We’re in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. Booker T is off working on the forthcoming Tough Enough show. Nice to see Byron get another shot at the gig after a really bad solo effort the night after WrestleMania.
John Cena Open Challenge
This is a pleasant surprise. The standard droning twenty minute opening promo is skipped over in favour of actual, honest-to-God, in-ring action. Albeit after Johnny has had a word. He bigs up the Money in the Bank PPV and the big re-match with Kevin Owens. His line about Owens saying “my time is up and his time is now”, using Cena’s entrance theme is cool. Cena also points out there’s “no safer bet than John Cena on Sunday”. (Spoiler: Cena wins). Cena’s promo is full of intensity and is solid stick work. He’s interrupted by Kevin Owens. So much for opening the show with a match. But at least they’re focusing on their best angle with the talking instead of the standard Authority yacking. Owens calls John delusional and Cena coming out to start Raw has been the last ten years so “why don’t we give them something different”. Owens decides to issue an NXT title open challenge! Cena accepts only for Owens to call him deluded again, because their match is on Sunday. Not really an “open” challenge then. The brilliant thing about this Owens rivalry is not only is it fresh but it’s making John Cena look as good as he has since the Shawn Michaels rivalry. Owens puts both belts on the line by saying whoever wants to challenge can come out here and challenge for whichever belt they want to. This brings out Neville. Cena does some great selling of this by showing a little bit of fear. Is that because Neville had him beaten clean a few weeks ago? It’s a really subtle moment from a man who’s not noted for his subtlety. Or his selling. Neville selects Owens instead, irritated by Owens’ actions as NXT champion.
NXT Heavyweight Championship
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Neville
Another good move for the WWE; bringing an actual NXT match into a wider audience. Neville brings a fast-paced offence that leaves Owens discombobulated. Pretty much everything Neville does would have been jaw-dropping twenty years ago. His ability to hit stuff clean sets him apart from a lot of other innovators over the years. Owens takes over with hard-hitting aggression. Cena and JBL make a lot of baseball references about how the WWE is the big leagues. It’s all a bit distracting as Cena talks about the program with Owens, not the match that’s happening. It’d be nice to get his analysis of the holds and how wrestling works. It’s clear from his commentary that he’d be pretty useless as an analyst. He’s more of a storyteller but even in that respect he doesn’t truly understand his role. The match, as you’d expect, has some interesting counters and epic Neville high spots. Owens’ character work is what carries the match as he’s as interested in mocking Cena as winning the match. This is what gives Neville openings. What makes me laugh is how Michael Cole is calling the big spots in this “innovative” when the WWE has spent years belittling the same guys and the same moves as “spotty”. Have they finally come around to the idea of entertainment meaning a lack of limitations? Seeing as we’re PG we might as well milk wrestling for all it’s worth. They tease the Red Arrow multiple times before Owens shoves Neville off the top and hits the Pop Up Powerbomb to retain. Good match, as you’d expect, but perhaps not the home-run they were hoping for. Do NXT matches lose atmosphere when they take place in front of a bigger, less hot, crowd? I’ll take it, anyway. Raw is a better show for having Owens and Neville on it.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins is pissed off about Dean Ambrose parading around with his WWE title. The Authority point out Seth has to do this by himself and that Rollins has the ability to win on his own. Unlike how he’s been presented ever since winning the strap; a whiny loser who can’t beat anyone without help. Elsewhere Paige got screwed by the Bellas, who seem to have flopped back heel again, using Twin Magic. Renee Young gets to interview Nikki who whines a lot.
Summer Rae vs. Nikki Bella
Nikki again works heel here, stopping to do push-ups. I don’t get why the Bellas flip-flopped face in the first place but lazily switching them heel again doesn’t solve the booking. I simply don’t know anything about the Bellas as wrestlers, other than they suck, and changing their personalities from one week to the next doesn’t help that. Summer Rae is pretty useless and Nikki beats her with the Rack Attack after a couple of minutes.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
Do you think he’s going to win Money in the Bank? The entire booking of the PPV has surrounded his participation. Even though he’s a wank pheasant. Roman talks about how much he used to hate the Money in the Bank contract, but that’s because it was attached to “the biggest jackass in the history of the WWE” Seth Rollins. He claims Dean Ambrose will win the title on Sunday, allowing the remaining members of the Shield to wrestle each other for the belt. He’s interrupted by Korporate Kane to call Roman a choke artist. He’s interrupted by Dolph Ziggler to use hardware metaphors to call Kane a tool. This brings out R-Truth. He tries to cut a coherent promo and fails. Kane has to remind him he’s not actually in the Money in the Bank match in a funny bit. “That’s on me. My bad”. He leaves and out comes the New Day. They use the old Freebirds rule to claim that when Kofi Kingston wins Money in the Bank they all win it. This brings out Sheamus to say nothing of interest and Randy Orton. The final two are wrestling each other. Urgh. I missed a lot of their matches during my hiatus from the WWE but that doesn’t mean I want to see another one.
