We’re in Newark, New Jersey. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
He’s out here to respond to John Stewart’s comments on the Daily Show. Seth turned up on the Daily Show to challenge Stewart to be at Raw this week. They show the clip and Stewart plays it for the comedy, even trying to comically jump Seth who puts him in a headlock. I would be fairly uncomfortable with anything more aggressive. Rollins compares the situation to Lawler and Andy Kaufman. Seth continues to rant until Roman Reigns arrives through the crowd. Rollins goes for the Mr Perfect route and claims he’s better at everything than everyone, including outwrestling Roman Reigns. “You can’t beat Brock Lesnar”. “I can beat Brock Lesnar and I can beat you”. The crowd aimlessly starts chanting for “CM Punk” as Roman challenges Seth to cash in the Money in the Bank contract and turn the WrestleMania main event into a triple threat match. Seth even suggests he’ll just cash in afterwards. J & J Security get beaten down and Seth legs it. I enjoyed seeing different people get to come out and talk at the start of the show although I’d rather they didn’t start the show with a promo at all. These guys got their business done in 13 minutes, as opposed to the standard 20. Economical. Still not that much fun though as Dean Ambrose was the guy from the Shield who could talk. Roman shouldn’t be talking at all. Belee Dat!
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins is met by Randy Orton. Randy suggests Seth should challenge Roman to a 1 on 1 match tonight. I could live without Orton’s personality void sucking Rollins down into the WWE Main Event Style abyss.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bad News Barrett
R-Truth joins commentary, seeing as he’s involved in this whole Intercontinental title picture for some reason. I didn’t even know he still worked here. He seems to think that stealing the belt, and giving it to Ambrose again, constitutes two title changes. Given the shambolic state of the IC title, they might as well change the rule to whoever is in possession of the belt is the champion. After Ambrose & Barrett’s match at the PPV, I didn’t want to see a re-match. I recently scoped out a few WrestleMania's for an upcoming ‘Mania book and watching early Ambrose, in WWE at least, is a real eye-opener. His character has been eroded away since then. Everything from his ring gear to his selling has become worse. The booking of him has been a joke. It’s astonishing that they threw away a potential main eventer and turned him into a meaningless midcarder. The match ambles along until Truth, on tippy-toes like a goddamn cartoon character, steals the belt again. Then Luke Harper shows up behind Truth and the crowd become so distracted that Ambrose & Barrett just stop doing anything. Barrett gets distracted too and Ambrose beats him with Dirty Deeds while Harper walks off with the belt. The IC title continues to be a joke and Ambrose is all the worse for being involved in this garbage. Incidentally the IC champion lost, yet again. It’s like winning the title is a curse.
Final Rating: *1/2
Video Control gives us a recap of the Miz-Mizdow stuff of late with Miz stealing Mizdow’s endorsement deal. Back live and Miz has gathered the locker room, or the worthless parts of it anyway (it’s a room full of jobbers), together for the debut of his commercial. Mizdow tries to explain something to him, as Miz hasn’t actually watched the commercial, but Miz just wants to watch it like a petulant child. It turns out the commercial is for ‘Niagra’, an erectile dysfunction pill. Mizdow finds this amusing. Dick jokes, eh? That’s about the standard for humour in this company. I’ve said this many, many times but Vince McMahon (and Triple H, the King of Kings Dick Jokes) and I do not share a sense of humour. “This little general has plenty of bullets in his arsenal” yells Miz clearly not understanding his own analogy or how he was being mocked. Mizdow briefly looks like he’ll stand up to Miz and the crowd’s big pop suggests this is a go for WrestleMania. Either at the show or to set up a match at the show. However it plays out I’d like to see less Miz on TV this year.
