We’re in San Jose, California. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T. Tonight is the Raw after Wrestlemania 31, which means fall-out from what was a surprisingly good show.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
The crowd is massively pro-Lesnar after his demolition of Roman Reigns. Heyman recalls last night’s events where Lesnar destroyed Reigns, which gets a “Suplex City” chant going. Brock is laughing! “Suplex City, bitch” – Heyman. Brock was getting bored killing Roman but out came Seth Rollins to steal a pin on “the challenger, not the champion”. Heyman threatens legal action and getting the title held up but Lesnar thinks “all lawyers are scumbags” so they’re not doing that. Brock wants a re-match and he wants it…right now. This brings out Stephanie McMahon. Of course it does. The crowd do not want to see her, do not want to hear from her and jeer loudly over everything she says. Even Brock thinks she’s full of shit after Steph suggests that Roman got his shots in. Steph points out Seth Rollins was out in New York for the Today Show so he’s not here, yet. Heyman gets to close the segment out. “Spoiler…my client is going to wrestle on Monday Night Raw…and pin or tap out Seth Rollins”. I could have lived without Stephanie dragging this segment down but otherwise it was a hot opening.
Video Control shows us John Cena has offered an open challenge for anyone who wants a shot at his title. Meanwhile Bryan defends his IC title against Dolph Ziggler.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
Ziggler has a shot courtesy of being on the ladder at the end of the match last night. As opposed to beating Bryan last week. Bit of a logic gap there. At least they can’t job the IC champion in a non-title match tonight. Bad News Barrett joins commentary to claim Bryan is a “paper champion” because he never beat Barrett. Dude, everybody beat you when you were champion. Sin Cara beat you! Bryan & Ziggler start competitive with mat countering until Dolph gets a little too frisky and Bryan kicks him in the face. From there Ziggler hits a crazy, outta control crossbody on the ropes, sending them both toppling to the floor. It’s top action. The match goes along at a belting pace, which only slows when Bryan tentatively checks his neck. The match is so strong that the fans start chanting “this is awesome”, which it is. Them fighting over a backslide is incredible. They make spots mean something. Bryan goes for the Busaiku Knee Kick but runs into a superkick and after the near fall the crowd ERUPT into a standing ovation. Damn straight. HEADBUTTS! This time Ziggler wins but Bryan fires right back with the Busaiku Knee Kick to retain. Great match. Phenomenal for Raw. Better than the ladder match mess from Wrestlemania.
Final Rating: ****
Post Match: Bad News Barrett goes after Daniel Bryan but the returning Sheamus runs him off. BROGUE KICK FOR BRYAN. Sheamus’ face run lasted about 20 seconds there. White Noise for Ziggler and the crowd are not happy. Sheamus even gets the legendary “asshole” chant that used to be reserved for Vince McMahon. Then a cracking chant of “you look stupid” to go with his Mohawk and braided ginger beard. “Oim back”.
Video Control gives us clips from the Hall of Fame. It’s a long, long show but if you’ve not seen it I heartily recommend watching at least the Madusa speech and Shawn Michaels’ introduction of Kevin Nash, which they will not show highlights of anywhere else because he said a lot of things he shouldn’t have.
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd & The Ascension vs. The Lucha Dragons & The New Day
The Lucha Dragons are met with a huge “NXT” chant (reminiscent of the old “ECW” chants when a former ECW talent showed up elsewhere). They’ve been called up thanks to a weak tag division that seems to have entertaining matches but isn’t going anywhere. Cesaro vs. Kalisto is really good with insane lucha-libre popping the hell out of the crowd and Cesaro countering as best as he can. This crowd is rampant, by the way. They’re all over everything but especially fond of “NXT”. “Any reaction is a good reaction” says JBL as a “New Day suck” chant gets going. It’s really interesting to see the crowd pop the hell out of every Kalisto spot, the ones that were getting love from the NXT crowd. Hey, if they love that wait until Adrian Neville comes out here! Salina del sol puts Konnor away and the crowd goes nuts. “We need to get every talent from NXT on this roster” – Booker T. Maybe not “all” of them Book.
Final Rating: **3/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
This is Brock’s first match on Raw since his pre-UFC/Vikings run. In fact, due to Lesnar working ‘exclusively’ for Smackdown after winning his first WWE title in 2002 his last Raw match was against Tommy Dreamer in July 2002. It was the same show that RVD unified the IC and European titles. 13 years ago! The new champion gets a decent response but the crowd smell shenanigans as this is nowhere near the main event. Seth rather predictably pussies out by saying he’s a bit jetlagged and his foot hurts from Curb Stomping Brock. This gets Lesnar really pissed off but before he can destroy Rollins, the new champ hops into the crowd and legs it. Lesnar goes absolutely NUTS. He pushes the announce table over, crushing Booker & JBL. Then Lesnar grabs poor little Michael Cole; F-5, MAGGLE! YES! Brock has murdered Michael Cole. This the greatest Raw in history. The cameraman gets a bit too close and he’s grabbed too. Everybody should run away now. Brock is pissed and he’s going to kill everyone. This brings out Stephanie McMahon and Brock has murderous eyes. F-5 for the cameraman. Steph suspends Lesnar “indefinitely” and screeches like some sort of harpy. This was awesome. Brock the murderous psychopath is a joy to behold.
Final Rating: N/R
Tangent: I can only assume Brock’s “suspension” has something to do with prior commitments before inking a new WWE deal right before Wrestlemania. Once Lesnar has sorted everything out, gotten his ducks in a row, he’ll be back and might even take on something more closely resembling a wrestler’s schedule with the company. Even if he doesn’t, I’m cool with him being a special attraction. Any show he’s on benefits from his path of rage.
Video Control takes us backstage where Renee Young quizzes Steph on why she did what she did. Steph says Brock can have his rematch when she says so and she’ll be bringing the fines. Lesnar just signed a contract with the WWE and that means “I own that son of a bitch”. Damn. Lesnar vs. Authority then. Why can’t Brock just destroy everybody? Why does everything come down to Authority vs. people. I hope Brock F-5’s Michael Cole again for getting him into trouble. At ringside Byron Saxton takes over on commentary because all the other commentators are dead. Well, that’s one way of sorting out their weak commentary team. Byron sounds completely lost but it does sell how destructive Lesnar’s rampage was.
Damien Mizdow vs. Stardust
Mizdow just does the Miz’s act and the fans still love him, even though he’s not with Miz anymore. It’s almost a squash as Mizdow routinely outworks Stardust and beats him with Skull Crushing Finale. Well, damn! The Miz runs in to hit his own finisher on Mizdow. Miz spends a while arguing with the fans and that’s the segment. Not really selling the feud there. Plus it made Mizdow and Stardust look weak.
Final Rating: ¾*
Promo Time: Curtis Axel
He points out it 29 guys to throw him out of the Battle Royal at Wrestlemania. He tears the shirt with the support of all his Axelmaniacs. But he’s interrupted by… Adrian Neville!
Neville vs. Curtis Axel
It sounds suspiciously like Neville has lost his "Adrian" as Lilian Garcia (and the onscreen graphic) just introduce him as “Neville”. This crowd is big on him immediately because they’re fans of NXT. Neville flips around, kicks Axel a lot and finishes with the Red Arrow. This was a total squash, which is great news for Adrian Neville because they put him over big. The Red Arrow gets two slow motion replays and looks phenomenal. Let’s hope the freshening up of the roster won’t result in burials of the new guys in order that they ‘pay dues’ like with the Ascension. But hey, on this, Neville looks to be quids in.
Final Rating: *1/2
Video Control gives us another replay of Brock smashing stuff. I’m tempted to boost the show’s rating up again for a replay of the F-5 on Cole.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. X
This is an open challenge. Cena comes out to singing, not chanting, of “John Cena sucks” and proceeds to suck up to the audience calling it the best crowd the WWE has all year. If every crowd was as hot as the post-Mania crowd the WWE would be flat-out awesome. Everyone expects Rusev to come out here but instead we get…Dean Ambrose. Oh my god, what happened to the WWE Creative team? They’re doing unpredictable stuff! And it’s good. I’m actually flabbergasted.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
On an unrelated note, I’m glad Ambrose is healthy after taking that sick powerbomb last night. Cena works like a smart veteran and slows it down, taking all the anger and enthusiasm out of Ambrose before he even gets going. Hell, when Ambrose gets a move in, Cena bails to give himself a moment. Who is this guy? What’s happening? Ambrose basically gives Cena a kicking. It’s not until Cena counters into a Protobomb that he gets anything big. Dean even kicks him in the face after the ‘You Can’t See Me’ taunt. It’s bizarre. Bizarroworld Cena finds the STFU countered and he’s clocked by the rebound lariat. Dirty Deeds is countered but Ambrose escapes the FU and I’m wondering if Cena has been told his job as US champion is to get other people over. It’s about damn time. FU can’t put Ambrose away but the story of the match has been Cena looking human. They botch a powerbomb out of the corner, which is unfortunate as it leads right into Cena hooking the STFU. “John Cena SUUUUUUUCCCKS”. I love that tune. Ambrose gets out and hooks his own STF and it’s clean as a whistle. FU is countered right into Dirty Deeds…for 2. They rock some terrific counters after that, both looking for the finish until Cena rolls through a crossbody into the FU to retain. Expected outcome, not the expected match. If Cena wrestles a match like that every week, against different guys, he could make the entire roster in a year. If his role as champion is to be ‘Ric Flair’ I’d be thrilled, frankly. Surprisingly great match. The second great match on the show.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins is ready to cut his first promo as champion. He’s asked about Lesnar, who he thinks is “an animal” and his conduct is “unbecoming of a WWE superstar”. Seth promises to keep the title for a “very long time” but in comes Randy Orton, to remind Seth he beat him at Wrestlemania. He also makes a fine point about not getting a rematch from last year’s Wrestlemania (in singles anyway, he was in the Money in the Bank match for the vacant strap after Bryan’s injury and Battleground). Seth’s backup, Kane & Big Show turn up, and Rollins challenges Orton to find two people who don’t hate him to tag against them. Which he should have no trouble doing because he has “so many friends” says Seth. That made me chuckle.
