We are live tonight in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Don't be surprised to see some sort of screwjob finish tonight. WWE just love recycling that infamous moment in history.
Promo Time: Randy Orton
This is becoming a recurring trend. It feels like every show starts with a Randy Orton promo. At least this one has a slightly more unique flavour to it due to being bathed in a lower light than usual. Randy reminds everyone of the main event triple threat match at the upcoming Payback show, saying he will be the new champion and, "There's not a damn thing anyone can do about it." Immediately Roman Reigns' music hits, making the line sound like the most blatant cue in history. There is nothing organic about this show, oh now. Reigns disagrees with Randy's assessment about the outcome of the bout, but the crowd are with Orton, and chant "RKO". Randy gets so excited he tries to deliver his lines too quickly and fluffs them. Reigns by contrast is calm and delivers his verbiage fairly well. Orton makes the spurious argument that Reigns has only been in three WrestleMania's compared to his twelve in a row, and that he has significantly more World Title reigns than Roman's zero. Well, yeah! But of course he has, because he has been around forever. The tiff is broken up by the arrival of New Day Suck, which absolutely delights Randy. He even does a little dance. They cut a fairly decent - by their standards - promo on the pair, espousing positivity while really running them down, then offering the chance to clap along with them. Randy is up for it but Reigns wears an expression of utter disdain. He does do some token clapping though. "I told you they wouldn't do it," moans Kofi. But, but, they did do it. Just then. Right there in the ring! It turns out New Day Suck have been booked in a match with Reigns and Orton right now. Well, right now after the commercial, of course. This wasn't awful, remarkably. For all I abhor the New Day, at least they are a fresh set of opponents for Randy and Reigns. It certainly beats them doing a tag against Big Show and Kane, for example.
Randy Orton & Roman Reigns vs. The New Day
This is a handicap match, so all three of the tag champs get the opportunity to have their asses kicked by two of the top singles guys. "It's not a handicap match, it's Freebird Rules," reckons Booker T, but he is wrong. The titles are not on the line and this very much IS a handicap match. Freebird rules meant any of the three could defend tag titles, much like the New Jersey Triad in WCW (DDP, Bam Bam Bigelow and Kanyon, for those who don't recall). Randy and Roman slowly, systematically destroy Xavier Woods, working together with few problems and being altogether casual in their approach. They take turns stomping away, very, very methodically, but Randy gets too cocky and allows Woods to make a tag. The crowd are not into WWE's attempt at freshening the mix at all though, and begin to chant for JBL. It's the standard "What the fuck is this shit you are peddling to me?" chorus. WWE's problem is that they jump on things that they think are over even though they aren't (confusing the hatred for the New Day gimmick as being hatred of the New Day characters) but ignoring things that get over when they don't want them too (Curtis Axel and Fandango spring to mind).
We cut to commercial, and return with Roman Reigns in... you guessed it, a chinlock. Big E amuses himself by throwing Reigns around and clapping in between each move. Woods has a lot of joy too, a little too much for my liking really. Reigns shouldn't be down selling for these jabronis for five minutes. Okay, imagine Goldberg against the New Day. What would happen? They would die, that's what. Reigns is a World Title contender, a man pegged as the future face of WWE. This booking doesn't help him at all. The crowd don't help him either, chanting "C.M. Punk" (the chant they use when they are really pissed) and then begging for Randy Orton. They get him and he cleans house, drilling Woods with the RKO. He is about to hit another on Kofi, but at the same time Reigns decides to go for a spear. Kofi moves, Randy eats the spear, and Kofi covers him for the three. Wow. On one hand I am pleased that the three tag team champions, a de facto better unit than any pairing of two singles guys, scored the win. On the other hand, the NEW DAY won. How shameful for Randy.
Final Rating: *1/2
Kane wanders to the stage immediately after the match and contradicts what I just said, telling them there is no shame in losing to the tag champions. He then announces tonight's main event, and it's a wholly predictable one: Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns. Wow is this talent pool ever thin. With John Cena busy rocking the midcard, Daniel Bryan injured and Brock Lesnar currently on his hiatus, who are the main event guys other than Reigns, Randy and Seth Rollins? No one, is the answer.
