesn't require the use of one of Lesnar's limited dates, because as ever it is primarily Heyman speaking. He calls Bryan and Reigns liars for claiming they have a chance against Lesnar. Heyman covers Reigns first, claiming he pissed himself when the two went face to face two weeks ago. Then Bryan, who he thinks is deluded for thinking he can beat Brock. Heyman does put Bryan's ability over, something he didn't do for Reigns, but still laughs off his chances. See, the fact that Heyman is essentially burying their chances means only one thing: Lesnar is losing the belt. Heyman is too smart to belittle guys who are going to be getting beat anyway. Why was Lesnar even here? He didn't say a word. He just stood there. Why not have him in a match? That would guarantee the quality of this show improved significantly. This was not one of Heyman's better promos.
Goldust & Stardust vs. The New Day
Oh, this match again. "Say New Day" *silence* "Say New Day" *silence*. You can't beat a repackage job that manages to destroy three careers in one fell swoop. I think they are my least favourite thing on the entire roster. The irony of WWE celebrating black history month while also presenting a gimmick like New Day has been pointed out before, but it is worth reiterating. After less than a minute, Stardust leaves, just like he did on SmackDown, and Kofi rolls up Goldust for the win. The entrances lasted longer than the bout.
Final Rating: N/R
Backstage, Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns agree to get along tonight to fight a mutual enemy. Yeah, this never ends well.
Elsewhere backstage, Goldust talks "as Dustin" and tells "Cody" things have got out of hand. Stardust pushes him into a wall.
Promo Time: Triple H
"For years I have stayed here when everyone else has left." Well, yeah! But Vince only had one daughter to marry pal. Apparently Sting stayed away from WWE for fourteen years because Triple H would "personally expose him". What? What logic is that? He goes on about wanting an answer to his call out, but it makes no sense. He has called him out for Fast Lane, surely by very definition that is where he should appear. Imagine a playground scenario. "Hey I call you out for a fight later tonight after school" Do you then hound the guy to see if he will turn up, or go to the place of the call out and see if he shows up? Anyway, baffling logic aside, the lights then go out, apart from in the ring, and a host of fake Sting's are spotlighted in doorways around the arena. Then a freaky video plays which shows Hunter talking and his face getting possessed by Sting's face paint. It's pretty cool, actually. The lights go completely off and a blatantly fake Sting gets in the ring for all of one second, then the lights go off again and he is gone. On the video, the words "I accept" flash up. Okay, so the only explanation for the existence of said video is that it is a magic video. Otherwise, how and why would he have had it produced at such short notice? Yes, I know I am reading far too much into this, but when you start using magical powers in storylines, questions arise. I am being a little harsh though, because this was the kind of silly nonsense that I used to enjoy about Sting in WCW. What a shame WWE are wasting him by booking him with Hunter. Who cares if a match with Undertaker would stink? The sheer spectacle alone would be enough to carry it, and I can guarantee far more people would buy the Network to see that than they will Undertaker-Wyatt and Sting-Hunter.
The Usos vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
Kidd and Cesaro are so underneath the radar that their entrance isn't even shown. We do see footage from SmackDown though and a double date that Kidd and Natalya went on with Jimmy and Naomi. It went as well as you would expect. "I was just trying to do something nice!" whines Natalya in her brassy stilted voice. It was inevitable that this match would take place tonight following a brace of singles matches between the guys involved, because that is how WWE book; always A to B with no detours. Kidd does some impressive spots, but because WWE couldn't care less about him the announcers ignore them completely, and the camera even cuts away from one of them. It's almost criminal the way he and Cesaro are used. Hey, how about WWE put them in the Authority and have them work with Bryan and Reigns, and put Kane and Show in these pointless tags instead? I know, a laughable prospect, but it would be so much better. Do WWE think ratings would dive if they did something like that? Because Kane and Big Show are such proven draws? They are not. Both have been around forever and have not drawn a dime in years. Decades, actually. Following Jimmy's hot tag to Jey the pace quickens, and Kidd is even allowed to kick out after he gets nailed with a superkick following a springboard. Cesaro pushes Jey off the top allowing Kidd to cover for the win and a tag title shot, probably at Fast Lane. Like I said, generic booking 101. It is the same format they follow for every program.
Final Rating: **
Rikishi is the next name announced for the Hall of Fame, a guy who failed as a singles wrestler with two horrible gimmicks before repackaging himself as a dancing fat ass in a thong who liked to put his considerable butt in his opponent's faces. It was announced prior to Raw via the Uso's Twitter, on instruction from WWE, that Rikishi was getting inducted, making that all three of the current Hall of Fame announcements that have been officially revealed prior to being announced. For a change, I can't fathom WWE's logic. Surely the anticipation of who the next inductee will be is more likely to get people watching the show than splurging it on social media earlier in the day. Do they think people will find out who is going in and then tune in just to see the announcement video?