AJ Lee, Paige & Naomi vs. Natalya, Nikki & Brie Bella
Nattie has her Wrestlemania gear on. Unfortunately her stuff with Naomi is slow and stilted. There’s nothing technically embarrassing about anyone out there. There’s no Jackie Gayda out there or Shaniqua but it feels like wrestling academy kids work. I’ve seen enough trainee matches to recognise one when I see it. Paige & AJ have a little more intensity but even if you’re the best wrestler in the world, you still need someone to work with. This is the first dead spot on the entire show and it drags and drags and drags. Seriously though, everything else has been brilliant so it makes one dead match acceptable. I know there’s a movement to #givedivasachance but I just wish that didn’t mean the Bellas. The crowd supportively chants “let’s go divas”, showing love for the division rather than anyone in particular. AJ takes a brutal looking Oriental Crossbow from Nikki in the best spot of the match. There’s another cool moment when the cameraman jumps onto the babyface corner and is shooting right next to Naomi when they run the hot tag. Amazing footage. The Bellas collide and Naomi hits the Rear View for the win. This picked up down the stretch after a poor start. The more time they get to tell stories the better they’ll get. This wasn’t good but it was better than the usual crap.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Orton is hanging out with Ryback. He offers his support. “Feed. Me. More”. So that’s one volunteer. Meanwhile Bryan & Ziggler vs. Barrett & Sheamus is signed for Smackdown. Hey, that sounds good. Two big yet mobile heavy hitters against two smaller guys who can take a mean bump but are also fun on offence.
Goldust vs. Rusev
Saxton points out Rusev has been here all along, so why didn’t he go after Cena earlier? There’s no Lana so that might play into matters. This is a massacre. Rusev is mad about losing his US title and Goldust has nothing to stop him. The ‘Dust Brothers have had an unfortunate couple of weeks with their feud imploding after a bad match at Fastlane and now both guys have been turned into jobbers. Rusev wins in about three minutes with the Accolade.
Final Rating: ¾*
Seth Rollins, Kane & The Big Show vs. Randy Orton, Ryback & Roman Reigns
Roman is the surprise third guy, which is surprising because he took a PRISON YARD BEATING last night but not really surprising because Seth cost him a potential title win and stole his opportunity. This could potentially become the third good match of the night…if Kane & Big Show never tag in. Sadly they do and the crowd chant for all manner of crap when they tire of the big boys. They want Lesnar back, Sami Zayn, DX! Show tags in and the crowd chant “please retire”. Ouch. Kane even has the temerity to throw in a chinlock. Nobody wants to see Kane & Show. Nobody. The crowd get bored and start a Mexican wave, which is a nightmare scenario for the wrestlers. Seth just stops to watch the crowd. This show has been hijacked! It’s like watching ECW. No, an ECW crowd that’s shitting over a mediocre WWE product. I wish we had this crowd every week because they would force the WWE to do better. Roman tags in and the crowd hate him. The WWE did a phenomenal job in ruining Roman Reigns, to the point where he was fucking great last night and he’s still being booed. He’s beating up Kane and Big Show, who everybody hates and he’s still being booed. SHELLSHOCK ON BIG SHOW! That was impressive. RKO on Kane and Roman hits the spear for the babyface win, met by a chorus of boos. Seth Rollins having legged it up the ramp to avoid a spear of his own. This was really dull until the last minute or so of finishers. It is a pity Roman Reigns didn’t win many people over last night. I actually thought he had a great showing against Lesnar.
Final Rating: *
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Brock Lesnar. Tough call too with great title defences from new champs Daniel Bryan and John Cena. But neither of those two hit Michael Cole with the F-5. That moment will be remembered for some considerable time.
Least Entertaining: Kane and Big Show
Quote of the Night: “The most non-PG ass-kicker of the PG Era; Brock Lesnar” – Paul Heyman
Match of the Night: Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler
What We Said: Easily the best Raw I’ve seen in 2015. A great follow-on from a surprisingly strong Wrestlemania. Two great matches on the show and Brock Lesnar’s decimation of the entire announce team has to be one of the great spots in Raw history. Plus the WWE called up Lucha Dragons and Adrian Neville, thus freshening up the stale tag division and midcard. For once it felt like anything could happen and Raw was exciting again. I hope it’s not a one-off. I hope it’s not just Wrestlemania energy hanging in the air as this was a lot of fun to watch. Up until the divas match the show was one of the best Raw’s ever. Major improvement on the Road to Wrestlemania shows. Let’s hope they can keep it up.
The go-home show for WrestleMania is an important night in the Raw calendar, a chance to convince those on the fence that the supershow is one they cannot afford to miss. In years past there have been notable happenings in the final broadcast, significantly the WWF purchase of WCW fourteen years to the day prior. After a stunningly mundane series of shows in 2015 so far, I am not holding out to much hope that they will do an about turn and get things right tonight.
Of note is that WWE have drafted in the NXT LCD ringside apron this evening, and despite it looking rather snazzy at Full Sail, it comes across as really tacky here. It's partly down to the colouring of the NXT branding, which fits nicely with the signage. The Raw logo doesn't, making it look more like a throwaway Christmas special. It doesn't help that Raw has barricades that block the majority of it, whereas NXT has steel barriers which you can see through. I don't blame them for trying, because I have long through the LCD sign needed to be transplanted into the main roster broadcasts, it just turned out to be a bad idea. Back to the drawing board.
Of further note is that no mentioned whatsoever is made of Perro Aguayo Jr., who tragically died in the ring just days earlier during a match featuring former long-time WWE star Rey Mysterio. Perro never worked for WWE (though, his father did) so they were hardly duty bound to mention it, but it would have been a rare touch of class and compassion if they had. Make no mistake though, I was under no delusions that they would bring it up. Such is WWE's paranoia regarding their image that they wouldn't dream of acknowledging a wrestler's passing unless they absolutely had to, no less one under forty who died in the ring.
Promo Time: Sting
"This is history in the making! For the first time ever, Sting opens Raw". And so Michael Cole starts us off on the wrong foot with one of the more spurious claims he is likely to make. He opened the show? So what? Who cares about that? Why is that a thing that matters in their little bubble all of a sudden? "Today, for the first time in history, I started my day by eating a bran muffin rather than a bowl of cereal. History in the making!"
As Sting heads to the ring greeted by a huge response, Cole can't help himself but to talk over the moment, cheapening it further with each word that tumbles out of his mouth. He even extols the virtues of WCW, a "legendary company" in his eyes. That's a laugh. NWA certainly was at times, but WCW sucked, even when it was good. Try watching Nitro again, it's a goddamn headache. Sting cuts a promo using his real voice, making that video package a few weeks ago channelling Black Scorpion all the more baffling. Cole is a giddy mark about the whole thing. He can't believe he has finally said the words, "Sting is here on Raw!" I mean, it's like the third or fourth time he has been on the show, so I have no idea what he is blabbering about.
Sting pooh-poohs the idea that he is fighting for WCW, dismissing it as ridiculous. Thank you! He lays the situation down in clear black and white, confirming that his only aim is to take down Triple H. That brings out Hunter's domineering wife to fight his battle for him, immediately rendering what had been a fun trip down memory lane into a big fat snoozer. Steph immediately makes it all about her, so Sting calls her out for what she is; employed because of nepotistic entitlement. Okay, he doesn't say that exactly, but he alludes to as much. Steph has a counterview: she thinks Sting is intimidated by her. Isn't everyone on this roster? Here we go again with this Spice Girls bullshit from Steph. It's utterly galling. She begins to talk in one of her trademark unrelenting run-on sentences to the point that I quickly lose all interest in a word she is saying. The gist of her tirade appeared to be disparaging Sting as much as possible (he is a "small fish" in WWE, you know), and reminding him that "WCW lost". Sting literally just said that this wasn't about defending the honour of WCW, so that's an especially dumb thing for Steph to say. Stop making the issue into something it's not! Steph calls Sting a freak and tries to slap him, but he is quick like a cat and catches her hand.
That finally brings out Hunter to defend his wife's honour. Steph gives him a sledgehammer from under the ring, but this ain't Sting's first rodeo, and he reveals his trusty bat hidden in his jacket. "Don't give him what he wants, save it for WrestleMania" instructs his boss, so Hunter backs down and walks away with his tail between his legs. Give the way Sting has dominated this program on television, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him lose to Hunter. I have encountered the famous Triple H ego many times before. I remember when he inexplicably beat Brock Lesnar two years ago. I certainly wouldn't put it past him as the "face of WWE" to defeat Sting on his company debut. Sting was good in this segment despite what he was given to work with - and really over too - but Steph was her usual product-harming self. She is like picture a dead horse when you are hard: a guaranteed way to kill a wrestling boner.
Dean Ambrose & R-Truth vs. Stardust & Luke Harper
Putting these four in a tag match will not make me want to see the IC title ladder bout at 'Mania. It may well achieve the opposite given some of the competitors. I simply don't understand WWE's logic of late in putting all of their upcoming PPV matches in different combinations on Raw. It's a tactic they have been employing a lot in recent months; splurging bouts and making guys work each other week after week before finishing things at the big show once the program is dead or has cooled off. Surely there are other things these guys can be doing than working with each other ad nauseum? This match is nothing anyway, just throwaway filler that exists to "further" the storyline. Naturally, nothing does actually develop as a result; the program just remains stagnant and heatless. No issues are progressed in any way; things just trundle along week after week without increasing fan interest in the match. It's not just these guys, it is every feud. WWE has forgotten how to book, and thinks a feud is just two guys wrestling each other repeatedly to the point that you pray you will never have to see them wrestle each other again. Mind you, it is hard to get interested in anything involving Stardust, who might well be one of the most embarrassing characters on the roster. The way Cody plays the role reminds me of when people from outside of the industry try and "play" wrestling in a skit or such, complete with over the top costume and comically bad mannerisms. In fact, the most interesting thing in the whole match is Booker T discussing the betting odds, before giving up and openly admitting how crappy the bout is. "What a car crash this is," he says without any filter. Truth picks up the win for whatever reason, and now everyone is even steven going into the PPV, each man equally as un-over as the last.
