Tonight’s RAW comes live from Chicago, Illinois, one of the better towns/cities for wrestling crowds, along with New York and Philadelphia. Expect lots of “CM Punk” chanting to express distaste with the product. With Roman Reigns being kept off TV until after Roadblock and Brock Lesnar not scheduled to appear, the main focus of the show will mostly center round Dean Ambrose vs. Triple H and the latest McMahon family saga. Hosts are Michael Cole, Byron Saxton, and JBL.
Promo Time: Shane McMahon
I’ll let you in on a little secret: unlike most of my HoW colleagues, I actually used to get a kick out of Shane O’Mac matches. He’s definitely one of my biggest guilty pleasures of the attitude era. His return a couple of weeks back was also one of few genuine surprise returns in wrestling since the internet became a thing. I still don’t think that he’s the ideal opponent for The Undertaker, especially as it is rumoured to be his final WrestleMania appearance. I’d have thought Sting (if fit), John Cena (if fit), Seth Rollins (if fit), Bray Wyatt (if not jobbed out to him last year), or even Kevin Owens would have made more suitable potential final challengers for the dead man, while Shane’s return should surely suggest a match against Triple H. In fact, I still genuinely do not believe that Shane vs. ‘Taker will go ahead as booked, and will only do so once the bell has rung and somebody throws a punch.
Shane’s here to address his father’s speech from last week. He declares Vince to be out of touch with just about everyone, which is true, and promises to put an end to all the backstage BS and counterproductive booking. He sounds like the voice of the internet. The highlight is him calling his dad an “egomaniacal, miserable, old bastard.” Taker’s gong hits, which gets a mini pop, but it’s just Vinnie Mac, which draws an “asshole” and the first “CM Punk” chants of the night. Vince smashes an old photo of him and Shane to fully symbolise the severance of their familial bonds, then sets four of the worst looking ‘security’ guards to physically remove Shane from the ring. I’m begging for the Mean Street Posse to show up. Shane doesn’t need them, though, and sees off all four guards with consummate ease, which begs the question, what type of security firms are WWE employing? They got their asses handed to them by a forty-six-year-old businessman.
Kevin Owens vs. Neville
I’m expecting Owens to lose tonight for two reasons: one, he’s the Intercontinental Champion, and that’s what they do nowadays; two, he needs an opponent for Roadblock and/or ‘Mania. A third reason to suspect a loss for the champ is that he’s dominant throughout, bringing the aggression right from the bell and managing to avoid the aerial assault before launching the jumping Geordie into the steps conveniently in time for the commercial. Owens seems to have counters for all of Neville’s moves up until he gets clocked with an enziguri and a shooting star press from the top rope to the floor, the latter prompting Chi-town to chant, “holy shit.” Owens misses a moonsault of his own, then just barely kicks out of a second-rope Red Arrow. Contrary to all my predictions, the champ does actually win a television match with a tights-assisted roll up. He continues the beating after the bell, but Sami Zayn comes out for the save. I didn’t expect to see him until the night after WrestleMania, though I’m now sure that he’ll be involved in the Intercontinental Championship picture, perhaps in another multi-man format. It’s all good.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Backstage, Dolph Ziggler is getting ticked off by Steph over some tweet he allegedly sent out about the Authority earlier and subsequently deleted. Apparently, he referenced his Survivor Series win over Team Authority in 2014. That’s two years ago, mate. You’re a glorified jobber now. Steph will recreate those conditions for him later when he takes on three members of the League of Nations in an elimination match.
Brie Bella vs. Summer Rae
Some awful clip airs from the recent episode of Total Divas, where Brie has bought a scooter or something and her sister disapproves. I prefer the one where John Cena unhooks the wrong chandelier and it smashes. That might be an episode of Only Fools and Horses now that I think about it. Lana provides the distraction for the Summer Rae roll up victory. Dressed in a denim ensemble with leather jacket makes her look more like Dolph Ziggler’s girlfriend again. After the match, Lana plants Brie with an X-Factor. Apparently, it’s Brie’s finisher, too. That’s news to me.
