I was wrong last week; it wasn't my third Raw in a row, but my fourth, meaning this is an unprecedented fifth in succession for me. Meanwhile, Arnold Furious is waxing lyrical about near 5* Ishii matches in New Japan’s G-1 Climax. Sometimes life just isn't fair.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
This is an overly-familiar sight. Seth is sporting new apparel in the form of a mock John Cena shirt that reads “Never Shuts Up” on the front. We get another airing of the footage where Rollins broke Cena’s nose two weeks ago, leading to JBL stating in monotone, “That’s why he is the future of the WWE”. He is like one of those toys that has a set number of phrases, where you press a button to activate them. Rollins makes an awful joke about how Cena being “Mr. You Can’t See Knee”, then questions why he hasn't answered his challenged to a title vs. title match at SummerSlam. “John Cena isn't straight outta Compton, he’s straight outta action.” The scripting is bad tonight. Rollins says that if Cena doesn't want to come and lose to him like a man at SummerSlam, then he can turn up and forfeit his United States Championship. Rollins notes that Cena is scheduled for Tough Enough tomorrow night, and points out that he must be fine after all, and simply running scared from him. Please, do not take this feud to that show. Seth then does a weird bit where from the ring he has a conversation with someone at ringside - even though no one is talking to him - and says Cena is here... via satellite. Cue more of WWE’s trademark bad comedy, which is a picture of Cena and his smashed up face, with Rollins’ lips super-imposed over the top making ha-has. Rollins has a conversation with “Cena”, the latter of whom says he is going to give up. It’s really cheesy. Rollins brings up last week’s open challenge with Neville, putting him over for coming close but saying he doesn't have what it takes to be a champion.
Cue Cesaro, who rags on Seth for going on and on and on and on and on and on and on... I have been saying this for weeks. Cesaro - who is suited and booted and looks like a modern-day Ric Flair - wants to take on Seth tonight for the WWE Championship. Rollins refuses because his open challenge last week was a one-time deal, which brings out Kevin Owens. He says Cesaro doesn't deserve a title match because he has done nothing to warrant one, then mentions the fan who printed out thousands of “Cesaro Section” signs last week and handed them out to everyone. He has to, because the same wonderful human being has done the same thing again. The place is full of them. Owens buries the audience for being sheep who just want to hold up a sign, then tells Rollins that he has beaten Cena so if anyone deserves a title shot, it is him. Owens points out that of the three of them, only he has beaten Cena, though we are conveniently forgetting his two defeats to Cena following that momentous win.
Randy Orton turns up to spoil the fun, which the announcers think is the segment “getting better”. Orton throws in a line from the office, asking Owens if he has put on weight recently. “No,” replies Owens nonplussed. Orton wants a shot as well, predictably, even though he has had plenty and blown them all. Seth reiterates his point that he is not doing an open challenge tonight, regardless of what anyone, including The Authority thinks. That brings out an irritated Triple H, who doesn't care for Seth’s choice of words. He informs us (of the lie) that John Cena is only 50/50 to make SummerSlam, and that there is turmoil in the WWE ranks because of it. With that in mind he makes a triple threat match between the three would-be contenders, and promises the winner a shot at Seth Rollins for the title in the main event. Predictable booking, but it should give us two decent matches. Well, unless Randy Orton wins. Then it will only be one.
Team Bella vs. Team B.A.D.
This looks like a nightmare on paper. Team PCB join commentary, and for those wondering who they are, it is Paige, Charlotte and Becky Lynch, who have dropped the Submission Sorority name after one week because it turns out to be the name of a porn website. Oh ho ho. In a VT, Sasha calls the Bellas the Belladashians, which is pretty much the perfect way to describe them. Naomi and Alicia do some surprisingly competent stuff, then Nikki comes in... She tries to put an armbar on, but can’t figure out the mechanics so just awkwardly holds Naomi’s arm instead. The crowd loudly chant, “We want Sasha” and afford her a big pop when she comes in, which is pleasing. I hope it really irks Nikki Bella that a newbie is already far more over than she ever has been, and indeed ever will be. After commercial Sasha has a chinlock applied on Nikki, so Brie and Alicia try and get some support going for her from the crowd. Are they babyfaces this week? The crowd answer that with a resounding no when Sasha smacks Brie off the apron. Meanwhile on commentary, Paige buries the Bellas and says what everyone else has been thinking for years. “The Bellas started this revolution? They wish. They’re ruining the division.” Fact. Because her husband is Daniel Bryan, and we are in his hometown, Brie gets a ridiculously over the top reaction to a hot tag, and the crowd chant along when she hits all of Bryan’s moves. “She can’t come up with her own stuff,” snipes Paige, who is already the runaway leader for tonight’s “Most Entertaining” award. Brie ends up pinning the equally dreadful Tamina with a roll up for the win, which leads to a brawl between all nine girls out there. A far better match than I expected given who was involved, but still a million miles away from revolutionary. At least the crowd was into it though.
