Promo Time: The Authority
The theme for tonight’s show is “first time ever”, and boy are they going to ram that concept down our throats all evening. We start with a “major announcement”: SummerSlam will run for four goddamn hours! This promotion does not understand the concept of “less is more”. Triple H reminds us that this evening is arbitrarily a night of firsts, then announces a bunch of awful matches. The Big Show vs. Dean Ambrose! Kevin Owens vs. Randy Orton! All I can do is slap my head in frustration at the prospect of these two encounters. If that is WWE’s idea of “fresh” and “new”, then it speaks volumes about this company. Steph, the mother hen of the Diva’s division, announces two women’s matches, and guess what? One of them features Nikki Bella. Back I go to the head slapping. I guess WWE’s idea of a Divas revolution is booking an extra match each week. Seth gets a turn on the stick and rambles on with his usual snivelling promo, putting himself over while managing to say almost nothing of note. Thankfully, the arrival of John Cena (“one of the all time greats”- Mackle) prevents him from talking nonsense for too long.
Cena is furious with Seth’s declaration that he is the greatest WWE Champion ever, believing it to be an insult to Hall of Famers everywhere. Yeah, guys like Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Ric Flair, some guy who wore yellow that we no longer talk about... “I think you’re a joke,” snaps Cena. I agree, Rollins is a terrible champion, though I’m not sure how wise it is for Cena to point that out. Cena wants a title match tonight, but Rollins won’t have it. He tries to explain himself, but the headmistress takes over the segment and throws it to the audience. The crowd want to see the match, which makes Stephanie so excited that she starts doing her Daniel Bryan impression while pulling her face into a contorted disaster. Fifteen years ago Stephanie was hot, these days here uneven face looks like a Picasso painting. She heels on the crowd -after two weeks of playing adulation-seeking babyface - saying the match won’t happen. She is so inexplicably giddy about her bitchiness that I am convinced she is high. Hunter decides to make the match, but for Cena’s belt rather than Seth’s. Oh yes, booking the SummerSlam title match on a free television show seems like a swell idea. That way, when the PPV comes, nobody will be bothered about seeing it anymore. You can’t fault WWE, they are on the ball...
Dean Ambrose vs. The Big Show
The announcers are over-hyping this as “the first time ever” that these two have wrestled. So fucking what!? How can anyone get excited about a Big Show match against anyone? Unless it was a double retirement match against The Miz, I suppose. Speaking of that trout-faced geek, he is donning the headset and providing his whimsical insight for this. The match sucks, then it gets ridiculous when Big Show uses the most pathetic excuse for an ankle lock you will ever see. Ambrose escapes by... untying his bootlace. Show shoves him off, then Ambrose sits quietly in the corner and waits while Show slowly reties it. What the hell are they doing? There isn't even a payoff, he just does it up and carries on! Ambrose goes to a sleeper, which is paint drying territory, and eventually hits a DDT. He unloads with kicks and chops, but Show prevents the Bossman clothesline with a chokeslam. That gets two, so Show hits a second and nearly wins on count out. “Superkick” from Show, which sends Ambrose back outside, followed by a spear, as Show makes an attempt to hit every finisher he can think of. Ambrose again breaks the count at the death, leaving the giant sweaty one looking cross. After making it heroically back to the ring, Ambrose comically tumbles back out again for no reason. Show throws him back in, as this becomes a bit of a joke. Ambrose suddenly rallies, completely no-selling everything that just happened. It is horrible psychology -something he is often guilty of - but gets caught with a knockout punch when he tries for a topé. Show quite happily takes the count out win from that, because he doesn't win matches on television via pinfall these days. Post match, Show decides to charge at Ambrose, who moves, sending Show crashing through the barricade like a big bumbling oaf. I have no idea what they were going for here, but it was hellishly boring.
Final Rating: ½*
Fandango vs. Neville
“The Man That WWE Forgot: Neville” I knew it wouldn't take long for WWE to get bored of him. What a waste of a world class talent. Fandango does more than one move (two moves), causing Cole to have a little wrestlegasm about how impressive he is looking. It’s lies. Mind you, his tights tonight are impressive, and by that I mean nineties-tastic and garish. After nothing really happens for two minutes, Neville finishes with the Red Arrow.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Post match, kooky Cody Rhodes appears on the Titantron and talks nonsense. It’s an even more asinine promo than what Bray Wyatt usually delivers. Neville wears an expression like he wishes he was back in NXT.
“The WWE Universe just loves the way the Divas division is going at the moment.” - Paige. Name me one person, Paige. Seriously, name me one. I know WWE scripted this line for her, which means they genuinely think they are doing a good job with their so-called revolution. They don't get it, they really don't. “Don’t you know that Stephanie McMahon is the one who made the revolution happen.” - Sasha Banks. Yeah, that about sums it up really, doesn't it? It’s also the reason it won’t work.
Paige vs. Sasha Banks
This could be the best women’s match on Raw so far this year. Sadly, they start with the protracted Goldberg-Lesnar lock-up spot from WrestleMania XX, which is an interesting choice. It doesn't fill me with confidence. It might help the match if the announcers showed some enthusiasm, rather than talking about it in monotonous tones. They sound like Tim Robbins reading The Great Gatsby. They go a little “Indy” at first with mirror spots, ending with a double dropkick and a standoff. Paige takes over and works the arm for a while, then sends Sasha out of the ring and hits a crossbody on all of Team B.A.D. as we go to commercial. When we return, Sasha is working a... chinlock, very good. She is fully converted to the WWE way now. During commercial, Paige and Sasha’s teams were both sent to the back, leaving us with less distractions. A welcome decision from the referee. Sasha takes her turn to control the bout, but it’s all rather generic. Paige mounts a comeback with a series of short arm clotheslines and a superkick, then looks for the PTO. “Incredible match,” says the bereft of all credibility Michael Cole. Paige loudly calls some spots - as always - they have a communications breakdown in the corner, then Sasha finishes with the Bank Statement. I wanted this to be so much more, but it was disappointingly drab.
Final Rating: *3/4
Backstage, Rene Young is with a special guest. “Please welcome...” Advert break. Swell production there, WWE, just top notch.
Promo Time: Rusev & Summer Rae
Summer’s facials are so blatantly phony that she comes across like a plastic gameshow prize pointer. Imagine my amusement then, when I see that Rusev has boxes of presents. “Let’s see what you could have won!” Rusev gives Summer a gift: a puppy. Because it is ugly, has skinny legs, and pees on itself, he names it Dog Ziggler. Oh, snap. Next, Rusev pulls a headless fish out of a box, calling it Lana. He has Summer wave it around to demonstrate his point. Lana comes down and points out for the slow folk in the audience who didn't get the subtlety last week that Rusev is dressing Summer like her, and that he stared at her while kissing his new fancy woman. Summer starts getting mouthy, so Lana takes her down with a leg kick and rubs her face in the fish. A bunch of women in the locker room who dislike the phony Summer absolutely loved that. Rusev just stands there and watches helplessly, because this is the PG Era and a man cannot lay a finger on a woman. If this was the Attitude Era, she would have been hurled off and thrown in the Accolade. Lana slaps Rusev, and walks off pleased with herself.
The Lucha Dragons vs. Los Matadores
Prime Time Players do commentary, and Titus is great at it again. This is one colourful match-up. Wonderfully so. These guys have the Indy bug too it seems and do a standoff at the start, though it is really messy. The rest of the action is incredibly fast-paced and full of flashy offence, though there are a few botches here and there, which is standard fare with these two tandems. Los Matadores slow things down with some rest holds, playing the heel role due to their less interesting style and slight size advantage. Kalisto is his usual bouncing ball self, though he barely connects with most of his stuff. During his fire, The New Day skip to ringside with a sign reading, “Real Mega Dad of the Year”, which points at Kofi. It’s a diss of Titus, who won a real award for being father of the year. Hell, it’s the reason he received this current push in the first place. Amidst the distraction, Kalisto scores the win to catapult The Lucha Dragons into the tag title picture. Theoretically. In reality they will likely lose on SmackDown to New Day, who will get yet another run with the PTP.
Final Rating: *3/4
Promo Time: The Wyatt Family
These days, when Bray Wyatt speaks, I don't even hear the words he is saying anymore. I do listen. I listen intently, but it’s the same vaguely clever-sounding, but ultimately-nonsensical drivel that he always spouts. This time he tells a story about having released his pet into the wild, but the pet returning after seeing the outside world, never running away from him again. The idea being, Luke Harper is the pet. Harper gets to speak, and blames the fans for him being the way he is. “When you pray for the rain, you best be prepared for the mud.” Yeah, that means nothing.
Charlotte & Becky Lynch vs. Nikki Bella & Alicia Fox
The problem with putting Charlotte and Becky in the same team is that they can’t wrestle each other. Instead, they get lumped with the talentless duo of Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox. Becky leads Nikki through a bunch of chain wrestling, and it is like watching Bambi learn to walk. Nikki shows no aptitude for the intricacies of what she is doing, lying in an arm bar with her arm folded like an amateur. How does that hurt you, you ditzy cow!? If she was bending her arm to prevent the hold it would be fine, but she is selling it. She doesn't have a clue. Charlotte runs a sequence with Alicia, and the latter ends up landing on her head from a bump because she doesn't know what she is doing either. It gives her a concussion. Alicia has been with WWE for approaching a decade, yet she still cannot master a simple bump. They do another bit later where Alicia does a zany submission, and it just falls apart. Becky tags in and kicks Alicia’s ass, then finishes with the Disarmer. They keep putting the new girls over, but where is it going? It’s just wins for the sake of wins each week, without any purpose or real change. This benefitted from Nikki not doing much, but both of the Team Bella girls were out of their depth.
Final Rating: *1/4
Michael Cole hypes Tough Enough, noting how the competitors endured a tough week. Yeah, they found out one of their judges was a dirty great racist. Anyway, isn't a show called Tough Enough supposed to be taxing?
Kevin Owens vs. Randy Orton
I like Kevin Owens, but I have little interest in seeing this match. Owens has been ruined for me since he banged his head on the WWE glass ceiling and came crashing back down to earth as yet another midcarder. Randy is over-protected, so there is little hope for Owens here... except for the fact that Sheamus is situated at the announce desk. It’s the third guest commentary spot of the evening, which is too much. How about a few fresh ideas? Naturally, he is involved in the finish, kicking Orton in the face for the DQ. “Are you not entertained?” NO. Kevin Owens = Dean Ambrose #2: Yet another guy who stands in the vicinity while the main eventers do programs around him. Sheamus attacks Orton after the match, Cesaro makes the save, but Owens drills him with the pop-up powerbomb. This was yet another dreary encounter on a really bland show.
