We’re in Uniondale, New York at the Nassau Coliseum. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Booker T. Video Control gives us a few clips from last week where Dean Ambrose threatened his way into a title shot. They’ll be going at it this weekend at the Elimination Chamber special on the WWE Network (just $9.99!)
Promo Time: The Authority
Seth Rollins gets to kick this off, allowing him to bask in the heat. The crowd tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he sold out. Seth points out Dean Ambrose ‘earned’ his title shot last week under duress. Seth also points out Hunter could have fired Dean for his actions last week but Rollins asked Hunter not to. “He’s not a threat to me” – Seth Rollins. Hunter invites Ambrose out here to sign a contract for that match. Ambrose has gotten over recently, which is what happens when you book wrestlers as relevant and dangerous. Ambrose calls J & J “Hobbits”, Kane a “lapdog” and Seth “Justin Bieber”. Seth points out Bieber is rich, famous and has to beat girls off with a stick. Just like him, so he’s not insulted. Seth’s retort is to call Ambrose a “cockroach” and tells him that cockroaches never win. “I’d rather be a cockroach than the wrong end of the Authority’s Human Centipede”. Dean calls himself “crazy and stupid” and opts to come to the ring to face the entire Authority by himself but he’s got back up…Roman Reigns. Steph, who’d been nicely quiet, chirps up to say Dean must sign the contract tonight or he loses the shot and books Ambrose & Reigns vs. Rollins & Kane. Another main event with Kane. Wonderful.
Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins & Kane
The commentators largely ignore the action to yack about an assortment of things most notably that this is the final WWE event to be held in the Nassau Coliseum. It’s about to be “renovated” so this is the final time the building will be used for wrestling, until after the work is done, presumably. It’s a good venue but like all WWE events nowadays you can’t tell it apart from every other venue because every show looks the same. In the entertainment business, Kevin Dunn, we call this “boring”. I get that a different looking building might distract from the action but it also gives shows specific atmospheres. Which is why Wrestlemania is always special because they actually make it look different. Raw is just…dull. The match itself is patchy with the odd high spot and Roman continuing his healing process by backing Ambrose up rather than overwhelming proceedings. They get a nice hot streak going and Ambrose picks Seth off with a backslide for the win. I wish they’d stop treating Rollins like a complete bitch. Kane was right there, is completely job proof and could easily have taken the fall. The idea is to create the possibility that Ambrose can win but all it really does is telegraph that Rollins will retain. I’m glad this got ten minutes as it means less filler elsewhere on the show. It wasn’t a great match though.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us backstage where J & J Security accidentally forget to bring Dean Ambrose the contract to sign. He lays them out and manages to punch out a cameraman too.
Rusev vs. R-Truth
Rusev has put his name forward for the Money in the Bank ladder match. That nugget of information is the highlight of this match, which lasts a matter of seconds before the Accolade finishes. Having finished that piece of business Rusev calls out Lana. When she turns up Rusev rants at her for costing him two matches and kissing Dolph Ziggler. He claims it’s Lana using her feminine wiles to gain his manly attention. Rusev’s hopes and dreams are on the line here but he hopes they can crush the American dream together. It’s sort of romantic. They hug it out and it seems all is forgiven until Rusev demands an apology to go with the embrace. Rusev is beside himself but Lana stands her ground. “I was not wrong. You said I quit”. “You need to know your place woman. I own you!” Lana calls Rusev a “liar and a quitter” before calling him a “moronic caveman” and walking out. And that’s the end of that. Good performance from Rusev here. He felt genuine, which is a big plus for his continued presence on the main roster.
Final Rating: SQUASH!
Video Control takes us backstage where the Authority bully the cameraman into pressing charges against Dean Ambrose. NYPD haul him off in a riot van while Seth celebrates, having dodged that particular bullet.
King Barrett vs. Ryback
Both these guys are in the running for the IC title and the forthcoming Elimination Chamber match for the vacant belt. Barrett has five IC titles while Ryback has none. Ryback also has bad ribs, thanks to Bray Wyatt and spends the entire match selling but still wins, courtesy of Shellshock. That doesn’t say much for Barrett who couldn’t beat an injured Ryback. It about sums up his place on the totem pole and how little the King of the Ring victory actually meant.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control surmise that Dean Ambrose won’t get back in time to sign his contract. This leads to the Authority introducing the cast of Entourage. Turtle’s line about “you know what it’s like getting your ass kicked by Ronda Rousey” is terrific stuff. Keep getting mileage out of the stars. I used to love Entourage until the series went off the rails during the cocaine/porn star year. Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) was great in this segment. VICTORY!
Stardust vs. Neville
Stardust brings the tactics here, going after the already injured knee of Neville. The one Neville hurt at Payback. Because Neville is an able seller of injuries it works as the focus of the match. Neville switches to defensive moves like a tornado DDT to stop a move out of the corner. That’s enough to set up the Red Arrow and Neville wins. This brings out squeaky voiced jobber Bo Dallas to urge Neville to stand on his bad leg before kicking it out.
Final Rating: ¾*
Video Control takes us to the Entourage guys who are big diva fans and invite a load of divas to hang out. E introduces everyone to Zack Ryder, who he tries to pump up for a big Nassau Coliseum thing. Broskis! I like how the Entourage guys are basically playing their characters off the show tonight. It’s times like these when the TV writers the WWE have actually pay off. It’s a rarity so we might as well bask in it.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus
This feud has been showcased on two PPV’s. The Payback match was pretty good, although the accidental blood capped off the contest. However Ziggler has moved on to Rusev, after taking Lana from him, and Sheamus’ issues with Dolph were more relating to how much of a dick Sheamus is. So he can do that with anyone. I do like his “are you not entertained” tip of the hat to Gladiator. It sums up his character. He’s dominant but the crowd are virtually bored by him because of that. The story they tell is the power vs. speed one, which is tried and tested. Ziggler is good at his underdog role and Sheamus fine as the big bully. They get a nice hot streak going with finisher counters until Rusev just strolls down here. Dolph catches him with the superkick but that gives Sheamus the opening for the Brogue Kick, game over. Tidy little match. Rusev gets his revenge by destroying Ziggler with the Accolade right in front of Lana. “Kiss him now” yells Rusev in his second solid piece of character work tonight.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control gives us some clips from last week’s showdown between John Cena and Kevin Owens. It was a potential star-making turn for Owens but as long as he’s booked like the badass he is in NXT on the main roster there won’t be any issues and Triple H is certainly leaning towards pushing his NXT super-workers.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Zack Ryder
Cena once again addresses the conflicting crowd reactions to his every appearance. The manly contingent in the crowd chant “we want Owens”, almost derailing Cena’s positivity. Cena is eager to point out that no matter who’s stepped up to face him nobody has ever kept him down. This is basically an extended shill for Elimination Chamber and a strange determination to get the fans to not chant “Cena sucks” but instead chant “Fight Owens Fight”. You cannot tell the fans what to do. With that business over and done with John Cena puts the strap on the line with his customary open challenge. It’s answered by the cast of Entourage who introduce Long Island local Zack Ryder.
This one is going by the numbers until Johnny Drama jumps in there and chickens out to give Ryder an opening. You have to love Johnny Drama, he’s such a perfect character. He was always the best part of Entourage. Him and Mr Summerfest Jeremy Piven. Zack drops Cena on his head with the Unprettier and connects with all his trademark stuff but there’s a feeling we’re just going through the motions here due to Ryder’s long standing position as company jobber. Rough Ryder doesn’t get it done. 450 Splash misses and Cena finishes with the AA. Cena did his usual work to help out Ryder but the brevity of the match didn’t help Zack like the Cena matches helped Sami Zayn or Neville. With the celebrations over Kevin Owens runs in, hits Cena with the pop up powerbomb and stands tall over the US champ for a second consecutive week. He’s got a new t-shirt too with “Fight Owens Fight” on the front instead of that lame generic KO shirt.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where the Authority put Kevin Owens over, apart from Seth who is only thinking about himself. They reiterate that Dean Ambrose has until the end of the show to sign the contract and he’s still in police custody.
Tamina vs. Paige
The WWE’s insistence at surnames disappearing, or forenames in Mr Neville’s case, is deeply disturbing. Do they think people struggle to remember that many names? Paige and Naomi both have title shots at the forthcoming Elimination Chamber against the incumbent champion Nikki Bella. Speaking of whom both Bellas join commentary. They’re both irritating as heels and unbelievably irritating as faces. The divas division sucks and will always suck with those two no-talents wrecking it from on top. Here they just wreck the commentary with an assortment of vapid nonsense. For some reason Tamina wins here, despite it being Paige who’s getting the title shot but with this shit division who really cares? Sasha Banks is better than every diva put together.
Final Rating: DUD
Promo Time: The New Day
The New Day’s promos are getting worse. This one is so incredibly generic it’s painful. Your sports teams suck, you are all losers. This angle started out as a disaster and it’s somehow getting worse. They’re interrupted by Kane who books the New Day against a bunch of terrible tag teams tonight in a ten on three handicap match. As if he’s some sort of babyface. I don’t really understand his role in this promotion but it seems to change by the segment.
The New Day vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd & The Prime Time Players & Los Matadores & The Ascension & The Lucha Dragons
This is as awful as it is pointless. Xavier Woods mouths off at all the others and they all run in so the ref calls it a DQ in less than a minute. Well, that was a complete waste of everybody’s time. It took longer for me to type out the names of the participants.
Final Rating: DUD
Main Event Promo Time: The Authority
Rollins, Steph and Hunter yack for a bit until Roman Reigns comes out here to kick everybody’s ass. Because of the numbers game he gets beaten down while the crowd chant for Ambrose and on cue he manages to drive into the arena having nicked the riot van from earlier. Dean Ambrose makes a half-decent Steve Austin. If he drank (onscreen) it might be a bit too obvious but he’s that guy. The guy that shouldn’t be a star but just connects with the fans regardless. It’s sometimes a bit disappointing the crowd don’t like him more but I honestly blame the booking for having him treated like crap while Roman was pushed to the moon. Just because you’re pushing one guy doesn’t mean you can’t push another too. Ambrose and Reigns clear the Authority out and Dean signs his contract to ensure he gets a title match at Elimination Chamber. They tried to build a show around the idea that he somehow might not sign the contract but it was fairly obvious he would to anyone who’s seen a wrestling show before.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Rusev. Fantastic character work from the big Bulgarian. He’s been so emotionless that it was great to see some tiny little cracks in his façade but without changing the character. He still hates America but he’s not a robot.
Least Entertaining: Nikki Bella. Her commentary is torturous. I wish they’d stop putting her on camera.
Quote of the Night: “Instead of counting sheep…I count punching Seth Rollins in the face” – Dean Ambrose’s cure for insomnia.
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus. Not a great match but both guys usually work hard so they deserve a mention.
Summary: A real mixed bag tonight. Some decent segments, making good use of the celebrity guests and improving on a few existing characters but a serious lack of good in-ring entertainment. At least the predictable tag main event was thrown out early in the show but the ongoing theme of whether Dean Ambrose would be able to sign his contract was a no-brainer. I like that he’s getting bits of Steve Austin’s persona because he is this generation’s Stonecold. I would be worried about them copying the concept wholesale but he’s getting nicely over on lifting bits and pieces of the gimmick while staying himself. The divas and the tag team division still suck something fierce but surely the WWE are aware that’s the case? I saw Stephanie McMahon at NXT Unstoppable. I saw her gushing over the NXT women’s division, so why are all the main roster divas so useless? They let themselves get into that situation. Women can draw in the fight game, Ronda Rousey is evidence of this. The WWE need to get away from women who just exist to be boyfriends of wrestlers (hello Bellas!) and book their entire division around Sasha Banks. She is that once in a generation star. The one they can’t seem to find in the men’s division. Bank on it.
