This is more like it from the WWE Network. A relic from the past, much loved and missed by long-time fans like myself, reanimated exclusively on the Network. It's the kind of thing they should have been doing for a while, otherwise what else is there to retain the more casual viewers outside of the monthly pay-per-views? The old shows are great, but we have all seen them plenty of times. They are fine for a few months as a hook, but once you have watched everything you want to watch, then the need for fresh, first-run programming arises. They have figured that out now, and this week alone there is something new and potentially entertaining every night. For all my criticism of WWE this year, one thing I cannot praise them enough for is the Network. I think it is the best thing they have done in a long, long time.
The show opens with a brief graphic in memory of a true wrestling great, former AWA promoter Verne Gagne, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. It's nice that they acknowledged him.
We start with a recap from Raw last night introduced by Jerry Lawler, showing how tonight's four semi-finalists made it to this stage. To recap: Bad News Barrett beat Dolph Ziggler after interference from Sheamus, R-Truth beat Stardust in a head-scratcher, Sheamus went over Dean Ambrose thanks to a Dolph run in leading to a DQ, and dark horse Neville pinned Luke Harper in a tidy little match. Of the four remaining, Sheamus is the only former winner of the tournament, having lifted the crowd in 2010. We cut to the locker room where he tells Byron Saxton someone will kiss his arse. That shtick is old already. Neville is with Renee Young and warns Sheamus that he is doing to show him what a "little fella" can do.
King of the Ring Semi Final
Sheamus vs. Neville
Remarkably, three of the four competitors remaining in the tournament are from the British Isles. I guess it is sort of fitting. Jerry Lawler demonstrates his worth right away by noting that Sheamus could become "the next Loch Ness Monster". JBL mocks him for mixing up Ireland and Scotland, as well he should. As has been the case for Neville in his matches of late, he faces a significant size disadvantage. It's something he is going to have to get used to in the land of the giants. So far he has fared relatively well, though how much faith WWE truly have in him will be shown tonight. It would be a bold but brilliant move to put him over. He is already getting good reactions, and to win the tournament would give fans more reason to believe in him and support him. Early on he has a hard time getting going, with Sheamus' size too much for him to overcome. He almost gets counted out a few minutes in when Sheamus charges him off the ring apron and into the announce desk, but he makes it back in. "Little fellas don't belong in my ring!" yells Vince McMahon, ahem, Sheamus. Sheamus hits White Noise, which is the cue for Dolph Ziggler to wander out with a microphone and show footage from Extreme Rules. Well, I don't agree with that behaviour at all. Why didn't the production guy just turn around and say, "Fuck off mate, there's a match going on!" The distraction allows Neville to kick Sheamus in the back of the head and then connect with the Red Arrow for the upset win. Well, they put Neville over, but he sure needed a whole lot of help to do it. And wow, was this ever brief. I know it is only an hour show, but there are only three matches! Post match, Dolph wants to collect on the stip that Sheamus failed to honour at Extreme Rules and have him kiss his "arse". It's a strange thing to be so adamant about. Instead they have a pull-apart brawl, in which Sheamus gets busted above the eye and juices a gusher! It's a mess! "Look at his eye, look at his eye!" bellows Cole, clearly having been given permission to draw attention to it. A shift in ordeals in the works perhaps? Probably not. WWE are just more willing to let their Network be PG-13 due to the demographic of the fan base watching it.
Final Rating: *
We get a commercial for the Network next, which is utterly spurious given this is a Network exclusive show we are watching. I get that they are looking to retain free subscribers, but this combined with the excessive shilling during the damn pay-per-view is bordering on excessive.
Backstage with Renee, Bad News warns Neville that he is going to be known as "the man nobody remembers". How can you be known as something if no one remembers you? R-Truth is with Saxton, and he is fast becoming one of the most hateable characters on WWE television with his inane ramblings and unspeakably shitty attempts at comedy. Apparently the guy hates spiders, so when he wins the tournament tonight he is doing to put a ban on them. Who writes this childish shit, really? Go away R-Truth, you were useless fifteen years ago and you haven't got any better since.
King of the Ring Semi Final
R-Truth vs. Bad News Barrett
That Truth is even in the tournament, never mind the semi finals, sadly sums up how important this tournament really is to WWE, no matter how much they champion it as being prestigious. "Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Harley Race" they yell. "Billy Gunn and Mabel" I retort. Indeed. There is only one winner here and the crowd knows it, so they sit on their hands for the majority of this. Truth attempts to give the impression he could win, but all the overly-twirly moves in the world can't convince me. It's notable that no one has mentioned the little rivalry these two had developed prior to WrestleMania due to Truth's brief spell as a comedy (I lose the term loosely) cat burglar. After a few minutes of tepid action, Truth gets a visual win, which doesn't count because Barrett's foot was on the ropes, before Bad News smashes him with the Bullhammer for the comfortable win. Instantly forgettable.
Final Rating: 1/2*
WWE take a time out to show a nice video package on Verne Gagne, though he would surely have cringed at being labelled "a pioneer of sports entertainment". The man was a true pioneer though, that much is correct, though of professional wrestling not sports entertainment. He was a great trainer too. The list of guys who sat under his learning tree reads like a who's who of the modern industry. Those unaware of Gagne would do well to study his life and career, because he was truly a remarkable man. Never mind WWE's occasional claims (though not tonight, obviously) of him being behind the times and missing the boat on Hulk Hogan, because it is just not true.
Backstage, Bad News Barrett claims to be on a roll. Yes, two wins is indeed the new definition of being on a roll. Surely Neville has a stronger claim to that, because as well as his two King of the Ring wins he also beat Barrett at Extreme Rules.
King of the Ring Final
Neville vs. Bad News Barrett
This is a rematch from (the pre-show of) Extreme Rules two nights ago then, a really entertaining match that Neville won cleanly. "Do you think Neville knows what awaits him here, King?" asks Michael Cole like an utter pillock. Of course he does! He beat him two days ago you gigantic tail! Knowing WWE booking #101 well, I would expect Bad News to go over here to even up the scorecard from Sunday, because even steven booking is their answer to everything. It's also the answer to the question, "How come no one in WWE is over?" The only good thing about the two super brief matches both guys had earlier is that no one has seen any of their stuff yet, outside of the finishers, so this still feels quite fresh. Bad News decides to focus his attack on Neville's back and ribs, repeatedly kicking him in both and stretching him with holds. Neville responds with kicks of his own, trying to chop Barrett down by going for his legs. "This gives Neville time to regroup," says Cole trying to call the future, just as Neville hits a springboard moonsault to the outside. Nice one, Cole. Neville unloads again with kicks and his swank stalling German suplex, but as he looks to mount a head of steam he gets caught with the Bossman Slam. He kicked out of it on Sunday and he does so again here. Wasteland is evaded by Neville, but he does one flip too many and gets caught in a second attempt that hits. Neville kicks out, again like he did on Sunday, then ducks a Bullhammer and bridges into a pin for a super close near fall. Neville tries for Red Arrow but sees Barrett move and changes direction in mid air, only for Barrett to knock him senseless with a desperate Bullhammer for the predictable win. How so very typical. It would be nice if for once, just once, Vince could think outside of the box and do something different. I don't dislike Barrett at all, and think he could make a really entertaining king because his gimmick and personality fit the role well. I just think it's a little boring. As for the match? Well, it was okay but nothing more. The bout they had on Sunday was certainly better.
Final Rating: **
Post match, Barrett performs his own coronation and then tells Jerry Lawler that he will rule the WWE with Bullhammers. I fully expect him to have dropped the whole "king" thing within a few weeks.
What We Said: You can't be overly offended by a sub-sixty minute show (it ran around 53 minutes in total), though this was a still something of a disappointment. All three matches were shorter than they really should have been, leaving them feeling rushed and secondary to the Network commercials and Dolph Ziggler's obsession with having his ass kissed. I appreciate WWE's attempt at reviving something from the past and utilising the vast array of trademarks they have at their disposal, but they need to put more effort in if they do it again. Worth seeing for curiosity only.
We’re in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T. This is the fall-out show from Extreme Rules and somewhat of a hype show for this week’s special King of the Ring broadcast on the Network. Doing alternate shows is working quite well for me as I’ve had two weeks to forget about the horrible booking of Seth Rollins in the lead up to Extreme Rules and come into this show feeling refreshed. Let’s see how long that lasts!
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
Seth has survived his first PPV as champion, albeit in a dreadful title match. “It was a great match up” lies Cole. It was all about Kane. Despite the RKO being “banned” there were several RKO’s in the match and it finished with a pinfall from an RKO. Seth running through his achievements is already getting old, like Chris Jericho’s constant reminders that he beat The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night. This is the problem with the champion coming out here and flapping his gums every week when he’s got nothing to say. Seth amuses himself by calling Kane the Cryptkeeper (“an old relic from the 90s”) instead of the Gatekeeper. Kane retorts by comparing Rollins to Justin Bieber. The two get into an argument about wrestling ability until Randy Orton comes out here. He figures the use of the RKO is grounds for a rematch. But you used it too! It’s make fun of Rollins night tonight as Randy calls him “Catwoman”. Orton wants another title shot but out comes Roman Reigns. His rebuilding process is going quite well and he’s not booed. He also makes fun of “Justin Bieber”. “You’re going to have to sing us a song or something Seth”. Kane promises the “WWE Universe” can decide who gets a shot at Payback but tonight Kane & Rollins face Orton & Reigns. Another long opening chat but at least a few barbs at Seth’s appearance caused chuckles.
King of the Ring 2015 bracket:
Dolph Ziggler vs. Bad News Barrett
Stardust vs. R-Truth
Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus
Neville vs. Luke Harper
It’s almost as if the winner is the #1 contender for the IC title as all those gentlemen are in that division. 6 of them challenged for the IC title at WrestleMania! The other two probably would have if Sheamus wasn’t injured and Neville in NXT at the time.
King of the Ring Quarter Final
Dolph Ziggler vs. Bad News Barrett
Crowd are pro-Ziggler and they’ve been cheering faces like they’re supposed to. Ziggler always brings a tonne of effort to his matches. I get the feeling he always intends to steal the show and I appreciate that. Booker steals the show here though by retelling his King of the Ring victory and claiming to have grown up a “poor kid in Liverpool, England”. Meanwhile, in the ring, Barrett continues his new-found Indy style by having virtually every move a finisher or a counter of one. It’s really exciting and on the way to being a great match when Sheamus comes out to distract. Naturally this leads to the Bull Hammer. At least it wasn’t a roll up but these ‘distraction’ finishes are so lazy.
Final Rating: **1/2
Tyson Kidd vs. Big E.
Xavier Woods thanks The New Day’s “clappers” as the crowd chant that they suck. Xavier tries to get “New Day rocks” over. It doesn’t work. JBL calls the New Day’s positivity “garbage”. Of all the possible New Day vs. Kidd & Cesaro combos, this is the worst match they could have come up with. Not that it matters as Big E wins with Xavier Woods grabbing the foot.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control gives us a quick recap of Cena vs. Rusev last night and they’ve gone and booked Rusev vs. Cena again at Payback. This time in an I Quit match. Good lord, they’re intent on killing Rusev with this Cena feud. He’ll be dead in the water after that match. Unless they pull something with Lana. There’s definitely something going on there from a booking perspective.
Ryback vs. Bo Dallas
Bo gets a little more than I was expecting, a chinlock. Lariat sets up the Shellshock. Game over. Perhaps upset with the treatment of his brother (in the real world, not kayfabed) Bray Wyatt shows up from nowhere and lays Ryback out with Sister Abigail. Why? “For some reason” says Cole. Thanks for the analysis! I wonder if they’re going to acknowledge that Dallas is Wyatt’s brother?
Final Rating: ½*
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Heath Slater
This is yet another in Cena’s run of open challenges. It’s been a good idea but the PPV matches with Rusev have taken away from the gimmick a little. Cena has a chat with the audience first, pointing out if he loses to Rusev he’ll not request a rematch because he won’t deserve it, a sly poke at Rusev’s multiple rematches. Seeing as Slater is a joke Rusev comes out here and kills him to prevent the match from taking place.
Final Rating: N/R
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins wants clarification on Kane’s comments regarding letting the WWE fans decide the Payback title match. Kane adds a wrinkle into the voting by saying the fans can vote for a triple threat match, if they so desire, via the WWE App. I hope they still don’t vote for Orton.
King of the Ring Quarter Final
R-Truth vs. Stardust
R-Truth promises to rid the WWE of spiders if he wins the King of the Ring. Booker compares Cody Rhodes to Cassius Clay, which almost makes sense. Only Muhammed Ali actually won stuff. Stardust, as per usual, is all personality and weirdness but hollow in terms of action. Lots of rest holds for a short match. Truth forces the pace and when Stardust tries to come off the ropes he catches the Lie Detector for the pin. I’m actually shocked Truth won but Stardust is going nowhere fast so why not.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control gives us a big shill for the Network. I had the email this morning. Jerry Springer tonight, King of the Ring Tuesday, Mick Foley’s comedy special on Wednesday, Jericho interviews Stephanie McMahon on Thursday. Decent line-up. I’d watch all that…apart from Springer.
Fandango vs. Adam Rose
Battle of the Jobbers! The match features Rosa being one of the Rosebuds. A Rosa-bud? She shakes her shoulders around ringside and the distracted Fandango gets laid out with the Party Foul. The old wrestler gets distracted to lose trick. Why, I’ve not seen that since the opening match! It’s an underused finish. It’s not until Rosa cuts a heel promo that I remember the heel-face alignment in this and I’m still not sure I understand it. Both guys are worthless so it’ll go nowhere anyway, unless a series of matches on Superstars counts for anything.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us backstage where Brie Bella is actually asked about Daniel Bryan and his injuries. I thought they were deliberately keeping them apart? Brie gets shoved over by Naomi. Oh good grief, are the Bellas faces now? They just sound so disingenuous when they talk.
Brie Bella vs. Naomi
Brie takes a beating and the match is slightly better than recent Bella contests because Naomi, as a heel, can lead the match and she’s a better wrestler. Brie makes more sense as a face, from a wrestling perspective. Even if her interviews and stupid ticks, “BRIE MODE”, scream heel. Naomi wins with a roll up. This divas division is terrible. As per usual this was bad wrestling. Brie sucks in the ring.
Final Rating: ¼*
King of the Ring Quarter Final
Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus
JBL starts making Game of Thrones references comparing Ambrose to the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen. Then he segues into saying that if you beat someone up in the ring you’re just doing your job. Blue Meanie would say differently. They do some ok countering although some of the spots look a bit awkward. For instance a bulldog from Ambrose where Sheamus picks him up to block it and then puts him back down again. Then a tope where Sheamus gingerly strolls out of the way and Ambrose just stops. The match is full of these half ideas. The commentators get bored and start talking about former Kings of the Ring. That’s usually a bad sign. They finally come up with something organic when Dirty Deeds is countered into the Cloverleaf. That’s the kind of thing they go for all match but that’s the only time it really works. They start brawling around on the floor and I figure someone is about to get counted out as the camera deliberately pans back to the ref. Brogue Kick and that should do it but Dolph Ziggler runs in for the DQ with Ambrose basically counted out at the same time. So Sheamus wins twice! Good work, fella.
