Last night at Payback... not much changed. Seth Rollins remains WWE Champion, all of the pre-match favourites went over and an otherwise average show was saved by a splendid main event. Tonight is the fallout, though with less than two weeks to go until Network special Elimination Chamber, WWE needs to start hyping that show immediately. Hopefully the run they have been on of decent Raw broadcasts will continue.
Promo Time: The Authority
Immediately all hope of a good episode evaporates with the sight of Stephanie McMahon. WWE has been a far better place to observe without her around these past few weeks. “Did you miss me?” No. Nobody missed you. Nobody has ever missed you from a single wrestling broadcast. It’s boasting time for the power couple, who put themselves over for choosing Seth Rollins as their guy. Steph claims Roman Reigns, Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose will go to the back of the line, but I don't believe that for a second. Mainly because they don't have anyone else they can put in the top spot. Steph and Hunter reveal the vacant IC Title hidden under a cloth, and Steph can’t resist getting some digs in at Daniel Bryan. She makes sure to remind everyone that he has suffered major injuries two years running and has had to vacate two titles, which believe you me is one of the key reasons they won’t ever push the guy at the top ever again. The company don't trust him, and rather than blame themselves for the inhuman schedule, they deride him for being feeble. They are a classless operation, but then, they always have been.
As Steph and Hunter are going through the motions reciting the same Elimination Chamber hype that is always used (it’s a barbaric structure, don't you know), Sheamus interrupts. Well, it makes a change from Randy Orton I suppose. He reckons there is no need for a chamber match to determine the new IC Champion, because he was the one who ended Daniel Bryan’s career on SmackDown a few weeks back. Ryback disagrees, and I think we can all see where this segment is going. Is that how you get into the match, by just turning up during a promo? Ryback is surprisingly over, and he gets Richmond further on his side by telling Sheamus he looks stupid. Poor guy can’t help being a ginger! Ryback puts over Daniel Bryan and the fans chant “yes”, so Steph mocks them for being predictable. Ryback tells her to shut up because he is still talking, and he doesn't get emasculated! Maybe Steph has turned over a new leaf. Steph tells them both they can take it out on each other in the chamber, but Hunter decides to book them in a match right now.
Ryback vs. Sheamus
This is fairly fresh so has some appeal. It’s one of those battle of the bulls that Vince McMahon loves so much, though these guys are far more mobile than his monsters of the past. One thing that has unquestionably improved in WWE over the years is the workrate of its roster. The match actually starts fairly slowly, but it picks up after commercial when they start bringing out the bigger moves. Ryback catching a leapfrog and turning it into a powerbomb is particularly impressive. Sheamus uses his obvious intelligence advantage to get out of dodge when Ryback goes for the Meat Hook, but Ryback is able to use his power to unceremoniously dump Sheamus on the announce table. It was sloppy as hell from Ryback, and you can see why C.M. Punk thought he was a dangerous worker. Back in the ring, Sheamus’ more cerebral nature helps him to victory, when he fakes an eye injury then drills Ryback with the Brogue Kick for the win. Blah match for the most part,
Final Rating: *1/4
Backstage, Steph hypes a special the Authority have put together to celebrate Seth called Architect of a Dream, which is perfectly titled if they are going for wanky corporate motivational video as the motif. Seth turns up with champagne and even gives Kane a glass. Dean Ambrose plays wacky random guy in the room when he turns up and offers Seth a rematch with him at Elimination Chamber, given he beat him last time they wrestled in a singles bout. Trips and Steph decide to leave Kane to deal with it, and he tells Ambrose the champ gets to choose. Seth refuses, then reminds Ambrose that Steph said “back of the line”. Ambrose is nonplussed, and turns his attentions to Kane. He berates him for being a glorified butler rather than a monster, and asks him what Paul Bearer or the Undertaker would think. Kane gets mad and books him against Bray Wyatt later tonight.
Promo Time: Neville
Oh no. Neville is great at a lot of things, but promos are not one of them. He has Renee Young out there to help him, but his thick Geordie accent is still lost on the majority of the American audience. He is only given a few sentences before being interrupted by the insufferable Bo Dallas, who claims Neville’s career is struggling. Oh yeah, based on what evidence? Neville says he “bo-lieves” that he beat him to start his record NXT Title reign, which causes Bo to attack him. Even on the ground Neville is superior to him, and a kick to the face sends his annoying opponent out of the ring. I hope this is not the start of a program. Surely there are better choices to work with Neville than the clunk Bo Dallas? Anyway, we go from that right into Neville’s match, which happens to be a rematch from last night’s Payback. Their bout on the pay-per-view had an inconclusive ending, so I guess there is cause for a rematch between them.
