We are on the road to Extreme Rules, WWE's first pay-per-view since the tremendous WrestleMania 31 last month. They have hardly been on a role lately in the immediate aftermath, with the company falling into the same half-assed booking cycles and uninspired scenarios that they have been doing for years. There was anticipation that because WrestleMania delivered, the usual post-show malaise might be abated this year. It's not looking that way, sadly. The fact that Roman Reigns is programmed with Big Show and last week the WWE Champion Seth Rollins was made to look like a chump by Kane is evidence of that. Hell, they even did the old finger poke of doom angle, ironically mocking WCW for having done it in 1999 and wholly missing the fact that they did it legitimately with their own champion, rather than as a whimsical parody. This company...
Promo Time: Randy Orton
This promo is conducted from inside a steel cage, because Randy's match with Seth Rollins at Extreme Rules is taking place inside a steel cage. It's more than a little on the nose. What does having the cage on Raw achieve? I have no idea, but it's an idiom they continue to go with each time. If it's a ladder match, they do promos from on a ladder, or have a ton of ladders in the aisle. You get the idea. Yes, subtly is not their strong point. Randy gets right to the point, calling Seth a bastard and spitting out his typically rushed overly-scripted verbiage. As is customary, Seth heads out to retort. After dismissing Randy's promo he puts himself over as a veritable chess master amongst a sea of drones. He is not wrong. Randy gets annoyed and threatens to RKO everyone in the building, including Rollins, to make up for not being able to hit the move on Sunday. Hey, it's another WCW rip off! Positively Kanyon did the same thing down there in one of the few highlights of the dying days of WCW. Anyway, usual opening talky bit fare here, with nothing new or particularly interesting said to add to the program.
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
I feel like I have seen this match around fifty times. How can a company with so much talent at its disposal be so uncreative in how it books. Most weeks you can predict the Raw matches before the show even begins. They have a tried, tested and tired formula and they stick rigidly to it without exception. The result is that matches like this, ones that are perfectly good on paper, end up being tiresome and unappealing. What is the purpose of it? What does it matter at all? Harper tries to drum up some interest by asking Dean before the match why he isn't afraid of him, and promising that he will be after tonight. I will believe it when I see it. They appear to have their working boots on at least and actually have a cracking little brawl that spills into the crowd. It isn't even a match, it's a fight. It gets thrown out but they don't care, they just carry on brawling. At the top of the ramp Harper goes to powerbomb Ambrose off the stage, but he Ambrose skips out and Harper ends up just gently hurling him off instead. Ooh, terrifying.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Seth Rollins shits himself when Titus O'Neil barks at him. A technician laughs so Seth promises to beat up the next guy he sees, and wouldn't you know it, it's Triple H. Seth whines and complains about Kane, Randy, everything, and Hunter tells him to man up when he asks for more security. There's nothing like a heel World Champion who is scared of his own shadow.
The Lucha Dragons vs. The New Day
The winner gets a tag title shot at Extreme Rules, which in itself is a laughable notion. The Dragons have been on a roll and won every match they have been in since they debuted on the main roster, so why aren't they number one contenders anyway? The New Day lose every week, they should be at the bottom of the pile. "They've changed their tune just a little bit," claims JBL in response to the fans hatred of The New Day. Have they now? Have they really? I seem to recall complete and utter silence due to apathy prior to the post-WrestleMania crowd making it okay to despise them. It's not like they were liked in any way by anyone prior to that. Hell, we have hated them at HoW from day one. Michael Cole shows off his unparalleled ignorance by confusing Sin Cara and Kalisto, which is ridiculous really. Okay, they dress similarly and both wear masks, but there is about a foot difference in height between them. "For the win!" Oh, fuck off. Big E gets riled with the boos as we go to commercial, and when we return the New Day's domination of Sin Cara is still going on. Big E starts twitching and skipping frames, allowing Sin Cara to evade him and make the hot tag. Kalisto is something else, flying around the ring like a video game character. He hits two ridiculous moves, one being a head spike rana and the other a no hands springboard, then both Dragons do a dive. With everyone outside the ring they fight to beat the count, and Xavier Woods grabs Sin Cara's feet from under the ring to prevent them getting back in, and the New Day win via count out. Oh my god, they actually went and did it. The Lucha Dragons against Cesaro and Kidd would have been tremendous fun, but no, instead we have to suffer the bullshit racist New Day nonsense. I despair sometimes.
Final Rating: *1/2
After the match, Randy Orton begins his quest to re-establish himself as a popular internet meme by taking out Woods and Kofi with the RKO. Having already wiped out the tag champions last week, Orton is on a one man tear through that entire division of late. WWE might as well just give him the tag belts.
