We are less than a week way from Night of Champions, a show I am rather looking forward to, mainly to see how WWE is going to approach its World and United States title pictures. Surely John Cena is a lock to defeat Seth and bring back his excellent weekly Open Challenge to Raw. The main event is less predictable. I cannot see Sting walking away with the WWE Championship, but stranger things have happened. If he doesn't, then the question is how do they beat him? That ridiculous job to Triple H at WrestleMania looks more and more ridiculous with each passing week. Let’s just hope that the woeful Sheamus is nowhere near any of this. They need to get the briefcase off him immediately and put him back where he belongs in the middle of the card.
This is the “season premiere” of Raw, which means football has started and they are worried about what the impact will be on the ratings after last week’s horror show in the Nielsens. Thus we have two big title matches tonight, and WWE will, in theory, be making a concerted effort to put on a memorable show.
Promo Time: The Authority
The resident WWE Big Bad show their heelish nature immediately by pointing to a huge “Connor’s Cure” logo emblazoned on the ramp, just in case you forgot that WWE are doing something charitable and needed reminding of that. They waffle on about nothing in particular for a few minutes, reminding us of some names on the roster, then running through the cards tonight and at Night of Champions. They both promise we will see history courtesy of the Nikki Bella vs. Charlotte match that will either break AJ Lee’s pointless record, or will crown a new champion. In addition, Sting will be wrestling on Raw for the first time ever, which shows how desperate WWE are to prevent this show from flopping. The prospect of Sting wrestling on Raw does sound pretty great, until Hunter reveals his opponent: The Big Show. The motherfucking Big Show! What is this, Nitro? Oh my god, what is wrong with them? Why does everyone you might want to watch have to work with the frigging Big Show?
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players
The champs are wearing new gear which is so good it makes me do a little dance. Apparently the feeling is shared by Steph and Triple H, who boogie in the ring with New Day before the match. I admit it, I was wrong about New Day. Well actually no, I wasn't, because they did suck, but they have evolved into one of the best acts on the roster. Much to my delight, Xavier has his trolling trombone with him. That thing is to him what the megaphone was to Jimmy Hart. The winners of this face the Dudleys for the belts at Night of Champions, so it is an important match. A shame then, that the announcers treat it as an afterthought and spend most of the contest talking about Sting. The match is the same bout these guys always have, only with the addition of a Xavier Woods soundtrack. He is so good that he babyfaces himself, and the crowd start chanting “New Day rocks” along with his playing. Xavier is a brilliant dick manager, and uses his trombone to distract the referee and give New Day the advantage back after some Darren Young fire. “OH NO! WHAT HAPPENED TO DARREN?” yells Woods in his most obnoxious voice. He will rank in this year’s Guilty Pleasure award for sure. After commercial, Michael Cole reminds us for the tenth time already on this show that this is the season premiere of Raw, then Xavier immediately takes me from annoyed to amused by playing the Pink Panther theme on his trombone as Big E stalks Young. “Let’s go New Day, New Day suck.” Only this time the older fans are doing the first part, and the kids are doing the latter. Welcome to bizzaro world. A hot tag to Titus gets the fans back behind the PTP, because he is so charismatic and likeable that he wins everyone over. Unfortunately he gets distracted by the trombone, and the distraction leads to him getting pinned because, of course it does. The distraction finish is the most deadly in the business. “Nighty nighty Titus” bellows Cole as Titus succumbs to defeat. What a nerd.
Final Rating: **
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the season premiere of Monday Night Raw” - Cole. I am beginning to lose my patience, and we are not even half an hour in.
Backstage, Steph marks out over Triple H’s dancing. Seth Rollins walks in and praises his mom and dad for booking Sting on tonight’s show, then moans about his two other problems: John Cena and Sheamus. Trips says he has solved his own problem, and books them against each other tonight. Well, I could live without seeing Sheamus, but at least he isn't wrestling Randy Orton again.
In a moment of growth, WWE show a highlight video of Charlotte challenging Nikki Bella last week. Yes, they are actually hyping and building to a Divas match! Charlotte does a promo with Renee Young, and she has her famous father Ric Flair there with her. I wonder if Nikki will bring out her soon to be father-in-law John Laurinitis in her corner. Flair tries to talk them into the armchairs by building up tonight’s match in a manner that only he can, and to my horror, I am almost looking forward to a Nikki Bella match!
