This episode of Monday Night RAW follows on from an intriguing PPV in the Royal Rumble 2016. WWE decided to switch their world title from current go-to guy and obsession of Vince McMahon in Roman Reigns, to his son-in-law Triple H. It’s Hunter’s 14th world title and was booked to feel like a surprise, although those in the know had been tipping him to win it for several weeks. The real surprise in the Rumble match was the much vaunted appearance of AJ Styles, skipping over a run in NXT to become a main roster star overnight. The massive pop he received when entering the Rumble match at #3 gave me goosebumps and the continued crowd support throughout showed WWE that AJ was a legitimate superstar and one to be reckoned with. He might be getting up there in age, in his late thirties, but he comes in as the complete package. A ready made main eventer. Something the company desperately needs with their current injury crisis. It also shows the benefit of skipping NXT on top line talent when they simply don’t need to go there. I’m glad AJ retains his name but I miss both his TNA and New Japan music.
We’re in Miami, Florida. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: The McMahon Family
Meet the new opening segment, same as the old opening segment. It’s true the focus needs to be on the new champion here but the process of starting a show with a McMahon talking is so outdated it kills any interest I had in the show right from the start. The only thing of note of is Steph trying to bury AJ by mentioning him as a potential winner of the Rumble and the crowd promptly drowning out the McMahon’s by chanting his name. The main event of this company is such poison at the moment. There seems to be no room for wrestling. I’ve not been invested in a WWE champion since Daniel Bryan won at WrestleMania XXX. Triple H, in his role as heel champion, puts over Vince as being the closest thing to God in the WWE ring. “I don’t need to be WWE champion but I want to be WWE champion”. Steph asks the question; who actually wrestles Hunter at ‘Mania? Whoever wins in the main event at Fast Lane will be taking on Hunter at WrestleMania. But what is the main event of Fast Lane? We’ll find out tonight. This worked as soon as Hunter launched into his promo and they left with the intrigue of where to go from here.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Owens is still selling the leg from last night, which he injured during a great IC title match that opened the Rumble show. As per usual Ziggler gets his ass kicked throughout in an energetic match up. Ziggler does a good job of throwing kicks that leave Owens with the last gasp kick outs in between Owens periods of dominance. Owens slips out of a super rana and hits the Pop Up Powerbomb for the win. Ziggler spent the entire of last year being a wishy-washy midcard guy who gets dominated in every match. No surprises that he lost here. Owens looked good, as always.
Final Rating: **1/4
Promo Time: The Social Outcasts
Josh Bredl, Tough Enough winner, got heat from both Kevin Owens and Cody Rhodes for calling this group “jobbers”. However it’s Heath Slater, Bo Dallas, Adam Rose and Curtis Axel. They are jobbers. As per usual it’s WWE where you’re encouraged to grab that brass ring and stand out only to get chastised like a misbehaving child when you attempt it. Heath is merely out here to draw attention to Flo Rida, the rapper who wrote this years WrestleMania theme “My House”. The ‘Casts challenge Flo Rida to a rap battle with Bo Dallas. The gimmick may be death but all the guys seem to care about it. The rapper’s rap is terrible by the way and he introduces the Dudley Boyz for a match.
The Social Outcasts (Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas) vs. The Dudley Boyz
The Social Outcasts determination to try and get this over could turn them into a guilty pleasure for me. I really liked Axelmania last year and Bo makes me chuckle sometimes. It’s also nice to see Adam Rose enjoying himself after a recent awful heel run. The ‘Casts get very little in a comedy match and the 3D finishes Curtis. They’re still jobbers. Josh Bredl was right.
Final Rating: *
Video Control takes us backstage where Renee Young gets a word with new WWE Superstar AJ Styles. He’s got a match with Chris Jericho tonight. Y2J comes in to put over their match, which I called a potential dream match during the Rumble last night. Having Jericho talk for the majority of this was due to WWE being reluctant to let the very Southern AJ talk too much. Promos have never been his strong point anyway.
Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles
This is happening! I love wrestling. Jericho must be tired having wrestled 51 minutes in the Rumble match last night. Crowd thinks it’s awesome before we’ve even got underway. Putting on matches the crowd want to see is half the battle in getting reactions. Like last night AJ shows flashes of the brilliance that’s made him one of the best in the world. The strike combos and the huge bumps especially. Given a busier schedule he may have to tone that down a bit but he instantly looks like a stand out. They must realise the best way to get AJ over is to have him wrestle. A couple of his bumps are way harsh. Jericho is a great opponent as he’s well versed in AJ’s style and they can work a smart match. Interesting to see AJ utilise his New Japan experience by stealing spots from Hirooki Goto. Everywhere he goes AJ seems to add something to his repertoire and he can do most things with ease. AJ gets to show great resilience in the Walls of Jericho, where he goes to tap twice before making the ropes. He makes it feel like a genuine finish. The tease a few other finishes before AJ counters a pin into a grounded sunset flip for the win. AJ looked terrific here, showing a range of moves and skills. AJ is clearly not intimidated by being in WWE and had a good match with Jericho. The height on a couple of his moves were terrific and designed for slow-motion replays (Frogsplash miss and springboard forearm both looking phenomenal in slow motion). They made this feel like a really important match. Long may it continue. Meanwhile Jericho has redeemed himself over the past two nights for his previous cringe worthy stuff with the New Day.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
With the divas division suddenly revolving around Charlotte, Sasha and Becky I’m really into it. This is what they should have gone with months ago but maybe they wanted to build them up a bit on the main roster first. Crowd launches into a loud “NXT” chant, which rather proves that the crowd knows the NXT people already. Especially in Florida, NXT’s home state. These two have a solid little match with Becky targeting the arm while Sasha generally dominates. The Bank Statement has this finished but Charlotte runs in for the DQ asserting her authority. Already eagerly anticipating the triple threat between these three. Glad the divas division had a reset for these three to boss the division.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us backstage where Goldust and R-Truth goof around. ‘Dust is looking for a new tag team partner and thinks Truth can be it. Truth mistakes this for some sort of marriage proposal.
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt
This feud didn’t work for me the first time around and it becomes a needless dead spot on the show as the crowd lose interest in the middling action. The crowd want Brock Lesnar. Wyatt’s response is to hook a chinlock. He’s so old school. A guy doing Randy Savage cosplay in the front row gets more reaction than the guys in the ring. The fans will tell you, over and over again what they want to see and it isn’t this. No offence to Bray, who’s a good character, and he finishes with Sister Abigail’s Kiss after his family gets involved. The pissy WWE security move the distracting cosplay fans away from the hard-cam during the break, which is just embarrassing for the company. We want fans to come and be loud as long as they don’t distract from the shitty matches. The atmosphere of this company is horribly stifling.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage where a limousine is here. It contains a “major returning star” according to WWE’s gossipy Twitter account. Rich Brennan gets dispatched to find out who’s in the limo and it’s The Miz. He’s been gone from RAW for three weeks! But wait, The Rock is here too! “You look like a blind nun. Do me a favour and park the Rock’s truck”. Rock is thrilled to see everyone. Rock runs into the Big Show and recaps the 2000 Rumble finish and points out his feet actually hit the floor first. Imagine how that could have changed Show’s life. “You could have been the one hunting Vin Diesel’s candy ass in the Fast and the Furious”. Show blubs as Rock waxes lyrical about life. This was brilliant. Rock’s total obliviousness is amazing. Rock then talks to Lana about one night in a hotel room in Brooklyn. “The Wisconsin Wheelbarrow”. Rock is interrupted by Rusev. Rusev is the captain of no selling. “You got a hell of a woman here. She’s flexible as all hell. Woo!” The Rock was on incredible form here. Just mind-blowingly good. This is everything you would ever want from a returning star. His fourth wall breaking stuff was just stunning. I realise that not everyone gets to behave like The Rock on TV but it’s such a relief that anyone is allowed to say whatever the hell they want.
Promo Time: The Rock
I honestly don’t know how he can possibly do anything out here that would surpass what he just did backstage. Rock is incredible here, taking selfies with ringside fans and just owning the arena. There is nobody in wrestling, nay in the entire world, like the Rock. He just epitomises entertainment like no one else. A night out with the Rock would be the most fun you’ll ever have in your life. Rock plays with the announcers and forgets who Byron Saxton is. The crowd start chanting “Randy Savage” and instead of ignoring this, Rock goes to hang out with the fan doing cosplay in the front row. “This is a time where we go off the script”. His meet and greet with “Undertaker”, “Hulk Hogan”, “The Rock” and “Randy Savage” is amazing. A normal guy would have just ignored the fans and carried on. Which is we need The Rock. Only he’s interrupted by THE NEW DAY! Could this RAW get any better? “That black guy who you don’t know, that’s Byron Saxton he’s by far the best commentator at that table right now” says Xavier Woods. Xavier sticking up for his buddy there and you could not surgically remove Byron’s smile. Xavier almost breaks the Rock only for Rock to call them “entertaining for people with llama penises on their heads”. New Day get into a group huddle around whether you can say “penises” on TV. You can’t get a “llama penis” chant going. That’s ridiculous. Rock describes Big E as being “Like the Incredible Hulk banged Urkel”. When the New Day refuse to fight Rock the Usos run out to help and Xavier Woods does a tremendous job of freaking out when faced with the Great One. This was twenty minutes of the Rock just having a good time and it was joyous.
Brie Bella & Alicia Fox vs. Paige & Natalya
Two divas matches on one show! This one is more aimed at the Total Divas audience rather than the wrestling one. Paige seems to have drifted back face to battle Team Bella. Paige puts Brie away with RamPaige in short order. The only highlight was Brie doing Daniel Bryan’s kicks.
Final Rating: N/R
The Miz vs. Kalisto
Kalisto gets to look strong here, leading “lucha” chants and hitting some decent flying spots. Unfortunately he’s working against The Miz who’s fairly dull on offence and as soon as Miz takes over we get a sleepy heat segment. It does make Kalisto’s comebacks suitably thrilling. The finish is really good with Kalisto countering the Skull Crushing Finale into the Salida del Sol with the help of the ropes.
Final Rating: **
Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus & Rusev)
Sheamus & Rusev are cornered by LON buddies Alberto Del Rio and Wade Barrett. That gives them a big numbers advantage to the point where they might as well do 4 on 2. They booked Roman 4 on 1 last week! Ambrose helps to keep the fans invested in the match and it’s telling they work heat on Roman so Dean gets the hot tag. A second heat segment follows on Dean as the League run formula to a tee. It’s a marked contrast to everyone else’s efforts on this show. The heat seems to work though and Roman gets a hot tag. Ambrose does a great job of selling how much he cares about his partnership with Reigns. It’s what makes their team more effective. The League of Nations are just a bunch of guys. Reigns and Ambrose are brothers. Naturally they win with Sheamus taking a spear for the pin. The former Shield members table Rusev after the match to get revenge for Rusev putting Roman through a table at the Rumble. Roman always gets more positive reactions when he’s with Ambrose. WWE knew that here.