Sin Cara vs. Damien Mizdow
Mizdow is accompanied by the Miz, who hogs all of the spotlight and walks in front of his vastly superior partner. Mizdow gets Miz a seat and gives him a microphone, so we know this is not going to be a real match. The crowd don't care and vociferously support Mizdow, but he has to stop wrestling and get Miz some water midway through. Mizdow gets caught with a Sin Cara dive as a result, prompting Miz to warn him to keep his eye on his opponent. Back in the ring, Mizdow has the match won but Miz stops him doing "the move he made famous", the figure four leglock. He gets rolled up and pinned because of it, which is WWE's most favourite finish in the whole world. They love it. They love it so much that they do it every week. Along with DQ finishes and the overuse of superkicks, it is one of their favourite things. Credit where it's due, Miz was pretty funny in his role here. I just hope WWE don't make their usual mess of things when they finally pull the trigger on their split.
Final Rating: *1/2
Bray Wyatt from the video screen wants to know, "Where do we go when we die?" and tells his unnamed target that, "For us, there is no death". Gee, I wonder what he means.
Curtis Axel vs. Dean Ambrose
Didn't we do this dance already? Axel stares longingly, hilariously, into the WrestleMania sign before the match and cuts another promo complaining about his never having been eliminated from the Royal Rumble. As Michael Cole points out quite correctly, he never actually got in the ring. Axel tries to get #AxelMania over, but I think he is fighting a losing battle. It would be hilarious if it did get over though, to the point that they had to make WrestleMania a four way. It will never happen, but I still think it has more chance than Kidd and Cesaro in the Authority. I really do. He doesn't last long here, getting a brief customary heat before Ambrose takes him out with his sweet clothesline and Dirty Deeds.
Final Rating: 1/2*
Post match, Ambrose calls out Bad News Barrett for an Intercontinental title match again. Bad News turns up backstage with a new segment: Bad News Zone or BNZ, a take-off of TMZ of course. Hey, anything with Barrett is gold, the guy is a comedic genius. If they could capture even a fraction of the charisma he showed on the JBL & Cole Show he would be over as a top guy.
Daniel Bryan & Roman Reigns vs. The Authority
Round two then, and it starts with Bryan attacked in the corner and Reigns taken out with a Kane and Show double chokeslam. The bell rings after that, and immediately Rollins pretends to be Brock Lesnar with a series of German suplexes. Again, perhaps not the best thing for a guy with a dodgy neck to be taking. Jamie Noble comes in and runs some spots with Bryan, with Bryan perhaps looking for revenge for his defeat to Noble on Velocity in 2003. Oh yes, that was a thing. Bryan gets beaten down by everyone, with Reigns again taken out to prevent him coming to his aid, this time courtesy of Big Show's big fat fist. It all gets to be too much for some to bear, so Ryback, Dolph Ziggler and Erik Rowan come out to even the odds. Pardon me if I don't shit myself with excitement. Everyone but J&J leave, and Bryan has things in hand only for Reigns to blind tag himself in and wipe out Mercury with a spear and pin him. Bryan is pissed that Reigns did nothing yet took all the credit, and the two have an argument that turns physical when Bryan pushes him, and Reigns retaliates with a spear to hearty boos. It's all getting rather interesting.
Final Rating: *
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Sting. He wasn't even technically on the show, but his character's involvement was nostalgic fun.
Least Entertaining: The New Day
Quote of the Night: "Here comes the Calvary (sic)" - Michael Cole. The place where Jesus was crucified? Or three midcarders doing a run-in in the main event?
Match of the Night: Oh, I don't know, they were all pretty shit. The Kidd/Cesaro-Usos tag match probably just about takes it thanks to the good work from Kidd.
Verdict: There were a few good things on here, namely Rusev and the Sting stuff, but the majority was generic, recycled toss. We have seen it all before. Be it the match-ups, the booking methods or the endless Authority stuff. Raw at its best when locked in competition with WCW was vibrant, exciting, unpredictable and daring. Raw in the PG Era is insipid, repetitive, lacking ideas and formulaic. You don't need to watch to know what happens, because if you saw the previous week's show and you know how WWE operate, you can pretty much predict the show in advance. I do think Fast Lane looks fairly good on paper and there are some intriguing things on the card, but the television leading up to it remains distinctly average. WWE need to pick up the pace and create a head of steam going into WrestleMania, because at the moment they are just coasting.