Monday Night Raw opened in familiar fashion with Triple H and Stephanie coming out to smug and posture in front of the crowd. They announced that night’s episode was dedicated to retaining champion Seth Rollins, calling the night “Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream”. They also officially announced that the vacant Intercontinental belt will be contested in less than two weeks at Elimination Chamber, a WWE Network exclusive. Their shilling of the Network was cut off when Sheamus’ entrance music hit. The Celtic Warrior came out to take responsibility for putting an end to Daniel Bryan’s “Yes Movement”, having had the last match with Bryan before he stepped aside. I understand why they’re doing this and the show must go on, but I’m not buying this sewing of reality into the fantasy of the show. It feels forced and to use Bryan’s sad exit as a way to get cheap heat from the crowd feels just that- cheap. Maybe I’m being oversensitive, but I feel there are better ways to do it.
Ryback then came out to talk of a friendship with Bryan that we’ve never seen any evidence of and to gain cheap applause for saying how much heart Bryan showed and what a great guy he is. Ryback got to shut down Stephanie though, which was sweet. Ryback challenged Sheamus to pick on someone his own size. After Stephanie stated that the two would have an opportunity to settle their differences at Elimination Chamber, disappointing fans who wanted to see them go at it, Triple H stepped in and said he dug the “weird thing” the guys had going on and left the ring, leaving Ryback and Sheamus to fight in an official match
The match was great. A lot of attention was paid to Ryback’s ribs, injured and strapped up from his Payback match with Bray Wyatt. Sheamus gained the upper hand early on, targeting the ribs. Ryback mounted a comeback and bounced Sheamus off the announcers’ table, managing to slow the Irishman’s attack. The key point in the match was Ryback slamming Sheamus’ head into the outside ringpost, causing him to hold his eye for the rest of the match. He slinked into a corner and got the referee’s attention. The ref then blocked Ryback from getting at Sheamus until he could examine him. Ryback again came in close and Sheamus exploded out of the corner and Brogue Kicked him in the face and pinned him for the three count. When he stood up victoriously, he removed his hand from his eye, having made a “miraculous” recovery. What an absolute bastard. I kinda love him. It was a great end to the match and certainly gave Sheamus some legitimate heat from the audience.
Next, Renee Young introduced Neville and had a few words with him before his rematch with King Barrett. It all boiled down to the same babyface stuff, but things got interesting when they were interrupted by Bo Dallas, who called Neville “The Little Engine That Couldn’t”. In a rare move, WWE actually acknowledged continuity and mentioned the NXT beef that the two had before being called up to the WWE roster. They had a quick scrap before King Barrett came out and Bo was invited to do some commentary by an over-enthusiastic JBL. I normally hate wrestlers on commentary, but I thought Bo was genuinely funny. There’s something about his high Michael Jackson voice that just sells the character and I laughed loudly when Dallas referred to Booker T as “Mr. T”.
The rematch was decent. Neville was still suffering from tweaking his knee at Payback and as a result didn’t get much offence in. After he tried to spring off the ropes, Neville’s knee buckled and he slammed into the mat, leaving him disorientated enough to not see Barrett’s Bull Hammer coming. Barrett picked up the win and Neville was left writhing in pain. Bo Dallas then involved himself, kicking and twisting the helpless Neville’s knee, apparently jealous of the impact Neville has made since being called up. They’re clearly setting up a rivalry between the two and that’s fine with me. Bo Dallas has not had a proper storyline since ever and it’s about time they put Neville into a feud. Good stuff.
This turned out to be the final straw for Rusev and Lana. Enraged that she quit on his behalf, Rusev sent her away, terminating their relationship and partnership. I’m surprised that they’ve pulled the trigger on this so soon. It’s getting Rusev a lot of hate, but I’m hoping they give him a meatier story to move on to as this hate will dissipate quickly.
After mouthing off to the Authority and demanding he be bumped up the queue for Seth’s title, Dean Ambrose found himself in a match with old rival Bray Wyatt. The two have put on great matches before, so the quality of this one was fairly assured. The way Bray wrestles just really meshes with Ambrose’s unconventional style. Having said that, Ambrose needs to cut down on the rope rebound clotheslines. This match wasn’t the worst offender, but he usually does multiple ones in matches now and it’s boring. Plus, it doesn’t even look good. I quite like the variation he does on the outside of the ring, but I’d happily chuck that baby out with the rest of the bathwater if it meant fewer rubbish clotheslines. Ambrose swung the momentum in his favour after a hard-fought match and went to the top rope. J&J Security showed their impeccable timing skills and rushed out to interfere. Whilst Joey Mercury distracted the ref, Jamie Noble shoved Ambrose from the top rope and directly into the grasp of Bray, who hit him with a Sister Abigail and walked away the winner. I love how petty The Authority are.