Final Rating: *3/4
Tangent: If Dean Ambrose really was the lunatic they make him out to be, this would lead to him beating the shit out of Dolph Ziggler at random before some kind of violent showdown. He wouldn’t even need to turn heel. They’ve got a reason to fight, so do it. Should be a good match.
Video Control gives us clips from Miz’s ‘dramatic’ victory over Damien Sandow last week. Who didn’t see that turn coming from Summer Rae? They literally only put her with Sandow to turn her heel.
Promo Time: Damien Sandow
He recaps his WWE career. “I was told, to my face, that I was not entertaining enough”. He talks about the Mizdow gimmick and how he lost face with his peers but it gained him the support of the fans so he’s grateful for that. “Without you guys I would not be in the WWE right now”. He’s not sure what he’s going to do next but he’s interrupted by Curtis Axel. He brings the Hulk Hogan impression and Sandow fires it right back at him. It’s funny stuff. Sandow has a natural gift for mockery and Axel is already a joke. Sandow remains popular, which is a bonus. It was worrying where he’d go after the Mizdow angle ended. He’s talented enough to do something. Now have him come out here and mock John Cena the same way. Or Big Show, seeing as the giant cost him the chance of redemption at WrestleMania. Scoring points off Curtis Axel is easy. Give him a real challenge.
Video Control takes us to Bray Wyatt. He makes cryptic remarks about Ryback, suggesting that he should “run”.
King of the Ring Quarter Final
Neville vs. Luke Harper
Harper is a guy that frequently surprises with his willingness to make other people look good, which is a real positive for Neville. Harper is adaptable and can switch from brawling to selling and can take just about anything. Neville takes his opportunity but is noticeably less flashy than in the past. A mid-rope moonsault to the floor would have had a few twists in it on the Indies. The WWE have seen his control and that’s why he’s able to do his high flying stuff. Because he’s completely in control of where he lands, compared to the likes of Kidman and their botchy SSP’s. Neville takes a mean bump too and he bounces when Harper plants him with a sit-out powerbomb. The crowd supportively chant for Neville and “NXT”. Somewhere Triple H is smiling. Red Arrow finishes Harper off and Neville is going to the King of the Ring finals tomorrow night. Good match. Neville has been really consistent since coming up to the main roster. It makes you wonder how long it’ll be before they steal away Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami to take over the midcard on the main roster. In order to do that they’ll have to actually do something with the midcarders they currently have though.
Final Rating: ***
Randy Orton & Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins & Kane
I really don’t have much to say about this. Seth stalls a lot. Kane looks way stronger than he should and the wrestling isn’t very good. Am I the only one who doesn’t want to see either Orton or Kane in the main event? Or Big Show? Where’s Brock Lesnar? There are a few positives. Roman Reigns continues to be rehabilitated. The crowd like him here, don’t boo anything and it allows the Authority to work dull heat on him and Roman to actually play face in peril. Also Seth Rollins continues to be capable in the ring, in spite of the WWE’s booking of his character as a gutless coward. Ultimately the WWE champion can’t be a complete coward. He has to stand up to challenges or he’s a weak champion and nobody gets over by beating him. The match’s big turning point is Seth hitting a tope, Orton moving and Kane getting hit. Only Kane isn’t in position for it and Rollins barely wings him. Kane’s temper tantrum that follows makes little sense because of that. Superman Punch and the RKO finish the champ off. Showing how weakened the champion’s position is if he has to face two opponents. Not that they’re trying to sway people into voting for a triple threat. Naturally that’s what the WWE fans have voted for, as revealed by Kane moments after the match and Roman spears the champ for good measure.
Final Rating: *1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Neville
Least Entertaining: Fandango & Adam Rose.
Quote of the Night: “The Cryptkeeper, he’s an old relic from the 90s that no one cares about…you’re Kane” – Seth Rollins buries the Big Red Machine.
Match of the Night: Neville vs. Luke Harper. A trend is developing; Neville’s match is match of the night on Raw.
What We Said: Creatively redundant. Mind-numbingly predictable. At least we’ve got Neville to cheer for. There’s precious little else going on. The WWE seem intent on cutting the legs off anyone that’s not a hand-picked top guy. Dean Ambrose springs to mind but for all his wacky promos Bray Wyatt has been treading water for a very, very long time. Seriously though; here’s the WWE’s main event strategy this year:
1. Push Roman Reigns. He’s booed.
2. Push Roman Reigns. He’s still booed.
3. Put the belt on Seth Rollins.
4. Push Roman Reigns.
I don’t mind Roman but isn’t that doing the same thing and expecting different results? I suppose I should expect it but it’d be nice if someone just randomly broke out of the pack and became a star based on their ability to be genuine. That’s what happened with Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock and even Triple H when he walked away from DX to be the best heel in the company. The whole promotion needs a bloody good shake-up and wrestlers need to be let loose and wrestle. Or let loose and entertain. Either, really. At the moment everyone feels shackled and when something doesn’t work it’s not dropped, it becomes a three month long program. As if it’s vitally important for John Cena to face Rusev at four straight PPV’s. What they’re doing with his open challenge is far, far more interesting because it’s new and it’ll always be fresh. Whereas the Rusev angle is just patriotism recycled from the early 90s. Kudos to the WWE for bringing King of the Ring back. I always liked it. It’s just a pity that a) the tournament is so rushed and b) it’s lacking star power. As if it’s just a midcarders tournament. It’s clearly not anywhere near as important as even the US title or Rusev would have taken part.
Coming off a red hot WrestleMania, a well-received European tour and a streak of half-assed episodes of Raw, WWE presents Extreme Rules 2015, their annual foray into the oft-times mystifying world of PG hardcore wrestling. In a "universe" where terms like "guillotine" and "hangman" are on the banned list, the far more provocative "extreme" is far game. Then again, this is a wrestling company that outlaws the use of the word "wrestling", whose biggest money-making show of the year is called WrestleMania. We are live in Chicago, C.M. Punk territory. Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler are our hosts. In a wise decision, the ill-fitting LCD ring apron is gone.
Bad News Barrett vs. Neville
This was supposed to be Daniel Bryan defending his newly won Intercontinental Championship against Barrett, but he is once again on the post-WrestleMania injured list and not cleared to compete. No word yet on what will happen with the title, but I would suspect he will be stripped and a tournament held. Sure sounds like a good opportunity to make a star. Speaking of making a star, Neville is drafted in as Bryan's replacement, and the announcement of his name is greeted with a hearty, satisfying pop. I am delighted he is on the show, albeit the pre show. His performances since debuting on the main roster last month have certainly warranted it. They go for the cat and mouse approach early on, with Neville's flashy counters and immense speed causing the much larger Barrett some problems. He goes for one too many high risk moves and Barrett cuts him off, then we cut to a commercial for the WWE Network... Sort of seems like preaching to the choir. When we return, Barrett has the traditional post-commercial chinlock applied, and he is in complete control. "It's kinda like William Regal against Dynamite Kid," says JBL, who just says any old thing that pops into his head. Regal vs. Dynamite wouldn't be nicely worked like this, it would be a potato harvest! Neville makes a comeback and manages to hit the dive he missed earlier, then drills his much larger foe with a stalling German suplex. Seeing an opportunity, Neville looks for the Red Arrow, but Barrett cuts him off and hits the Bossman Slam (I refuse to call it "Winds of Change") for a near fall. Barrett tries to finish with Wasteland but Neville is wise to it, though another dive leads to him getting caught in the move again. It looks to be over, but Neville makes it out at two. Barrett loads the Bullhammer but Neville ducks and hits an enzuigiri. The finish that follows is excellent. Barrett stops the Red Arrow but misses the Bullhammer while Neville is on the ropes and gets decked with a kick. It knocks him out, and Neville finally hits the Red Arrow for the huge win. Bravo WWE for putting the superb Neville over. I really hope they realise what they have got with him. That was a fine way to start the show, and probably Neville's strongest main roster performance yet. Helluva finish sequence too.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Chicago Street Fight
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
I complained during last week's Raw that I had already seen this match so many times that it was becoming tiresome, but then they had a wild (for the era) brawl that actually made me quite want to see them go at it again. That is one of the problems with tonight's card in general mind; everything on it has already been done before a bunch of times. It's the plague of the April pay-per-view. Dean Ambrose remains over like a superstar in Chicago, despite his unfavourable booking over the past year or so. Video Control shows his insane powerbomb through the ladder bump at the hands of Harper at WrestleMania, selling it as one of the reasons behind them feuding. Hey, at least they have one. I sure hope they don't do an encore performance though, for Ambrose's sake. They brawl on the outside and Ambrose gets the better of things, but an attempted suplex through a chair is reversed. Harper goes to work with a kendo stick and a chair, as the stuck-in-the-past Lawler channels Borat by saying, "Harper has a plan... not." Oh, how I don't miss him on Raw. They brawl at a pleasingly quick pace, with neither man particularly on top, then Ambrose throws in an early contender for move of the night when he does a 619 esque spin under the bottom rope after being caught on a dive, then hits his sweet lariat. They brawl to the back, a staple of hardcore matches from years past, before Harper commandeers a conveniently placed car. Ambrose does an action hero dive through the passenger window as Harper drives off with both men inside... I guess we will pick things up later! Do they think this is Anaheim and WrestleMania XII or something? Hell, as least they are not in a gold Cadillac or a white Ford Bronco.
Final Rating: To be continued...
"C.M. Punk! C.M. Punk!" chant the crowd, outraged by the non finish. We cut to a backstage segment with Triple H, Seth Rollins and Kane, which is drowned out by the fans chanting "boring". WWE quickly turn on the sound sweetening machine they acquired in the WCW buyout nearly fifteen years ago to take care of that.
Kiss Me Arse Match
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus
Innocent little ring announcer JoJo blushes when she has to say "arse". I feel WWE might have booked themselves into a corner here. Having Ziggler win kills Sheamus' big return push, but having Sheamus win and Ziggler kiss his arse is going to damage him as a babyface. Well, it's not like WWE care about Ziggler anyway, so coming in that remains the most likely scenario. They brawl far too much on the outside at the start, which is lazy and dull after having just seen Ambrose and Harper do the same thing. Back in the ring Sheamus controls the pace, meaning the pace becomes laborious. Ziggler does his usual grand job of selling like Curt Hennig to try and get it over, but Sheamus is limited in his heel offence and decides to channel The Warlord and just sit in holds. Dolph fires back with meaty forearms, but the crowd don't really bite. Sheamus' boring heat has killed them. "C.M. Punk". In a Ziggler match! Sheamus' pacing is so predictable it becomes tiresome. He hits a move, poses, repeat. It's like he can't remember how to work an exciting match as a heel. Then after several minutes of this, Dolph catches a roll up from out of absolutely nowhere and scores the win. I am shocked! So far, two smaller guys have beaten two big guys. It's almost unheard of in WWE. I agree with the decision though, because the fluke nature of the fall doesn't make Sheamus look too bad, and it certainly beats Ziggler having to kiss Sheamus' ass. Naturally, Sheamus is very upset at this prospect and procrastinates for an age, refusing to do it. "Pucker up!" chants the amusing Chicago crowd helpfully. Suddenly all of the good will WWE have amassed so far tonight is eradicated when they renege on the stip by having Sheamus take out Dolph with a low blow and Brogue kick, before he gets out his own ass and rubs Ziggler's face in it. This might be a new WWE record for shortest time before reneging on a pre-match stipulation. I thought this was really laboured and dull.
Final Rating: *
WWE Tag Team Championship
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd (c) vs. The New Day
This has been promoted from the pre show due to the Bryan-Barrett match having been canned. Apparently these tandems had some great matches in Europe, so even though New Day are involved we might at least get a decent bout out of them. Like everyone else tonight they start at speed, though someone needs to have a word with the agents because Kidd does a dive, which is the third of the night already. The crowd get on New Day's case, causing Xavier Woods to yell incredulously, "Why what did we do!? What did we do!? We're winning!" Indeed. Cesaro shows why everyone except Vince McMahon rates him so highly during a great sequence with Kofi, leathering him with a series of corner to corner running uppercuts then going for the giant swing to a massive pop. It ends up being a slingshot, which Kofi escapes by landing on the top rope, only for Cesaro to catch him on the subsequent dive and effortlessly drill him with a backbreaker. He continues to shine with his always impressive powerlift superplex, and even the announcers have permission to put him over tonight. More fun stuff follows with a Big E spear to Kidd off the apron, and Cesaro taking a big backdrop on the outside. New Day look to have it won with a dodgy looking double team on Kidd, but Cesaro makes the save with a baby elephant impression. They go into an excellent finish sequence which sees Cesaro finally hit the swing, Natalya deck Woods and then Cesaro gets rolled up by Kofi for the win and the titles! No, no, no. Oh, what are they playing at? Cesaro and Kidd are the finest team to turn up in ages. Just let them be champions for the next year! Despite the mind-meltingly shite result, the match was pretty damn great. One of Cesaro's finest performances in some time.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Backstage, New Day cut a promo with Rene Young, then Harper and Ambrose turn up to resume their contest. I guess we are back on...
Chicago Street Fight - Part 2
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
Upon making it to the ring, the pair decide to channel ECW and throw a bunch of chairs into the ring, which the smart crowd immediately pick up on. Once the ring is full of them they have a duel, which Harper gets the better of with a powerbomb onto a bunch of them. Ambrose kicks out, so Harper buries him under chairs and does to the top, but Ambrose emerges and throws him off. Dirty Deeds follows and that is enough for the win. The restart was a little underwhelming actually. The match would have been better if it had just finished earlier, because doing it in two parts hurt the flow significantly and rendered part one meaningless. I get what they were going for, wanting the cute car spot and the whole "they are both nuts" angle, but I it would have been better served as a post-match deal. As a whole, the contest was entertaining, but it would have been beyond *** had the finish come earlier. Technically, this is one of the longest matches WWE have presented in years.
