Last night at Fast Lane we learned that WWE are sticking to their guns and pushing Roman Reigns to the main event match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, having been quite successful in cutting the legs of Bryan and causing fans to get bored of him over the past month. We also found out that Sting will wrestle Triple H at the supershow in an "Icon vs. Icon" match that nobody wants to see. Nobody on the planet without the surnames Levesque and McMahon thinks that Hunter is the WWE's most iconic figure. Hey, you know who might fit that role? The Undertaker. I cannot fathom why WWE won't give fans a match they have been desperate to see for two decades. Who cares if it sucks? It's about the theatre. Sting is yet to wrestle for WWE yet, I have been waiting for him to do so for a lifetime, and because he is programmed with Triple H, I am already bored. Oh, Randy Orton returned, finally, last night as well...
Promo Time: Randy Orton
The man himself joins us first, noting that he is "not a man to talk your ear off," before heading into a length promo. Randy's interviews always make me very uncomfortable because he struggles more than anyone with the word-for-word scripting of WWE broadcasts. He speaks way too fast to try and keep his train of thought. Randy reminds everyone why he was out for four months (Seth Rollins did a number on him) and then calls him out. He doesn't respond, because The Authority head out instead. And here was me thinking we would go two consecutive episodes of Raw without Triple H and Steph in the opening segment.
Steph wants Randy as the face of WWE, but he is unconvinced. He refuses to forgive Seth Rollins, instead promising to smash his face in. Steph won't take no for an answer, but Orton wants to kick ass rather than kiss it. Big Show takes a turn at changing his mind and espouses the virtues of life with the Authority. Listening to him speak in that big dumb drawl is almost as tough as watching him lumber around the ring under the pretence of wrestling. Steph tries again, telling Randy he is a bad man and that he has done awful things to her and her family. He smiles. Because it is PG and it was man-on-woman violence, we can't see it. How ridiculous. Steph can't show footage of herself getting beaten up! WWE are so overly careful that they come across to me as trying too hard. We sign off with some nonsense about Randy attending a "conference" with the Authority to discuss his future. That will keep people watching. Triple H doesn't say a word during this, which Cole decides is because he is sulking about what happened last night with Sting. This was every generic opening Raw segment from the past two years.
Wade Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler
Barrett is the reigning IC champ, but he doesn't have his belt because Dean Ambrose stole it, the little tyke. R-Truth is out to do commentary, because sure, why not, and his new game is campaigning for a title shot by asking people to force a trend on Twitter. Hey, remember the days where guys would get title shots based on the matches they won? Of course, I also remember a time when the IC champion was booked like a superstar and never lost. Naturally, Wade does lose here. Cleanly no less, following the usual well-crafted Ziggler Raw match. Wade has lost to everyone since winning that belt: Sin Cara, R-Truth, Dolph, Ambrose... It's an utter farce. Dean Ambrose comes out following the bout carrying the stolen title, stares at Barrett for a bit and then barges into Dolph. "Ooooh, interesting," offers Cole like an intrigued child. Looks like a multi-man match at WrestleMania for the title then, though whether it makes the main show remains to be seen. Decent enough TV match once it got going, but hampered by the usual nonsensical WWE booking.
Final Rating: **1/2
The announcers recap the Sting-Triple H story and Michael Cole uses the word "vigilante" around eight-hundred times. We are promised "Sting like we have never seen him before," later tonight. Which means a video package.
Backstage, the Authority have their little conference (all stood unnaturally facing the camera in one of those hilarious semi-circles that WWE folk love to stand in), with supposed hated rivals Randy Orton and Seth Rollins stood right next to each other. Last night, Rollins was so scared of Orton that he legged it out of the arena. I'm just saying. Rollins interrupts Steph, who lays into him and completely emasculates him like a feeble jobber. "Is it because I'm a woman!?" she demands. No, it's because you are an intolerable foaming twat. Steph makes Seth look like a chump schoolboy in belittling him - the one thing she is good at. Kane thinks even considering Orton in the group is a bad idea after his attack last night, so Steph shouts him down too. She just talks and talks and talks until her words become meaningless. Blah, blah, blah, Randy shakes Seth's hand and rejoins the Authority, a move blatantly designed to lead to Orton battering him later on and building their program for WrestleMania. Sure enough, they are working together in a tag match later on in the show. Gee, I wonder if Randy will hit Seth with the RKO. I mean, just half an hour ago he wanted to smash his skull in.
