RAW has been on a roll for three weeks, suggesting that the ‘Shane McMahon regime’ has produced better television with actual wrestling occurring than the standard of Monday night TV. Unfortunately the ratings are in the toilet still but at least the shows have been good.
We’re in Hartford, Connecticut. Hosts are Michael Cole, Byron Saxton and JBL.
Promo Time: Shane McMahon
What is the reasoning for Shane being in charge once again? The ratings are down, Shane has pissed off Kevin Owens, and there’s no legal reason why he’s here. There’s no logical reason why Vince, Hunter and Steph haven’t stopped him. Shane’s reasoning is he’s still in charge because of the fan support, because now, suddenly, WWE listens to the audience. The whole “new faces, new match ups” line sounds like a general fan complaint, reflected in Shane’s speech. Anyway, logic starts to kick in here because Stephanie McMahon is back. Ultimately whoever is running RAW it’s all about McMahon family drama, a card WWE has been wielding since 1999. The crux of this is that Vince McMahon will decide at Payback who gets to runRAW permanently on Sunday. Shane kicks Steph out of the ring to close the segment. The whole era of the McMahon’s fussing and feuding is nothing new and I’d rather they left it alone. Unfortunately it gets reactions and it’s easy so we’ll continue to see this, no doubt. Having Vince’s decision on the PPV creates yet more intrigue around an already intriguing show.
AJ Styles vs. Sheamus
The thing with Styles is that just about every match he can have is new and fresh, which is why he’s the poster boy for Shane’s run. AJ is so adept at facing new talent as well, due to his journeyman past. He’s worked everywhere so he’s worked everyone. JBL makes a solid point by suggesting Sheamus is a warm up, due to his similar physique to champion Roman Reigns. If you think Reigns is a poor champion just remember it could be Sheamus! We’re doing ok. Interesting to note Styles hitting a series of kicks in the corner, in the style of Daniel Bryan. Are they hoping that AJ can slide into Bryan’s spot as beloved underdog babyface? He certainly has the in-ring ability to do that but it’s whether people will take to his personality the same way. Bryan was incredibly likeable whereas AJ is unless you bring up something that makes him angry. He can easily fly into a Jesus-based rage. So far so good in WWE though. The match has slightly odd booking with Sheamus dominating big chunks of the match, which is odd because AJ has a title match on Sunday. You’d think they’d want him to look stronger against a midcarder like Sheamus, recent title run aside. Phenomenal Forearm puts Sheamus down in the end. Solid match. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows appear on the stage after the match to show support for AJ. The ‘Bullet Club’ angle is intriguing. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it.
Final Rating: **3/4
Promo Time: The New Day
The champs have got a lot of sing-a-long gimmicks going, which is good news for their longevity. The focus here is on the number one contender’s spot so they’re interrupted by the Vaudevillians, who are in turn interrupted by Enzo Amore &Colin Cassady. Their sing-a-long game is strong too. Enzo might be the best promo in the company and he’s only been here for a couple of weeks. The New Day getting into Enzo & Cass’ promo is pretty great. Number one contenders match is another to get excited about at Payback. Someone new is getting a title match.
The Usos vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows
“They were part of a club there” says Cole of Styles, Anderson and Gallows in NJPW. Looks like they can’t say “Bullet Club” on the air. Either that or the term is a little too edgy for Maggle. The crowd chant “Bullet Club” anyway, as to fill in the blanks. I wonder if the bulk of the crowd now has sufficient interest in either ROH or New Japan to know everyone that comes from there. I’m inside that wrestling bubble but I think there’s enough core fans that know to get a new talent over in most places. A major issue with Anderson & Gallows is they aren’t that interesting in the ring. Especially big Doc. A quick squash win would have been more effective, as opposed to the protracted, yet dominant, display from the new guys. It’s a bit dull and I feel bad for Karl Anderson, who’s a terrific talent when he’s given the chance to be. The crowd plays an interesting role in the match, hating on the Usos. Are they getting this heat based on their association with Roman Reigns? Injured Jay gets thrown into the crowd and Jey takes the Magic Killer.