Final Rating: **1/2
Russian Chain Match
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
This contest will answer an intriguing riddle: how do you construct a bout as limiting as a chain match without the use of blood or choking? It's a very strange choice of stipulation really. WWE's reasoning behind it is at least sound; they want to protect the loser from a pinfall defeat. That's fine, especially if Rusev is losing, but there are other gimmicks that might have fit the bill better than this one. For anyone unclear, the object is to touch all four corners of the ring in order to win. In other words, it's just a massively protracted tug of war contest. We have some lights attached to the ring posts to help us keep track of who has touched what, though for the casual viewer it is still confusing as to what exactly makes them go back off again. Cole senses as much and frantically tries to explain that the referee will "wave off" the lights should the momentum shift midway through the attempts at touching the posts. It seems pretty convoluted and arbitrary to me. The two combatants struggle to retain interest in the bout due to the inability to build any heat in a match like this, because every comeback results in the lights going out and them being back on level pegging, so they almost have to try and build the heat over and over again. Sadly that makes for repetitive viewing. How many times can watch a guy tag a turnbuckle pad before it becomes tedious. The answer is "not many". Rusev dominates for an age, with Cena taking a kicking and then cutting him off over and over, before Rusev makes a mistake in trying something off the top. Why would you do that? He soon regains control, but becomes irked when the crowd chant "We want Lana" and she gets on the apron and waves to them. Furious, Rusev sends her to the back. Wow, talk about fortunate timing! Well done, Chicago. Cena displays one his more irritating idioms when he reverses the Accolade into the STF, suddenly forgetting all of the selling he had been doing and acting completely fine. That Superman shit is really unbearable. He has been on such a roll of strong matches recently too. Rusev manages to lock it in again, but Cena stands up out of the hold, killing its effectiveness dead, then backs Rusev into two corners unwittingly. Rusev realises and goes for the other two, but Cena stops him. Then things turn into a cartoon when both hit three corners each, leaving just one unlit. Rusev charges for it and Cena pulls him back into the AA, then hits the corner for the win. Well, it wasn't good, by any stretch, but it could have been worse.
Final Rating: *1/4
WWE Diva's Championship
Nikki Bella vs. Naomi
I am hardly giddy at the prospect of this. I also don't understand why the Bellas are suddenly babyfaces. I know it makes no difference at all in this division, but it's still jarring to have allegiances switch from week to week without explanation. Naomi has new music, which sucks, and is wearing a pair of bright green glasses that I cannot comprehend. Predictably, the fans are not interested in this at all. Because it sucks. Nikki Bella is truly dreadful and Naomi is hardly much better. Standards have dropped so much with the Divas and expectations are so low that people are far more forgiving of these weekly Diva train wrecks than they should be. You want to see quality women's wrestling, watch WWE's "feeder" company NXT instead. Neither of these two can hang with a single one of them. "For the win!" "For the win!" bellows that little twit Cole on every pinfall attempt, as I contemplate whose voice is more annoying; his of Brie Bella's. The finish is a complete joke too, with supposed babyface Brie kicking Naomi in the face while the ref is distracted, and Nikki hitting her fake tit assisted Abyss tribute for the win. The Observer called this an "above average match", which is nuts. Was there any pacing, psychology, crisp execution or emotional investment? Not a bit of it. It was just a series of questionably timed moves and a slapdash finish that clarifies exactly what WWE's attitude towards it's female performers is. Hell, it wasn't even average for a Diva's match! Like I say, standards have significantly dropped. Make no mistake, this was utter drek.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage Rusev yells at Lana, who then sheepishly heads into the office of the Authority. "Ooooohhhh" says Chicago in the manner of a Japanese crowd.
Last Man Standing Match
The Big Show vs. Roman Reigns
Oh hell, I had forgotten about this. Nothing gets the sour taste of a Bellas match out of your mouth quite like a Big Show match... This feud is so typical of Vince McMahon's mindset when it comes to booking. He loves to put babyfaces in against Big Show so they look impressive when they beat him. Only, it never works out that way. Show is so fucking terrible that he makes everyone he works with look worse in defeat than they did coming in. He is the exact opposite opponent to what Reigns needed following a trying few months. Their matches together are always horrendous, and they do nothing at all for Reigns. The most entertaining part of the first few minutes is the lumber oaf Big Show's struggle with a folding table. Reigns tries to bring it into play but is bundled down by a slow motion kick, then Show ponderously tries to put it back under the ring. He struggles, big time, and eventually just gives up. What an ass. Reigns manages to get it again, but Show again takes umbrage and smashes it with hammer fists. What is this sudden aversion to tables he has developed. Show continues to take his anger out on inanimate objects, snapping a kendo stick in half over his knee. Why not just use it as a weapon? "Boooooring" assess Chicago, and I fully agree with them.
Reigns decides to use a weapon that Show cannot break, and finds a steel chair. He belts Show a few times with it, but doesn't get the ten count. Reigns responds bringing two tables into the ring, giving Show time to recover and knock down Reigns with his knockout punch. It gets a count of 8 and nothing more, then Reigns hits his Samoan drop on Show though a table. That doesn't do it either. Reigns wants more tables and sets a pair up outside, but he ends up being the one to go through them when Show chokeslams him from inside the ring after absorbing two Superman punches. Reigns makes it up at 9, but no one particularly cares. Never-say-die unrealistic comebacks like this are just too much like John Cena's no-selling nonsense for folk to take seriously. No one wants Reigns to be Cena, except for the out-of-touch Vince. By now everyone realise that if it wasn't already inevitable that Reigns was winning before, it is nailed on now. After all, Show has already hit all of his big moves, what more does he have left?
Rather than beating on a groggy Roman to increase his chances of victory, Show spends a good minute or two constructing a set of stairs next to the announce desk. There is even time for some completely out of place comedy, when Show picks up one of the commentators' notepads and takes offence to one of them having wrote, "Big Show needs to lose weight". If that is the best Big Show can do adlibbing then I suddenly understand WWE's case for scripting the performers. Alternatively if it was indeed scripted, as I suspect, then the writers need to be erased immediately. Writing stuff like that into a supposedly brutal last man standing match shows a complete lack of understanding about wrestling. I realise I am making a mountain out of this metaphorical molehill, but things like that really irk me. Speaking of irking me, the match becomes a contrived mess when Show makes it up from a spear through the barricade and then another spear through the Spanish announce desk. Reigns should know that the only way to beat Big Show in a LMS match is to dump something heavy on him. He opts for a not particularly heavy announce desk, which does finally get the job done. I appreciate the efforts of both to take this beyond rotten and into the realms of mediocre, but Big Show can take all the big bumps he wants and I still find every one of his matches a chore to endure. He has been doing the same routine for almost twenty years. What's left to be excited about?
Final Rating: **1/2
Promo Time: Bo Dallas
Or in other words: filler. It says something about the prevailing mentality that a cracking little match like Barrett-Neville can be restricted to the pre show while Bo and his squeaky little man-child voice are on the "paid" portion of the card. Ryback takes offence to Bo running down Chicago, so squashes him and hits Shellshock. What was the point of this? Not a clue. They are trying to push Ryback because it turns out he is the object of Bray Wyatt's obsession, but what destroying a geek like Dallas does for him is a mystery.
Backstage, Lana tells Rusev that the Authority have consented to a fourth and final match between Cena and Rusev, which will be an "I Quit" match at Payback. Three times in a row was too much, four is just unacceptably lazy booking. This is why there is so much apathy towards everything. It also renders Cena's weekly U.S. Challenge, which has been a highlight of Raw, as meaningless. Nice one.
Tangent: WWE has been pushing commercials for the Network after literally every segment and match. It is too much. People watching are already paying for the damn thing, they don't need to sell them on its merits. One of the things announced for the upcoming week of programming is the welcome return after five years of the King of the Ring tournament, live and exclusive on Tuesday evening. I swear, if Kane or Big Show win, I am done!
Steel Cage Match
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton
The build up to this has been relatively decent, though as is often the case in a new champion's first PPV defence, there are few who think he will lose. For those with short memories or a (justifiable) aversion to Raw, the story here is that each got to pick a stipulation, and Orton went for a cage match while Rollins decided to ban the RKO. Triple H then threw a spanner into the works last week by making Kane the "gatekeeper", giving him sole control over who is allowed entry and access. It rather defeats the point of Orton making it a cage match in order to keep the Authority out. The intended intrigue regards Kane, who despite being in the Authority has been at odds with Rollins over the past few weeks. The first ten minutes are absolute dross, with the previously red hot crowd so bored that this sounds like it is taking place in a high school gym. It's partly because there is nothing to really get behind, because they know Rollins is going to win and they know that Kane is going to somehow be involved. It's just how WWE books. The best matches are those with a sense of intrigue and unpredictability, and this has neither. The highlight of the first ten minutes is Randy Orton climbing to the top of the cage for an exchange of fisticuffs and mouthing "fuck" when he realises how high up he is. That's it! That's the best part! After that they try and up the ante a little with a few near falls, but no one bites on them.
J&J Security head out when it looks like Rollins might be able to escape if not for Orton holding him by the hair, but Orton suplexes him back in to prevent defeat. J&J get involved again, trying to climb up the cage to assist their man, only for Randy to launch Seth into them to send both flying onto the outside. So much for the cage match preventing outside interference. By far the biggest reaction of the match comes when Orton hooks and hits a Pedigree on Seth, causing a huge "Oooooh" like the one directed at Lana earlier. It only gets a two, so he decides to go for the punt. Thing is, the punt has been almost too well protected, because it is practically guaranteed death for the recipient... for a few weeks at least. Seth isn't taking a few months off, so he moves out of the way. At least the crowd are finally beginning to care, because they sense this is heading towards the always more exciting home stretch. Kane gets involved, opening the cage door for Seth but refusing to for Randy, then just slamming the door on both of their heads after Randy knocks him off the apron. Kane loses his temper and enters the cage, then wipes out J&J Security for shits and giggles with a double chokeslam. He motions as if about to chokeslam Seth, but drills Orton instead. Rollins heads for the door but Kane stops him and hits a chokeslam, then drags Rollins onto Orton. That's only a two, so this borefest must continue. Kane decides to Tombstone Orton, but he skips out and hits him with an RKO, only to turn into one from Seth. Seth escapes to retain. Well, that's a bullshit finish. Nowhere did it say the RKO was only banned for Randy Orton. The announcers point out as much, which just buries the imbecilic booking further. Inevitably it will all lead to a rematch between them at Payback that no one wants to see.
This was a really dull match, and the first half was among the most boring bouts I have seen in a pay-per-view main event for quite a while. So far, Seth's run as champion has been somewhat underwhelming. The booking of him as being both inferior to Kane and a frightened little lamb terrified of the RKO has hardly helped, but of late it feels like he has lost some of that drive and motivation that made him so great in the months preceding WrestleMania. I hope he rediscovers his mojo and gets someone fresh and interesting to work with soon.
Final Rating: *1/2
What We Said: It was okay. For the most part the stipulations detracted rather than added to the matches, and in some cases were absolutely ridiculous. The "Kiss Me Arse" match with an instantly ignored stipulation, a cage match designed to keep people out with an RKO banned that saw loads of interference and a brace of RKOs, a chain match with no blood or choking... It was all so silly and forced, and at times it was frustrating viewing. Things started so well too, with a hot opener, a good early brawl between Ambrose and Harper (which was then ruined with the silly non-finish and second part of the bout) and the expectation defying tag title match. Then it all went to hell. Not a bad pay-per-view, but the weakest offering of the year from WWE so far. Mild recommendation.
We are on the road to Extreme Rules, WWE's first pay-per-view since the tremendous WrestleMania 31 last month. They have hardly been on a role lately in the immediate aftermath, with the company falling into the same half-assed booking cycles and uninspired scenarios that they have been doing for years. There was anticipation that because WrestleMania delivered, the usual post-show malaise might be abated this year. It's not looking that way, sadly. The fact that Roman Reigns is programmed with Big Show and last week the WWE Champion Seth Rollins was made to look like a chump by Kane is evidence of that. Hell, they even did the old finger poke of doom angle, ironically mocking WCW for having done it in 1999 and wholly missing the fact that they did it legitimately with their own champion, rather than as a whimsical parody. This company...
Promo Time: Randy Orton
This promo is conducted from inside a steel cage, because Randy's match with Seth Rollins at Extreme Rules is taking place inside a steel cage. It's more than a little on the nose. What does having the cage on Raw achieve? I have no idea, but it's an idiom they continue to go with each time. If it's a ladder match, they do promos from on a ladder, or have a ton of ladders in the aisle. You get the idea. Yes, subtly is not their strong point. Randy gets right to the point, calling Seth a bastard and spitting out his typically rushed overly-scripted verbiage. As is customary, Seth heads out to retort. After dismissing Randy's promo he puts himself over as a veritable chess master amongst a sea of drones. He is not wrong. Randy gets annoyed and threatens to RKO everyone in the building, including Rollins, to make up for not being able to hit the move on Sunday. Hey, it's another WCW rip off! Positively Kanyon did the same thing down there in one of the few highlights of the dying days of WCW. Anyway, usual opening talky bit fare here, with nothing new or particularly interesting said to add to the program.
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
I feel like I have seen this match around fifty times. How can a company with so much talent at its disposal be so uncreative in how it books. Most weeks you can predict the Raw matches before the show even begins. They have a tried, tested and tired formula and they stick rigidly to it without exception. The result is that matches like this, ones that are perfectly good on paper, end up being tiresome and unappealing. What is the purpose of it? What does it matter at all? Harper tries to drum up some interest by asking Dean before the match why he isn't afraid of him, and promising that he will be after tonight. I will believe it when I see it. They appear to have their working boots on at least and actually have a cracking little brawl that spills into the crowd. It isn't even a match, it's a fight. It gets thrown out but they don't care, they just carry on brawling. At the top of the ramp Harper goes to powerbomb Ambrose off the stage, but he Ambrose skips out and Harper ends up just gently hurling him off instead. Ooh, terrifying.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Seth Rollins shits himself when Titus O'Neil barks at him. A technician laughs so Seth promises to beat up the next guy he sees, and wouldn't you know it, it's Triple H. Seth whines and complains about Kane, Randy, everything, and Hunter tells him to man up when he asks for more security. There's nothing like a heel World Champion who is scared of his own shadow.
The Lucha Dragons vs. The New Day
The winner gets a tag title shot at Extreme Rules, which in itself is a laughable notion. The Dragons have been on a roll and won every match they have been in since they debuted on the main roster, so why aren't they number one contenders anyway? The New Day lose every week, they should be at the bottom of the pile. "They've changed their tune just a little bit," claims JBL in response to the fans hatred of The New Day. Have they now? Have they really? I seem to recall complete and utter silence due to apathy prior to the post-WrestleMania crowd making it okay to despise them. It's not like they were liked in any way by anyone prior to that. Hell, we have hated them at HoW from day one. Michael Cole shows off his unparalleled ignorance by confusing Sin Cara and Kalisto, which is ridiculous really. Okay, they dress similarly and both wear masks, but there is about a foot difference in height between them. "For the win!" Oh, fuck off. Big E gets riled with the boos as we go to commercial, and when we return the New Day's domination of Sin Cara is still going on. Big E starts twitching and skipping frames, allowing Sin Cara to evade him and make the hot tag. Kalisto is something else, flying around the ring like a video game character. He hits two ridiculous moves, one being a head spike rana and the other a no hands springboard, then both Dragons do a dive. With everyone outside the ring they fight to beat the count, and Xavier Woods grabs Sin Cara's feet from under the ring to prevent them getting back in, and the New Day win via count out. Oh my god, they actually went and did it. The Lucha Dragons against Cesaro and Kidd would have been tremendous fun, but no, instead we have to suffer the bullshit racist New Day nonsense. I despair sometimes.