WWE comes under rightful criticism for a lot of things, but NXT is not one of them. The way the group have handled their “development” league since Triple H took the reins of the project has been a joy to behold. Every single of the NXT Takeover specials on the WWE Network has been a hit, full of exciting happenings, logical storytelling and, most importantly, some tremendous wrestling. Tonight’s show is hotly anticipated after weeks of speculation over main event challenger Sami Zayn’s health, Kevin Owen’s decimation of John Cena two nights ago on Raw, and rumours of a rather momentous debut. The card is stacked and the crowd is as hot as ever at Full Sail University. Your hosts are Rich Brennan, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton.
NXT Championship Number One Contendership Match
Tyler Breeze vs. Finn Balor
WWE’s story is that Hideo Itami was attacked in the parking lot earlier today, thus taking him out of this match. They show fan captured footage of Itami writhing on the ground and Kevin Owens walking past simply commenting, “That’s a shame.” It’s great that they do things like this on NXT, because it almost feels like Smoky Mountain Wrestling. It’s much more believable than a cameraman just happening to be there. Of course, most have known that Itami was injured for some time, and Triple H even pointed out that he would be “represented” tonight.
Finn’s entrance is even more epic than usual, because he has added a bat cape with spikes on it to his ensemble, prompting a “holy shit” chant from the crowd. When you combine his entrance, charisma and his in-ring ability, I don't think it’s a stretch to say that Finn Balor is perhaps the greatest wrestler on the planet. His whole body is covered in paint tonight, including an intricate eye drawn on his back and bloody scratch marks on his leg. “That was awesome,” reckons the NXT audience. It was. Rich Brennan doesn't quite get it, but Corey quite rightly points out that it’s the demon side of his personality manifested physically. I suspect Michael Cole won’t get it either when he eventually gets demoted (sic) to Raw.
This is just a straight singles now, with no replacement for Itami. Given the aforementioned Triple H comments, I am a little surprised not to see a third man. Rumour strongly suggested that a certain former TNA and ROH Champion might be inserted into the mix in his place. I guess plans change. Breeze is a talented guy and a perfectly decent opponent for Balor, though he is nowhere near his level. Then again, few are. He is a willing and able bumper though, and he is not afraid of taking some of Finn’s more brutal moves, such as a double stomp from the apron to the outside. And chops. Vicious, wonderful, Chris Benoit-esque chops. He gets cut off with a Breeze superkick - because he is a wannabe Shawn Michaels in many respects - for a near fall, and I guess we are already going into the big moves sequence. The finish attempts come thick and fast, with both guys avoiding the other’s moves and catching roll ups, then Breeze sending Balor into a turnbuckle that he earlier exposed for a heart-stopping near. Finn heads to the outside and hits a big dive off the entrance way, with the smart ass crowd chanting, “Please don't die,” as he does. The smarks might get irritating quickly if they try and put themselves over all night. Back in the ring a dropkick into the corner is followed by the double foot stomp for the win and the number one contendership. The prospect of Owens vs. Balor is mouth watering. Fairly good match, but it was all Balor. Breeze doesn't have enough in his locker to match him in the same way as the truly great NXT workers do.
Final Rating: ***
In the crowd, Stephanie McMahon is sat next to a dude from Game of Thrones and marking out for Finn Balor. She simply mouths, “awesome,” while applauding his victory. Following that we get footage from NXT’s hugely successful live tour, which makes them seem like ECW at its peak. It’s certainly the same vibe. A lot of the talent that leaves NXT for the main WWE roster suffers much the same fate as ECW guys that the WWF signed back in the day too.
Dana Brooke & Emma vs. Charlotte & Bayley
If anyone was wondering where Emma went, well, here she is. Frankly, she is better off in NXT. All of the women are until Hunter is able to convince Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn that women’s wrestling doesn't have to be a joke. It’s remarkable to see how different Emma looks in NXT. Rather than the bumbling incompetent goof that she comes across as on Raw, she looks smooth and able. A lot of it is down to who she is working. When you are in there with the Bellas it’s difficult to shine. They work this strictly to formula at first, with Bayley taking a shoeing but showing her spunky fighting personality that has made her so popular. Charlotte cleans house on the hot tag, thoroughly outclassing her opponents. She is to them what Balor was to Tyler Breeze. The girls are pretty good, but she is so much better. Charlotte locks Emma in the figure eight, Bayley skips underneath her bridge and hits a Bayley-to-belly then Charlotte finishes Emma with the Natural Selection. A little sloppier than most Charlotte matches due to the inferiority of her opponents, but it was still better than any Divas match on Raw this year by a mile.
Final Rating: **
The camera pans across some new NXT signings sat in the crowd, and one Uhaa Nation gets a massive pop. He seems over the moon about it. I am looking forward to his imminent debut. WWE keeps getting it right with their signing of hot indy talent to flesh out the roster. After all, they need people to replace the guys moved to the main roster.
Rhyno vs. Baron Corbin
Another wise move from WWE has been brining in guys like Rhyno, Brian Kendrick and other former stars who can still go to work with the young talent. Keeping someone like Rhyno away from the main roster where he would be lost in the shuffle and making him exclusive to NXT is a good call. They do so much right with this branch of the company but so much wrong on the main roster shows. It boggles the mind. There is one reason and one reason alone: an out of touch Vince McMahon who has no idea what modern wrestling is. JR would probably refer to this bout as a slobberknocker, as it’s two big bulls pounding on one another. In truth it is not all that thrilling. I don't get Corbin. He is oddly tall, sure, but he has a terrible body. He is lean and fairly undefined, and while I certainly don't think wrestling should be a bodybuilding contest, it does make him look far more weedy than a guy his size should. After mostly Corbin dominance, Rhyno mounts a comeback, though Baron isn't the easiest guy to manoeuvre and he struggles to take some of his moves. Rhyno goes for the Gore, but Corbin sees it coming and prevents it with a clothesline, then his impressive End of Days finisher gets the job done. I can’t complain about the young talent going over in the booking, but I think Corbin is the wrong guy to be pushing.
Final Rating: *1/2
NXT Tag Team Championship
Blake & Murphy (c) vs. Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
Enzo and Cass are ridiculously over. I suspect it’s a gimmick that will be lost on the masses if they make the main roster. Some of the NXT gimmicks that have been called up like Emma and Adam Rose simply don't translate. Enzo explodes out of the blocks with a hard crossbody and a beautiful dropkick, then gets out of dodge when both of the champs head into the ring. He tags Cass, who shakes off two vicious chops from Murphy and counters a DDT with a throw right across the ring. I like to see a big guy using his size properly like that. Enzo tags back in but gets cut off courtesy of a hard clothesline on the apron from Murphy, and the match heads to formula. That’s a little disappointing after the women did the same thing earlier. Blake & Murphy are a tidy duo though, and run the tried and tested well. I enjoy tag teams that wear similar attire and work together well, and they tick both of those boxes. They remind me of classic tag teams from a previous era, like a modern day Heavenly Bodies, perhaps. Enzo makes the hot tag after a planting DDT, and Cass looks impressive on his hot tag. He eats up the ring with his huge legs, covering so much space so quickly that he appears to be everywhere. The challengers look to have the match won with their rocket launcher finish, but Alexa Bliss gets involved, turning heel by taking out Carmella on the outside and then shoving Enzo off the ropes, allowing Blake to pin and retain. Entertaining enough, though nothing groundbreaking.
Final Rating: **1/4
Eva Marie is shown in the crowd. Why is she here? She is not welcome; she can’t wrestle.
NXT Women’s Championship
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Becky Lynch
They really build this up like it is something important, even giving both girls pre-entrance walks to gorilla with dramatic music in the background. It’s the little things that can make the difference in perception. It is also a self fulfilling prophesy. If you treat something like it is important, others will too. If you treat something like it is a joke, it’s a joke. It seems so simple, yet the chasm between the NXT women and the WWE Divas remains enormous. They do the Jerry Lynn-Lance Storm pin sequence to start, then Lynch goes for her armbar, only for Sasha to scurry out of it and sell fear. Great way to put the move over. Becky looks superb in the early going, exhibiting flashy innovative offence and a menacing ring presence, but Sasha gets back into the game by driving her arm-first into the apron. The increased aggression works well for her, and she follows that up with a vicious looking armbar in the ropes. She has found her groove and starts to control the pace, tenaciously keeping hold of Becky’s arm and contorting it in ways an arm shouldn't bend. At one point it looks like Lynch’s arm might snap, it’s twisted all the way around. To see such viciousness from a woman in WWE is a rare treat. You can definitely see the Ronda Rousey influence in there. Sasha continues to relentlessly target the arm, but Becky desperately fights out, making it to her feet while Sasha still has her arm and finally shaking her off with a one-armed electric chair drop.
Becky mounts her comeback, but Sasha returns fire with a speedy sequence of her own, then they jockey for position with counters and counter-counters aplenty. It’s great wrestling. Both have bad arms, and Becky makes things worse for Sasha with a hammerlock suplex, a unique armbar that Ronda would be proud of an a goddamn exploder suplex onto the arm. Now, Brock Lesnar would be proud! Sasha stays alive and goes for a suplex of her own, but Becky switches it in a smoother than silk sequence into her armbar. Sasha survives and makes the ropes, but everyone bought that as the finish. Sasha desperately shitcans Becky to buy herself some time, then throws caution to the wind with a one armed dive through the ropes. It doesn't go so well, because Becky, just about, catches her and sends her into the steps. Becky smells blood and goes up top, but gets caught with Divorce Court and immediately locks in her Bank Statement crossface move for the tapout win. What a wonderful match. Absolutely breathless from the opening bell, full of things I have never seen, some glorious arm work and with a strong storyline thread running throughout that kept me emotionally invested. This was better than most male matches, on this show or any other. For WWE women, given how the company usually treats its female performers, it was something else. I hope Eva Marie was watching that and thinking, “I’m in the wrong business.”
Final Rating: ****1/2
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn
I sure hope Sami’s shoulder is fully healed and he isn't risking a long-term stint on the sidelines by competing here. Owens turns up wearing a John Cena shirt, a nod to his impending match with the U.S. Champion at Elimination Chamber in little over a week. It’s a fight to begin with, with Owens trying for his powerbomb into the apron and Zayn countering with a direct assault on his face. Zayn is more focused and aggressive than ever before, matching his always violent opponent in that regard. He sends Owens into the crowd and Sami follows for a brawl. Owens again tries for his powerbomb, this time onto the concrete, but Sami grabs the guardrails around the tiered seats to prevent it. Back to the ring, and Sami continues to pummel Owens, murdering him with a half nelson suplex. Owens can’t get anything going, missing his cannonball and getting suplexed into the buckles. He has no choice but to seek solace outside the ring, but Sami follows and suplexes him on the outside. Sami is on fire and completely in control, but Owens catches his with a desperate powerbomb onto the apron. Immediately, Zayn is in trouble and referees check on him, but he doesn't move. Owens doesn't care, and pounces on Zayn with repeated punches and stomps as doctors try and check on him. It’s wonderful heel work, very reminiscent of Brock Lesnar when he was mauling everybody.
