Category Archives: Raw Recap
The final Raw before Payback was last night, and for the second week in a row, it was a solid show. The opening talking segment ran a little too long, but Cesaro got to do Cesaro things, Dean Ambrose performed in front of his hometown crowd and Damien Sandow is now the Macho Man. Let’s get to the 5 stars from last night’s Raw!
1. Dean Ambrose
I’ve written about this before, but billing WWE Superstars and Divas from their actual hometowns is always a plus. It worked for Barrett and Paige in the UK, it worked for Ryback once upon a time in Vegas, and it worked last night for Ambrose. Throughout the entire opening talking segment, the crowd was consistently chanting ‘We Want Ambrose’, and thankfully HHH pulled a Donny Donowitz and obliged them. Ambrose got to toss around J and J Security and get a clean win in front of his hometown crowd, but the best moment for him came at the end of the show, as for the second week in a row on Raw, he was the lone man standing tall to close out the show. For a split second I really thought The Shield might reunite when Ambrose and Reigns were behind Rollins, but alas, it is not meant to be yet. I don’t know if Ambrose has any real chance of winning the title Sunday, but throwing him in the main event mix accomplishes two things. 1. Ambrose is now being viewed as a main eventer, which is something he was lacking after his Rollin’s feud ended and 2. Ambrose brings a little bit of unpredictably to the main event scene that has been dominated by Rollins, Orton and Reigns, who aren’t exactly Mr. Personality’s. With Lesnar out until close to Summerslam, the WWE title picture needed a bit of a shakeup, and that’s exactly what Ambrose has brought to the table.
2. Harper & Rowan
Two things I’ll never forgive WWE for is breaking up The Shield and breaking up The Wyatt Family. The Shield I understand more, because they were three guys with unlimited potential who needed to be on their own to truly flourish. The Wyatt Family I’ll never understand. From day one on the main roster Harper & Rowan should have been the tag team champs who dismantle every team in their path, and Bray Wyatt should have been their psychological leader who preys on whoever gets in their way. Instead, Harper & Rowan lost every tag team title match they were in and Bray Wyatt got fed to Superman wearing a John Cena shirt. Now Wyatt is in a feud with Ryback and Harper & Rowan are taking turns mauling Fandango. With that said, I’m glad Harper & Rowan are back together. While Harper could easily survive on his own, I like them better as a team. You have two guys who look and act like monsters, so why not make them a monster tag team? Throw them in the mix with New Day and Cesaro/Kidd and you automatically have three solid tag teams that can fight over the titles. I hope this is the plan, and if it’s not, I hope Fandango joins them but it is ultimately kicked out because he can’t grow a beard.
So I don’t hear anyone talking about how the WWE is burying Neville anymore. Weird. Neville has consistently been the best part of Raw since his debut, and last night was his best night by far. Neville challenged John Cena for the US title, and he had the match won before that mother f&*^er Rusev came in and kicked the shit out of him and Cena. I love Rusev, but I was FURIOUS when he caused this DQ. Thinking back on it, I’d rather he cause the DQ than Cena kick out of the Red Arrow, which is 1000% what I thought was going to happen, but still. The second rope corkscrew splash, the backflip/corkscrew moon sault and the general energy Neville brings to the ring is impossible not to love. Neville looked awesome here, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.
4. John Cena
As great as Neville looked, you have to give credit to John Cena. For the second week in a row he’s faced an NXT superstar or alumni and made them look like a million bucks. Win, lose or draw, putting guys like Sami Zayn and Neville in a championship match with John Cena is such a great move, and the fact that Cena is giving these guys 10-15 minutes to beat his ass makes it that much better. I still don’t like everyone kicking out of the AA, but when you’ve been around as long as Cena has, I guess it’s going to happen eventually. I really think he should find a new finishing move outside of the AA and STFU and start beating guys with that, as it will add an element of surprise to his matches that you usually don’t get. Other than that, it was a great match, and John Cena has as good a chance of losing to Rusev as I have with becoming best friends with George Clooney.
Cesaro got a couple minutes to wrestle in a singles match last night and predictably dominated like the absolute animal that he is. My only complaint with this match is that if Big E wants to go head to head with Cesaro, he better work on his conditioning, because Cesaro doesn’t mess around. Cesaro was suplexing and upper cutting Big E into oblivion, and at one point it looked like Big E might die in the ring. The two Germans into a belly to belly almost killed Big E because he couldn’t even jump off the ground, but thankfully Cesaro is superhuman and just tossed him over his head anyway. I will never get tired of seeing Cesaro throw guys around, and I will never understand why WWE doesn’t let him do it more often. Also, how about that rollup pin? I just want to find Cesaro and hug him for being so goddamn good.
