We’re in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T. We kick things off backstage, where Triple H makes his return after missing weeks of action. It’s been a nice break for us, even if the booking has not been useful, on the whole, and has leaned heavily on Kane. Daniel Bryan is also here tonight.
Promo Time: Triple H
Absolutely no surprises here! “Daddy’s home”. This references both what he says to his family, making them suddenly behave better, and the suggestion that the Authority is a family (Seth being his “child” and Kane being the grumpy uncle). He calls out WWE Champion Seth Rollins and token authority figure Kane. The crowd chants, “We want Ambrose,” seeing as he’s from Cincinnati. The kids bicker immediately, with Seth whining as usual and Kane threatening as usual. Hunter decides to chastise Kane for not being on the same page as everyone else, so demands that Seth must leave Payback as champion or Kane is fired as Director of Operations. After some more squabbling, Hunter books Kane vs. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton (again) and J&J Security vs. Dean Ambrose. This was a fairly long-winded way to book a few filler matches.
Dean Ambrose vs. Jamie Noble & Joey Mercury
Seeing as J&J are basically retired (and hilarious midgets that Triple H has to stoop down to converse with) they have no hope whatsoever. Ambrose has himself a good time and the fans cheer as he waffles Seth’s stooges around the ringside area. Dirty Deeds finishes Noble off. Match was just a squash.
Final Rating: ½*
King Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler
Barrett gets a quick promo calling Neville a “peasant” before suggesting he’ll get Dolph to kiss his ass. Sheamus joins commentary. Ziggler and Barrett have issues pulling the crowd in because they’ve both been stuck in the midcard forever with no sign of upward mobility. Barrett’s matches have recently become a parade of near falls, almost resembling a WrestleMania match, in an attempt to be more exciting. He kicks out of Dolph’s superkick and the Rocker Dropper before Ziggler counters two of Barrett’s finishes. Sheamus distracts and the Bull Hammer wins it. The two PPV matches this was working toward (Sheamus vs. Ziggler and Barrett vs. Neville) should both be pretty good. “Yer not fit to clean moi choos,” yells Sheamus at Dolph post match, whatever that means. Brogue Kick. “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” Ok, that was pretty awesome. Anyone who channels Gladiator is ok by me.
Final Rating: **
Eric Rowan vs. Fandango
The former running buddies of Bray Wyatt, Harper and Rowan, have become friendly again. It’s probably for the best as Rowan had no connection to the fans as a babyface. The commentators start to place wagers about how quickly Rowan will win, which shows how much of a scrub Fandango is. Booker goes for 1:32, but Fandango barely lasts 30 seconds.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: John Cena
Cena gets a pop! Like a legitimate pop, nobody singing that he sucks, no booing, just a pop. He looks thrilled, bless him. Cena makes an interesting point, after some patriotic twaddle, that the WWE Title is so protected that the majority of the roster can’t get anywhere near it. Meanwhile the US Title is attainable. It is opportunity. It is what America represents. As Cena talks there’s an audible “We want Balor,” chant going on. Awesome! Cena points out Rusev has no chance in the “I Quit” match as “I never give up”. So, it’s open challenge time...