Final Rating: *1/2
After the match, Randy Orton begins his quest to re-establish himself as a popular internet meme by taking out Woods and Kofi with the RKO. Having already wiped out the tag champions last week, Orton is on a one man tear through that entire division of late. WWE might as well just give him the tag belts.
Fandango vs. Curtis Axel
These are two fun characters who could be over, and indeed have had their share of fan support at various times over the past few years. Both have been hampered by that strange WWE idiosyncrasy that states anyone who gets over who wasn't expected/supposed to get over will be punished for having done so. Many, many others fall into that category. Cesaro is a prime example. Zack Ryder is another. I think Vince sometimes forgets that in the eighties he had a deep roster full of well protected guys on his midcard who were far more over then than the majority of today's main event guys. Hell, in Attitude everyone was over. It was the one positive thing that horrible time period had going for it. This is super quick, with Fandango scoring the win thanks to his impressive top rope legdrop. So much for #Axelmania. Post match the music guy plays the wrong theme, cueing up Fandango's short-lived "new Fandango" tune. How is that even possible? He already played the right track for the guy's entrance! Things like that just show how low down on the radar these poor guys are.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Promo Time: Triple H
The boss is back, making his first appearance since "ending the Monday Night Wars" at WrestleMania. He is alone, as his wife is currently abroad participating in the Eisenhower Fellowship, which as their website says is:
"An opportunity for exceptional men and women to re-examine, re-energize, and refocus their professional and leadership skills; set new goals; and pursue outcomes individually."
So in other words, expect her to return with a more prominent role on television that no doubt includes greater emasculation of talent than ever before. I commend her for doing it and trying to better herself - and boy does she ever need to given her woeful track record of incompetence behind the scenes - but I am sceptical as to the benefit. Things that work in real business rarely translate to wrestling due to its closed-minded cynicism and the archaic, misguided practices it still employs.
To the point then, which is Hunter shilling the return of Tough Enough, which is an entertaining enough show generally speaking, though the end results have hardly been up to much. Maven? Andy Levine? Cameron! It's hardly a murderer's row of talent, is it? Oh, my apologies, there was The Miz. I guess that about sums it up. After Hunter fails to reveal who the host will be (rumours swirl that it will be Chris Jericho, which would be great because he has the right personality for it), things turn from shill to storyline when Kane heads out for a word. After the past few weeks of arguing with Seth Rollins, the large red one is fed up. He offers Hunter his two week's notice because he feels he is no longer able to support the Authority's decision to back Seth. Hunter doesn't want him to do anything rash and advises him to reconsider, but Seth wanders out pissed off at Kane's comments and tells Hunter to just let him leave. In response Kane furiously yells in his face, shouting that Seth is champions because they made him champion, and they could have done the same thing with anybody. It's a rare display of fire and passion from Kane, though I do wonder where they are going with this. Is the endgame a Rollins-Kane program for the title? Because that sounds like a bad idea. Even worse, any Kane babyface turn is liable to lead to matches against all members of the Authority, which includes... The Big Show. Spare us. Even if that is not the direction, is it really such a great idea to be having Seth belittled in such a manner? Eventually Hunter steps between the pair before things get physical and lambasts them both, lecturing that it is not how they do business. He tells them both to learn to get along, then bafflingly makes Kane the "guardian of the gate" in Seth's Extreme Rules title match. Wha? Why would Hunter do anything at all to potentially jeopardise his handpicked champion's chances? Yeah, Kane is in the Authority, but he has already expressed his displeasure with Rollins. Having been around for so long, Trips should know better.
Backstage, Kane and Seth argue some more, so Hunter yells at Kane for not being a monster anymore. Seth chimes in, "You see what I'm talking about?" That doesn't please Hunter. In the spirit of his wife, he shouts Seth down for not appreciating the people who helped him to the title and tells him to be more grateful. Why is everyone in this faction so angry? What are the characters' motivations for being upset? Seth has what he wants. Hunter has what he wants. Kane? Who knows what he wants, but little has changed since he first handed his balls to Steph on a platter a few years back.
Naomi vs. Brie Bella
WWE continue to confuse #GiveDivasAChance with #GiveBellasAChance, with the proliferation of the latter guaranteeing they will take even longer to achieve the former. Naomi cuts an insert promo before hand, questioning why she needed to win a battle royal having beaten champion Nikki twice, and she is absolutely right. For the same reasons that the Lucha Dragons weren't automatic number one contenders for the tag belts I suppose. This is fucking awful for the record, a complete and utter car wreck of a match. Naomi has no move-set outside of a flying asshole attack, and Brie has nothing about her whatsoever. She can't sell, her facials are comically bad, her fire is embarrassingly forced and her music is, well, no words have been invented to describe that atrocity yet. For some reason Brie is a babyface here too, despite having been a heel all year. I suppose it doesn't matter. It's not like anyone cares about the Bellas. It is odd that they have turned Naomi heel just prior to working a program with long-time heel Divas champ Nikki though. Naomi puts this out of her misery with the butt to the face nonsense after nearly ten minutes of non action. Damn those Twitter folk for forcing WWE's hand into giving us long women's matches on Raw! They should have known WWE would miss the point.
Final Rating: DUD
In catering, Heath Slater chats with Erik Rowan about his intentions to challenge John Cena for the U.S. Title later on tonight. Rowan, wearing his mask at the dinner table like a complete prat, walks off. When Slater gets up to see where he is going, Randy Orton strikes with an RKO through a table. Ace.
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
He is not in the mood to talk tonight, so calls out Big Show for a fight. Instead of Show, we get something almost as bad: Bo Dallas. Heeeee's baaaaack. Just another reason not to watch Raw with a loaded gun anywhere in the vicinity. Bo quotes Star Wars and some American sports bullshit that is lost on me, so Reigns superman punches him in the mush. Roman was cheered when he came out, but he gets booed for that. This crowd are dumb. The spear follows, then Reigns resumes his promo. He promises to be the last man standing at Extreme Rules, no doubt with the assist of a car or a sound system or something else heavy; the way Show always loses those matches. "You can Bo-Lieve that!" wraps up Reigns. Cute. I suspect this entire segment was only booked so the writers could pop themselves by having Reigns say that line.
Sheamus vs. Zack Ryder
Because we are in New York, Zack gets to be made to look like a jabroni in front of his home state. Such is the way of things around here. It's not even a match, just Sheamus kicking the shit out of hapless Zack and cutting a promo while he does it. Eventually it gets too much for the flag bearer for underutilised talent Dolph Ziggler, so he runs out and drills Sheamus with a Zigzag to cause the DQ. A complete waste of time.
Final Rating: N/R
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Kane
Continuing with the evening's gaffe reel, ring announcer Eden Stiles begins announcing John Cena, before realising that it is a title match and thus she is not supposed to until both guys are in the ring, so she stops dead mid-sentence. Cena does some generic talking before his U.S. Open Challenge mystery opponent heads out, and glory be it is Kane. Kane! The most featured performer on WWE television these days. In 2015, everybody! There was a quaint little wrestling company based in Atlanta that did much the same thing; pushing aged, past their sell-by-date stars at the top of the card ad nauseum at the expense of fresh, young, genuine talent on the undercard. They went out of business with a whimper having been a money printing machine just a few short years earlier. I am of course referring to WCW, and the parallels between them and WWE at the moment are striking. Cena's streak of impressive ***+ performances comes to a screeching halt here against the corporate monster, as he becomes engulfed in the sheer badness that is Kane the wrestler. Kane the orator I don't actually mind all that much, but in the ring? Man, I have sat through his routine for nearly twenty years, and it has always pretty much sucked. Such is the audience's dislike for seeing Kane in this spot, that they barely even chant "Cena sucks" in response to the kids hollering "Let's go Cena". Now there's apathy for you, folks. The pace is mind-meltingly slow, with Kane grinding away at half-speed and cutting Cena off every time he looks to be mounting a comeback. It's all so basic, so predictable and so very monotonous. The finish is useless too, with Cena skipping out of a Tombstone attempt and just hitting the AA for the win. I am not sure he even did another move. "What an effort by Cena," says Cole. Yeah, okay.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, John Cena gets a brown nosing from Byron Saxton and puts over Kane answering his challenge as being the unpredictability of WWE! I would vehemently argue it is quite the opposite. Rusev stops the madness with an attack from behind, then uses a chain to put on the Accolade, right over Cena's face. Smooshy.
The Battle For "The Miz" Brand
Damien Mizdow vs. The Miz
This is absolutely ridiculous. How can Miz lose his "brand" (another of WWE's favourite words) when his brand is his name!? What does he become if he loses? Just "Mike"? That could be amusing, actually. Mizdow is completely rudderless following his WrestleMania failure, where he choked in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal thanks to career-killer The Big Show. He hasn't been over in the slightest since. The tacked on addition of Summer Rae as his supposedly babyface valet has hardly helped. What does she offer other than vapidity? Well, other than overselling and a big fake smile. Oh, there is the answer: treachery. She slaps poor Mizdow and causes him to get beat, uniting the two Marine 4 stars on WWE programming as well as on DVD shelves worldwide. So that is that for Damien Sandow's big second chance then. He had a shot at getting over, WWE failed to pull the trigger when they should have, and now he is as dead in the water as everyone else. Bravo, WWE, bravo.
Final Rating: 1/4*
Post match, Randy Orton decks Miz with an RKO. That's four.
Bray Wyatt cuts another promo that is lost on everyone, and again the focus is vague. Each week it feels more and more as if his match with Undertaker never even happened. They did the match, Taker went back to exile, and WWE pressed the Wyatt reset button and went back to exactly where they were before with him. What was the point of any of it? I suspect his target will be Roman Reigns, and they are holding off until the June pay-per-view because he is recovering from his ankle injury. That might be fairly good, at least.
Ryback vs. Adam Rose
It's almost as if we have gone back to 1996 and the days of glorified jobbers putting over the big stars. I am half expecting Alex Porteau and Freddie Joe Floyd to make appearances. Shellshock, game over. That was worthwhile. Post match, a banana and a hotdog get in Ryback's face, so he gives them a double shellshock. He is hungry, you see. Ryback tells a joke after the match that is so bad it makes me want to die. Much like the rest of this show.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Backstage, Renee Young reads out some tweets from J&J Security mocking Kane. He decides to confront them about it. "Hey, how did you hear about that, that was supposed to be a private conversation!" yells Seth. Oh, that's a cheap shot from the writers. It's an obvious reference to Seth's, ahem, troubles a few months back where he posted some nudey pics of an NXT female who wasn't his fiancé, and his cock got plastered around the internet by his jilted now ex in response. Cruel. Seth concedes that Kane is figuratively and literally the bigger man, and they walk off. Jamie Noble steals the scene by walking like a droid. Randy Orton is stood watching, waiting to strike. It's like a B-movie comedy horror.
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler
Any illusions that Dolph has a chance of winning a match of this calibre have long since been eradicated in the months following his apparent ascent at Survivor Series. He has been booked in the same elevated midcard spot ever since that main event triumph, allowed to mix it up with the stars but never beat them. He is like a modern day Jim Duggan. The crowd realise this every bit as much as I do and thus watch in silence, bored to tears after another drab show and a dearth of stars. Dolph goes to his usual bag of tricks, attempting to sell his ass off to get the match over, but no one is biting. Selling worked for guys like Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels because the chances are they were going to come back and win, but as I said, nobody thinks Ziggler has a chance. The match is a real disappointment too, far from the show saving belter you hope for upon seeing it listed on the bill. The finish is WWE #101 too, with Sheamus causing the distraction as retribution for Ziggler's attack earlier, and Seth finishing with a powerbomb into the buckles and a wacky face plant DDT.
Final Rating: *1/2
Hunter heads down to drone on afterwards, but before he is finished Seth grabs the mic from him so he can continue gloating, causing a sideways glance of derision from Hunter. Ah yes, what better than the Authority feuding with everyone than the Authority feuding internally with themselves. That's good, because it opens the doors for that Big Show World Title shot that everyone has been yearning for. Kane wanders out too for his fifteenth appearance of the evening, as the cage descends on the ring with Rollins locked inside. Suddenly Randy Orton is there, and Rollins is a trapped animal. The inevitable RKO follows as we go off the air. Well, this show sure did a great job of building up the RKO. What a good job its use is banned on Sunday.
THE RAW RECAP
Most Entertaining: Randy Orton. His RKO assaults were the highlights of the show.
Least Entertaining: New Day. Suck.
Quote of the Night: "You can Bo-Lieve that" - Roman Reigns shows a hint of whimsy.
Match of the Night: Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper. Yes, a two minute non bout without a finish was the best bout on the card.
What We Said: Excruciatingly dull. Sitting through this episode was a chore from start to finish. WWE has some huge stars at its disposal, and some very entertaining workers too, but the majority of them are either WrestleMania-season part timers, out injured or toiling away in NXT. Each week I tune into Raw with the foolish anticipation that things somehow, maybe, might just be different this time. That the constant booking faux pas will magically correct itself, that Vince has watched a tape from an era where Raw was vibrant and exciting, that the writers have all been struck with inspiration and have decided to write a wrestling show rather than dim-witted comedy. Then each and every week I am reminded that in WWE, nothing changes. The epic plight of Kane this evening stands as testament to that. Even the future looks bleak, despite the mass of talent on hand at NXT, because just look what happens to the guys they call up. Where was Neville this week? Have they lost interest in him already? Why are Charlotte and Sasha Banks not fixing this women's division yesterday? The only positive I can gleam from this whole, sorry ordeal is that the Big Show was nowhere in sight. Be thankful for small mercies.
We’re in London, England at the O2 Arena and it is packed out. 16,000+ in attendance. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T. Not thrilled about Cole coming back. We need Lesnar to come down and F-5 him again.
Promo Time: John Cena
He’s booed heavily, again and it is very, very loud. I guess his pro-USA stance hasn’t gone over well outside of the Americas. He butters the crowd up and says he thinks London deserves a Wrestlemania. As he’s done for the past two weeks, Cena offers an open challenge for the US title.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Bad News Barrett
Barrett is greeted with his own deafening chant. “Thank you but I haven’t actually done anything yet”. This might be the loudest crowd the WWE have all year for Raw and they already had one ridiculously loud one the night after Wrestlemania. Michael Cole makes the interesting statement that Preston is “about an hours drive from here”. Going at what speed exactly? It’s closer to 4 hours away. Barrett gets a lot of love for his relentless assault on Cena. There was a time when the British crowds would do as they were told. That is no longer the case. Although Barrett’s cheap face pop of calling England the “greatest country on Earth” obviously makes a difference. Barrett actually dictates the pace and dominates Cena for nearly five minutes before getting laid out with the Protobomb. Barrett even scores a couple of near falls after that and survives the STFU. Cena’s recent performances have been wonderful because they’ve been designed to get others over at his expense. Which is how it should be when a guy is played out as a main event, which Cena most certainly is. The battle continues and Cena takes Wasteland for a near fall. The only thing Barrett has left is the Bull Hammer but he runs into the FU…FOR 2! Barrett kicks out of the FU on Raw! BULL HAMMER…for 2. This is insane. It’s like watching a Wrestlemania match. Cena gets the flying Ace Crusher (“there’s that move again” – Cole) and finishes with the FU. Cracking match. A real ten minute belter with dramatic near falls. Cena’s US title run is invigorating him. He’s averaging over *** since ‘Mania.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Post Match: Lana comes out here to distract while Rusev blindsides Cena with a chain. It’ll be a Russian chain match at Extreme Rules. I’m actually hoping Cena wins that one because his US title defences have been one of the best parts of Raw for the last 3 weeks.
