Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Raw opened with The Authority making their way to the ring. However, instead of talking about how powerful they are and shilling the Network (well, for the most part), Seth Rollins, Triple H et al had one thing on their minds- Dean Ambrose‘s title shot extortion last week. Rollins divulged that he actually prevented Ambrose from getting fired, justifying it by saying he feels Ambrose isn’t a threat to him. In what was undoubtedly a baited trap, Triple H stated he wanted to make things official and all Ambrose had to do was come down to the ring and sign the contract. Naturally, Ambrose appeared. After a few choice lines (Ambrose calling Seth part of the Authority’s “human centipede” was a personal highlight), Dean chose to enter the lion’s den and attempt to sign. Ambrose surveyed the situation from ringside for a while before Roman Reigns‘ music hit and Reigns glowered his way through the crowd to even the odds slightly. Stephanie informed Ambrose that he must sign the contract by the end of the show and then announced the night’s main event would comprise of Ambrose (yay!) and Reigns (less enthusiastic, but still yay!) taking on Rollins (yay!) and Kane (ugh). Here’s the twist- the main event was next!
My big take away from the opening promo is that they’ve stepped up their Ambrose writing game in the past month or so and it’s paying off. There was a horrible stretch where they didn’t know what they were doing and wrote him like a cartoon character. Let’s not even talk about his feud with Bray Wyatt that included ghostly hologram girls and exploding TVs. Anyway, they seem to have just about got where they should go with the character and the crowd are responding. Ambrose was always popular, but the massive cheers he gets now are on a whole new level. They’ve also realised that having the three Shield boys fighting is a license to ensure big reactions from the crowd.
The match was a lot of fun. We already know that Ambrose and Reigns’ styles compliment each other and Kane and Rollins did decent work. Ambrose and Reigns picked up the surprise win despite J&J Security’s best efforts. I can’t see Ambrose winning the belt any time soon, but they are definitely giving him the Stone Cold push. The brakes on him could be slammed on at any moment, but I have a feeling he’ll be a main eventer for a long while.
Backstage action with Ambrose was next on the agenda. J&J interrupted Ambrose’s post-match interview and antagonised him. He got into a brawl with them that ended in Ambrose mistakenly punching a cameraman, enabling J&J to escape as Dean checked on the mohawked punchee.
Rusev came out, having apparently dropped the Russian thing and flying the flag for Bulgaria instead. He stomped R-Truth in record time and made him tap out. When the match was over, Rusev remained in the ring and begged his former manager and girlfriend Lana to come to the ring, refusing to leave until she did. A long time and an advert break passed before Lana finally made her way to the ring. I’m not sure I’ve heard Lana’s solo entrance music before, but I dug the hell out of it. It’s like a softer version of Rusev’s powerful theme. Lovely. Anyway, Rusev said he was hurting and wanted her back. After some initial hostility, Lana accepted the olive branch and they embraced. Rusev wasn’t done. He then wanted to hear a familiar three word phrase from her. The trouble is that the three little words turned out to be “I was wrong”. Lana then rejected him and Rusev went mental. Suddenly, Lana’s new beau Dolph Ziggler came out to meet her on the ramp and the pair got some payback tonsil action on., leaving Rusev in the ring screaming out of hurt and rage.
Phew. I must admit, I found the whole Lana/Rusev bit to be pretty cringeworthy. Wrestling has always had soap opera elements, but I can only take so much before I start questioning why the hell I stayed up until four in the morning. I’m about the positives though, so here are my personal plus points from the bit. 1) Rusev has dropped the tenuous Russian stuff and is representing his actual home country 2) Rusev is still an awesome heel and 3) Lana is getting the cheers she deserves and her theme is awesome.
More backstage Ambrose action. Turned out that the cameraman was pressing charges (under clear Authority intimidation). Ambrose was arrested and taken downtown, scuppering his contract signing. This segment had the best little character touch in Ambrose already being fully aware of his Miranda Rights and getting impatient for the spiel to end when they were cuffing him.
Ryback and King Barrett had a fairly underwhelming match, with Ryback making short work of Barrett. I hope they don’t make him Intercontinental Champion. There are better options.
The cast of Entourage were special guest stars. It’s been a while since we had a shitty celebrity bullshit appearance and I can’t say I’ve missed them. They had a horribly stilted conversation with Triple H and Stephanie. I’ve never watched Entourage and have no interest in the film, but I hope they’re better in that than they were here. Ugh. It was painful.
Next up was Stardust vs. Neville. It was a great match. I have a soft spot for Stardust and his loony ways and Neville is just all kinds of awesome. Neville was still suffering with an injured knee and that became a key element in the match. Neville’s Elimination Chamber opponent Bo Dallas appeared mid match, ostensibly to offer Neville moral support. After ensuring his taped up knee wouldn’t buckle like last time, Neville hit the always fantastic Red Arrow for the win. Bo Dallas then entered the ring, prompted Neville to get up and then dropkicked his injured leg. What a douche. I can’t wait for their fight.