Paige vs. Sasha Banks
Cole feels the need to explain why Charlotte isn't here with Paige and Becky Lynch. I wish he didn't feel the need to point out the ins and outs of every single minute detail. Let people read between the lines themselves and draw their own conclusions. It is bad enough that WWE micro manage themselves to such excessive degrees, they don't need to do it to the audience too. Is there any good reason why this couldn't have been Becky vs. Sasha? It is almost as if they are afraid of putting on a good women’s match on the main roster. We have seen Paige-Sasha for the past few weeks, and they have been nothing special. Paige is too WWE-ized now to be capable of having the kind of matches she used to have in NXT. Credit where it is due though, they certainly try hard. Sasha works over Paige’s arm, and the psychology is solid. Paige returns fire with a flurry of hard kicks, then nearly kicks Sasha with a dangerous German suplex that Sasha takes right on her head. You can tell that the referee, announcers and Paige are worried that she is hurt, but Sasha is a tough girl and gets right back up. Paige goes for a cannonball off the apron, but Tamina (no longer Snuka) pulls Sasha out of the way, causing Paige to crash and burn. Back inside Sasha hits the Backstabber followed by the Bank Statement for the win. Good match by Raw women’s standards, but too short to be anything special.
Final Rating: **1/4
We get a recap of the recent attempts of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns to find a partner to go against the Wyatt Family, and the subsequent beatings that their potential teammates have suffered as a result of their name’s being mentioned. Last week on Raw it was Randy Orton, then on SmackDown Dean brought Roman’s family into it by suggesting Jimmy Uso. He got a kicking from the Wyatts as well. That little family detail could yet prove important. I suspect it will be the start of Roman’s heel turn, a move he desperately needs to make because he has floundered since WrestleMania.
MizTV: The Wyatt Family
If I haven't said it before, I will now: I adore the little touch of making the Wyatt’s name graphic a collection of lights which spell out their name then disperse. They do a similarly gimmicked nameplate for Rusev too. More of this, please! Miz appreciates the ambiance that the Wyatts bring to his set, with the ring shrouded in darkness and only a spotlight highlighting them. If you think about it too much it doesn't make any sense of course. Do the Wyatts employ their own lighting technicians? Maybe they do, I don't know, I am merely asking. Bray warns Miz not to sit down because he is not safe, to which Miz responds by assuring him that he is not Reigns and Ambrose’s partner at... Hell in a Cell! Oh dear. Miz doesn't realise his error, and carried on with his interview, asking, “Who is Braun Strowman?” Bray tells him to ask Braun himself, which Miz does. Braun takes off his black sheep mask, and says nothing. Bray mocks Miz for putting himself in danger to get a scoop, then tells him he wants to see him suffer. Don't we all. Shield minus one arrive to take care of business, which prompts Cole to ask, “Are they alone?” Do you see anyone else!? Dumbass. Ambrose immediately lays waste to Miz, leading to a stare down between the two rival groups. Reigns addresses Bray, who he says makes him sick, and criticises him for not being able to beat him one-on-one. Interesting thing to say, given Bray beat him at Battleground two months ago. Roman says they have found a third man, and that it is going to be a war on Sunday. Then the Wyatt family noise hits, the lights go dark, and that is the end of the segment. That would be fine, but then we go straight to the announce team. What happened to the guys in the ring? Did they just magically disappear? Good segment though, that made me want to see this match. A minor miracle actually, as I was sick of this program months ago. Knowing WWE, it will turn out to be Erik Rowan. If he comes out as the mystery partner to that ridiculous music of his, it will go down like a big wet shart in white y-fronts.
“This is the season premiere...” I swear, I want to punch him in the mouth so hard.
John Cena vs. Sheamus
These days, I look forward to John Cena matches. Not this one. Sheamus is my least favourite male wrestler to watch in the entire company. The match is pretty heatless because nobody will cheer for Cena other than a few high-pitched kids, and nobody in the building gives a shit about Sheamus. Nobody. They run through their trademark spots with little variation, passion, or feeling. There is no soul to the match, and it is ultimately meaningless. They shoot for epic with extended selling and big hits, but they don't reach it. Or even come close. I don't enjoy criticising John Cena after the excellent year he has had, but this is one of his weakest outings in a while. The match isn't terrible or anything, there is just nothing to it that we haven't seen a million times. In a move that further panics me knowing how WWE book, Cena picks up the clean win following the AA, after completely no-selling a rolling senton. Often when the briefcase holder loses to handily, they are about to get the title. I know, it doesn't make sense, but, y‘know, WWE. Robot Saxton notes in monotone that, “The match surely delivered”. It surely did no such thing. Painfully average.
Final Rating: **
* Feel free to add a snowflake if you have never seen a Sheamus or John Cena match before.