Final Rating: **1/4
Post Match: Stephanie announces the Fast Lane main event. That main event is Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar. Winner is going to ‘Mania for the main event.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: The Rock. He was different class tonight. His spiel blew me away. The stuff with Big Show and Lana was grade A Rock.
Least Entertaining: Sheamus.
Quote of the Night: “People like Roman Reigns want to be WWE champion but they don’t deserve it” – Triple H shoots from the hip.
Match of the Night: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Summary: It might be the good will of a solid PPV, or perhaps just the blow-away antics of the Rock, but I really enjoyed this episode of RAW. There were still dead spots. The main event was so-so and the Bray-Kane match was worthless. But there was enough good stuff on this show to keep me engaged. I was especially thrilled with AJ vs. Jericho, which shows WWE are keen on pushing AJ Styles as a wrestler. That works for me.
January 24 2016
The Royal Rumble has been a favourite PPV of mine stretching back to the early days of the event. It always conjures up such excitement. There’s a feeling that anything is possible and the company is all about setting up new ideas and programs, aimed to thrill on the largest scale at WrestleMania. Which is why the past two years have been so incredibly disappointing. Will this make it three in a row? Let’s hope not.
The PPV kicks off with the arrival of Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie. McMahon Sr.’s mood is ebullient. So much so he’s happy to see JoJo and puts over the opportunities everyone in the Rumble match has. “I love this night, almost as much as I love me” says Vince. That’s absolutely perfect. When Vince is on fire he’s a dynamo on the microphone, even as a pensioner. The Roman Reigns vs. everyone story is a bit of a bummer but that is offset by having the WWE title on the line in the Rumble match. It makes this night even more unpredictable. We’re in Orlando, Florida. Hosts are Michael Cole, Byron Saxton and JBL. We also have a Spanish and French commentary team. The French team looks borderline depressed!
Last Man Standing
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens
This could well be the best match on the entire card so it makes sense to kick off with it, get the crowd going. A word on titles belts themselves; I happen to think the IC strap is the best looking belt WWE currently has. It’s still not as pretty as the IWGP equivalent but little in life is. These guys waste no time in going nuts as Owens flies into the announce table and cleans out Michael Cole. Please let him be replaced by Mauro Ranallo! Seeing as there are no DQ’s they go to the weapons. Ambrose is the instigator of that but Owens’ response is a sensational cannonball into the rail. These guys are letting it all hang out. It’s made all the better by Cole actually getting riled up at Owens having broken his glasses. A emotional commentator makes a big difference, which is why Jim Ross was so damn good. One of the reasons why Owens connects so well is that he runs his mouth the whole time. It adds to his matches because you’re not just waiting for his next spot but for his next piece of trash talk too. Unfortunately the match suffers from ‘spot setting up’ with Ambrose overselling. “I feel like you’re wasting time right now” confirms a ringside fan as Owens stacks tables. Owens does some wonderful work with near falls by rolling out of the ring on a nine count so he can drop his feet onto the floor. Clever stuff. The match escalates nicely and the only issue they really have is the stacked tables set up, it removes the excitement from the near falls. You know they’re going to use that stacked tables spot on the finish. They tease a spot before it with Ambrose laid out on chairs only to shove Owens off the top through the double tables and that’ll do it. That bump looked suitably horrific to finish but the set up rather took the shine off the big bumps that led up to it. Good match though with cracking big spots.
Final Rating: ****
WWE World Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Usos
Chris Jericho should be banished from TV forever for breaking Francesca. It is an outrage. The crowd chant “New Day Rocks” and “Fran-ces-ca” in support of the two-time tag team champs. But what’s this: Xavier Woods has a new trombone! It gets popped. Heavens be praised! Francesca II, I even named it during my SmackDown review last week! “I can’t mourn forever, a brothers got needs”. The Usos get heat because they’re not the New Day. This is one of the issues with having a heel team that’s mega-over as faces. Xavier Woods screaming at the commentators is more entertaining than the commentators and the crowd begin a “play Francesca” chant. Xavier tries really hard to stay heel by not playing the trombone and generally being irritating at ringside. It’s going to be exceptionally hard to keep New Day heel at this point. They blow a big spot at the finish where Xavier is supposed to help Kofi escape a pin and he doesn’t. Jay looks stupid yelling at him for interfering when he didn’t. Big E gets a blind tag though and hits the Big Ending for the pin. Which Kofi finds hilarious as he rolls around putting his foot on the rope. They blow a spot and make fun of themselves for it. You have to love these guys.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us words from the Wyatt Family. They’re being hyped as being a big deal in the Rumble match, having seen off both Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar on RAW. Their four horsemen of the apocalypse promo is neat. If only they’d decide on how important the Wyatt’s are to the big scheme of things and either push them or not.
WWE United States Championship
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto
I’m not sure what the point was of hot-shotting the belt to Kalisto and back again in recent weeks, other than to put a title change on SmackDown. We do often complain about WWE not making new stars but they’ve actually done a decent job with Kalisto, especially since Sin Cara got injured. He’s got the same unhelpful 50-50 booking as everybody else but his diminutive stature makes that more believable. He does feel like a new Rey Mysterio, albeit without the catalogue of great matches against a variety of opponents. The commentators also make that connection, as everyone will due to the size and style similarities. Kalisto certainly rocks an excellent sympathy card, taking a sizable beating. I like how Kalisto avoids big spots instead of surviving them. That’s how smaller wrestlers should work. WWE match structure doesn’t often allow that. Del Rio has issues as he keeps going after the mask of Kalisto and getting caught in moves because of his obsession. Kalisto’s biggest issue as a worker is that he’s prone to botches on his complex moves and manages a horrible one attempting a Code Red off Del Rio’s back. Another wonky spot sees Del Rio hit the buckles and Salida del Sol finishes. A couple of ugly botches brought this one crashing back to Earth.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control throws us to Renee Young, Corey Graves, Booker T and Jerry Lawler from the Kick-Off show. Booker is wearing a ridiculous scarf. Jack Swagger and Mark Henry won a match on the Kick-Off show to get spots in the Rumble match. Guaranteed they both do nothing. Elsewhere Stephanie McMahon has a chat with Paul Heyman. The short of it is that Heyman wants to renegotiate Lesnar’s contract and Steph is cool with it, as long as Roman loses. An assortment of shills follow including Fast Lane (with smoking hot but useless wrestler Eva Marie) and the Edge & Christian Show, which looks funny. I would probably watch that.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch
This is actually one of the best storylines on the show at the moment, which is nice seeing as the divas division had been a disaster for months. With Charlotte’s solid heel turn and Becky’s superb underdog gimmick they have a strong build. Behind the Rumble and Owens-Ambrose it was the match I was most interested in. It helps that both ladies still have a lot of good will from their NXT matches. Although I’d love to see a Becky win I’m fine with either woman winning as they’ll both have good defences lined up. Lynch has a lot of support. They do some nice basic switches to start with Charlotte getting her cocky persona across and Becky looking plucky and going after the arm to set up her finish. Ric Flair is the x-factor out there and he slaps a liplock on Becky to turn the tide. It’s noticeable that the difficulty level is quite low, in an attempt to avoid any mistakes but the contest is fluid and logical. Charlotte perhaps uses too many rest holds but she is working heel. It’s pleasing that the match has heat throughout, unlike many recent diva contests, which have taken place in front of dead silence or, worse, mocking abuse. The finish is horribly screwy with Becky getting the Disarmer only for Ric to throw his jacket onto Lynch’s face. She confusingly breaks the hold only to turn into a spear and lose. Bad finish aside this was a decent match. I understand the urge to keep the belt on Charlotte with her drawing such good heat but poor Becky can’t catch a break.
Final Rating: ***
Post Match: Charlotte is celebrating and SASHA BANKS IS HERE! HUGE pop! She kicks poor Becky out of the ring. The crowd actually chant “Bayley” for a bit before chanting for “Sasha” to come after Charlotte’s strap. They make nice until Charlotte turns her back. BANK STATEMENT! Nobody points at the WrestleMania sign so that might be a match for Fast Lane. Consider me all in on that one. When Sasha has time to plan out a match with one her girlfriends from Florida magic happens. Hopes are high for that one and I marked out hard for Sasha’s music kicking in and the Bank Statement. Which is a great sign as it means I’m into the divas division. For the first time since Trish Stratus worked here.
[bump match rating up to ***3/4 including this]
Royal Rumble Match
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
#1 is Roman Reigns (c). He’s not well liked and is heavily booed. He first faces off, and eliminates Rusev, before the shocking arrival at #3 of AJ Styles, making his WWE debut. Sort of. You see when he was in the Indies way back in 2002 he did a few job matches for WWE and one of them, against The Hurricane, was televised on Jakked. He’s come a long way since then. We thought he might be in here somewhere but arriving at number three sees him one on one with the incumbent WWE champion in his first time in a WWE ring. The crowd know who he is and recognise the Styles Clash, thus rubbishing certain ‘no one knows who he is’ nonsense from inside WWE’s bubble. Styles gets popped hard and continues to be supported throughout his time in the match. Not only that he’s a complete showstealer, hitting Pele Kicks, springboard elbows and wicked strike combos at every opportunity. Not only that he takes sensational bumps to get everyone else over. It’s a dream debut, which makes it almost a pity that he’s stuck in the first half of the match where he can shine but isn’t as important as the big guns later on. A few jobbers are ousted before Chris Jericho arrives at #6. This teases AJ vs. Jericho, which I’m sure we’ll see at some point. There are now a fair few dream matches available to WWE based on Styles being in the promotion. Other early entries include Rumble favourites Kane and Kofi Kingston. Kofi doesn’t get to do a big spot like usual, although he avoids elimination by falling onto Big E’s shoulders and being paraded around ringside in a unicorn stampede to compensate for it.
The second third of the match sees a switch in focus with the Wyatt Family beginning to enter. First Luke Harper at #13 followed by Braun Strowman at #17 before Erik Rowan arrives at #21. Another big Rumble guy, The Big Show, also enters in this phase and gets ejected by Strowman. As does Kane, putting Strowman over as the companies new monster. The match isn’t totally joyless in this middle phase with AJ still involved, R-Truth accidentally thinking it’s a Money in the Bank match and climbing a ladder and also the arrivals of Neville and Kevin Owens. WWE also find a way around the problem of Roman Reigns having to wrestle for an hour by having the League of Nations take him out of the match around the mid point so he can rest out the back for a bit. It’s poor form. If you want to be the top guy in a company then you can work for an hour, sir. Owens is the one who takes over the entire match. He first battles AJ Styles in a phenomenal strike sequence before throwing AJ out of the match (“welcome to the WWE” he crows as AJ flies over the top). Then he gets to do the Steve Austin-Bret Hart Rumble reaction spot for the arrival of Dean Ambrose and then do it again, a mere 90 seconds later, for Sami Zayn! How can one man have two reaction spots that great that close together? Sami even throws Owens out to score a little retribution for the way his former best friend treated him in NXT.
