We’re in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Traditionally a hot crowd. Although not one that’ll do as it’s told. Not that any WWE TV crowd seems to want to behave anymore. It’s only the house shows, where naïve children make up the majority not the minority in attendance, where babyfaces are correctly cheered and nefarious evil-doers jeered. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
Nothing says kicking off a hot RAW in WrestleMania season than yet another promo from a McMahon and Steph has kept the terrible half-dance in her entrance. She drones on for a bit until Roman Reigns interrupts her. I personally wouldn’t have put Roman in front of Philly because you know he’s going to get booed. The Emasculator goes to cut Roman down but gets nowhere and Reigns even blocks her slap. That’s how you know Roman is getting the world’s biggest push. He gets to stand up to Stephanie. What a sad indictment of WWE booking that is.
A.J. Styles vs. Kevin Owens
This is a rematch from SmackDown where Chris Jericho distracted Styles to allow Owens to win. Jericho’s creepy “A.J. Styles” chant is the best thing about that piece of business. Both guys get good reactions, as you’d expect from the fighting city of Philadelphia. These two have been working the house circuit and getting a decent match together. It’s emphasised in certain spots like Owens backdropping Styles into the rail or Owens swatting the Pele Kick aside. They’ve had ideas and they’re putting them together. Styles hits the Ushikoroshi and it seems Michael Cole is far less familiar with that move than Mauro Ranallo, who flat out called the move, and referenced Hirooki Goto, on SmackDown. Mauro did watch New Japan on AXS when he commentated on it but I guess Cole doesn’t watch SmackDown or he’d know what he was watching. Or perhaps he’s just scared to attempt the word and get it wrong. English is hard. The match is impressive as both men seem to avoid their usual move set in favour of switching things up. When they start striking it out, it’s like watching something from New Japan and it pops the hell out of the announce team. Gee, do you think maybe there are better wrestlers outside of WWE than the ones they currently have? I’m not saying that from my basement by the way Baron Corbin. The match is a real hum-dinger. Two guys keen to prove they belong on this roster, and then some. Like on SmackDown Jericho comes out here and distracts Styles to allow Owens to win with a roll up. The same finish as SmackDown? That’s just lazy. Match was great, booking was awful. Typical WWE nonsense. The quality in the wrestling makes me wish one of, or preferably both of, these two were main eventing ‘Mania.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Post Match: Owens shills #KOMania, his cute little version of WrestleMania. He wonders out loud who he might face at the big show and is interrupted by Dolph Ziggler, who pops me by referencing “Botchamania”. Maffew will be pleased. “Is that one of your crappy jokes from your stand up?” ponders Kevin, again popping me. They’re interrupted by The Miz who points out that Ziggler has done nothing. Miz’s claim to get a shot is based on his ‘Mania main event years ago (it was 2011, WrestleMania XXVII). They’re joined by Sami Zayn. Owens looking suitably enraged at his arrival. That’s the money singles match so Owens suggests they should have a triple threat match to face KO at ‘Mania. If that means they’ve abandoned the idea of a four/five-way match that’s fine. I think the injury to Neville may have altered plans for a big multi-man match.
Video Control takes us to Dean Ambrose who’s chatting about crazy with Terry Funk. “Crazy as a fox in a hen house with a chicken feather sticking out of his ass”. Terry puts Ambrose over and gives him the Chainsaw Charlie chainsaw so he can use it at WrestleMania. The way they’re building Ambrose up for ‘Mania is actually pretty cool. He’ll be carrying some baggage by bringing the trademarks of Mick Foley and Terry Funk but in a good way.
Promo Time: League of Nations
Sheamus is unimpressed with the New Day and shows clips of the Lads giving the tag champs a thrashing last week. Thankfully this dour promo is interrupted by the New Day. Somehow the drabness of the League of Nations drags the New Day down. The League is just a massive lead weight on every segment they appear in. Kofi’s burn on Alberto Del Rio, reminding him of his previous successes before pointing out he’s now stuck in the League of Nations, is pretty funny. They end up brawling and because of the League’s terminal uselessness even that fizzles out.