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
Randy Orton is so played out it’s not even funny. He’s been in the same company, wrestling the same match, for thirteen years. Does no one else find him a chore to watch? The old territory system would have been a massive benefit to Orton, where he could have gone and wrestled somewhere else for a bit and come back hot. With him being a WWE lifer it’s just one tedious, monotonous, repetitive contest after another. Sheamus doesn’t have the personality or move set to make Orton interesting. This might be the least engaging match I’ve seen all year long and it’s thirteen minutes long. A minute for every year Randy Orton has been boring me as a performer. It’s so boring. They don’t have three minutes worth of stuff, let alone thirteen. “Are you not entertained?” yells Sheamus. No, mate, I’m not. The match ended with a DQ and someone won. I don’t really care who.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage where J & J Security try to apologise to Seth Rollins, who’s busy on his phone, presumably on Instagram looking up Ambrose’s madcap New Orleans adventures with the title belt. Rollins gives them a load of abuse, pointing out he made them relevant. “I never needed either of you”. Noble’s angry response includes saying he’s “a better Dean Ambrose” and using lame Southern swears like “tarnation” and “son of a gun”. He’s a funny guy. Seth has heard enough and challenges J & J to a handicap match tonight. The usually silent Joey Mercury pipes up to say “tonight, we’re kicking your ass”.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane
Why are you booking these terrible matches? Nobody can win here. Kane can’t take Ziggler’s spots and that means Kane has to largely dominate. Meanwhile Lana, who’s changed from one of the most enigmatic ladies in the promotion, to a statuesque afterthought, is at ringside. She just stands there watching this. Probably as bored with it as I am. This gets an unspeakable ten minutes, the match after another dull contest got way too much time. Is it that the writers have run out of stuff to do? If that’s the case feel free to give long matches to good wrestlers. Not bloody Kane. No one wants to see Kane wrestle anymore. He’s a personality and he can throw a great uppercut but he shouldn’t be working ten minute matches anymore. It’s just not entertaining. Dolph tries, bless him, but there’s nothing doing. It might get a pass from me if Ziggler went over. Things go wrong when Rusev shows up, on crutches, to yell at Lana. Like a complete spaz she falls off the ramp. If you think that’s stupid the result is Ziggler getting distracted, like an idiot, and losing to the chokeslam. This was unspeakably awful. Let’s just move on with our lives and forget this happened.
Final Rating: ½*
The Miz has been totally coasting since splitting up with Damien Sandow. He has Ryback as a guest but is also joined by Ryback’s IC title opponent on Sunday; the Big Show. “Of all the tag team partners I’ve had over the years, you’re the one I hated immediately” – Show of Miz. I’m surprised the crowd are still alive after the last couple of matches but they get a healthy “Feed Me More” chant going. Show scares Miz and ends up beating everyone down. Ryback then shockingly powers him up into the SHELLSHOCK! The crowd are buzzing from that and it’s a cracking end to an otherwise dull segment.
Los Matadores vs. Luke Harper & Eric Rowan
I’m glad they put Rowan back with Harper because he was dying in singles. They should just go ahead and put them back together with Bray Wyatt. The Wyatt Family was great and ever since they split it up none of those guys have done particularly well. Los Matadores get bullied and the big men win with “The Way”, which is the Dudley Death Drop. It’s a cool finish so I can understand them stealing it. It’s such a recognisable finish though so the crowd yell “3D” when it happens.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage where Kane suggests when he wins Money in the Bank, he’ll cash in immediately and beat Rollins. That would be a terrible idea. Seth lays out his masterplan, involving winning every match he’s got lined up and sticking it in Kane’s “sweaty and disgusting face”. Kane’s retort is that he’s cornering J & J Security tonight.
Big E vs. Titus O’Neil
Prime Time Players have a title shot on Sunday so it’s a singles warm up for the two biggest guys. The unbelievably annoying Xavier Woods spends the match yelling out hashtags. How have the WWE managed to accumulate so many wrestlers that I can’t stand the sight of? It’s like 1999 only without the wacky angles. I like Titus and Big E as personalities but I’m not keen on them as workers. Titus is really rough around the edges but compensates for that with power. The finish is yet another distraction deal with New Day causing Titus to fall to the Big Ending.