As the doctors try and assess Sami’s neck and shoulder, Owens again comes at him, hurling him into the steps. He promised beforehand that Sami wouldn't be seen again after tonight, and he is trying to make good on that promise. He drags Zayn into the ring and intends to finish him off, but NXT GM William Regal jumps in to talk sense into him. Owens won’t listen so Regal grabs him by the face, but receives a vicious headbutt for his troubles. Owens is the best heel in the company. Easily. He decides to finish Sami off for good with a steel chair, only for SAMOA FUCKING JOE to make the save. Now there is a sight I never thought I would see in WWE. Superb hire from WWE though, because the guy has dominated the non-WWE scene for the past decade or so. Like Owens, Zayn, Neville and Itami before him, he has name value from outside of the company that means something to this audience and will guarantee quality matches on this show for the foreseeable. He looks to be in the best shape he has been in for years too. Naturally he is over immediately and in a big way. They save doing anything physical for a later date, simply going nose to nose as the building shakes with anticipation. Owens backs down and leaves, then comes back and leaves again, promising they will do it another time. The only negative to come out of this is that the way the angle was done, and indeed the way Sami dominated the match and barely took any bumps, suggests that Zayn will be out for a while and his injury is serious. That’s a real shame for him because he was on fire, and he certainly doesn't need WWE believing him to be an injury-prone guy like Daniel Bryan. That will nix any potential future push forever if he gets that tag with Vince.
Final Rating: ***
Summary: Tremendous. With not a bad match on the card and with the lesser contests kept brief, this was another remarkable effort from the NXT crew, who once again proved that they are superior to the main roster in almost every way. Even with the long-anticipated debut of TNA legend Samoa Joe, it was the women who stole the show. I hope Stephanie McMahon was watching closely as Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks assembled one of the best wrestling matches in WWE all year. Perfect storytelling, near-flawless execution and a crowd fully invested into every minute made it an NXT classic. Hopefully in years to come we will be talking about it as the match that changed perception of women’s wrestling in WWE, rather than looking back and longing for these days again because the two competitors are jobbing to Nikki Bella and Eva Marie in three minutes on Raw. As with practically every NXT special, you need to go out of your way to see this.
Last night at Payback... not much changed. Seth Rollins remains WWE Champion, all of the pre-match favourites went over and an otherwise average show was saved by a splendid main event. Tonight is the fallout, though with less than two weeks to go until Network special Elimination Chamber, WWE needs to start hyping that show immediately. Hopefully the run they have been on of decent Raw broadcasts will continue.
Promo Time: The Authority
Immediately all hope of a good episode evaporates with the sight of Stephanie McMahon. WWE has been a far better place to observe without her around these past few weeks. “Did you miss me?” No. Nobody missed you. Nobody has ever missed you from a single wrestling broadcast. It’s boasting time for the power couple, who put themselves over for choosing Seth Rollins as their guy. Steph claims Roman Reigns, Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose will go to the back of the line, but I don't believe that for a second. Mainly because they don't have anyone else they can put in the top spot. Steph and Hunter reveal the vacant IC Title hidden under a cloth, and Steph can’t resist getting some digs in at Daniel Bryan. She makes sure to remind everyone that he has suffered major injuries two years running and has had to vacate two titles, which believe you me is one of the key reasons they won’t ever push the guy at the top ever again. The company don't trust him, and rather than blame themselves for the inhuman schedule, they deride him for being feeble. They are a classless operation, but then, they always have been.
As Steph and Hunter are going through the motions reciting the same Elimination Chamber hype that is always used (it’s a barbaric structure, don't you know), Sheamus interrupts. Well, it makes a change from Randy Orton I suppose. He reckons there is no need for a chamber match to determine the new IC Champion, because he was the one who ended Daniel Bryan’s career on SmackDown a few weeks back. Ryback disagrees, and I think we can all see where this segment is going. Is that how you get into the match, by just turning up during a promo? Ryback is surprisingly over, and he gets Richmond further on his side by telling Sheamus he looks stupid. Poor guy can’t help being a ginger! Ryback puts over Daniel Bryan and the fans chant “yes”, so Steph mocks them for being predictable. Ryback tells her to shut up because he is still talking, and he doesn't get emasculated! Maybe Steph has turned over a new leaf. Steph tells them both they can take it out on each other in the chamber, but Hunter decides to book them in a match right now.
Ryback vs. Sheamus
This is fairly fresh so has some appeal. It’s one of those battle of the bulls that Vince McMahon loves so much, though these guys are far more mobile than his monsters of the past. One thing that has unquestionably improved in WWE over the years is the workrate of its roster. The match actually starts fairly slowly, but it picks up after commercial when they start bringing out the bigger moves. Ryback catching a leapfrog and turning it into a powerbomb is particularly impressive. Sheamus uses his obvious intelligence advantage to get out of dodge when Ryback goes for the Meat Hook, but Ryback is able to use his power to unceremoniously dump Sheamus on the announce table. It was sloppy as hell from Ryback, and you can see why C.M. Punk thought he was a dangerous worker. Back in the ring, Sheamus’ more cerebral nature helps him to victory, when he fakes an eye injury then drills Ryback with the Brogue Kick for the win. Blah match for the most part,
Final Rating: *1/4
Backstage, Steph hypes a special the Authority have put together to celebrate Seth called Architect of a Dream, which is perfectly titled if they are going for wanky corporate motivational video as the motif. Seth turns up with champagne and even gives Kane a glass. Dean Ambrose plays wacky random guy in the room when he turns up and offers Seth a rematch with him at Elimination Chamber, given he beat him last time they wrestled in a singles bout. Trips and Steph decide to leave Kane to deal with it, and he tells Ambrose the champ gets to choose. Seth refuses, then reminds Ambrose that Steph said “back of the line”. Ambrose is nonplussed, and turns his attentions to Kane. He berates him for being a glorified butler rather than a monster, and asks him what Paul Bearer or the Undertaker would think. Kane gets mad and books him against Bray Wyatt later tonight.
Promo Time: Neville
Oh no. Neville is great at a lot of things, but promos are not one of them. He has Renee Young out there to help him, but his thick Geordie accent is still lost on the majority of the American audience. He is only given a few sentences before being interrupted by the insufferable Bo Dallas, who claims Neville’s career is struggling. Oh yeah, based on what evidence? Neville says he “bo-lieves” that he beat him to start his record NXT Title reign, which causes Bo to attack him. Even on the ground Neville is superior to him, and a kick to the face sends his annoying opponent out of the ring. I hope this is not the start of a program. Surely there are better choices to work with Neville than the clunk Bo Dallas? Anyway, we go from that right into Neville’s match, which happens to be a rematch from last night’s Payback. Their bout on the pay-per-view had an inconclusive ending, so I guess there is cause for a rematch between them.
Neville vs. King Barrett
These two have wrestled each other week after week for a while now, because WWE can’t help but flog something into the ground until no one cares anymore. To make matters worse, Dallas joins the announce desk and talks about himself ad nauseum. Neville and Barrett do little to get excited about here, with a fairly bland match screeching to a halt when Neville falls off the ropes due to a dodgy wheel he came out with, and Barrett pouncing with the Bull Hammer. Post match, Bo beats the crap out of him, confirming that they are indeed going to be working a program together. How do you go from taking John Cena to the limit and only failing to win because of a run in, to being stuck in a nothing feud with a no-hope waste of airtime like Dallas? I despise the boy-faced squeaky-voiced goof. He looks like half of the Diva’s division could kick his ass. Can you imagine someone like him being anywhere near the roster thirty years ago? Imagine what someone like David Schulz or Bad News Brown would have done to the guy.
Final Rating: *1/2
Promo Time: Rusev
Last night, Rusev lost an “I Quit” Match to John Cena when his valet Lana said the words for him, which I am not convinced is legal but it’s WWE, so who cares. This is a company who bans RKOs in a match then has one used for the finish. They do this kind of thing all the time, to the point that not a single stipulation matters at all. Rusev is pissed about what happened and says there is no more Lana, then reveals that he is perfectly capable of speaking “American”. That’s probably for the best for his character actually, because with Lana leaving him he would have struggled without the ability to cut a promo. Rusev demands the match be restarted, but Lana heads out instead. She apologises for coming out when he told her not to, and says he is not just the ‘Bulgarian Brute’, but misunderstood. She says last night he was screaming “I Quit” in Bulgarian and she had no choice because she couldn't just watch him suffer. Rusev calls her a liar and tells her to leave. I guess that is that then. WWE are absolutely determined to split these two now that Vince has become a Lana mark. I guess he can give her the same special babyface treatment that he afforded Roman Reigns that worked oh so well for him. Decent enough promo, but the ultimate purpose of it seems ill-advised. Sometimes acts are supposed to stick together because they are better as a package deal, but WWE in recent years loves to split successful combos up. The Wyatts, The Shield, Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez, about a million tag teams. Can you imagine Paul Bearer leaving Undertaker after a year? Or the Road Warriors splitting and feuding six months after forming? Lana is already over as a babyface, in this day and age does it matter that she is aligned with a heel? Face and heel alignment has never mattered less, because the audience cheer for who they like (workrate guys) regardless of which side of the fence they sit on.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
Michael Cole impresses me by actually remembering that these two were involved in a top line program at the end of last year. After all, six months is a lifetime in WWE. All I remember from that program are the goofy finishes that the matches had. A ghost hologram and an exploding TV spring to mind. Those words alone should require no further discussion for it to be clear that both were utterly ridiculous. I have no particular problem with getting a top match like this on Raw, but again I do question WWE’s decision making. Bray Wyatt is such a unique but samey character, that he needs protecting like Undertaker always has been. People forget, but Taker barely appeared on TV in the nineties, he was used sparingly as to not dilute his aura. Wyatt needs to be handled the same way, because his repetitive promos become quickly tiresome when on the show week after week. Having him wrestle all the time doesn't help him either. He is best utilised on Raw attacking his victims after the lights go out, rather than working matches. I guess that’s why he was more over when he had the Wyatt Family with him, because they could do his in-ring dirty work for the most part and he would just compete in the big matches. As mentioned earlier, they are a unit that should never have been split, and should be put back together immediately. There is literally no negative to doing that. You can tell it’s the night after a pay-per-view because they rather run through the motions, though things explode into life when Bray counters Dean’s rebound clothesline with one of his own. Dean later manages to hit the move, and he leather Wyatt when he does. It’s a great spot. The crowd get overly excited and start hilariously chanting, “this is awesome,” like a pack of programmed drones. Talk about a worthless chant. The finish is WWE’s favourite, the distraction finish, with J&J Security running interference and causing Ambrose to fall victim to Sister Abigail. Seth and his lackeys look on from the stage, over the moon about the result. What does it matter? How does Dean losing in any way improve their lives? It’s not like anything was riding on the match. Naturally, WWE books the guy going into the title match at the next big show to lose on Raw, because that is inexplicably what they always do.