Backstage, Nikki Bella warms up while Team Bella randomly clap. An onscreen graphic reminds us that Nikki breaks in the record in just over two hours. What amuses me is that even if Nikki does beat the record, AJ will still be clear at the top of the pile for cumulative reigns by over one hundred days. Of course, we all know the record means nothing anyway, but even more so when you consider that Nikki hasn't actually defended the title since Beast in the East, which was over two months ago. What happened to that old chestnut the thirty day rule? They could have actually built drama with this storyline by having her defend it week after week, rather than just holding onto it to keep a record. It means as much as Curtis Axel’s record amount of time in the Royal Rumble. It is a meaningless title, with a meaningless champion, going for a meaningless record. The whole thing is a farce.
Promo Time: Ryback
Ryback does the worst promo in the history of promos, noting that it is fitting they are in Memphis because apparently Kevin Owens has him, “All shook up, uh hu hu.” Oh man. When that goes down like a lead balloon, Ryback smiles blankly and carries on. Owens comes out and brings up Ryback’s promo on Raw a few months back where he put over the book The Secret as having helped him overcome obstacles in his life. Owens is clutching a copy of said tome, and he rips it to shreds. “I feel sorry for you and all of the other people who believe this garbage.” So is this the program now then? Ryback is going to defend the honour of his favourite book against that nasty Kevin Owens? Maybe Rhonda Byrne, scribe of said book, can serve as the referee. Owens destroys Ryback in this promo battle, just absolutely mauls him. Owens is articulate, believable and natural, whereas Ryback is all twitches, nervous energy and scripted lines. It is like night and day. The crux is that Ryback will defend the Intercontinental Championship against Owens at Night of Champions. That will be... interesting.
Stardust vs. Neville
Stardust is flanked by The Ascension, who are now serving as his “henchmen”. Neville is flanked by the Lucha Dragons after a comical segment on SmackDown where the new cosmic faction beat up the Dragons, and Neville chased all three of them off on his own. What a heel unit! This doesn't even happen, presumably down to time constraints, with Neville and the Dragons hitting the ring and taking out the face-painted trio in seconds, then Neville’s music playing for no apparent reason, without any finish having been called. A waste of time. I would suspect this six-man tag will be your pre-show match at the PPV. Neville is being utterly wasted on the main roster.
Final Rating: N/R
WWE Diva’s Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Charlotte
They have done a very good job building this up as a big deal, but there is a big problem still to overcome: Nikki is one of the participants. I suspect shenanigans will cost Charlotte here, allowing Nikki to break the record, before Charlotte wins a rematch at Night of Champions and finally (hopefully) kick starts this supposed revolution. The story doing the rounds at the moment is that Nikki’s title reign was supposed to end months ago, but John Cena stepped in and used his considerable political stroke to keep the belt on his gal, presumably to prevent her incessant pouting. It is also said that he was rather vocal about her keeping the belt tonight and breaking the record, but I find it hard to believe. Unless Nikki really is that much of a mark that she really cares about breaking it. JBL, ever the idiot, points out that Charlotte’s dad was in one of the greatest factions of all time: Evolution! Not the Four Horsemen, then? Charlotte does an interesting rolling head scissor early on, but Nikki comes back with arm work. Didn't she watch Sasha and Paige run the exact same play earlier on? Poor agenting. Charlotte breaks a Nikki submission by powering out with a powerbomb, as her PCB cheerleaders on the outside try and get the crowd going. They don't really buy into it, and then things fall apart when they take forever over a sunset flip, during which Nikki’s pants come down a little. That distracts her so much that she runs the ropes a couple of times more than needed while trying to pull them up, before walking into a spear. Cue the nonsense then, with Brie switching places with Nikki for the old “twin magic” deal, and Charlotte pinning her to win the title. But not so fast. We have a Dusty Finish on our hands, because mom (Stephanie) comes onto the stage to sort things out. She declares Charlotte the winner via DQ, then books the rematch at NOC. Told you! The crowd is deflated about that ruling. You have to wonder though, why didn't Nikki just get herself intentionally disqualified from the start? So there you go ladies and gentleman, Nikki Bella is the undisputed longest reigning Divas Champion of all time. Let’s all have a big petty celebration now that AJ Lee’s record has been wiped out. I don't expect we will ever hear her name on WWE programming ever again.
