With Arnold Furious still on G-1 25 duty, once again I get lumbered with the three-hour wooden spoon that is Raw. Three weeks on the bounce now, which is too much for any sane person to endure. Last week’s effort was a miserable affair up until the solid main event and the manly performance of John Cena, broken nose and all. The week before was pretty damn good. This week sees the return of Brock Lesnar, so I have higher hopes than usual going in.
We start with the all too familiar sight of the roster assembled on the stage to commemorate the passing of a fallen idol. This is in tribute to the late Roddy Piper, who died aged 61 on Friday. We have lost some real greats recently. It was only a few weeks ago that WWE did the same thing for Dusty Rhodes. Childhood heroes are passing with an upsetting frequency. WWE follow the customary ten bell salute and playing of Piper’s theme music with a moving tribute video, which must bring a tear to the eye of any fan who grew up with the WWF in the eighties and nineties. RIP Roddy, you were one of the best.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
We start out with another regular sight: Seth Rollins coming out to run his mouth in the opening segment. The sound of the opening strains of his entrance music causes a mass of booing from a rowdy San Jose crowd. Let’s see how hot they are in three hours time, shall we? Seth decides he is his own worst enemy, claiming to be too sympathetic for his own good. He cites last week’s Cena nose break as an example of this, and cuts to multiple slow-motion replays. “Thank you Rollins,” chant the crowd. That’s a little harsh. I understand why people hate Cena, and I was one of them too once over, but he has won me over this year with a string of remarkable performances. “I felt his nose shatter,” says Seth, prompting more cheers. We get some more shots of Cena’s destroyed nose, leading to a collective “oooh” from the crowd. Seth complains that the match should have been stopped and he awarded the United States Championship, blaming his sympathy for Cena’s plight as the reason he ended up getting beaten. It’s an interesting spin on it. I wonder what they would have done if Cena hadn't broken his nose. Seth throws out a challenge to Cena for a title versus title match at SummerSlam and the crowd approve. As do I. Though, I am not crazy about the double title situation. It undoes all of the good work Cena has done with the US Title by making it a secondary strap. I guess the winner could defend both. Seth moves on to tonight, reminding everyone that he won the WWE Championship in this very city at WrestleMania, and that John Cena did his first US Title Open Challenge here too. That gives Seth an idea: a WWE Championship Open Challenge which starts right now! Good stuff. A strong promo from Seth for a change, and it’s about damn time.
JoJo hits the ring and randomly asks Seth if the open challenge is legitimate, to which Seth responds in the affirmative... with two conditions. His opponent has to be under six-feet tall and under two-hundred pounds. “So, you’re talking about a match with El Torito?” JoJo is a sharp one. Seth says yes and calls out the little bull, as my hand reaches for the remote... Instead of El Torito we get Neville, who fits the requirements for the match. However, WWE booking him as such does rather send a message that he is one step away from a midget. I don't care for Neville being portrayed in such a manner, but at least the match should be good.
WWE World Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Neville
It’s nice to see Neville back doing something meaningful after having been treading water for weeks. They really need to do some tweaking to his character though, because some of the things he does at the moment are killing his reaction. The awful music needs to change for one. Another thing I could live without is the cape. While we are at it, Neville is the worst superhero name in the world, and seeing as WWE are pushing Neville as a comic book star, they should really come up with something better. Call him Gravity Man and have done with it.
As you might expect the pace is quick from the off, with Neville flying around and Seth giving him plenty of offence. Neville gets all of his big flying spots in early, including an insane corkscrew plancha off the top to the outside. It’s all Neville as we go to commercial, but when we return it’s chinlock city. Neville fights back as Rollins continues to give him plenty of the match, and a reverse rana scores Neville a near fall. Neville continues to dominate, drilling Rollins with a series of dead lift German suplexes for more close calls. Seth desperately avoids the Red Arrow and hits a clothesline to buy himself some time, but Neville is able to counter the Pedigree into one of the closest near falls you will ever see. The crowd are furious and yell “three!” at the ref. Seth goes up top but takes too much time, and Neville catches him with a ridiculous top rope rana. He connects with the Red Arrow and the ref counts three, but notices at the last split second that Rollins’ foot is on the rope. The crowd bought it as the finish. Hell, so did I. It was a perfectly executed spot. San Jose chant “one more time”, and Neville obliges, but he crashes and burns then immediately falls victim to the Pedigree. Outstanding match, and a real strong showing from Neville. He won himself a lot of new fans here.
