We’re in Nashville, Tennessee. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. We’re 39 days removed from WrestleMania. One would suspect the hype would kick into a higher gear tonight. If not now, when do we expect this big push to actually assemble a passable card?
Promo Time: Triple H
Hunter addresses the concept of Authority and how everyone has to answer to it but while everyone hates it they can’t challenge it because they’re scared. Is this a message to the locker room? Hunter points out that no one should challenge authority or face the beating that Roman Reigns took last week. This brings out the one guy who doesn’t care about authority in the slightest (and possibly should have had Roman’s spot) Dean Ambrose. “Last week was very busy” points out Ambrose, having wanted to chat to Hunter on RAW a week ago. “Do you like Shane O Mac or not?” quizzes Dean* before moving on to asking Hunter who he actually wanted to win the main event at Fastlane. It’s slightly unhinged and shoot-ish. Hunter shuts Ambrose down by calling him a “non factor”. Ambrose is terrific here, with his slow delivery and kooky persona. His response to Hunter calling him insane is wonderful. “Why does everyone keep saying that?” muses Dean. Ambrose gets tired of being abused and challenges Hunter to a title match. Hunter instead books Ambrose against Alberto Del Rio because why gives the fans what they want when WWE can give them something that nobody wants. This was going well until Hunter bailed on the eventual match that people were clamouring for. More on that later.
*Allegedly Hunter isn’t too keen on Shane due to his brother-in-law leaving the business back in 2010. Rumours persist of bad blood within the McMahon household. Something that they’re probably keen to keep going as tension and conflict is good for business. Even if the reality of the matter is they’re probably fine. Ambrose’s questioning in this segment opens up the concept to the general public and given Stephanie’s open animosity toward Shane there’s definitely room for a storyline after WrestleMania.
WWE Divas Championship #1 Contenders Match
Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
I assumed this was heading for a ‘Mania three-way given the history between these two and Charlotte, going back to NXT and their first night on WWE’s main roster. These two are two of the most talented women to ever grace WWE’s rings, especially given the majority of their training has taken place in house**. They do a lot of extremely good mat grappling, countering holds back and forth. Sasha looks a lot calmer and more focused with Becky rushing into a few spots. On the mat they’re both excellent though. The finish is interesting as Sasha plants Becky with a sunset flip superbomb and they land clean in a double pin. The result is a draw, the exact same finish run on NXT between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn last week. The crowd don’t hate it and chant “triple threat”, which is exactly what I thought was happening beforehand. Whoever is going to WrestleMania it should be a good match. I’m intrigued to see who wins that. Perhaps more so than anything else on the ‘Mania card.
Final Rating: **3/4
**This is perhaps unfair on Becky, who’d spent a decade training and competing around the world prior to signing for NXT in 2013. Although there’s no doubt her all-round game has improved drastically since being recruited by WWE. By comparison Sasha has spent four years in WWE’s developmental system out of her six years in the business.
Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz
For those who don’t have the Network the opening episode of Ride Along featured these two driving together. It made me hate them both just that little bit more. Practically every time Ziggler opens his mouth outside of the kayfabed world of WWE it makes me hate him. He has proven to be a complete doofus at every turn. It’s a shame because he’s a solid wrestler, who really wants to be Shawn Michaels and he never will be. This is energetic but short lived and Miz wins with a roll up. I persist that Ziggler should have left WWE last year and given the Indies a go. Especially with WWE hiring top talent from the Indies. There’s a vacuum now.
Final Rating: ¾*
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
The crowd are not pleased at having to sit through Steph’s acceptance speech (for the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award), which she didn’t get the chance to deliver last week. Steph throws a hissy fit when the crowd chant for “Shane O Mac” as she’s been here running the business while Shane’s been off gallivanting around Asia (sadly Steph doesn’t use the word “gallivanting” but it seems appropriate). Steph gets into a gender based argument about her daughters and Shane’s sons. Oh God, this is going to go on forever isn’t it? This is a frankly ridiculous interview as Steph gets even more worked up. “Bow down to your Queen…ME!” It’s so over the top. At least she doesn’t emasculate anyone in the process.