The final third has heavy Wyatt presence until #23 Brock Lesnar arrives to sort them out. Lesnar manages to throw out all three Wyatt Family members only for Bray Wyatt to arrive at #27 and encourage his troops to gang up and throw Lesnar from the match. Not a popular decision with the crowd. While Owens tossing AJ and Zayn throwing Owens out were acceptable conclusions to those storylines, this one doesn’t sit well with the crowd at all. Especially as only Bray was legal when the four on one mugging took place. Lesnar’s destruction of everyone during his time in the Rumble was entertaining but all too brief. I’m a little upset he’s not involved in the conclusion. Speaking of the conclusion a lot of smaller wrestlers get to be involved with the likes of Alberto Del Rio, The Miz, Stardust and Dolph Ziggler filling late positions. As #29 Sheamus makes his way to the ring it’s time for the return of Roman Reigns. It goes about as well as you’d expect, given the crowd’s displeasure for his presence throughout the night. They wanted something new and WWE are giving them the same old, same old. There is somewhat of a shock as Triple H arrives at #30, unless you’d noticed the bookies odds over the past few weeks, which had Hunter as a favourite to win. Everyone bar Roman and Hunter get treated as an afterthought as the match heads towards its inevitable conclusion. Jericho, who was certainly in longest as Roman’s split participation doesn’t count, gets lobbed out late on for spending too long celebrating a Codebreaker on the Game.
FINAL FOUR: Roman Reigns, Triple H, Sheamus and Dean Ambrose. The last two champions, the champion’s best mate and the COO of the company. Hardly the revolutionary surprise finish I was hoping the company would have the guts to go for. Reigns puts Sheamus out but Hunter dumps Reigns. Roman’s second title run is over. Big pop for that. Anyone but you, Roman. Quite why WWE decided to leave it so late into the match is anyone’s guess but the pop justifies the decision. The crowd gets animated as Ambrose fires up. They want someone new and Ambrose qualifies. They tease Ambrose winning until Hunter backdrops him out. First half of the match was really solid and I liked Lesnar’s run but I wasn’t keen on the last few minutes, bar Ambrose being teased as a left field winner.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Summary: While it’s far from being one of the better Rumble shows the Rumble match itself was fine for the most part. When it got down to the nitty-gritty the final four contained nobody I was particularly invested in unfortunately, like Owens, AJ or Lesnar. The whole Roman stretcher job in the middle of the match took me out of the action almost completely because he would inevitably return. It was cheap booking. The undercard was fairly consistent though and the opening match is the one that entertained the most. Compared to the last two years the show definitely delivered. Although nothing here is anywhere close to last year’s WWE title match. Injuries cannot have helped WWE but they had a super hot crowd here and gave them a few luke warm turns during the main event. The departures of all the top guys were a bit weak. Especially the finish, which was flat. Don’t mind me though I’m still marking out for AJ Styles (and Sasha Banks).
This is the first episode of SmackDown I’ve seen since I was 411Mania.com’s resident SmackDown reviewer. Due to that information being available online I can tell you my last episode of SmackDown was June 27 2008. Just the seven and a half year gap then. That show was headlined by Dave Batista (who’s now a Bond villain in SPECTRE) and Umaga (who’s now sadly deceased). Why have I not seen SmackDown in such a long time? It’s become a bit of an afterthought to WWE. It’s the show that sort of follows on from RAW but not in such a way that it’d interfere with RAW continuity. It’s not an important show but the one thing I always used to enjoy about recapping SmackDown was the wrestling was routinely superior to the red-banded flag-ship show. Is that still true? Stay tuned to find out.
We’re in Dayton, Ohio. Hosts are Mauro Ranallo, Byron Saxton and Jerry Lawler. Tonight we have Miz TV and Roman Reigns will be wrestling the entire League of Nations. This ‘stacked deck’ booking is killing me.
Promo Time: Chris Jericho
After seven and half years SmackDown is still trying to be RAW Jr. by kicking off the show with a promo but not from a big heavy-hitter. Jericho might think he’s a big shining star but he’s not been since 2010 and his last title run. I quite enjoyed him as a part-time guy who’d occasionally turn up and have a decent match with a midcard worker (Neville in particular benefitted from this). As Jericho continues to spout exposition you can hear people carrying on their conversations, still waiting for the show to start. It does when The New Day interrupt. Jericho deserves all the abuse he gets for breaking poor innocent Francesca, Woods’ trombone. Xavier suggests a TV show called “Making a Brass Murderer” about Jericho’s disgraceful behaviour. Francesca was easily the 2015 ‘Prop of the Year’. Jericho tries to get “rooty, tooty, booty” over as a catchphrase. Urgh, go back to the Attitude Era pal. Jericho somehow gains booking powers and has New Day wrestle The Usos and Ziggles.
The New Day vs. The Usos & Dolph Ziggler
The main focus for the commentary is the new Jericho nicknames for the New Day, which includes Jerry Lawler referencing the time he destroyed Tiny Tim’s ukulele. I remember that. It sucked. Much like this commentary. The match is inoffensive but provokes no reaction whatsoever from the crowd. Sure, there’s heat pumped in but everyone is just sitting around looking bored. Kofi steals the show with his flying and bumping but Xavier looks lost without his trombone. One would hope he locates Francesca II at some point. Xavier not having a trombone is like Lisa Simpson not having a cat. Or saxophone. That’s probably the better metaphor but I was thinking about Snowball II. The New Day are still effortlessly entertaining, posing and dancing around. Ziggler plays his role well too, especially taking an enormous backdrop out of the ring, which he face plants into the ring steps. Xavier eats a triple superkick though and the faces win. This was fun enough. New Day are always an easy watch and the faces fitted into the match. A solid start.
Final Rating: **3/4
Becky Lynch vs. Alicia Fox
I’ve been heavily critical of WWE’s main roster divas division however the booking has had one, perhaps unplanned, perk. As everyone they wanted to push has been a bunch of easy-to-hate heels third wheel Becky has found herself as the top babyface. Now she’s being booked as less goofy I’m on board with her getting a strong push. Alicia has switched to all black gear with the Nikki Bella and her red gear off TV. Is that so we don’t remember the Bellas? Surely they’re still all over Total Divas. Oh, speaking of the Bellas, Brie is ringside. I didn’t even notice her with the camera focusing on Ric Flair ranting on commentary at ringside. Becky wrestles circles around Foxy. Lynch is the far superior technician and finishes with the Dis-Arm-Her (which I much preferred when I thought it was just called the Disarmer. Puns, eh?). About as good as you’d expect from Alicia Fox. She’s not terrible but jobber is a perfectly fine role for her.
Final Rating: *
Miz has Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose on for a chat about their IC title match at the Royal Rumble, which is Last Man Standing (or Texas Death Match if you’re from the dirty south). Miz is the least entertaining man in the ring so he just lets Ambrose get on with running the segment. Ambrose, going solo, is easily better than Miz. “You ever notice Kevin Owens looks kinda like a bear?” says Ambrose, perhaps referencing @KOAsBears account on Twitter. A shame that account has gone quiet of late. Ambrose’s amusement park ride tour of ringside is shot down by Owens, who prefers zoos, and Miz jumps Ambrose from behind. Owens is less than impressed and puts Miz down with a Pop Up Powerbomb, because he sucks. Ambrose and Owens got to sell their match a little here but I prefer them beating the crap out of each other rather than chatting about it. Although Owens did a good job of getting his belt obsession over and Ambrose, as per usual, did fine work with relatively weak material. Especially in ignoring Miz at the start of the skit.
Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt
The Wyatt Family’s presence in the Rumble match has turned Bray into a genuine contender. Presumably the other Wyatts have no mind of their own and are willing to allow Bray to win if they make it to the final four. It will almost certainly be a group that eliminate one of the favourites, possibly Brock Lesnar to set up Lesnar’s WrestleMania program. I’d prefer it if the Bullet Club eliminated Lesnar to set up a big ‘Mania contest (Lesnar vs. AJ) but WWE are less keen on pushing freshly acquired outside talent than most and are leaning towards big spots for Roman, Wyatt and Ambrose. People they’ve essentially ‘created’. Ryback uses his power to dominate this but the numbers game stops that. Sister Abigail’s Kiss finishes.
Final Rating: *3/4
Tangent: I’m getting bored so here come some plugs, for my amusement and yours. Firstly go and check out the podcast that I’m on which can be found under the podcast section at VoicesofWrestling.com. It’s called the Brit Wres Roundtable. If you’re interested in getting into British wrestling we cover all the major shows and whatnot. Rev Pro, available through Vimeo (you can use Paypal to get it), had one of their big shows this week from York Hall in London. It was called High Stakes and featured the Indie farewell of AJ Styles, against Zack Sabre Jr and a blow-away contest between BritWres regulars Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay. The big Rev Pro shows always deliver. Check them out too. Back to the action then…
Stardust vs. Titus O’Neil
They’ve been doing odd little segments featuring these two, which have been fairly amusing. It’s about time they did something with Titus but the creative don’t seem to know what that should be. He’s a big guy who’s quite funny but his matches are drab. He feels like an underdeveloped NXT worker like Angelo Dawkins. Clash of the Titus puts Cody away in short order. There wasn’t much happening here.
Final Rating: ¾*
Video Control takes us backstage where Renee Young chats with former US champion Kalisto. They do a weird shot beforehand where Kalisto is seen reading his script. It’s very odd. Breaking the fourth wall for no apparent reason. Kalisto puts Alberto Del Rio over as a massive star in Mexico, referencing Mil Mascaras, Rey Mysterio and others. Del Rio shows up to call Kalisto’s win over him a fluke and the League of Nations beat the poor midget up.
Roman Reigns vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Wade Barrett & Rusev)
Why does Roman have to be the focus of every single show? Even when WWF was super hot during Attitude and Steve Austin was the most entertaining man in the world, the show still focused on secondary characters like Undertaker or Triple H or The Rock or Mick Foley. It wasn’t Austin vs. everyone on every single show. This is, sort of, a Royal Rumble preview as that match with be Roman Reigns vs. the entire roster in the most forced attempt to get one guy over at the expense of everything else in the promotion, ever. What happens if Roman gets injured too? This is about what you’d expect from a four on one. Roman takes endless heat until the ref gets bored and calls for a DQ because the heels aren’t tagging.
Final Rating: ½*
Post Match: the Usos save but the Wyatt Family shows up to pose with a fallen Roman to end the show. Once again hinting that Bray Wyatt might win the WWE championship come Sunday. Here’s hoping for some sort of swerve that prevents any of the obvious booking from taking place. Obvious booking like Roman retaining, Triple H walking away with the title or Bray Wyatt picking up the pieces. I realise that’s three options, which is more than last year, but none of them are good.