Final Rating: *1/2
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Seth Rollins
Mackle reminds us that John Cena is a fifteen-time World Champion, one reign away from tying Ric Flair’s record. Well, the WWE version of his record, at least. I have no doubt in my mind that Cena will do it before he winds down his career, and to be honest I can see him hitting twenty.
Tangent: WWE’s new thing is smashing records, determined to completely erase their past so they can promote the current crop as the greatest of all time. In recent years they have ruined a number of long-standing Royal Rumble records on a whim (I am still furious that The Warlord’s record went by the wayside), next year they are going to announce WrestleMania 32 outdrawing WrestleMania III (irrespective of whether it does or not), and Ric Flair’s sixteen title runs is quite obviously next if the announcers are directly referencing it. They don't have the nous to come up with factoids like that on their own. They never say anything without prior approval first. It’s one of the reasons the commentary feels so robotic and one-track all of the time.
Little happens in the first phase of the match prior to commercial. When we return, Seth is running heat to crowd silence. Cena’s brief comeback wakes them up, and they run a nice sequence where Cena goes for his trademarks and Seth escapes using smart wrestling. When Seth cuts him off with an enzuigiri, the places drops completely silent again. Cena fires back again with a swish tornado DDT, but Rollins escapes and scores with a topé. Seth hits a top rope flying knee to the face, but Cena gets his hands up far too early and it looks totally fake. “Listen to the matches we have seen tonight for the first time!” bellows Cole suddenly, before reeling off the list of mundane matches we have had to endure tonight. Don’t remind us of it!
The two combatants engage in a slugfest, ending when Seth dives at Cena with a flying knee that would have stopped most UFC fighters. It sure makes up for the crappy top rope knee a minute ago Cena doesn't get his hands up at all this time, so Seth connects directly with his nose, smashing it open. Blood pours from Cena, but he has no interest in waiting for the doctor to clear him to continue, or to stop the bleeding, and he carries on like a champ. Cena doesn't pussy out of anything, and I wouldn't have blamed him if he had, quite frankly. A doctors eventually jumps in to check on the injury (it’s a broken nose, I can tell that from here) and stop the bleeding (boo). For some reason, the ref doesn't don gloves like they usually do when blood is involved. The matches continues, and Cena takes a bunch of moves from Seth, then comes back with his wacky Stunner (which Seth barely sells) and tries for the AA. Seth flips out and connects with a superkick to the side of the head for a near fall. The crowd thinks it is awesome, but I am not going there again this week. It’s a good match, the blood makes it better, but it is not awesome. It approaches that when Cena scores with a super surprise AA for a near fall, and Seth comes back with a superplex and a sitout jackhammer in a great sequence. During that we get a close-up look at Cena’s nose, and it is an absolute mess. It’s on the wrong side of his face! Cena manages to survive Seth’s onslaught and locks on the STF for the win. The match wasn't anything close to Cena’s epics with Kevin Owens and Cesaro, but the fact that he worked the last five minutes at full tilt with a broken, bloody nose is impressive. Kudos to the man for saving the show once again.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena. Another superb performance from a man who has turned me from a hater into a fan with his remarkable workrate in 2015.
Least Entertaining: Nikki Bella. She belongs in a different profession.
Quote of the Night: “Don’t you know that Stephanie McMahon is the one who made the revolution happen.” - Sasha Banks.
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
Summary: Man, oh man, this was a boring show. The “first time ever” aspect added nothing, with the matches failing to deliver up and down the card. The only real angle was the bizarre situation involving Rusev, Summer, Lana and a headless fish. It was like a skit from Tuesday Night Titans. Without Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and the weekly Cesaro classic, the show was severely lacking. After last week, this was a major comedown. WWE repeat this pattern constantly. They do something good, they get plaudits, then the following week they present the most mundane tosh imaginable. A real slog to endure other than the main event.
Usually, Arnold Furious and I take turns with these Raw shows, in part because it makes the long three hours a little more bearable when done every fortnight. However, he has decided to undertake the mammoth task of covering every G-1 25 show, every day for the next few weeks. Thus I have agreed, with some gentle persuasion, to take on this post-Battleground episode of Raw.
Promo Time: The Undertaker
We are not wasting any time getting to the biggest talking point from last night’s show: the surprise return of The Undertaker, and his attack on Brock Lesnar. Rather than let us enjoy the increasingly rare spectacle of Undertaker’s entrance, Michael Cole has to talk over it. He has three hours to ramble on about bullshit, we don't need him talking now. Taker is bathed in a blue light, basking in the crowd’s adulation before he utters a word. This is the first time he has spoken on WWE programming since before WrestleMania XXX, and indeed not since The Streak ended. Taker says he is remorseless about what he did last night, blaming Lesnar’s constant bragging about ending his as the motivation. Aww, his feelings are hurt. Poor phenom. “Last night was my true resurrection,” he claims. Yeah, if you count one match to spike Network numbers as a resurrection. Taker challenges Lesnar to a match, promising to conquer that which cannot be conquered.
Backstage, Triple H and Stephanie mark out over the return of Undertaker, then announce that the match is taking place at SummerSlam. I guess Undertaker forget to mention that little fact. Steph says she will get the promotional ball rolling, while Hunter says he will call Paul Heyman and tell he and Brock not to bother showing up, in case there is an incident with Taker. It’s a creative way of explaining why he is not on the show, I suppose.
Then, disaster. Michael Cole hypes two matches announced for the show tonight. The first a six-man tag featuring a bunch of guys who wrestled last night, one of whom is John Cena. That means no U.S. Title Challenge, which is annoying because it is always the most entertaining part of the show. Furthermore, Cole tells us that “Stephanie McMahon revolutionised the Divas division last week,” which is maddening. Giving Steph credit is bad enough, but the fact they think anything has changed at all is the bigger issue. This is not a revolution! The women are still scantily clad, the Bellas are still around, they are still called “Divas”. The list goes on. Even worse still is that tonight’s match will see Charlotte against Brie friggin’ Bella! If they wanted to make an impact right off the bat, they should have put Sasha Banks in a singles match with either Charlotte or Becky Lynch, and given then twenty minutes. A shitfest with Brie Bella does nothing for anyone involved or the “Divalution”.
Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
Team B.A.D. join commentary, which is another move that cheapens the action. Having anyone do guest commentary in any match tends to be a detriment, because the focus becomes about them rather than what is going on in the ring. Brie comes out to her ear-polluting theme tune, and does her usual smiling and winking pose on the top of the stage. She is a heel, but she acts like a babyface. Both she and her sister have no clue what they are doing. They are like pre-programmed vacant automatons. Kinda like Michael Cole, who keeps referring to Tamina as “Tina”. “Are you part of the change, or part of the problem?” asks JBL to Naomi. She is stumped. She says he wants change and wants it on her terms, which is hilarious because Mother Hen Stephanie assigned them all to set teams last week: the Total Divas team, the workrate team, and the all-black team. Don't try and pretend that isn't the reason. This is WWE we are talking about.
The first few exchanges are not up to much, and then we have a horrible Brie botch right before commercial when she moves out of the way of a Charlotte dive, then falls down and sells it anyway. Either she was supposed to take it and screwed it up, or... well hell, I have no idea what else she could have been doing. After commercial, I am greeted with the aural assault of Nikki and Alicia chanting, “We love Brie Mode,” like a pair of annoying marks. Get these cunts off my fucking television!
In the ring, Brie dominates Charlotte with Daniel Bryan kicks and a boring chinlock, with Charlotte being made to look like a bit of a jobber. She is like all of the NXT guys who came up and worked with Cena, supposedly overmatched against the “experienced pro”. The crowd are actually far more into this than most women’s matches, showing they are willing to give this Divalution a chance. How long that will last is anyone’s guess when WWE keeps doing the same thing every week. Charlotte makes a comeback and goes for the Figure Eight, but Nikki jumps on the apron for the distraction. Charlotte launches her with a kick, then doesn't fall victim to the distraction roll-up, but rather hits a spear and locks on the Figure Eight for the win. At least the awful Brie Bella didn't go over. Like last night though, this wasn't as good as it needed to be in order to facilitate a positive change in attitudes towards the division. It wasn't even close.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Triple H and Paul Heyman argue on the phone. Hunter shouts at him to get a set of balls and tell Brock he is not allowed to come to the show. The Miz is there during all of this, desperately trying to get Hunter’s attention so he whine about getting punched in the face last night. Trips dismisses him and books him against Big Show. Miz pouts, obviously, because that’s what he does.
Los Matadores vs. The Prime Time Players
I was pleased to see PTP retain last night, even if the booking has made little sense. I do hope this isn't the start of a title program with Los Matadores. It’s not that they are a bad team or anything - though I do despise the bull - but where have they been for the past few months? Why would they suddenly warrant a title match? After a brief shine, Young gets his ass handed to him by the comedy duo. When Titus comes in he looks great, again, chucking Los Matadores around with casual ease. Cue the arrival of New Day, who spout some shit and cause Titus to fall victim to a Back Stabber and get pinned. Please! Enough with the fucking distraction finish every single goddamn week! Raw is boring enough without every finish being the same! I detest WWE’s booking philosophy. What benefit is there to having the tag champs lose to a joke team?
Final Rating: *1/4
The Miz vs. The Big Show
Show was a babyface in his interaction with Miz last night, so I am counting that as turn number, whatever the hell we are up to now. Forty one? “The whole Marine franchise is at stake here!” - JBL. Well doesn't that just give this match so much more meaning. Show mauls Miz and ends him with an elbow drop from the middle rope in short order. Shite.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Post match, Show cuts a heel promo (forty-two!) and yells at Miz for last night saying he had been missing since the Attitude Era. To be fair to Miz, he did have a point. Show yells about wanting the IC Title, then cuts a promo on the Tough Enough cast! Who cares? Really, who in the world cares?
Backstage, Triple H and Steph spy Paul Heyman. Their reaction is great. “Paul, get back in your box!”. Okay, they didn't say that, but they should have. Heyman defends his presence as merely being so he can give Brock’s retort, and that Lesnar isn't here. Hunter and Steph don't believe him and decide to increase the security on the show.
After commercial, Hunter and Steph address the locker room from on a stage. It looks like a low-rent play. Steph bollocks the roster, because exerting her power over men gets her off, and Hunter tells them that their livelihoods depend on preserving the SummerSlam main event. This was so weird. Not only because rivals and opponents later in the night were co-mingling, but because the staging of it was so unusual.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Heyman reminds everyone why Brock Lesnar isn't the WWE Champion, noting that Brock and Taker coming face to face last night fifteen months after their WrestleMania match was a monumental occasion. I guess. Heyman defends his constant hyping of Lesnar ending The Streak, asking why he wouldn't brag about it. He has a point. To me, Undertaker just comes off as a sore loser in all of this. It is not like Lesnar beat him unfairly. Heyman hypes the Taker-Lesnar match, tremendously as ever, then decides to further get under Taker’s skin with more gloating about Taker losing to Brock. “You might have sold your soul to the Devil, but Brock Lesnar owns your ass.”
Heyman proceeds to shit himself when the dong hits and the lights go out, then come back on to reveal Taker standing in the ring. He threatens the advocate, but before he gets his hands on him Lesnar’s music hits and he steams to the ring. I guess he is here after all! Cole and Saxton are terrified and both run away, which is a nice touch. The crowd goes apeshit as the two brawl, then a swarm of rent-a-cops hit the ring to try and keep them apart. “Let them fight,” chant the crowd. Taker batters the security folk holding him back, and Lesnar does the same to his, and they go at it again. Hunter sends the majority of the roster down, including guys like Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Sheamus, though conspicuous by their absence are Randy Orton and supposed company man John Cena. I guess their absence and the presence of those mentioned sums up their respective statures these days.
The visual spectacle is amazing, with the ring absolutely full to bursting point, and even then the entire roster can barely keep the pair apart. Lesnar gets creative in evading them, running around the ring to fight Taker on the apron, and for his part Taker breaks loose and continues the fight as well. Eventually, after a few minutes of this and the crowd chanting about how awesome it all is, Lesnar gets hauled away, screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” as he is removed.
In the parking lot after commercial, the fight continues! Again, the roster is utterly useless, but then they are all on an entirely different level to these two. Lesnar hurls a table at a bunch of referees on route to flying at Taker, once again showing that he could have been an Olympic thrower, and probably still could be. Finally Lesnar gets backed into a corner by cops and agrees to let them cuff him and march him away, but warns them not to touch him. One does, and the look Lesnar gives him probably caused his heart to skip a few beats. This was awesome as well.
Now that is how you build a main event. What a segment this was. Easily the finest match build of the year, and probably the best angle on the show in 2015 as well. Lesnar vs. Taker II (in Lesnar’s second run at least, they had a hatful of matches in his first) should be quite the event.
Backstage, Steph questions Hunter about Brock getting arrested, but Hunter says he is not pressing charges, he simply wants him to cool off. Seth Rollins turns up and asks for interview time so he can get some things off his chest. Christ, there has been a lot of talking tonight.
Bray Wyatt does his usual promo, with Luke Harper back by his side. “Anyone but you, Roman,” “It never stops,” etc. We know the drill.
Luke Harper vs. Roman Reigns
Dean Ambrose heads out to even the numbers for this, as WWE presents us with their fresh idea of the week: a truncated version of the very successful Shield vs. Wyatts feud. It’s not the worst thing they could do. I am certainly pleased that Harper has rejoined Wyatt at the very least, because I think it helps both of them. This is the first proper match on the show in ages, and unfortunately it’s rather boring. For some reason, Byron Saxton spends the whole match stood up behind the announce desk, which is incredibly distracting. What on earth is he playing at? Oh, Bray Wyatt has taken his seat. Couldn't they have found him another one from somewhere? They had three spares out there earlier when Team B.A.D. were commentating! Reigns takes a pasting, at one point getting hurled to the outside and landing on his already storyline injured arm. Harper targets the dodgy appendage, though he uses far too many rest holds to make it interesting. Reigns fights back with one arm, then loses focus and goes after Wyatt at ringside instead of finishing the match. He socks him one and hits a double Drive By on both of the Wyatt Family, though Wyatt recovers enough to pull Reigns out of the ring and draw the DQ. It all breaks down with a fracas on the outside, which the Wyatts win out on initially. Dean Ambrose makes a comeback after having been hurled into the timekeepers table, taking out Harper with a clothesline. Wyatt catches him for Sister Abigail, but Reigns decks Bray with a Superman punch to give the Shield boys the win in the battle. Both Reigns and Ambrose’s music play afterwards, which is quirky. Drab match, but a great post-match fight.
Final Rating: *
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
I hoped we had been spared this tonight. I am not sure how many more Seth Rollins promos I can tolerate. Seth is a man without direction at the moment. The main event program at SummerSlam is by far Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar, and Seth doesn't have anyone left to work with that either hasn't done before, or that makes sense. The way Brock mauled him last night really hurt him too, and he was struggling to be taken seriously in the role as it was. All I want to hear about from him is where he went when Undertaker’s magic made him disappear last night. Instead, he rags on everyone for disrespecting him, and for thinking he was going to get his ass handed to him last night. But, he did get his ass handed to him last night! Seth thinks he got robbed of his moment at Battleground, denied the chance to pin Lesnar because of Undertaker’s actions. Yeah, after taking thirteen German suplexes, barely registering any offence, and having been hit with an F5, she sure looked like he was on route to a win. Where is this going? He is dwelling on a feud that is, for now, done with. Seth asks Lillian to the ring so she can make the announcement of last night’s match. All that does is remind everyone that Seth technically lost the bout via DQ.
John Cena has heard enough and heads to the ring for a chat. He observes that both he and Seth won their respective titles on the same night, yet while he has been a fighting champion and a true representative of the title, Rollins has been a joke. Cena basically buries Seth’s title reign, which is counterproductive, though what he says is true. The go to throw down, but there has already been a shed load of brawling on the show tonight, so WWE saves them getting physical until next week. For anyone unclear, this is the WWE Championship program at SummerSlam. Cena makes sense in the respect that he has been on a roll of late, and if Rollins beats him it could be good for his waning credibility. However, I cannot quite understand why WWE kept the United States Championship on Cena last night based on this booking. All they do by having United States Champion Cena go after the WWE Championship is devalue the U.S. belt. Cena has been putting it over for months, almost above the WWE Championship, so for him to suddenly want the big belt again doesn't fit his character’s drive and ethos over the past four months. There is no way defeat to Owens at Battleground would have hurt Cena, but it sure would have helped Owens and the future prospects of the WWE Championship, now that Cena is mingling with main eventers again.
Sasha Banks & Naomi vs. Paige & Becky Lynch
Your eyes don’t deceive you, this is in fact the second women’s match on the card. It’s also by some way the finest match on the show so far, given nearly fifteen minutes to get over, and despite the presence of the blank Bellas on commentary. Still, I would take Nikki Bella behind the announce desk above in the ring any day. It’s not like her commentary is much worse that Michael Cole’s anyway. The crowd was fairly into this, not to NXT levels or anywhere close really, but more so than almost every Divas match on the show this year. Sasha and Lynch are head and shoulders above the other two girls in both fire, charisma and general ring presence, and that is very much evident here. Paige and Naomi are not too bad, with the latter’s light-up boots still a thing of beautiful genius, but they are not as good as some seem to think. They have simply been made to look better than they are because of the low standard of girls they have previously worked with. The potential is there though, and working long matches week in, week out against talented grapplers will only help.
If you ignore the commentary, where Brie casually no-sells having lost twice to Charlotte in two nights, and Nikki claims the Bellas are happy with the change to the division, completely oblivious to the fact that they are its key problem, the match is a lot of fun. Part of that is down to the novelty aspect, but they do hold together a fifteen minute bout far better than Reigns and Harper did earlier. Lynch is explosive, a firecracker at times with quick execution of her moves, hard-hitting offence and excellent selling. In my eyes, she will be the star of this Divalution. She reminds me of Lita, only with actual wrestling ability. It is the other Raw newcomer, Sasha Banks, who scores victory tonight however, tapping Paige with the Bank Statement. I enjoyed this.
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, Renee Young interviewed Lana regarding Dolph Ziggler’s health status. She says he is talking again, and they are waiting for the all-clear from the doctors. Summer Rae turns up dressed as Lana, with her hair tied back and everything. She imitates Lana’s mannerisms, making them really irritating because Summer is really irritating, then Rusev walks in. He is blown away by how beautiful Summer is, and plants a big kiss on her right in front of Lana. Mid-kiss he opens one eye and stares a hole through Lana, with the suggestion being that he is clearly still hung up on his ex, and is trying to remould his new girlfriend to look identical to her. “Lana, you don't look so good,” he laughs before walking off. Summer gives her a big slap before she departs, just to emphasise what a bitch she is. I found this little ordeal strangely captivating, and a tad uncomfortable, which is good. It was better than corny, half-baked comedy.
John Cena, Randy Orton & Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens, Sheamus & Rusev
The line up is a bit of an odd one. You have two guys who are protected at the expense of all others, two who have had their pushes killed by Super Cena, one constantly over-pushed despite never getting over anywhere near the level expected, and another criminally under-utilised despite consistently outperforming nearly everyone on the roster. The latter, which is of course Cesaro, is getting big-time over again, close if not equal to the levels he was at in early 2014. He is so good that even his exchanges with Sheamus manage to be interesting. Yes, Sheamus! Interesting! However, he is also the most expendable of the babyface trio in the eyes of WWE, so naturally he takes the heat. Pleasingly, the pace is quick, making this a rare instance where the Raw multi-man main event isn't a colossal bore. Sheamus and Owens end up getting into a disagreement when Owens accidentally clocks Sheamus, leading to Sheamus bailing on the match. The Heel Union is broken! Moments later, Owens falls out with Rusev, then hits him with a superkick and leaves. What is going on here!? It makes the match dichotomy bizarre for the final sequence, especially when Cesaro, who has two team mates to fall back on, makes the hot tag. Rusev is left alone fighting the odds again, just like last week. WWE are totally babyfacing him without even realising it. Lana chooses this moment to wander to ringside and confront Summer Rae, throwing a shoe at her face and taking her to the mat. All this is missing is Joey Styles screaming “Catfight!” Lana rips out Summer’s bun and walks away to big pops. The faces finish off Rusev by hitting their finishers, with Orton hitting his RKO from a Cesaro slingshot after the giant swing. This was really over for a Raw main event, because usually after three hours, the crowd are dead. I guess it shows what a good episode this was.
Final Rating: **3/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. Both deserve to share the plaudits for their tremendous pull-apart brawl.
Least Entertaining: The Bellas. Their presence, their wooden, dead commentary, their voices, their phony faces, their attitudes, their wrestling ability. Pray for the cancellation of Total Divas.
Quote of the Night: “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU.” - Welcome to the decidedly un-PG world of Brock Lesnar.
Match of the Night: Sasha Banks & Naomi vs. Paige & Becky Lynch. I may not have rated it as highly as the main event, because it wasn't quite as good, but I enjoyed it more because it felt like progress.
