The go-home show for WrestleMania is an important night in the Raw calendar, a chance to convince those on the fence that the supershow is one they cannot afford to miss. In years past there have been notable happenings in the final broadcast, significantly the WWF purchase of WCW fourteen years to the day prior. After a stunningly mundane series of shows in 2015 so far, I am not holding out to much hope that they will do an about turn and get things right tonight.
Of note is that WWE have drafted in the NXT LCD ringside apron this evening, and despite it looking rather snazzy at Full Sail, it comes across as really tacky here. It's partly down to the colouring of the NXT branding, which fits nicely with the signage. The Raw logo doesn't, making it look more like a throwaway Christmas special. It doesn't help that Raw has barricades that block the majority of it, whereas NXT has steel barriers which you can see through. I don't blame them for trying, because I have long through the LCD sign needed to be transplanted into the main roster broadcasts, it just turned out to be a bad idea. Back to the drawing board.
Of further note is that no mentioned whatsoever is made of Perro Aguayo Jr., who tragically died in the ring just days earlier during a match featuring former long-time WWE star Rey Mysterio. Perro never worked for WWE (though, his father did) so they were hardly duty bound to mention it, but it would have been a rare touch of class and compassion if they had. Make no mistake though, I was under no delusions that they would bring it up. Such is WWE's paranoia regarding their image that they wouldn't dream of acknowledging a wrestler's passing unless they absolutely had to, no less one under forty who died in the ring.
Promo Time: Sting
"This is history in the making! For the first time ever, Sting opens Raw". And so Michael Cole starts us off on the wrong foot with one of the more spurious claims he is likely to make. He opened the show? So what? Who cares about that? Why is that a thing that matters in their little bubble all of a sudden? "Today, for the first time in history, I started my day by eating a bran muffin rather than a bowl of cereal. History in the making!"
As Sting heads to the ring greeted by a huge response, Cole can't help himself but to talk over the moment, cheapening it further with each word that tumbles out of his mouth. He even extols the virtues of WCW, a "legendary company" in his eyes. That's a laugh. NWA certainly was at times, but WCW sucked, even when it was good. Try watching Nitro again, it's a goddamn headache. Sting cuts a promo using his real voice, making that video package a few weeks ago channelling Black Scorpion all the more baffling. Cole is a giddy mark about the whole thing. He can't believe he has finally said the words, "Sting is here on Raw!" I mean, it's like the third or fourth time he has been on the show, so I have no idea what he is blabbering about.
Sting pooh-poohs the idea that he is fighting for WCW, dismissing it as ridiculous. Thank you! He lays the situation down in clear black and white, confirming that his only aim is to take down Triple H. That brings out Hunter's domineering wife to fight his battle for him, immediately rendering what had been a fun trip down memory lane into a big fat snoozer. Steph immediately makes it all about her, so Sting calls her out for what she is; employed because of nepotistic entitlement. Okay, he doesn't say that exactly, but he alludes to as much. Steph has a counterview: she thinks Sting is intimidated by her. Isn't everyone on this roster? Here we go again with this Spice Girls bullshit from Steph. It's utterly galling. She begins to talk in one of her trademark unrelenting run-on sentences to the point that I quickly lose all interest in a word she is saying. The gist of her tirade appeared to be disparaging Sting as much as possible (he is a "small fish" in WWE, you know), and reminding him that "WCW lost". Sting literally just said that this wasn't about defending the honour of WCW, so that's an especially dumb thing for Steph to say. Stop making the issue into something it's not! Steph calls Sting a freak and tries to slap him, but he is quick like a cat and catches her hand.
That finally brings out Hunter to defend his wife's honour. Steph gives him a sledgehammer from under the ring, but this ain't Sting's first rodeo, and he reveals his trusty bat hidden in his jacket. "Don't give him what he wants, save it for WrestleMania" instructs his boss, so Hunter backs down and walks away with his tail between his legs. Give the way Sting has dominated this program on television, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him lose to Hunter. I have encountered the famous Triple H ego many times before. I remember when he inexplicably beat Brock Lesnar two years ago. I certainly wouldn't put it past him as the "face of WWE" to defeat Sting on his company debut. Sting was good in this segment despite what he was given to work with - and really over too - but Steph was her usual product-harming self. She is like picture a dead horse when you are hard: a guaranteed way to kill a wrestling boner.