The SmackDown Recap:
Most Entertaining: Dean Ambrose
Least Entertaining: The Wyatt Family
Match of the Night: The New Day vs. The Uso’s & Dolph Ziggler
Summary: SmackDown is certainly still SmackDown. Nothing happens on this show, aside from filling in storyline for the main shows. Giving you that bit extra in terms of feud development, just enough to make the show slightly worth watching. It’s a far cry from the days when SmackDown had actual dynamic wrestling rivalries and exciting different divisions to RAW. At least the show is heavily wrestling based but the effort levels are minimal. Good luck to my fellow SmackDown reviewers this year, it’s going to be a long haul.
Last week saw the return of the ‘proper’ weekly NXT shows after a two-part best-of 2015 aired in the weeks either side of the new year. In the hunt for a crack at Finn Bálor’s NXT Championship are Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, and Baron Corbin, who last week were all booked in a triple-threat number one contender’s match to take place next week. Well, this is this week, and they are all scheduled to compete in singles action tonight. Tom Phillips and Corey Graves provide the commentary.
Sami Zayn vs. Adam Rose
This is Zayn’s first television match at Full Sail since his return from a shoulder injury. His opponent is NXT alumni, Adam Rose, whose radical switch from South African game poacher to party guy gimmick got massively over until he got buried on the main roster, thus forcing him to ditch life aboard the Exotic Express. However, the NXT Galaxy of the WWE Universe still sings along to his theme tune. NXT remembers! In other news, Zayn is wearing his Sparky Plugg tribute tights. The crowd, meanwhile, chants Olè. NXT knows! Rose, I suppose, is a credible opponent in NXT land for Zayn to overcome ahead of his big match next week; I guess he might still be getting back in ring shape, too – he definitely looks podgier than I remember. As for the match itself, well, it can be summed up as quickly as this: a little bit of chain wrestling; a boring, boring heat section on Zayn, capped off with a diving head butt that looked like a) Rose slipped, and b) he hurt himself; and finished with a Koji Clutch out of nowhere. A bit of an underwhelming start to the show, and I would actually have much preferred to see Sami Zayn vs. Leo Kruger.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, Rich Brennan gets a word with Johnny Gargano ahead of his bout with Samoa Joe. Johnny Wrestling calls Joe a bully and threatens to punch him on the mouth. Average stuff.
Next, we cut to pre-recorded video from Chad Gable and Jason Jordan, who from this promo on are to be known as The American Alphas. They are sore about not even being nominated for NXT Tag Team of the Year category at the Slammys. Too right! They challenge former Tag Team Champions, Blake & Murphy, to a match next week. I’m gutted not to be covering that one. Chad Gable is insanely talented and over; he also amuses me in his promo’s – he’s like a wrestling Paul Rudd.
Apollo Crews vs. Tye Dillinger
He’s a perfect ten, but he wears a twelve . . . Actually, I’ve come to see Tye Dillinger and the likes of Elias Sampson, Danny Burch, and Angelo Dawkins as 2015/6’s answer to the 1995 enhancement talent with gimmicks mob. His shoulder tattoo, however, suggests that he might be one of the Last Panthers, so I won’t rag on him too much. Crews, meanwhile, arrived in NXT last year amid a mass of hype, and with good reason: he’s talented, strong, agile, and has the look of a superstar. I’m going to say it, though: I’m still waiting on that one big breakout match to propel him towards the stardom that seems destined for. Dillinger celebrates a snap mare by prancing around the ring and throwing up tens; Apollo politely applauses before hitting him with a dropkick. He then shows off his tremendous strength with a standing/squatting suplex. I might’ve been a tad harsh on Dillinger earlier, as he shows some potential in this match, executing a suicide senton that I can’t recall the likes of Rad Radford or Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese ever doing. Crews finishes the match with a toss powerbomb, then cuts a promo to challenge Finn Bálor to a non-title match after their last encounter ended by disqualification. I think Crews definitely needs to improve his mic skills and probably sharpen up his ability to put together a match around his big spots before he’s really ready for the big time, but that’s just my opinion.
Final Rating: **
Backstage, Rich Brennan attempts to interview Blake & Murphy, who are discussing the challenge made by the American Alphas earlier, but gets cut off by Alexa Bliss, who emasculates both him and her charges Stephanie McMahon-style. It’s not abundantly clear whether Blake & Murphy accept the challenge because Bliss is busy threatening to slap Bayley around later.
Baron Corbin vs. Rich Swann
WWE/NXT seem intent on pushing Corbin, most probably because of his size, but I’m not buying it. Regular chants of “Baron’s going to bore you,” and the very English “you’re shit and you know you are,” have greeted most of his matches since they stopped being ten-second squashes. I don’t necessarily want to just agree with whatever the Florida crowd chant for, but with Corbin I’m not seeing any evidence to the contrary. Swann is another indy favourite, and he’s well over! He also appears to be wearing P-Wings straight out of Super Mario Bros. 3 on his trunks. To be fair, he does seem to be able to fly; well, flip at least, as exemplified by deliberately 360-ing a back drop so as to land on his face. Swann gets a lot more offence, and indeed a lot more time, than Corbin’s opponents are used to, but he still can’t make Baron look exciting. As expected, the End of Days finishes. The poor rating is purely on Corbin.
Final Rating: *
Blimey, Rich Brennan’s been busy today. He gets a word with Bayley and Carmella ahead of their tag team match against Alexa Bliss and Emma tonight. Bayley and Carmella are, of course, set to face off for Bayley’s NXT Women’s Championship after Carmella (perhaps surprisingly) won last week’s battle royal. At least it’s not Eva Marie. NXT Tag Team Champions, Dash & Dawson, interrupt to get in Carmella’s face.
Emma & Alexa Bliss vs. Carmella & Bayley
I’m digging the sunglasses and short black gloves look that Emma has going on these days, though she’s sans black lipstick this week. As usual, she’s accompanied to the ring by the muscle-gnome, Dana Brooke. There’s tension on the heel team stemming from Emma eliminating Alexa from the battle royal last week. They are on the same page, however, when they attack Bayley before the bell, injuring her ribs. The show is obviously pushing it by trying to squeeze five matches into a total run time of just over fifty-six minutes, so they go straight into the heat, capitalizing on Bayley’s injury, while Dana screeches insults. Corey Graves picks up on her use of a double negative – “I’ve not done nothing” – and admonishes her on air for it. I usually find Graves to be a dubious announcer and somewhat of a bully, but I’m all for him being a grammar Nazi. Carmella eventually gets the hot tag and makes Alexa Bliss tap out almost instantaneously with a variation on a head scissors. Abrupt, but I guess it furthers the storyline concerning the face team: the champion is weakened, while the challenger is on a hot streak.
Final Rating: **
Alex Reyes gives Brennan a break and takes the interview with Finn Bálor. The champ is all for a match with Apollo Crews and has even sought its approval through the correct channels, NXT’s General Manager, William Regal. When Bálor gets to the main roster, he’ll be able to just book himself in matches on the fly. That’s pretty much what they all do.
Samoa Joe vs. Johnny Gargano
Joe’s entrance theme is simply awesome. I also prefer his introduction now that the Samoa isn’t overdone – in TNA it was, “from the isle of Samoa, The Samoan Submission Machine, Samoa Joe.” Where’s he from again, Tonga? Both men have clashing black and yellow tights. Sometimes, small details like that can irk me. I mean, OK, it’s not as though we won’t be able to distinguish the competitors from one another, but still. They seem to have good chemistry with each other, and they play it off as the plucky underdog up against the big dog in the yard. Joe looks vicious tonight (he looks vicious most nights!) with his strikes and chops. Unfortunately, the match doesn’t get too much time to develop, and like most of the other matches tonight ends abruptly when Joe locks in the Coquina Clutch. Shame really, as this match might’ve been much better if given an extra five or six minutes.
Final Rating: **
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Nobody stood out, but I’ll plump for Rich Swann.
Least Entertaining: Baron Corbin.
Match of the Night: Three of them hit two snowflakes, but out of those three I will say that Samoa Joe vs. Johnny Gargano edges it, purely because it was smoother than the others.
Summary: This show was not as bad as the rating might suggest. The (almost an) hour flew by fairly quickly, but I venture to guess that it will be forgotten just as quickly, too. There were five matches crammed in to the show, and as a result none really had time to develop into anything better than average. On the other hand, the show did achieve what it set to do, which was showcase the top three contenders for the NXT Championship, find a short programme for the champion while he awaits his challenger, and further the storyline in the women’s division. I’m not sure they needed to have all three challengers go over enhanced jobbers in the same short show, though. Looking on the bright side, at least each match didn’t feature a run in from the other two guys, as would inevitably happen on RAW. So, far from the best that NXT has had to offer since its inception, but I’ve no doubt that things will pick up again soon.
Tonight’s RAW is the go-home show before Sunday’s Royal Rumble. With the recent stipulation that World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns must defend his title in the Rumble match itself, the forthcoming pay-per-view is, on paper, the biggest Rumble since 1992, when the match was contested for vacant Heavyweight Championship. Potentially, however, this genuinely good piece of storyline booking could easily be marred by a lack of star power. With the likes of John Cena, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, and Daniel Bryan highly unlikely to be cleared to compete in time, WWE has so far suggested a mostly jobberific field of contestants. Furthermore, Paul Heyman spent a good part of last week’s show trying to weasel Brock Lesnar out of the Rumble match and straight into the main event at WrestleMania, so I’m half-expecting a swerve concerning his appearance on Sunday. Let’s see what unfolds tonight. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL, and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: Roman Reigns
At least it’s not the authority. We get a flashback from last week’s RAW, where Roman was placed in a one vs. all match (a phrase which will be run into the ground tonight) to highlight how the odds are stacked against him on Sunday. Brock Lesnar ended up standing tall last week, delivering an F5 to the champ, and so Reigns is here to call out the beast. Instead, he gets Chris Jericho, who is wearing a suit jacket without a shirt, instantly meaning that he cannot – must not – be taken seriously. Cole points out how experienced Jericho is in Rumble matches, which only highlights how depleted the roster is at the moment. After running through some of his catchphrases, Jericho offers Reigns a spot on the Highlight Reel alongside Lesnar tonight, suggesting that Reigns, Lesnar, and himself are the three favourites heading into the pay-per-view. Reigns accepts – believe that! Only, it doesn’t end at that, for The League of Nations enter the stage, with all but King Barrett taking a turn to state why they should be on the Highlight Reel (Alberto Del Rio mentions something about rice on the Caucasian). Jericho burns Sheamus by retorting, “I don’t want to have you on the show because I’m trying to keep things entertaining, but why don’t I have your Mohawk on the show so it can tell me why it makes you look so stupid.” Ha! Finally, an impromptu match between Roman Reigns and Rusev is booked by no-one in a position of booking authority, while Jericho inserts himself as the special guest referee.