Final Rating: ****
The Lucha Dragons & Los Matadores vs. The Ascension & New Day
The Prime Time Players join the commentary team, as they are feuding at a distance with all four of these duos, who all want to become tag champions. This match is very typical of WWE booking strategy, with everyone involved in a program just dumped into a match. The guest commentary spot was done to death last week too, and indeed over the past few months. WWE needs some fresh ideas to spark interest in its issues. Titus cracks me up again, mocking Byron Saxton for his inert presence. “You don't do nuthin!” That’s a fact. Titus was in the news this week because of a heart-warming tale where he took a bunch of homeless people out for lunch, with the announcers unable to resist making a big song and dance about it. It’s really not all that honourable to do charity work just for the adulation, which isn't what Titus was doing at all, but the way WWE go about championing it makes it seem like a publicity-seeking news story. Titus is dismissive about it, saying he was just doing his bit the make the world a better place. What a great guy. Attention turns back to Saxton, rather than the clusterfuck in the ring, when he tries to play hip cat by throwing out PTP catchphrases. “That was awful!”, is the PTP verdict. I have no idea what is going on in the ring because it has all been secondary to the commentary. It’s nothing to write home about anyway. New Day win it thanks to Kofi pinning Kalisto. A TV time-filler of a match if ever there was one.
Final Rating: ¾*
The Bellas vs. Charlotte & Becky Lynch
Before things get going we are forced to endure an insert promo from the Bellas. In her irritating sing-song voice she declares the Divas revolution began when she first won the Divas Title, and I truly believe she thinks that too. Alicia and Brie are allocated two lines each. “Team Bella is the brand to be.” I hate that over-used word brand. I disagree with the notion that a person can be a “brand”. It’s such phony corporate speak, and it sounds even more ridiculous coming from those three half-wits. Paige, Charlotte and Becky Lynch get an insert promo too, which is also not good. They deem themselves the Submission Sorority, which is actually a pretty decent name. I still think the whole assigned teams thing is hot nonsense though.
Once again all hopes of WWE “getting it” this week are out of the window due to the seemingly omnipotent Bellas’ presence in the match. They engulf this division, and it will never, ever prosper while they are around. And they will always be around, because of whom they are married to/doing. The talent of Charlotte and Becky makes this slightly better than most Bellas matches, but not much. Brie is absolutely dire, unable to comprehend the most basic of spots. Watching Lynch try and lead her into things is hard work. Sometimes, Brie seems like she has never seen a wrestling match before, and that it is her first day on the job. They do the most convoluted cue of all time to go to commercial, with Becky taken out on the outside and all three of the Team Bella bints standing over her and posing. After commercial... chinlock. My god. Becky takes a long and dull heat, with the Bellas clueless about what to do in a long match. And make no mistake, this has been a long match. Anything over three minutes for the Bellas is too much time for them. Charlotte gets the hot tag and goes to town, Becky hits a t-bone on Brie to take her out, and Charlotte counters a few times into the Figure Eight for the submission win over Nikki. Good, but like last week, does it mean anything? Credit to WWE because they keep putting the new girls over, but we all know when it comes down to it, they will lose in the title match with Nikki and that will be that. No one will care anymore.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, Naomi challenges Paige to a match tonight, then brings up Ronda Rousey. Naomi says he is not the baddest woman on the planet, Team B.A.D. are. Okay, love. They walk off, with Tamina giving JoJo a look like she just farted right there in front of her.
Miz TV: Kevin Owens and Cesaro
Before we get to the storyline, or rather what loosely passes for a storyline these days, Miz totally babyfaces himself after years of being an insufferable twat, putting over Piper’s Pit as the wrestling talk show originator and the inspiration for Miz TV and many others, then giving his own shout out to the late ‘Hot Rod’. I don't care if what he said is true, a heel shouldn't do that. It totally takes you out of the moment, especially when Miz then goes back to be a dick heel right away. Can you imagine if Christian Bale had taken a moment out during The Dark Knight to pay his respects to Heath Ledger, only to then immediately slip back into being Batman? No, because the premise is absurd. The more WWE do illusion-shattering things, the harder it is to take anything they do seriously. It’s like openly admitting that everything is in on the fix.
