Welcome to the first episode of RAW in 2016. After struggling last year to endure 156 hours of the weekly snoozefest (that is nearly a full week of the year spent watching the show!) I was unsure whether we would continue our noble quest to cover every episode live in 2016, but alas, here we go again. Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment. Let’s try and start the year in a positive manner and make every effort to enjoy the random crap WWE push on us, shall we? Tonight’s big main event pits Roman Reigns against Sheamus, with Vince McMahon serving as the special guest referee. There is a definite Attitude Era vibe about proceedings at the top of the card with the heel Mr. McMahon battling an anti-authority figure. Let’s just say it’s been done. There is also exciting news: fifteen years to the month after WWE hired a quarter of WCW super-workers in the form of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and, erm, Perry Saturn, news as broken that WWE has swooped for NJPW stars A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Bullet Club is coming to WWE! The intention is not for them to mess around in NXT either; they have been signed for main roster duties. Potentially very interesting times lie ahead. Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton host the show.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon and Roman Reigns
This is about the worst possible way to start off the New Year. Roman Reigns interrupts before her entrance even finishes, and tells her, “I don't think we need you out here.” I concur fully. Roman calls out Vince McMahon, but he doesn't show up. Steph, speaking in a deep, crackling tone, tells him to get used to disappointment tonight. Reigns gets serious, but Steph immediately dismisses him with her two-bit panto act. The crowd support him, so Steph dismisses them; “You all know that your regular little Monday lives are never going to change,” she says. With this groundhog day show, she has got that right. Steph goes off on one of her typical badly-scripted, too-quickly-delivered rants, then serves up a bout of emasculation. She can’t help herself. Reigns basically ignores her and threatens that if anyone screws him tonight then she won’t be picking Vince up from jail, she will be picking him up from hospital. He should have said “morgue”. Decent stuff from Reigns, but horrible from Stephanie. Her monotone delivery makes her sound increasingly like her mother with each passing week.
Kevin Owens vs. Neville
This is a great match-up to kick off the year, but the tired guest commentator trope – in this case Dean Ambrose – is frustrating. Ambrose was so bad in this role on one show last year that he won the Least Entertaining award at the end of the night. Neville heads out with his Slammy, and he also had taped-up ribs following last week’s attack from Owens. Neville won this match in seconds last week, which is being pegged as a fluke. Neville starts at pace and throws himself at Owens with reckless abandon, despite the injured ribs. He even hits a Shooting Star Press to the outside, impressing Ambrose in the process. A kick to the ribs from Owens turns the tide, and a subsequent top rope DDT from Owens which follows is sold perfectly by Neville. It’s Rob Van Dam-esque. We run through commercial, ruining the flow somewhat, but not much has changed when we return with Owens still in control. Owens hurls Neville into the barricade on the outside then spends too long hot-dogging and gets sent into the post, swinging the pendulum back towards Neville. How does he respond? By hitting a 450 off the apron to the outside of course! Ridiculous! Neville has really upped his game tonight as far as the high risk stuff he is going for, and everything he has tried has come off perfectly. It’s nice to see him come out of his shell a little. Soon afterwards 50/50 booking strikes, with Owens hitting a cannonball followed by the pop-up powerbomb to erase last week’s result and set Owens on course for a Royal Rumble Intercontinental Title shot against Ambrose. Post match Owens tries to powerbomb Neville on the apron again, so Ambrose makes the save with a wild tope. They brawl around and Owens looks to powerbomb Ambrose through the announce table, but he gets countered and Ambrose sends him through the wood with a flying elbow off the barricade instead. Fun match, solid post-match, pleasing start.
Final Rating: ***
Backstage, Vince McMahon arrives and JoJo grabs a quick interview with him. He notes that all charges against him last week have been dropped, and he is amused by the irony that tonight in his role as guest referee, he is the law.
Titus O’Neil vs. Stardust
These two had an interesting little union going on a few weeks back, with Titus determined to held Cody Rhodes “find himself” and shed the nonsense of the Stardust gimmick. Then Stardust got injured and it was put on ice, and I fully expected it to be forgotten. Alas not. It saddens me that Titus has gone from a performer who was getting really over with his infectious personality and all-round nice guy persona, to this non-descript guy struggling in the undercard. WWE’s ability to bury someone with their ineptitude is staggering. The crowd are completely silent throughout the brief duration of the bout, which Titus wins cleanly with Clash of the Titus. Nothing to see here.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Charlotte confronts Becky Lynch about the match the two have tonight, asking Becky if she personally requested it. Becky denies it and breaks the tension by playfully suggesting she might win, causing Charlotte to crack a smile and promise a friendly rematch. Then Ric Flair turns up behind Becky and throws in a “Whoo”. Becky plays along and pretends to be happy to see him, but really she is worried about what role he will play in the contest. Fairly subtle booking by ham-fisted WWE standards.