Final Rating: **
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
Xavier Woods in banned from ringside for this after pulling twin magic to help New Day win last night, but I would fully expect him to be involved in the finish. Anyone who bought Payback on pay-per-view (and I realise that is only about six people) must be rather ticked off that all of the matches are being given the second go around tonight. These two teams have remarkable chemistry together, and I am an even bigger fan of Kidd & Cesaro since they adopted matching attire like a proper tag team. This is their usual solid match, though significantly truncated from their excellent pay-per-view contests. The finish is as uninspired as the rest have been tonight; a disqualification win for Kidd & Cesaro because the referee loses control of the contest. It’s something of a cop out. Obviously the purpose of this is merely to set up the unique tag team title chamber match at Elimination Chamber, which sounds like it could easily be either a classic or a clusterfuck. WWE reveals for the first time which teams are involved when they all run down for a ruckus, and it sounds fairly promising when the Lucha Dragons and Los Matadors get involved. Then the Ascension appear, and suddenly the bottom drops out of the match’s appeal. The Prime Time Players are the final tandem to show up, and they are over beyond what you would expect. They look great too, cleaning house and standing tall as the segment ends, with the crowd right behind them. I like these guys a lot, actually, and I think they could be utilised far better than they are. Hell, that line can be repeated for a lot of this roster.
Final Rating: **
Promo Time: John Cena
After the usual crowd befriending promo, the weekly challenge is answered by none other than NXT Champion Kevin Owens! Hello! Well, this is a match I thought I would never see. Before the match they have themselves a little chat, with Owens saying he doesn't need to introduce himself because Cena already knows who he is, and if anyone in the crowd doesn't they are not worth his time. He also tells Cena not to feel bad about injuring Sami Zayn, because he had already injured him. Cena is furious about Owens burying the crowd, and goes into a speech about how without them there is no WWE. Owens ignores him and tells him he won’t be taking any advice from him, because he has been wrestling for longer than Cena has. The tension between them is palpable, so Cena reminds Owens that they are on Raw and this is the U.S. Challenge. Owens doesn't care, he says he is not interested in accepting the challenge because he already has a title, but promises that they will fight soon enough on his terms. “You think you have me all figured out?” he asks, then boots Cena in the gut and violently powerbombs him. Adding insult to injury, he drops the U.S. Title, places his foot on it and raised the NXT Championship high in the air. Helluva segment, and although it is disappointing not to see Owens vs. Cena, this was a tremendous way to build up Owens as a big deal. It also makes a lot of sense to protect Owens, because he absolutely cannot lose. Once again, something involving John Cena is easily the most entertaining thing on Raw. I think it’s time to stop hating on the guy.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust
Stardust will never, ever be over. WWE are beginning to realise that too and are booking him in lesser spots with increasing regularity. Last night he was in the pre-pre-show match, and tonight he gets quickly squashed by the banged up Dolph. I say banged up, because he bled a hardway gusher last night after smacking Sheamus with a headbutt. He required a bunch of stitches, but it was glorious. I understand the concerns to do with hygiene and disease, but I still miss blood in wrestling. The lack of it in WWE makes every single cage match, weapons match or brutal feud that slight bit less climactic than it could be. Hell, in these offices we think a cage match without at least one of the participants bleeding is borderline sacrilege. Post match, Ziggler does a brief interview with Michael Cole in the ring, and it’s revealed that he is the final man in the IC Title Elimination Chamber match. Wait, only three have been announced. Who are the other three? Things get interesting when Lana randomly shows up and plants a large smackeroo on Dolph’s lips. The crowd chant “yes” in unison and then they do it again. She’s on the rebound Dolph, don't go there. The smooching brings out Lana’s real life boyfriend Rusev, who belts Dolph for hooking up with his beau. Rusev yells at Lana, who slaps him to a big pop, then Dolph hits him with the Zig Zag and leaves with Lana. Well, Dolph and Lana isn't the worst pairing in the world, but I am not convinced the union adds a great deal to either character’s prospects.
Final Rating: SQUASH (N/R)
Backstage, Kane is making final preparations for Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream, and on his backstage walk he encounters Adam Rose making out with resident WWE bicycle Rosa Mendes (hey, watch Total Divas and you will see what I mean). He just rolls his eyes and carries on walking. There’s a lot of romance blossoming on the show tonight.
Luke Harper & Erik Rowan vs. Fandango & Zack Ryder
Gee, I wonder who will win this? Predictably it takes place in front of complete silence, because everyone knows it’s a bog standard squash. Ryder and Fandango were both over once, but they weren’t supposed to be so, well, you know how it goes by now. They drag this out for longer than you would expect, and the jobber duo even get a few moves in. It’s to no avail of course, with Ryder staring at the lights for Rowan. Why are Harper & Rowan not in the tag title elimination chamber match? Surely they have done just as much to warrant inclusion as the Ascension or Los Matadors.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Steph insincerely wishes Nikki Bella luck in her match tonight, then tells Brie she has arranged some counselling sessions for her to deal with the emotional turmoil of Daniel Bryan being injured. Oh, I cannot wait to see the world class acting that is sure to transpire in those.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi
Naomi’s new character trait seems to be laughing heartily at nothing in particular. She does have the best boots I have ever seen though. Not only do they light up, but they change colour! Nikki wears an expression of permanent befuddlement, which I can only assume is her empty materialistic brain trying to comprehend the intricacies of a pro wrestling contest. Naomi’s second Tamina manages to get injured on a Nikki dive, which could be bad news for her career having just returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines. She appears to make a full recovery though, decking Nikki with a superkick for the DQ as she has Naomi hooked up for the tit rack. Naomi and Tamina do a number on Nikki afterwards, and Paige returns to make the save. Once Naomi and Tamina clear out, she targets Nikki and drills her with an elevated DDT then poses with the belt. Does this mean Paige is a heel now? Or will Nikki be the heel again? What am I even saying, it makes no difference at all anyway.
Final Rating: ¼*
Backstage, Kevin Owens has a conversation with Triple H, and Renee Young wants to know what it’s about. Owens says the Authority agree with him about fighting Cena on his own terms and then reveals he will face him for the U.S. Title at Elimination Chamber. Wow, good move, WWE, good move.
Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream
Hunter wants everyone to share how they feel about Rollins, starting with Kane. The large red one struggles to find the words, or at least the words he wants to say, so settles on generic praise. Seth wants more, so Kane thanks him for saving his job last night and then reveals his special gift: a video package. Ooh, whoop de doo. You need to do better than that Kane, he could find the same thing on YouTube. The Authority applauds the video, with Steph calling it a “nice piece of business,” then Jamie Noble offers a few words. Apparently it’s an honour working for him. Insightful! Joey Mercury appears to be set to break his silence, but he is interrupted by Dean Ambrose. Once again he demands a WWE Title match with Seth, but again Rollins refuses. “I’m a queue jumper,” says Dean. Steph puts Seth over as a fighting champion and tells him to take out Dean, and a brawl ensues. Dean gets the better of it on the outside and reveals hidden cinder blocks, the same things Seth used to put him out of commission a few months ago. He threatens to do the same thing to Seth, forcing Steph into agreeing to grant him his title match. Dean decides to smash Rollins anyway, but J&J make the save. We get another brawl, and Seth recovers enough to hit Ambrose with a Pedigree to end the show on top. Usually the guy standing on Raw is the one who gets beat at the pay-per-view, so we could well have a new WWE Champion imminent. Dean Ambrose would make a goddamn great title holder. He is back in the position he was post-Shield split where it looked like he could be this generation’s Steve Austin, and looks to have finally recovered from months of horrible booking and repeated losses. He is getting over big again too. WWE might have something here.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens. The NXT Champion stole the show with a memorable promo and leaving John Cena out cold. It is becoming increasingly the case that an NXT performer is the best thing on Raw. That speaks volumes.
Least Entertaining: Stardust. I hate this gimmick.
Quote of the Night: “Seth, we believed in you from the first moment we saw you in NXT,” reckons Hunter. Ah, revisionist history. That’s a lie. Hunter and Rollins were at loggerheads repeatedly when Seth first joined WWE.
Match of the Night: The New Day vs. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro. The wrestling was pretty average tonight for the most part. This was easily the worst match of their rewarding series, but probably the best contest on the show.
Summary: Not a bad show. With a need to get to the next Network special in two weeks, WWE was forced to increase the pace of its usually slow motion booking, and force through issues quickly that weren’t otherwise there. Thus we had a whole host of new rivalries started tonight, which was a lot to take it but also made for a brisker than usual feel to proceedings. The stand out moment was of course Kevin Owens making his Raw debut and promo schooling John Cena before destroying him. It made him look like a big deal, and his match with Cena at Elimination Chamber should attract a lot of interest. That show already has far more going for it than the majority of B-show specials the company put on, including Payback. The streak of satisfying shows continues!
17th May 2015.
We’re in Baltimore, Maryland. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler.
The WWE’s current PPV schedule is a bit of a joke. So far this year it’s been a poor Royal Rumble, highlighted by the company’s desire to do the opposite of what the fans actually want. An exceptional WrestleMania, which totally exceeded all expectations. And a string of filler shows that nobody, including the WWE themselves seem to care about. Payback is the latest in this string featuring poorly built matches with little upside. The title match sees the WWE putting all their eggs in one basket, although the addition of Dean Ambrose at least freshens up the title scene. Cena-Rusev has been raging for ages and the stipulation cripples this one before we even get underway. Rusev has been losing so much during this feud with Cena that he’s pretty much dead in the water. A reoccurring theme with WWE booking.
The rest of the card is a mix of weak stuff. New Day as tag champions, Ziggler-Sheamus again (with Ziggler completely dead after months of burials), Barrett vs. Neville (already the third match they’ve had and Neville only got called up a few weeks ago), Wyatt vs. Ryback (a mismatch) and two filler tag matches. One with the divas, who are worse than ever with the division built around the worthless Bellas and a joke match with Axelmania and Macho Sandow vs. the useless Ascension. Expectations are low. Very low.
Tangent: the “Mega Powers” got demoted to the pre-show. Ascension won.
Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler
This is a repeat of the unfortunately titled “Kiss Me Arse” match from Extreme Rules. They’ve clearly been sent out to open the show because Ziggler is an exciting talent. The worrying part, from Ziggler’s point of view, is that he’s been in this role for some considerable time. He’s 34 now. When Shawn Michaels was 34 he was in his first retirement, having won multiple world titles and dominated an entire year of main events. I’m not saying Ziggler is as good as Shawn Michaels but he’s certainly good enough to have a run. It makes you wonder what would have happened to Shawn if the WWE weren’t in a slump back in 1996. I think the fact Diesel got a title run first is quite telling. With Ziggler the time was right to pull the trigger on him at the tail end of 2014 and when they didn’t he soon found himself back on jobbing duty. The crowd’s response here is still very pro-Ziggler, to the point where losses don’t hurt Dolph. The fans will always want him to do well, regardless. The match is actually very solid with Ziggler taking a thrashing, which he’s good at and hitting big counters to get into the match, which he’s also good at. Dolph is not without personality either, getting a receipt on that butt-smooching he was owed from Extreme Rules. The only bad thing about the match is the horrible commentary. JBL is obsessed with protecting the bullies of the world, Lawler is Lawler and Cole’s stupid little verbal ticks grate throughout. I really miss Booker T. As the match nears a conclusion Ziggler headbutts Sheamus to save himself and busts himself wide open in the process (twelve stitches according to reports). Enormous amount of claret. It makes the finish more believable as Sheamus picks off the bloody mess with the Brogue Kick. It was a solid contest before the accidental blood but that made for a worthwhile finish.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Kane and Seth Rollins have a chat. Kane calls Seth “young and stupid”, which about sums him up. He’s been a whiny little brat since winning the belt. Rollins steps up a bit more here, delivering a borderline threat to Kane and wouldn’t you know, Kane just laughs in his face. Way to sell the champion! From there we get a shill for NXT Unstoppable this coming Wednesday. I guarantee you that show will be better than this one.
