Last week’s episode of Raw may as well have been subtitled “All Apologies”, as that was the running theme of the show. The two main eventers at Battleground were both at it, with Brock Lesnar having to suck up to Michael Cole, and WWE Champion Seth Rollins practically begging his pint-sized security team and his Authority nemesis Kane to be best buds with him again, because he is so scared of Brock. At least it ended well for the latter, when he and his new/old allies left Brock beaten in the middle of the ring following a four-on-one assault. Given that two of those are less than half his size, and one of them is Kane, I felt it was a bad idea. While having a babyface show vulnerability is fine, Brock Lesnar is an exception to every rule. People don't want to see Brock Lesnar being treated like everyone else.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
Seth is with his cronies and he brags about last week’s actions, which he seems to think means he has now “conquered the conqueror”. Hardly. Rollins says Brock won’t be here tonight, because he is... on a plane to Japan. Oh no, he is not out injured, or sat at home convalescing after last week’s assault, but on an eighteen hour flight. Well, that sure showed him? Seth brown noses his buddies and gives them some new Apple watches as a thank you, which they proudly show off in the most blatant and nauseating moment of product placement I have ever seen on a wrestling show. They are like kids at Christmas. Seth continues to spout bullshit, claiming last week’s Brock attack was the most epic in WWE history. He is delusional. Seth turns to Kane (“the glue who has held the WWE together”, apparently) and reminds us that he debuted in 1997, as if we need reminding that he has been around for eighteen years. After a brief history lesson about the state of the world in ’97, Seth gives Kane a present: a vacation in Hawaii. Cue Hawaiian lap slide guitar strains filling the airwaves, and a trio of lei-clad extras wandering to the ring. This is horrible. It also makes no sense, because why on earth would Rollins want Kane away on vacation when he is desperate to have him by his side in case Brock Lesnar turns up? Things get worse when Seth gives Joey and Jamie a brand new Cadillac, and the pair celebrate like they have just won the lottery. What the fuck is this, really? It’s the worst game show in history. Even Michael Cole seems appalled by it. I used to enjoy Seth Rollins, but of late I have dreaded the sight of him on this show. He has become irritating, but not in a heel way, more in a Miz way. He remains a great wrestler, but his goofy Cyril Sneer interviews are dire.
The Big Show vs. Mark Henry
And as if that wasn't bad enough, The Miz is on commentary. What is wrong with Vince McMahon? Surely after over thirty years of pitting fat guys against each other in always horrible matches, he has had his fill with this particular fetish. What is the appeal? At least it is short, because Show punches Henry in the mouth with his WMD punch after a minute or so to end the pain. Ryback charges down for a fight, and Miz is unbearable with his giddy shouting. He jumps in and gives Ryback a kick to the face, causing Ryback to call him out for a fight right now. Apparently they are already set to wrestle each other later on anyway, so can’t he just wait? Actually, why are they wrestling later? They are in a pay-per-view match together in mere weeks. Oh yeah, creative bankruptcy. I forgot.
Final Rating: DUD
Ryback vs. The Miz
I guess Ryback cannot wait. The only interesting thing about this match is that they were both on the same series of Tough Enough together - though neither won - and I am amazed that the announcers don't mention that what with the new series of the show having debuted last week. They have little chemistry, though Ryback does delight me by doing a stalling vertical suplex and holding Miz up in the air for a good minute. It’s the sort of spot that would get a huge response on Indy shows and NXT, but this audience barely respond. Miz comes back with pouty-faced aggression, which is comical to observe because Miz is such a total geek. Miz uses kicks to the face to try and keep Ryback down, making me question why they are allowed, when the curb stomp is banned due to the ongoing farcical concussion class action lawsuit against WWE. When Miz fails to make any headway he decides to leave and get counted out, which renders this whole exercise completely worthless. This gets points only for the sweet suplex spot.
Final Rating: ½*
Paige vs. Alicia Fox
As if this show hadn't been bad enough, now we have to endure the presence of the Bellas. Alicia Fox is now an honorary Bella, clad in the same attire as the twins and everything. If they try and do twin magic with Alicia I will hurl my shoe through the television. The only positive I can gleam from this situation is that at least it means fresh(er) matches, because frankly I don't think I can take another bout pitting Paige against the Bellas. The feud has been rumbling on for the entire year! This match is every lame Divas match on Raw, boring, heatless and full of crappy execution. Alicia’s attempts at putting on a chinlock is so inept that it’s funny. The match goes on forever, with Alicia running out of moves so sitting in a chinlock for a few minutes while she tries to come up with something. You can see the cogs ticking in her head. After an Alicia near fall which the crowd half respond to, Alicia struts around looking lost, so Paige loudly calls a back elbow to her. Back to the chinlock after that as my will to live begins to dissipate. Things finally become watchable when Paige takes over on offence with a flurry of dropkicks, then we get the novelty of the reverse distraction finish! It comes when fat Bella jumps on the apron and Alicia rolls Paige up, but Paige switches and steals a win. Michael Cole thinks it is an emotional night for Paige because of that win.
Final Rating: DUD
Byron Saxton calls tonight’s main event of Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns vs. Kane & Seth Rollins a “battle for the ages”. He is developing nicely into a Cole-esque WWE automaton.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Kevin Owens
“You know what, on second thought, I think I will just wait for Battleground” - Owens. Well, thank you very much for wasting my time and getting my hopes up that we could see a good match, or indeed a good anything tonight.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Cesaro
Thankfully, Owens’ replacement is equally entertaining, and capable of having a great match with John Cena. It is nice to see Cesaro again, who was starting to get over once more in his team with Tyson Kidd, before Kidd suffered a freak neck injury in a dark match at the hands of Samoa Joe. I feared the worst for Cesaro, who hadn't been on television (Superstars doesn't count) since. Of course, the chances of him winning tonight are less than nil, because Cena’s Battleground opponent is already announced, and sat right out there. Cena’s U.S. Title invitational challenge gimmick would be more effective if his opponents weren’t announced going into the pay-per-view. It is not like it would have the buyrate/Network subscription count. I get why they have announced it this time, I am really more talking about the future.
To the match then, which builds slowly, but explodes into life once it gets going. Owens pleases me by chastising Cole for talking over the match, which Cole responds to by asking a question unrelated to what is going on in the ring. The little cretin can’t help himself. In a Raw first, we rejoin the match after commercial and no one is sat in a chinlock! Cena goes for You Can’t See Me to boos, but Cesaro pops up and takes him out with a clothesline, giving Cole chance to use his special title match verbal tick “for the championship”. Cesaro goes for the giant swing but instead hits a slingshot, only for Cena to land on the middle rope and go straight into his wacky stunner. Helluva spot. Cena goes for the AA but Cesaro flips out and pops Cena high in the air for a super elevation European uppercut, which is something else. How can Vince not like this guy? He is awesome.
Cena comes back with the STF, but Cesaro bites out of it and counters into his partner’s Sharpshooter, which is a great tribute. Finally the announcers and the crowd are both fully invested, and the match starts building to an incredible climax. Cesaro shows off his incredible strength with his freakish top rope suplex from the apron, but Cena fires back with a tornado DDT for two. Cole gets so excited that he throws all of his idioms in there, “for the win”, “big match feel”, and such. He is in his element. The two grapplers engage in a slugfest, then Cesaro channels early Kofi Kingston with a wild gimmick in the ropes, which he follows with a boot to Cena’s mush. A top rope crossbody is rolled through by Cena into a bizarre uranage face buster that I have never seen him hit before, which gets two. The crowd is going nuts now, and rightly so.
Cena sells Cesaro’s awesomeness by sitting in shock, as Owens leaves his chair and starts mouthing at Cole for disrespecting him. Cena is distracted up top and gets dropkicked to the floor by Cesaro, then drilled with another uppercut. Meanwhile, Owens warns Cole not to disrespect him anymore, and Cole is all apologies. Well obviously, that is the theme around here at the moment. They two combatants go back-and-forth again, then Cena comes over all Amazing Red and hits the Kode Red for a close near fall. He goes for the AA again but gets countered into the Neutraliser for another heart-stopping close two count. Cesaro goes nuts with uppercuts, flips Cena the bird, then hits a few more. He finally hits the giant swing, but the spastic camera work ruins it by zooming in and out repeatedly, losing all feel of the move.
Cesaro locks on the Sharpshooter again centre ring, but Cena never gives up so that won’t get the job done. Then, to the despair of all watching, Owens runs in and batters Cesaro from behind before drilling him with the pop up powerbomb. Owens takes out Cena too, just for good measure, then reminds everyone that he said the only person who would take the title from Cena is him. I hope this means Owens is going over Cena and then working a program with Cesaro, because that would be gold. Really flat, disappointing ending aside, this was one of the best matches on Raw in years. They just saved the show with this television classic. Kudos to John Cena, who is on the best run of his career for match quality, for giving up so much of the match to Cesaro and allowing him to do his thing. Surely now the folks in upper management will start viewing Cesaro as a genuine top guy. As far as I am concerned, he just grabbed one of Vince’s mythical brass rings.
Final Rating: ****1/2
After seeing footage from last week’s Seth and friends assault on Brock Lesnar again, we go to a Bray Wyatt promo. He says something about always wanting to be his father’s favourite but getting thrown out like a piece of trash, which doesn't really work for me because I know his dad is I.R.S. and his brother is Bo Dallas. How could he not be the favourite? Nobody likes Bo Dallas, not even his own dad. More rambling nonsense here from the master of the drawn out promo. His one-trick act is becoming stale.
The Lucha Dragons & The Prime Time Plays vs. Bo Dallas & The New Day
Bo’s appearance here is simply an excuse to show footage from a house show in Boston this past weekend featuring an unannounced surprise appearance from The Rock, who gave Dallas a pasting. I have no clue what WWE were thinking putting a scrub like Bo anywhere near an icon like Rocky, but then, explaining almost anything they do is a headache. Kalisto is like a whippet as he flies around the ring and dominates Woods, and Sin Cara looks good too. Sadly, Bo Dallas finds his way into the ring and my enthusiasm fast turns to ennui. I despise him. Everything about him annoys me, from his man-child face, to his bitchy-voiced selling, to his useless gimmick. He is the shits. Darren Young baffles me by locking Bo in a chinlock and pulling his hair, like a heel. There is no need to use rest holds when there are eight guys on there to split the work. The babyfaces control the match, with Dallas playing face in peril. It’s very odd structure. After commercial, the New Day and Dallas are in control, and Woods has a chinlock applied. I told you the Cesaro-Cena match was an anomaly in that respect. We go right to the hot tag and some flying around from Sin Cara, then Darren Young uses the Andre the Giant butt splash on Big E., which he has already used twice tonight on Dallas. He needs some new moves. Biggie sends Young into the buckles where he goes up and over to the outside in a wild bump, and Dallas clotheslines him for good measure. Back inside, all of the heels stomp a mudhole on Young in the corner, and it is all legal because they keep tagging before the ref reaches his five count. Good spot, actually. Looks like we are into a second heat here, or a third if you count the beating Dallas took. It has been a long match, which probably wasn't the smartest idea after the epic twenty minute classic that preceded it. It would help if they weren’t all so chinlock happy, with Dallas being the latest perpetrator of the tiresome rest hold. Finally Titus gets in there and cleans house, then everything breaks down, as is tradition in multi man matches. Titus comes over all lucha and assists the Dragons in their dive, but nearly gets caught with a Kofi roll up for a close fall. Kofi comes at him off the top, but Titus catches a powerbomb for the win. Before this started I was expecting this would be a sub-five-minute affair, but it ended up going around fifteen minutes. It was okay, but fairly bland in places. They didn't have enough ideas to do a match of that length.
Final Rating: **1/2
Dolph Ziggler and Lana “Go Public”
I have no idea what this segment is all about. At least Lana is getting some real airtime again after weeks of being a wallflower observing from the stage. Both are full of giddy smiles, as Dolph reveals that at first Lana was using him to get back at Rusev, but the situation has changed. “I can’t believe Dolph Ziggler is saying this,” says Dolph. That’s what you get for stalling on your contract, pal. Lana says Rusev told her how to talk, dress and feel about America, but Dolph has changed her. They are more than just good friend, she reckons, but before she can say anymore, Rusev turns up. He brings the vapid, talentless Summer Rae with him, which makes me feel queasy. Summer Rae is the female equivalent of Bo Dallas. She is useless in every role she has even been in, and Rusev does not need an anchor like her weighing down his career. Rusev insults Lana so Dolph jumps in to defend her, threatening the still crocked Rusev that he will break his other leg if he doesn't back off. He does, then Summer gets hold of a mic! She reads her scripted lines without a hint of passion or believability, then slaps Lana across the face. Lana sells it with shock at first, then dives at her. To borrow a phrase from Joey Styles: “Catfight, catfight, catfight”. I pretty much hated everything about this. The romance storyline was bad, the presence of Summer Rae was concerning, the delivery of her promo was awful, and the prospect of a Summer Rae vs. Lana match has me deeply worried too. I hope I don't have to cover that one!
Neville vs. Sheamus
For some reason the crowd isn't feeling this, probably because they are burned out from the awesome Cena-Cesaro match, the overly-long bout that followed it and that crappy Dolph and Lana segment. Before commercial Neville looks the better of the two, because he is, flying around with his usual verve and energy. Sheamus decides to take a breather to gather his bearings as we go to commercial, and... Neville is fighting out of a chinlock when we return. The silence continues to be deafening, which should surely tell WWE that nobody cares are Sheamus, and they were wrong to give him the Money in the Bank briefcase. How Vince can get behind Sheamus but not be a fan of Cesaro is a mystery. Sheamus is boring, and the Washington crowd agree with that assessment and chant it at him. He responds with a chinlock, rather proving the point. Neville gets back into the match with a superkick out of the corner, but Sheamus pops up and hits three “Irish Curse” backbreakers. Another thing to dislike about Sheamus: the over-abundance of gimmick named moves he has. It is just a backbreaker, it is nothing special. Neville comes back again with a multitude of kicks, then lowbridges Sheamus to set up an Asai moonsault. Still, Washington refuses to give more than a customary polite response. Neville mounts enough offence to put Sheamus down for the Red Arrow, but Sheamus kicks the top rope and sends Neville crashing onto his head. Sheamus goes for the Brogue Kick but Neville avoids it and nearly wins with a posh roll up, only for Sheamus to kick out and connect with the kick on the second attempt for the win. Usually I am in favour of the guys they are pushing actually getting to win now and then (see the case of Barrett, Bad News) but this is not one of those occasions because Sheamus shouldn't be getting a push at all. He has had his chance, and nobody cared about him. Give Neville a chance with the top guys and see how he does, rather than recycling the tried and tested (and failed) over and over.