Summary: This was a great show. Naturally, the superb pull-apart between Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker was the most memorable aspect of the broadcast, but there was plenty of other stuff to enjoy too. It was certainly a much easier watch than the majority of Raw episodes this year. The main event and the women’s tag bout were both enjoyable, even with the wacky booking, and horrible Bellas commentary. It’s a step in the right direction from WWE across the board, and SummerSlam is already feeling like the mid-year equivalent of WrestleMania, which is what they have wanted for years. Hopefully they can keep this going in the next few weeks, and don't run out of steam getting to the big event like they did with WrestleMania.
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton
Ten seconds. That is how long it took for my interest in this pay-per-view to diminish significantly. It’s the proverbial kick in the crotch of show-opening matches. Randy is over big, because we are in his hometown, though as usual Sheamus invokes only apathy. What can this match offer that we haven't seen from them dozens of times already? Even the best match I have seen between these two was boring. What is the issue between these two anyway? It’s one of the programmes where they supposedly dislike each other, but there is no reason as to why. They don't like one another because they are booked in a feud, that’s it. “Now it’s at a pace Sheamus likes,” says Mackle. He means slow. After an age of mundane Sheamus offence, they have a lethargic slugfest that Randy gets the better of, then spill to the outside to carry on the fight. Randy dumps Sheamus on the announce table, which doesn't break, and I’m glad. A table bump in the match would be silly. The pace ups a little as they both attempt to hit trademarks and finishers, which Sheamus comes out on top of with White Noise. Is that a finisher? It is hard to tell with Sheamus because he has half a dozen generic moves with unnecessary gimmicky names attached. Randy kicks out anyway. After some more uninspiring exchanges, Orton hits a superplex and his draping DDT, then whips the crowd into a frenzy hot-dogging to set up the RKO. He dicks around for so long that Sheamus nearly catches him with a roll up, then gets knocked silly with the Brogue Kick. For once, he hits it in the mush. Sheamus doesn't cover, instead locking the Texas Cloverleaf to try and get the submission. Poor psychology. Orton fights the hold for a while before reaching the ropes, then connects with the RKO... outta nowhere for the win. Sheamus has the MITB briefcase remember, so of course it makes sense to beat him week in, week out. “What a match tonight,” reckons Cole. I thought it was shit. I mean, the action was fine if you had never seen a Sheamus-Orton match before. I have seen around a hundred, so it was more of the same, repetitive sequences I have seen them do countless times before. Tough one to rate really.
Final Rating: *1/2
“You are tiny, I feel like the Big Show,” says Stephanie to her interviewer Jo-Jo. You sort of look like him too! Steph gets herself over in St. Louis with cheap pops, even referencing Sam Muchnik’s Wrestling at the Chase. I wonder who fed her that line. After that she promises more from the women’s revolution, and reveals there will be a triple threat match between a member each of the respective gangs that she assigned on Raw. Hell, that means at least one Bella will be wrestling. What if they do Brie Bella vs. Tamina vs. Paige? Oh, the humanity.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The Prime Time Players (c) vs. The New Day
Based on the booking from Raw the past five weeks, the challengers should be going over here because they have been getting their asses routinely handed to them. In WWE mentality, they are due a win to even things up. PTP are wearing their shiny pay-per-view pants tonight, and they look ridiculous but brilliant. Much like the opener, I have seen this match repeatedly over the past few weeks, so it holds little appeal. Kofi seems eager to get the match over, bumping around in an animated fashion in the early going. He gets too cocky for his own good and starts slapping Titus across the head, so the massive Titus responds with some delightfully vicious chops. Pretty soon it descends into standard tag formula, with Young on the receiving end of New Day double teams. Big E hits a painful looking splash on the apron followed by an abdominal stretch, using Young’s exposed chest to clap with and start a “New Day sucks” chant. In theory at least. St. Louis don't play along. Titus is a runaway train on the hot tag, running through New Day like they are not even there. He gets the audience right behind him, only to get cut off by Kofi. Young comes back in and hits a sweet belly-to-belly on Kofi, then decks Woods on the outside for good measure. He runs a smooth sequence that sees Big E crash into the post, Kofi miss Trouble in Paradise, and Young hit his reverse lung blower gimmick, then Titus finishes off Big E. Well, that makes all of the booking on Raw confusing. Maybe WWE have turned a corner with the even steven bullshit.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Paige share a moment. Lynch wants to rebuild the entire Diva’s division, but that’s a pipedream. While Total Divas exists, the Bellas and their ilk will always be around.
Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt
There is little I despise more than Michael Cole reading out gimmicked wrestler tweets. When he does it for a character like Wyatt, it’s all the more galling. Despite having been almost ignored since WrestleMania, and certainly not forced down people’s throats like he was prior to the supercard, Reigns remains unpopular with the crowd. They start out with the protracted lock-up spot that Goldberg and Brock Lesnar made so infamous at WrestleMania XX, then take turns clobbering each other. When Wyatt gets on top it’s a bit bland, because he doesn't have particularly interesting offence. Reigns counters with an impressive Samoan drop which sends Wyatt rolling to the outside, then he does something dumb: he runs around the ring attempting a spear or something on Wyatt, who moves, and he crashes into the stairs. It doesn't sound all that dumb, but the way they executed it made it seem like Roman charged himself up like a rhino, then got stuck on rails and ran slowly into some steps. It wasn't good. Back to Wyatt control, and again it is cumbersome. Bray does a lot of walking around between moves, and then a lot of stomping before he does anything else interesting. Wyatt takes a page out of his father’s playbook and sits with a chinlock applied for an age. It’s like watching paint dry. Reigns finally escapes with a backdrop, then mounts his comeback. Nobody cares. He goes for his Drive By dropkick, but Wyatt counters with a vicious clothesline while Reigns is in mid-air. Wyatt follows with a senton on the outside, but the useless director manages to miss it. The camerawork in WWE these days is awful. Back in the ring, Wyatt goes for a superplex, only for Reigns to escape and hit a powerbomb. “Roman Reigns just won’t go away,” says Cole. Indeed. Wyatt blocks the Superman punch and they both jockey for position, then end up on the outside again where Reigns this time manages to hit a version of the Drive By. Back inside he tries for the Superman punch again, but once more gets blocked, this time into Sister Abigail. Reigns won’t learn. The match rumbles on, with Reigns hitting Superman punch for the near fall. “This is awesome,” chant a handful of retards in the crowd. How I wish that overused, now-meaningless chant would just fuck off. Wyatt returns fire by avoiding a spear and hitting his dad’s old Write Off clothesline, but Roman kicks out again. Wyatt tries for Sister Abigail and plants Roman with a kiss, which raises his homophobic ire and he gives Bray a shoeing. He can’t finish him though, and Wyatt ends up in possession of some chairs. He intends to use them on Roman, but gets stopped. Then suddenly Reigns loses his temper and starts throwing chairs into the ring. While he is dicking around doing that, Luke Harper turns up under a hoodie and hurls Roman into the post, then follows with a superkick. Wyatt takes him back in the ring and finishes him with Sister Abigail., because Roman Reigns is the modern day Lex Luger and always loses the big matches. The announcers play it off like they don't recognise Harper, though the big fucking beard rather gives it away. When he takes his hood off, the crowd strongly approve of the Wyatt Family reunion. As do I. This was very, very long.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Team B.A.D. have had a slight name change, and rather than the acronym standing for “Best at Dominating”, which is a terrible name, it is now “Beautiful and Dangerous”. Much better, though it doesn't apply to Tamina.
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
Two super workers in here, then the ongoing shit-fest that is Brie Bella. Oh Jesus, she is the worst option on that horrible team. Couldn't the Bellas team have just decided to sit this one out? “Man, things have changed in the matter of just six nights in the Divas decision, haven't they?” - Cole. Not really. They have simply plugged good workers into the same tired formula. The problem with this match is that every time it looks like Charlotte and Sasha might do something interesting, Brie is there to ruin it with her awful offence, awful selling, awful voice and awful psychology. Sasha gets plenty of the match, and spends a good portion of it mocking Charlotte. She does some cool stuff, and Brie actually stays away for a while “selling”, or in other words, leaving the wrestlers to wrestle. Charlotte hits her suplex neckbreaker on Sasha for a near fall, but Brie breaks it up and starts firing off moves of her own. She throws in a Daniel Bryan tribute with kicks while both opponents are on their knees, but gets taken out with a Charlotte spear that was intended for Sasha. The real wrestlers do an overly complex spot leading to a neckbreaker, then get caught by a Brie double dropkick. She goes to down with running knees, then starts screaming like an irritating banshee. She gets dumped, then a dive sequence follows, starting with Brie getting dropkicked off the apron and completely overshooting Alicia and Nikki, who fail to catch her. She head spikes it on the outside, and she is lucky not to be injured. Sasha and Charlotte do dives, then back inside Sasha locks Charlotte in the Bank Statement. Brie breaks it up, but Charlotte blocks her crappy X-Factor into the Figure Eight for the win. I’m thrilled that Brie didn't win, and she had a few moments of competence in there against all the odds. Maybe the good workers can drag the appalling Bellas to some good matches. This was much better than any Nikki Bella match from the past, oh I dunno, year, but that is a low benchmark to surpass. A reasonable start, though hardly revolutionary. It’s a step in the right direction at least.
Final Rating: **
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Kevin Owens
The burning question then: will WWE do something bold and make a new star, or will the phenomenal Kevin Owens be just another Cena victim? Of note is that this is the fourth match on the show that we have seen a couple of times before, though the standard of their last two bouts was remarkable. It gives them a tough act to follow because they have set the bar so high, and I worry that there is little else they can do to differentiate this from the others. One notable difference is that St. Louis is majorly into this, far more so than the crowds were for their previous two bouts. Don't get me wrong, the previous PPV matches they had were very well received, but this crowd is raucous from the off, and totally behind Owens. Jerry Lawler gets all worked up about the “Cena sucks” chants that have now been commonplace for a decade, and starts into a rant that he has no idea how to finish. The end result is something that sounds like a sentence falling down a flight of stairs. “He’s a good person,” stammers Lawler. Owens hits a bunch of stuff early, such as a spinning DVD neckbreaker and a senton, then Cena responds with a dropkick. JBL buries it, even though it wasn't that bad, saying it was, “not very high, but effective.” Why would you say that? A “not very high” dropkick is a bad dropkick. Cena hits his top rope Rocker Dropper and gets amazing height, then Owens counters with the most vicious DDT I have seen in years. Cena bumps it squarely on his, erm, square head. They continue to forgo a slow build of typical match pacing and throw in big move after big move, which is great but might leave them with nowhere to go later on if this goes for a long time. Owens starts hitting Cena moves, better than Cena, then “big match John” fires back with a sitout face buster. Into the STF, but Owens escapes and hits a backbreaker. Wait, are we still allowed to call it that? The pace of this has been frantic. It is already far better than everything else on the show.
