Due to Christmas business this is my first RAW review since November 23. It’s also the final RAW of 2015, which is interesting to me as I reviewed the first RAW of 2015 as well. It normally doesn’t fall that way so as the night goes on I shall be looking at the guys and gals involved in tonight’s show and comparing them to their same selves at years start.
We’re in Brooklyn, New York. Hosts are Michael Cole, Byron Saxton and JBL. John Cena is back tonight to get his return match with Alberto Del Rio. I figured Cena would be held off until the Royal Rumble but here he is. Intended to boost ratings, no doubt. Speaking of boosting ratings…
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
Dragging the old bastard out of his office to appear on TV is a fairly cheap ratings ploy but seeing as it worked last time, here he is again. Vince decides to have a chat with Roman Reigns, his current champion, and seeing as the company belongs to Vince nobody tells him he can’t waste valuable TV time telling us how much money he made off the backs of the Wild Samoans back in the day. Incidentally Roman, sired by a Wild Samoan, was struggling like hell at the start of the year. Stuck in a dead end feud with The Big Show and winning the Royal Rumble against the wishes of the masses because he wasn’t Daniel Bryan. Fortune is smiling upon him nowadays as he’s managed to locate his pop. He looks supremely pleased with himself. However Brooklyn suddenly remembers how much they like Daniel Bryan and we get back to square one. The McMahon family attempt to run a fake arrest angle, with Vince selling a shove like an old man who’s “fallen and can’t get up”. Despite the attempts of the Emasculator (Mrs Helmsley) to get Roman arrested the cops take umbrage with Vince’s ploy and lock him up instead. A babyface cop in New York! What a time to be alive.
Kevin Owens vs. Neville
At the start of the year both these guys were in developmental NXT. Owens has risen to the top a lot quicker and has had greater success on the main roster. Both guys go after their finishers immediately only for Neville to score a fluke roll up on Owens in a matter of seconds. Owens then destroys Neville to complete the 50-50 booking of the whole angle, Slammy Award included. If this ends up with a good-great PPV match I’d be ok with the angle. Unfortunately Dean Ambrose runs in to save poor little Neville, leaving the Geordie looking like a punk. In the process Ambrose manages a ridiculously terrible rebound lariat on the floor. What does Ambrose care about Owens anyway? Dean already took his title. A pity this didn’t get a chance as on paper it was a great match. Neville being used an afterthought like this doesn’t bode well for him but at least he’s on TV.
Final Rating: N/R
Video Control takes us a special video recorded by the Rock on Instagram earlier in the day, stating he’s on his way to WrestleMania. He is most welcome. Elsewhere Becky Lynch cuts a solid promo, with no goofiness, pointing out she had a tough route to the big time including a spell of bartending in Hell’s Kitchen. All I ever wanted from Becky was to be herself, this was a step in the right direction.
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
On paper this is another fantastic match and indeed they worked a match over **** for an NXT TakeOver earlier in the year. Sasha is over in Brooklyn until she points out she’s from Boston. Sasha is so terrific as a heel that she needs to push herself away from the babyface ranks to stay there. Sasha will always be over in Brooklyn for her big match with Bayley in NXT TakeOver Brooklyn. Sasha spends a lot of the match trying to stay heel by not doing much, which is probably the coaching rather than her own ideas as her work in NXT shows how capable she is. The one plus is that Sasha isn’t put off by the slightly quiet crowd and paces herself. She won’t rush into mistakes and WWE clearly want her to stick with Naomi and Tamina so they run that whole numbers game angle. The match ends up being slow, thanks to WWE’s main roster agents, and contains a few glaring botches. It’s probably not what WWE was hoping for. Sasha fortunately retains her presence, even during a poor match and comes across as a star regardless. However the crowd turn on the match in a big way and chant “boring” during a methodical contest. It’s strange how deliberate they are and how few spots are inserted. Naomi interferes to set up the Bank Statement even though Sasha basically had the same spot landed clean earlier and opted for a rest hold instead of the finish. They do manage a quick switcheroo where Becky tries for a Disarmer only for Sasha to pin her with a grab of the tights. I have no idea what went wrong here but there’s no way these two women wanted to go out there and have that match. The last sequence was pretty cool but that was about it.
Final Rating: *3/4
Video Control shows us Mr McMahon’s “mug shot”, which apparently doesn’t happen in front of a height chart anymore. Props to the company for mentioning Jerry McDevitt, McMahon’s actual power attorney.
Kofi Kingston vs. Kalisto
New Day are over huge as they seem to be everywhere now, having perverted WWE’s initial intentions for a black babyface group (as they were back in January, channelling the power of positivity and getting booed for it) and turning it into the most entertaining thing on TV. I’m amazed Vince McMahon didn’t split them up immediately for daring to get over when they weren’t supposed to. New Day refuse to be entertaining because they didn’t win any Slammys. You people deserve everything you get. New Day are effortlessly the best thing on RAW every single week. Could it be because WWE just gave up on them and let them be themselves? Maybe there’s something in that. Anyway, this would be the third consecutive ‘great on paper’ match of the evening. This one fails like the rest though as it’s really short and Kalisto wins with a rana.
Final Rating: *1/2
Big E vs. Sin Cara
Luckily this follow up match gives us the continued presence of the New Day and Xavier Woods’ terrific trombone skills. The kids erupt into a bizarre “we want Cena” chant, offset by sensible people chanting “no we don’t”. Sin Cara lands hard on his shoulder and that turns the match into a struggle for the luchadore as he’s seriously hurt. It makes a mess of the match and Big E finishes with the Big Ending after New Day shenanigans. Hopefully Sin Cara isn’t too badly hurt as the Lucha Dragons had started getting some traction.
Final Rating: ¾*
At the start of the year Miz was in an entertaining angle with Damien Sandow. The entertaining part (Sandow) hasn’t been on TV since the angle finished and Miz is still boring everyone with his awfulness. Ryback cuts him off quickly to remind us what a dull year he’s had by ordering us to focus on the future. We’re then joined by some other undercard talent like Goldust and Zack Ryder. Even R-Truth and Heath Slater make an appearance. Where’s Sandow? Ryder is pretty popular but otherwise it seems like an attempt to fill the ring with guys nobody cares about (only Goldust had an angle at the start of the year, with Stardust, and none of them have mattered during 2015). R-Truth is fun although it’s largely because he’s got nothing to lose. The Big Show comes down to clear out the jobbers and ends up brawling with Ryback in a battle of big boring guys who should have been given the boot by now. Hey Show, when the crowd chant “please retire” it’s not heel heat it’s “get the fuck out of the ring” heat. Ring up Sean Waltman and ask him what that’s about. Show enters himself in the Royal Rumble. Nobody cares. Nobody at all. What was the point of this?
The Big Show vs. Ryback
Apparently this wonderful impromptu match is the point of all that talking. Show dominates for a bit and then takes a count out when Ryback goes after the Meathook. “Well done Big Show” says JBL, congratulating the giant on not only wasting two segments but accomplishing nothing in the process.
Final Rating: DUD
Dean Ambrose & The Usos vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus, Rusev & King Barrett)
At the start of the year Ambrose was buddying around with Roman Reigns and feuding with Bray Wyatt. Not much has changed but he’s at least won the IC title. The Usos card position remains the same, although injuries have hampered their year. Sheamus was injured in January although his card position seems static aside from his brief flirtation with main events this month. Sheamus tries to get cheap heat before the match but you could hear a pin drop during it. The crowd maintains that silence as the match starts and the crowd only get feisty to chant “this is boring” while Sheamus plods through his offence. Honestly, the League of Nations isn’t a bad idea but is it any better than what Rusev had going with Lana at the start of the year? It isn’t even better than what Barrett was doing as Bad News Barrett. Hopefully, in time, the group will be allowed to do something useful, like the New Day. The crowd gets a wave going out of boredom so the League, magnificent heels that they are, join in. Sheamus finishes with the Brogue Kick and the League mock the Mexican Wave some more in celebrating. Some decent heel work there from those three gentlemen. The faces provided a few reasons to cheer for them, which made the match passable but not very interesting. The post match is where things get interesting as the pissed off Kevin Owens returns to powerbomb Ambrose through the announce table. Owens’ angry and relentless actions during tonight’s show have been reminiscent of Steve Austin in 1996. If they follow this through to the logical conclusion there’s your next main event megastar. It really is a ‘can’t miss’ opportunity so watch the booking go peculiar before WrestleMania.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control gives us an update on Vince McMahon, who has posted bail. I’m saddened he isn’t picked up by an out of date limousine that he loves so much or a vehicle that’s so inappropriate he can sell disdain.
Before we hit the main event there’s time to pay tribute to Lemmy Kilmister who died at the age of 70 this week. His life was a marked contrast to Vince McMahon’s, who is the same age. He didn’t care about fitness and abused his body as much as humanly possible. He lived the rock n’ roll life. I’m sure he died with absolutely no regrets. “Born to lose, lived to win”. RIP Lemmy.
WWE United States Championship Match
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. John Cena
Cena returns after a lengthy two month absence. To quote Jerry Lawler’s old country music gag “how can we miss you if you won’t go away?” Cena does spew truth as he comes out here saying the US championship used to be fun. Del Rio’s US title run has been a big load of nothing. The pre-match talking is long and stupid as Cena tries to bait Del Rio into putting the title on the line. This title re-match is about as flat as the match where the title switched. Del Rio does get in a tidy counter out of the AA into the armbar but the lack of crowd noise is notable. Del Rio gets tapped while the ref is bumped to allow Cena to score the old ‘visual win’. 50-50 booking is running wild! The overbooking continues with League of Nations run in’s and a frankly idiotic sell from the ref where he briefly recovers to count a near fall and then magically passes out again. That could be a serious head injury, get a medic down there! Despite all the nonsense Cena has it won again with the AA but the League runs in for the inevitable DQ.
Final Rating: **1/2
Post Match: The League of Nations put a beating on Cena and the crowd respond by…doing nothing whatsoever. Roman Reigns ends up making the save after the Usos fail to do so. Like with Ambrose, I don’t know why Roman is still pissed off with Sheamus. He’s got the title, he needs nothing else. Vince McMahon turns up to book Roman vs. Sheamus for the title next week and he’ll referee the match himself. Happy New Year! Here’s the new year, same as the old year.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: The New Day
Least Entertaining: The Big Show
Quote of the Night: “You’re just one generation away from a bone through the nose” – Vince McMahon of Roman Reigns, referencing the Wild Samoans and being mildly racist about it.
Match of the Night: Alberto Del Rio vs. John Cena.
Summary: Great wrestlers, terrible promoter. That also counts as my year in review.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that last week’s RAW rekindled my interest in WWE’s current product, because there are still significant issues with the way the company does things almost too numerous to mention, but it certainly went some way towards reaffirming my faith in them and their ability to get someone over. They did a tremendous job with Roman Reigns – the standard Stephanie McMahon emasculation aside – and the show ended on a feel-good moment for both the audience and the new WWE Champion. The ratings too reflected the quality of the show-long storytelling, with the third hour actually gaining viewers for the first time in a long while. But WWE’s problem is often knowing how to follow up. As is seen by their annual post-WrestleMania slump, the company struggles to know how to continue their momentum once that ball is rolling. With ‘Mania season looming, let’s hope they can figure it out and go into the hottest period of the year on fire. Tonight is the annual faux-important awards the Slammys, which should be good for a few unintentional laughs.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
We start the Roman Reigns era with... the same old Stephanie McMahon shit. And she is doing a cracking job of selling her recent family woes at the hands of Reigns by smiling throughout her walk to the ring. She delivers her verbiage with the passionless authority of a newsreader, declaring that she won’t be upset about what happened to her husband and her father, because she is a McMahon and it is a night of celebration. If the heel doesn't sell their suffering, why should we care when the babyface gets one over on them? Oh that’s right; nobody is allowed to get one over on Stephanie. Reigns comes out for what I assume will be a weekly tete-a-tete with the omnipotent one, and declares that he thinks her presence is a set-up for an attack. That logic is flawed, given she was out there first and nobody invited him to join her. He changes his tune on a dime, decided that he is not worried about being attacked, especially by Triple H, who he hasn't seen since kicking his ass at TLC. I guess he didn't watch TakeOver: London where Triple H completely no-sold his beating. Steph yells at Roman to get out of her ring, which amuses Roman. It amuses me too because the delivery is appalling. “You sound like a little kid right now,” he laughs. “You get out of this ring before I make you get out of this ring!” she bellows. Reigns has some more fun mocking her, turns his back on her, then walks off. “Don't you turn your back on me! Get back in this ring now.” He disappears through the crowd, leaving her bawling and yelling in her phony angry McMahon voice. She just doesn't stop talking! She tries to coax him back by putting his cousins the Usos in a handicap match against New Day. That doesn't work, so she books Dean Ambrose against Sheamus in a cage match. Roman just laughs. “Because of you Roman, there’s gonna be hell to pay!” she snarls, before throwing the mic and stomping away like a little spoilt brat. Far too much Stephanie, again, though Roman came off pretty well here.
Slammy: Breakout Star of the Year
Presenter: Dolph Ziggler
The nominees are: Kevin Owens, who famously beat John Cena in his first WWE main roster match before jobbing to him multiple times in a row. Neville who has had some good matches but has been cursed with the usual 50/50 booking. Charlotte who has got much worse since coming to the main roster. Tyler Breeze who won once then became a midcard nobody almost immediately. Braun Strowman who is talentless but huge, so will likely continue to get pushed long after it is obvious to everyone else that he is a no-hoper.
I am quite surprised about that result, though I don't disagree with it. Neville stares at his Slammy with a look of shock and awe. He might as well be saying, “Ooh, shiny!” Neville plays the “Wow, what an honour” card, then Kevin Owens wanders out to moan about the result. He tells Neville to take a little walk and get out of here, so he does! Way to make him look like a total chump. Owens yells at Dolph Ziggler for laughing at his misfortune, and inevitably that leads to a brawl.
Bray Wyatt vs. Kane
So, Kane is back. Didn't this feud end at Survivor Series? In order to retain the aura they are trying to build for Wyatt, he shouldn't be wrestling on TV. They should save his in-ring performances for PPV and live events. Overexposure will be the death of the character. The bout is a non-event anyway mind, with the Wyatt Family interfering early, causing the Dudleys and Tommy Dreamer to run down for a brawl. If you know anything about WWE booking, then you know this turns into an eight-man tag.
Final Rating: N/R
The Wyatt Family vs. Kane, Tommy Dreamer & The Dudley Boyz
So much for Tommy’s little run with WWE being over. Last week the Wyatts and Team Extreme were involved in a cracking hardcore brawl, yet replacing just one element (Rhyno) and swapping him out for Kane makes for a much worse match. Actually that isn't fair, because Kane barely doesn't anything. Nobody does really, as the match only goes a few minutes. The Dudleys take out Rowan with 3-D, Strowman double clotheslines them both, then Harper finishes D-Von with a lariat. It’s nice to see someone (the Wyatts) actually getting a push without 50/50 booking killing their momentum. Long may that sort of thing continue.
Final Rating: *
Slammy: LOL! Moment of the Year
Presenter: Santino Marella
“HAHAHA HE IS SO MUCH FUN” laughs Cole in that fake manner that he does, as Santino dances around on the stage. Yeah, he is a hoot. The nominees are: the Kazoo vs. Sax battle between New Day and Edge & Christian, which was so LOL-tastic I had forgotten about it. The Bushwhackers’ Hall of Fame induction speech, which was very entertaining. The world premiere of The Miz’s erectile dysfunction advert, which was your typical low-brow WWE comedy fare. Those nasty, despicable heels Triple H and Stephanie McMahon dancing with New Day. R-Truth cutting a promo about what he is going to do at Money in the Bank, a match he is not even in. Hell, what a category! From a company that exclusively writes lame comedy skits, that is pretty appalling.
Okay then. Sure it was. Santino accepts on Truth’s behalf because he thinks he deserves it more, which naturally draws out Truth. Didn't we just see this angle?
In a brief VT, Mick Foley – dressed as Santa - turns up for a quick cheap pop and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
Slammy: OMG Moment of the Year
Presenter: Paul Heyman
Heyman thinks that every Slammy – except Diva of the Year and LOL Moment of the Year - should be awarded to Brock Lesnar. Actually, he could make a strong case for the latter. Brock mauling Michael Cole the night after WrestleMania was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. The nominees: Seth Rollins cashing in his MITB briefcase at WrestleMania. Brock Lesnar destroying the announcers, cameramen, and everyone else in his way the next night when Seth reneged on a rematch. Kalisto last week at TLC for his insane Salida del Sol off the top of the ladder. That really was impressive. The Wyatt Family battering The Undertaker after Hell in a Cell. Sheamus cashing in MITB on Roman Reigns at Survivor Series. That wasn't shocking as much as predictable. Actually, I guess it was shocking that WWE were crazy enough to book it.
I can get behind that. I have not seen a spot as impressive as that Salida del Sol for many years. Heyman hands him the award without any complaint, even though Brock Lesnar was one of the options.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
In an odd moment, they replay the confrontation between the pair from earlier a couple of minutes after the match has started, which is distracting. Michael Cole is distracted throughout the match, using it to plug a variety of things including tomorrow night’s live SmackDown!, which reminds me of something pertinent Jim Ross wrote on his blog this week:
“Broadcasters who are forced to speak on loosely connected topics such as what's trending on Twitter even though it's graphically displayed on the TV screen and don't stay true to the talent are on course to not get the talents over. If I'm watching TV and am visually seeing physicality and athleticism but I'm hearing yet another train of thought what of it am I supposed to process? Exactly.”
That sums my thoughts up exactly. Hopefully the recent hire of Mauro Ranallo will help to address that. The match goes through commercial, another increasing trend which I am not a fan of because of how it takes you out of the moment. When we return the intensity increases, and Dolph connects with a superkick that sends Owens careening to the outside. Dolph makes the mistake of following him and eats the announce desk. From nowhere Dolph hits the Fameasser, but Owens kicks out, hits the pop-up powerbomb, and wins the bout. Standard TV match fare.
Final Rating: *3/4
Slammy: Superstar of the Year
Presenter: Stephanie McMahon
Why wouldn't she present this? I would have thought they might have saved this for the end of the show, with it being the most “prestigious” award. It’s placement on the show is telling. For the record this is a non-kayfabed award, one which has caught out WWE before. I remember when Daniel Bryan won it a couple of years ago and totally threw them for a loop. The nominees are everyone on the roster, though WWE obviously have their favourites. Roman Reigns is the most heavily featured and clearly the man they want to win it. Sheamus being considered a genuine candidate is a joke. He got pushed to the title because they had no options, but he was a loser all year prior to that. Others with video packages include John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, Kane, Seth Rollins, and Sting.
Winner: Seth Rollins
I thought Brock Lesnar was a lock for this. Seth is actually here, on crutches, and very popular. I was getting somewhat fed up with Rollins because of the terrible way he was booked, but I have missed him since he has been gone. For all his sneering character is grating, his in-ring work is phenomenal. I hope he makes a swift and full recovery, because WWE needs someone like him at the moment. Seth is as cocksure as ever, pointing out that he was really the only option to win the award. He then promises that in 2016 he will rebuild himself and come back stronger than ever. Here’s hoping.
