Promo Time: Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is wrestling on the next pay-per-view so this is the typical Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar segment of the month. You literally don't even need to watch it to know what happens; Heyman cuts a promo that is better than most other talking segments on the show but he doesn't actually say much at all. Really it’s the usual circular nothingness with Heyman spelling out that Brock will win with ease, even though we all know he won’t, while Lesnar stands there dancing and bouncing. WWE waste their precious few Brock Lesnar appearances with such frequency that it is ridiculous. Ambrose interrupts, which Brock finds funny. Pleasingly, Ambrose dials down his usual cartoon wackiness and gets serious, telling Brock that he isn't afraid of him. Lesnar is tickled by that. Ambrose says he respects Brock and doesn't want to fight him, but that he will, and he is quite prepared to go to Suplex City hundreds of times. I have a feeling he will get his wish. Ambrose says his piece and leaves and for some reason Brock doesn't kill him. Nor does Roman Reigns show up. This did nothing to sell the Fast Lane match to me.
Kalisto vs. Rusev
Alberto Del Rio is commentating because WWE is bereft of fresh ideas and he is wrestling Kalisto again at Fast Lane. Well, why not? They have only wrestled half a dozen times already. This is an odd match to book because it doesn't help the champion at all. Every time WWE has an undersized wrestler as one of their champions they get booked as a fluke and forced to work against much bigger opponents, forced to play the overmatched underdog. Would it be such an issue to put Kalisto in there with guys closer to his size such as Neville or Kofi Kingston or AJ Styles? Instead we get the standard big man little man contest, but because Rusev is fairly decent and can bump well it is better than, say, Kalisto vs. Kane (*shudders*). Rusev has his hair out today to better sell for the little guy’s flippy moves and make them look like they connect. They end up on the outside where a rana off the announce table leads to a Kalisto count out win. A fairly entertaining match but typically half-assed champion booking from WWE. Just put the guy over!
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose mumble to each other while stood in front of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt, which is in a display case inside Stephanie’s office. Of course it is. Steph remains fully-heel, giving her an unbroken run of a few weeks, surely a record for her. She brings up Marty Jannetty and Randy Orton as examples of two wrestlers who trusted their partners and were stabbed in the back, suggesting Roman and Dean will turn on each other with the title up for grabs. She stirs the pot by referring to Dean as “Roman Reigns’ sidekick”, but they see through her games. A boring handicap tag match is announced for the main event pitting the Shield duo against New Day, which sounds absolutely pointless. Goodbye third hour rating.
We get a brief video detailing Nikki Bella’s recent surgery, which is confusingly set to sad as opposed to celebratory music. The Bellas are babyfaces this week, for anyone keeping track. Charlotte interrupts a Brie interview and realises that she might be responsible for ending Nikki’s career. All hail Queen Charlotte. Brie looks mad, I think. Mad or queasy.
The Usos vs. Curtis Axl & Heath Slater
The most interesting thing about this match, by far, is an hilarious botch from the ever-inept Lillian Garcia, who announces the Usos as the “Grammy Award winning tag team of the year,” as opposed to Slammy Award winning. Immediately JBL jumps all over it and rips her to shreds for being such a goof. WWE are so thrilled that Lillian – often an easy target for the bullies in the back – screwed up that they replay her mistake, which actually took place during the commercial break and nobody would have even known about if they hadn't pointed it out. Which makes this:
Instances WWE in 2016 used the incompetence of their own people as a plot point:
One. And counting
The chubby member of the Social Outcasts (Bo Dallas) is not out with the jobbers this week because his granddad Blackjack Mulligan has been taken sick in hospital. There is some unusual attire on display here, with Rose sporting plain black tights and stripy kick pads that make him look like a guy debuting fresh out of wrestling school. Jey Uso is wearing long blue tights rather than shorts, presumably so Michael Cole can tell the difference. He also looks like an indy guy. The match is boring as hell, but at least the jobbers get a decent length outing rather than the usual quick squash. Good for them.