Final Rating: *1/4
Post Match: the winners beat down the losers some more but the Usos get saved by Roman Reigns. Logically this is leading to a six-man tag at some point. Maybe Smackdown? Speaking of this angle, Renee Young gets a word with Styles and the good brothers interject. The idea from them being they’ve got AJ’s back against the evils of the Usos. “This friendship of ours is forever” says Gallows, virtually telegraphing a turn at some point. But to side with who? WWE have my interest with this angle.
Video Control gives us a way overdue look at Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens. The video finally gives us a reason to care about all this angle, which they’ve been firing ahead with, failing to acknowledge the details of their relationship in the past. This video goes a long way to fixing that. If you’ve been following wrestling, or even NXT, you understand and that’s the footage they use to showcase how far this goes back. I love the way it builds, showing how they’ve been essentially after the same spot their whole career. Their match at Payback could be a showstealer. I’m glad they stopped off to address their issues first. Another reason to watch the PPV would be this match, it could be all kinds of great.
Sami Zayn vs. Rusev
The one thing that WWE has to love about Sami is he’s job proof. His “underdog from the underground” gimmick means he can lose all the time because he looks great in losing and it amplifies the wins. Rusev looks so much better and a much bigger star away from the League of Nations and he has Lanain tow. There are aspects of the WWE Universe that still want eye candy and that’s what Lana is. While the women’s division has taken massive strides, there are elements of the crowd that need sating and putting the sex appeal elsewhere allows the women wrestlers to wrestle. The story of the match is that Rusev is a big Bulgarian powerhouse and Sami has to fight from underneath to stay involved. It’s not a bad match but the crowd seem oddly detached from it. RAW is a long show. Sami shows off his athleticism with some tidy spots including a moonsault off the guardrail. Rusev goes after the Accolade but Zayn slips out and rolls him up for the win. Lana’s angry response is to throw her shoes at poor Sami. This was good but the crowd weren’t into it, which hurt it a little. Post Match: Owens lays Sami out with a blindside attack.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us to Renee again where Apollo Crews gets interview time but he’s interrupted by Stardust. Apollo references “Cody” and Dusty Rhodes and Stardust acts his usual weird self.
Stardust vs. Apollo Crews
Apollo has potential to be a break out star because he comes across like an overly nice version of Goldberg. The structure of the matches does not reflect that and he’s taking too much heat at the moment. Stardust shouldn’t get anything in this one, if they’re serious about Apollo. Eventually Apollo just finishes with the Toss Powerbomb. This was basically a squash, which makes Cody’s early offence seem odd.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Ambrose gets all serious about his match against Chris Jericho this Sunday, denying us a beautifully laid back Ambrose Asylum. As he points out, Ambrose is a surprisingly good talk show host. Ambrose calls out Jericho, who arrives with his usual vast array of weak insults. “Stupid idiot” is almost embarrassingly weak. As if Jericho doesn’t know how to insult someone beyond a pre-school level. Ambrose’s response is to compare Jericho’s hair cut to that of Bon Jovi and show Chris a few sly actual insults. Maybe Jericho is just playing his heel role well because I really actively dislike him at the moment. Jericho wins the segment with the Walls of Jericho on the announce table. As if doing the move on a table makes it more devastating somehow.
Natalya vs. Emma
Both these ladies are currently involved in feuds. Emma with Becky Lynch while Natalya is gunning for the Women’s Championship. Speaking of which, Charlotte joins commentary for this match up. Emma has worked hard at improving down in NXT but she gets the shitty end of the stick here, beaten clean with the Sharpshooter. It doesn’t bode well for her main roster run. They have a lot of women on the roster who could have come out and jobbed for Nattie, why sacrifice Emma? Odd booking. Was Alicia Fox busy?