Last night’s Raw emanated from Green Bay and saw the return of the King of the Ring! WWE had four opening round matches last night, and will conclude the tournament with the semifinals and finals tonight on the WWE Network. In other news, Kane and Rollins are still not on the same page, Rosa Mendes got to make out with Adam Rose and we know now the main event of Payback. Let’s get to the five stars from last night’s Raw.
1. The King of the Ring
During Extreme Rules on Sunday, the WWE announced that the King of the Ring tournament would return, with the opening round airing on Raw and the semifinals and finals airing Tuesday night on the WWE Network. I love the King of the Ring, and it gives mid card guys a chance to have spotlight matches on WWE’s most important weekly show. Besides it giving guys an opportunity to wrestle on Raw, I hope the WWE rewards the winner with something of value. In Lucha Underground, the Authority/GM figure Dario Cueto gives out ‘unique opportunities’ to wrestlers looking for a leg up on the competition. Why not have the winner of the King of the Ring become the de facto #1 contender for any belt. It doesn’t have to be the WWE championship, but at least give the viewers a reason to root for a certain guy besides having to watch them wear a robe and a crown. WWE is the land of no consequences, but it’d be nice if they used this mini tournament as a way to start a fresh championship feud. I won’t be holding breath though.
2. Bray Wyatt, If This Ryback Feud Is Going Where I Hope It Goes
1. I will never get tired of Wyatt teleporting to the ring to deliver a Sister Abigail and 2. I will only like this feud if it’s going where I hope it goes. For the last two years, Bray Wyatt has dominated May-March and then lost the two biggest matches of his career. While I’m not too keen on basing a guy’s success on wins and losses, Wyatt kind of lives and dies by them. In the case of The Undertaker, he spent the entire winter beating Dean Ambrose, then the entire Road to WrestleMania calling out The Undertaker. Then Taker shows up for one night, beats him, and Wyatt just starts his cryptic promo feud all over again. As a fan, why should I even be paying attention to Wyatt? The casual fans are tuning him out because he seems like a fraud. The hardcore fans who like him no matter what will stand by him, but that’s now where you make your money. Wyatt needs to be seen as a man of his word, not a guy who makes threats and then can’t cash in on them. I have to assume WWE is having Ryback dispatch Bo Dallas for a reason, and I hope that reason is so that Dallas and Wyatt, who are real life brothers, can join together. Wyatt was at his peak when he had loyal followers, and who better to follow him than his disillusioned brother? Dallas has grown out his facial hair and his promo’s the past few nights have been considerably less happy go lucky and a lot more stern. The WWE has been in business for a long time, so I know they can create a feud with these three that makes everyone look better when it’s over.
Coming off a night where he had another man kiss his ass, Sheamus turned up on Raw and moved on to the semifinals of the King of the Ring tournament. Since embarrassing Ziggler wasn’t enough, Sheamus decided to come out on the microphone and interrupt Ziggler’s match with Barrett to show the still photos of Ziggler kissing Sheamus’s ass from Extreme Rules. Sheamus and Rollins are the best bad guys in the company right now, and it’s solely because they’re great at being assholes. Forcing someone to kiss your ass is bad enough, but coming out the next night to show them pictures of the ass kissing is next level dick head-ness. My only complaint with the King of the Ring tournament setup was having Sheamus face Ambrose. Couldn’t Sheamus face Stardust and Ambrose face R-Truth so they both could advance? Why have Ambrose look so good at Extreme Rules then the next night have him lose via DQ? Isn’t the goal to have your best guys in the top spots? Rosa Mendes will become Divas champ before R-Truth wins this King of the Ring tournament, so why prolong the inevitable? Anyway, I’m glad Sheamus advanced, but I think he loses to Neville tonight.
This shouldn’t’ come as a surprise, but of the four opening round matches on Raw, Neville had the best one. Luke Harper is the best, and he’s mastered the style of making it look like he’s literally pulverizing the guys he’s in the ring with. I’ve also made it a personal goal to include Neville on every write up I do if he hits and wins with the Red Arrow. No one else on the main roster has a move that’s close to it, and seeing it live last week gives me a new found appreciation for his athleticism. Neville’s win sets up a match with Sheamus which I really think should be the finals match. Hopefully Ziggler costs Sheamus the match tonight and Neville gets a chance to beat Barrett again, which HAS to solidify him as the #1 contender for Daniel Bryan’s IC belt. If that’s the story WWE is going to tell, I’m all for it, and it continues Neville’s excellent main roster push. Minor complaint: WWE is obsessed with giving guys a million nicknames. Reigns is the juggernaut, superman, monster, yada, yada. Neville is the Man That Gravity Forgot and now they’re calling him the New Sensation. Just stick to one nickname and let it work itself out.