Big E. vs. Rusev
I feel really bad for Rusev because he’s stuck in the League of Nations, which is a dead end. Everyone else in there deserves it but Rusev is just being punished for some unwritten indiscretion Lana has committed and for making fun of that fact on Twitter. While Big E can be made more entertaining by New Day being at ringside, Xavier’s trombone in particular, the League of Nations are a positive detriment. Rusev is far worse for being in their group. Xavier’s nutty ringside stuff includes hitting Del Rio with the Shining Wizard, which made me laugh. The match is an unbearable drag though. It lasts for way too long, achieves nothing and goes nowhere. Big E wipes out Sheamus and clean pins Rusev with the Big Ending. The League of Nations ship is sinking fast. It’s an unmitigated disaster.
Final Rating: ¾*
Promo Time: The Big Show
He’s out here to shill the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal. At some point Show flipped babyface without me even noticing. But then Show turns more often than I eat hot meals. Show puts over Andre and puts his hat into the ring for winning another Memorial battle royal this year. He’s interrupted, because everyone is interrupted in this company, by the Social Outcasts. Show just laughs at them but at least they’re entertaining, which puts them higher up the totem pole than the League of Nations in my book. Show calls them “hashtagging trolls” and then fends all four of them off with minimal effort. When the numbers game takes over Kane joins in. Bo makes me laugh by apologising after the rest of the ‘Casts are beaten down. Show is equally amusing by giving Kane a big hug. “Kane’s the man” he yells before eating a chokeslam. Oh good lord, I hope it doesn’t come down to another Show vs. Kane feud.
Video Control gives us the latest Hall of Fame inductee Stan Hansen! What are the chances of him accidentally punching someone’s eye out at the ceremony? Don’t bet against it! That’s a solid entry. Very happy for Stan. He deserves it.
Fandango vs. Chris Jericho
Fandango still works here? I honestly thought he’d left. Fandango famously beat Jericho in his first WWE match at WrestleMania 29. “He never beat me at WrestleMania” screams Jericho. “You are a stupid man, you idiot” continues Jericho. At what point did Jericho become this ridiculous parody of himself? The crowd is dead unfortunately. Nobody cares about Fandango because WWE have booked him as a nobody for years on Main Event and Superstars. Jericho should win clean with the Walls of Jericho only for Styles to distract. Fandango is such a jobber he still can’t win, walking into the Codebreaker instead. Jericho then hides behind a cable basher, dragging the poor bastard onto camera where he clearly doesn’t belong. A.J. challenges Jericho to a match at WrestleMania.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control gives us clips of Shane McMahon in training for his ‘Mania match. He looks great but everything he’s doing won’t work against a bigger man like the Undertaker. Lots of talking heads talk about how great Shane is. Corporate shill Chris Jericho suggests it could be “the biggest main event in the history of the company”. Some people will say anything if you pay them enough. This is why I could never work there. If they had me as a talking head I wouldn’t be able to muster any enthusiasm for this match. I’m more interested in what will happen with the Shane storyline afterwards. I want to fast forward to that.