Final Rating: 1/2*
We take a trip back in time twenty years as WWE partners with the Special Olympics, which is the usual self-aggrandizing WWE back patting that I find so galling on Raw. It's nice that they are doing things like this, but I have no interest in being force fed it each week. They can do all of the charity work and good deeds they want, but we all know what a hypocritical, controlling, hyper-sensitive nutty company they are behind the scenes.
Remember when Miz and Mizdow broke up last week? They are seemingly back together now. Presumably because the thirty writers don't know how to book them apart for a single week without having them wrestle each other. This company would give Vince Russo a headache.
Ryback, Erik Rowan, Zack Ryder & The Prime Time Plays vs. The Miz, Damien Mizdow, Adam Rose & The Ascension
Sweet lord, what clusterfuck is this!? Bill Simmons does commentary here, which I couldn't care less about so let's just ignore him. You can tell it's WrestleMania season because every random almost-celebrity that will give WWE the time of day is wheeled out for the cameras to add their "star power" to the mix. The reason behind this match? All of the guys in it are part of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Oh hell. Way to kill that match dead. Actually it was dead anyway after last week's thirty second battle royal sham. Speaking of dead, I honestly just assumed The Ascension and Adam Rose had kicked the bucket, it's been so long since they appeared. They are certainly dead in the water. The only guy in this who is genuinely over is Mizdow, and at a push Ryback and Miz. The rest are future endeavors bound. Miz is involved in the best part of the match (or whatever the hell this is supposed to be), when Ryback smashes him inside out with a vicious clothesline. The Shellshock follows and that is it, Ryback pins Miz. Out of all the guys in this, Ryback pins the man who headlined WrestleMania this decade. To borrow a phrase: Really. Really?
Final Rating: 1/4*
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins, Joey Mercury & Jamie Noble
This match comes as a result of an app vote, with the audience having to choose between Big Show, Kane and the trio they went with. Tough choice, huh? The triumvirate got around 80% of the vote, which begs the question: which sick fucks opted for the aged gruesome twosome? Seth has little involvement in this, instead content to let J&J take a kicking while he begs off. "RKO outta nowhere," screams Cole in his typically conceited tone, trying to latch onto a meme that was over in mid-2014 and subsequently ignored completely by WWE. Short and pointless, but at least they kept Seth and Randy apart.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Last week on wwe.com, John Cena sat down for an interview with Michael Cole and cut a promo about how proud he was to be an American. Evidently he is trying to win the US Title to be a representative for the country all over the world. Why? So he can show everyone outside of American how people from the US bust their asses to earn things. Why do all the other countries need to be forced into knowing that? Having a pro-American guy go into a different country and brag about his achievements in a braggadocios tone is heelish. It's that kind of behaviour that reinforces a lot of the negative stereotypes about American people. WWE realise they are an international company right? This 1993 Lex Luger rehash is archaic mass pandering, and so incredibly representative of how out of touch Vince McMahon is that it's comical.
Backstage, Paige and AJ have a discussion about Nikki having granted Paige a Divas title match tonight. She is worried. "It's a trap". Quite, Admiral Akbar, quite.
WWE Diva's Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
Last week, WWE in their own minds #gavedivasachance and it sucked, really goddamn sucked. They just don't get it. The Bellas are not "wrestlers" who need more time to work matches, they need sending to NXT to learn how to work full stop. This is yet another match featuring performers wrestling each other at WrestleMania, by the way. WWE do give the women chance to work a decent length match, but it is predictably useless for the most part thanks to the uncoordinated Nikki. It only picks up in the final stretch when Nikki hits an Alabama Slam, causing JBL to throw out the most random of references by calling it "shades of Bob Holly". I think he has been drinking. I don't blame him. Raw makes me want to start drinking heavily too. Things heat up when Paige hits RamPaige, but Nikki kicks out in a believable near fall. They brawl on the outside after an ugly spill, AJ accidentally hits Paige and Nikki uses her Fake Tit Shock Treatment for the win. Post match, AJ and Paige have a ruckus, opening up a can of worms going into WrestleMania.
Final Rating: 1/4*
Next, out comes WWE's favourite rapper Snopp Dogg, flanked by the talentless non-wrestling cast of Total Divas. For the record, every episode of that show this season has been more entertaining than Raw tonight. Curtis Axel interrupts Snoop just as he starts into a promo, here to put over #Axelmania. You could sense his involvement from a mile away, but having him involved in an angle with Snoop does at least give me some hope that WWE realises they are onto something with Axel. I am even more convinced when Hulk fucking Hogan comes out to a monster pop, making a surprise appearance to do something other than promote company propaganda by talking about the Network or breast cancer. Hogan references slamming Andre for a change, though the attendance has swelled to 94,000 now, then yells at Axel for ripping him off. Axel rips his shirt off and swings, so Hogan decks him before Snoop throws him out of the ring. Well, that gets Snoop over nicely for his match at WrestleMania ... Oh. Snoop takes off his shirt to a reveal a Hogan shirt underneath. They should just book Hogan vs. Axel at WrestleMania. It's not like Hogan needs to bump for him. This was all harmless enough fun.
We get to see a second airing of Brock Lesnar's superb sit down interview from last week, all serving to hype tonight's hype segment for their match at WrestleMania. Hmm.
Interspecies Tag Match
Cesaro, Tyson Kidd & Natalya vs. Los Matadors & El Torito
I am not a fan of Natalya, whose voice goes through me like nails on a chalkboard, but for WWE to bill her as being another species is perhaps a tad harsh. The match is just background noise for JBL and Cole to talk to the Usos - who join the commentary team - and they go on and on about that infernal double date segment from two months ago. I swear, they don't even look at the match for a good five minutes. It's all a total comedy farce anyway. The little midget bull kicks out of Natalya's lariat to the sound of Cole yelping, "He was bullish on that move." Oh, fuck off and die. Because this is WWE, the most shambolic wrestling company on the planet as of right now, the detestable bull pins the woman to win the match. I hate this show. I really, really despise it.
Final Rating: 1/4*
Rusev vs. Jack Swagger
Welcome back to 2014 for round #259 of their never ending series of matches. Whose cornflakes did Jack Swagger piss in to get such a depush anyway? Two years ago he was working with Alberto Del Rio in the World Title match at WrestleMania. Yes, that was a thing that really happened. Rusev gives him a little offence, but it's pretty much an extended squash, only with added chinlock. Rusev refuses to release the Accolade, causing Cena to charge down and attack him. It doesn't go well. Rusev fights him off then hurls him into the barricade, the post and the announce desk, as WWE desperately try and give the impression that Rusev has any chance of winning at 'Mania. Rusev isn't finished, so tries and fails to put Cena through the table, then locks him in the Accolade until referees drag him off. A nice show of dominance, but we already know before the fact that it will ultimately be for naught.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
Because Undertaker is not showing his face until WrestleMania Bray has little to work with, so he just cuts one of his standard well-written but go-nowhere promos. "We Want Taker," yell the crowd, but they don't get him. Instead they get a light show from the production team, complete with lightning sound effects. Bray just talks over it before telling Taker he will rest in peace.
This week, it was Rolling Stone's turn to get the scoop on the latest Hall of Fame inductee, with Kevin 'Diesel' Nash the final entrant. He is going in as Diesel, much like how Scott Hall went in as Razor Ramon. It's funny, because I have heard many an interview where Nash said he would refuse to go in unless Rick Rude (and a couple of others) went in first. Not that Kevin Nash is known for hypocrisy or lying about things or anything... As far as the WWE Hall of Fame goes, he is a worthy entrant. He changed the business (for the boys, at least) when he left the WWF in 1996 by forcing Vince's hand in giving guaranteed contracts. He also was and still is an underrated worker from his time with Titan. Before he stopped giving a shit in WCW he was capable of putting on great matches with the right opponent. He is main eventing this year's Hall of Fame show because WWE don't want a dead guy going on last. It sends the wrong image, you see.
Backstage, Natalya and Tyson Kidd do a horrible ad for Burger King. The less said about it the better, but having well-toned WWE grapplers extol the virtues of calorific fast food is something else.
Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler
Thank god for this match. For some reason the IC title is already hoisted above the ring for the ladder match at WrestleMania, which is a spurious use of time. They will have to just take it down again at the end of the night! Dean Ambrose is voted in as special guest referee for this, which Michael Cole decides is a "classic" before it even happens. It sure could be, if given time and without being hampered by goofy booking. What they put together is a nice little TV match, though the lack of crowd heat hurts it somewhat. Both guys are popular, so like with all babyface matches the audience don't know how to react. Ambrose makes no difference to the match at all, which is how a referee should be really, but it renders his involvement pointless. The finish comes when Ziggler hits the Zig Zag to cleanly pin Bryan, finally giving Ziggler that big win but of course doing so at the expense of Bryan rather than say Cena or Ortom. In my mind, knowing how WWE tend to book, the defeat makes Bryan a shoe-in to win the IC title at 'Mania. He can look forward to putting all of the other guys over in non-title matches each week after that. Post match, Ambrose grabs a ladder and tries to climb for the title, then the rest of the guys head out for a tired brawl. "This is like Sunday," says Cole, who has been to the future. If it is like Sunday, we might as well not bother watching. They all take turns fighting over climbing the ladder, which is among the dumbest most redundant things I have ever seen. Why are they all so desperate to get the belt now? Why does none of this program make any sense whatsoever? Compounding the stupidity of it all, we cut to commercial with all seven guys out cold. Wow. This show for the past few weeks has been like a WrestleMania demo disc. By the time we get to the main show, we will have already seen all of it.
