Last week’s show was mundane for the most part, but saved by two cracking segments: Brock Lesnar versus a car, and the splendid Cena-Cesaro main event epic. It felt like a go-home show to the pay-per-view, and it would have been a decent one. With that being said, I am curious about how WWE will manage to fill three hours pushing issues that have already been wringed for every drop of interest on the preceding four weeks of television since the last pay-per-view.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar
Usual Heyman promo at first, with lots of ranting and raving about Brock’s various strengths, and how overmatched Rollins is. Seth cuts him off, flanked by Kane, even though the champ ran away from Lesnar last week and is supposed to be terrified of him. Suddenly Seth is full of confidence, promising to wipe the smile off Brock’s face at Battleground. Seth flubs his lines like a chump and gets mocked by the crowd and by Brock for it, once again proving that promos are not his strong point. “You talk about it like it’s a symbol of what I’m going to look like after Battleground,” says Seth of the knackered Cadillac which is sitting next to the stage. A silly thing to say, given Brock hasn't spoken a word of it. Seth weaves a nonsensical metaphor about burning Suplex City to the ground, so Brock offers him a trip there tonight. Kane is having none of that, and promises... a main event contract signing! How original. Kane tries to tell Heyman that if Brock does anything violent in the signing then he will be in trouble, but Heyman cuts him off. “Are you about to threaten Brock Lesnar?” he asks, incredulous. After mocking Kane for being Undertaker’s baby brother, Heyman says Lesnar will come to the signing with “peace and love”. Here’s a question: why would Rollins be willing to step into a ring with Lesnar for a signing, with only one man as backup? It makes no sense because it has been established that he is petrified of Brock.
Ryback & Randy Orton vs. The Big Show & Sheamus
The Miz is on commentary, which is good because it means that everybody in WWE who is overexposed and boring is kept in one place. Not so good that I have to suffer through this match, mind you. An interesting stat revealed in recent days was that Sheamus won his two-hundredth televised match on Raw last week, more than anyone else in company history. That is a remarkable, and sickening statistic. How can anyone want to see the guy wrestle ever again? What more is there that WWE can do with Sheamus? We have seen him work with everyone to the point of monotony. He has reached his glass ceiling, and nobody cares anymore. There is a reason his matches more than anyone else’s get the inane chant treatment.
“I’m the toughest guy in the WWE, have you seen The Marine 4?” says Miz. There are some problems with that statement. The pouty weed is one of the least convincing wrestlers I have ever seen. He reminds me of Andy Kauffman when he was pretending to be a wrestler and beating up women. At least Kaufmann knew he was a comedy act and not a real tough guy. Miz seems to think he is a real wrestler! And as for the Marine 4 statement? No, nobody has seen The Marine 4! Nobody watches anything that WWE Films produce!
I am specifically avoiding mentioning a single thing in this match because it is white noise. I would genuinely rather watch television static. Honestly, I would be overjoyed if all four of these guys, and Miz, received their future endeavours. It is not even that any of them, well, Big Show aside, are that bad in the ring. It is more than I have seen all of their routines over and over again for years on end without any respite. They have thirty-eight combined years in WWE between them! After two commercial breaks, the match still continues. Ryback gets a hot tag and cleans house, Miz starts doing the same shitty commentary he did last week and irritates everyone, then fleas from Show. Sheamus goes to finish Ryback, but Orton hits the RKO and Ryback hits a big splash from the top for the win. I despise Sheamus, but I cannot fathom WWE giving him MITB and having him lose every week. This was fifteen minutes of abject shite.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, Seth and Kane have a chat, but they don't say anything of interest.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
Oh wow, I have never seen this match before. “This is definitely Bray Wyatt,” observes the ever-aware JBL. Well no goddamn kidding, genius. Who else is it going to be? Bray blows his lantern out and Roman Reigns turns up behind him then delivers a beating. Dean Ambrose takes a seat and enjoys the fun. After a brief tussle, Wyatt decks Reigns with his lantern and walks off. Helluva use of Dean Ambrose. Why not have Bray scheduled to wrestle literally anyone, and do the angle beforehand? Why waste Dean’s spot on the card?