Intercontinental Championship #1 Contender’s Match
Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder
Owens does a sensational job of making each man sound like Miz, Zayn and Ziggler. The latter being “a man who dresses and acts like he’s teenager when he’s at least thirty”. Woo, woo, woo! Unfortunately the downside to Owens’ comedy is this likely leads to another multi-man hodgepodge for the IC belt. Owens on commentary tries to replicate John Cena’s ‘giving opportunity’ US title run mentality from last year. “Praise me, praise me” he ends up pleading with Byron. Naturally the match is a joke, despite all three guys trying really hard. Miz, Zayn and Ziggler turn up to argue the point of all this and the ref throws it out. The result is not just a four-way schmoz but a seven-way schmoz.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control gives us clips from the opening segment because why use a three hour show to build up your roster when you can just build up one guy who everyone hates. The last match was indicative of WWE’s booking of these endless shows. We’ve never been given a reason to care one jot about Sin Cara. Who is he? He’s just a dude in a mask. As for Ryder, he’s been buried for years. Why don’t these guys ever get the chance to elevate themselves? Promos, skits, matches with established talent, sit down interviews, video features. Lord knows RAW is long enough to fit all that in. Kevin Owens heads over to Steph to complain about the last segment. “Your husband thinks very highly of me”. Owens is just killing it tonight. Steph, returning to her Emasculator ways, books Kevin in a seven-way ladder match at ‘Mania that will be a car crash. I was hoping for that Owens-Zayn match but Sami does have Shinsuke Nakamura ‘Mania weekend already. Steph goes to leave and as Triple H picks her up Roman appears from the other side of a roller shutter in a cool visual. Crowd boos him relentlessly. The beatings will continue until morale improves.
Natalya vs. Charlotte
This is non-title and we’ve got both Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks at ringside to watch. The more I think about that triple threat match at ‘Mania, the more I think it could be a showstealer. Although it may struggle to outshine NXT’s women’s title match pitting Asuka against champion Bayley. Unlike the previous two big Natalya vs. Charlotte matches (one in NXT, one on PPV), this one doesn’t mean anything. Charlotte struggles so much against Natalya that I worry they’re planning on shoe-horning Nattie into ‘Mania. You can tell this match isn’t an important one though as Charlotte puts Natalya away with Natural Selection, her secondary finisher.
Final Rating: **
Bubba Ray Dudley vs. R-Truth
The Bubba singles matches give me hope that WWE realise Bubba is a good singles heel wrestler, and a former TNA world champion. Bubba squashes Truth, shouting “that’s what’s up” before the pin. The Dudley Boyz continue the beating. Goldust saves but gets beaten down so the Usos make the real save. They’re facing the Dudley Boyz at WrestleMania.
Final Rating: SQUASH (N/R)
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
He’s out here to hype Taker vs. Shane and declares that if Shane wins “you’ve probably seen the last of me”. The crowd responds with a resounding “Yes” chant. Vince adds another wrinkle into the ‘Mania match calling Undertaker “my bitch” and putting Taker’s career on the line in his match with Shane. This was to the point. If all McMahon promos were this brisk I’d have no issue with them.
Dean Ambrose vs. Braun Strowman
They’ve been protecting Braun by not having him wrestle. Especially in singles where he’ll be completely exposed so this is a strange choice of main event. Braun looks every bit the lumbering rookie they’ve been trying to protect. His timing is not good. He’s not dangerous because he’s not attempting anything difficult but he’s just too green. WWE opt for the distraction tactic, with the TV audience, by putting Paul Heyman on commentary. Braun keeps using a nerve hold and the crowd chant “this is boring”. There’s a great shot of Heyman listening to the abuse. It’s not Strowman’s fault, he’s not ready for this spot and WWE should know that. Dean ends up getting disqualified for using a chair but drops Braun with Dirty Deeds because of it. Therefore telling us a story of how ‘Mania could go down. This sucked but then Braun Strowman was in it.
Final Rating: ¼*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kevin Owens. Great match, entertaining ring introductions and fantastic commentary.
Least Entertaining: The League of Nations
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. A.J. Styles
Quote of the Night: “It’s not Kevin Owens fault that AJ Styles has the attention span of a gnat and turns around when someone walks into an arena” – JBL sums up the way all WWE babyfaces are booked.
Summary: Any show where the crowd mercilessly chant “this is boring” at the main event can’t really be considered a success. WrestleMania season has been a bust this year with very little to look forward to at the big show. I’ve probably said this before but my hopes for ‘Mania weekend rest on another show from Dallas that weekend. A little soiree thrown by NXT. Their specials routinely out-do the main roster and their line up for Takeover Dallas is immaculate. You’ll forgive me for being more hyped up for that show over the seven hours of WrestleMania coverage come April 3.