Roman Reigns vs. Rusev
Despite being the referee, Y2J cannot save us from a punch-kick-chinlock match to kick off the show, nor can he keep his eye on all three of Rusev’s stable mates on the outside. The match, by the way, is largely background noise to the commentators discussing the logistics and statistics of the Rumble match, which in some way contradicts the supposed unpredictability of the stipulation and luck of the draw. Del Rio and Barrett distract Jericho on the apron, while Sheamus pulls Reigns to the outside and sends him crashing into the barricades on the other side of the ring. That’s enough for the man in the stripes (he commandeered Mike Chioda’s shirt during the commercial), and it leads to all three of the LoN entourage being sent to the back, which is then punctuated by Jericho executing the world’s crappest cartwheel. I’ve fallen over with more grace than that. A Superman Punch and a spear send Reigns into Sunday looking strong.
Final Rating: *1/2
Backstage, Jericho is looking particularly smug with himself, but here comes Stephanie McMahon to no doubt humiliate and emancipate him. She actually likes his booking of Reigns alongside Lesnar on the Highlight Reel, but still she admonishes him for doing it anyway. She reminds him that RAW is no longer Jericho and it is not 1999. It sure isn’t.
Brie Bella vs. Natalya
“Look who’s back,” states Byron of Nattie. I didn’t know she was gone. Paige, presumably face again, accompanies Natalya to the ring. It’s all done to promote the new season premiere of Total Divas, which I certainly won’t be tuning in for. Apparently, Paige has some issues with Alicia Fox, or ‘Foxy’. I certainly hope that feud doesn’t spill over onto the main roster shows – oh wait, it has done before the episode of Total Divas has even aired. In the match, Brie tries to channel her infinitely more talented husband with a knee to the face and a succession of kicks. “Brie Mode!” she wails. What is Brie Mode? I can only assume that it refers to eating copious amounts of rich, creamy cheese. Brie’s bragging bites her on the ass, as she gets caught in the sharpshooter and taps instantly.
Final Rating: ½*
The Wyatt Family vs. The Dudley Boyz & Ryback
First of all we get a recap of the tables match between The Dudleys and Erick Rowan and Luke Harper on Smackdown! The Dudleys won that match, but typical even-steven booking kicked in immediately after when the whole Wyatt clan decimated the victors post-match. Cole then reminds us that The Wyatts have issues with Ryback. Frankly, I would rather forget the uninspiring, tedious, and ill-suited rivalry between Ryback and Bray Wyatt in 2015. The worst Wyatt, which is Braun Strowman (and not Rowan), sits this six-man out. Luke Harper impresses me instantly with a big boot to Bubba’s face in the opening exchanges before the match settles down and D’Von takes the heat. Cole, the insipid gimboid, runs off his Fifty Shades of Former Wrestlers spiel – “shades of Bruiser Brody, shades of Sgt. Slaughter,” ad inifinitum. Ryback eventually gets the hot tag, and I am using hot in the absolute loosest sense of the word here, possibly even in the opposite sense, for nobody cares. Bubba returns the big boot favour to Harper, but shenanigans involving Strowman on the outside cause sufficient distraction for Harper to respond with the discus clothesline for the victory, much to the delight of my inner Harper mark.
Final Rating: *1/2
Cole announces that later tonight we will find out who will enter the Royal Rumble at number one. Personally, unless it is integral to the plot to know who enters at a given position, I would rather leave it to surprise on the night. Possible spoiler alert: it will almost certainly be Roman Reigns.
Big Show vs. Heath Slater
Slater is flanked by the rest of his newly-formed Social Outcasts stable. It has been implied that these goofs, along with a plethora of other ham and eggers, will be taking up valuable Rumble slots. The only saving grace might be that WWE has form when it comes to pulling various mid-carders from Rumble card on the day of the event. This needs to happen on Sunday. I’m not holding out too much hope for Bullet Club being on the show, but at the very least they need to throw in a few of the NXT stars (Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, and Sami Zayn spring to mind). The Social Outcasts would be best served in a role where only one of them gets a Rumble slot and they have to fight it out, or even have them do a few run-ins a la Kaientai in 2000. As for the match, Show knocks Slater out and then takes out the rest of his crew for good measure, hopefully eliminating them early.
Final Rating: N/R
Backstage, an irate League of Nations sans Rusev are joined by Steph. She gets in their ears about how Jericho screwed them earlier. I think this is leading to a run-in on the Highlight Reel later, which may not end well if Brock has something to say about it, which he most likely will.
Royal Rumble Number One Slot Draw:
Vince McMahon and Stephanie host. After Steph runs of a list of possibilities, including the suggestion that it might be a new face (A.J. Styles? Shinsuke Nakamura? Probably not), Vince cuts right to what most people probably know anyway: it could be Roman Reigns. He points out that the chances of it being Reigns are about the same as any of the audience winning the Powerball. I would expect that the chances of winning the Powerball are significantly higher than one in thirty. What do you know? It’s Reigns (the number one entrant, not the Powerball winner). We have a second and third re-draw, proving that it was rigged anyway. Why didn’t McMahon, in all his higher power, just forcibly put Reigns as the number one entrant rather than making us endure this palaver? Also, why didn’t Reigns come out and sock McMahon in the jaw?
Becky Lynch vs. Tamina
Charlotte and Ric Flair take a ringside seat for this bout, with Becky having recently challenged Charlotte for her Diva’s Championship at the Rumble. Speaking of Naitch, I genuinely think he should be one of the surprise entrants in the Rumble, even if he is really old and looks like a massive potato. After all, he is the only person to date to win a championship in a Rumble match, so logic dictates that he should be given an opportunity to defend his record. I’m sure he’d be game for it.
Naomi accompanies her Team B.A.D. sister, but where in the blue hell is Sasha Banks???!!! Without Sasha, they’re just a bad team. Becky heads out in a wacky Aztec-themed coat; I wish WWE would stop forcing Becky to be wacky and just let her get on with the Steampunk image and actually being a decent wrestler. Becky shows too much ass for Tamina in the early goings. She wants to be looking strong in this one, really, considering that she is trying to position herself as a viable contender for Charlotte’s title. Fortunately, she rallies and wins via the Disarm-Her. The match was a dud, but Becky cuts a post-match promo demanding an answer from Charlotte. The Flair heiress dismisses her claim, as she has already beaten her, so Becky resorts to paraphrasing Flair’s “limousine riding . . .” catchphrase (impressively, I might add), which riles old Naitch right up and he accepts the match on behalf of his daughter, much to Charlotte’s chagrin. Surprisingly, he doesn’t elbow drop his jacket. Hopefully that means he is saving energy for Sunday!
Final Rating: DUD
Dean Ambrose & Kalisto vs. Alberto Del Rio & Sheamus
Odd-pairing though Ambrose and Kalisto may be, this match sort of serves a purpose that combines multiple angles and two championship matches at the Royal Rumble. Kalisto has recently held the United States Championship for a cup of coffee, having won and lost it from Del Rio in the blink of an eye. Dean, meanwhile, has had recent bad blood (and bad matches, it has to be said) with Sheamus, but is also currently embroiled in a blood-feud with Kevin Owens, who is conveniently a guest commentator for the match. Ambrose and Owens will square off in a last-man standing match for the Intercontinental Championship on Sunday, which leads me to conclude that they won’t be pulling double duty, thus depleting the star power of the Rumble even further. That’s a shame, especially as I could see Dean Ambrose being positioned similar to how Roddy Piper was in 1992. King Barrett is also at ringside, for the record.
Ambrose and Kalisto actually put together a couple of decent tandem moves, which mostly involve Ambrose propelling his smaller partner into his opponents. Otherwise, it’s standard RAW tag team fare. Owens is one of the better guest commentators of recent weeks – and there has been a lot of them – and spends the time showing why he is one of the best natural heels in the company. He also belittles Saxton, which is fair game in my estimation. Naturally, he gets involved in the match, distracting Ambrose on the outside, while Sheamus, having just kicked out of Salida de Sol, finishes with the Brogue Kick. Cole and Saxton blame Owens’s interference for Kalisto’s loss, but it really had nothing to do with it.
Final Rating: **
We get a recap from last week, where Chris Jericho, the rotter, bounder, and cad that he is, deliberately broke Xavier Woods’s trombone. The video segues to New Day holding a memorial service for the departed Francesca the Trombone. Big E. leads the service by quoting “great American poet, Jay-Z.” These guys are a hoot.
A video package relays all the statistics and records of the Royal Rumble, as one would usually expect around this time. This year’s montage also includes two rather tentative statistics concerning this year’s championship elimination bout: 1) there are fifteen former champions on the roster – not confirmed in the match, mind; 2) there are potentially six former winners who could feature. Randy Orton appears on this video, so expect his “surprise” return.
Big E. vs. Jay Uso
This match is what Francesca would’ve wanted, right after the defiling of Chris Jericho’s bathroom. I miss Francesca. Big E. should, in theory, have the advantage here, as he started his WWE career as a singles wrestler and is a former Intercontinental and NXT champion. Naturally, he takes a shoeing from his tag-team specialist opponent. Interference from Xavier Woods costs Uso, though, and Big E. finishes with the Big Ending. The two teams will contest the Tag Team Championships at the Rumble, so in WWE booking world, the Usos would now be favourites to win. I really hope that New Day can keep the belts for the foreseeable future, but WWE have been hot on the Usos for a while now and their popularity has been confirmed by the WWE Universe via their ludicrous award of the Tag Team of the Year Slammy.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, Titus O’Neil, Mark Henry, and R-Truth discuss their chances of winning the Rumble (all zero). It’s no coincidence that all three men are black athletes, as WWE ran a #keepthedreamalive video at the start of the program, referencing the Civil Rights work of Martin Luther King, which is then brought up again in this segment. Newcastle white man, Neville, then throws his hand in, which I guess is supposed to be a little joke.
Titus O’Neill, Mark Henry, R-Truth & Neville vs. Stardust, The Ascension & Tyler Breeze
If the joke of the previous segment is that Neville is the odd man out, then on the opposite team it is Tyler Breeze who looks completely out of sync with his wacko teammates. Cole points out that all eight of these men are scheduled to be in the Royal Rumble; see, this is what I meant about it being full of jobbers – I’m looking at you in particular, Ascension. Breeze and Neville deserve better than this, and in fact, were it not for the obvious gimmick of putting Reigns in at number one, both guys could be ideal candidates for the first two spots in the match. Unfortunately, this match shows how much Tyler’s star has fallen since his call-up to the main roster, as he jobs to the Red Arrow. Surely Konnor or Viktor could have taken the fall for this one?