Final Rating: 1/2*
MizTV: AJ Styles
What a waste of AJ Styles this is. Nobody wants to see him in a talking segment with the Miz, they want to see him wrestle. WWE is a company that specifically doesn't give its fans what they want, for reasons still unexplained with any degree of logic. It is hard work trying to support them or anyone on the roster because you know if you do they will be dead and buried within a few weeks so that someone else can take a turn in the spotlight. There is literally no reward to being a WWE fan. Miz tries to get the audience to chant with him at the start of the segment but nobody gives a damn. Usually MizTV is the death knell for a performer. Look what it did for the Divas Revolution last year. Miz gets some Vince-approved size jibes in there and won’t let AJ speak, but AJ takes it in his stride and lets him get on with it. Miz brings up Daniel Bryan, saying AJ reminds him of him because he is also short, an indy darling and a great ‘rassler. Gotta bury the wrestling. This company! It would be like the NFL saying football is a cheap rugby imitation and not all that entertaining, or the NHL promoting fighting ahead of the sport itself.
The gist is that Miz wants to mentor AJ. Wasn't he mentoring Neville recently? That was dropped like a sack of rocks. Miz turns on the crowd when they boo him, dropping his niceties facade and ripping into AJ. The crowd chant for AJ so I guess the book does work here, but it is still long-winded and boring. Miz calls AJ a “rookie redneck” and finally AJ loses his cool and decks him. Because the Miz character is a coward he runs away. This entire segment merely existed so that WWE could get their digs in on AJ early, because why wouldn't you undermine your hot new acquisition? Again, think real sports. If Real Madrid signed Lionel Messi would they play him out of position and run him down as not being good enough for their team just because he used to play for their hated rivals? To paraphrase Gorilla Monsoon; highly unlikely. This was a long way to go to build for a nothing SmackDown! midcard match. I cannot help but notice that AJ has already been pigeonholed in the same position as Neville and Kevin Owens; a great worker that the fans love but whom has no support from the office, leaving him trapped in a midcard purgatory.
Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
It is absolutely hilarious how little the crowd cares about Brie Bella. How can WWE seriously think anyone will cheer for her? She has flip-flopped alignment so many times that she is a dead character. She is also the worst wrestler on the roster with comical facials. For example, I can tell that she is angry because she scowls. It’s so bad. Brie tries Daniel Bryan’s moves to endear himself to the crowd, who proceed to ignore her. Ric Flair gets on apron to try and cause his usual distraction, causing Alicia to yells at him to get down in the least convincing manner imaginable. Flair, ever the gentleman, tries to kick her in the face and woos. He is great. Brie wins due to the distraction roll up going awry and Brie – the “babyface” – scoring with a roll up of her own. What the hell is wrong with this company!? Why? Why would you put the hopeless and roundly disliked Brie Bella over the Divas Champion? Michael Cole thinks Brie is now a contender for the title, compounding my misery. What happened to Sasha Banks? Are WWE wilfully trying to make this division fail so they can pathetically crow, “We told you so”? It certainly feels like intentional sabotage. Nobody can be this clueless so often, surely?
Final Rating: ¼*
WWE shares with the world the devastating news that Bret Hart has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Hart himself broke the news earlier in the day on social media, prompting a host of heartfelt messages from everyone in the industry. Bret Hart was and is my icon, my idol and my inspiration, so I am utterly shattered by the news. However, I know Bret Hart, he will fight it and overcome it. He has fought adversity all of his life and he always comes through eventually. We here at History of Wrestling are rooting for him all the way.