In other news, John Cena returns next week to take on Alberto Del Rio. He is another one who has been sorely missed these past few weeks. I am genuinely pleased he is coming back.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger
Can they beat this program into the ground any further? Even though Del Rio has handily beaten Swagger every time they have squared off, he still enlists the Union-esque League of Nations to stand in his corner, including the returning King Barrett, who went missing for a few shows due to a secret injury. There was no explanation, nothing, he was just there one minute and gone the next. The match is nothing, merely a heatless extended squash which Del Rio wins with the double foot stomp. Del Rio is routinely one of the dullest parts of RAW. Post match the LON do a fairly tame number on Swagger and pose as if they just did something notable. The nWo they ain’t.
Final Rating: ¾*
Slammy: The Hero in All of Us Award
Presenter: Mark Henry
Henry, for those keeping track of his flip-flopping this year, is a babyface for this segment. The nominees are: Natalya for her various charitable works. Roman Reigns for his various charitable works. The Big Show for yelling at a security guard. Erm, I meant his various charitable works. Titus O’Neil for his various charitable works. John Cena for his various charitable works. Y’know, I have said it before but doing charity work is much more honourable when you don't seek public approval and recognition for it. Henry says, “Let’s find out who it is,” then looks at the Titantron waiting for the winner to be revealed. Even though he is holding the card with the name of the winner in his hand! What a dumbass!
Winner: John Cena.
Who isn't here. The crowd don't care for that much. Henry accepts on his behalf and quickly mutters something about the guys not needing approval or thanks for doing what they do, and the irony of the statement given the award he just presented is too much for me.
Other Slammy winners announced earlier today include Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker for Rivalry of the Year, which was the only realistic winner. Every other rivalry has been drawn out long after anyone stopped caring. The Best WWE Network Original Show is The Stone Cold Podcast, which is funny because it has been around for years before WWE got their hands on it. Double Cross of the Year is Damien Mizdow for... I have no idea. The Extreme Moment of the Year is Roman Reigns battering Triple H at TLC.
Slammy: Surprise Return of the Year
Presenter: Santa Claus
Not Mick Foley, but some dork in a suit who stands on the ramp and pretends to throw gifts from his sack. Behind the beard is the man-child known as Bo Dallas, who is more over than I can comprehend. I am surprised he is willing to show his face in public after last week’s humiliation at the hands of Vince McMahon. The nominees are The Dudley Boyz, who returned with a bang in an awesome moment, but have been treading water ever since. Chris Jericho, who came back to TV at Night of Champions to team with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, cost them the match, then no mention was ever made of it again. Alberto Del Rio, which was a genuine surprise, and an interesting one, but as noted earlier has turned into a real chore. WWE have no clue how to book this guy. At least he wins with some regularity. Kane for returning as Demon Kane, even though he was on TV every week as Corporate Kane. Sting, who ate Seth Rollins’ chocolate statue and took its place behind a big reveal curtain. Then, in his second WWE PPV match, he jobbed out for a second time. Great.
Who also isn't here. What a washout this show is.
New Day vs. The Usos
Before this handicap match gets underway, New Day complain about not winning the Slammy for Tag Team of the Year, an award which went to the Usos earlier on in the day. I don't get it either. The Usos have missed most of the year due to Jey’s injury! New Day threaten to ruin Star Wars: The Force Awakens but hold back because Kofi hasn't seen it yet. This is yet another match to go through commercial, and indeed a chinlock is applied when we come back. Jimmy takes the heat, but with Xavier on the apron rather than cheerleading the match lacks the fun aspect that most New Day outings have. Jey’s hot tag is fiery enough, and the Usos pull off the upset over the champs despite the numbers disadvantage. Like the rest of the wrestling tonight, this was nothing much.
Final Rating: *1/2
Slammy: Diva of the Year
Two Truth segments on one show! “My name is R-Truth, allow me to speak the truth: 2015 has been the year of the Divas.” Credibility: shattered. The nominees are Nikki Bella. No. Naomi. Which is an hilarious prospect, even if she is “amay-ay-ay-ay-zing”. Paige who manages to stay popular due to smoke and mirrors, even though her matches tend to suck. Sasha Banks, who is the clear winner. Charlotte, who has done okay since being called up to the main roster, but has not had a genuinely good match like the ones she had in NXT yet.
I cannot even fathom that result. At least it wasn't Nikki Bella. Oh wait, Truth returns and says he made a mistake and Paige was the runner up, and the real winner is:
Winner: Nikki Bella
Oh fuck off. This is clearly a worked result. Inexplicably Paige and Nikki are all pally-pally and share a hug. Truth leaves his own Slammy on the stage, because he, like everyone else, doesn't give a shit about this farce of an awards show.
Neville vs. Rusev
Miz joins commentary to continue his role of Neville’s unwanted advisor. Lana is conspicuous by her absence, with no explanation as to where she is. The LON are ringside for this though, so you know the finish. The story of the match is power versus speed, as you would expect, with Neville throwing himself at Rusev but getting caught on the outside and sent flying with a belly-to-belly onto the mats. Brutal. We take a commercial break, again, as this recent trend becomes an epidemic. Pace your frigging shows better! After break Neville rallies with a moonsault to the outside, right in front of the hapless LON, who merely look on and do nothing. Neville goes for Red Arrow but Rusev moves, so Neville just jumps across the ring anyway and into a superkick, then taps to the Accolade. Post match, LON take out Neville and do some more celebrating. “They could be unstoppable,” says JBL. Okay, whatever.
Final Rating: *1/2
Slammy: This is Awesome Moment of the Year
Presenter: The Miz
Man I am bored. The nominees, if anyone is even still awake (with videos set to the worst music in history; a peppy tune punctuated by a “this is awesome” chorus): Brock Lesnar murdering a hapless car. Randy Orton hitting the best RKO of all time on Seth Rollins at WrestleMania. The Divas Revolution, which is too funny. WWE genuinely think they did a good job with this! The Shield reunion, which was great fun while it lasted. The Rock and Ronda Rousey bitching out Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania, which was one of my favourite moments of the year, but ultimately will lead to nothing due to Rock and Ronda being unable to work WrestleMania 32 as WWE originally hoped.
Winner: The Rock and Ronda Rousey
Naturally, neither is there. This award show is so bad it is almost funny how useless it is.
Brie Bella vs. Becky Lynch
To compound the misery, I now have to watch Brie Bella’s attempts at putting together something akin to a wrestling match. Oh, the horror. The three guys in the audience chanting “Brie Mode” should be shot. Brie played babyface last week, but the crowd chant (quietly) “Let’s go Becky” so Brie turns on them immediately and snarls, “Yeah, is that what you want?” as she is kicking her. Charlotte is at ringside for this, but Alicia Fox and Nikki Bella are not, which is weird. This Divas division is all over the damn place. They flip-flop from face to heel not just week after week, but within matches! Brie uses an armbar forever, not because of anything resembling psychology but because she doesn't have the foggiest what to do. Becky sells it for a moment, shrugs it off, then locks on the Disarm-Her for the win. She wins points after the match for selling her arm when Charlotte tries to raise it in victory, which I like. Match sucked though. Obviously.
Final Rating: ¼*
Slammy: Match of the Year
Presenter: Ric Flair
Here is a match who knows a thing or two about having the Match of the Year. He says as much too. The nominees are: John Cena vs. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar from Royal Rumble (****3/4), which should win. Sting vs. Triple H from WrestleMania (**) which had some great moments, but wasn't much as a contest. The finish was a joke too. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens at Elimination Chamber (****1/2) which was glorious. As were the rematches. Roman Reigns vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio from RAW (***1/2) which wasn't even the best match on RAW this year. Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell (****) which was very good, though perhaps not as good as their first HIAC encounter back in 2002. I guess NXT matches don't count because Sasha Banks vs. Bayley from Brooklyn (*****) pisses all over every one of these. I am outraged that Cesaro vs. John Cena (****1/2) doesn't get a mention either.
Winner: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar
Brock is... not here. My god! Paul Heyman collects the award to boos, as the building chant for Lesnar. Heyman says Brock has no desire to collect awards, he wants to fight, but no one in the locker room dares face him. That sounds like a cue line for someone to come out and challenge him, but no. Nothing. This show reminds me of Raw X from 2003 when WWE built up a big awards event but had nobody of any worth there. It’s similarly deflating.
Backstage, the LOL, I mean LON, attack the Usos. So, there is your future madcap four-on-four match-up booked. I can barely wait.
Steel Cage Match
Sheamus vs. Dean Ambrose
There is not much time left on the show, so mercifully this won’t last long. The LON thugs jump Ambrose prior to the match, leaving him prone for Sheamus to pick apart. Unanswered heat, great, just what this show needed. According to Cole, Sheamus is in a foul mood after losing the WWE Title “eight nights ago”, which was TLC, a show where Sheamus retained his title. How can he not remember that the title change took place on RAW one week ago. Seven days. Maybe he doesn't know how many days there are in a week. He is dumb enough. A few in the crowd chant, “This is boring,” and they are right. Michael Cole doles out another of his useless trinkets of nonsense, declaring, “The steel cage is being turned into the Ambrose asylum,” he says, despite Ambrose having just been beaten up for the duration. Sheamus hits a dangerous-looking White Noise from the top, and Ambrose ridiculously kicks out. Way to kill that move. It’s only Sheamus so who cares? But still. I fail to see the point of this match. In what way does it punish Roman Reigns, as Steph was intending? Surely putting Reigns in this match with the title on the line would be more fitting. Plus, Ambrose was conspicuous by his absence at both TLC and on RAW last week when Roman was getting his ass kicked. Hell, he hasn't even congratulated him on his win. Some friend. Ambrose hits his vertical flying elbow off the case, but – because it is Christmas – the LON slam the cage door on his head. Reigns finally turns up and batters the LON on the outside, sending them scurrying with their tails between their legs. What a faction! Roman climbs the cage to prevent Sheamus escaping, then throws Dean a chair. Ambrose uses it to leather Sheamus but fails to escape. They brawl on top of the cage, brawl down the cage, then Sheamus knocks Ambrose off and loses. What a fool. Roman spears Sheamus for good measure afterwards. This was odd, and not very good. After the match Stephanie slaps the fuck out of interviewer Tom Phillips and leaves him out cold. WWE needed a new top heel to work with Roman, and apparently they are going with Stephanie!
Final Rating: *3/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Roman Reigns. He did well despite Stephanie trolling him in the opening segment, and he made the cage match tolerable when he interjected himself.
Least Entertaining: Jesus it could be dozens of people. The most infuriating was Stephanie McMahon, whose promo on Reigns at the start was dreadful. She needs to disappear from WWE programming so someone else can get over in that top heel role.
Quote of the Night: “My name is R-Truth, allow me to speak the truth: 2015 has been the year of the Divas.” – Perhaps the biggest lie ever uttered on RAW, by the ever-incompetent R-Truth.
Match of the Night: Pass.
Summary: What went wrong? Seriously, how can WWE go from putting on the best RAW of the entire year to one of the worst in one single, solitary week? Nothing worked tonight. The matches were all half-assed, laboured, and heatless. The Slammy Awards were a complete washout, with inexplicable winners and the majority of them not even in attendance. There was some horrid stuff from Stephanie McMahon, Brie Bella, the LON, and, well, everyone to be honest. Nobody did anything of note, no storylines were really furthered, nothing was set up for Royal Rumble, it was a mess. The Slammy edition of RAW always sucks, and this broadcast continues that unwanted trend. An utterly tedious slog to endure.
16th December 2015.
NXT has come a long way since it replaced WWE’s other feeder league Florida Championship Wrestling. It’s become a beloved brand and it’s own entity. Now complete with tours and a global fanbase, weaned on NXT by WWE’s own Network. The time has come when NXT can tour the UK and make a success of it, including a Network special airing live. The future is now!
Triple H opens the show, having sold injuries to miss RAW but this is his project so he’s in the UK babyfacing it up as NXT honcho. It’s literally the first time I’ve liked him since 2002. “Live in prime time in the UK” reminds Corey Graves. It’s nice to actually have a Network show airing at a sensible hour. It shows the company is beginning to realise its global potential. If business is down in the USA, give that business to other areas of the world.
Asuka vs. Emma
Hunter flew Dana Brooke over. NXT is flush with tour cash. The crowd immediately launch into a chant of “Asuka’s gonna kill you”. This is the biggest problem with having Asuka is the level of expectation. Everyone expects her to kill all the other ladies. This is followed by a loud chant of “fuck her up, Asuka, fuck her up”. Asuka’s technical skill is so much fun. It looks like Emma could lose an arm just getting taken over. Asuka gets so bored with destroying Emma that she uses her anus on one attack. It’s a virtual flying stinkface. Emma gets a heat segment that sometimes feels like filler but sometimes feels like a legitimate threat. Something Dana never brought to the dance. Emma is an ok wrestler but Asuka just kills her with the strikes. The spinning backfist is pure evil. Emma has a few surprises like the Tarantula and Asuka starts to show a few weaknesses, making the match feel more legitimate. We get some shenanigans involving a ref bump and Dana with Emma tapping out to the Asukalock. Emma tries for a plunder shot but gets spin kicked in the face for the Asuka win. This was an absolute belter with a red hot crowd. Great way to open the night’s grappling. This show is going to be awesome.
Final Rating: ***1/2
NXT Tag Team Championship
Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder (c) vs. Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
The challengers have the best sing-a-long entrance since the New Age Outlaws. They are enormously over in London, as they will be absolutely everywhere. This routine can easily transition over onto the main card with no tweaking whatsoever. I can only presume WWE aren’t that hot on the Jersey Trio (Carmella included) as workers. Enzo’s haircut is ridiculous and he’s halfway between Shinsuke Nakamura and a manga character in a post apocalyptic world. I cannot take my eyes off him. He’s also massively over. Big Cass gets the Hey Jude treatment and the crowd is leaving the announcers speechless. Apart from Corey Graves, who’s a man of the world. Dash & Dawson have been capable tag team champions but they’ve got no sizzle whatsoever. I get comparisons to the Brain Busters but those guys were also phenomenal workers. The comparison is ridiculous as Enzo & Big Cass are a truly modern tag team, as shown by Cass launching Enzo over the top in a huge spot. The challengers are eager to prove themselves the most entertaining team in the division. Dash & Dawson pick off Enzo’s arm and cut off the ring. It’s old school tag team work near perfectly executed. Big Cass gets a red hot tag but the champs wipe out the bad knee, made bad by themselves to set this match up. The Rocket Launcher has it won only for Dawson to pull the ref out of the ring. Enzo ends up pinned and sadly the fan-favourite duo of Enzo & Big Cass, despite being the biggest babyfaces in the company (being swiftly caught up by Jordan & Gable) lose again. There’s a danger of them becoming somewhat of a joke. Dash & Dawson looked seriously great at times.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews
This is a big old slobberknocker with two big guys smacking each other around. The crowd opt to rain shit upon Baron Corbin but he has improved quite a lot recently. To the point where he wouldn’t look out of place on the main roster. This crowd is so adult orientated it creates an amazing atmosphere, not normally associated with WWE. You can hear them chanting “fuck you, Corbin”. This is not the Full Sail audience. I must admit my mind drifts badly during this match as the two men clubber away at each other and Corbin inserts a few rest holds. Baron’s best work comes from his verbal abuse. At one point he yells “go back to Ring of Honor” to a floored Apollo. It’s terrific banter from the Baron but unfortunately the closest Apollo, or Uhaa as he was known back then, came to working ROH was working UK Supershows in Preston under the ROH banner. I guess “go back to Dragon Gate” wouldn’t connect with so many audience members. Apollo has a few sensational counters including flipping out of End of Days. Baron floors him with it out of nowhere a minute down the line though. In a way I’m glad they stopped Crews being unbeaten because there are only so many places you can go with that and Baron has improved enough to deserve that big Network Special win. Match was only sporadically good though, despite Corbin getting better, and Crews had the best moments.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us to a Nia Jax interview and Asuka appears in the shadows, ready to kick off. “You looking at something?” asks Nia. I want that match! Asuka is the only person on the NXT roster capable of dethroning Bayley so it’s for the best to have her distracted by another potential star in Nia.
NXT Womens Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Nia Jax
Bayley has had a great run already as women’s champion, beating most girls with pluck and good grappling. Of course, Nia isn’t like most girls. Even her theme song says so. Bayley’s pop is so loud you can hear the technical guys having to turn it down. As the fans sing “heeeeey Bayley, ooh-ah, I wanna know if you’ll be my girl” the smile on Bayley’s face is amazing. This is joyous wrestling. Nia might have a lot of size and power but she’s not very far along as a worker. She doesn’t hit stuff when it makes sense. As if she has a pre-planned routine of where she wants to hit stuff and does it regardless. Nia dominates with power and Bayley has to get creative with her work, grabbing Princess Bride sleepers (dragon style) and hitting dropkicks and even rope moves as Bayley moves out of her comfort zone. Nia hits some butt ugly legdrops, which is an awful finish for her, and Bayley kicks out. Nia’s power moveset is generally quite good but I don’t dig the legdrop as a finish for her. Especially the way she lands it, which is over safe. She also has no idea how to read the crowd, to the point of incredible frustration. The crowd noise is in the middle of building when she cuts off Bayley’s comebacks. Wait for the crescendo. Bayley keeps catching her in chokes until she eventually gets the submission. Nia looked completely out of her depth here but Bayley did an awesome job of carrying the contest.
Final Rating: ***
Finn Balor (c) vs. Samoa Joe
Finn decides to come out here dressed as Jack the Ripper. His entrance is met perfectly by the crowd, who have been on their game all night long. Rich Brennan mentions Balor’s “Dark Passenger”. Has he been watching Dexter? The contest sees Balor showing a lot of pluck but running headlong into Joe’s power moves. Joe is just too big, too fast and too vicious. Finn looks in trouble from the opening minute or so. The crowd goes pro-Balor, based on his locality and his babyface nature although there are widespread “Joe’s gonna kill you” chants going on. Joe is in a mood to steal the show, something we’ve not really seen from him since his NXT debut. He’s been comfortable with just ‘being here’. Not so tonight. It’s a vintage performance from Joe, chaining submissions and owning Balor on the mat and with strikes. Finn brings a tonne of babyface resolve with desperate kicks and dives. Joe makes a tremendous point by just swatting aside a dropkick though. He’s so great when it comes to ignoring offence and just shrugging it off. The strike duels are terrific especially with Joe just catching the Pele Kick after having seen it already, earlier in the match. Also blocking a kick after having seen it twice already. Joe powering up out of the corner is great. It makes him look like an absolute monster. Joe teases a massive Super Muscle Buster but Finn shoves him off and finishes with the Coup De Grace in a surprising finale. Very, very strong match. Lots of hard hitting and fun stuff. I’m actually a little sad that Joe didn’t win because it felt like a logical switch but Balor is anxious to hang around in NXT so I guess he’s their guy for now. With all the main roster injuries Joe may be called upon soon.
Final Rating: ****
Summary: I was totally into this show almost throughout. Only the Corbin-Crews match slowed me down. It’s getting to the point where I just expect a great event from NXT. Almost everything they do hits. It’s almost like a misfire is overdue at this point. This show was consistent rather than amazing but the crowd made it special. Big thumbs up, as always.
