We are on the final stop before SummerSlam, with the go-home edition of Raw featuring a loaded line-up of stars. Namely Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker, both of whom are scheduled to appear. It will be interesting to see how they are used, because I struggle to see how they can top their epic pull-apart brawl from a few weeks ago. After a recent run of much stronger shows than usual (three of the last four episodes have been pretty good), I am cautiously optimistic going into tonight’s broadcast. Fool that I am.
Promo Time: The Authority
Well, that sanguinity didn't last for long. Christmas has come early for Stephanie, who puts over the excitement of the Road to SummerSlam, which she naturally reminds everyone is available on the Network for... $9.99. Oh, that is back. How utterly fantastic. Hunter gives us the drawn-out hard sell for the card. He takes so long that he drones through a video on the Titantron, so when Steph starts talking about Lesnar and Taker both being here tonight, the vid shows John Cena and Seth Rollins. How pleasingly unfortunate. The rest of the promo takes place over the SummerSlam theme, which is mildly irritating. They continue to ramble on and on about the matches, which is about the most mind-numbing way possible to hype a pay-per-view. Steph reckons the matches are not even the most exciting part, she thinks that is the announcement of Jon Stewart as the guest host for the show. How much more are they going to try and cram into this pay-per-view? I quite enjoyed Stewart on Raw a few months ago, but I am not particularly interesting in him as host. Whatever though, WWE gets off on these celebrity tie-ins. This was a dreary introduction to tonight’s broadcast. It was like one of those old-school wrap up segments that Todd Pettengill used to do during Raw in the mid-nineties, only in the ring and with a backing track. And with (honestly) more annoying presenters!
Randy Orton & Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens & Sheamus
Michael Cole calls SummerSlam “epic” a couple of times, then announces to the casuals that ESPN will be covering the card all day, with none other than Jonathan Coachman hosting. What a prospect, huh? This match is standard lazy WWE booking, throwing two pay-per-view matches together in a throwaway tag bout that only serves to lessen the interest in the forthcoming singles bout. It is counterproductive booking to the extreme. When did the concept of keeping rivals apart until the big payoff become a thing of the past? More to the point, why did it? Cesaro is over big again, with more fans waving around “Cesaro section” signs in the audience, leading me to suspect that WWE are now actively encouraging what started as one man’s quest to help get the guy over. “Pound for pound, perhaps the strongest man in WWF,” reckons Mackle, who has apparently forgot that Mark Henry works here. It is stupid throwaway comments like that which make him lack any credibility. After a slow heat, Cesaro springs to life and comfortably outworks Sheamus in a nice sequence. Orton steals in to take glory, failing to RKO Owens, but connecting with Sheamus for the win. Put your bets on Sheamus at SummerSlam.
Final Rating: **1/4
Undertaker does an old-school style backstage promo with the full shebang - purple lighting, smoke, grim reaper voice. He says Brock’s name has been called by the reaper, and that he will never rest in peace.
After more footage of Seth Rollins breaking Cena’s nose, Seth has a confab with The Authority. He wants a favour: after his beats Cena, he wants a statue of himself in WWE headquarters. It seems he fancies himself as worthy of rubbing shoulders alongside the likes of legends Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant and The Ultimate Warrior. No mention of Hulk Hogan, obviously. Steph and Hunter promises to give him a statue if he brings home both titles at SummerSlam.
Roman Reigns vs. Luke Harper
It is only the second match of the night, and yet this is the third SummerSlam match come early that they have blown on free TV already. How do they not understand that having the same guys wrestle each out repeatedly is incredibly dull? All combinations of the four guys in the SummerSlam tag match have worked with each other in singles matches over the past month, killing any interest I might have had in the PPV encounter. It is maddening. “It seems like we’re gonna be entering the Ambrose asylum, because Dean has put on a headset and joined us on commentary” - Cole, talking shite. Again. How nice to see a fresh piece of creative; we never have guest commentators on this show usually... The role doesn't suit Ambrose at all, who tries so hard to be wacky and out there that he comes off as a cartoon. At this stage he is more Norman the Lunatic than Brian Pillman. He also doesn't want to sit next to JBL, because he was mean to him, so he moves to the other side of the desk. Aww, poor Dean. Did that big, nasty Texan call you a nasty name? There, there. It’s pathetic! Can you imagine Steve Austin reacting in that manner when he was in his pomp? Of course not. The only positive to Ambrose commentating is it leaves Saxton without a chair, and doing commentary on his knees. The match is absolutely secondary to the Dean Ambrose commentary show, thought it comes to life, for two seconds, when Harper kicks Roman’s face off. It is one of the best big boots I have ever seen. “Brody used to do a kick just like that,” chips JBL, getting in his weekly delusional theory that Harper is the second coming of the legendary Bruiser Brody. “I bet he didn't kick that hard.” - Ambrose. Oh, I am fairly sure he did, Dean. Harper follows his moment of excitement with a chinlock. How thrilling. Harper uses a few more kicks, then Roman fights back to a chorus of mostly apathy. Spear, game over. The announcing killed this match dead for me.