Video Control takes us to ringside where JBL grills Cole about the little weasel’s lawsuit against Brock Lesnar, which he weasels out of. We plug Orton vs. Cesaro and Rollins vs. Ziggler, which are both happening tonight. Whoever wins their match will pick the stipulation at Extreme Rules. But what if they both win?
Women’s Championship #1 Contender’s Battle Royal
Paige gets her entrance on TV and gets a huge pop as she’s from “Knorr-witch” (Cole, again). Nobody else seems particularly important and there’s a lot of quick-fire eliminations. I don’t even know who half these scrubbers are. Aside from Paige getting love the rest of the girls get nothing from the crowd. Anyway, the ring gets cleared out and it comes down to Naomi vs. Paige. Naomi having settled into AJ Lee’s role. Nikki Bella on commentary has this voice that’s like white noise. I’m not aware what she’s saying. It’s just a buzzing. Paige knocks Naomi out of the ring and she’s the #1 contender. They had to put Paige over as nobody else in the divas division is any use. Time to call someone up? Or perhaps have Paige win the belt so she has someone to work with first.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Paige
Byron jumps in there to get an interview. Paige points out she won the title in her first night in the WWE, won her first Wrestlemania but winning here in England means even more. She reminds us of her family and how she used to work high school gyms for £5 a night. “This is MY HOUSE”. As she’s talking Naomi jumps Paige and kicks her ass. “Who are ya?” chant the crowd.
Video Control takes us to Bray Wyatt. He says he’ll rip out our love “like a cancer”. “You’ll have to watch everything you love fade away”. Who’s he working with now? Good promo, as always.
The Lucha Dragons vs. The Ascension
NXT in the house! Sort of. The crowd chant “NXT” anyway as it’s become the new “ECW”. Say what you like about Triple H but the man is smart. He’s created his own Indy cult and the WWE owns it. Kalisto has gotten himself massively over in the last two weeks, just by running through the same spots that had him as a midcard act in NXT. But that’s how exciting that show is! The Ascension get absolutely jobbed out here, getting nothing and being bulldozed by lucha. We get some replays and JBL says “I remember when me and Ron used to do that…ok, maybe not”. The Ascension were never the best of teams so I’m not bothered about heir main card treatment, but it does worry me that others will get the same end of the stick.
Final Rating: *1/2
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
This is the first time Roman has addressed the crowd since losing the main event of Wrestlemania. Booker T hops in the ring for the interview. The crowd reaction is decidedly mixed before getting a “Suplex City” chant going. Roman points out he promised a brutal fight and that’s what they delivered. The crowd start pulling the “what” chant, which is the worst thing Steve Austin has ever done. Roman points out he’s beaten Seth Rollins before so he can beat him again and win the title. Roman calls Big Show “Seth’s giant bitch”, which brings the Big Show out via Titantron. Show calls Roman a “bum” who can’t fulfil his potential. That’s rich! I wonder if whoever wrote that had a smirk on his face when he submitted it. Show ambles along until Roman tells Show to stay out of his business or he’ll retire him. Big words from Reigns. As Roman is strolling to the back Big Show makes an actual appearance and smacks the Samoan around a bit. The crowd get on Show’s case and chant “please retire” again. That riles Show into hitting a chokeslam on the black cab they’ve got by the entranceway. Cool spot but Roman is still stuck working with Big Show. The rebuilding of Roman will be a slow and steady process but his promo here showed he’s probably over the worst of the heat.
Randy Orton vs. Cesaro
Cole once again points out whoever wins their match gets the choose the stipulation. “What if they both win?” says JBL. No answer. Why did nobody ask that question when they had the booking meeting? Why does nobody ask those questions in the booking meetings? Instead we get to TV and somebody looks stupid. In this case Michael Cole so it’s no big loss. Randy Headlock, the Babyface Bore, manages to kill the crowd in five seconds flat by immediately hooking a rest hold. They try to do some counters but Orton can’t do them, Tyson Kidd gets involved and it’s a DQ. Horrible match.
Final Rating: DUD
Post Match: Kane comes out here to say the Authority is back from holiday but they didn’t want to come to England so Korporate Kane is in the boss. Kane doesn’t like the cheap DQ finish and orders it to continue as a handicap match.
Randy Orton vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd
And here I was, thrilled to have a nice short Randy Orton match, awful though it was, and he’s in another bout right afterwards. From the crowd’s reaction they’re not interested either. Kidd falls off the ropes in the early going in a massive botch and Orton embarrassingly takes a delayed bump. JBL continues to ask about the stipulations and Cole has nothing but cheap retorts because nobody has told him what happens if they both win. Naturally, with this being the WWE, Orton bosses both guys, hits the RKO on Tyson and waits ages before covering for the win. Urgh. This was convoluted, stupid and made the tag champs look useless. Why do they continually insist on booking stuff like this? You’ll never have a worthwhile tag team division if your tag team champions can’t beat a singles guy. I don’t care about the tag division, because I’ve been conditioned to not care about it, but you have to wonder why the WWE is so intent at destroying its own stuff.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us backstage to catch up with the powers that be. With the match over Kane finally reveals what happens if both guys win; they both get to pick stipulations. Meanwhile Seth Rollins says he’s not wrestling Ziggler tonight, he’s wrestling Jamie Noble. Everyone agrees this is all Kane’s fault and Seth demands to face someone he can beat more easily.
Adam Rose vs. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was missing last week after getting powerbombed through the announce table by Luke Harper on Smackdown. Zoom-in/zoom-out cameraman is at his worst again here, doing it on every strike. It gets to the point where I’m pleased that Rose hooks a chinlock so the cameraman will stop zooming. Rebound lariat and Dirty Deeds puts jobber Rose away in short order. Total filler.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control takes us backstage for yet another Kane segment, with Big Show this time. Show coaches Kane on ‘winning’ and tells him to “do what needs to be done”. Kane promptly books himself against Seth tonight and promises to do “what’s best for business”.
Stardust vs. Fandango
Booker perks up claiming Stardust reminds him of the movie “The Wiz”. “Not the Wizard of Oz, the one with Michael Jackson”. I appreciate Booker’s movie love. Stardust puts jobber Fandango away in roughly 30 seconds by kicking him in the face. “Fandango has definitely lost focus” says Book. He’s also lost the match! More filler.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us back to Kane, yet again, as Daniel Bryan makes fun of him for lying down for Seth Rollins tonight. “I’m not even angry, I just feel sorry for you” says Daniel as Kane gets really pissed off. You know what would have filled the three Kane segments and two needless jobber matches? A Daniel Bryan match.
Seth Rollins vs. Kane
They’ve been trying to create a little intrigue regarding this match. Seth blatantly expects Kane to lie down but Bryan’s words about Kane’s lack of pride and manliness must be ringing in his ears. Kane has a suit on but at least he takes his jacket off. “Alright, lay down. Lay down and get this over with” – Seth. Kane then kicks out as JBL makes fun of WCW. Seth tries to bully Kane to get back down but that gets him whopped around the chops. Chokeslam and they virtually job Rollins out to Kane, of all people. Kane then lies down and drags Seth’s unconscious body over him for the pin. Good grief. Way to make your champion look like a total geek. Booking idiocy on a par with the same stupid mistakes WCW made that JBL was making fun of during the segment. Just because they reference WCW’s abject failure doesn’t make their own abject failure any better.
Final Rating: -****
The Miz vs. Damien Mizdow
Summer Rae is allegedly a “movie star” now, having appeared in The Marine 4. She corners Mizdow here despite co-starring with The Miz in that “movie”. Mizdow wins here with a roll up after about 30 seconds. Where is this going? Is it going anywhere? Why did they have these two together for so long for no pay off. The mind boggles.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us to the Prime Time Players. “I don’t understand how we can’t get a response” – Titus. They make fun of Los Matadores. “Please don’t tell them I’m Puerto Rican” – Darren Young. They’re entertaining enough but it must be worrying for the WWE that a tag team nobody (important) cares about goofing around for a minute or so is the second best segment on Raw.
Ryback vs. Luke Harper
Harper DROPS Ryback with a superkick after a few seconds and it looks so awesome that it could easily have been a finish and it’s sold as such by the announcers. They try and sell it like an MMA style near finish with Ryback having to get his groove back but unfortunately the crowd is rather pissed off after a bad card and is chanting for “CM Punk”. Harper gets himself disqualified after about 90 seconds anyway and Ambrose runs down for the real fight with Harper. Then Harper runs off and Ambrose just stands in the ring watching. What the hell are they doing in this company? At least Harper’s big kick was a cool moment. Otherwise a total waste of air-time.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to the Byron Saxton robot, who replaces the usually easy-going Saxton on Raw, interviews Naomi. She points out she beat Nikki twice already and yet they had a battle royal anyway. “Do wins and losses mean anything around here?” – Naomi. A just and valid point. She’s sick of waiting for a chance, she’s taking it. This made excellent sense. Congratulations! That’d be one segment on the show. Whoever wrote that “wins and losses” line should be promoted.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Neville
Can Neville have his Adrian back? Did Vince McMahon think it sounded effeminate or something? Or is it an intricate rib on Gary Neville’s Dad who’s name is also Neville. Ziggler calls Kane “the devil’s favourite dumbass” before issuing an open challenge, which is how this gets booked. Lilian Garcia misses a trick by announcing Neville as the “man that gravity forgot” rather than announcing him from England. Although it is cool he’s still rocking that nickname as I can remember him being introduced that way back in 2006 in Billingham. Was that really 9 years ago? Cole gets his geography mixed up again, claiming Newcastle is “about 3 hours drive” away from London. It’s about 5 hours drive away mate. If there’s no traffic. Booker points out that Neville is completely in control when he’s doing the standing flips to the point where Cole thinks an SSP, off the goddamn mat, is a standing moonsault. He makes it look that easy. He always has done. The crowd alternate between chanting for Neville and NXT. Neville takes a stroll along the rail and HITS A 450 SPLASH OFF IT! Ziggler is kind enough to give Neville a lot of flashy spots and only hits big spots like the superkick and a DDT. Eventually he dodges the Red Arrow, throws Neville into the ring post and finishes with the ZigZag. If people didn’t already know it, Neville is a tremendous talent and has the potential blow everyone’s mind. This was a good showing from Neville. I was worried about how he’d get treated on the main roster and there’s still concern as he’s faced nice people so far. Sheamus runs in afterwards to hit Brogue Kicks. He’s set to face Ziggler at Extreme Rules in a “Kiss Me Arse” match. EXTREEEEEEME!
Final Rating: ***1/4
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
Ten minutes left on the show, no more matches and only time for Seth and Orton to have a chat about their stipulations at the PPV. Riveting, I’m sure. Seth calls Orton out and tells him his stipulation is that the RKO is banned at Extreme Rules. An EXTREEEEEEEME stipulation if ever there was. I thought the point of Extreme Rules was that ‘anything goes’? Orton’s stipulation is to make their title match a cage match, so the Authority “can’t interfere”. Has he never seen a WWE cage match? People climb over those damn things all the time or pass weapons inside, or come up through the mat. Orton clears out J&J to finish the show and hits an RKO to demonstrate what a one-note guy he is and how Seth took that note away. The weird thing is that Rollins vs. Orton at Wrestlemania was a pretty good match and yet I have no interest in seeing a rematch, because of the booking.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Neville.
Least Entertaining: Randy Orton. Kane. Big Show.
Quote of the Night: “I did go to Suplex City…and it hurt” – Roman Reigns.
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Neville.
What We Said: Two good matches (Ziggler-Neville and Cena-Barrett) and a whole load of horrible booking. Most of the booking was like Vince McMahon walking to the ring, taking a dump and saying “there’s your damn Network” and then urinating on the Union Jack. Some absolutely terrible stuff on this show, headlined by Rollins being treated like a complete bitch by Kane. A overreaching, frankly staggeringly good Wrestlemania was just a few weeks ago and already the WWE’s booking has fallen off a cliff. At least there were two good matches on this show but they squandered a hot crowd, which is a crime in wrestling, had way too much filler for Raw and main evented the show with something completely lame.
I was disappointed to have missed out on covering last week's post-WrestleMania edition of Raw. Usually the most entertaining episode of the year, the first half of the broadcast more than lived up to expectations with two great television matches and a killer angle involving the man of the moment Brock Lesnar. Unfortunately, the second half somewhat fell off a cliff thanks to crowd sabotage and an insipid same-old-shit main event featuring HoW favourites The Big Show and Kane. Now that show is out of the way and WrestleMania season has been and gone, we are back to normal. Hopefully this year WWE will kick the usual unfortunate habit of falling into a post-Mania malaise.
Hosts tonight are Byron Saxon, JBL and Booker T. Pleasingly the reports on WWE.com that Michael Cole would return this week following the Lesnar attack last time out proved to be inaccurate. So good news then, though Saxton's performance last week was pretty damn appalling if truth be told. Hopefully it was merely the pressure of having to go it alone (a foolish decision, I must say) that got to him. Let's give the guy another chance.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
The first image I see is that of the god awful Big Show, standing with his arms folded next to the Andre the Giant trophy. All that does is remind me how vastly inferior Show's aura is compared to that of Andre.
Tangent: A word on Show's battle royal win at WrestleMania: I was watching with a group of friends and it was noted that "anything could happen", with one reveller joking, "Remember, it's Vince McMahon making the call. He will probably have the Big Show win it." We all laughed heartily. Then he went and did it! My first response was the punch line of a great Jim Cornette story about an unscrupulous promoter fixing a raffle to win a pony: "Gee, wouldn't you know it? Look who won the pony!" It was his son.