Best Two out of Three Falls Match
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd
Have I ever mentioned how awful the WWE’s tag titles look? They are almost as ugly as the WWE title itself, which is an absolute eyesore. New Day run cheap heat; your sports teams are bad, you’re all fat and losers. On the other side of the ring the WWE has finally done it and made me hate Cesaro. He’s taken to wearing headphones to the ring like Tyson Kidd. What the hell is the point of that? You both look stupid! You’re not listening to anything! In doing things like this and making everybody a douche bag, it makes me not care who wins. Which is the whole point of wrestling. I should care who wins and loses. It should be important. Luckily Cesaro is still outstanding in the ring, light years ahead of everyone else in the match. Cesaro does his giant swing on Kofi, which is brilliant but Tyson botches the dropkick. And that’s the first fall. Nice one lads.
2nd Fall: Tyson makes amends for his error by flipping around before New Day take over with heat, which is about as tiresome as it sounds. Having seen Tyson Kidd and Neville work similar styles is anyone else interested in a big singles match? Somehow Xavier Woods is even worse than the scrubs in the ring by shouting irritating and predictable abuse at Tyson Kidd. “That’s what you get Tyson!” Big E steals fall two by spearing Cesaro off the apron. Kidd tries to go solo but gets double teamed, which New Day flub and we’re at 1-1. Can’t believe they botched both finishes so far.
3rd Fall: The final fall is all about Cesaro and how wildly entertaining he can be. However he still botches a lift on Big E. Not even Cesaro is strong enough to lift that fat bastard. Crowd are really into this, based on the high spots but for me they’ve not hit enough stuff clean. There’s no doubt that Cesaro & Kidd are the more entertaining of the two teams but it takes two to tango and while they’ve got some good ideas the execution just isn’t there. The finish is stupid with Xavier Woods jumping in to roll up Cesaro with the ref mistaking him for Kofi, or something. If everything they attempted came off here it could have pushed four stars or so.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us a shill for Elimination Chamber, which is a Network special event in two weeks time. Surely Elimination Chamber should return to the PPV schedule. It doesn’t necessarily have to drop into the red hot streak that is WrestleMania season, where it used to live, but just throwing it away as a Network special with two weeks’ notice on a month that’s already free to new subscribers seems counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch it but shouldn’t it be a bigger deal?
Bray Wyatt vs. Ryback
I like Bray and I enjoy his weird promos but Ryback is just not the guy to work a program with. He’s a big muscle headed jock and you can’t play mind games with him because he doesn’t get it. The Cena feud worked because Wyatt got to Cena. He almost broke Cena, almost made Cena do things he didn’t want to do to beat Bray. They’ve not been able to replicate that storyline and they’ve tried like hell to do it here but it’s been rushed and Ryback has never showed the kind of vulnerability that Cena did. Bray’s less than spectacular win/loss record doesn’t help him. Nor does his instance at old school slow-building matches that bore the crowd.
Ryback’s response to Bray’s mind games is to just bludgeon him like he does everyone else. Are we acknowledging that both these guys used to be in the Nexus? Or seeing as that was five years ago have the bookers themselves forgotten? Bray at least seems intent at doing destructive things to Ryback, including a DDT on the apron and a senton onto the fallen big man for his amusement. Bray’s character is so poorly protected though and he seems to get himself into stupid positions that make no sense. The kind of things you would never see the Undertaker do, like mounting the buckles to celebrate and getting himself powerbombed. If he was a true master of mind games he wouldn’t put himself in that position. It’s getting to the point where the WWE look incapable of creating stars and making them meaningful. For every worthwhile thing they’ve done with Bray, or rather Bray has done with Bray, they do something dumb to get us back to square one. The crowd optimistically get a duelling chant going as the chaps decide to root for Wyatt. People want him to succeed but he’s being handcuffed by the booking. Ryback, to his credit, spends most of the bout selling his ribs (after the senton) but that doesn’t explain why he feels the need to hit a splash off the top. Ryback gets shoved into an exposed turnbuckle and Sister Abigail’s Kiss finishes. The psychology worked, as per usual where Bray is concerned, but Ryback was an underwhelming opponent for Wyatt. At least the new face of fear went over and looked good in the process. He outsmarted Ryback, as he should do. Ryback is an idiot.
Final Rating: **3/4
Video Control gives us a shill for the return of the 'Stone Cold' Podcast with Paul Heyman! Sold! Jericho’s podcasts were so company friendly and soft. Steve Austin is the man you want for this gig. I’m personally still hoping he irons out his issues with Vince McMahon to the point where he’ll do something more important. I’d love to see him on commentary, personally. He cares about the wrestlers and wants to help get them over.
“I Quit” Match
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
This is a stupid idea. Cena won’t quit and if Rusev does it hurts him. The one good thing about the match is that Cena can’t lose, really, and that means his running open challenge can continue. It’s been one of the best features of Raw since WrestleMania. Rusev smartly gets the fans to support Cena by disparaging the United States. The crowd are more interested in Lana and sadly her angle, where she’s gone from being a strong independent woman to Rusev’s plaything, has made her less interesting as a character. The very thing that the fans cheered her for is now gone. We get duelling chants from the crowd who are clearly enjoying themselves. It’s keeping this show from struggling. The “I Quit” stipulation is a strange one as it normally leads to a lot of submissions but here they just club at each other and referee Mike Chioda then asks the fallen wrestler if they want to quit. It’s a poor match. Easily the worst structured of the series and you can see where they’re going with Rusev constantly getting distracted by Lana and the crowd. Cena is a mess here, going from lying around like he’s dead to the Super Cena comeback in a heartbeat. Chioda’s constant interruptions to ask Cena if he wants to quit really drags the whole thing down too. It becomes an irritating distraction.
Rusev probably should have asked for a no DQ match because he has imaginative spots, like the wind-up urinage on the steps, and could have gotten the pinfall eventually. With the I Quit rules he has to make Cena quit and he won’t because Cena’s whole character is about never giving up. If he gives up his whole career is a sham. They have some decent spots in this one but the whole thing is spot, rest, spot, rest, spot, rest. It gets worse as a planned table spot goes horribly wrong and draws the ire of the crowd. They run through just about every prop going from the steps to tables to guardrail and even the pyro. It’s extremely long-winded. The aim is probably to hit ‘epic’. I only really get interested when Rusev slaps Cena in the Accolade. That’s the whole point of this contest. It sells Rusev’s move as more important and more dangerous than all the silly garbage spots you can muster. Cena passes out, which was enough for Bret Hart to beat Steve Austin back in 1997 at WrestleMania 13. However the stipulation is that you must say “I quit” and Cena won’t. The finish sees Lana quit on Rusev’s behalf with the big Bulgarian stuck in the Struggle Snuggle, complete with broken top rope. It’s a cheap finish to an overlong, overstuffed match with too much resting. Hopefully this is the end of this feud as it’s done Rusev no favours whatsoever. It’s amazing to see his fall from grace over the past couple of months. Regarding the finish it seemed a deliberate homage to Cena’s match with Umaga at the 2007 Royal Rumble, using the top rope, but the set up was just Rusev pulling the top rope off on purpose. That’s not exactly an organic set up.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us to the pre-show where the Mega Powers wrestled the Ascension. Credit to Curtis Axel for growing the Hogan moustache and bleaching that sucker out. Elsewhere the New Day celebrate until Byron Saxton tells them they’ll be defending the titles in an Elimination Chamber match in two weeks. That could be fun.
The Bella Twins vs. Tamina & Naomi
Here comes the sandwich match to follow on from the midcard main event. Bellas as babyfaces don’t interest me in the slightest. So when Brie has heat worked on her, there’s nothing to drag me in. She takes at least one decent bump on the apron, from a big savate kick but the rest of the heat is bland. It feels like heat for the sake of it. While Brie can generate a tiny bit of sympathy with her bumps Nikki has nothing at all to offer. When she tags in the match gets actively worse and Nikki manages to lose by getting thrown off the top rope. Filler.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us into Rusev’s locker room. He’s not best pleased with Lana for submitting on his behalf.
King Barrett vs. Neville
This has the misfortune to slot into a spot where they’ll lose time if anything overruns. We’re looking at you, Cena and Rusev. Neville can wow the crowd by merely crossing the ring, as he does it as a series of back-flips that sets up his next rope spot. Unfortunately Neville does make his first major flub since being called up as he tries to slingshot to the apron and slips back into the ring. Neville works the match at 100mph and he’s a contrast to a lot of other talent who don’t have that pace or stamina in them. He’ll blow up a few opponents on the main roster you’d suspect. Barrett gets to look like a beast here as Neville takes big bumps off his power spots. It’s a decent little contest but the emphasis is on little. It feels like five minutes got trimmed off it. The finish is another cheap one, in a night of them, with Barrett getting counted out, perhaps on purpose after Neville destroyed his own knee on a dive. The Neville knee injury looked legit.
Final Rating: **1/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns
The match being contested under fatal four-way rules, first fall finishes, rather than elimination rules takes some of the edge off it. Also the match feels like a placeholder. Get all the major challengers in there. I support the idea of Rollins having a long title run but Ambrose being shoe-horned in here, instead of having a PPV shot solo, rather degrades the hard work he’s done to be a contender. At least the main event scene is fairly fresh here with only Orton outstaying his welcome, a former twelve time world champion while the others only have one title between them and the SHIELD background.
The stipulation regarding Kane is that if Seth Rollins doesn’t retain he’s out of a job in the Authority. Seth is smart enough to realise four-way matches have no DQ’s and he lets J & J pile in there from the opening bell. Multiple person matches often have wonky selling, perhaps not so much as three-ways as they can pair off, but that’s true here. Sometimes two guys lie around selling some imaginary slight against them. Sometimes that’s because of Kane or J & J in order to bring a little logic to proceedings but not always. The familiarity of the SHIELD members helps the match and it’s nice that Roman and Ambrose largely leave each other alone. That’s a match for another time. It’s also interesting to note that Ambrose outwrestles Rollins in their one-on-one encounters. At one point Kane has to hit a chokeslam to stop Dirty Deeds and a title switch. It’s also nice to see some familiarity between Seth and Orton, with the champ seeing spots coming he’s taken in previous bouts. This still doesn’t detract from the wonky selling. At one point Roman Reigns just disappears for minutes. Where is he? What’s he selling? There’s a wonderful spot where the SHIELD beat Orton down and triple powerbomb Randy through the table. I persist that Seth needs to get Roman and Ambrose on his side, long term, because as a unit the SHIELD were incredible. It worked for DX at the tail end of 1999 to protect Triple H’s first title and the pop the triple powerbomb received showed the fans would be ok with it.