5. A House Show Main Event
Calling last night’s main event a ‘house show main event’ is not an insult. Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins all looked pretty into this match, and it had a house show kind of feel to it. Wrestling on live television limits what the performers are able to do because everything is timed out so meticulously. The Kane/Rollins feud is king of dragging, but a tweet after Raw might clue us into the future of the Authority/Seth Rollins storyline:
— Finn Bálor (@wwebalor) April 28, 2015
Give me Finn Balor as the new demon for The Authority. Give me Finn Balor against Rollins. Just give me Finn Balor on the main roster right god damn now. If this is the payoff to the current feud, I’m willing to stick it out. I also love the main event of Payback being a triple threat, as Reigns should be in the main event after his performance at Fast Lane, WM and Extreme Rules.
Raw was overseas last night and it was a solid show overall from the O2 arena in London. A few matches were finalized with ‘Extreme Rules’ stipulations, and is FANDANGO BACK? (no) Let’s get to the 5 Stars from last night’s Raw.
1. Home Field Advantage
One of my favorite things that happen on a wrestling show is wrestlers wrestling in front of a hometown or home country crowd. It’s not the 1980s anymore, and the days of wrestlers being billed from ‘Parts Unknown’ or ‘Hell’ are long gone. Wade Barrett and Paige are actual people from actual places. So when BNB comes out and gets cheered for his match against John Cena, the WWE should use that to their advantage. At this point in Cena’s title reign, it’s pretty much set in stone that he’s not going to lose to Barrett on Raw, but the crowd is into the near falls and it makes the match much more exciting. Same thing goes for Paige. She gets the biggest ovation out of any of the Divas, and get to cut a great post match promo talking about her journey for wrestling at carnivals to winning a match at WrestleMania. Naomi’s turn and attack on Paige is enhanced because Paige is in front of her home country crowd, and WWE addressing the fact that she’s from England helps that immensely.
2. The US Title Open Challenge
I also love the Open Challenge idea, because when Cena does lose, it will not only come as a shock, but it will immediately elevate whoever he loses to. Ambrose, Stardust and now BNB. Cena is elevating the title and making these guys look good in the process. One small complaint is that every match has had the same style so far, and after awhile people kicking out of the Attitude Adjustment might do more harm than good. It’s exciting for the false finish, but I’d like to see Cena switch it up and wrestle a different style of match that doesn’t involve him kicking out of a guy’s finisher and then in turn that same guy kicking out of the AA. In what is going to be a running theme in this write up, wins and losses don’t matter if it’s being booked correctly. BNB, Ambrose and Stardust losing to Cena help them out more than beating the bums of the WWE. Ambrose beat Adam Rose and Stardust beat Fandango, but both of them looked better in loses to Cena than in victory last night.
3. Rusev And His Russian Chain
A personal highlight from last night’s show was Rusev showing up with a RUSSIAN CHAIN and knocking John Cena out cold. I’ve mentioned it before, but I love when wrestling villains are actual villains. Cena is exhausted after a tough match against BNB, so Rusev sends Lana out on the ramp to distract Cena and attack him from behind with a chain. The Russian flag drops from the ceiling and Rusev stands over Cena’s crushed body. That’s what a villain SHOULD do, and I’m glad they’re going all the way with Rusev. It’s impossible for the smart audience not to cheer him against Cena, but adding some heel tendencies to his character will help him in the long run.
After Paige won the Battle Royal, Naomi attacked and mauled her outside the ring. Later during the show, she cut a promo on the entire Diva’s division that was one of the most logical statements made in a long time. Naomi was in the same rookie class as AJ Lee, yet AJ has had 3 Diva’s title reigns and now that she’s retired, she’s considered a legend. Naomi has pinned Nikki Bella numerous times over the past few weeks, yet had to enter a Battle Royal just to get a title shot. The WWE creative team is so screwy that they should take advantage of it and let the Divas or any other superstar call them out on it when things are being booked so idiotically. Naomi was finally given a personality and immediately sky rocketed up the Diva’s ranks in my opinion. Her athleticism was never a question, but when you give her something more than “Funkadactyl or Usos’ wife’ to work with from a character standpoint, she’s going to bring it home.
5. Dolph Ziggler v. Neville
So Neville has been on the main roster for three weeks, and he’s already progressed more than half of the roster who’ve been there for years. The internet wrestling community is obsessed with wins and losses, so naturally there’s already talk of how bad ‘Neville is being buried’. My only response to that is that I’d rather Neville lose back to back to weeks to Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler in competitive matches than have him beat the Curtis Axel’s or Fandango’s of the world. Let me ask a question: who looked better last night: Stardust or Neville? Stardust won over Fandango, Neville lost to Ziggler, but I guarantee most people don’t even remember the Stardust/Fandango match. Wins and losses don’t mean anything in the world of wrestling if the matches and feuds are booked right. Neville has proven he can hang against both Rollins and Ziggler, and he would’ve beat the WWE World Champion if it wasn’t for J and J Security. So yeah, Neville is fine, and he looked great again last night. That 450 splash from the ring barricade was insane, and there’s really no one like Neville on the WWE roster. He’s the total package, and pairing him with Ziggler was a great choice. Ziggler is the best seller on the roster, and that Brogue Kick on the outside from Sheamus was brutal. I can live in world where Sheamus/Ziggler/Neville are feuding with each other.