Final Rating: **
Main Event Confrontation: Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns
"This speaks for itself," says Cole as Lesnar enters, and for once he actually shuts his mouth and doesn't talk over the entrance. The big question: will Brock talk? Or will he get paid a handsome sum for standing in the ring and smirking? Heyman says he has nothing left to say to sell that match, which is true, he has done a fine job of it. Far better than anyone else in this company has, that's for sure. Then he spends the next five minutes selling the match... Heyman breaks it down very simply: either he will be right and Lesnar will kill Reigns, or he will be wrong and Reigns will live up to the hype. He reminds everyone that nobody thought Lesnar would beat the streak, that no one realised he would destroy John Cena is such a manner at SummerSlam, and that everyone thinks he will lose at 'Mania this year, but he won't. He mocks everyone who refers to Lesnar as a money-grabbing mercenary, then explains in some detail just why Lesnar loves being WWE Champion so much. Lesnar, sporting his new badass heel beard, nods and smiles in agreement. Reigns heads out to his usual mixed reaction - that of mostly apathy and a smattering of boos - as some in the crowd chant "Overrated" at him. Lesnar holds the WWE title belt up in Reigns' face, so Reigns grabs it. Oh, not this belt theft bullshit again! Lesnar grabs it back, Reigns holds on, and we go off the air with the duo grappling over the title in a tug of war, like a pair of IC title ladder match jabronis. Brock sure earned that contract again tonight. What a way to hype WrestleMania!
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Sting. He is special because he is different and has been used sparingly. It is a promotional tactic that WWE would be well served to employed with a host of other overexposed talents on this roster.
Least Entertaining: Without a Big Show or Kane match, this becomes a little tougher. Ah, there was a Steph segment. There you go then.
Quote of the Night: "What a car crash this is." - Booker T doesn't hide his feelings.
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan, though it was nowhere near the spectacle you feel they are capable of.
What We Said: As far as normal episodes of Raw go it was mundane, for a WrestleMania go-home show it was pretty drastic. By design the go-home show for any pay-per-view is supposed to increase interest in the forthcoming event, hyping the card and making you feel an urge to order. This show made me feel an urge to buy copious amounts of alcohol to try and make sitting through WrestleMania bearable. Baffling storytelling from the top to the bottom of the card has managed to turn the biggest show of the year into an exercise in apathy. WWE is about as bad now as I can ever remember it being.
We’re in Des Moines, Iowa. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
He’s not best pleased about Randy Orton’s attack on him last week. He must have been the only man in the world who didn’t see it coming. Rollins points out he did the same thing to the Shield but that was a “sound business decision”. Seth is accompanied by his cronies and Big Show offers an apology, calling Rollins the “best damn talent in the WWE” and calls Orton “cruel”. Show calls Orton a “snake” and offers to crush him. Kane offers backhanded support. “I wasn’t as gullible as Big Show”. All of this leads to Seth accepting Randy Orton’s challenge to a Wrestlemania31 match on the proviso that they also clash tonight. Orton strolls out to accept the challenge and that’s Raw’s main event set. It didn’t need to take up 10 minutes of talking but the show is so long they seem to think they need these segments. It’s a pity really that they’re so creatively null as there is more than one way to set up a match.
AJ Lee vs. Nikki Bella
Paige has AJ’s back. Nikki’s Divas strap isn’t on the line here. Nor will it be at Wrestlemania31 as it’ll be tag action, which means both Bellas will be on the ‘Mania card. I hope Sasha Banks or Charlotte gets called up the night after Wrestlemania to win the title. My desire to see a women’s division without the Bellas in it is unlikely due to their celebrity status but hey, that’s the WWE for you. Nikki Bella is probably my least favourite diva, largely because of her incompetence in the ring but combined with the push she’s received. AJ’s campaign to #givedivasachance probably didn’t involve getting time against one of the Bella Twins as the match is garbage. AJ tries so hard to get Nikki to actually wrestle a match but it’s just beyond her. The announcers get bored and start chatting about Twitter. AJ tries hard to get the match over, as it’s basically her idea to get the divas more exposure and as the match progresses it becomes more about AJ Lee’s ideas rather than Nikki’s boring moves. Nikki is so sloppy AJ can’t get anything going although the crowd does respond to some of it. Nikki gets in a cheap shot punch that JBL compares to Wayne Rooney getting knocked out in his kitchen. He loves the footy! So Nikki wins and having #giventhedivasachance they stink the joint out. Nikki Bella is a terrible wrestler with no timing.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control takes us back to Smackdown! Mark Henry made a surprise return to confront Roman Reigns. “You young bucks, you think you know it all” he says. Were the WWE trying to bury a tag team from New Japan here? I know they have an issue with the Wolfie hand sign that the Bucks, and the rest of Bullet Club, use. To the point of trying to copyright a hand sign. Americans and their lawyers. It’s a hand sign, stop being jerks. Incidentally I own more NJPW merchandise than WWE stuff at the moment. Why could that be? Is it because they have a far superior wrestling product and I feel the need to support it?
Backstage: Kane & Big Show argue about Kane announcing Show will be in Rollins’ corner tonight. Show pointing out how Kane could have just told him without announcing it on TV. Acknowledging flaws in the writing? Super. Seth Rollins turns up to call them both stupid so Kane calls him a “spoiled brat”. The crux of this is Rollins’ boys not wanting to be at ringside to back him up tonight.
Ryback vs. The Miz
Ryback beat Miz on Smackdown! Mizdow was not required to be at ringside and found the whole thing amusing. Another promo from Miz confirms his desire to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania. If Mizdow doesn’t help him achieve that he’ll be fired. Ryback manhandles Miz with ease. Hey, remember when Miz headlined Wrestlemania 27? Dark days. Ryback finishes Miz off quickly with the Meathook and the Shellshock. Even taking the time to try and get Mizdow to punch Miz, which doesn’t happen. Post match Mizdow hops in to help Miz up, which earns him a Skull Crushing Finale. Surely Mizdow is turning full-on face at Wrestlemania. It’s the only logical conclusion in all of this. The Miz’s stunt double angle is played out.
Final Rating: ½*
Contract Signing: John Cena vs. Rusev
This is the contract signing for the US title match at Wrestlemania. Cena tries to sell the importance of this contract calling it the “most important he’s ever signed”. I seriously doubt that. Cena moans about Rusev being the US champion despite enjoying the perks of the USA and running it down simultaneously. Cena taking the “USA, USA, USA” route stops people booing him, in America anyway but come Wrestlemania and the eclectic and smarter fanbase he’ll just get booed anyway. I’d certainly boo him for running this patriotic drivel. At least it creates the ‘right’ crowd reactions here in the good old US of A. Rusev arrives without Lana causing a “we want Lana” chant and instead with a bespectacled goof. He’s Rusev’s attorney. Urgh, lawyers. At least Rusev is embracing American culture! The lawyer points out that Rusev didn’t agree to the match, it was Lana. The commentators bury the whole thing, claiming the lawyer was working community theatre in Des Moines earlier today. Rusev reads a lengthy statement calling Americans “failures”. It’s good heel work but the segment is really long unless you like chanting “USA” a lot. Rusev flips the table over and legs it. The WWE are trying to make this feel important but it’s not really working. Unless you’re American.
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd vs. The New Day
New Day is represented by Big E & Kofi Kingston. Before we get underway Los Matadores come out here. This tag division is weak. Jay Uso looks to be out injured now as well, which makes the division even weaker. Cesaro vs. Kofi is pretty good as Kingston can bump Cesaro’s cool spots. Cesaro blindsides Kofi with a forearm to the back of the head for the win with Kingston distracted by Tyson Kidd. This division is a joke. At least they switched the belts before Jay got injured. Can Cesaro carry the whole division by himself? He tries hard here by destroying Xavier Woods and selling for El Torito in the post match antics.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage to see Jamie Noble pointing out that Seth Rollins should have been listening to him the whole time. “I quit, you can’t fire me”. After Noble walks out Joey Mercury shrugs his shoulders and walks out too, leaving Rollins alone. Is it me or would Rollins vs. Noble be a better match than Rollins vs. Orton?
Video Control goes from there to Brock Lesnar cutting a pre-recorded interview about his career. “I was put on this Earth to hurt people”. “It’s what I do, it’s why I’m here”. From there we get clips of Lesnar murdering the Streak last year. “I don’t care. Disappointment? Surprise? I loved every minute of it”. Lesnar points out how he sent Rock packing to Hollywood as a rookie, ended the Streak and ended John Cena as a main eventer at Summerslam. Roman Reigns can’t beat him. “At Wrestlemania, Brock Lesnar is gonna kick your ass…this isn’t a fairy tale”. “At Wrestlemania I am gonna BEEP up Roman Reigns. The End”. Great stuff from Brock, in UFC big fight shill mode.
The Big Show vs. Erik Rowan
I don’t know what they’re trying to do with Rowan but he’s been fairly worthless since parting company with Bray Wyatt. Show beats the crap out of Rowan before the bell, resulting in a no-contest.
Final Rating: NR
Video Control confirms Larry Zbyszko is going into the Hall of Fame. This is something that irked me from WWE’s Twitter feed today. First off they do one of their classic “breaking news” things confirming Larry is going into the Hall of Fame then literally 40 minutes later they tell us to watch Raw to find out who’s the next Hall of Fame inductee for 2015. But…you just told us. It’s Corporate incompetence of the highest level. Either there’s more than one guy working the Twitter feed or the one guy has severe short-term memory loss and/or it’s just total stupidity. This is WCW levels of incompetence. I dread to think what WCW’s Twitter would have been like in 2000 if such a thing existed then.
The ring is mostly filled with jobbers (Heath Slater, Alex Riley etc) apart from Kane and Mark Henry. Kane points out this is a “preview of the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal”. Henry announces he’ll be in it, which is exactly what Stephanie said shouldn’t happen when Cena did the same thing a few weeks ago. Kane and Henry clear out all the jobbers (the best of which was either Swagger or Goldust, real low card guys). Henry goes to throw Kane out but gets jumped by AXELMANIA! Henry throws Axel out as well to win. This was pointless and really short.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Heyman’s role as Brock Lesnar’s advocate reminds me of the Silver Surfer. “Galactus is coming! Y’all about to get killed”. “Brock Lesnar is coming to Wrestlemania to make WAR. WAAAAAR on Roman Reigns”. Heyman suggests that Brock Lesnar might not stick to the rules at Wrestlemania. “Are they cut Wrestlemania off? Give you all your money back? It’s an impossibility”. Heyman implies that Lesnar might “do what he’s not supposed to do”. In other words, if Brock wants to ‘beat’ Roman Reigns, given his shoot background, then he will. Heyman’s suggestion that Reigns will take a “prison beating” makes me laugh. “YOU CAN’T BEAT BROCK LESNAR”. Eventually Heyman pisses Roman Reigns off enough for him to come out here. Reigns respects Paul and says he’s the “best talker in the business”. Roman is expecting a fight, not a fairytale at Wrestlemania. The crowd, still not won over, chants “Daniel Bryan”. It doesn’t matter if you win the title Roman Reigns, you’re still not The Man. This was a convincing promo from Roman though. He stuck to the point and kept it short and confident.