The first German suplex of the night comes courtesy of Owens, though I have a sneaky suspicion it won’t be the last. Owens follows with a cannonball, then turns to Michael Cole and shouts, “Are you calling this like you should, Cole?” Ooh, dangerous. He is leaving himself susceptible to the deadly distraction roll-up finish there. Cole showers himself in glory by referring to Cena as having an “innovative style” when he hits the Code Red, which is hilarious after a decade of him doing the same act. He has been great in 2015, but that’s still a dumbass thing to claim. Cena hits the AA “for the win”, but Owens kicks out. This whole match has been one long finish sequence. Y’know, that’s fine. There is no need for a feeling-out process in a rubber match. To the top where Cena goes for a superplex, only for Owens to counter with his terrifying fisherman’s brainbuster. Cena counters the pop-up powerbomb into a rana, but Owens counters back again by hitting the AA and STF. Wonderful. Cena makes the ropes, then hits a tornado DDT out of nowhere for another close fall. The “this is awesome” chants rain down again, and for once they are probably accurate. He follows up with the still-hilarious springboard Stunner, which Owens doesn't even bother to sell because it is so rubbish, and immediately hits a fighting spirit clothesline. More head drop goodness from Owens with a fisherman buster onto the knee, then Cena comes back immediately with an AA out of the blue for a two count. There should probably be more selling for some of these vicious moves, but it is so entertaining that it barely matters.
Owens hits the pop-up powerbomb, and now it is Cena’s turn to kick out of a finisher. These guys are going to need some new finishing moves at this rate. Cena ups his game with a frankly insane AA from the top, and Owens kicks out! Holy shit, that looked like the finish. Cena sells the kick out with a look of utter disbelief. I am not surprised. Cena doesn't know what do to, and his procrastinating nearly costs him when Owens catches him in a cradle. Cena kicks out and puts on the STF, then pulls Owens back centre ring when he nearly makes the ropes. This time it gets the job done when Owens taps. Hmm. That’s a really flat ending. Congratulations WWE, you’ve done it again. Kevin Owens has got over quicker than anyone in recent memory and has put in a series of world class performances, and he should have been rewarded for it. I don't blame Cena, he does what he is booked to do, but how can Vince McMahon not see that the time was right to pull the trigger on Kevin Owens? Classic match though, which lived up to the expectations and then some. It was probably my favourite of their series.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Promo Time: The Miz
What is this mind-numbing twat here for? I thought we had been spared having to suffer through this pathetic excuse for a wrestler. Worse than seeing him wrestle, we have to hear him ramble on like a whining little dick. He does say two things I agree with though, the first that Big Show “has been missing since the Attitude Era”, and that he should do what everyone wants him to do and retire. It is interesting to me that WWE are willing to acknowledge that their fan base are so fed up of one of their performers that they want him to quit the business. When someone has X-Pac heat like that, it is time to put them on the shelf. In the most predictable piece of booking of the year, Show turns up, knocks out Miz, then leaves. This was as worthless as any segment you will ever see.
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
Seth’s tactic from the off is avoidance and picking his shots, but all he does is annoy Lesnar. It takes over a minute for the first German to come, then it turns to a downpour. Jerry Lawler shows his senile side by trying to sing a little ditty about Suplex City, which is completely inappropriate for a main event. The guy needs putting out to pasture. Seth takes five Germans then decides he has had enough and tries to bail through the crowd, but he forgets that Brock is a goddamn horse, hurdling the barricade and bringing him straight back to the ring. Brock hits a sixth German, but Seth flips out of a seventh and hits a flurry of quick offence. Five superkicks gets him nowhere, and Lesnar easily prevents the Pedigree with an F5 attempt. Brock tumbles to the outside where Seth hits a brace of dives, but Lesnar counters a third by scooting into the ring and hitting a belly-to-belly. Rolling Germans from Brock now, as the count reaches ten, then eleven. Brock is dripping with sweat as he slaps Rollins and hits a twelfth suplex. Rollins slaps him back, but Brock ignores it and powers him into the F5. That would be it, but then the lights go off and the unmistakeable opening strains of Undertaker’s theme hit. When the lights come back on, Taker is stood in the ring with Rollins and the referee both having magically disappeared. He gets an immense reaction, and the crowd fully support him destroying Lesnar with a chokeslam and a pair of Tombstones. It’s about time Undertaker addressed losing to Lesnar at WrestleMania. No finish here, then, just Taker walking away as the show fades to black. A non-finish in the main event of a pay-per-view isn't really acceptable, but I am pleased that Lesnar didn't actually lose.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Summary: It’s a very run-of-the mill show aside from two bouts. Once again, just as every week on Raw, John Cena’s match carried the wrestling side of things. Remarkable really, given the abuse he receives from the fan base. There were other positives in the slight progress in the women’s division, and the surprise appearance of the Undertaker was a memorable one. Make no mistake though, his early return is down to either Vince reacting to terrible Raw ratings, or Vince reacting to disappointing Network numbers. Lesnar-Undertaker II will probably be a horrible match, but I am sure it will do strong business. With regards to this show, it is a thumbs up because of the Owens-Cena contest and the fun main event, but you can skip the rest. You have likely seen on Raw every week for months on end anyway.
Last week’s show was mundane for the most part, but saved by two cracking segments: Brock Lesnar versus a car, and the splendid Cena-Cesaro main event epic. It felt like a go-home show to the pay-per-view, and it would have been a decent one. With that being said, I am curious about how WWE will manage to fill three hours pushing issues that have already been wringed for every drop of interest on the preceding four weeks of television since the last pay-per-view.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar
Usual Heyman promo at first, with lots of ranting and raving about Brock’s various strengths, and how overmatched Rollins is. Seth cuts him off, flanked by Kane, even though the champ ran away from Lesnar last week and is supposed to be terrified of him. Suddenly Seth is full of confidence, promising to wipe the smile off Brock’s face at Battleground. Seth flubs his lines like a chump and gets mocked by the crowd and by Brock for it, once again proving that promos are not his strong point. “You talk about it like it’s a symbol of what I’m going to look like after Battleground,” says Seth of the knackered Cadillac which is sitting next to the stage. A silly thing to say, given Brock hasn't spoken a word of it. Seth weaves a nonsensical metaphor about burning Suplex City to the ground, so Brock offers him a trip there tonight. Kane is having none of that, and promises... a main event contract signing! How original. Kane tries to tell Heyman that if Brock does anything violent in the signing then he will be in trouble, but Heyman cuts him off. “Are you about to threaten Brock Lesnar?” he asks, incredulous. After mocking Kane for being Undertaker’s baby brother, Heyman says Lesnar will come to the signing with “peace and love”. Here’s a question: why would Rollins be willing to step into a ring with Lesnar for a signing, with only one man as backup? It makes no sense because it has been established that he is petrified of Brock.
Ryback & Randy Orton vs. The Big Show & Sheamus
The Miz is on commentary, which is good because it means that everybody in WWE who is overexposed and boring is kept in one place. Not so good that I have to suffer through this match, mind you. An interesting stat revealed in recent days was that Sheamus won his two-hundredth televised match on Raw last week, more than anyone else in company history. That is a remarkable, and sickening statistic. How can anyone want to see the guy wrestle ever again? What more is there that WWE can do with Sheamus? We have seen him work with everyone to the point of monotony. He has reached his glass ceiling, and nobody cares anymore. There is a reason his matches more than anyone else’s get the inane chant treatment.
“I’m the toughest guy in the WWE, have you seen The Marine 4?” says Miz. There are some problems with that statement. The pouty weed is one of the least convincing wrestlers I have ever seen. He reminds me of Andy Kauffman when he was pretending to be a wrestler and beating up women. At least Kaufmann knew he was a comedy act and not a real tough guy. Miz seems to think he is a real wrestler! And as for the Marine 4 statement? No, nobody has seen The Marine 4! Nobody watches anything that WWE Films produce!
I am specifically avoiding mentioning a single thing in this match because it is white noise. I would genuinely rather watch television static. Honestly, I would be overjoyed if all four of these guys, and Miz, received their future endeavours. It is not even that any of them, well, Big Show aside, are that bad in the ring. It is more than I have seen all of their routines over and over again for years on end without any respite. They have thirty-eight combined years in WWE between them! After two commercial breaks, the match still continues. Ryback gets a hot tag and cleans house, Miz starts doing the same shitty commentary he did last week and irritates everyone, then fleas from Show. Sheamus goes to finish Ryback, but Orton hits the RKO and Ryback hits a big splash from the top for the win. I despise Sheamus, but I cannot fathom WWE giving him MITB and having him lose every week. This was fifteen minutes of abject shite.
Final Rating: DUD
Backstage, Seth and Kane have a chat, but they don't say anything of interest.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
Oh wow, I have never seen this match before. “This is definitely Bray Wyatt,” observes the ever-aware JBL. Well no goddamn kidding, genius. Who else is it going to be? Bray blows his lantern out and Roman Reigns turns up behind him then delivers a beating. Dean Ambrose takes a seat and enjoys the fun. After a brief tussle, Wyatt decks Reigns with his lantern and walks off. Helluva use of Dean Ambrose. Why not have Bray scheduled to wrestle literally anyone, and do the angle beforehand? Why waste Dean’s spot on the card?
Final Rating: N/R
Give Divas A Chance
The entitled Nikki Bella, accompanied by Brie and Alicia Fox, gets to speak! Oh, have mercy! In her grating, dumb drawl she reckons she has done everything possible and is “the Total Diva”. Everything except learn how to work something that resembles a wrestling match. Nikki wants some real competition, which brings out Stephanie McMahon to interrupts and belittle Nikki and her pals, which for once is amusing rather than annoying. Though, wasn't Steph supposed to be friends with Nikki after SummerSlam last year? “There is a revolution in women’s sport right now,” says Steph, referencing women’s football, UFC and tennis. Wait, tennis? Nothing has changed in tennis for well over a decade. It’s just the Williams sisters taking turns being dominant. Also, the Women’s World Cup was hardly a revolution; people watched it because there was no real football on. Agreeing that the division is in need of a revamp, Steph brings out... Paige. It’s a decision Nikki is baffled by. “I don't even understand why she is out here! How many times has she failed?” Must be getting into the hundreds by now. Steph admonishes Nikki for running her mouth, scalding that Paige is out here because she wants her out here. But Paige isn't the only one, because Steph then brings out NXT starlet Becky Lynch! Steph observes that the numbers still aren’t fair, so brings out Charlotte too. Excellent... Sort of. I am not sure I want to see these super-talented wrestlers lose every week in three minutes matches against the awful Nikki Bella. For the record, Alicia Fox’s “pouting angry face” is a thing of rich unintentional comedy. She doesn't even look human. Naomi interrupts and says she has worked her ass of and deserves a spot, Steph quite rightly agrees, but she happens to know someone else who wants one too: Sasha Banks! Poor NXT. A mass brawl occurs between all nine of the women out there, ending with Charlotte, Sasha and Lynch taking out all of the Bella clan with their respective submission holds. This was pretty damn great, despite the presence of the Bellas and Steph. I can’t quite understand why heel bitch queen Stephanie McMahon was being the babyface here. Surely Paige could have brought the NXT girls out? Obviously, Steph wanted to have a hand in something that fans would be in favour of. It’s all about self-serving ego gratification. Enough of the negative though, this was a memorable moment and the best thing involving “Divas” on Raw in some years.