Credit where it is due: last night WWE got it right with Roman Reigns. His ascension to the WWE summit was never going to come on what is traditionally the weakest pay-per-view of the year, but at the same time they couldn't just beat him again. So after stacking everything against Roman in the form of the League of Nations, Sheamus won the match. If they had left it at that it would have been a disaster, but then came the post match in which Reigns went nuts and demolished Sheamus, Rusev, and Alberto Del Rio with chairs, then beat C.O.O. Triple H from pillar to post. Reigns did such a phenomenal job kicking the shit out of Hunter that the crowd – who had been opposed to him throughout the match – were cheering for him and chanting, “Thank you Roman” by the end. Objective achieved. That may well have been the making of Roman Reigns as a babyface in WWE. Pissed off ass kicker always trumps comedy-scripted, wise-cracking goof (unless you are The Rock), and the way Roman was booked last night was exactly what they should have been doing all along. Now the challenge is keeping that going tonight on RAW.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
It was inevitable that Steph would open the show, but for all I am never happy to see her, at least it makes sense tonight. Steph has a quick rant before Roman appears and makes light of the whole situation, then begs Steph to fire him. Perfect. He should be at the stage now where kowtowing to the Authority is no longer even a consideration. Booking him as a loose cannon who doesn't care one way or the other what happens to him makes him far more interesting. Steph snarls that he is a failure – again – and a disgrace, which Roman finds amusing. He offers an alternative opinion that, “You are a disgrace. Your husband is a disgrace. Matter of fact, your whole family is a disgrace.” The rowdy crowd agree, and so do I! Steph slaps him hard, and Roman smiles. So Steph slaps him again, and again, and again. She absolutely leathers him, and one of her flailing hands catches him in the eye and makes it water, which is rather unfortunate as it makes him look like he is crying. Learn how to work, Stephanie, dammit! In the Attitude Era Steph would have got her clock cleaned for that, but Roman has to just stand there and take it. I’m not saying he should engage in man-on-woman violence, but WWE shouldn't put him in that spot in the first place because it makes him look like a pussy by offering to retort. Steph says she is not going to fire him only because her husband told him not to, but that there is someone on the way to the building who just might: he daddy. Oh yes, it is 1998 all over again. The crowd go mental at the prospect of Vince, popping the promise of his appearance like Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania win. For WWE this is the last refuge of the damned. Vince only turns up on the show these days when the ratings are really in the tank, and make no mistake, they have rarely been worse. In fact, they have never been worse in the WWE era. The last time they were so low was long before the company “got the F out”, way back in 1997. The way this was set up was smart. It was fairly brief by opening promo standards, and built anticipation to the impending Reigns-Vince confrontation later on. If Reigns takes out Vince later it will make up for Steph metaphorically castrating him, and he will be a made man. I could have lived without Steph exerting her omnipotent authority, but this was a good start, overall.
Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler
They have built this up like it’s the start of a new zany era in WWE with Ambrose as the new Intercontinental Champion, yet it is just another random match with little purpose. So little, that almost immediately Michael Cole talks about WWE’s Instagram page and Byron Saxton discusses what might happen when Vince shows up later. Cole joins in the conversation and only breaks away from it to briefly call a cover and kick out. Have you noticed that when he goes on his non-match related tirades, the only things he ever calls are covers? Once you hear it one time it is unbearable thereon in forever more. To make matters worse, JBL when offering his input on the Vince-Roman situation directly references the Steve Austin angle from nearly two decades prior. All that does is remind everyone exactly what is being ripped off, and no matter how good the Reigns program with the McMahons gets, it can never and will never surpass the magic of the Austin-Vince feud.
The match here is non-title, but the crowd are not all that interested at first. It’s a babyface match, which is a hard sell anyway, and there is nothing on the line so it is meaningless. They had a really, really good match a few weeks ago as part of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament, but this doesn't come close to that. Not that the genius WWE Universe can tell the difference, because they hilariously chant “this is awesome” like a pack of robotic drones. It is not awesome, it is just a generic TV match. There is no finish because usurped IC champ Kevin Owens storms to the ring and decks Dolph as to cause Ambrose to get disqualified, then he beats the tar out of Dean with vicious punches and a brace of powerbombs. Dolph tries to fight him afterwards and gets powerbombed onto Ambrose for his troubles. This was great heel work from Owens, and the crowd responded accordingly and actually booed him. In Philly!
Final Rating: *3/4
Backstage, Kevin Owens no-sells JoJo’s dumb questions and warn that what he just did is only the beginning. “You think Dean Ambrose is a lunatic now? I won’t stop until he is absolutely insane and living in an institution.” I bet he does.
Elsewhere, in a very un-WWE looking backstage environment, the Dudleys, Tommy Dreamer (who earlier claimed his run with WWE was done), and Rhyno pay homage to Philly, complete with interspersed ECW footage. WWE persona non gratis Raven and New Jack even get a brief airing! The quartet promise to “take this city back to the extreme” against the Wyatts tonight, and the crowd naturally approve.
R-Truth vs. Bo Dallas
When the ratings for the show are released, you will no doubt notice a significant quarter hour drop at the exact time R-Truth makes his entrance. The guy’s hackneyed act is beyond dated. He offers absolutely nothing to this product. The same thing can be said for his equally useless opponent, the lesser spotted Bo Dallas. The chubby-faced, inferior Rotunda sibling has not been seen on RAW much recently, and nobody was complaining. WWE treats this match with the appropriate level of disdain, cutting away midway through for the arrival of Vince McMahon. He tells Stephanie to go home and take care of her husband while he takes care of the Roman Reigns situation. We return to the ring and having stopped to watch the promo, the two future endeavour bound bone-benders get back to business. Briefly. The start of Vince’s music a few seconds later signals his arrival, complete with trademark hilarious overblown walk and a look of utter contempt for the two wrestlers. “Stop the match, stop the match, get the hell out of my ring!” Brilliant. I bet Truth and Dallas are absolutely thrilled about their current position on the WWF totem pole. Not for the first time tonight, I agree with Philly, and uproariously cheer the truncated conclusion of this non-match.
Final Rating: N/R
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
After comparing himself to God, as is standard for VKM, he oddly decides to pull up a seat at ringside so that Roman can “sweat a little bit more” as he waits to meet his doom. Or in other words, it is time for commercial. Vince then calls Roman to the ring to give him a bollocking, dismissing the notion that he doesn't care about being fired, then tells him to get on his hands and knees and apologise. Vince threatens violence, but before he gets his ass handed to him he is interrupted by Sheamus. It seems Sheamus wants to beat an apology out of Reigns himself. On behalf of the McMahon “Irish coat of arms”, Sheamus challenges Reigns to a match tonight. Not just any match, but a title match, no less. After his recent victories over Roman he is confident, and as well he should be because Reigns loses every title match he gets. “You people fall for that every time, because there is no chance in hell!” growls Vince. Yeah, swerve that audience! Roman responds by mocking Vince for being an old man whose grapefruits are now shrivelled prunes, and a seventy year old who time has passed by. A truth bomb! Vince takes the bait and agrees on the condition that if Reigns fails to become WWE Champion tonight, then he is fired. Then he kicks him in the nuts, because he is Vince McMahon, and he can. Another good segment, and more well-booked anticipatory storytelling.
Jack Swagger & Rusev vs. Alberto Del Rio & Rusev
“We want Lana” chant the Philly brain trust, despite her standing at ringside, overseeing proceedings. This is your typical post-PPV TV bout throwing two of the matches from the previous night together in a nothing tag outing, which is a tactic WWE really need to knock on the head. The match is nothing to write home about, and ends fairly quickly following a Rusev superkick to Jack Swagger. Hey, they refrained from Even Steven booking! JBL takes the award for dumbass comment of the night with his claim that, “This League of Nations may well be unstoppable.” He is out of his mind.
Final Rating: *
This “comedy” silliness continues, with some cutting jabs from Rose towards Ric Flair, who notes that Charlotte still has a number of failed marriages and lost fortunes to go before she is anything like her dad. Well, she does have one failed marriage and she is only young, so she is on the way. Rose rags on Tommy Dreamer for taking offence to the comments he made about his spray tan, quipping, “I didn't realise your skin was as thin as your hair.” Oh, snap.
Tyler Breeze vs. Neville
It is the battle of two former NXT stars who have gone vanilla since their “ascent” to the main roster. I am actually surprised Neville is even here, because he was part of the ongoing NXT tour of England just days ago. It seems strange to drag him off the tour halfway through. Miz comes out before the match to offer unwanted mentoring of Neville, and spends the duration of the bout giving support with the aid of a megaphone, like a modern day, more annoying Jimmy Hart. The match is technically sound but pretty basic and heatless. Neville bosses the majority and finishes Breeze with the Red Arrow, and JBL gives all of the credit to The Miz. Breeze might as well go back to NXT now while he can still regain his credibility. This angle isn't perfect for Neville, who is far better than his position on the card or his lukewarm responses suggest, but at least WWE are trying to do something with him. Even if it is a direct rip-off of an angle they already did earlier in the year with Miz and the inexplicably AWOL Damien Sandow.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, Neville yells at Miz that he doesn't need his help. “What do you want from me!?” Neville yells. Miz says Star Wars Episode VII is coming out this week, and he has visions of Neville in Episode VIII if he accepts his guidance. In return, Miz wants Neville to teach him his British accent so he can audition to be the next James Bond. Neville warns Miz that if he ever pulls a stunt like he did tonight again, he will shove a lightsaber up his ass. Rather than reacting with anger, Miz tries to copy Neville’s accent. I thought this was awesome. The reason for the pairing actually makes – get this – sense! Miz’s character would absolutely use that as motivation. If WWE do this right they could be onto something here.
Extreme Rules Match
The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer & Rhyno vs. The Wyatt Family
This is another rematch from last night, the difference being this is an extreme rules match compared to last night’s tables contest. The babyfaces were essentially squashed last night, so it will be interesting to see how they book this. The ring and surrounding area is loaded with assorted weaponry, such as nightsticks, crutches, tables, and bins. The kind of thing you would see every week in hardcore matches during the Attitude Era, but rarely these days. It became old very fast in those days, but now it feels fresh again. The match is chaos, with all eight guys brawling all over the place, with the ever-useless director struggling to keep up. Braun Stroman’s involvement is as useless as it was last night, and he looks completely lost or miles out of position on more than one occasion. At one point Rhyno fires up and the crowd pop big for him, and then a few moments later bumbling Strowman charges at the Dudleys but gets bypassed and goes flying hilariously into the announce desk. What a goof. The violence levels are upped considerably when Dreamer drills Luke Harper with a Dreamer Driver (DVD) off the ramp and through two tables, which is an impressive feat given Harper’s size. The action spills into the crowd where Dreamer leathers Strowman with a cane, but the big lunk shakes it off, picks Dreamer up, and running powerslams him through the security barricade. Dreamer’s cries of, “Ah my back, my back!” seem worryingly genuine. The chaos continues at ringside with Bubba taking out Bray, so Harper decks him with a cane. That just pisses Bubba off, and he unloads on Harper with a series of cane shots of his own, which the bloodthirsty Philly fans love. This is great fun. Harper – who should be out of this match after that bump earlier, by the way – sets up a table, but he ends up eating 3-D through it for a close near fall, saved only by Bray pulling D-Von out of the ring and hitting him with Sister Abigail on the outside. He follows with a bin lid shot to the head, even though that sort of thing is outlawed, taking Bubba out of the match. Rhyno is still alive and brawls with Erik Rowan, and the latter ends up blocking the Gore with a knee to the face, then splashing Rhyno through the table for the win. Yes, Erik Rowan scored the win. I guess he was the only one of the family who got beat last night, and this was WWE’s way of Even Stevening him. Really entertaining throwback match that reminded me of a different – and much missed by some – era.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Promo Time: New Day
I thought Arnold Furious seriously underrated last night’s tag team triple threat ladder match at TLC when he gave it ****. It was the best ladder match I have seen in years, full of fresh ideas, innovative spots, and wild bumps. For me, it is one of the best WWE matches of the year, and that is saying something. That Salida del Sol off the ladder? Spot of the year, surely. New Day are less over the top and caffeinated tonight, putting over the match and then asking the Usos and the Lucha Dragons to the ring for a chat. They are going for the post-TLC Dudleys/Hardys/Edge & Christian gimmick, with New Day offering their respect, props and handshakes. The Usos and Lucha Dragons are both rightly sceptical. Eventually, after some honeyed words from Woods, they agree to shake hands, and it passes without incident. As the two defeated duos are leaving Xavier notes – and this is important – that everything they just said to them was sincere, but, tonight is now about the New Day’s victory celebration. They do some dancing, and Big E gets so excited he loses his shoes. He is quickly becoming my favourite part of the company. He is brilliant in his role. The Usos and the Dragons don't approve of the dancing so run to the ring and take out the champs with their finishers, which results in a chorus of boos from the crowd. Quite right too. New Day were sincere in their praise and apologies, then celebrated their victory as they are entitled to do. No one in this company can take a loss in a title match with good grace, can they? This booking shows that WWE, for all the good they have done tonight, still often miss the boat when it comes to reading the understanding their audience. This felt like a double heel turn rather than the warranted babyface revenge that was intended.
Charlotte & Becky Lynch vs. Brie Bella & Alicia Fox
Well, something had to suck tonight, I suppose. Brie and Charlotte do a dangerous spot where Charlotte gets her legs sweeped while standing on the ropes, resulting in her head smacking off the buckle. At least that is what it looks like. The slow motion replay quite clearly shows her taking the impact with her back, thus ruining the illusion. Brie and Alicia appear to be playing heel, and Charlotte and Becky babyface, though who can tell with these women. Charlotte was heel last night the Bellas were face last week against the heel Team Bad, even though Sasha is obviously a babyface. It’s a constant nonsensical headache. For the finish, Ric Flair trips Alicia without Becky realising, and Becky finishes with the Disarm-Her. Short, exactly how I like my Team Bella matches.
Final Rating: ½*
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Vince McMahon is sat at ringside for this, and they just showed a shot of him talking backstage with the League of Nations (though not Wade Barrett, who also didn't appear on the PPV last night, so who knows what is going on there), guaranteeing this match will be booked to the hilt and full of shenanigans. This match is something of an anomaly, because it is both a RAW main event and a Sheamus match that I am looking forward to. It has been well built over the course of the evening, there is something on the line, and going in it genuinely could go either way. Reigns still receives some boos, but the reaction to him from the majority is positive. It is certainly the most over he has been as a babyface for a long time. One thing immediately noticeable is the amount of punishment Sheamus received last night, with a patchwork of scars and bruises dotted all over his pasty body. He looks a banged-up mess.
After commercial they start into the bigger moves, such as a Samoan Drop off the top from Reigns, which is another big impact for Sheamus’ battered body to be absorbing. Sheamus somehow gets busted in the nose, which will teach him a valuable lesson about how piercings and wrestling don't mix. Reigns goes for the Superman Punch, which Sheamus avoids and turns into a wacky powerbomb for a near fall that has Vince out of his seat. Sheamus goes for the Cloverleaf and looks at Vince as he does so, and I immediately worry that they are going to do something stupid like recreate Montreal for the millionth time, but thankfully they don't. Instead, Reigns simply reaches the ropes. They exchange shots, including a headbutt from Reigns which busts him open, then Sheamus goes for the Brogue Kick but gets clocked with the Superman Punch for the win... only it isn't because Vince pulls the ref out of the ring. White Noise follows, but Reigns kicks out. People bought that as the finish. Vince gives the ref a telling off, and as he is doing so Sheamus throws Reigns outside the ring so that Rusev and Del Rio can run down and take him out. They fail, because Reigns takes them both out with Superman Punches, hits Sheamus with one, then gives Vince one on the apron for good measure. When Sheamus hits the Brogue Kick it looks over, but Reigns kicks out again. Wow, even I bought that one. Sheamus fires up for another but Reigns catches him with a spear and pins him for the win and the title, to a GLORIOUS pop. The whole building is standing and applauding.
What a turnaround from just under a year ago in this very building at Royal Rumble 2015 when Reigns was mercilessly pilloried by the audience for having the audacity to win the Rumble bout ahead of Daniel Bryan. WWE might have been dragged through the wringer at times this year and taken to task for their frequently horrible booking, but the way they have handled Roman Reigns in these last two days has been absolutely perfect. Now was the right time to pull the trigger on him and avoid him being this generation’s Lex Luger. It was now or never, the iron was hot, and WWE for once reacted appropriately and struck. Well fucking done, WWE.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Roman Reigns. Give the man credit. He has fought adversity all year, the majority of it because his name is not Daniel Bryan. Reigns is a good worker and has the personality to be a star if used properly. He deserves his props tonight.
Least Entertaining: Bo Dallas and R-Truth. They didn't have time to suck the life out of the show, but their very presence made me want to switch the channel.
Quote of the Night: “You think I look stupid? All of you paid to see me tonight, so what does that make you?” – Sheamus has a point.
Match of the Night: I will go with the Team Extreme-Wyatts match for the sheer brutal and wild spectacle, but the moment of the night was undoubtedly the ascension of Roman Reigns.
Summary: Finally, WWE got it right! This was an excellent episode of episodic television wrestling, with a logical and intriguing beginning, middle, and end. The booking made sense, the majority of the finishes were fine, most of the overused tropes were absent, and there were a few good matches and great moments dotted around there too. Yes the big angle remains babyface versus McMahon-led authority figure, but for tonight, that doesn't matter. WWE did a great job booking Roman Reigns, something they haven't done since deeming him the chosen one at the start of the year. The challenge now is continuing that momentum and keeping him popular going forward. The last thing they need is another audience-splitter like John Cena. Aside from the inoffensive moments of filler that you have to learn to live with on a three hour show, this was a roaring success. An excellent show.
13th December 2015.
WWE’s December pay-per-view has often been a source of enormous disappointment. Reaching back to 1995 and the disastrous buyrates of the In Your House expansion era. “Seasons Beatings” (really bad PPV name) did an almost embarrassing buyrate despite being headlined by the outstanding Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog match. Even further back than that the December PPV curse struck. This Tuesday In Texas (worst PPV name, ever) was headlined by the Immortal Hulk Hogan reclaiming his WWF Championship by pinning the Undertaker, only days after losing the belt. The show was routinely terrible featuring bouts such as Bulldog vs. Warlord, Bret Hart vs. Skinner and a much-hyped Randy Savage vs. Jake Roberts match, which was over in under seven minutes.
Over the years it’s been a bad show. 1996 was awful, including a poor Sid vs. Bret Hart title match and Taker vs. “The Executioner” in a silly Armageddon Rules match. 1997’s In Your House: DX was arguably the worst PPV of the year. 1998’s Rock Bottom was the one headlined by Steve Austin and Undertaker in a dreadful Buried Alive match. Later on the disastrous ECW PPV December to Dismember (actually this is the worst PPV name ever) ran in December, back in 2006. WWE had the nerve to run two PPV’s that month, the other headlined by Batista & John Cena vs. Finlay & Booker T. It’s a dead month for PPV. To try and compensate for the lack of any interesting angles in December, WWE switched the event to a TLC show back in 2009. That’s helped to improve match quality but going into the PPV we’re still looking at severe fan apathy and some of the lowest viewing figures in decades.
