We’re in Nashville, Tennessee. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. We’re 39 days removed from WrestleMania. One would suspect the hype would kick into a higher gear tonight. If not now, when do we expect this big push to actually assemble a passable card?
Promo Time: Triple H
Hunter addresses the concept of Authority and how everyone has to answer to it but while everyone hates it they can’t challenge it because they’re scared. Is this a message to the locker room? Hunter points out that no one should challenge authority or face the beating that Roman Reigns took last week. This brings out the one guy who doesn’t care about authority in the slightest (and possibly should have had Roman’s spot) Dean Ambrose. “Last week was very busy” points out Ambrose, having wanted to chat to Hunter on RAW a week ago. “Do you like Shane O Mac or not?” quizzes Dean* before moving on to asking Hunter who he actually wanted to win the main event at Fastlane. It’s slightly unhinged and shoot-ish. Hunter shuts Ambrose down by calling him a “non factor”. Ambrose is terrific here, with his slow delivery and kooky persona. His response to Hunter calling him insane is wonderful. “Why does everyone keep saying that?” muses Dean. Ambrose gets tired of being abused and challenges Hunter to a title match. Hunter instead books Ambrose against Alberto Del Rio because why gives the fans what they want when WWE can give them something that nobody wants. This was going well until Hunter bailed on the eventual match that people were clamouring for. More on that later.
*Allegedly Hunter isn’t too keen on Shane due to his brother-in-law leaving the business back in 2010. Rumours persist of bad blood within the McMahon household. Something that they’re probably keen to keep going as tension and conflict is good for business. Even if the reality of the matter is they’re probably fine. Ambrose’s questioning in this segment opens up the concept to the general public and given Stephanie’s open animosity toward Shane there’s definitely room for a storyline after WrestleMania.
WWE Divas Championship #1 Contenders Match
Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
I assumed this was heading for a ‘Mania three-way given the history between these two and Charlotte, going back to NXT and their first night on WWE’s main roster. These two are two of the most talented women to ever grace WWE’s rings, especially given the majority of their training has taken place in house**. They do a lot of extremely good mat grappling, countering holds back and forth. Sasha looks a lot calmer and more focused with Becky rushing into a few spots. On the mat they’re both excellent though. The finish is interesting as Sasha plants Becky with a sunset flip superbomb and they land clean in a double pin. The result is a draw, the exact same finish run on NXT between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn last week. The crowd don’t hate it and chant “triple threat”, which is exactly what I thought was happening beforehand. Whoever is going to WrestleMania it should be a good match. I’m intrigued to see who wins that. Perhaps more so than anything else on the ‘Mania card.
Final Rating: **3/4
**This is perhaps unfair on Becky, who’d spent a decade training and competing around the world prior to signing for NXT in 2013. Although there’s no doubt her all-round game has improved drastically since being recruited by WWE. By comparison Sasha has spent four years in WWE’s developmental system out of her six years in the business.
Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz
For those who don’t have the Network the opening episode of Ride Along featured these two driving together. It made me hate them both just that little bit more. Practically every time Ziggler opens his mouth outside of the kayfabed world of WWE it makes me hate him. He has proven to be a complete doofus at every turn. It’s a shame because he’s a solid wrestler, who really wants to be Shawn Michaels and he never will be. This is energetic but short lived and Miz wins with a roll up. I persist that Ziggler should have left WWE last year and given the Indies a go. Especially with WWE hiring top talent from the Indies. There’s a vacuum now.
Final Rating: ¾*
Promo Time: Stephanie McMahon
The crowd are not pleased at having to sit through Steph’s acceptance speech (for the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award), which she didn’t get the chance to deliver last week. Steph throws a hissy fit when the crowd chant for “Shane O Mac” as she’s been here running the business while Shane’s been off gallivanting around Asia (sadly Steph doesn’t use the word “gallivanting” but it seems appropriate). Steph gets into a gender based argument about her daughters and Shane’s sons. Oh God, this is going to go on forever isn’t it? This is a frankly ridiculous interview as Steph gets even more worked up. “Bow down to your Queen…ME!” It’s so over the top. At least she doesn’t emasculate anyone in the process.