Fandango vs. Curtis Axel
These are two fun characters who could be over, and indeed have had their share of fan support at various times over the past few years. Both have been hampered by that strange WWE idiosyncrasy that states anyone who gets over who wasn't expected/supposed to get over will be punished for having done so. Many, many others fall into that category. Cesaro is a prime example. Zack Ryder is another. I think Vince sometimes forgets that in the eighties he had a deep roster full of well protected guys on his midcard who were far more over then than the majority of today's main event guys. Hell, in Attitude everyone was over. It was the one positive thing that horrible time period had going for it. This is super quick, with Fandango scoring the win thanks to his impressive top rope legdrop. So much for #Axelmania. Post match the music guy plays the wrong theme, cueing up Fandango's short-lived "new Fandango" tune. How is that even possible? He already played the right track for the guy's entrance! Things like that just show how low down on the radar these poor guys are.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Promo Time: Triple H
The boss is back, making his first appearance since "ending the Monday Night Wars" at WrestleMania. He is alone, as his wife is currently abroad participating in the Eisenhower Fellowship, which as their website says is:
"An opportunity for exceptional men and women to re-examine, re-energize, and refocus their professional and leadership skills; set new goals; and pursue outcomes individually."
So in other words, expect her to return with a more prominent role on television that no doubt includes greater emasculation of talent than ever before. I commend her for doing it and trying to better herself - and boy does she ever need to given her woeful track record of incompetence behind the scenes - but I am sceptical as to the benefit. Things that work in real business rarely translate to wrestling due to its closed-minded cynicism and the archaic, misguided practices it still employs.
To the point then, which is Hunter shilling the return of Tough Enough, which is an entertaining enough show generally speaking, though the end results have hardly been up to much. Maven? Andy Levine? Cameron! It's hardly a murderer's row of talent, is it? Oh, my apologies, there was The Miz. I guess that about sums it up. After Hunter fails to reveal who the host will be (rumours swirl that it will be Chris Jericho, which would be great because he has the right personality for it), things turn from shill to storyline when Kane heads out for a word. After the past few weeks of arguing with Seth Rollins, the large red one is fed up. He offers Hunter his two week's notice because he feels he is no longer able to support the Authority's decision to back Seth. Hunter doesn't want him to do anything rash and advises him to reconsider, but Seth wanders out pissed off at Kane's comments and tells Hunter to just let him leave. In response Kane furiously yells in his face, shouting that Seth is champions because they made him champion, and they could have done the same thing with anybody. It's a rare display of fire and passion from Kane, though I do wonder where they are going with this. Is the endgame a Rollins-Kane program for the title? Because that sounds like a bad idea. Even worse, any Kane babyface turn is liable to lead to matches against all members of the Authority, which includes... The Big Show. Spare us. Even if that is not the direction, is it really such a great idea to be having Seth belittled in such a manner? Eventually Hunter steps between the pair before things get physical and lambasts them both, lecturing that it is not how they do business. He tells them both to learn to get along, then bafflingly makes Kane the "guardian of the gate" in Seth's Extreme Rules title match. Wha? Why would Hunter do anything at all to potentially jeopardise his handpicked champion's chances? Yeah, Kane is in the Authority, but he has already expressed his displeasure with Rollins. Having been around for so long, Trips should know better.
Backstage, Kane and Seth argue some more, so Hunter yells at Kane for not being a monster anymore. Seth chimes in, "You see what I'm talking about?" That doesn't please Hunter. In the spirit of his wife, he shouts Seth down for not appreciating the people who helped him to the title and tells him to be more grateful. Why is everyone in this faction so angry? What are the characters' motivations for being upset? Seth has what he wants. Hunter has what he wants. Kane? Who knows what he wants, but little has changed since he first handed his balls to Steph on a platter a few years back.
Naomi vs. Brie Bella
WWE continue to confuse #GiveDivasAChance with #GiveBellasAChance, with the proliferation of the latter guaranteeing they will take even longer to achieve the former. Naomi cuts an insert promo before hand, questioning why she needed to win a battle royal having beaten champion Nikki twice, and she is absolutely right. For the same reasons that the Lucha Dragons weren't automatic number one contenders for the tag belts I suppose. This is fucking awful for the record, a complete and utter car wreck of a match. Naomi has no move-set outside of a flying asshole attack, and Brie has nothing about her whatsoever. She can't sell, her facials are comically bad, her fire is embarrassingly forced and her music is, well, no words have been invented to describe that atrocity yet. For some reason Brie is a babyface here too, despite having been a heel all year. I suppose it doesn't matter. It's not like anyone cares about the Bellas. It is odd that they have turned Naomi heel just prior to working a program with long-time heel Divas champ Nikki though. Naomi puts this out of her misery with the butt to the face nonsense after nearly ten minutes of non action. Damn those Twitter folk for forcing WWE's hand into giving us long women's matches on Raw! They should have known WWE would miss the point.