Owens is far too amiable with Miz, a character that his no-bullshit persona should ordinarily despise. Cesaro cuts off the pleasant chat quite quickly, which irks Miz because he thinks he should announce him. Owens says Cesaro is jealous of him, because for all of his hard work and sacrifice he will never be as good as him. Cesaro thinks his theory is bullshit. He tells Owens he is ashamed of him because of his tendency to walk out on matches, which he finds disrespectful, and calls him an embarrassment. Owens stands up to retort, but in a case of unfortunate timing the chair he was sitting on gets caught in his shorts and comes for the ride. Cesaro cannot resist pointing it out, but Owens completely no sells it. “You know what I think is embarrassing? That I have accomplished more in three months than you have in three years.” Cesaro wants a fight, which gets Miz excited. They both tell him to shut up, scaring him out of his chair. “Why don't you let the two guys who can actually fight handle this, hey bud?” - Owens. Once again Owens goes to leave, but gets goaded back into the ring for a brief brawl. He shoves Miz into Cesaro and goes for the powerbomb, but Cesaro counters into a giant swing attempt. Owens skips out, and that’s the segment. This was fine. At least WWE are doing something to promote the match rather than having them wrestle each other every week to the point of exhaustion. They have a problem with each other and conflicting opinions as to who is right, and they want to fight about it. It’s not that hard is it? More of this.
After commercial we go to a Ronda Rousey quote about Roddy Piper, and brief footage from her post-fight victory speech on Saturday where she paid tribute to the man who give her the nickname “Rowdy”. WWE using UFC footage - with credit - in 2015! I am shocked. Even more so given the idiotic comments made by Dana White prior to the show, where he dismissed wrestling as “fake shit”. He should realise by now, regardless of how much he likes to deny it in public, that half of his audience are wrestling fans.
Rusev vs. Mark Henry
Ah, a Vince McMahon fetish match: two behemoths rumbling. He is the only person in the world who enjoys bouts like this. The match sucks of course, but at least it is super-brief. Rusev wins with a superkick after around two minutes tops, then gives Henry another after the decision.
Final Rating: SQUASH
After some Network shills and the customary mocking of the PPV audience who pay $54.99 to watch, we go to a Wyatt Family promo. They hype the lazily booked six-man tag with Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Randy Orton tonight, then Sheamus appears on camera. A stranger, from the outside, ooooh! Wyatt tells Sheamus that the enemy of his enemy is his friend, and that tonight he can consider them friends. This has novelty value seeing Sheamus in the Wyatt setting, but it was merely a hype vehicle for the main event. Not good, not bad. Just there.
Zack Ryder vs. King Barrett
This has “filler” written all over it. JBL comes over all excited at the prospect of Barrett, making intentionally wild claims that Barrett is the reason for England getting the rugby world cup. “Are you feeling alright, JBL?” - Saxton. Barrett does the kind thing and lets Ryder throw in a couple of moves, before finishing him with the Bullhammer. Another squash.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Heyman reminds us that it was Undertaker not Brock Lesnar who rebooted the rivalry between them, citing his attack at Battleground. He cuts to footage from the show. We also get highlights from the epic brawl two weeks ago, then Heyman introduces Brock. The response he gets makes it clear that this is an all-babyface program. Lesnar takes his anger out on the ring steps, the top of which he hurls effortlessly into the ring. He can’t help himself can he? If he sees something loose, he just has to throw it. Lesnar uses the stairs as a pulpit, standing on them mid-ring while Heyman does the talking. It’s an odd visual. Heyman claims Undertaker begged Vince McMahon for a match with Lesnar at WrestleMania 31, which apparently he refused. Well, he should have entered and won the Royal Rumble shouldn't he? Heyman says Undertaker interjected himself into Lesnar’s business to force WWE’s hand, and now Brock is going to take him to Suplex City at SummerSlam. Heyman points out the numerous injuries Taker suffered when he last met Brock, showing more passion in selling the mach than anyone else in the company shows about anything. See, Miz, that is how you play a character. Another great promo from Heyman, but as usual the way WWE use Brock is questionable. Why was he even here? Heyman could have cut this promo without him standing there gurning. Lesnar is on a limited schedule, make his appearances mean something rather than wheel him out to stand around. They could have achieved the same thing with a cardboard cut-out.