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
He’s out here with a coffin he built himself to debate what’s left of the Undertaker. “You mock me, with all this silence”. Bray compares himself to fire, in that he doesn’t discriminate and just destroys everything in his path. “At WrestleMania you’re gonna burn too Deadman”. Bray torches the coffin and screams “FIND ME, FIND ME” at it. While I dig Wyatt’s promos, there’s only so much they can do without Undertaker actually making an appearance. Time is running out!
Cesaro, Tyson Kidd & Natalya vs. The Usos & Naomi
Nattie went mostly heel on Naomi last week. Cesaro & Kidd have been working at their double teams, incorporating Cesaro’s uncanny ability and Kidd’s reasonable timing. Unfortunately the heat seems to be on Naomi & Natalya and that match is nowhere near as good. Naomi rolls the injured Natalya up while she’s complaining about being tagged in, which Tyson did as a defensive move with both Usos coming after him. I’m getting bored of this feud. It feels like there’s nowhere for it to go, except more of the same.
Final Rating: *1/4
Promo Time: John Cena
We get a quick recap of Cena challenging Rusev to a match at WrestleMania and Rusev shutting him down by pointing out he already beat him. As per usual Cena gets a mixed reaction. One he’s been receiving for so long it’s just become the norm. Cena decides to give up on going after Rusev and says he’ll “adapt” and move on. Rusev’s right, he is a quitter! Cena enters himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal, which gets booed. This brings out Stephanie McMahon to point out wrestlers can’t just book themselves into matches. Cena points out that’s exactly how things happen around here and cites a few humorous examples. Steph tells Cena he can’t compete in the battle royal and he calls her a bitch before regurgitating his accolades. Steph belittles him by pointing out he’s the same as Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock and Bret Hart by thinking the WWE couldn’t survive without him. Steph suggests he should sit this WrestleMania out and the crowd chant “YES!” “You’re not special, you’re not unique”. Steph getting big face pops for this assassination! They’re interrupted by Curtis Axel and Axelmania runnin’ wild. He’s been in the Royal Rumble match for 35 days! “Often imitated but never eliminated”. He puts his name forward for a shot at Rusev. The crowd loudly chants “Axelmania”. The world has gone weird. It’s not even a name heel getting cheered against the WWE’s poster boy but a guy who jobbed to Ryback in seconds last week.
John Cena vs. Curtis Axel
“Whatcha gonna do, when Axelmania runs wild on you?” Cena puts on his serious voice; “if this match starts you will not walk out of this ring”. Yanno, I bet he does. Cena can’t do ‘dangerous’ under any circumstances. He can do goofy and Acting Serious but the man has never had a real bad day in his life. He can’t be ‘up against the wall’ or ‘struggling with demons’ because his brain can’t comprehend the problems of the ordinary man. Which is why the ordinary man boos this genetic perfectionist musclehead on a daily basis. Curtis poses a bit and the crowd chant “Axelmania” again. Cena beats him down but the big problem with Cena beating someone up is that his move set is so phoney that it only works for a babyface. There’s nothing in Cena’s arsenal that goes beyond ‘tame’ on the legitimacy scale. Those goofy overhand punches just don’t cut it if you want to do actual damage. FU sets up the STFU and Axel taps out. This was amazing WWE booking as they did months of booking in 5 minutes. They got a guy really over and then jobbed him out to Cena. Normally that takes 6 months. Ask Rusev after WrestleMania. Speaking of Rusev, he shows up after the match and the crowd suddenly want Rusev-Cena at WrestleMania. They’re all over the place tonight.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to pre-recorded footage of Michael Hayes and Arn Anderson putting Sting over. It’s an interesting tactic but it lasts seconds and hardly even gets to the point; Sting was dedicated in WCW.
Promo Time: Triple H
Like Bray Wyatt and the Undertaker, this feud is struggling to get over with me because it’s just one guy talking over and over again. How much can Hunter say about Sting without repeating himself? He repeats himself here by saying he’ll bury Sting and it’ll be like his career didn’t exist. Hunter decides to get a word with a WCW icon to get this segment over; Booker T. Hunter calls Booker on saying Triple H “politicked” Sting out of a spot here in the past. Here Booker is playing the role of the Internet and Hunter is playing the role of Triple H. If Triple H could Pedigree the internet he totally would.
