I have had to be dragged kicking and screaming in front of the television set to cover this week’s episode of RAW. I promised to boycott WWE after their harebrained decision to put the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on overexposed joke midcard act Sheamus, but needs must and we are close to the end of the year, so despite my protestations here we are with the latest instalment of this infernal show. I thought last week’s show was among, if not the, worst of the year, and that is saying something. The rating agreed, despite the desperate and pathetic attempts to claim football was the reason behind it being so low. WWE are fooling nobody but themselves. They have come up against football for decades and never had a rating so low since Nitro was routinely hammering them, so there really is no excuse other than the quality of the product. Arn was fairly generous and forgiving in places last week, but there will be none of that tonight. I am so fed up of this meandering, infuriating, and meaningless product that unless tonight’s show delivers, it will be receiving the full brunt of my frustration.
Promo Time: New Day
The arrival of the only entertaining act in the company to kick things off suggests we are peaking tonight with the first segment. They come to the ring with much fanfare, with a red canvas covering the ring complete and confetti falling from the ceiling. Maybe they had some left over from Roman Reign’s post-title win celebration. They immediately have fun with cheap heat, using a Pittsburgh Steelers towel to clean Big E’s pits, and incensing the locals in the process. New Day explain that the celebration they are having is not for someone’s birthday, but rather for *sigh* new WWE Champion Sheamus. The idea being that New Day are over, so WWE are aligning them with Sheamus and hoping to get the woeful Irishman over by osmosis. It won’t work. Nothing will work. Sheamus has had his day in the sun, he flopped, he has been a nonentity for years, and nobody on the planet buys him as a legitimate champion. In keeping with his recent palling around with The Authority, Sheamus is fully suited and booted tonight, making him look like every other generic corporate champion of the past few years, only with less skin pigmentation and an unfortunate mop of orange hair atop his fluorescent skull. I wonder how many fans tuned out the second Sheamus appeared on the ramp. I know I would have if I wasn't being forced to observe this under duress. Sheamus thanks The Authority for everything good that has come his way lately, because everyone ever has to bow down to their omnipotence, then he thanks Roman Reigns for being too stupid to cease the opportunity that Triple H afforded him to join forces. New Day mock Reigns for his cup of coffee title run, and laugh like hyenas in the background as Sheamus too makes fun of his 5:15 reign. That sure makes Reigns look like an absolute chump, which seems like exactly the opposite of what WWE should want their chosen one to be. Sheamus shoots for a new catchphrase: “Sheamus 5:15 says I just kicked your arse”, then as he is celebrating Reigns jumps him and makes off with the title belt. Oh my god, not this idiocy again. We have already seen this exact same angle with Dean Ambrose, not to mention the utter nonsense of half the roster stealing the Intercontinental Title from Bad News Barrett prior to WrestleMania. Does this company not have any fresh ideas?
Backstage, Roman flanked by his family (The Usos) and his “brother” (Dean Ambrose) confronts Triple H and the Queen Bee. “Cut the crap, we’re not in the mood tonight. Just give us back what is rightfully ours, okay?” says Stephanie, leading multiple questions forming inside my head. Firstly, why is she in such a mood? Surely she should be over the moon that Sheamus is the WWE Champion, someone the Authority approve of, rather than Reigns, Ambrose or someone else with actual talent. Secondly, what on earth is she talking about saying the title is “rightfully ours”? Surely it is rightfully Sheamus’s, what with him being the reigning champion and all. Thirdly, why can Sheamus not fight his own battles? Why - just like Seth Rollins - does he need mommy and daddy fighting his battles for him? Meet the new champion, same as the old champion. No matter who is in the supposed top spot it always boils down to one thing: the Authority versus whichever babyface they happen to be opposing that week. Reigns concedes quickly, handing the belt to Stephanie rather than Triple H, because we all know which of that power couples wears the trousers. Steph is even wearing actual trousers to accentuate that point. Reigns tells the duo to give Sheamus a message, but Hunter counters with a message of his own from Sheamus: he wants to defend the title against him tonight. The caveat, because there always is one when title matches take place on RAW, is that Reigns has to beat Sheamus in under 5:15 in order to win the title. I think we all know where this is going.
Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler
These two met at Survivor Series in an uninspiring match, with Breeze going over on that occasion due to his status as the new guy, and Ziggler’s status as the man who everyone beats at one time or another. Breeze manages to somehow get his eye busted open within the first thirty seconds, but still quickly establishes control over the contest following a dropkick. The announcers ignore what is going on in the ring in order to talk about Sheamus and Reigns, other than the occasional lip-service acknowledgment of a cover from Cole in that irritating, uninterested way of his that grates on me so much. Breeze controls the pace prior to commercial and little has changed after the break, with Breeze utilising a front face lock. Summer Rae claps spastically on the outside as Ziggler mounts a comeback, offering her usual square route of fuck all in the way of usefulness to her charge. Her overacting on every subsequent Breeze near fall is worse than porn acting. Pittsburgh sit on their hands throughout this tepid ten-minute affair, with the Universe having lost all faith in Ziggler as someone they can get behind, and Breeze failing to resonate with the Monday night masses since his move up from NXT. They run a pinfall reversal sequence which gets met with a smattering of boos, before Ziggler catches a superkick for the absolutely ridiculous win. This 50/50 booking is going to be the death of this ass-backwards, clueless promotion. Post match, Summer waits until she spots the camera on her then starts back into her Z-level acting. What a waste of everyone’s time.
Final Rating: *
MizTV: Rusev & Lana
Yes, Lana is back, despite the nuclear heat she has with the office for daring to get engaged and causing a hurried abortion of a crappy angle that would never have drew a dime anyway. She has similar heat with Paige for a Twitter rant she went on against the Brit in which she claimed to have been bullied by her in NXT. Be a star! Times are desperate though, so WWE have brought her back anyway. The crowd are pleased about it, and chant, “We want Lana” while Rusev is cutting his promo. She comes out dressed in her old heel attire, and it is as if a reset button has been pushed on both her and Rusev’s careers, reverting them back to characters that were over. WWE did the same thing with Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family are stupidly splitting them up, and no doubt they will do it with the Shield too when Seth Rollins returns next year. What that tells me is that WWE stumble into things that get over, then get itchy trigger fingers and cannot help themselves but split these successful units up. When they all inevitably fail in their new lesser forms, they have no choice but to put them back together, only with reduced returns from the original. Lana tries to explain the thrown together storyline of how she and Rusev got back together, claiming the two of them went their separate ways and realised they were better off together, and denies having gone “all the way” with Dolph. “Yes you did” chant the crowd, “No I didn't” responds Lana, as pantomime season comes early. Rusev says the same thing about Summer, denying having done the dirty with her. I find that hard to believe; you could get Summer for a pack of smokes and a raffle ticket. Rusev promises to break not just the spirits of his opponents, but their bodies too, then starts making out with Lana, for what seems like five minutes. Ryback breaks things up before they go beyond PG, and his fighting talk leads right into a match.
Rusev vs. Ryback
This is your typical weekly foray into Vince McMahon’s personal fantasy realm, with two hulking brutes squaring off on a battle of power. The only thing of note that happens is a wacky Ryback missile dropkick, before they spill to the outside where Ryback charges Rusev into the steps, and the metal inadvertently takes Lana out. Rusev lets himself get counted out in order to tend to his beau, leaving Ryback with a meaningless victory that he doesn't particularly want. Odd really, seeing as how a couple of weeks back he celebrated losing a six-man tag match via DQ.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Triple H congratulates Dean Ambrose for winning a triple threat match on SmackDown! to earn an Intercontinental Championship match with Kevin Owens at TLC, then informs him that if Reigns doesn't beat Sheamus tonight in 5:15 then not only will he lose his own opportunity, but Ambrose will lose his as well. The way they are stacking this, it almost seems like Reigns is going over tonight. At least it would if stipulations in this company meant a damn.