Final Rating: **1/2
Jack Swagger vs. King Barrett
I had honestly forgotten that Jack Swagger even worked here. I wonder who he pissed off to receive such a demotion. When the next round of future endeavours comes, he will likely be at the top of the list of cuts. The crowd couldn't care less about this and barely utter a murmur throughout the brief duration of the contest. Barrett wins it within a couple of minutes with the Bullhammer, finally scoring a much-needed victory.
Final Rating: ¾*
No Disqualification Match
Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns vs. Kane & Seth Rollins
There are no disqualifications so all four men start in the ring, pairing off to brawl. Seth gets dumped so Reigns and Ambrose pick their shots on Kane, who seems to have forgotten how to sell. Rollins then dumps Ambrose off the top to the outside, and baits dumb babyface Reigns into chasing him, and naturally he walks into a trap in the form of a Kane big boot. After commercial, shock of all shocks, Reigns is stuck in a chinlock. Jeez Louise. All of a sudden, the rules are now adhered to, with Ambrose - the “lunatic fringe” no less - standing patiently on the apron waiting for a tag. Why doesn't he just come in the ring? Ambrose get the tag and cleans house, but the crowd are hardly enthusiastic. They have seen so much tonight, some of it great, much of it crap, that they want to go home. WWE need to get the message that three hours is far too long for a TV show. It is a detriment to their product in so many ways. Ambrose decides that the rules no longer matter again and brings a table into play, but J & J Security drag it away. Rollins hits a superkick, “for the win”, but Ambrose escapes. Reigns makes a miraculous recovery from whatever the hell he has been selling for the last five minutes, and Joey Mercury smacks him with a kendo stick. Reigns is not amused, no selling it then breaking the cane over Mercury’s back. Everyone gets Superman punches, but before the spear of death, Bray Wyatt appears from the ethers and does a number on the chosen one. It is all legal of course, and a harem of referees can do nothing about Wyatt smashing Reigns into the announce desk with a Rock Bottom. The table doesn't break, ruining the effect somewhat. Reigns is incapacitated, leaving Ambrose on his own. He puts up a fight, but a chokeslam followed by the Pedigree are too much for him. Following the match, Rollins has designs on putting Ambrose through a table, but Reigns saves his ass. The numbers are too much for him too, but he keeps fighting, long after anyone has stopped caring. It is one of the drabbest beat downs I can remember. It is only saved by Rollins powerbombing Reigns through the table, though again the reaction to that is mild at best. Good powerbomb, mind. It continues even longer after that, as I begin to suspect this show will never end, when Rollins hits the Pedigree. Finally, it is over... Only it isn't, because Bray Wyatt turns up again. Oh my god, just end the damn show! Please!
Final Rating: *1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Cesaro and John Cena. It wouldn't be fair to give this award to only one of them. Both were absolutely tremendous tonight.
Least Entertaining: Seth Rollins. Horrendous opening promo, dull main event, and an even worse post-match beat down. There were others who could have claimed this award (Alicia Fox, Michael Cole and Summer Rae spring to mind), but I expect all of them to be the shits. Rollins, I expect much better from. He has really regressed as an entertainer since winning the WWE Championship.
Quote of the Night: “You are like a cold fish. When I was kissing you, it was like kissing that ring post over there” - Rusev seems to be talking from experience.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Cesaro. As if there was any doubt.
Summary: This was very much a one match show. The first hour was the worst I can remember in recent memory, and the last hour was a never ending chore, but sandwiched in the middle was a glorious MOTY contender between John Cena and Cesaro. Both guys put on a performance that will long be remembered, and their match sits right up there with the finest ever on Raw. John Cena is the wrestler of the half year. He has had by my count, at least four ****1/2+ matches already in 2015. That the overall show still scored so lowly despite featuring that classic television match sums up what an awful episode this was without it.
We’re in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar
Might as well get right into the meat of the situation; Brrrrrrrock Lesnar is back! He now hails from Suplex City, bitch. Heyman addresses the fact that Brock is back, despite being “suspended indefinitely”. So the deal for Brock to return included an apology for his actions on the Raw the night after Wrestlemania. The crowd heel all over Cole and JBL and start chanting “Suplex City” again. It’d be great if Brock apologised for giving Maggle the F5 and then gave him another one. JBL looks about ready to shit himself when Brock offers a handshake. If JBL looks scared it’s nothing on Cole who stutters and stumbles and apologises himself. Brock’s apology is to put Michael in a headlock and ruffle his hair. That is an apology by Lesnar’s standards! Heyman gives it a lung full to tell us that Seth is a spoiled, pampered child that Brock Lesnar is going to destroy.
Kane vs. Dean Ambrose
The first of many things that are wrong with the WWE; the continued insistence at putting big man veterans in long, repetitious TV matches. Does anyone really want to see Kane work an 11 minute match in 2015? I didn’t want to see it in 1997. Kane should be a special attraction guy who only ever works short matches or tags. At most he should be working three minutes on Raw against people who he can squash. Speaking of which; with Kane getting so much time on Raw where is the time for the up and comers? And another question; considering the three hour run-time of Raw, how come the same wrestlers are filling that time every single week? Given the WWE’s massive roster you’d think that fresh matches would be easy to come by. They don’t even have a good finish here where Seth Rollins just walks out for the distraction, with his music playing and everything, and Kane beats the distracted Ambrose with a chokeslam. It’s a match that helps no one and achieves nothing. Rollins is working Lesnar at Battleground. Kane should not be going over main eventers. Even if Ambrose lost his main events.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control take us backstage where Seth sucks up to Kane. Would that be because he needs everyone in his corner when he faces Brock Lesnar? Kane sees through the ploy and walks off. Why did Seth bitch and moan about Kane over the past couple of months? Why create that dissention among people who run the company? It just makes them look like a bunch of kids.
The Prime Time Players vs. The Ascension
The WWE’s tag team division, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t see why they can’t build a division, seeing as they’ve got a massive number of wrestlers on the books. Make the tag titles mean something, like the US strap means something now John Cena has it. If Cena and a random guy were tag champs they could build something like that. It’d be a much better use of Kane if he was tagging with someone regularly. And I don’t mean the bloody Big Show. The tag division means nothing because everyone in it either doesn’t want to be there, or isn’t good enough to be a big singles star. That all said Titus O’Neil is growing on the History of Wrestling scribes. He’s rapidly becoming a favourite in the office. The Prime Time Players are a prime example of taking two singles guys and making them into a worthwhile team. I know I keep moaning about Cesaro being too good for the tag team division but that’s because I know they won’t give him any singles work while he’s stuck there. Just because you’re in a tag team, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a top singles wrestler too. The tag team thing needs completely rebuilding from the ground up. Prime Time Players win here, over the useless Ascension, as well they should do. I’m glad to see the tag champs weren’t jobbed out in a non-title match. The IC title curse doesn’t seem to extend to them. At least at the moment.
Final Rating: *
Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns
Sheamus is another example of things the WWE consistently do wrong. He’s getting pushed because he’s tall and muscular. He’s boring in the ring and has been in the company for too long without significant character change. What is Sheamus’ character? He’s a tall Irish man with big muscles and a ginger Mohawk. He’s one of dozens of WWE wrestlers that desperately need the Jim Ross sit-down interview treatment. Although, credit the WWE for something, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing with Finn Balor on NXT, giving him detailed historical video packages to round the man out. Now the fans know who he is. Not just what moves he does. Roman on the other hand has been nicely developed through interviews and video packages and I know who he is and I like him because of it. Without those interviews he’d just be another big powerhouse guy, like Sheamus, who I’ve got no investment in. The weird thing is I’ve seen Sheamus work since Irish Whip Wrestling back in 2005. I’ve watched him develop for ten years and the only thing that’s changed is his muscles. The weird thing is he’s got a colourful past. He used to be a bodyguard and worked with U2 (there’s a promo that writes itself; Mr Money in the Bank “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for”). He played Gaelic football and rugby. He’s a tough, manly man but is this, or any other aspect of his personality put across on TV? No. Increasingly Raw is just so dry that it’s hard to invest in anyone. The level of expectation on Raw to deliver an in-ring program is so great that we get the same thing every single week. I know it’s hard to write TV, especially when the WWE has way too much TV, but nobody is thinking outside the box. We’re so stuck in the box here that Schrödinger isn’t sure if we’re still alive.
With all that said, this isn’t even a bad match as Roman is working hard at the moment, trying to rebuild his shattered reputation. One destroyed before Wrestlemania by Vince McMahon’s clumsy writing. Sheamus works over Roman’s back in punishing fashion. As the match continues my thought processes start to switch to the possible legitimising of Sheamus here. A win over an already ‘injured’ Reigns would do wonders for his reputation. The trouble Sheamus has got is that he’s been trading wins with people who are genuinely midcarders trapped under the glass ceiling. It makes his Money in the Bank win all the more curious. As if there’s a bigger plan that we’re not privy to just yet. Seeing as Reigns is in a feud with Bray Wyatt part of me spends the entire contest waiting for the inevitable Wyatt distraction finish. It’s a pity that hangs over the match as it becomes a solid contest. The inevitable distraction comes in the form of Bray Wyatt having a tea party with Roman Reigns’ daughter, or it’s implied anyway as she’s not shown on camera. It’s really creepy. Roman runs to the back and gets counted out.
Final Rating: **3/4
Video Control follows Reigns to the back where Bray Wyatt has assembled a freaky little shrine to Roman Reigns and his family. It’s borderline psychotic. If Wyatt could back his character up in the ring he’d be one of the best characters in the company. He needs feuds though and the likes or Ryback don’t suit him. Reigns is potentially better. It’s been good so far. Elsewhere Seth Rollins attempts his second apology of the evening by sucking up to J&J Security.
Neville vs. Kofi Kingston
Xavier Woods continues to grate at me with his juvenile screaming at ringside, which are so loud they drown out the commentary. “I’m gonna call gravity Neville”. The story of the match is that New Day outnumber Neville three to one so the Prime Time Players come down to back Neville up. The referee gets sick of the match being all about numbers and throws everyone out, which makes you wonder why the referee’s ever let New Day come down in numbers. Neville takes Kofi out with the Red Arrow for the win.
Final Rating: *1/2
King Barrett vs. Zack Ryder
Cole is even scoring points off Barrett’s pathetic win/loss record comparing him to Dudley Moore’s Arthur when JBL compares the King to King Arthur. Given that’s it’s Cole I’m surprised he didn’t reference the Russell Brand version. The match is three minutes long and Barrett manages to hook a chinlock in it. And that’s why he’s not getting pushed. Speaking of which; Zack Ryder is still over and the WWE still don’t care. Is it because he got himself over? Isn’t that what Vince McMahon complained about? Nobody reaching that brass ring? Barrett finishes with the Bull Hammer.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control gives us Michael Cole’s chat with Kevin Owens recorded this week on WWE.com. Now this is more like it. It gives Owens the chance to put himself over and get his personality across. He particularly gets upset with John Cena’s offered handshake at Money in the Bank.
Promo Time: John Cena
Michael Cole calls the Money in the Bank match between Cena and Owens a “match of the year candidate”. Are the WWE actually acknowledging things like match quality now? Because they should. The Match of the Year should be a genuine WWE thing about the best wrestling matches. I know they tried to do that on WWE.com but mentioning stuff like that on TV can only help match quality. Cena addresses Owens attack on Machine Gun Kelly last week saying that “nobody knows” why he did it. I do. It’s because Kevin Owens is a wrestler and he hates non-wrestlers getting exposure on a wrestling show. Cena goes on to call Owens a “garbage human being” and shills their third encounter at Battleground. I would have been quite happy with Owens winning one match and then putting the feud on the back-burner but hey, the WWE loves flogging a good horse until it’s dead. With this feud they’ve taken what could have been an epic year-long feud and spooged it into two months. Cena calls out Owens and Kevin responds. He points out that Cena cares about the fans but Owens only cares about winning titles. Owens decides to heel himself up as an “evil foreigner” by speaking French. Cena responds by speaking French and Chinese. Who knew he was a cunning linguist? Despite this feud being rushed it’s still the best thing on WWE TV.
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins continues his campaign of sucking up by talking to Triple H and Stephanie. The Tripper has an interesting take on the Kane and J&J situation. “Screw ‘em. You don’t need them. You never did” – Hunter. “You’re scared, you’re scared of Brock Lesnar because you’re smart” – Hunter, again. Despite the bagging on Triple H that we frequently do in the HoW offices he knows how to tell a story. I just wish he did it in small doses like this more often.
The Bella Twins vs. Naomi & Tamina
Tamina continues to look clumsy here and seems to have issues with Brie. She seems to move in too close to her opponents before taking a bump. It always looks weird. Byron points out the Bellas are the “Kardashian’s of the WWE” and doesn’t seem to realise it’s an insult and one the Bella’s completely deserve. Naomi tries to hold this together but has nothing to work with. Also, who’s the babyface here? I’ll tell you; no one. Everyone is heel, nobody cares. Nikki gets a ‘hot tag’ after some heat on Brie and it confuses me. Have they flipped the Bella’s face again? What the hell is going on? There’s one amazing botch in this where Tamina falls over the referee. It’s as hilarious as it is embarrassing. Nikki finishes Naomi with the Rack Attack. This match was an abortion.
