The night after a fairly memorable albeit thrown together Elimination Chamber, the first three hour special to air exclusively on the WWE Network, we are back to the weekly grind of Raw. Following Kevin Owens’ potentially career-making clean victory over John Cena last night, we begin the countdown to his inevitable favour returning loss at Money in the Bank less than two weeks away. The story goes that the creative team are thrilled with the current fortnightly PPV format, as it gives them one week to set up feuds and another to progress them before the blow off. Apparently it is apparently easier for them as they don't lose focus, which is true, but for a decade the WWF managed to get by with just four or five pay-per-views a year and interest levels in those cards didn't used to wane because of the time between them. These guys are paid to generate interest in storylines and keep viewers engrossed in them, yet struggle to come up with ideas for anything beyond two weeks. Says it all really, I suppose.
We open with footage from last night’s unsatisfying Dusty Finish in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, where Dean Ambrose’s title win was reversed and the match declared a DQ because Seth Rollins pulled the referee in the way of an Ambrose elbow. Dusty Finishes always leave the viewer with a sense of outrage towards the promotion, and this was no different. It was a crappy way to end a pay-per-view main event in 2015. Following the decision, Ambrose took his character back three months in time and stole the title belt, just like he did with Bad News Barrett’s Intercontinental Title prior to WrestleMania.
Promo Time: The Authority
As you might suspect, the group are annoyed with Dean’s actions. The screech queen cuts the promo, referring to the man being position as 2015’s homogenised version of Steve Austin as a “kleptomaniac”. That will put asses in seats. Hunter reckons Dean is going to return the belt... Oh man, I hope he is not going to throw it off a bridge - that particular angle has been overplayed to hell. Hunter gets cross because Ambrose doesn't turn up, and he has a little yell about it. Why not just get a new belt made? Hell, grab one of the replicas from the merchandise stand. Is it really that big of a deal? Roman Reigns shows up looking smug and speaks on behalf of the would-be champion. He warns that Ambrose might never come back unless he gets what he wants; a rematch at Money in the Bank in a ladder match. Now, that’s a pretty fucking dumb idea on a show that also features the MITB ladder match. Do these goofs know what overkill is? Steph says no, but Reigns goads Rollins into accepting by mocking his credibility. The champ is pissed, ranting and raving like a spoilt brat about how he is going to beat Ambrose on his own and prove to everyone who the real champion is. Seth Rollins’ character sure is easily manipulated. Randy Orton was able to get to him in the same way a few months back. He oftentimes comes across like a real dimwit.
Wait, what’s that sound? Oh, it’s only Stephanie McMahon trying to belittle a top babyface by shouting in his face. Thankfully Hunter shuts her up and takes over the promo. He reminds Roman that he is in the MITB match... maybe. Only if he beats an unnamed opponent after the ad break. WWE loves this kind of booking. How do I know that? They do something similar every week!
Money in the Bank Qualifier
Roman Reigns vs. Bad News Barrett
Vince loves throwing two big guys like this together, and I am sure he is as surprised as anyone when they start with some mat work. It’s not the tidiest. Before mentioning anything that is going on in the ring, Mackle feels the need to give everyone a reminder about what the MITB briefcase is and how you win it, as if anyone watching would be unclear after over a decade of the gimmick existing. Steve Austin made an interesting comment this week about how modern Raw is too dumbed down. “It’s like they want to fill in every blank for you. It’s like wrestling for morons,” he complained, and he is absolutely right. Michael Cole is the worst perpetrator of this. He feels the need to explain every single thing, not giving anything time to breath, or for stories to organically reach their conclusions. WWE are the biggest wrestling promotion in the world, yet their lead announcer is among the worst of all time. It’s maddening. Anyway, back to the mach, which starts to develop more along the lines of what you would expect from these two, only for the show to go to commercial and return with Barrett working the standard post-break chinlock. Cole tries for the second time in the match to make a point about only one man in history failing to cash in the MITB contract, which is especially annoying given he is wrong. Pleasingly, he is called on it. Reigns makes a comeback, which Booker T calls, “ruthless aggression,” as if we are in 2002 and John Cena is giving Kurt Angle a run for his money. Barrett hits a bunch of his overly-gimmick-named moves, but Reigns avoids the big elbow smash and hits a powerbomb. The spear gets the job done for the chosen one, who wins a place in a match he is already booked for. Talk about around the houses booking.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Reigns bumps into Hunter and Steph, who congratulate him on still being in the MITB match... if he can beat his next opponent, Mark Henry. Great. Now he has to beat someone else to retain a spot in a match. Who even cares if Reigns is in the MITB?