Incidentally the crowd is rabid and when a spot doesn’t come off with Kane getting powerbombed onto Rollins they re-do it with the crowd screaming for “one more time”. The crowd can make a massive difference to any show and Baltimore is so hot for everything. “Not much left to do. Loser buys the beers” – Roman to Ambrose with everyone else down. The moments where Reigns fights Ambrose are great and feel really important, which supports my theory that an elimination match would have worked better. As hot as this crowd is, imagine how hot it might have been if it came down to Ambrose vs. Reigns and one them had to become champion. That’s the kind of booking you’d get in ECW where they genuinely wanted the crowd to love every show. The match, when it’s not one-on-one, is a mess but it works because of how well the characters are built up as the match progresses. Especially with the SHIELD teases. Lots of RKO’s down the stretch, as Orton finally recovers from the table spot, but Seth wins it with a Pedigree. Shame the Curb Stomp has magically disappeared for being too violent but Hunter can’t hog that Pedigree forever and him allowing Seth to do it feels more like a passing of the torch than anything else they could do with him.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Summary: Payback had very little to live up to. Hell, during the show they shilled the NXT special on Wednesday, the Elimination Chamber in two weeks and the Money in the Bank PPV in four weeks. It felt like a stepping stone on a route to elsewhere rather than a special event. However the Baltimore crowd were sensational throughout, hot for almost everything and making some middling matches appear much more exciting than they were on paper. The main event was especially effective although the big Cena-Rusev match didn’t quite deliver in the way they were expecting. The 30 minute run-time was just too long and the attempt at epic was hurt by the constant refereeing interruptions, especially in the early going where Cena was being asked if he wanted to quit after taking a spin kick. Nothing too memorable outside of those two matches but good effort from a lot of midcard talent like Ziggler, Cesaro and Neville. I’d go as far to suggest that because of the consistency and the positive crowd this was the second most enjoyable PPV of the year so far. In WWE-land anyway (not including NXT).
We’re in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Booker T. We kick things off backstage, where Triple H makes his return after missing weeks of action. It’s been a nice break for us, even if the booking has not been useful, on the whole, and has leaned heavily on Kane. Daniel Bryan is also here tonight.
Promo Time: Triple H
Absolutely no surprises here! “Daddy’s home”. This references both what he says to his family, making them suddenly behave better, and the suggestion that the Authority is a family (Seth being his “child” and Kane being the grumpy uncle). He calls out WWE Champion Seth Rollins and token authority figure Kane. The crowd chants, “We want Ambrose,” seeing as he’s from Cincinnati. The kids bicker immediately, with Seth whining as usual and Kane threatening as usual. Hunter decides to chastise Kane for not being on the same page as everyone else, so demands that Seth must leave Payback as champion or Kane is fired as Director of Operations. After some more squabbling, Hunter books Kane vs. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton (again) and J&J Security vs. Dean Ambrose. This was a fairly long-winded way to book a few filler matches.
Dean Ambrose vs. Jamie Noble & Joey Mercury
Seeing as J&J are basically retired (and hilarious midgets that Triple H has to stoop down to converse with) they have no hope whatsoever. Ambrose has himself a good time and the fans cheer as he waffles Seth’s stooges around the ringside area. Dirty Deeds finishes Noble off. Match was just a squash.
Final Rating: ½*
King Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler
Barrett gets a quick promo calling Neville a “peasant” before suggesting he’ll get Dolph to kiss his ass. Sheamus joins commentary. Ziggler and Barrett have issues pulling the crowd in because they’ve both been stuck in the midcard forever with no sign of upward mobility. Barrett’s matches have recently become a parade of near falls, almost resembling a WrestleMania match, in an attempt to be more exciting. He kicks out of Dolph’s superkick and the Rocker Dropper before Ziggler counters two of Barrett’s finishes. Sheamus distracts and the Bull Hammer wins it. The two PPV matches this was working toward (Sheamus vs. Ziggler and Barrett vs. Neville) should both be pretty good. “Yer not fit to clean moi choos,” yells Sheamus at Dolph post match, whatever that means. Brogue Kick. “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” Ok, that was pretty awesome. Anyone who channels Gladiator is ok by me.
Final Rating: **
Eric Rowan vs. Fandango
The former running buddies of Bray Wyatt, Harper and Rowan, have become friendly again. It’s probably for the best as Rowan had no connection to the fans as a babyface. The commentators start to place wagers about how quickly Rowan will win, which shows how much of a scrub Fandango is. Booker goes for 1:32, but Fandango barely lasts 30 seconds.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: John Cena
Cena gets a pop! Like a legitimate pop, nobody singing that he sucks, no booing, just a pop. He looks thrilled, bless him. Cena makes an interesting point, after some patriotic twaddle, that the WWE Title is so protected that the majority of the roster can’t get anywhere near it. Meanwhile the US Title is attainable. It is opportunity. It is what America represents. As Cena talks there’s an audible “We want Balor,” chant going on. Awesome! Cena points out Rusev has no chance in the “I Quit” match as “I never give up”. So, it’s open challenge time...
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Neville
Cena does a good job of selling for Neville’s combination of offensive strengths, as well as the crowd’s pro-Neville chanting. The great thing about Neville is he’s not just about the high-flying. People focus on that, but he’s also very technically proficient and isn’t past wiping you out with a suplex. Still, it’s the flying that’s the most eye-catching again here, which is good because it makes Neville different. The WWE don’t have a ton of fliers. Neville manages a corkscrew Phoenix Splash off the middle rope - hell he can do it from a standing position - for a dramatic near fall. Cena is often able to overpower Neville and even throws in a Michinoku Driver to show he’s not just doing the same shit every week as US Champion. Neville flips out of the AA in a sensational spot, but it’s not surprising to me because he’s got those flips in his locker and the AA is a very straightforward move. Neville takes too long setting up the Red Arrow and gets hooked with the STFU, but Neville manages to turn that into a pin. His mat skills are underrated. Cena just batters him with a clothesline for it. Cena is trying to outwrestle Neville, but he can’t, but what he can do is beat him down. Neville gets planted with the AA, out of nowhere, and KICKS OUT. John Cena’s open challenges have routinely been the best part of Raw of late, but this is something else. This is the making of Neville. He gets to showcase another side of his game when he walks Cena out of the corner for a powerbomb. Neville even has the match won, clean, with the Red Arrow, but Rusev runs in for the DQ. Holy shit, they massively protected Neville here. He had John Cena beat! We’ll never know if Cena would have kicked out there, but it damn sure looked like he needed saving. Rusev straps Cena in the Accolade as the crowd chants “we want Lana”. The angle, with Rusev struggling a bit and the whole Lana thing overwhelming it, takes a little sheen off a terrific match. Massive credit to Cena for giving something back and making the WWE’s midcard look downright capable.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Kane vs. Roman Reigns
This is, erm, interesting, as Kane just gives Roman an absolute shoeing. 2015 seems to be the year where anyone of value gets treated like a total bitch by Kane. Roman eventually recovers after a couple of minutes, hits the Superman Punch and spears Kane over the announce table. There was never a ref, or an opening bell, so this is a no contest.
Final Rating: N/R
Brie Bella vs. Tamina
The crowd had been fairly animated until this match came on and suddenly everyone just sits on their hands. I can honestly appreciate their stance. I have nothing against women’s wrestling, I just don’t care about the Divas division because the storylines are so superficial and the matches are always short and poor. There’s never a reason to get invested, especially when the Bellas are involved. Brie Mode is switched off by Tamina who kicks her in the face for the win. Match was dogshit but at least the Bella lost.
Final Rating: ¼*
Curtis Axel vs. Macho Mandow
“Somewhere Randy Savage is turning over in his grave” – JBL. Damien Sandow’s impersonation of Randy Savage is passable and it sort of makes sense because Axel is channelling Hulk Hogan. I’d be amused if they started lifting spots from the Hogan-Savage matches, but instead they work one sequence before being interrupted by the Ascension, who mock them for “imitating two old relics from the past”. They do realise they’re doing the Road Warriors’ gimmick, right? You’d think they’d be able to get over with the new Mad Max filming coming out. Sandow manages to get Axelmania to run wild as the two clowns clean house. Sandow and Axel might be good partners as Curtis would probably be flabbergasted by Sandow’s antics. I can’t see their win/loss record being too good though. “That was… something” – JBL. The announce team seem unimpressed. Sandow offers a handshake to Axel. “Turn on him” – JBL. Handshake. “God help us” – JBL. Unlike the announcers I actually quite enjoyed this. It was nonsense, but fun nonsense.
Final Rating: N/R
Video Control gives us clips from the Tough Enough potentials. If you want to become a wrestler then go and work the Indies for a few years and learn the business. If you had the “heart” and “desire” then you’d already be wrestling.
Promo Time: Daniel Bryan
Here’s the promo we’ve all been dreading here in the History of Wrestling offices. Clearly Daniel isn’t 100% fit or he’d have been wrestling over the past couple of weeks. Hell, if he was 100% fit he’d probably have been shoe-horned into a meaningful WrestleMania spot. It looks like bad news too, because Daniel is a little teary-eyed before we even get underway. He thinks back to last year when he was stripped of the WWE Title because of injuries. “They weren’t gonna give me an opportunity, you guys gave me that opportunity”. He mentions that Stephanie was right, because he was injured and he needed time off. Daniel tells us he might miss weeks of action, maybe months, maybe forever. Because of the uncertainty over his health Bryan has decided to forfeit the IC title so it can be defended and fought over. A big “Thank you, Daniel” chant breaks out. It would be horrible for this to be it for Daniel Bryan. He’s been a marvellous entertainer. “I just have one thing left to say; thank you”. He leaves the mic and IC belt in the ring and leaves. This left me a little emotional. The uncertainty is what’s killing me, and Daniel Bryan I’m sure, as he doesn’t know if this is the end or whether he might get another chance to come back and wrestle. He stops off briefly to survey the crowd and leads them in an enormous “YES” chant before stepping into the back. I hope that’s not it for Daniel Bryan, but he does really need to get healthy.
Big E. vs. Cesaro
Xavier Woods goes all heel by being happy that Daniel Bryan has gone. I preferred New Day being oblivious to people hating them. The move didn’t need to be this “black and white”, if you’ll forgive the use of colour. I took a quick look at last year’s Payback show last night and I was stunned by how far Cesaro has fallen. He stole that damn PPV, and that wasn’t an isolated incident. The tag team he’s in is good, but it’s good because he’s in it. I’m used to the WWE wasting talent, but Cesaro is just too good to be rotting away like this. The match is all about Cesaro overpowering the freakishly big, um, E. Cesaro is far too good for him. They tease interference from the rest of the New Day but Cesaro wins with a roll up. All Cesaro. He looked good here, as always, and, as always, I’m incredibly frustrated at his lack of upward movement.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us ringside, where Michael Cole tells us another PPV has been added for May, exclusive to the Network (like King of the Ring) and it’s the returning Elimination Chamber on the 31st May. Also, Roman Reigns vs. Kane has been booked for SmackDown because their match tonight went nowhere. Elsewhere, the Prime Time Players make fun of the New Age Outlaws. If you’re not down with that we’ve got three words for ya; “millions of dollars”.
