Last week’s RAW was really rather decent, as was the legend-filled nostalgia fest from the week before. Arnold Furious pointed this out to me when I moaned about it being my turn to cover the show this week. I countered back that consistency was hardly WWE’s strong point, and that it tends to be the case that the first episode of the show following a blowoff pay-per-view is often a good one because WWE are resetting and starting fresh programs. It is sustaining interest in those programs that they struggle with. Their usual tactic is to beat everything into the ground until the viewer pleads for mercy, and I have little reason to suspect anything different tonight. After all, it has been that way for years. Why should it suddenly be any different?
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
Here comes the number one contender to Seth Rollins, and he gets a fairly decent response from the Denver faithful. Shame WWE insist on making the guy talk. He is a talented performer and a good talker when unscripted, but he is made to look bad by the dreadful writing. He only gets a minute to recite his generic lines before the champ heads out to retort. That’s grand, because I have often complained that Seth Rollins doesn't get enough mic time on this show... Oh, right. They put each other over a little, before Seth tells Roman that for all he is good, he will always be second to him in the history books. Well, Seth was already established as second to Shawn Michaels two weeks ago, so I guess that makes Roman third-rate. Roman wants to fight now, Seth fancies it, but before he gets to the ring the Authority come out to make it official. Steph is especially screechy and unbearable tonight as she announces the match... for Survivor Series. “You think we’re gonna give away a match of this calibre here in Denver?” mocks Steph. Maybe you should. The ratings are in the toilet and RAW is the same missable formulaic dross nearly every week. A shock title change in a big main event could help rectify that. Because Survivor Series is imminent, Seth and Roman will each captain a team of five tonight in a traditional five-on-five Survivor Series match... on RAW. No doubt Reigns and Rollins will meet again at the December PPV, so why not do the five-on-five at Survivor Series, put Roman over strong then have the big singles bout at that show instead? That seems more logical to me. This segment served its purpose in setting up the main event of tonight’s show and the PPV, and it was satisfyingly brief too. For once!
Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler
Why this match-up? Why the hell not? It should be good. Owens has great offence and Ziggler is the second best bumper on the main roster. The match is non title, so you should know already who the winner is based on how WWE ham-fistedly go into their programs. In other news, forty-three days is “a long time” in the world of JBL, which he says in reference to the length of Owens’s title reign. Just before commercial Tyler Breeze heads to the ring complete with music and the albatross of Summer Rae by his side, presumably to engage in shenanigans with Dolph. When we return he is sat in his own custom VIP section at ringside, catching a piece of the action up close. I am surprised Kevin Owens hasn't smashed his face in already. He doesn't strike me as someone who would take kindly to that sort of interruption. Breeze’s presence rather distracts from the match, as any additional bodies at ringside tend to do, and in truth it doesn't really matter because the action is fairly pedestrian. Ziggler mounts a comeback after a series of rest holds, so Owens responds by throwing him across the ring with a big German suplex. Man, how great would Owens vs. Lesnar be? Owens goes for another but gets his clock cleaned with a superkick, and it would be a believable near fall if the camera didn't inexplicably switch to Tyler Breeze for half a second during the middle of the ref’s count, before schizophrenically going back to the match after the kickout. The production of WWE’s shows is bush league at times. From the staging, to the camera work, to the announcers, to the sets, it could and should all be much better. Breeze takes a selfie by the ring with Dolph and Owens down, which of course results in the deadly Distraction Finish and Owens scoring the win with the pop-up powerbomb. I am shocked that the Intercontinental Champion won a non title match. Genuinely shocked. Post match, Ziggler and Breeze get into a skirmish, which will hopefully lead to them being on opposite teams at Survivor Series, a show they could do so many interesting things with, but will more than likely lead to a singles match. That will be good too, but not as fun.
Final Rating: *3/4
WWE shocks me for the second time in a minute, using their own history to promote a current show. They show a couple of minutes from the Team Savage vs. Team Honky match at the inaugural Survivor Series in 1987, and it is glorious. It is not the main event like they claim it to be, but they cannot show Hogan can they, so, whatever. Inexplicably, they do not then note that the show is available on the WWE Network. Equally baffling, they do not even use to footage to promote Survivor Series, rather to hype tonight’s main event! Come on, WWE, get your shit together!