Video Control takes us backstage where Paul Heyman is leaving. Renee Young asks him about Roman Reigns. “He wants to play chess with the chessmaster”. Heyman promises Brock Lesnar will be on Raw to confront Roman next week.
Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose & Dolph Ziggler vs. Wade Barrett, Stardust & Luke Harper
R-Truth, the other guy in the Wrestlemania ladder match, is out here to watch complete with the IC title strapped to his back. I’m still confused as to why Daniel Bryan is wasting away in a 7-man match for the IC title, a title the WWE doesn’t care about in the slightest. What’s more ludicrous is they’re trying to kill him by having his colleagues call him a turd. It’s ridiculous. Small guy gets over. How dare he? Bury him! At least the guys in this match are aiming to steal the show. They’re the only ones who are. Ziggler in particular has bags of energy. The announcers get distracted by R-Truth denying stealing the IC title and adding –izzle to the ends of words, completely ignoring the match. If they were paying attention they’d notice Ziggler, the hardest working wrestler in the promotion, busting his ass. It’s a solid 6-man tag with genuinely exciting false finishes and a drawn-out finale that includes an ad break. Meanwhile the commentators continue to bicker over semantics. Cole & JBL on the same team is a DISASTER. Ziggler accidentally kicks Bryan in the face to establish heat between the babyfaces. Barrett runs into Dirty Deeds and Ambrose picks up the win. Of all the guys they had out there, guess who lost? The damn IC champion AGAIN! Good match though. One we desperately needed after a bad show. Everyone lays each other with finishers after the match and Barrett reclaims the strap. It’s remarkable how they’re trying to do 50-50 booking with 7 guys.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins moans about his back-up all quitting to Triple H & Steph. The latter blames Seth for causing all the problems he faces. Hunter gives him the “who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” speech so Rollins cuts him down for “playing hide and seek with Sting”. The bottom line of this is that Rollins will face Orton alone tonight.
From there we go to Bray Wyatt’s pre-recorded thoughts on the Undertaker match. Wyatt’s promos are always good. He almost makes me care about the beaten up old man that is the Undertaker. His main point is telling us the Undertaker is afraid to even show up before Wrestlemania.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
You know that plot they’ve been running all night about Seth alienating all of the Authority? Yeah, it’s a swerve. Then everyone stands around for ages until Sting’s crow noise kicks in and he suddenly appears in the ring to clean house. Sting & Orton hit finishers on J & J as Cole calls this “an incredible moment”, twice, as Hunter stands on the floor doing nothing. Yeah, incredible. At least Sting turned up though.
Final Rating: N/R
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Paul Heyman. For putting seeds of doubt in the minds of everyone expecting a Reigns victory at Wrestlemania.
Least Entertaining: Nikki Bella
Quote of the Night: “If I stay I’ll be WWE champion. If I go I’ll be WWE champion” – Brock Lesnar talks about his contractual situation.
Match of the Night: Bryan, Ambrose & Ziggler vs. Barrett, Stardust & Harper.
What We Said: The two best segments on the show were Lesnar & Heyman talking. I think that says quite a lot about the programming as a whole. This was a slight step-up on recent ‘Road to Wrestlemania’ programming though and things actually happened and at times I was even entertained. There was some dreadful wrestling on display though and until Paul Heyman walked to the ring, the actual venue saw nothing of note. Luckily the 6-man delivered and the arrival of Sting perked up the main event (even if there was no match). Up to the battle royal we were witnessing an absolute dog of a show though. Dreadful first half tonight and a fine example of Raw being too long at 3 hours.
Promo Time: Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, Kane & The Big Show
Why do WWE think Rollins-Orton is the WrestleMania main event? It gets more TV time than anything else. I guess that is the price you pay for promoting part-time guys in all of the show's top matches. Shame, because it's probably one of the worst booked storylines in the company. Randy came back as a babyface to a huge pop, beat up the guys that put him on the shelf and then... turned back heel to align with those very same assailants. The purpose of which is only to turn him back babyface anyway! "It's WrestleMania season! You can feel it in the air!" Whatever, Cole. Nobody cares this year. The card is all wrong and the build up has been farcical.
Kane and Big Show both welcome Randy back to the Authority, which is a laugh because he has been back for two weeks. Jamie Noble can't get through his speech, because he thinks Orton is a snake. He is the only one who can see the big picture. Seth wants to address the elephant in the room - no, not the Big Show - the supposed heat between he and Randy. Apparently there is none. Oh good, can't wait for the subsequent match then. "You people must all feel like the stupidest people in the world," Seth tells the crowd. Well, they paid to attend Raw so, y'know. Rollins and Orton shake hands, as Seth plays the role of snivelling sycophant to a tee. Orton calls them all out on kissing his ass, asking what happened to the Authority since he left. He goes the comedy route, as everyone in WWE does, mocking Kane for becoming the Authority barrista, Show for being a disappointment, Noble for being a shortarse (hey, it's WWE, being short is a crime) and Rollins for being blinded by his ego. He lays out what we all know already; that he is in the Authority to get close to him so he can take him out. Well, he sure threw that plan out there in the open...
Oh, he is just "screwing with them". It is a double swerve of course, because he is telling them the truth, playing it off as messing with them, but by saying he is messing with them he really is messing with them. Or something. Okay, I have a headache already. Just do a fucking RKO you meme inspiring cretinous shit!
Daniel Bryan vs. Bad News Barrett
According to Cole, there is a lot of speculation about whether Bryan will be in the WrestleMania ladder match for the IC title. Well, there is a ladder on the stage, so that is a pretty big goddamn clue. Subtly is not their best trait in WWE. Cole reminds us that Barrett is the IC champ, which is goddamn staggering considering how he jobs every single week without fail. When did the guy last win a match on this show? In what universe is the champion losing every week the right way to build both the belt and the champion? Hey, remember when Hulk Hogan was WWF Champion for four years and he lost every week in non title matches? No? That's because it never happened! Vince has tied himself up in so many idiomatic knots inside of his self-created bubble that is the WWE Universe, that he has lost all semblance of understanding about what wrestling even is. He used to be the master at long-term storytelling, but now there is the feel every week of throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, and then, if the wrong shit sticks, wiping it off and starting again. You know, the wrong shit like Daniel Bryan, the man who should be working with Lesnar for the title at WrestleMania, stuck in a dangerous midcard stunt bout fresh off surgery, reduced to working the opening match of the TV show in a nothing match with a guy who should be booked as unbeatable but conversely, never wins. It is a WCW-like level of stupidity and it results in this: utter apathy from the crowd. The match is nothing, just an excuse for R-Truth to join the commentary team again and make idiotic jokes with JBL. Predictable moment of the night: Bryan pins Barrett clean. It doesn't matter though, because he lays Bryan out after the match with the bull hammer. Ah, hello even steven booking. "The Lunatic Fringe" (of a group that disbanded a year ago) runs down to take out Barrett, causing Truth to scream indecipherably. What a total farce. The thing is, this will likely be the best match on the entire WrestleMania card, and nobody cares at all.
Final Rating: *
Dean Ambrose vs. Stardust
This insipidly booked drek continues into a second match, with current IC title "holder" Stardust heading out wearing the belt. Truth remains on commentary, as he and Cole try to get over a hashtag which I am not even going to justify in print, relating to the big mystery of the evening: what's in R-Truth's bag. If I were a betting man, I would suggest it was green and smokeable. Hey, remember when Dean Ambrose was getting really over organically, so WWE started over-scripting him by making him pull wacky pranks and then had him lose on pay-per-view after pay-per-view? The result? A heatless match, like this. He is just another meandering midcarder who is used at a level far below his ability. Another nothing match, same moves, same order, same outcome. Ambrose reclaims the belt after the bout, so Barrett comes out to deck him. Everyone involved in the ladder match, and Daniel Bryan who is still "not announced", heads to the ring for a rumble. Everyone takes turns hitting their moves, R-Truth acts like a cartoon sidekick and steals the title, but gives Barrett it back in his mystery sack when he threatens him. But laugh out loud moment alert: it's a joke! He only gave Barrett a miniature replica of the belt! The writers here get paid. Paid actually money to come up with this stuff.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Michael Cole announces that a new award has been created for the Hall of Fame, the Warrior Award, something the man himself campaigned for during his speech last year. He asked for WWE to recognise non-wrestlers who have played an important role in the company, so WWE has taken that to heart. The first inductee: Connor Michalek, the kid who sadly died last year a month after WrestleMania from paediatric brain cancer. He was a close friend of WWE due to his spirit, passion and positivity, so this is a nice gesture. Connor's wrestling nickname was "The Crusher", so I would be remiss to point out that the wrestler The Crusher is in the WON Hall of Fame, the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and the WCW Hall of Fame, but not WWE's...
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Is Brock Lesnar here? That is the big question, of course. But first, we have to sit through a Roman Reigns video. The crowd is as enthused as they ever are by anything to do with Reigns, and Heyman looks bored too. He breaks the silence by bringing out Lesnar, thus answering the question. Heyman mocks the Reigns video, dismissing it as mere WWE propaganda. The irony of that being it is entirely true! It is WWE propaganda, a means to make Reigns seem like a legitimate threat to an unbeatable bad ass, despite having jobbed to a goddamn cradle pin last week on this very show. Reigns should have been Goldberging his was to WrestleMania, he might even have got over approaching the level he needs to be, but of course, the curse of WWE booking struck again. Heyman is a master salesman, the best possible man to be building this program, but even he can't shine shit. Hey, Reigns is not bad, he just isn't "the guy" like WWE want him to be, and WrestleMania is going to be one colossal fart in church when he wins that belt. Heyman tries to build the apparent real life tensions between WWE and Lesnar into the storyline, warning that any "Montreal" shenanigans will be met with Lesnar killing them. In the first genuinely amusing moment of the night, Heyman's mic gets cut off, an homage to last week's disastrous production screw ups. "If Brock Lesnar wants to spend his summer unifying the WWE Title with the UFC Title, that's what he's gonna do!" Line of the year! Heyman tells anyone who wants the belt, to come and get the belt. Cue... no one. Instead, Heyman continues putting over Lesnar, but all that does is remind everyone how great he is, and how out of his league Roman Reigns is being in the ring with him. As usual, Lesnar doesn't say a damn word and doesn't do a damn thing. Why even bother flying him in? He should be murdering Reign's family members with F5's! Why was Reigns not out here either? They didn't have to do anything physical, but surely a confrontation at least? Matches with personal tension and intensity sell tickets, whereas this is built around Lesnar's contract status and fans turning on Reign's entitled position as unwanted top dog. Is this the worst build for a WrestleMania main event ever? It's rhetorical; it is.