We’re in Boston, Massachusetts. Setting for Fallout 4. I bring this up as it’s one of the world’s most played video games at the moment and something I’m in the midst of really enjoying. But who to ultimately side with? Providing me with the option to choose different groups to support is much like wrestling. Ultimately I’m presented with an assortment of potential suitors and choose who I want to cheer for. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler. I can’t be alone in wanting Lawler to retire at this point. Along with Vince McMahon. Change is needed and having the same boss and same commentator as we had at the beginning of December PPV back in 1995 can’t be good for business. At least Vince is letting someone other than himself commentate but maybe he should commentate as at least he wouldn’t be in someone’s ear during the damn show. The colour guys might actually become useful. The opening video shows the sheer number of times Roman Reigns has choked when faced with the chance to become the Man in WWE. I agree that WrestleMania XXXI was too early for Reigns but taking the belt off him after five minutes and fifteen seconds has killed any momentum he built up after that. With Brock Lesnar out of the title picture it should have been the Roman Empire.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos
Sign O’ The Times: “RAW is Booty”. Yes it is. The ladder match is a chance for new stars to be born. The New Day are already superstars as is evidenced by their pre-match promo where Big E can’t even say “Uso” without coming down with an injury. They even have a version of the five second pose incorporating all the catchphrases. The only downside to starting the show with the triangle ladder match is it will probably be the best match on the card. Sure, you want your opener to get the crowd going but the best match should surely be deeper into the card. Kalisto has potential to steal the show, if he doesn’t botch anything, but in Kofi Kingston he’s got someone with an amazing track record of ladder high spots. Xavier Woods does wonders in this match, doubling up as trombonist and colour commentator. His commentary is brilliant, including using WWE’s 2K16 video game to explain psychology. Ladder matches have been done to death so it’s tough to find new spots and kudos to the boys in this one, taking some horrible looking bumps to discover painful new territory. Pleasingly it all comes across as quite organic and there isn’t much in the way of spot-building. Sign O’ The Times: “Climb Faster”. At least these guys climb quickly until they’ve taken a beating. Spot of the match is Kalisto busting out the Salida del Sol off the top of the ladder. It’s the one time a ladder is set up in an odd place but it has a huge pay off. “That’s Sin Cara left in the ring” says Michael Cole. “That’s Kalisto. Sin Cara is down here on the floor passed out” yells Xavier, rightly putting Cole in his place and still finding time to throw his trombone at Kalisto and stop him winning the match. Kofi pulls the belts down for New Day to retain in a show-stealing opener.
Final Rating: ****
“Follow that” says JBL as they recap the highlights. Follow that, indeed. Good luck everyone else! Speaking of following this show; NXT Takeover London is on Wednesday.
Ryback vs. Rusev
I’m pleased they managed to fix the whole Lana face turn garbage and put her back with Rusev. They never should have split them up in the first place (see Wyatts, see Shield, etc). The quickly formed angle where Ryback accidentally injured Lana worked for me. It’s turned Rusev back into the ass-kicking Bulgarian Brute, who was doing fine until John Cena ruined his career earlier in the year. Lawler’s commentary goes completely off the deep end in this one. First taking a pop at marriage in general, presumably because Miss Kitty turned out to be a whore, before questioning the compatibility of people. “Ryback isn’t compatible with anyone…but that’s a good thing”. Huh? Every other thing he says leaves Cole confused, with good reason. Then he goes back to his main crutch; perving over women young enough to be his grandchildren. After the last match nobody cares about what they’re presented with. It’s a ponderous outing, headlined by Ryback’s stupidity (as he falls for another fake Lana injury) before Rusev bludgeons him into the Accolade for the win.
Final Rating: *3/4
WWE United States Championship
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Jack Swagger
Del Rio has ditched Zeb Coulter ending their bizarre pairing and the failed Mex-America angle. Anyone could see that angle was going nowhere fast. It boggles the mind that someone even pitched it. Swagger’s “We The People” gimmick is still over, perhaps harnessing residual Cesaro love. Having chairs legal in a company that doesn’t allow chair shots is completely bizarre. It means they have to structure a nonsensical contest with no chair shots in it. Swagger being in this match is also odd as he’s hardly even appeared on RAW all year let alone PPV. In fact his last PPV match, Rumble not included, was last year’s TLC show where he lost to Rusev inside five minutes. No wonder nobody cares about him. They work the chair gimmick surprisingly well, sometimes hurling them carelessly at each other and Del Rio comes across far better than in any other match since his return. As for Swagger, his solid performance makes you wonder why he’s been given nothing to do for twelve months. Although his Patriot Lock with chair does nothing for me. That chair is just hanging there! Swagger’s performance is sufficient for me to get into him as the contest goes longer and actually want him to win. The no DQ aspect of a chair match allows them to use the ropes for submissions and the chairs allow Del Rio to a mean son of a bitch. Double stomp into chairs does it. An unexpectedly good match.
Final Rating: ***
Tag Team Tables Elimination Match
The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer & Rhyno vs. The Wyatt Family
Tommy Dreamer was a fun surprise when he showed up. Rhyno has been knocking around in NXT so he was less surprising. While I’m pleased to see all these formally hardcore gentlemen in the same place, I wish it wasn’t a tables match as generally tables matches suck. Especially ones under elimination rules. I’m sure these guys could have had a fun no DQ match and brawled all over the place to their hearts content without the nonsense that comes with the tables stipulation. The Wyatts desperately need a win, having been jobbed all to hell of late. They’re supposed to be a tough group but Luke Harper would probably job for me if I asked him nicely. The ECW foursome are strictly here for nostalgia purposes. At least they’re not trying to resurrect ECW again. Although the “E-C-Dub” chant will probably give Vince McMahon a few ideas. Hopefully to create a new show for adults, seeing as they make up a big chunk of his audience. Vince, you can use that one. Be my guest. This match is more for kids who like to see plunder shots. Pristine garbage cans and Braun Strowman blowing spots. At one point Bubba Dudley is walking toward him, very slowly, with a trashcan in front of himself. Just patiently waiting for Strowman to punch it. He has to stop and look over it for crying out loud! That’s one of several mistakes from the big galoot. He’s simply not good enough to be involved at this level.
The falls see the ECW guys go up 4-3 by tabling the useless Rowan with 3-D. As Rhyno is on the verge of dispatching Bray with a Gore, the Wyatt’s must be getting that sinking feeling again. Instead Harper boots Rhyno through a table for 3-3. Bray puts D-Von through a table with a urinage for 3-2. Dreamer, starting to show his age at 44 (hardcore is bad for you, Bubba is the same age), gets tabled by Harper leaving Bubba alone against three men. Bubba’s attempt at a fire table ends at the hands of big Braun and the Wyatt’s win. The disappointment of the dozens of guys with their camera phones out on the hard-cam side is palpable. If Strowman hadn’t sucked as badly as he did during this it might have been ok.
Final Rating: **
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
Owens’ IC title run has been a bit dull but that’s largely because they’ve had no one chasing him. He’s literally only defended against former champion Ryback, who was a pretty weak champion to begin with, and Chris Jericho who isn’t on TV. Frankly Owens, the best heel promo in the company, deserves better. This should be a big fight, seeing as it’s Owens’ toughest title defence to date, but the build has been minimal. To the point where the crowd isn’t really interested despite both men being big favourites. Also, they had the best match on the Survivor Series card and pre-show I was really looking forward to this but it just comes across as flat. Kevin does his best to get some heat going and yelling “who’s crazy now?” is a nice touch. Just as it starts to get going and drawing the crowd in it’s over. They do get in an awesome near fall where Owens takes the Dirty Deeds but barely gets a finger on the rope. However Ambrose finishes moments later by countering the Pop Up Powerbomb into a rana for the pin. Ambrose winning means less than it might have done if he’d not already been flirting with the WWE world title itself. It’d be like asking Sasha Banks out on a date, getting shot down a couple of times and marrying Snuka’s daughter instead. No offence to Tamina, or the IC strap, but it’s not quite the same is it?
Final Rating: **1/4
WWE Divas Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Paige
I’m finding it hard to decide who’s the heel in this feud now. I’m not sure WWE themselves actually know. Basically the crowd aren’t sure who to cheer for so cheer for no one, because they’re both horrible people. Edgy heel vs. edgy heel tends to work less well with women. They end up getting overly focused on Ric Flair at ringside and both liberally steal his spots. The best part of this is that they’re both probably better off as heels but they’re stuck with each other, trying to out-dick each other. Paige manages it by lifting the Figure Four but it gets a massive babyface reaction. You just can’t win. Not with Vince McMahon’s booking! It’s weird how the entire of her time in NXT, they deliberately distanced Charlotte from her Dad and made her become her own woman then as soon as she’s called up to the main roster Vince and his second generation erection wreck everything. The match gets progressively sloppier with Paige getting lucky on a botched DDT that she’s not seriously hurt. The Ram-Paige would finish but Ric puts his baby girls foot on the rope. Charlotte bashes Paige into an exposed turnbuckle to retain, out-heeling the heel who turned heel on her. Jokes on Paige, I guess.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us backstage where Becky Lynch isn’t best pleased with the manner in which Charlotte won. With them repositioning Sasha face, they could conceivably run with Charlotte vs. both girls over the coming months. If they let the NXT girls just wrestle, instead of constantly putting them in bullshit angles, it might just work.
Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Jerry Lawler opts to make step-ladder jokes during this one. He really is the worst. Roman sets the tone by punching Sheamus square in the face right at the start of match, reddening his cheek. Sheamus must know he’s out of his league working main events so busts his ass to make sure it’s not a total disaster. Roman deliberately sets a ladder up in the position that injured Sheamus and put him out for months, tidily pointed out by Maggle. The match is fairly brutal with both guys crashing through tables and taking nasty bumps. You have to earn that main event spot and if you haven’t, looking at you Sheamus, you have to bust ass to prove you should stay there. I still find Sheamus unequivocally boring, especially in a match that runs over twenty minutes, but at least they try hard. As Sheamus takes one horrible looking bump into a hardened implement of the match’s title I can’t help but think one thing. “Chat shit, get banged”. That Jamie Vardy is on to something. The crowd roundly turn on the match around halfway through by chanting “NXT”. In a way it’s an approval of WWE’s future but it’s also a huge criticism of the current product. More specifically the creative behind it. More specifically Vince McMahon. Triple H must be feeling pretty goddamn smug right about now. He’s giving the fans what they want. Vince McMahon gives the fans what Vince McMahon wants. The match does have some sick bumps in it though, including Sheamus taking that ladder bump teased from the start and Sheamus taking the Superman Punch off the ladder through a table. Roman retains some credibility by having the League of Nations (Del Rio and Rusev) run in to stop him. It does rather beg the question; where is Ambrose? He’s not had Roman’s back of late. Was he party planning their celebration? I picture him preparing finger food while admiring his IC title. Anyway Sheamus pulls the belt down and Roman Reigns gets another clip of himself crying in defeat for his next loser video package. The big bumps made this one but I have no idea where they’re going with this. Roman must be the worst booked babyface in the past decade.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Post Match: Roman stops sobbing about his failure and destroys everyone with chair shots. Triple H comes down to tell him off so Roman bashes him too. The look of rage in Roman’s eyes is the first sign of legitimate star-making potential he’s demonstrated since the Shield. It’s amplified by Steph getting bent out of shape at ringside. The crowd end up chanting “thank you, Roman”. A bit of a turnaround from a crowd that has genuinely hated him all year long. Roman feuding with Triple H is an interesting move, and a popular one if the crowd in Boston are to be used as a barometer although I’ve had my fill of wrestler vs. authority figure angles. One would presume this will set up a Roman vs. Authority program going into WrestleMania where he’ll face off against the Tripper himself.
Summary: Started and ended well enough with the added bonus of Del Rio vs. Swagger being a good match. The rest came across like filler and the booking is still dragging the talent down but at least the PPV’s haven’t devolved into total crap yet, even if the TV is. With a lot of this booking it’s hard to judge whether it’s for the best or not. If Kevin Owens, for example, is destined for greater things then his loss to Dean Ambrose is a good thing. If not, then it’s puzzling. Given WWE’s track record over the past twelve months it’s hard to say. It might just be more 50-50 booking. He’ll probably pin Dean on RAW. So the show was ok, most of the PPV’s are, but the tag teams stole the show inside the first thirty minutes.
It turns out last week’s horrible show was WWE’s attempt at revitalising their product by presenting what they deem to be new ideas. They recognised the fact that something needed to change, which is a positive, but the fact that the end result of their head scratching was that flaccid show is cause for some alarm. The ratings rebounded slightly, up 210,000 from the prior week’s twenty year record low. Of course those stats massage the truth that last week was still the second lowest rating for RAW in two decades, and that more people than ever are tuning out of the show midway through due to boredom, apathy, general dislike of the product, or a whole host of other reasons. With the roster injury-plagued for the foreseeable future, there is little chance of things getting much better for a while. WWE continue to worry about the rapidly declining audience, and this week sent out a bunch of fan surveys to their most loyal customers about their RAW viewing habits. The problem being that they are only getting the opinions of their WWE-ized diehards, which is akin to polling a rabble of Catholics at Mass about their thoughts on God. No doubt they will get told what they want to hear, ignore the vocal majority (everyone else who suffers through the show) and will reach the entirely wrong conclusion or blame something completely irrelevant. With the first mini-rant out of the way, let’s get this over with, shall we?
Promo Time: League of Nations
WWE’s newest heel faction kicks things off, complete with a new entrance theme which is actually pretty damn excellent. It is majestic and sweeping, almost regal. It’s almost a shame then that the group start in the ring and we only hear the back end of it. It’s also a shame that they are a collection of midcarders and jobbers. “I was sitting backstage thinking about what I would say about my match at TLC with Roman Reigns,” says WWE Champion Sheamus. Insert your own joke about crap scripts and dim-witted writers. Sheamus brags about beating Reigns in 5:15, which is pretty stupid when you think about it. Reigns was WWE Champion for 5:15, but their “match” was far less than that. If anything, Sheamus is underselling himself. “That should be a world record,” reckons Sheamus, the man who infamously beat Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania a couple of years back in only eighteen seconds. The promo goes nowhere then, in a turn up for the books, the Wyatt Family appear in the ring to cut them off. It’s an odd choice given the two factions’ respective heel alignments, but I am absolutely in favour of WWE doing anything outside of the box and unpredictable. It is probably the start of a Wyatt Family babyface turn too. The crowd approve too and respond with a hearty “YES” chant.
Bray introduces himself, but says he is not here for talking, he is here for chaos. He is like Joker, he just wants to see the world burn. Everyone gets ready to throw down, but before things kick off the Dudley Boyz turn up with their ECW buddy Tommy Dreamer. Bray cuts them off, telling them they are outgunned, which leads to D-Von introducing Rhyno as the latest addition to the extreme union. The fans are pleased, but a little underwhelmed, what with Rhyno having been an NXT regular for months. I think some were expecting Rob Van Dam. A three faction brawl is about to erupt, only, there is someone missing. Sure enough, the music of WWE golden boy Roman Reigns hits and he heads through the crowd with Dean Ambrose and his cousins The Usos, a quartet WWE are likely to refer to as The Family, but whom are more like Shield 2.0. Whatever you want to call them, this is a great, hectic, unpredictable start to RAW and one of the best segments in ages because you actually want to keep watching through commercial to see what happens. With all of these factions around, it’s like the 1997 Gang Warz revisited. I like factions. Some of the most successful acts in wrestling history have been factions (nWo, Four Horsemen, D-Generation X, Freebirds, etc) and they serve as a good way to set up and further programs. Having teams gives a lot more options when it comes to booking. A step in the right direction to be sure, even if the focal point (Sheamus) remains the absolute wrong choice. However, if WWE are sticking to their guns and going with him, it does at least make sense to have him look as strong as possible, and a gang of heavies will help towards achieving that.
Sixteen Man Fatal Four Way Elimination Tag Team Match
The League of Nations vs. Team Extreme vs. The Wyatt Family vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & The Usos
Well hell, that match title is a goddamn mouthful isn't it? The Authority made the match during the break, and I have to say it seems rushed, but I enjoy the chaos. And chaos it is, because there is one member from each team in the ring at any given time, and pinfall or submission leads to the elimination of the entire team. The purpose of the match is never explained, because there is none, which is often WWE’s problem. There is so little worth attached to wins and losses that most matches struggle to generate any emotional investment from those watching. Despite that, it is all-action and good fun, but near impossible to keep up with so I won’t even try. Of note is a ridiculous tower of doom from Strowman to the Usos and Rusev, which actually lands on Dreamer (as was the intention of the spot, it was not a botch). Nevertheless, Dreamer recovers and plants the ever-hapless Erik Rowan with a DDT (the “Dreamer Driver”, apparently) to eliminate the Wyatts. I never in a million years would have expected them to go our first, nor Dreamer to be the one to eliminate them. Which again, is good.
The match is now a triple threat elimination match, and despite the reduced number of bodies the action is still wild and full-on. Proving me wrong, the crowd are totally into the contest, which is a credit to the work. At one point everything breaks down and all twelve men head into the ring for a wild brawl, which gets a big reaction. When the dust settles we are left with Reigns vs. Rhyno, but before that confrontation can develop into anything physical, Sheamus and Rusev attack both men. The Dudleys come in and look to have Sheamus’ number, but Del Rio makes the save and Sheamus finishes Bubba with the Brogue Kick, leaving us, unsurprisingly, with the League of Nations against Roman’s posse, in a truncated rematch from last week’s main event.
The match goes into a second commercial, and it is at this point that I begin to wonder why this match is going on first. I can only assume it is due to the significant third hour drop WWE have been dealing with over the past few months, and this is their way of getting the guys they want to push in front of the largest audience. Either that or they finally realise that an opening talky segment leading to a main event three hours later is a tired way of doing things, and they are trying to shake things up. After the break, Jey Uso takes heat from the LON, which slows the match down for the first time. It’s not as lethargic or drawn out as last week so its fine. Roman gets the hot tag, of course, and gets plenty of joy against everyone. Everyone flies all over the place with Drive Bys, dives and leaps, but Roman gets caught with a Del Rio superkick after Sheamus holds onto his leg on the outside, for a near fall. Del Rio tries for the submission instead with the cross arm breaker, only for a frog splashing Uso to cut that off. It comes down to Reigns and Sheamus, and the challenger scores yet another win thanks to a spear, which Cole sells as the biggest thing in the world because he beat the champion. If the champion was booked strong and was someone like Brock Lesnar, sure, but it is Sheamus. A man who used to lose every single week. And he follows on from Seth Rollins, a man who when he was champion would stare at the lights in any situation where his title was not on the line. The push they are giving Roman is still very force-fed, but they are doing the right thing in putting him over week after week if they want to get him over. If he loses to Sheamus at TLC, all of that momentum will dissipate though, and he will forever be tagged a choker by the unforgiving masses.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Well, that was a pretty awesome start, far better than last week’s tedious multi-man main event, but how the hell are they going to fill the next couple of hours?