The Lucha Dragons vs. Sheamus & Rusev
The League of Nations are trying hard to make their group work, even though there’s no purpose for their existence anymore, and I appreciate their efforts. However I don’t feel any attachment to them and they don’t have a great babyface to battle against. It seems they’re going to work with the New Day, which means a face turn for the tag champions. While New Day is being rapidly cheered that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be turned face. Much like John Cena and Roman Reigns getting booed doesn’t mean they should be turned heel by WWE logic. So why does it apply to the New Day? Kalisto has certainly gotten over in the past few months so it’s pleasing to see he’s been able to maintain a tag team with Sin Cara. Just because someone is successful in singles doesn’t mean you need to split their team up. However the numbers game is too much for the Lucha Dragons and Rusev gets the pin. Del Rio still can’t let Kalisto go and double stomps him. He beat you, dude. It’s over.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control takes us to Renee Young and Natalya, who try and sell me sandwiches. There’s enough damn advertising on this show as it is without this crap.
Ryback vs. Adam Rose
Rose is joined by his brothers in the Social Outcasts. The crowd bite on his old gimmick and do the Rosebuds chant. It merely serves to remind me of when one of these two men were actually of interest. Heel Ryback has to be one the most boring, useless members of the active roster. Ryback beats the piss out of Adam Rose and finishes with the Shellshock. At least Ryback looked vicious during this, treating Rose like the jobber he is. The bit where his attack was interrupted by the ref and Ryback used his other hand to hit hammer-fists was inspired and saves the Big Guy from being ‘least entertaining’.
Final Rating: SQUASH (N/R)
The New Day vs. Chris Jericho & AJ Styles
The New Day keep finding new ways to entertain. In this case Big E swimming across the ring while Kofi Kingston prances around outside him, skipping gleefully along with the music. Meanwhile Xavier Woods blasts away on Francesca II. With AJ, I was hoping to see a number of fresh new match up’s. Instead he’s been saddled with Jericho out of the gate. Y2J is desperate to prove he’s still relevant, which had led to cringeworthy promos and sloppy in-ring work. “Y2AJ has really taken off on Twitter” rambles Cole, disregarding the majority of the Twitter talk being of what an awful team name that is. To be fair to AJ Styles, more often than not, all hot new WWE acts tend to get lumbered with a pointless midcard feud in their early months. Just to make sure WWE’s road schedule won’t drive them insane. There’s nothing worse than investing in a new character and having them implode and disappear. West Ham fans can relate. Where is Marco Boogers nowadays?*** The New Day debut a new, incredibly irritating, card trick where Xavier pulls out a deck and asks Kofi to pick a card. “What did you get?” “I got his number!” yells Kingston. AJ is totally professional throughout this, selling and bumping like a champ, showing he’s not effected by nonsense and politics. Styles creaming Big E with his springboard elbow smash is one of the in-ring highlights. Jericho clumsily blocking the Trouble in Paradise and getting the Walls of Jericho to win is not. “Y2AJ is a thing” claims Jericho before asking for a title shot.
Final Rating: **
***Boogers was the subject of a legendary Sun story where they claimed “Barmy Boogers” was living in a caravan after getting sent off in only his second West Ham appearance. The reality of the situation is that Boogers, with an injured knee, had simply gone home to recuperate and the Sun picked up the story after mishearing a press agent say “Boogers had gone home by car again” as “Boogers has gone to his caravan”. The Sun: because why let facts get in the way of a good story. Mishearing a phrase in such a way is called a Mondegreen. Don’t say you never learn anything while watching RAW.
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
This would be the third McMahon family member to come out here and cut a promo tonight. Vince’s vision of the future of WWE, under Shane McMahon, involves Steph and Hunter quitting and Vince being put in “mothballs”. Hey, sounds ok so far. What’s the catch? “Only fools believe in miracles” states McMahon, dropping truth bombs all over Nashville. Vince perhaps errs by calling the Undertaker “my instrument of destruction” before introducing the Dead Man. Has he not learned from past instances where he’s called Taker to do his bidding? Anyway, the Undertaker is here tonight to sell his WrestleMania match up. “The blood of your son is going to be on your hands, not mine” states Taker, matter-of-factly, before walking to the back as slowly as he came out here. Ok, so Taker is ok with killing Shane? Vince promises to write to Shane out of his will. How much you get out of this depends on how into these characters you are. I’m not. I didn’t care for this.
