Promo Time: Steve Austin
We have been transported back to a better time! Steve Austin opens Monday Night Raw! Oh hell yeah! Dallas goes nuts for Austin, as well they should. WWE needs a shot in the arm, and while you can say whatever you want about the state of the group when they are relying on guys from the Attitude Era fifteen years ago to do that, there is no doubt that Austin is the man for the job. It might help if they plug these things for longer than a couple of hours before the show, mind you. Austin gives a quick history lesson about his time wrestling in Dallas at the Sportatorium, and that gets a pleasing pop, then he plugs his podcast tonight with Brock Lesnar. As if Austin alone wasn't enough, he then brings out The Undertaker for a chat about Sunday’s match with Brock. As he is walking to the ring, Michael Cole claims HIAC is a chance for Undertaker to avenge his loss to Brock at WrestleMania XXX, but didn't he already do that at SummerSlam?
Promo Time: The Undertaker
Taker promises to take Brock to a place worse than hell on Sunday, which immediately brings out Lesnar. Are they just going for a massive first hour rating here to balance out the inevitably terrible second and third hours? Not a bad strategy actually given how the last few weeks have gone for them in the ratings. Brock and Paul Heyman stay on the ramp so Paul can do his promo. Heyman promises that Undertaker’s legacy will end up trained after Sunday, but Taker says he has nothing to lose, takes off his jacket, and calls Brock to the ring. Heyman tries to talk Brock out of it, screaming at him, “He is in your head!” Brock eventually listens and walk away. “Now you are in his head.” That’s it then. Where the fuck did Austin go? No Stunner for anyone? No brawling between Taker and Brock? Bah. Like no doubt everyone else, I was hoping Austin’s appearance on the show might lead to the start of a program between he and Lesnar, or anyone, for one last match at WrestleMania 32. I know, I know, he has said he won’t do it, but this is wrestling. Never say never. Hell, they would fill the stadium putting on an Austin match in Texas, no doubt about it. It could still happen, but if it was I expected more seeds to be sewn here. Instead he just served as a glorified pitchman for the HIAC main event. Boo.
John Cena & The Dudley Boyz vs. The New Day
No John Cena US Open Challenge tonight then, so there goes any chance of Tyler Breeze making his debut tonight with an immediate impact. I’m not saying they should have done that, just that they could have. This match comes about after the show-closing angle two weeks ago where New Day destroyed tonight’s opponents and Dolph Ziggler. Why the Dudleys and Cena made no mention of it at all last week remains a mystery. Maybe the writers are on fortnightly rotation booking cycles. It’s almost a shame that Xavier has to work tonight, because I would rather see him and his Trolling Trombone causing mayhem at ringside. They do their now customary pre-match promo burying the host city, but as usual it is pretty funny. Kofi stops short of saying the word “ass” by his teammates reminding him it is a PG show, then declares, “So what, we are New Day” and goes ahead and says it anyway. Yeah, fuck PG! The match follows the same formula as every New Day-Dudleys match, even with Cena out there. By the way, the fact that Cena is on in the first hour again suggests WWE are stacking this first third before viewers tune out due to boredom/fatigue/football. It will be interesting to see what they put on in the final segment knowing it will likely get mauled. If it is the Authority then they can and will justify the drop with “football”, but if it is anyone else, they can use it as an excuse why they cannot draw. What, you think that sounds too petty for a billion dollar corporation to do? Come on now. New Day pick up the win here by catching a sneaky pin on D-Von, giving them the mental advantage going into HIAC. Naturally, that makes them favourites to lose the belts at the big show. Boy, do I not want to see that match after having watched it every week for the past few months. And I like both teams! Post match, Bubba calls for tables and Dallas goes mental at the prospect. Xavier is the poor recipient again, getting drilled through the wood courtesy of a Bubba Bomb. He gets folded in half!
Final Rating: **
Michael Cole reveals that Randy Orton missed WWE’s Mexico tour this weekend and is not at Raw tonight either, blaming the Wyatts, leading to speculation as to whether he will be at HIAC. They show Dean Ambrose backstage talking to agents Dean Malenko and Fit Finlay, and immediately panic sets in: this means the return of Erick Rowan, almost certainly! Oh, spare us. If Rowan does come back as Dean’s partner it makes zero sense, for the record. I know it was blink and you missed it, but Rowan and Luke Harper had reunited. If anything, Rowan should be coming back with the Wyatts.
Backstage after commercial, Dean Ambrose gets interviewed by his girlfriend and cuts an angry promo about the Wyatts. He is sick of their crap, dammit!