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
This is not a title match, nor should it be after Becky’s defeat to Sasha Banks last week. That match was a real disappointment, and Becky was squarely to blame because she forgot the spots after taking a knock to the head and had to be carried through by the inexperienced Sasha. Hopefully this one will start the Divas division of 2016 with a bang. The opening sequence is really excellent, full of slick reversals, shadow counters, and flashy chain wrestling. It’s wonderful. The crowd even offer some applause for a standoff. Becky keeps getting the better of Charlotte, causing the champion to get riled up and switch her tactics. The match is a little less friendly than it was at the start when Charlotte demands that Becky help her up, then chops her right back down and drops knees on her face. Things are rolling along nicely, then we cut to commercial. It’s maddening! WWE really need to cut that out. When we return it’s all Charlotte, but keeps Becky grounded with a cravat. At least it’s not a chinlock. When Becky starts getting too feisty Charlotte switches to a head scissors, giving her more control. The announcers don't know how to call women’s wrestling so they start talking about random nonsense, or just sit there in silence. These guys really are the worst. Meanwhile Becky begins to fire up, only for Naitch to intervene and grab her foot. Becky was expecting it though and doesn't go down, but she does allow herself to be distracted and rolled up... for two! My god, Becky Lynch much be invincible; she kicked out of the most devastating finisher in WWE! Becky actually turns the roll up into a pin of her own – using the tights - and scores the three, much to the delight of the San Antonio crowd. Charlotte is a sore loser and gives Becky a kicking afterwards. I assume that is the end of their friendship, but no doubt they will be teaming again on SmackDown! In the near future. Good match, one of the best Diva bouts on this show in a while.
Final Rating: **3/4
Backstage, Vince McMahon and Sheamus have a discussion about the rules of tonight’s match. Vince warns that there is to be no outside interference, use of foreign objects, biting, gouging, etc. Sheamus looks a mite forlorn, until Vince adds, “May the luck of the Irish be with you...” I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound promising for Roman. Stacking the odds against the babyface champion is a good tactic from WWE. As long as that is all it is. Let’s hope they realise that having the babyface then overcome those odds is where the drama and excitement lies.
Ryback vs. The Big Show
Aww man, I have seen this match at least a dozen times already and it always sucks. Cole makes his asinine comment of the hour, pegging these two as amongst the favourites for the Royal Rumble. If that is true, then this year’s thirty-man spectacular is going to be as well-received as the previous two. The match goes all of a minute before the lights go out and the Wyatts turn up to give Ryback a pasting. Ryback-Wyatt is another program from 2015 that I have no interest in seeing ever again. Anything with Ryback involved tends to fall into that category. Strowman hugs Ryback to put him out, then the Wyatts target Show. Vince McMahon jerks off furiously in the back when Show and Strowman square up to one another, then the rest of the Wyatts take out the lumbering oaf... erm, the Big Show, that is, not Strowman. Is this turn number eighty-seven for Big Show? No, it is merely the Wyatts demonstrating their collective dominance prior to the Royal Rumble. The segment serves its purpose, and it also meant we didn't have to endure Ryback-Show, so double win.
Final Rating: N/R
Rusev & Alberto Del Rio vs. The Usos
I am unsure what purpose this match serves other than as an excuse to get the guys on the show. The start is weird, with Del Rio knocking Jey off the apron to goad him into the ring, which would usually lead to some heel cheating to gain an immediate advantage, but in fact leads to nothing. Instead the ref regains control and the match starts normally. The crowd irritate Rusev by chanting for Lana, who once again is not at ringside for League of Nations business. It’s very odd. The announcers wax lyrical about the impact the LON have had on WWE since their formation, which is a laugh; they are throwaway midcarders with almost no heat who failed spectacularly in helping Sheamus retain his WWE Championship. Another commercial break interrupts the action, and my interest in the match drops significantly. It’s nothing much anyway, just a run-of-the-mill tag match in which the irregular duo go over the established team clean. Par for the course.
Final Rating: *1/2
Dolph Ziggler vs. Heath Slater
Heath comes out with Adam Rose, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas in his corner, which to Michael Cole makes sense due to some tossy Tweets the quartet have been sending out all day. Yeah, it makes sense to me too: in his age of parent-friendly Attitude Era tributes, Heath is a modern-day Al Snow and the jabronis at ringside with him are the 2016 equivalent of the J.O.B. Squad. The numbers advantage actually works, with the job-happy Ziggler falling to the once-again all-powerful distraction roll-up finish. Heath Slater won a match on RAW, wow! Post match the new faction introduce themselves and explain their union, dubbing themselves the Social Outcasts and promising the change is afoot. I doubt it, but it worked for New Day I suppose. It’s nice to see WWE at least trying something with four guys who were going nowhere. Now if only they could remember that Damien Sandow works here.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Vince runs through the same rules with Roman Reigns as he told Sheamus earlier, warning that his instructions are to be obeyed at all times. That’s a shoot for the rest of the locker room too, brother.