Dean Ambrose & R-Truth vs. Stardust & Luke Harper
Putting these four in a tag match will not make me want to see the IC title ladder bout at 'Mania. It may well achieve the opposite given some of the competitors. I simply don't understand WWE's logic of late in putting all of their upcoming PPV matches in different combinations on Raw. It's a tactic they have been employing a lot in recent months; splurging bouts and making guys work each other week after week before finishing things at the big show once the program is dead or has cooled off. Surely there are other things these guys can be doing than working with each other ad nauseum? This match is nothing anyway, just throwaway filler that exists to "further" the storyline. Naturally, nothing does actually develop as a result; the program just remains stagnant and heatless. No issues are progressed in any way; things just trundle along week after week without increasing fan interest in the match. It's not just these guys, it is every feud. WWE has forgotten how to book, and thinks a feud is just two guys wrestling each other repeatedly to the point that you pray you will never have to see them wrestle each other again. Mind you, it is hard to get interested in anything involving Stardust, who might well be one of the most embarrassing characters on the roster. The way Cody plays the role reminds me of when people from outside of the industry try and "play" wrestling in a skit or such, complete with over the top costume and comically bad mannerisms. In fact, the most interesting thing in the whole match is Booker T discussing the betting odds, before giving up and openly admitting how crappy the bout is. "What a car crash this is," he says without any filter. Truth picks up the win for whatever reason, and now everyone is even steven going into the PPV, each man equally as un-over as the last.
Final Rating: 1/2*
We take a trip back in time twenty years as WWE partners with the Special Olympics, which is the usual self-aggrandizing WWE back patting that I find so galling on Raw. It's nice that they are doing things like this, but I have no interest in being force fed it each week. They can do all of the charity work and good deeds they want, but we all know what a hypocritical, controlling, hyper-sensitive nutty company they are behind the scenes.
Remember when Miz and Mizdow broke up last week? They are seemingly back together now. Presumably because the thirty writers don't know how to book them apart for a single week without having them wrestle each other. This company would give Vince Russo a headache.
Ryback, Erik Rowan, Zack Ryder & The Prime Time Plays vs. The Miz, Damien Mizdow, Adam Rose & The Ascension
Sweet lord, what clusterfuck is this!? Bill Simmons does commentary here, which I couldn't care less about so let's just ignore him. You can tell it's WrestleMania season because every random almost-celebrity that will give WWE the time of day is wheeled out for the cameras to add their "star power" to the mix. The reason behind this match? All of the guys in it are part of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Oh hell. Way to kill that match dead. Actually it was dead anyway after last week's thirty second battle royal sham. Speaking of dead, I honestly just assumed The Ascension and Adam Rose had kicked the bucket, it's been so long since they appeared. They are certainly dead in the water. The only guy in this who is genuinely over is Mizdow, and at a push Ryback and Miz. The rest are future endeavors bound. Miz is involved in the best part of the match (or whatever the hell this is supposed to be), when Ryback smashes him inside out with a vicious clothesline. The Shellshock follows and that is it, Ryback pins Miz. Out of all the guys in this, Ryback pins the man who headlined WrestleMania this decade. To borrow a phrase: Really. Really?
Final Rating: 1/4*
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins, Joey Mercury & Jamie Noble
This match comes as a result of an app vote, with the audience having to choose between Big Show, Kane and the trio they went with. Tough choice, huh? The triumvirate got around 80% of the vote, which begs the question: which sick fucks opted for the aged gruesome twosome? Seth has little involvement in this, instead content to let J&J take a kicking while he begs off. "RKO outta nowhere," screams Cole in his typically conceited tone, trying to latch onto a meme that was over in mid-2014 and subsequently ignored completely by WWE. Short and pointless, but at least they kept Seth and Randy apart.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Last week on wwe.com, John Cena sat down for an interview with Michael Cole and cut a promo about how proud he was to be an American. Evidently he is trying to win the US Title to be a representative for the country all over the world. Why? So he can show everyone outside of American how people from the US bust their asses to earn things. Why do all the other countries need to be forced into knowing that? Having a pro-American guy go into a different country and brag about his achievements in a braggadocios tone is heelish. It's that kind of behaviour that reinforces a lot of the negative stereotypes about American people. WWE realise they are an international company right? This 1993 Lex Luger rehash is archaic mass pandering, and so incredibly representative of how out of touch Vince McMahon is that it's comical.
Backstage, Paige and AJ have a discussion about Nikki having granted Paige a Divas title match tonight. She is worried. "It's a trap". Quite, Admiral Akbar, quite.
