It turns out last week’s horrible show was WWE’s attempt at revitalising their product by presenting what they deem to be new ideas. They recognised the fact that something needed to change, which is a positive, but the fact that the end result of their head scratching was that flaccid show is cause for some alarm. The ratings rebounded slightly, up 210,000 from the prior week’s twenty year record low. Of course those stats massage the truth that last week was still the second lowest rating for RAW in two decades, and that more people than ever are tuning out of the show midway through due to boredom, apathy, general dislike of the product, or a whole host of other reasons. With the roster injury-plagued for the foreseeable future, there is little chance of things getting much better for a while. WWE continue to worry about the rapidly declining audience, and this week sent out a bunch of fan surveys to their most loyal customers about their RAW viewing habits. The problem being that they are only getting the opinions of their WWE-ized diehards, which is akin to polling a rabble of Catholics at Mass about their thoughts on God. No doubt they will get told what they want to hear, ignore the vocal majority (everyone else who suffers through the show) and will reach the entirely wrong conclusion or blame something completely irrelevant. With the first mini-rant out of the way, let’s get this over with, shall we?
Promo Time: League of Nations
WWE’s newest heel faction kicks things off, complete with a new entrance theme which is actually pretty damn excellent. It is majestic and sweeping, almost regal. It’s almost a shame then that the group start in the ring and we only hear the back end of it. It’s also a shame that they are a collection of midcarders and jobbers. “I was sitting backstage thinking about what I would say about my match at TLC with Roman Reigns,” says WWE Champion Sheamus. Insert your own joke about crap scripts and dim-witted writers. Sheamus brags about beating Reigns in 5:15, which is pretty stupid when you think about it. Reigns was WWE Champion for 5:15, but their “match” was far less than that. If anything, Sheamus is underselling himself. “That should be a world record,” reckons Sheamus, the man who infamously beat Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania a couple of years back in only eighteen seconds. The promo goes nowhere then, in a turn up for the books, the Wyatt Family appear in the ring to cut them off. It’s an odd choice given the two factions’ respective heel alignments, but I am absolutely in favour of WWE doing anything outside of the box and unpredictable. It is probably the start of a Wyatt Family babyface turn too. The crowd approve too and respond with a hearty “YES” chant.
Bray introduces himself, but says he is not here for talking, he is here for chaos. He is like Joker, he just wants to see the world burn. Everyone gets ready to throw down, but before things kick off the Dudley Boyz turn up with their ECW buddy Tommy Dreamer. Bray cuts them off, telling them they are outgunned, which leads to D-Von introducing Rhyno as the latest addition to the extreme union. The fans are pleased, but a little underwhelmed, what with Rhyno having been an NXT regular for months. I think some were expecting Rob Van Dam. A three faction brawl is about to erupt, only, there is someone missing. Sure enough, the music of WWE golden boy Roman Reigns hits and he heads through the crowd with Dean Ambrose and his cousins The Usos, a quartet WWE are likely to refer to as The Family, but whom are more like Shield 2.0. Whatever you want to call them, this is a great, hectic, unpredictable start to RAW and one of the best segments in ages because you actually want to keep watching through commercial to see what happens. With all of these factions around, it’s like the 1997 Gang Warz revisited. I like factions. Some of the most successful acts in wrestling history have been factions (nWo, Four Horsemen, D-Generation X, Freebirds, etc) and they serve as a good way to set up and further programs. Having teams gives a lot more options when it comes to booking. A step in the right direction to be sure, even if the focal point (Sheamus) remains the absolute wrong choice. However, if WWE are sticking to their guns and going with him, it does at least make sense to have him look as strong as possible, and a gang of heavies will help towards achieving that.