Promo Time: The Dudley Boyz
Mic time, for the Dudleys! Bubba laments the bad week he and D-Von have had after getting beaten up repeatedly by the Wyatt Family, then puts over the group for having made a name for themselves, but warns that they are still standing and ready to fight. Bubba reveals a quartet of tables all marked with the names of the Wyatts, and D-Von reminds everyone of the three Dudley Boyz commandments. They call out the Wyatts to settle things tonight, and of course they come out en masse and accept. The Dudleys are amused at the sight of Bray’s three bitches standing and smirking at them, because they have a surprise partner signed up to give them a helping hand: Tommy F’N Dreamer! I guess he isn't working with TNA anymore then. I cannot blame him. It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world for Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion to form a similar relationship with WWE as EVOLVE have and become a feeder of sorts for NXT. Dreamer brings a garbage can full of assorted weaponry with him, and the crowd loudly chant “ECW” at the sight of him. Little surprises like this, completely unexpected and out of the blue, are what makes wrestling so much fun. This is the sort of thing mostly missing from RAW these days, so kudos to WWE for doing something slightly outside of their usual box. The crowd agree completely with this assessment, loudly chanting “This is awesome!” before anything has even happened.
The Dudley Boyz & Tommy Dreamer vs. The Wyatt Family
Unfortunately, when we return from commercial the tables and weapons have been cleared from the ring, and this is just a generic six-man tag match. One of the announcers, either JBL or Byron Saxton, who sound identical for the record, randomly yells “HARDCORE” as Dreamer comes in and hits... a neckbreaker. What an idiot. Dreamer takes heat for a while then the match breaks down and the ref calls for a DQ. There have been some bad finishes tonight. The crowd boo that because they were expecting a weapons-filled anything goes, ECW-like brawl, and got a standard RAW match instead, but there is at least a post-match angle to enjoy when Bubba pushes Bray off the apron and through a conveniently placed table. Crappy match, but it is the continuation of a program rather than anything definitive, so I can forgive it. I hope this is not one and done for Dreamer though. A wild brawl pitting he and the Dudleys against the Wyatts at TLC would be worth watching.
Final Rating: ¾*
Alberto Del Rio vs. Goldust
This is a very odd match on paper. Del Rio calls Goldust “out of date” before the bout, which is amusingly ironic as it comes immediately after a Zeb Coulter promo referencing “rats on Mars”, which was a news story about two years ago, plus the fact that his own gimmick in WWE in entirely anachronistic. Goldust socks him in the mouth for his cheek, but he only lasts a minute or so before Del Rio puts him away with a double foot stomp to the knob. Good to see the popular and talented Goldust’s return being handled so well. It is astonishing to see the fall of Del Rio from one of the standouts on the independent scene to one of the most worthless aspect of RAW every week. Post match Del Rio locks Goldust in the cross arm breaker before Jack Swagger makes the save. Del Rio vs. Swagger, in 2015. I mean, just, wow.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Charlotte and Becky Lynch, both painted up to the nines, have a confab. Becky asks Charlotte for a match, not for the title, “because it would be awesome”. I concur. Charlotte agrees, then Ric Flair turns up and every does a spot of whooing.
The Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos
The winner of this gets New Day for the title at TLC. This is a fun-looking match on paper, but the presence of New Day behind the announce desk (yet another tired WWE trope) means shenanigans are unfortunately inevitable. “Do something you don't do Michael, and go back to the action,” says Big E when Cole tries to talk his usual shit, immediately making him my favourite wrestler on the planet. Cole, who is like Sheldon Cooper when it comes to recognising sarcasm, immediately says, “I do want to talk about what happened on SmackDown!” New Day ignore him and do a bout of proper commentating, for a while, then they get bored and start talking nonsense. Big E brings things back with a primo mock-commentary job, yelling, “We need a medic,” after a series of dives by the announce desk. New Day take that as their cue and attack both teams, with Woods declaring that since the result is a double DQ, then at TLC they will be defending their tag belts against... nobody! So to sum up, if Roman Reigns fails to beat Sheamus tonight, then Sheamus will be defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against nobody, Kevin Owens will be defending the Intercontinental Championship against nobody, and New Day are already defending their WWE Tag Team Championship against nobody. Should be one helluva card.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, the head of the hive tells The Usos and The Lucha Dragons that they can have a triple threat match with New Day at TLC, though the Usos’ involvement depends on - you guessed it - Roman Reigns beating Sheamus in under 5:15. Who calls DQ finish? We have had plenty of those tonight already, so why not another?
