We’re in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Center. The same building that hosted the amazing NXT show TakeOver Brooklyn on Saturday. That, combined with the G1 Climax, has been my wrestling viewing over the past month. I have been spoiled rotten by professional wrestling. Returning to my Raw duties may be a bit of a comedown. Or perhaps not. I seem to be on a lucky streak.
Incidentally; massive thanks to James Dixon for covering Raw over the past five weeks or so giving me the time to work on the G1. If you’re not a New Japan fan now would be a fantastic time to get onboard. New Japan World is ridiculous value and they put on the best wrestling matches in the world.
Incidentally, again, this was the hardest Raw to watch all year so far. Normally there’s a version somewhere on YouTube that’s fairly watchable. I have Sky but not Sky+ so I’m not waiting until 4pm this afternoon to watch the show, and it’s not on the Network. If it was I’d watch it on there but it isn’t. I’m paying all this money out every month and I can’t watch the shows I want to watch. It’s a ridiculous economy that makes no sense. Anyway, after an exhaustive search (over 30 minutes) I finally found a stream.
Video Control starts us off in the back. Triple H is with WWE and United States champion Seth Rollins. “You’re not the future of the WWE anymore. You’re not the future. You are the man”. Triple H’s pep talk results in Seth having a statue made in his honour. What’s the betting that’s tonight’s “main event”?
Promo Time: Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
“Hashtag BrockvsTaker” says Michael Cole for no apparent reason. It’s not even in any context. Is Michael Cole a robot? “What the hell happened here last night?” asks Heyman. What indeed. Heyman calls the controversial finish unjust. This is the problem with Sportz Entertainment. You build up a big match and know you can’t deliver a clean finish because you want to do a big re-match. That’s not what happens in UFC. You build up a main event and two guys fight and one guy wins. Simple. Heyman gives us a replay of Taker tapping out for the first time in his career, which the ref didn’t see but the timekeeper (Fred Ottman’s son Berkley) did see. Heyman takes an axe to Taker’s mythology and Lesnar seems happy to be confirmed as having submitted the Dead Man. Heyman preaches and says he has enough material to eat up all of Monday Night Raw and the crowd react positively to it. Only Paul Heyman could come out here and talk and talk and say he won’t stop for three hours and get a pop. Heyman virtually turns Taker heel by pointing out how conniving he was tactically at SummerSlam. Lesnar wants Undertaker. Not at ‘Mania, not at the Rumble, not at Survivor Series, not next week but RIGHT NOW. Heyman is amazing. He took a screwy finish, spun it on its head and gave me goosebumps for a match I didn’t care about seconds earlier. Whatever they’re paying Paul Heyman it’s not enough.
And what do they do? They send Bo Dallas out here. The look of disappointment on Paul’s face matches my own. How could they even consider doing that? Naturally Bo Dallas gets a one-way ticket to Suplex City. I actually typed that before JBL said it on commentary. If Brock killed Bo Dallas here nobody would object. To recap; brilliant segment completely ruined by the conclusion. Having built something up they then deliver nothing. Why would Bo even come out there? Paul making Lesnar laugh at the end is pretty funny though. “One F-5 Brock, for me”. “BROCK LESNAR BO-LEAVES!” Thus Heyman saves the disappointment by turning it into a positive. Once again, whatever the WWE pay Paul Heyman, it’s not enough.
The New Day vs. Lucha Dragons
New Day won the tag straps last night as they’re the only over team the WWE have. No offence to Titus O’Neill, who’s great. I love how New Day had a terrible gimmick so the crowd hated them and turned them heel but they got so good at being heels they’re now being popped. Xavier Woods on trombone, New Day singing “New York, New York” as “New Day, New Day” is genius. These guys have taken the worst gimmick in recent memory and run with it. It’s a lesson in getting yourself over in spite of how bad the cards you’ve been handed were. It’s the kind of thing you see on NXT all the time. Normally Xavier Woods drives me nuts but his trombone antics at ringside are reminiscent of Jimmy Hart and his megaphone. He’s found his megaphone. The match is a decent six-minuter with Lucha Dragons hitting fun spots but New Day cheating to win and Xavier just owning the finish by playing Taps while it goes down. I might be about to do a U-turn on Xavier, he won me over big time tonight.
