Last week’s episode of Raw may as well have been subtitled “All Apologies”, as that was the running theme of the show. The two main eventers at Battleground were both at it, with Brock Lesnar having to suck up to Michael Cole, and WWE Champion Seth Rollins practically begging his pint-sized security team and his Authority nemesis Kane to be best buds with him again, because he is so scared of Brock. At least it ended well for the latter, when he and his new/old allies left Brock beaten in the middle of the ring following a four-on-one assault. Given that two of those are less than half his size, and one of them is Kane, I felt it was a bad idea. While having a babyface show vulnerability is fine, Brock Lesnar is an exception to every rule. People don't want to see Brock Lesnar being treated like everyone else.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
Seth is with his cronies and he brags about last week’s actions, which he seems to think means he has now “conquered the conqueror”. Hardly. Rollins says Brock won’t be here tonight, because he is... on a plane to Japan. Oh no, he is not out injured, or sat at home convalescing after last week’s assault, but on an eighteen hour flight. Well, that sure showed him? Seth brown noses his buddies and gives them some new Apple watches as a thank you, which they proudly show off in the most blatant and nauseating moment of product placement I have ever seen on a wrestling show. They are like kids at Christmas. Seth continues to spout bullshit, claiming last week’s Brock attack was the most epic in WWE history. He is delusional. Seth turns to Kane (“the glue who has held the WWE together”, apparently) and reminds us that he debuted in 1997, as if we need reminding that he has been around for eighteen years. After a brief history lesson about the state of the world in ’97, Seth gives Kane a present: a vacation in Hawaii. Cue Hawaiian lap slide guitar strains filling the airwaves, and a trio of lei-clad extras wandering to the ring. This is horrible. It also makes no sense, because why on earth would Rollins want Kane away on vacation when he is desperate to have him by his side in case Brock Lesnar turns up? Things get worse when Seth gives Joey and Jamie a brand new Cadillac, and the pair celebrate like they have just won the lottery. What the fuck is this, really? It’s the worst game show in history. Even Michael Cole seems appalled by it. I used to enjoy Seth Rollins, but of late I have dreaded the sight of him on this show. He has become irritating, but not in a heel way, more in a Miz way. He remains a great wrestler, but his goofy Cyril Sneer interviews are dire.
The Big Show vs. Mark Henry
And as if that wasn't bad enough, The Miz is on commentary. What is wrong with Vince McMahon? Surely after over thirty years of pitting fat guys against each other in always horrible matches, he has had his fill with this particular fetish. What is the appeal? At least it is short, because Show punches Henry in the mouth with his WMD punch after a minute or so to end the pain. Ryback charges down for a fight, and Miz is unbearable with his giddy shouting. He jumps in and gives Ryback a kick to the face, causing Ryback to call him out for a fight right now. Apparently they are already set to wrestle each other later on anyway, so can’t he just wait? Actually, why are they wrestling later? They are in a pay-per-view match together in mere weeks. Oh yeah, creative bankruptcy. I forgot.
Final Rating: DUD
Ryback vs. The Miz
I guess Ryback cannot wait. The only interesting thing about this match is that they were both on the same series of Tough Enough together - though neither won - and I am amazed that the announcers don't mention that what with the new series of the show having debuted last week. They have little chemistry, though Ryback does delight me by doing a stalling vertical suplex and holding Miz up in the air for a good minute. It’s the sort of spot that would get a huge response on Indy shows and NXT, but this audience barely respond. Miz comes back with pouty-faced aggression, which is comical to observe because Miz is such a total geek. Miz uses kicks to the face to try and keep Ryback down, making me question why they are allowed, when the curb stomp is banned due to the ongoing farcical concussion class action lawsuit against WWE. When Miz fails to make any headway he decides to leave and get counted out, which renders this whole exercise completely worthless. This gets points only for the sweet suplex spot.
Final Rating: ½*
Paige vs. Alicia Fox
As if this show hadn't been bad enough, now we have to endure the presence of the Bellas. Alicia Fox is now an honorary Bella, clad in the same attire as the twins and everything. If they try and do twin magic with Alicia I will hurl my shoe through the television. The only positive I can gleam from this situation is that at least it means fresh(er) matches, because frankly I don't think I can take another bout pitting Paige against the Bellas. The feud has been rumbling on for the entire year! This match is every lame Divas match on Raw, boring, heatless and full of crappy execution. Alicia’s attempts at putting on a chinlock is so inept that it’s funny. The match goes on forever, with Alicia running out of moves so sitting in a chinlock for a few minutes while she tries to come up with something. You can see the cogs ticking in her head. After an Alicia near fall which the crowd half respond to, Alicia struts around looking lost, so Paige loudly calls a back elbow to her. Back to the chinlock after that as my will to live begins to dissipate. Things finally become watchable when Paige takes over on offence with a flurry of dropkicks, then we get the novelty of the reverse distraction finish! It comes when fat Bella jumps on the apron and Alicia rolls Paige up, but Paige switches and steals a win. Michael Cole thinks it is an emotional night for Paige because of that win.
