It’s been one hell of a wrestling weekend with both the WWE Network special “Beast in the East” and New Japan’s PPV “Dominion” both bringing superb wrestling and storytelling. It’s always rewarding as a fan to get these moments after months of building up to them. It’s a reward for everything bad you have to sit through. Am I including several episodes of Raw in this? Yes, yes I am. Here comes another 3 hour presentation of the worst wrestling show in the world at the moment.
Video Control takes us to last week where Seth Rollins lavished gifts upon the Authority’s muscle for their help in him beating up Brock Lesnar the week before. We’re in Chicago, Illinois (I adore Chicago, it’s one of my favourite wrestling crowds). Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. Cole and Saxton were particularly good on the Beast in the East show as they weren’t being produced as much as they are when they’re live. It gave them the chance to actually talk about wrestling. Who knew Cole actually knew stuff?
Promo Time: Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar
Heyman is a microphone master and puts over Lesnar huge here calling him a god of violent retribution, and promises this “sword will pierce Seth Rollins’ shield”. Heyman controls the crowd, riding the boos for mentioning the end of the streak, and recounts Brock’s victories. When it comes to Seth, Lesnar not only doesn’t respect Rollins he actively disrespects him. Uh oh, that’s fighting talk. Heyman recounts Seth’s acts of disrespect, cashing in at ‘Mania, pissing Brock off the night after and attacking Lesnar last week. “The beatings and the suplexes begin tonight” in this “cathedral of retribution”. Heyman is a wonderful orator, who bends the English language to serve his requirements. Heyman ends by telling us that Lesnar is going nowhere and awaits Seth Rollins tonight.
The Big Show vs. Ryback
I don’t get why they keep pairing up these guys, seeing as they’ve got a PPV match at Battleground. Surely you’d want interactions limited to tag matches and such. Another singles match benefits no one. To make matters worse The Miz is ringside and has the house microphone. “OOOOOOHHHHH, hit him one more time Big Show”. If we’re looking at positives, at least it isn’t Xavier Woods but Miz is one of the promotions most irritating individuals. Miz actively makes the match harder to watch, which is a skill. It might be a good match, I have no idea, as Miz is so distracting and the production is so awful that I can’t tell. Which is what I really loved about Beast in the East, as it eased up on the Kevin Dunn nonsense and the terrible camerawork and just presented a wrestling show from a wrestling venue, where you could see stuff. It was brilliant. Compared to that, this is borderline unwatchable. The cuts come at the worst possible time, taking us out of the action and switching angles to make it more “interesting”. Miz runs in for the DQ to make it all irrelevant anyway. Turns out everyone hates Miz so he gets double laid out and Ryback stands tall as we finish this segment.
Final Rating: *
Video Control catches up with J&J who are driving around in the Cadillac that Seth Rollins gave them. Their visit to Wrigley Field is a disappointment because it’s a dump.
Brie Bella vs. Paige
At least it’s not Nikki vs. Paige again but this series of Bella vs. Paige matches is never-ending. If they pull Twin Magic with Alicia Fox, I’m refusing to cover divas matches anymore. There’s not much to talk about in this one as Paige faces off against a numbers game and eventually falls afoul of it, courtesy of an X-Factor. The Bella group take her out with finishers after the match to stand tall. Paige needs pals.
Final Rating: ½*
Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
They booked this on my last Raw show too, with neither guy able to job (Roman because he’s a top tier wrestler and Sheamus because he’s Money in the Bank). While it was a decent match it went to an inevitable non-finish involving Bray Wyatt. Much like two weeks ago it’s a solid physical contest and both wrestlers are fairly evenly matched in terms of size and athleticism. I can see why they keep trying to showcase the match. Chicago is probably not the best place for theatrical babyface stuff like the Superman Punch and rather predictably the crowd hate Roman for even attempting it. Luckily Sheamus counters it into a backbreaker so the crowd can get their jollies. When Roman does eventually punch Sheamus in the face it’s as a counter, not a theatrical spot. So that works too. Bray Wyatt interrupts, with Roman punching out a fake, and Reigns gets counted out…again. Like last time this was quite good, even though the match was in a holding pattern, waiting for Bray’s interruption. While Sheamus is celebrating out comes Randy Orton for a fight. That’s a match (Orton vs. Sheamus) that I never want to see, ever again.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us backstage where Triple H has a chat with the champ, Seth Rollins. The champ thinks he’s got “Battleground in the bag” so Hunter tells him to avoid Lesnar this evening or do something totally unexpected. From that Rollins decides to call out Brock Lesnar because nobody would ever expect it. That makes no sense! Not sure that was good advice from the Tripper.