Backstage, Kane bumps into an unimpressed Seth Rollins and tells an odd story about waiting for Santa by the fireplace at Christmas armed with a blowtorch, so he could "roast his chestnuts". Right then. Kane doesn't think it is fair for Seth to have the night off so he books him against Dean Ambrose with J&J Security barred from ringside to prevent interference. Seth cries foul, saying the interference in his last match was caused by Kane himself. "He just wants to hurt me," cries the pussy champion. Kane won't have it, warning Seth that if he says another word he will change the match and make him work it with one arm tied behind his back. Seth, tail tucked firmly between his legs, storms off. Kane is good in these backstage talking bits, promos have become his strong suit, but the way Seth is being booked as champion as a whiny, scared-of-his-own-shadow wimp is not the best.
Promo Time: Ryback
Renee Young conducts this in the ring, and Ryback in a rare sight is not wearing his wrestling gear. It's strangely unsettling. "Montreal, you sound hungry!" Silence. I guess they have all just eaten. Renee asks Ryback why Bray Wyatt targeted him last week, but he doesn't know. The rest of his answer is drowned out by the return of the super loud "Goldberg" chants. Canada is always slow to catch up. "The big guy loves the guy too. If you ignore it, you just keep doing it." Well played, Ryback. Immediately the fans begin to chant, "Feed me more." The rest of his promo is a blur, delivered too quickly and without any heart. He does say that Bray Wyatt doesn't scare him and he never will, and that the time for talking is done. Thank goodness for that. It's not though, because resident windbag Bray Wyatt needs to get his rebuttal in on the Titantron. It's the usual long winded, almost entirely nonsensical drivel. The guys needs a refresh. Hey, how about a realigning with the rest of his Wyatt Family, perhaps with the addition of his kid brother Bo Dallas? Instantly three guys who are not over and a guy who is in danger of jumping the shark (Bray) would be relevant, interesting and important again. As it is, I am not feeling this program one bit. There is no appeal to seeing Wyatt-Ryback at all.
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro vs. The Ascension
Wow, the Ascension still work here!? Their time away from Raw might have been a good opportunity to drop the ridiculous Road Warriors rip off gimmick. But no, here they are still looking like utter pillocks. JBL and Booker T are not happy to see them. Kidd and Cesaro are far less over than you would think given we are in Canada, though that's probably because the Ascension tediously dominate Kidd for the first few minutes. The tag to Cesaro wakes them up, and they go wild for his brilliant consecutive running European uppercuts into the corner. He does about a dozen of them. Even the announcers mark out for that. Cesaro needs to be main eventing yesterday. After a brief Ascension flurry, Cesaro and Kidd connect with the giant swing/dropkick combo for the win. "What a tag team," gushes Cole, and for once I agree with him completely. As frustrating as it is to see Cesaro's ability squandered, there is no doubt that this pairing is one of the finest WWE teams of the decade.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Seth tells Renee that there is no point to his match with Dean Ambrose, and that Kane is "a moron". Ouch, stinging.
Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins
Kane walks out before they get going and tells Seth that as per his request, this match will now have a point: if Ambrose wins, he is in the title match at Payback and it will become a fatal four way. Excellent. That would sure make it a little more interesting. Seth gripes and whines about it, as per usual these days, but Ambrose thinks it's a great idea. They brawl on the outside right away, giving Dean chance to get in his wacky new 619 clothesline. Back inside, they trade back and forth without doing a whole lot, following the current WWE match template of working steady and coming alive for the finish. It's always been that way really, but it's becoming the case more frequently up and down the card these days. It's not bad as such, because a hot finish makes a match memorable, but it does render everything before the near falls as fairly unimportant. It's not like anyone works a body part that becomes a factor towards the end anymore. I would certainly take these occasionally predictable longer matches over the sub three-minute crap we had to endure in the late nineties. Back from commercial and Seth channels Demolition Smash by utilising a neck crank, but Dean soon fights out. The pace quickens as Ambrose throws Rollins around the ring, and he adds a tope for good measure. "Holy Shit!" chant Montreal. "Turn down the fucking crowd," yells Vince in the back. There has been a lot of that unbearable sound sweetening nonsense tonight. Take the voice away from the crowd and they will just stop attending. Montreal starts to lose its mind with random chants of "Ole, ole ole ole," (Sami Zayn is from Montreal) confusing even JBL who asks, "Is it the day after WrestleMania?" Ambrose gets a few near falls so Seth kicks him in the head. Ambrose won't stay down and slaps him, so Seth kicks him again. "For the win!" Oh, not this infernal call again. Ambrose kicks out, surprising some who thought it was the finish. This briefly becomes a boxing match, and Ambrose manages to land more punches in ten seconds than Manny Pacquiao did in twelve rounds against Floyd Mayweather. To the outside again where Seth manages to scout Ambrose's clothesline and send him into the barricade with a powerbomb. "No way he makes it back in after that," says Booker, which means he does of course. This is becoming an epic. They run a beautiful sequence which sees switches and counters galore, which ends with Ambrose's delightful lariat. Cue J&J Security, as WWE once again reneges on a stipulation. It's becoming harder and harder to trust a single thing they say. Fortunately that doesn't spell a lame DQ, and the duo are so incompetent that they don't even help Rollins to a screwy win. No, instead they end up being a distraction, giving Ambrose the chance to score with a roll up for the win. Great! This was great in every way! The booking was excellent (like I said earlier, they need main event stars), the match was a fifteen minute belter that built logically and had some wonderful spots and believable near falls, and the finish was done very well in the context of the current Kane-Rollins storyline. See, WWE, you can do things right when you try.
