Monday Night Raw kicked off with a passionate Montreal crowd as Randy Orton came out to talk more about his upcoming Triple Threat match for the World Heavyweight Championship at Payback. I like this version of Orton. He has fun on the mic, but I wish they’d give him better things than noticing how fitting the “Payback” name is. Anyway, Roman Reigns made his way down to the ring and informed Randy that his plan for getting even with Rollins simply wasn’t going to happen. The two bickered for a bit, trading barbs until they were interrupted by not Seth Rollins, but The New Day, trying to spread positivity. I love how New Day are being used. They’re so goddamn irritating and that’s what makes them great. Having them instead of Rollins is like not finishing a knock-knock joke. We needed the trifecta and were denied by the goofy, cheating, clapping team. Bonus points go to Orton, who seemed to be less annoyed by their meddling and more concerned with grooving along to their entrance music. Anyway, after some now-standard “New Day sucks!” chants, they revealed that they were booked for a handicap tag match with the three of them taking on Reigns and Orton.
The match itself was a fairly standard affair, hitting all the beats you’d expect from a modern tag match. The only really interesting thing was Reigns accidentally spearing Orton, missing Kofi Kingston, leaving Orton incapacitated and New Day free to pick up the win. It was fine, but my question is this: would it have been so bad if Reigns purposefully hit Randy? Yeah, it’s a bit of a dick move, but they were thrown in the match together. There’s no proper allegiance there. If Reigns really is the “badass Samoan with a chip on his shoulder”, why wouldn’t he flatten everyone in his way? Maybe turning him into an unapologetic ass-kicker is the way to finally silence those boos and jeers he still gets. Anyway, New Day continued their streak as properly booable douchebags and another thick T-bone was added to the mounting layers of beef between Reigns and Orton. As the two caught their breath and wallowed in their defeat, Kane came out to announce that they weren’t done for the night and made the main event a singles match between the two to “exploit” the growing dislike for each other they harbour.
We caught up with Seth Rollins backstage when he confronted Kane, taking the time to insult him again, because the last 50 times he’s done it, it’s worked out so well for him. Kane retaliated and set a match between Rollins and longtime rival and ex-Shield member Dean Ambrose with Rollins cronies J&J Security banned from ringside. Seth was left seething whilst having to prepare for his fight with Ambrose.
Ryback came out to reflect on his surprise beating by Bray Wyatt last week. He told Renee Young that he’s no stranger to fear and then it all got a bit hard to understand as the crowd’s derisive chants of “Gooldberg! Gooldberg!” drowned him out. Ryback was the consummate professional however, and acknowledged the chants, stating that if he ignored them, they’d just continue. Soon, the chants turned into the much more supportive “Feed me more!” and Ryback got on with his piece. I always love seeing a wrestler properly handling the crowd and that little moment made me like him that little bit more. After yelling that talking time was over, Wyatt proved him wrong, choosing to cut another smoky room promo on the Titantron. Wyatt was still good, but the fire he had when building up the Undertaker match just isn’t there. We’re definitely meant to cheer Ryback and boo Bray, but booing Wyatt because of his vague, meandering stories is a weaksauce reason.
Next we had Tyson Kidd and Cesaro vs. The Ascension. All in all, it was a decent match. They still haven’t quite figured out what to do with The Ascension, but they definitely know what they’re doing with Kidd and Cesaro. Cesaro unleashed a barrage of corner whips and uppercuts and they did the great big swing into a dropkick. They picked up the win and left a smile on my face.
Dean Ambrose vs Rollins next. When interviewed on his way to the ring, Rollins couldn’t resist opening his mouth and dismissed the match as pointless and called Kane a moron. Kane came out to address the apparent pointlessness of the match, adding the stipulation that if Ambrose won, he would be added to the Payback main event and make the WHC Triple Threat a Fatal 4-Way.
The fight ended up my joint favourite match of the night. Ambrose and Rollins put on a barnstormer of a show and Ambrose walked away the victor and the new fourth contender for the WHC. I’m not going to pretend that I think Ambrose has a chance at leaving Payback as champ, but you never know. Personally, I think he’s there to eat the loss, but perhaps all this is sewing seeds for his belt contention in the future. I was incredibly disappointed they seemed to just forget about Ambrose’s beef with Rollins, post Shield breakup and I’m glad they’ve opened up the old wounds.
We got an odd match next in the form of Fandango vs. Rusev. This was more a storytelling bit than anything else. