Credit where it is due: last night WWE got it right with Roman Reigns. His ascension to the WWE summit was never going to come on what is traditionally the weakest pay-per-view of the year, but at the same time they couldn't just beat him again. So after stacking everything against Roman in the form of the League of Nations, Sheamus won the match. If they had left it at that it would have been a disaster, but then came the post match in which Reigns went nuts and demolished Sheamus, Rusev, and Alberto Del Rio with chairs, then beat C.O.O. Triple H from pillar to post. Reigns did such a phenomenal job kicking the shit out of Hunter that the crowd – who had been opposed to him throughout the match – were cheering for him and chanting, “Thank you Roman” by the end. Objective achieved. That may well have been the making of Roman Reigns as a babyface in WWE. Pissed off ass kicker always trumps comedy-scripted, wise-cracking goof (unless you are The Rock), and the way Roman was booked last night was exactly what they should have been doing all along. Now the challenge is keeping that going tonight on RAW.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
It was inevitable that Steph would open the show, but for all I am never happy to see her, at least it makes sense tonight. Steph has a quick rant before Roman appears and makes light of the whole situation, then begs Steph to fire him. Perfect. He should be at the stage now where kowtowing to the Authority is no longer even a consideration. Booking him as a loose cannon who doesn't care one way or the other what happens to him makes him far more interesting. Steph snarls that he is a failure – again – and a disgrace, which Roman finds amusing. He offers an alternative opinion that, “You are a disgrace. Your husband is a disgrace. Matter of fact, your whole family is a disgrace.” The rowdy crowd agree, and so do I! Steph slaps him hard, and Roman smiles. So Steph slaps him again, and again, and again. She absolutely leathers him, and one of her flailing hands catches him in the eye and makes it water, which is rather unfortunate as it makes him look like he is crying. Learn how to work, Stephanie, dammit! In the Attitude Era Steph would have got her clock cleaned for that, but Roman has to just stand there and take it. I’m not saying he should engage in man-on-woman violence, but WWE shouldn't put him in that spot in the first place because it makes him look like a pussy by offering to retort. Steph says she is not going to fire him only because her husband told him not to, but that there is someone on the way to the building who just might: he daddy. Oh yes, it is 1998 all over again. The crowd go mental at the prospect of Vince, popping the promise of his appearance like Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania win. For WWE this is the last refuge of the damned. Vince only turns up on the show these days when the ratings are really in the tank, and make no mistake, they have rarely been worse. In fact, they have never been worse in the WWE era. The last time they were so low was long before the company “got the F out”, way back in 1997. The way this was set up was smart. It was fairly brief by opening promo standards, and built anticipation to the impending Reigns-Vince confrontation later on. If Reigns takes out Vince later it will make up for Steph metaphorically castrating him, and he will be a made man. I could have lived without Steph exerting her omnipotent authority, but this was a good start, overall.
Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler
They have built this up like it’s the start of a new zany era in WWE with Ambrose as the new Intercontinental Champion, yet it is just another random match with little purpose. So little, that almost immediately Michael Cole talks about WWE’s Instagram page and Byron Saxton discusses what might happen when Vince shows up later. Cole joins in the conversation and only breaks away from it to briefly call a cover and kick out. Have you noticed that when he goes on his non-match related tirades, the only things he ever calls are covers? Once you hear it one time it is unbearable thereon in forever more. To make matters worse, JBL when offering his input on the Vince-Roman situation directly references the Steve Austin angle from nearly two decades prior. All that does is remind everyone exactly what is being ripped off, and no matter how good the Reigns program with the McMahons gets, it can never and will never surpass the magic of the Austin-Vince feud.
The match here is non-title, but the crowd are not all that interested at first. It’s a babyface match, which is a hard sell anyway, and there is nothing on the line so it is meaningless. They had a really, really good match a few weeks ago as part of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament, but this doesn't come close to that. Not that the genius WWE Universe can tell the difference, because they hilariously chant “this is awesome” like a pack of robotic drones. It is not awesome, it is just a generic TV match. There is no finish because usurped IC champ Kevin Owens storms to the ring and decks Dolph as to cause Ambrose to get disqualified, then he beats the tar out of Dean with vicious punches and a brace of powerbombs. Dolph tries to fight him afterwards and gets powerbombed onto Ambrose for his troubles. This was great heel work from Owens, and the crowd responded accordingly and actually booed him. In Philly!
Final Rating: *3/4
Backstage, Kevin Owens no-sells JoJo’s dumb questions and warn that what he just did is only the beginning. “You think Dean Ambrose is a lunatic now? I won’t stop until he is absolutely insane and living in an institution.” I bet he does.