Promo Time: Rusev
He calls Summer “calm and submissive”, which is how he likes it. If they start re-enacting Fifty Shades of Grey, I walk. Rusev is a bit angry about the way the fans have accepted Lana. Rusev’s grasp of the English language comes across as tenuous here despite his vocabulary. “Don’t waste your precious words hot Summer”. With the segment going nowhere Dolph Ziggler, wearing the ‘interesting’ fashion choice of a blazer and a t-shirt, comes out here with Lana. Dolph makes out with Lana, which rather predictably pisses off the Bulgarian Brute and Rusev destroys him with crutch shots. That’s what you get for not signing a new contract Dolph!
Bo Dallas vs. Dean Ambrose
Crowd is really hot for Ambrose and he reciprocates by demolishing jobber Bo in short order. Dirty Deeds finishes. Glad to see Dean’s main event run hasn’t diminished his popularity. The way he was booked was not terrible during that run but the way he eventually lost to Seth Rollins was quite weak. It seems the build is what people are remembering, which is good news for Ambrose.
Final Rating: SQUASH
R-Truth vs. King Barrett
R-Truth has taken to dressing up like a King of the Ring to wind Barrett up. Truth is both a jobber and a joke by this point, might as well use him. The great thing about Truth is he’s completely job-proof. He could never win again and he’d still be the same guy. In fact him being a loser makes him more popular as he can get near falls on the likes of Barrett but Cole sums it up when he says “how embarrassing would it be for Barrett to lose”. That’s how much of a scrub Truth is but Cole shouldn’t say that, ever. It shouldn’t be embarrassing for one wrestler to lose to another. There should be a creative reason for why the loss takes place but it should never be embarrassing. Focus on the victory, not the defeat. That’s why Barry Horowitz never got over. They just focused on Skip losing. Truth gets a few chances to win but gets knocked out with the Bull Hammer and that finishes this brief rivalry over the King title. One that Truth had no claim on anyway.
Final Rating: *3/4
Seth Rollins Calls out the Beast
The Cadillac that J&J have is going to get destroyed. In my head I see Brock giving the car an F5. That’s how my brain works. Just jacking that car onto his shoulders and introducing it to Suplex City. Seth’s rambling promos are increasingly like Triple H’s when he was on top. Which is a bad thing. He’s the go-to guy to kill twenty minutes with talking and I was sick of it a long, long time ago. There are few people who can be interesting, especially when gloating, on a week to week basis. Paul Heyman can do it. Seth Rollins cannot. He does punctuate this with a great line about how he thinks Lesnar is “Paul Heyman’s bitch”. Seth and his cronies are all armed with bats so Brock decides to take it out on the Cadillac instead. Why would you even bring that car out here? When Joey goes to make the save, on his car, Brock introduces Mercury to Suplex City. Seth, plan having gone somewhat awry, legs it.
The New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons
Tag champs the Prime Time Players join commentary, eyeballing potential contenders. Kalisto has some timing issues with both Big E and Kofi. He’s sensational when he’s on form but Kalisto has some ghastly mistakes in the locker. That’s the risk of high risk. I can’t decide if Xavier Woods is the best heel in the WWE, outside of Kevin Owens, or the most irritating non-wrestler since Shane McMahon. He grates at my nerves. Titus O’Neil’s burial of JBL and taking over on the colour commentary is magnificent. He just dismantles JBL and won’t let him back into the argument. It’s a thing of beauty. Admittedly Titus doesn’t have anyone barking orders into his ear but he’s “rough, tough and entertaining”. Both the Dragons crash and burn attempting dives and the numbers game allows double teaming New Day to score the win. Some of the early going was bumpy with Kalisto attempting difficult moves but they got on the same page as the match went on and it was ok. The show was stolen by Titus O’Neil though. He was outstanding on commentary. 2015 has been a big year for him.
Final Rating: **
Video Control stops off to shill WWE2K16 for those who enjoy such things. We follow that with footage of Finn Balor winning the NXT belt from Kevin Owens in Japan this past weekend. Great match.