The first Raw after WrestleMania is always one of WWE’s best shows, and while we didn’t get any major surprises like year’s past, there was still enough solid wrestling and returns/debuts to keep us satisfied. A few NXT superstars made a big impact, and a returning Irishman put his boot back to work. Let’s get to it!
1. Brock Lesnar is the best wrestler going right now
If you missed WrestleMania last night, you missed one of, if not the hardest hitting main event in the show’s history. Lesnar took on Roman Reigns, and they literally beat the shit out of each other. For most of the match, Lesnar suplex, clotheslined and F-5’d Reigns like he was playing with a toddler. Reigns mounted a comeback, but just as the tide was turning, Seth Rollins snuck in and stole the WWE Championship from both of them, leaving WrestleMania as the new champion. Needless to say, Brock Lesnar was not happy. He came out to start Raw still in his wrestling gear, and Heyman announced he would like his rematch right now. Seth Rollins initially agreed, then backed out, and Lesnar snapped. The reason Lesnar is the best wrestler going right now is because he is the most believable guy in the ring at all times. Back in the day the monster heels used to legitimately scare audiences because even though they thought it the show itself was fake, THIS guy was real. That’s how I feel about Lesnar, which is something I never thought I’d say about a guy in 2015. Even guys like Kane and Big Show, who are larger than life, don’t put the fear of God in me when they get all bug eyed like Lesnar does. Brock just wrecked any living creature that was on his side of the barricade, including F-5ing Michael Cole right out of his loafers. They needed to write Lesnar off TV until his next appearance, and now that he’s clearly over with the fans, this is better than the usual “I’m a prize fighter” excuse. In the interest of my affection for this beast, I hope he’s not away for long.
2. The Intercontinental Championship
It hasn’t even been 48 hours, but the IC and US titles already feel important again. It’s amazing what happens when you give the belts to two established guys and let them have enough time in the ring to have great matches. That’s what the mid card used to be about. Before HBK and Bret Hart were in the main event, they were having the best matches on the card as tag teams or mid card champions while guys like Hogan and Warrior were holding down the main event. Then when HBK and Bret made it to the main event, guys like HHH and the Rock took over the mid card roles. WWE lost it’s way somewhere along the journey, but a Ziggler/Bryan feud is the spark that could reignite the division. As silly as he looked, it was good to see Sheamus back as a heel, which is where he belongs. Bryan defending against Sheamus, Ziggler and a motivated Barrett not only makes for great matches, but they’re all talented enough to create great storylines as well. And please for the love of God be careful with Daniel Bryan’s precious neck.
If you’ve watched NXT, you know that Kalisto is at his worst a poor man’s Rey Mysterio and at his best an actual Rey Mysterio. He tags with the new Sin Cara and like most Lucha Libre wrestlers they rely on high flying moves and the selling abilities of their opponents. Most of the time they’re good, but they do have some stinker matches in them as well. Last night, Kalisto was ON. He was flying around the ring, and everyone from Cesaro to Viktor was selling their ass off for him. The crowd was eating it up, too. The post Mania crowds are great, but sometimes they can get a little carried away, which is what happened in the main event. There’s never a need for a crowd to chant ‘we are awesome’. Watch the show and chant all you want, but as someone watching on TV, that chant’s a little much. Anyway, the crowd was great for this match, and I’m glad Kalisto got the pin but didn’t beat either of the tag team champs. A Lucha Dragons/Swinging Cats feud is definitely something I could get on board with.
4. The United States Championship
I can pretty much copy and paste what I wrote about the IC title and put it here, because it’s pretty much the same, glorious thing. If John Cena turns into a mid card super worker and elevates the US title I will forgive a lot of things he’s done in the past. This SHOULD lead to a new and improved Rusev eventually beating Cena, but for now, I want Cena having matches like last night’s match with Ambrose. Cena’s reputation automatically makes it believable when he beats guys like Ambrose, but it’s much more effective when they have a match like this and both guys end up looking great. Ambrose doesn’t really have any knockout blows, so he’s stuck trading punches and secondary moves with a guy like Cena, and that’s a battle Cena is going to win every time. Ambrose is a little nuts, which helps him kick out of the AA and power out of the STF, but ultimately he just doesn’t have enough in the tank to win. This is how guys SHOULD be fighting over a title, and I hope Cena becomes a fighting champion, because there are guys like Ambrose, Harper and possibly Neville waiting for a shot.