Tangent: The really bizarre thing is that Triple H seems to think everyone on the internet is living in their parent’s basement. Just like some people think wrestlers are all roid monkeys with shrivelled testicles but I’m sure Triple H wouldn’t want someone calling him on that every week. Hey, Hunter, are your nuts still shaped like dried prunes? Awesome, brah! Does Hunter think none of the internet fans are normal, well-adjusted human beings and not actual WWE fans. Just smart marks who watch the show so they can write negative, abusive reviews online. He doesn’t see them as critics who all happen to hate the product. It’s like the WWE will only listen to people if they’re saying something nice. It’s that Corporate idiocy that people have to deal with on a daily basis with their own head office, bosses and people so far up the ladder they’re out of touch. That’s what Vince McMahon is, too far up the ladder to actually understand the problems on the ground. He doesn’t listen to people. He didn’t even listen to the CM Punk podcast, just got the information second hand. Why would you not pay attention to something like that? It just boggles the mind. If I can sit through the Vince McMahon podcast (and the Hunter one) and marvel at how blinkered their thinking is then they can watch something outside their own comfort zone. Which is the WWE’s biggest problem; no outsiders. Everything is sanitised and within Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn’s wheelhouse. The only good thing about the WWE is NXT because McMahon and Dunn aren’t involved in it!
Anyway, back to Hunter’s promo, which is still going on. Hunter takes exception to Booker being honest and fires him. As Booker goes to leave Hunter says he’s just “messing with him”. “I have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter” says Hunter, referring to getting the chance to beat Sting, but in my mind the opportunity was when he was handed a world title a decade ago. Hunter talked at length here but didn’t add anything to the existing feud. Nice to see them using Booker T more creatively though.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
This is a rematch because of the “controversial finish” at Fastlane where Nikki grabbed Paige’s tights (barely). And yet Cena doesn’t get a rematch with Rusev? I wish the internal logic would at least make sense within a singular show. Why couldn’t Nikki just tell Paige that she didn’t deserve a rematch because she lost? This match only seems to exist so Michael Cole can shill Total Divas Season 3 finale this week. That show seems to exist as a vehicle to get the Bellas over and I can’t stand the Bellas at the best of times. Paige has the PTO here but stupidly breaks the hold to knock Brie off the apron. Paige gets the PTO again but Brie runs in for the DQ. Will she get another rematch now because of yet another screwy finish? From the way the WWE is booked, I would say that’ll never happen. As the Bellas beat Paige down in runs a returning AJ LEE! Looks like Mrs Brooks is going to be part of WrestleMania season. She’s been out since December 2014 and her last match was against Nikki Bella for that Divas title. Naturally the crowd chants “CM Punk” because his wife is out there, even though he asked people not to chant his name just because AJ was around.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to AJ skipping through the backstage area. “Who asked you to come out there AJ?” – Paige. “The enemy of my enemy…I think that makes us friends, Paige”.