Brie Bella vs. Sasha Banks
Oh goodie, a Brie Bella match. That should up the level of the in-ring work on this show. For those keeping track, Brie is positioned as a babyface tonight, a scowling, angry babyface, no less. She has the perma-useless Alicia Fox with her, who I am increasingly convinced is merely a figment of the Bella twins’ imaginations because she is never around unless one of them is present. Tamina kicks her in the face to spare us the misfortune of having to witness her comically inept attempts at conveying emotion. Sasha is great, but Brie is one of the worst wrestlers to ever set foot in a WWE ring, so she can do little with her of any worth. Sasha working heel in this makes no sense anyway, because the fans like her and don't give a tiny rat’s ass about Brie, and the result is the match taking place in front of an almost-silent audience. Sometimes I wonder if WWE even put any thought into what they are doing, or whether they just write any old nonsense into the script and hope for the best. “SPAZ MODE”, Bank Statement, fuck off Brie. And it only took a three-on-one numbers advantage to do it.
Final Rating: ¼*
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns
That this is taking place at the start of the second hour should tell you everything you need to know. Sheamus is wearing a “Sheamus 5:15” shirt, which is a pretty incredible turnaround from the marketing department, huh? The time limit stipulation forces them to work a frenetically-paced match, with Sheamus attempting evade everything Reigns does. With two minutes left on the clock Sheamus sends Reigns careening over the announce desk, but Roman recovers quickly and sends Sheamus into the post. Sheamus sandbags to prevent Reigns throwing him back into the ring, and with less than a minute left he manages to roll him in and set him up for the spear. And then the inevitable, predictable, tired, tedious, fucking appalling booking kicks in when Rusev interferes and causes the DQ. So that is now three DQs on tonight’s show, and yet another example of how WWE have made every stipulation, and everything that happens on RAW entirely meaningless. Nothing monumental ever happens on this show. WWE should have cut their losses and put the title on Reigns, then sent Sheamus back to the midcard where he belongs. This was the ultimate copout ending. What’s that sound I can hear? Oh, it is Lex Luger, sorry, Roman Reigns, choking in yet another title match. And remember, this is a guy that WWE are actively trying to build into their next global megastar. This is them actually trying! After the match Sheamus introduces Rusev, King Barrett and Alberto Del Rio as his new posse, collectively known as The League of Nations. It means you can now look forward to yet more cheap finishes in Sheamus matches thanks to his gang of goons.
Final Rating: *¾
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
This is a good match on paper... but Paige is doing commentary. I don't believe it! It’s just the same thing every week. The same ideas over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Charlotte is accompanied by Ric Flair, who Paige refers to as “a bad rash that just won’t go away”. Flair doesn't say a word to Paige, he doesn't confront her or anything, despite the disparaging things she said a couple of weeks ago about his dead son. Becky and Charlotte wrestle around for a bit but get no reaction, so a bored Kevin Dunn cuts repeatedly to Paige and Ric Flair instead of the wrestling. The announcers as usual detract from the match completely, barely mentioning a single thing that happens. It’s a shame because what they do is athletic and well-executed, but it might as well be taking place in a field in front of a herd of cows, because nobody is paying any attention. The finish is reasonably creative, with Charlotte taking a page out of her father’s “dirtiest player in the game” playbook, pretending to twist her ankle and eliciting sympathy from Becky, who falls right into the trap when Charlotte nips up and scores with a roll up for the win. Seems like a pretty twattish thing to do to your BFF in a “friendly” match. Why the hell was Naitch even here?
Final Rating: *¾
BREAKING NEWS: Tonight’s main event is as predictable as the rest of the mind-numbing tripe we have been fed all night: The League of Nations versus Roman Reigns and his “family” in an eight man tag. Holy shit, I would never have seen that one coming.
Backstage, Charlotte claims she didn't cheat, she just used strategy to lure Becky into a trap. Becky looks like a puppy that has just been kicked in the face. When Charlotte leaves, Paige walks over to Becky and stirs the pot.