Backstage, Seth Rollins butters up Kevin Owens by promising him a title versus title match at WrestleMania. Yeah, Owens will not be the IC champ by then. The idea is to get Owens onside so he will be on his team tonight, which Owens agrees to. Would it not make more sense for Seth to enlist someone fresher who hasn't already wrestled? It means Owens is pulling double duty for the second week running, and it also means he is dumb. Because he should know, like everyone else knows, that the only way to get a title shot at WrestleMania is by winning the Royal Rumble. Doy.
Backstage, the awfully presented Becky Lynch does a dreadful interview with Renee Young. It’s drastically bad, and does nothing for Lynch. It is a real shame, because she is a tremendous worker and has a really interesting personality behind the forced zaniness. Brie Bella interrupts, but Becky puts her in her place by calling her Nikki’s doormat. Oh, snap.
Cesaro vs. The Miz
The Cesaro Section is back! They are out in force tonight in Denver. Yeah, fuck you Vince, this guy is over whether you want him to be or not. Now, how about giving him a goddamn push! His opponent is The Miz, which is great. Just great. As for that infinity scarf he wears? There are no words to aptly describe it. Even better is the presence of the guys involved in Cesaro’s next program: The Cosmic Wasteland? Who? Oh, you know, that wacky union of the Ascension and Stardust of course. Cesaro wins over the few in the crowd not already behind him by nipping up repeatedly back and forth out of a Miz wristlock, which is an amazing feat of athleticism. When Miz takes over the match becomes a chore and the crowd goes silent. Deathly silent. “You forget Miz is a former WWE Champion,” says Michael Cole. Yeah, because we have all repressed it. Cesaro comes back with a twenty-five revolution giant swing, then finishes Miz off with the Sharpshooter. Hey, he won! “How does Cesaro not get dizzy when he does that?” asks Byron Saxton, just as Cesaro sells the effects of the move. What a complete goon. Some great stuff from the ever-wonderful Cesaro here, and a welcome victory to boot.
Final Rating: **
Promo Time: The Wyatt Family
Bray promises to give us something special tonight, but first he reminds everyone what he and his posse did to The Undertaker and Kane last week. He says he didn't want their bodies, he wanted their souls, then declares himself “the higher power”. Corporate Ministry flashbacks! Corporate Ministry flashbacks! Bray makes fantastical claims of having harvested the power of Undertaker and Kane’s souls, BY EATING THEM, and says their power has been transferred over to him. He then demonstrates the newfound super-villain powers that he has absorbed, making lightning hit the ring, fire explode from the posts, and pyro go off in the aisle. I am not kidding. The post production on the lightning effect when it hits the ring is absolutely hilarious. 1980s b-movie hilarious. However, I thought this was awesome. I love magic in wrestling, because even though it is hokey and ridiculous, so is wrestling in general for the most part. The theatre aspect of it amuses me and reminds me of a different time. If Bray starts doing Undertaker and Kane’s moves, or incorporates voodoo like Papa Shango, I am sold on him for life. He can never lose a match again, of course, ever.
The Lucha Dragons vs. King Barrett & Sheamus
If Sheamus’s regular spot on the card was in a tag team union with fellow European Barrett, I would have no problem with him at all. This is where he fits in. Sheamus and Barrett could be a great smash mouth team. No doubt it is a fleeting pairing due to Sheamus carrying the MITB briefcase, which is a shame. It should be noted that the Denver crowd couldn't care less about this, probably because they realise that the babyfaces have no chance. The Dragons are wearing awesome new gear tonight, and bust out a few flashy spots, but they struggle to get much going against their far bigger foes. The bout comes alive once Sin Cara gets the hot tag and goes berserk with an excitable flurry, and it looks every bit like the finish is imminent, but instead they go to a second heat on Sin Cara after Sheamus gets his knees up to block a flip senton. The period of second heat is not so exciting, but when Kalisto heads in for the second hot tag of the match they begin to react. Remarkably, Kalisto scores the pinfall victory over Barrett, cleanly with no fannying around, in what has to be one of the most surprising results on the show in ages. The victory gets a great response from the crowd too, who have been totally into the Lucha Dragons tonight. It looks a certainty that they are been built for a New Day program, which should produce some good matches. I enjoyed this, and I was pleased to see a long tag match on RAW rather than a fluky quick win that does nothing for either team, because the manner of the victory will have done the flippy-floppy Mexican duo the world of good. I didn't love it or anything because of the dull periods of Sheamus and Barrett control, but it was a strong outing from everyone involved overall. Sheamus and Barrett were in the right place for everything, and they took the flying spots believably and well. A pleasant surprise!