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control gives us a tribute to Chyna who passed away this week. I’m glad they acknowledged her although WWE’s treatment of Chyna when she was alive wasn’t as shining. It’s sad that Joanie passed away in her mid-40s. She had trouble dealing with life after WWE. Sometimes wrestling takes talent, takes everything they have and then discards them. Too often we get stark reminders like this, or Balls Mahoney or Axl Rotten, that wrestlers have issues directly related to their wrestling careers and pass away a lot younger than they could have without wrestling. Hopefully this is the final generation that has such issues with improved working conditions. The constant reminders that wrestlers die young cannot be good for the business and is downright depressing.
Baron Corbin vs. Damien Sandow
This doesn’t happen as Dolph Ziggler jumps Corbin before the bell. Poor Sandow. At least he got to walk to the ring and the crowd cheer him regardless.
Final Rating: N/R
Miz criticises fan reactions to his celebrity and accuses the crowd of underachieving by cheering for Cesaro. Miz suggests his section, Maryse, looks better than all the internet trolls in the Cesaro Section. Miz does some Robert DeNiro impressions, and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. “The only movie you belong in isJackass” states Cesaro, putting Miz in his place. A massive Swiss forearm puts Miz on his back although Maryse stops the swing. Cesaro should probably be higher up the card than this but any Cesaro match on PPV is better than none.
Video Control reminds us that John Cena is back on RAW next month. Four months early. You don’t have to rush your rehab every single time you get injured John. While his star power and in-ring talent is welcome on cards, he tends to overwhelm new talent. Let them have a few extra months to get over by themselves. WWE also quickly announce that Ryback has another shot at Kalisto on Payback’s pre-show.
Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio
Roman’s very deliberate move to greet a family who he granted a wish for this week is very John Cena-esque in terms of the booking. It’s great WWE do stuff like this but putting it very deliberately on TV is an agenda pushing move. ‘Look at what a nice guy he is’. For every child that’s here supporting ‘nice guy Roman’ there are a hundred men who don’t want him as champion. It speaks volumes about Del Rio that the crowd can’t muster any support for him either. Given the choice I’d rather have Roman, due to Del Rio’s streak of lazy or bad matches since he came back to WWE. He should have stuck it out on the Indies for longer. This run is only harming his reputation. This isn’t a bad match and they work relatively hard. The bigger spots are on the clumsy side. The double stomp off the top being a prime example, with Roman ‘moving’ out of the way. Reigns simply isn’t fast enough for that spot. Roman puts Del Rio away with a spear.
Final Rating: **
Post Match: Anderson and Gallows show up to beat the champ down. This is entirely contrary to what Styles asked them to do so he pops down to call off the dogs. For this act of kindness Roman clocks AJ with the Superman Punch. What a dick move from the champ. AJ retaliates with the Phenomenal Forearm.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: AJ Styles. The storyline between Styles, Reigns and the former Bullet Club members is the most intriguing thing they’ve got going on right now.
Least Entertaining: Chris Jericho
Quote of the Night: “I’m gonna keep it one hundred with you like a high fever, English” – Enzo Amore throws out words.
Match of the Night: Sami Zayn vs. Rusev
Summary: RAW is a long, long show and it’s tough to stay with the action for three hours. Payback is being built up solidly through the last four weeks of RAW though and it’s coming together to be a strong card filled with matches I have an interest in. For that alone, RAW is doing its job. The storyline surrounding Roman Reigns and challenger AJ Styles had intrigue before they brought Anderson and Gallows into it. Coming into Payback I’m genuinely interested to see where they go with it. That’s a booking success right there. Another success is finally addressing Sami and Owens and their history. That video was all the feud needed to get it over with the casual fans. The tag division is exciting, the women’s division is alive and well. These past four weeks have been refreshing from WWE. RAW might still be too long but at least they’re using it for useful run-on booking. It’s been a long time since that was the case. Genuinely excited for Payback this Sunday as the card is far superior to the WrestleMania one. If the booking reflects that and we get good matches, Payback could be a turning point for the fortunes of WWE. Imagine that.