Final Rating: ¼*
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Ambrose essentially runs through his latest SmackDown! promo again, only this time presumably to a wider audience. The general gist is that he’s going to screw up the WrestleMania booking by defeating Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship. “I’m hijacking the WWE Championship and I’m hijacking WrestleMania whether anyone likes it or not,” he claims. I really hope that prophecy is fulfilled. He digresses by pondering over future promotional appearances at baseball games and charity events before being interrupted by Triple H, who intends to bring him back to reality. Hunter points out that Roadblock is just a marketing slogan, whereas Ambrose is really a speed bump or a pot hole. All roads lead back to Roman, here, so I guess that the ‘Mania booking will remain the same after Saturday. Dean tries to goad the champ into the ring, so Hunter books him in a match with Bray Wyatt in the main event.
3 vs. 1 Elimination Match
Dolph Ziggler vs. League of Nations (Sheamus, Rusev & King Barrett)
When I heard the three-on-one stipulation earlier, I naturally assumed that Barrett would be the one missing out. However, he’s in there to job first, which is exactly what happens via a superkick after Dolph takes his customary beating for a while. Rusev has to make the save to prevent Sheamus from suffering the same fate second later. Michael Cole shows new levels of ineptitude when calling the wrong superstar’s name, which he does a lot, stating, “Ziggler knocked down by Ziggler.” What a first-class buffoon. Ziggler falls to the Brogue Kick because Sheamus always seems to win. I thought that Ziggler would at least have put Rusev out first, but no, it seems pinning Barrett is the best that he’s getting tonight. Expect him to be competing in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the WrestleMania pre-show. And not winning.
Final Rating: **
Video Control gives us an in-depth look at Shane McMahon’s wrestling “career.” It revolves around the myriad stunts he pulled off during the Attitude Era, which is why I think I always enjoyed watching him. He wasn’t very good at “wrestling,” for sure, but it always fascinated me how he was willing to risk his health for the sake of a match that he didn’t really need to compete in in the first place. The video is backed up by a selection of talking heads, namely Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, JBL, and Big Show. I quite enjoyed the video, but unfortunately it just serves to remind everyone how much Shane has physically aged since he went away.
Becky Lynch & Sasha Banks vs. Naomi & Tamina
A rematch from Fastlane, though only one of these teams will feature on the main card of the next pay per view. The crowd are hot for Sasha, and just how good she is becomes evident when she’s in there against Tamina, who still seems to be struggling with the fundamentals. The Bank Statement finishes Naomi off in short order. Charlotte, at ringside with her dad (where else and with who else?) attacks Becky and Sasha after the bell. I can’t see her retaining the Diva’s Championship at ‘Mania. Personally, I’d like Becky to get a run with it before putting Sasha over.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, R Truth brings a peace offering for Goldust in the shape of a pizza. A crusty Goldust claims to be lactose intolerant, which is just a set up so they can use the phrase “exploding butt” a few times in a misguided attempt at comedy. Mark Henry pounces on the unguarded deep pan. He’s never moved that fast in all of his twenty years with the company.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (Kofi Kingston & Big E) vs. Y2AJ
In the pre-match promo, Big E brings up New Day’s matching ass-cheek tattoos of a pink and blue unicorn, only it seems that Xavier and Kofi didn’t get one after all. Chris Jericho and AJ Styles are sporting matching Y2AJ tees. Styles and Jericho have the going of this early on, with AJ’s offence looking sharper than just about anyone on the entire roster. WWE really need to move him away from the ageing Jericho soon and utilize him to the fullest effect. His 450o springboard splash is as smooth as it gets and would have the titles in the bag but for Big E pulling Kofi out of the ring. Jericho jobs clean to the Big Ending to round off a great TV match, though I suspect that New Day will eventually complete their ill-advised face turn and defend their titles against the League of Nations at ‘Mania. After the match, Jericho attacks AJ for no good reason, which goes contrary to everything WWE need to be doing with him. So much for those t-shirts. He’s had his matches with and against Jericho now. Can he face Kevin Owens next, please?
Final Rating: ***1/4
Renee Young gets a quick word with Jericho backstage. Jealousy, it seems, was the reason for his post-match assault.