Final Rating: DUD
Byron Saxton calls tonight’s main event of Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns vs. Kane & Seth Rollins a “battle for the ages”. He is developing nicely into a Cole-esque WWE automaton.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Kevin Owens
“You know what, on second thought, I think I will just wait for Battleground” - Owens. Well, thank you very much for wasting my time and getting my hopes up that we could see a good match, or indeed a good anything tonight.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Cesaro
Thankfully, Owens’ replacement is equally entertaining, and capable of having a great match with John Cena. It is nice to see Cesaro again, who was starting to get over once more in his team with Tyson Kidd, before Kidd suffered a freak neck injury in a dark match at the hands of Samoa Joe. I feared the worst for Cesaro, who hadn't been on television (Superstars doesn't count) since. Of course, the chances of him winning tonight are less than nil, because Cena’s Battleground opponent is already announced, and sat right out there. Cena’s U.S. Title invitational challenge gimmick would be more effective if his opponents weren’t announced going into the pay-per-view. It is not like it would have the buyrate/Network subscription count. I get why they have announced it this time, I am really more talking about the future.
To the match then, which builds slowly, but explodes into life once it gets going. Owens pleases me by chastising Cole for talking over the match, which Cole responds to by asking a question unrelated to what is going on in the ring. The little cretin can’t help himself. In a Raw first, we rejoin the match after commercial and no one is sat in a chinlock! Cena goes for You Can’t See Me to boos, but Cesaro pops up and takes him out with a clothesline, giving Cole chance to use his special title match verbal tick “for the championship”. Cesaro goes for the giant swing but instead hits a slingshot, only for Cena to land on the middle rope and go straight into his wacky stunner. Helluva spot. Cena goes for the AA but Cesaro flips out and pops Cena high in the air for a super elevation European uppercut, which is something else. How can Vince not like this guy? He is awesome.
Cena comes back with the STF, but Cesaro bites out of it and counters into his partner’s Sharpshooter, which is a great tribute. Finally the announcers and the crowd are both fully invested, and the match starts building to an incredible climax. Cesaro shows off his incredible strength with his freakish top rope suplex from the apron, but Cena fires back with a tornado DDT for two. Cole gets so excited that he throws all of his idioms in there, “for the win”, “big match feel”, and such. He is in his element. The two grapplers engage in a slugfest, then Cesaro channels early Kofi Kingston with a wild gimmick in the ropes, which he follows with a boot to Cena’s mush. A top rope crossbody is rolled through by Cena into a bizarre uranage face buster that I have never seen him hit before, which gets two. The crowd is going nuts now, and rightly so.
Cena sells Cesaro’s awesomeness by sitting in shock, as Owens leaves his chair and starts mouthing at Cole for disrespecting him. Cena is distracted up top and gets dropkicked to the floor by Cesaro, then drilled with another uppercut. Meanwhile, Owens warns Cole not to disrespect him anymore, and Cole is all apologies. Well obviously, that is the theme around here at the moment. They two combatants go back-and-forth again, then Cena comes over all Amazing Red and hits the Kode Red for a close near fall. He goes for the AA again but gets countered into the Neutraliser for another heart-stopping close two count. Cesaro goes nuts with uppercuts, flips Cena the bird, then hits a few more. He finally hits the giant swing, but the spastic camera work ruins it by zooming in and out repeatedly, losing all feel of the move.
Cesaro locks on the Sharpshooter again centre ring, but Cena never gives up so that won’t get the job done. Then, to the despair of all watching, Owens runs in and batters Cesaro from behind before drilling him with the pop up powerbomb. Owens takes out Cena too, just for good measure, then reminds everyone that he said the only person who would take the title from Cena is him. I hope this means Owens is going over Cena and then working a program with Cesaro, because that would be gold. Really flat, disappointing ending aside, this was one of the best matches on Raw in years. They just saved the show with this television classic. Kudos to John Cena, who is on the best run of his career for match quality, for giving up so much of the match to Cesaro and allowing him to do his thing. Surely now the folks in upper management will start viewing Cesaro as a genuine top guy. As far as I am concerned, he just grabbed one of Vince’s mythical brass rings.
Final Rating: ****1/2
After seeing footage from last week’s Seth and friends assault on Brock Lesnar again, we go to a Bray Wyatt promo. He says something about always wanting to be his father’s favourite but getting thrown out like a piece of trash, which doesn't really work for me because I know his dad is I.R.S. and his brother is Bo Dallas. How could he not be the favourite? Nobody likes Bo Dallas, not even his own dad. More rambling nonsense here from the master of the drawn out promo. His one-trick act is becoming stale.