WWE Diva's Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
Last week, WWE in their own minds #gavedivasachance and it sucked, really goddamn sucked. They just don't get it. The Bellas are not "wrestlers" who need more time to work matches, they need sending to NXT to learn how to work full stop. This is yet another match featuring performers wrestling each other at WrestleMania, by the way. WWE do give the women chance to work a decent length match, but it is predictably useless for the most part thanks to the uncoordinated Nikki. It only picks up in the final stretch when Nikki hits an Alabama Slam, causing JBL to throw out the most random of references by calling it "shades of Bob Holly". I think he has been drinking. I don't blame him. Raw makes me want to start drinking heavily too. Things heat up when Paige hits RamPaige, but Nikki kicks out in a believable near fall. They brawl on the outside after an ugly spill, AJ accidentally hits Paige and Nikki uses her Fake Tit Shock Treatment for the win. Post match, AJ and Paige have a ruckus, opening up a can of worms going into WrestleMania.
Final Rating: 1/4*
Next, out comes WWE's favourite rapper Snopp Dogg, flanked by the talentless non-wrestling cast of Total Divas. For the record, every episode of that show this season has been more entertaining than Raw tonight. Curtis Axel interrupts Snoop just as he starts into a promo, here to put over #Axelmania. You could sense his involvement from a mile away, but having him involved in an angle with Snoop does at least give me some hope that WWE realises they are onto something with Axel. I am even more convinced when Hulk fucking Hogan comes out to a monster pop, making a surprise appearance to do something other than promote company propaganda by talking about the Network or breast cancer. Hogan references slamming Andre for a change, though the attendance has swelled to 94,000 now, then yells at Axel for ripping him off. Axel rips his shirt off and swings, so Hogan decks him before Snoop throws him out of the ring. Well, that gets Snoop over nicely for his match at WrestleMania ... Oh. Snoop takes off his shirt to a reveal a Hogan shirt underneath. They should just book Hogan vs. Axel at WrestleMania. It's not like Hogan needs to bump for him. This was all harmless enough fun.
We get to see a second airing of Brock Lesnar's superb sit down interview from last week, all serving to hype tonight's hype segment for their match at WrestleMania. Hmm.
Interspecies Tag Match
Cesaro, Tyson Kidd & Natalya vs. Los Matadors & El Torito
I am not a fan of Natalya, whose voice goes through me like nails on a chalkboard, but for WWE to bill her as being another species is perhaps a tad harsh. The match is just background noise for JBL and Cole to talk to the Usos - who join the commentary team - and they go on and on about that infernal double date segment from two months ago. I swear, they don't even look at the match for a good five minutes. It's all a total comedy farce anyway. The little midget bull kicks out of Natalya's lariat to the sound of Cole yelping, "He was bullish on that move." Oh, fuck off and die. Because this is WWE, the most shambolic wrestling company on the planet as of right now, the detestable bull pins the woman to win the match. I hate this show. I really, really despise it.
Final Rating: 1/4*
Rusev vs. Jack Swagger
Welcome back to 2014 for round #259 of their never ending series of matches. Whose cornflakes did Jack Swagger piss in to get such a depush anyway? Two years ago he was working with Alberto Del Rio in the World Title match at WrestleMania. Yes, that was a thing that really happened. Rusev gives him a little offence, but it's pretty much an extended squash, only with added chinlock. Rusev refuses to release the Accolade, causing Cena to charge down and attack him. It doesn't go well. Rusev fights him off then hurls him into the barricade, the post and the announce desk, as WWE desperately try and give the impression that Rusev has any chance of winning at 'Mania. Rusev isn't finished, so tries and fails to put Cena through the table, then locks him in the Accolade until referees drag him off. A nice show of dominance, but we already know before the fact that it will ultimately be for naught.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
Because Undertaker is not showing his face until WrestleMania Bray has little to work with, so he just cuts one of his standard well-written but go-nowhere promos. "We Want Taker," yell the crowd, but they don't get him. Instead they get a light show from the production team, complete with lightning sound effects. Bray just talks over it before telling Taker he will rest in peace.
This week, it was Rolling Stone's turn to get the scoop on the latest Hall of Fame inductee, with Kevin 'Diesel' Nash the final entrant. He is going in as Diesel, much like how Scott Hall went in as Razor Ramon. It's funny, because I have heard many an interview where Nash said he would refuse to go in unless Rick Rude (and a couple of others) went in first. Not that Kevin Nash is known for hypocrisy or lying about things or anything... As far as the WWE Hall of Fame goes, he is a worthy entrant. He changed the business (for the boys, at least) when he left the WWF in 1996 by forcing Vince's hand in giving guaranteed contracts. He also was and still is an underrated worker from his time with Titan. Before he stopped giving a shit in WCW he was capable of putting on great matches with the right opponent. He is main eventing this year's Hall of Fame show because WWE don't want a dead guy going on last. It sends the wrong image, you see.