The Lucha Dragons vs. Sheamus & Rusev
The League of Nations are trying hard to make their group work, even though there’s no purpose for their existence anymore, and I appreciate their efforts. However I don’t feel any attachment to them and they don’t have a great babyface to battle against. It seems they’re going to work with the New Day, which means a face turn for the tag champions. While New Day is being rapidly cheered that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be turned face. Much like John Cena and Roman Reigns getting booed doesn’t mean they should be turned heel by WWE logic. So why does it apply to the New Day? Kalisto has certainly gotten over in the past few months so it’s pleasing to see he’s been able to maintain a tag team with Sin Cara. Just because someone is successful in singles doesn’t mean you need to split their team up. However the numbers game is too much for the Lucha Dragons and Rusev gets the pin. Del Rio still can’t let Kalisto go and double stomps him. He beat you, dude. It’s over.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control takes us to Renee Young and Natalya, who try and sell me sandwiches. There’s enough damn advertising on this show as it is without this crap.
Ryback vs. Adam Rose
Rose is joined by his brothers in the Social Outcasts. The crowd bite on his old gimmick and do the Rosebuds chant. It merely serves to remind me of when one of these two men were actually of interest. Heel Ryback has to be one the most boring, useless members of the active roster. Ryback beats the piss out of Adam Rose and finishes with the Shellshock. At least Ryback looked vicious during this, treating Rose like the jobber he is. The bit where his attack was interrupted by the ref and Ryback used his other hand to hit hammer-fists was inspired and saves the Big Guy from being ‘least entertaining’.
Final Rating: SQUASH (N/R)
The New Day vs. Chris Jericho & AJ Styles
The New Day keep finding new ways to entertain. In this case Big E swimming across the ring while Kofi Kingston prances around outside him, skipping gleefully along with the music. Meanwhile Xavier Woods blasts away on Francesca II. With AJ, I was hoping to see a number of fresh new match up’s. Instead he’s been saddled with Jericho out of the gate. Y2J is desperate to prove he’s still relevant, which had led to cringeworthy promos and sloppy in-ring work. “Y2AJ has really taken off on Twitter” rambles Cole, disregarding the majority of the Twitter talk being of what an awful team name that is. To be fair to AJ Styles, more often than not, all hot new WWE acts tend to get lumbered with a pointless midcard feud in their early months. Just to make sure WWE’s road schedule won’t drive them insane. There’s nothing worse than investing in a new character and having them implode and disappear. West Ham fans can relate. Where is Marco Boogers nowadays?*** The New Day debut a new, incredibly irritating, card trick where Xavier pulls out a deck and asks Kofi to pick a card. “What did you get?” “I got his number!” yells Kingston. AJ is totally professional throughout this, selling and bumping like a champ, showing he’s not effected by nonsense and politics. Styles creaming Big E with his springboard elbow smash is one of the in-ring highlights. Jericho clumsily blocking the Trouble in Paradise and getting the Walls of Jericho to win is not. “Y2AJ is a thing” claims Jericho before asking for a title shot.
Final Rating: **
***Boogers was the subject of a legendary Sun story where they claimed “Barmy Boogers” was living in a caravan after getting sent off in only his second West Ham appearance. The reality of the situation is that Boogers, with an injured knee, had simply gone home to recuperate and the Sun picked up the story after mishearing a press agent say “Boogers had gone home by car again” as “Boogers has gone to his caravan”. The Sun: because why let facts get in the way of a good story. Mishearing a phrase in such a way is called a Mondegreen. Don’t say you never learn anything while watching RAW.
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
This would be the third McMahon family member to come out here and cut a promo tonight. Vince’s vision of the future of WWE, under Shane McMahon, involves Steph and Hunter quitting and Vince being put in “mothballs”. Hey, sounds ok so far. What’s the catch? “Only fools believe in miracles” states McMahon, dropping truth bombs all over Nashville. Vince perhaps errs by calling the Undertaker “my instrument of destruction” before introducing the Dead Man. Has he not learned from past instances where he’s called Taker to do his bidding? Anyway, the Undertaker is here tonight to sell his WrestleMania match up. “The blood of your son is going to be on your hands, not mine” states Taker, matter-of-factly, before walking to the back as slowly as he came out here. Ok, so Taker is ok with killing Shane? Vince promises to write to Shane out of his will. How much you get out of this depends on how into these characters you are. I’m not. I didn’t care for this.