“You guys remember Adam Rose, right?” asks Michael Cole, highlighting once again what a bang up job WWE does in booking the guys it brings up from NXT. That leads to a piece called The Rosebush, hosted by Mr. Rose, which is supposed to be a takeoff of Entertainment Tonight. He offers such snippets of opinion as Lana wears the pants and Rusev wears the bra in their relationship, and Dolph Ziggler has “shared more beds than a used teddy bear”. Not exactly highbrow stuff, but surprisingly entertaining.
Elsewhere, Stardust, wearing reindeer antlers, engages in yet another wacky segment with Titus O’Neill. This accidental odd-couple pairing is like a modern day version of the Black Gold tag team that Stardust’s brother Goldust was in with Booker T in the early noughties.
The League of Nations vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & The Usos
Before we get going, New Day head out for their tenth segment of the evening and add themselves to the match, giving us a ridiculous seven-on-four match.
The League of Nations & New Day vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & The Usos
The first thing I notice of interest is that the babyfaces are positioned at the front right-hand side of the ring, which if you pay attention is very rare. Usually they are in the top left corner, because that way the perception to the viewer at home is that they have further to travel when looking for a desperate tag while in peril. WWE is no longer a wrestling company though, so I shouldn't be surprised that basic wrestling tricks of the trade are now being flat out ignored. Despite eleven guys being out there, the match is horrendously dull. It’s every generic RAW multi-man main event you ever saw, pitting guys with forthcoming pay-per-view matches against each other in a thrown-together contest that means absolutely nothing. After an age of heat, Jimmy Uso hurts his knee and has to be helped to the back, leaving Roman and his buddies at a seven-on-three disadvantage. Yeah, well, they have him fight against the odds in all the meaningless matches they want, but his constant choking when going for the big one guarantees he will never get over anywhere near the level they want. He eventually gets a hot tag from Jey to utter apathy, and even an impressive double Drive By on Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods completely fails to ignite any sort of reaction. The life has been well and truly sucked out of this crowd. The match goes on forever, with Reigns taking heat for a decade or so too. The numbers advantage finally pays off when Sheamus Brogue Kicks Dean Ambrose into oblivion and pins him. Reigns takes a shoeing after the match as well. “There is the state of the WWE right now,” says Cole as Sheamus celebrates on the shoulders of his buddies. I couldn't have summed it up better myself. “State” is absolutely the word I would use to describe this ménage-a-shite.
Final Rating: ½*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Big E. For his wonderful commentary, and excelled burial of Mackle.
Least Entertaining: Wow, this is a loaded one. How can it be anyone other than Sheamus though? Sure, Brie Bella was awful, but at least she is not the WWE Champion.
Quote of the Night: “Do something you don't do Michael, and go back to the action” - Big E rips into Michael Cole for his horrible commentary, all the while being more entertaining in two minutes that Cole has managed in an entire decade.
Match of the Night: Nothing. Everything sucked.
Summary: I thought last week was dire, but this was appalling. Every match was bad, real bad, the segments were either pointless or made no sense, and the lack of star power was incredibly telling. WWE are paying for their inability to make new stars with their counterproductive Even Steven booking, and total ignorance towards what their audience want to see. I don't enjoy being negative about WWE, I would much rather see them succeed than fail, but they make it so hard to care about anything they do, and they take a big colossal dump on their diehard fans so often, that it is hard to have any sympathy for their current plight. As a company they are doing fine, they are in no danger or going the way of WCW and capitulating under the sheer weight of their own ineptitude, but as an entertainment entity they are the worst I have seen them since 2004. Wholesale changes are needed across the board to the general presentation (nothing has changed about the way RAW looks in over a decade), the dated blueprint and formula of the shows, the way they book, the company’s general attitude about who to push in what spots, and their desire to script the life out of every single character. I was hoping last week’s rating would serve as a wakeup call to Vince McMahon and WWE that they are out of touch and desperately need a shot in the arm, but instead they offered up a plate of even worse tasting shit, like a bunch of gibbering lunatics in a nuthouse with no awareness of their surroundings or what they are serving. A disaster on all levels.