The Prime Time Players vs. The Ascension
In their weekly cringe-worthy insert promo, the Ascension run down new WWE Hall of Fame team the Bushwhackers. It's the first time I have ever agreed with the dress-up wrestler pair. The Bushwhackers may well have been an violent and entertaining team pre WWF, but in Titanland they were one of the most hideous things to ever pollute a ring. How they are in when Demolition, the Bulldogs, Midnight Express, Freebirds, etc are not is comical, really. Oh Jesus, I hope this doesn't lead to an Ascension-Bushwhackers match! The Ascension dominate, then in the most hilarious booking of the evening so far, get pinned by Darren Young following WWE's favourite finisher: the roll up. Was this a way to keep Young quiet after his recent Twitter rants against the company? I wouldn't be surprised. WWE sure got bored of these two useless mooks quickly, huh? The worst thing is, nobody is surprised. Being called up from NXT is career suicide. The Ascension beat up Darren Young after the fact to get their heat back, rendering the result utterly pointless. I guess we can look forward to endless rematches across all of WWE's television over the next few weeks. Yippee.
Final Rating: 1/2*
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
After almost making himself appear to be a star last night thanks to a great rebuilding job by Daniel Bryan, Reigns comes out to undo all of that hard work by cutting another McMahon-penned promo. He doesn't get much of it out and thus doesn't ruin himself too much, before Bryan comes out. He waits for the crowd to chant, but they don't care anymore. Bryan says he was the biggest Roman Reigns doubted of all and he booed with everyone else when he won the Royal Rumble, because for all of Reigns' athletic prowess, he doesn't have half the heart that he does. "That is why they like Daniel Bryan, and that is why they don't like you," he says... Then puts him over for having heart the night before and earning his shot. Erm, okay. This was really muddled and counter-productive, and some fans even started to boo Bryan for it. Congratulations WWE, you had a guy that people cared about and have made him the same as everyone else. After ripping Reigns to bits, Bryan then champions his cause and asks him to beat Brock Lesnar, supposedly giving him his blessing in the eyes of the fans. I am sure it was a good idea in theory. At least him being out here stopped Reigns talking...
... Only the segment is not finished, because out comes Paul Heyman. Bryan heads to the back as Heyman congratulates Reigns for his win last night. He goes on to list a number of opponents (Sammartino, Austin, Rock, Cena) that Reigns could have faced in previous eras and says his money would have been on him every time. The crowd are furious at the notion he could defeat Austin and with the thickly layered on praise. It's the same force-feeding that turned fans on Roman in the first place. Why is he suddenly "the guy"? Why could he have beaten all of those legends? Because he is Vince's flavour of the month. His career so far has striking parallels with that of his blood cousin The Rock. When he debuted in 1996 he was given the same over-push that caused a visceral reaction of intense hatred from the masses. He had the same family and was given his spot due to the same athletic build and good looks that Reigns has. Just as they did with Rocky Maivia, fans hate that sense of entitlement that surrounds the Roman Reigns project. WWE won't stray from the course though, they didn't with Rocky (though they did turn him heel for him to get over, which they should have done with Reigns based on his reactions, his own mannerisms and the fairly twatty things he says in interviews), they didn't with Hunter in 1999/2000 and they didn't with Brock in 2002. They want you over, you get over eventually. Well, apart from Lex Luger...
Back to the promo and the moral of Heyman's story is that despite how super-brilliant-great Reigns is, he is certain that the chosen one can't beat Brock Lesnar. I am quite certain that he will. Reigns says as much too, in another of his typically aloof over-confident promos. You can see why fans don't like him; he is unlikeable! At least there were some signs of that smouldering coolness that got Reigns over in the first place evident here.
Side note: Where, oh where, was Brock Lesnar? He was announced to be appearing just twenty minutes before the show started, yet didn't appear here and indeed on the rest of the show. There is something fishy going on there. I am not sure it will matter to WrestleMania because let's face it, Brock isn't missing that payday, but and it doesn't look great for WWE. Little is known as I write this, but according to Meltzer he was there in the building and, "There is a story there, something happened." I am sure all will be revealed in due course. Maybe he hated the script so much that he pulled an Austin and left. That sure would be ironic given that when Austin did it his primary reason was because he had been booked to put over Lesnar cleanly in a nothing match on Raw.