Back to Seth then, who is out here with his usual entourage. He has to fight through a chorus of boos a'la Vickie Guerrero, making him the only wrestling heel in the company who the casual fans actually despise enough to boo. He drops a delightful bombshell: Stephanie and Hunter aren't here tonight because they are on vacation! No Cole and no Steph!? I am in hog's heaven. Seth plays company shill for a few minutes parroting WWE lies about WrestleMania; the usual stuff, fake attendance number, social media success, that sort of thing. Big Show is especially impressed with how much the card trended, letting out a hearty laugh when Seth reveals the bogus, meaningless number. They really do put far too much stock in social media. "The biggest takeaway from WrestleMania was that the Authority always wins." No kidding. They have always won for the last two unwatchable years. Rollins claims that Show cemented himself as the greatest giant of all time with his battle royal win, which is such a ridiculous claim that Lillian Garcia rips up her notes in disgust. "And Kane... he was there too," says Rollins disparagingly. You can't beat the top heel in the company making ha-ha jokes. I guess he is turning babyface soon to feud with... oh please not Big Show.
Randy Orton gets bored and comes out to speed through his scripted lines like he always does. He is the worst culprit for delivering the awful pre-written verbiage badly. He doesn't ever pause for breath because he is scared of saying something wrong and losing track, so he just blurts out a massive, unintelligible run-on sentence. The gist is he wants Seth, but Kane shouts him down and tells him to show some respect. According to Kane, there are others worthy of consideration for a title shot at Seth, so there will be a triple threat tonight to determine the number one contender between Roman Reigns, Ryback (!) and Randy Orton. Wait. Wasn't Randy already announced as the number one contender? In addition, all three guys are wrestling tonight in singles matches too, guaranteeing we will all be sick of the sight of them come main event time. Tragically, Orton's match is against Kane right now.
Randy Orton vs. Kane
"This is a main event anywhere in the world!" attests the clearly insane Booker T, shattering his already flimsy credibility. WWE really do think Kane is a main event guy too. It's remarkable. Do I really need to waste time writing anything about this? It is Orton and Kane, two guys who have done everything possible in WWE and who rarely change anything about their act. You know the moves, you know it slows down when Kane is in control, you know WWE refuse to put anyone over Kane and Show in their desperate attempt to protect their perceived yet nonexistent auras. In this case Kane is protected with a DQ finish, thanks to a Kane chair shot on the outside. How unbelievably drab.
Final Rating: 1/2*
I'm already reeling in horror at the prospect of three hours of this mundane garbage, and then an onscreen graphic causes me to develop a spasm brought about by despair: Roman Reigns vs. THE BIG SHOW. Why don't they ever learn!? Working with Show damaged Reigns beyond repair prior to WrestleMania, so hideous were their matches and so idiotic was the booking. Reigns needs to be Goldberg now, no more fanny-footing around. Putting him with Show guarantees he will fail. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
WWE acknowledges on air that AJ Lee has decided to retire, which was perhaps the least surprising breaking news of the year when it came out. I have sensed that AJ was on her way out of the company for some time, ever since Punk departed actually. Working conditions must have been frosty for her at best, but Dr. Ammann deciding to sue her husband was probably the final straw. How could he possibly treat her should something happen? Talk about a conflict of interests. Rumour has it that AJ is leaving the biz because she is expecting a baby Punk, thanks to a photo tweet from NXT star Bayley showing her holding AJ's stomach with the word "expecting" used in the caption. Who knows. All it means is that WWE now has a grand total of one competent female worker on the main roster (Paige) and that a hole has suddenly opened up for Charlotte, Sasha Banks and the other superior NXT women to fill. Knowing WWE, they will probably turn to Eva Marie instead.
Backstage, Brad Maddox makes his long-awaited (ha) return in a segment with Kane. He doesn't say a word, he just stands there and gets a bollocking from the large red one. Seth barges in and yells at Kane for not pulling his weight, which is a little out of leftfield. I guess they suddenly have an issue because they need to have an issue. Standard fare for this company these days: all effect and no cause. They shout at each other for a while, Seth wants Kane to step down, Kane wants respect, so he puts Seth in a match next. "The unpredictability continues," claims Saxton. Come off it, pal.
Michael Cole's Lesnar-induced injury has been changed, thankfully, to a bulging disc in his neck. WWE showed their true colours last week when they gave Cole the same injury as what tragically killed Perro Aguayo Jr., just over a week earlier. Saxton notes that Cole is considering legal action, which about sums up the little germ's persona doesn't it? He was already a detestable little shill who put himself over at every opportunity, and now he is a litigious baby as well. We see footage from that unbelievably great angle, probably my favourite piece of WWE business in years, though it is tainted somewhat with the standard WWE revisionist history. Now the angle ended with Steph berating Brock and shouting him out of the ring, because she has to have the last word, you see. Truth is she bollocked him and then Lesnar beat up the cameraman some more in an act of Steve Austin-like defiance, and only stopped because Paul Heyman talked him down. This is going to become another renegade babyface against omnipotent heel authority figures angle isn't it? Jesus, that stuff was passé by 1999, yet it's been going on ever since!
WWE continues to hotshot its network, offering April for free, just like February was, and November before that. It makes sense from a business perspective because they have added Nett subscribers each time they have done it, and they want to avoid the expected post-Mania drop off. But it will be a law of diminishing returns. You can only hotshot for so long before the tactic stops working.
Seth Rollins vs. Neville
To my absolute delight, Seth Rollins' unannounced mystery opponent is NXT standout Neville. Formerly Adrian Neville. Formerly PAC to those who knew him from the Indy scene. I have been a huge admirer of the guy since he debuted on the UK circuit a decade ago, so I am overjoyed to see him given such a plum spot. Adam Rose and Fandango certainly didn't get to mix it up with the WWE Champion when they were called up, that is for sure. Could it be that WWE actually have faith in the guy? For once, can they see what everyone else sees? Showing that NXT is not just over with the smart mark audience, the crowd tonight breaks into an "NXT" chant in support of Neville. They work a long, smart match, with the story being that of Rollins increasingly irked that he is unable to put the plucky underdog away. With each passing minute Rollins in more riled that Neville is able to counter him, and eventually he just starts punching him in the face. Neville shows plenty of fire and gets a decent amount of support from the crowd considering his status as relative nobody in main roster terms. His cause his helped by his tremendous ability and propensity for flashy offence, such as a delightful powerbomb counter into a rana that sends Seth upside down in the buckles. Bungled J&J interference appears to give Neville the opportunity to hit his red arrow finisher, but Rollins moves out of the way and survives a pinfall attempt before hitting the powerbomb into the buckles that he was trying for earlier. He follows that with the curb stomp for the win. For a moment there, I almost believed WWE were going to put Neville over the WWE Champion. I would have loved it if they had been brassy enough to do that and make a star instantly, but I am not overly annoyed that they didn't. Rollins should be protected as champion given the cheap way he won it, and in defeat Neville looked better going out than he did coming in. The announcers put him over big too, especially JBL who describes him as " the wunderkind". I am pretty sure that was Alex Wright... Post match, Seth gives Neville another curb stomp for his insolence at lasting so long and daring to step into the ring with him in the first place. Not quite Bret Hart vs. 1-2-3 Kid, one of the more famous examples of the champion beating the underdog challenger in a believable, back-and-forth, gripping encounter, but a fine match nonetheless.
Final Rating: ***1/4
John Cena vs. Stardust
For the second match running on this show, we have an open challenge. Cena's new gimmick is that the US Title represents "opportunity" and like last week he is letting anyone in the back come out and wrestle him for the belt. I like it. It makes the title feel important because Cena cares about it, and it gives him different guys to work with because anyone could theoretically accept. It's a shame that the embarrassing Stardust is the man to answer the call. At least it is a fresh match up I guess, which are a rarity in this era of six hours of first-run weekly television. The lack of familiarity does cause a few problems with timing and leads to the odd clunky looking spot, such as Stardust poking Cena in the eye and visibly annoying him. It bruises him up quite noticeably almost straight away. It's those damn spiky gloves that Stardust wears, they are a health hazard. Cody seems to be a step off for everything, and Cena has to quite obviously shout instructions at him throughout. It's odd, because as most everyone knows the heel generally calls the match. Despite the accidental potato, Cena still gives Stardust plenty of offence and willingly sells for him, even letting him flip out of the AA and hit an Alabama slam. They go to near falls and the crowd actually buy them, which is pretty impressive given it is the unbeatable Cena against the joke character Stardust. Another follows when Stardust evades the five knuckle shuffle and drills Cena with a DDT for a close count, as the level of performance begins to take a noticeable upswing. Stardust escapes the STF and hits what used to be called Cross Rhodes, and again it is a close two count. Cena busts out his wacky WrestleMania springboard stunner in response and then finishes with the AA to retain. Credit to Cena, he was a ring general in there tonight and worked through an early setback to pull a very watchable match out of what is essentially a comic relief character. This midcard role and open challenge gimmick might win Cena a few fans. He is certainly starting to win me over after consecutive good matches on this show.
Final Rating: ***
The Bellas vs. Paige & Naomi
At least it is not Eva Marie, huh? I keep hearing about how athletic and talented Naomi is, but outside of her flying arsehole attack, I haven't seen much evidence that she can actually work. I am sick to death of the Bellas too. Those horrid nasal voices, hand-slappy clotheslines and contorted B-movie grimaces are the reason the Divas division is such a joke. It's strange, because I abhor them on Raw but I think they are a riot on Total Divas. WWE should treat them like Rosa and Eva: keep them both strictly on that show and well away from a wrestling ring. The whole match is Paige taking heat before an apathetic hot tag, which Naomi manages to make a real hash of when she jumps off the top rope and lands on her ample ass. She moves gingerly afterwards, but still manages to put away Nikki following a really ugly looking version of her head scissors DDT move. If searching for the positives, one can at least be pleased that WWE are using throwaway tag matches to build to a title match rather than using titles matches to build to a throwaway tag, as they did with the Divas at WrestleMania. Nikki vs. Naomi is going to be goddamn horrible though. As this was.
Final Rating: DUD
Byron Saxton jumps his cue and goes into a plug for Miz vs. Mizdow tonight (yes, they really are giving away months of storyline build to do a throwaway Raw match in the middle of the show), but gets cut off by a pre-recorded Prime Time Players VT. Remarkably, it's pretty funny. After mocking my least favourite team in history, the New Day, they turn their attentions to the Ascension. For that they don plastic Legion of Doom shoulder pads and mock their one-dimensional promos, and it's great. Not so much for the Ascension - though there is no coming back for them now - but it sure made me like the PTP more. Actually I think Titus is seriously underutilised. The guy is a witty, comic genius on Total Divas (it's a good show, really, it is!) and looks impressive in the ring around the new breed of pint sized stars. I am surprised Vince hasn't pushed him to the moon already, thinking about it.
Luke Harper vs. Ryback
This doesn't last long. They clubber away at each other for two minutes in their usual match, Ryback shows a few impressive displays of power and then finishes Harper with the Shellshock. They went at it the whole time at least, which made it watchable.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Rene Young interviews the New Day and brings up the crowd having turned on them. They are on the road to going heel, which is absolutely the best thing for them. "We clap or we snap," says Kofi. Big E tells a story about signing an autograph for a rude kid at a restaurant and they all do some clapping. It's an interesting take; smiling through hatred. Rene doesn't buy the explanation and wears an expression like someone just asked if they could take a dump in her mouth.
The New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons
All of the colourful outfits whisk me back to my eighties and nineties childhood. Big E and Woods are the duo on the New Day side tonight, which is an odd one. Surely Kofi would be the best opponent of the three for the flashy masked duo to shine against? "It's an exciting time in the tag division here in the WWE," says the increasingly ridiculous Saxton, who evidently started watching wrestling in the last decade and has no knowledge of the real great teams that populated the ranks in the eighties. Even though it is now okay to book the New Day in WWE world, the fans don't really bother. They are still apathetic towards them, and they probably always will be. After a match where it feels like nothing happened outside of a few Kalisto flips, the Dragons score the win thanks to Sin Cara. They are moderately over at least. Champs Cesaro and Kidd watch from the back, so presumably the Dragons will be next in line for a title shot. That could be really entertaining if they are given time to have a good match, and if WWE don't splurge it on Raw for weeks on end before the pay-per-view.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Roman Reigns vs. The Big Show
Oh man, I had forgotten about this. Much like Orton-Kane, we have seen it all before. About a dozen times on this very show already this year, it seems. The highlight is Reigns saying, "Oh fuck!" after Show jumps on him while he is lying in the ropes. The rest is the same match they always do, with Big Show dominating beyond any logical comprehension. Just go back a few weeks and read the review of one of their matches from earlier in the year. It's the same! Reigns' new gimmick is laughing at pain, like a modern day Al Snow, and he does that again her after taking a pounding for around three hours. A bunch of superman punches don't knock Show down, but the spear does the trick and Reigns gets the win! To a huge pop, no less. I am amazed that Show was pinned. Pleased, but amazed. Now get rid of him...
Final Rating: 1/2*
Backstage, Natalya, Summer Rae, Alicia Fox and Cameron pester a perturbed Kane for a battle royal to determine the number one contender to Nikki's Divas title. Kane gets a headache from their shrill voices (I know how he feels) so agrees to book the match for next week to shut them up. Kane has been fairly amusing in these backstage segments tonight. He is quite good in the role of put-upon reluctant authority figure. Away from the ring, he is a harmless addition to the broadcast. You know, that battle royal sure would be a great place to debut one of the NXT girls and give them a big win...
Sheamus vs. Mark Henry
Sheamus having dispensed with his terrible "shameful lobster head / too many limes" theme has instantly made him more appealing. His new track is really good. Much less goofy. I quite like his new look too. At least it is different. The crowd don't agree, and copy last week's audience in telling him he looks "stupid". Ouch. Sheamus mocks the little people on the roster like Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan, and points out that not many people are bigger than him. Naturally that leads to someone bigger than him coming out when Mark Henry answers the challenge. I am not sure why they insist on doing things like this. Sheamus should be running through people to re-establish him and get him over again, not backing off from someone like Henry. He struggles to do much with the immobile behemoth before finishing things with the brogue kick. Another clear finish! They are doing quite well tonight in that regard.
Final Rating: 1/2*
In a darkened room, Bray Wyatt makes his first Raw appearance since WrestleMania and it is as if nothing ever happened at the supershow. Wyatt cuts his usual cryptic promo, challenging someone or something. Who know; his promos are just a stream of well delivered drivel.
The Miz vs. Damien Mizdow
There is so much about this that I don't understand. I still can't believe they are throwing it away on Raw for one, but there are more equally confounding questions too. Such as: why is Mizdow still coming out to the Miz's music? Why is he still wearing Miz tights? Why for that matter, is he still called Mizdow? He is noticeably far less over now than he was a few weeks ago too, making the decision not to put him over in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal even more foolish. It's sad really, because they guy was on the cusp of being a star, yet the company had no faith in him. Not for the first time, either. Making matters worse, Miz goes over her to the sound of groans thanks to a tights-assisted roll up. Knowing how WWE book, they will now wrestle week after week and then have a payoff on PPV long after anyone cares anymore. Poor Damien.