Elsewhere, in a very un-WWE looking backstage environment, the Dudleys, Tommy Dreamer (who earlier claimed his run with WWE was done), and Rhyno pay homage to Philly, complete with interspersed ECW footage. WWE persona non gratis Raven and New Jack even get a brief airing! The quartet promise to “take this city back to the extreme” against the Wyatts tonight, and the crowd naturally approve.
R-Truth vs. Bo Dallas
When the ratings for the show are released, you will no doubt notice a significant quarter hour drop at the exact time R-Truth makes his entrance. The guy’s hackneyed act is beyond dated. He offers absolutely nothing to this product. The same thing can be said for his equally useless opponent, the lesser spotted Bo Dallas. The chubby-faced, inferior Rotunda sibling has not been seen on RAW much recently, and nobody was complaining. WWE treats this match with the appropriate level of disdain, cutting away midway through for the arrival of Vince McMahon. He tells Stephanie to go home and take care of her husband while he takes care of the Roman Reigns situation. We return to the ring and having stopped to watch the promo, the two future endeavour bound bone-benders get back to business. Briefly. The start of Vince’s music a few seconds later signals his arrival, complete with trademark hilarious overblown walk and a look of utter contempt for the two wrestlers. “Stop the match, stop the match, get the hell out of my ring!” Brilliant. I bet Truth and Dallas are absolutely thrilled about their current position on the WWF totem pole. Not for the first time tonight, I agree with Philly, and uproariously cheer the truncated conclusion of this non-match.
Final Rating: N/R
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
After comparing himself to God, as is standard for VKM, he oddly decides to pull up a seat at ringside so that Roman can “sweat a little bit more” as he waits to meet his doom. Or in other words, it is time for commercial. Vince then calls Roman to the ring to give him a bollocking, dismissing the notion that he doesn't care about being fired, then tells him to get on his hands and knees and apologise. Vince threatens violence, but before he gets his ass handed to him he is interrupted by Sheamus. It seems Sheamus wants to beat an apology out of Reigns himself. On behalf of the McMahon “Irish coat of arms”, Sheamus challenges Reigns to a match tonight. Not just any match, but a title match, no less. After his recent victories over Roman he is confident, and as well he should be because Reigns loses every title match he gets. “You people fall for that every time, because there is no chance in hell!” growls Vince. Yeah, swerve that audience! Roman responds by mocking Vince for being an old man whose grapefruits are now shrivelled prunes, and a seventy year old who time has passed by. A truth bomb! Vince takes the bait and agrees on the condition that if Reigns fails to become WWE Champion tonight, then he is fired. Then he kicks him in the nuts, because he is Vince McMahon, and he can. Another good segment, and more well-booked anticipatory storytelling.
Jack Swagger & Rusev vs. Alberto Del Rio & Rusev
“We want Lana” chant the Philly brain trust, despite her standing at ringside, overseeing proceedings. This is your typical post-PPV TV bout throwing two of the matches from the previous night together in a nothing tag outing, which is a tactic WWE really need to knock on the head. The match is nothing to write home about, and ends fairly quickly following a Rusev superkick to Jack Swagger. Hey, they refrained from Even Steven booking! JBL takes the award for dumbass comment of the night with his claim that, “This League of Nations may well be unstoppable.” He is out of his mind.
Final Rating: *
This “comedy” silliness continues, with some cutting jabs from Rose towards Ric Flair, who notes that Charlotte still has a number of failed marriages and lost fortunes to go before she is anything like her dad. Well, she does have one failed marriage and she is only young, so she is on the way. Rose rags on Tommy Dreamer for taking offence to the comments he made about his spray tan, quipping, “I didn't realise your skin was as thin as your hair.” Oh, snap.
Tyler Breeze vs. Neville
It is the battle of two former NXT stars who have gone vanilla since their “ascent” to the main roster. I am actually surprised Neville is even here, because he was part of the ongoing NXT tour of England just days ago. It seems strange to drag him off the tour halfway through. Miz comes out before the match to offer unwanted mentoring of Neville, and spends the duration of the bout giving support with the aid of a megaphone, like a modern day, more annoying Jimmy Hart. The match is technically sound but pretty basic and heatless. Neville bosses the majority and finishes Breeze with the Red Arrow, and JBL gives all of the credit to The Miz. Breeze might as well go back to NXT now while he can still regain his credibility. This angle isn't perfect for Neville, who is far better than his position on the card or his lukewarm responses suggest, but at least WWE are trying to do something with him. Even if it is a direct rip-off of an angle they already did earlier in the year with Miz and the inexplicably AWOL Damien Sandow.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, Neville yells at Miz that he doesn't need his help. “What do you want from me!?” Neville yells. Miz says Star Wars Episode VII is coming out this week, and he has visions of Neville in Episode VIII if he accepts his guidance. In return, Miz wants Neville to teach him his British accent so he can audition to be the next James Bond. Neville warns Miz that if he ever pulls a stunt like he did tonight again, he will shove a lightsaber up his ass. Rather than reacting with anger, Miz tries to copy Neville’s accent. I thought this was awesome. The reason for the pairing actually makes – get this – sense! Miz’s character would absolutely use that as motivation. If WWE do this right they could be onto something here.