Backstage, Sheamus tells a gothed-up Renee Young that he is going to teach Roman Reigns a lesson later tonight. Elsewhere, Stardust doing a promo in his lair wearing old-school red and blue lens 3D glasses. For the third week in a row Titus O’Neill interrupts. Titus tells him he needs to “get himself some...” then adds “me time” and suggests a good book. “You can read can’t you?” “At the highest level.” This odd-couple situation continues to confuse and amuse in equal measures.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Showing that WWE hasn't quite turned the corner away from the realm predictability, Tyler Breeze heads to ringside and makes himself comfortable in his private VIP booth so he can take a closer look at Dolph. At least he is not commentating. Dean Ambrose watches too, only he does so in front of a monitor backstage with a large tub of popcorn and a coke. This takes a while to get going, with an extended feeling each other out process, and both men working holds. WWE have a shallow roster and have thrown sixteen guys on in the opener, so the matches are all going to be long tonight. The physicality levels increase when Owens smacks Ziggler across the mush with a vicious forearm, which amused JBL so much that he starts making Vader references. A fallaway slam into the barricade is similarly brutal. The bout feels dragged out in places, with lots of clubbing from Owens followed by hot-dogging, punctuated by an occasional display of violence from Owens. Ziggler is either hurt or doing a primo sell job when Owens sends him shoulder first into the post with force, and the on-camera cussing from Dolph suggests the former. The match continues through commercial, and when we return Owens continues to pound away while Dolph holds his right shoulder. Ziggler tries a comeback, but his gammy shoulder causes him to struggle with his move set. Ziggler should be smarter than trying elbow drops with an injured shoulder, but considering his dress sense he could never be accused of being a brightest. Owens throws Ziggler to the outside and expects to win on count out, but Ziggler shows resilience and makes it to his meet. Owens goes out to cut him off and gets caught with a brutal DDT, which gets two. Owens comes back with an attempt at a cannonball, but Ziggler moves and scores another two count. They both hit superkicks, which results in yet another near fall for Dolph. The pop-up powerbomb finally gets the job done for Owens, but his victory is greeting with the sound of Dean Ambrose’s music. He casually wanders down the ramp with his popcorn and coke in tow, throws them both on Owens, then leaves. I am a fan of casual Ambrose. I have no idea what purpose Tyler Breeze served out here though. He did literally nothing of note. They were shooting for epic here, and while at twenty minutes it was certainly long, the quiet crowd and the copious time wasting means it falls way short of that mark. Fairly good, but far from great.
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, the Wyatts cut a promo in which Strowman says he had a dream that he was Tommy Dreamer’s worst nightmare. It is the worst segue in the world to hype a match between the pair later tonight. So I guess the answer to the question I posed earlier about how they would fill the rest of the show is: double shots. How about giving some screen time to some other lesser-used talent instead? Elsewhere, Neville and Miz have a locker room encounter, in which Donnie Deutsch (I have no idea) turns up and offers Neville a spot on his new show, which airs tonight after RAW. Is he hosting it from the arena or something? Useless segment, one which existed merely at the behest of the USA Network.
Sasha Banks & Naomi vs. Brie Bella & Alicia Fox
Have you noticed how they don't throw around the term Divas Revolution all that much anymore? Gee, I wonder why that might be. Alicia Fox has an enormous forehead, which is about the nicest thing I can say about her. This is a waste of the delectable Sasha Banks, who is far too good to be slumming it with talentless, generic-posing, flip-flop alignment wastes of airtime like Alicia and Brie. Sasha is again positioned as the heel, even though she is the only one of the four (five if you count Tamina, but really, who does?) that anyone gives a damn about. Not to mention the fact that Brie and Alicia are heel characters and have been for months. There is nothing likeable about them at all. Amusingly, Brie gets booed on her hot tag and the crowd chant “No!” when she used Daniel Bryan’s kicks. Ass to face from Naomi wins it, and thank god it was brief because it sucked.
Final Rating: DUD
After the match, New Day head out with Team Bad still in the ring. “Team Bad and New Day have developed quite the rapport on Twitter,” says Cole, as Sasha backs off then throws up her fists ready for a fight. All is soothed when New Day gift the girls unicorn horns, and they proceed to dance. Sasha’s twerking is not PG, but there are no complaints from this writer.
New Day vs. The Lucha Dragons
New Day complain about having to defend their tag belts in a triple threat ladder match at TLC, calling it outrageous. “Do we look like housepainters? Do we look like fire fighters? Are we saving cats from trees?” they ask, before engaging in a bout of “THEATRE!” which sees Kofi Kingston play a cat, Big E a tree, and Xavier all of New Day. It’s utterly nuts. While they run the risk of being overexposed by an excitable writing team, New Day are currently far and away the most entertaining thing on the show ever week. Xavier Woods is not just a genius academically, he is a genius performer. It’s difficult to credit WWE with their success though, because when they trio were put together they were nothing like this, they were merely three black men in a racially profiling gimmick, with no personality. The three performers have made it work. The booking of this match is standard WWE fare, with opponents from an upcoming pay-per-view squaring off, guest commentators (The Usos) and a distraction finish when the Usos grab Xavier’s horn and beat the shit out of him, leading to a roll up on Kofi. A nothing match, but a fun segment from New Day to kick things off.
Final Rating: ¾*
MizTV: Ric Flair & Charlotte
Charlotte is dressed in all-black tonight, with a (much needed) heel turn surely imminent. Her arrogant, boastful demeanour suggests as much too. Ric does a token promo putting over his daughter, then Charlotte gets all pissy with Miz when he brings up her newfound attitude. She gets in some digs at him, accuses him of being a misogynist, then defends her recent actions as merely doing what he father taught her to do, which is being the best. Charlotte is pretty good on the microphone when there is an edge to her character. She sucks as a babyface crying crocodile tears and flashing forced smiles, but when she is portrayed someone pissed off, she gains significantly in confidence. Miz brings up the things Paige said to Charlotte a few weeks back, vaguely referring to the Reid Flair comments, though skirting the issue not mentioning it directly. Instead he tries to weave it as if the “nasty, vile, horrible” things that Paige said were her unflattering comments about Ric. Miz tells Charlotte not to hide behind her dad, which gets Flair all wound up, but Charlotte intervenes before his blood pressure goes through the roof and tells Miz the only thing lower on the food chain that him is Paige. Is she fully heel now? Is Miz a babyface? Who can tell? After having just stated she has nothing to say to Paige, Charlotte decides out of nowhere that she now does, so Miz brings Paige out. She gets a pop, for some reason. Is she a face now!? “This is a ploy to upset you, we are Flairs, we are champions,” says Ric as he leads his daughter away. Even though she basically called Paige out! This is a muddled mess. Paige slaps Ric and struts, so Flair instructs his daughter to “get her”. They have a terrible, five-second pull-apart brawl and Paige rolls out of the ring and scarpers. This furthered nothing.
Rusev vs. Ryback
Double duty for Rusev tonight then, in this rematch from last week’s weird encounter between the two which ended on a count out. Speaking of weird, Lana does an inset promo prior to the match, forgiving Ryback for sending Rusev into the steps which subsequently hit her, saying she knows he is not that kind of man. I can only assume this was an attempt to deflect any possible heat he might have gotten from inadvertently striking a woman, but if he had any, that is news to me. It just dawned on me: why wasn't Lana at ringside with the League of Nations? Or Zeb Coulter, for that matter. Ryback follows up from last week’s wild missile dropkick with a bonkers twist plancha to the outside, and while I am impressed with his athleticism, I do question why a guy his size needs to be throwing himself around in such a manner. With that much muscle on his frame he is a tear waiting to happen at the best of times, never mind with increased high risk offence. Other than that the match is sluggish. I know Vince is watching with proverbial dick in hand, but this does nothing for my wrestling woody. They do a chase around the ring and Lana intentionally stands in Ryback’s way, then acts like she has hurt her leg. Ryback stops and shows compassion as Lana screams at him to get away, giving Rusev and opening to deck him and lock on the Accolade on the outside. Double count out, but point proved for Rusev. Sadly the inconclusive ending means we will be seeing this match-up again.
Final Rating: ½*
Jack Swagger vs. Stardust
We join this in progress after commercial, with Titus O’Neill on *sigh* commentary. The match goes for ten seconds before Alberto Del Rio and Zeb Coulter show up. Again, I pose the question: why wasn't Coulter with the League of Nations? It’s bizarre. Also, why don't the League of Nations stick together like a pack of wolves during each other’s matches? Del Rio and Zeb do nothing at all, their presence is merely to remind everyone that there is a United States Title defence against Swagger at TLC. Titus sheds some light on his relationship with Stardust, explaining that he simply wants him to remember he is the son of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and go back to being himself. Swagger wins with the Patriot Lock, which must be his first RAW victory in years, then Del Rio smashes him in the back with a chair. Strangely, Titus then warns Del Rio that Stardust is behind him, so Del Rio smashes Stardust with the chair too. Swagger recovers on the outside and picks up a chair of his own, leading to a chair dual with Alberto. Swagger wins and Alberto scarpers - falling over Zeb’s scooter as he does - leaving Swagger alone with Coulter. He asks him what happened and why he has forgotten about their “We the people” act, but Coulter simply drives away on his scooter. I am not sure his snub was intended to be funny, but it came across that way. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to realign Swagger and Coulter, because they were a strong unit, and the Del Rio/Coulter pairing is an absolute bust.
Final Rating: ½*
The new thing is that Neville has large ears, so Rose suggests Miz is trying to mentor him so he can help him get cast in a live action remake of Dumbo. Why Miz would care is not answered. The random movie references continue when Rose mocks Dreamers orange tan and compares him to an Oompa-Loompa, then he suggests Dreamer’s orange complexion came as a result of confusing his baby oil with Becky Lynch’s hair dye. This segment is, in fact, the shits.
Backstage, Del Rio confronts Coulter about the scooter incident and loses his temper about people laughing at him. In the smartest move WWE have made in weeks, Del Rio tells Coulter to stay away from him, that rather menacingly threatens him with a chair. Coulter drives away and ADR throws a chair in his direction anyway, instantly making him the only actual bad guy on the entire broadcast. A step in the right direction for sure.
Tommy Dreamer vs. Braun Strowman
Hey Tommy, remember that pinfall you scored earlier? Welcome to Even Steven payback. Granted it was on a different Wyatt, but that hardly matters. It’s coming to something when WWE are Even Steven booking on the same show. That exciting opening match does seem like an eternity ago now mind. You know how this goes; Strowman dominates and practically squashes Dreamer, finishing him with his cuddle submission hold. This match was not needed at all. Why not use Neville in this spot? Why in the hell does he not wrestle on these shows anymore?
Final Rating: SQUASH
Main Event Confrontation: Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
The ring is surrounded by tables, ladders, and chairs, which is the kind of fake-ass, over-produced staging that really makes wrestling look like phony, hokey nonsense. Roman Reigns’ scripted to the hilt promo doesn't help matters. He and Sheamus then engage in the most cringe-inducing trash talk this side of Sheldon Cooper and Barry Kripke, with Sheamus refusing to fight - despite having earlier promised to teach Roman a lesson - then Roman mocking him for having “tater tots” instead of potatoes in the testicular department. Boy, Reigns comes across as the biggest gimboid in the world. He sounds like an old man trying to be “with-it”. They need to cut Roman loose and let him fly solo behind the stick, because these old-man penned promos are killing him. “Tater tots” follows on well from the “magic Mohican” comment he made last week, because it is equally inane and stupid. Proving that the only kind of WWE Champion the writing team know how to book is a pussy heel, Sheamus stands outside the ring during this playground verbal sparring session, refusing to get into the ring because he is scared of the various weaponry. Eventually Roman launches a ladder at him, which provokes a fight. That was a pretty wild throw. After the Brock Lesnar car door incident, I expected they would outlaw such behaviours. Roman and Sheamus engage in a really long brawl around the building, which is played out in front of an utterly silent, uninterested crowd. Nobody on the planet buys this as a top program. Sheamus, despite having formed the League of Nations to protect himself, gets a kicking and takes a spear through a table to end the broadcast, with nary a hint of help coming his way. A pretty damn lame way to end. They would have had more momentum going into the match if they had just left their interactions to the opener.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Dean Ambrose. Nobody stood out particularly tonight, but casual Ambrose amused me, and he did some nice work in the opener. Credit to Alberto Del Rio too, for showing a mean streak and some genuine heel behaviour.
Least Entertaining: Brie Bella and Alicia Fox. They are a constant chore to endure.
Quote of the Night: “With my help you can go from being Elf on the Shelf to the next Daniel Bryan” - The Miz to Neville. Actually, the parallels between Neville and Bryan in his early WWE run are fairly striking.
Match of the Night: The opening multi-man chaos-fest
Summary: The show started strong with a chaotic promo and an entertaining multi-man match, followed by a decent yet overly-long clash between Ziggler and Owens. From there it fell off a cliff, with a horrible women’s match and a bunch of crappy bouts featuring guys pulling double duty. The lack of roster depth was striking, and the men being relied upon to carry the show, Roman Reigns and Sheamus, are not up to the task. There was a lot of confused booking, with heels acting like faces, faces acting like heels, and a general lack of focus from the majority of the performers. Why the likes of Neville were not utilised in the ring is beyond me. An improvement on last week’s disaster for sure, and there were a couple of positive signs dotted throughout, but this was still a very middling show.
I have had to be dragged kicking and screaming in front of the television set to cover this week’s episode of RAW. I promised to boycott WWE after their harebrained decision to put the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on overexposed joke midcard act Sheamus, but needs must and we are close to the end of the year, so despite my protestations here we are with the latest instalment of this infernal show. I thought last week’s show was among, if not the, worst of the year, and that is saying something. The rating agreed, despite the desperate and pathetic attempts to claim football was the reason behind it being so low. WWE are fooling nobody but themselves. They have come up against football for decades and never had a rating so low since Nitro was routinely hammering them, so there really is no excuse other than the quality of the product. Arn was fairly generous and forgiving in places last week, but there will be none of that tonight. I am so fed up of this meandering, infuriating, and meaningless product that unless tonight’s show delivers, it will be receiving the full brunt of my frustration.
Promo Time: New Day
The arrival of the only entertaining act in the company to kick things off suggests we are peaking tonight with the first segment. They come to the ring with much fanfare, with a red canvas covering the ring complete and confetti falling from the ceiling. Maybe they had some left over from Roman Reign’s post-title win celebration. They immediately have fun with cheap heat, using a Pittsburgh Steelers towel to clean Big E’s pits, and incensing the locals in the process. New Day explain that the celebration they are having is not for someone’s birthday, but rather for *sigh* new WWE Champion Sheamus. The idea being that New Day are over, so WWE are aligning them with Sheamus and hoping to get the woeful Irishman over by osmosis. It won’t work. Nothing will work. Sheamus has had his day in the sun, he flopped, he has been a nonentity for years, and nobody on the planet buys him as a legitimate champion. In keeping with his recent palling around with The Authority, Sheamus is fully suited and booted tonight, making him look like every other generic corporate champion of the past few years, only with less skin pigmentation and an unfortunate mop of orange hair atop his fluorescent skull. I wonder how many fans tuned out the second Sheamus appeared on the ramp. I know I would have if I wasn't being forced to observe this under duress. Sheamus thanks The Authority for everything good that has come his way lately, because everyone ever has to bow down to their omnipotence, then he thanks Roman Reigns for being too stupid to cease the opportunity that Triple H afforded him to join forces. New Day mock Reigns for his cup of coffee title run, and laugh like hyenas in the background as Sheamus too makes fun of his 5:15 reign. That sure makes Reigns look like an absolute chump, which seems like exactly the opposite of what WWE should want their chosen one to be. Sheamus shoots for a new catchphrase: “Sheamus 5:15 says I just kicked your arse”, then as he is celebrating Reigns jumps him and makes off with the title belt. Oh my god, not this idiocy again. We have already seen this exact same angle with Dean Ambrose, not to mention the utter nonsense of half the roster stealing the Intercontinental Title from Bad News Barrett prior to WrestleMania. Does this company not have any fresh ideas?
Backstage, Roman flanked by his family (The Usos) and his “brother” (Dean Ambrose) confronts Triple H and the Queen Bee. “Cut the crap, we’re not in the mood tonight. Just give us back what is rightfully ours, okay?” says Stephanie, leading multiple questions forming inside my head. Firstly, why is she in such a mood? Surely she should be over the moon that Sheamus is the WWE Champion, someone the Authority approve of, rather than Reigns, Ambrose or someone else with actual talent. Secondly, what on earth is she talking about saying the title is “rightfully ours”? Surely it is rightfully Sheamus’s, what with him being the reigning champion and all. Thirdly, why can Sheamus not fight his own battles? Why - just like Seth Rollins - does he need mommy and daddy fighting his battles for him? Meet the new champion, same as the old champion. No matter who is in the supposed top spot it always boils down to one thing: the Authority versus whichever babyface they happen to be opposing that week. Reigns concedes quickly, handing the belt to Stephanie rather than Triple H, because we all know which of that power couples wears the trousers. Steph is even wearing actual trousers to accentuate that point. Reigns tells the duo to give Sheamus a message, but Hunter counters with a message of his own from Sheamus: he wants to defend the title against him tonight. The caveat, because there always is one when title matches take place on RAW, is that Reigns has to beat Sheamus in under 5:15 in order to win the title. I think we all know where this is going.
Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler
These two met at Survivor Series in an uninspiring match, with Breeze going over on that occasion due to his status as the new guy, and Ziggler’s status as the man who everyone beats at one time or another. Breeze manages to somehow get his eye busted open within the first thirty seconds, but still quickly establishes control over the contest following a dropkick. The announcers ignore what is going on in the ring in order to talk about Sheamus and Reigns, other than the occasional lip-service acknowledgment of a cover from Cole in that irritating, uninterested way of his that grates on me so much. Breeze controls the pace prior to commercial and little has changed after the break, with Breeze utilising a front face lock. Summer Rae claps spastically on the outside as Ziggler mounts a comeback, offering her usual square route of fuck all in the way of usefulness to her charge. Her overacting on every subsequent Breeze near fall is worse than porn acting. Pittsburgh sit on their hands throughout this tepid ten-minute affair, with the Universe having lost all faith in Ziggler as someone they can get behind, and Breeze failing to resonate with the Monday night masses since his move up from NXT. They run a pinfall reversal sequence which gets met with a smattering of boos, before Ziggler catches a superkick for the absolutely ridiculous win. This 50/50 booking is going to be the death of this ass-backwards, clueless promotion. Post match, Summer waits until she spots the camera on her then starts back into her Z-level acting. What a waste of everyone’s time.
Final Rating: *
MizTV: Rusev & Lana
Yes, Lana is back, despite the nuclear heat she has with the office for daring to get engaged and causing a hurried abortion of a crappy angle that would never have drew a dime anyway. She has similar heat with Paige for a Twitter rant she went on against the Brit in which she claimed to have been bullied by her in NXT. Be a star! Times are desperate though, so WWE have brought her back anyway. The crowd are pleased about it, and chant, “We want Lana” while Rusev is cutting his promo. She comes out dressed in her old heel attire, and it is as if a reset button has been pushed on both her and Rusev’s careers, reverting them back to characters that were over. WWE did the same thing with Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family are stupidly splitting them up, and no doubt they will do it with the Shield too when Seth Rollins returns next year. What that tells me is that WWE stumble into things that get over, then get itchy trigger fingers and cannot help themselves but split these successful units up. When they all inevitably fail in their new lesser forms, they have no choice but to put them back together, only with reduced returns from the original. Lana tries to explain the thrown together storyline of how she and Rusev got back together, claiming the two of them went their separate ways and realised they were better off together, and denies having gone “all the way” with Dolph. “Yes you did” chant the crowd, “No I didn't” responds Lana, as pantomime season comes early. Rusev says the same thing about Summer, denying having done the dirty with her. I find that hard to believe; you could get Summer for a pack of smokes and a raffle ticket. Rusev promises to break not just the spirits of his opponents, but their bodies too, then starts making out with Lana, for what seems like five minutes. Ryback breaks things up before they go beyond PG, and his fighting talk leads right into a match.