Final Rating: ¾*
Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel
For all he reiterates it, I still don’t buy Jericho’s claim as a top three candidate for the Rumble win in 2016. Paul Heyman makes his way to the ring alone, leaving Jericho to speculate as to whether Brock is even here. “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know that there will be an F5 touching down tonight in Columbus, Ohio,” he articulates in retort. Y2J continues to goad Heyman by suggesting that he might be worried that Lesnar will be a target for many on Sunday. He also proposes a what-if scenario where it comes down to Jericho and Lesnar and Jericho wins. I call that an unlikely scenario. Heyman’s response is masterful as always, putting his client (and vicariously the Network) over as far back as 2015’s WrestleMania, where, he points out, Brock was not pinned for the title, and then goes on to highlight Lesnar’s legitimate drawing power. He further assures us all that Brock will turn the Rumble into Suplex City, which brings out the beast to ringside. He can’t even finish his entrance, though, before he is interrupted by Roman Reigns. There are no words, just a spear. The League of Nations then do the predicable run-in, but Lesnar recovers and sends them all to Suplex City early, only to subsequently eat another spear from Reigns. The lights then go off, signaling the presence of the Wyatt’s. Again, there is no discussion, just a discus clothesline from Harper to Reigns, before a Wyatt assault takes out both of the top two contenders (another impressive big boot from Harper to Lesnar, too) and leaves Bray and his band of men standing tall in the ring afterwards. Obviously this won’t happen, especially now that they have been booked strong in the go-home show, but WWE could do a lot worse than put the belt on Bray Wyatt (or – dare I dream? – Luke Harper).
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Vilify me if you must, but this one goes out to Luke Harper. Nobody was particularly stand-out on this show, but he looked impressive in his match and in the closing segment.
Least Entertaining: Tamina.
Quote of the Night: Jericho’s putdown of Sheamus just edges out Heyman’s F5 forecast.
Match of the Night: I suppose it has to be Ambrose & Kalisto vs. Del Rio & Sheamus.
Summary: As go-home shows for the most important Royal Rumble pay-per-view in over twenty years goes, this one was rather lackluster to say the least. I suppose that all necessary angles were furthered to the point where the undercard is set up and the main competitors for the Rumble are showcased, but there was a severe lack of quality in terms of the matches, plus most of the Rumble-related booking was predictable – did anyone not see Reigns being the number one? We finished with a decent Highlight Reel segment, but the whole show served to highlight the real problem that WWE faces at the moment: a lack of star power in their roster. Part of this problem is unfortunate injuries at key times, but part of it is their own doing with their 50/50 booking system that fails to truly make anyone a star. If WWE can get a good selection of surprise entrants/returning superstars, some decent NXT talent, and maybe some of Bullet Club in the Rumble, then they might still be able to pull off a decent, memorable show; if it’s just an endless succession of jobbers saying goodbye, then it might fall as flat as the previous two.
This week's SmackDown! features a “triple main event” as The Dudley Boyz take on The Wyatt Family in a Tables Match, Kalisto defends his newly-won United States Championship against Alberto Del Rio, and Dean Ambrose teams with Neville to take on Kevin Owens & Sheamus.
Commentators: Mauro Ranallo, Jerry Lawler, ands Byron Saxton
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Renee Young is waiting outside of the Cajundome as Dean Ambrose has apparently asked for some time. A car speeds and screeches to a halt, with Ambrose spilling out. He tells Young that he wants to say what he needs to say face-to-face and heads inside the arena as the camera follows. Ambrose has an announcement to make and asks for a drumroll, which he gets much to his surprise but stops and asks Kevin Owens to come out first. Owens doesn't so he goes forward with the announcement, drumroll back on: he is challenging Owens to a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble. Sheamus interrupts the proceedings much to Ambrose's annoyance and says he doesn't like starting fights he doesn't get to finish, referencing their brawl on RAW a few nights prior, and heads to the ring. Ambrose is all about it but then finally Kevin Owens makes his way out. Owens accepts the Royal Rumble challenge then he and Sheamus go to double team Ambrose but out comes Neville to even the odds and scare the heels away. I feel like I've seen this opening on SmackDown! a billion times before, I half-expected Teddy Long to come out, but I enjoyed Ambrose's drumroll schtick so I was entertained well enough. Sometimes it doesn't take a lot.
The Dudley Boyz vs. Luke Harper & Erick Rowan
The Wyatt Family gets the ECW “lights out” entrance and attack the Dudleys from behind. Braun Strowman is shown at ringside, Bray Wyatt is apparently sitting this one out; they're in Layfette so maybe he just wanted to get some crawfish instead. The Wyatt Family send Devon to the floor and double team Bubba until Rowan is sent out to the floor. The Dudleys 'WASSUP' Harper then Bubba gets the crowd to call for a table...and then chant for tables...and then learn proper table etiquette. I made the last one up sadly, WWE doesn't care about salad forks. They set the table up in the ring but Harper drops Devon with a superkick and Rowan drops Bubba with a standing heel kick and the heels are in control as we go to commercial. Back from break The Wyatt Family try to double suplex Devon through the table in the ring but Bubba moves it so he hits canvas instead. The Dudleys hit an inverted 3D on Harper. Strowman gets involved by tossing a kendo stick in the ring but Bubba is the first to grab it and he tees off on Rowan. Strowman charges into the ring but goes shoulder-first into the steel post while Rowan charges at Bubba on the floor and eats nothing but steel steps. Devon dazes Harper on the apron and Bubba pushes him off the steps and through the table for the victory. Pretty tame for a tables match but that's WWE for you nowadays, and the finish was less than emphatic. Reminded me of when Sheamus won the WWE Championship by shoving John Cena off the turnbuckles. The feud that won't die continues. (5:06 shown)
Final Rating: *1/2
After the match The Wyatt Family set up two tables on the floor and double chokeslam Bubba through them from the announce table. Mauro Ranallo is still in-tact, thankfully.
JoJo is standing by with new United States Champion Kalisto. Kalisto talks about how inspirational the success of Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio are to him and he vows to stay United States Champion. Man I hope so.
Goldust, Zack Ryder, Damien Sandow & Jack Swagger vs. The Social Outcasts
Damien Sandow lives...and he's in pink again! I thought the guy vanished into the ether of occasionally being on Xavier Woods' YouTube channel. He starts the match with Slater and gets the upper hand, forcing Slater to exit the ring in frustration. Dallas tells him not to get down and to do a lap and The Social Outcasts attempt to do a victory lap around the ring but are stopped by the opposing team. Why this doesn't make Goldust and crew the biggest heels on the planet I'll never know. The Outcasts work over Goldust for awhile until Goldust gets in a powerslam on Rose and tags out to Swagger. Swagger works over Dallas for a bit and slaps on the Ankle Lock to no avail. Ryder tags in and gets his missile dropkick and Broski Boot spots in. Dallas awkwardly floats over Ryder in the corner then hits the Bo-Dog, using the back of Slater's head as a catapult, for the 1...2...3! Way too short for anything deep but I'm loving both The Social Outcasts and the fact we got to see some underutilized guys get some screen time. Mostly I'm just happy to see Sandow again though if I start thinking about the many ways WWE has dropped the ball on him over the years I'm going to go from happy to angry in short order. (3:40)
Final Rating: **
Ranallo and crew give us a brief update on John Cena's shoulder surgery. Cena has vowed to be back in no time and started rehab almost immediately after being discharged. Cena is inhuman.
Renee Young catches up with Alberto Del Rio, who vows to crush the “little mosquito” Kalisto and reclaim his United States Championship. Man I hope not.
WWE United States Championship
Kalisto (c) vs. Alberto Del Rio
Del Rio is looking crazy in-shape. Too bad that doesn't make up for the lackluster stuff he's been doing since returning to WWE. Del Rio is all offense right away, fighting off Kalisto's attempts at offense with relative ease as Lawler lays into Kalisto on commentary, making fun of him for being short. Lawler is trying to do heel stuff again which is cool but it doesn't really seem like his heart is all that into it. Del Rio hits an armbreaker from the middle turnbuckle on Kalisto's left arm, giving him a limb to zero in on. Kalisto manages a crossbody but then gets sent shoulder-first into the steel post and Del Rio is back in control as we go to commercial.
Del Rio continues to lay waste to Kalisto's left arm as King Barrett materializes out of nowhere at ringisde. Oh no, oh no. Del Rio traps Kalisto in the Tree of Woe and climbs the buckles but Kalisto takes him down with a hurricanrana. However once again his offense is short-lived and Del Rio dodges a corkscrew and takes Kalisto's head off with a superkick for a very close two-count. Kalisto manages to hit the corkscrew the second time around and plants Del Rio's head into the canvas with a rana but still can't get the pinfall. Kalisto goes for the Salina Del Sol but Barrett distracts him and Del Rio traps him in the Cross Armbreaker instead, wrenching back until a rope break. Kalisto sends Del Rio to the floor but misses a suicida and lands on his shoulder after Barrett pulls Del Rio out of the way. Oh no. Back in the ring Del Rio slaps on the Cross Armbreaker once more and Kalisto immediately taps, giving Del Rio his second reign as United States Champion.
I've got a lot of emotions about this. The match itself was pretty damn good and fun to watch but that finish...ugh. Kalisto just won the championship like three days ago, why cut him off so quickly? Barrett being there to be the cause of the loss is all well and good but it still takes a lot of wind out of the sails of Kalisto. Unless he's going to emphatically overcome the odds at Royal Rumble or something this was a dumb move. A dumb, dumb move. (11:33 shown)
Final Rating: ***
Renee Young is standing by with Becky Lynch. They watch footage of Charlotte attacking her last week on SmackDown! As well as Lynch's counterattack on RAW then Lynch challenges Charlotte for the Divas Championship at Royal Rumble. Nice to see Lynch getting something worthwhile to do after being the mute during that whole 'Diva's Revolution' debacle last year.