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Neville
Cena does a good job of selling for Neville’s combination of offensive strengths, as well as the crowd’s pro-Neville chanting. The great thing about Neville is he’s not just about the high-flying. People focus on that, but he’s also very technically proficient and isn’t past wiping you out with a suplex. Still, it’s the flying that’s the most eye-catching again here, which is good because it makes Neville different. The WWE don’t have a ton of fliers. Neville manages a corkscrew Phoenix Splash off the middle rope - hell he can do it from a standing position - for a dramatic near fall. Cena is often able to overpower Neville and even throws in a Michinoku Driver to show he’s not just doing the same shit every week as US Champion. Neville flips out of the AA in a sensational spot, but it’s not surprising to me because he’s got those flips in his locker and the AA is a very straightforward move. Neville takes too long setting up the Red Arrow and gets hooked with the STFU, but Neville manages to turn that into a pin. His mat skills are underrated. Cena just batters him with a clothesline for it. Cena is trying to outwrestle Neville, but he can’t, but what he can do is beat him down. Neville gets planted with the AA, out of nowhere, and KICKS OUT. John Cena’s open challenges have routinely been the best part of Raw of late, but this is something else. This is the making of Neville. He gets to showcase another side of his game when he walks Cena out of the corner for a powerbomb. Neville even has the match won, clean, with the Red Arrow, but Rusev runs in for the DQ. Holy shit, they massively protected Neville here. He had John Cena beat! We’ll never know if Cena would have kicked out there, but it damn sure looked like he needed saving. Rusev straps Cena in the Accolade as the crowd chants “we want Lana”. The angle, with Rusev struggling a bit and the whole Lana thing overwhelming it, takes a little sheen off a terrific match. Massive credit to Cena for giving something back and making the WWE’s midcard look downright capable.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Kane vs. Roman Reigns
This is, erm, interesting, as Kane just gives Roman an absolute shoeing. 2015 seems to be the year where anyone of value gets treated like a total bitch by Kane. Roman eventually recovers after a couple of minutes, hits the Superman Punch and spears Kane over the announce table. There was never a ref, or an opening bell, so this is a no contest.
Final Rating: N/R
Brie Bella vs. Tamina
The crowd had been fairly animated until this match came on and suddenly everyone just sits on their hands. I can honestly appreciate their stance. I have nothing against women’s wrestling, I just don’t care about the Divas division because the storylines are so superficial and the matches are always short and poor. There’s never a reason to get invested, especially when the Bellas are involved. Brie Mode is switched off by Tamina who kicks her in the face for the win. Match was dogshit but at least the Bella lost.
Final Rating: ¼*
Curtis Axel vs. Macho Mandow
“Somewhere Randy Savage is turning over in his grave” – JBL. Damien Sandow’s impersonation of Randy Savage is passable and it sort of makes sense because Axel is channelling Hulk Hogan. I’d be amused if they started lifting spots from the Hogan-Savage matches, but instead they work one sequence before being interrupted by the Ascension, who mock them for “imitating two old relics from the past”. They do realise they’re doing the Road Warriors’ gimmick, right? You’d think they’d be able to get over with the new Mad Max filming coming out. Sandow manages to get Axelmania to run wild as the two clowns clean house. Sandow and Axel might be good partners as Curtis would probably be flabbergasted by Sandow’s antics. I can’t see their win/loss record being too good though. “That was… something” – JBL. The announce team seem unimpressed. Sandow offers a handshake to Axel. “Turn on him” – JBL. Handshake. “God help us” – JBL. Unlike the announcers I actually quite enjoyed this. It was nonsense, but fun nonsense.
Final Rating: N/R
Video Control gives us clips from the Tough Enough potentials. If you want to become a wrestler then go and work the Indies for a few years and learn the business. If you had the “heart” and “desire” then you’d already be wrestling.
Promo Time: Daniel Bryan
Here’s the promo we’ve all been dreading here in the History of Wrestling offices. Clearly Daniel isn’t 100% fit or he’d have been wrestling over the past couple of weeks. Hell, if he was 100% fit he’d probably have been shoe-horned into a meaningful WrestleMania spot. It looks like bad news too, because Daniel is a little teary-eyed before we even get underway. He thinks back to last year when he was stripped of the WWE Title because of injuries. “They weren’t gonna give me an opportunity, you guys gave me that opportunity”. He mentions that Stephanie was right, because he was injured and he needed time off. Daniel tells us he might miss weeks of action, maybe months, maybe forever. Because of the uncertainty over his health Bryan has decided to forfeit the IC title so it can be defended and fought over. A big “Thank you, Daniel” chant breaks out. It would be horrible for this to be it for Daniel Bryan. He’s been a marvellous entertainer. “I just have one thing left to say; thank you”. He leaves the mic and IC belt in the ring and leaves. This left me a little emotional. The uncertainty is what’s killing me, and Daniel Bryan I’m sure, as he doesn’t know if this is the end or whether he might get another chance to come back and wrestle. He stops off briefly to survey the crowd and leads them in an enormous “YES” chant before stepping into the back. I hope that’s not it for Daniel Bryan, but he does really need to get healthy.