Promo Time: Bray Wyatt
Bray has a babyface introduction and a heel persona. It’s a little confusing. He does speak some actual sense here, saying fear has engulfed the world. Ain’t that the truth. He segues into Ryback, pointing out the big man refused to lay down to a potential career-ending ankle injury. “My hero… but then along came the spider”. Bray’s reasoning for attacking Ryback? “He was in my way”. “The nightmares never go away and sometimes the bad guy wins”. Which would work better if the win/loss record wasn’t so appalling for the so-called “face of fear”. Ryback runs down and gives Wyatt a beating just to continue that perception. The WWE is going to have to get serious about Bray Wyatt or just give up. At the moment he’s coasting, and Ryback is a terrible fit for him. Even the Undertaker feud made little sense. Bray is at his best when he’s needling away at a confident persons insecurities. Like he did with John Cena. Ryback is too dumb to be that guy. Good promo, poor target.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
This is their third major singles bout in about a month. The first two were completely different (one was good, one was bad and other things). My opinion of Orton has not altered. I don’t like him, at all. Rollins has been almost neutered since winning the title and it’s starting to effect his ability to get a match over. They have a few ideas and counters, and it’s all familiar and slightly pleasing, like the comfort of your couch after a hard day at work. What it isn’t is exciting, which is part of the issue of the current WWE, minus Brock Lesnar. They don’t have main events that make me stand up and get excited. For instance I saw Go Shiozaki vs. Kento Miyahara from AJPW and that match had me yelling and jumping up and down because it was so goddamn exciting. Rollins vs. Orton is not that kind of match. All Japan isn’t even a good promotion! Just to make this match completely underwhelming J&J run in for the DQ to stop the RKO.
Final Rating: **1/4
Post Match: Kane comes down and does nothing. Ambrose and Reigns come down and clear out the heels. Dean’s pop is massive. It is his hometown, but they might have something there. It’s pleasing to see Ambrose in the main event because it’s something different. Seth gets laid out with all the finishers, but Roman spears Orton, and Ambrose puts Reigns down with Dirty Deeds to stand tall as Raw goes off the air.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena and Neville
Least Entertaining: Brie Bella
Quote of the Night: “It’s been years now since you’ve been treating me better than anybody in the back ever has” – Daniel Bryan respects the fan support.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Neville
What We Said: The John Cena US title open challenge remains the thing that I most look forward to on Raw. The excitement is genuinely there regarding who it’ll be and what kind of contest they’ll have, and whether Cena might shockingly lose. Neville gave Cena a fantastic run for his money on this show. The other big story to come out of Raw is the sad news that Daniel Bryan will be out injured indefinitely and might even retire as a result of his injuries. It’s hugely disappointing.
We are live tonight in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Don't be surprised to see some sort of screwjob finish tonight. WWE just love recycling that infamous moment in history.
Promo Time: Randy Orton
This is becoming a recurring trend. It feels like every show starts with a Randy Orton promo. At least this one has a slightly more unique flavour to it due to being bathed in a lower light than usual. Randy reminds everyone of the main event triple threat match at the upcoming Payback show, saying he will be the new champion and, "There's not a damn thing anyone can do about it." Immediately Roman Reigns' music hits, making the line sound like the most blatant cue in history. There is nothing organic about this show, oh now. Reigns disagrees with Randy's assessment about the outcome of the bout, but the crowd are with Orton, and chant "RKO". Randy gets so excited he tries to deliver his lines too quickly and fluffs them. Reigns by contrast is calm and delivers his verbiage fairly well. Orton makes the spurious argument that Reigns has only been in three WrestleMania's compared to his twelve in a row, and that he has significantly more World Title reigns than Roman's zero. Well, yeah! But of course he has, because he has been around forever. The tiff is broken up by the arrival of New Day Suck, which absolutely delights Randy. He even does a little dance. They cut a fairly decent - by their standards - promo on the pair, espousing positivity while really running them down, then offering the chance to clap along with them. Randy is up for it but Reigns wears an expression of utter disdain. He does do some token clapping though. "I told you they wouldn't do it," moans Kofi. But, but, they did do it. Just then. Right there in the ring! It turns out New Day Suck have been booked in a match with Reigns and Orton right now. Well, right now after the commercial, of course. This wasn't awful, remarkably. For all I abhor the New Day, at least they are a fresh set of opponents for Randy and Reigns. It certainly beats them doing a tag against Big Show and Kane, for example.
Randy Orton & Roman Reigns vs. The New Day
This is a handicap match, so all three of the tag champs get the opportunity to have their asses kicked by two of the top singles guys. "It's not a handicap match, it's Freebird Rules," reckons Booker T, but he is wrong. The titles are not on the line and this very much IS a handicap match. Freebird rules meant any of the three could defend tag titles, much like the New Jersey Triad in WCW (DDP, Bam Bam Bigelow and Kanyon, for those who don't recall). Randy and Roman slowly, systematically destroy Xavier Woods, working together with few problems and being altogether casual in their approach. They take turns stomping away, very, very methodically, but Randy gets too cocky and allows Woods to make a tag. The crowd are not into WWE's attempt at freshening the mix at all though, and begin to chant for JBL. It's the standard "What the fuck is this shit you are peddling to me?" chorus. WWE's problem is that they jump on things that they think are over even though they aren't (confusing the hatred for the New Day gimmick as being hatred of the New Day characters) but ignoring things that get over when they don't want them too (Curtis Axel and Fandango spring to mind).
We cut to commercial, and return with Roman Reigns in... you guessed it, a chinlock. Big E amuses himself by throwing Reigns around and clapping in between each move. Woods has a lot of joy too, a little too much for my liking really. Reigns shouldn't be down selling for these jabronis for five minutes. Okay, imagine Goldberg against the New Day. What would happen? They would die, that's what. Reigns is a World Title contender, a man pegged as the future face of WWE. This booking doesn't help him at all. The crowd don't help him either, chanting "C.M. Punk" (the chant they use when they are really pissed) and then begging for Randy Orton. They get him and he cleans house, drilling Woods with the RKO. He is about to hit another on Kofi, but at the same time Reigns decides to go for a spear. Kofi moves, Randy eats the spear, and Kofi covers him for the three. Wow. On one hand I am pleased that the three tag team champions, a de facto better unit than any pairing of two singles guys, scored the win. On the other hand, the NEW DAY won. How shameful for Randy.
Final Rating: *1/2
Kane wanders to the stage immediately after the match and contradicts what I just said, telling them there is no shame in losing to the tag champions. He then announces tonight's main event, and it's a wholly predictable one: Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns. Wow is this talent pool ever thin. With John Cena busy rocking the midcard, Daniel Bryan injured and Brock Lesnar currently on his hiatus, who are the main event guys other than Reigns, Randy and Seth Rollins? No one, is the answer.
Backstage, Kane bumps into an unimpressed Seth Rollins and tells an odd story about waiting for Santa by the fireplace at Christmas armed with a blowtorch, so he could "roast his chestnuts". Right then. Kane doesn't think it is fair for Seth to have the night off so he books him against Dean Ambrose with J&J Security barred from ringside to prevent interference. Seth cries foul, saying the interference in his last match was caused by Kane himself. "He just wants to hurt me," cries the pussy champion. Kane won't have it, warning Seth that if he says another word he will change the match and make him work it with one arm tied behind his back. Seth, tail tucked firmly between his legs, storms off. Kane is good in these backstage talking bits, promos have become his strong suit, but the way Seth is being booked as champion as a whiny, scared-of-his-own-shadow wimp is not the best.
Promo Time: Ryback
Renee Young conducts this in the ring, and Ryback in a rare sight is not wearing his wrestling gear. It's strangely unsettling. "Montreal, you sound hungry!" Silence. I guess they have all just eaten. Renee asks Ryback why Bray Wyatt targeted him last week, but he doesn't know. The rest of his answer is drowned out by the return of the super loud "Goldberg" chants. Canada is always slow to catch up. "The big guy loves the guy too. If you ignore it, you just keep doing it." Well played, Ryback. Immediately the fans begin to chant, "Feed me more." The rest of his promo is a blur, delivered too quickly and without any heart. He does say that Bray Wyatt doesn't scare him and he never will, and that the time for talking is done. Thank goodness for that. It's not though, because resident windbag Bray Wyatt needs to get his rebuttal in on the Titantron. It's the usual long winded, almost entirely nonsensical drivel. The guys needs a refresh. Hey, how about a realigning with the rest of his Wyatt Family, perhaps with the addition of his kid brother Bo Dallas? Instantly three guys who are not over and a guy who is in danger of jumping the shark (Bray) would be relevant, interesting and important again. As it is, I am not feeling this program one bit. There is no appeal to seeing Wyatt-Ryback at all.
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro vs. The Ascension
Wow, the Ascension still work here!? Their time away from Raw might have been a good opportunity to drop the ridiculous Road Warriors rip off gimmick. But no, here they are still looking like utter pillocks. JBL and Booker T are not happy to see them. Kidd and Cesaro are far less over than you would think given we are in Canada, though that's probably because the Ascension tediously dominate Kidd for the first few minutes. The tag to Cesaro wakes them up, and they go wild for his brilliant consecutive running European uppercuts into the corner. He does about a dozen of them. Even the announcers mark out for that. Cesaro needs to be main eventing yesterday. After a brief Ascension flurry, Cesaro and Kidd connect with the giant swing/dropkick combo for the win. "What a tag team," gushes Cole, and for once I agree with him completely. As frustrating as it is to see Cesaro's ability squandered, there is no doubt that this pairing is one of the finest WWE teams of the decade.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Seth tells Renee that there is no point to his match with Dean Ambrose, and that Kane is "a moron". Ouch, stinging.
Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins
Kane walks out before they get going and tells Seth that as per his request, this match will now have a point: if Ambrose wins, he is in the title match at Payback and it will become a fatal four way. Excellent. That would sure make it a little more interesting. Seth gripes and whines about it, as per usual these days, but Ambrose thinks it's a great idea. They brawl on the outside right away, giving Dean chance to get in his wacky new 619 clothesline. Back inside, they trade back and forth without doing a whole lot, following the current WWE match template of working steady and coming alive for the finish. It's always been that way really, but it's becoming the case more frequently up and down the card these days. It's not bad as such, because a hot finish makes a match memorable, but it does render everything before the near falls as fairly unimportant. It's not like anyone works a body part that becomes a factor towards the end anymore. I would certainly take these occasionally predictable longer matches over the sub three-minute crap we had to endure in the late nineties. Back from commercial and Seth channels Demolition Smash by utilising a neck crank, but Dean soon fights out. The pace quickens as Ambrose throws Rollins around the ring, and he adds a tope for good measure. "Holy Shit!" chant Montreal. "Turn down the fucking crowd," yells Vince in the back. There has been a lot of that unbearable sound sweetening nonsense tonight. Take the voice away from the crowd and they will just stop attending. Montreal starts to lose its mind with random chants of "Ole, ole ole ole," (Sami Zayn is from Montreal) confusing even JBL who asks, "Is it the day after WrestleMania?" Ambrose gets a few near falls so Seth kicks him in the head. Ambrose won't stay down and slaps him, so Seth kicks him again. "For the win!" Oh, not this infernal call again. Ambrose kicks out, surprising some who thought it was the finish. This briefly becomes a boxing match, and Ambrose manages to land more punches in ten seconds than Manny Pacquiao did in twelve rounds against Floyd Mayweather. To the outside again where Seth manages to scout Ambrose's clothesline and send him into the barricade with a powerbomb. "No way he makes it back in after that," says Booker, which means he does of course. This is becoming an epic. They run a beautiful sequence which sees switches and counters galore, which ends with Ambrose's delightful lariat. Cue J&J Security, as WWE once again reneges on a stipulation. It's becoming harder and harder to trust a single thing they say. Fortunately that doesn't spell a lame DQ, and the duo are so incompetent that they don't even help Rollins to a screwy win. No, instead they end up being a distraction, giving Ambrose the chance to score with a roll up for the win. Great! This was great in every way! The booking was excellent (like I said earlier, they need main event stars), the match was a fifteen minute belter that built logically and had some wonderful spots and believable near falls, and the finish was done very well in the context of the current Kane-Rollins storyline. See, WWE, you can do things right when you try.