5. The Divas
Their match was a little short at Mania, but it seemed like AJ, Paige and the Bella’s were really enjoying themselves out there, and same goes for last night. They were given more time and a few additions in Natalya and Naomi, and they put on a solid match. I liked the story, too, as the tease pre-Mania was AJ and Paige fighting, but now it looks like the Bella’s are no longer on the same page. As good as the Bella’s are as heels, it is time for them to split again. Nikki especially has grown into her own character, and she could benefit from a run with the title without the assistance of her sister. The Diva’s as a whole seem like their enjoying themselves more out there, and there’s a noticeable difference in the in ring product. The Give Diva’s a Chance hash tag should help the Diva’s, and it goes beyond just giving them more time in the ring. The storylines should be more wrestling centric, and the announce team should treat their matches as seriously as any other match on the card. If not, get Brock Lesnar back out there and have him take out the announce team again.
5 Stars From Last Night’s #RAW & The Unnecessary Hole The WWE Has Dug Themselves For The Main Event of WrestleMania
The final Raw before WrestleMania aired last night from Los Angeles, and for the most part was a pretty solid show. Every WrestleMania match has been made, so Raw served as a platform to tie up any loose ends and get the final fight/promo out of the way before WWE’s biggest show of the year. Just like last week, all hands were on deck, including Sting and Brock Lesnar, and one of them was utilized correctly while the other one still has me puzzled. I’m going to make this a joint article with the regular five star setup followed by what happened to close Raw.
1. This IS Sting
Sting opened up Monday Night Raw last night and it was a breath of fresh air. I can’t remember the last time someone other than a member of The Authority started Raw, so not only was Sting a sight for sore eyes, but he had a lot of energy and finally explained why he was in the WWE. Stephanie McMahon is so evil and played her role pitch perfectly, including the damsel in distress after her slap backfired. It’s clear by it’s use both as Fast Lane and last night’s Raw that the sledgehammer and the baseball bat will come into play for Sting and HHH’s match at Mania, but how that will happen is anyone’s guess at this point. Not only is Sting in great shape, but he really seems to be enjoying himself. He’s at the stage in his career where he’s going to get a huge pop no matter what arena he walks into, and I fully expect Levi’s Stadium in San Fran to blow the imaginary roof off the stadium on Sunday. If he can, I’d love for Sting to stick around for one more year and finish his career off in Dallas for next year’s Mania, but for now I’m going to enjoy him Stinger Splashing HHH on Sunday.
2. Have Yourselves A Match Nikki & Paige
Raise your hand if heading into Raw you thought Nikki Bella and Paige would have the match of the night. Raise your hand if halfway through Raw you thought Nikki Bella and Paige would have the match of the night on the same show that included Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler. I’m assuming no one has their hands raised. This isn’t a knock on Nikki or Paige or any of the Divas, but the WWE hasn’t exactly inspired us with confidence when it comes to the Divas division. Nikki and Paige were given enough time to tell a story and have a solid match, and look what happened: they told a story and had a solid match! I’m hoping this will lead to a Fatal Four Way or Triple Threat match for the Diva’s title at Mania, because not having the championship defended at your biggest show isn’t right. If the match stays as is, they should have enough time to at least have a good match (it is a 4 hour show), and I expect Paige and AJ to feud shortly after Mania.
Besides the Diva’s match, my other personal highlight was Rusev killing Jack Swagger and John Cena. Props to Michael Cole for pointing out that Lana is usually the one who stops Rusev from going too far post match, but since she’s not here, he’s basically a monster without a leash. I fully expected Cena to come down to the ring and toss Rusev around and leave him running up the ramp, but NOPE. Rusev just forearmed him in the face, threw him into the barricade and camel clutched him until he passed out. My only complaint was that he didn’t drape the Russian flag over Cena’s lifeless body afterwards. The pessimist in wrestling fans came out last night when people started tweeting that now Cena is definitely going to win at Mania. How about we enjoy the show guys? Maybe Cena wins, maybe he doesn’t. The key to Rusev will be how he responds to his match at Mania, and while a loss will definitely hurt him, if he comes back strong he’ll be fine in the long run. I really hope he is fine in the long run, because he is far and away my favorite character on the show right now.
4. Bray Wyatt
Welp, there’s a new face of fear. This was SO GOOD. SO GOOD CAPTIAL LETTERS EXCLAMATION POINT. When the thunder and lightning effects kicked in I thought we’d get another Undertaker voice over, but it looks like Wyatt has literally usurped The Undertaker as the WWE’s resident poltergeist. He now has The Undertaker’s powers, and as good as Heyman has been hyping up Lesnar/Reigns, Wyatt has been even better. Heyman at least has someone beside him in Lesnar and someone to play off of in Reigns. Bray Wyatt has stood in the middle of that ring and single handedly sold us on a WrestleMania match with The Undertaker. The most mythical and holy match in the history of wrestling, and Wyatt’s done it on his own. If you still doubt Wyatt after that promo, you’re an idiot and don’t under pro wrestling.