Final Rating: -*
Mark Henry vs. Ryback
The Big Show joins commentary, which is unwelcome. It serves to remind me the WWE is going ahead with Ryback vs. Show vs. Miz at Battleground. Because Show needs protecting, in 2015, and Miz is there for Ryback to pin. Some genius gives this six minutes and it’s basically two big guys lifting each other or attempting to. It’s The Gym: The Wrestling Match. Ryback wins with a splash off the top, in an attempt to diversify his move set. If he picked Henry up one more time he’d probably give himself a hernia.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control gives us a Tough Enough shill before Ryback makes a few comments about the match he just wrestled. “Don’t go calling me Flyback” jokes the Big Guy. He goes on to say his parents hadn’t spoken for fifteen years and got together to watch him wrestle recently, something he’s very proud of. Big Show turns up and Ryback gives him a beating.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Adam Rose
Rose calls everyone “mouth-breathing dullards” who don’t “get it”. Then he makes out with Rosa Mendes to show Dolph and Lana what love is about. “Are we going to have a wrestling match?” – Ziggler calls Rose on his nonsense. I’m actually pleased to see Rose because it’s nice to get a different match even if he’s a bland act who’s gotten less interesting since he ditched the Rosebuds. Now he’s just another guy. The more interesting man is Ziggler, someone who has been rumoured to be unhappy with his WWE role of late. If there’s any truth to his imminent departure it’s not evident in the match where he flies around, looking in decent shape and finishes with a superkick on the airborne Rose. Dolph makes out with Lana after the match and Rusev is shown looking very angry in the back about it. So much so he throws his crutches away and falls over. In an interesting moment Summer Rae hands the crutch back saying “Lana’s not worth it”. I’d rather they picked someone more useful for this role and ultimately I’d rather they’d not split Rusev and Lana to begin with but hey, at least things are happening here and we’re moving forward.
Final Rating: *3/4
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
This is the main event. Twenty minutes of talking. Seth basically wants to apologise to Kane and J&J as Triple H suggested he do in an earlier backstage segment. It drags quite a lot and the crowd spend most of it bagging on “Justin Bieber”. After about ten minutes of yacking Brock Lesnar shows up and stalks all four guys. Seth’s buddies leave but, like several other times they’ve done this, it’s a fake-out so they can jump Lesnar. I’m surprised Lesnar is dumb enough to take his eye off the threat. He overpowers everyone and the throw on poor Jamie Noble into the rail leaves him lying with broken ribs. It looked fairly innocuous but that’s wrestling for you. It’s a dangerous game. The crowd loves Lesnar throwing Rollins around but somehow Kane manages to chokeslam Brock. Why is Kane overpowering Brock Lesnar? This shouldn’t have happened when Kane was young and relevant but it certainly shouldn’t be happening now. Thanks to Kane giving Seth a numbers advantage Rollins is able to hit the Pedigree and stand tall. Honestly, I’d rather they’d not done that but the logic behind Lesnar getting beaten down is a numbers game. Personally I don’t think Lesnar should be beaten down by Kane and Seth Rollins, ever, as he’s an untouchable special attraction and the WWE doesn’t have many of those left. It’s pretty much just Lesnar and the Undertaker and the Dead Man only shows up once a year.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens
Least Entertaining: Xavier Woods
Quote of the Night: “I offer a public apology in advance for what Brock Lesnar is going to do to…Seth Rollins” – Paul Heyman.
Match of the Night: Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
Summary: I’ve said this before but Raw is just too long at three hours. Trying to fill it is becoming increasingly tiresome. And yet nobody is getting time for their matches apart from Kane and Sheamus. Two guys you don’t want to see in protracted matches. It’s madness. Oh well, maybe next week they’ll do something to try and improve the tag division, divas division and the undercard in general to try and make this show less awful. Nice to see Brock Lesnar and Kevin Owens. They’re both worth tuning in for. Everything else is a pass at the moment.
I really hated Money in the Bank last night. I thought the main event was overly long, and the excess of spots borderline ridiculous. The lame finish where both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins fell holding the belt, only for Seth to wrest it from Ambrose as they hit the mat was like something out of TNA at its Russo-led worst. Seth had destroyed him, there was no reason for him not to win decisively. He is the WWE Champion, after all. The MITB match itself was a real letdown, with an overabundance of lying around selling nothing, and a baffling choice of victor. Sheamus is a midcarder, he has had a run at the top and it didn't work. There is zero appeal to any program he is involved in. It’s not that he is bad, he has just wrestled everyone in the company a thousand times. Frankly, I would be more than content to never see him in a WWE ring ever again. There were other things that bothered be about Money in the Bank too. How about R-Truth, a man booked as a thieving pre-schooler, going over Bad News Barrett, the reigning King of the Ring. So much for that push. How about the utterly worthless Nikki Bella dominating the women’s division even though she is one of the most one-dimensional, unnatural in-ring performers ever to set foot inside a WWE ring. Don’t think for a second she will be losing that Diva’s Title until she has broken AJ Lee’s record reign, just to make sure WWE can erase her from their record books entirely. Then there was Kevin Owens vs. John Cena, a match I thought was even better than their Elimination Chamber epic two weeks ago, clocking in at ****3/4. It was almost perfect, apart from the utterly predictable conclusion of John Cena going over. What did that achieve? Owens victory over him is now rendered almost meaningless by the even steven booking. If Owens had won again it wouldn't have hurt Cena, but it sure as hell would have cemented Owens as a main event player. Sure, they did the post-match angle, but that was plastering over the cracks. He should have won and then done that. Cena could lose every week on TV for a year and it wouldn't hurt him at this stage, because he has been booked as invincible for a decade. WWE, one step forward, ten steps back every time.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
Rollins is here alone to brag, and brings his usual Wario-esque snarly smugness. He declared Raw to be his show, and rechristens it Monday Night Rollins. Hardly original, but it does roll(ins) off the tongue. He gives a mock acceptance speech where he thanks himself, a lot, but tellingly doesn't thank Hunter and Steph. It’s because we are at the start of a slow burn program between them, you see. Seth can be the next big shot for Hunter to cut the legs off. Rollins burying the Authority is almost a babyface turn, though he is a great weasel-like heel, so that makes no sense. It makes far more sense than the Authority turning face though. Jesus, can you imagine that? Babyface authority figures; that would be something. Rollins gets great cheap heat for burying Cleveland and their local sports teams, which is fine for the 10,000 fans there but doesn't translate well overseas. That kind of thing should be saved for non-televised house shows.
‘Stone Cold’ Dean Ambrose has heard enough and heads out to confront Seth, looking entirely fine despite having taken multiple powerbombs into barricades, ladders, chairs and what not last night. He remembers he is supposed to be hurt and drags his leg along, briefly, but frequently forgets about it as they brawl. Rollins bails, so Ambrose decides to stage a sit down protest until he returns to finish the fight.
After the commercial break, Ambrose is still in the ring. We cut backstage to Hunter and Steph, where Seth barges in demanding to know what is going to be done about Dean. Mum and Dad tell him it is taken care of, but Seth questions them. His disrespect is further seeds being planted for the eventual program with Hunter. Hunter and Steph talk down to Seth like an insolent child, and Hunter yells at him for implying that Steph is a liar. Yeah, McMahons never lie...
Back to the ring, Sheamus and his bafflingly-won MITB briefcase turn up for some further talking. No one gives a fucking shit about you Sheamus. No one ever has. Will this infernal segment ever end? We have had thirty minutes of Raw, and not a match in sight. That changes when Sheamus decides he wants to fight, and Ambrose is happy to oblige.
Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus
Like every Sheamus match, this is mostly boring. They just meander around doing little of note, certainly not enough to erase the memory of that three hour long opening segment. I have noticed of late that Sheamus can barely hit his Brogue Kick anymore. He connects with chest rather than face more often than not nowadays. I don't know if he has bad hips or if it is some newfangled McMahonian decree that kicking in the face is no longer allowed, due to the ongoing class action concussion lawsuit against WWE. Dean keeps fighting, showing fire with punch/chop combos, but Sheamus cuts him off. The lame Irishman does win a brownie point for stopping midway through his forearms in the ropes spot because the crowd count along with it, thus drawing him heat. A heel who wants to be booed, there’s a rarity in 2015. That plays nicely into the match too, with Dean turning the tables and hitting the same move on Sheamus. It’s a nice, organic spot. Ambrose rallies, and I assume the deal is that the adrenaline has nullified the pain in his leg, because he doesn't sell it anymore. Sheamus decides to leave, for whatever reason, but the arrival of Randy Orton with music prevents him. Oh, Jesus, do not feud these two! I can’t take any more of their awful matches. Orton’s presence leads to WWE’s favourite finish - and I shouldn't have to spell out what that is by now - which was a result I would have bet a fortune on before the bell rang. Dean lost last night, Sheamus won something important, so the guy who lost needs his win back on someone in WWE world. It’s everyone’s favourite even steven nonsense again. Orton gives Sheamus a beating after the match, but Sheamus avoids the RKO and bails. Somehow in the fracas he has managed to cut his head. This was really drab.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, Jamie Noble thinks Seth should defend his title at Battleground against Joey Mercury, since he beat him last week. Yeah, that really happened. Rollins laughs it off, so Mercury goads him, playing him like a fiddle.
R-Truth vs. Bad News Barrett
Isn't this just the rematch we have all been waiting for? Truth walks out dressed like a “king”, clad in a burger king crown, a bed sheet for a cape and with a toilet plunger as a sceptre. What is the acronym for this infantile promotion again? WCW? Underneath his toddler fancy dress garb he is wearing a suit, apparently thinking he is doing commentary. He is so dumb, he doesn't realise he has a match, you see. After almost amusing me by calling Byron Saxton “Coach” and quoting Diff’rent Strokes, he gets in the ring. Cole says Barrett was “humiliated and embarrassed” losing to Truth last night, practically flat out saying that Truth is a joke and he sucks. Which is all true, of course, but if they know that, why don't they just cut him? Barrett loses to another fluke pin after mere seconds, as I began to question why I even put up with this nonsense anymore. Seriously, what is wrong with this company? Why does winning a title or accolade guarantee defeat week after week. Barrett must have one of the poorest win-loss records of anyone this year, yet for the majority he has been either the Intercontinental Champion or the King of the Ring. It’s nonsense. Everyone is the same, everyone is the same, everyone is the same, everyone is the same.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Promo Time: Kevin Owens
Finally, someone worth watching. Owen justifies why he attacked Cena after the match last night, claiming when Cena condescendingly gave him his approval and said “you belong here”, it was the most disrespectful thing he has ever heard in his career. He already knows he belongs here, he doesn't want Cena’s endorsement. It’s a superb character promo from easily the best natural heel on the roster. It looks like they are going with Cena-Owens #3, which might be over-egging the proverbial pudding, even if their matches together have been unbelievable. The problem is it risks killing the program by going too far, like they always do. If Cena wins again that is it for Owens; he becomes the next Rusev, Bray Wyatt, Bobby Lashley, Rob Van Damn, Nexus, Umaga, Alberto Del Rio or countless others. Owens wants the US Title next time they meet, which is all well and good but wasn't their program about more than belts? Because Cena isn't here due to “severe bruising” (ouch, eh?) he throws out an open challenge of his own. Dolph Ziggler accepts. His denim jacket is straight out of the eighties. He reckons he knows about sacrifice, but Owens is nonplussed and smiles dismissively. Owens accepts the challenge, but it turns out the belt is not on the line. Good. Nor should it be. The NXT title shouldn't ever be held by anyone on the main roster who isn't an NXT regular.
Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler
Why, oh why, did they turn Lana and stick her with Dolph? She has done absolutely nothing since splitting from Rusev. Okay, Rusev got injured, killing any program between Lana’s latest charge and her ex, but surely they could rebook and come up with something for her to do. I expect big things going in with Ziggler’s top notch selling perfect for Owens’ high-impact moves, but it’s actually all rather underwhelming. There are nice spots here and there, such as a dangerous Owens German and a sack of shit into the barricade, but an awful lot of it is chinlocks and grinding beatdown offence. Ziggler barely does anything, he just gets his ass kicked. The finish sees Ziggler avoid the pop up powerbomb and hit the Zig Zag, but Owens kicks out at two. The crowd finally begin to really bite, but right as they do, Owens hits the powerbomb for the win. Wow, they actually booked something right. A clean finish with no shenanigans. I didn't enjoy this all that much. It was okay, but the ad breaks and rest holds rather killed it for me.
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, Paige gives a motivational speech stood atop a chair, trying to rally the random non-wrestling girls against the Bellas tyranny. Layla still works here? Fuck. I don't quite get what the Bellas have supposedly done wrong in Paige’s mind. If she wants Nikki to lose the title and not dominate the division, she should beat her. In kayfabe terms, that’s what it boils down to. The Bellas turn up and tell all the voiceless girls to side with Paige if they want too. They all walk off. Paige has a point about the Bellas running the show, but it is in a strictly creative sense and makes no sense in storylines. None of these other girls ever do anything on Raw. Surely they should side with her if the problem is levels of exposure? Whatever, my brain is fried now. This whole ordeal was utter shat.
Randy Orton vs. Kane
Oh come on, what is this now!? Who wants to see this match in 2015? Fiver says Sheamus gets involved in the finish... Oh look, here he comes now. Kane changes the match to no holds barred, Sheamus kicks Orton in the chest, and Kane wins. Terrible.
Final Rating: DUD
Seth and Kane argue backstage. Seth brings up Paul Bearer and Undertaker, which pisses Kane off to the point that he grabs him and threatens evisceration. Seth gets cross. They are really going with this as a PPV match down the line aren’t they?