“Blah, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” - Nikki Bella does a promo backstage with Byron Saxton. Paige turns up and complains that she never received her shot at the Diva’s Title following her battle royal win a few months back, so she wants a match. Interesting reasoning, but a big fat pile of bullshit considering she was IN A DIVA’S TITLE MATCH LAST NIGHT! They are going to wrestle for the hundredth time tonight. Break out the champagne.
Promo Time: Ryback
Mr. Twitch won his first singles title last night when he won the Intercontinental Championship in a laborious Elimination Chamber contest, and now he can look forward to weekly defeats to the likes of R-Truth and Stardust in non title matches. Ryback gets all deep and talks about his feelings, leads the crowd in a “feed me more” chant and that’s it. Ryback - not a promo guy.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Ryback (c) vs. The Miz
This match has little appeal, and thankfully it doesn't even happen. Sadly, that is because the Big Show returns. There goes that joyous little period of Show-free programming. If he is here, why wasn't he with The Authority earlier? Right, right, don't try and over-think any of this, I know. Show lays out Miz with his super-duper mega punch of certain death, mocks Ryback for calling himself “the big guy”, then challenges him to a match. Not tonight though, so the Wrestling Gods are smiling on me. I guess this is your Intercontinental Championship match at Money in the Bank, which is just swell.
Final Rating: N/R
Promo Time: Kevin Owens
And here he is, the man who put the “1” in around 10,000-1. Michael Cole references HIMSELF, noting, “I called it the most monumental win in WWE history.” Does anyone know how to change the audio so I can listen to the Spanish commentary instead? Owens auditions for a job with Pizza Hut, listing all of the things he has delivered since he arrived in WWE. Joking aside, Owens then delivers (hoho) a delightful, almost certainly not fully scripted burial of John Cena’s unbearable persona. He points out that his own son loves Cena, but it is blind worship due to the way Cena has been portrayed on television as a brightly coloured, catchphrase-spouting, real-life superhero. He has great delivery, and some of his lines are right on the money, capturing the essence of what it is about Cena that makes anyone over the age of five resent him. Cena comes out barely selling the gravity of last night’s defeat, instead cracking jokes about what a jackass Owens is. Come on, John, you have been doing so well putting guys over recently. Don’t waste the great job you did last night by belittling the situation. Thankfully, Cena bucks his ideas up and gets serious, noting that he was about to hand Owens the United States Championship tonight because he deserved it, right up until he opened his mouth. That’s a little condescending. I am sure Kevin Owens, or any sportsman worth his salt, wouldn't want to be awarded something out of kindness. Cena rips into Owens and puts over his ethos, which by now we all already know inside out. There is a nice moment though, when Cena references a young girl in the crowd with a sign saying she is beating cancer and the whole arena to applaud her, causing her to breaks down in tears, overcome by the emotion of it all. Then we get the usual Cena “I’m a nice guy! Really I am!” promo. He is - he is a great guy, even more so considering the business he is in - but forcing his cloying personality down the audience’s throat every week becomes a bit much to stomach at times. Cena reckons “Fight, Owens, Fight” doesn't define Owens, but his own catchphrase, “Never Give Up” does, which prompts a sneer of derision from the NXT Champion. Cena warns Owens to watch his mouth and not make promises he can’t keep, and they look set to go at it, but Owens bails and thinks better of it. Great promo from Owens, slightly annoying but generally decent promo from Cena. It’s a shame the way he has been booked to react to last night’s defeat rather undermines the whole “biggest win ever” slant WWE are going for though.
Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler
Dolph is accompanied by his new main squeeze Lana, whom he tells to wait on the ramp away from the New Day. Gee, it sure was a great idea forcing her away from Rusev and turning her babyface, so she could fulfil the role of vacant, and largely irrelevant, eye candy. They have plenty of useless female performers who can fill that role quite comfortably already. Based on how she has been booked since turning, I find myself wondering what exactly the desperate rush was. She is already less over. Lots of guys like sassy, no nonsense women like her heel character, they don’t want some docile wallflower. Turning her face has stripped her of her strongest assets. Well, maybe not quite her strongest ones... The guys have a tidy back-and-forth TV match, with a few nice spots dotted in there. One comes right at the end when Dolph hits an absolutely glorious DDT and Kofi plants it like RVD in his prime. It should be the finish, no doubt, but instead they follow it up with a distraction roll up, which Dolph turns into a roll up of his own for the win. Which is much worse. Is there a secret company policy that states every episode of Raw must have one of these fluky wins? New Day attack afterwards but are ran off by the Prime Time Players.
Final Rating: *3/4
The New Day vs. Dolph Ziggler & The Prime Time Players
This is a strange piece of business. Why is this suddenly happening? No announcement is made or anything, we just return from commercial and the match is in progress. It’s bizarre. Surely a straight tag with the PTP against Big E and Woods would have made more sense? The heat is lots of New Day chinlock on Darren Young for the most part. Titus cleans house, and the guy is over big in San Antonio. WWE could have something there with him. He ticks a lot of the boxes Vince likes his talent to have as well. I thought he was great at Elimination Chamber last night too. He hurls everyone around like Brock Lesnar, but they totally miss when the finish should logically be, instead having Big E break the cover. You can always tell it is not the finish because of Cole moronically screaming “FOR THE WIN!” on every cover. In the old days they would have gone home there, and fed off the live audience rather than the whims of a clueless script writer. Ziggler, who has spent most of his time selling and not on the apron, hits a superkick on Woods which leads to Titus pumphandle slam and pin. Champions in WWE always lose in non-title matches of course. PTP would be excellent champs if WWE is prepared to push them. They have developed into a good team.
Final Rating: *3/4
Money in the Bank Qualifier
Mark Henry vs. Roman Reigns
Lots of double duty going on tonight. The roster lacks depth. If only they had a place they could get a bunch of readymade stars who can work up a storm... As has been the story of his year, Reigns is booked against an opponent who does nothing for him. Henry just casually beats the shit out of him, giving him a potato to the eye which distracts him for the rest of the match. They end up on the outside where Henry predictably gets counted out. The booking of Reigns is laughable at times. Roman tries to clean his eye post match, but Henry attacks him with the World’s Strongest Slam and a splash. Guess he is heel again.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Reigns bumps into Hunter and Steph again. He has to face Bray Wyatt next to retain his MITB spot. You know what else doesn't help Reigns’ increasingly depleting aura? Overexposure.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
It dawns on me; Nikki Bella may be the most insufferable in-ring female performer since Sable. I don’t know if it’s her obviously phony personality, her laughable ring skills or the sense of entitlement that surrounds her as Cena’s girlfriend, but the sheer sight of her really winds me up. It doesn't help that she wrestles, badly, on Raw every single week. There’s that overexposure again. For some reason in this match she thinks she is Skip of the Body Donnas, and takes time out to do press ups, jumping jacks and crunches after hitting moves. Say, isn't she a babyface? WWE gives the girls time here, and it comes off as if they are trying to channel the superb Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch match by doing a long outing full of moves, but they don't come anywhere close. It’s merely a bunch of moves that mean nothing. There is no passion, no emotion, no story told. Nikki tries hard, but wrestling does not come naturally to her and she is simply not good enough to work a match longer than, oh I don’t know, thirty seconds. Paige tries for a superplex but it fails spectacularly and ends up being a really shitty looking face buster because Nikki doesn't bother jumping. Nikki rolls out and twin magic gets her the roll up win. Yes, another roll up. Also, a very heelish way of winning for the supposed babyface.