Final Rating: ***
Backstage, Zeb Coulter is sat in his motorised scooter, minding his own business, when his former charge Jack Swagger turns up for a quiet word. Yes, he really does still work here. Swagger questions what is going on with Zeb, asking him if he feels alright because the union with Alberto Del Rio doesn't make any sense to him. It doesn't make any sense to anyone. They have zero chemistry together. It has become impossible to take Zeb seriously because he has flipped his ideals entirely, which is a sure-fire way to kill a character. Can you imagine if Batman suddenly changed his tune and started killing folk after always having preached that he wouldn't? No, because he is a well-written character, penned by people who have a clue about the product they are writing. Zeb tells him he is trying to unite two nations, Mexico and America, to make MexAmerica. I think Amexico would be a better name, personally. Del Rio turns up and calls Swagger out for being a trouble causer, adding, “Viva MexAmerica.” WWE really are trying to smooth things over with their Hispanic audience after their treatment of their Mexican wrestlers over the years. If this leads to Swagger vs. Del Rio then Alberto is in trouble. He came back to be the Hispanic face of WWE, on a huge contract with favourable dates no less, so for him to regress to a program he already did years ago would be ridiculous and a complete waste of time and money.
R-Truth vs. Alberto Del Rio
Speaking of guys who still work here, it’s R-Truth! I was kinda hoping he had been quietly let go. I will never forgive him for that gimmick he was doing during WrestleMania season where he was scared of spiders and playing a cartoon cat burglar. Del Rio is hardly over at all, because nobody knows how to react to him. He is supposed to be a babyface, but the mixing of the flags and the whole MexAmerica thing seems forced. Americans don't like their flag being fucked with like that. Subsequently the audience go silent. It doesn't help that the match is a plodding bag of shite that inexplicably goes for longer than the two minutes it should. The crowd begin to rebel with “JBL” chants, but they don't get to do it long because Del Rio finishes off Truth with a foot stomp from the top. Welcome back to the same midcard spot as before, Alberto.
Final Rating: ¼*
We get more footage from a previous Survivor Series event, this time the RAW vs. SmackDown! contest from 2005, in which Randy Orton was the sole survivor after defeating Shawn Michaels. I think I can already guess who will be in the respective teams tonight. For sure it will be Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Ryback and the Dudley Boyz against Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and New Day. Maybe throw Big Show in there if Xavier Woods doesn't wrestle.
Indeed, in the very next segment Rollins encounters Big E and Kofi Kingston, who ask to be on his team. Seth agrees but points out he still only has four guys. Big E and Kofi summon a third man, Xavier, using the power of their unicorn sign. Xavier plays “Team Rollins” to the cadence of “New Day Sucks” on his trombone, and Seth does a dance. I don't even know what is going on anymore.
Elsewhere, JoJo grabs a word with Sasha Banks, and asks her about the pressure on her tonight because of the crowd’s recent reactions to her. Sasha dismisses that and says a few scripted lines, which make her sound like every other catchphrase spouting performer on this roster. Vince McMahon and his crack writing staff do not “get” Sasha’s character at all.
