Wrestlemania Hype Level update: Gone from barely hyped to slightly excited. Will keep you informed. However, I’m not particularly inclined to put that down to last night’s Raw. Call me crazy, but I think they were trying to sneak in some wrestling between adverts and promos for Wrestlemania. I know WWE programming has always been on the whorier end of the corporate spectrum, but last night was ridiculous. There were a total of 4 matches in the whole 3 hour runtime and two of those matches barely made it past 5 minutes. I understand that its all about building excitement for ‘Mania and advancing character and story beats, but Christ Almighty, there wasn’t much on show.
Once again (and I feel this is part of being a wrestling fan), I slap WWE round the head and then cuddle it and praise it for doing some good. I was shocked that the Divas match between Nikki Bella and AJ Lee went on for longer than a few minutes. There’s been an attitude amongst fans that the womens’ matches are basically filler and an excuse to nip out for a piss and not miss anything of value. Perhaps all this #GiveDivasAChance stuff is working, because we got a half decent match with some proper storytelling. Everyone loves AJ and Paige and rightly so, but Nikki Bella continually impresses me. She is a proper powerhouse of a wrestler and she’s a great loathsome heel. Not entirely sure what they’re doing with her sister Brie, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Best match of the night was the 6 man tag match featuring Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper, Bad News Barrett and Stardust. Basically, it’s Team Babyface vs Team Heel and it worked. It certainly did its job in getting me to look forward to the Intercontinental Ladder Match at ‘Mania. They’ve done well in making the title seem important by having so many people gunning for it. That was part of the problem with any belt that wasn’t the main World Heavyweight Championship one and I’m glad they’ve put some more time and effort into making people care about the other belts. Having said that, two advert breaks during the match is unforgivable, especially as it was the one that got the biggest reactions of the night. I found myself getting properly into the match and then Michael Cole would say something like “Raw rolls on after this break” and I’d lose my investment. This has been a problem ever since they made Raw 3 hours long, but I really felt it hurt my enjoyment of the match. One advert break I can deal with, but two is ludicrous.
I feel I should quickly mention the breakdown of the Miz/Mizdow team. Everyone cheers for Mizdow, but I feel that The Miz‘s heel work is brilliant. He got some proper heat by blaming Mizdow and laying him out and I’m excited to see their partnership turn into a feud.
Paul Heyman got to cut another amazing promo hyping up the main event. This time, he was actually confronted by Roman Reigns who did better on the mic than I was expecting. They’ve modified Reigns’ motivation since his controversial win at the Royal Rumble and now he’s getting sick of people doubting his chances against Lesnar. I don’t hate Reigns as much as I did, but I’m still not convinced by him. It seems like Vince McMahon and the creative team are trying everything to get people to accept him and they’re unwittingly sabotaging him. His new “I can. I will.” T-Shirt was eye-rollingly awful and on the nose. I’m nervous for him at ‘Mania. Just because I don’t want him as champ now, doesn’t mean I’m completely against the idea of him as it in the future. I feel that if the ‘Mania match doesn’t go over particularly well with the audience, Creative will just forget about him being in contention for the big belt and shift him down the roster where ol’ dependable Cena will pick up the slack up top.
Talking of Cena, we got a contract signing for his U.S. Title shot at ‘Mania against Rusev. For once in a WWE ring, a contract signing didn’t end up with someone going through a table, which was equal parts refreshing and disappointing. I’m really not a fan of Cena loving America so much he has to fight anyone talking smack about it. I understand people may have nostalgic feelings towards it because it echoes Hulk Hogan’s “real American” gimmick, but it’s not for me. I think the match will be great, just not a fan of the jingoistic toss beforehand.
I like Bray Wyatt a lot. I think he lost his way a bit when he lost to Cena last year, but he’s back to feeling like a scary badass again. Wyatt has been put in a tough spot because he has to build up excitement for his match with The Undertaker by himself. ‘Taker hasn’t been seen since last year and rumour has it that he won’t turn up until the actual Wrestlemania match. However, I think Bray’s rambling about the Deadman and his fascination with becoming the WWE’s “new face of fear” is kinda cool. I said last week that when Bray actually has something to talk about he’s great on the mic and he proved it again this week. Not sure how the actual match is going to turn out, but I’ve been enjoying the build up.
Last but not least we had the main event, which was meant to be Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton, with Rollins wanting payback for the beatdown he suffered last week. Throughout the evening, we saw backstage bits where Rollins was alienating his nearest and dearest and it seemed like he was going to be going it alone. When the match rolled around- surprise! Rollins comes out with his entire crew mocking Orton for falling for his ruse. It’s all about to go down and then the lights go off. When they return, Sting is stood in the ring with his trademark baseball bat and he and Orton go to town on The Authority. It was a lot of fun. It reminded me of Sting’s WCW days against the-then dominant faction, the NWO. Chances are if you’re bad people in a position of power, Sting will show up and reset the balance.
Like last week, Raw was pretty lackluster. This was definitely better than last week, but not what I’d call a good episode. I really could have done with a few less promos and a bit more wrestling, but at least I’m starting to anticipate more of Wrestlemania than I was.