Final Rating: ¾*
Roman Reigns vs. Kofi Kingston
Kofi is still out here celebrating so Roman simply joins through the crowd. This marks only the second time this evening I’m actually interested in the match I’m presented. Mainly because it’s the first time it’s happening but also because, on paper, it’s a good mixture of styles. Roman proves he’s every bit as stupid as Titus O’Neil and Dolph Ziggler by allowing himself to be distracted by outsiders. Why would he take his eye off his opponent? If someone comes in it’s a DQ and he wins. Kofi puts Roman over strong by taking huge bumps off Reigns’ manly strikes. The only chance Kofi has is when New Day play a numbers game on Roman. There’s clearly a difference in card position and Kofi is only in the Money in the Bank match for his high spots. This match is actually a lot like the opener between Owens and Neville with the power vs. speed set up and Kingston being another innovator. Only this match has 100% more irritating Xavier Woods yelling at ringside. Obviously the talent in this one is lower and their timing is sometimes an issue, like a satellite slam gone wrong. As the match continues Kingston staying with Roman seems increasingly unlikely, driven only by the numbers game. Kofi jumps off the top right into the Superman Punch in a spot that reminds me of Shelton Benjamin diving into the Sweet Chin Music in a classic Raw match from the past (2.5.05 – Gold Rush tournament). This was an ok match. It was long overdue. I think the appeal came largely from it being new but both guys did solid work.
Final Rating: **1/2
Post Match: Dean Ambrose shows up, carrying the WWE title and some popcorn, to take a ringside seat. Apparently he’s doing the ‘bought a ticket’ gimmick. But he works here! He even came out to his entrance music. It’s not like he’s suspended or anything. Sometimes the booking is so dumb and so lazy that you wonder why nobody just stopped and asked why this is happening. Why is Dean Ambrose in the crowd?
Seth Rollins vs. J & J Security
Can’t help but think this is all a set up to get Dean Ambrose beaten up by four guys. Mainly because that’s what the Authority keeps doing; fake split angles. When it becomes a serious contest it’s a major issue for Seth Rollins. Because no matter how weakly booked Seth has been over the last three months that’s nothing on J & J who, despite their past and ability, have been booked as total goons. Guys who can’t last a second with a serious competitor. Cannon fodder for babyfaces. J & J don’t even wear gear and wrestle in trousers and shirts. Noble has been retired for six years so it’s easy to forget he was among that crop of sensational Indy stars along with the likes of CM Punk and Samoa Joe that helped to put ROH on the map. Probably because he wrestled in both WCW and WWE first. In the WWE he was only ever booked as a cruiserweight. I think he was in the WWE at the wrong time. He’s always been an entertaining guy. Good on the stick and a great in-ring talent. Joey Mercury was never on that level but does fine work here as stooge in peril. Noble turns the clock back and outwrestles Rollins with ease. It’s rather surprising the match runs ten minutes but at least it’s an entertaining ten. Dean Ambrose hops the rail for the, yet another, distraction finish. This allows Joey Mercury to roll Seth up for the upset pin. Seth Rollins run as champion might be the most underwhelming since…Chris Jericho, placeholder, in 2002. Dean lays Seth out with Dirty Deeds and leaves with the belt. He’ll carry the strap into the PPV. Interesting to note neither J & J nor Kane do anything to stop him.
Final Rating: **
THE RAW RECAP
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens.
Least Entertaining: Xavier Woods. Took some doing on a show with so many dull matches on it.
Quote of the Night: “I am the standard bearer. I am the face that runs this place. I am John Cena”
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. Neville
Summary: The middle of this show was an absolute disaster. Sheamus-Orton and Ziggler-Kane were a total waste of time. The divas match was awful. The one bright shining highlight was that they allowed an NXT title match to take place on Raw and it was good. The other big storyline going into Money in the Bank, other than the excellent Owens-Cena program, was Ambrose-Rollins and that was nicely progressed. Not sure how many non-title losses Seth Rollins should be routinely suffering. It’s making him look like a total bitch. If Brock Lesnar came back, tomorrow, and wrestled Seth would anyone bet on Rollins? Compare that to January, when Seth proved he could hang in the main events, and the poor guy has gone dramatically backwards despite holding the most important title in the world. I think he either needs a good showing against Ambrose or he needs to drop the belt and rebuild. The WWE are in this for the long haul and seem intent on crowning Roman Reigns at some point. Lesnar might well throw a spanner into those plans. It would most certainly be welcome. The ‘Mania main event was great. He’s been missed ever since.