Final Rating: *
Tamina vs. Becky Lynch
It’s nice to finally see Becky get a singles match on the show, but why, oh why, does it have to be opposite the walking disaster that is Tamina Snuka. She is a brutal worker - wildly uncoordinated and with the most wooden facials since Chyna. The Bellas and their third wheel stand in WWE’s favourite pose - the unnatural circle - and watch the action unfold. Upon receiving her cue that the director is focusing on them, Nikki points to something on the screen. Even though nothing is going on. The staging for all of the backstage stuff in this company needs to change. It is so hokey. Tamina controls with her beasty power offence, but because no one cares about Tamina, no one cares about the match either. Becky gets a pounding then makes a token comeback, before finishing with the Disarmer out of nowhere. A horrible way to showcase the best female worker in the company. Revolution my arse.
Final Rating: ½*
Rusev vs. Mark Henry
For the third week in a row no less. And to make matters worse, we have guest commentary again! Lana already proved she had zero aptitude for the task last week, yet here she is again, wheeled out because they need her for the post match angle, and unable to find a more interesting way to get her there. She is equally rubbish at it this week. What is even her role these days, other than wallflower? WWE have killed her character stone dead. And Rusev’s, for that matter. He comes out with a proxy Lana anyway, so all he has done is stayed the same, only slightly worse. Who benefitted from the split? What did it achieve? Why did they do it? The rationale, from what I can tell, was that Lana is too pretty to stay heel. Idiots. “There’s no one stronger than Mark Henry, he’s the world’s strongest man.” - JBL. I refer back to Michael Cole’s dopey claims about Cesaro in the opener. Mark Henry gets far more offence than you would expect, throwing the once invincible Rusev around like a jobber. “For the win,” says Cole after a Henry near fall. It’s like fucking groundhog day. Rusev eventually takes over and gets distracted by Lana’s presence, but incredibly it doesn’t cause him to lose via a roll up! Instead he scores with the Accolade for the win. I never need to see these two wrestle again.
Final Rating: DUD
Post match, Lana calls Summer out for a fight. Summer pulls her usual chin-heavy expressions in response. After both taking their shoes off they go face to face, and Lana demolishes her with a slap of justice. Then she calls out Rusev with the intention of giving him the same treatment. Rusev intimidates her, and the crowd call for Dolph Ziggler, who turns up on cue. He kicks ass Rusev’s ass, but the Bulgarian pulls his new beau in the way of a superkick. Ziggler stops short before taking her face off. Shame. Lana shows her athletic side by smashing Summer with a kick, and with her out of the way Dolph hits his own. Following the humiliating beating, Ziggler makes out with Lana in front of her real life boyfriend. Wrestling is weird like that. Afterwards, Dolph says he wants Rusev at SummerSlam, pushing us up to ten matches and a guest host by my count. It is like a SummerSlam card from the eighties.
The Miz vs. Ryback
I don't believe it. I honest do not BELIEVE IT! Big Show is out here... ON COMMENTARY! What is wrong with this company!? I have never known a wrestling promotion in history so bereft of original ideas. At this stage, I genuinely believe that Vince Russo would improve their product. Yes. I really said that. Show, schizophrenic yoyo that he is, acts like a babyface this week. And blow me down, if it isn't another tinkered with variation of an upcoming pay-per-view match. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with this writing team? “Here’s a man who’s become a star on Tough Enough,” says Cole, referring to Miz judging on the useless 2015 version of the show, rather than the fact he came through that series (though didn't win it) a decade ago. I find it amusing that Cole thinks Miz has only recently become a star because of that show. What about when he main evented WrestleMania!? Ryback smashes through the hapless Miz with ease, while Show makes the funnies behind the desk. He soon gets the job done with Shellshock, prompting Cole to ask, “Can Ryback do that to Miz or Big Show come Sunday”. Well, he can obviously do it to Miz! Another crappy match.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Post match., Ryback calls out Show. Show goes heel again and walks away. What a useless lunk.