Neville vs. King Barrett
These two have wrestled each other week after week for a while now, because WWE can’t help but flog something into the ground until no one cares anymore. To make matters worse, Dallas joins the announce desk and talks about himself ad nauseum. Neville and Barrett do little to get excited about here, with a fairly bland match screeching to a halt when Neville falls off the ropes due to a dodgy wheel he came out with, and Barrett pouncing with the Bull Hammer. Post match, Bo beats the crap out of him, confirming that they are indeed going to be working a program together. How do you go from taking John Cena to the limit and only failing to win because of a run in, to being stuck in a nothing feud with a no-hope waste of airtime like Dallas? I despise the boy-faced squeaky-voiced goof. He looks like half of the Diva’s division could kick his ass. Can you imagine someone like him being anywhere near the roster thirty years ago? Imagine what someone like David Schulz or Bad News Brown would have done to the guy.
Final Rating: *1/2
Promo Time: Rusev
Last night, Rusev lost an “I Quit” Match to John Cena when his valet Lana said the words for him, which I am not convinced is legal but it’s WWE, so who cares. This is a company who bans RKOs in a match then has one used for the finish. They do this kind of thing all the time, to the point that not a single stipulation matters at all. Rusev is pissed about what happened and says there is no more Lana, then reveals that he is perfectly capable of speaking “American”. That’s probably for the best for his character actually, because with Lana leaving him he would have struggled without the ability to cut a promo. Rusev demands the match be restarted, but Lana heads out instead. She apologises for coming out when he told her not to, and says he is not just the ‘Bulgarian Brute’, but misunderstood. She says last night he was screaming “I Quit” in Bulgarian and she had no choice because she couldn't just watch him suffer. Rusev calls her a liar and tells her to leave. I guess that is that then. WWE are absolutely determined to split these two now that Vince has become a Lana mark. I guess he can give her the same special babyface treatment that he afforded Roman Reigns that worked oh so well for him. Decent enough promo, but the ultimate purpose of it seems ill-advised. Sometimes acts are supposed to stick together because they are better as a package deal, but WWE in recent years loves to split successful combos up. The Wyatts, The Shield, Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez, about a million tag teams. Can you imagine Paul Bearer leaving Undertaker after a year? Or the Road Warriors splitting and feuding six months after forming? Lana is already over as a babyface, in this day and age does it matter that she is aligned with a heel? Face and heel alignment has never mattered less, because the audience cheer for who they like (workrate guys) regardless of which side of the fence they sit on.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
Michael Cole impresses me by actually remembering that these two were involved in a top line program at the end of last year. After all, six months is a lifetime in WWE. All I remember from that program are the goofy finishes that the matches had. A ghost hologram and an exploding TV spring to mind. Those words alone should require no further discussion for it to be clear that both were utterly ridiculous. I have no particular problem with getting a top match like this on Raw, but again I do question WWE’s decision making. Bray Wyatt is such a unique but samey character, that he needs protecting like Undertaker always has been. People forget, but Taker barely appeared on TV in the nineties, he was used sparingly as to not dilute his aura. Wyatt needs to be handled the same way, because his repetitive promos become quickly tiresome when on the show week after week. Having him wrestle all the time doesn't help him either. He is best utilised on Raw attacking his victims after the lights go out, rather than working matches. I guess that’s why he was more over when he had the Wyatt Family with him, because they could do his in-ring dirty work for the most part and he would just compete in the big matches. As mentioned earlier, they are a unit that should never have been split, and should be put back together immediately. There is literally no negative to doing that. You can tell it’s the night after a pay-per-view because they rather run through the motions, though things explode into life when Bray counters Dean’s rebound clothesline with one of his own. Dean later manages to hit the move, and he leather Wyatt when he does. It’s a great spot. The crowd get overly excited and start hilariously chanting, “this is awesome,” like a pack of programmed drones. Talk about a worthless chant. The finish is WWE’s favourite, the distraction finish, with J&J Security running interference and causing Ambrose to fall victim to Sister Abigail. Seth and his lackeys look on from the stage, over the moon about the result. What does it matter? How does Dean losing in any way improve their lives? It’s not like anything was riding on the match. Naturally, WWE books the guy going into the title match at the next big show to lose on Raw, because that is inexplicably what they always do.