Final Rating: **1/4
Post Match: THE DUDLEY BOYZ RETURN! Oh my God! They clear the ring out and hit all the trademarks, popping the crowd hard. GET THE TABLES! “E-C-DUB”. 3D through a table on Xavier. This was brilliant. This might be the hottest start to Raw all year long. Can we just end the show now before they ruin it?
Video Control gives us clips from John Cena’s 500th wish for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s great that Cena does stuff like this. I don’t object to the WWE patting themselves on the back, looking for positive PR, as Cena really deserves the spotlight for the work he does. Elsewhere Triple H and Steph reveal the Seth statue but won’t let Rollins himself see it yet.
Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper
This is a re-match from last night, which is a bit odd as the crowd has to be a similar makeup to last nights, as it’s the same venue. Were they really that into this midcard contest to see it again 24 hours later? Also, I’m still confused as to why they split up the Wyatt Family in the first place. Did they really think Erik Rowan would get over by himself? I guess they did. As the match gets underway the crowd just dies, pretty much proving they can’t keep a crowd hot for an entire episode of Raw. The biggest problem they have with these guys is they don’t really have a story. Not yet. It’s just been Bray screwing with Roman and then both men getting backup. Where do you go from here? Well, if you’re Vince McMahon, you debut a third man in the Wyatt Family and you pick a guy called Braun Strowman who looks like a simple woodsman with a gigantic forehead who has only wrestled a handful of matches ever. So why him? Because he’s tall, muscular and has a beard (which he probably pronounces “bee-UD” because he’s manbaby. Braun is 6’ 8” so that’s Vince’s thinking. Strowman destroys both Ambrose and Reigns to get himself over as being a big scary dude. The crowd are a bit nonplussed because the booking is decades old. Hopefully Bray will be able to pull it together with his promos. “Follow!” Two debuts in the same show though, shaking things up!
Final Rating: *3/4
And now the show dies a death. Miz ceased to be relevant a long time ago and having him try to get the “Divas Revolution” over is a mistake. His guests are PCB, which is probably a mistake as Becky and Charlotte’s promos are more driven towards wrestling matches. Paige is the only one of the three who comes across well in casual interviews. Miz is more irritating than anything else and the segment is pretty dreadful, thanks to the writing. They’re interrupted by Team Bella. I may be in the minority here but I just want to see Sasha Banks. She should be the centrepiece of this diva’s revolution. It turns out I’m not alone as the crowd chants “we want Sasha” so loudly it puts Brie off her scripted promo. Miz pisses PCB off but that sets them up to get jumped by the Bellas. So I guess they have to wrestle. Crowd turns on it loudly and chants “WE WANT SASHA”. Amen, Brooklyn. Preach on.
PCB vs. Team Bella
They just don’t get it do they? The women’s wrestling revolution in NXT worked because they got a load of great talent and had them wrestle each other and everyone got over. At no point were all of them together on the same team trying to get a decent match out of useless tarts playing at being wrestler. Which is exactly how they’ve booked the divas revolution. They’ll never get a good match out of the Bellas, ever. Ever. EVER. What needs to happen is Nikki drops the belt to someone who doesn’t suck and they can start to have good matches and then they’ll win the crowd over. Until that happens…”we want Sasha”. Becky Lynch tries desperately to get a good match out of the worthless divas champion and Nikki just can’t do anything. Can’t make anything look convincing. Like a robot pretending to be human, she’s a non-wrestler pretending to be a wrestler. And the match is FOURTEEN minutes long. The crowd gets bored and chants “we want Blue Pants”. Unfortunately the WWE will probably blame Charlotte, Becky and Paige for not being able to get themselves over while working the champion. What they will never acknowledge is that the Bellas are a cancer on the divas division. You could bring in Bull Nakano, Alundra Blayze, Lita, Trish Stratus, Sensational Sherri and Molly Holly (and anyone else you felt inclined to bring in) but as long as the division revolved around Nikki it will always suck. Hopefully someone will beat her at Survivor Series, or sooner. The crowd doing the Mexican wave incidentally is a really bad sign. They put the Bellas over here, thus negating the big PCB win the night before and the status quo, the one everyone hates, is resumed. Please stop wasting this crop of talent. It’s upsetting.