Sheamus faced Dolph Ziggler for the umpteenth time. It was a decent enough match, but Jesus, let them fight other people. Rusev interfered and Dolph superkicked him off the apron. Sheamus took advantage of the distraction and Ziggler ate a Brogue Kick, giving Sheamus the win. Rusev then set about punishing Ziggler and making an example out of him in front of the newly arrived Lana. He put Dolph in The Accolade and wrecked him, only then stalking off backstage. Rusev is such a good heel. A little moment I loved was when Sheamus was leaving the ring, he gestured to Rusev with a “he’s all yours” motion that I appreciated very much. I love people being bastards.
My most anticipated bit of the night finally rolled round next – the John Cena U.S. Championship Open Challenge. Cena did his usual thing on the mic, this time talking about his upcoming Elimination Chamber match with Kevin Owens. Eventually, he said his signature “You want some? Come get some!” and the challenge was set. The past few weeks of the challenge have been brilliant. Cena has had consistently great matches with a whole host of interesting superstars, including NXT call-ups Neville and Sami Zayn. Despite not being a match, I loved his confrontation with Owens last week. Imagine my horror when the fucking cast of fucking Entourage came out and spent a few minutes being awful. Luckily, they didn’t challenge and instead introduced hometown boy Zack Ryder. The resulting match was alright, but nowhere near the bar that’s been set by previous challenges. Zack Ryder got some good moves in, including a very smooth Unprettier and a surprising 450 flip that ended up costing him the match. I understand we can’t have NXT people or promising upstarts all the time, but Zack Ryder seemed like a waste. I like the guy and I think WWE’s handling of his once-popular character has been atrocious. I just can’t see what it accomplished, apart from garnering a slightly bigger than usual home crowd cheer. If this is the start of a Ryder renaissance then I’m completely down for that, but I doubt it. Hate to say it, but the segment did little for me, breaking the months long streak. Fuck you, cast of Entourage. You jinxed it.
Once Cena had buried Ryder once again, Kevin Owens came out of nowhere and gave him an action replay of last week and powerbombed him into the mat. Once again, Owens stomped on the U.S. Title and held his NXT belt up triumphantly. I’m expecting good things between the two at Elimination Chamber.
Paige took on Tamina Snuka in a “meh” match. After a fairly even contest, Tamina flattened Paige and won. It was made worse by the Bellas being on commentary. I hate not enjoying women’s matches, but sometimes so little care is put in to shaping them, they just become very shruggable experiences. Please step it up, Creative.
The New Day came out to complain about the fact they have to defend their titles at Elimination Chamber against five other teams. Kane came out and responded by setting up a 10 on 3 handicap match with the New Day facing 5 other teams. I enjoyed the match and it probably was my favourite of the night, but I can’t help but feel they’re blowing their load a little early, considering we saw them all last week, had them this week and then actually have the match on Sunday. New Day won by unsatisfying disqualification and the champs, unsurprisingly, retain until Sunday.
Finally, we were given an alternate angle to the Ambrose/cameraman altercation, where it turns out Seth Rollins shoved the cameraman into Ambrose and Ambrose was just using self defence. The Authority made their way to the ring to gloat over the unsigned contract. Triple H began to announce that Rollins would have no opponent at Elimination Chamber, but was cut off by Roman Reigns‘ music. My stomach dropped. Was he really going to sign it in Ambrose’s stead? Oh please no, I was just starting to like him. Thankfully he just wanted to fight and did just that. He soon got overwhelmed and suddenly a police siren was heard. Dean Ambrose drove into the arena in a police van, kitted out like a police officer, apparently cleared of charges in record time thanks to the video. Ignoring the fact he probably had new charges against him for stealing police equipment, Ambrose made his way to the ring and started kicking arse. Eventually Reigns and Ambrose cleared the ring and Ambrose made his match with Rollins official by signing on the dotted line. Fade to black.
Maybe my expectations were too high, but this was subpar. There was no real highlight match to speak of and I was incredibly disappointed in the Cena U.S. Open Challenge this week. What makes the whole thing unsatisfying is the fact that it’s basically last week’s show over again. Lana and Rusev broke up and she went to Ziggler. Ambrose wasn’t going to get a title shot but did by the end of the show. Kevin Owens powerbombed Cena and stomped on the U.S. Title. Bo Dallas and Neville are feuding. Last week was great but I didn’t need a pale copy of it. They say that the fastest way to spoil a treat is to make it routine. Anyway, I’m still incredibly excited about Elimination Chamber. I don’t think there’s a match I’m not looking forward to on the card. Catch you on the other side of it.