John Cena US Championship Open Challenge
Cena is out here for the main event and, wait just a doggone minute, with 30 minutes left on the show? Surely they won’t give the main event 30 minutes? Cena puts over Chicago as being a raucous crowd. Ain’t that the truth! Kevin Owens answers the challenge but calls this “the worst part of Raw” and Cena’s promos “the usual garbage”. It seems as if Owens is taking Cena on for the strap, which is odd because he’s due a title shot at Battleground. Cesaro interrupts him, blaming Owens for his failure to tap Cena out on Raw last week. Owens totally backs down and leaves Cesaro to the challenge. This whole piece of business was unusual. Not sure what to make of it.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Cesaro
Vince McMahon seems to think that Cesaro doesn’t connect with the crowd but he’s surely aware that Cesaro is an outstanding professional wrestler. I’m sure he felt the same way about a dozen top workers over the years. The great thing about Cena’s US title run has been his willingness to put over people. Not by losing to them but by allowing them to dominate him. Cesaro does so with an assortment of fun power moves and sublime counters. Cesaro’s freakish strength isn’t just doing planned moves like the squatting, stalling suplex but also moves where he just catches Cena and manhandles him out of the air. It’s astonishing. Cena is his usual persistent self. The double Five Knuckle Shuffle bit is cute, with Cena showing the kind of cockiness he’s not demonstrated as a face for many years, only for Cesaro to counter him down into a crossface. The storytelling from both men is exemplary. We’ve seen a lot of Cena’s moves countered over the years but Cesaro is flawless in the way he picks holes in Cena, logically, as a worker. The little pauses, the theatre, the pandering to the crowd. Cesaro uses all of this to his favour. Cena has found out new ways to use his body weight too and he breaks out a DDT to escape a Giant Swing, working around the mechanics of the move with sheer power. Honestly, both these guys are operating at a level far above the usual Raw card. Why can’t more matches get showcase time like this?
Cena deserves as much praise as all his opponents during 2015 because he’s not just been determined to be a fighting champion, because that’s nothing new, but he’s been determined to learn new tricks to hang with the next generation. He’s not going to be out-performed, damn it! There are so many great spots where Cesaro breaks out a fantastic counter or Cena does that listing them all off would be pointless. The only bad thing about the match is this nagging irritation that they have this stacked roster and could put on matches like this every week…so why are they so sparse? I understand that great matches would be less special if they happened all the time but NJPW putting on ****+ matches on every show doesn’t dilute the ***** belters when they do happen. It just makes the shows more palatable. What is really cool about this match is the lack of reliance on finishers that tends to be the WWE’s go to during big matches. But also the sheer number of times where Cena looks absolutely boned, totally outclassed by wrestling holds. Whether it’s the Giant Swing, the Sharpshooter or the Crossface. Cesaro outwrestles Cena, over and over again. Cesaro even gets to power out of the STFU into a dead weight suplex. It’s amazing and showcases what a special and unique talent Cesaro is. Cena blots his copybook by botching the Springboard Stunner but the way it counters into Cesaro’s Neutralizer tells the story of Cena overreaching. Even the mistakes make sense.
What’s really, really phenomenal about this match is how it keeps on going. They have moments that feel like finishes and it just keeps going. Part of the joy of watching mid 90s All Japan was how frequently they’d be able to tease a finish and over a period of 20 minutes or so. It’s exceptionally hard to do. Cena and Cesaro do it during this match. Cole calls the match “a classic” and he’s not wrong. It builds to the point where both men are tussling over a top rope spot and after a long fight up top Cena gets the Avalanche AA to retain. Say what you like about Cena, and indeed the Chi-Town natives hate him, but they’re still standing applauding at the end. Because John Cena might want your applause but that’s because, at times, he thoroughly deserves it. Tonight was one of those nights. I was thrilled to have watched it.
Final Rating: ****1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena
Least Entertaining: Xavier Woods. The Miz. Randy Orton.
Quote of the Night: “My client Brock Lesnar is the god of violent retribution” – Paul Heyman
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Cesaro
Summary: What a weekend for wrestling! Great special event in Tokyo, a phenomenal PPV from New Japan (a contender for best PPV of the year, I’d wager) and a Raw that delivers one of the best Raw matches of this, or any other, year. A massive, awesome main event match compensates for any drab card and this was no exception. The undercard on Raw was completely forgettable but not without effort. Reigns-Sheamus, Barrett-Truth and the Dragons-New Day matches all contained enough effort to make the show feel worthwhile. The big segments, before the main, were dominated by Brock Lesnar just being Brock Lesnar and destroying things. The main event puts this one over the top. A wildly enthusiastic thumbs up!