The Lucha Dragons & The Prime Time Plays vs. Bo Dallas & The New Day
Bo’s appearance here is simply an excuse to show footage from a house show in Boston this past weekend featuring an unannounced surprise appearance from The Rock, who gave Dallas a pasting. I have no clue what WWE were thinking putting a scrub like Bo anywhere near an icon like Rocky, but then, explaining almost anything they do is a headache. Kalisto is like a whippet as he flies around the ring and dominates Woods, and Sin Cara looks good too. Sadly, Bo Dallas finds his way into the ring and my enthusiasm fast turns to ennui. I despise him. Everything about him annoys me, from his man-child face, to his bitchy-voiced selling, to his useless gimmick. He is the shits. Darren Young baffles me by locking Bo in a chinlock and pulling his hair, like a heel. There is no need to use rest holds when there are eight guys on there to split the work. The babyfaces control the match, with Dallas playing face in peril. It’s very odd structure. After commercial, the New Day and Dallas are in control, and Woods has a chinlock applied. I told you the Cesaro-Cena match was an anomaly in that respect. We go right to the hot tag and some flying around from Sin Cara, then Darren Young uses the Andre the Giant butt splash on Big E., which he has already used twice tonight on Dallas. He needs some new moves. Biggie sends Young into the buckles where he goes up and over to the outside in a wild bump, and Dallas clotheslines him for good measure. Back inside, all of the heels stomp a mudhole on Young in the corner, and it is all legal because they keep tagging before the ref reaches his five count. Good spot, actually. Looks like we are into a second heat here, or a third if you count the beating Dallas took. It has been a long match, which probably wasn't the smartest idea after the epic twenty minute classic that preceded it. It would help if they weren’t all so chinlock happy, with Dallas being the latest perpetrator of the tiresome rest hold. Finally Titus gets in there and cleans house, then everything breaks down, as is tradition in multi man matches. Titus comes over all lucha and assists the Dragons in their dive, but nearly gets caught with a Kofi roll up for a close fall. Kofi comes at him off the top, but Titus catches a powerbomb for the win. Before this started I was expecting this would be a sub-five-minute affair, but it ended up going around fifteen minutes. It was okay, but fairly bland in places. They didn't have enough ideas to do a match of that length.
Final Rating: **1/2
Dolph Ziggler and Lana “Go Public”
I have no idea what this segment is all about. At least Lana is getting some real airtime again after weeks of being a wallflower observing from the stage. Both are full of giddy smiles, as Dolph reveals that at first Lana was using him to get back at Rusev, but the situation has changed. “I can’t believe Dolph Ziggler is saying this,” says Dolph. That’s what you get for stalling on your contract, pal. Lana says Rusev told her how to talk, dress and feel about America, but Dolph has changed her. They are more than just good friend, she reckons, but before she can say anymore, Rusev turns up. He brings the vapid, talentless Summer Rae with him, which makes me feel queasy. Summer Rae is the female equivalent of Bo Dallas. She is useless in every role she has even been in, and Rusev does not need an anchor like her weighing down his career. Rusev insults Lana so Dolph jumps in to defend her, threatening the still crocked Rusev that he will break his other leg if he doesn't back off. He does, then Summer gets hold of a mic! She reads her scripted lines without a hint of passion or believability, then slaps Lana across the face. Lana sells it with shock at first, then dives at her. To borrow a phrase from Joey Styles: “Catfight, catfight, catfight”. I pretty much hated everything about this. The romance storyline was bad, the presence of Summer Rae was concerning, the delivery of her promo was awful, and the prospect of a Summer Rae vs. Lana match has me deeply worried too. I hope I don't have to cover that one!