Final Rating: **
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
Xavier Woods in banned from ringside for this after pulling twin magic to help New Day win last night, but I would fully expect him to be involved in the finish. Anyone who bought Payback on pay-per-view (and I realise that is only about six people) must be rather ticked off that all of the matches are being given the second go around tonight. These two teams have remarkable chemistry together, and I am an even bigger fan of Kidd & Cesaro since they adopted matching attire like a proper tag team. This is their usual solid match, though significantly truncated from their excellent pay-per-view contests. The finish is as uninspired as the rest have been tonight; a disqualification win for Kidd & Cesaro because the referee loses control of the contest. It’s something of a cop out. Obviously the purpose of this is merely to set up the unique tag team title chamber match at Elimination Chamber, which sounds like it could easily be either a classic or a clusterfuck. WWE reveals for the first time which teams are involved when they all run down for a ruckus, and it sounds fairly promising when the Lucha Dragons and Los Matadors get involved. Then the Ascension appear, and suddenly the bottom drops out of the match’s appeal. The Prime Time Players are the final tandem to show up, and they are over beyond what you would expect. They look great too, cleaning house and standing tall as the segment ends, with the crowd right behind them. I like these guys a lot, actually, and I think they could be utilised far better than they are. Hell, that line can be repeated for a lot of this roster.
Final Rating: **
Promo Time: John Cena
After the usual crowd befriending promo, the weekly challenge is answered by none other than NXT Champion Kevin Owens! Hello! Well, this is a match I thought I would never see. Before the match they have themselves a little chat, with Owens saying he doesn't need to introduce himself because Cena already knows who he is, and if anyone in the crowd doesn't they are not worth his time. He also tells Cena not to feel bad about injuring Sami Zayn, because he had already injured him. Cena is furious about Owens burying the crowd, and goes into a speech about how without them there is no WWE. Owens ignores him and tells him he won’t be taking any advice from him, because he has been wrestling for longer than Cena has. The tension between them is palpable, so Cena reminds Owens that they are on Raw and this is the U.S. Challenge. Owens doesn't care, he says he is not interested in accepting the challenge because he already has a title, but promises that they will fight soon enough on his terms. “You think you have me all figured out?” he asks, then boots Cena in the gut and violently powerbombs him. Adding insult to injury, he drops the U.S. Title, places his foot on it and raised the NXT Championship high in the air. Helluva segment, and although it is disappointing not to see Owens vs. Cena, this was a tremendous way to build up Owens as a big deal. It also makes a lot of sense to protect Owens, because he absolutely cannot lose. Once again, something involving John Cena is easily the most entertaining thing on Raw. I think it’s time to stop hating on the guy.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust
Stardust will never, ever be over. WWE are beginning to realise that too and are booking him in lesser spots with increasing regularity. Last night he was in the pre-pre-show match, and tonight he gets quickly squashed by the banged up Dolph. I say banged up, because he bled a hardway gusher last night after smacking Sheamus with a headbutt. He required a bunch of stitches, but it was glorious. I understand the concerns to do with hygiene and disease, but I still miss blood in wrestling. The lack of it in WWE makes every single cage match, weapons match or brutal feud that slight bit less climactic than it could be. Hell, in these offices we think a cage match without at least one of the participants bleeding is borderline sacrilege. Post match, Ziggler does a brief interview with Michael Cole in the ring, and it’s revealed that he is the final man in the IC Title Elimination Chamber match. Wait, only three have been announced. Who are the other three? Things get interesting when Lana randomly shows up and plants a large smackeroo on Dolph’s lips. The crowd chant “yes” in unison and then they do it again. She’s on the rebound Dolph, don't go there. The smooching brings out Lana’s real life boyfriend Rusev, who belts Dolph for hooking up with his beau. Rusev yells at Lana, who slaps him to a big pop, then Dolph hits him with the Zig Zag and leaves with Lana. Well, Dolph and Lana isn't the worst pairing in the world, but I am not convinced the union adds a great deal to either character’s prospects.
Final Rating: SQUASH (N/R)
Backstage, Kane is making final preparations for Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream, and on his backstage walk he encounters Adam Rose making out with resident WWE bicycle Rosa Mendes (hey, watch Total Divas and you will see what I mean). He just rolls his eyes and carries on walking. There’s a lot of romance blossoming on the show tonight.