Bray Wyatt, with the urn, cuts a brief promo telling Undertaker to find him tonight...
Kane & The Big Show vs. Ryback & Erik Rowan
I actively despise three of the four guys in this. When Ryback is my favourite guy to watch out of four, there are problems. The match is the usual teeth-pulling Big Show & Kane experience, with the sensitive giant upset with the crowd chanting at him. He then makes a faux pas, punching Kane in the head for Erik friggin' Rowan to score the pin! Wow. The heels argue after the match, so here comes Principal Stephanie to reprimand them. "Turn around right now!" she bellows. Oh Jesus, did Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech ever go to Steph's head. The emasculator bollocks them both for not being monsters anymore, and tells them to leave. If this results in Kane coming back as 97-circa Kane then I will be delighted. It won't though. This was all horrific.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, Miz brown noses some rapper who I have no interest in, then Mizdow turns up dressed like said rapper. He throws out some rhymes, revealing his participation in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Hey, rapping worked for John Cena.
Said terrible rapper then does a set. What has gone wrong in my life? How is this guy a millionaire when I am not? I can rap better than this! And believe me, I can't wrap. "Holla. We dem boyz" Repeat, vomit. This is the worst Raw segment of the year. Hey, do you remember the good old days when Big Show and Kane were wrestling on the show?...
... This is still going on. Come on Wrestling Gods, give me anything! Even an Eva Marie vs. Rosa Mendes iron woman match! "Black and yellow..." What does it even mean? This is not music!
A THIRD "SONG"! Hey, guys, you know there is a big wrestling show in three weeks right? Perhaps you should spend some time devoting television to building that? This is the worst excuse for music I have ever heard in my life. The guy cannot rap, he cannot hold a note, there is no tune, there is no sense to any of the lyrics. I wish I was deaf. I want to stick hot needles into my ears so I never have to risk hearing that every again.
AJ Lee vs. Summer Rae
Summer Rae... Hey, bring the rapper back! The point of #GiveDivasAChance was not to give the terrible ones a chance. Fire Summer Rae. Fire Eva. Fire Cameron. They all suck. Those pathetic excuses for "wrestlers" are why the Divas division is such a joke. Summer's timing would make Giant Gonzalez wince. She is about a mile off on every single move. A neckbreaker? She bumps about thirty seconds before AJ even hits it. It's embarrassing. Business exposing, actually. It doesn't help that she appears to be having a facial spasm after every single move. AJ wins with the black widow, and we have a new frontrunner in the worst match of the night stakes. The last few segments have been among the worst things I have seen in the past decade.
Final Rating: -**
In a promo video, a fairly good one actually, Sting speaks with a brand new voice. It's bizarre. It's also not his voice, but reports of Ole Anderson's involvement are merely rumour... At WrestleMania, "game over". Erm, a video is nice and all but I think it is about time we had Sting on Raw. WWE know WrestleMania is in a few weeks right?
Backstage, Rusev bumps into John Cena on his way to the ring. Cena plays the pro-America card, telling Rusev he has no right to go out and run down the US every week. "You have the right to free speech, but I have the right to shut your mouth". Well, that statement is WWE all over.
Rusev vs. Curtis Axel
What's that I detect? An actual pop for Curtis Axel? Careful now, don't get too over or you will be given the Zack Ryder treatment. Axelmania runs wild for all of a minute before Rusev squashes him. The strange thing about this is, I actually think that Rusev should be mashing Hulk Hogan as part of the build towards WrestleMania. Killing Axelmania is one thing, but destroying Hulkamania would make him a real top guy. Strangely enough, as I write that, Rusev mentions Hulkamania, saying Americans are living in the past. "If America had a soul, God would spit on it." That brings out Cena, who warned Rusev that if he said anything about America, he would beat the shit out of him. He locks Rusev in the STF and thrusts, looking for all the world like he is trying to forcibly penetrate him. Rusev passes out, to the delight of Michel Cole, so Cena revives him with water and locks it on again. Lana begs for Cena to release him and promises him the WrestleMania title match he has been begging for. There's your message kids: if you want something from someone, beat them up until you get it from them. That's the American way. "John Cena is going to WrestleMania," barks JBL. Yeah, it sure was touch and go for a minute there.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Backstage, Bray Wyatt says he raises the dead. Tonight. Will it be like Weekend At Bernie's 2? He might need to enlist Papa Shango and The Boogeyman for assistance.
The New Day vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd
Just when you thought this show couldn't get any better, we return from commercial and The New Day are in the ring! What's wrong with Big E. Langston? I think he is having a religious experience. He appears to be speaking in tongues and spasming. The lord is in him! It is perhaps worse even than Summer Rae's selling. Big E and Woods are the pairing tonight, which is the least used of the possible combos. If you thought this crowd was dead before, they are pin drop silent for this. Unbelievably, the tag champs do the job for the joke tandem. Are they out of their fucking minds?
Final Rating: 1/4*
Natalya vs. Naomi
The Usos and Naomi head straight out while Natalya and the champs are still in the ring, making it the second time this evening that they have transitioned straight into a match like that. On paper this is one of the strongest main roster women's matches they could do, but we miss most of it because of commercial. After a brief, but technically competent contest, Naomi hits Natalya in the face with her ass to score the win. It ties for best match on the show, remarkably.
Final Rating: *
Los Matadores vs. The Usos
They are not fucking around tonight! Los Matadores head straight to the ring for a match with the Usos, making this the third match on the show to do that now. Are they just trying to cram as much into the show as possible? I don't mind, it cuts out a lot of faffing on. Shame the Usos treat this as a joke and don't even bother to take their shirts off. "Again, the big news tonight has been the New Day knocking off Tyson Kidd & Cesaro," says Cole. Not only is he the worst kind of arrogant, condescending know it all, he is now adding delusional statements of complete idiocy to his repertoire. "CM Punk, CM Punk" - the audience. Hey, at this point I don't blame them. This show has been a dog, the matches horrible, the segments crap, the writing predictable and/or lame, the special guest a crime against music. And to compound the misery, Los Matadores, the joke team, defeat the Usos via WWE's ever popular distraction roll up finish. Tonight, Raw is Tropes! Did Brock Lesnar knock Vince silly backstage before he signed off on this?
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, Jamie Noble tells Seth Rollins he has "a bad feeling" about things. Listen to Han, Luke! Amusingly, Rollins is stood in front of the WrestleMania poster, which features both John Cena and The Undertaker. A little quality control? At least an ATTEMPT to preserve suspension of disbelief that this is not just one big joke?
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
And now for the only well-booked WrestleMania program. Bray does his usual solid promo, with Undertaker's urn in tow, telling the 'Dead Man' he won't be his redemption. Wyatt calls Taker out, the urn starts smoking, and the lights go off. Then the bell dongs, to a HUGE pop, but no Taker. Instead, a spotlight hits the ring, and the urn is gone, replaced with Wyatt's rocking chair. "WrestleMania: The Man Comes Around" says the big screen, as an old recording of Taker saying "rest in peace" echoes around the building. Lightning hits the ring, setting the chair on fire, causing Wyatt to both laugh and recoil in fear. The crowd are upset that Taker is not there, but I am glad. He is the one man who does need saving for WrestleMania before he is seen again. If he is clad in his 1990 gear, all the better! Okay, the reality of this was a guy sat in a ring staring at a burning chair, but I love the silly pyrotechnical magic show, and I thought this was very effective. Even if it was really corny and silly. At least it was interesting.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins & Randy Orton
This needs a full Randy Orton turn to heat up the program with Rollins beyond its current Arctic apathy, and Lesnar to square off with Reigns. It's all storyline of course, with Seth sending J&J Security away because they are distracting Orton. He has set himself up for a fall, of course. As soon as he goes for a tag, Randy pulls a Sid Justice and refuses. Randy throws up a Steve Austin double digit salute, shown from the wrists down by the PG cameras, and Reigns hits a spear for the win. In short order too.
Final Rating: 1/2*
Randy slaps the piss out of Rollins post match and then beats the living hell out of him. It's so vicious, it's practically a heel beat down. The babyfaces are all assholes on this show. At least there is logic to this, with Show and Kane having been ejected so no one can help Seth. Randy pounds on him for a good five minutes, leathering him in the back with a chair repeatedly, causing Rollins to cry. Yes, cry. The hangman DDT from the barricade to the concrete finishes the job, with the crowd now silent due to the viciousness of the assault. It turns out he is not finished. Randy lawn-darts Seth over the announce table and into a chair, then drills him with an RKO through the table. A sweet one too. Helluva way to cement a babyface turn with a violent heel attack... There you go then folks, your main event for WrestleMania (judged purely on TV time and focus), one that is really a seven minute undercard match. Why was there no mention of John Stewart tonight? And on that note, where did the future WWE Champion disappear to? Why was he not involved with Brock in any way? WWE should put Reign's match on first at WrestleMania to get it out of the way, and put Undertaker in the main event. At least fans will care about that.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Bray Wyatt. His promo was the only really good thing on the show. In truth, not everyone will have enjoyed it because it was so theatrical and silly, but I loved it.
Least Entertaining: Oh man, I am spoilt for choice. I rarely split the award, but many deserve it. Let's go with Summer Rae, Big E, Michael Cole, Big Show and that atrocious rapper. Each one of them reminded me why I love wrestling and hate sports entertainment.