The Daily Show
With Jon Stewart on Raw this evening, Seth Rollins is hosting his own version of the Daily Show. The WWE writers can’t actually write comedy, not funny comedy anyway, so it’s interesting to see how this goes. It’s cheap heat for starters (“Newark is the armpit of America”) before more cheap heat (“he’s a wuss and a phoney…he’s from New Jersey”). J & J Security laugh along at the lame jokes. Eventually Jon Stewart makes an appearance. Stewart is immediately on fire: “You’re out proving to the world that you can barely read”. “How could I make fun out of someone dressed like a SWAT team stripper with Lady Gaga’s hair”. “We use the Curb Stomp in New Jersey, that’s how we greet each other in the morning…that’s a New Jersey brunch”. Stewart’s basis for criticising Rollins is that he never earned his spot, instead taking the quick and easy route by being the “poster boy” for the Authority. Stewart’s self-depreciating comedy gives Seth nowhere to go in comebacks and his storytelling and wisecracking is so good I wish he was here every week as an analyst. “Who’s fighting for the WWE title at WrestleMania? Is it Seth Rollins? Is it Seth Rollins?” Seth gets tired of being abused, and being left with no potential recourse other than violence, and grabs Stewart but he’s distracted by Randy Orton arriving, allowing Jon to kick him in the balls and leg it. Stewart was so entertaining here I wish the WWE could afford to hire him to be on commentary. He came across as knowledgeable, intelligent, funny and everything he said made perfect sense. His very presence here made Rollins look like a bigger star. Even if he was handily outwitted.
Video Control takes us backstage for Renee Young to interview Jon Stewart. “That was a left footer…to the groinal area”. Stewart is aware of his surroundings and heads off in cowardly, nervous fashion. Again, drawing chuckles from the audience and making sense. I suspect he wrote everything he said because it was different and actually funny. If any of the WWE’s writing team came up with a word of it I’d be amazed.
Luke Harper vs. Daniel Bryan
The crowd response for Bryan is enormous, the biggest pop of the night by far. The WWE may not consider him to be the company's main guy but reactions say otherwise. Bryan uses his speed and strikes and works around Harper’s limitations. Harper gets a few cool spots by grabbing Bryan and hurling him. The one javelin spot into the buckles is nothing short of brilliant. Bryan does a cracking job of selling his neck and Harper goes after it with his move set. Bryan counters on the mat into the Yes Lock though and gets the submission.
Very good match but really short. Bryan is still, by some distance, the best wrestler in the WWE and their biggest star. The WWE opt to treat his victory as merely backdrop to the various IC title guys fighting over possession of the belt. Harper, Barrett and Ambrose. R-Truth nicks the title and the crowd, ignoring this nonsense, chant “Daniel Bryan”. Harper ends up with the belt again but Dolph Ziggler strolls out here to superkick him on the ramp and steal the strap to set up the various opponents in the IC title match. Bryan gets a “Yes” chant going, perhaps in support of Ziggler who climbs a ladder by the entranceway, not so subtly suggesting a ladder match for the IC title at WrestleMania. I really hope Daniel Bryan isn’t stuck in that match. Is that seriously what they’ve got planned for him?
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control gives us Hall of Fame updates with Alundra Blayze going in this year! Or should we say Madusa, which she was known as for the rest of her career. It’s almost as if Vince McMahon didn’t get a say in this year’s inductees as long-time enemies Randy Savage and Madusa are going in. Madusa’s faux-pas was dumping the women’s title in the trash on Nitro. That’s covered here, along with showcasing Alundra’s success in recovering the women’s division in the 90s. I approve of Madusa going in though, she was a terrific wrestler. “I had a crush on Alundra Blayze” says Booker.