Sixteen Man Fatal Four Way Elimination Tag Team Match
The League of Nations vs. Team Extreme vs. The Wyatt Family vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & The Usos
Well hell, that match title is a goddamn mouthful isn't it? The Authority made the match during the break, and I have to say it seems rushed, but I enjoy the chaos. And chaos it is, because there is one member from each team in the ring at any given time, and pinfall or submission leads to the elimination of the entire team. The purpose of the match is never explained, because there is none, which is often WWE’s problem. There is so little worth attached to wins and losses that most matches struggle to generate any emotional investment from those watching. Despite that, it is all-action and good fun, but near impossible to keep up with so I won’t even try. Of note is a ridiculous tower of doom from Strowman to the Usos and Rusev, which actually lands on Dreamer (as was the intention of the spot, it was not a botch). Nevertheless, Dreamer recovers and plants the ever-hapless Erik Rowan with a DDT (the “Dreamer Driver”, apparently) to eliminate the Wyatts. I never in a million years would have expected them to go our first, nor Dreamer to be the one to eliminate them. Which again, is good.
The match is now a triple threat elimination match, and despite the reduced number of bodies the action is still wild and full-on. Proving me wrong, the crowd are totally into the contest, which is a credit to the work. At one point everything breaks down and all twelve men head into the ring for a wild brawl, which gets a big reaction. When the dust settles we are left with Reigns vs. Rhyno, but before that confrontation can develop into anything physical, Sheamus and Rusev attack both men. The Dudleys come in and look to have Sheamus’ number, but Del Rio makes the save and Sheamus finishes Bubba with the Brogue Kick, leaving us, unsurprisingly, with the League of Nations against Roman’s posse, in a truncated rematch from last week’s main event.
The match goes into a second commercial, and it is at this point that I begin to wonder why this match is going on first. I can only assume it is due to the significant third hour drop WWE have been dealing with over the past few months, and this is their way of getting the guys they want to push in front of the largest audience. Either that or they finally realise that an opening talky segment leading to a main event three hours later is a tired way of doing things, and they are trying to shake things up. After the break, Jey Uso takes heat from the LON, which slows the match down for the first time. It’s not as lethargic or drawn out as last week so its fine. Roman gets the hot tag, of course, and gets plenty of joy against everyone. Everyone flies all over the place with Drive Bys, dives and leaps, but Roman gets caught with a Del Rio superkick after Sheamus holds onto his leg on the outside, for a near fall. Del Rio tries for the submission instead with the cross arm breaker, only for a frog splashing Uso to cut that off. It comes down to Reigns and Sheamus, and the challenger scores yet another win thanks to a spear, which Cole sells as the biggest thing in the world because he beat the champion. If the champion was booked strong and was someone like Brock Lesnar, sure, but it is Sheamus. A man who used to lose every single week. And he follows on from Seth Rollins, a man who when he was champion would stare at the lights in any situation where his title was not on the line. The push they are giving Roman is still very force-fed, but they are doing the right thing in putting him over week after week if they want to get him over. If he loses to Sheamus at TLC, all of that momentum will dissipate though, and he will forever be tagged a choker by the unforgiving masses.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Well, that was a pretty awesome start, far better than last week’s tedious multi-man main event, but how the hell are they going to fill the next couple of hours?
Backstage, Sheamus tells a gothed-up Renee Young that he is going to teach Roman Reigns a lesson later tonight. Elsewhere, Stardust doing a promo in his lair wearing old-school red and blue lens 3D glasses. For the third week in a row Titus O’Neill interrupts. Titus tells him he needs to “get himself some...” then adds “me time” and suggests a good book. “You can read can’t you?” “At the highest level.” This odd-couple situation continues to confuse and amuse in equal measures.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Showing that WWE hasn't quite turned the corner away from the realm predictability, Tyler Breeze heads to ringside and makes himself comfortable in his private VIP booth so he can take a closer look at Dolph. At least he is not commentating. Dean Ambrose watches too, only he does so in front of a monitor backstage with a large tub of popcorn and a coke. This takes a while to get going, with an extended feeling each other out process, and both men working holds. WWE have a shallow roster and have thrown sixteen guys on in the opener, so the matches are all going to be long tonight. The physicality levels increase when Owens smacks Ziggler across the mush with a vicious forearm, which amused JBL so much that he starts making Vader references. A fallaway slam into the barricade is similarly brutal. The bout feels dragged out in places, with lots of clubbing from Owens followed by hot-dogging, punctuated by an occasional display of violence from Owens. Ziggler is either hurt or doing a primo sell job when Owens sends him shoulder first into the post with force, and the on-camera cussing from Dolph suggests the former. The match continues through commercial, and when we return Owens continues to pound away while Dolph holds his right shoulder. Ziggler tries a comeback, but his gammy shoulder causes him to struggle with his move set. Ziggler should be smarter than trying elbow drops with an injured shoulder, but considering his dress sense he could never be accused of being a brightest. Owens throws Ziggler to the outside and expects to win on count out, but Ziggler shows resilience and makes it to his meet. Owens goes out to cut him off and gets caught with a brutal DDT, which gets two. Owens comes back with an attempt at a cannonball, but Ziggler moves and scores another two count. They both hit superkicks, which results in yet another near fall for Dolph. The pop-up powerbomb finally gets the job done for Owens, but his victory is greeting with the sound of Dean Ambrose’s music. He casually wanders down the ramp with his popcorn and coke in tow, throws them both on Owens, then leaves. I am a fan of casual Ambrose. I have no idea what purpose Tyler Breeze served out here though. He did literally nothing of note. They were shooting for epic here, and while at twenty minutes it was certainly long, the quiet crowd and the copious time wasting means it falls way short of that mark. Fairly good, but far from great.