Jey Uso vs. Bubba Ray Dudley
‘We’re not a nostalgia act’ was the claim of the Dudley Boyz this week. Which is odd because they come out here wearing the same crap they were sporting sixteen years ago. D-Von smashes a table into Jimmy’s face, showing a level of hypocrisy in an attempt to make the heel turn stick. They’ve giving the fans what they want after telling the fans they wouldn’t do so and that makes them heels? I don’t get it. Anyway, Bubbabomb finishes Jey off.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us to Goldust and R-Truth and the latter refuses to tag with the former. Can this angle just end already? It’s not working. They’re both the comedy guy. You need a funny guy and a straight guy for him to play off. Why is that so hard to understand? The classic example is Al Snow and Steve Blackman (or Bing Crosby and Bob Hope if you’re a bit older). That worked so well because Blackman wasn’t funny. At all. That’s what made him funny.
Kevin Owens vs. The Big Show
This feud with Show, small though it’s been so far, seems designed to test Owens’ capability of being a main event star. The idea being that if you can work with a variety of guys then you’re a potential top guy. Owens really is legitimate and can work with a variety of guys and he’s big enough that he feels competitive against guys like Show. Owens comes across as tactically astute, going for the count out win like he did on SmackDown. Show drops Owens on the ropes, in a replay of SmackDown only reversed, and Kevin gets counted out.
Final Rating: *
Video Control takes us backstage and Brie Bella is still hanging around. She’s interrupted by Lana to criticise her choice of men and lack of meat. “They love you because they pity you” says Lana. Brie’s retort is to call Rusev a caveman and point out Lana isn’t a wrestler. I didn’t see the point of this as Brie is wrestling someone else and Rusev vs. Daniel Bryan will never happen.
Brie Bella vs. Naomi
The Road to WrestleMania is normally more exciting than throwing together two random women in a match with no heat. Neither of them are likely to feature on the ‘Mania card unless there’s a big clusterfudge contest with all the divas in it. The work feels suspiciously like a video game simulation. It’s just a bunch of stuff thrown together. Brie gets to lose again, perhaps doing favours for half the card on her way out, and taps out to a weak looking submission. Lana comes out here to laugh at Brie after the loss. Presumably Brie will be teaching Lana a lesson at some point.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control gives us clips of the latest WWE Hall of Fame inductees: the Fabulous Freebirds. The story was broken by Rolling Stone, continuing a weird trend of WWE giving their exclusives to other websites. I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to put the Freebirds into the HOF but this ‘Mania being in Texas may have something to do with it. Elsewhere Charlotte bad-mouths both Sasha and Becky before telling them they’ve got a re-match on SmackDown but they’re still both losers. Well, they did both get pinned tonight.
Dean Ambrose vs. Alberto Del Rio
WWE should cut their losses on Del Rio. He’s clearly not cared since returning, or in between WWE stints. It’s another bland disinterested performance from him in this match. He just ambles from spot to spot with Ambrose, covered in tape, driving the action with his comebacks. Del Rio’s spots are goofy as hell and at one point he entirely misses on a punch. By about a foot. Other odd stuff includes the double stomp off the rail, with Ambrose having to hold himself in place. Triple H turns up and Del Rio can’t even get the predictable distraction pin with the League of Nations piling in for the DQ instead.
Final Rating: *3/4
Post-Match: Hunter gives Ambrose a verbal beating so Dean fires up at him until a Pedigree puts him down. Why are they teasing this match, knowing full well people are more into this than Hunter vs. Roman? Triple H says yes to a title match. “Hey Hunter, thanks” mumbles a half conscious Ambrose and Hunter decides to give him a Roman-sized beating for that. With Reigns MIA, nursing a broken nose from last week, there’s no one to save Dean. At least he got his title shot although with Triple H vs. Reigns at ‘Mania seemingly set in stone they wouldn’t pull a switcheroo would they? Would they? No, probably not.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: The New Day
Least Entertaining: Alberto Del Rio
Quote of the Night: “Shane won’t be my son anymore he’ll just be a son…of a bitch” – Vince McMahon promises to cut Shane off after WrestleMania.