Miz vs. Show
What better to follow a bad Kane match that a Big Show match? Ryback does commentary and calls Big Show the best big man in history. What an idiot. “Miz is awful,” chants Cleveland. Well, at least someone knows what they are talking about. Show plays possum with his leg and Miz falls for it like a chump, and gets chopped to hell as a result. Miz ends up on the outside and Show daintily follows, moving at around the same pace as the Iron Sheik at WrestleMania X-7. Show throws Miz into Ryback, who without missing a beat says, “I’ve got Miz all over me.” I thought this was a PG show? Miz wins on count out and celebrates like he just won the WWE Championship. It has been brought to my attention that Big Show never actually wins. It hardly matters if you win when you are seven foot tall though; you are still guaranteed top billing in this company. Ryback is shirtless and ripped like a mofo in the afters. He should always wrestle topless, rather than covering up his remarkable physique with an RVD-esque singlet.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
Reigns says he didn't get much sleep last night after Money in the Bank because of what Bray Wyatt did to him, and he is so pissed off that he doesn't want to wait for Battleground to throw down. Wyatt turns up on the screen and starts rambling. Reigns tells him to shut up and come out to fight, but Wyatt laughs his impudence off. He says last night’s attack was because Reigns beat him to get into the MITB match, costing him a place in the bout and robbing him of his destiny. Hmm. Reigns was already in the match, he had to beat Wyatt to retain his spot. If Wyatt should be pissed off with anyone it is the Authority, who are the ones that booked it in the first place. Why doesn't he have heat with Sheamus for winning the thing? Wyatt says a whole lot of nothing for a while, but then suddenly the promo goes from mundane to several shades of great when Wyatt reveals he is holding a picture of Reigns and his daughter. He stares at it creepily, then starts singing ‘My Little Teapot’, a reference to a brief VT aired earlier showing Reigns singing the same song to his little girl. It’s delightfully sinister stuff.
Paige vs. The Bellas
This feud has been going on since before the concept of time was invented. You can add all of the star ratings of their matches together and would struggle to get a good match out of it. Nikki’s frequent exercising during spots is deeply irritating, as if she has even the vaguest hint of talent to think she can get away with such arrogant posturing. Mind, she needs the exercise. Seeing the Bellas together makes one thing quite clear; they look nothing alike. They barely look like sisters, never mind twins. The match is the shits of course, and Brie is even worse than Nikki. Her attempts at selling are hilarious. “Paige is going to knock off the Bella twins” says Cole, who obviously doesn't know what that really means. They deserve it for their crimes against wrestling. “We saw this last night,” says the gibbering imbecile as Nikki uses a punch, of all things. Fake tit slam from Nikki, and the Bellas win again. The women’s division will never, ever prosper while these two talentless phonies are on top.
Final rating: DUD
Concert: Machine Gun Kelly
My ears! My motherfucking ears!
Thank the Wrestling Gods for Kevin Owens. He appears on stage after that aural atrocity and sarcastically applauds. MGK gets all dickish and up in Owens’ face, so the wonderful bastard powerbombs him off the stage. Clever camera work hides the massive cardboard box and crash pad that he landed on.
The New Day vs. The Prime Time Players & Neville
I was very pleased to see PTPs recent good performances get rewarded last night. I am increasingly a big fan of Titus, who will likely feature highly in my year end award for Guilty Pleasure. I am not sure what business Neville has being out there with these guys, but I am sure it says something about where WWE consider his place on the card to be. Let’s put it another way: you wouldn't see Randy Orton or Roman Reigns slumming it in this spot. This is your standard Raw tag match, with the faces hitting their trademark spots before commercial and the heels controlling with a chinlock afterwards, which has now become so commonplace that it is almost an in joke. Wouldn't it be nice to just once return from commercial mid spot? It would definitely feel more natural. Once Neville gets the hot tag, things turn up a few notches. He is a veritable jumping bean, bouncing around all over the ring and completely evading the clutches of the New Day. The next few minutes are all Neville and they are so full of energy that it is great to watch. Darren Young heads back in to hit Kofi in his injured ribs with the Gut Check, then Neville finishes with the Red Arrow. That move is really getting over. Fun match in the end.
Final Rating: **1/4
Backstage, Dean Ambrose throws darts at a picture of Seth Rollins, then Kane appears for a chat. Ambrose starts laughing, explaining to the confused Kane that he is laughing at the prospect of him being WWE Champion. He implores him to go back to his old ways, because he “kinda liked that guy”. I would probably be more tolerant of him as a performer if he was circa 1998 Kane. I kinda liked that guy too.
Battleground Main Event Announcement
The Authority come down for the main event promo, and Hunter immediately dismisses the notion of Rollins’ Battleground opponent being Jamie Noble, Joey Mercury, Kane or Dean Ambrose. That brings out Seth, who wears a large grin. He is amused, because he can’t work out who else it could possibly be. His character is a bit dim. Hunter says Seth needs to prove himself one more time so he can determine if he is a piece of coal dust or a diamond. He likes the metaphors. The place goes nuts when Brock Lesnar arrives, and Seth looks like he has just seen a ghost. The two square off, and Seth starts to visibly shake. Crikey. He stops short of shitting his pants, but does bail out of the ring and practically runs away. The Authority have protected Seth so far, but now the beast is out of the cage and this is Seth’s real test. It’s like the trials of Lion’o in Thundercats. I am thrilled to see Brock back, his presence is untouchable. Nobody else comes close.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens. Great promo, decent match, great murdering of worthless “singer” Machine Gun Kelly.
Least Entertaining: Brie Bella. Most sucked tonight, she was the worst.
Quote of the Night: “I’ve got Miz all over me” - Ooh err, Ryback.
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler, though it was only okay.
Summary: There was some good on the show thanks to Brock Lesnar, Kevin Owens and Bray Wyatt, but the rest was a chore. We have said this countless times and will surely say it again, but three hours is far too long. It is impossible to do a good three hour broadcast, and WWE proves that week after week with mundane show after mundane show. Recently there has been a lot of very good wrestling to offset the terrible comedy, fake-sounding promos and samey booking, but not tonight. The angles and segments were the strongest part of the show, while the wrestling was severely lacking. The whole show needs a refresh from top to bottom, from the look to the mentality to the way feuds play out. Something must change, or WWE will remain in the stagnant state for years to come.
My interest levels in this show were pretty low on the whole. Mainly because the same day Revolution Pro Wrestling had scheduled a show in London, at York Hall in Bethnal Green. I was sold the minute they released the name of the first wrestler booked; Tomohiro Ishii. I’m a massive fan of Ishii and his realistic work. I booked two tickets immediately, despite having no one in particular to go with. I ended up coercing my beloved wife to join me and attend her first wrestling show. It was a terrific evenings entertainment from the reliable Rev Pro promotion. I swear it’s their intention to put on a fantastic card every single show they do. The first few matches booked for their Uprising show in October were so tantalising I’m certain to be going to that show as well. Massive props go out to Will Ospreay and Matt Sydal for having the outstanding match on a card populated by the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Roderick Strong, Colt Cabana and AJ Styles. It’s a genuine MOTYC, which I’d put at ****3/4, possibly at ***** because I was there. It’s also a contender for the best match I’ve seen in person. It really was that good. This coming from a guy, in Sydal, that I disparaged the last time I saw him for being rusty and clunky. You can ignore that now, Matt Sydal is back and Will Ospreay is incredibly good in the ring. His somewhat vanilla personality will count against him when he gets to America, and believe me he will, but he can get by on wrestling alone. He’s that damn good.
Oh yeah, the WWE put a show on too. Let’s see how that went…
14th June 2015.
In memory of Dusty Rhodes 1945-2015
Before we get underway everyone is collected out here for a ten bell salute to the fallen Dusty Rhodes. There isn’t a man or woman among the WWE superstars that hasn’t been touched by Dusty’s genius. I’ve often been critical of his in-ring ability but Dusty’s ability to draw people in was almost unparalleled. His voice was amazing and he could sell a story in a few sentences with his unique style. His work with the WWE, especially in moulding the current generation of stars, is greatly appreciated and he will be missed, both as one of the most charismatic men in the history of wrestling and as a beloved mentor.
We’re in Columbus, Ohio. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Randy Orton vs. Neville vs. Kane vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns
No messing around here as we go right into the Money in the Bank match. I suspect this is because there are so few actual, genuine, title threats in this match. Roman is the obvious one and the likes of Neville, Kofi and Dolph are basically in there for the high spots. For me the Money in the Bank gimmick is played out and could use a year off. Make it a bi-annual event and you’ve got two years to cash in. Make it really mean something. It wasn’t even that long ago that Seth Rollins cashed in. It gets off to a poor start with everyone fighting over one ladder. It looks horribly disorganised. I like the chaos, but it’s not much fun to watch. They settle down into setting up spots and the crowd are still not keen on Roman Reigns. I guess it’ll take longer than three months to rehab him. As with all these multiple person matches it suffers from massive selling issues. At one point Orton, Kane, Ziggler and Sheamus all just disappear to let Roman hit spots on Kofi and Neville. Where the hell are they all? Orton hits a series of RKO’s to thunderous applause, showing I’m completely off the pulse of what the common wrestling fan likes as I think Orton is dull. The one on Neville off the ladder is a good spot but it’s only because of Neville’s bump. Neville sometimes using his flying for logical spots and sometimes not. An example being a random Red Arrow on an already downed Sheamus. Wouldn’t climbing the ladder have made more sense? The crowd seem most inclined toward a Ziggler win, showing no amount of losses can tarnish his popularity and yet the WWE still don’t seem all that interested in him.
The wonky selling continues and with everyone down Big E and Xavier Woods come down to assist Kofi. There was a theory, amongst the IWC, that Kofi would actually win this match and Brock Lesnar would take the case from him. Who’s going to stop Brock anyway? Roman ends up stopping Kingston with a powerbomb onto the rest of the competitors. Only Orton remains. Spear! As Roman climbs the ladder to collect the contract Bray Wyatt appears in the ring to push the ladder over. SISTER ABIGAIL! Roman had it won but instead it looks like he’ll be working with Bray Wyatt. That leaves the case for Sheamus to pull down. Well, that’s underwhelming.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us to Paige for an interview. She points out the Bellas are dominating the divas division and she’s out to take it down. She promises to instigate change tonight “for you, Dusty”.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
Paige lost to Twin Magic a few weeks ago. So Nikki is definitely a heel, again. Just so we get that straight. The match really struggles to get going and the high spots feel strangely detached. Paige changes that with a knee to the temple but Nikki comes right back afterwards, having learnt how to sell at the John Cena School of Excellence. This is the problem with a) pre-planning an entire match and therefore not getting to feed off the crowd and b) short diva matches. Not that I want to see Nikki in longer matches, I hasten to add. The school of thought is that the more you work the better you get but if Nikki hasn’t gotten any better by now she surely never will. Paige lands another big knee and hooks the PTO. It is way too close to the ropes and not well applied so that doesn’t get the job done. Again Nikki just springs back into action afterwards. Modern wrestlers are frequently criticised for poor selling but there’s no excuse for ignoring a transition and just carrying on like nothing happened. It’s selfish, for starters. Paige has the good common sense to sell for extended periods and let Nikki build an offence. Something she’s not offered in return. The Bellas pull Twin Magic, Paige reverses on Brie and gets the pin. The sight of Brie unstuffing her bra is hilarious. “I’m Brie”. Paige kicks her in the face and Nikki returns to hit the Rack Attack for the actual pinfall. I appreciate the tribute to the Dusty Finish but I still hate the Bellas. But then, I’m supposed to. They’re heels. So maybe they’re booked better than we give them credit.
Final Rating: *1/4
Promo Time: The Miz
My first reaction; “what’s this asshole doing here?” He puts himself over in a big babyface way by saying he’s from Ohio before switching to say that if you don’t live in New York or LA you don’t count. He’s joining commentary because he wanted the IC title shot that Show took. He might ‘want’ a title shot but I’m sure a lot of wrestlers do. What’s Miz done to actually warrant any title contention?
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Ryback (c) vs. The Big Show
This is Ryback’s first title defence since winning the belt in a dreary match at the Elimination Chamber two weeks ago. Show gets nothing out of the gate and Ryback tries to finish in three moves like a good Goldberg clone. When that doesn’t work he stops off to beat up The Miz too. Ryback gets a few demonstrations of how strong he is, including a suplex. Ryback, extremely casually, kicks out of the chokeslam. Show resorts to the KO punch but Ryback falls out of the ring. It’s the best selling in the entire match as Ryback just drops. Miz then jumps Show for the DQ. Urgh.
Final Rating: *
Video Control shills Tough Enough on USA, returning on 23rd June. Chris Jericho appears to be the main presenter. I used to dig Tough Enough when it first started as it was something different. There was a feeling they could create some actual stars with it. Maven in particular but also Josh Matthews had a wonderful underdog vibe about him. Josh is still in the business but hasn’t been a wrestler in a long time. As the series went on they increasingly aimed to create guys who looked just like their production line of cookie cutter wrestlers and none of them made it. With good reason.
Kevin Owens vs. John Cena
Oh thank the Gods for this one. Three matches of absolute nothing and here comes a re-match from Elimination Chamber (a match I clocked at ****1/2 and was quite excellent). This show desperately needs this match to be good. Owens has gained a bit more traction for having bested Cena last time. Brilliant sign in the crowd; “The Cena The”, a sly reference to the Simpsons episode where Sideshow Bob has “Die Bart Die” tattooed on himself and claims it’s German for “The Bart The”. The crowd LOUDLY chant “NXT” and Owens’ confidence levels are way high compared to even the last match. That win has genuinely made him. The crowd’s eruption turns this into an event match. Hell, Owens can get away with a protracted headlock and it’s DEAFENING in there. That’s when you know you’ve got them with the storyline. Owens has some good stuff lined up here including countering the Protobomb into a takeover and then hitting Cena’s tackles and Protobomb himself. “YOU CAN’T SEE ME”. Five Knuckle Shuffle! Well, this is awesome. Cena gets out of the AA into the STFU. Owens gets out but it’s Cena who now has to change his repertoire because the ‘same old shit’ simply won’t get it done against a guy who’s got all that scouted and is strong enough to make those counters work. I’m particularly impressed with him hurdling Owens on the Popup Powerbomb attempt. Like against CM Punk there are moments where Cena looks like he’s thinking really hard about spots and you can see how unnatural his body position is going into those spots. He’s way out of his comfort zone. It takes a special wrestler to force Cena out of that tried and tested formula.