Final Rating: ****
Backstage, Seth is livid with Kane and threatens to beat him up. "What are you trying to do, kill me?" Kane tells Seth that he needs to calm down or else he will be defending against nine guys. A ten-way match? I haven't seen that before. I wouldn't want to mind, though it would sure be intriguing. Kane tells Seth he is doing it because he is helping him prove himself as a man. Elsewhere, Byron Saxton quizzes Lana, asking her how she feels about being cheered. She plays dumb and dismisses the notion entirely. Fandango, of all people, sidles up next to her and tells her not to be coy and to embrace the love. Yeah, she could end up as over as him! Rusev, naturally, is not happy about her to talking to him. They really are determined to split these two, though I cannot understand why. They are a great unit, and splitting them will reduce the effectiveness of both. We have seen it all before. Sometimes things just need to be left alone.
Rusev vs. Fandango
This goes a little longer than you might expect, well, more than a minute at least, but it only exists to further the storyline break up of Rusev and Lana. The blonde beauty irks the beastly Bulgarian this week by doing the Fandango - erm, the dance, not the wrestler - which delights Montreal but pisses off Rusev something rotten. He sends her to the back, then quickly finishes poor Fandango with the Accolade. Nothing more than an extended squash.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Next, Tough Enough audition videos. If these people are representative of the youth of America, than the United States is in trouble.
R-Truth vs. Stardust
Two of the most hate-inspiring characters on the roster here going at it in a rematch from last week's King of the Ring quarter final encounter. Stardust has a bag with him, in which there are mysterious contents. Is it a snake? Is it actual star dust? Is it wrestling powder? Python powder? The ashes of Cody's career? JBL is so entertained by this match that he throws out a snooker reference, mentioning Stuart Bingham's World Championship victory earlier in the day. That has to be a first. I sometimes wonder if Vince notices the silence that the majority of his content plays to. Why doesn't he do something about it? Why doesn't he nip the crap in the bud early like he used to? The finish is absolutely appalling, with sticky hands Truth unable to resist the urge to check the bag. Pleasingly it costs him, because the bag is full of spiders, fake ones, which he is terrified of. Roll up, win. Lots of that going on around here. Truth flees afterwards, presumably yelling, "Ma, ma! They're on me! THEY'RE ON ME! MA!" Oh how I loathe WWE when they try comedy. "A grown man is running away from plastic spiders," says Cole with more than a hint of despair in his voice. Even he, the WWE's pre-programmed positivity machine, can't find a way to sell this shit.