Final Rating: N/R
Give Divas A Chance
The entitled Nikki Bella, accompanied by Brie and Alicia Fox, gets to speak! Oh, have mercy! In her grating, dumb drawl she reckons she has done everything possible and is “the Total Diva”. Everything except learn how to work something that resembles a wrestling match. Nikki wants some real competition, which brings out Stephanie McMahon to interrupts and belittle Nikki and her pals, which for once is amusing rather than annoying. Though, wasn't Steph supposed to be friends with Nikki after SummerSlam last year? “There is a revolution in women’s sport right now,” says Steph, referencing women’s football, UFC and tennis. Wait, tennis? Nothing has changed in tennis for well over a decade. It’s just the Williams sisters taking turns being dominant. Also, the Women’s World Cup was hardly a revolution; people watched it because there was no real football on. Agreeing that the division is in need of a revamp, Steph brings out... Paige. It’s a decision Nikki is baffled by. “I don't even understand why she is out here! How many times has she failed?” Must be getting into the hundreds by now. Steph admonishes Nikki for running her mouth, scalding that Paige is out here because she wants her out here. But Paige isn't the only one, because Steph then brings out NXT starlet Becky Lynch! Steph observes that the numbers still aren’t fair, so brings out Charlotte too. Excellent... Sort of. I am not sure I want to see these super-talented wrestlers lose every week in three minutes matches against the awful Nikki Bella. For the record, Alicia Fox’s “pouting angry face” is a thing of rich unintentional comedy. She doesn't even look human. Naomi interrupts and says she has worked her ass of and deserves a spot, Steph quite rightly agrees, but she happens to know someone else who wants one too: Sasha Banks! Poor NXT. A mass brawl occurs between all nine of the women out there, ending with Charlotte, Sasha and Lynch taking out all of the Bella clan with their respective submission holds. This was pretty damn great, despite the presence of the Bellas and Steph. I can’t quite understand why heel bitch queen Stephanie McMahon was being the babyface here. Surely Paige could have brought the NXT girls out? Obviously, Steph wanted to have a hand in something that fans would be in favour of. It’s all about self-serving ego gratification. Enough of the negative though, this was a memorable moment and the best thing involving “Divas” on Raw in some years.
The New Day vs. The Prime Time Players & Mark Henry
After a typical New Day promo, we get this unfathomable match. The New Day and the Prime Time Players are wrestling at the pay-per-view, what logic is there to having them wrestle tonight? Or indeed, every damn week in the build up. Also, what is Mark Henry’s problem? One week he is a heel, the next he is a babyface. I am also convinced that he is only teaming with the PTP because they are all black. That’s how WWE do things. Nothing match, which the babyfaces win thanks to Mark Henry pinning Xavier Woods after the World’s Strongest Slam. The New Day are definitely regaining the belts at the pay-per-view based on how WWE do things. They have lost every week since dropping the straps.
Final Rating: *
King Barrett vs. R-Truth
Why does this infernal feud continue!? Barrett beat WWE’s resident jester cleanly last week, the issue is done. In WWE’s mind this is an epic rivalry, in everyone else’s it is a piss break match. It is matches like this which make Raw such an absolute chore to watch every week. It’s the same thing over and over again until it loses all meaning and makes you actively hate everyone involved. Truth wins, cleanly, so almost certainly we are going to do this again. This program is wrestling groundhog day. Afterwards, Truth finds his fake cape, plunger sceptre and crown under the ring. Why would it be there? Why does Barrett even care that some nut job is stealing his gimmick anyway? It’s not like he is a real king, is it? Are we supposed to believe he thinks he is? Does that not make him just as deluded as Truth is pegged to be? I feel violated having watched this.
Final Rating: -*
We get footage of Dolph Ziggler getting hit in the throat by Rusev last week, and Cole tells us he is out indefinitely with a “bruiser trachea”. Ooh!