Big Show vs. Erik Rowan
Oh Jesus, I am getting flashbacks to the horrifying stairs match these two had at TLC 2014. Big Show has gone babyface again after last week’s interaction with The Rock. Naturally there is no explanation for his character’s ideals shift, he is just a good guy because he is a good guy. I have lost count of how many turns that is for him now. I am convinced WWE are doing it intentionally. Every time he turns he becomes less over and less relevant than before and now he is little more than the butt of a joke. Mercifully, the match is super-quick. Show wins with a chokeslam then squares up with Braun Strowman, while in the back Vince McMahon is rapidly nearing climax. The Wyatt Family (sans Bray, who is also at the hospital with his granddad) batter Show and a total of three people chant for him. The rest don't care. The beat down goes on for about an hour without generating an iota of heat. Nobody comes to help Show because he has no friends left due him being the least trustworthy man on the roster. He will turn on anyone at the drop of a hat.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Titus vs. Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze is wearing brown gear, which is a poor choice. Has any wrestler in history ever looked good in brown? This is an extended squash designed to put Titus over and nothing more. Breeze is finished. WWE need to send him back to NXT before his career implodes. It really makes NXT look bad that a guy who main evented there goes to the main roster and gets beaten every week by everybody. Triple H should really step in and say something. It will harm NXT if the trend continues.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Backstage, Brock and Triple H have a little confrontation, teasing a WrestleMania match that won’t happen. Nobody would want to see it anyway because we already saw Triple H massage his ego with a win over Lesnar three years ago. Oh yes, yes he did.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Again. It’s their usual decent match but I am tiring of Ziggler. He is never anything less than solid every week, but his long, samey matches are a drag. There is only so much heat you can watch before it becomes boring. Building heat is such a dated concept in modern wrestling anyway, because it just doesn't work anymore. Ziggler goes over clean with the ZigZag, which is baffling booking. It’s just more lame 50/50 crap. Hell, Dolph lost to Heath Slater only a few weeks ago, there is no way he should be beating someone like Kevin Owens. Ziggler is damaged goods with no hope of every cracking the glass ceiling having bumped his head on it so many times. Owens could still be a top heel in WWE, but they seem determined not to let him. He needs pushing and protecting, not dumped in nothing feuds with played out performers.
Final Rating: **
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Sasha went solo on SmackDown! but WWE decided not to air it for some reason. Here she gets a little promo time before her match to share the news, declaring herself on a quest to become Divas Champion. The remnants of Team B.A.D. head out to have a word. Tamina looks like she has had a stroke. Or is currently having a stroke. Her facial expressions are even worse than Brie Bella’s. Naomi thinks that just because Sasha wants to go solo there is no reason they can’t stay friends. Gee, I wonder where this could be leading. Sasha is reluctant at first then decides they can remain sisters, giving us all the aural assault of their “unity” screech one last time. Team B.A.D. stay at ringside to watch Sasha’s back, telegraphing the finish from the off with their presence. The match trundles along until the inevitable Team B.A.D. beat down, and I am at a loss for words as to how Becky and Sasha could have had such an incredible match in NXT then put on something as insipid and lifeless as this.
Final Rating: ½*
Chris Jericho says that unlike everyone else he is not talking about AJ Styles, he is thinking about him. He reckons AJ is here for the long haul and has proven himself in defeating him last week. So Jericho and AJ are doing program, it seems. I would be more excited if Jericho wasn't tubby and old.
In a bathroom, Goldust stands on a toilet waiting for R-Truth. Then he stands with his bare feet in the bowl. Urgh. He again asks Truth to be his partner, but the wild-eyed man-child is having none of it. “You’re a weirdo. You got doo-doo on your foot!” Highbrow. Goldust, whose delivery reminds me of Jon Lithgow at his best in Third Rock From The Sun, pulls some faces and experiences a bout of Tourettes.
New Day vs. Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose
Come the Raw main event, come another nondescript handicap match. I am terrified when I glance at the clock and realise there are around 30 minutes left on this show. At least. There is some hope when I notice Paul Heyman on commentary, though after a while he stops talking completely. Well, that’s good then. New Day are resplendent in pink, but the match is a really boring, overly-long, heat-filled affair. How appropriate that tomorrow is Groundhog Day, because I feel like I have seen this match, or an equivalent, every week for the past goddamn year. It is so long. Ambrose eventually goes over Big E with Dirty Deeds, prompting the arrival of Brock Lesnar to take him out with an F-5 as revenge for his sass earlier. This was a slog.
Final Rating: ½*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kalisto. He did well in his match against intentionally insurmountable odds. Plus, everyone else sucked.
Least Entertaining: Throw a dart at a list of everyone who was on this show and pick one. I did, and it was Brie Bella. Fancy that...
Quote of the Night: “The E is just as important as the W” – The Miz on the WWE initials. No it is not!
Match of the Night: Kalisto vs. Rusev
Summary: This show sucked the life out of me. I was already depressed about the Bret Hart news and this compounded my misery. What a waste of life sitting through this was. The booking tonight blew my mind. Almost every match had the wrong result as far as what they were looking to achieve, because they simply don't get it. They don't know how to build to anything anymore. WWE have their way of doing things, a set formula that they stick rigidly to week after week with no deviation, and the result is nothing shows like this.