Usually, Arnold Furious and I take turns with these Raw shows, in part because it makes the long three hours a little more bearable when done every fortnight. However, he has decided to undertake the mammoth task of covering every G-1 25 show, every day for the next few weeks. Thus I have agreed, with some gentle persuasion, to take on this post-Battleground episode of Raw.
Promo Time: The Undertaker
We are not wasting any time getting to the biggest talking point from last night’s show: the surprise return of The Undertaker, and his attack on Brock Lesnar. Rather than let us enjoy the increasingly rare spectacle of Undertaker’s entrance, Michael Cole has to talk over it. He has three hours to ramble on about bullshit, we don't need him talking now. Taker is bathed in a blue light, basking in the crowd’s adulation before he utters a word. This is the first time he has spoken on WWE programming since before WrestleMania XXX, and indeed not since The Streak ended. Taker says he is remorseless about what he did last night, blaming Lesnar’s constant bragging about ending his as the motivation. Aww, his feelings are hurt. Poor phenom. “Last night was my true resurrection,” he claims. Yeah, if you count one match to spike Network numbers as a resurrection. Taker challenges Lesnar to a match, promising to conquer that which cannot be conquered.
Backstage, Triple H and Stephanie mark out over the return of Undertaker, then announce that the match is taking place at SummerSlam. I guess Undertaker forget to mention that little fact. Steph says she will get the promotional ball rolling, while Hunter says he will call Paul Heyman and tell he and Brock not to bother showing up, in case there is an incident with Taker. It’s a creative way of explaining why he is not on the show, I suppose.
Then, disaster. Michael Cole hypes two matches announced for the show tonight. The first a six-man tag featuring a bunch of guys who wrestled last night, one of whom is John Cena. That means no U.S. Title Challenge, which is annoying because it is always the most entertaining part of the show. Furthermore, Cole tells us that “Stephanie McMahon revolutionised the Divas division last week,” which is maddening. Giving Steph credit is bad enough, but the fact they think anything has changed at all is the bigger issue. This is not a revolution! The women are still scantily clad, the Bellas are still around, they are still called “Divas”. The list goes on. Even worse still is that tonight’s match will see Charlotte against Brie friggin’ Bella! If they wanted to make an impact right off the bat, they should have put Sasha Banks in a singles match with either Charlotte or Becky Lynch, and given then twenty minutes. A shitfest with Brie Bella does nothing for anyone involved or the “Divalution”.
Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
Team B.A.D. join commentary, which is another move that cheapens the action. Having anyone do guest commentary in any match tends to be a detriment, because the focus becomes about them rather than what is going on in the ring. Brie comes out to her ear-polluting theme tune, and does her usual smiling and winking pose on the top of the stage. She is a heel, but she acts like a babyface. Both she and her sister have no clue what they are doing. They are like pre-programmed vacant automatons. Kinda like Michael Cole, who keeps referring to Tamina as “Tina”. “Are you part of the change, or part of the problem?” asks JBL to Naomi. She is stumped. She says he wants change and wants it on her terms, which is hilarious because Mother Hen Stephanie assigned them all to set teams last week: the Total Divas team, the workrate team, and the all-black team. Don't try and pretend that isn't the reason. This is WWE we are talking about.
The first few exchanges are not up to much, and then we have a horrible Brie botch right before commercial when she moves out of the way of a Charlotte dive, then falls down and sells it anyway. Either she was supposed to take it and screwed it up, or... well hell, I have no idea what else she could have been doing. After commercial, I am greeted with the aural assault of Nikki and Alicia chanting, “We love Brie Mode,” like a pair of annoying marks. Get these cunts off my fucking television!
In the ring, Brie dominates Charlotte with Daniel Bryan kicks and a boring chinlock, with Charlotte being made to look like a bit of a jobber. She is like all of the NXT guys who came up and worked with Cena, supposedly overmatched against the “experienced pro”. The crowd are actually far more into this than most women’s matches, showing they are willing to give this Divalution a chance. How long that will last is anyone’s guess when WWE keeps doing the same thing every week. Charlotte makes a comeback and goes for the Figure Eight, but Nikki jumps on the apron for the distraction. Charlotte launches her with a kick, then doesn't fall victim to the distraction roll-up, but rather hits a spear and locks on the Figure Eight for the win. At least the awful Brie Bella didn't go over. Like last night though, this wasn't as good as it needed to be in order to facilitate a positive change in attitudes towards the division. It wasn't even close.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Triple H and Paul Heyman argue on the phone. Hunter shouts at him to get a set of balls and tell Brock he is not allowed to come to the show. The Miz is there during all of this, desperately trying to get Hunter’s attention so he whine about getting punched in the face last night. Trips dismisses him and books him against Big Show. Miz pouts, obviously, because that’s what he does.