The New Day vs. The Prime Time Players & Mark Henry
After a typical New Day promo, we get this unfathomable match. The New Day and the Prime Time Players are wrestling at the pay-per-view, what logic is there to having them wrestle tonight? Or indeed, every damn week in the build up. Also, what is Mark Henry’s problem? One week he is a heel, the next he is a babyface. I am also convinced that he is only teaming with the PTP because they are all black. That’s how WWE do things. Nothing match, which the babyfaces win thanks to Mark Henry pinning Xavier Woods after the World’s Strongest Slam. The New Day are definitely regaining the belts at the pay-per-view based on how WWE do things. They have lost every week since dropping the straps.
Final Rating: *
King Barrett vs. R-Truth
Why does this infernal feud continue!? Barrett beat WWE’s resident jester cleanly last week, the issue is done. In WWE’s mind this is an epic rivalry, in everyone else’s it is a piss break match. It is matches like this which make Raw such an absolute chore to watch every week. It’s the same thing over and over again until it loses all meaning and makes you actively hate everyone involved. Truth wins, cleanly, so almost certainly we are going to do this again. This program is wrestling groundhog day. Afterwards, Truth finds his fake cape, plunger sceptre and crown under the ring. Why would it be there? Why does Barrett even care that some nut job is stealing his gimmick anyway? It’s not like he is a real king, is it? Are we supposed to believe he thinks he is? Does that not make him just as deluded as Truth is pegged to be? I feel violated having watched this.
Final Rating: -*
We get footage of Dolph Ziggler getting hit in the throat by Rusev last week, and Cole tells us he is out indefinitely with a “bruiser trachea”. Ooh!
John Cena Open Challenge
Rusev answers the challenge, which is a shame. Rusev has easily been Cena’s worst opponent of the year. “Big Match John” has been on a roll in 2015, and the quality of his matches has been off the charts, but his feud with Rusev was pretty bad. Also, having Rusev lose in his Raw return match is totally counter-productive. Kevin Owens comes out to try and put a stop to it, because as he has said many times, only he is taking the US Title from Cena. Rusev isn't happy, and the two would-be challengers engage in a slanging match. Cesaro heads out to make his claim to the shot, and the three contenders engage in a skirmish. Cena watches on, bemused by it all. Turns out we are not having a US Title match yet, as first we are having a three way to decide who gets the match.
Rusev vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro
The winner gets Cena later on, which isn't really fair is it? All three are supposedly heels, but Cesaro is the clear fan favourite, and Owens is popular amongst most in the audience. All three men have interesting move sets, and there are some creative spots such as Owens hitting a Codebreaker on Cesaro and landing a senton on Rusev at the same time, but the crowd is surprisingly quiet. Byron Saxton theorises that Rusev’s downward spiral started with his defeat to Cena at WrestleMania, and isn't that the truth. A tower of doom spot finally wakes the crowd up, and suddenly they decide the match is awesome. That chant is annoying and cringe-worthy. It means nothing. This is a good match, but at this stage it is far from awesome. A triple German suplex spot with Cesaro as the thrower nearly changes my mind though, especially given the size of those involved. Very impressive. Cesaro continues to shine, taking out both with a corkscrew plancha, but Owens prevents the giant swing on Rusev with a superkick. Owens hits a moonsault onto Rusev’s face, then gets shitcanned by Cesaro. Rusev goes for the Accolade, but Owens takes him out with a superkick too. Rusev fights out of an Owens powerbomb attempt with an Alabama Slam and locks on the Accolade, but Cesaro stops it and hits an impressive stalling suplex on the massive Bulgarian. Owens makes the mistake of running his mouth and slapping both guys, so they team up to give him a shoeing. Owens decides to take a walk and wait until Sunday, which makes him look like a bit of a fanny.
We are left with a straight singles between Cesaro and Rusev, who are obviously working a chinlock after we return from commercial. It’s the law. Rusev hits a suplex from the outside to the apron, which looks dangerous. Rusev is blowing. In a remarkable and surprising moment of competent refereeing, there is no count out because technically it is still a triple threat match, and there are no count outs. Back inside, Rusev counters a superplex with a facebuster, but Cesaro avoids a splash from the top and locks in the crossface. Rusev escapes using power and hits a urinage for a near fall. Rusev is too strong for the Sharpshooter and escapes, hitting a big spinning kick and a flip senton, but Cesaro breaks the Accolade and manages the giant swing. Sharpshooter applied, but Rusev makes the ropes. Taking advantage of the rules, Rusev crawls to the outside, though that doesn't stop Cesaro, who hits a tope and an uppercut. Rusev comes straight back by throwing him off the ropes, then hits a superkick to the neck for the win. I don't agree with the booking, because it is the worst possible Cena match up, but Rusev certainly earned his shot. When the crowd were chanting that the match was awesome, it wasn't, but it was certainly getting there by the end. Helluva wrestling match.
Final Rating: ****
WWF United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
Now, all this does is make Cena look like an utter bastard. Rusev has just come through a tour de force, now he is against a fresh John Cena. It makes Rusev look like the babyface. Cena is kind to him, putting on a headlock to let the knackered Rusev get his breath back. It doesn't make for enthralling viewing. Cena is too casual and gets caught in the Accolade, which is pretty much Rusev’s only spot so far. Cena tries to power out, but gets locked in the hold again. Then comes the expected non-finish when Owens runs in and kicks Rusev in the head. Once again, that is the problem with announcing Cena’s PPV title defences in advance. It means he either wins or we get a non-finish like this. The match lived down to the low standards set by previous Cena-Rusev bouts, though it was short.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Lita
Zuh? Yes, Lita. Apparently she is a coach on Tough Enough. I wouldn't know, because like everyone else, I don't watch the show. Lita is looking pretty damn fine for a forty year old. She gives us the names of everyone on the show’s cast, they all wave, and that’s it! Michael Cole calls Tough Enough “hard-hitting reality”, just when you thought his credibility couldn't sink any lower after all these years. What a waste of time. Lita should have been involved in the women’s segment earlier. She would have been a better choice than Stephanie to bring out the NXT girls.
We get a backstage promo from the returning Stardust, with Neville the target. I was hoping WWE might drop the gimmick in light of Dusty Rhodes’ death and have him go back to being Cody Rhodes, but no such luck. The pop his appearance gets suggests that might have been the right thing to do. This is the usual oddball Stardust promo, but he appears to have made a few adjustments to the character, including a new catchphrase (“embrace the strange”), and it was less annoying than usual. The Stardust-Neville match is next, and to promote it WWF have two fantastic cartoon renderings of the pair in place of the usual photos they use. They should use these every single time.
Neville vs. Stardust
Stardust is wearing silver, blue, and black, which is his best attire yet. Neville goes for a handshake, but Stardust is not interested and kicks his ass. The match is utterly heatless, because the crowd don't want to boo Cody at all. I couldn't understand them keeping the Stardust gimmick if it was over before, but it never was. The match is worthless, with Stardust scoring the win with a tights-assisted roll up. Neville has reached his WWE glass ceiling already.
Final Rating: ½*
Main Event Contract Signing: Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar
Seth is not scared of Brock Lesnar anymore. Apparently. Well, that’s a 180 without any reasonable explanation. If anything, he should be more fearful of Lesnar than ever. Seth and Brock pull up a pew at the signing table, where the former sneers and the latter has a good chuckle. Heyman promises that Seth will get his ass kicked at Battleground, which he will, though I don't think he will lose the title. He should of course, absolutely, because he has been a terrible WWF Champion. But the way he has been booked in recent weeks suggests to me that he will be going over. It’s the WWE way! Heyman is suspicious of Seth, and is proven right when Lesnar flips the table and reveals what he has been hiding: a bat. Seth shits himself at being caught, but Lesnar couldn't care less, placing the bat on the table for Seth to take, and sitting back down. Seth becomes confident again and wields the weapon, but gets a table thrown in his face for his troubles. They have a brawl, and for a moment Seth and Kane are on top, but not for long. Lesnar ends up ramming Seth into the barricade and wiping out Kane with an F5. Seth runs away again - so much for not being scared - so Lesnar tries to break Kane’s ankle with the steel steps. When Lesnar leaves, Rollins returns to the ring and starts growling that he will beat Brock, which is tough talk from a man who was legging it only two minutes earlier. After saying he is going to cut Lesnar in half at Battleground (!), Rollins turns on Kane and starts ragging on him. He blames him for tonight going wrong, then stamps on his destroyed ankle. Odd ending. Is Kane going face? Are they feuding now? I guess the point is that Seth will be alone against Brock at the PPV. Again, overall Lesnar is booked far stronger than his opponent, which as noted usually means defeat at the pay-per-view. Anything other than a Lesnar win at Battleground will be an unmitigated disaster though. It would undo two years of great work building him as WWE’s biggest, and hottest star.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Cesaro. For the fourth straight week, Cesaro dragged the show out of the doldrums with an excellent performance between the ropes. What a wrestler.
Least Entertaining: R-Truth. He is a contender for worst gimmick of all time. Watching him makes me question whether I want to remain a wrestling fan, and certainly makes me think twice about watching when anyone else is around.
Quote of the Night: “Tough Enough is hard-hitting reality.” - Michael Cole.
Match of the Night: Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Rusev
Summary: Much like last week, Raw was a snoozefest other than two memorable segments. The first was the arrival of NXT’s three finest female workers Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, which could be a sign that WWE is finally taking it’s women wrestlers seriously, though I remain sceptical. WWE has never treated its female performers right, and I can see this being a fad that ultimately hurts NXT more than it helps WWE. The second was Cesaro’s performance. Once again he proved that he is head and shoulders ahead of almost everyone else on the roster when it comes to actually wrestling, and it appears that WWE are finally realising that. Whether they will pull the trigger on him as a top guy remains to be seen, but for now he is the star of the show.
It’s been one hell of a wrestling weekend with both the WWE Network special “Beast in the East” and New Japan’s PPV “Dominion” both bringing superb wrestling and storytelling. It’s always rewarding as a fan to get these moments after months of building up to them. It’s a reward for everything bad you have to sit through. Am I including several episodes of Raw in this? Yes, yes I am. Here comes another 3 hour presentation of the worst wrestling show in the world at the moment.