Extreme Rules Match
The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer & Rhyno vs. The Wyatt Family
This is another rematch from last night, the difference being this is an extreme rules match compared to last night’s tables contest. The babyfaces were essentially squashed last night, so it will be interesting to see how they book this. The ring and surrounding area is loaded with assorted weaponry, such as nightsticks, crutches, tables, and bins. The kind of thing you would see every week in hardcore matches during the Attitude Era, but rarely these days. It became old very fast in those days, but now it feels fresh again. The match is chaos, with all eight guys brawling all over the place, with the ever-useless director struggling to keep up. Braun Stroman’s involvement is as useless as it was last night, and he looks completely lost or miles out of position on more than one occasion. At one point Rhyno fires up and the crowd pop big for him, and then a few moments later bumbling Strowman charges at the Dudleys but gets bypassed and goes flying hilariously into the announce desk. What a goof. The violence levels are upped considerably when Dreamer drills Luke Harper with a Dreamer Driver (DVD) off the ramp and through two tables, which is an impressive feat given Harper’s size. The action spills into the crowd where Dreamer leathers Strowman with a cane, but the big lunk shakes it off, picks Dreamer up, and running powerslams him through the security barricade. Dreamer’s cries of, “Ah my back, my back!” seem worryingly genuine. The chaos continues at ringside with Bubba taking out Bray, so Harper decks him with a cane. That just pisses Bubba off, and he unloads on Harper with a series of cane shots of his own, which the bloodthirsty Philly fans love. This is great fun. Harper – who should be out of this match after that bump earlier, by the way – sets up a table, but he ends up eating 3-D through it for a close near fall, saved only by Bray pulling D-Von out of the ring and hitting him with Sister Abigail on the outside. He follows with a bin lid shot to the head, even though that sort of thing is outlawed, taking Bubba out of the match. Rhyno is still alive and brawls with Erik Rowan, and the latter ends up blocking the Gore with a knee to the face, then splashing Rhyno through the table for the win. Yes, Erik Rowan scored the win. I guess he was the only one of the family who got beat last night, and this was WWE’s way of Even Stevening him. Really entertaining throwback match that reminded me of a different – and much missed by some – era.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Promo Time: New Day
I thought Arnold Furious seriously underrated last night’s tag team triple threat ladder match at TLC when he gave it ****. It was the best ladder match I have seen in years, full of fresh ideas, innovative spots, and wild bumps. For me, it is one of the best WWE matches of the year, and that is saying something. That Salida del Sol off the ladder? Spot of the year, surely. New Day are less over the top and caffeinated tonight, putting over the match and then asking the Usos and the Lucha Dragons to the ring for a chat. They are going for the post-TLC Dudleys/Hardys/Edge & Christian gimmick, with New Day offering their respect, props and handshakes. The Usos and Lucha Dragons are both rightly sceptical. Eventually, after some honeyed words from Woods, they agree to shake hands, and it passes without incident. As the two defeated duos are leaving Xavier notes – and this is important – that everything they just said to them was sincere, but, tonight is now about the New Day’s victory celebration. They do some dancing, and Big E gets so excited he loses his shoes. He is quickly becoming my favourite part of the company. He is brilliant in his role. The Usos and the Dragons don't approve of the dancing so run to the ring and take out the champs with their finishers, which results in a chorus of boos from the crowd. Quite right too. New Day were sincere in their praise and apologies, then celebrated their victory as they are entitled to do. No one in this company can take a loss in a title match with good grace, can they? This booking shows that WWE, for all the good they have done tonight, still often miss the boat when it comes to reading the understanding their audience. This felt like a double heel turn rather than the warranted babyface revenge that was intended.