Los Matadores vs. The Prime Time Players
I was pleased to see PTP retain last night, even if the booking has made little sense. I do hope this isn't the start of a title program with Los Matadores. It’s not that they are a bad team or anything - though I do despise the bull - but where have they been for the past few months? Why would they suddenly warrant a title match? After a brief shine, Young gets his ass handed to him by the comedy duo. When Titus comes in he looks great, again, chucking Los Matadores around with casual ease. Cue the arrival of New Day, who spout some shit and cause Titus to fall victim to a Back Stabber and get pinned. Please! Enough with the fucking distraction finish every single goddamn week! Raw is boring enough without every finish being the same! I detest WWE’s booking philosophy. What benefit is there to having the tag champs lose to a joke team?
Final Rating: *1/4
The Miz vs. The Big Show
Show was a babyface in his interaction with Miz last night, so I am counting that as turn number, whatever the hell we are up to now. Forty one? “The whole Marine franchise is at stake here!” - JBL. Well doesn't that just give this match so much more meaning. Show mauls Miz and ends him with an elbow drop from the middle rope in short order. Shite.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Post match, Show cuts a heel promo (forty-two!) and yells at Miz for last night saying he had been missing since the Attitude Era. To be fair to Miz, he did have a point. Show yells about wanting the IC Title, then cuts a promo on the Tough Enough cast! Who cares? Really, who in the world cares?
Backstage, Triple H and Steph spy Paul Heyman. Their reaction is great. “Paul, get back in your box!”. Okay, they didn't say that, but they should have. Heyman defends his presence as merely being so he can give Brock’s retort, and that Lesnar isn't here. Hunter and Steph don't believe him and decide to increase the security on the show.
After commercial, Hunter and Steph address the locker room from on a stage. It looks like a low-rent play. Steph bollocks the roster, because exerting her power over men gets her off, and Hunter tells them that their livelihoods depend on preserving the SummerSlam main event. This was so weird. Not only because rivals and opponents later in the night were co-mingling, but because the staging of it was so unusual.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Heyman reminds everyone why Brock Lesnar isn't the WWE Champion, noting that Brock and Taker coming face to face last night fifteen months after their WrestleMania match was a monumental occasion. I guess. Heyman defends his constant hyping of Lesnar ending The Streak, asking why he wouldn't brag about it. He has a point. To me, Undertaker just comes off as a sore loser in all of this. It is not like Lesnar beat him unfairly. Heyman hypes the Taker-Lesnar match, tremendously as ever, then decides to further get under Taker’s skin with more gloating about Taker losing to Brock. “You might have sold your soul to the Devil, but Brock Lesnar owns your ass.”
Heyman proceeds to shit himself when the dong hits and the lights go out, then come back on to reveal Taker standing in the ring. He threatens the advocate, but before he gets his hands on him Lesnar’s music hits and he steams to the ring. I guess he is here after all! Cole and Saxton are terrified and both run away, which is a nice touch. The crowd goes apeshit as the two brawl, then a swarm of rent-a-cops hit the ring to try and keep them apart. “Let them fight,” chant the crowd. Taker batters the security folk holding him back, and Lesnar does the same to his, and they go at it again. Hunter sends the majority of the roster down, including guys like Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Sheamus, though conspicuous by their absence are Randy Orton and supposed company man John Cena. I guess their absence and the presence of those mentioned sums up their respective statures these days.
The visual spectacle is amazing, with the ring absolutely full to bursting point, and even then the entire roster can barely keep the pair apart. Lesnar gets creative in evading them, running around the ring to fight Taker on the apron, and for his part Taker breaks loose and continues the fight as well. Eventually, after a few minutes of this and the crowd chanting about how awesome it all is, Lesnar gets hauled away, screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” as he is removed.
In the parking lot after commercial, the fight continues! Again, the roster is utterly useless, but then they are all on an entirely different level to these two. Lesnar hurls a table at a bunch of referees on route to flying at Taker, once again showing that he could have been an Olympic thrower, and probably still could be. Finally Lesnar gets backed into a corner by cops and agrees to let them cuff him and march him away, but warns them not to touch him. One does, and the look Lesnar gives him probably caused his heart to skip a few beats. This was awesome as well.
Now that is how you build a main event. What a segment this was. Easily the finest match build of the year, and probably the best angle on the show in 2015 as well. Lesnar vs. Taker II (in Lesnar’s second run at least, they had a hatful of matches in his first) should be quite the event.
