Promo Time: The Authority
The theme for tonight’s show is “first time ever”, and boy are they going to ram that concept down our throats all evening. We start with a “major announcement”: SummerSlam will run for four goddamn hours! This promotion does not understand the concept of “less is more”. Triple H reminds us that this evening is arbitrarily a night of firsts, then announces a bunch of awful matches. The Big Show vs. Dean Ambrose! Kevin Owens vs. Randy Orton! All I can do is slap my head in frustration at the prospect of these two encounters. If that is WWE’s idea of “fresh” and “new”, then it speaks volumes about this company. Steph, the mother hen of the Diva’s division, announces two women’s matches, and guess what? One of them features Nikki Bella. Back I go to the head slapping. I guess WWE’s idea of a Divas revolution is booking an extra match each week. Seth gets a turn on the stick and rambles on with his usual snivelling promo, putting himself over while managing to say almost nothing of note. Thankfully, the arrival of John Cena (“one of the all time greats”- Mackle) prevents him from talking nonsense for too long.
Cena is furious with Seth’s declaration that he is the greatest WWE Champion ever, believing it to be an insult to Hall of Famers everywhere. Yeah, guys like Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Ric Flair, some guy who wore yellow that we no longer talk about... “I think you’re a joke,” snaps Cena. I agree, Rollins is a terrible champion, though I’m not sure how wise it is for Cena to point that out. Cena wants a title match tonight, but Rollins won’t have it. He tries to explain himself, but the headmistress takes over the segment and throws it to the audience. The crowd want to see the match, which makes Stephanie so excited that she starts doing her Daniel Bryan impression while pulling her face into a contorted disaster. Fifteen years ago Stephanie was hot, these days here uneven face looks like a Picasso painting. She heels on the crowd -after two weeks of playing adulation-seeking babyface - saying the match won’t happen. She is so inexplicably giddy about her bitchiness that I am convinced she is high. Hunter decides to make the match, but for Cena’s belt rather than Seth’s. Oh yes, booking the SummerSlam title match on a free television show seems like a swell idea. That way, when the PPV comes, nobody will be bothered about seeing it anymore. You can’t fault WWE, they are on the ball...
Dean Ambrose vs. The Big Show
The announcers are over-hyping this as “the first time ever” that these two have wrestled. So fucking what!? How can anyone get excited about a Big Show match against anyone? Unless it was a double retirement match against The Miz, I suppose. Speaking of that trout-faced geek, he is donning the headset and providing his whimsical insight for this. The match sucks, then it gets ridiculous when Big Show uses the most pathetic excuse for an ankle lock you will ever see. Ambrose escapes by... untying his bootlace. Show shoves him off, then Ambrose sits quietly in the corner and waits while Show slowly reties it. What the hell are they doing? There isn't even a payoff, he just does it up and carries on! Ambrose goes to a sleeper, which is paint drying territory, and eventually hits a DDT. He unloads with kicks and chops, but Show prevents the Bossman clothesline with a chokeslam. That gets two, so Show hits a second and nearly wins on count out. “Superkick” from Show, which sends Ambrose back outside, followed by a spear, as Show makes an attempt to hit every finisher he can think of. Ambrose again breaks the count at the death, leaving the giant sweaty one looking cross. After making it heroically back to the ring, Ambrose comically tumbles back out again for no reason. Show throws him back in, as this becomes a bit of a joke. Ambrose suddenly rallies, completely no-selling everything that just happened. It is horrible psychology -something he is often guilty of - but gets caught with a knockout punch when he tries for a topé. Show quite happily takes the count out win from that, because he doesn't win matches on television via pinfall these days. Post match, Show decides to charge at Ambrose, who moves, sending Show crashing through the barricade like a big bumbling oaf. I have no idea what they were going for here, but it was hellishly boring.
Final Rating: ½*
Fandango vs. Neville
“The Man That WWE Forgot: Neville” I knew it wouldn't take long for WWE to get bored of him. What a waste of a world class talent. Fandango does more than one move (two moves), causing Cole to have a little wrestlegasm about how impressive he is looking. It’s lies. Mind you, his tights tonight are impressive, and by that I mean nineties-tastic and garish. After nothing really happens for two minutes, Neville finishes with the Red Arrow.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Post match, kooky Cody Rhodes appears on the Titantron and talks nonsense. It’s an even more asinine promo than what Bray Wyatt usually delivers. Neville wears an expression like he wishes he was back in NXT.
“The WWE Universe just loves the way the Divas division is going at the moment.” - Paige. Name me one person, Paige. Seriously, name me one. I know WWE scripted this line for her, which means they genuinely think they are doing a good job with their so-called revolution. They don't get it, they really don't. “Don’t you know that Stephanie McMahon is the one who made the revolution happen.” - Sasha Banks. Yeah, that about sums it up really, doesn't it? It’s also the reason it won’t work.
