WWE is in a very tough spot tonight because they need to get the ball rolling with the push towards an historic Royal Rumble show, but at the same time they are going against one of the biggest college football games in recent memory between Clemson and Alabama and are likely to get creamed in the ratings. There are two ways the company could respond. Firstly, they could try and put on the best show possible, football be damned, and make people sorry they missed it and sure they won’t again. Or, more likely, they will dismiss this as a dead show and do the same thing they do every week with little variation. There are a few things to look forward to though, such as the returns of both Brock Lesnar and of Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel talk show. In other news, John Cena’s absence from RAW last week was due to injury. He – like everyone else – had a jiggered shoulder and has had to have surgery, meaning he will be out for the best part of six-nine months. Or at least a normal human would be. Cena is Wolverine so he might well be back within three months. Or three days. Finally, Sting was revealed today as the first person inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2016, meaning once again WWE are announcing their inductees in advance of their TV show thinking somehow that will translate to viewers. It won’t. Announcing that the next name will be revealed on RAW and then actually doing it on RAW might attract a few people though. The backwards way WWE do things never fails to amuse and irritate in equal measures.
Promo Time: Vince & Stephanie McMahon
We begin with the roster on the stage, and what a ragtag bunch of no-hopers they are. There is not an ounce of star power amongst them. Vince and Steph come to the ring arm-in-arm, and Steph is so giddy that she starts miming along to her daddy’s theme tune like a particularly embarrassing aunt. “Take a look at the next WWE World Heavyweight Champion!” declares Vince before pointing to the stage. My sides split at that prospect. “It could be Dolph Ziegler (sic)” declares Vince. Things get more cringe-worthy when the McMahons start spouting New Day catchphrases, but the Wyatt Family stop the horror by turning up out of the darkness. “Anyone but you Roman,” declares Bray, as we go back in time a couple of months, but that’s all he gets to say because Roman Reigns heads out for an argument. Roman poses a perfectly good question: “What happens if I win?” Steph cackles like a witch at the prospect, and Vince thinks the odds are astronomical. Are they? Surely they are the same as anyone else’s chances. Maybe better, actually, because he has experience winning the match, and he holds the record for most eliminations in a single Rumble. They haven't thought this through. Vince announces our main event: Roman Reigns vs. Everyone in a “one versus all” match, which sounds like hell, frankly. Handicap matches stacked against the antiauthoritarian hero are the worst. It’s such clichéd, redundant booking.
Sheamus vs. Dean Ambrose
This starts during the first promo with Sheamus blindsiding Ambrose on the ramp, and is a follow up from last week’s disappointing cage match. Michael Cole offers a belter early on, claiming SmackDown!’s debut on the USA Network this past week was record-setting. He fails to explain how, because he is lying. I guess WWE can claim it is the highest ever rating for SmackDown! on USA, but then, it would be, wouldn't it? The same would be true whether it was watched by three people or three million people. The match is standard Sheamus fare; samey and plodding. It lasts an eternity, most of it Sheamus heat, making me breathe a sigh of relief when the commercial break interrupts it rather than muttering a cuss. It’s such a lethargic contest, and so utterly worthless too because it means nothing. No one cares which of the two wins, because the other will just get the win back next time anyway. As it happens neither does, they go to a double count out. Dean gets busted on the arm somehow, though that doesn't stop him fixing to put Sheamus through the announce desk. Before he does Kevin Owens runs down to smash Ambrose and continue their brawl from SmackDown!. Their feud has been fairly intense and I am looking forward to their eventual collision. This match was garbage though.
Final Rating: ¾*
If WWE wanted to start this show with a bang in order to grab viewers before the football game kicks off, they have failed so far in the first forty-minutes.