Final Rating: ½*
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
Why didn't WWE save Orton’s return to television for Money in the Bank. The guy is - you guessed it - overexposed, so keep him off TV for a few weeks. He doesn't need a throwaway match like this, it hurts rather than helps him. Even more so when he is against Sheamus, who was his opponent in that famous match that the fans turned on a few years back. Their matches are always technically sound but really, really boring. It’s a strange “universe” we live in where Michael Cole considers both these guys as veterans, yet Orton debuted in the same year as supposed rookie Kevin Owens, and Sheamus two years later. Hell, Neville started working over a decade ago and WWE thinks he is a rookie too. Are they so deluded, or does Cole just have no idea what he is saying? I reckon it’s a bit of both. The reason I am not mentioning anything they do in the ring is because - as is their pattern - it is tedious. I think this match up might well be the worst pairing possible featuring guys in the upper midcard and beyond that doesn't involve the Big Show or Kane. The crowd are as bored as I am, and barely respond until Orton starts hitting his bigger moves, but even then the pop is still far less than the reaction Titus received earlier. Sheamus whiffs on his big boot, which he has done a lot of late, but Booker covers for him and calls it a knee. Whatever it was, the move sends Orton to the outside, where Sheamus uses a chair for the DQ. He beats the shit out of Randy after the bout, with the strong booking practically guaranteeing that Sheamus won’t be winning MITB. Oh Christ, I hope this doesn't mean Randy Orton is! I couldn't take another Orton-Rollins match. This was a chore.
Final Rating: ¾*
Backstage, big bad Rusev is a broken man. “I am the one crushed this time,” he whines, complaining about his broken heart and broken ankle. “I know what I desire, I will get back all of it,” he promises. No you won’t, pal. You have fallen into the same category as everyone else who “Big Match John” has handily beaten on consecutive shows. Your run is over.
Bo Dallas vs. Neville
Same match as last night. They really need to stop this mindless repetition in the booking. Dallas is ridiculous right from the off, yelling “Quit! Quit!” maniacally at Neville while he has a bog standard cravat applied. Thankfully I don't have to put up with Bo and his indefinable face for long, because Neville polishes him off quickly with the Red Arrow. Right, let that be the end of it. Neville doesn't need to be slumming it with no-hopers like Bo Dallas.
Final Rating: ½*
Money in the Bank Qualifier
Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns
These two usually have fairly good matches, but after having sat through two crappy Roman Reigns bouts already, I have absolutely no desire to see this whatsoever. Nor do the crowd, who mainly sit on their hands. It doesn't take long for the Authority sans the power couple to turn up on the ramp, though they don't do much other than watch. Their very presence is a serious distraction though, and it makes it impossible to get invested in the match because you are just waiting for the inevitably interference. Not that the match is much cop anyway. It’s a tired match, especially from Reigns. The Authority eventually do head to the ring where they try to distract Roman, but it backfires when Reigns sends Wyatt into Kane and spears him for the win. So what did we learn in three hours of programming tonight? Nothing. We are exactly where we were when the show started. When WWE run “will they / won’t they” angles like this, they always pay off as expected. Post match the Authority surround the ring, but the arrival of Dean Ambrose to a huge pop (so no blaming a bad crowd for tonight’s apathy) evens the score. He and Rollins do an amusing spot where Dean stands on the announce table holding his freshly stolen title, so Rollins leaps at him but misses and goes flying over the desk. It’s slapstick but it’s good because it is understated. Ambrose and Reigns clean house and Ambrose leaves through the crowd with his old/new best bosom buddy to end the show.
Final Rating: ¾*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Titus O’Neil. The man deserves some credit, because he has gone from a performer I found tough to stomach, to a genuinely entertaining part of the show. I like the guy, and I hope he gets his shot at something bigger and better than the tag division.
Least Entertaining: Tough one tonight because no one was outright bad, they were more boring than anything else. Thus the award goes to Michael Cole, for his constantly inane commentary throughout. The product is so-so at best, but a decent announcer would at least make it seem more exciting. Cole makes it worse.
Quote of the Night: “A real role model doesn't rely on marketing, catchphrases and bright colours. A real role model says they are going to do something, then they deliver, just like I do” - Kevin Owens
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston, though calling it “good” would be a stretch. It was an okay television match on a show full of nothing bouts.
Summary: WWE desperately needs some fresh ideas. They have got the talent, but the circular, painfully predictable booking is becoming an immovable hindrance. Boy, oh boy, do WWE need to put that belt on Ambrose for real. He really could be their answer to Steve Austin in 2015, or at least as much as anyone can be given the limitations imposed on them by the way WWE operates. Rollins has been a poor champion because of how he has been booked - the endless feuds with Randy Orton and Kane, and the constant reminders that he was “handpicked” by the Authority, and that he could have been anyone. Put the title on Ambrose, give the fans something to cheer about and believe in, and do something different. How does Ambrose vs. Owens sound as a main event program? Great, that’s how.