5. Paul Heyman
Heyman started off his promo saying there’s nothing more he can say to sell us on the WrestleMania main event, then he went ahead and did it anyway. Without Heyman, this main event build would have been terrible, but I’m assuming the WWE knows that, and wouldn’t have set this match up without Heyman in the picture to begin with. He is wrestling’s best hype man, and his client is wrestling’s greatest beast. I don’t think Lesnar is going to lose at Mania, and I don’t think he should lose at Mania, which brings me to my next point…
What the hell was that ending? The WWE has done a great job lately in rallying the fans together to have the same opinion on a segment or a match, and that is the farthest thing from a compliment. At the Royal Rumble, the WWE booked the Rumble match so foolishly they screwed up their own coronation ceremony of Roman Reigns. I have no beef with Reigns winning the Rumble, or him main-eventing Mania, but what did you expect the crowd to do when Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt were all dumped out of the ring by KANE AND THE BIG SHOW? You had the show in Philly! One of the smarkiest crowds in wrestling, and you end a show like that. The fans lashed out, rightfully so, and now the WWE was forced to promote the main event on their biggest show of the year from deep within a hole they dug themselves. They trotted Roman Reigns out to the middle of a ring with a microphone, his main weakness, and sat there baffled when people shit all over it. Paul Heyman became their saving grace, but come bell time Sunday night, Paul Heyman won’t be in that ring. It will be up to Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns to put on a match that is worthy of the main event spot of a WrestleMania. The preview we got for that match last night was mind blowingly bad. You have the most dominant champion of this century and his equally as alpha male opponent tussle over the belt? I understand you don’t want a large scale brawl, but they needed to do something more than that. Unless WrestleMania opens up with Lesnar and Reigns still in the middle of the ring in LA fighting over the belt, I’m not satisfied, and once again, neither is the entire WWE Universe. The excuse of “it’s three hours of TV and it’s hard to get everything right” does not apply here. This what the WWE does: they put on shows that the audience pays for and we expect to be entertained. Maybe our favorite guy isn’t in the main event, maybe their best wrestlers don’t get enough ring time, but the audience puts blind faith in Vince, HHH and the writers and we are continually disappointed. I’m going to watch and enjoy WrestleMania and I expect most of the card to be great, but it won’t be because of anything that happened in the final minutes of last night’s Raw. The WWE will once again operating out of a hole they dug themselves in, and depending how Mania ends on Sunday, they might not be able to dig themselves out.
What a difference a week makes. While Raw was again short on the wrestling, the majority of the promos were excellent, and the matches we did get, especially Harper/Bryan and Reigns/Rollins, were very good. Jon Stewart showed up to confront Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt lit a casket on fire and AJ Lee returned to help out the enemies of her enemy. Just another Monday night in the WWE Universe. Now, let’s get to the 5 stars from last night’s Raw.
1. The Intercontinental Championship
The best thing about titles in wrestling is that they can justify any storyline. The IC belt hasn’t been relevant in quite awhile, but it’s still the second most important title in the WWE, so six different guys going to extreme lengths to obtain it makes sense. The championship is scheduled to be defended at WrestleMania in a ladder match, but the only two participants that have been announced are actual champion Bad News Barrett and R-Truth. As much as I’d LOVE to see a one on one match for the IC title between Barrett and Truth at Mania, it seems as if the WWE has other plans. Last night, we had two matches that centered around the belt: Dean Ambrose vs. Barrett and Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper. During both matches there were outside shenanigans with various people sneaking in and stealing the belt, but in the ring, both matches were pretty good. While Barrett has taken a slide in the wrong direction since winning the belt, he and Ambrose can still put on a good match, and Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper is incapable of being bad. Ziggler sneaking in at the end to super kick Harper and take the belt was just the icing on the cake, and it looks like a MITB style ladder match is going to determine the new IC champ at Mania. If the WWE is trying to solidify the secondary titles heading into Mania, then they’re doing a great job. With Cena most likely challenging for the US title and a bunch of stars headlined by Daniel Bryan going for the IC gold, the WWE could have some seriously interesting mid card feuds post Mania.