Backstage, Steph questions Hunter about Brock getting arrested, but Hunter says he is not pressing charges, he simply wants him to cool off. Seth Rollins turns up and asks for interview time so he can get some things off his chest. Christ, there has been a lot of talking tonight.
Bray Wyatt does his usual promo, with Luke Harper back by his side. “Anyone but you, Roman,” “It never stops,” etc. We know the drill.
Luke Harper vs. Roman Reigns
Dean Ambrose heads out to even the numbers for this, as WWE presents us with their fresh idea of the week: a truncated version of the very successful Shield vs. Wyatts feud. It’s not the worst thing they could do. I am certainly pleased that Harper has rejoined Wyatt at the very least, because I think it helps both of them. This is the first proper match on the show in ages, and unfortunately it’s rather boring. For some reason, Byron Saxton spends the whole match stood up behind the announce desk, which is incredibly distracting. What on earth is he playing at? Oh, Bray Wyatt has taken his seat. Couldn't they have found him another one from somewhere? They had three spares out there earlier when Team B.A.D. were commentating! Reigns takes a pasting, at one point getting hurled to the outside and landing on his already storyline injured arm. Harper targets the dodgy appendage, though he uses far too many rest holds to make it interesting. Reigns fights back with one arm, then loses focus and goes after Wyatt at ringside instead of finishing the match. He socks him one and hits a double Drive By on both of the Wyatt Family, though Wyatt recovers enough to pull Reigns out of the ring and draw the DQ. It all breaks down with a fracas on the outside, which the Wyatts win out on initially. Dean Ambrose makes a comeback after having been hurled into the timekeepers table, taking out Harper with a clothesline. Wyatt catches him for Sister Abigail, but Reigns decks Bray with a Superman punch to give the Shield boys the win in the battle. Both Reigns and Ambrose’s music play afterwards, which is quirky. Drab match, but a great post-match fight.
Final Rating: *
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
I hoped we had been spared this tonight. I am not sure how many more Seth Rollins promos I can tolerate. Seth is a man without direction at the moment. The main event program at SummerSlam is by far Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar, and Seth doesn't have anyone left to work with that either hasn't done before, or that makes sense. The way Brock mauled him last night really hurt him too, and he was struggling to be taken seriously in the role as it was. All I want to hear about from him is where he went when Undertaker’s magic made him disappear last night. Instead, he rags on everyone for disrespecting him, and for thinking he was going to get his ass handed to him last night. But, he did get his ass handed to him last night! Seth thinks he got robbed of his moment at Battleground, denied the chance to pin Lesnar because of Undertaker’s actions. Yeah, after taking thirteen German suplexes, barely registering any offence, and having been hit with an F5, she sure looked like he was on route to a win. Where is this going? He is dwelling on a feud that is, for now, done with. Seth asks Lillian to the ring so she can make the announcement of last night’s match. All that does is remind everyone that Seth technically lost the bout via DQ.
John Cena has heard enough and heads to the ring for a chat. He observes that both he and Seth won their respective titles on the same night, yet while he has been a fighting champion and a true representative of the title, Rollins has been a joke. Cena basically buries Seth’s title reign, which is counterproductive, though what he says is true. The go to throw down, but there has already been a shed load of brawling on the show tonight, so WWE saves them getting physical until next week. For anyone unclear, this is the WWE Championship program at SummerSlam. Cena makes sense in the respect that he has been on a roll of late, and if Rollins beats him it could be good for his waning credibility. However, I cannot quite understand why WWE kept the United States Championship on Cena last night based on this booking. All they do by having United States Champion Cena go after the WWE Championship is devalue the U.S. belt. Cena has been putting it over for months, almost above the WWE Championship, so for him to suddenly want the big belt again doesn't fit his character’s drive and ethos over the past four months. There is no way defeat to Owens at Battleground would have hurt Cena, but it sure would have helped Owens and the future prospects of the WWE Championship, now that Cena is mingling with main eventers again.
Sasha Banks & Naomi vs. Paige & Becky Lynch
Your eyes don’t deceive you, this is in fact the second women’s match on the card. It’s also by some way the finest match on the show so far, given nearly fifteen minutes to get over, and despite the presence of the blank Bellas on commentary. Still, I would take Nikki Bella behind the announce desk above in the ring any day. It’s not like her commentary is much worse that Michael Cole’s anyway. The crowd was fairly into this, not to NXT levels or anywhere close really, but more so than almost every Divas match on the show this year. Sasha and Lynch are head and shoulders above the other two girls in both fire, charisma and general ring presence, and that is very much evident here. Paige and Naomi are not too bad, with the latter’s light-up boots still a thing of beautiful genius, but they are not as good as some seem to think. They have simply been made to look better than they are because of the low standard of girls they have previously worked with. The potential is there though, and working long matches week in, week out against talented grapplers will only help.