Match of the Night: Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Summary: Frankly a dour episode of RAW with poor in-ring performances almost across the board. The promos were largely lifeless affairs and the only storyline that seems to be genuinely clicking is Hunter vs. Ambrose, which must annoy the hell out of WWE as they’ve put their eggs into the Roman Reigns basket. You’d never know it was WrestleMania season, although the fans were responding pretty strongly to some of the booking tonight. I am even more concerned about this years ‘Mania card than last year’s.
February 22 2016
We’re one night removed from WWE’s February filler PPV Fastlane, where Roman Reigns once again captured the number one contendership for the WWE Championship. A query: does WWE still have a mandatory 30 day title defence period? They used to and Hunter is clearly going to exceed that. I’m sure Brock Lesnar did too during his part-time run with the belt. We’re in Detroit, Michigan. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton. Tonight is the awarding of the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award. I predict BS.
Video Control takes us to earlier tonight where an arriving Dean Ambrose is mashed by a clearly upset Brock Lesnar. This culminates in a glorious powerslam on a limousine. Ambrose has been taken to a medical facility because there are no hospitals in the WWE Universe.
Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award Ceremony
Vince McMahon Jr. (mockingly called “junior” by some of the boys back in the day, Roddy Piper included) is here to announce the recipient. My mind doesn’t race into odd places and instead suspects Vince will either give it to himself as a self masturbatory segment designed to provoke some legend into fighting him at WrestleMania. Or Triple H, to give Roman the opportunity to jump the champ. Instead the award goes to Daddy’s Little Girl, Stephanie McMahon. The nepotism is strong in this one. Speaking of nepotism the shock twist in the tale is that Shane McMahon is back after a six year hiatus. His arrival is a genuine shock, one that rarely occurs in WWE land. Even AJ Styles arrival at the Royal Rumble was all over the internet and I watched AJ suggest he might be in the Rumble while at Rev Pro’s High Stakes show. Shane’s return leaves me torn over the outcome of this storyline before it’s even hit a high gear. The basics of Shane’s return are to run off Steph, point out cryptically that Vince owes him and actually be the first guy since Hunter to not be emasculated by Stephanie on WWE TV. The storyline sees Shane request the chance to run RAW, using some fine examples of how badly run WWE is including declining stock value, poor TV ratings and an injury bug that has claimed several top line talent (thus buggering up the ‘Mania card). Vince rather surprisingly agrees…if Shane can beat the Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania. To begin with my mind started to unravel at this, thinking it’d be a fantastic car crash to draw a few more eyes to ‘Mania. But then I remembered that I don’t like Shane as an in-ring performer and this booking isn’t quite what I was hoping for when Shane walked into the venue to shake things up. I was hoping more for a seismic change in the booking of WrestleMania and the RAW’s that lead up to it. Instead I get another match added to WrestleMania that I’m not bothered about. Apart from the outcome, where I now bizarrely crave a Shane victory over Undertaker at WrestleMania. My initial thought process is; “what’s wrong with me?” but that should actually be “what’s wrong with WWE?” Anyway, this was different, a total curveball and a thrilling promo to watch. The nagging concerns about McMahonamania are slightly offset by the promise of genuine change. For starters a babyface authority figure hasn’t been done in sixteen years. How hard would it be to just give the fans what they want for a change?
The Lucha Dragons & Neville vs. The New Day
The one thing that opening segment has done has got the crowd seriously worked up. It now feels like an important show. Plus this match should be fun as everyone involved is entertaining for various reasons. The New Day rock, as per usual, with Unicorn Stampede’s and Francesca II getting involved. This ends up being less fun than imagined due to the New Day working heat on Neville for most of the contest. Luckily they’re entertaining working on top but the match didn’t need a long heat segment when it’s not a long match. Neville knows how to have fun and both him and Kalisto hit ridiculous 450 Splashes on the floor. Trouble in Paradise takes out Sin Cara though and the tag champs win.