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, the Wyatts cut a promo in which Strowman says he had a dream that he was Tommy Dreamer’s worst nightmare. It is the worst segue in the world to hype a match between the pair later tonight. So I guess the answer to the question I posed earlier about how they would fill the rest of the show is: double shots. How about giving some screen time to some other lesser-used talent instead? Elsewhere, Neville and Miz have a locker room encounter, in which Donnie Deutsch (I have no idea) turns up and offers Neville a spot on his new show, which airs tonight after RAW. Is he hosting it from the arena or something? Useless segment, one which existed merely at the behest of the USA Network.
Sasha Banks & Naomi vs. Brie Bella & Alicia Fox
Have you noticed how they don't throw around the term Divas Revolution all that much anymore? Gee, I wonder why that might be. Alicia Fox has an enormous forehead, which is about the nicest thing I can say about her. This is a waste of the delectable Sasha Banks, who is far too good to be slumming it with talentless, generic-posing, flip-flop alignment wastes of airtime like Alicia and Brie. Sasha is again positioned as the heel, even though she is the only one of the four (five if you count Tamina, but really, who does?) that anyone gives a damn about. Not to mention the fact that Brie and Alicia are heel characters and have been for months. There is nothing likeable about them at all. Amusingly, Brie gets booed on her hot tag and the crowd chant “No!” when she used Daniel Bryan’s kicks. Ass to face from Naomi wins it, and thank god it was brief because it sucked.
Final Rating: DUD
After the match, New Day head out with Team Bad still in the ring. “Team Bad and New Day have developed quite the rapport on Twitter,” says Cole, as Sasha backs off then throws up her fists ready for a fight. All is soothed when New Day gift the girls unicorn horns, and they proceed to dance. Sasha’s twerking is not PG, but there are no complaints from this writer.
New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons
New Day complain about having to defend their tag belts in a triple threat ladder match at TLC, calling it outrageous. “Do we look like housepainters? Do we look like fire fighters? Are we saving cats from trees?” they ask, before engaging in a bout of “THEATRE!” which sees Kofi Kingston play a cat, Big E a tree, and Xavier all of New Day. It’s utterly nuts. While they run the risk of being overexposed by an excitable writing team, New Day are currently far and away the most entertaining thing on the show ever week. Xavier Woods is not just a genius academically, he is a genius performer. It’s difficult to credit WWE with their success though, because when they trio were put together they were nothing like this, they were merely three black men in a racially profiling gimmick, with no personality. The three performers have made it work. The booking of this match is standard WWE fare, with opponents from an upcoming pay-per-view squaring off, guest commentators (The Usos) and a distraction finish when the Usos grab Xavier’s horn and beat the shit out of him, leading to a roll up on Kofi. A nothing match, but a fun segment from New Day to kick things off.