Tag action next and we had a Tag Team Championship rematch between New Day and Tyson Kidd & Cesaro. The Authority ordered that Payback match cheater Xavier Woods was banned from ringside to ensure a fair match. I’ve said before that these team have incredible chemistry and it was in full force. Unfortunately, we were robbed of a proper match as New Day ganged up on Tyson Kidd and repeatedly stomped him, giving the referee no choice but to end the match. New Day lost, but as it was a disqualification, they still hold the titles. What jerks. There were plenty of post-match shenanigans as first Xavier Woods came running in, followed by seemingly every other tag team ever, consisting of the Lucha Dragons, Los Matadores, The Ascension and the Prime Time Players. It was a hell of a lot of fun. It was then announced that all six teams would be fighting for the tag title at Elimination Chamber.
As someone who was very anti-Cena at one time, it’s odd that his music usually signifies my favourite part of the show now. We had more John Cena U.S. Title Open Challenge action, with Cena coming out to lay down his the usual gauntlet. Things took a turn for the awesome when NXT Champion Kevin Owens came out in response. He got to verbally spar with Cena, only to decline the shot for the U.S. Title, believing his NXT Title to be superior and refusing to fight Cena unless it was on his terms. He then blindsided Cena and hit him with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. Owens held his title aloft as he stood above the downed Cena and stamped on the U.S. Title. I’m only vaguely familiar with Kevin Owens, but I’ve seen enough to know the guy is a great talker and wrestler as well as being a truly detestable heel. I can’t wait to see what they do with him. Anyway, the whole segment was my favourite moment of the night. Huge props go to John Cena for putting three NXT wrestlers over recently.
Dolph Ziggler took on Stardust in regular singles action. It was a standard match, with the only really interesting development being Lana coming out to express her affections for the noodle-headed one. The two kissed before the spurned Rusev came out to stomp Lana’s new beau. Ziggler held his own and took advantage of Rusev being distracted by his anger at Lana and hit him with the Zig-Zag. Rusev went down like a ton of Bulgarian bricks and the two lovebirds walked backstage together. It’s a smart move teaming Lana (one of the most popular females on the roster) with the ever-popular Ziggler. Plus, future Ziggler/Rusev beef. Win/win/win situation as far as I’m concerned.
More filler tag action came in the form of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan vs. Fandango and Zack Ryder. So basically it was Team Creative Has Nothing For You vs. Team Complete Creative Failures. Harper and Rowan won after superkicking and slamming Zack Ryder to the mat. I’m glad we’ve got a bit of a Wyatt reunion going on, but it’s depressing to see Fandango and Ryder consistently treated like jobbers and only used to make Harper and Rowan look strong, a fact that we should all be very aware of by now anyway.
Divas action next with Nikki Bella defending her Divas title in a rematch against Naomi. The interesting stipulation for this one is that Brie Bella was banned from ringside, despite it being fine that Tamina Snuka accompanied Naomi to the ring. Nikki dominated the match and was setting Naomi up for the finish when Tamina booted her in the face. Nikki won due to disqualification, but we all know it wasn’t the win Naomi and Tamina wanted. The pair set about stomping Nikki until my favourite Diva Paige came out, returning from a month’s absence, to settle her score with Naomi, the one that put her out of action. Paige cleared the ring and a grateful Nikki bent down to pick up her belt, only to be grabbed and hit with a Ram-paige. Paige then held the title up, clearly indicating her intentions. The match was fairly decent, but I’m more excited by the fact that the Divas division has been afforded some surprisingly solid storytelling for once. Maybe the #GiveDivasAChance movement isn’t quite as dead as it seemed.
We had some quick backstage action before the main event, catching the end of a conversation between Kevin Owens and Triple H. Renee Young interviewed him and he divulged that he’s wangled a one-on-one match with John Cena at Elimination Chamber. What an awesome move. I’m incredibly excited by the idea and it’s now my most eagerly anticipated match of the show. Owens has put on some awesome matches with Sami Zayn and I imagine him hitting the brick wall that is John Cena will be incredibly entertaining.
We closed the night with the premiere of “Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream” which of course turned out to be a self-congratulatory exercise in Authority masturbation. After a few speeches and sepia-toned video packages, Dean Ambrose mercifully interrupted and demanded once again to have a shot at Rollins’ title. Confident in their fighting champion, The Authority stepped aside to let Rollins take on Ambrose. Naturally, J&J Security got involved and the fight spilled out of the ring. Ambrose fought the three men off, slamming Rollins off the announcers’ table. He then revealed a stack of cinderblocks hidden under a blanket and threatened to make a Rollins sandwich between steel chair and concrete bread unless he got his match. Again, good continuity struck and this was a nice callback to the way that Rollins curbstomped Ambrose through the concrete and put him out of action last year. Stephanie agreed to Ambrose’s terms and mayhem broke out. Rollins managed to recover enough to Pedigree Ambrose in the middle of the ring and stand victorious to Authority applause. Mic drop.
What a great episode of Raw this was. The storytelling is really getting on point and some of the matches they’re setting up are legitimately exciting. I’m looking forward to at least three or four matches at Elimination Chamber, which is practically the whole show. There were some non-essential matches this evening, but when the good parts are this good, it’s hard to care. Fantastic work all around.