Quote of the Night: "If Brock Lesnar wants to spend his summer unifying the WWE Title with the UFC Title, that's what he's gonna do!" - Paul Heyman. Like I said, line of the night.
Match of the Night: As Stupid Sexy Flanders once said, "Nothing at all, nothing at all, nothing at all"
I have sat through every episode of this show since it started in 1993, and I can safely say that this is among the worst broadcasts they have ever done. At least in the past they had direction, even if the content around it sucked. Here, WWE were lacking both in content and direction, throwing together slapdash nonsense that would be weak for a B-show during a free Network month, never mind the biggest show of the year and the card that drives the business. It is too late now, but after WrestleMania the WWE needs to push the reset button and push it hard. It is time for a spring clean. There are probably about two dozen guys that could be released and half as many girls, all of whom have outstayed their welcome and will never be anything other than laughing stocks. There is a roster full of far superior talent in NXT, all of whom could make WWE must-see TV if used right. The entire mentality of this company needs to change, because if they don't they might be in more trouble than they realise. Sure, business looks good on paper, but so did WCW's in 1998. Before the fall, the problems are not apparent to the bottom line. But they will be. This show summed up everything that is wrong with WWE. From start to finish, it was a meandering piece of shit. Sorry Vince, this one didn't stick.
We’re in Newark, New Jersey. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
He’s out here to respond to John Stewart’s comments on the Daily Show. Seth turned up on the Daily Show to challenge Stewart to be at Raw this week. They show the clip and Stewart plays it for the comedy, even trying to comically jump Seth who puts him in a headlock. I would be fairly uncomfortable with anything more aggressive. Rollins compares the situation to Lawler and Andy Kaufman. Seth continues to rant until Roman Reigns arrives through the crowd. Rollins goes for the Mr Perfect route and claims he’s better at everything than everyone, including outwrestling Roman Reigns. “You can’t beat Brock Lesnar”. “I can beat Brock Lesnar and I can beat you”. The crowd aimlessly starts chanting for “CM Punk” as Roman challenges Seth to cash in the Money in the Bank contract and turn the WrestleMania main event into a triple threat match. Seth even suggests he’ll just cash in afterwards. J & J Security get beaten down and Seth legs it. I enjoyed seeing different people get to come out and talk at the start of the show although I’d rather they didn’t start the show with a promo at all. These guys got their business done in 13 minutes, as opposed to the standard 20. Economical. Still not that much fun though as Dean Ambrose was the guy from the Shield who could talk. Roman shouldn’t be talking at all. Belee Dat!
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins is met by Randy Orton. Randy suggests Seth should challenge Roman to a 1 on 1 match tonight. I could live without Orton’s personality void sucking Rollins down into the WWE Main Event Style abyss.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bad News Barrett
R-Truth joins commentary, seeing as he’s involved in this whole Intercontinental title picture for some reason. I didn’t even know he still worked here. He seems to think that stealing the belt, and giving it to Ambrose again, constitutes two title changes. Given the shambolic state of the IC title, they might as well change the rule to whoever is in possession of the belt is the champion. After Ambrose & Barrett’s match at the PPV, I didn’t want to see a re-match. I recently scoped out a few WrestleMania's for an upcoming ‘Mania book and watching early Ambrose, in WWE at least, is a real eye-opener. His character has been eroded away since then. Everything from his ring gear to his selling has become worse. The booking of him has been a joke. It’s astonishing that they threw away a potential main eventer and turned him into a meaningless midcarder. The match ambles along until Truth, on tippy-toes like a goddamn cartoon character, steals the belt again. Then Luke Harper shows up behind Truth and the crowd become so distracted that Ambrose & Barrett just stop doing anything. Barrett gets distracted too and Ambrose beats him with Dirty Deeds while Harper walks off with the belt. The IC title continues to be a joke and Ambrose is all the worse for being involved in this garbage. Incidentally the IC champion lost, yet again. It’s like winning the title is a curse.
Final Rating: *1/2
Video Control gives us a recap of the Miz-Mizdow stuff of late with Miz stealing Mizdow’s endorsement deal. Back live and Miz has gathered the locker room, or the worthless parts of it anyway (it’s a room full of jobbers), together for the debut of his commercial. Mizdow tries to explain something to him, as Miz hasn’t actually watched the commercial, but Miz just wants to watch it like a petulant child. It turns out the commercial is for ‘Niagra’, an erectile dysfunction pill. Mizdow finds this amusing. Dick jokes, eh? That’s about the standard for humour in this company. I’ve said this many, many times but Vince McMahon (and Triple H, the King of Kings Dick Jokes) and I do not share a sense of humour. “This little general has plenty of bullets in his arsenal” yells Miz clearly not understanding his own analogy or how he was being mocked. Mizdow briefly looks like he’ll stand up to Miz and the crowd’s big pop suggests this is a go for WrestleMania. Either at the show or to set up a match at the show. However it plays out I’d like to see less Miz on TV this year.
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
He’s out here with a coffin he built himself to debate what’s left of the Undertaker. “You mock me, with all this silence”. Bray compares himself to fire, in that he doesn’t discriminate and just destroys everything in his path. “At WrestleMania you’re gonna burn too Deadman”. Bray torches the coffin and screams “FIND ME, FIND ME” at it. While I dig Wyatt’s promos, there’s only so much they can do without Undertaker actually making an appearance. Time is running out!
Cesaro, Tyson Kidd & Natalya vs. The Usos & Naomi
Nattie went mostly heel on Naomi last week. Cesaro & Kidd have been working at their double teams, incorporating Cesaro’s uncanny ability and Kidd’s reasonable timing. Unfortunately the heat seems to be on Naomi & Natalya and that match is nowhere near as good. Naomi rolls the injured Natalya up while she’s complaining about being tagged in, which Tyson did as a defensive move with both Usos coming after him. I’m getting bored of this feud. It feels like there’s nowhere for it to go, except more of the same.
Final Rating: *1/4
Promo Time: John Cena
We get a quick recap of Cena challenging Rusev to a match at WrestleMania and Rusev shutting him down by pointing out he already beat him. As per usual Cena gets a mixed reaction. One he’s been receiving for so long it’s just become the norm. Cena decides to give up on going after Rusev and says he’ll “adapt” and move on. Rusev’s right, he is a quitter! Cena enters himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal, which gets booed. This brings out Stephanie McMahon to point out wrestlers can’t just book themselves into matches. Cena points out that’s exactly how things happen around here and cites a few humorous examples. Steph tells Cena he can’t compete in the battle royal and he calls her a bitch before regurgitating his accolades. Steph belittles him by pointing out he’s the same as Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock and Bret Hart by thinking the WWE couldn’t survive without him. Steph suggests he should sit this WrestleMania out and the crowd chant “YES!” “You’re not special, you’re not unique”. Steph getting big face pops for this assassination! They’re interrupted by Curtis Axel and Axelmania runnin’ wild. He’s been in the Royal Rumble match for 35 days! “Often imitated but never eliminated”. He puts his name forward for a shot at Rusev. The crowd loudly chants “Axelmania”. The world has gone weird. It’s not even a name heel getting cheered against the WWE’s poster boy but a guy who jobbed to Ryback in seconds last week.
John Cena vs. Curtis Axel
“Whatcha gonna do, when Axelmania runs wild on you?” Cena puts on his serious voice; “if this match starts you will not walk out of this ring”. Yanno, I bet he does. Cena can’t do ‘dangerous’ under any circumstances. He can do goofy and Acting Serious but the man has never had a real bad day in his life. He can’t be ‘up against the wall’ or ‘struggling with demons’ because his brain can’t comprehend the problems of the ordinary man. Which is why the ordinary man boos this genetic perfectionist musclehead on a daily basis. Curtis poses a bit and the crowd chant “Axelmania” again. Cena beats him down but the big problem with Cena beating someone up is that his move set is so phoney that it only works for a babyface. There’s nothing in Cena’s arsenal that goes beyond ‘tame’ on the legitimacy scale. Those goofy overhand punches just don’t cut it if you want to do actual damage. FU sets up the STFU and Axel taps out. This was amazing WWE booking as they did months of booking in 5 minutes. They got a guy really over and then jobbed him out to Cena. Normally that takes 6 months. Ask Rusev after WrestleMania. Speaking of Rusev, he shows up after the match and the crowd suddenly want Rusev-Cena at WrestleMania. They’re all over the place tonight.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to pre-recorded footage of Michael Hayes and Arn Anderson putting Sting over. It’s an interesting tactic but it lasts seconds and hardly even gets to the point; Sting was dedicated in WCW.
Promo Time: Triple H
Like Bray Wyatt and the Undertaker, this feud is struggling to get over with me because it’s just one guy talking over and over again. How much can Hunter say about Sting without repeating himself? He repeats himself here by saying he’ll bury Sting and it’ll be like his career didn’t exist. Hunter decides to get a word with a WCW icon to get this segment over; Booker T. Hunter calls Booker on saying Triple H “politicked” Sting out of a spot here in the past. Here Booker is playing the role of the Internet and Hunter is playing the role of Triple H. If Triple H could Pedigree the internet he totally would.
Tangent: The really bizarre thing is that Triple H seems to think everyone on the internet is living in their parent’s basement. Just like some people think wrestlers are all roid monkeys with shrivelled testicles but I’m sure Triple H wouldn’t want someone calling him on that every week. Hey, Hunter, are your nuts still shaped like dried prunes? Awesome, brah! Does Hunter think none of the internet fans are normal, well-adjusted human beings and not actual WWE fans. Just smart marks who watch the show so they can write negative, abusive reviews online. He doesn’t see them as critics who all happen to hate the product. It’s like the WWE will only listen to people if they’re saying something nice. It’s that Corporate idiocy that people have to deal with on a daily basis with their own head office, bosses and people so far up the ladder they’re out of touch. That’s what Vince McMahon is, too far up the ladder to actually understand the problems on the ground. He doesn’t listen to people. He didn’t even listen to the CM Punk podcast, just got the information second hand. Why would you not pay attention to something like that? It just boggles the mind. If I can sit through the Vince McMahon podcast (and the Hunter one) and marvel at how blinkered their thinking is then they can watch something outside their own comfort zone. Which is the WWE’s biggest problem; no outsiders. Everything is sanitised and within Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn’s wheelhouse. The only good thing about the WWE is NXT because McMahon and Dunn aren’t involved in it!