Fatal Four Way
Becky Lynch vs. Paige vs. Sasha Banks vs. Brie Bella
As Sesame Street once put it:
One of these things is not like the others / One of these things just doesn't belong / Can you tell which thing is not like the others / By the time I finish my song? / Three of these things belong together / Three of these things are kind of the same / Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here? / Now it’s time to play our game
This could be the best women’s match on RAW in some time if Brie Bella fucks off and stays out of the way. Oh my GOD that music! The winner of this gets Charlotte at Survivor Series, which could be awesome if it is Sasha or Becky. If it is Brie? Revolution over. Paige and Brie stay out of the way and let Becky and Sasha do their thing, with Becky throwing in plenty of moves but struggling to get the crowd to bite because of her naff character. Brie ruins it, so Paige wipes her out. Becky is supposed to shitcan Paige immediately but she either forgets the spot of thinks Paige is out of position, so instead takes her down and starts pounding on her. Paige kicks her off and yells that she is a, “STUPID COW” very obviously, then positions herself by the ropes so Becky can take her out. Paige needs to sort out her attitude. When she visibly loses her rag in matches like that she comes across as incredibly unprofessional. She won’t win many friends in the back or in the office with that sort of behaviour. She immediately starts working again after that and lets Becky throw her into the barricade before switching things around and hurling Becky into the steps to take her out of the match for a moment. Brie knocks Paige off the apron, leaving us with Sasha vs. Brie. It’s not too good. Meanwhile on the outside, Paige continues to cuss out Becky, though this time it may be in character. Following commercial, Brie is in control, kicking both Sasha and Becky as the crowd inexplicably chant “Yes”. What is wrong with these people? “Brie looks great!” - Cole. What is wrong with HIM!? Becky gets dumped and Sasha is on the outside selling, leaving the seriously overplayed matchup of Brie vs. Paige. There has been far too much Brie Bella in this match, but why am I even surprised? They do a four way tower of doom spot with Sasha taking the double superplex, and that wakes up the crowd and prompts a ridiculous “This is awesome” chant. Low fucking standards tonight in Denver. The response energises the participants and the announcers, momentarily at least. Becky throws out some suplexes, which Brie is baffled by, but Sasha makes the save. Back to Sasha vs. Becky and the Bank Statement nearly gets it, but Paige breaks it up, hits RamPaige on Paige and wins the match. Oh fuck me, do we really need to see Paige getting yet another title shot? She already had dozens before this “revolution” began. It’s the same old tired shit week after week after week. Post match Paige calls everyone losers and declares, “This is moy house!” Worst. Catchphrase. Ever.
Final Rating: **
We get footage from last year’s Survivor Series next, the main event of which Cole claims had more at stake in than any other bout because of the stipulation that would see The Authority fired if they lost. They did, and they were back within a few weeks. You might think they wouldn't want to remind viewers how they ripped everyone off like that. Inexplicably, the arrival of Sting has been erased from history, as his involvement in the finish of the match isn't shown. It is clearly a deliberate tactic, so who knows what is going on there. Has he pissed them off? Are they trying to make fans forget about him so they don't pester for Sting-Undertaker? Or are they trying to make us forget about Sting so he can return again at this year’s Survivor Series in Undertaker’s match? With WWE’s skewered logic, it could be any of those.
Backstage, Charlotte cuts a promo on Paige, struggling with some of her lines but delivering the verbiage better than most generally manage it.
Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens & The New Day
vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Ryback & The Usos
This is going on with over thirty minutes of the show remaining, plus the overrun, so it could be really amazing, or really tough to sit through, depending on how motivated everyone is. Most of them have a long-haul flight to Dublin to look forward to immediately after the show, which could well be a factor in that. The surprise on Team Reigns in the return of the Usos, his real life cousins, who it makes sense for him to be palling around with. I am glad to see them back. Ryback comes out wearing a blue beanie hat, looking like a bigger pillock than The Miz did earlier. New Day are sporting gear that makes them look like a trio of Red Bull cans. It looks great. “I got this, I got this I got this, I got this, I got his” declares Woods, which of course means he gets superkicked and splashed by the Usos immediately and eliminated. That will teach him for getting married! They battle through commercial and when we return the Usos remain in the thick of things, and eliminated Kofi soon afterwards. That makes it 5-3 in favour of the babyfaces, which is ass backwards booking. The returning Jay follows soon after that thanks to Big E and the Big Ending, and Jimmy falls right after that courtesy of Kevin Owens, evening the score at 3-3. That is better. Reigns and Owens go at it, and they are a relatively fresh match up outside of their participation in the four way last week, so it’s interesting to watch. Everything breaks down, with Ambrose hitting a dive and Ryback wiping out Big E in his usual clumsy, oafish manner, and we go to another commercial with everyone taking a breather.