What’s truly impressive about this follow-up is it’s more innovative and interesting and relies less on finisher kick-outs. To have two great matches in quick succession is good news for Owens. Although admittedly Owens kicks out of the AA and Cena FINALLY sells this as being an issue by ARGUING THE COUNT. Yes, thank you! It’s so frustrating to see Cena just plod on into the next spot like a near fall means nothing to him. Owens may even have gotten in his ear about it and it’s superior storytelling to anything Cena has done for years. It drives Cena to riskier spots, like some sort of top rope attempt, and Owens counters into a spinning sitout powerbomb. Cena then counters the Popup Powerbomb into a friggin’ rana. It’s gold. The crowd chant “this is awesome” and it certainly is. That particular spot showed that Cena was willing to scout Owens after just one match, and he had to because he lost that match. Merosault misses and the AA gets another near fall and Cena again argues it. I love how Owens goes dead-weight on Cena after that, playing possum, knowing full well that Cena loves to prove his strength by lifting heavy stuff. Cena feels the urge to lug Owens’ weight around only for Kevin to counter when the opportunity presents itself. Cena shows more frustration when Owens won’t come out of the ropes on the Struggle Snuggle. FUCKING CODE RED FROM CENA! What the hell? It took them ages to get in position for it but it’s a goddamn Code Red! POPUP POWERBOMB…for 2. Ok, maybe we’re into finisher kick-out territory but it’s definitely been a different match. Springboard Stunner sets up the AA and Cena gets his win back. Great match but I’m not shocked that Cena went and got his win back. In terms of MOTY territory, I’m leaning toward the first match because it made Owens look better. This was rather predictable booking and as I said at Elimination Chamber, I’d rather they hadn’t rushed into this re-match. Still, two great matches from Cena and Owens and that means good things for Kevin Owens. He looked great here.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: Cena offers a handshake, which Owens accepts before booting Cena in the guts. I’m glad they retained Owens character and the crowd erupts as Owens kills Cena with a powerbomb into the apron. If he’d swiftly turned face after one feud it would be a waste of one of the best pure heels in the business.
Video Control takes us backstage where Dean Ambrose points out he’s been robbed, screwed and pushed down for a year. Which is why he lost so much popularity. Ambrose seems to think he’s the champion because he already scored a pinfall over Seth Rollins. Back to ringside and the commentators talk about the death of Dusty Rhodes. “There was never a better talker in the industry than Dusty Rhodes” – Jerry Lawler. This leads into a video to celebrate his life and career. It has me in tears. We’ll all miss Dusty Rhodes at the History of Wrestling offices. He was a beautiful man.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players
Kofi Kingston isn’t out here because he got messed up during the ladder match. So it’s Big E and Xavier Woods by themselves to defend the belts. Xavier gets angry at how much Ohio sucks but Big E shows him the power of positivity. Great facials from both guys and a better promo than usual from them. Big E throws Darren Young around extensively. Young doesn’t have much sympathy reaction because he’s so confident. If you’re going to be that guy in a tag team you need to be a little bit pathetic. Not every match, just when it’s needed. It’s part of the beauty of tagging. Which is the problem with so many wrestlers; no one wants to look weak. Titus is certainly fine at the other half of the job; cleaning house. He’s borderline careless with the way he throws people around. He’s really growing on me. Titus floors Xavier with the sit-out spinebuster and the Prime Time Players win the tag titles. #millionsofdollars! This was ok but the tag division is lacking any good teams, beyond Cesaro & Kidd, which is a waste of Cesaro.
Final Rating: *3/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose “shocked the world” by winning the title two weeks ago… in a Dusty Finish. To show how creative the WWE are, they’ve already done that finish again once tonight. I can only assume that was to pay tribute to Dusty Rhodes so I can let that slide. We kick things off backstage with Triple H screaming encouragement into Seth’s face. “SHOW THEM ALL”. It’s great stuff and I wish they’d not made Rollins look so weak over the past three months and need to rebuild their own champion. Ambrose is from Ohio so he’s instantly over. With the way he’s been booked of late you’d think he would be anyhow. Initially the match is underwhelming and the crowd’s lack of interest reflects that. Basically nowadays if you’re having a ladder match nobody cares until we see a ladder in action. This happens every single time. The trouble they have is the allocation of a staggering 35 minutes for the match and that can’t be all torturous ladder bumps. Ambrose brings the Dusty love by hitting a Bionic Elbow off the ladder and the crowd disappoint by a) not recognising the spot and b) remaining silent afterwards. Compare this to Rev Pro where a single normal Colt Cabana bionic elbow sent the crowd into an American Dream loving fervour and a lengthy chant of “Dusty”. And that was in a comedy match. For shame Ohio. Seth develops a tactic as the match progresses and takes Dean’s knee. This is to stop him climbing and it not only makes logical sense but also showcases Seth’s ability as a champion. He’s not relying on Kane or J & J here, he’s all alone. Working the leg over so someone can’t climb might make sense but it doesn’t draw in the crowd who certainly want more from a ladder match than technical wrestling. True, Rollins uses the ladder as a weapon in his pursuit of destroying Dean’s knee, but it’s the same principle. Not much excitement for a ladder match.
Ambrose adopts a bit of an RVD approach to selling as well, hitting spots and then selling afterwards, rather than forcibly modifying his moves to suit the injury. It sort of fits into his gimmick of a crazy person but not really. Seth, who’s spent most of the match working a sensible, logical approach, now decides to run off into the crowd. Why does Ambrose bother following him? It’s a ladder match! Just climb up the ladder, pull the title down and walk out champion. Who cares if Seth’s in the crowd? It seems to be part of a tactic, on Seth’s part, to draw Dean away from the ring so he can run back and get the belt down. The big question is why does Dean go out there? Oh yeah, he’s crazy, that’s the answer for everything. From there things do pick up as Rollins takes a massive, sick bump where he’s backdropped out of the ring through a ringside ladder. It’s the kind of bump where he can stay down, realistically selling, while the one-legged Ambrose spends an eternity getting another ladder into position. This leads to Ambrose hitting Dirty Deeds on the Spanish Announce Table, which has been very securely constructed this evening and doesn’t budge. Dean looks to hit his head on one of the monitors too. Seth saves the title by bashing Ambrose in the knee with a monitor.
It’s actually a really well put together match BUT the crowd don’t seem interested in it. And why is that? Could it be that every single Seth Rollins match is overbooked? Could it be that they’ve all got one eye on the ramp to see who’s going to run in? It’s a measured expectation of a mismanaged crowd. The WWE really only have themselves to blame. Rollins looks to finally put Dean to bed with a ridiculous running powerbomb into the rail, followed by yet another ridiculous running powerbomb into the rail! Running powerbombs always scare me a bit because the deliverer can’t know where the victim is going to land and D’Lo Brown crippled Droz by doing that. This double powerbomb spot is followed by a sit out powerbomb on a stack of chairs…on a ladder. Ambrose is dead and Rollins could easily grab the belt but Dean miraculously recovers to turn it into a tug o’ war over the strap with both guys teetering on top of the ladder. They come off together, with the belt, and Seth manages to fluke his way into retaining. That finish doesn’t sit well with me. Seth had done enough damage to Ambrose to win the match and in doing so restore some pride in himself as a main event performer. At least he did it “on his own” and legitimately won a match. I didn’t hate this match, because they told a logical story and logic goes a long way with me, but the finish and several other little aspects were silly. Dean doesn’t win because he can’t catch? So, not a disaster and I’m glad Seth actually won something by himself but not a classic either. In the pantheon of ladder matches this won’t be remembered in years to come.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Summary: My expectations for this were quite low and I was buzzing from the Rev Pro show, as noted several times during the PPV. This has possibly effected my ratings somewhat and I have never really liked the Money in the Bank match. Any match where you’ve got multiple people and they lie around selling had better have great high spots to reflect that need for selling. This match really didn’t. Whereas the main event did and it ended up dragging because of all the selling. I certainly preferred the title match. The best match of the night is easily Cena vs. Owens with both men reprising their excellent performances from Elimination Chamber. Cena did something new, and not just the Code Red, but he showed genuine frustration at not being able to put Owens away. I honestly think they’ve dropped the ball on a potentially great long-term feud by having Cena get his win back in two weeks. Surely there was a chance here to build up a guy who’s got Cena’s number. Who Cena can’t beat. That has to sell tickets when Owens finally steps up to the main roster and takes Cena’s belt off him. Do they just hate money in the WWE or something? In terms of storyline and in terms of work the Owens-Cena angle is the best thing the WWE have going right now. I hope there’s a long delay before a third match though because while the feud is even there’s still a sense of menace about Owens and he’s getting over big time. Leave the third match for down the line, have Owens be an even bigger threat. As for the overall show; the first hour was a waste of time; the rest of the card was pretty good. Between Rev Pro’s Summer Sizzler, reading Simon Garfield’s riveting The Wrestling and the finale of Game of Thrones this was barely a blip on my weekend though.
We’re in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. Booker T is off working on the forthcoming Tough Enough show. Nice to see Byron get another shot at the gig after a really bad solo effort the night after WrestleMania.
John Cena Open Challenge
This is a pleasant surprise. The standard droning twenty minute opening promo is skipped over in favour of actual, honest-to-God, in-ring action. Albeit after Johnny has had a word. He bigs up the Money in the Bank PPV and the big re-match with Kevin Owens. His line about Owens saying “my time is up and his time is now”, using Cena’s entrance theme is cool. Cena also points out there’s “no safer bet than John Cena on Sunday”. (Spoiler: Cena wins). Cena’s promo is full of intensity and is solid stick work. He’s interrupted by Kevin Owens. So much for opening the show with a match. But at least they’re focusing on their best angle with the talking instead of the standard Authority yacking. Owens calls John delusional and Cena coming out to start Raw has been the last ten years so “why don’t we give them something different”. Owens decides to issue an NXT title open challenge! Cena accepts only for Owens to call him deluded again, because their match is on Sunday. Not really an “open” challenge then. The brilliant thing about this Owens rivalry is not only is it fresh but it’s making John Cena look as good as he has since the Shawn Michaels rivalry. Owens puts both belts on the line by saying whoever wants to challenge can come out here and challenge for whichever belt they want to. This brings out Neville. Cena does some great selling of this by showing a little bit of fear. Is that because Neville had him beaten clean a few weeks ago? It’s a really subtle moment from a man who’s not noted for his subtlety. Or his selling. Neville selects Owens instead, irritated by Owens’ actions as NXT champion.
NXT Heavyweight Championship
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Neville
Another good move for the WWE; bringing an actual NXT match into a wider audience. Neville brings a fast-paced offence that leaves Owens discombobulated. Pretty much everything Neville does would have been jaw-dropping twenty years ago. His ability to hit stuff clean sets him apart from a lot of other innovators over the years. Owens takes over with hard-hitting aggression. Cena and JBL make a lot of baseball references about how the WWE is the big leagues. It’s all a bit distracting as Cena talks about the program with Owens, not the match that’s happening. It’d be nice to get his analysis of the holds and how wrestling works. It’s clear from his commentary that he’d be pretty useless as an analyst. He’s more of a storyteller but even in that respect he doesn’t truly understand his role. The match, as you’d expect, has some interesting counters and epic Neville high spots. Owens’ character work is what carries the match as he’s as interested in mocking Cena as winning the match. This is what gives Neville openings. What makes me laugh is how Michael Cole is calling the big spots in this “innovative” when the WWE has spent years belittling the same guys and the same moves as “spotty”. Have they finally come around to the idea of entertainment meaning a lack of limitations? Seeing as we’re PG we might as well milk wrestling for all it’s worth. They tease the Red Arrow multiple times before Owens shoves Neville off the top and hits the Pop Up Powerbomb to retain. Good match, as you’d expect, but perhaps not the home-run they were hoping for. Do NXT matches lose atmosphere when they take place in front of a bigger, less hot, crowd? I’ll take it, anyway. Raw is a better show for having Owens and Neville on it.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins is pissed off about Dean Ambrose parading around with his WWE title. The Authority point out Seth has to do this by himself and that Rollins has the ability to win on his own. Unlike how he’s been presented ever since winning the strap; a whiny loser who can’t beat anyone without help. Elsewhere Paige got screwed by the Bellas, who seem to have flopped back heel again, using Twin Magic. Renee Young gets to interview Nikki who whines a lot.
Summer Rae vs. Nikki Bella
Nikki again works heel here, stopping to do push-ups. I don’t get why the Bellas flip-flopped face in the first place but lazily switching them heel again doesn’t solve the booking. I simply don’t know anything about the Bellas as wrestlers, other than they suck, and changing their personalities from one week to the next doesn’t help that. Summer Rae is pretty useless and Nikki beats her with the Rack Attack after a couple of minutes.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
Do you think he’s going to win Money in the Bank? The entire booking of the PPV has surrounded his participation. Even though he’s a wank pheasant. Roman talks about how much he used to hate the Money in the Bank contract, but that’s because it was attached to “the biggest jackass in the history of the WWE” Seth Rollins. He claims Dean Ambrose will win the title on Sunday, allowing the remaining members of the Shield to wrestle each other for the belt. He’s interrupted by Korporate Kane to call Roman a choke artist. He’s interrupted by Dolph Ziggler to use hardware metaphors to call Kane a tool. This brings out R-Truth. He tries to cut a coherent promo and fails. Kane has to remind him he’s not actually in the Money in the Bank match in a funny bit. “That’s on me. My bad”. He leaves and out comes the New Day. They use the old Freebirds rule to claim that when Kofi Kingston wins Money in the Bank they all win it. This brings out Sheamus to say nothing of interest and Randy Orton. The final two are wrestling each other. Urgh. I missed a lot of their matches during my hiatus from the WWE but that doesn’t mean I want to see another one.