Final Rating: ¾*
MizTV: Ric Flair & Charlotte
Charlotte is dressed in all-black tonight, with a (much needed) heel turn surely imminent. Her arrogant, boastful demeanour suggests as much too. Ric does a token promo putting over his daughter, then Charlotte gets all pissy with Miz when he brings up her newfound attitude. She gets in some digs at him, accuses him of being a misogynist, then defends her recent actions as merely doing what he father taught her to do, which is being the best. Charlotte is pretty good on the microphone when there is an edge to her character. She sucks as a babyface crying crocodile tears and flashing forced smiles, but when she is portrayed someone pissed off, she gains significantly in confidence. Miz brings up the things Paige said to Charlotte a few weeks back, vaguely referring to the Reid Flair comments, though skirting the issue not mentioning it directly. Instead he tries to weave it as if the “nasty, vile, horrible” things that Paige said were her unflattering comments about Ric. Miz tells Charlotte not to hide behind her dad, which gets Flair all wound up, but Charlotte intervenes before his blood pressure goes through the roof and tells Miz the only thing lower on the food chain that him is Paige. Is she fully heel now? Is Miz a babyface? Who can tell? After having just stated she has nothing to say to Paige, Charlotte decides out of nowhere that she now does, so Miz brings Paige out. She gets a pop, for some reason. Is she a face now!? “This is a ploy to upset you, we are Flairs, we are champions,” says Ric as he leads his daughter away. Even though she basically called Paige out! This is a muddled mess. Paige slaps Ric and struts, so Flair instructs his daughter to “get her”. They have a terrible, five-second pull-apart brawl and Paige rolls out of the ring and scarpers. This furthered nothing.
Rusev vs. Ryback
Double duty for Rusev tonight then, in this rematch from last week’s weird encounter between the two which ended on a count out. Speaking of weird, Lana does an inset promo prior to the match, forgiving Ryback for sending Rusev into the steps which subsequently hit her, saying she knows he is not that kind of man. I can only assume this was an attempt to deflect any possible heat he might have gotten from inadvertently striking a woman, but if he had any, that is news to me. It just dawned on me: why wasn't Lana at ringside with the League of Nations? Or Zeb Coulter, for that matter. Ryback follows up from last week’s wild missile dropkick with a bonkers twist plancha to the outside, and while I am impressed with his athleticism, I do question why a guy his size needs to be throwing himself around in such a manner. With that much muscle on his frame he is a tear waiting to happen at the best of times, never mind with increased high risk offence. Other than that the match is sluggish. I know Vince is watching with proverbial dick in hand, but this does nothing for my wrestling woody. They do a chase around the ring and Lana intentionally stands in Ryback’s way, then acts like she has hurt her leg. Ryback stops and shows compassion as Lana screams at him to get away, giving Rusev and opening to deck him and lock on the Accolade on the outside. Double count out, but point proved for Rusev. Sadly the inconclusive ending means we will be seeing this match-up again.
Final Rating: ½*
Jack Swagger vs. Stardust
We join this in progress after commercial, with Titus O’Neill on *sigh* commentary. The match goes for ten seconds before Alberto Del Rio and Zeb Coulter show up. Again, I pose the question: why wasn't Coulter with the League of Nations? It’s bizarre. Also, why don't the League of Nations stick together like a pack of wolves during each other’s matches? Del Rio and Zeb do nothing at all, their presence is merely to remind everyone that there is a United States Title defence against Swagger at TLC. Titus sheds some light on his relationship with Stardust, explaining that he simply wants him to remember he is the son of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and go back to being himself. Swagger wins with the Patriot Lock, which must be his first RAW victory in years, then Del Rio smashes him in the back with a chair. Strangely, Titus then warns Del Rio that Stardust is behind him, so Del Rio smashes Stardust with the chair too. Swagger recovers on the outside and picks up a chair of his own, leading to a chair dual with Alberto. Swagger wins and Alberto scarpers - falling over Zeb’s scooter as he does - leaving Swagger alone with Coulter. He asks him what happened and why he has forgotten about their “We the people” act, but Coulter simply drives away on his scooter. I am not sure his snub was intended to be funny, but it came across that way. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to realign Swagger and Coulter, because they were a strong unit, and the Del Rio/Coulter pairing is an absolute bust.
