After loving Wrestlemania and the Post ‘Mania Raw that followed, I was looking forward to a real sense of where the new signings and storylines are going for this one. Overall, this episode of Raw had “holding pattern” written all over it. Half the roster (including Triple H and Stephanie) are away in the UK and so we had a diminished number of superstars facing off against each other. This meant no Dean Ambrose, no Daniel Bryan and no Dolph Ziggler, three of the most cheered guys in the company.
We started with yet another Authority opening promo, which felt like a lapse into bad habits. I love Seth Rollins, but they really need to do something interesting with the Authority, specifically Big Show and Kane. It could be a case of overexposure, but they both just seem to be stuck in character limbo. As Seth says so astutely whilst recounting all the ‘Mania Authority wins: “Uh…Kane was there too!.” That’s the problem. He is just there. Big Show too. Having said that, more Rollins time on the mic is always welcome and he was genuinely amusing. Randy Orton interrupted proceedings and demands a match with Rollins for his shiny new belt, taunting Kane and calling his corporate importance into question. Kane retaliates and sets a Triple Threat match to decide who faces Rollins for the belt at Extreme Rules. The contenders being Roman Reigns, Randy Orton and Ryback. Right, I get Orton and Reigns, but why the hell was Ryback included? It seemed so arbitrary. I guess they just needed a third guy.
I think they did well to get around the fact they were working with half a roster. Kane stipulates that each of the triple threat competitors must win a singles match beforehand, with Kane, Luke Harper and Big Show acting as the gatekeepers, meaning we got several wrestlers performing double duty. Orton versus Kane was up first. The match didn’t last very long and Orton won thanks to Kane being disqualified for slugging him in the guts with a chair. Rather unsatisfying.
In a backstage bit, Rollins gets off his chain a bit and snaps at Kane. To remind him of his place Kane sets up a match for Rollins against a mystery opponent. After a slick new intro, Neville comes out to face Seth. They clearly have a lot of confidence in Neville. This is only his second week on Raw and he’s already fighting the World Heavyweight Champion (in a non-title match, but it’s still impressive for a rookie). Both wrestlers are former indie circuit darlings and they’re both capable of jaw-dropping things. The match itself was fantastic. It was both fast and furious. Neville’s counter to Rollins’ turnbuckle powerbomb was a particular high point. Rollins ended up the victor, but Neville came out looking strong. Still not sure about him being called “Neville” instead of Adrian Neville. Maybe it’ll grow on me.
More John Cena Open U.S. Title Challenge (or whatever the hell they’re calling it, I can never remember) was next. This time it was Stardust’s turn to take a shot. I’m a fan of this whole idea. We’re getting to see Cena wrestle people he wouldn’t normally and it gives them a chance to gain serious props. I think Cody/Stardust is one of the most underrated wrestlers about and he and Cena had a really solid match. My personal highlight was Cena pulling out the second rope springboard stunner he did at ‘Mania, a move I’ve wanted to see him do since then and it was glorious. Of course Cena won, but like Dean Ambrose last week, Stardust proved he can go the distance. I hope there’s some actual threat of the title changing hands in the future. These things work best when they’re kept fluid. It’s fine for now, but if they keep pulling the same trick of Cena struggling but ultimately prevailing against the entire midcard, it could take us back to the boring, stakeless, invincible Cena we were stuck with for several painful years.
Divas action followed. The sudden, but not totally surprising retirement of AJ Lee must have thrown a spanner in the works, but Paige has a new tag partner in the form of Naomi. Together, they faced the Bella Twins. The match was entertaining enough, but I thought Naomi was a little sloppy and hampered the match slightly. Nothing of note from this one, really. Naomi may get the push and attention she’s been denied since her Funkadactyl days in AJ’s absence, which is cool with me. Hopefully they can make something great out of her partnership with Paige.
We haven’t seen much of the Prime Time Players and I was glad to see them. They cut a promo mocking the other tag teams and whilst it wasn’t particularly funny, it was still an interesting move to have them reassert themselves in the tag team division.
Ryback faced Luke Harper and won. Always pleased to see Luke Harper in action, but the match was pretty much filler. Next.
A big tag battle came next. The New Day vs. the Lucha Dragons. The “New Day sucks!” chants were out in full force and I think it’s a bit of a shame. It’s not the fault of the wrestlers, just the dumb, empty gospel gimmick they’ve given them. Creative do seem to be steering New Day into heel territory and hopefully they give them room to become a substantial force in the tag division. On paper, the mix of characters they have should make for a compelling team. I pray that this is realised. It was an enjoyable match and the Luchas are fast becoming favourites of mine.
Then came Roman Reigns vs The Big Show. Ugh. To clarify: that petulant “ugh” is for Big Show, not Reigns. I’m liking Roman more and more since his ‘Mania performance and I was heartened to hear the cheers outweighing the jeers for once. It’s a shame that the match was a pale facsimile of the Lesnar fight. Reigns took a beating and finally staggered and pinned the giant. Once again, big cheers for Roman. I’m not sure if it was the awesome crowd or whether opinion is changing on Reigns. Time will tell.
Sheamus came out having fully embraced the dark side so hard his entrance music has changed into something more foreboding. He grabbed the mic and went on about how he was better than Popular Wrestler A and how they were insects compared to him and blah blah blah. He issued an open challenge (it’s spreading) and Mark Henry came out to shut his stupid mouth. The following match was pretty good. I especially loved Sheamus throwing his arms wide and screaming “Are you not entertained?” at one point during the fight. +5 points for the Gladiator reference.
Bray Wyatt got another smoky room monologue to himself. He seems to be back to his pre ‘Mania days of aimlessly rambling on about nothing. Even though he lost to The Undertaker, he still proclaims he’s “the new face of fear”. I really hope this isn’t how they’re going to deal with his character. He built up an entire match by himself, the man deserves some meaty storylines.
I really get the feeling they’ve wasted the whole Miz/Mizdow feud. It’s been one of the better built up rivalries. Not sure why they didn’t save the proper one-on-one punch-up for a PPV. Anyway, I appreciated the gag of Mizdow still having the same entrance as Miz and getting massive cheers for doing things Miz was booed for. Mizdow catching a groin-aimed kick and incredulously saying “Really?!” to Miz was such a great little touch. As Miz won with the evergreen heel move of pinning whilst grabbing a fistful of tights I wouldn’t count on there not being any repercussions.
Finally, the Triple Threat match. As expected, Rollins and the remaining Authority members came to ringside to “observe” the match. Chaos soon broke out as they interfered. Roman did his impressive leap over the ropes onto the suited jerks. Orton ended up taking advantage of the confusion and RKOing Ryback for the win, ensuring his place in the Extreme Rules main event. His victory was short-lived, however, as Rollins curbstomped him into the middle of next week and stood triumphantly over his prone form, belt held aloft. He’s such a bastard. I love him.
So, back to the usual three star rating. It was a compromised edition of Raw, granted, but it still lacked any real oomph to it. Some great highlights, but some baffling decisions being made. Overall, a decent episode.