Video Control takes us backstage again to see Seth Rollins argue with Randy Orton. Randy points out he saved Rollins from a lawsuit and being fired for smacking a non-wrestler. Kane & Big Show offer their support for tonight’s main event and Jamie Noble (BOOOOOOOY) kicks Orton out.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
The crowd, an ECW stronghold, chant for Heyman’s former company. Heyman sorts that out by calling Newark “rancid”, in passing, because he’s a heel. He’s out here to talk about the rumours that Brock Lesnar walked out on Raw last week. He says Lesnar will be at WrestleMania. “He will be anywhere he damn well pleases after WrestleMania”. If Lesnar goes to UFC, he should take Paul with him to shoot on opponents. Heyman attacks the fans for believing in “fantasies” and suggests Lesnar is indestructible. Heyman points out everyone thinks Roman Reigns is going to win at WrestleMania (“it’s already been booked by God himself”). Heyman tells us ‘Mania goes 1 of 2 ways. 1. Brock beats Roman down like he did John Cena. 2. Brock Lesnar “Ronda Rousey’s your ass”. Heyman says that Roman will be “conquered” at WrestleMania. Another cracking promo from Heyman, spitting venom at anyone within ear-shot. I wonder what they’ll do with Paul if Lesnar leaves? He’d be a major loss from the broadcast if they cut him loose again.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins
We get a Tale of the Tape to make this feel like a genuine main event. “He’s not the most articulate guy in the world” – JBL of Reigns. Shoot! The crowd ride Reigns with a “you can’t wrestle” chant and they actually boo him for beating up Rollins. Every town where this happens makes it seem like a dumber decision to persist with Lesnar-Reigns in Mania’s main event but hey, it’s set in stone now. The match is a plodding disappointment with Roman incapable of having an opening shine because all he’s got are weak punches. Then Rollins has nothing to contrast that. If he hits flying stuff, it’ll turn him face in the match. It’s really, really hard to be more boring than Roman Reigns in singles. Which is why the face-face match with Bryan worked so well. Daniel just worked babyface and it worked. With the match dying on its ass Randy Orton walks down here to watch and Big Show gets into arguments with the fans and the camera focuses on these things while Seth hooks a chinlock and lies in it. If there’s a moment that shows how boring this match is it’s seeing one of the ringside fans on his phone. Not just quickly either. He’s sat there for ages doing something. Is he playing Candy Crush? The match not only serves for a demonstration of how aimless the WWE’s wrestling matches can be but also at how irritating the production is. Like Michael Cole yelling “for the victory” when it’s blatantly a near fall or the camera zooming in and out on every punch. It feels like they’ve deliberately made the show as irritating as possible. It’s like they’re trying to actively drive fans away. Seth uses his Authority buddies to distract, which allows him to hit flashier spots without turning himself face. Orton grabs Roman’s foot when he’s going for the spear and Seth gets an badly timed roll up win. During which Cole doesn’t shout “for the win” because he only does that on near falls. Awful match. Made Roman Reigns look even worse than usual.
Final Rating: *
Post Match: Roman Reigns demonstrates his real skill by demolishing everyone in the Authority in 30 seconds. Booker rather ruins the spot by telling us that “Roman Reigns is ready” as if he wasn’t ready before this match. Does that explain why he lost? Cole makes matters worse by claiming Reigns “split Seth Rollins in half…and I’m not even exaggerating”. The resulting camera shot reveals Rollins is still in one piece. You’re a fucking idiot Cole and I’m not even exaggerating.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Jon Stewart
Least Entertaining: Michael Cole
Quote of the Night: “The Miz did it, Fandango did it, Adam Rose did it. That’s not exactly murderer’s row. I think you’ve got some spots open, I’m in” – Cena declares an interest in the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal by belittling everyone else in it.
Match of the Night: Luke Harper vs. Daniel Bryan
Verdict: In terms of entertaining guys talking, this was a decent show. The John Cena bit entertained me. The Jon Stewart bit entertained me. The Paul Heyman bit entertained me. But the wrestling side of things wasn’t so good. Roman Reigns looked poor again and he really can’t work a 15 minute match without being carried. The rest of the card was completely forgettable and going into WrestleMania the card is looking increasingly poor. There’s a New Japan show on Thursday (5th March) that has three matches I’m looking forward to more than anything at WrestleMania (Makabe-Honma, Shibata-Kojima and Goto-Nagata) and that’s a nothing Thursday card during New Japan’s dead season. I just don’t understand why people continue to put up with this shoddy promotion. The only reason I’m here is because we’re reviewing this stuff and I’m actively trying to find positives and reasons to keep coming back. The casual fan must have left ages ago. Raw is just not good television and this is the peak of their year. What crap do we have to look forward to after WrestleMania when Creative gets tired and the storylines start to drag? What happens when this show gets even worse?