We’re in San Diego, California. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: The Authority
Oh great, so a droning twenty minute opening promo? I had NOT missed these. They put over how good Hell in a Cell was, which I agree with but somehow their highlight of the show was Seth Rollins beating Kane. That I don’t agree with. Nobody agrees with that. It’s like they came out here and were faces and then suddenly became heels during the same sentence. They bring Seth out and act like proud parents. Rollins hugs it out with Mommy and Daddy. When Seth asks the crowd to cheer for the Authority they get an actual pop and that’s because they keep acting as faces, half the time, and Hunter is a total babyface for NXT. Hunter points out there’s no more challengers for Seth so someone has to earn that spot in a tournament tonight for the #1 contender’s spot. Matches between last night’s winners, culminating in a four-way to main event. Oh, that’s pretty cool. Themed Raw. However we’ve only been yapping for ten minutes so out comes…Roman Reigns. He’s a local boy and gets a better reception than usual. He promises to come for that belt. “Let the games begin” yells Steph. Do you think Roman might win? Seeing as he’s the only guy who got to come out here?
#1 Contender’s Qualifying Match
Roman Reigns vs. Kofi Kingston
The New Day, minus Xavier Woods, are on form and run Roman down in hilarious fashion. “Call me Harry Potter because I’m about to go in the ring and make some magic, baby” – Kofi Kingston. These guys are so great and it feels like they’ve just been unleashed and they’re being themselves and it works. New Day suggest they’re going to “get their Ultimo Dragon on” by capturing multiple titles, which is brilliant. The difficulty this match faces is making people think Roman is in any kind of danger, even against potential distractions from Big E. The story the announcers tell is that Roman is tired from his punishing match against Bray Wyatt yesterday. He certainly looks sluggish. One would think saving energy for a second match. Kofi carries the majority of the action until Roman’s comeback. Superman Punch takes care of Big E and the spear finishes. To absolutely no one’s surprise Roman advances to the final match.
Final Rating: **1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where The Miz shills WWE 2K16.
#1 Contender’s Qualifying Match
Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens
Either of these guys has potential to be world champion but not in San Diego where the crowd don’t seem interested. It’s a disappointment. Cesaro’s mat skills are almost boundless. Meanwhile Owens seems more focused on arguing with Michael Cole to make himself different. What would be nice would treating the good wrestlers like they’re special and not having them trade wins in the midcard. The WWE’s theory is they don’t want to annoy anyone’s fanbase by having them lose too often so instead they’re annoying everyone with the 50-50 booking. The guys get the crowd onside by being excellent and the familiar “this is awesome” chant kicks in. Some of Cesaro’s offence is breathtaking. He manages a springboard uppercut and has to twist in mid-air. It’s gorgeous. Owens suckers Cesaro in by hiding in the ropes and finishes with the Pop Up Powerbomb. Again Cesaro looked great in defeat. When is he ever going to get a push in this promotion? The only positive is that at least Owens is being booked strong as IC champion, compared to other heels who’ve been cursed by the belt.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control take us to Team PCB where Paige puts herself over at great length. The whole Paige angle is a bit odd because she’s already turned but now PCB is back together. Maybe it’s just me but I want her to full on wallop Charlotte and feud with her.
Team PCB vs. Team Bella
Not this shit again. Is it not completely redundant yet? Last night saw the first really competitive and hard-hitting divas revolution match, where Nikki finally stepped it up. So they immediately go back to the six-woman tags they’ve been doing for months which the crowd hate. At least there’s a bit of good will attached after last night’s bout. As per usual Team Bella isolate someone, this time Charlotte with her bad back, and work heat until the crowd falls asleep. Or in this case chants for Becky! She gets a surprisingly hot tag out of it. Nikki has pleasingly learned how to throw an elbow smash, which knocks Becky loopy and the Rack Attack finishes. This is not what you’d call ‘in line’ with the fan reactions but I guess they have to keep Nikki strong because of Total Divas. Even more pleasingly Paige goes nuts and destroys Charlotte and Becky after the match, slapping Charlotte in the PTO to set up a title match that I want to see. Match was the same old, same old, but at least they went full bore on the Paige turn.
Final Rating: *1/2
Video Control takes us to a stat about Forbes top ten sporting events and they’ve got Wrestlemania at #5, making the list completely ridiculous as professional wrestling, as much as we love it, is not a sport. The list is probably designed for Americans as the Superbowl comes out top and the NCAA Men’s Final Four (I have no idea what that is and had to look it up, it has something to do with basketball, the sport where scoring is boring) comes in at #6.
Elsewhere Rene Young interviews Zeb Coulter and Alberto Del Rio to ask about their relationship. Coulter cites John Lennon’s “Imagine” and forms a new country Mex-America. They’re currently the only two citizens. Del Rio calls Neville “an entitled immigrant”. Interesting comments. Coulter debuts a new flat that’s half Star Spangled Banner and Bandera de Mexico.
#1 Contender’s Qualifying Match
Neville vs. Alberto Del Rio
The crowd chant “El Patron”, which was Del Rio’s name on the Indies. Neville shows Del Rio some flashy counters, a couple of which come straight out of lucha-libre. Cole references JBL being managed by Coulter earlier in his career, stepping way back to 1996 and Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw. I like it when the WWE reference their past but they only ever seem to do it when it suits them. In the match Del Rio is largely out-shone by Neville, who seems determined to make the most of a singles contest on Raw. Del Rio still doesn’t look up to speed and it’s Neville who bumps to make him look better and more aggressive than he is. One of Neville’s biggest problems in the WWE is that he makes his opponents look good, which means he’s largely stuck being enhancement or a JTTS. But then Shawn Michaels had that spot at one point in time so there’s always hope. They have a tasty spot where Neville gets caught in the corner and Del Rio stomps him off the top rope. That’s enough to finish. Interesting to see that Del Rio has won two matches with two different moves since coming back and neither are his recognised finish; the armbar. This was a much better showing from Del Rio, compared to the Cena match, and Neville has to take most of the credit for it.