Rusev vs. Ryback
This is your typical weekly foray into Vince McMahon’s personal fantasy realm, with two hulking brutes squaring off on a battle of power. The only thing of note that happens is a wacky Ryback missile dropkick, before they spill to the outside where Ryback charges Rusev into the steps, and the metal inadvertently takes Lana out. Rusev lets himself get counted out in order to tend to his beau, leaving Ryback with a meaningless victory that he doesn't particularly want. Odd really, seeing as how a couple of weeks back he celebrated losing a six-man tag match via DQ.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Triple H congratulates Dean Ambrose for winning a triple threat match on SmackDown! to earn an Intercontinental Championship match with Kevin Owens at TLC, then informs him that if Reigns doesn't beat Sheamus tonight in 5:15 then not only will he lose his own opportunity, but Ambrose will lose his as well. The way they are stacking this, it almost seems like Reigns is going over tonight. At least it would if stipulations in this company meant a damn.
Promo Time: The Dudley Boyz
Mic time, for the Dudleys! Bubba laments the bad week he and D-Von have had after getting beaten up repeatedly by the Wyatt Family, then puts over the group for having made a name for themselves, but warns that they are still standing and ready to fight. Bubba reveals a quartet of tables all marked with the names of the Wyatts, and D-Von reminds everyone of the three Dudley Boyz commandments. They call out the Wyatts to settle things tonight, and of course they come out en masse and accept. The Dudleys are amused at the sight of Bray’s three bitches standing and smirking at them, because they have a surprise partner signed up to give them a helping hand: Tommy F’N Dreamer! I guess he isn't working with TNA anymore then. I cannot blame him. It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world for Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion to form a similar relationship with WWE as EVOLVE have and become a feeder of sorts for NXT. Dreamer brings a garbage can full of assorted weaponry with him, and the crowd loudly chant “ECW” at the sight of him. Little surprises like this, completely unexpected and out of the blue, are what makes wrestling so much fun. This is the sort of thing mostly missing from RAW these days, so kudos to WWE for doing something slightly outside of their usual box. The crowd agree completely with this assessment, loudly chanting “This is awesome!” before anything has even happened.
The Dudley Boyz & Tommy Dreamer vs. The Wyatt Family
Unfortunately, when we return from commercial the tables and weapons have been cleared from the ring, and this is just a generic six-man tag match. One of the announcers, either JBL or Byron Saxton, who sound identical for the record, randomly yells “HARDCORE” as Dreamer comes in and hits... a neckbreaker. What an idiot. Dreamer takes heat for a while then the match breaks down and the ref calls for a DQ. There have been some bad finishes tonight. The crowd boo that because they were expecting a weapons-filled anything goes, ECW-like brawl, and got a standard RAW match instead, but there is at least a post-match angle to enjoy when Bubba pushes Bray off the apron and through a conveniently placed table. Crappy match, but it is the continuation of a program rather than anything definitive, so I can forgive it. I hope this is not one and done for Dreamer though. A wild brawl pitting he and the Dudleys against the Wyatts at TLC would be worth watching.
Final Rating: ¾*
Alberto Del Rio vs. Goldust
This is a very odd match on paper. Del Rio calls Goldust “out of date” before the bout, which is amusingly ironic as it comes immediately after a Zeb Coulter promo referencing “rats on Mars”, which was a news story about two years ago, plus the fact that his own gimmick in WWE in entirely anachronistic. Goldust socks him in the mouth for his cheek, but he only lasts a minute or so before Del Rio puts him away with a double foot stomp to the knob. Good to see the popular and talented Goldust’s return being handled so well. It is astonishing to see the fall of Del Rio from one of the standouts on the independent scene to one of the most worthless aspect of RAW every week. Post match Del Rio locks Goldust in the cross arm breaker before Jack Swagger makes the save. Del Rio vs. Swagger, in 2015. I mean, just, wow.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Charlotte and Becky Lynch, both painted up to the nines, have a confab. Becky asks Charlotte for a match, not for the title, “because it would be awesome”. I concur. Charlotte agrees, then Ric Flair turns up and every does a spot of whooing.
The Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos
The winner of this gets New Day for the title at TLC. This is a fun-looking match on paper, but the presence of New Day behind the announce desk (yet another tired WWE trope) means shenanigans are unfortunately inevitable. “Do something you don't do Michael, and go back to the action,” says Big E when Cole tries to talk his usual shit, immediately making him my favourite wrestler on the planet. Cole, who is like Sheldon Cooper when it comes to recognising sarcasm, immediately says, “I do want to talk about what happened on SmackDown!” New Day ignore him and do a bout of proper commentating, for a while, then they get bored and start talking nonsense. Big E brings things back with a primo mock-commentary job, yelling, “We need a medic,” after a series of dives by the announce desk. New Day take that as their cue and attack both teams, with Woods declaring that since the result is a double DQ, then at TLC they will be defending their tag belts against... nobody! So to sum up, if Roman Reigns fails to beat Sheamus tonight, then Sheamus will be defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against nobody, Kevin Owens will be defending the Intercontinental Championship against nobody, and New Day are already defending their WWE Tag Team Championship against nobody. Should be one helluva card.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, the head of the hive tells The Usos and The Lucha Dragons that they can have a triple threat match with New Day at TLC, though the Usos’ involvement depends on - you guessed it - Roman Reigns beating Sheamus in under 5:15. Who calls DQ finish? We have had plenty of those tonight already, so why not another?
Brie Bella vs. Sasha Banks
Oh goodie, a Brie Bella match. That should up the level of the in-ring work on this show. For those keeping track, Brie is positioned as a babyface tonight, a scowling, angry babyface, no less. She has the perma-useless Alicia Fox with her, who I am increasingly convinced is merely a figment of the Bella twins’ imaginations because she is never around unless one of them is present. Tamina kicks her in the face to spare us the misfortune of having to witness her comically inept attempts at conveying emotion. Sasha is great, but Brie is one of the worst wrestlers to ever set foot in a WWE ring, so she can do little with her of any worth. Sasha working heel in this makes no sense anyway, because the fans like her and don't give a tiny rat’s ass about Brie, and the result is the match taking place in front of an almost-silent audience. Sometimes I wonder if WWE even put any thought into what they are doing, or whether they just write any old nonsense into the script and hope for the best. “SPAZ MODE”, Bank Statement, fuck off Brie. And it only took a three-on-one numbers advantage to do it.
Final Rating: ¼*
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns
That this is taking place at the start of the second hour should tell you everything you need to know. Sheamus is wearing a “Sheamus 5:15” shirt, which is a pretty incredible turnaround from the marketing department, huh? The time limit stipulation forces them to work a frenetically-paced match, with Sheamus attempting evade everything Reigns does. With two minutes left on the clock Sheamus sends Reigns careening over the announce desk, but Roman recovers quickly and sends Sheamus into the post. Sheamus sandbags to prevent Reigns throwing him back into the ring, and with less than a minute left he manages to roll him in and set him up for the spear. And then the inevitable, predictable, tired, tedious, fucking appalling booking kicks in when Rusev interferes and causes the DQ. So that is now three DQs on tonight’s show, and yet another example of how WWE have made every stipulation, and everything that happens on RAW entirely meaningless. Nothing monumental ever happens on this show. WWE should have cut their losses and put the title on Reigns, then sent Sheamus back to the midcard where he belongs. This was the ultimate copout ending. What’s that sound I can hear? Oh, it is Lex Luger, sorry, Roman Reigns, choking in yet another title match. And remember, this is a guy that WWE are actively trying to build into their next global megastar. This is them actually trying! After the match Sheamus introduces Rusev, King Barrett and Alberto Del Rio as his new posse, collectively known as The League of Nations. It means you can now look forward to yet more cheap finishes in Sheamus matches thanks to his gang of goons.
Final Rating: *¾
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
This is a good match on paper... but Paige is doing commentary. I don't believe it! It’s just the same thing every week. The same ideas over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Charlotte is accompanied by Ric Flair, who Paige refers to as “a bad rash that just won’t go away”. Flair doesn't say a word to Paige, he doesn't confront her or anything, despite the disparaging things she said a couple of weeks ago about his dead son. Becky and Charlotte wrestle around for a bit but get no reaction, so a bored Kevin Dunn cuts repeatedly to Paige and Ric Flair instead of the wrestling. The announcers as usual detract from the match completely, barely mentioning a single thing that happens. It’s a shame because what they do is athletic and well-executed, but it might as well be taking place in a field in front of a herd of cows, because nobody is paying any attention. The finish is reasonably creative, with Charlotte taking a page out of her father’s “dirtiest player in the game” playbook, pretending to twist her ankle and eliciting sympathy from Becky, who falls right into the trap when Charlotte nips up and scores with a roll up for the win. Seems like a pretty twattish thing to do to your BFF in a “friendly” match. Why the hell was Naitch even here?
Final Rating: *¾
BREAKING NEWS: Tonight’s main event is as predictable as the rest of the mind-numbing tripe we have been fed all night: The League of Nations versus Roman Reigns and his “family” in an eight man tag. Holy shit, I would never have seen that one coming.
Backstage, Charlotte claims she didn't cheat, she just used strategy to lure Becky into a trap. Becky looks like a puppy that has just been kicked in the face. When Charlotte leaves, Paige walks over to Becky and stirs the pot.
“You guys remember Adam Rose, right?” asks Michael Cole, highlighting once again what a bang up job WWE does in booking the guys it brings up from NXT. That leads to a piece called The Rosebush, hosted by Mr. Rose, which is supposed to be a takeoff of Entertainment Tonight. He offers such snippets of opinion as Lana wears the pants and Rusev wears the bra in their relationship, and Dolph Ziggler has “shared more beds than a used teddy bear”. Not exactly highbrow stuff, but surprisingly entertaining.
Elsewhere, Stardust, wearing reindeer antlers, engages in yet another wacky segment with Titus O’Neill. This accidental odd-couple pairing is like a modern day version of the Black Gold tag team that Stardust’s brother Goldust was in with Booker T in the early noughties.
The League of Nations vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & The Usos
Before we get going, New Day head out for their tenth segment of the evening and add themselves to the match, giving us a ridiculous seven-on-four match.
The League of Nations & New Day vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & The Usos
The first thing I notice of interest is that the babyfaces are positioned at the front right-hand side of the ring, which if you pay attention is very rare. Usually they are in the top left corner, because that way the perception to the viewer at home is that they have further to travel when looking for a desperate tag while in peril. WWE is no longer a wrestling company though, so I shouldn't be surprised that basic wrestling tricks of the trade are now being flat out ignored. Despite eleven guys being out there, the match is horrendously dull. It’s every generic RAW multi-man main event you ever saw, pitting guys with forthcoming pay-per-view matches against each other in a thrown-together contest that means absolutely nothing. After an age of heat, Jimmy Uso hurts his knee and has to be helped to the back, leaving Roman and his buddies at a seven-on-three disadvantage. Yeah, well, they have him fight against the odds in all the meaningless matches they want, but his constant choking when going for the big one guarantees he will never get over anywhere near the level they want. He eventually gets a hot tag from Jey to utter apathy, and even an impressive double Drive By on Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods completely fails to ignite any sort of reaction. The life has been well and truly sucked out of this crowd. The match goes on forever, with Reigns taking heat for a decade or so too. The numbers advantage finally pays off when Sheamus Brogue Kicks Dean Ambrose into oblivion and pins him. Reigns takes a shoeing after the match as well. “There is the state of the WWE right now,” says Cole as Sheamus celebrates on the shoulders of his buddies. I couldn't have summed it up better myself. “State” is absolutely the word I would use to describe this ménage-a-shite.
Final Rating: ½*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Big E. For his wonderful commentary, and excelled burial of Mackle.
Least Entertaining: Wow, this is a loaded one. How can it be anyone other than Sheamus though? Sure, Brie Bella was awful, but at least she is not the WWE Champion.
Quote of the Night: “Do something you don't do Michael, and go back to the action” - Big E rips into Michael Cole for his horrible commentary, all the while being more entertaining in two minutes that Cole has managed in an entire decade.
Match of the Night: Nothing. Everything sucked.
Summary: I thought last week was dire, but this was appalling. Every match was bad, real bad, the segments were either pointless or made no sense, and the lack of star power was incredibly telling. WWE are paying for their inability to make new stars with their counterproductive Even Steven booking, and total ignorance towards what their audience want to see. I don't enjoy being negative about WWE, I would much rather see them succeed than fail, but they make it so hard to care about anything they do, and they take a big colossal dump on their diehard fans so often, that it is hard to have any sympathy for their current plight. As a company they are doing fine, they are in no danger or going the way of WCW and capitulating under the sheer weight of their own ineptitude, but as an entertainment entity they are the worst I have seen them since 2004. Wholesale changes are needed across the board to the general presentation (nothing has changed about the way RAW looks in over a decade), the dated blueprint and formula of the shows, the way they book, the company’s general attitude about who to push in what spots, and their desire to script the life out of every single character. I was hoping last week’s rating would serve as a wakeup call to Vince McMahon and WWE that they are out of touch and desperately need a shot in the arm, but instead they offered up a plate of even worse tasting shit, like a bunch of gibbering lunatics in a nuthouse with no awareness of their surroundings or what they are serving. A disaster on all levels.
There has been a lot of soul searching around the History of Wrestling offices over the past twenty-four hours. Both myself and James Dixon had made bold proclamations ever since Sheamus won Money in the Bank stating that if he cashed in and won the title, we were done with this whole reviewing malarkey. It made no sense to go back to a performer who’d been given a shot at being the top guy and had failed, several times. The circumstances behind Sheamus’ victory were even stranger as it completely cut the legs off Roman Reigns after months of rehabbing him after a disastrous aborted push at the start of the year. Roman was finally ready to claim the title, which he did and WWE immediately pulled the rug out from under him. Seeing as there were no other options the belt has found its way to Sheamus.
But wait, no other options? Here are a list of things WWE could have done instead.
So there were more options on the table than the one WWE went with. What’s even stranger is the way Sheamus was treated during the Survivor Series PPV. If he was going to be the champion by the end of the night why treat him as a joke in the Survivor match? He was laughed at by the New Day pre-match and pinned clean by another midcarder in Ryback. Speaking of midcarders; Sheamus is one and has been all year. He’s been in midcard feuds and has done nothing of note since winning the Money in the Bank match. If WWE knew he was cashing in, which they did because it’s Vince McMahon’s company and the booking buck stops with him, why not use him more effectively in between and establish him as a threat?
Anyway, this whole creative disaster is what caused a minor mutiny in the HoW office. The short of it is that we’ve done eleven months of 2015’s RAW shows. To give up now would be like WWE giving up on Roman Reigns like they did. We’ve come so far. We can’t just stop. Another way of looking at it is that wrestling is an addiction and once it’s in your blood you’re screwed. We’re all screwed. Welcome to RAW!
We’re in Nashville, Tennessee. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: The Authority
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. A new era of WWE begins with another droning promo from Hunter and Steph as to why they screwed Roman Reigns. At least Sheamus looks happy as WWE champion, which he should do seeing as it came completely from left field and probably surprised him. His heat isn’t quite ‘X-Pac heat’ but it’s not far off. Sheamus’ droning promo is the perfect length for me to watch the Minions Mini-Movie “Competition”, streaming for free on IMDB.com. A far better use of your time than listening to that Irish windbag. Roman turns up to ask for his rematch tonight and call Hunter a pussy for hiding behind his emasculating wife. In a way WWE has been a bit cute because they took the crowd’s “anyone but Roman” mentality and said “oh, really? Anyone?” and put the belt on someone that the crowd won’t cheer over Reigns. So now Roman has a far greater percentage of crowd support. Not that I agree with that decision, you understand, but I can see why they’ve done it, which is a half-step up. Things take a weird swerve though as Rusev jumps Reigns to end the segment, leaving the former champion laid out like a punk. Again. Hunter books the Sheamus-Reigns match at TLC in a TLC match and Reigns vs. Rusev tonight.
The Dudley Boyz vs. The Wyatt Family (Luke Harper & Braun Strowman)
“Last night may have made the Wyatt Family even more dangerous” says Cole. Or it could have turned them into jobbers to the stars, says I. The Wyatt’s complete inability to beat anyone, ever, even with a numbers advantage has turned them into an utterly heatless group. Albeit with the best entrance in the company (bar Finn Balor…and Bayley). Harper, like against the Brothers of Destruction, takes the bulk of the match because he can bump around for the Dudleys. At least he gets the win tonight, pinning Bubba with a discus lariat. This was a Dudley Boyz squash until a distraction finish. Notice how WWE keeps having to rehab people? Maybe if they didn’t cock up their push in the first place they wouldn’t have to.
Final Rating: ¾*
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Interesting that Sasha comes out to her own music, not Team BAD’s, as she’s blatantly the star of those three and indeed the entire division. Sasha vs. Becky on NXT earlier in the year was ****1/4-****1/2 territory and they have a lot of background. Interesting also to note a chant of “Sasha’s ratchet”/”no she’s not” making it over from NXT. The crowd respond to Sasha in a way that the rest of the NXT girls can only dream of. The reason why she’s not in the Charlotte role is because she’s far better as a heel. The story in this one is that Sasha is too cocky and gets caught in the Disarmer only for the numbers game to help Sasha win. It keeps in line with Sasha’s character. She’s not afraid to look weak to be a star because ultimately everyone knows she’s money. Short match but solid action.
As we conclude Paige jumps in from the Titantron to proclaim herself number one contender, despite losing clean last night. Paige’s reasoning is that Charlotte’s tits were touching the ropes last night so her submission doesn’t count.
Final Rating: **
New Day Open Challenge and Country Music Jamboree
You’re reading that title correctly! The New Day have been a group for a year so they celebrate by riding pink unicorn horseys to the ring and bringing a New Day twist to the world of country music, which they cannot stand. As per usual the New Day are effortlessly entertaining, mocking the locals in such a way that they still get cheered. Their assault on country music is fabulous. The result is an open challenge, answered by the Lucha Dragons, who had solid chemistry with New Day last night so that’s a good move. New Day go to leave but the Usos join in too. “You have ruined our Jamboree” yells Big E. These guys are gold. Xavier cancels the open challenge and the faces clear the ring. Bait and switch aside this was marvellous. Presumably we’ll get a three-way dance at TLC.
Mark Henry vs. Neville
This goes onto a long list of terrible WWE ideas. Henry barely works here anymore and can’t take any of Neville’s moves bar the flippity top rope stuff and kicks. The result is a completely unrealistic match with Neville hitting one kick and the Red Arrow for the win. Henry making a point of kicking out anyway to make Neville look like shit. Cheers, pal.
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control takes us backstage where Titus O’Neil accidentally walks into Stardust’s galaxy. Weird ticks make it a fairly fun segment. “What was that we just saw?” asks Cole.
Stardust & The Ascension vs. Goldust & The Prime Time Players
Goldust has been drafted back in because WWE is running short on babyfaces. The whole Star-Goldust feud went nowhere earlier in the year but Stardust has done nothing since so we’re back to that old chestnut. Titus is the star here, bossing the action with his power offence and charisma. It makes you wonder why he doesn’t get more opportunities. Across the ring the Ascension are in the rebuilding process after WWE called them up to the main roster and promptly buried them completely. It probably would have been easier to rehab them without the pointless burial. That said Titus wins out on this particular night. Not everyone can win. This felt like filler but as far as filler goes it was ok.
Final Rating: *1/4
Promo Time: The Mex-Americans
Zeb Coulter and Alberto Del Rio talk a lot and I’m still not sure why they’re together. The crux of their chat is that the borders of Mex-America are closed and they’re not accepting new Mex-Americans. This goes on and on until Jack Swagger appears. Mark Henry, Jack Swagger, who’s next? Heath Slater? Damien Sandow? Curtis Axel? Some talent will find TV time with an assortment of main card guys going down injured. Del Rio has returned as a Latino icon and has been turned into another anti-American foreigner. This was dull.