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
Randy Orton is so played out it’s not even funny. He’s been in the same company, wrestling the same match, for thirteen years. Does no one else find him a chore to watch? The old territory system would have been a massive benefit to Orton, where he could have gone and wrestled somewhere else for a bit and come back hot. With him being a WWE lifer it’s just one tedious, monotonous, repetitive contest after another. Sheamus doesn’t have the personality or move set to make Orton interesting. This might be the least engaging match I’ve seen all year long and it’s thirteen minutes long. A minute for every year Randy Orton has been boring me as a performer. It’s so boring. They don’t have three minutes worth of stuff, let alone thirteen. “Are you not entertained?” yells Sheamus. No, mate, I’m not. The match ended with a DQ and someone won. I don’t really care who.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage where J & J Security try to apologise to Seth Rollins, who’s busy on his phone, presumably on Instagram looking up Ambrose’s madcap New Orleans adventures with the title belt. Rollins gives them a load of abuse, pointing out he made them relevant. “I never needed either of you”. Noble’s angry response includes saying he’s “a better Dean Ambrose” and using lame Southern swears like “tarnation” and “son of a gun”. He’s a funny guy. Seth has heard enough and challenges J & J to a handicap match tonight. The usually silent Joey Mercury pipes up to say “tonight, we’re kicking your ass”.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane
Why are you booking these terrible matches? Nobody can win here. Kane can’t take Ziggler’s spots and that means Kane has to largely dominate. Meanwhile Lana, who’s changed from one of the most enigmatic ladies in the promotion, to a statuesque afterthought, is at ringside. She just stands there watching this. Probably as bored with it as I am. This gets an unspeakable ten minutes, the match after another dull contest got way too much time. Is it that the writers have run out of stuff to do? If that’s the case feel free to give long matches to good wrestlers. Not bloody Kane. No one wants to see Kane wrestle anymore. He’s a personality and he can throw a great uppercut but he shouldn’t be working ten minute matches anymore. It’s just not entertaining. Dolph tries, bless him, but there’s nothing doing. It might get a pass from me if Ziggler went over. Things go wrong when Rusev shows up, on crutches, to yell at Lana. Like a complete spaz she falls off the ramp. If you think that’s stupid the result is Ziggler getting distracted, like an idiot, and losing to the chokeslam. This was unspeakably awful. Let’s just move on with our lives and forget this happened.
Final Rating: ½*
The Miz has been totally coasting since splitting up with Damien Sandow. He has Ryback as a guest but is also joined by Ryback’s IC title opponent on Sunday; the Big Show. “Of all the tag team partners I’ve had over the years, you’re the one I hated immediately” – Show of Miz. I’m surprised the crowd are still alive after the last couple of matches but they get a healthy “Feed Me More” chant going. Show scares Miz and ends up beating everyone down. Ryback then shockingly powers him up into the SHELLSHOCK! The crowd are buzzing from that and it’s a cracking end to an otherwise dull segment.
Los Matadores vs. Luke Harper & Eric Rowan
I’m glad they put Rowan back with Harper because he was dying in singles. They should just go ahead and put them back together with Bray Wyatt. The Wyatt Family was great and ever since they split it up none of those guys have done particularly well. Los Matadores get bullied and the big men win with “The Way”, which is the Dudley Death Drop. It’s a cool finish so I can understand them stealing it. It’s such a recognisable finish though so the crowd yell “3D” when it happens.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage where Kane suggests when he wins Money in the Bank, he’ll cash in immediately and beat Rollins. That would be a terrible idea. Seth lays out his masterplan, involving winning every match he’s got lined up and sticking it in Kane’s “sweaty and disgusting face”. Kane’s retort is that he’s cornering J & J Security tonight.
Big E vs. Titus O’Neil
Prime Time Players have a title shot on Sunday so it’s a singles warm up for the two biggest guys. The unbelievably annoying Xavier Woods spends the match yelling out hashtags. How have the WWE managed to accumulate so many wrestlers that I can’t stand the sight of? It’s like 1999 only without the wacky angles. I like Titus and Big E as personalities but I’m not keen on them as workers. Titus is really rough around the edges but compensates for that with power. The finish is yet another distraction deal with New Day causing Titus to fall to the Big Ending.
Final Rating: ¾*
Roman Reigns vs. Kofi Kingston
Kofi is still out here celebrating so Roman simply joins through the crowd. This marks only the second time this evening I’m actually interested in the match I’m presented. Mainly because it’s the first time it’s happening but also because, on paper, it’s a good mixture of styles. Roman proves he’s every bit as stupid as Titus O’Neil and Dolph Ziggler by allowing himself to be distracted by outsiders. Why would he take his eye off his opponent? If someone comes in it’s a DQ and he wins. Kofi puts Roman over strong by taking huge bumps off Reigns’ manly strikes. The only chance Kofi has is when New Day play a numbers game on Roman. There’s clearly a difference in card position and Kofi is only in the Money in the Bank match for his high spots. This match is actually a lot like the opener between Owens and Neville with the power vs. speed set up and Kingston being another innovator. Only this match has 100% more irritating Xavier Woods yelling at ringside. Obviously the talent in this one is lower and their timing is sometimes an issue, like a satellite slam gone wrong. As the match continues Kingston staying with Roman seems increasingly unlikely, driven only by the numbers game. Kofi jumps off the top right into the Superman Punch in a spot that reminds me of Shelton Benjamin diving into the Sweet Chin Music in a classic Raw match from the past (2.5.05 – Gold Rush tournament). This was an ok match. It was long overdue. I think the appeal came largely from it being new but both guys did solid work.
Final Rating: **1/2
Post Match: Dean Ambrose shows up, carrying the WWE title and some popcorn, to take a ringside seat. Apparently he’s doing the ‘bought a ticket’ gimmick. But he works here! He even came out to his entrance music. It’s not like he’s suspended or anything. Sometimes the booking is so dumb and so lazy that you wonder why nobody just stopped and asked why this is happening. Why is Dean Ambrose in the crowd?
Seth Rollins vs. J & J Security
Can’t help but think this is all a set up to get Dean Ambrose beaten up by four guys. Mainly because that’s what the Authority keeps doing; fake split angles. When it becomes a serious contest it’s a major issue for Seth Rollins. Because no matter how weakly booked Seth has been over the last three months that’s nothing on J & J who, despite their past and ability, have been booked as total goons. Guys who can’t last a second with a serious competitor. Cannon fodder for babyfaces. J & J don’t even wear gear and wrestle in trousers and shirts. Noble has been retired for six years so it’s easy to forget he was among that crop of sensational Indy stars along with the likes of CM Punk and Samoa Joe that helped to put ROH on the map. Probably because he wrestled in both WCW and WWE first. In the WWE he was only ever booked as a cruiserweight. I think he was in the WWE at the wrong time. He’s always been an entertaining guy. Good on the stick and a great in-ring talent. Joey Mercury was never on that level but does fine work here as stooge in peril. Noble turns the clock back and outwrestles Rollins with ease. It’s rather surprising the match runs ten minutes but at least it’s an entertaining ten. Dean Ambrose hops the rail for the, yet another, distraction finish. This allows Joey Mercury to roll Seth up for the upset pin. Seth Rollins run as champion might be the most underwhelming since…Chris Jericho, placeholder, in 2002. Dean lays Seth out with Dirty Deeds and leaves with the belt. He’ll carry the strap into the PPV. Interesting to note neither J & J nor Kane do anything to stop him.
Final Rating: **
THE RAW RECAP
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens.
Least Entertaining: Xavier Woods. Took some doing on a show with so many dull matches on it.
Quote of the Night: “I am the standard bearer. I am the face that runs this place. I am John Cena”
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. Neville
Summary: The middle of this show was an absolute disaster. Sheamus-Orton and Ziggler-Kane were a total waste of time. The divas match was awful. The one bright shining highlight was that they allowed an NXT title match to take place on Raw and it was good. The other big storyline going into Money in the Bank, other than the excellent Owens-Cena program, was Ambrose-Rollins and that was nicely progressed. Not sure how many non-title losses Seth Rollins should be routinely suffering. It’s making him look like a total bitch. If Brock Lesnar came back, tomorrow, and wrestled Seth would anyone bet on Rollins? Compare that to January, when Seth proved he could hang in the main events, and the poor guy has gone dramatically backwards despite holding the most important title in the world. I think he either needs a good showing against Ambrose or he needs to drop the belt and rebuild. The WWE are in this for the long haul and seem intent on crowning Roman Reigns at some point. Lesnar might well throw a spanner into those plans. It would most certainly be welcome. The ‘Mania main event was great. He’s been missed ever since.
Before we get underway I’d like to point out how much I enjoy the concept of a shorter, Network exclusive wrestling event. The absolute worst thing about Raw is the sheer length of that show. Three hours is frankly painful to watch when the creative minds behind the company don’t have three hours worth of weekly TV in their locker. Sometimes, less is more. Hence why NXT’s one hour weekly show and two hours specials are the best TV the WWE have. That said the Elimination Chamber is a full-on three-hour event. Which means there is a lot of filler. As much as I like Adrian Neville I have no desire to watch him wrestle against Bo Dallas. The highlights on this show’s card are Seth Rollins defending his title against Dean Ambrose and John Cena facing off against Kevin Owens.
We’re in Corpus Christi, Texas. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler. The big shill is for the two titles being decided in the Chamber. The tag straps and the vacant IC title.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players vs. Los Matadores vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd vs. The Ascension vs. The Lucha Dragons
The tag division has been at its best recently in spot-heavy contests so it makes good sense to have them in a spotty match. El Torito has gained Giant Gonzalez style attire. He’s actually in the Chamber, on top of Los Matadores’ pod. All of New Day are allowed to participate so there are three of them in their pod. A distinct advantage. Former NXT teams Ascension and Lucha Dragons start. The benefit of an Elimination Chamber match is that there are no tags so the usual wonky tag team ‘breaks down’ stuff is the entire match. It actually makes sense. Jerry Lawler’s jokes are so bad here (claiming claustrophobia is a fear of Santa Claus) that he’s completely ignored by the other commentators. Sin Cara is the first to use the pod for a dive, hitting a Swanton Bomb off there. Kalisto, master of timing, takes way too long to hit his spot thus ruining the count-down to the next entrant. And then New Day stop him anyway. It’s the longest fifteen seconds in the history of wrestling. Cesaro & Kidd are the first team in. Cesaro BOSSES the match with insane uppercuts, including one where he jumps onto the top rope and uppercuts Kalisto on the pod. With the sheer number of bodies out there it’s tough for anyone to get time for a pin or submission. The commentary slides into disaster territory as Lawler calls Cole “JR”, JBL finally makes a reference (rock-climbing) that nobody gets and Kalisto, lunatic that he is, climbs up into the middle of the Chamber. As per usual he takes ages to actually do what he’s trying for. Meanwhile Los Matadores enter the match and Torito decides he’s climbing the Chamber too but is caught and destroyed by the Ascension. Fall on Man on Los Matadores and they’re the first time gone, which makes you wonder why they bothered booking them in the match.
“If I were Kalisto, I’d stop climbing up stuff” – JBL. Fall on Man on Kalisto, after he’s pushed off the top, and that’s another team gone. Using the Chamber has now counted against two teams.
Prime Time Players are in next but the Ascension are waiting for them. Darren Young hits the Gut Check and that dumps Ascension, to little fanfare considering Ascension had two eliminations.
Cesaro continues to boss the match with a wonderfully stiff clothesline that pops JBL and then a dropkick on Young who’s on the top rope, which pops Lawler. If you’re popping former wrestlers you know you’re doing good. Last team in is New Day and all three of them get to compete so despite there being two other teams they get to dominate. New Day get triple suplexed in a total Indy spot. Darren Young catches Cesaro with a cheeky roll up though to dump the best team in the match.
Bit of a dim move from PTP as they’re now at a 3 on 2 disadvantage. Titus starts throwing guys around with no regard to their safety and the crowd slightly bite on PTP. New Day triple team Titus for the win. That’s not a popular outcome in Texas. Good match but only the Lucha Dragons and Cesaro & Kidd really delivered on using the environment. And only the latter brought the kind of entertainment levels I was hoping for.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us some Money in the Bank shills before Cole tells us Rusev has a broken foot from a match on Smackdown against Ryback and won’t be competing tonight. Elsewhere Dolph Ziggler is wished luck by Lana. They’ve managed to wipe out anything about Lana that made her appealing in the first place, in all of three weeks. Remarkable booking.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi vs. Paige
No one is allowed at ringside so there’s no Brie, no Tamina. As soon as Paige walks out here my reaction is “switch the belt, switch the belt, switch the belt”. Both challengers lose cool points for singing along to their own entrance music. If you’re going to sing along to entrance music then do it the Jerry Lynn way and sing to your opponents! That only works if their entrance music is “Walk” by Pantera. The early exchanges require pre-planning and look really awkward. The usual three-way selling kicks in after that with Nikki lying down on the floor so the wrestlers can have a decent match. There’s plenty of effort, although not much in the way of execution. Naomi being the exception, landing a killer knee to Nikki’s face. The ambition might outstrip the ability but the rugmunch/superplex spot is actually pretty great and the Rearview to block the Rack Attack is cool. Naomi even busts out a FUCKING REVERSE RANA and Paige lands square on the top of her head. There’s a definite attempt to outshine the NXT girls. Nikki finishes with the Rack Attack in what was probably her best match as champion. She’s clearly pleased with herself and beams after the bell. Although it would have been better if she’d not completely fluffed a flying kick off the top. The match worked because of Paige’s insistence at taking massive bumps. The bump off the reverse rana was ridiculous. Like the rest of the match it wasn’t particularly clean though. Compared to the NXT girls there’s still work to be done. Points for effort though.