Final Rating: ***
Ryback & The Dudley Boyz vs. Rusev, King Barrett & Sheamus
These are all the losers from last night, stuck together in a dead spot. Apart from poor Rusev, being buried for daring to get engaged to his real life girlfriend, there’s nobody to care about. You can see why they all lost last night, as they’re less interesting than the winners. Generic heat on D-Von eats up most of the match. The Triple Meathook is a fun spot and the Dudley Boyz have a bit of a laugh with their spots. They get too carried away with finding tables though and Bubba gets rolled up by Barrett. The King looks absolutely thrilled to have actually won a match. Even if it was house show-esque filler.
Final Rating: **
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
He’s out here to explain why the Wyatt Family attacked Taker after the main event last night. The crowd disrupt proceedings by yelling “what” after every line. Damn you, Steve Austin. This shit has been ruining heel promos for 14 years. Having been bested by Roman Reigns, Bray wants to resurrect his career by “feasting on the soul of the Undertaker”. This brings out Demon Kane but the Wyatt Family voodoo allows them to all appear surrounding Taker’s baby brother. The Wyatts beat Kane down and carry him out, the same way they did with Taker yesterday.
#1 Contender’s Qualifying Match
Big E vs. Dolph Ziggler
This is the final #1 contenders qualifier. The winner will join Roman Reigns, Alberto Del Rio and Kevin Owens in tonight’s main event. Ziggler is somewhat distracted as Tyler Breeze and Summer Rae come out here to watch. Breeze doesn’t care about Summer, he only cares about himself. He has set up a ringside VIP section though complete with velvet ropes. I’m really pleased for Tyler, who seemed destined to stay in NXT forever, as he’s a very solid wrestler and the kind of guy the main roster needed. He’s different and he’s talented. Big E amuses himself by clapping the “New Day rocks” chant on Dolph’s ribcage. As per usual Ziggler takes heat for most of the match and it drags, big time. The crowd enjoy it more than me and Cole yells “what a match” at one point. Big E misses in the corner and Zigzag sends Dolph into the final match. As much as I like Ziggler’s selling his matches are very samey. This was no exception with him getting beaten up all match and hitting flash hope spots sporadically.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Dean Ambrose gives Roman a pep talk. They had words last night about their future and there seems to be more going on than we’re seeing on the surface. What they’re actually building toward? No idea.
Elsewhere The Miz continues to pretend to be Steve Austin and in walks Stonecold himself to drum that “what” promo into the conscience again.
#1 Contender’s Match
Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler
Roman is the clear crowd favourite and the most logical choice. Owens is currently IC champion, and a heel. Del Rio is a bit of a tweener but he’s US champion. So they’re both occupied with secondary belts and Rollins has already had an issue with Cena over the US title so that feels like a backwards step. Ziggler has lost all the momentum he had from the end of 2014 and his most recent midcard feud was aborted in mid-flow because of Vince McMahon believing everyone knows about TMZ. That whole thing is just weird to me because the first I heard about the angle being dropped was on WWE TV. It’s an angle! This is the same company that ran a Triple H and Stephanie wedding and divorce angle before they’d married in real life. The Internet has everything covered anyway so just run your angles and have fun. Nobody is going to stop watching because Rusev isn’t really with Summer Rae. Nobody believed that in the first damn place.
Anyway, the match is a competitive piece of business with them taking it in turns to shine. One would hope the WWE look at these four gentlemen as their main event scene, thanks to a dwindling number of actual full time stars. They can all go and Roman apart can all talk the talk too. Personally I rate Owens above the other three and would have pulled the trigger on him harder when he first came up, as he was being booked as something special until a string of losses to John Cena killed that momentum. As I said at the top, the obvious choice is Roman Reigns and he pulls out the win in fifteen exciting minutes. It helped that they teased Owens maybe winning in the closing moments as those two are slightly above Del Rio and Ziggler in terms of talent and card position. The match had a vibe to it that suggested it was important and would mean something in the long run.
Final Rating: ***1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens
Least Entertaining: Nobody really deserved it.
Quote of the Night: “His greasy hair is booty” – Big E. “He’s been wearing the same colours for the past three years” – Kofi. New Day mock Roman Reigns.
Match of the Night: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler
Summary: Having a themed Raw really helped the flow of the show. I was impressed with most of the matches in the mini-#1 contenders tournament and it culminated in a very good main event. If it was me, I’d totally pull the trigger on Owens as a top guy but he’s doing ok with the IC belt so I can understand the rehabbed Roman getting a shot at Seth Rollins. I’d be more down for a SHIELD reunion though. They should do these one night tournaments more frequently but perhaps make it less obvious as to who’s going to win. Having Reigns come out and jaw with Rollins at the top of the show made him the obvious choice throughout and the WWE couldn’t get the tension going because of that. Although that’s their own fault for not building enough legitimate contenders in their own midcard. However you slice it this was one of the most consistently watchable Raw’s all year long. The three hours flew by and only the losers six-man tag felt like filler. Are the WWE starting to get hot again? This Raw on the back of a good Hell in a Cell PPV could suggest so.