Big E. vs. Cesaro
Xavier Woods goes all heel by being happy that Daniel Bryan has gone. I preferred New Day being oblivious to people hating them. The move didn’t need to be this “black and white”, if you’ll forgive the use of colour. I took a quick look at last year’s Payback show last night and I was stunned by how far Cesaro has fallen. He stole that damn PPV, and that wasn’t an isolated incident. The tag team he’s in is good, but it’s good because he’s in it. I’m used to the WWE wasting talent, but Cesaro is just too good to be rotting away like this. The match is all about Cesaro overpowering the freakishly big, um, E. Cesaro is far too good for him. They tease interference from the rest of the New Day but Cesaro wins with a roll up. All Cesaro. He looked good here, as always, and, as always, I’m incredibly frustrated at his lack of upward movement.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us ringside, where Michael Cole tells us another PPV has been added for May, exclusive to the Network (like King of the Ring) and it’s the returning Elimination Chamber on the 31st May. Also, Roman Reigns vs. Kane has been booked for SmackDown because their match tonight went nowhere. Elsewhere, the Prime Time Players make fun of the New Age Outlaws. If you’re not down with that we’ve got three words for ya; “millions of dollars”.
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
Bray has a babyface introduction and a heel persona. It’s a little confusing. He does speak some actual sense here, saying fear has engulfed the world. Ain’t that the truth. He segues into Ryback, pointing out the big man refused to lay down to a potential career-ending ankle injury. “My hero… but then along came the spider”. Bray’s reasoning for attacking Ryback? “He was in my way”. “The nightmares never go away and sometimes the bad guy wins”. Which would work better if the win/loss record wasn’t so appalling for the so-called “face of fear”. Ryback runs down and gives Wyatt a beating just to continue that perception. The WWE is going to have to get serious about Bray Wyatt or just give up. At the moment he’s coasting, and Ryback is a terrible fit for him. Even the Undertaker feud made little sense. Bray is at his best when he’s needling away at a confident persons insecurities. Like he did with John Cena. Ryback is too dumb to be that guy. Good promo, poor target.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
This is their third major singles bout in about a month. The first two were completely different (one was good, one was bad and other things). My opinion of Orton has not altered. I don’t like him, at all. Rollins has been almost neutered since winning the title and it’s starting to effect his ability to get a match over. They have a few ideas and counters, and it’s all familiar and slightly pleasing, like the comfort of your couch after a hard day at work. What it isn’t is exciting, which is part of the issue of the current WWE, minus Brock Lesnar. They don’t have main events that make me stand up and get excited. For instance I saw Go Shiozaki vs. Kento Miyahara from AJPW and that match had me yelling and jumping up and down because it was so goddamn exciting. Rollins vs. Orton is not that kind of match. All Japan isn’t even a good promotion! Just to make this match completely underwhelming J&J run in for the DQ to stop the RKO.
Final Rating: **1/4
Post Match: Kane comes down and does nothing. Ambrose and Reigns come down and clear out the heels. Dean’s pop is massive. It is his hometown, but they might have something there. It’s pleasing to see Ambrose in the main event because it’s something different. Seth gets laid out with all the finishers, but Roman spears Orton, and Ambrose puts Reigns down with Dirty Deeds to stand tall as Raw goes off the air.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena and Neville
Least Entertaining: Brie Bella
Quote of the Night: “It’s been years now since you’ve been treating me better than anybody in the back ever has” – Daniel Bryan respects the fan support.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Neville
What We Said: The John Cena US title open challenge remains the thing that I most look forward to on Raw. The excitement is genuinely there regarding who it’ll be and what kind of contest they’ll have, and whether Cena might shockingly lose. Neville gave Cena a fantastic run for his money on this show. The other big story to come out of Raw is the sad news that Daniel Bryan will be out injured indefinitely and might even retire as a result of his injuries. It’s hugely disappointing.