Backstage, Renee Young waits outside the trainer’s room for an update on her off-screen boyfriend’s health status. Dean storms out of the room and declares that he is still alive, which is bad news for Kevin Owens. Elsewhere, Steph continues to dance around like a dickhead, before Vince bumps into Paul Heyman. It’s like matter meeting anti-matter. Heyman strokes their egos for the “one versus all” concept then suggests that Brock Lesnar might not be all-together enamoured with the idea of being in the Royal Rumble match, because as Heyman puts it, he is a prize-fighter. Heyman pitches instead that Lesnar should take on the WWE Champion at WrestleMania instead, but Vince hates it. “Don't make me change my plans again!” he snaps, and boy, that is a shoot after the horrible couple of months Vince has had with injuries to his biggest stars. They head off into Vince’s office to discuss things in private.
Stardust vs. Titus O’Neil
The opening strains of Stardust’s music bring one of the most blatant audible groans you are likely to hear from an audience. Cole’s claim that this is a simmering rivalry are a little sad. Nothing match, dead crowd, Clash of the Titus, game over. Stardust is an example of the sort of character that means wrestling will always be treated as a joke. Post match a little kid in the crowd stone-face no-sells Titus’ attempts to dance with him, then Stardust evens up the booking immediately by giving Titus a post-match shellacking.
Final Rating: ½*
Highlight Reel: New Day
“One of the coolest superstars ever,” declares Michael Cole, which instantly removes any slivers of remaining cool that Y2J might have had. If Mackle thinks you are cool then you are fucked. That glittery jacket doesn't help. If Jericho’s verbiage is as bad as last week’s horribly-scripted tosh then this will be a long segment. Jericho spends the first few minutes reading out tweets and trying to get the fans to chant “rooty tooty booty”. It fails spectacularly. New Day come out and express their displeasure with Jericho’s failure to introduce them and his comments about them in general, to which Jericho again tries to get his chant going. It’s tepid, to be polite. New Day go into a shame rant about Jericho’s dress sense, and quite right too, only to be interrupted by the Usos. They too go for sing-a-long comedy, and they have no success either. This phony bullshit is killing me. Hell, it’s killing WWE. New Day laugh at their presence because they are outnumbered, so Jericho points out that there are six of them in the ring... then challenges them to a straight tag match that he will cheerlead for. Ooh! Jericho attempts some classic mispronounced name comedy “Havier”, references Mick Foley and My Little Pony, while Cole gets excited at the prospect of the tag match, promising we will find out if it happens after the break. Will one person in the world care if it doesn't? This was a dreadful segment.
The Usos vs. New Day
Sure enough the match is already underway when we return from the break. New Day are the usual pairing with Xavier and his Trolling Trombone at ringside, while Jericho and his camp scarf is with the Usos. Helluva way to bring Y2J back into the fold, huh? At a time when WWE have no stars due to bad booking and unfortunate injuries, you would think they would do something meaningful with a former multiple-time World Champion. If you have seen one New Day-Usos match then you have seen them all, and this is exactly the same as the others only really, really long. I guess the answer to the question about what sort of show WWE would put on tonight has been answered. Dead show it is. After going through commercial when it looks like the end is in sight, the match then goes another ten excruciating minutes. The finish is an extended version of the Distraction Finish, with Jericho getting his hands on the trombone and threatening to break it in half, with JBL acting really thick during it by yelling about how wrong it would be for Jericho to hit Woods with his own instrument. Not once did Jericho motion to deck Woods, this was simply JBL failing to pay any attention whatsoever. As usual. The Usos score a roll-up when Jericho snaps the trombone over his knee, and the tag champs do the job in a non-title match again. Technically fine, but mind-numbingly dull.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Heyman and Steph have a discussion away from Vince, who has had to leave the room because Paul has pissed him off so much. Heyman again makes his point about WrestleMania but Steph dismisses him. Heyman makes it a little more clear regarding Brock’s Royal Rumble status: “Brock Lesnar says no!” Well sure, he couldn't be pestered entering himself into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament a few months back, so why would he want to be in the Rumble? It turns out this segment is little more than a McMahon ego-trip, because Steph tells Heyman that Vince – the owner of Brock’s contract – demands that he competes in the Rumble, then Steph offers up some emasculation for Paul to round us out.