Final Rating: **1/4
Video Control takes us Roman Reigns, who talks WrestleMania while the crowd gleefully chant “we want Ambrose” over his promo. This is a fine example of lightning striking twice where Vince wanted to have Roman run into ‘Mania and get the big babyface win only for it to blow up in his face. Unlike with Batista, he’s not learned with Roman. The crowd could have been receptive of him if it didn’t feel like Vince had hand-picked him as the new top guy. Which is exactly what it feels like.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
It seems Brock is not best pleased about the outcome of the Fastlane main event. Him and me both. Paul points out that Lesnar took everyone to Suplex City. Heyman blames Ambrose for wrecking WrestleMania and pissing Brock Lesnar off so Brock, “the God of violent retribution”, took out Dean Ambrose. Heyman goes on to offer the spot of working Brock at WrestleMania to absolutely anyone who wants to get destroyed. This brings Dean Ambrose back out here in an ambulance he’s acquired. He crawls back to the ring. You have to admire his chutzpah. Brock simply steps on Dean’s head while walking to the back. Damn. Ambrose grabs a microphone and demands Brock at ‘Mania in a street fight. That gets him an F5 on the floor. “My client accepts your challenge” adds Heyman. Better go get a plan Dean!
The Usos vs. The Ascension
Because no one cares about the Ascension, the Dudley Boyz come out here to remind the Usos that the Dudleys are the most decorated tag team in the history of WWE. The crowd want tables but the Dudley Boyz don’t do that anymore. This provokes JBL to go off on another anti-internet rant about how the Dudley Boyz were hardcore before the term was “cool on the internet”, which is as ridiculous as it is wrong. The Ascension get beaten in short order. Nothing to see here. The Ascension have very little to look forward to.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Chris Jericho
Cole talks about Jericho’s “incredible” match with AJ from last night. It was incredible alright. I can’t believe Jericho can botch that many times in a match either. Jericho talks a load of nonsense about AJ offending him by calling himself “phenomenal” when he’d never even been in WWE (which is rich coming from someone who made his name wrestling all over the world and can’t even pronounce “WWE”). Does he even hear himself talking at this point? Jericho calls his match last night “phenomenal”, which would certainly be one word for it, and calls out AJ Styles for a chat. They’re interrupted by the Social Outcasts (jobbers) to run scripted crap. This leads to Jericho and AJ becoming a team.
Chris Jericho & AJ Styles vs. Social Outcasts (Heath Slater & Curtis Axel)
I admire how hard the Social Outcasts are working to try and get their terrible gimmick over. It worked for New Day so you never know. It’s not clicking with me yet though. AJ wrestles circles around the “Red Dragon” or “Crimson Werewolf” or whatever Heath is calling himself this week. AJ murdering him with a springboard forearm and then taking out everyone else with a pescado allows Jericho to win with the Walls of Jericho. This was a squash but that’s what the Social Outcasts are for.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us backstage where Steph gets bent out of shape about her award ceremony getting interrupted. Even though the award only existed since yesterday and nobody outside of the McMahon Family gives a monkeys about it. Elsewhere Roman is walking so Steph takes it out on him and books Reigns against Sheamus. Elsewhere Goldust brings R-Truth a cake to apologise for costing Truth his match last night. This naturally results in cake hitting the face of the golden one. This angle is so forced. It doesn’t have the natural chemistry of Goldust and Booker T. Plus in that angle Goldust was the weird babyface and Booker was not. In this angle Goldust and R-Truth are weird babyfaces. They’re not coming together because opposites attract, they’re not working because they’re too similar.