Final Rating: *1/4
Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns vs. Ryback
This is fairly brief as far as main events go, but entertaining regardless. The triple threat rules mean there is little time for resting or faffing around, so they just get right to hitting a bunch of moves. Things really heat up at the finish when Seth Rollins and his buddies head down, and Roman Reigns hits an impressive dive on the lot of them. He almost gets his hands on Seth, but Big Show smashes him in the face with two knockout punches to take him out of the match. Orton manages to get hold of Rollins briefly before J&J save him, so Ryback takes them out in amusingly vicious fashion. J&J are two of the best bumpers in the company, they make everyone look great. Then, as is becoming his thing around eight months after it really was his thing, Orton hits the RKO out of nowhere on Ryback for the win. Immediately, without missing a beat, Rollins smashes him with a curb stomp, erm, out of nowhere, setting the ball in motion for their feud... even though they were already feuding.
Final Rating: **1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Seth Rollins. He did a great job with Neville, giving him far more offence than you might expect the WWE Champion would against a rookie.
Least Entertaining: The Big Show. No explanation needed in 2015 I would hope.
Quote of the Night: "Size matters" - JBL, courtesy of Vince McMahon in his earpiece. You could put that on Vince's headstone.
Match of the Night: Seth Rollins vs. Neville. Not quite the exceptional breakout display that it could have been, but a solid effort from Neville in his biggest match to date, and a pleasing show of faith in the talented youngster from WWE.
What We Said: It was wonderful not having to endure Michael Cole and Stephanie McMahon, but the lack of Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Rusev and Dean Ambrose hurt the in ring and star power on the show a little. I can't verify this, but I assume they are either already on the European tour or on the road somewhere. What was left was mainly the big guys, and thus the wrestling was a little lacking in some of the bouts. However, the performances of Seth Rollins, Neville and John Cena saved the show, as well as the hot finish in the main event. Not the best episode of Raw by any means, but two decent matches make it better than many this year.
29th March 2015.
We’re in Santa Clara, California. Enormous show this year. 2 hours for the kick-off show and then 4 hours for the show itself. Kick-off show is hosted by Renee Young, Booker T, Byron Saxton & Corey Graves. A couple of matches on the show but it’s mostly hype to build up the card. Here’s my take:
Triple H vs. Sting. We’re all expecting Sting to win this but I would love it if Hunter won. I haven’t cared about Sting since 1996 and hated the whole Crow Sting (aka Sad Mime Sting) era, which has comprised the last 20 years. So this is a no-lose for me. I don’t care who wins and if the ridiculous Hunter win does happen it’d be fine by me.
Who I want to win: Triple H
Who will win: Sting
Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton. This is one where I’d love to see the youngster go over. Rollins is everything Orton is not. He’s exciting, he’s fresh, he has a move-set. Orton has his pose and the RKO. I probably hate him more than anyone else on the roster. So this is cut and dry for me. I want Seth to win, anything else is bad.
Who I want to win: Seth Rollins
Who will win: Randy Orton
IC title ladder match: I don’t care who wins. The title is worthless. If they’re really serious about rebuilding it, from the ground up, then Daniel Bryan has to win. So I’ll be watching for the car-crash elements but that’s it.
Who I want to win: Daniel Bryan
Who will win: Daniel Bryan
Bellas vs. Paige & AJ. The Bellas suck. They actually put some effort into hyping this match this week though. Shame it’s the Bellas.
Who I want to win: Paige & AJ
Who will win: The Bellas
Rusev vs. Cena. Weak build on this. I’m not particularly partial to Rusev but him winning is more interesting than Cena winning so Cena wins. Much like he did against Wyatt last year when he should have lost.
Who I want to win: Rusev
Who will win: John Cena
Wyatt vs. Taker. Another match that’s had a luke-warm build. Hoping the two guys will have enough personality to win the crowd over. Of course Taker’s streak ending last year takes some of the mystique off him and is anybody that bothered if he loses again now?
Who I want to win: Bray Wyatt
Who will win: Undertaker
Lesnar vs. Reigns. I’m a big, big Lesnar fan and I’m hoping he retains here. I think Roman comes off as a soft worker without anything impactful enough to put Lesnar down. With Brock having signed, for three years no less, there’s no reason to job him out now. He should retain. Hopefully in a massacre.
Who I want to win: Brock Lesnar
Who will win: Brock Lesnar
The pre-show matches are covered by our illustrious, ahem, commentary team of Michael Cole, JBL & Jerry Lawler. JBL’s first line is to call it “Wrestlemoania”. Nice one, pal.
WWF Tag Team Championship
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd (c) vs. The Usos vs. Los Matadores vs. New Day
I can totally understand this being ditched onto the pre-show because the WWE’s tag team division pretty much sucks. Shame for Cesaro & Tyson Kidd though. They’re solid. Natalya looks great tonight, like a pink, feminine Road Warrior. Her having a special look makes the champs look more important. One of the Usos, Jey, has a shoulder injury from last week so Cesaro runs him into the rail to leave the Usos basically out of it. Jimmy remains. Giant Swing from Cesaro leads to a Tyson Kidd dropkick. That’s the innovative double-teaming of the champs. Jimmy gets in there and has himself a Superkick Party. It all gets a bit frantic from there, with frequent tags. Cesaro deadlifts Big E in a freakish spot where he suplexes him outside back in. On the outside Natalya straps El Torito in the Sharpshooter. This provokes Naomi into hitting a dive as this gets really crazy. They throw in some near falls suggesting Matadores or New Day might grab the belts. There are so many superkicks in this match the Jackson brothers would be saying it was a bit much. Uso hits the Superfly Splash but Cesaro steals the pin and the champs retain. This was organised chaos and surprisingly fun.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us to the WWE’s Social Media lounge where Tom Philips has WWE Hall of Famer Lita for a Q & A. Seeing as she’s retired there are no hard questions for her, mostly just opinion stuff. Lita hints at a possible tag match with her and Trish against the Bellas. Not against AJ & Paige? Boo. We skip back to the pre-show guys where Booker T pitches his book. Video Control takes us to John Gruden, who’s an ESPN guy, for analysis of the battle royal, who puts over Titus O’Neill, Curtis Axel (“often imitated, never eliminated”) and his favourite Ryback. None of those guys are winning.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
A ring full of humanity out there including Big Show, Kane, Mark Henry, Ryback and other heavy hitters. There are too many guys in there. Axel stops everyone to do the shirt-rip. Axelmania is runnin’ wild. The million other wrestlers throw him out. The one guy I’m looking for is Hideo Itami who pairs off with Cesaro and they have a decent little match while everyone else hangs by the ropes. Oh, and what’s that chant? “Hideo”. He’s going to be a star here. Another angle is Miz and his assistant Mizdow and they team up on Miz’s old assistant Alex Riley. Mizdow throws him out. Hey, Zack Ryder is in there! Bo Dallas throws him out and eliminates himself by celebrating. Itami kicks him in the face. Hideo is seriously over and everyone clears out so he can kick Tyson Kidd’s ass too. Naturally, this being the WWE, Big Show punches him out of the ring, drawing jeers. Now the ring is filled with people who don’t seem to care and Cesaro, who’s tired after working a match already. The Ascension get the rub by throwing Mark Henry out. The crowd are hoping for a Mizdow win now. Ryback throws both of the Ascension out and that gets him a bit of love too. Darren Young and Heath Slater, former NXT buddies of Ryback, both go after him and both get thrown out. Big E gets love for battering Big Show but Show throws him out. Crowd wants Mizdow but it’s Big Show who dominates. Cesaro chucks Kane out to a big pop. Are they learning that nobody wants to see Show & Kane? Cesaro squaring off with Show gets a lot of love because people remember last year. Show dumps Cesaro for pay back to heat.
Final Four: Miz, Mizdow, Big Show & Ryback. Show throws Ryback out. Maybe they didn’t learn anything. As the crowd chant “Mizdow” it makes me wonder if they’ll make the battle royal a fan favourite thing after last year. Mizdow throws Miz out to a huge pop, confirming the end of that angle. Well, apart from the inevitable feud. Mizdow does the skinning the cat when faced with Show but the last bit of the match drags because it’s Show. Mizdow tries the Benoit Rumble elimination, which the commentators can’t reference but Show shrugs it off to dump Mizdow and win. This had moments. Cesaro going after Kane & Show again (why is he not getting pushed?) and Itami stealing the show by doing interesting things when everyone else was hugging the ropes. Plus Mizdow finally turning on Miz. It’s a nice moment for Show but only because he’s choked so badly for so long that winning a pre-show battle royal is actually an achievement for the poor guy.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us back to the pre-show team for a final 10 minute shill. I actually like the Kick-Off team. I enjoy watching them a lot more than the commentary team. Booker T shamelessly shills his book some more. As the pre-show finishes they’re setting up ladders around ringside, hundreds of the things, for the IC title match.
- - -
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Bad News Barrett (c) vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust vs. Luke Harper vs. R-Truth vs. Dean Ambrose
70,000 people on their feet chanting “YES” for Daniel Bryan. Let’s see how they respond to Vince’s hand picked title challenger tonight. Whoever wins should reveal a little insight into the main event. If Bryan goes over there’s a good chance Lesnar retains. Loads of dives to start, including a Harper tope. Stardust steals the match by bringing his own sparkly ladder, which Barrett beats up. Ambrose gets some decent reactions, showing the WWE’s booking hasn’t completely killed him. Harper is the first guy to deliberately set a spot up, rather than try to climb the ladder when the ring is empty. It’s all awkward stuff too. Next Truth sets up a ladder for a spot and the lack of organic spots in the match becomes readily apparent. Having set the spot up Truth moves aside so Stardust can get suplexed off the ladder by Barrett. At least the match lacks in another ladder match irritation; slow climbing. Ambrose, Bryan and Ziggler all seem determined to climb at a normal speed. Ambrose takes the second sickening spot of the match as Harper powerbombs him out of the ring and THROUGH a ladder. The bump is brutal. It looks like a concussion at best, possibly a broken neck. Ziggler and Bryan’s insistence at climbing quickly creates some really thrilling moments. Ziggler and Bryan get into a headbutting duel on top of the ladder, which Bryan wins and he pulls the title down for the win. The match was a clusterfuck with two big spots. Ziggler and Bryan tried really hard to make it special but the setting up of spots hurt the match. The crowd chant “YES” as Bryan stays up the ladder. One can only hope they don’t treat Bryan like an IC champion. Seeing as the IC champion seems to take a plethora of jobs. Really worried about Ambrose, who took one hell of a bump to rule him out of the rest of the match. Hopefully the damage isn’t permanent.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
Cole points out Seth might cash in tonight as he’s Mr Money in the Bank. JBL’s claims that Randy Orton is what a “sportz entertainer” looks like if you build it from the ground up. Good job I like wrestling. Randy Orton sucks. They’re keen to show this isn’t just filler and work hard on high speed near misses. J & J try to interfere in the early going so Orton DDT’s them both off the apron to stop that. The crowd mount a half-hearted duelling chant as the match grinds along. They do have some nice counters lined up where Rollins sees an obvious powerslam coming, goes after the Curb Stomp and gets caught in the actual powerslam. There’s also a spot where Seth hits a Downward Spiral into the buckles. He tries for another one and Randy blocks it. I like the psychology behind that. There’s a feeling that at Wrestlemania you have to pull out all the stops and that’s evident with a Seth Asai moonsault. They have a decent understanding and the counters are smooth. Not sure about the selling though as it’s wildly inconsistent. Like Orton staying down for ages after the moonsault but Seth popping up after the rope DDT. Because this is Wrestlemania Rollins casually kicks out of the RKO. J & J jump in to prevent the PUNT but that means a duo of RKO’s. Curb Stomp…for 2. Wrestlemania = pomp, pageantry, killing of all finishers. They have a hot stretch with a Phoenix Splash dodged into an RKO set up, dodged into a Curb Stomp, countered (by Randy pushing Seth way up into the air) and BOOM, RKO out of the air. Awesome finish. The match rose to the occasion with some cool ideas at play. It’s disappointing that Orton won but Seth is the future regardless of the outcome.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Video Control takes us ringside where Ronda Rousey is hanging out. I would say “sign her up” but there’s no one for her to work.
Triple H vs. Sting
In terms of build-up this is probably the best booked match on the show. It’s a pity the shill video shows Stephanie McMahon rambling about WCW, which this isn’t about at all. Or rather shouldn’t be Sting himself said “I’m not fighting for WCW, that would be ridiculous”. Sting has his own percussion band to play him to the ring for his WWE debut! The percussion, combined with the Terminator font on the Wrestlemania sign actually gets me pretty excited. They have Arnold Schwarzenegger here, Skynet should totally attack! And goddamn, that’s exactly what happens as Triple H is brought out here flanked by Terminators, wearing the most ridiculous attire you’ve ever seen in wrestling; his King of Kings thing with a Terminator skeleton over the top. He then strolls down here carrying six Terminator heads. I’ll give it to Hunter, he knows how to make an entrance. The only thing that would have been better was Max Landis doing the voice over and Chloe Dykstra coming out here as Triple H. Maybe they can save that for Backlash or whatever the April PPV is called this year.
I know Triple H vs. Sting is only a “dream match” in the WWE’s head but the build up and those entrances allows the fans to do a “this is awesome” chant before we even get started. Getting the crowd hooked before there’s any contact is always a winner. Unfortunately Triple H is an old school wrestler so he calls stuff in the ring and inserts headlocks and stuff. I generally find Triple H to be severely dated compared to the modern workers. Sting has an impactful style that actually suits. Sting completely no sells a facebuster, which was needed to make him seem important. Something Hulk Hogan never understood. If Sting gets beaten down like a normal guy then he is just a normal guy with facepaint on. Hunter at least understands the art of building an opponent up (before squashing them). JBL makes a valid point of saying that as the match goes on we find out if Sting is still Sting and “if he was really that good to begin with”. Well he was…in the early 90s. Hell, Triple H was great in 2000 but that was 15 years ago. Hunter gets caught talking on camera, which makes me wonder why he and Cena are regarded as the WWE’s top guys for the last 15 years seeing as they’re the two guys who are continually getting caught talking. Then he goes to a chinlock and the match dies.
SCORPION DEATHLOCK and DX (X-Pac & the Outlaws) run out here! There’s no DQ’s so that’s all legal. Sting fends them off but it’s enough distraction for the Pedigree, which, this being Wrestlemania, gets 2. Triple H grabs the sledgehammer and the nWo music kicks in (thus making this about a feud that finished 14 years ago) and out comes Hogan, Nash and Hall. But Nash and Hall are also Hunter’s friends so this attack on DX makes NO SENSE AT ALL. NONE. Scorpion Deathdrop and that only gets 2 because it’s Wrestlemania and finishers mean nothing. The nonsensical DX vs. nWo battle continues at ringside with X-Pac taking Hogan out (!!) “This is us against them” yells JBL, which explains why he was such a jackass during the Invasion angle and indeed why that angle was an unmitigated disaster. SHAWN MICHAELS IS HERE. SUPERKICK FOR STING! That gets 2. This is madness. It’s the WWE blowing it’s nostalgia wad all over the place. It comes down to bat vs. sledgehammer and the hammer breaks in two. Hunter grabs the remains of the hammer and bashes Sting with it for the win. HAHAHA, yes! They went there! They jobbed Sting out in his WWE debut. Wonderful. Even though they buried the entire of WCW 14 years ago, they felt the need to do so AGAIN. Even though Sting said it was nothing to do with WCW but that’s exactly what it became. I still don’t understand why Nash & Hall, Hunter’s buddies, were working again him here after they hugged it out last night at the Hall of Fame. There’s a point where booking needs to reflect reality better. Hunter shakes Sting’s hand after the match and tells him he earned his respect or some such.