Final Rating: **
Los Matadores vs. The New Day
In Michael Cole’s world, this is an “important match”. The action is fine, but the commentary is a disaster. At one point Cole starts reading out tweets from the New Day in that irritating way that he does, right in the middle of an argument between JBL and Byron Saxton because the former called Bryon “Michael”. Cole just talks right over the top of them, as if he has an unstoppable need to get his shit in at the expense of everything else. What an ignorant little prick. New Day get the win following a nice DDT/flapjack double team, then do some bad dancing afterwards. Filler.
Final Rating: *
Renee Young catches a word with New Day backstage, and they are in a celebratory mood because of their win. Renee tells them they have been booked against the Prime Time Players at SummerSlam, but also Los Matadores and The Lucha Dragons. What a division, huh? New Day are not impressed because it just rendered their win entirely pointless, but try and stay positive. New Day name a trio of teams that might as well get added to the bout since everyone is involved, name-checking Harlem Heat, Doom and Men on a Mission. Is it coincidence that they are all black teams? Of course not, this is WWE. The latter is impossible what with Mabel being dead and all, which they should probably know given his widow is suing WWE.
Elsewhere, Seth pisses and moans to Triple H about having to defend his title again tonight. Hunter tells him he will be fine because he is going to be wrestling someone who has just competed in a tough triple-threat. All that does is point out the weaknesses in the booking. It’s like when guys bury their opponent before wrestling them. Who gets over? Either you look like a loser if you get beat, or you only beat a loser if you win.
WWE Championship Number #1 Contender’s Match
Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro
This is good from the off, with Randy seeming to up his game to match the far more interesting workers he is in there with. With the triple threat rules, Randy is unable to do his usual boring grind, and instead is forced to get creative. He does so with a series of well executed t-bone suplexes, and has fun on the outside back suplexing Owens into the barricade. Owens gets his own kicks mocking Orton, while Cesaro is simply Cesaro, and everything he does is worth watching. Things slow down when they begin to pair off a little more, though not too much that it becomes dull. Cesaro and Orton engage in an uppercut battle, which Cesaro of course wins, only for Orton to come back with a clothesline. Cesaro counters back with a crossface, and because the ropes can’t save him, Orton is forced to climb out of the ring to break the hold. Owens makes his return by sending Cesaro to the outside, then hits an insane flip plancha (“a flying bus” - announcers) to take us into commercial. Jesus, where did that come from?
After the break, Owens is in control of Cesaro and connects with a cannonball in the corner for a near fall. Owens goes up top where he gets cut off by Orton, who combines with Cesaro to drill Owens with a double superplex. The brief alliance breaks down immediately because they both want to get the pin, and we go to another uppercut fight between them. Orton loses again, and he should know better really, then Cesaro hits him with the giant swing and locks on a Sharpshooter. Owens causes the break and nearly wins with a schoolboy, then Orton regains control. He drills both with the draping DDT, to which Cole bellows “vintage vintage Randy Orton”. Please shut up! Randy goes for the RKO on Cesaro, but gets pushed off and into the ropes, where Owens trips him, pulls him out, and sends him into the barricade with an SOS. Cesaro immediately takes Owens out with a corkscrew plancha, then back in the ring he “flies around like a cruiserweight” in pursuit of victory. Owens and Cesaro fight up top, and Owens ends up going for his flip senton only to connect with knees. All of a sudden Randy Orton is back, and he drills both men with RKOs and covers Cesaro for the win. Urgh, fuck off WWE, you tedious, predictable, samey, idealess, mundane motherfuckers. I cannot take any more of Randy Orton at the top of this promotion. What more does Cesaro need to do to be given the opportunities he deserves? Or Owens, for that matter? Yes, it was a really good match, but Randy Orton winning leaves a sour taste, one which completely puts a dampener on any enjoyment I had watching the bout. Orton vs. Rollins? Well whoop de frigging do. It’s not like I haven't seen that match a dozen times this year already. It seems Rollins-Orton is WWE’s last minute Plan B in case John Cena really is unable to make SummerSlam, or indeed if Sheamus doesn't recover from his concussion and Orton has no one to wrestle.