Backstage, Natalya and Tyson Kidd do a horrible ad for Burger King. The less said about it the better, but having well-toned WWE grapplers extol the virtues of calorific fast food is something else.
Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler
Thank god for this match. For some reason the IC title is already hoisted above the ring for the ladder match at WrestleMania, which is a spurious use of time. They will have to just take it down again at the end of the night! Dean Ambrose is voted in as special guest referee for this, which Michael Cole decides is a "classic" before it even happens. It sure could be, if given time and without being hampered by goofy booking. What they put together is a nice little TV match, though the lack of crowd heat hurts it somewhat. Both guys are popular, so like with all babyface matches the audience don't know how to react. Ambrose makes no difference to the match at all, which is how a referee should be really, but it renders his involvement pointless. The finish comes when Ziggler hits the Zig Zag to cleanly pin Bryan, finally giving Ziggler that big win but of course doing so at the expense of Bryan rather than say Cena or Ortom. In my mind, knowing how WWE tend to book, the defeat makes Bryan a shoe-in to win the IC title at 'Mania. He can look forward to putting all of the other guys over in non-title matches each week after that. Post match, Ambrose grabs a ladder and tries to climb for the title, then the rest of the guys head out for a tired brawl. "This is like Sunday," says Cole, who has been to the future. If it is like Sunday, we might as well not bother watching. They all take turns fighting over climbing the ladder, which is among the dumbest most redundant things I have ever seen. Why are they all so desperate to get the belt now? Why does none of this program make any sense whatsoever? Compounding the stupidity of it all, we cut to commercial with all seven guys out cold. Wow. This show for the past few weeks has been like a WrestleMania demo disc. By the time we get to the main show, we will have already seen all of it.
Final Rating: **
Main Event Confrontation: Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns
"This speaks for itself," says Cole as Lesnar enters, and for once he actually shuts his mouth and doesn't talk over the entrance. The big question: will Brock talk? Or will he get paid a handsome sum for standing in the ring and smirking? Heyman says he has nothing left to say to sell that match, which is true, he has done a fine job of it. Far better than anyone else in this company has, that's for sure. Then he spends the next five minutes selling the match... Heyman breaks it down very simply: either he will be right and Lesnar will kill Reigns, or he will be wrong and Reigns will live up to the hype. He reminds everyone that nobody thought Lesnar would beat the streak, that no one realised he would destroy John Cena is such a manner at SummerSlam, and that everyone thinks he will lose at 'Mania this year, but he won't. He mocks everyone who refers to Lesnar as a money-grabbing mercenary, then explains in some detail just why Lesnar loves being WWE Champion so much. Lesnar, sporting his new badass heel beard, nods and smiles in agreement. Reigns heads out to his usual mixed reaction - that of mostly apathy and a smattering of boos - as some in the crowd chant "Overrated" at him. Lesnar holds the WWE title belt up in Reigns' face, so Reigns grabs it. Oh, not this belt theft bullshit again! Lesnar grabs it back, Reigns holds on, and we go off the air with the duo grappling over the title in a tug of war, like a pair of IC title ladder match jabronis. Brock sure earned that contract again tonight. What a way to hype WrestleMania!
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Sting. He is special because he is different and has been used sparingly. It is a promotional tactic that WWE would be well served to employed with a host of other overexposed talents on this roster.
Least Entertaining: Without a Big Show or Kane match, this becomes a little tougher. Ah, there was a Steph segment. There you go then.
Quote of the Night: "What a car crash this is." - Booker T doesn't hide his feelings.
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan, though it was nowhere near the spectacle you feel they are capable of.
What We Said: As far as normal episodes of Raw go it was mundane, for a WrestleMania go-home show it was pretty drastic. By design the go-home show for any pay-per-view is supposed to increase interest in the forthcoming event, hyping the card and making you feel an urge to order. This show made me feel an urge to buy copious amounts of alcohol to try and make sitting through WrestleMania bearable. Baffling storytelling from the top to the bottom of the card has managed to turn the biggest show of the year into an exercise in apathy. WWE is about as bad now as I can ever remember it being.