Final Rating: **
Video Control gives us a shill for an assortment of upcoming Network shows including one hosted by Jerry Springer, a Seth Green cartoon, something from the director of Jackass and another Diva Search. Wow, that’ll get me to tune in. I agree that the interviews they’ve been doing have been special and worth seeing but this kind of programming is aimed solely at attracting new people who won’t buy the Network for the wrestling. Which is stupid. It’s a wrestling thing. If you don’t like wrestling enough to buy the Network this programming will not alter that. We head backstage where Maria Menounos is on interview duty. Daniel Bryan is praised by Pat Patterson, Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair and Bret Hart. The latter leads everyone in a “YES” chant. Cue Ron Simmons: “DAMN”.
Video Control takes us back ringside for a musical performance from “legendary” drummer Travis Barker, singer Skylar Grey and rapper Kid Ink. This is the theme song to Wrestlemania and it’s not a bad tune but do we really need to hear the entire of it? Why not put this at the top of the show and forego the insistence of someone singing “America the Beautiful”? I hate that song.
Paige & AJ Lee vs. The Bella Twins
Recently AJ Lee has been trying to drive a #givedivasachance, which the WWE have actually bought into. Why? Because the casual viewers the WWE has gained from Total Divas don’t stick with the show because all the divas matches and segments are 2 minutes long. On a 3 hour show. Unfortunately this has led to longer matches for the Bellas, who aren’t good wrestlers. The problem they have here is the die-hard WWE fans know the Bellas suck in the ring so they don’t care about the match. Paige does a decent job of taking heat and brings sympathy to her role. The Bellas bring a few tag moves, which is an improvement over what they’ve been doing and there’s a great running theme of AJ Lee getting knocked off the apron. The selling is weird because AJ spends most of the match laid out and then hot tags in. Huh? AJ isn’t having a red letter day and struggles with Nikki. At least the Bellas positioning is ok here, even if the execution is off. Black Widow on Nikki and she taps, giving the faces the win. The match wasn’t a total disaster though there were too many awkward spots. It was certainly better from the Bellas. They need to step up the improvement if they’re to stay in those spots. Look at Sasha Banks, for crying out loud. That’s where the bar is set.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control cuts to the 2015 Hall of Fame. Best speeches came from Madusa (getting the women’s title out of the trash and making Paul Heyman cry) and Kevin Nash. The rest of the inductees were Rikishi, Larry Zbyszko, Tatsumi Fujinami, the Bushwhackers, Randy Savage (accepted by Lanny Poffo) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shawn’s introduction for Nash was perhaps the best thing on the entire four hour broadcast as he constantly said things he wasn’t supposed to. Two bridges repaired in getting Madusa and, finally, Randy Savage in the Hall of Fame were a highlight. It gains legitimacy by the year and I’m really pleased to see Fujinami go in. If they could induct a Japanese guy every year they might even get caught up on all the legends that aren’t in there from the Land of the Rising Sun. Obviously there are glaring omissions from Mexico too. Triple H seems to be the guy spearheading the attempts to make the WWE Hall of Fame a genuine ‘wrestling’ Hall of Fame not just guys who were big WWE stars. Honestly, Hunter’s ideas to make the WWE less small-minded regarding their ‘rivals’ is refreshing. It makes the WWE a better place. If they could get the in-ring back on track it could be a classic era.
WWE United States Championship
Rusev (c) vs. John Cena
John Cena being the All-American poster boy has won over the American fans but globally his pro-US comments have been met with disdain and even disgust. Given the global audience for the product it’s perhaps a dim move to do this going into Wrestlemania with the worldwide audience. Especially as they’ve tried to book this like Rocky IV but failed entirely to understand Rocky Balboa’s appeal and why people boo John Cena. Great entrance for Rusev as Lana carries the title to the ring while the Russian National Anthem plays. Rusev himself rides out here on a goddamn TANK. To all the Americans booing Rusev for demonstrating his national pride, that’s how the rest of the world sees guys with pro-USA gimmicks. Rusev insists he’s introduced first to mostly boos, a smattering of cheers and a “USA” chant. I guess it did work then. Cena on the other hand gets loudly booed regardless of his pro-USA stance. I guess it didn’t work!
Hang on, Rusev is called the “Super Athlete”? That’s Toru Yano’s nickname! Anyway, an evil Russian storyline. That’s just so 1980s. I bet the WWE was thrilled when Vladimir Putin got elected because they could break out all the old tropes from 30 years ago. Super Cena has the usual gaping selling issues, where he lies around like he’s dead then pops up and hits a series of moves. Rusev gets to show his talents by throwing Cena around. He looks like a genuine beast. Cena has to raise his game as the crowd finally decide who they like in this match…Lana! Cena goes back to being dead before mounting another comeback and then he’s dead again. It’s jarring once you’ve seen it and you can’t go back. But he’s been like it forever so he’s not going to modify his technique now. The first false finish is the STF but the crowd don’t react to it at all because it’s Wrestlemania and finishers barely count. Lana throws her shoe at the ref. Who throws a shoe? Rusev naturally gets out and heads up top, getting desperate, and hitting a flying headbutt for a near fall. And lo and behold the crowd start chanting for “Rusev”. It’s like Rocky IV, only backwards. Because Cena isn’t Rocky Balboa. He’s Ivan Drago. Which is why people hate him. Cena decides he needs to do something new (EGAD!) and hits a springboard Ace Crusher. Hello! It’s mainly because Rusev has countered every attempt at the FU. ACCOLADE! The crowd helpfully chant “TAP”. That would screw with Cena’s “never give up” mentality. Cena breaks out of the Accolade, the first person to do so, and gets the STFU. Rusev gets out but accidentally collides with Lana and Cena takes the US title with the FU. Flat finish after a well built contest.
Final Rating: ***
Next year Wrestlemania is in Dallas. The Kick-Off guys were talking about it potentially breaching a 100,000 attendance. That would be something! The attendance for Wrestlemania has become the kind of global thing that guarantees massive audiences as the entire world wants to see it. Hell, Dallas is just down the road from my brother’s house in Texas. I might even go myself.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon & Triple H.
They’re out to announce a record attendance of 76,976. It seems as if Steph is out here to put over the fans but instead puts over herself. Hunter’s victory over Sting has him in jubilant mood claiming it feels like he beat “76,976 people”. Hunter points the Authority owns “every superstar in the back”, which brings out…THE ROCK. He points out the Authority doesn’t own the people and doesn’t own the Rock. “You can either go back there and dress up like Terminator again or we can create a Wrestlemania moment”. Rock and, rather tellingly, Stephanie verbally spar for a while eating up precious Wrestlemania time. Rock goes to leave but finds himself standing next to someone in the front row…RONDA ROUSEY! “Ronda’s gonna kill you”. Steph nervously points out she’s friends with Ronda in a moment of selling that she should probably use more frequently to put the guys over. “Any ring I step into…is mine” – Ronda Rousey. “If you want me to leave, how about you make me?” Rock unloads on Triple H and Ronda throws the Game! Rousey>Sting. This was an enormous amount of filler, possibly designed to let the sun go down a bit more for the entrances of Bray Wyatt and the Undertaker. Although, you know what else could have done that? A battle royal. This screamed “Wrestlemania moment”. Rock literally said it himself, twice. It wasn’t though. I got a little excited when Ronda Rousey got in there but then nothing happened.
Bray Wyatt vs. The Undertaker
Wyatt’s entrance is seriously weakened by the sheer amount of light in the stadium. His fireflies don’t show up for starters. He’s joined by a bunch of shuffling zombie scarecrows that he brings to life by touching, obviously. Bray has a certain charm to him and this is seen as a passing of the torch somewhat from one iconic figure to another. “Is this a gunfighter coming back for his last stand or to show he’s still got it?” – JBL. Good analogy. Swiftly ruined by Michael Cole saying the exact same thing only less eloquently and Lawler saying he doesn’t care why Taker is back. Nice work, jackasses. The current incarnation is probably the worst commentary team the WWE has ever had.
“All of this is mine now” screams Wyatt, selling the match nicely. Rumour has it that Bray hurt his ankle warming up in the ring on the afternoon of the show but it’s not reflected during the match. Taker bosses the early going, including the Ropewalk in his early spots. He’s not wrestled in a year but looks in surprisingly good condition. Much better than during his match with Brock Lesnar last year. Maybe he was so disappointed in his performance last year that he worked on his conditioning. Just as it’s becoming a procession of Undertaker spots Bray cuts off the big boot after the Snake Eyes. When Wyatt is in charge it’s almost sad. Like he’s beating up an old man. Taker looks weary like an old lion on his last legs. Like most open-air shows, this one has suffered from the sound disappearing out into the California night time air. So most chants are quiet and nothing seems to stick. It’s not the best of atmospheres. The match plods along with both guys taking all the rest they can. Undertaker looks to be struggling quite badly, not as badly as last year oddly enough but struggling nonetheless. Sister Abigail is blocked into a chokeslam with Bray taking an eternity over his finish. Tombstone…gets 2 because it’s Wrestlemania and finishers mean nothing. Undertaker’s ‘surprised’ reaction to that is terrible. So now we’re into finishers time and Sister Abigail gets 2. Bray brings the spiderwalk and Taker sits up, collapsing the spiderwalk. It’s ridiculous but this is the kind of theatre that people love about the WWE. Sister Abigail is countered into a second Tombstone and that finishes. I don’t see what any of this has done for Bray Wyatt but at least the match was better than the shambolic Lesnar contest last year.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control shills a forthcoming new podcast edition to the Network; Chris Jericho’s. He’s got John Cena as a guest. That’s tomorrow after Raw. Hoping they steer well clear of kayfabe. Not that Cena has an awful lot to say. The Austin ones have been great. Apparently Austin has fallen out with Vince McMahon yet again, hence his Podcast being replaced. It’s a real shame as Austin was asking the kind of questions that normal people wanted to know the answers to. He wasn’t sucking up.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns
The build of this one has been lacking, resulting in a tug o’ war over the belt last week on Raw. However Brock Lesnar is THE MAN. He’s been booked as indestructible and rightly so. Whoever beats Lesnar is made as a main eventer. One problem here, only 20% (roughly) of the crowd actually want that to be Roman Reigns. If that. There’s a lot of heat for the challenger. JBL runs down Lesnar’s achievements including his UFC run and winning the IWGP title in his first match for New Japan. I love that the WWE is acknowledging the outside world to strengthen their stars nowadays. Long, long overdue. Get Vince McMahon out of his WWE bubble once in a while. Crowd is very pro-Lesnar, which is worrying for babyface challenger Roman Reigns.
Lesnar OWNS Roman from the bell, grabbing him and throwing suplexes. F-5! An F-5 after 30 seconds and Roman is DONE. Lesnar stops, realises he’s got a cut cheek, and decides to punish Roman for it. Brock starts taking a few shots but he just NO SELLS THE SHIT out of them. GERMAN SUPLEX. Reigns is getting crushed here. “Suplex City, bitch”. Roman’s main tactic here is to piss Brock off. Which is perhaps not the best of ideas but he keeps smirking at Lesnar while he’s taking the beating. Credit to Roman, his selling is tremendous. He looks finished after every spot. This is exactly what the crowd wants. Roman Reigns being annihilated. Every time he gets a lucky shot in the crowd gets on Roman’s case. Then Brock snaps out of it and KILLS HIM AGAIN. An errant Roman knee busts Lesnar again, this time on the lip. With each suplex the crowd chant the number of it with Heyman keeping score. An overhead belly to belly takes it to eight. F-5…for 2. That ticks Lesnar off and he removes his gloves. Oh, now you’ve done it! “Roman Reigns is about to get hurt” – JBL. Roman takes a few right hands and starts asking for more. It’s a variation on the Rope-a-Dope. Except Roman is the dope because he’s dodging nothing. He’s just getting destroyed. GERMAN, GERMAN, F-5…for 2. Finally the crowd start to cheer for Roman, because he’s taken such a heroic beating that even the most cynical of fans appreciates it.
On the floor Lesnar gets run into the ring post and gets busted wide open. Was that another hardway cut? Man, Brock is having no luck at all. He’s bleeding like a stuck pig. SUPERMAN PUNCH but Brock doesn’t go down, he staggers into the ropes. Another SUPERMAN PUNCH but Brock finds the ropes again and stays up. Lesnar’s selling here is amazing. He looks punchy. SUPERMAN PUNCH. Lesnar is wobbled. SPEAR. Lesnar won’t stay down! SPEAR…for 2! Three punches and two spears and Lesnar still won’t stay down. This is now officially awesome. Another Superman Punch, CAUGHT, F-5.
And here comes Seth Rollins. HE’S CASHING IN! In mid-match with both guys down. One little detail; Dean Ambrose said he would stop Seth from ever cashing in but tonight he can’t because tonight he got powerbombed through a ladder and messed his neck up. So he’s not here. Rollins is. CURB STOMP on Brock. He goes for another one; F-5 but no because Roman hits the SPEAR to stop it. CURB STOMP ON REIGNS. Rollins wins! ROLLINS WINS THE TITLE! This was heading toward easily Roman Reigns best match with Brock Lesnar just destroying him and Roman taking a wonderful thrashing until the ending. The cash-in almost took away from the match but it’s certainly an interesting direction and we have a new champion. Plus the main event, that on paper looked weak, totally delivered.
Final Rating: ****1/4
What We Said: Could easily have been one of the most reviled Wrestlemania shows in history but delivered in so many unexpected ways. The title match was really good and almost everything else worked too. A few disappointments like the nonsensical booking in HHH-Sting and a poor match from Wyatt-Undertaker but otherwise it’s hard to find fault in this show. I had four matches, five if you include the pre-show, over *** and there was plenty of effort on display. Naturally the main event is what the show will be ultimately remembered for. Yet another display of dominance from Brock Lesnar. Roman Reigns taking an absolute beating to get himself over and Seth Rollins, the sneaky son of a bitch, stealing the spotlight from both men by winning the belt. In a way I’m disappointed Brock Lesnar’s title run is over because I loved it and thought they’d deliberately re-positioned the IC and US titles onto the other two biggest stars to rebuild those divisions. Plenty of options for Seth title defences as well with Orton having beaten him, Lesnar never having lost the title and Roman Reigns taking a beating off Lesnar not Rollins. There are already three potential challengers.