Final Rating: DUD
In catering, Heath Slater chats with Erik Rowan about his intentions to challenge John Cena for the U.S. Title later on tonight. Rowan, wearing his mask at the dinner table like a complete prat, walks off. When Slater gets up to see where he is going, Randy Orton strikes with an RKO through a table. Ace.
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
He is not in the mood to talk tonight, so calls out Big Show for a fight. Instead of Show, we get something almost as bad: Bo Dallas. Heeeee's baaaaack. Just another reason not to watch Raw with a loaded gun anywhere in the vicinity. Bo quotes Star Wars and some American sports bullshit that is lost on me, so Reigns superman punches him in the mush. Roman was cheered when he came out, but he gets booed for that. This crowd are dumb. The spear follows, then Reigns resumes his promo. He promises to be the last man standing at Extreme Rules, no doubt with the assist of a car or a sound system or something else heavy; the way Show always loses those matches. "You can Bo-Lieve that!" wraps up Reigns. Cute. I suspect this entire segment was only booked so the writers could pop themselves by having Reigns say that line.
Sheamus vs. Zack Ryder
Because we are in New York, Zack gets to be made to look like a jabroni in front of his home state. Such is the way of things around here. It's not even a match, just Sheamus kicking the shit out of hapless Zack and cutting a promo while he does it. Eventually it gets too much for the flag bearer for underutilised talent Dolph Ziggler, so he runs out and drills Sheamus with a Zigzag to cause the DQ. A complete waste of time.
Final Rating: N/R
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Kane
Continuing with the evening's gaffe reel, ring announcer Eden Stiles begins announcing John Cena, before realising that it is a title match and thus she is not supposed to until both guys are in the ring, so she stops dead mid-sentence. Cena does some generic talking before his U.S. Open Challenge mystery opponent heads out, and glory be it is Kane. Kane! The most featured performer on WWE television these days. In 2015, everybody! There was a quaint little wrestling company based in Atlanta that did much the same thing; pushing aged, past their sell-by-date stars at the top of the card ad nauseum at the expense of fresh, young, genuine talent on the undercard. They went out of business with a whimper having been a money printing machine just a few short years earlier. I am of course referring to WCW, and the parallels between them and WWE at the moment are striking. Cena's streak of impressive ***+ performances comes to a screeching halt here against the corporate monster, as he becomes engulfed in the sheer badness that is Kane the wrestler. Kane the orator I don't actually mind all that much, but in the ring? Man, I have sat through his routine for nearly twenty years, and it has always pretty much sucked. Such is the audience's dislike for seeing Kane in this spot, that they barely even chant "Cena sucks" in response to the kids hollering "Let's go Cena". Now there's apathy for you, folks. The pace is mind-meltingly slow, with Kane grinding away at half-speed and cutting Cena off every time he looks to be mounting a comeback. It's all so basic, so predictable and so very monotonous. The finish is useless too, with Cena skipping out of a Tombstone attempt and just hitting the AA for the win. I am not sure he even did another move. "What an effort by Cena," says Cole. Yeah, okay.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, John Cena gets a brown nosing from Byron Saxton and puts over Kane answering his challenge as being the unpredictability of WWE! I would vehemently argue it is quite the opposite. Rusev stops the madness with an attack from behind, then uses a chain to put on the Accolade, right over Cena's face. Smooshy.
The Battle For "The Miz" Brand
Damien Mizdow vs. The Miz
This is absolutely ridiculous. How can Miz lose his "brand" (another of WWE's favourite words) when his brand is his name!? What does he become if he loses? Just "Mike"? That could be amusing, actually. Mizdow is completely rudderless following his WrestleMania failure, where he choked in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal thanks to career-killer The Big Show. He hasn't been over in the slightest since. The tacked on addition of Summer Rae as his supposedly babyface valet has hardly helped. What does she offer other than vapidity? Well, other than overselling and a big fake smile. Oh, there is the answer: treachery. She slaps poor Mizdow and causes him to get beat, uniting the two Marine 4 stars on WWE programming as well as on DVD shelves worldwide. So that is that for Damien Sandow's big second chance then. He had a shot at getting over, WWE failed to pull the trigger when they should have, and now he is as dead in the water as everyone else. Bravo, WWE, bravo.