Charlotte & Becky Lynch vs. Brie Bella & Alicia Fox
Well, something had to suck tonight, I suppose. Brie and Charlotte do a dangerous spot where Charlotte gets her legs sweeped while standing on the ropes, resulting in her head smacking off the buckle. At least that is what it looks like. The slow motion replay quite clearly shows her taking the impact with her back, thus ruining the illusion. Brie and Alicia appear to be playing heel, and Charlotte and Becky babyface, though who can tell with these women. Charlotte was heel last night the Bellas were face last week against the heel Team Bad, even though Sasha is obviously a babyface. It’s a constant nonsensical headache. For the finish, Ric Flair trips Alicia without Becky realising, and Becky finishes with the Disarm-Her. Short, exactly how I like my Team Bella matches.
Final Rating: ½*
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Vince McMahon is sat at ringside for this, and they just showed a shot of him talking backstage with the League of Nations (though not Wade Barrett, who also didn't appear on the PPV last night, so who knows what is going on there), guaranteeing this match will be booked to the hilt and full of shenanigans. This match is something of an anomaly, because it is both a RAW main event and a Sheamus match that I am looking forward to. It has been well built over the course of the evening, there is something on the line, and going in it genuinely could go either way. Reigns still receives some boos, but the reaction to him from the majority is positive. It is certainly the most over he has been as a babyface for a long time. One thing immediately noticeable is the amount of punishment Sheamus received last night, with a patchwork of scars and bruises dotted all over his pasty body. He looks a banged-up mess.
After commercial they start into the bigger moves, such as a Samoan Drop off the top from Reigns, which is another big impact for Sheamus’ battered body to be absorbing. Sheamus somehow gets busted in the nose, which will teach him a valuable lesson about how piercings and wrestling don't mix. Reigns goes for the Superman Punch, which Sheamus avoids and turns into a wacky powerbomb for a near fall that has Vince out of his seat. Sheamus goes for the Cloverleaf and looks at Vince as he does so, and I immediately worry that they are going to do something stupid like recreate Montreal for the millionth time, but thankfully they don't. Instead, Reigns simply reaches the ropes. They exchange shots, including a headbutt from Reigns which busts him open, then Sheamus goes for the Brogue Kick but gets clocked with the Superman Punch for the win... only it isn't because Vince pulls the ref out of the ring. White Noise follows, but Reigns kicks out. People bought that as the finish. Vince gives the ref a telling off, and as he is doing so Sheamus throws Reigns outside the ring so that Rusev and Del Rio can run down and take him out. They fail, because Reigns takes them both out with Superman Punches, hits Sheamus with one, then gives Vince one on the apron for good measure. When Sheamus hits the Brogue Kick it looks over, but Reigns kicks out again. Wow, even I bought that one. Sheamus fires up for another but Reigns catches him with a spear and pins him for the win and the title, to a GLORIOUS pop. The whole building is standing and applauding.
What a turnaround from just under a year ago in this very building at Royal Rumble 2015 when Reigns was mercilessly pilloried by the audience for having the audacity to win the Rumble bout ahead of Daniel Bryan. WWE might have been dragged through the wringer at times this year and taken to task for their frequently horrible booking, but the way they have handled Roman Reigns in these last two days has been absolutely perfect. Now was the right time to pull the trigger on him and avoid him being this generation’s Lex Luger. It was now or never, the iron was hot, and WWE for once reacted appropriately and struck. Well fucking done, WWE.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Roman Reigns. Give the man credit. He has fought adversity all year, the majority of it because his name is not Daniel Bryan. Reigns is a good worker and has the personality to be a star if used properly. He deserves his props tonight.
Least Entertaining: Bo Dallas and R-Truth. They didn't have time to suck the life out of the show, but their very presence made me want to switch the channel.
Quote of the Night: “You think I look stupid? All of you paid to see me tonight, so what does that make you?” – Sheamus has a point.
Match of the Night: I will go with the Team Extreme-Wyatts match for the sheer brutal and wild spectacle, but the moment of the night was undoubtedly the ascension of Roman Reigns.
Summary: Finally, WWE got it right! This was an excellent episode of episodic television wrestling, with a logical and intriguing beginning, middle, and end. The booking made sense, the majority of the finishes were fine, most of the overused tropes were absent, and there were a few good matches and great moments dotted around there too. Yes the big angle remains babyface versus McMahon-led authority figure, but for tonight, that doesn't matter. WWE did a great job booking Roman Reigns, something they haven't done since deeming him the chosen one at the start of the year. The challenge now is continuing that momentum and keeping him popular going forward. The last thing they need is another audience-splitter like John Cena. Aside from the inoffensive moments of filler that you have to learn to live with on a three hour show, this was a roaring success. An excellent show.