John Cena Open Challenge
Rusev answers the challenge, which is a shame. Rusev has easily been Cena’s worst opponent of the year. “Big Match John” has been on a roll in 2015, and the quality of his matches has been off the charts, but his feud with Rusev was pretty bad. Also, having Rusev lose in his Raw return match is totally counter-productive. Kevin Owens comes out to try and put a stop to it, because as he has said many times, only he is taking the US Title from Cena. Rusev isn't happy, and the two would-be challengers engage in a slanging match. Cesaro heads out to make his claim to the shot, and the three contenders engage in a skirmish. Cena watches on, bemused by it all. Turns out we are not having a US Title match yet, as first we are having a three way to decide who gets the match.
Rusev vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro
The winner gets Cena later on, which isn't really fair is it? All three are supposedly heels, but Cesaro is the clear fan favourite, and Owens is popular amongst most in the audience. All three men have interesting move sets, and there are some creative spots such as Owens hitting a Codebreaker on Cesaro and landing a senton on Rusev at the same time, but the crowd is surprisingly quiet. Byron Saxton theorises that Rusev’s downward spiral started with his defeat to Cena at WrestleMania, and isn't that the truth. A tower of doom spot finally wakes the crowd up, and suddenly they decide the match is awesome. That chant is annoying and cringe-worthy. It means nothing. This is a good match, but at this stage it is far from awesome. A triple German suplex spot with Cesaro as the thrower nearly changes my mind though, especially given the size of those involved. Very impressive. Cesaro continues to shine, taking out both with a corkscrew plancha, but Owens prevents the giant swing on Rusev with a superkick. Owens hits a moonsault onto Rusev’s face, then gets shitcanned by Cesaro. Rusev goes for the Accolade, but Owens takes him out with a superkick too. Rusev fights out of an Owens powerbomb attempt with an Alabama Slam and locks on the Accolade, but Cesaro stops it and hits an impressive stalling suplex on the massive Bulgarian. Owens makes the mistake of running his mouth and slapping both guys, so they team up to give him a shoeing. Owens decides to take a walk and wait until Sunday, which makes him look like a bit of a fanny.
We are left with a straight singles between Cesaro and Rusev, who are obviously working a chinlock after we return from commercial. It’s the law. Rusev hits a suplex from the outside to the apron, which looks dangerous. Rusev is blowing. In a remarkable and surprising moment of competent refereeing, there is no count out because technically it is still a triple threat match, and there are no count outs. Back inside, Rusev counters a superplex with a facebuster, but Cesaro avoids a splash from the top and locks in the crossface. Rusev escapes using power and hits a urinage for a near fall. Rusev is too strong for the Sharpshooter and escapes, hitting a big spinning kick and a flip senton, but Cesaro breaks the Accolade and manages the giant swing. Sharpshooter applied, but Rusev makes the ropes. Taking advantage of the rules, Rusev crawls to the outside, though that doesn't stop Cesaro, who hits a tope and an uppercut. Rusev comes straight back by throwing him off the ropes, then hits a superkick to the neck for the win. I don't agree with the booking, because it is the worst possible Cena match up, but Rusev certainly earned his shot. When the crowd were chanting that the match was awesome, it wasn't, but it was certainly getting there by the end. Helluva wrestling match.
Final Rating: ****
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
Now, all this does is make Cena look like an utter bastard. Rusev has just come through a tour de force, now he is against a fresh John Cena. It makes Rusev look like the babyface. Cena is kind to him, putting on a headlock to let the knackered Rusev get his breath back. It doesn't make for enthralling viewing. Cena is too casual and gets caught in the Accolade, which is pretty much Rusev’s only spot so far. Cena tries to power out, but gets locked in the hold again. Then comes the expected non-finish when Owens runs in and kicks Rusev in the head. Once again, that is the problem with announcing Cena’s PPV title defences in advance. It means he either wins or we get a non-finish like this. The match lived down to the low standards set by previous Cena-Rusev bouts, though it was short.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Lita
Zuh? Yes, Lita. Apparently she is a coach on Tough Enough. I wouldn't know, because like everyone else, I don't watch the show. Lita is looking pretty damn fine for a forty year old. She gives us the names of everyone on the show’s cast, they all wave, and that’s it! Michael Cole calls Tough Enough “hard-hitting reality”, just when you thought his credibility couldn't sink any lower after all these years. What a waste of time. Lita should have been involved in the women’s segment earlier. She would have been a better choice than Stephanie to bring out the NXT girls.