Video Control takes us to last week where Seth Rollins lavished gifts upon the Authority’s muscle for their help in him beating up Brock Lesnar the week before. We’re in Chicago, Illinois (I adore Chicago, it’s one of my favourite wrestling crowds). Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. Cole and Saxton were particularly good on the Beast in the East show as they weren’t being produced as much as they are when they’re live. It gave them the chance to actually talk about wrestling. Who knew Cole actually knew stuff?
Promo Time: Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar
Heyman is a microphone master and puts over Lesnar huge here calling him a god of violent retribution, and promises this “sword will pierce Seth Rollins’ shield”. Heyman controls the crowd, riding the boos for mentioning the end of the streak, and recounts Brock’s victories. When it comes to Seth, Lesnar not only doesn’t respect Rollins he actively disrespects him. Uh oh, that’s fighting talk. Heyman recounts Seth’s acts of disrespect, cashing in at ‘Mania, pissing Brock off the night after and attacking Lesnar last week. “The beatings and the suplexes begin tonight” in this “cathedral of retribution”. Heyman is a wonderful orator, who bends the English language to serve his requirements. Heyman ends by telling us that Lesnar is going nowhere and awaits Seth Rollins tonight.
The Big Show vs. Ryback
I don’t get why they keep pairing up these guys, seeing as they’ve got a PPV match at Battleground. Surely you’d want interactions limited to tag matches and such. Another singles match benefits no one. To make matters worse The Miz is ringside and has the house microphone. “OOOOOOHHHHH, hit him one more time Big Show”. If we’re looking at positives, at least it isn’t Xavier Woods but Miz is one of the promotions most irritating individuals. Miz actively makes the match harder to watch, which is a skill. It might be a good match, I have no idea, as Miz is so distracting and the production is so awful that I can’t tell. Which is what I really loved about Beast in the East, as it eased up on the Kevin Dunn nonsense and the terrible camerawork and just presented a wrestling show from a wrestling venue, where you could see stuff. It was brilliant. Compared to that, this is borderline unwatchable. The cuts come at the worst possible time, taking us out of the action and switching angles to make it more “interesting”. Miz runs in for the DQ to make it all irrelevant anyway. Turns out everyone hates Miz so he gets double laid out and Ryback stands tall as we finish this segment.
Final Rating: *
Video Control catches up with J&J who are driving around in the Cadillac that Seth Rollins gave them. Their visit to Wrigley Field is a disappointment because it’s a dump.
Brie Bella vs. Paige
At least it’s not Nikki vs. Paige again but this series of Bella vs. Paige matches is never-ending. If they pull Twin Magic with Alicia Fox, I’m refusing to cover divas matches anymore. There’s not much to talk about in this one as Paige faces off against a numbers game and eventually falls afoul of it, courtesy of an X-Factor. The Bella group take her out with finishers after the match to stand tall. Paige needs pals.
Final Rating: ½*
Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
They booked this on my last Raw show too, with neither guy able to job (Roman because he’s a top tier wrestler and Sheamus because he’s Money in the Bank). While it was a decent match it went to an inevitable non-finish involving Bray Wyatt. Much like two weeks ago it’s a solid physical contest and both wrestlers are fairly evenly matched in terms of size and athleticism. I can see why they keep trying to showcase the match. Chicago is probably not the best place for theatrical babyface stuff like the Superman Punch and rather predictably the crowd hate Roman for even attempting it. Luckily Sheamus counters it into a backbreaker so the crowd can get their jollies. When Roman does eventually punch Sheamus in the face it’s as a counter, not a theatrical spot. So that works too. Bray Wyatt interrupts, with Roman punching out a fake, and Reigns gets counted out…again. Like last time this was quite good, even though the match was in a holding pattern, waiting for Bray’s interruption. While Sheamus is celebrating out comes Randy Orton for a fight. That’s a match (Orton vs. Sheamus) that I never want to see, ever again.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us backstage where Triple H has a chat with the champ, Seth Rollins. The champ thinks he’s got “Battleground in the bag” so Hunter tells him to avoid Lesnar this evening or do something totally unexpected. From that Rollins decides to call out Brock Lesnar because nobody would ever expect it. That makes no sense! Not sure that was good advice from the Tripper.
Promo Time: Rusev
He calls Summer “calm and submissive”, which is how he likes it. If they start re-enacting Fifty Shades of Grey, I walk. Rusev is a bit angry about the way the fans have accepted Lana. Rusev’s grasp of the English language comes across as tenuous here despite his vocabulary. “Don’t waste your precious words hot Summer”. With the segment going nowhere Dolph Ziggler, wearing the ‘interesting’ fashion choice of a blazer and a t-shirt, comes out here with Lana. Dolph makes out with Lana, which rather predictably pisses off the Bulgarian Brute and Rusev destroys him with crutch shots. That’s what you get for not signing a new contract Dolph!
Bo Dallas vs. Dean Ambrose
Crowd is really hot for Ambrose and he reciprocates by demolishing jobber Bo in short order. Dirty Deeds finishes. Glad to see Dean’s main event run hasn’t diminished his popularity. The way he was booked was not terrible during that run but the way he eventually lost to Seth Rollins was quite weak. It seems the build is what people are remembering, which is good news for Ambrose.
Final Rating: SQUASH
R-Truth vs. King Barrett
R-Truth has taken to dressing up like a King of the Ring to wind Barrett up. Truth is both a jobber and a joke by this point, might as well use him. The great thing about Truth is he’s completely job-proof. He could never win again and he’d still be the same guy. In fact him being a loser makes him more popular as he can get near falls on the likes of Barrett but Cole sums it up when he says “how embarrassing would it be for Barrett to lose”. That’s how much of a scrub Truth is but Cole shouldn’t say that, ever. It shouldn’t be embarrassing for one wrestler to lose to another. There should be a creative reason for why the loss takes place but it should never be embarrassing. Focus on the victory, not the defeat. That’s why Barry Horowitz never got over. They just focused on Skip losing. Truth gets a few chances to win but gets knocked out with the Bull Hammer and that finishes this brief rivalry over the King title. One that Truth had no claim on anyway.
Final Rating: *3/4
Seth Rollins Calls out the Beast
The Cadillac that J&J have is going to get destroyed. In my head I see Brock giving the car an F5. That’s how my brain works. Just jacking that car onto his shoulders and introducing it to Suplex City. Seth’s rambling promos are increasingly like Triple H’s when he was on top. Which is a bad thing. He’s the go-to guy to kill twenty minutes with talking and I was sick of it a long, long time ago. There are few people who can be interesting, especially when gloating, on a week to week basis. Paul Heyman can do it. Seth Rollins cannot. He does punctuate this with a great line about how he thinks Lesnar is “Paul Heyman’s bitch”. Seth and his cronies are all armed with bats so Brock decides to take it out on the Cadillac instead. Why would you even bring that car out here? When Joey goes to make the save, on his car, Brock introduces Mercury to Suplex City. Seth, plan having gone somewhat awry, legs it.
The New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons
Tag champs the Prime Time Players join commentary, eyeballing potential contenders. Kalisto has some timing issues with both Big E and Kofi. He’s sensational when he’s on form but Kalisto has some ghastly mistakes in the locker. That’s the risk of high risk. I can’t decide if Xavier Woods is the best heel in the WWE, outside of Kevin Owens, or the most irritating non-wrestler since Shane McMahon. He grates at my nerves. Titus O’Neil’s burial of JBL and taking over on the colour commentary is magnificent. He just dismantles JBL and won’t let him back into the argument. It’s a thing of beauty. Admittedly Titus doesn’t have anyone barking orders into his ear but he’s “rough, tough and entertaining”. Both the Dragons crash and burn attempting dives and the numbers game allows double teaming New Day to score the win. Some of the early going was bumpy with Kalisto attempting difficult moves but they got on the same page as the match went on and it was ok. The show was stolen by Titus O’Neil though. He was outstanding on commentary. 2015 has been a big year for him.
Final Rating: **
Video Control stops off to shill WWE2K16 for those who enjoy such things. We follow that with footage of Finn Balor winning the NXT belt from Kevin Owens in Japan this past weekend. Great match.
John Cena US Championship Open Challenge
Cena is out here for the main event and, wait just a doggone minute, with 30 minutes left on the show? Surely they won’t give the main event 30 minutes? Cena puts over Chicago as being a raucous crowd. Ain’t that the truth! Kevin Owens answers the challenge but calls this “the worst part of Raw” and Cena’s promos “the usual garbage”. It seems as if Owens is taking Cena on for the strap, which is odd because he’s due a title shot at Battleground. Cesaro interrupts him, blaming Owens for his failure to tap Cena out on Raw last week. Owens totally backs down and leaves Cesaro to the challenge. This whole piece of business was unusual. Not sure what to make of it.
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Cesaro
Vince McMahon seems to think that Cesaro doesn’t connect with the crowd but he’s surely aware that Cesaro is an outstanding professional wrestler. I’m sure he felt the same way about a dozen top workers over the years. The great thing about Cena’s US title run has been his willingness to put over people. Not by losing to them but by allowing them to dominate him. Cesaro does so with an assortment of fun power moves and sublime counters. Cesaro’s freakish strength isn’t just doing planned moves like the squatting, stalling suplex but also moves where he just catches Cena and manhandles him out of the air. It’s astonishing. Cena is his usual persistent self. The double Five Knuckle Shuffle bit is cute, with Cena showing the kind of cockiness he’s not demonstrated as a face for many years, only for Cesaro to counter him down into a crossface. The storytelling from both men is exemplary. We’ve seen a lot of Cena’s moves countered over the years but Cesaro is flawless in the way he picks holes in Cena, logically, as a worker. The little pauses, the theatre, the pandering to the crowd. Cesaro uses all of this to his favour. Cena has found out new ways to use his body weight too and he breaks out a DDT to escape a Giant Swing, working around the mechanics of the move with sheer power. Honestly, both these guys are operating at a level far above the usual Raw card. Why can’t more matches get showcase time like this?
Cena deserves as much praise as all his opponents during 2015 because he’s not just been determined to be a fighting champion, because that’s nothing new, but he’s been determined to learn new tricks to hang with the next generation. He’s not going to be out-performed, damn it! There are so many great spots where Cesaro breaks out a fantastic counter or Cena does that listing them all off would be pointless. The only bad thing about the match is this nagging irritation that they have this stacked roster and could put on matches like this every week…so why are they so sparse? I understand that great matches would be less special if they happened all the time but NJPW putting on ****+ matches on every show doesn’t dilute the ***** belters when they do happen. It just makes the shows more palatable. What is really cool about this match is the lack of reliance on finishers that tends to be the WWE’s go to during big matches. But also the sheer number of times where Cena looks absolutely boned, totally outclassed by wrestling holds. Whether it’s the Giant Swing, the Sharpshooter or the Crossface. Cesaro outwrestles Cena, over and over again. Cesaro even gets to power out of the STFU into a dead weight suplex. It’s amazing and showcases what a special and unique talent Cesaro is. Cena blots his copybook by botching the Springboard Stunner but the way it counters into Cesaro’s Neutralizer tells the story of Cena overreaching. Even the mistakes make sense.