Final Rating: ½*
King Barrett & Stardust vs. ?
Stardust decides to attack the Cosmic King instead of tagging with him. This brings out Neville to run him off. What was the point of any of this?
Promo Time: Jon Stewart
Jon turned heel on John Cena last night, costing him the US title. However that’s more like a face turn because it’s Cena. “Thank you, Stewart”. “You’re very welcome Brooklyn”. People had asked him why so he’s out here to explain his actions. Jon Stewart’s excuse is he couldn’t let Cena tie Ric Flair for 16 world titles because “the champ is FLAIR”. Superfan Stewart! This brings out…Ric Flair! Naitch appreciates Stewart’s deed but says he was pulling for John Cena because sooner or later the record will be broken and he respects Cena and wouldn’t mind him taking it. The crowd give him crap for it and Flair shoots them all down. “God’s in the house tonight”. There aren’t many people who can verbally slap 15,000 people into line. As Stewart starts apologising out comes John Cena to a loud, loud reaction. Love him or hate him, you can’t argue that Cena isn’t over. Cena is happy enough with Jon Stewart’s reasoning but the result is that Seth Rollins is US and WWE champion. Cena puts over all the midcard guys who wrestled him for the US title and how that opportunity for the young guys has now gone because the US belt went to Seth. “If I do this *waves hand in front of face*, can he still see me?” – Stewart brings the funnies. Stewart reasons that the greater evil would have been Cena tying Flair’s record. Cena ends up hitting Stewart with the AA. You can’t do that to Jon Stewart! The idea here is that Jon Stewart’s involvement gets the WWE mainstream press. I get that and this wasn’t a bad segment but why ruin the big SummerSlam match for this pay off? In fact, why run an angle where whoever beat John Cena for the US title would be instantly made as a top card guy and use the angle to get Seth Rollins over, when he’s already WWE champion?
Video Control takes us backstage where John Cena defends his decision and promises to have a chat with Seth Rollins later.
Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Randy Orton & Ryback vs. Rusev, Kevin Owens, The Big Show & Sheamus
Summer Rae has raided Lana’s old wardrobe, seeing as Lana is all about the stonewashed denim now. Lana’s new look is what Ivan Drago’s wife would have looked like if she’d defected to the United States after the Apollo Creed fight. Because Dolph Ziggler’s brain is stuck in the 1980s. Is this whole storyline that Dolph is stuck in a small Russian town (WWE City) designed to look American to teach Russians how to act American? Is he John Travolta in the Experts? Because I would totally watch that. The reveal that Randy Orton has been a sleeper Russian spy all this time would be the best swerve, ever. Can you imagine him coming out, singing the Soviet national anthem because he can’t let go of the past? His finisher is short for Russian Kommunist Organisation. Seriously, I would watch the shit out of that angle.