Paige vs. Sasha Banks
This could be the best women’s match on Raw so far this year. Sadly, they start with the protracted Goldberg-Lesnar lock-up spot from WrestleMania XX, which is an interesting choice. It doesn't fill me with confidence. It might help the match if the announcers showed some enthusiasm, rather than talking about it in monotonous tones. They sound like Tim Robbins reading The Great Gatsby. They go a little “Indy” at first with mirror spots, ending with a double dropkick and a standoff. Paige takes over and works the arm for a while, then sends Sasha out of the ring and hits a crossbody on all of Team B.A.D. as we go to commercial. When we return, Sasha is working a... chinlock, very good. She is fully converted to the WWE way now. During commercial, Paige and Sasha’s teams were both sent to the back, leaving us with less distractions. A welcome decision from the referee. Sasha takes her turn to control the bout, but it’s all rather generic. Paige mounts a comeback with a series of short arm clotheslines and a superkick, then looks for the PTO. “Incredible match,” says the bereft of all credibility Michael Cole. Paige loudly calls some spots - as always - they have a communications breakdown in the corner, then Sasha finishes with the Bank Statement. I wanted this to be so much more, but it was disappointingly drab.
Final Rating: *3/4
Backstage, Rene Young is with a special guest. “Please welcome...” Advert break. Swell production there, WWE, just top notch.
Promo Time: Rusev & Summer Rae
Summer’s facials are so blatantly phony that she comes across like a plastic gameshow prize pointer. Imagine my amusement then, when I see that Rusev has boxes of presents. “Let’s see what you could have won!” Rusev gives Summer a gift: a puppy. Because it is ugly, has skinny legs, and pees on itself, he names it Dog Ziggler. Oh, snap. Next, Rusev pulls a headless fish out of a box, calling it Lana. He has Summer wave it around to demonstrate his point. Lana comes down and points out for the slow folk in the audience who didn't get the subtlety last week that Rusev is dressing Summer like her, and that he stared at her while kissing his new fancy woman. Summer starts getting mouthy, so Lana takes her down with a leg kick and rubs her face in the fish. A bunch of women in the locker room who dislike the phony Summer absolutely loved that. Rusev just stands there and watches helplessly, because this is the PG Era and a man cannot lay a finger on a woman. If this was the Attitude Era, she would have been hurled off and thrown in the Accolade. Lana slaps Rusev, and walks off pleased with herself.
The Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores
Prime Time Players do commentary, and Titus is great at it again. This is one colourful match-up. Wonderfully so. These guys have the Indy bug too it seems and do a standoff at the start, though it is really messy. The rest of the action is incredibly fast-paced and full of flashy offence, though there are a few botches here and there, which is standard fare with these two tandems. Los Matadores slow things down with some rest holds, playing the heel role due to their less interesting style and slight size advantage. Kalisto is his usual bouncing ball self, though he barely connects with most of his stuff. During his fire, The New Day skip to ringside with a sign reading, “Real Mega Dad of the Year”, which points at Kofi. It’s a diss of Titus, who won a real award for being father of the year. Hell, it’s the reason he received this current push in the first place. Amidst the distraction, Kalisto scores the win to catapult The Lucha Dragons into the tag title picture. Theoretically. In reality they will likely lose on SmackDown to New Day, who will get yet another run with the PTP.
Final Rating: *3/4
Promo Time: The Wyatt Family
These days, when Bray Wyatt speaks, I don't even hear the words he is saying anymore. I do listen. I listen intently, but it’s the same vaguely clever-sounding, but ultimately-nonsensical drivel that he always spouts. This time he tells a story about having released his pet into the wild, but the pet returning after seeing the outside world, never running away from him again. The idea being, Luke Harper is the pet. Harper gets to speak, and blames the fans for him being the way he is. “When you pray for the rain, you best be prepared for the mud.” Yeah, that means nothing.
Charlotte & Becky Lynch vs. Nikki Bella & Alicia Fox
The problem with putting Charlotte and Becky in the same team is that they can’t wrestle each other. Instead, they get lumped with the talentless duo of Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox. Becky leads Nikki through a bunch of chain wrestling, and it is like watching Bambi learn to walk. Nikki shows no aptitude for the intricacies of what she is doing, lying in an arm bar with her arm folded like an amateur. How does that hurt you, you ditzy cow!? If she was bending her arm to prevent the hold it would be fine, but she is selling it. She doesn't have a clue. Charlotte runs a sequence with Alicia, and the latter ends up landing on her head from a bump because she doesn't know what she is doing either. It gives her a concussion. Alicia has been with WWE for approaching a decade, yet she still cannot master a simple bump. They do another bit later where Alicia does a zany submission, and it just falls apart. Becky tags in and kicks Alicia’s ass, then finishes with the Disarmer. They keep putting the new girls over, but where is it going? It’s just wins for the sake of wins each week, without any purpose or real change. This benefitted from Nikki not doing much, but both of the Team Bella girls were out of their depth.