If you ignore the commentary, where Brie casually no-sells having lost twice to Charlotte in two nights, and Nikki claims the Bellas are happy with the change to the division, completely oblivious to the fact that they are its key problem, the match is a lot of fun. Part of that is down to the novelty aspect, but they do hold together a fifteen minute bout far better than Reigns and Harper did earlier. Lynch is explosive, a firecracker at times with quick execution of her moves, hard-hitting offence and excellent selling. In my eyes, she will be the star of this Divalution. She reminds me of Lita, only with actual wrestling ability. It is the other Raw newcomer, Sasha Banks, who scores victory tonight however, tapping Paige with the Bank Statement. I enjoyed this.
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, Renee Young interviewed Lana regarding Dolph Ziggler’s health status. She says he is talking again, and they are waiting for the all-clear from the doctors. Summer Rae turns up dressed as Lana, with her hair tied back and everything. She imitates Lana’s mannerisms, making them really irritating because Summer is really irritating, then Rusev walks in. He is blown away by how beautiful Summer is, and plants a big kiss on her right in front of Lana. Mid-kiss he opens one eye and stares a hole through Lana, with the suggestion being that he is clearly still hung up on his ex, and is trying to remould his new girlfriend to look identical to her. “Lana, you don't look so good,” he laughs before walking off. Summer gives her a big slap before she departs, just to emphasise what a bitch she is. I found this little ordeal strangely captivating, and a tad uncomfortable, which is good. It was better than corny, half-baked comedy.
John Cena, Randy Orton & Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens, Sheamus & Rusev
The line up is a bit of an odd one. You have two guys who are protected at the expense of all others, two who have had their pushes killed by Super Cena, one constantly over-pushed despite never getting over anywhere near the level expected, and another criminally under-utilised despite consistently outperforming nearly everyone on the roster. The latter, which is of course Cesaro, is getting big-time over again, close if not equal to the levels he was at in early 2014. He is so good that even his exchanges with Sheamus manage to be interesting. Yes, Sheamus! Interesting! However, he is also the most expendable of the babyface trio in the eyes of WWE, so naturally he takes the heat. Pleasingly, the pace is quick, making this a rare instance where the Raw multi-man main event isn't a colossal bore. Sheamus and Owens end up getting into a disagreement when Owens accidentally clocks Sheamus, leading to Sheamus bailing on the match. The Heel Union is broken! Moments later, Owens falls out with Rusev, then hits him with a superkick and leaves. What is going on here!? It makes the match dichotomy bizarre for the final sequence, especially when Cesaro, who has two team mates to fall back on, makes the hot tag. Rusev is left alone fighting the odds again, just like last week. WWE are totally babyfacing him without even realising it. Lana chooses this moment to wander to ringside and confront Summer Rae, throwing a shoe at her face and taking her to the mat. All this is missing is Joey Styles screaming “Catfight!” Lana rips out Summer’s bun and walks away to big pops. The faces finish off Rusev by hitting their finishers, with Orton hitting his RKO from a Cesaro slingshot after the giant swing. This was really over for a Raw main event, because usually after three hours, the crowd are dead. I guess it shows what a good episode this was.
Final Rating: **3/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. Both deserve to share the plaudits for their tremendous pull-apart brawl.
Least Entertaining: The Bellas. Their presence, their wooden, dead commentary, their voices, their phony faces, their attitudes, their wrestling ability. Pray for the cancellation of Total Divas.
Quote of the Night: “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU.” - Welcome to the decidedly un-PG world of Brock Lesnar.
Match of the Night: Sasha Banks & Naomi vs. Paige & Becky Lynch. I may not have rated it as highly as the main event, because it wasn't quite as good, but I enjoyed it more because it felt like progress.
Summary: This was a great show. Naturally, the superb pull-apart between Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker was the most memorable aspect of the broadcast, but there was plenty of other stuff to enjoy too. It was certainly a much easier watch than the majority of Raw episodes this year. The main event and the women’s tag bout were both enjoyable, even with the wacky booking, and horrible Bellas commentary. It’s a step in the right direction from WWE across the board, and SummerSlam is already feeling like the mid-year equivalent of WrestleMania, which is what they have wanted for years. Hopefully they can keep this going in the next few weeks, and don't run out of steam getting to the big event like they did with WrestleMania.