Becky Lynch vs. Brie Bella
Alicia Fox is in the corner of Brie. This match exists because Brie was supposed to face Charlotte on RAW before Lynch attacked her, so she wants revenge. I dig the continuity. Brie has the early advantage until Lynch catches a kick and sends her crashing face-first into the middle turnbuckle. Lynch lays into Brie with clotheslines and an Exploder Suplex, and slaps on the Dis-Arm-Her for the tapout victory. A quick squash to keep Lynch's momentum going, nothing more and nothing less. Way to stand by and let your friend lose, Alicia Fox. (2:34)
Final Rating: N/R
Dean Ambrose & Neville vs. Kevin Owens & Sheamus
Owens has no desire to really team with Sheamus and it's beautiful; first he brushed him off during the opening show promo and now he pokes at Sheamus' forehead scar from Monday. Beautiful. Neville and Ambrose are in control in the early moments until Ambrose loses his cool and hits a slingshot splash on Owens on the floor. This allows Sheamus to attack from behind and we go to a commercial break. Back live Owens works over Ambrose a bit then tags in Sheamus so he can get his licks in. Owens tags back in and blocks a Tornado DDT but falls victim to a swinging neckbreaker instead. Neville gets the tag and hits a series of spin kicks and a step-up enzuigiri on Owens. Sheamus tags in and almost falls victim to a Shooting Star Press but he rolls out of the way. Neville rolls through the attempt right into a cheap shot from Owens. Owens rules. The heels work over Neville for a bit until Neville manages a German suplex on Owens. Ambrose gets the hot tag as Sheamus tags in as well but it's the former who is all offense with a series of chops and jabs and a stage dive elbow followed by a pinfall attempt which Owens breaks up. Ambrose tries his rebound lariat but Owens kicks him in the head and Sheamus connects with White Noise for only a two-count. Ambrose is more successful the second time with the rebound lariat on Owens and goes for Dirty Deeds but Owens bails to the floor. Ambrose hits him with a suicida but Sheamus comes from behind and tosses him repeatedly into the steel steps. Owens rips the top off the announce table and drops it on Ambrose and the bell rings. Formulaic wheel-spinning tag team match but it was fun for what it was. Owens if off the charts great as a character, his mannerisms and reactions alone are worth checking out. (9:19 shown)
Final Rating: **1/2
Owens wants to put Ambrose through the announce table after the match but Neville saves him via running splash to both heels. Ambrose throws Owens back into the ring and hits Dirty Deeds then lets a pleading Neville finish him off with the Red Arrow as the faces stand tall to end the episode.
THE SMACKDOWN RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Hard toss-up between Kevin Owens and The Social Outcasts. Owens is next-level when it comes to his character work and even on a B-show designed to spin wheels instead of move storylines he did some fun stuff in the main event as well as in his interactions with his tag team partner for the night Sheamus. The Social Outcasts were fun on this show as well and while the joke will likely run thin soon enough I'm happy to see them whenever they show up.
Least Entertaining: The Dudley Boyz. I was over their schtick years over and they do nothing for me, especially when they win Tables Matches by pushing someone. I really hate to admit this but Bubba Ray was better off TNA; sure the nostalgia run is probably fun and good for the bank account but he was infinitely better as a performer and had more to chew on in TNA.
Match of the Night: Kalisto Vs. Alberto Del Rio, bar the finish.
Summary: A totally harmless and often times entertaining episode of SmackDown! this week. The show just blew by and there was nothing inherently offensive plus there was two solid worthwhile matches to boot (Kalisto/Del Rio, Ambrose/Neville Vs. Owens/Sheamus). Del Rio winning the United States Championship back that quickly is a bummer though and something that shouldn't have happened unless, like I stated earlier, this is part of the endgame of Kalisto getting an emphatic victory and the championship back. Couple that with just how amazing Ranallo is on commentary and you've got a worthwhile show to check out, despite it mostly spinning plates instead of pushing anything along.
To say that NXT had a tremendous 2015 is a gross understatement; arguably the most interesting of the WWE brands, the developmental wing turned super indie sold out shows across the United States as well as the United Kingdom and presented what I consider to be the best WWE event of 2015, TakeOver: Brooklyn, during SummerSlam weekend. With so much buzz, so much hype, and most importantly so much goodwill heading into the new year it's going to be interesting to see where NXT goes.
Commentators: Tom Phillips and Corey Graves
Promo Time: Sami Zayn
The first NXT of 2016 starts off in style as GM William Regal makes his triumphant return following neck surgery. He thanks the fans for a great 2015 then announces that the main event tonight will be a battle royal to decide the #1 contender to Bayley's NXT Women's Championship. Regal then proudly introduces Sami Zayn, making his return to Full Sail for the first time since returning from his injury last month.
Zayn soaks in the adulation and plays to the crowd a bit, who obviously eat it up because it's the Full Sail crowd and they love nothing more than being reminded that people love them. Zayn announces his intent to become the first ever two-time NXT Championship which causes Samoa Joe to interrupt. Joe says he appreciates Zayn's ambition but doesn't understand by Zayn thinks he deserves a shot at the championship considering the last time Zayn even had a shot he had to come and save him (NXT TakeOver: Rival). Baron Corbin of all people jumps into the fray and says that since Zayn's been injured and Joe came up short in his bid for the championship at NXT TakeOver: London while he won his match that he's somehow the uncrowned NXT Champion. I don't follow the logic, but okay. Joe reminds Corbin that he choked him out at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn and tells Zayn to know his place before leaving the ring. Corbin attacks Zayn from behind but Zayn Helluva Kicks him right out of the ring. Joe teases jumping back in but decides not to and Zayn stands tall. Really good opening segment, with a great return promo from Zayn and an immediate storyline to start the new year. Not entirely sure Corbin deserves to be in the third spot but hey somebody's gotta get pinned when these three inevitably meet, right?
We go backstage where Rich Brennan is standing by with NXT Women's Champion Bayley. Bayley puts over how tough Nia Jax was last month at NXT TakeOver: London then says she's looking forward to seeing who wins the #1 contendership battle royal, saying she may even hug the winner. That's nice. I wish Brock Lesnar would say stuff like that.
A video package plays highlighting the winners of the first-ever NXT Year End Awards. Winners are as follows: NXT Champion Finn Bálor (Male & Overall Competitor of the Year), Bayley (Female Competitor, not 'Diva', of the Year), Bayley Vs. Sasha Banks from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (Match of the Year), and Enzo Amore & Big Cass (Tag Team of the Year). Each winner says a little something and takes a picture with Regal and Triple H. Triple H is the proudest papa outside of Papa Briscoe.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Danny Burch
Hey look, a match! Ciampa isn't actually signed to NXT so he's just sorta hanging out and wrestling randomly. Burch is looking as mean as ever, almost Dynamite Kid-like. We start with some chain wrestling and then Burch takes over for a bit following a second-rope front-facing missile dropkick. Ciampa eventually bounces back with a hanging reverse STO. Burch goes for a backslide but Ciampa slides through and locks in a bridging Fujiwara Armbar for the tapout victory. Decent stuff here but I'm not really sure what to expect from Ciampa overall since he's not really an NXT guy. I'm not gonna turn my nose at him randomly appearing though. (3:42)
Final Rating: **
Enzo Amore & Big Cass cut a backstage promo on NXT Tag Team Champions Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder, saying they found out how boneless they were at NXT TakeOver: London when they hid behind Carmella. Personally I find that move brilliant, but hey that's just me. Big Cass promises to soon conclude their unfinished business with the champs.
Billie Kay, Deonna Purrazzo, and Emma all promise victory in the battle royal tonight. Purrazzo has the most Italian name I've ever heard in my life.
Cut to William Regal's office, where the GM announces that Zayn, Corbin, and Joe will fight it out for a shot at the NXT Championship in two weeks time. Nice.
Dash & Dawson vs. The Ascension
The NXT Tag Team Championships are not on the line for this one. The Ascension get a loud ovation from the Full Sail crowd due to their history in the territory (longest-reigning Tag Team Champions and all that). Nice to know someone cares about The Ascension...well besides Stardust anyway. Dash shoves Viktor to start and Viktor peppers him in the corner with chops and European uppercuts. Soon enough the tag team champions take over with constant tags and abuse towards the smaller of the two Ascension members. Viktor manages to take Wilder down with an STO and makes the hot tag to Konnor, who 'YAH's his way through some jabs as the crowd chants along. His schtick is weirdly reminiscent of Dusty's dancing Bionic Elbow barrage. Konnor whips Dawson into Wilder which apparently counts as a tag and the champs finish Konnor with the Shatter Machine for the 1,2,3. Seeing The Ascension work babyface was strange given their main roster placement but it made sense given Full Sail's apparent love of the duo. I like the idea of the former dominant team of NXT coming in to job for the new hotness, which in this case is Dash & Dawson. The current tag team champions are a definite step up from Blake & Murphy in the heel team department. (4:16)
Final Rating: **
We go backstage where Regal is with a trainer, Nia Jax and Eva Marie. The trainer says that Jax will not be able to compete in the battle royal tonight due to injuries suffered at NXT TakeOver: London which Marie celebrates behind her friend's back. Luckily for Marie no one in the WWE Universe actually watches the weekly TV shows so Jax probably won't find out about that.
Carmella, Peyton Royce, and Alexa Bliss all cut brief promos proclaiming victory in the battle royal.
Elias Samson vs. Corey Hollis
Samson debuted his new 'Drifter' gimmick last month in England and for me at least it comes off super lame. Plus I thought Corbin cornered the market on the 'silent, brooding loner' gimmick already. The match is a total squash as Samson plays with his food for a bit before dispatching the tiny Hollis with a spinning neckbreaker. Did what it needed to do I guess. (2:22)
Final Rating: N/R
After the match Samson gets on the mic and says what he is is what NXT needs. For some reason I doubt that. Samson carries around an acoustic guitar so you know one day that's gonna come into play Jeff Jarrett-style. Can't wait, I loves me a good guitar shot.
Alex Reyes is backstage with NXT Champion Finn Bálor, who puts over Samoa Joe and their match at last month's NXT TakeOver: London. Bálor isn't concerned about who wins the number one contender's triple threat in two weeks because the NXT Championship is staying with him.
Cameron, Aliyah, Liv Morgan, and Asuka all boast heading into the battle royal. Aliyah mentions this is her NXT debut, Morgan does some weird hand signal thing because Jersey, and Asuka speaks in broken English but still comes off tougher than pretty much anyone on Earth except Haku. No one is tougher than Haku.
Battle Royal for a Shot at the NXT Women's Championship
Alexa Bliss, Emma, Carmella, Eva Marie, and Asuka get the TV entrances. Asuka comes out after Marie, who's wearing a baller Ric Flair robe, and shoulder shoves her as she makes her way to the ring. Asuka is the best. Bell rings and Asuka adds insult to injury by dropping Marie with a kick to the mush. Emma then goes after Asuka while the other ladies brawl and we go to commercial.
Back from break in time for Aliyah to be the first one eliminated. Purrazzo is out second courtesy of Cameron. Liv Morgan tries to power bomb Cameron shortly after but they fall over instead. But hey there's a spot to be done so they try it again and Bliss shoves them both out to the floor to the joy of the crowd. Carmella gets knocked out as well but she falls through the bottom rope so she's not eliminated. Bliss is taken out by Emma, Emma is taken out by Asuka, who is then double teamed by best friends Peyton Royce and Billie Kay. Asuka is a monster though and fights back, sending both to the apron. She eliminates both with a running Butt Butt (Iceman King Parsons would be proud) and think she's won but in comes Eva Marie who hasn't been around the whole match to toss her out. Marie plays to the crowd thinking she outsmarted everyone but Carmella, who was never eliminated, runs in and tosses her out for the victory. Your normal run of the mill battle royal with a surprising victor; Carmella is an interesting choice to go with for sure. I guess they're saving Bayley/Asuka for WrestleMania weekend. (8:02 shown)
Final Rating: *3/4
After the match Bayley runs down and hugs Carmella because they're friends. She made good on her promise, phew! Asuka is briefly shown smirking at them from the entrance ramp which is awesome, then we end the episode on Carmella celebrating some more in the ring.