SummerSlam Contract Signing
“And now it is time for the contract signing,” informs Steph, who feels the need to spell out the goddamn obvious. Seth talks about himself as usual, gets some cheap heat as usual, and makes grandiose proclamations as usual. Then he rags on Cena for holding the WWE hostage for the past decade, saying he is not a hero, but a villain. “Yes, Yes, Yes” agree the crowd. A few years ago that might have been the case, sure, but Cena is hands down the wrestler of the year in WWE. “John Cena is a disease” says the heel champion, playing to the crowd like a mark. He continues to go to town on Cena, claiming his now famous knee to the face was his way of “injecting the serum to cure WWE”. It certainly needs curing, but Cena is far from the problem. Seth continues to rant on, calling Cena a coward for not answering his challenge on Raw, and instead accepting from thousands of miles away on Tough Enough. Yeah, that was a dumb thing WWE did. Add it to the list.
Cena eventually comes out, making his first Raw appearance since the nose break, which was apparently enough time to get some new bright orange gear made with “15x Champion” emblazoned on the back. That seems like a shirt with a limited shelf life. It should be noted that there is absolutely no sign that Cena has recently suffered a badly broken nose. There is no mark, no blemish, no crook, nothing. The guy heals like Wolverine. Cena notes the usual mixed reaction, which he is of course very used to by now, and points out that while the fans are passionate about him one way or another, that nobody is saying a damn thing about Seth. Well, why would they? He is a bland, grating character who has been repeatedly booked to look like a lucky chump who is hanging onto his title by a thread. Cena shouts at Seth for being a Cena rip-off and a disgrace to the title, which at this point is about fair. Of Seth’s recent mocking of his catchphrases and mannerisms, Cena says deadpan, “So very, very original Seth. Nobody has ever done that before.” What a great way to bury the writing! One point to John Cena.
Cena continues to destroy Seth, ragging on him for not living up to Triple H’s hand-picked billing. It’s an odd route to take mind, because he sounds like he is sympathising with The Authority. Is he disappointed in Seth? Is that the deal here now? Whatever the case, Cena appreciated the extra week off to think about how he could get revenge on Seth, ruling out breaking any of his bones in an eye for an eye response, but rather he plans to do something that will haunt him. “I am a fifteen-time champion... you see where I am going with this? You see, I designed this gear months ago...” The gist is, he wants Ric Flair’s (WWE approved) title run record. Because no record is sacred in WWE these days of course. Cena points out that the record is currently held by Hunter’s mentor, so it will be a double whammy: he loses if Seth loses. “You are an answer to a trivia question,” he tells Seth, “All you are gonna be is the answer to the question: ‘who did John Cena beat to become sixteen-time World Heavyweight Champion?” This all sounds like good motivation for Triple H to interfere at SummerSlam. “There’s one major difference here: Triple H was never Ric Flair’s bitch. This Sunday, I’m gonna make you mine”. Boom, promo schooled. Seth, Triple H and Steph ranged from pointless to droning here, but Cena was excellent.
The Prime Time Players & Lucha Dragons vs. New Day & Los Matadores
You cannot be serious! Another SummerSlam match come early in a slightly altered form. Jesus Christ. Barely anything happens because time is so short, though Titus again looks really good. His charisma is unique and beginning to get him over. Xavier jumps on the apron to distract, but gets into it with El Torito, even though they are on the same team! The fannying around leads to Kalisto getting the pin on one of the Matadores.
Final Rating: ½*
We get an awesome video detailing the recent issues involving Stardust, King Barrett, Neville and Steven Amell, done in superhero comic strip style. I cannot believe it, but Stardust is actually growing on me. He is finally going fully over the top and becoming a Joker/Riddler-esque super-villain, and it works well. In a VT, Barrett gets a gift from Stardust - a swanky new cape from Stardust, and becomes a new, super-villain character: “The Cosmic King”. Now we are talking! Make everyone into a comic book character! It is larger than life. I love it.