Final Rating: **1/2
John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
This is not a match I thought I’d ever see. It’s astonishing to see what the WWE have done with Owens since he signed for them last year. He might not be a main roster guy but he’s already made an impact that’s not been seen in a long, long time. Who else gets to make their first appearance on the main roster by laying out Cena? Having been stunned by the fantastic treatment of Owens I started getting a bit carried away and thought this might even main event the show. Cena is well aware he’s wrestling someone who’s very strong, in terms of in-ring, and deliberately busts his ass to make sure he’s not outclassed. Which is something I’ve always appreciated about Cena. When he’s up against a top wrestler he tries so hard. He might not be the best technician out there but effort goes a long way with me and he always wants to test new guys to see if they’re able to match the hype. One of the great things about Owens is he wants to be the companies best heel. He doesn’t want cheers and everything that’s good about him, as a human being, he uses to make himself seem worse. It’s remarkable character work and he may be the best pure heel the WWE has. Here Owens feeds off the crowd and realises he doesn’t need to do much. He can dominate with punches, clotheslines and chinlocks as long as he dominates. Cena has spent the last couple of months putting people over but here it’s incredibly one-sided. Owens is completely in charge. Not to the level where he demolished Sami Zayn but a long way towards that. I love that Cena escapes the pop up powerbomb because he’s seen it twice and recognises the set up. Owens slips out of the AA into the POP UP POWERBOMB…for two.
Cena has been doing a lot of that lately too. Taking so much abuse it looks like he’s beaten and surviving. Owens makes a mistake, misses the Merosault and the AA…gets two. That was a fantastic sequence. The sheer agility to hit a move that people don’t do, because it’s hard, and make it look easy puts Owens on Cena’s level. Kicking out of the AA is less special than it used to be but it’s still a rub. Owens goes for a mocking Five Knuckle Shuffle and gets caught in the Struggle Snuggle. Owens counters out of that and hits his own AA...for two. Trying to beat Cena with his own moves is awesome. The best thing about Owens bringing it to Cena is that it brings out the level best in Cena. The US champ starts hitting flying DDT’s and diving Rocker Droppers. It’s Cena’s A-game. The one he usually reserves for The Rock or someone really special, which goes to show that’s what Kevin Owens is. Cena even starts to show rare frustration after the Springboard Stunner comes up short. It’s cracking selling from Cena because he never shows emotion like that. That’s why the Bray Wyatt feud worked (for a while). Owens hits Cena with everything, including a ridiculous Olympic Slam off the top and a Swanton Bomb, and even teases the Package Piledriver before hitting a variant slam, but Cena, rather typically, won’t stay down. Recently the WWE has tried to put on epic matches but has failed to understand the concept. However, this match feels epic. POP UP POWERBOMB…FOR THREE! KEVIN OWENS BEAT JOHN CENA CLEAN! Some of the crowd reactions are up there with Brock Lesnar beating Undertaker to end the Streak. That’s the level of shock but make no mistake about it, a star is born here. Owens looked phenomenal and his ambition here got the best out of John Cena. It reminds me of the CM Punk match where Punk wanted to do things too complicated for Cena but forced it through. Here Cena was ready for everything and it worked so well. And Cena lost.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Post Match: Owens grabs the microphone to say his time is now and “the champ is here”, in another bit of sensational Cena thievery. Good God, this was a wonderful moment and great WWE booking. They’ve made themselves a new star. It’s been a while since we got that feeling from the company.
Bo Dallas vs. Neville
This is total filler but the crowd’s reaction is to chant “NXT” because of the last match. Bo has nothing to respond to Neville’s flying and after bailing to avoid the Red Arrow he finds himself hit with a moonsault to the floor. The Bo heat segment is completely unnecessary and allows the commentators to bicker about their factual inaccuracy and JBL ends up calling Cole “an internet troll”. It doesn’t help that Bo has nothing of interest to do and looks like a slob compared to the finely conditioned body of Neville. I never thought I’d see the day where a standing SSP was just a throwaway spot in a WWE match but that’s what Neville brings. I remember the WWE selling John Morrison on being able to do that and that nobody else could. Now it’s just another spot for the fliers. RED ARROW finishes. As I said at the top, it was total filler but Neville nailed everything clean as a whistle here regardless of difficulty. That’s the difference between him doing flippity moves and, say, Kidman. If you can prove you can hit everything clean every time then go for it.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Triple H meets with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. He believes Roman will be a disruption this evening so if Reigns gets involved Dean gets disqualified.
WWE Intercontinental Championship (Vacant)
Mark Henry vs. Sheamus vs. R-Truth vs. Ryback vs. King Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler
The title is vacant coming in, thanks to Daniel Bryan’s forfeiture of the belt a few weeks ago. Rusev misses the match with a broken foot and is replaced by Mark Henry. I was pulling for Bray Wyatt but I guess that means Rusev wasn’t winning. Barrett and Ziggler start. They have nine IC titles between them. The match exists in the shadow of Cena vs. Owens and as a result the opening segment is drab, aside from Dolph’s sneaky attempts at roll ups. First man in is R-Truth, who is met by silence. He’s easily the least threatening of the other men and Barrett wastes no time in beating Truth back into his own pod. Barrett makes the mistake of throwing Ziggler into Henry’s pod and it breaks. They need to make that glass stronger. Bulletproof, my ass. Henry’s early entrance means the next man in is Ryback. Barrett takes a series of finishers including Truth’s Lie Detector for the elimination. He probably shouldn’t have talked smack to everyone during the opening segment.
Sheamus is the last man in but his door gets stuck denying him any tactical advantage. Instances where the WWE use their own technical incompetence for a plot point 2015 edition! I love that one. An old classic here at the History of Wrestling offices. Shellshock for Truth. He’s gone. He was out of his depth anyway. Sheamus finally gets in there and hits a Brogue Kick on Henry. That brings it down to three. With Rusev injured, the only three logical winners before we got underway. The crowd helpfully cheer, half-heartedly, for the two babyfaces. That’s a bonus for the booking committee. Ziggler eats yet another Brogue Kick and Sheamus beats Dolph once again.
The crowd are completely behind Ryback now and we will have a new IC champion who’s never held the belt before. The Chamber has hardly played into anything during this match. Sheamus tries, a little bit, by hitting a couple of his moves on the outside but that’s it. Ryback throws Sheamus into the cage wall, powerbombs him into the ring and finishes with Shellshock for his first ever singles strap (bar the OVW title). Shame the match was so underwhelming. Daniel Bryan hops in the ring to give Ryback the rub and the Big Guy grins like an idiot. A nice moment for him.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us to the crack commentary team to kill some time. Is the show running short? They show some replays from Kevin Owens victory, which is starting to mean more. Unfortunately they’ve booked a re-match for Money in the Bank only two weeks away. Jesus. Typical WWE. Get something good, do it immediately again. A waste, really. It gives the fans no time to absorb that match. They’ve also named six men for the Money in the Bank match itself; perennial contenders like Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton, Kofi Kingston and Sheamus but also top dog Roman Reigns and newcomer Neville. Of those Roman is likely, Neville would be the most interesting. It does tend to benefit a heel though. There are more participants to be named.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
The shill video for this one is brilliant; it’s narrated by Dean Ambrose, showcasing his verbal skill and the tactics he’s used of late. The push, including arrests and vehicular theft, is reminiscent of Steve Austin and his promos are like a more grounded Brian Pillman. As a character Ambrose is one of the best out there. I’m personally not a massive fan of his in-ring but his personality goes a long way. With Roman Reigns barred from ringside Seth has a major numbers advantage as he’s got Korporate Kane, Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble in his corner. The Austin comparisons continue as JBL disparages Ambrose’s appearance and lack of dress sense. Are they giving it the whole ‘Ambrose isn’t marketable’ play? Because they did the same thing to Steve Austin for two years before being reminded of his drawing power by the fans.
As for the match they do ok, although not really drawing the fans in that much. They even compensate for a mistake with some nice improvisation. I’ve always said the difference between a good wrestler and a great wrestler is dealing with things when they go wrong. The ability to think on your feet. Dean Malenko was the absolute master of it. Their past experience as a team means they know each others moves inside and out so it comes across as smooth and organic. It’s not the most thrilling of contests due to the methodical pacing. It’s not easy to switch from the standard weekly ten minute match to a longer PPV contest. They pick up things with a near falls sequence but it’s not really the Guerrero-Malenko near falls. It’s a far more simplified version. This leads to J & J pulling Seth out and Dean hitting a tope into the announce table. Any move that wipes out Michael Cole’s microphone is ok by me. There’s a greater sense of urgency from there on out. The near falls feel more exciting and the match hits a noticeably higher gear. Seth especially as he lands a couple of killer spots including a running powerbomb into the rail and a flying knee to the face. Ambrose even gets a little Fighting Spirit in there, no selling a powerbomb into the buckles before launching himself into a lariat. When the Authority all get wiped out Seth bumps the ref to save himself. This allows Dean to hit Dirty Deeds but there’s no referee. But then another ref runs in to count the pin! Dean Ambrose is the WWE champion! Holy shit, that was out of left field. I sense a Dusty Finish though as the original ref pops up to reveal it’s a DQ. That’s not a popular decision and generally Dusty Finishes are horrid. The crowd think the same and chant “bullshit” having seen a million ref bumps in big matches that mean nothing. Ambrose then gets a shoeing from the Authority and Roman Reigns runs in for the save.
I’m not really sure how I feel about all this. The record books will show no title win for Ambrose but he feels justified in walking away carrying the belt after scoring a visual pinfall over the champion. The match itself was a bit patchy. A back and forth contest. It was fairly well wrestled but only half the match was exciting, compared to the vibe I got from Owens and Cena, which they maintained throughout. That felt like a main event. Rollins and Ambrose didn’t. Until the latter stages where Ambrose looked as if he was going to win. They can’t carry on treating Rollins like this as champion as it makes him so very useless as a commodity. This coming the same year as his impressive showing at the Royal Rumble with Cena and Lesnar. His booking as champion has taken the sheen off him a bit and a Dusty Finish retention won’t help him at all.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Summary: When Owens pinned Cena it looked for all the world like this was going to be the second best PPV of the year (after Wrestlemania) but the second half didn’t do much for me. The second Chamber match was particularly excruciating. A long, boring match with hardly any memorable moments. The only thing that made it special was Bryan putting Ryback over after the match and that could have been done if he’d won a battle royal. Not the best use of the Elimination Chamber itself. The one match that did deliver was Owens-Cena though and it was fantastic. Lots of hard work, fun spots and it had the feeling of a big-time match. Cena brought his A-game and Owens still won. It should make Owens as a star commodity but there’s already a worry that in two weeks they’ll ruin all this good work with a re-match. Time will tell. Plus Owens has a big money feud with Samoa Joe ready to go. Does he even need Cena after that first win? The feeling is that Cena should be begging for a rematch to prove himself and get turned down again and again. However it plays out Kevin Owens has done extremely well during his first few weeks of interacting with the WWE’s main roster and he has a bright future. It’s about time the WWE brought someone in and treated them like a big deal. The roster needs a shake-up every now and again. Owens is just the guy to do it.
The night after a fairly memorable albeit thrown together Elimination Chamber, the first three hour special to air exclusively on the WWE Network, we are back to the weekly grind of Raw. Following Kevin Owens’ potentially career-making clean victory over John Cena last night, we begin the countdown to his inevitable favour returning loss at Money in the Bank less than two weeks away. The story goes that the creative team are thrilled with the current fortnightly PPV format, as it gives them one week to set up feuds and another to progress them before the blow off. Apparently it is apparently easier for them as they don't lose focus, which is true, but for a decade the WWF managed to get by with just four or five pay-per-views a year and interest levels in those cards didn't used to wane because of the time between them. These guys are paid to generate interest in storylines and keep viewers engrossed in them, yet struggle to come up with ideas for anything beyond two weeks. Says it all really, I suppose.
We open with footage from last night’s unsatisfying Dusty Finish in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, where Dean Ambrose’s title win was reversed and the match declared a DQ because Seth Rollins pulled the referee in the way of an Ambrose elbow. Dusty Finishes always leave the viewer with a sense of outrage towards the promotion, and this was no different. It was a crappy way to end a pay-per-view main event in 2015. Following the decision, Ambrose took his character back three months in time and stole the title belt, just like he did with Bad News Barrett’s Intercontinental Title prior to WrestleMania.
Promo Time: The Authority
As you might suspect, the group are annoyed with Dean’s actions. The screech queen cuts the promo, referring to the man being position as 2015’s homogenised version of Steve Austin as a “kleptomaniac”. That will put asses in seats. Hunter reckons Dean is going to return the belt... Oh man, I hope he is not going to throw it off a bridge - that particular angle has been overplayed to hell. Hunter gets cross because Ambrose doesn't turn up, and he has a little yell about it. Why not just get a new belt made? Hell, grab one of the replicas from the merchandise stand. Is it really that big of a deal? Roman Reigns shows up looking smug and speaks on behalf of the would-be champion. He warns that Ambrose might never come back unless he gets what he wants; a rematch at Money in the Bank in a ladder match. Now, that’s a pretty fucking dumb idea on a show that also features the MITB ladder match. Do these goofs know what overkill is? Steph says no, but Reigns goads Rollins into accepting by mocking his credibility. The champ is pissed, ranting and raving like a spoilt brat about how he is going to beat Ambrose on his own and prove to everyone who the real champion is. Seth Rollins’ character sure is easily manipulated. Randy Orton was able to get to him in the same way a few months back. He oftentimes comes across like a real dimwit.
Wait, what’s that sound? Oh, it’s only Stephanie McMahon trying to belittle a top babyface by shouting in his face. Thankfully Hunter shuts her up and takes over the promo. He reminds Roman that he is in the MITB match... maybe. Only if he beats an unnamed opponent after the ad break. WWE loves this kind of booking. How do I know that? They do something similar every week!