Eight men tags are usually good fun as they can keep the action fresh with frequent tags and you’ve got eight guys hitting their spots to make it entertaining. Even Show is entertaining in this environment doing the “sssshhhhh” chop spot. The crowd are noticeably hotter for Kevin Owens than anyone else. Despite the potential for quick shifts in action they opt for heat on Ziggler instead. Ziggler has a massive problem with taking heat. Because he’s so good at it, it happens in every single match and it’s both predictable and boring. Lana keeps things interesting by getting into a sensational catfight with Summer. There’s no skill involved but there’s plenty of passion and you can’t teach that (Summer Rae is SAWFT). Lana needs something after her character was stripped to the bone in recent months. There’s a bit of a tease that Ryback might be working Owens going forward, which would give Owens a title to parade around. He’s pretty great at being a champion. Ryback is more interesting in pursuing gold than defending it. His IC title run has been a damp squib. It doesn’t help he’s been working Show and Miz. The match concludes with Sheamus eating an RKO after Big Show miscued his big punch. This evens up the booking on Orton and Sheamus, again. I love Owens and Rusev tearing Show a new one for his failure. The babyfaces amuse themselves by having Cesaro and Ryback toss Show into a flying RKO in an awesome closing spot. Match was passable but the long heat segment on Ziggler was a chore to sit through. Eight man tags should never have those dead spots.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control gives us a recap of the newest member of the Wyatt Family and head over to Bray for a live promo. Braun is introduced as “Abigail’s black sheep”. Elsewhere Steph and Hunter get a chat with John Cena and call him a sore loser for attacking Stewart. Which he is. The Authority don’t want Cena around to ruin Seth’s statue unveiling and Cena is escorted out by security. Steph’s evil “you can’t see me” is sensational stuff. Steph’s recent work has been bordering on cartoon super-villainy. I actually…like it? I don’t want to hear her talk much but if she has to talk at least she’s growing on me with her evilness. I can see why Hunter likes her.
Seth Rollins Statue Unveiling
The main event unveiling is given fifteen minutes. Steph stops off to put over Vince McMahon, who’s turning 70 today and they sing Happy Birthday to him. Good lord Hunter can’t sing for shit. Should have got some lessons off Lemmy. The crowd love Vince because it’s New York and that’s his home. “He is so pissed off in the back right now it’s not even funny” – Triple H, breaking the fourth wall. Hunter spends a while putting Seth Rollins over. Moving the opening show Triple H promo to the end of the show doesn’t freshen it up. Seth comes out here for the official unveiling of his statue and he gasses along for ages too. “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man” says Seth, quoting Ric Flair and pointing out that Cena was the man around here but not anymore. The statue is unveiled and….it’s STING! Not a statue of Sting but Sting himself. Triple H does a magnificent sell of surprise on that one. I wondered what they were planning on doing with Sting and it’ll be interesting to see how Sting vs. Rollins pans out.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Paul Heyman
Least Entertaining: Nikki Bella
Quote of the Night: “If I do this *waves hand in front of face*, can he still see me?” – Jon Stewart
Match of the Night: Nope.
Summary: Considering there was very little wrestling going on, you could be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t much of a show…but you’d be wrong. We’ve been saying for a while that the WWE is a stale show. Generally you can tell what will happen before it does and the programs that are being booked don’t capture the imagination. The show needed to be more like NXT. Unpredictable, driven by the feeling that ‘anything can happen’. It’s a show where Samoa Joe and Jushin Liger rub shoulders with Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Hideo Itami. It’s a show where the women can steal the show. Anyone can steal the show, if they want it. The main roster hasn’t felt that way in a long, long time but this episode of Raw was so weirdly different to anything they’ve tried this year. As if to say they’re aware it was a problem and hit the reset button after SummerSlam. And how! The opening thirty minutes with Paul Heyman’s amazingly detailed promo, the death of Bo Dallas, New Day’s singing and the subsequent return of the Dudley Boyz was one of the best openings to Raw all year long. I was probably most pleased that a boring, rambling main event promo was merely a lead in for yet another innovative booking decision. Bringing Sting back to be in a program with Seth Rollins. It might have had more impact if they’d not jobbed him out to Triple H at WrestleMania but the introduction to the feud worked perfectly. The show did sag in the middle and the divas revolution is going badly, a massive disservice to the talent involved (on one side at least) but the overall feeling from the show was one of success. This is one of those Raw’s where if it was a two hour show it would have been all killer, no filler. Big props to the WWE for doing something different and getting out of their damn holding patterns. The show needs a degree of talent churn to keep it fresh. Are we on the Road to WrestleMania yet?