JBL gets in the ring to “announce” the induction of Sting into this year’s Hall of Fame. Other than the Mickey Mouse TNA Hall, this is the first wrestling Hall of Fame that Sting has ever been inducted in. I think he deserves it. JBL’s claims that Sting’s career “began and culminates here in New Orleans” is nonsense of the highest order. However, the word “culminates” may be key for anyone still holding out for that dream Sting-Undertaker match. I would be surprised to see him wrestle in a WWE ring ever again. The video package that follows is pretty good, and features a vast array of worthy talking heads such as Ric Flair and Bret Hart who do actually know something about him. It’s the best thing on the show so far.
The Wyatts come out for a promo only to be interrupted by unfamiliar music. It sounds like a rip-off of Marilyn Manson’s ‘Beautiful People’, only shit. It’s the brand new WWE faction the Social Outcasts, the hilariously useless quarter of jobbers who formed a union last week. They are here to fight, and thus we have a match. Bray thinks the whole thing is a riot.
The Wyatt Family vs. The Social Outcasts
The match goes for two minutes before Ryback runs out – to his music no less – for a brawl with the Wyatts. The odds are not in his favour, but he has never been the sharpest tool in the shed. Ryback and J.O.B. Squad 2016 take out the Wyatts, ending an utterly pointless segment in short order.
Final Rating: N/R
WWE United States Championship
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto
“It’s all about hashtag US Title here tonight!” blurts the resident imbecile behind the announce desk. Does he hear himself? Last time these guys wrestled on RAW it was a disaster, with Del Rio accidentally pulling Kalisto’s mask off during the middle of a spot and the pair spending an age fixing the botch. They were booed out of the building for it. They managed a match without incident this week on SmackDown! which Kalisto won with John Cena playing cheerleader in his corner. That Cena was with him suggests WWE are keen on getting him over as 2016’s version of Rey Mysterio, and he is good enough, if far less refined. I am pleased to see that the win actually means something, and I actually think WWE could do worse than put the belt on Kalisto. Del Rio has been a boring champion and has undone a lot of the great work done by Cena earlier in the year with his bland matches. Del Rio’s game is to ground Kalisto, which is a smart tactic if not a thrilling one. That story continues throughout, with Kalisto going for high impact flying moves and Del Rio side-stepping or blocking them. Kalisto’s problem is that he has no plan B to fall back on, he is aerial-based offence or nothing. Del Rio blocks Salida del Sol and goes for the double stomp from the top, so Kalisto does the logical thing and sits up out of the way. That finisher is useless. Kalisto gets a near fall, then catches a wheelbarrow roll-up for the shock win and the title. The crowd pop, but they haven't really been into the match all that much. Good booking choice from WWE though. Now they can get Del Rio motivated and give him a program he can sink his teeth into and care about. By the way, no mention at all has been made of the League of Nations tonight. Let’s all hope that half-assed stable is toast.
Final Rating: *3/4
Backstage, Charlotte and Ric Flair do an interview with JoJo. Charlotte turns the tables and declares Becky Lynch the villain of the piece for trying to dictate how she can live her life. She has a point. Good heels always justify their actions and methods, even if they are completely in the wrong. That was what Charlotte was attempting here. Her heel interviews have been so much better than the pandering babyface crap that she was doing when she was first called up. She is pretty much the only Divas, Sasha Banks aside, that I can take seriously as a real human being.