WWE Divas Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Paige
This flopped last night but that was a PPV so I’m hopeful a free TV title match will get a better response. Paige plays the chicken heel and Charlotte gets to put more of a beating on her. A theory I’ve heard is that people aren’t connecting with Charlotte and that’s evident in this match. She’s too big, too dominant to be a babyface. Paige can’t get the crowd to turn on her regardless of how strong her promos are. Although she should probably realise when she yells stuff like “this is my house” she’s eliciting babyface reactions. Paige decides to take a page out of Nikki Bella’s book and work the knee. Somehow this ends up even more lifeless and heatless than the Survivor Series match. The finish is rubbish too with Paige causing a double count out instead of having a definitive finish to end this feud. They even tease an announce table spot, which is just Paige doing her PTO on the table. Is it more painful if executed on a table? Match lost me about halfway through and then snoozed to a non-finish.
Final Rating: *3/4
Promo Time: Heath Slater
Oh my God! He still has a job too. The over/under on Sandow appearing before the end of the show is looking good. I’m still confused as to why Damien Sandow has been de-pushed to the degree that he has. Apparently Slater doesn’t like country music either. Who does? Well, Brock Lesnar actually. This would have been an interesting spot for him but Brock’s stunt double is Ryback. He clears Slater out. That’s the segment. Thanks for coming, Heath. Now you can go back to jobbing to Fandango on Superstars.
Dean Ambrose & Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens & Tyler Breeze
Two matches from last night condensed into one. Everyone is good in the ring but the match exists on a dead show in a dead spot ahead of tonight’s main event. Both Ambrose and Owens still get big reactions, suggesting either one of them could have been given the ball. Although the comparison on this show is silence and indifference so it’s hard to say how over they are. The action is decent but the match is five minutes so they can’t get any stories going, just continuing existing issues. Like with earlier someone has to take the fall and Tyler isn’t on Ambrose’s level so he loses to Dirty Deeds. Owens again makes for a poor tag team partner as he ignores the pinfall, only interested in himself and his own wellbeing.
Final Rating: **
Video Control gives a weird backstage bit where Mark Henry imagines El Torito doing the JBL gimmick. Mark eats a burger to shill Hardees menu. Is that a fat joke? Also two Mark Henry segments on RAW? What year is this?
Rusev vs. Roman Reigns
Rusev hasn’t wrestled on RAW in a month, not since teaming with Sheamus and King Barrett against the Dudley Boyz at the end of October. He’s been injured and on punishment duties for daring to get engaged to his real life girlfriend, Lana, and tanking WWE’s idea of having him ‘marry’ Summer Rae. Lana has also been punished and hasn’t been on TV. The logic of this makes no sense. When Triple H and Stephanie got married, after having been married and divorced onscreen, were they punished? Was it addressed on TV at all? No. So why even bring up Rusev and Lana’s engagement? Anyway, his in-ring hasn’t deteriorated during his absence and Rusev works fairly effectively opposite Reigns. The match only exists to give Sheamus a way to cheap shot Reigns from ringside thus promoting their TLC title match. Until he gets booted, proving he’s so completely useless that he can’t even stand at ringside properly. King Barrett runs in for the DQ at the finish, thus ensuring some continuity with Sheamus, Rusev and Barrett forming a European Union of sorts a month back.
Final Rating: **1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: The New Day
Least Entertaining: Alberto Del Rio
Quote of the Night: “Country music sucks. This is me saying this, not my character, country music sucks” – Kofi Kingston.
Match of the Night: Roman Reigns vs. Rusev. Not much competition.
Summary: After a dire PPV came a decidedly dull episode of RAW. Yes, they really are going with Sheamus as champion at least until the next PPV. Yes, the midcard is a wasteland with so many injuries to the point where Jack Swagger, Mark Henry and Heath Slater made their way onto RAW. I often complain WWE don’t use the depth of their roster but injuries have forced them into doing so. The result is a bunch of guys who can’t get over because normally they’re not even allowed on TV. There are a few positives for WWE; Roman was backed by the fans tonight. Owens and Ambrose look to have some legitimate chemistry, which could lead to a good match at some point. The New Day are still hugely entertaining regardless of what’s happening around them and they have a few entertaining opponents lined up. Sasha Banks got the kind of reaction they’ve been hoping for from Charlotte for the past three-four months. The injuries and absences are starting to mount up though and WrestleMania has to sell a lot of tickets and might struggle with the roster they’ve got. We might be in for a run of shows like this while WWE get their ducks in a row. One thing is for certain, they need new stars and they need them as soon as possible.
22nd November 2015.
We’re in Atlanta, Georgia for the 25th Anniversary of the Undertaker show. WWE has been hyping Taker all week on the Network, aiming to get across the importance of his career and his influence on the WWF landscape over the years. A quarter of a century is a long time for any character but a WWE one? It’s almost unheard of. Longevity in wrestling is nothing new but the way in which the Undertaker has achieved what he’s achieved has been nothing short of amazing.
On a completely different note; Survivor Series was placed on a threat list this week, with ISIS rumoured to be targeting the event for a terrorist attack. In typical blusterous Vince McMahon fashion the show always goes on. WWE have been in contact with various law enforcement branches of the American government, thus making this one of the safest major wrestling events in the history of the pseudo sport. Even more so than the bomb-scare threatened WrestleMania VII.
Almost lost in all this hoopla is the WWE championship, vacant for the first time since Daniel Bryan’s 2014 injury necessitated a ladder match to crown a new champion. The tournament to crown the champion was an obvious one but with Undertaker, Kane, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, John Cena and Brock Lesnar all missing. The resultant field was a competitive one but one lacking in star power, considering the prize at the end of the rainbow. The resulting tournament has been Roman Reigns dominating one side of the bracket and Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens the obvious semi-final on the other side. From there is where WWE can take us on a story. Will Reigns overcome the odds and triumph against the Authority’s wishes? Will He join forces with Triple H and become a corporate champion? Will the Authority pick any of the four remaining participants to replace Seth Rollins? Will Sheamus cash in his Money in the Bank shot? All will be revealed at Survivor Series. Expect screwjobs.
WWE Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio
I’m pleased to see both United States and Intercontinental champions being represented in the tournament to the semi-final stage. Even if the bigger story seems to involve the Authority and the former Shield members. Del Rio’s return has been an odd one. The partnership with Zeb Coulter doesn’t make sense and the storyline has, so far, felt forced. Like any chosen champion of Vince McMahon, Roman Reigns gets a heavily mixed reaction from the crowd. Unlike John Cena, he doesn’t have to stay babyface though and that’s what makes him more interesting as a personality. Will he stay true to his beliefs? We are increasingly in an era where the traditional babyface doesn’t exist anymore. Cena is as close to that out there and he’s roundly booed every time he wrestles. Even Triple H, shown watching on a monitor backstage, gets a mixed reaction. Fans view him as a heel for his onscreen persona but also love him for NXT and his headline career. The storyline in this match is one established on Raw last week where Roman has a bad shoulder. The idea being that it eliminates the Spear and the Superman Punch, Roman’s main two offensive weapons. Not that it stops Roman from using his arm. He just grimaces afterwards and not even that when it comes to the Superman Punch. There’s also a mind-bogglingly stupid spot where he hauls Del Rio up into a one-arm powerbomb with the injured arm. So the entire match is rendered pointless, albeit with a big-match atmosphere. Especially on the near falls like Roman getting suckered into the First Flash. The other aspect of the arm work is Del Rio getting the armbar on that injured limb. Reigns hits the Spear with the bad arm to win. Bags of effort but the storytelling and psychology was all over the place in this match. Could Roman have not found another way to win? It makes him look like a poor worker for not being able to think of a Plan B to overcome Del Rio’s Plan A.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us to Roman for a live interview, which he botches horribly, forgetting his lines. Kevin Owens comes in to save him. Owens assertion that he’ll stop Reigns tonight gets a raucous pop.
WWE Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens
Ambrose gets a big pop but Owens gets a bigger pop. He’s rapidly becoming the people’s choice to carry the company forward. Ambrose has the whole Steve Austin gimmick going for him, which is referenced quite often. He’s a guy that has an anti-authority persona that people connect to. What’s clear is either one of these guys would be a more interesting champion than Roman Reigns. The best thing about Owens is that he’s not afraid to be a heel. He’ll quite happily put a match in the cooler and coast through on hate. As much as I appreciate work-rate there’s something about a guy who can control the crowd without any sizzle. That’s the stuff champions are made of. The work is fairly basic with the odd quality counter. It’s designed to give both men an easy route through to the final. It’s a smarter worked match than the Reigns-Del Rio one, albeit not as interesting. Owens litters the match with fun spots like a missed moonsault or the Avalanche Fisherman Buster. Their spots click together at times too like the Popup Powerbomb being countered into the Rebound Lariat. Ambrose goes to the well and runs into a superkick but then the Popup is countered into a rana. It’s great counter wrestling. Ambrose ends up catching Owens with Dirty Deeds to make it an all Shield final. Owens proved he belonged on the top rung here, putting together a far superior match to the preceding one and making Ambrose look as good as he has all year.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Survivor Series Elimination Match
Ryback, The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto & Sin Cara) & The Usos vs. The New Day (Xavier Woods, Big E & Kofi Kingston), Sheamus & King Barrett
Xavier Woods has outstanding hair this evening, channelling The Cat from Red Dwarf. As per usual the New Day entertain with their mic skills and even Sheamus amuses by claiming they’re about to “get jiggy on these posers”. Even Michael Cole is scoring points off Sheamus. “Sheamus should cash in his Money in the Bank to get a new personality”. Oh, it’s a deep burn. The match is pretty entertaining too, with the faces coordinating a stereo four-man dive. JBL finds a number of entertaining sources to riff off during the match including Jerry Lawler’s Survivor match with the midgets, mocking Cole’s “referees, technicians, EMTS down” line replacing it with “Irishmen and Unicorns” and comparing Ryback to the Hindenburg. Oh the humanity! I’ve never been that into JBL as a commentator but when his references start clicking he’s really entertaining. Especially compared to Lawler who has completely lost the plot. Barrett is first man out, dumped by Sin Cara’s Swanton off the middle of the top rope. 5-4 faces.
Traditionally you don’t want your heels chasing the odds. Xavier double stomps Jimmy Uso to square things up. 4-4.
The New Day and Lucha Dragons interaction is so good that it wouldn’t hurt WWE to build the Dragons up as challengers for the tag championships. It’s not like they have a stream of potential champions in the tag ranks. Brogue Kick puts Sin Cara out, thus allowing the New Day to escape the Dragons and it creates tension between Big E and Sheamus over who scored the pin. 4-3 heels.
The miscommunication is enough for Big E to eat a Superfly Splash off Jay Uso to leave the New Day a man down. 3-3.
The New Day determine this ‘injury’ to be so severe that they need to tend to Big E and all leave. This leaves Sheamus against Jay, Kalisto and Ryback. With the New Day departing it’s like the air is sucked out of the arena and there’s not much investment in the remaining characters. The only reason for doing this is to tire Sheamus out to insure he’s not able to cash in his Money in the Bank later. To show how interested he is in the match Jerry Lawler is on Twitter. I get WWE likes social media but shouldn’t it be encouraging people to watch the product? Lawler is terrible at the best of times but talking about his re-tweets during a match is unbearable. The faces do some nice tagging during a triple team sequence and Shellshock finishes for the faces. Survivors: Ryback, Jay Uso & Kalisto. This whole match was odd and as soon as the New Day left it lost all crowd interest.
Final Rating: **1/4
WWE Divas Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Paige
This has been coming since Charlotte and Becky Lynch got called up to the main roster and paired up with Paige. The veteran, Paige, is content to play the heel role. She moans and complains and makes Charlotte look bigger and stronger than her without turning Charlotte heel. Like with the men, there’s no real clear cut babyfaces in the divas division and they all get mixed reactions. That’s just how wrestling is nowadays. The crowd don’t really respond thanks to Paige taking a methodical pace and the storyline not drawing people in. The ending segment to Raw last week did not help matters. It was supposed to make this personal, turn it into a blood feud but instead it turned people off and Charlotte’s lack of aggression demonstrates how the whole angle has failed. The intensity picks up with a battling Figure Four and Charlotte starts channelling her Dad. Paige seems a bit put-off by the lack of crowd reaction and starts doing small arena stuff like yelling at the fans. There’s nothing worse than working in front of a dead crowd. The crowd finally makes itself heard by chanting “we want Sasha”. That about sums up the apathy toward long-term established divas like Paige as she’s been in this dead division for years. Paige showboats a bit, which costs her and Charlotte taps her with the Figure Eight. The crowd hurt this as they didn’t care at all and it definitely effected the wrestlers.
Final Rating: **1/4
Video Control gives us a chatty showdown between Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Neither man gives anything away. Nobody says the patented “I’ll do anything to win the title” line that gives away a heel turn.
Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler
“Look everyone, it’s Tyler!” I honestly didn’t realise how highly I rated Tyler Breeze and enjoyed his shtick until he arrived on the main roster and fitted right in. There’s a telling moment pre-match where Tyler is doing the selfie thing and Summer tries to pose with him and he raises the camera over her head. I doubt Tyler’s character is even aware Summer Rae is there. This is an odd contest as neither man is that interested in the woman they’re supposedly fighting over and they both usually work from the bottom. They tend to get beaten up a lot. In facing each other they have a chance to show something more. Although that dynamic doesn’t always work (see Shawn Michaels vs. Mr Perfect for proof). They do click quite well but the crowd doesn’t respond much, although not to the degree of the last match. The finish is sudden with Tyler Breeze hitting the Unprettier as JBL makes Shawn Michaels references. I’m glad they had Tyler go over here as Dolph is job proof and Breeze needed a win to establish himself.
Final Rating: **1/2
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper) vs. The Brothers of Destruction
This whole Wyatt vs. BOD angle seems to be forgetting that Wyatt tried to crush the spirit of the Undertaker earlier in the year, at WrestleMania, and failed. A lot of the crowd are here for Taker and he gets a big reaction as he’s such a special attraction. He’s coming off a solid feud against Brock Lesnar too so even the newer fans have fresh memories of excellence. My personal favourite Undertaker is the Phantom of the Opera one from 1996 after Mabel broke his face. The Wyatt’s select their two best wrestlers for this venture, beforehand having suggested it’d be any two of their four members. Luckily this leaves Braun Strowman at ringside and the more capable Harper takes the bumps. It’s harsh on Harper, as he’s the only one who can make Taker and Kane look good, that he has to take all the abuse. It makes his character look like a punk and Strowman look strong, when he’s actually garbage. Harper has the better offence too. They try some weird creepy psychology from the Wyatts only for the Brothers to zombie sit up. Seeing as Bray is the money man in the Wyatt Family poor Harper has to take the Tombstone as well. Match was mostly a nostalgia trip and was rarely any good as a contest.
Final Rating: *1/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose
Poor Roman Reigns, he’s been booked to be the top babyface in the company all year and can’t catch a break. Mainly because Vince McMahon wanted to turn him into a goofy babyface like John Cena, which turned half the crowd on the poor guy. As a result his push has been truncated several times and he’s been forced into rebuilding programs. Meanwhile Ambrose hasn’t been up to the top and been booked wrong, he’s always been bubbling under and not given the push when he was hot. Now they’re both in the final match because of circumstance. Roman had this title shot anyway and, from a storytelling perspective, was likely to overcome Seth Rollins in the original booking of Survivor Series. Instead he finds himself opposite his ‘brother’ in a babyface match. Ambrose takes a cerebral approach, using the existing arm injury to his benefit and being less afraid to take it to his ‘brother’. It subtly makes him the heel, turning the neutrals and kids into Roman fans to even out the crowd. The crowd is again on the quiet side so Roman hits early big spots like the Superman Punch and the Spear for near falls. It’s a little odd that Ambrose didn’t see either one coming, although the Punch is at least out of mid-air. When Roman kicks out of the Dirty Deeds it feels like they’ve blown their wad inside ten minutes. When it’s feeling underwhelming Roman hits another Spear for the belt and that’s it. They shot for epic and came up a bit short but it was a decent sprint.
Final Rating: **1/2
Tangent: WWE’s insistence at firing off a shit-load of pyro after the match is over is not a particularly good idea. The ISIS threat must have had a few of the audience members on edge and the timing of the explosions is unnecessary. Especially with a million tonnes of confetti falling into the ring.
Post Match: Triple H joins us to offer a handshake to Roman Reigns as the new champion and Roman hits the Spear! It’s not winning the belt that defines Roman here, it’s defying Triple H!
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns (c) vs. Sheamus
And God damn it, Sheamus is cashing in. Brogue Kick and Sheamus pins Roman in the confetti to win the belt. “Are you kidding me?” yells Cole. Well, there was a load of debate as to how the WWE would book a difficult Survivor Series and they went for the most predictable and worst possible booking route. Sheamus is the least deserving heavyweight champion since Randy Orton’s rotten Daniel Bryan blocking run a few years ago, and putting him with Triple H is even worse as it means the Authority endorses their second duff champion in three attempts. Congratulations, guys, another creative disaster.
Final Rating: DUD
Summary: It was a mediocre show with only a few bouts really delivering. The conclusion of the show was a total bummer and I’m pretty sure, in line with our various declarations of late, no one will be covering Raw tomorrow because no one at History of Wrestling actually wants to watch a product with Sheamus on top of it. The Sheamus thing makes no sense. Why him? Why didn’t Ambrose stick around to stop him? Did nobody think this might happen? Worst major show of the year. Most disappointing booking decision of the year. I was fairly hyped to watch this show, wondering what booking direction WWE would go in, and it fell horribly flat. One can only hope Sheamus loses the belt swiftly and we can forget this event ever happened. The worst part of all this is that WWE had the opportunity to do something drastically new and exciting and they opted to avoid that completely. Wouldn’t an Authority backed Kevin Owens have been a better move here? Thumbs down and let’s hope someone backstage has the grapefruits to sort this out as quickly as possible.
We start with (most of) the roster on the ramp, showing solidarity with France after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris this past Friday evening. They share a moment of silent reflection with the crowd, as the now iconic Paris peace sign by Jean Jullien adorns the big screen. A classy move from WWE, who actually had performers in the city during the attacks. The Bella Twins were both there on vacation, and had been walking distance away from where some of the attacks took place only an hour earlier in the day.
We are only one week away from Survivor Series, a card which has suffered a tumultuous build due to the injuries to Seth Rollins and Randy Orton, the absence of John Cena, and the general fan apathy towards to product in general. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament is in full swing, with the first round having been completed on television last week, in a largely underwhelming set of matches. They were disappointing because of the lack of effort WWE put into the tournament. It didn't feel special, important, or really anything other than a series of thrown together matches. It wasn't helped by the participants being a ragtag bunch of midcarders, jobbers, comedy acts, and tired acts. Splurging the bracket immediately took the excitement out of everybody too, because immediately it was evident that Brock Lesnar hadn't been convinced to do some extra dates, that John Cena hadn't been talked into cancelling his long-planned time off, that Vince McMahon was willing to roll the dice with Daniel Bryan and have him come back, concussion concerns or not, or that WWE would take the opportunity to call up someone from NXT such as Finn Balor, Samoa Joe or Apollo Crews. Hell, they didn’t even cancel pre-booked matches featuring The Undertaker, Kane (who wanted the title desperately last month and worked in the title match on pay-per-view), or Bray Wyatt (whose whole feud with Roman Reigns revolved around the title). Why wouldn't those guys be in it? Also, on that note, why is Wyatt allowing Reigns to progress through the bracket, given his promise for the past six months of “anyone but you, Roman”. It’s all nonsense, slap-dash, half-assed booking, with WWE proving that when they get backed to the fences they wilt and take the beating. There is no fight in them. Satisfyingly, WWE’s apathy towards the tournament for its supposed richest prize was reflected in the ratings, with RAW dropping below three million viewers in its third hour for the first time since the days of Nitro whipping its ass, and the show overall scoring one of the lowest ratings in the last two decades. In another era you might expect a reaction tonight, but there is nothing that can shake this company out of its creative lull. Thank god for the primo workers they have up and down the card, keeping the place afloat.