Kalisto vs Tyler Breeze
Tyler is sporting some designer stubble and his hair is less kempt that usual. It’s also unusual for him to have such a size advantage over an opponent. These two seem to have good chemistry with each other and put on the beginnings of a match that is like a throwback to the old SmackDown! cruiserweight heydays. Sadly, instead of getting an unexpected undercard classic, Breeze jobs to the Salida Del Sol inside of a couple of minutes. There was potential for so much more with this one.
Final Rating: *1/2
Video Control run a highlights package for the latest Hall of Fame inductee, The Big Boss Man. Boss Man was a decent big guy and quite popular in his initial run with the company during the Rock N’ Wrestling era. He also had a great entrance song.
Backstage, JoJo tries to get a word with Kalisto, but they are interrupted by Ryback, who is rumoured to be in line for a United States Championship opportunity in the near future. Though obvious to most, the Big Guy wonders why he isn’t in the WrestleMania main event or even booked on the card yet. He tells the little lucha that he is best off looking out for himself and not carrying on with The Lucha Dragons. Expect Sin Cara to be jobbing to Ryback within one week.
Ryback vs. Curtis Axel
Before the match, Axel and his Social Outcast cohorts cut a really irritating promo that finishes with them doing some sort of Tatanka-esque chanting ritual. Axel is a jobber, so he obviously loses, but there is far too much clubberin’ and generic scrapping before the match reaches its inevitable conclusion.
Final Rating: ½*
Backstage, Steph confronts Vince and is clearly concerned that Shane might, just might, beat ‘Taker at WrestleMania. Vince tells her that it is all in hand, but it’s clear that he is also concerned.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
This feud got played out last year, and to be honest they never really gelled together. I suppose Bray needs something to do in the absence of Brock Lesnar tonight, though a nonsensical promo usually suffices. Somebody like Wyatt, in storyline terms, is actually an ideal opponent for Ambrose ahead of Roadblock, as it provides more opportunity for the Lunatic Fringe to take another beating, though the rest of the Wyatts, who usually intercede at every chance, are conspicuous by their absence tonight. Without his droogies, Bray has to put the effort into a one-on-one match and it is to the benefit of the contest, though he still retains some of the usual shtick that comes with his character. They actually have a decent match, easily bordering on their best to date, and that’s without all the electrocutions, ambulances, and broken rocking chairs. What I also like is that though they are not currently feuding, they clearly still have residual hatred for each other, which is how it should be. Too many times, wrestlers engage in bitter blood feuds spanning months, only to end up on-screen mates months later when it suits the booking. In the end, the other Wyatts do show up, ruining what was turning out to be a decent main event. Triple H makes his way to ringside to nod his approval for the Wyatts, though there is a temporary stare down between the champion and the Wyatt patriarch, which the crowd bite for. Wyatt gives the title belt a little touch before leaving the ring (a bit like in the Bayley-Asuka booking on NXT – does Bray want a shot, too?). Triple H clears the announce desk in preparation to finish what he started last week, but he ends up the recipient of Dirty Deeds, which almost certainly means that Ambrose will not win the title at Roadblock now.
Final Rating: **1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Dean Ambrose
Least Entertaining: Most of them.
Quote of the Night: “My greatest creation will put to rest my greatest failure,” Vince to Shane
Match of the Night: The Tag Team Championship match just edges Owens vs. Neville.
Verdict: There’s no doubt about it, there were some good matches on tonight’s RAW. Two matches clocked just over three stars and Ambrose vs. Wyatt was likely heading the same way before the inevitable DQ finish. However, the gaping hole in roster depth is evident in abundance tonight, and it certainly is affecting the WrestleMania booking (though WWE have hardly helped themselves in that department). With many big names missing off tonight’s show, focus was primarily on Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose, one of whom did not wrestle, and Shane McMahon vs. Undertaker, neither wrestled and one wasn’t even on the show. Roadblock should clear up the championship picture, but if WWE manage to screw it up, they can always throw out another Network special: Caution: Last Minute Booking Changes at Work.