2. Stephanie McMahon & #Axelmania
This was all one segment, so I’m lumping them together. Cena came out and cut the same old promo (more on that in a second) and entered himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but was thankfully interrupted by Stephanie McMahon, who absolutely annihilated him. If this was any other wrestler I’d feel bad, but it’s Cena, and he deserves to be put in his place from time to time. Stephanie told Cena he can’t just enter himself into a WrestleMania match, and that maybe WrestleMania would be better off without John Cena this year (this is when the world’s biggest YES chant should have erupted). After Steph runs down Cena for not getting the job done against Rusev, Curtis Axel comes out, and I’m all in on Axelmania. It’s probably not going anywhere, but it should. What’s the difference between what Curtis Axel is doing and what Damien Sandow is doing? They’re both talented guys who were given throw away gimmicks who are making it work, and the crowd is taking notice. I know he got fed to the Cena monster last night, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the crowd is eating this Axelmania thing up. The best part is that Axel is consistently changing things up. When he first came out after the Rumble, he started the hash tag Axelmania. The next time, he had a hash tag Axelmania shirt. Now he comes out with a clock on the Titantron of how long he’s been in the Royal Rumble, and announces himself as the longest entrant in Rumble history. That’s great, and it’s a simple change that not enough wrestlers do. You want to know why people really hate John Cena? Because when his music hits and he’s going to the ring, whether it’s for a promo or a match, you know what you’re going to get. He never changes things up, or adds a new dimension to his character. If it’s a match, you know he’s going to do his five moves of doom, maybe throw a dropkick or a bad Frankesteiner, and that’s that. If he’s cutting a promo, he starts it off by saying the crowd is LIVE tonight, then depending on his mood or current feud, he’ll either make fun of his opponent or put on his super serious face and say this is the most important fight of his life. When Curtis Axel is more organic and over than your top guy, I think it’s time to switch some things up.
3. Paul Heyman
Paul Heyman makes every show he’s on better. Paul Heyman when he’s ON makes a good show great, and a great show must see. Last night, without his Beast, Heyman cut one of his best promos in years. He quickly addressed the elephant in the room of Lesnar walking out of Raw last Monday and then appearing at UFC the following Saturday by simply telling everyone that Brock Lesnar will do whatever the hell he wants. Then he turned his attention to Roman Reigns, and it was a different message then the one a week ago where he basically gave Reigns a verbal blow job. This time, Heyman sent out a warning to Reigns: if he shows up to fight Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, one of two things will happen: Brock will systematically dissect Reigns and beat him or Brock will ‘Ronda Rousey’ his ass and beat him quickly. I’m glad that when Reigns’ music hit, Heyman left the ring and we didn’t have a one on showdown between the two, because last night Paul Heyman had the ability to clip Reigns’ wings with just a few words. As great as Heyman is, the lack of good managers in the WWE is being exposed with this feud. If Reigns had a mouth piece to counter Heyman, and Roman could just beat the crap out of people in the ring, this feud would be significantly better. He’s probably not the answer, but Jon Stewart did cut a hell of a promo on Seth Rollins last night. I’ve seen crazier things happen in the WWE.
4. Bray Wyatt
Speaking of doing something different every time you’re out there, how great has Bray Wyatt been? Ever since the beginning of his Ambrose feud, Wyatt has been money both in the ring and on the microphone, and he’s single handedly carried a WrestleMania feud with The Undertaker. Has anyone ever done that? Taker hasn’t been on TV consistently for the last couple years, but he’s always shown up on Raw before Mania to address his challenger. This year, the burden has been put squarely on the shoulders of Bray Wyatt, and he’s more than delivered. I’m glad he’s getting some freedom to do different things, because his promo at Fast Lane and his promo last night were great both verbally and visually. I’ve heard and read a lot of talk about what the outcome of Wyatt and Taker’s match at Mania will be, but I think we need to appreciate the journey Wyatt is taking in this case, and watch a future main eventer spring to life right before our eyes.
5. AJ Lee
I’m hoping this ends up being a Fatal Four Way match for the Diva’s Title, but even if it ends up being a tag match, I’m glad AJ Lee is back for the WrestleMania build. She’s cuts the best promo of any Diva, and she has a different in ring style that I believe is heightened when you haven’t seen it in a while. One of the toughest things for a WWE superstar or Diva to accomplish is to avoid becoming stale. Unlike every other professional sport, the WWE has no offseason, and unless you’re injured or filming a movie, you’re going to be on every show. Everyone is forced to keep reinventing themselves, but even if they’re successful at that, certain stars can get complacent (see Cena, John). The best thing that could’ve happened to AJ was her time off, because now not only is she coming back recharged, but she’s in a main event Divas storyline with a worldwide hash tag that she can get on the microphone and promote. Nobody wants the Divas to get a chance to shine more than AJ Lee, and I’m glad she’s back.
Last night was the first Raw to start the real build towards WrestleMania, and it wasn’t great. I enjoy the WWE, and for the most part try to rationalize their decision making, but last night’s Raw was a train wreck. WAY too many talking segments, a baffling booking decision on Randy Orton and more disrespect to the Divas that have fans voicing their disdain with the WWE rather than talking about the WrestleMania pay per view. The WWE only has four more Raw’s to get the casual viewer invested in WM, and they just dug themselves an unnecessary hole. Now, onto the 5 stars of last night’s Raw.