Money in the Bank Qualifier
Roman Reigns vs. Bad News Barrett
Vince loves throwing two big guys like this together, and I am sure he is as surprised as anyone when they start with some mat work. It’s not the tidiest. Before mentioning anything that is going on in the ring, Mackle feels the need to give everyone a reminder about what the MITB briefcase is and how you win it, as if anyone watching would be unclear after over a decade of the gimmick existing. Steve Austin made an interesting comment this week about how modern Raw is too dumbed down. “It’s like they want to fill in every blank for you. It’s like wrestling for morons,” he complained, and he is absolutely right. Michael Cole is the worst perpetrator of this. He feels the need to explain every single thing, not giving anything time to breath, or for stories to organically reach their conclusions. WWE are the biggest wrestling promotion in the world, yet their lead announcer is among the worst of all time. It’s maddening. Anyway, back to the mach, which starts to develop more along the lines of what you would expect from these two, only for the show to go to commercial and return with Barrett working the standard post-break chinlock. Cole tries for the second time in the match to make a point about only one man in history failing to cash in the MITB contract, which is especially annoying given he is wrong. Pleasingly, he is called on it. Reigns makes a comeback, which Booker T calls, “ruthless aggression,” as if we are in 2002 and John Cena is giving Kurt Angle a run for his money. Barrett hits a bunch of his overly-gimmick-named moves, but Reigns avoids the big elbow smash and hits a powerbomb. The spear gets the job done for the chosen one, who wins a place in a match he is already booked for. Talk about around the houses booking.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Reigns bumps into Hunter and Steph, who congratulate him on still being in the MITB match... if he can beat his next opponent, Mark Henry. Great. Now he has to beat someone else to retain a spot in a match. Who even cares if Reigns is in the MITB?
“Blah, blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” - Nikki Bella does a promo backstage with Byron Saxton. Paige turns up and complains that she never received her shot at the Diva’s Title following her battle royal win a few months back, so she wants a match. Interesting reasoning, but a big fat pile of bullshit considering she was IN A DIVA’S TITLE MATCH LAST NIGHT! They are going to wrestle for the hundredth time tonight. Break out the champagne.
Promo Time: Ryback
Mr. Twitch won his first singles title last night when he won the Intercontinental Championship in a laborious Elimination Chamber contest, and now he can look forward to weekly defeats to the likes of R-Truth and Stardust in non title matches. Ryback gets all deep and talks about his feelings, leads the crowd in a “feed me more” chant and that’s it. Ryback - not a promo guy.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Ryback (c) vs. The Miz
This match has little appeal, and thankfully it doesn't even happen. Sadly, that is because the Big Show returns. There goes that joyous little period of Show-free programming. If he is here, why wasn't he with The Authority earlier? Right, right, don't try and over-think any of this, I know. Show lays out Miz with his super-duper mega punch of certain death, mocks Ryback for calling himself “the big guy”, then challenges him to a match. Not tonight though, so the Wrestling Gods are smiling on me. I guess this is your Intercontinental Championship match at Money in the Bank, which is just swell.
Final Rating: N/R
Promo Time: Kevin Owens
And here he is, the man who put the “1” in around 10,000-1. Michael Cole references HIMSELF, noting, “I called it the most monumental win in WWE history.” Does anyone know how to change the audio so I can listen to the Spanish commentary instead? Owens auditions for a job with Pizza Hut, listing all of the things he has delivered since he arrived in WWE. Joking aside, Owens then delivers (hoho) a delightful, almost certainly not fully scripted burial of John Cena’s unbearable persona. He points out that his own son loves Cena, but it is blind worship due to the way Cena has been portrayed on television as a brightly coloured, catchphrase-spouting, real-life superhero. He has great delivery, and some of his lines are right on the money, capturing the essence of what it is about Cena that makes anyone over the age of five resent him. Cena comes out barely selling the gravity of last night’s defeat, instead cracking jokes about what a jackass Owens is. Come on, John, you have been doing so well putting guys over recently. Don’t waste the great job you did last night by belittling the situation. Thankfully, Cena bucks his ideas up and gets serious, noting that he was about to hand Owens the United States Championship tonight because he deserved it, right up until he opened his mouth. That’s a little condescending. I am sure Kevin Owens, or any sportsman worth his salt, wouldn't want to be awarded something out of kindness. Cena rips into Owens and puts over his ethos, which by now we all already know inside out. There is a nice moment though, when Cena references a young girl in the crowd with a sign saying she is beating cancer and the whole arena to applaud her, causing her to breaks down in tears, overcome by the emotion of it all. Then we get the usual Cena “I’m a nice guy! Really I am!” promo. He is - he is a great guy, even more so considering the business he is in - but forcing his cloying personality down the audience’s throat every week becomes a bit much to stomach at times. Cena reckons “Fight, Owens, Fight” doesn't define Owens, but his own catchphrase, “Never Give Up” does, which prompts a sneer of derision from the NXT Champion. Cena warns Owens to watch his mouth and not make promises he can’t keep, and they look set to go at it, but Owens bails and thinks better of it. Great promo from Owens, slightly annoying but generally decent promo from Cena. It’s a shame the way he has been booked to react to last night’s defeat rather undermines the whole “biggest win ever” slant WWE are going for though.
Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler
Dolph is accompanied by his new main squeeze Lana, whom he tells to wait on the ramp away from the New Day. Gee, it sure was a great idea forcing her away from Rusev and turning her babyface, so she could fulfil the role of vacant, and largely irrelevant, eye candy. They have plenty of useless female performers who can fill that role quite comfortably already. Based on how she has been booked since turning, I find myself wondering what exactly the desperate rush was. She is already less over. Lots of guys like sassy, no nonsense women like her heel character, they don’t want some docile wallflower. Turning her face has stripped her of her strongest assets. Well, maybe not quite her strongest ones... The guys have a tidy back-and-forth TV match, with a few nice spots dotted in there. One comes right at the end when Dolph hits an absolutely glorious DDT and Kofi plants it like RVD in his prime. It should be the finish, no doubt, but instead they follow it up with a distraction roll up, which Dolph turns into a roll up of his own for the win. Which is much worse. Is there a secret company policy that states every episode of Raw must have one of these fluky wins? New Day attack afterwards but are ran off by the Prime Time Players.
Final Rating: *3/4
The New Day vs. Dolph Ziggler & The Prime Time Players
This is a strange piece of business. Why is this suddenly happening? No announcement is made or anything, we just return from commercial and the match is in progress. It’s bizarre. Surely a straight tag with the PTP against Big E and Woods would have made more sense? The heat is lots of New Day chinlock on Darren Young for the most part. Titus cleans house, and the guy is over big in San Antonio. WWE could have something there with him. He ticks a lot of the boxes Vince likes his talent to have as well. I thought he was great at Elimination Chamber last night too. He hurls everyone around like Brock Lesnar, but they totally miss when the finish should logically be, instead having Big E break the cover. You can always tell it is not the finish because of Cole moronically screaming “FOR THE WIN!” on every cover. In the old days they would have gone home there, and fed off the live audience rather than the whims of a clueless script writer. Ziggler, who has spent most of his time selling and not on the apron, hits a superkick on Woods which leads to Titus pumphandle slam and pin. Champions in WWE always lose in non-title matches of course. PTP would be excellent champs if WWE is prepared to push them. They have developed into a good team.
Final Rating: *3/4
Money in the Bank Qualifier
Mark Henry vs. Roman Reigns
Lots of double duty going on tonight. The roster lacks depth. If only they had a place they could get a bunch of readymade stars who can work up a storm... As has been the story of his year, Reigns is booked against an opponent who does nothing for him. Henry just casually beats the shit out of him, giving him a potato to the eye which distracts him for the rest of the match. They end up on the outside where Henry predictably gets counted out. The booking of Reigns is laughable at times. Roman tries to clean his eye post match, but Henry attacks him with the World’s Strongest Slam and a splash. Guess he is heel again.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Reigns bumps into Hunter and Steph again. He has to face Bray Wyatt next to retain his MITB spot. You know what else doesn't help Reigns’ increasingly depleting aura? Overexposure.
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
It dawns on me; Nikki Bella may be the most insufferable in-ring female performer since Sable. I don’t know if it’s her obviously phony personality, her laughable ring skills or the sense of entitlement that surrounds her as Cena’s girlfriend, but the sheer sight of her really winds me up. It doesn't help that she wrestles, badly, on Raw every single week. There’s that overexposure again. For some reason in this match she thinks she is Skip of the Body Donnas, and takes time out to do press ups, jumping jacks and crunches after hitting moves. Say, isn't she a babyface? WWE gives the girls time here, and it comes off as if they are trying to channel the superb Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch match by doing a long outing full of moves, but they don't come anywhere close. It’s merely a bunch of moves that mean nothing. There is no passion, no emotion, no story told. Nikki tries hard, but wrestling does not come naturally to her and she is simply not good enough to work a match longer than, oh I don’t know, thirty seconds. Paige tries for a superplex but it fails spectacularly and ends up being a really shitty looking face buster because Nikki doesn't bother jumping. Nikki rolls out and twin magic gets her the roll up win. Yes, another roll up. Also, a very heelish way of winning for the supposed babyface.
Final Rating: ½*
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
Why didn't WWE save Orton’s return to television for Money in the Bank. The guy is - you guessed it - overexposed, so keep him off TV for a few weeks. He doesn't need a throwaway match like this, it hurts rather than helps him. Even more so when he is against Sheamus, who was his opponent in that famous match that the fans turned on a few years back. Their matches are always technically sound but really, really boring. It’s a strange “universe” we live in where Michael Cole considers both these guys as veterans, yet Orton debuted in the same year as supposed rookie Kevin Owens, and Sheamus two years later. Hell, Neville started working over a decade ago and WWE thinks he is a rookie too. Are they so deluded, or does Cole just have no idea what he is saying? I reckon it’s a bit of both. The reason I am not mentioning anything they do in the ring is because - as is their pattern - it is tedious. I think this match up might well be the worst pairing possible featuring guys in the upper midcard and beyond that doesn't involve the Big Show or Kane. The crowd are as bored as I am, and barely respond until Orton starts hitting his bigger moves, but even then the pop is still far less than the reaction Titus received earlier. Sheamus whiffs on his big boot, which he has done a lot of late, but Booker covers for him and calls it a knee. Whatever it was, the move sends Orton to the outside, where Sheamus uses a chair for the DQ. He beats the shit out of Randy after the bout, with the strong booking practically guaranteeing that Sheamus won’t be winning MITB. Oh Christ, I hope this doesn't mean Randy Orton is! I couldn't take another Orton-Rollins match. This was a chore.
Final Rating: ¾*
Backstage, big bad Rusev is a broken man. “I am the one crushed this time,” he whines, complaining about his broken heart and broken ankle. “I know what I desire, I will get back all of it,” he promises. No you won’t, pal. You have fallen into the same category as everyone else who “Big Match John” has handily beaten on consecutive shows. Your run is over.
Bo Dallas vs. Neville
Same match as last night. They really need to stop this mindless repetition in the booking. Dallas is ridiculous right from the off, yelling “Quit! Quit!” maniacally at Neville while he has a bog standard cravat applied. Thankfully I don't have to put up with Bo and his indefinable face for long, because Neville polishes him off quickly with the Red Arrow. Right, let that be the end of it. Neville doesn't need to be slumming it with no-hopers like Bo Dallas.
Final Rating: ½*
Money in the Bank Qualifier
Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns
These two usually have fairly good matches, but after having sat through two crappy Roman Reigns bouts already, I have absolutely no desire to see this whatsoever. Nor do the crowd, who mainly sit on their hands. It doesn't take long for the Authority sans the power couple to turn up on the ramp, though they don't do much other than watch. Their very presence is a serious distraction though, and it makes it impossible to get invested in the match because you are just waiting for the inevitably interference. Not that the match is much cop anyway. It’s a tired match, especially from Reigns. The Authority eventually do head to the ring where they try to distract Roman, but it backfires when Reigns sends Wyatt into Kane and spears him for the win. So what did we learn in three hours of programming tonight? Nothing. We are exactly where we were when the show started. When WWE run “will they / won’t they” angles like this, they always pay off as expected. Post match the Authority surround the ring, but the arrival of Dean Ambrose to a huge pop (so no blaming a bad crowd for tonight’s apathy) evens the score. He and Rollins do an amusing spot where Dean stands on the announce table holding his freshly stolen title, so Rollins leaps at him but misses and goes flying over the desk. It’s slapstick but it’s good because it is understated. Ambrose and Reigns clean house and Ambrose leaves through the crowd with his old/new best bosom buddy to end the show.
Final Rating: ¾*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Titus O’Neil. The man deserves some credit, because he has gone from a performer I found tough to stomach, to a genuinely entertaining part of the show. I like the guy, and I hope he gets his shot at something bigger and better than the tag division.
Least Entertaining: Tough one tonight because no one was outright bad, they were more boring than anything else. Thus the award goes to Michael Cole, for his constantly inane commentary throughout. The product is so-so at best, but a decent announcer would at least make it seem more exciting. Cole makes it worse.
Quote of the Night: “A real role model doesn't rely on marketing, catchphrases and bright colours. A real role model says they are going to do something, then they deliver, just like I do” - Kevin Owens
Match of the Night: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston, though calling it “good” would be a stretch. It was an okay television match on a show full of nothing bouts.
Summary: WWE desperately needs some fresh ideas. They have got the talent, but the circular, painfully predictable booking is becoming an immovable hindrance. Boy, oh boy, do WWE need to put that belt on Ambrose for real. He really could be their answer to Steve Austin in 2015, or at least as much as anyone can be given the limitations imposed on them by the way WWE operates. Rollins has been a poor champion because of how he has been booked - the endless feuds with Randy Orton and Kane, and the constant reminders that he was “handpicked” by the Authority, and that he could have been anyone. Put the title on Ambrose, give the fans something to cheer about and believe in, and do something different. How does Ambrose vs. Owens sound as a main event program? Great, that’s how.