What’s really, really phenomenal about this match is how it keeps on going. They have moments that feel like finishes and it just keeps going. Part of the joy of watching mid 90s All Japan was how frequently they’d be able to tease a finish and over a period of 20 minutes or so. It’s exceptionally hard to do. Cena and Cesaro do it during this match. Cole calls the match “a classic” and he’s not wrong. It builds to the point where both men are tussling over a top rope spot and after a long fight up top Cena gets the Avalanche AA to retain. Say what you like about Cena, and indeed the Chi-Town natives hate him, but they’re still standing applauding at the end. Because John Cena might want your applause but that’s because, at times, he thoroughly deserves it. Tonight was one of those nights. I was thrilled to have watched it.
Final Rating: ****1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: John Cena
Least Entertaining: Xavier Woods. The Miz. Randy Orton.
Quote of the Night: “My client Brock Lesnar is the god of violent retribution” – Paul Heyman
Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Cesaro
Summary: What a weekend for wrestling! Great special event in Tokyo, a phenomenal PPV from New Japan (a contender for best PPV of the year, I’d wager) and a Raw that delivers one of the best Raw matches of this, or any other, year. A massive, awesome main event match compensates for any drab card and this was no exception. The undercard on Raw was completely forgettable but not without effort. Reigns-Sheamus, Barrett-Truth and the Dragons-New Day matches all contained enough effort to make the show feel worthwhile. The big segments, before the main, were dominated by Brock Lesnar just being Brock Lesnar and destroying things. The main event puts this one over the top. A wildly enthusiastic thumbs up!
4th July 2015.
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Sumo Hall. Known in Japan as the Ryogoku Kokugikan. The building is one of the largest wrestling venues in Tokyo with the kind of capacity the WWE normally looks for. The only thing above this is the Tokyo Dome. Normally Japanese promotions run Korakuen Hall, a much smaller building that holds roughly 2,000. Sumo Hall is reserved for bigger events like the G1 Climax final. I love that this show has been built around Finn Balor’s triumphant return to Japan. I’m sure they were originally intending on booking the show around KENTA but Prince Devitt was a big deal in Japan. He sort of turned face just before he left too, leaving Bullet Club in the hands of AJ Styles. Hosts are Michael Cole and Byron Saxton.
Chris Jericho vs. Neville
Jericho had a cracking match with Finn Balor on this tour and he’s definitely a popular figure in Japan where he spent a lot of time touring (FMW, WAR, New Japan) before breaking America. Neville also made a breakthrough out here working for Dragon Gate (which Cole even mentions). Good move putting these guys on first because not only are they great wrestlers but also guys with Japan experience. It helps massively with your crowd reactions in Japan if you’ve been there before. Although WWE shows are a bit different and we get duelling chants, which isn’t normal. The great thing about Jericho is that he doesn’t need to wrestle. He just does it because he loves it, to make some shows special for the fans. Jericho looks a little sluggish, which you could forgive based on his age, but he’s good enough that Neville can helpfully get into positions for the big spots and it all works. Credit to Jericho for even attempting to wrestle the way he did when he was a lot younger and, for the most part, pulling it off. It’s a perfect choice for the opening match and Neville seems to be enjoying himself throughout, looking to outshine a genuine Hall of Famer. It’s certainly a unique match. As it progresses they even slip into a little strongstyle, which the fans are completely into. Jericho absolutely nails a Lionsault, which gets a big nostalgia pop. It’s sending a message to Neville that he too can fly. Jericho pulls out all his tricks with the Walls of Jericho coming up short and the Codebreaker catching Neville in mid-air in a great spot. Not sure why Jericho feels the need to delay a cover as it telegraphs a kick-out. Throughout the match Neville goes looking for the Red Arrow. After two failures a third one gets knees and Jericho finishes with the LIONTAMER. Not the Walls of Jericho, the high-angle, kneeling Boston crab. Fantastic opening match with bags of effort from Neville and a retro performance from Jericho.
Final Rating: ****
WWE Divas Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige vs. Tamina
Naomi was originally billed in this match but is replaced by Tamina due to a family bereavement. Tamina is not an improvement. Cole, in an attempt to get over Japanese stuff, references Bull Nakano and pronounces her name wrong. Nice try, Maggle. Incidentally Cole & Saxton is a far better pairing without the irritating JBL channelling the company line. Saxton genuinely seems to know his stuff. Tamina takes at least one badly botched bump, which is about average for her. She shouldn’t be taking bumps she’s not comfortable with and as a big lass should be more dominating. The crowd are quiet compared to the opener but enjoy Tamina executing a rugmunch bomb on Nikki, doing a superplex on Paige simultaneously. There’s certainly hard work from all the ladies and Nikki has shown some improvement recently but that’s only because she absolutely sucked before. Tamina gets some serious heat for breaking up the PTO. No matter the country the support is generally with Paige. At least until Sasha Banks gets called up. Nikki ends up flooring Tamina with an elbow combo to retain. Ok for a diva’s match.
Final Rating: *3/4
Kofi Kingston vs. Brock Lesnar
There’s a meme going around Twitter with this match announcement and an RIP Kofi tribute attached to it. He is going to die. Kofi tries to extend the match time by stalling. Just take your medicine, Kingston. Lesnar completely no sells everything Kofi does as the crowd “YAY” along with every Brock strike and throw. The suplexes are deadweight and it looks like Brock is filing paperwork. F5 finishes in a few minutes but it was never a contest. Kofi had himself an invitation to Suplex City. Brock throws Kingston around after the match just to emphasise his dominance. To my boundless joy the rest of New Day run in and get massacred too.
Final Rating: SQUASH!
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Finn Balor
They have the full big match atmosphere here with ladies presenting flowers to the participants. Owens throws his away in a tremendous show of disrespect. STREAMERS FOR BALOR!! Awesome. That’s so cool. Balor is on fire from the bell as the crowd launch into an “NXT” chant. This isn’t surreal though Michael, this is hard work that’s produced results. Triple H must be proud. Given both men’s combined skills it’s an excellent contest. Owens is the best natural heel in the world. Balor’s explosive offence fills in for the John Cena role and they just go ahead and have that match again (albeit minus the finisher theft and countering). Which is fine because that Owens-Cena match was brilliant. Incidentally, Michael Cole is actually quite good on commentary when he’s not got someone barking in his ear. He still has stupid ticks (“for the win”) but he’s much better and Saxton is too. Owens brings a standard grating offence, which on a less charismatic man would be quite dull but it’s HOW he does it. “You’re not impressed. I don’t care. I hate this stupid country and everyone in it” – Owens.
As the match continues they draw the crowd in and it starts to get noisy with the fans backing Balor. Slingblade gets a tasty pop as a tip of the hat to Tanahashi. Coup de Grace…gets 2. It didn’t feel like a finish because of the tame set up for it. The set up was a high kick. That was it. When Owens hits a Rolling Senton off the top, that feels like a finish but Balor kicks out, keeping the fairy tale alive. BLOODY SUNDAY from Balor! His New Japan finish and that gets a near fall. I was wondering if he’d use that, because we’re in Japan, and he did. It’s a nice tip of the hat to his previous life. The WWE fans wouldn’t get it but it wasn’t for them. Balor does a great flip over to escape the Pop Up Powerbomb. As if he’d done his home work and was ready for Owens’ best. This time a couple of low dropkicks set up the Coup de Grace and Balor takes the NXT title! The match had a tremendous slow burn build up and the right man won. This pretty much confirms Owens departure from NXT in record time. I’m sure everyone was happy with how this came off, apart from a slightly miserable looking Hideo Itami who knows it could have been him. Tatsumi Fujinami strolls out here to show Finn some legendary love. The match was good but the intangibles put it over the top into great territory; the streamers, the tradition, the crowd, even the commentary.
Final Rating: ****1/4
King Barrett & Kane vs. John Cena & Dolph Ziggler
Cole’s suggestion that they should “get rid of JBL” on Raw is a little close to the bone. Cole & Saxton have gotten better as the show has progressed. Wallowing in their creative freedom. If only they could keep Vince McMahon out of the announcers ears on a regular basis. Ziggler tries to take this opportunity to showcase that he’s capable of stealing shows with big matches on them. When he’s in there, it’s almost a worthwhile match. The rest of the time it’s just a plodding non-event. Cole gets so bored watching that he starts listing Japanese wrestlers who’ve wrestled in the WWE and Saxton bites by listing the WWE superstars who’ve wrestled in Japan. New Coach’s claim that Shawn Michaels worked there is a bit tenuous seeing as that was only in WWF co-promoted shows with SWS. Now they’ve got me doing it! Cena takes a lot of heat, which is less interesting than the big bumping Dolph taking heat. Mostly at Kane’s hands. I don’t get criticism of Kane deteriorating. He’s not deteriorated, he’s never been any good, now he’s just old. Plus as a heel he’s never been even remotely interesting since his first run in 1997. Hot tag to Ziggler, he gets in a couple of spots and they work heat on him too. I was right about Ziggler being more entertaining taking heat and in particular when he takes a massive powerbomb off Kane. The match is way too long though and feels like a bonus dark match that they stick on Raw and Smackdown tapings. It’s a house show main, on the B circuit. For anyone who’s seen these ponderous events this is nothing new and it’s a reminder of some of the worst half-assed attempts at wrestling in the history of the promotion. In that respect it is pretty Old School. At the end Ziggler hot tags Cena and the AA finishes. Thank God.
Final Rating: ½*
Summary: The show was all kinds of great until the main event rolled out and rolled on, and on, and on, and on, and on. If they had a lot of spare time could they not have showed one of the undercard matches somewhere? Obviously Balor-Owens will get all the plaudits and recognition for a well-executed, well-built title switch. The big surprise for me was how great Neville-Jericho was. Jericho turned back the clock in that match and made me wish the WWE had televised the Balor match too. Maybe as a bonus…instead of the main event? Anyway, main event aside, this show delivered on any promises the WWE made about Beast in the East. I’d love to see more house shows with odd match up’s thrown on TV. I know it was sold on the big NXT match but that’s why the IC title and US title should mean more. You could book events around big title defences, the same way NJPW does. Anyway, thumbs up. More two hour shows.