Neville vs. Sheamus
For some reason the crowd isn't feeling this, probably because they are burned out from the awesome Cena-Cesaro match, the overly-long bout that followed it and that crappy Dolph and Lana segment. Before commercial Neville looks the better of the two, because he is, flying around with his usual verve and energy. Sheamus decides to take a breather to gather his bearings as we go to commercial, and... Neville is fighting out of a chinlock when we return. The silence continues to be deafening, which should surely tell WWE that nobody cares are Sheamus, and they were wrong to give him the Money in the Bank briefcase. How Vince can get behind Sheamus but not be a fan of Cesaro is a mystery. Sheamus is boring, and the Washington crowd agree with that assessment and chant it at him. He responds with a chinlock, rather proving the point. Neville gets back into the match with a superkick out of the corner, but Sheamus pops up and hits three “Irish Curse” backbreakers. Another thing to dislike about Sheamus: the over-abundance of gimmick named moves he has. It is just a backbreaker, it is nothing special. Neville comes back again with a multitude of kicks, then lowbridges Sheamus to set up an Asai moonsault. Still, Washington refuses to give more than a customary polite response. Neville mounts enough offence to put Sheamus down for the Red Arrow, but Sheamus kicks the top rope and sends Neville crashing onto his head. Sheamus goes for the Brogue Kick but Neville avoids it and nearly wins with a posh roll up, only for Sheamus to kick out and connect with the kick on the second attempt for the win. Usually I am in favour of the guys they are pushing actually getting to win now and then (see the case of Barrett, Bad News) but this is not one of those occasions because Sheamus shouldn't be getting a push at all. He has had his chance, and nobody cared about him. Give Neville a chance with the top guys and see how he does, rather than recycling the tried and tested (and failed) over and over.
Final Rating: **1/2
Jack Swagger vs. King Barrett
I had honestly forgotten that Jack Swagger even worked here. I wonder who he pissed off to receive such a demotion. When the next round of future endeavours comes, he will likely be at the top of the list of cuts. The crowd couldn't care less about this and barely utter a murmur throughout the brief duration of the contest. Barrett wins it within a couple of minutes with the Bullhammer, finally scoring a much-needed victory.
Final Rating: ¾*
No Disqualification Match
Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns vs. Kane & Seth Rollins
There are no disqualifications so all four men start in the ring, pairing off to brawl. Seth gets dumped so Reigns and Ambrose pick their shots on Kane, who seems to have forgotten how to sell. Rollins then dumps Ambrose off the top to the outside, and baits dumb babyface Reigns into chasing him, and naturally he walks into a trap in the form of a Kane big boot. After commercial, shock of all shocks, Reigns is stuck in a chinlock. Jeez Louise. All of a sudden, the rules are now adhered to, with Ambrose - the “lunatic fringe” no less - standing patiently on the apron waiting for a tag. Why doesn't he just come in the ring? Ambrose get the tag and cleans house, but the crowd are hardly enthusiastic. They have seen so much tonight, some of it great, much of it crap, that they want to go home. WWE need to get the message that three hours is far too long for a TV show. It is a detriment to their product in so many ways. Ambrose decides that the rules no longer matter again and brings a table into play, but J & J Security drag it away. Rollins hits a superkick, “for the win”, but Ambrose escapes. Reigns makes a miraculous recovery from whatever the hell he has been selling for the last five minutes, and Joey Mercury smacks him with a kendo stick. Reigns is not amused, no selling it then breaking the cane over Mercury’s back. Everyone gets Superman punches, but before the spear of death, Bray Wyatt appears from the ethers and does a number on the chosen one. It is all legal of course, and a harem of referees can do nothing about Wyatt smashing Reigns into the announce desk with a Rock Bottom. The table doesn't break, ruining the effect somewhat. Reigns is incapacitated, leaving Ambrose on his own. He puts up a fight, but a chokeslam followed by the Pedigree are too much for him. Following the match, Rollins has designs on putting Ambrose through a table, but Reigns saves his ass. The numbers are too much for him too, but he keeps fighting, long after anyone has stopped caring. It is one of the drabbest beat downs I can remember. It is only saved by Rollins powerbombing Reigns through the table, though again the reaction to that is mild at best. Good powerbomb, mind. It continues even longer after that, as I begin to suspect this show will never end, when Rollins hits the Pedigree. Finally, it is over... Only it isn't, because Bray Wyatt turns up again. Oh my god, just end the damn show! Please!
Final Rating: *1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Cesaro and John Cena. It wouldn't be fair to give this award to only one of them. Both were absolutely tremendous tonight.
Least Entertaining: Seth Rollins. Horrendous opening promo, dull main event, and an even worse post-match beat down. There were others who could have claimed this award (Alicia Fox, Michael Cole and Summer Rae spring to mind), but I expect all of them to be the shits. Rollins, I expect much better from. He has really regressed as an entertainer since winning the WWE Championship.
Quote of the Night: “You are like a cold fish. When I was kissing you, it was like kissing that ring post over there” - Rusev seems to be talking from experience.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Cesaro. As if there was any doubt.
Summary: This was very much a one match show. The first hour was the worst I can remember in recent memory, and the last hour was a never ending chore, but sandwiched in the middle was a glorious MOTY contender between John Cena and Cesaro. Both guys put on a performance that will long be remembered, and their match sits right up there with the finest ever on Raw. John Cena is the wrestler of the half year. He has had by my count, at least four ****1/2+ matches already in 2015. That the overall show still scored so lowly despite featuring that classic television match sums up what an awful episode this was without it.