1. Dolph Ziggler
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Dolph Ziggler had the best match on the show. He took on Bad News Barrett, so you knew he was going to win before the match started, because the IC champ does not win non-title matches, but it was still a fun match. It looks like the WWE may be building to a Fatal Four Way match for the IC title at WM between R-Truth, Ziggler, Ambrose and Barrett, which I like. As much as a guy like R-Truth doesn’t deserve to be elevated the same way Ziggler does, it’s always fun to create different kind of matches for WM. A Fatal Four Way would be a lot more fun than a regular one on one match, so I’m all for it. As for last night, Ziggler proves once again that he’s one of, if not the best worker on the show, and if WWE ever decides to roll with him, they have a guy who will consistently upgrade their in ring product.
2. Daniel Bryan
Whether fans like it or not, Roman Reigns is going to WrestleMania to face Brock Lesnar for the World Heavyweight Championship, and Daniel Bryan is not. They both put on a great match at Fast Lane, but Reigns came out victorious, and he may be the Champion in four weeks. As for Bryan, he had a very good Raw, per usual, both on the microphone and in the ring. His promo on originally doubting Reigns then respecting him after their match at Fast Lane was great, and seemed to be planting the seeds to a more aggressive, edgier Daniel Bryan. The best thing about the WWE is that they don’t have an off season: if you’re favorite team loses in the Super Bowl, you have to wait all offseason to see who is going to stay on the team, what moves they’ll make and if they’ll ever be that good again. If you’re a Daniel Bryan fan and you’re upset he’s not in the main event of WrestleMania, guess what? The day after WrestleMania ends, the entire cycle starts up again. Daniel Bryan could be the #1 contender at Extreme Rules, or the next pay per view, or the next one; it’s a 12 month, 365 day cycle that the WWE has to write for. Just because he’s not the top dog for some of that cycle doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen somewhere down the line.
3. Bray Wyatt
Man, Bray Wyatt is on some other level with his promos right now. You had a feeling pairing him with The Undertaker would up his game, but his promo from the coffin at Fast Lane and the follow up promo last night were both awesome. This is what COULD have happened during the build to last year’s WM, but Cena thought it was more important to put Bray’s head on a baby body and call him a swamp hillbilly. While I’d love to see Bray win at Mania, at this point I’m just relishing in the fact that even being mentioned in the same sentence as The Undertaker is giving Bray some much needed wind in his sails. The first confrontation between the two, whenever that may be, should be epic. Speaking of The Undertaker, looks who’s training…
4. Lana & Rusev
I hope you’re noticing a theme here. Almost all my stars from last night have to do with promos, which is what happens when the WWE puts on a three hour show with 7 matches, with four of them going less than 4 minutes. Anyway, Lana and Rusev were great here. I didn’t like the finish to Cena/Rusev at Fast Lane, mainly because it seems like they’re setting Cena up for a big win at Mania, which he doesn’t need, but other than the unnecessary low blow, Rusev looked great. He was equally as great here, and Cena deserves some credit for avoiding the kiddie jokes and staying serious the whole time. That’s where we are at with John Cena: the WWE’s top guy and face of the company get’s credit for not being a jackass. The main thing I loved about Rusev’s promo was that he bucked the trend of title match losers immediately getting their rematch. It’s the dumbest stipulation WWE has and allows them to be extra lazy with their feuds. If the champion wins, they face the same person in a rematch. If the champ loses, they get their rematch. It’s especially lazy when so much of the roster isn’t being utilized. It’s inevitable that Cena will face Rusev for the title at WM, but I’m glad Rusev didn’t give in right away. He is a true hero, JOHN.
5. The WWE Production Team
What happens when your three hour show has one good match? You get a lot of talking, and a lot of video packages. With that said, the Sting video package was phenomenal. Whether the creative aspect of their show is good or not, you always know if a hype or tribute video package is being presented, it will be expertly done. Sting has had such a great career, and I’m so glad that the WWE Network exists, because I’m able to go back and watch the old NWA/WCW shows from the 80s and early 90s and watch Sting at his peak. He was so strong and charismatic, and was every bit an equal of HBK in his hey day. As I’ve said before, a lot of credit needs to be given to HHH and the WWE production team, as it can’t be easy building up a feud, especially one centered around a WM match, when one of the guys isn’t there. All in all, this video was great, and gives the casual fan a chance to see just how great Sting was, and give them some context for the WM showdown. My only problem with the HHH and Sting match is that it’s the third WM match being promoted that features one of the guys not being on Raw. Lesnar/Reigns, HHH/Sting and Wyatt/Undertaker are all going to be marquee matchups, but each feud is missing a participant. I think Lesnar/Reigns will be ok because of Heyman, but the other two would definitely be more intriguing if both guys were there full time.