Final Rating: DUD
Promo Time: John Cena
Montreal hates John Cena, but he has won me over a lot in the past few weeks. Keep him away from the main events where he is stale and over exposed, and he is an entertaining part of the show. His United States Championship run has been a triumph thus far. The belt means something again. It feels important. Montreal really hate him though, and carry on singing, "John Cena sucks," in the style of his theme song. "I quit," he says, referencing his Payback match with Rusev but inadvertently inspiring another "Ole" chant. Cena asks them if they want him to quit, and it turns out they do. He lets them have their fun, playing them like a pro, then basically telling them tough shit. "Sami Zayn!" they chant. Cena tries to babyface himself by champion the virtues of never giving up, then begins his open challenge. It's answer by... Bret Hart! Wow, the place goes crazy for that. Well, we are in Montreal, after all. Naturally, Bret is not here to wrestle, but to introduce someone. Before he gets chance, Heath Slater comes out and demands another shot at Cena, though not before ripping on the crowd in French. "Yeah, I can speak French!" he gloats in his thick redneck drawl. His delivery is excellent. "I'm sick and tired of getting attacked out of nowhere," he complains, just as Bret floors him with the mic. "As I was saying..." continues Bret. Poor Heath. "It's another Montreal Screwjob," craws Vince McMahon spokesman JBL. Oh, get over it, Vince. Bret introduces John Cena's real opponent: Sami motherfucking Zayn! My god, Montreal just collectively orgasmed. WWE is knocking them out of the park tonight. What a segment. What a moment.
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Sami Zayn
Now, how on earth do you book this? Cena winning will kill this crowd dead, but he needs to really given he has a PPV match with Rusev coming up with the title on the line. However, Zayn winning would be one of the most memorable moments on Raw in years. And it would instantly make him as a superstar on the main roster. They can always take it off him next week if they want the belt on Cena for the Rusev match. Not that it needs it necessarily. We return from commercial with the match already in progress, which is annoying. Cena bails to the outside but scouts a Zayn dive, but Zayn notices and puts the breaks on in impressive fashion. Cena then begins to control the match with a series of back suplexes, one of which appears to injure Zayn's shoulder. They even get the doctors in to check it out and have the referee to the famous "x" sign. It's quite brilliantly done, actually, giving Zayn an out if he loses and establishing him as a never-say-die wrestler who will work through injury and adversity. It also heels Cena considerably when he continues to pound away on him. But he is not a heel, he is a good guy, and he shows compassion which nearly gets him caught in a pin. Zayn is allowed to show some of his flashy offence including a beautiful dive over the top rope, but back inside he immediately gets caught in the STF. Credit to Cena, he allows him to escape by crawling to the ropes. Cena shows compassion for Zayn's injury again which gets him caught in a submission, but Cena powers out into the AA. Zayn escapes and hits a German which Cena doesn't jump for, so it ends up being a bridged pin. Cena continues to be far more dominant, wiping Zayn out with a clothesline and going for the AA, only for Zayn to flip out of it, just, and both men go down from a double clothesline. Cena takes a breather on the outside, but he clearly hasn't seen much of Zayn because that is not a safe place to be. Thus he gets caught by Zayn's beautiful tope DDT through the ropes. Zayn struggles to get him back in the ring, then gets caught immediately with the AA. Zayn kicks out! Jesus, they are really trying to make him. John Cena should be applauded by all of his critics for what he is doing for Zayn here. Blue Thunder Bomb from Zayn follows, getting a close near fall and a "This is Awesome" chant from Montreal. For once, it is not without merit. Cena keeps punching away at Zayn, who refuses to go down, then connects with his ridiculous springboard Stunner and the AA for the win. Look, it is not the popular result but it is not a harmful one for Zayn. Hell, he was against John Cena, he escapes his submission hold, kicked out of his finisher and was given a load of offence. How appropriate that Bret Hart introduced Zayn, because Cena's performance tonight was reminiscent of when then WWF Champion Hart beat 1-2-3 Kid on Raw in 1994 in a very similar scenario. Well done John Cena, and well done WWE for recognising that Zayn would be so over in his home town that he was worth going with. Timing is everything. Now, the match itself wasn't a classic, but the moment was special. WWE felt exciting again, interesting, unpredictable. Perhaps my favourite Raw moment of the entire year.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Backstage, the New Day sing, dance and celebrate as the bewildered Bella Twins walk past. After commercial, Renee Young attempts to interview Sami Zayn, but New Day hijack that segment again and do some singing. Cesaro and Kidd turn up, and Cesaro zings Woods: "You have a PhD and you don't realise that they are saying New Day sucks?" Big E says they know what the crowd are saying, but they aren't going to let negativity keep them down.