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper & Erik Rowan) vs. The Big Show, Kane & Ryback
It’s almost a re-match from the most worthless match on last night’s PPV card with the exception of Bray replacing Braun Strowman. The crowd chose to ignore Ryback’s resemblance to Goldberg last night but certainly don’t in Detroit. They go even further by chanting “Gillberg” at the poor bastard but if he’s going to wear knock-off Goldberg gear to go with his knock-off Goldberg act he has to expect that. Changing his gear was a mind-bogglingly bad decision. Big Show is far more over in Detroit and he responds by bringing a lot of energy. I guess more Detroit locals saw his pod with Austin. Clearly Ryback gets upset with everyone hating him and he just walks off. This allows Wyatt to floor Kane with Sister Abigail. Hey, the Wyatt Family won! It only took a heel turn from someone they were working to get the duke. Ryback left “for some crazy reason” according to JBL. Because there was literally no reason for him to do so.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control picks up Ryback backstage who points out he has nothing to prove and is “done with tag teams”. He coins an interesting phrase; “that glass ceiling. That brass ring? Break it. Take it”. It’s odd how the crowd were responding quite well to Ryback until his change of gear. It almost felt like a calculated attempt to make people hate him again and then they turned him heel. Was it Ryback’s decision and he wanted to go heel or creative’s decision? Either way he’s lost the niche spot he had and has become a dull heel. His character is in desperate need of something new.
Sasha Banks vs. Naomi
This is weird but Sasha’s music makes me more excited than anyone else’s in WWE. I am a Sasha super-mark. Sasha works slightly heel on Naomi, which is odd considering Team BAD are the heels. Sasha is ultimately a better heel and knows it. It’s a decent match but the crowd sleep on it until Becky Lynch runs down to stop Tamina from interfering. Banks Statement finishes.
Final Rating: **
Post-Match: Sasha and Becky are standing tall and Charlotte arrives. Charlotte does tremendous heel work, being dismissive of Brie Bella, and sowing seeds of dissent between the duo of potential challengers. Ric Flair has been reduced to the role of cheerleader for his daughter, indiscriminately WOOOing while he does it. I want that triple threat match at WrestleMania. It could be a show stealer, considering how the card is shaping up so far.
Video Control lets us know that The Godfather is going into WWE’s Hall of Fame. Damn, they’ll let anyone in that thing. So far the class is him and Sting. They need to pick that one up but generally they name a big name, then a load of smaller names building up to the biggest.
Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
These two have a decent understanding based on having worked together a lot over the past couple of months. It doesn’t make Sheamus any more interesting working an armbar for the entire match. Nor does it make Roman any more popular as the crowd round on his comebacks. It makes me wonder how hard Michael Cole must work on getting excited about the Superman Punch every time. Maybe he’s just a really big Roman Reigns fan but I would find it impossible to get excited about one of those. Sheamus gets himself counted out and Triple H strolls down here for a ‘Mania headlining brawl and the crowd boo Roman even more for that. Triple H absolutely mangles Roman and busts his face open hardway to try and sell their match. The crowd get a delightful “YES” chant going for Hunter hitting the Pedigree on the ring steps and then “one more time”. WrestleMania is going to be an absolute car wreck.
Final Rating: **
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: AJ Styles. At the moment he’s the freshest, most exciting thing about the programming. Hopefully this will continue and he won’t become ‘just another guy’ like everybody else. I’m already leaning toward this happening.
Least Entertaining: Sheamus. He plodded through tonight’s main event and felt out of place. Already disposable two months after his brief title run ended.
Quote of the Night: “Your brother always has been and always will be a failure” – Triple H of Shane McMahon, via Steph.
Match of the Night: The Lucha Dragons & Neville vs. The New Day.
Summary: The opening segment obviously worked for a number of reasons. It was truthful, perhaps even painful for WWE fanboys to listen to, and it was a shock. When Shane left WWE six years ago it was also a shock but him suddenly reappearing the month before WrestleMania is even more startling. That segment obviously opening the show in spectacular and unexpected fashion. Then it was a slow downward cycle throughout the rest of the three hours. The New Day and Lesnar stuff was good. The AJ and Jericho piece was ok. The pointless Wyatt Family vs. big men trios match was a low point and the crowd’s disdain for WWE’s booking was incredibly prevalent in the main event. Roman Reigns is going to get booed out of Texas at ‘Mania. One can only hope they find something to go on last. If they’re hoping for Taker vs. Shane to be that match I would probably think again. Shane is 46 years old, hasn’t been in the ring for seven years and wasn’t that good to begin with.