Luke Harper & Erik Rowan vs. Fandango & Zack Ryder
Gee, I wonder who will win this? Predictably it takes place in front of complete silence, because everyone knows it’s a bog standard squash. Ryder and Fandango were both over once, but they weren’t supposed to be so, well, you know how it goes by now. They drag this out for longer than you would expect, and the jobber duo even get a few moves in. It’s to no avail of course, with Ryder staring at the lights for Rowan. Why are Harper & Rowan not in the tag title elimination chamber match? Surely they have done just as much to warrant inclusion as the Ascension or Los Matadors.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Steph insincerely wishes Nikki Bella luck in her match tonight, then tells Brie she has arranged some counselling sessions for her to deal with the emotional turmoil of Daniel Bryan being injured. Oh, I cannot wait to see the world class acting that is sure to transpire in those.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi
Naomi’s new character trait seems to be laughing heartily at nothing in particular. She does have the best boots I have ever seen though. Not only do they light up, but they change colour! Nikki wears an expression of permanent befuddlement, which I can only assume is her empty materialistic brain trying to comprehend the intricacies of a pro wrestling contest. Naomi’s second Tamina manages to get injured on a Nikki dive, which could be bad news for her career having just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines. She appears to make a full recovery though, decking Nikki with a superkick for the DQ as she has Naomi hooked up for the tit rack. Naomi and Tamina do a number on Nikki afterwards, and Paige returns to make the save. Once Naomi and Tamina clear out, she targets Nikki and drills her with an elevated DDT then poses with the belt. Does this mean Paige is a heel now? Or will Nikki be the heel again? What am I even saying, it makes no difference at all anyway.
Final Rating: ¼*
Backstage, Kevin Owens has a conversation with Triple H, and Renee Young wants to know what it’s about. Owens says the Authority agree with him about fighting Cena on his own terms and then reveals he will face him for the U.S. Title at Elimination Chamber. Wow, good move, WWE, good move.
Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream
Hunter wants everyone to share how they feel about Rollins, starting with Kane. The large red one struggles to find the words, or at least the words he wants to say, so settles on generic praise. Seth wants more, so Kane thanks him for saving his job last night and then reveals his special gift: a video package. Ooh, whoop de doo. You need to do better than that Kane, he could find the same thing on YouTube. The Authority applauds the video, with Steph calling it a “nice piece of business,” then Jamie Noble offers a few words. Apparently it’s an honour working for him. Insightful! Joey Mercury appears to be set to break his silence, but he is interrupted by Dean Ambrose. Once again he demands a WWE Title match with Seth, but again Rollins refuses. “I’m a queue jumper,” says Dean. Steph puts Seth over as a fighting champion and tells him to take out Dean, and a brawl ensues. Dean gets the better of it on the outside and reveals hidden cinder blocks, the same things Seth used to put him out of commission a few months ago. He threatens to do the same thing to Seth, forcing Steph into agreeing to grant him his title match. Dean decides to smash Rollins anyway, but J&J make the save. We get another brawl, and Seth recovers enough to hit Ambrose with a Pedigree to end the show on top. Usually the guy standing on Raw is the one who gets beat at the pay-per-view, so we could well have a new WWE Champion imminent. Dean Ambrose would make a goddamn great title holder. He is back in the position he was post-Shield split where it looked like he could be this generation’s Steve Austin, and looks to have finally recovered from months of horrible booking and repeated losses. He is getting over big again too. WWE might have something here.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens. The NXT Champion stole the show with a memorable promo and leaving John Cena out cold. It is becoming increasingly the case that an NXT performer is the best thing on Raw. That speaks volumes.
Least Entertaining: Stardust. I hate this gimmick.
Quote of the Night: “Seth, we believed in you from the first moment we saw you in NXT,” reckons Hunter. Ah, revisionist history. That’s a lie. Hunter and Rollins were at loggerheads repeatedly when Seth first joined WWE.
Match of the Night: The New Day vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro. The wrestling was pretty average tonight for the most part. This was easily the worst match of their rewarding series, but probably the best contest on the show.
Summary: Not a bad show. With a need to get to the next Network special in two weeks, WWE was forced to increase the pace of its usually slow motion booking, and force through issues quickly that weren’t otherwise there. Thus we had a whole host of new rivalries started tonight, which was a lot to take it but also made for a brisker than usual feel to proceedings. The stand out moment was of course Kevin Owens making his Raw debut and promo schooling John Cena before destroying him. It made him look like a big deal, and his match with Cena at Elimination Chamber should attract a lot of interest. That show already has far more going for it than the majority of B-show specials the company put on, including Payback. The streak of satisfying shows continues!