Final Rating: *1/4
Michael Cole hypes Tough Enough, noting how the competitors endured a tough week. Yeah, they found out one of their judges was a dirty great racist. Anyway, isn't a show called Tough Enough supposed to be taxing?
Kevin Owens vs. Randy Orton
I like Kevin Owens, but I have little interest in seeing this match. Owens has been ruined for me since he banged his head on the WWE glass ceiling and came crashing back down to earth as yet another midcarder. Randy is over-protected, so there is little hope for Owens here... except for the fact that Sheamus is situated at the announce desk. It’s the third guest commentary spot of the evening, which is too much. How about a few fresh ideas? Naturally, he is involved in the finish, kicking Orton in the face for the DQ. “Are you not entertained?” NO. Kevin Owens = Dean Ambrose #2: Yet another guy who stands in the vicinity while the main eventers do programs around him. Sheamus attacks Orton after the match, Cesaro makes the save, but Owens drills him with the pop-up powerbomb. This was yet another dreary encounter on a really bland show.
Final Rating: *1/2
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Seth Rollins
Mackle reminds us that John Cena is a fifteen-time World Champion, one reign away from tying Ric Flair’s record. Well, the WWE version of his record, at least. I have no doubt in my mind that Cena will do it before he winds down his career, and to be honest I can see him hitting twenty.
Tangent: WWE’s new thing is smashing records, determined to completely erase their past so they can promote the current crop as the greatest of all time. In recent years they have ruined a number of long-standing Royal Rumble records on a whim (I am still furious that The Warlord’s record went by the wayside), next year they are going to announce WrestleMania 32 outdrawing WrestleMania III (irrespective of whether it does or not), and Ric Flair’s sixteen title runs is quite obviously next if the announcers are directly referencing it. They don't have the nous to come up with factoids like that on their own. They never say anything without prior approval first. It’s one of the reasons the commentary feels so robotic and one-track all of the time.
Little happens in the first phase of the match prior to commercial. When we return, Seth is running heat to crowd silence. Cena’s brief comeback wakes them up, and they run a nice sequence where Cena goes for his trademarks and Seth escapes using smart wrestling. When Seth cuts him off with an enzuigiri, the places drops completely silent again. Cena fires back again with a swish tornado DDT, but Rollins escapes and scores with a topé. Seth hits a top rope flying knee to the face, but Cena gets his hands up far too early and it looks totally fake. “Listen to the matches we have seen tonight for the first time!” bellows Cole suddenly, before reeling off the list of mundane matches we have had to endure tonight. Don’t remind us of it!
The two combatants engage in a slugfest, ending when Seth dives at Cena with a flying knee that would have stopped most UFC fighters. It sure makes up for the crappy top rope knee a minute ago Cena doesn't get his hands up at all this time, so Seth connects directly with his nose, smashing it open. Blood pours from Cena, but he has no interest in waiting for the doctor to clear him to continue, or to stop the bleeding, and he carries on like a champ. Cena doesn't pussy out of anything, and I wouldn't have blamed him if he had, quite frankly. A doctors eventually jumps in to check on the injury (it’s a broken nose, I can tell that from here) and stop the bleeding (boo). For some reason, the ref doesn't don gloves like they usually do when blood is involved. The matches continues, and Cena takes a bunch of moves from Seth, then comes back with his wacky Stunner (which Seth barely sells) and tries for the AA. Seth flips out and connects with a superkick to the side of the head for a near fall. The crowd thinks it is awesome, but I am not going there again this week. It’s a good match, the blood makes it better, but it is not awesome. It approaches that when Cena scores with a super surprise AA for a near fall, and Seth comes back with a superplex and a sitout jackhammer in a great sequence. During that we get a close-up look at Cena’s nose, and it is an absolute mess. It’s on the wrong side of his face! Cena manages to survive Seth’s onslaught and locks on the STF for the win. The match wasn't anything close to Cena’s epics with Kevin Owens and Cesaro, but the fact that he worked the last five minutes at full tilt with a broken, bloody nose is impressive. Kudos to the man for saving the show once again.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena. Another superb performance from a man who has turned me from a hater into a fan with his remarkable workrate in 2015.
Least Entertaining: Nikki Bella. She belongs in a different profession.
Quote of the Night: “Don’t you know that Stephanie McMahon is the one who made the revolution happen.” - Sasha Banks.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
Summary: Man, oh man, this was a boring show. The “first time ever” aspect added nothing, with the matches failing to deliver up and down the card. The only real angle was the bizarre situation involving Rusev, Summer, Lana and a headless fish. It was like a skit from Tuesday Night Titans. Without Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and the weekly Cesaro classic, the show was severely lacking. After last week, this was a major comedown. WWE repeat this pattern constantly. They do something good, they get plaudits, then the following week they present the most mundane tosh imaginable. A real slog to endure other than the main event.