When we return a preview of the Survivor Series title match is in full flow, with each move ebbing away the intrigue of a match that is otherwise fairly fresh. Reigns takes a three way beating from the heels, putting him in a position to sell at length that frankly does little to help his cause on the quest to usurp John Cena as WWE’s leading babyface. Reigns is not Shawn Michaels, he cannot get by on selling. He needs to be more akin to Goldberg or Brock Lesnar and run through guys, he should be the one getting the hot tag rather than making it. Ryback gets the tag eventually and excites the crowd, but Owens prevents him pinning Big E by hitting a senton. Ryback doesn't get out of the way when Ambrose hits Owens with a missile dropkick, resulting in Owens landing awkwardly on Ryback’s leg. “Shit, are you okay!?” asks Owens, to which Ryback assures him he is. Learn ring positioning you useless lunk of meat. Any wrestler worth his salt knows to bump and roll during a hot tag/big move sequence. Ambrose does another dive, this time on Owens, then follows with his 619 clothesline on the outside. In the ring Big E and Ryback play out a Vince McMahon wet dream, and Ryback, the bigger of the two, emerges victorious from that following the Shellshock. Rollins immediately puts him down with a Pedigree, leaving us with a straight tag bout featuring the Shield and Kevin Owens.
Seth tries to Pedigree Ambrose, who back drops out and reaches for the tag, only for Seth to knock Roman off the apron. Ambrose decides to just do his own fire sequence and scores a super close near fall from a top rope elbow. Seth comes back with a kick to the face, so Reigns breaks up the pin. Owens comes in to work over Ambrose some more, and this has been going on for a long time now so the crowd are not in the mood for another long heat sequence. Ambrose doesn't even need to make the tag, making his own comeback again and pinning Owens with Dirty Deeds, which may lead to an Ambrose-Owens program over the IC title, which would be a lot of fun. It’s a Shield handicap match to finish, with the heel at a disadvantage. If he wins, you might as well forget putting Roman Reigns in the Survivor Series title match. Seth realises the numbers game is against him and tries to leave, but Reigns prevents him and starts throwing him around on the outside. Seth manages to evade a Doomsday Device and in his desperation he brings a chair into play and decks Ambrose with it to draw the DQ. After forty minutes (including entrances), we end like that. Seth uses the chair to take out Ambrose and Reigns after the match, but before he can scoop all of his heat back he gets floored by Reigns. Seth rolls out of the ring and escapes with the title, and that’s the match. Your winners: Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. This was long, and just because it was long doesn't make it good. It certainly wasn't bad, but there was too much of the same formula repeated throughout, with a series of quick eliminations followed by a grinding heat, rinse and repeat.
Final Rating: **1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Bray “god of thunder” Wyatt
Least Entertaining: R-Truth
Quote of the Night: “You know we are gonna talk, so just shhh!” - Xavier Woods
Match of the Night: The Lucha Dragons vs. Sheamus & King Barrett
Summary: I was expecting a disaster going in, and while it dragged at times -like it always does- this turned out to be a fairly decent show. The wrestling was generally solid, R-Truth aside, and there were some positive steps in the booking of Cesaro and Kevin Owens, plus how can anyone not enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of the Bray Wyatt interview? There are some intriguing match-ups set up for Survivor Series, which on paper looks like a potentially good show. They only have a few weeks until the event so they don't have to drag things out quite as much, which is to their benefit. It is also notable that a show without Randy Orton, John Cena, The Big Show and Kane was again fairly solid. It has forced WWE to get (slightly) creative, and god knows they need to. The streak of decent RAW shows continues. Just!