Final Rating: ****
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns do a promo outlining why they are real friends, while Bray is simply using Luke Harper.
Talking Heads Discuss Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
Or in other words, neither Brock or Undertaker are here tonight. It’s a nice hype video, outlining the full recent history of the Undertaker-Lesnar rivalry, with plenty of background on both prior to the end of The Streak, and indeed what has happened since. It is nothing we haven't seen before, but tied nicely together with a little bow around it does increase anticipation for the match.
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
WWE are claiming this is to “whet the appetite”. I call it running a program into the ground. The match announced for SummerSlam is the ex-Shield guys sans Seth Rollins against the Wyatts, which is apparently “family versus family”. Even though none of them are related. At one point Sting was set to be involved in this match and it was set to be a six-man tag with an unknown third member of the Wyatts. Then Vince McMahon decided against using Sting for reasons only known to himself. Now the match has no appeal, because we have seen it all before a couple of years ago, only it was better because everyone in it was more over than they are now. JBL throws out a few comparisons, making his usual claim that Luke Harper reminds him of Bruiser Brody, and that Dean Ambrose is Brian Pillman. He wishes. Oddly, JBL claims Ambrose is “Hollywood Blondes Pillman” because he is so out of control. Not his specifically out of control “loose cannon” gimmick then? The match is pretty drab, with a quiet crowd not helping matters. Harper wins it with a clothesline, so it is safe to assume Ambrose and Reigns are going over at SummerSlam.
Final Rating: *1/2
Miz TV: Daniel Bryan
The place is rocking for the hometown hero, who get a kick out of being able to do their “Yes” chants. A spontaneous “Daniel Bryan” chant breaks out, so Miz shuts them up. Well, he tries and fails. Instead they just chant yes again, then yell “No” at Miz when he tries to talk. It’s pretty cool, actually. Bryan says he didn't actually come here to be on Miz TV, he just didn't want to miss Raw from his homeland. Cue some cheat heat bits, before Miz tries to take credit for Bryan’s success. Bryan laughs at the notion, mocks Miz’s upcoming movie Santa’s Little Helper, and with it the entire farcical disaster that is the WWE Films division. Miz turns focus onto Bryan’s health, gloating how he personally has never had an injury in his career. Dangerous talk if you are the superstitious type. Bryan says he has been keeping himself busy writing a New York Times bestselling book while he has been on the shelf, and also acting as a judge on “the greatest show in the history of the earth”, Tough Enough. His mocking of lame WWE products amuses me. Miz turns his attention to Ryback, who he thinks should forfeit the IC Title. Bryan doesn't quite agree, then Big Show turns up to ruin the fun. The crowd greet him with a chant of “please retire”, which Show actually bites on by telling them to find someone who can retire him. Right on cue, Ryback makes his return after a few weeks out with a staph infection. Miz tries to bail, only for Bryan to throw him back in the ring where he gets mauled by both guys. Strangely enough, this match has far more going for it now with an extra month of build, and with WWE unable to ruin it by having all three guys repeatedly work with each other every week. Regarding Bryan; it is interesting that no mention was made of when he will be returning to action, and probably not a good sign. With each week that goes by it increasingly feels like Bryan might well be done. And that would be a real shame.
WWE show a Charlotte hype video in which she puts over Ronda Rousey, then announce that there will be a three team elimination match between the Diva teams at SummerSlam. It sounds like a clusterfuck.
Rusev vs. Mark Henry
Because last week’s match was so good? According to Cole, these two have had “quite the rivalry”. Have they really? Quite the shit rivalry, that much is true. Lana is doing commentary, as the guest announcer spot gets completely overused once again. She says Dolph Ziggler will be back after SummerSlam. So much for the proposed Rusev-Ziggler bout at the supercard. Almost immediately Summer gets on the apron to distract Henry, so Lana pulls her off. Summer throws her in the ring where she looks up at Rusev from her knees, then Summer takes her out and viciously rams her face-first into the canvas. For whatever reason, that is a DQ. Summer continues the assault and locks Lana in the Accolade, then a Bulgarian flag with a huge picture of Rusev drops from the ceiling. This was a decent segment, and I was pleased the match practically didn't happen, but where is it going? If Ziggler is back after SummerSlam, what was this designed to build? Please not Summer vs. Lana. That would be the worst match of the year.