Nikki Bella & Alicia Fox vs. Sasha Banks & Naomi
Money says they job Sasha to Nikki. Why wouldn't they? I think I made my feelings about Team Bella perfectly clear last week, and I do not want to go into that again. I would just be repeating myself because it is the same problems as ever. Sasha and Naomi control proceedings (against Alicia, obviously) as we go to commercial, and when we return Naomi is fighting out of a chinlock. Here’s an interesting thing I have noticed about Sasha. On NXT she looks like a serious wrestler, with a well-defined character and a realistic demeanour. On Raw she looks like someone trying to act like a WWE Diva. Nikki comes in and works over Naomi for a while, throwing in her random frowning glances to the crowd between every move as usual. God that’s irritating. Sasha eventually gets the hot tag, and Nikki shows her worth by flying at Sasha with an outstretched arm, rather than running into Sasha’s clothesline like she is supposed to. The result is a mess, with Sasha realising and desperately trying to swat Nikki’s arm away because it is too late to duck it, and Nikki in her infinite wisdom taking a half-assed bump from it. Shite. Naomi comes back in and reverses Nikki reverses a crossbody into a pin, because that’s what JC does, then they do a messy sequence involving miscommunication and Alicia. The Bellas are invincible though, so unlike everyone else on the roster that doesn't affect them. The usual follows, with Nikki’s waps giving her the win over Naomi with the Fake Tit Shock Treatment. Not an abortive mess like last week’s Bella matches, but it was still soulless and predictable.
Final Rating: *
Breaking news! Corporate Kane is suspended for putting himself in the main event last week against Seth Rollins. I cannot understand the logic behind why that would be the case, but that is what they are going with. Shame, Corporate Kane was amusing last week. Elsewhere, Shawn Michaels is shown talking backstage with Triple H. So, Trips is a babyface tonight then, right?
Meanwhile, WWE supports charities! Just in case you forgot and needed reminding about what a wholesome, wonderful company they are...
Promo Time: Shawn Michaels
We kick off the second hour with the ‘Heartbreak Kid’, as WWE desperately tries to retain its audience. On his way to the ring, he eats a fan in the front row’s pizza! Shawn is looking slightly less hobo-like than usual tonight. Not un-hobo-like, just slightly less. Shawn is here to talk about HIAC, and reminds everyone that he was in the very first -and still the greatest- Hell in a Cell match. He finds it amazing that The Undertaker is going to compete in HIAC again eighteen years later, which it is. It is amazing that WWE has barely made any bona fide stars in that time... Shawn gives brief mention to the Bray Wyatt-Roman Reigns HIAC match, which for some reason brings out Seth Rollins. Wow, what a great match these two could have. Make it happen, McMahon! Dallas agrees and chant, “One more match!” which brings a wry smile to Shawn’s face.
Seth tells Shawn his job tonight was to kick off the second hour by introducing Seth Rollins. “You have to understand, for the past twenty years I have been back there getting instructions, then when I come out here, poof, it’s gone.” I wish everyone adopted that attitude. Seth reminds Shawn that Hunter gave him the instructions, not him, then calls Taker-Lesnar “old news”. Dumb thing to say. Seth claims he is the champion who has taken on all-comers and “destroyed them all”. Yeah, that win-loss record proves that, right? Seth then refers to himself as “Shawn Michaels Version 2... only better than the original.” Stop teasing me with a match that will never happen! Shawn quite rightly points out that Seth wanting to be version two is what makes them different, because he only wanted to be an original. Then he reminds him about Kane. Seth doesn't want to hear it, and tells Shawn he is jealous because he had a “WrestleMania moment” that eclipsed anything Shawn ever did. STOP TEASING ME! Seth asks for the sound guy to hit his music, but nothing plays. Shawn mocks him, saying version two guys don't get to dictate things like that, informs him that he is wrestling Ryback next, then asks for his music and gets it. Strange segment. It made Rollins come across as second rate. Shawn was playing shill man, just like Austin, and just like Austin it made me want to see him wrestle at the big show one last time. Steve Austin vs. Brock Lesnar, Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins, The Undertaker vs. Sting (don’t hold your breath) and The Rock vs. Triple H (which is surely happening)? What about that for a card!
Seth Rollins vs. Ryback
Last time these guys worked on Raw, they did fifteen minutes and Ryback went over. Nope, it wasn't a dream. Rollins looks to get the job done a little quicker this time, hurling himself at Ryback with a tope early on. As he hits it, Ryback makes a mess of catching him and pops him in the face with an errant flailing arm. He is comically useless. Rollins is cerebral and Ryback is a dumb lunk of shit, so Seth is able to use Ryback rallying the crowd as a signal that the Meathook is coming, and he rolls to the outside. A kick to the gut and a Pedigree later, and this is over inside of a few minutes. The perfect length of time for a Ryback match.