WWE Tag Team Championship
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd (c) vs. The Usos
Naturally we must have rematches from the pay-per-view on Raw tonight. It's another good match between two very good teams, but there is a definite feeling of déjà vu. I saw this match already last night. Sure, I enjoyed it, but not to the extent that I want to see an instant rematch. I need to stop off to mention, as Arn did last week, Michael Cole's new impossibly annoying new trait of screaming "FOR THE WIN" on every cover. Sometimes he substitutes in "victory" if he has overused "win" in a particular bout. Fans of drinking games, try doing shooters during Raw each time he says it. You will be bouncing off the ceiling before the first hour is up. The finish here sees the respective valets/wives getting involved, with Naomi stopping Kidd cheating so Natalya shoving her to the floor in response. The distraction allows an Uso to climb the ropes for the splash, but Natalya shoves him off for the DQ. Cole acts shocked, as if she has just done something dastardly and out of character. He should watch Total Divas, she is always a bell-end on that show. After the decision Naomi pulls Natalya off the apron and she smashes into the floor with her knee. The way she sells it I almost suspect she has hurt it for real. It looks way more realistic than her usual level of clunky selling.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, The Miz has big news: he is going to win the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Mizdow has news of his own: he is going to be the lead in a commercial. Miz is not happy and smiles through gritted teeth then pouts. Mizdow is winning that battle royal for sure.
Backstage, Bray Wyatt caresses a casket and tells Undertaker to find him. Not much more to this than what he has already said in the past few weeks. I sure hope Undertaker "finds" himself and comes back as the real 'Deadman', not seen since 1997. I want the gloves, tie, hat, the works.
Stardust vs. Jack Swagger
Stardust is back to his all-over bodysuit tonight after having donned tights and no shirt at Fast Lane, which was a much better look for him actually. He looks just like the gimp from Pulp Fiction in his proxy Goldust garb. Taking me to a level well beyond frustration, WWE pull the "distraction" finish for the millionth time in 2015 already by having Goldust head out to his music and distract Stardust, allowing Swagger to make him tap to the ankle lock. Brief, predictable, pointless and lame.
Final Rating: 1/2*
Promo Time: John Cena
It's excuses time. "I found myself stuck in the Acolyte..." says Cena, taking a brief interlude to presumably make reference to a frisky shower incident with JBL. Hmm, perhaps he meant Accolade. Cena admits that he lost last night to Rusev's in the smarmiest way possible. He does it like a bratty child who has lost and is being forced to admit it. "I loooooooost. Rusev woooooooon". Like it matters, Cena will soon cut the legs of that push. No one is safe from Super Cena and his insane levels of WWE protection. Has anyone ever won a feud with Cena in the end? Of course not, Cena always wins. The words John Cena says in promos no longer matter - it is always the same structure, the same style and the same delivery. At least he refrains from making jokes. The gist is, Cena wants a chance for revenge at WrestleMania and a rematch so he can bring the US Title "home". Rusev, quite rightly, points out that he doesn't deserve it and turns him down. That will change. Chances are it will be a stipulation match of some sort, or probably a title versus career affair. Cena has been in plenty of those before, and lost some of them. He knows the loopholes.
Backstage, Randy Orton and Seth Rollins get all pally-pally in the locker room. Orton reassures Rollins that he doesn't hate him, and while he won't forget what he did to him, he is willing to let bygones be bygones for the sake of business. How is this making me want to see Orton vs. Rollins at WrestleMania again? Orton has been back five minutes and in just four segments (including Fast Lane) I am already bored of him. This writing team could take tips from Vince Russo and learn something, they really could.
In a strange piece of business, Paige heads to the ring for her match and we cut to commercial. Then when we return WWE shoehorn in the Sting video that was promised earlier. Maybe Paige just wanted to watch it on the big screen. All the video does is remind me how hot Sting was in 1997 and how unbelievably cool his gimmick was back then. The watered down, old WWE version with crappy red jacket and receding hairline hardly compares. Don't get me wrong, I am thrilled that Sting is in WWE, I am just so disappointed that he is in this WWE rather than being there a decade or more ago. As I said in the intro, WWE in programming him in this nonsensical, revisionist history feud with Hunter have managed to drain all of my enthusiasm for Sting.
Paige & Emma vs. The Bellas
Oh, it's a tag match. Well, at least Paige had someone to talk to while she waited in the ring for around ten minutes. What a waste of time that turns out to have been too, because the match legitimately goes for thirty seconds. You can understand why the Bellas deviated from the WWE script a few weeks back and said that the main roster are all super-resentful of NXT because they all get so much time to shine. Hell, send the Bellas to NXT, then at least I wouldn't have to watch them every week stinking up the ring. I have no issue with a Bellas match going thirty seconds, but apparently the general public did. Following the match, #GiveDivasAChance was trending around the world, and continued to do so for many hours afterwards. They do have the talent (in NXT) to do that. Forget the wastes of space like Layla, Summer Rae and Eva Marie who have had their chance and were incompetent. Get rid of them all, bring up the NXT girls and have a real, competitive women's division that can be taken seriously. It needs to be a quick shift in ideals, like pulling off a band aid, because doing it slowly and half assed will just lead to the usual problem of no one being over because no one cares. As Kevin Nash says, "You can't be half pregnant". WWE is half pregnant on every idea it goes with.