Paige vs. Naomi
#DivaRevolution? More like #SameOldShit. It’s literally the exact same division, only with three NXT girls added to the main roster, and more time allocated to them on Raw. What is revolutionary about Paige vs. Naomi? Nothing. Which probably explains why the crowd is so silent for the match. It’s fairly useless viewing too, which is the other reason. As usual in Naomi matches, the most exciting thing about watching her is seeing what colour the lights in her boots go. These longer matches are a nice idea in theory, but the reality is most of the girls who were already on the roster struggle to fill three minutes with anything worthwhile. When they get more time, they go to rest holds and protracted heat sections. The announce team are on autopilot throughout, with Cole using the exact same comments to describe many of the moves as he does every week. “That looks familiar,” he notes in a bored tone when Paige hits a fallaway slam. He is referring to JBL, who used to use the move, but after over a year of Paige doing it I think we get the picture. Paige wins with the PTO, as the Divalution continues to flatter to deceive.
Final Rating: *1/4
Backstage, Stardust does a promo with his wife Eden, who looks at him with a mixture of confusion and disgust. Stardust does his usual quirky promo on Neville, then sends another message to Stephen Amell of Arrow. It seems the actor has already made his decision and via Twitter says he will be at Raw next week. If Stardust (and Neville, as mentioned earlier) were properly portrayed as super heroes, they could have some fun with his appearance. Unfortunately, I am already resigned to it being a segment filled with lame attempts at humour and the celebrity giving the heel a kicking.
Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper & Sheamus
I really dislike main events like this, because they are so uninspired. It’s the usual WWE trick of throwing two feuds into one throwaway bout, a practice they have employed since Raw began. I find it to be lazy, the mark of a creative team lacking ideas about how to progress issues. Can you imagine if the WWF had done this in the nineties, and shoved H***n (sorry, I am following WWE’s lead) and Warrior in throwaway tag matches in the weeks before WrestleMania? It would have killed all interest in seeing them finally face off. WWE do that every week with every rivalry they have going. I realise I am like a broken record with this, but it must change if WWE ever wants to draw decent Monday night ratings again. This is every pointless WWE six-man tag you ever saw, with a boring heat in the middle where a boring heat doesn't need to be, and the now commonplace dead end of show crowd. Thankfully, both the action and the audience pick up a notch or two towards the end, once the finishers and counters start coming thick and fast. It’s a frenetic few minutes and leaves a more positive memory of the bout. Sheamus is the one sacrificed because he has the briefcase, which in WWE logic means he has to lose every week. Reigns pins him following the spear, and the babyface trio celebrate as if they have achieved something other than a routine win. See, this is what I dislike about booking these matches; they mean nothing. The result doesn't matter a jot, so you can’t get invested in who wins or loses, because who cares? Mundane bout, with a hot finish that carried it through.
Final Rating: **1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Neville. He was the star of the show tonight.
Least Entertaining: The Miz. He wasn't terrible in the Miz TV segment itself, but his kayfabe breach was ridiculous. Leave personal tributes to a non-kayfabed environment, don't undo all the work you have put into your character by dropping in and out of the role on Raw.
Quote of the Night: “Byron is about as popular as a lion hunter in Zimbabwe” - JBL. A topical reference from JBL!
Match of the Night: Seth Rollins vs. Neville. By a mile.
Summary: This is the new WWE formula: put two great workers in there together and give them twenty minutes to do their thing, then fill the rest of the card with played out rivalries, half-assed booking and the new fad of two Divas matches. It has been the same for the past few weeks. I tune into Raw every week hoping they will finally recapture the formula that once made the show so vibrant, but each week I shut off the TV feeling exhausted. Even with the good shows. This was a so-so show, nothing bad, a few things worth seeing, but with far too much that was unimportant. Filler kills wrestling shows, and every edition of Raw at three hours is chock full of filler. The noticeable lack of The Authority, Kane and The Big Show was pleasing though. That, I do approve of.