Final Rating: *
Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro & Neville vs. Rusev, King Barrett & Sheamus
They really do know how to book original, compelling matches don't they? The babyface team is a workrate fan’s dream team, but all three are cemented at a certain level with zero chance of upwards mobility. The guys on the heel team haven't fared much better, apart from one of them of course. The least talented guy -by a mile- in the whole match, Sheamus. His push continues to confound and annoy me. Neville appears to be in the doghouse for whatever reason based on the fact that he loses week after week. Perhaps he looked at someone the wrong way or something equally spurious. I would expect him to lose, but then there is Rusev, who is definitely in trouble with higher-ups for having the gall to do something so dastardly as... getting engaged. That cunt. Rusev gets thrown around by Neville and Cesaro for a while with nothing in return, then Sheamus comes in and my interest drops immediately. As he might say, “shoyte”. Neville ends up taking the head courtesy of a Sheamus distraction that allows Rusev to send him flying off the apron into the announce desk. After commercial Neville is getting worked over, but he soon makes the hot tag to Cesaro, who goes to town on Sheamus. Is Dolph hurt or something? He has done nothing in this. He eventually does get in with Barrett, who has also done little, but the crowd is barely into him. It doesn't help that he has been made to look like a chump by the Lana-Rusev-Summer situation. For some reason all of Dolph’s ring work comes against Barrett rather than his rival Rusev. Is he finally moving on!? The finish of the match is electric, with kicks, bumps and excitement aplenty, including a majestic somersault dive from Neville. But then Sheamus rears his ugly head and kicks Dolph in the face with a Brogue Kick, and Barrett is allowed to get a rare win. Barrett! Winning on Raw! Wild night. Good match by the end, thanks to the work of Neville and Cesaro. Like I said last week, let them be a regular team. They could be one of the all-time greats.
Final Rating: ***
Promo Time: Ric Flair
Hour number three, legend number three. Flair doesn't get an entrance though, he is already in the ring. Flair gets confused about whether we are rolling before going into his promo. He mentions the Von Erichs and the Freebirds, then says the biggest thing to happen in wrestling in the city is yet to come, of course referring to WrestleMania. Flair’s other purpose is to introduce Roman Reigns, who is going to be Dean Ambrose’s tag partner against Luke Harper and Braun Strowman tonight. Wow, we have never seen that before. What, did they think Reigns-Strowman was so good last week that they had to do it again? Roman being Dean’s partner tonight is random, because earlier it was announced that Dean was going to go one-on-two with the Wyatt clan. I guess he chickened out.
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
Roman wants to do things a little differently tonight, so grabs a pair of chairs and invites Bray into the ring to converse with him under the spotlight. That’s the spirit, talk it out. How very John Lennon of them. Roman lays his opinion of Bray on the table, claiming he surrounds himself with giants because he is scared of being alone. It’s a million times better than his disaster on the mic last week. Roman tells him to be afraid then decks him. Suddenly, ERICK ROWAN is there, back on the side of Bray Wyatt. Wow, they sure value him. “We haven't seen him in months,” says Cole. I didn't even see him tonight and he was there the whole time! He gets decked once then bails. Welcome back! Good segment. One of Roman’s best in a while.
Backstage, Triple H, Stephanie and Seth Rollins are watching the altercation, and Hunter says they need a partner for Reigns and Ambrose to go against the Wyatts tonight in a six-man. Since when was that a thing!? Earlier it was announces as Ambrose vs. Harper & Strowman, yet Harper wasn't even at ringside for the previous segment. What is going on? Shawn Michaels turns up and somehow manages to talk Seth into teaming with Roman and Ambrose tonight, meaning for the first time in years we have a Shield reunion! The crowd strongly approve of that announcement. They really are pulling out all the stops tonight. Old-timers would likely call it hotshotting, and it is, but it has been entertaining.
Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
Oh goodie, more Bellas. The worst Bella working in a singles match, no less. Charlotte does some weird shit in this. First she throws Brie out of the ring and yells, “Get out of here,” then she holds the ropes open for her to come back in and tells her to get a move on. After that she starts chanting, “Let’s go Nikki” for no discernible reason. Cole thinks a win for Brie would be huge, forgetting that she bafflingly beat Charlotte last week. When Brie takes over the match falls apart, because Brie is dreadful. Every time she shouts, “Brie Mode,” I want to cut off my arm so I have something to throw at her. She only has one move too, a bulldog, which she uses repeatedly. She goes to a chinlock and even Nikki looks bored. Becky tries to play cheerleader but the fans aren’t going to react to this after the cool shit they have seen tonight. Brie uses her husband’s kicks, and the crowd don’t like it. Charlotte comes back with a spear and the Figure Eight, and scores a clean win! The champion actually won a match. Okay, whoever wrote tonight’s show is allowed to do so again. Shame the match wants pants.