Final Rating: 1/4*
Post match, Randy Orton decks Miz with an RKO. That's four.
Bray Wyatt cuts another promo that is lost on everyone, and again the focus is vague. Each week it feels more and more as if his match with Undertaker never even happened. They did the match, Taker went back to exile, and WWE pressed the Wyatt reset button and went back to exactly where they were before with him. What was the point of any of it? I suspect his target will be Roman Reigns, and they are holding off until the June pay-per-view because he is recovering from his ankle injury. That might be fairly good, at least.
Ryback vs. Adam Rose
It's almost as if we have gone back to 1996 and the days of glorified jobbers putting over the big stars. I am half expecting Alex Porteau and Freddie Joe Floyd to make appearances. Shellshock, game over. That was worthwhile. Post match, a banana and a hotdog get in Ryback's face, so he gives them a double shellshock. He is hungry, you see. Ryback tells a joke after the match that is so bad it makes me want to die. Much like the rest of this show.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Backstage, Renee Young reads out some tweets from J&J Security mocking Kane. He decides to confront them about it. "Hey, how did you hear about that, that was supposed to be a private conversation!" yells Seth. Oh, that's a cheap shot from the writers. It's an obvious reference to Seth's, ahem, troubles a few months back where he posted some nudey pics of an NXT female who wasn't his fiancé, and his cock got plastered around the internet by his jilted now ex in response. Cruel. Seth concedes that Kane is figuratively and literally the bigger man, and they walk off. Jamie Noble steals the scene by walking like a droid. Randy Orton is stood watching, waiting to strike. It's like a B-movie comedy horror.
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
Any illusions that Dolph has a chance of winning a match of this calibre have long since been eradicated in the months following his apparent ascent at Survivor Series. He has been booked in the same elevated midcard spot ever since that main event triumph, allowed to mix it up with the stars but never beat them. He is like a modern day Jim Duggan. The crowd realise this every bit as much as I do and thus watch in silence, bored to tears after another drab show and a dearth of stars. Dolph goes to his usual bag of tricks, attempting to sell his ass off to get the match over, but no one is biting. Selling worked for guys like Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels because the chances are they were going to come back and win, but as I said, nobody thinks Ziggler has a chance. The match is a real disappointment too, far from the show saving belter you hope for upon seeing it listed on the bill. The finish is WWE #101 too, with Sheamus causing the distraction as retribution for Ziggler's attack earlier, and Seth finishing with a powerbomb into the buckles and a wacky face plant DDT.
Final Rating: *1/2
Hunter heads down to drone on afterwards, but before he is finished Seth grabs the mic from him so he can continue gloating, causing a sideways glance of derision from Hunter. Ah yes, what better than the Authority feuding with everyone than the Authority feuding internally with themselves. That's good, because it opens the doors for that Big Show World Title shot that everyone has been yearning for. Kane wanders out too for his fifteenth appearance of the evening, as the cage descends on the ring with Rollins locked inside. Suddenly Randy Orton is there, and Rollins is a trapped animal. The inevitable RKO follows as we go off the air. Well, this show sure did a great job of building up the RKO. What a good job its use is banned on Sunday.
THE RAW RECAP
Most Entertaining: Randy Orton. His RKO assaults were the highlights of the show.
Least Entertaining: New Day. Suck.
Quote of the Night: "You can Bo-Lieve that" - Roman Reigns shows a hint of whimsy.
Match of the Night: Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper. Yes, a two minute non bout without a finish was the best bout on the card.
What We Said: Excruciatingly dull. Sitting through this episode was a chore from start to finish. WWE has some huge stars at its disposal, and some very entertaining workers too, but the majority of them are either WrestleMania-season part timers, out injured or toiling away in NXT. Each week I tune into Raw with the foolish anticipation that things somehow, maybe, might just be different this time. That the constant booking faux pas will magically correct itself, that Vince has watched a tape from an era where Raw was vibrant and exciting, that the writers have all been struck with inspiration and have decided to write a wrestling show rather than dim-witted comedy. Then each and every week I am reminded that in WWE, nothing changes. The epic plight of Kane this evening stands as testament to that. Even the future looks bleak, despite the mass of talent on hand at NXT, because just look what happens to the guys they call up. Where was Neville this week? Have they lost interest in him already? Why are Charlotte and Sasha Banks not fixing this women's division yesterday? The only positive I can gleam from this whole, sorry ordeal is that the Big Show was nowhere in sight. Be thankful for small mercies.