Brie Bella vs. Charlotte
THAT MUSIC!!! Why am I still being subjected to Brie Bella matches in 2016? Can someone in Hollywood not offer her a token bit-part in a shitty C-movie? I am sure she would jump at the chance to do that because it’s not like she has even an ounce of passion for wrestling. Nor any aptitude for it. Brie is all smiles, playing babyface with no explanation as to why. The match is interrupted before it even starts by wacky Becky Lynch doing a run-in. Give that girl a raise for sparing me a Brie Bella match! Flair gets on the mic ad blames Becky for the fans not getting a match, once again trying to frame her as the one in the ring. Brie stands in the ring with her arms folded and pouts unconvincingly.
Final Rating: N/R
Backstage JoJo catches a flustered Becky Lynch, who delivers the best promo she has done since getting called up to the main roster. Like Charlotte did earlier, she sells their issue well and comes off as believable and her words genuine. There is an actual storyline there, one that has built slowly over the past few weeks. It’s one of the best programs going on in the company at the moment, actually.
One vs. All
They are going with gauntlet rules for this, meaning Reigns faces a bunch of heels in succession, or at least as many as he can make it through. Steph and Vince come down to introduce the opponents; Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, New Day, The Ascension (ha), The Wyatt Family, Tyler Breeze, Stardust, and Kevin Owens. Where the hell is Rusev? Steph continues strutting and dancing like an utter twat. My god, she is intolerable. Brock Lesnar hasn't been on the show yet either, so obviously he will be involved in this in some manner. Shouldn't Dean Ambrose be out her in the corner of his “brother” too? They have barely spoke since Roman won the big one.
Vince handpicks Kevin Owens to kick things off, which sounds good on paper but the nature of the contest means Roman needs to do a lot of resting. Thus the first few minutes are all chinlock from Owens. Literally nothing happens. Another long boring match is the last thing that this show needs. Things finally start to happen when Owens hits a cannonball, and Reigns is already fatigue-selling like he has been working for an hour. A missed senton gives Reigns an opening, but an attempt at the Superman punch brings in some of the expendable heels to take a kicking. The Ascension take a Superman punch off the apron that sends them both packing, Stardust gets a kicking, Tyler Breeze eats a spear. Roman is happy with himself, so Vince sends everyone into the ring to do a number on him as the match breaks down into a mugging. Sheamus – who is inexplicably bleeding from the head – hits the Brogue Kick... to the chest.
And then, to everyone’s delight, here comes Brock Lesnar to save the show. And save the show he does. Lesnar lives up to his moniker of being ‘The Beast’ by laying waste to the heel contingent. He annihilates New Day, throws Owens, Sheamus, and Del Rio around with suplexes, then smashes Reigns with an F-5 to cap it all over. Neither Lesnar or Heyman say a word, but Cole fills in the blanks and says Lesnar is making a statement that he is in the Royal Rumble. Presumptuous, as usual, but in this case he is obviously right. Whoever eliminates Lesnar from that match is a lock to face him at WrestleMania, though I have no idea who that could be at this stage. It will be interesting to see how WWE book it.
Final Rating: ¾*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Brock Lesnar. I would go so far as to say that he was the only entertaining thing on the entire show.
Least Entertaining: Stephanie McMahon.
Quote of the Night: “Don't make me change my plans again!” – Vince McMahon expresses his very real frustrations at the ever evolving WrestleMania card.
Match of the Night: You’re kidding, right?
Summary: This was a very poor episode of RAW. The workrate guys who were saving the show from all-time low scores last year are all on the shelf as a result of their efforts, and those left are hardly picking up the proverbial ball and running with it. The sight of the roster on the ramp at the start of the show made it clear just how shallow the talent pool is at the moment, and the arrivals of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura cannot come soon enough. If WWE was firing on all cylinders with their best workers fit and used properly they could be the best promotion on the planet, but luck isn't going their way at the moment and despite their best efforts, tonight was a washout. It wasn't actively bad though, and in fact there were some positives in the booking here and there, but it was colossally boring from start to finish. Let’s hope this is an anomaly because WWE didn't want to throw all of their eggs into the basket when they knew they were going to get killed in the ratings, and that they bounce back next week for the Royal Rumble go-home show.