Final Rating: ¼*
Backstage, Renee Young gets pissed off with Paige for avoiding the subject when she accuses Paige of attacking Nattie on SmackDown last week. Now a SmackDown crossover on Raw! What is this!? Paige says it could have been anyone, bringing up past names from the Divas division, including Alundra Blayze, who she buries for talking trash online. Excellent. Paige was phenomenal here. She is the only one of the women on the roster who has been given a personality.
Mark Henry vs. Kevin Owens
We are in Texas, Mark Henry is from Texas, so he has to lose. As good as tonight as been, as much as it has been a departure from the norm in many respects, some things never change. We are short on time with thirty minutes of the broadcast left and an epic main event coming up, and the show has to finish on time so we can get to the Austin podcast, so this is fairly short. Owens wins with an impressive pop-up powerbomb, then Ryback comes out afterwards to smash Owens with a powerbomb of his own. Ryback standing tall on Raw means he loses at Hell in a Cell. Bet on it.
Final Rating: ¾*
Renee Young grabs a word with Seth Rollins as he is heading to the ring and asks him about tonight’s “Shield reunion”. He denies that’s what it is (it is) then warns Roman and Dean that if they want to relive the past he will destroy them again.
The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family
Screw you Seth, this is a Shield reunion and it will be called as such! And by golly, if it isn't a Raw main event that I am actually looking forward to! WWE is doing its best impressing of Chikara tonight, presenting its third trios match of the evening. There is obvious dissention between Seth and his partners, as there should be. They are not exactly thrilled to have him as their partner. The announcers finally notice that Luke Harper is not there and try to tie it in with the Randy Orton deal, but there is something fishy going on here. Harper was advertised for a match earlier in the show, why would they do that if he is not there? As for Randy, I have no idea where he is. The crowd chant, “This is awesome,” before we even get going, because they are so thrilled about seeing The Shield standing on the same side of the ring together. There’s a cool moment early on where Roman and Ambrose go nose to nose (ish) with Bray and Strowman, and Seth doesn't join them. Then after a few seconds of contemplation he does, which gets a big pop. Cole amuses me by putting over Rowan as some sort of threat to the WWE Champion, which is a comical notion. Even though this match has been done in one form or another dozens of times, the added element of Seth, and the return or Rowan, gives it a different, fresher feel. Ambrose takes a pasting and Reigns gets knocked off the apron, leaving Seth alone on the apron waiting for the tag. When Ambrose goes to tag him, Seth jumps off claiming a knee injury. Well, that ends that one then. We didn't even get the triple powerbomb spot. Gah. Roman recovers and gets the tag instead, but the crowd are underwhelmed by it. He ends up getting caught in Strowman’s submission hold, so Dean brings in a kendo stick to take him out. That’s a DQ but it doesn't stop the action. Dean whales away on Strowman, who ignores it and snaps the kendo stick in half over his knee. Ambrose is undeterred and keeps brawling, but gets caught going for a dive with a spinebuster on the outside. Roman responds with an impressive plancha of his own, then takes out Wyatt and Rowan with spears as we go off the air.
Final Rating: **
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Steve Austin. He didn't do much, but just the sound of the glass shattering, the ridiculous pop and hearing his voice again was enough. Like almost everyone else I am a Steve Austin mark and not ashamed to admit it. There were a lot of contenders tonight who did more and deserve it more, but Austin was my favourite part of the show.
Least Entertaining: Brie Bella. Useless.
Quote of the Night: “This is like a Premier League game” - Michael Cole on the kick-happy six-man tag match. “Wayne Rooney never did that!” - JBL in response after a Neville dive
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro & Neville vs. King Barrett, Sheamus & Rusev
Summary: This was a really good show, but also a bit of a false dawn. What happens next week when there is no Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker and Ric Flair? It is easy to put on an entertaining Raw when you have five all-time legends at your disposal, but the underlying issues are still there, and they will return after the hotshotting. However, let’s be positive: no Kane (a little strange given he is in the PPV title match next week), no Big Show, no Randy Orton, very few dead or boring segments, and plenty of things worth seeing make this a real winner. One of the best episodes of Raw this year.