Final Rating: N/R
The Bushwhackers Hall of Fame video airs, with nothing shown from outside of their WWE run late in their careers. When they joined WWE they had already been working for over twenty years. I would be amazed if anyone on that writing staff and most in the locker room even realise they existed as anything but the Bushwhackers. I see their induction as a joke entrant on par with Drew Carey and James Dudley, no matter what they did prior to their WWF run.
Curtis Axel vs. Ryback
WWE have to be very careful; Curtis Axel is going to accidentally get over if they are not careful. He does a brief promo pre-match, wearing an outstanding #AxelMania shirt in the style of Hogan and noting how many days he has been in the Royal Rumble for now without being eliminated. He reminds me a little of Positively Kanyon being so delusional. I don't remember that Ryback and Axel used to be a team until Michael Cole jogs my memory, which shows how memorable a unit they were. It was only last year! Ryback cuts a terrible promo pre match in which he repeats a Skip Sheffield NXT promo word for word, which lasts longer than the match. What are they playing at tonight?
Final Rating: SQUASH (Not Rated)
Seth Rollins & Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan & Roman Reigns
It is almost impossible to get excited about any main event on Raw for two reasons. 1. By the time they roll around the show has been running for three excruciating hours, and even the prospect of Steamboat-Flair struggles to have any appeal to me now, so broken is my spirit by this point. 2. They almost always end in a crappy DQ anyway, so why even watch the stuff prior and pay it any lip service when it all proves to be ultimately pointless and merely a means to set up the show closing angle of the week. Even worse this week is the jarring nature of it all. Last night I was expected to believe that Reigns and Bryan hated each other, as did Orton and Rollins. Tonight, they are all happy families after having talked it out. It's inconsistent and silly.
The action is fine of course, because all four guys are good hands at the least (Orton and Reigns) and stellar workers at best (Bryan and Rollins), though I could have done without Big Show and Kane at ringside, in their gear no less. Just the sight of them these days terrifies me because there is always the possibility they could somehow end up wrestling. Michael Cole does his usual terrific job of making me wish he was on fire by endlessly repeating that Rollins is "the future", Orton is "the face [of WWE]" and Reigns is "the powerhouse" and "the man main eventing WrestleMania" any time there is a pause in the commentary. It is so irritating that I long for Shane McMahon behind the announce desk. His habit of reiterating everything the viewer already knows over and over again ruins every single thing he announces. He commentates like he is hyping the match rather than calling it.
Bryan takes the heat, naturally, leading to Reigns getting the hot tag and doing a pretty good job of beating the piss out of naughty schoolboy Seth. Despite looking like it should be the finish, Seth rallies and tags Orton, so this show continues! My God, this show has taken up a good portion of my day! Orton goes for his draping DDT but Seth tags himself back in and that riles up the perma-angry Orton. He decides to vent at Big Show and Kane, meanwhile Reigns avoids the curb stomp but Bryan blind tags himself in before he can hit the spear. Reigns laughs it off with a condescending sneer. Like he is teaming with Eugene rather than Daniel Bryan. Orton is still boiling and paces at ringside. Everyone expects him to lay out Seth, but then the screen goes black... It is not Sting, or Undertaker, just good old technical difficulties. Orton opts against beating on Rollins, instead dropping Jamie Noble with the RKO. Yeah, lets drag this shit out as long as possible.
Final Rating: **
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: It is not an easy one this week. Dolph Ziggler can have it for putting in his usual solid display.
Least Entertaining: Stephanie McMahon. Another banner day for Steph, who managed to make everyone around her look subservient and pathetic.
Quote of the Night: "I found myself stuck in the Acolyte" - John Cena. The big doofus.
Match of the Night: Wade Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler
Verdict: Useless. What a drab, samey, generic way to start on the "official" Road to WrestleMania. Rather than building excitement for the big show, it just felt like the same old repetitive drek that we are force-fed every week. The show focused far too much on Randy Orton and his impending program with Seth Rollins, a program which would barely generate interest for a television main event never mind a WrestleMania match. Cena did his usual, Sting wasn't there, Undertaker wasn't there, Brock wasn't there. Do they realise WrestleMania is only a few weeks away? Every episode of Raw should be crammed full of can't miss segments and angles, things that make viewers willing to do almost anything to see the supercard. In the nineties the then-WWF used to do a far better job of hyping some pretty terrible match-ups for their In Your House series, to the point where you had to see them. This year's WrestleMania? I couldn't care less.