Nikki Bella vs. Sasha Banks
It is champion versus champion, and also the blind leading the inexperienced. Like all of the women’s matches since the quote unquote revolution, it gets a lot of time. Of course, that doesn't help it because Nikki Bella is involved, and she typically struggles to entertain in three minutes, never mind ten. If ever there was a match that proved this “new” division is in fact a botched together identikit version of the insipid old one, it is this. Nikki is woeful, relying on rest holds far too much, and walking around pulling dopey expressions after every move. Pay attention next time you are unfortunate enough to watch Nikki wrestle - She is constantly staring off into the crowd, as if seeking approval because she is “trying hard”. Try harder. Try harder to fuck off out of wrestling. Nikki shows her abilities with a kick from the ropes that misses by at least a foot, which the director doesn't quite manage to save. Sasha sells it anyway. The crowd get so fed up of the shitty wrestling and a generally bland show that they turn on the match and start loudly chanting, “We want Lesnar!” Nikki reacts with her usual expression of haughty derision. The only good thing about the match is Sasha going over with the Bank Statement (a distraction finish mind, thanks to Naomi), but no matter how much Nikki jobs, she still has the Diva’s Championship, and will not be letting go of it until that AJ record is gone.
Final Rating: ¼*
I am not even going to comment on an interview from PCB, which is so fake and over-staged, not to mention cringe-worthy, that it makes me shudder.
Promo Time: Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman
The return of the prodigal son is met with the expected rousing response. So much so that they don't stop cheering when Heyman is ready to go into his promo, so Paul gets on his knees and starts bowing to him. Brock smiles, but then the whole damn crowd to it too! Amazing stuff. And Brock deserves it, too. Heyman then breaks into song, to the tune of what football fans will know as ‘Glory Glory Man United’. Lesnar is having a whale of a time out there, until an ominous dong, erm, of a bell, not a concerning penis, ends the celebrations. The lights go out, but there is no sign of Undertaker. Brock and Paul laugh it off and get back to business. For Heyman, that means cutting another fantastic promo, which again demonstrates how much better than everyone else on this roster he is behind the stick. For anyone not already intending to watch SummerSlam, Heyman just changed their minds. He is the last of a dying - actually, pretty much entirely dead - breed who can “talk them into the building”. When Heyman finishes his promo, the dong hits again and the lights go dark, and this time Undertaker is stood in the ring when they come back on. Taker repeats his actions from the last pay-per-view by kicking Brock firmly in the nuts, leaving no doubt as to who is the babyface and who is the heel in this program. It is the first time Undertaker has been positioned as such since 2002, and indeed, the first time his “proper” (as in, not UnderBiker) character has been a villain since the Ministry of Darkness days in 1999. He will still get cheered in WWE stronghold New York at SummerSlam anyway mind you, because he is an icon. As we are in Brock’s hometown and this is pro wrestling, Lesnar gets a kicking without reply, taking a chokeslam and the Tombstone to end the show. Not a patch on the brawl from a few weeks ago, but thanks to Heyman and the rowdy crowd, it was fine.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Paul Heyman. It will be a sad day when WWE stop using him to get people to actually give a damn about their product. He should be doing more than tri-monthly appearances to talk for Brock. He could be a real asset to others, as he was to CM Punk.
Least Entertaining: Hmm. Let’s see... Nikki Bella! Actually, throw Dean Ambrose in there too. His commentary was appalling.
Quote of the Night: “All you are gonna be is the answer to the question: ‘Who did John Cena beat to become sixteen-time World Heavyweight Champion?” - John Cena to Seth Rollins.
Match of the Night: Cesaro & Randy Orton vs. Sheamus & Kevin Owens
Summary: Hard work to endure. We have been spoilt of late by a weekly four-star match featuring Neville, John Cena, Cesaro or (occasionally) Seth Rollins, but of those four only Cesaro worked a match, and Neville wasn't even on the show other than in a VT. What we go in the ring was fairly drastic, either dull and uninspired, or quick and pointless filler. The ironically named “creative team” were again a real issue, with the horrible booking damaging the show. Three guest commentary spots, again, not to mention all of the SummerSlam undercard condensed into slightly altered versions of the bouts tonight, rendering much of the upcoming PPV pointless. All it now exists for is to “right” the booking with even steven BS. Without Brock, Heyman, Cena, and some great work from the video department for the Stardust and co vid, this was a horrible show.