Final Rating: ½*
The new thing is that Neville has large ears, so Rose suggests Miz is trying to mentor him so he can help him get cast in a live action remake of Dumbo. Why Miz would care is not answered. The random movie references continue when Rose mocks Dreamers orange tan and compares him to an Oompa-Loompa, then he suggests Dreamer’s orange complexion came as a result of confusing his baby oil with Becky Lynch’s hair dye. This segment is, in fact, the shits.
Backstage, Del Rio confronts Coulter about the scooter incident and loses his temper about people laughing at him. In the smartest move WWE have made in weeks, Del Rio tells Coulter to stay away from him, that rather menacingly threatens him with a chair. Coulter drives away and ADR throws a chair in his direction anyway, instantly making him the only actual bad guy on the entire broadcast. A step in the right direction for sure.
Tommy Dreamer vs. Braun Strowman
Hey Tommy, remember that pinfall you scored earlier? Welcome to Even Steven payback. Granted it was on a different Wyatt, but that hardly matters. It’s coming to something when WWE are Even Steven booking on the same show. That exciting opening match does seem like an eternity ago now mind. You know how this goes; Strowman dominates and practically squashes Dreamer, finishing him with his cuddle submission hold. This match was not needed at all. Why not use Neville in this spot? Why in the hell does he not wrestle on these shows anymore?
Final Rating: SQUASH
Main Event Confrontation: Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
The ring is surrounded by tables, ladders, and chairs, which is the kind of fake-ass, over-produced staging that really makes wrestling look like phony, hokey nonsense. Roman Reigns’ scripted to the hilt promo doesn't help matters. He and Sheamus then engage in the most cringe-inducing trash talk this side of Sheldon Cooper and Barry Kripke, with Sheamus refusing to fight - despite having earlier promised to teach Roman a lesson - then Roman mocking him for having “tater tots” instead of potatoes in the testicular department. Boy, Reigns comes across as the biggest gimboid in the world. He sounds like an old man trying to be “with-it”. They need to cut Roman loose and let him fly solo behind the stick, because these old-man penned promos are killing him. “Tater tots” follows on well from the “magic Mohican” comment he made last week, because it is equally inane and stupid. Proving that the only kind of WWE Champion the writing team know how to book is a pussy heel, Sheamus stands outside the ring during this playground verbal sparring session, refusing to get into the ring because he is scared of the various weaponry. Eventually Roman launches a ladder at him, which provokes a fight. That was a pretty wild throw. After the Brock Lesnar car door incident, I expected they would outlaw such behaviours. Roman and Sheamus engage in a really long brawl around the building, which is played out in front of an utterly silent, uninterested crowd. Nobody on the planet buys this as a top program. Sheamus, despite having formed the League of Nations to protect himself, gets a kicking and takes a spear through a table to end the broadcast, with nary a hint of help coming his way. A pretty damn lame way to end. They would have had more momentum going into the match if they had just left their interactions to the opener.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Dean Ambrose. Nobody stood out particularly tonight, but casual Ambrose amused me, and he did some nice work in the opener. Credit to Alberto Del Rio too, for showing a mean streak and some genuine heel behaviour.
Least Entertaining: Brie Bella and Alicia Fox. They are a constant chore to endure.
Quote of the Night: “With my help you can go from being Elf on the Shelf to the next Daniel Bryan” - The Miz to Neville. Actually, the parallels between Neville and Bryan in his early WWE run are fairly striking.
Match of the Night: The opening multi-man chaos-fest
Summary: The show started strong with a chaotic promo and an entertaining multi-man match, followed by a decent yet overly-long clash between Ziggler and Owens. From there it fell off a cliff, with a horrible women’s match and a bunch of crappy bouts featuring guys pulling double duty. The lack of roster depth was striking, and the men being relied upon to carry the show, Roman Reigns and Sheamus, are not up to the task. There was a lot of confused booking, with heels acting like faces, faces acting like heels, and a general lack of focus from the majority of the performers. Why the likes of Neville were not utilised in the ring is beyond me. An improvement on last week’s disaster for sure, and there were a couple of positive signs dotted throughout, but this was still a very middling show.