We get a backstage promo from the returning Stardust, with Neville the target. I was hoping WWE might drop the gimmick in light of Dusty Rhodes’ death and have him go back to being Cody Rhodes, but no such luck. The pop his appearance gets suggests that might have been the right thing to do. This is the usual oddball Stardust promo, but he appears to have made a few adjustments to the character, including a new catchphrase (“embrace the strange”), and it was less annoying than usual. The Stardust-Neville match is next, and to promote it WWF have two fantastic cartoon renderings of the pair in place of the usual photos they use. They should use these every single time.
Neville vs. Stardust
Stardust is wearing silver, blue, and black, which is his best attire yet. Neville goes for a handshake, but Stardust is not interested and kicks his ass. The match is utterly heatless, because the crowd don't want to boo Cody at all. I couldn't understand them keeping the Stardust gimmick if it was over before, but it never was. The match is worthless, with Stardust scoring the win with a tights-assisted roll up. Neville has reached his WWE glass ceiling already.
Final Rating: ½*
Main Event Contract Signing: Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar
Seth is not scared of Brock Lesnar anymore. Apparently. Well, that’s a 180 without any reasonable explanation. If anything, he should be more fearful of Lesnar than ever. Seth and Brock pull up a pew at the signing table, where the former sneers and the latter has a good chuckle. Heyman promises that Seth will get his ass kicked at Battleground, which he will, though I don't think he will lose the title. He should of course, absolutely, because he has been a terrible WWF Champion. But the way he has been booked in recent weeks suggests to me that he will be going over. It’s the WWE way! Heyman is suspicious of Seth, and is proven right when Lesnar flips the table and reveals what he has been hiding: a bat. Seth shits himself at being caught, but Lesnar couldn't care less, placing the bat on the table for Seth to take, and sitting back down. Seth becomes confident again and wields the weapon, but gets a table thrown in his face for his troubles. They have a brawl, and for a moment Seth and Kane are on top, but not for long. Lesnar ends up ramming Seth into the barricade and wiping out Kane with an F5. Seth runs away again - so much for not being scared - so Lesnar tries to break Kane’s ankle with the steel steps. When Lesnar leaves, Rollins returns to the ring and starts growling that he will beat Brock, which is tough talk from a man who was legging it only two minutes earlier. After saying he is going to cut Lesnar in half at Battleground (!), Rollins turns on Kane and starts ragging on him. He blames him for tonight going wrong, then stamps on his destroyed ankle. Odd ending. Is Kane going face? Are they feuding now? I guess the point is that Seth will be alone against Brock at the PPV. Again, overall Lesnar is booked far stronger than his opponent, which as noted usually means defeat at the pay-per-view. Anything other than a Lesnar win at Battleground will be an unmitigated disaster though. It would undo two years of great work building him as WWE’s biggest, and hottest star.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Cesaro. For the fourth straight week, Cesaro dragged the show out of the doldrums with an excellent performance between the ropes. What a wrestler.
Least Entertaining: R-Truth. He is a contender for worst gimmick of all time. Watching him makes me question whether I want to remain a wrestling fan, and certainly makes me think twice about watching when anyone else is around.
Quote of the Night: “Tough Enough is hard-hitting reality.” - Michael Cole.
Match of the Night: Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Rusev
Summary: Much like last week, Raw was a snoozefest other than two memorable segments. The first was the arrival of NXT’s three finest female workers Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, which could be a sign that WWE is finally taking it’s women wrestlers seriously, though I remain sceptical. WWE has never treated its female performers right, and I can see this being a fad that ultimately hurts NXT more than it helps WWE. The second was Cesaro’s performance. Once again he proved that he is head and shoulders ahead of almost everyone else on the roster when it comes to actually wrestling, and it appears that WWE are finally realising that. Whether they will pull the trigger on him as a top guy remains to be seen, but for now he is the star of the show.