Anyway, back to Hunter’s promo, which is still going on. Hunter takes exception to Booker being honest and fires him. As Booker goes to leave Hunter says he’s just “messing with him”. “I have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter” says Hunter, referring to getting the chance to beat Sting, but in my mind the opportunity was when he was handed a world title a decade ago. Hunter talked at length here but didn’t add anything to the existing feud. Nice to see them using Booker T more creatively though.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
This is a rematch because of the “controversial finish” at Fastlane where Nikki grabbed Paige’s tights (barely). And yet Cena doesn’t get a rematch with Rusev? I wish the internal logic would at least make sense within a singular show. Why couldn’t Nikki just tell Paige that she didn’t deserve a rematch because she lost? This match only seems to exist so Michael Cole can shill Total Divas Season 3 finale this week. That show seems to exist as a vehicle to get the Bellas over and I can’t stand the Bellas at the best of times. Paige has the PTO here but stupidly breaks the hold to knock Brie off the apron. Paige gets the PTO again but Brie runs in for the DQ. Will she get another rematch now because of yet another screwy finish? From the way the WWE is booked, I would say that’ll never happen. As the Bellas beat Paige down in runs a returning AJ LEE! Looks like Mrs Brooks is going to be part of WrestleMania season. She’s been out since December 2014 and her last match was against Nikki Bella for that Divas title. Naturally the crowd chants “CM Punk” because his wife is out there, even though he asked people not to chant his name just because AJ was around.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to AJ skipping through the backstage area. “Who asked you to come out there AJ?” – Paige. “The enemy of my enemy…I think that makes us friends, Paige”.
The Daily Show
With Jon Stewart on Raw this evening, Seth Rollins is hosting his own version of the Daily Show. The WWE writers can’t actually write comedy, not funny comedy anyway, so it’s interesting to see how this goes. It’s cheap heat for starters (“Newark is the armpit of America”) before more cheap heat (“he’s a wuss and a phoney…he’s from New Jersey”). J & J Security laugh along at the lame jokes. Eventually Jon Stewart makes an appearance. Stewart is immediately on fire: “You’re out proving to the world that you can barely read”. “How could I make fun out of someone dressed like a SWAT team stripper with Lady Gaga’s hair”. “We use the Curb Stomp in New Jersey, that’s how we greet each other in the morning…that’s a New Jersey brunch”. Stewart’s basis for criticising Rollins is that he never earned his spot, instead taking the quick and easy route by being the “poster boy” for the Authority. Stewart’s self-depreciating comedy gives Seth nowhere to go in comebacks and his storytelling and wisecracking is so good I wish he was here every week as an analyst. “Who’s fighting for the WWE title at WrestleMania? Is it Seth Rollins? Is it Seth Rollins?” Seth gets tired of being abused, and being left with no potential recourse other than violence, and grabs Stewart but he’s distracted by Randy Orton arriving, allowing Jon to kick him in the balls and leg it. Stewart was so entertaining here I wish the WWE could afford to hire him to be on commentary. He came across as knowledgeable, intelligent, funny and everything he said made perfect sense. His very presence here made Rollins look like a bigger star. Even if he was handily outwitted.
Video Control takes us backstage for Renee Young to interview Jon Stewart. “That was a left footer…to the groinal area”. Stewart is aware of his surroundings and heads off in cowardly, nervous fashion. Again, drawing chuckles from the audience and making sense. I suspect he wrote everything he said because it was different and actually funny. If any of the WWE’s writing team came up with a word of it I’d be amazed.
Luke Harper vs. Daniel Bryan
The crowd response for Bryan is enormous, the biggest pop of the night by far. The WWE may not consider him to be the company's main guy but reactions say otherwise. Bryan uses his speed and strikes and works around Harper’s limitations. Harper gets a few cool spots by grabbing Bryan and hurling him. The one javelin spot into the buckles is nothing short of brilliant. Bryan does a cracking job of selling his neck and Harper goes after it with his move set. Bryan counters on the mat into the Yes Lock though and gets the submission.
Very good match but really short. Bryan is still, by some distance, the best wrestler in the WWE and their biggest star. The WWE opt to treat his victory as merely backdrop to the various IC title guys fighting over possession of the belt. Harper, Barrett and Ambrose. R-Truth nicks the title and the crowd, ignoring this nonsense, chant “Daniel Bryan”. Harper ends up with the belt again but Dolph Ziggler strolls out here to superkick him on the ramp and steal the strap to set up the various opponents in the IC title match. Bryan gets a “Yes” chant going, perhaps in support of Ziggler who climbs a ladder by the entranceway, not so subtly suggesting a ladder match for the IC title at WrestleMania. I really hope Daniel Bryan isn’t stuck in that match. Is that seriously what they’ve got planned for him?
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control gives us Hall of Fame updates with Alundra Blayze going in this year! Or should we say Madusa, which she was known as for the rest of her career. It’s almost as if Vince McMahon didn’t get a say in this year’s inductees as long-time enemies Randy Savage and Madusa are going in. Madusa’s faux-pas was dumping the women’s title in the trash on Nitro. That’s covered here, along with showcasing Alundra’s success in recovering the women’s division in the 90s. I approve of Madusa going in though, she was a terrific wrestler. “I had a crush on Alundra Blayze” says Booker.
Video Control takes us backstage again to see Seth Rollins argue with Randy Orton. Randy points out he saved Rollins from a lawsuit and being fired for smacking a non-wrestler. Kane & Big Show offer their support for tonight’s main event and Jamie Noble (BOOOOOOOY) kicks Orton out.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
The crowd, an ECW stronghold, chant for Heyman’s former company. Heyman sorts that out by calling Newark “rancid”, in passing, because he’s a heel. He’s out here to talk about the rumours that Brock Lesnar walked out on Raw last week. He says Lesnar will be at WrestleMania. “He will be anywhere he damn well pleases after WrestleMania”. If Lesnar goes to UFC, he should take Paul with him to shoot on opponents. Heyman attacks the fans for believing in “fantasies” and suggests Lesnar is indestructible. Heyman points out everyone thinks Roman Reigns is going to win at WrestleMania (“it’s already been booked by God himself”). Heyman tells us ‘Mania goes 1 of 2 ways. 1. Brock beats Roman down like he did John Cena. 2. Brock Lesnar “Ronda Rousey’s your ass”. Heyman says that Roman will be “conquered” at WrestleMania. Another cracking promo from Heyman, spitting venom at anyone within ear-shot. I wonder what they’ll do with Paul if Lesnar leaves? He’d be a major loss from the broadcast if they cut him loose again.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins
We get a Tale of the Tape to make this feel like a genuine main event. “He’s not the most articulate guy in the world” – JBL of Reigns. Shoot! The crowd ride Reigns with a “you can’t wrestle” chant and they actually boo him for beating up Rollins. Every town where this happens makes it seem like a dumber decision to persist with Lesnar-Reigns in Mania’s main event but hey, it’s set in stone now. The match is a plodding disappointment with Roman incapable of having an opening shine because all he’s got are weak punches. Then Rollins has nothing to contrast that. If he hits flying stuff, it’ll turn him face in the match. It’s really, really hard to be more boring than Roman Reigns in singles. Which is why the face-face match with Bryan worked so well. Daniel just worked babyface and it worked. With the match dying on its ass Randy Orton walks down here to watch and Big Show gets into arguments with the fans and the camera focuses on these things while Seth hooks a chinlock and lies in it. If there’s a moment that shows how boring this match is it’s seeing one of the ringside fans on his phone. Not just quickly either. He’s sat there for ages doing something. Is he playing Candy Crush? The match not only serves for a demonstration of how aimless the WWE’s wrestling matches can be but also at how irritating the production is. Like Michael Cole yelling “for the victory” when it’s blatantly a near fall or the camera zooming in and out on every punch. It feels like they’ve deliberately made the show as irritating as possible. It’s like they’re trying to actively drive fans away. Seth uses his Authority buddies to distract, which allows him to hit flashier spots without turning himself face. Orton grabs Roman’s foot when he’s going for the spear and Seth gets an badly timed roll up win. During which Cole doesn’t shout “for the win” because he only does that on near falls. Awful match. Made Roman Reigns look even worse than usual.
Final Rating: *
Post Match: Roman Reigns demonstrates his real skill by demolishing everyone in the Authority in 30 seconds. Booker rather ruins the spot by telling us that “Roman Reigns is ready” as if he wasn’t ready before this match. Does that explain why he lost? Cole makes matters worse by claiming Reigns “split Seth Rollins in half…and I’m not even exaggerating”. The resulting camera shot reveals Rollins is still in one piece. You’re a fucking idiot Cole and I’m not even exaggerating.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Jon Stewart
Least Entertaining: Michael Cole
Quote of the Night: “The Miz did it, Fandango did it, Adam Rose did it. That’s not exactly murderer’s row. I think you’ve got some spots open, I’m in” – Cena declares an interest in the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal by belittling everyone else in it.
Match of the Night: Luke Harper vs. Daniel Bryan
Verdict: In terms of entertaining guys talking, this was a decent show. The John Cena bit entertained me. The Jon Stewart bit entertained me. The Paul Heyman bit entertained me. But the wrestling side of things wasn’t so good. Roman Reigns looked poor again and he really can’t work a 15 minute match without being carried. The rest of the card was completely forgettable and going into WrestleMania the card is looking increasingly poor. There’s a New Japan show on Thursday (5th March) that has three matches I’m looking forward to more than anything at WrestleMania (Makabe-Honma, Shibata-Kojima and Goto-Nagata) and that’s a nothing Thursday card during New Japan’s dead season. I just don’t understand why people continue to put up with this shoddy promotion. The only reason I’m here is because we’re reviewing this stuff and I’m actively trying to find positives and reasons to keep coming back. The casual fan must have left ages ago. Raw is just not good television and this is the peak of their year. What crap do we have to look forward to after WrestleMania when Creative gets tired and the storylines start to drag? What happens when this show gets even worse?