Jey Uso vs. Bubba Ray Dudley
‘We’re not a nostalgia act’ was the claim of the Dudley Boyz this week. Which is odd because they come out here wearing the same crap they were sporting sixteen years ago. D-Von smashes a table into Jimmy’s face, showing a level of hypocrisy in an attempt to make the heel turn stick. They’ve giving the fans what they want after telling the fans they wouldn’t do so and that makes them heels? I don’t get it. Anyway, Bubbabomb finishes Jey off.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to Goldust and R-Truth and the latter refuses to tag with the former. Can this angle just end already? It’s not working. They’re both the comedy guy. You need a funny guy and a straight guy for him to play off. Why is that so hard to understand? The classic example is Al Snow and Steve Blackman (or Bing Crosby and Bob Hope if you’re a bit older). That worked so well because Blackman wasn’t funny. At all. That’s what made him funny.
Kevin Owens vs. The Big Show
This feud with Show, small though it’s been so far, seems designed to test Owens’ capability of being a main event star. The idea being that if you can work with a variety of guys then you’re a potential top guy. Owens really is legitimate and can work with a variety of guys and he’s big enough that he feels competitive against guys like Show. Owens comes across as tactically astute, going for the count out win like he did on SmackDown. Show drops Owens on the ropes, in a replay of SmackDown only reversed, and Kevin gets counted out.
Final Rating: *
Video Control takes us backstage and Brie Bella is still hanging around. She’s interrupted by Lana to criticise her choice of men and lack of meat. “They love you because they pity you” says Lana. Brie’s retort is to call Rusev a caveman and point out Lana isn’t a wrestler. I didn’t see the point of this as Brie is wrestling someone else and Rusev vs. Daniel Bryan will never happen.
Brie Bella vs. Naomi
The Road to WrestleMania is normally more exciting than throwing together two random women in a match with no heat. Neither of them are likely to feature on the ‘Mania card unless there’s a big clusterfudge contest with all the divas in it. The work feels suspiciously like a video game simulation. It’s just a bunch of stuff thrown together. Brie gets to lose again, perhaps doing favours for half the card on her way out, and taps out to a weak looking submission. Lana comes out here to laugh at Brie after the loss. Presumably Brie will be teaching Lana a lesson at some point.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control gives us clips of the latest WWE Hall of Fame inductees: the Fabulous Freebirds. The story was broken by Rolling Stone, continuing a weird trend of WWE giving their exclusives to other websites. I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to put the Freebirds into the HOF but this ‘Mania being in Texas may have something to do with it. Elsewhere Charlotte bad-mouths both Sasha and Becky before telling them they’ve got a re-match on SmackDown but they’re still both losers. Well, they did both get pinned tonight.
Dean Ambrose vs. Alberto Del Rio
WWE should cut their losses on Del Rio. He’s clearly not cared since returning, or in between WWE stints. It’s another bland disinterested performance from him in this match. He just ambles from spot to spot with Ambrose, covered in tape, driving the action with his comebacks. Del Rio’s spots are goofy as hell and at one point he entirely misses on a punch. By about a foot. Other odd stuff includes the double stomp off the rail, with Ambrose having to hold himself in place. Triple H turns up and Del Rio can’t even get the predictable distraction pin with the League of Nations piling in for the DQ instead.
Final Rating: *3/4
Post-Match: Hunter gives Ambrose a verbal beating so Dean fires up at him until a Pedigree puts him down. Why are they teasing this match, knowing full well people are more into this than Hunter vs. Roman? Triple H says yes to a title match. “Hey Hunter, thanks” mumbles a half conscious Ambrose and Hunter decides to give him a Roman-sized beating for that. With Reigns MIA, nursing a broken nose from last week, there’s no one to save Dean. At least he got his title shot although with Triple H vs. Reigns at ‘Mania seemingly set in stone they wouldn’t pull a switcheroo would they? Would they? No, probably not.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: The New Day
Least Entertaining: Alberto Del Rio
Quote of the Night: “Shane won’t be my son anymore he’ll just be a son…of a bitch” – Vince McMahon promises to cut Shane off after WrestleMania.
Match of the Night: Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Summary: Frankly a dour episode of RAW with poor in-ring performances almost across the board. The promos were largely lifeless affairs and the only storyline that seems to be genuinely clicking is Hunter vs. Ambrose, which must annoy the hell out of WWE as they’ve put their eggs into the Roman Reigns basket. You’d never know it was WrestleMania season, although the fans were responding pretty strongly to some of the booking tonight. I am even more concerned about this years ‘Mania card than last year’s.