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Asuka. Her aura and mannerisms are tremendous and give the women's division a much-needed ass kicker. I want to see her wreck everybody on the roster, men included.
Least Entertaining: The Women's Battle Royal. Outside of Asuka and the fun ending this was just your usual battle royal shenanigans which either work or don't. For me it didn't completely.
Match of the Night: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Danny Burch, if I really have to pick one.
Summary: With it being the first episode of the year I'm going to give NXT a pass for spending most of it building new storylines in lieu of any really standout match-ups. The opening segment was tremendous and did a great job reintroducing Sami Zayn back into the mix proper and while I'm still not entirely sold on Baron Corbin being tossed into the mix alongside Zayn and Joe I will give NXT props for putting someone new in the spotlight. The wrestling on the show was okay for what it was but it was nothing short of average down the line but we did get a surprising Women's Championship contender in Carmella so that's cool. I've never been the biggest NXT fan on the planet, at least when it comes to the weekly show, but this was a solid episode and it's got my interest piqued for at least a little while. I'll tell you right now though if Enzo Amore isn't champion by the end of the year I may just start pouting instead of reviewing.
Welcome to the SmackDown! we have all been waiting for. After over five years on the Syfy Network, WWE’s secondary show is moving to the big time sharing the USA Network with RAW. As we have seen in the past, WWE will often use a big move like this to repackage a show and make it an “A” show, at least for a short time. This time, we can only hope for it to be no different. We also have the first SmackDown! with world renowned Boxing, MMA and Wrestling play by play man Mauro Ranallo adding an instant dose of credibility to the show. Anyone who has heard him call the matches for New Japan on AXS should know this alone is worth tuning in. After all the big news surrounding WWE this week involving the NJPW talent acquisitions and the injury to John Cena blowing up the wrestling community, all eyes are on WWE and now is the time to strike. With the opportunity WWE has with this show, it was surprising to see the preview for SmackDown! being and Intercontinental Championship match with champion Dean Ambrose defending against Kevin Owens and a Diva’s Championship match with Charlotte defending against Becky Lynch. While there is never any reason to complain about a show with two title matches, I may have expected more from a show being the first of the year and a big network move. Regardless, we are sure to get some excitement out of tonight’s show. Mauro Ranallo, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Byron Saxton are on commentary.
Promo Time: John Cena
After we get the introduction of Mauro Ranallo saying “the boyhood dream has come true for yours truly”, John Cena hits the ring. Described as the “heart and soul of the WWE” Cena does his best to hype that SmackDown! is now on the USA Network and that there needs to be a United States Championship match tonight. It is just like any other Cena promo, except thankfully a lot shorter. He gives a big introduction to Alberto Del Rio, which is a little strange. Typically we would see the heel just hit the ring. Del Rio in his normal bad promo tone tells Cena he is trying to weasel his way to a title match he does not deserve. The crowd reaction to all of this is lackluster to say the least. Even with Cena publicly announcing his injury on Twitter, they are still not acknowledging it on television. Del Rio says he will fight, just not Cena, so Cena introduced Kalisto for the match. Cena doing the “Lucha Lucha” arms with Kalisto only makes me think would be one hell of a storyline for the shoulder injury.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto
Kalisto attacks Del Rio to kick off the match, and Del Rio quickly retreats to the outside to regroup as we head to commercial. Once again, we have the breakdown of flow coming in from the break as now Del Rio is in control in the ring. Kalisto is hung up in the ropes as Del Rio beats on him. Del Rio continues the assault getting Kalisto in the Tree of Woe. Del Rio goes for a shoulder charge and Kalisto lifts himself up and performs a seated senton off the top. Kalisto goes for a hurricanrana but is caught and powerbombed by Del Rio for the two count. Del Rio hits a DDT and heads outside to taunt Cena. They are still putting fuel on this feud even knowing this may be Cena’s last televised appearance for some time to come. This is what happens when your roster begins to look like Swiss cheese. After throwing Kalisto into the barricade outside, he gets him back in the ring to set up for the cross arm breaker. Del Rio still focusing his attention on Cena and described by Ranallo as “giving Kalisto valuable time” gets the arm-breaker reversed by Kalisto into a hurricanrana pinning combination for the win. Decent action and a great rub for Kalisto while Sin Cara is out. Having the last boost from Cena for the show was a good idea and gave a good match ending.
Final Rating: **
We have JoJo interviewing Becky Lynch backstage about her upcoming Diva’s Championship match. She refers to Charlotte as her “former best friend”, says there is no more explanation, just vindication and she will be taking the Diva’s title. Becky’s promo's definitely seemed better when they are one on one.
Miz:TV: Royal Rumble Edition
After the break, we are treated to a Royal Rumble edition of Miz TV, oh joy. Miz speaks briefly before The New Day hit the ring with Xavier Woods saying “not sorry for the interruption.” The New Day begin go off about Chris Jericho from their interaction on RAW, but soon into it, Dolph Ziggler hits the ring. Let me just say, Ziggler's hair should have a review all its own...woah. Goldust is out right behind Ziggler and Neville to follow. Neville just asks Miz to cancel the show and never speak again. R-Truth hits the ring in this parade of the rosters “B” list. Truth asks everyone to step aside as he is answering Del Rios U.S. open challenge. This gimmick may be the only thing Truth is good at anymore, but he does it spot on. He's told there is no open challenge, so he asks what the entry fee is for the Rumble. Miz tells him there is no entry fee but if he gives Truth a dollar, will he buy a clue? New Day finds this amusing. Truth attacks Miz as we head to commercial.
The Miz & New Day vs. Dolph Ziggler, Goldust, Neville and R-Truth
Back from the break and the brawl has turned into an eight-man tag match. This is a pretty standard tag match for SmackDown! with the only purpose being to get once again a bunch of guys in the ring that are going to be in the Royal Rumble Match. Lawler mentions that Neville “is the only guy who can see his ears without a mirror.” If this is a sign of Lawler becoming the heel, I welcome it greatly. My interest in this match is lost almost the moment it began. New Day performs the trombone backed whip into the corner, and Miz begins to dance. New Day look at him with blank stares. Woods gets Neville in a Cobra Clutch which Ranallo states “Sgt. Slaughter would be pleased by that move. He is already topping JBL with references that make sense. The match breaks down, and The Miz held by Goldust and Truth gets super kicked by Ziggler for the pin. Almost immediately after the bell, Ziggler hits Truth with a superkick and starts throwing everyone over the top rope for the “every man for themselves” reference at the Rumble. This match was a time filler and back Rumble promo.
Final Rating: *
Charlotte and Ric Flair are backstage for an interview. Ric described Charlotte as like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan with everyone trying to leech off of her. Quickly Charlotte’s music hits and they head to the ring.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Becky Lynch
“Former best friends turned bitter enemies going to battle for the Diva’s Championship,” says Ranallo. Whether it is the way he uses the words or his voice in general, this guy is already making everything sound better on this show. Charlotte gets a decent amount of boos for her entrance showing the heel turn is beginning to take. Ranallo also mentions that he use to call Becky’s matches in his native British Columbia when she was 18, but Lawler said she is in the WWE now and that's all that matters. I’m sure Vince loved that one. Also some more heelish dialogue from Lawler. The beginning of this match has some good back and forth action with it not taking long for Ric to get involved. Becky hit Charlotte with a springboard sidekick to the floor, and as Becky went after her, Ric stood between them. Charlotte takes dominating control after this. Lawler is spending a lot of this time explaining how well he knows Ric Flair and how you can’t trust him. Becky begins her comeback picking up Charlotte in and electric chair and dropping her on the turnbuckle like a snake eyes. You can hear this match getting the hype in Ranallo’s voice. After a more back and forth, Becky lands the cross arm breaker, but Charlotte picks her up for the pin attempt. Becky almost immediately turns it into the Disarmer, but Flair reaches up and puts Charlotte’s foot on the rope. Becky releases the hold thinking she has won the match as Charlotte rolls her up for the three count. This was a decent match, and they left it open for the feud to continue.
Final Rating: **1/2
We get a clip of a WWE.com interview with Roman Reigns where he says the McMahon Family “is trying to burn me down, but all it is doing is firing me up.” This would be there a not-so-clever way to get Roman on the show.
Backstage, Renee Young does a quick interview with Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose. Ambrose mentions how Kevin Owens calls himself a prize fighter, looks down at the Intercontinental Championship and says “this is a prize, so let's fight Owens fight.” Good line from Ambrose.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens
This championship match kicks off quick with Owens heading to the outside to regroup before the break. Again in this show, we come back to action in progress with Owens chopping Ambrose in the corner. After a little more back and forth and a one count after an elbow drop by Ambrose, they head to the outside. The action outside was great with Ambrose giving Owens a side-Russian leg sweep in the barricade where Owens hit the back of his head incredibly hard. Back in the ring, we get more back and forth with both men getting all their quick spots in. Owens get thrown out of the ring with Ambrose diving after him giving Ranallo his first close call with action as Owens is thrown over the announce table. The fight carries on over the barricade into the crowd, and the referee quickly reaches his ten count for a double count out to end the official match. As they reach the entrance stage, again Ranallo does a fantastic job of not only hyping the two men but the Intercontinental Championship saying “this is what the WWE Intercontinental Championship means to these two warriors.” Can we get this type of commentary on every show, please?!?! Another great Ranallo-ism (yes, this show inspired me to coin that phrase) is Kevin Owens being thrown into the WWE logo on the stage and Maruo saying “that was brought to you by the letter W.” The fight is finally making its way off the side of the stage where the two men hit each other with laptops and guardrails and end up on equipment boxes. They brawl with both falling off together going through a table to end the brawl and the show. The match itself was sadly a pretty standard SmackDown! main event just as everything else on the show has been, but the brawl afterwards I enjoyed rather well.
Final Rating: **3/4
THE SMACKDOWN! RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Mauro Ranallo. It was great to hear someone call the action and do it so perfectly. How soon can we get him to RAW?
Least Entertaining: The eight-man “Rumble preview” tag match. Only good thing was the humor.
Quote of the Night: “Revenge is a dish best served with a side of the elbow.” - Mauro Ranallo when Dean Ambrose gives an elbow drop to Kevin Owens on the announce table.
Match of the Night: Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens. Great actions besides the double DQ ending.
Summary: With this being one of the most anticipated SmackDown! shows that I can remember, it was disappointing how it came off as just any other SmackDown!. Mauro Ranallo was fantastic and the main highlight of tonight. Besides the six-man tag match, the matches were decent, but if this is WWE’s way of hyping up and presenting a show on a new network, they failed miserably. This may be due to the massive roster problems they are currently having, but after watching this first SmackDown! of the new year, this week we are presented the same thing we are every week; a second rate WWE “B” show.
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.
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.