Promo time: The Brothers of Destruction
Undertaker and Kane are given a protracted, dramatic entrance, with druids, chanting, darkness, lightning, the works. It takes them ten minutes to get to the ring, giving folk at home tuning in late time to get comfortable and make a quick brew. You know, it strikes me, wouldn't the demonic pairing’s entrance be that much cooler if they coordinated their magic and had the lights come on at the same time that Kane makes the posts explode?
With Undertaker’s “twenty-fifth” anniversary coming up at Survivor Series, a fact that has been heavily promoted by WWE, you could be forgiven for thinking he would be involved in something monumental. But alas, no, instead he is teaming with his storyline brother for a tag team match against two random members of the Wyatt Family. That’s right, a generic tag bout, not a traditional Survivor Series elimination match, nor even a 2-on-4 encounter with the odds stacked against he and his sibling, but a bog standard, throwaway tag team encounter. Which begs the question, why would anyone want to see that now after Taker and Kane already destroyed all four of the Wyatts last week on RAW, exacting their revenge in full for the attacks they suffered at the hands of the clan? In kayfabe world, having already beat them up do Undertaker and Kane now feel the need to score a pinfall victory over one of them in order to fully move on and get over the ordeal? The character motivation doesn't make sense.
Even worse, Bray himself challenged the BoD to the straight up tag match, stacking the odds against himself and halving his resources after having already seen the duo smash through his entire clan. Sometimes I think WWE don't give its fans any credit and assume they are all so dumb that they won’t pick up on things like that, but they do, of course they do, and that is just one of the many reasons why nobody is invested in any of the characters on this show. None of them are consistent, none of them do logical things, they just do whatever random nonsense they are scripted to do that particular week, with nothing holding over and running on into the future. So the result is a tag match that nobody wants to see, a complete waste of Undertaker on his “special night”, and another feeling of being completely underwhelmed by WWE’s directionless creative.
The one positive I can say about this opening segment is that the staging, for once, is very good. As the brothers discuss their feelings in an unintentionally tongue-in-cheek Addams Family manner (darkness, hell, evil, demons, etc), they are bathed in an eerie blue light while the rest of the arena is in darkness, which makes for a rather satisfying eerie surrealist effect. The Wyatts predictably show up to retort, but refrain from entering the ring immediately, and instead wait around at the stage while Bray sits in his rocking chair and rocks back and forth, explaining that he is the new Big Bad in WWE, before commanding the forces of thunder and lightning with the power of his mind. He makes the lights go out, and when they come back on the druids from earlier, who I had forgotten about, are now surrounding the ring clad in sheep masks. Creepy as hell, but probably could have been even cooler if they had already been surrounding them in the ring. Bray seems quite satisfied with himself, but like Wile E. Coyote, his master plan turns out to be a bust. Taker and Kane handily destroy the tiny druids, with Taker planting one of them so hard with a chokeslam that his mask comes off with the impact. The Wyatt disciples head to the ring, but Bray calls them off and instructs them to wait until Sunday. Why would he do that? Why would the Bray Wyatt character care about saving the fight for a Network special? This was standard WWE match building fare really, with a whole lot of empty threats but little actually happening.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter Final
Neville vs. Kevin Owens
This could be a television classic, and indeed it was on the indies a couple of times. Kevin Owens is so good because he is blessed with that rare combination of having exciting, variant offence, much of it unique -in WWE at least- but he can also take everyone else’s spots, and he moves around incredibly well for a big guy. He is one of the best bumpers in the company, which is impressive for someone his size. Neville is similar in that his work is always smooth, exciting, and occasionally jaw-dropping, plus his bumping and selling is almost second to none. It makes for a great match up on paper, and indeed tonight. But of course, in the eyes of WWE Owens in tubby and Neville is short, so they will never be allowed to get over past a certain level. They will always be the guys that the top guys beat on their way up, they are not top guys.
The action is as solid as you would expect, with the excitement levels increasing after a gentle start when Neville cuts it real close breaking a ten count, causing Michael Cole to get flustered and declare that the close nature of the near win “infu-ree-a-rated” Owens. Neville brings some nice stuff such as a snap German in the corner after ducking a charge, and a corkscrew moonsault which gets a near fall and has the fans right into it. He makes a few attempts at the Red Arrow, but Owens knows his game and finds ways to prevent it. Neville avoids Owens’ pop-up powerbomb with a superkick right on the money, followed with a sick reverse rana. Owens takes it beautifully, perhaps better than anyone I have seen take that move. Neville tries to follow up off the top again, but Owens sees it coming and moves, but Neville sees that and changes in mid air. Nice. Unfortunately for him, he isn't quick enough to avoid a brutal wild bomb version of the pop-up powerbomb for the Owens win. An exciting, high impact match, with plenty to enjoy from bell to bell. It probably needed another five or ten minutes to really be something special though.
Final Rating: ***½
Backstage, Triple H has an unheard conversation with Owens, and they shake hands. Is he Authority bound? It would certainly be a huge boost to his career if he was.
Tyler Breeze vs. R-Truth
Truth continues is his role of jobber to the midcarders, and he has been such a terribly written character this year that nobody cares one iota about him anymore. It wasn't all that long ago that he was main eventing Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden opposite John Cena and The Rock. Breeze takes far too much of a kicking for a new guy who should be booked strong and getting a push. Especially from a no-hoper like Truth. When he takes a shot to the face, he collapses in the corner so his valet Summer Rae can put lip balm on him, which draws uproarious laughter from the announcers. Yeah, let’s all bury the NXT grad, just like with poor Adam Rose and The Ascension. Hell, just like Cole did with Daniel Bryan for years, until he got over and Cole had to shut his gormless mouth. Breeze gets aggressive after that and targets Truth’s leg, going to work on it with vigour. After a brief Truth flurry, in which he does at least remember to sell the leg, Breeze puts him away with his Beauty Shot finisher. It is already quite apparent that Breeze is going to suffer on the show from the usual problems. His gimmick doesn't translate to the main roster, partially because Vince McMahon has no damn clue what a selfie even is, plus Breeze is a little guy. He looks so generic and lifeless on this show compared to NXT that it is sad. I bet he would rather be back down in Florida. I cannot fathom for a moment why anyone would want to move from NXT to RAW right now
Final Rating: ¾*
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter Final
Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler
This is another good match-up on paper, though it is an all-babyface affair so it could split the crowd. The winner will face Kevin Owens at Survivor Series, and frankly either would be a strong choice. Ziggler can take his moves well, whereas Ambrose would bring the smash-mouth brawler side out of Owens. They can also both talk up a storm, so it is a shame there will be almost no TV time prior to the card to promote the bout.
They start out with some solid mat work, giving Ambrose a rare chance to display his technical wrestling acumen. They look like they are having a lot of fun out there and being given the chance to work. Ambrose is by nature more aggressive, which comes into play when Ziggler starts avoiding his offence and frustrating him, then outwrestling him with snazzy submission holds. It’s good wrestling. Ziggler tags Ambrose on a dropkick and knocks him daft, but he regains his bearings and returns the favour from earlier by going for submissions. Resident wrestling philistine Byron Saxton is bored, calling it “methodical” because he doesn't understand slow-burning wrestling and intelligent match pacing. Nobody establishes a period of control at any stage, which makes for a really well-worked back and forth contest. Not in the typical WWE big match style where everyone involved just hits finisher after finisher either, but rather with intelligent wrestling.
They have some nice sequences such as a series of pin switches, and a double crossbody that puts them both down, not to mention a bout of fisticuffs on the top rope that both men take a spill to the outside from. There is plenty to like about this, with both guys countering each other’s more well-known spots, and ramping up the volume of the big moves as the bout progresses. The counters and transitions into their bigger moves are excellent. A turning point comes when Ziggler hits an X-Factor off the top and tweaks his knee, so Ambrose rolls to the outside knowing Ziggler can’t follow him, buying himself some time to recover from the move and saving the match. More smart wrestling.
Back inside they exchange near falls again, then any remaining niceties cease as they engage in a good old fashioned fist fight. They switch and switch again into the Dirty Deeds, and Ambrose wins it clean in the middle. Corking match. Far different from what I was expecting, and executed at a high level throughout. There wasn't a single dead spot or dull moment, and it was a real showcase of what two talented guys can do when they are allowed to just go out there and wrestle. Dean promises to turn WWE upside-down if he wins the belt, and guarantees more action and less talking. Suddenly, based on that tantalising statement, every wrestling fan in the world wants him to win.
Final Rating: ****
The New Day vs. The Usos & Ryback
This is filler. We do get a pre-match promo from New Day where they mock Jey Uso’s shoulder injury and change the Uso chant to, “When we say uce, y’all say oww”. Excellent. Considering Jey is just back from that injury, one which has had him on the shelf since WrestleMania, his decision to hit a wild dive over the ropes -which he overshoots and goes crashing into the barricade- is a fairly boneheaded one. It leads to heat, as tag formula takes over. The announcers get bored and start talking about Dirty Dancing. Big E amuses me at least by mocking Ryback throughout, repeatedly slapping his own head and yelling “stupid”, just like the big lunk himself does. They run the old fake tag spot that the ref misses, and the ever-intelligent Ryback takes an age arguing the toss about it, with Jey taking more of a kicking with each second that passes. Seeing Ryback as an easy target, New Day rile him further when Big E slaps him, leading to the big guy coming in all angry and full of bluster, and in his exuberance he shoves the referee and gets his team disqualified. Duh. To compound the idiocy, Ryback and his partners celebrate the loss afterwards. Good to know that wins and losses mean absolutely nothing.
Final Rating: *½
Backstage, Triple H gives Cesaro a pep talk. “Very few guys can do what you can do in that ring,” says Hunter, before suggesting that he might need that little something extra to take him to the next level and grab that brass ring. Oh, insider comments. In this context he means The Authority. This merely serves as a ploy to take a little of Cesaro’s popularity away from him prior to his match with the chosen one, Roman Reigns, sewing seeds of doubt in the minds of fans on the fence with the suggestion that Cesaro might turn heel and side with the WWE powers that be. Like Owens, it wouldn't be the worst move for his career if he did.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter Final
Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro
As pleased as I was to see Cesaro defeat Sheamus last week, if I was WWE I maybe wouldn't have done it. They want Reigns as their guy, there is no doubt about it, so putting him in with the always-popular Cesaro when he is already struggling for fan approval seems detrimental to his growth. Roman struggles through some scripted lines before the match, reminding everyone that he turned down the chance to take the easy route to the title when he rejected The Authority. Pandering. My suspicions that the fans may turn on Roman turn out to be incorrect, thanks to a primo carry job from the incredible Cesaro. Watching him lead Roman through intricate spots with the greatest of ease reminds me of guys like Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and Bret Hart in their pomp. Like Ambrose-Ziggler, this is another triumph in the ring, with two babyfaces not confined by the shackles of bad script writing going out and working for twenty minutes. The match is a total throwback in the sense that they tell a story in the ring, with Cesaro targeting Reigns’ arm, and at the same time favouring his own after a few weeks of having it worked over. It’s simple, but effective. Cesaro turns things up a few notches with a series of incredible feats of athleticism, including a majestic cartwheel from the top rope, and a sequence where he evades the Drive By, pulls Roman right into the giant swing, turns it into a Sharpshooter, then counters Roman’s attempts to reverse it by hooking a crossface. The man is a machine, and there is nobody in the company working at his level. Of course JBL, the proxy voice of Vince McMahon don't forget, is more interested in the impressive power displays from Reigns, such as a one-armed powerbomb with the injured arm, a move that by rights he shouldn't be able to do after the hammering the appendage has taken. JBL then comes out with a corking line, “That is impossible to do! Try it at home and see for yourself!” Michael Cole quickly chimes in, recommending that nobody should try this at home, but rather should leave the moves they see in the ring to the professionals. What a goof JBL is. The bout concludes with a series of well-timed, believable counters, ending with a Reigns Superman punch followed by the spear for the inevitable victory. Predictable result or not, this was another awesome match on what has been the strongest RAW of the year as far as in-ring goes. Every bit as good as the Ambrose-Ziggler match, but worked in an entirely different fashion, this is probably Reigns’ finest singles performance since WrestleMania.
Final Rating: ****¼
The Dudley Boyz vs. The Ascension
It’s matches like this which serve as a reminder that no matter how good RAW is, it is still far too long and needs too much filler to pad it out. This match-up is completely worthless, with the Ascension long past the point of no return, and the initial excitement that greeted the return of the Dudleys having long since died down. They are just another badly used act in a promotion filled to the brim with them. They have been off TV for a couple of weeks since failing to get the job done against New Day, which was the right thing to do because they had been immediately overexposed and grew quickly tiresome. Bringing them back to beat the Ascension in a nothing match does little for them, and literally the only purpose this served was to eat up time.
Final Rating: ½*
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter Final
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto
This is a foregone conclusion, as indeed all of these quarter final matches have been, but this more so than the others. Del Rio’s return so far has been a total bust. He has gone from one of the hottest guys on the Indy scene to someone working without any passion for what he is doing. It is hardly a surprise given how he has been booked since coming back, with his wacky pairing with Zeb Coulter failing on all fronts, and his work having the feel of someone phoning it in. There is no intensity to anything he does. Things go from bad to worse for Del Rio when he accidentally rips off Kalisto’s mask during a spot on the top rope, which draws an audible “ooh” from the crowd and a “Woah!” from JBL, ever one to channel Bobby Heenan in WCW and point out a botch. The next thirty seconds see the pair desperately try and put the mask back on, which gets them booed out of the building, and the rest of the match is played in front of total silence. Del Rio scores the win with a messy double foot stomp off the top for the win, to end another Del Rio disaster.
Final Rating: ¾*
Contract Signing: Paige and Charlotte
There is no women’s match on the show, but we do get a Main Event Contract Signing, which I guess is a first for the female folk on RAW. Clearly WWE saw Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm draw a record crowd for UFC in Australia and thought, “Well golly gee, we can do that too!” Only, they can’t, because Mmes. Rousey and Holm had genuine real-life stories to tell, and an intense professional dislike. They also won, all of the time, which made a showdown between them a tantalising prospect. Paige lost last week to Becky Lynch in her home country, for no other reason than... well, I cannot even give an explanation as to why that was a good idea. WWE thinks that my shoehorning its female talent into main event spots then they will become de facto main eventers, but that is not the case. You can put anyone in the main event slot, but that doesn't make them a draw. Just ask Diesel. This is as transparent an attempt to piggyback off UFC’s success with its female fighters as WWE have tried, and the results are part pretty good, and part revolting.
The segment is hosted by Michael Cole, who plays question master as Charlotte and Paige stare holes in each other from either side of a table. Charlotte gets emotional delivering her obviously scripted verbiage, struggling to juggle the task of remembering her lines while having to “act” on national television. The results are mixed, and her shaking hand betrays the fact that she is nervous as hell up there on the main stage. Charlotte makes the claim that she doesn't care about anything in wrestling except having a successful career in tribute of her late brother Reid Flair’s memory. Oh no. Paige in turn throws barbs, mocks Ric Flair for his silly jacket-attacking promos, then utters a line that is sure to help WWE win the “Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic” award in this year’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards; “Your little brother didn't have much fight in him, did he?”
And so, after a few weeks of terrible ratings, WWE reverted to what is known as the Vince Russo Tactic: shock TV. They did the same thing in 2002 with the infamous Katie Vick angle, in which Triple H accused Kane of accidentally murdering his high school sweetheart. If that wasn't bad enough, he then shot a skit wearing a Kane mask where he simulated coitus with Vick’s long-mangled corpse. The outrage was such that simple questions like, “Why was she still in a funeral home decades after her death?” were not asked. It turned out to be a Triple H laugh-fest anyway, because he was really screwing a blow-up doll. Oh, that cad. This happened around the same time as Al Wilson, Torrie Wilson’s father, was introduced to viewers. Dawn Marie ended up entrapping Torrie and engaging in a lesbian tryst with her in a desperate effort from Torrie to keep Dawn away from her father. It didn't work, and Dawn married Al, oversexed him on their honeymoon, and caused him to have a heart attack and die. At Al’s wake, the two had a cat fight and the casket containing poor Al came tumbling to the ground. It was vile. Paige mocking Reid, who tragically died in 2013 from an accidental heroin overdose at the age of just twenty-five, was every bit as bad.
You cannot blame Paige. She was given the line, Charlotte knew about the line, and they delivered it. They did what they had been written to do. In Vince McMahon’s world it is perfectly fine to make light of the death of the young son of a wrestling legend, because in his world the news, and real life, is all just another form of “entertainment”. He has showed similar levels of crass before, allowing C.M. Punk and Paul Heyman to mock Paul Bearer just weeks after his death in order to sell a program between Punk and The Undertaker. And let’s not forget how WWE exploited the death of beloved star Eddie Guerrero for years after he died as they desperately tried to get Rey Mysterio over as a main eventer. Why should Reid be any different? In the twisted logic of WWE’s mindset, anything and anyone is fair game.
Evidently Reid and Charlotte’s mother Elizabeth was outraged by the use of Reid’s death as a storyline plot point in an effort to build heat for a wrestling match. Taking to Twitter, she slammed WWE for “lazy” writing, which it is, and called it “cheap heat”, “disgusting”, “disrespectful”, “cruel” and “sad”. And looking at the bigger picture for a moment, is this of all weeks the right time to be using real-life death as a means to sell tickets? Yes, the post-comment brawl that follows the comment is pretty damn good, and it does give a match that few cared about a dose of real heat, but was it worth it? A really sour end to an otherwise excellent night of wrestling.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Cesaro. Give that man a raise. He achieved in one night what WWE have failed to do for eleven months; he made Roman Reigns look like a star.
Least Entertaining: Paige. While not in any way to blame for the line she delivered, the fact is she did deliver it, and someone has to take the heat for it.
Quote of the Night: “If you had chapped lips Byron, you wouldn't have a job.” - JBL sheds some light on the reason for Byron Saxton’s continued employment.
Match of the Night: Cesaro vs. Roman Reigns, though the competition tonight was fierce.
Summary: It was a great show in the ring, the filler matches aside, but the great wrestling action on the broadcast was sandwiched between two rancid slices of sports entertainment. The opening segment with the Wyatts and the Brothers of Destruction achieved nothing at all, while the main event chat was one of the most disgusting things that WWE have done in the PG Era. It is hard to be positive about a show that ends in such an unsavoury manner. Still though, let’s take the positives, which were three excellent TV matches, and a star-making turn from the criminally undervalued Cesaro. This night belonged to him. At a time when WWE are desperate for guys to step up and grab one of Vince’s brass rings, he has as good a chance as ever of breaking through the glass ceiling and getting the headline billing he so richly deserves. Unfortunately, we have written the same thing many times before.