Final Rating: **1/4
Rusev vs. Cesaro
I notice no mention has been made of the retarded booking last week that saw Big Show knock out Cesaro in the aisle for no other reason than because he was there. It made him look like a chump. The Cesaro Section is out in force, but until they start turning on the product like the fans did to support Daniel Bryan, they won’t get anywhere. There is no reason for the match going in, so the fans are not really all that bothered about it. They do at least amuse themselves by chanting, “Ce-Sa-Ro SECTION” to the cadence of “New Day rocks”. A couple of minutes in, Dolph Ziggler heads to the ring and tries to give Summer Rae a gift, which given how it is boxed and wrapped appears to be jewellery. She refuses to open it, so Dolph leaves it on the announce desk. The distraction is deadly for Rusev of course, who gets caught with a swanky hammerlock roll up and pinned. Cesaro won a match! Dolph gives Rusev a superkick after the match, and Summer grabs the mystery gift and leaves with her man.
Final Rating: *
After commercial, Summer opens her gift in secret, and it is indeed jewellery. Rusev screams and hits the locker room door, demanding she come inside. Trouble is brewing.
Low and behold, the six man tag I predicted earlier has been added to the Night of Champions pre-show. Not that they are predictable, or anything.
Sting vs. The Big Show
This is their first meeting since October 1998, seventeen years ago. The last time they met on pay-per-view was at Great American Bash 1998, where they headlined in a real shitfest of a match. The Authority are at ringside for the match, guaranteeing silliness. It bothers me that Sting no longer wears a leather jacket for his entrance. It feels half-assed. I do get a kick out of Lillian Garcia doing the “This is Sting!” bit to announce him. Michael Cole drops another beauty, declaring that this match, “show how far we have come in Sports Entertainment”. Oh yes, there’s nothing like recycling crap main events from a rival promotion twenty years later. Sting wrestles in his t-shirt, which is another bugbear of mine. Sting dominates for a couple of minutes, then Seth Rollins runs down for the DQ, pissing the crowd off beyond belief. “Welcome to Monday Night Raw,” bellows JBL. Yeah, that says it all doesn't it. Nothing turns fans off like building to a match for three hours and then delivering two minutes worth of action before going to a crap non finish. Thankfully, Triple H is the voice of the people, and rebooks the main event into a tag match. Well, thank god for that.
Final Rating: N/R
Sting & John Cena vs. The Big Show & Seth Rollins
I actually would have preferred Seth and Sting to not touch until the pay-per-view, but I will take this over a lame DQ. To no surprise, Cena does the bulk of the work for his team, taking a beating from Show and Seth. Show, who has done almost nothing, is sweating like Brock Lesnar. This man needs to be away from wrestling rings yesterday. The pace is snail-like when Show is in there, and it is fucking tedious. I would have preferred the non finish to this! Seth keeps the tempo glacial when he finally tags in, then when Show gets in the ring again he uses a STOMACH CLAW OF DEATH to immobilise Cena. Show follows with a Vader Bomb, but he is sweating so much and is so blown up that it looks atrocious. “SPLAT!” yells Mackle. “He missed by a good foot,” responds I. A long, slow, formulaic tag match is not what the doctor ordered for this besmirched audience. The match kills them dead. Show goes for his useless Vader Bomb again, and this time misses. Sting finally gets the hot tag and goes to town on Rollins, only to get tackles down by Show. Cena takes out the giant sweaty beast with an impressive AA, only to turn into a Pedigree attempt by Rollins. Sting is there to save the day with a Scorpion Death Drop, then finishes Rollins with the Scorpion Deathlock. And now we know who is going over at NOC. Sting has won a match now, and pinned the WWE Champion, so in WWE’s skewed mind that is enough to justify beating him on pay-per-view again. Horrible, horrible match. The Big Show is the worst wrestler in the company. I take back what I said about Sheamus earlier. Show is far worse.
Final Rating: DUD
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Xavier Woods and his trombone.
Least Entertaining: The Big Show.
Quote of the Night: “I have to uphold the integrity of the Diva’s division!” - Stephanie McMahon. Insert your own joke her.
Match of the Night: It might have been Nikki vs. Charlotte if not for the copout finish. But it isn't, because I cannot praise a Dusty Finish in 2015. Nothing else stood out. The wrestling was serviceable but mainly mundane tonight.
Summary: It was a show that promised much, but delivered precious little. The strongest segments were probably the talking ones, or the bouts that featured outside shenanigans such as the opener. The rest felt like a bunch of performers going through the motions, and it certainly didn't feel like the special show it was supposed to be. At least WWE realised that there was far too much Seth Rollins last week, and countered that by barely featuring him tonight. The problem was, they replaced him with garbage. A real let down, and I will be amazed if they managed to hold interest throughout the football game for the duration of the laborious three hours.