Promo Time: New Day
We kick off the third hour with one of 2015’s success stories, who this week decided to poke fun at WWE Hall of Famer Mike Tyson for falling on his ass when he attempted to ride a hoverboard. A countdown clock interrupts them, signalling the return to RAW of Chris Jericho. He has done plenty of house shows and the occasional Network special in the past year, but he hasn't featured on RAW very often. He schools New Day, gets a silly chant going, and then declares himself an entrant in the Royal Rumble. It’s good of the Authority to allow anyone and everyone free reign regarding their participation in the match. What if sixty guys throw their hats in there though? There is no order to the madness! Jericho threatens to win the match and headline WrestleMania. I wouldn't bet on that.
New Day vs. Kalisto & The Dudley Boyz
Sin Cara is crocked after injuring his shoulder against Big E last week, meaning the Dudleys replace him as Kalisto’s partner, reigniting a feud that was seriously played-out by the end of 2015. The commentary team decide to ignore the generic six-man bout and instead discuss the upcoming Royal Rumble, bringing up Kofi Kingston’s annual creative way of avoiding elimination and thus practically guaranteeing that he will do something similar again this year. A commercial break (seriously, that’s practically every match tonight) is the transition from babyface dominance to heel control, but their heat is less entertaining than usual due to Xavier’s involvement in the match rather than being at ringside cheerleading. He does get a sneaky trombone number in though, so there is at least that. The bout rumbles on far too long for a throwaway six-man with no real issue, and the Texans are getting tired so don't really react. Things improve on the hot tag, but Michael Cole ruins it for me by quipping “Don't you mean what’s down?” when the Wazzup Drop is prevented by pushing D-Von off the top. I bet he has been waiting ages to get that in. New Day finish D-Von clean, as their success against the Dudleys continues.
Final Rating: **
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns (c) vs. Sheamus
If we are lucky, this will be the end of Sheamus as a top guy. A final swansong putting over the WWE Champion clean before he disappears back into the midcard. As noted numerous times Vince McMahon is the guest referee, and he brings the gun show with him thanks to his ludicrous sleeveless referee shirt. He looks remarkable/ridiculous for an OAP. The match starts as you would probably expect, with Vince fast-counting Roman whenever he get the chance, giving Sheamus plenty of leeway to do whatever he wants on the outside without being disqualified or counted out, and barely counting at all when Roman goes for a cover. The action is secondary to the shenanigans, but that is not such a bad thing as the shenanigans increase the drama. Roman eventually gets so fed up with Vince that he decks him with the Superman Punch. After leaving Sheamus for dead Reigns turns back to Vince and intends to beat on him some more, which brings out Stephanie to yell at him to stop. Steph climbs on the apron, so Roman throws Vince into her and sends her tumbling into the ring. His battering of the McMahon family – a seventy year old man and a woman – should ordinarily turn him heel, but they are such a despotic pair that he gets cheered for it. Being distracted by the McMahons gives Sheamus time to recover, and he smashes Roman with a pair of Brogue Kicks and covers. Vince is right there but is apparently unable to cover, so Authority referee Scott Armstrong runs in and makes the count. That looks it for Roman, but he kicks out at the death. Armstrong helps Roman up so that Sheamus can finish him off, only for Roman to dodge it, then drill Sheamus and Armstrong with Superman Punches. A spear to Sheamus follows, and referee John Cone runs out to make the count. Roman retains. Post match, Vince punches out Cone for making the count, then declares that Roman’s next title defence will be at Royal Rumble, in the card’s titular match! Wow, that shakes things up. That will mark only the second time ever (and the first time since 1992) that the gold has been on the line in the Rumble. Great booking decision.
Final Rating: ***
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Neville. A tremendous aerial display from the high-flying Brit in the opener, which showcased his talents far more than his usual matches on this show do.
Least Entertaining: Stephanie McMahon. Her promo was dreadful.
Quote of the Night: “I don't think we need you out here.” – Roman Reigns to Stephanie McMahon, who hits the nail on the head
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. Neville was the best match, though the booking of the main event was very strong as well.
Summary: For the most part this was a decent show. Storylines and angles progressed well, the build-up for Royal Rumble got underway with some interesting twists and turns, and a couple of good matches meant the in-ring started well. The middle section dragged a bit, the usual issue with the three hour format, but I was more interested in the upcoming big show after RAW finished than I was going in, so job done. Vince McMahon’s presence on the broadcast has added something, and it is actually working with Roman as the top guy fighting the insurmountable odds. I have to wonder where John Cena was tonight, mind. He was not on the show at all, with no mention made about him at all. I have no problem with WWE keeping guys off TV now and again, it’s just a shame it was Cena, who always improves the show. Overall, nothing spectacular, but a strong start to the year. Long may it continue.