The Bellas head out for a match, but they get jumped before the bell by Naomi and the returning Tamina. Michael Cole can't for the life of him remember the latter's name. The angry duo do a number on the twins on the outside of the ring and Naomi tells them that their rule over the Divas division is over. Let us rejoice! Cole and JBL then try to explain how Tamina and Naomi are cousins through marriage, though they are not exactly sure how.
King Barrett & Sheamus vs. Neville & Dolph Ziggler
The birth of Princess Charlotte couldn't have come at a better time for the new king of the WWF, Bad News Barrett, who comes out in his full King of the Ring regalia gloating about his victory. He steals a page out of Booker T's, erm, book, telling everyone to get used to the phrase: "All hail King Barrett." I knew he would have some fun with this. Both of these pairings would make excellent permanent tag teams if it wasn't such a waste of talent, and Sheamus. Imagine for a moment Cesaro & Kidd against Neville & Ziggler. It could be astonishing. This though is a fairly basic tag bout, not really picking up steam until Ziggler gets the hot tag to Neville, who runs through his high octane offence at speed. They pair off into two separate encounters, which sees Sheamus dump Ziggler over the barricade and then provide a timely distraction to prevent a Neville Red Arrow. Barrett catches the Bullhammer as Neville springboards into the ring, and that is that. I wish they would protect Neville better, but at least they are not killing King Barrett immediately with the even steven booking. Did they change writers this week or something?
Final Rating: *3/4
Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton
Almost immediately after the last match finishes Roman Reigns' music plays to signal his arrival. I guess that Cena segment earlier went longer than was allotted, because everything since has been rushed. That doesn't matter though, it was worth it. Before they get into anything physical, Kane heads down with Seth Rollins and J&J Security. Kane is shirtless, which immediately makes me concerned. Jamie Noble introduces himself as the guest ring announcer, Joey Mercury as the guest time keeper, Kane as the ringside enforcer and Seth Rollins as a commentator. "Thank you mayor of munchkin city," says Cole disparagingly. He can be a real dickhead. Finally the match starts and Randy tries for an RKO right away, but Roman is wise to it. Unfortunately the match is ignored by the tired crowd and the announcers, with JBL and Rollins complaining about the stupidity of multi man matches for titles. Hey, I have been saying this for years. It's a strange thing to do having JBL, the voice of Vince McMahon remember, running down the booking of the upcoming PPV main event. If they know it is stupid, why do they book it? The match trundles on and there is nothing much wrong with it, but it feels like a tired effort. The story is both guys going for their signature stuff but the other having it scouted. When Reigns finally hits the superman punch, he runs straight into an blatantly poised Kane and gets tripped, leading the an Authority beat down on Randy. Reigns leaps from the ring onto all of them, as things break down. We get a mugging in the ring on both guys as the crowd chant for Ambrose, and they get him. We are left with the four guys from the PPV main event, who take turns wiping each other out. Reigns spears Rollins, Randy RKOs Reigns and Ambrose takes out Orton with Dirty Deeds, and he is the man left standing tall. It feels like his ascension to being a real main event player, though usually the man left standing on Raw is the one who gets beat.
Final Rating: *1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena. He deserves it for the job he did with Sami Zayn tonight. Few guys in history in his position and with his tenure would have been quite so willing to do the same.
Least Entertaining: R-Truth. He is the kind of act that makes you embarrassed to admit you watch and enjoy wrestling to those who don't get it.
Quote of the Night: "No one cares about your Montreal boo-hoo job" - Xavier Woods gets the Screwjob reference in early. Seriously guys, it was nearly eighteen years ago.
Match of the Night: Impossible! Two great matches tonight, both tremendous entertainment for their own reasons. Ambrose-Rollins edged it quality wise, but Cena-Zayn was the more heated and emotionally charged. They all deserve the award.
What We Said: A brilliant episode! As well as the obvious positives involving the four guys mentioned above, there were surprises, unpredictable elements, fresh approaches and even some entertaining backstage segments. The hot Montreal crowd helped carry the lesser stuff to being enjoyable, and there was nothing actively offensive or stupid on here other than R-Truth, and that only took up all of three minutes. In addition, the lack of Big Show, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H was a refreshing change, and for the first time this year the three hours didn't drag. Well, perhaps at the very end, but for the most part this was entertaining. I have been negative about Raw all year for good reason, but if WWE do shows like this every week then I will be a happy man.