Final Rating: ****
Backstage, Seth is livid with Kane and threatens to beat him up. "What are you trying to do, kill me?" Kane tells Seth that he needs to calm down or else he will be defending against nine guys. A ten-way match? I haven't seen that before. I wouldn't want to mind, though it would sure be intriguing. Kane tells Seth he is doing it because he is helping him prove himself as a man. Elsewhere, Byron Saxton quizzes Lana, asking her how she feels about being cheered. She plays dumb and dismisses the notion entirely. Fandango, of all people, sidles up next to her and tells her not to be coy and to embrace the love. Yeah, she could end up as over as him! Rusev, naturally, is not happy about her to talking to him. They really are determined to split these two, though I cannot understand why. They are a great unit, and splitting them will reduce the effectiveness of both. We have seen it all before. Sometimes things just need to be left alone.
Rusev vs. Fandango
This goes a little longer than you might expect, well, more than a minute at least, but it only exists to further the storyline break up of Rusev and Lana. The blonde beauty irks the beastly Bulgarian this week by doing the Fandango - erm, the dance, not the wrestler - which delights Montreal but pisses off Rusev something rotten. He sends her to the back, then quickly finishes poor Fandango with the Accolade. Nothing more than an extended squash.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Next, Tough Enough audition videos. If these people are representative of the youth of America, than the United States is in trouble.
R-Truth vs. Stardust
Two of the most hate-inspiring characters on the roster here going at it in a rematch from last week's King of the Ring quarter final encounter. Stardust has a bag with him, in which there are mysterious contents. Is it a snake? Is it actual star dust? Is it wrestling powder? Python powder? The ashes of Cody's career? JBL is so entertained by this match that he throws out a snooker reference, mentioning Stuart Bingham's World Championship victory earlier in the day. That has to be a first. I sometimes wonder if Vince notices the silence that the majority of his content plays to. Why doesn't he do something about it? Why doesn't he nip the crap in the bud early like he used to? The finish is absolutely appalling, with sticky hands Truth unable to resist the urge to check the bag. Pleasingly it costs him, because the bag is full of spiders, fake ones, which he is terrified of. Roll up, win. Lots of that going on around here. Truth flees afterwards, presumably yelling, "Ma, ma! They're on me! THEY'RE ON ME! MA!" Oh how I loathe WWE when they try comedy. "A grown man is running away from plastic spiders," says Cole with more than a hint of despair in his voice. Even he, the WWE's pre-programmed positivity machine, can't find a way to sell this shit.
Final Rating: DUD
Promo Time: John Cena
Montreal hates John Cena, but he has won me over a lot in the past few weeks. Keep him away from the main events where he is stale and over exposed, and he is an entertaining part of the show. His United States Championship run has been a triumph thus far. The belt means something again. It feels important. Montreal really hate him though, and carry on singing, "John Cena sucks," in the style of his theme song. "I quit," he says, referencing his Payback match with Rusev but inadvertently inspiring another "Ole" chant. Cena asks them if they want him to quit, and it turns out they do. He lets them have their fun, playing them like a pro, then basically telling them tough shit. "Sami Zayn!" they chant. Cena tries to babyface himself by champion the virtues of never giving up, then begins his open challenge. It's answer by... Bret Hart! Wow, the place goes crazy for that. Well, we are in Montreal, after all. Naturally, Bret is not here to wrestle, but to introduce someone. Before he gets chance, Heath Slater comes out and demands another shot at Cena, though not before ripping on the crowd in French. "Yeah, I can speak French!" he gloats in his thick redneck drawl. His delivery is excellent. "I'm sick and tired of getting attacked out of nowhere," he complains, just as Bret floors him with the mic. "As I was saying..." continues Bret. Poor Heath. "It's another Montreal Screwjob," craws Vince McMahon spokesman JBL. Oh, get over it, Vince. Bret introduces John Cena's real opponent: Sami motherfucking Zayn! My god, Montreal just collectively orgasmed. WWE is knocking them out of the park tonight. What a segment. What a moment.
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Sami Zayn
Now, how on earth do you book this? Cena winning will kill this crowd dead, but he needs to really given he has a PPV match with Rusev coming up with the title on the line. However, Zayn winning would be one of the most memorable moments on Raw in years. And it would instantly make him as a superstar on the main roster. They can always take it off him next week if they want the belt on Cena for the Rusev match. Not that it needs it necessarily. We return from commercial with the match already in progress, which is annoying. Cena bails to the outside but scouts a Zayn dive, but Zayn notices and puts the breaks on in impressive fashion. Cena then begins to control the match with a series of back suplexes, one of which appears to injure Zayn's shoulder. They even get the doctors in to check it out and have the referee to the famous "x" sign. It's quite brilliantly done, actually, giving Zayn an out if he loses and establishing him as a never-say-die wrestler who will work through injury and adversity. It also heels Cena considerably when he continues to pound away on him. But he is not a heel, he is a good guy, and he shows compassion which nearly gets him caught in a pin. Zayn is allowed to show some of his flashy offence including a beautiful dive over the top rope, but back inside he immediately gets caught in the STF. Credit to Cena, he allows him to escape by crawling to the ropes. Cena shows compassion for Zayn's injury again which gets him caught in a submission, but Cena powers out into the AA. Zayn escapes and hits a German which Cena doesn't jump for, so it ends up being a bridged pin. Cena continues to be far more dominant, wiping Zayn out with a clothesline and going for the AA, only for Zayn to flip out of it, just, and both men go down from a double clothesline. Cena takes a breather on the outside, but he clearly hasn't seen much of Zayn because that is not a safe place to be. Thus he gets caught by Zayn's beautiful tope DDT through the ropes. Zayn struggles to get him back in the ring, then gets caught immediately with the AA. Zayn kicks out! Jesus, they are really trying to make him. John Cena should be applauded by all of his critics for what he is doing for Zayn here. Blue Thunder Bomb from Zayn follows, getting a close near fall and a "This is Awesome" chant from Montreal. For once, it is not without merit. Cena keeps punching away at Zayn, who refuses to go down, then connects with his ridiculous springboard Stunner and the AA for the win. Look, it is not the popular result but it is not a harmful one for Zayn. Hell, he was against John Cena, he escapes his submission hold, kicked out of his finisher and was given a load of offence. How appropriate that Bret Hart introduced Zayn, because Cena's performance tonight was reminiscent of when then WWF Champion Hart beat 1-2-3 Kid on Raw in 1994 in a very similar scenario. Well done John Cena, and well done WWE for recognising that Zayn would be so over in his home town that he was worth going with. Timing is everything. Now, the match itself wasn't a classic, but the moment was special. WWE felt exciting again, interesting, unpredictable. Perhaps my favourite Raw moment of the entire year.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Backstage, the New Day sing, dance and celebrate as the bewildered Bella Twins walk past. After commercial, Renee Young attempts to interview Sami Zayn, but New Day hijack that segment again and do some singing. Cesaro and Kidd turn up, and Cesaro zings Woods: "You have a PhD and you don't realise that they are saying New Day sucks?" Big E says they know what the crowd are saying, but they aren't going to let negativity keep them down.
The Bellas head out for a match, but they get jumped before the bell by Naomi and the returning Tamina. Michael Cole can't for the life of him remember the latter's name. The angry duo do a number on the twins on the outside of the ring and Naomi tells them that their rule over the Divas division is over. Let us rejoice! Cole and JBL then try to explain how Tamina and Naomi are cousins through marriage, though they are not exactly sure how.
King Barrett & Sheamus vs. Neville & Dolph Ziggler
The birth of Princess Charlotte couldn't have come at a better time for the new king of the WWF, Bad News Barrett, who comes out in his full King of the Ring regalia gloating about his victory. He steals a page out of Booker T's, erm, book, telling everyone to get used to the phrase: "All hail King Barrett." I knew he would have some fun with this. Both of these pairings would make excellent permanent tag teams if it wasn't such a waste of talent, and Sheamus. Imagine for a moment Cesaro & Kidd against Neville & Ziggler. It could be astonishing. This though is a fairly basic tag bout, not really picking up steam until Ziggler gets the hot tag to Neville, who runs through his high octane offence at speed. They pair off into two separate encounters, which sees Sheamus dump Ziggler over the barricade and then provide a timely distraction to prevent a Neville Red Arrow. Barrett catches the Bullhammer as Neville springboards into the ring, and that is that. I wish they would protect Neville better, but at least they are not killing King Barrett immediately with the even steven booking. Did they change writers this week or something?
Final Rating: *3/4
Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton
Almost immediately after the last match finishes Roman Reigns' music plays to signal his arrival. I guess that Cena segment earlier went longer than was allotted, because everything since has been rushed. That doesn't matter though, it was worth it. Before they get into anything physical, Kane heads down with Seth Rollins and J&J Security. Kane is shirtless, which immediately makes me concerned. Jamie Noble introduces himself as the guest ring announcer, Joey Mercury as the guest time keeper, Kane as the ringside enforcer and Seth Rollins as a commentator. "Thank you mayor of munchkin city," says Cole disparagingly. He can be a real dickhead. Finally the match starts and Randy tries for an RKO right away, but Roman is wise to it. Unfortunately the match is ignored by the tired crowd and the announcers, with JBL and Rollins complaining about the stupidity of multi man matches for titles. Hey, I have been saying this for years. It's a strange thing to do having JBL, the voice of Vince McMahon remember, running down the booking of the upcoming PPV main event. If they know it is stupid, why do they book it? The match trundles on and there is nothing much wrong with it, but it feels like a tired effort. The story is both guys going for their signature stuff but the other having it scouted. When Reigns finally hits the superman punch, he runs straight into an blatantly poised Kane and gets tripped, leading the an Authority beat down on Randy. Reigns leaps from the ring onto all of them, as things break down. We get a mugging in the ring on both guys as the crowd chant for Ambrose, and they get him. We are left with the four guys from the PPV main event, who take turns wiping each other out. Reigns spears Rollins, Randy RKOs Reigns and Ambrose takes out Orton with Dirty Deeds, and he is the man left standing tall. It feels like his ascension to being a real main event player, though usually the man left standing on Raw is the one who gets beat.
Final Rating: *1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena. He deserves it for the job he did with Sami Zayn tonight. Few guys in history in his position and with his tenure would have been quite so willing to do the same.
Least Entertaining: R-Truth. He is the kind of act that makes you embarrassed to admit you watch and enjoy wrestling to those who don't get it.
Quote of the Night: "No one cares about your Montreal boo-hoo job" - Xavier Woods gets the Screwjob reference in early. Seriously guys, it was nearly eighteen years ago.
Match of the Night: Impossible! Two great matches tonight, both tremendous entertainment for their own reasons. Ambrose-Rollins edged it quality wise, but Cena-Zayn was the more heated and emotionally charged. They all deserve the award.
What We Said: A brilliant episode! As well as the obvious positives involving the four guys mentioned above, there were surprises, unpredictable elements, fresh approaches and even some entertaining backstage segments. The hot Montreal crowd helped carry the lesser stuff to being enjoyable, and there was nothing actively offensive or stupid on here other than R-Truth, and that only took up all of three minutes. In addition, the lack of Big Show, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H was a refreshing change, and for the first time this year the three hours didn't drag. Well, perhaps at the very end, but for the most part this was entertaining. I have been negative about Raw all year for good reason, but if WWE do shows like this every week then I will be a happy man.