Final Rating: N/R
Next we get an awesome comic strip style video highlighting Neville’s tremendous performance against Seth Rollins last week, interlaced with footage of his arch nemesis Stardust mocking his defeat. It’s the first time WWE have really embraced the superhero/super villain aspect of the program properly, and it makes it that much more interesting a program. The hype videos have all been really good tonight.
Neville vs. King Barrett
This goes for maybe a minute before Neville hits a kick and finishes Barrett with the Red Arrow. I don't know what Barrett has done wrong, but it isn't nothing, that’s for sure. He is only one step away from being a taller Zack Ryder on the WWE totem pole. After the bout, Stardust attacks Neville, then spots Arrow star Steven Amell in the crowd, the man he has been feuding with on social media. He has a stare down with the actor then pie faces him, so Amell hops the barrier, jumps in one leap onto the apron then hurdles over the ropes before spearing Stardust and unloading on him with punches. He looks great! WWE security break them up and hold Amell back, as Cole lectures him for being a fan getting in the ring, which is “never good”. For sure, that’s a direct response to an incident on a house show this past week where a fan threw a briefcase at Roman Reign’s head. Stardust gets dragged away by Barrett, as Cole mutters, “I think Stephen Amell realises that he did wrong there.” He is such a snivelling goody-two-shoes toad. Another good segment though, with Amell coming out of this looking great.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Backstage, Triple H confronts Amell and Neville, yelling at the actor for nearly getting himself killed. They argue the toss, and Amell says he wants to take care of Stardust. Neville suggests the two of them team up to take on Stardust and Barrett at SummerSlam, but Hunter refuses. He has no intention of an actor getting murdered on his show. Amell fires back that he might not be a wrestler, but he is a man, then yells in Hunter’s face for him to make the match. It’s a better promo than anyone else’s tonight by some distance. Amell says he will sign anything Hunter wants to keep the lawyers happy and to take culpability away from him, so Hunter finally agrees. At SummerSlam it will be the Green Arrow and the Red Arrow against Stardust and King Barrett. It sounds fun. I hope Neville and Amell come in costume. Amell has been a real asset to tonight’s show.
Renee Young interviews Sheamus, who can’t work for a few weeks due to a concussion. It’s karma. Sheamus was the one responsible for putting Bryan on the shelf with a dangerous beating on SmackDown. Sheamus cuts a nonsense promo, suggesting that he might cash in the briefcase tonight.
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton
As much as I had no desire whatsoever to see this, I will begrudgingly admit that it is still a decent enough TV match. That much was never really in doubt, they always have fairly good matches together, it’s more the tediously predictable WWE mentality that turns me off. Back in the glory days when everyone was protected and guys rarely worked with each other on TV, it was a rare occasion and thus an important one when two stars collided. It never got to the stage where you would be bored because you had seen something so many times already, yet nearly every potential match-up in WWE feels that way nowadays, especially Randy Orton bouts. He has been around non-stop for over a decade, and he was worked with everyone. What more is there for him to do? They do some fairly nice stuff, and it looks like we have a new champion when Randy catches Seth coming off the top with an amazing RKO. Thankfully/disappointingly, depending on your perspective, Sheamus turns up and pulls Orton out of the ring, drawing the DQ. Following that, Sheamus takes out Orton then smashes Seth with the Brogue Kicks, and hands the referee the MITB briefcase to cash in. For some reason Sheamus and the ref engage in a tug-o-war over the case, which was done so Randy Orton could sneak in and prevent the cash in with the RKO, but looked ridiculous. Man, I hope Cena is back in time for SummerSlam.
Final Rating: **3/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Cesaro. The best worker in the company, without question.
Least Entertaining: The Bellas. Their match was not bad tonight, by their standards, but Nikki is still incompetent, and Brie remains very annoying. The odd good match doesn't change the fact that they are the cancers of the Divas division.
Quote of the Night: “The Bellas started this revolution? They wish. They’re ruining the division.” - Paige
Match of the Night: Randy Orton vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens. It blew away everything else, irrespective of the toss booking.
Summary: Much to my surprise, this was one of the best Raws of the year. There was a lot of good on display, with yet another 4* match, some strong segments, and more focus on the direction they are going than usual. Combined, that made for a very watchable broadcast, which dragged far less than it usually does. I disagree with some of the samey booking, but I guess it doesn't really matter who wins and loses. It’s more frustrating than anything else. For a show without John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker and Paul Heyman, the stars of recent weeks, this was definitely a success. Hopefully WWE can keep this momentum next week on the go-home for SummerSlam.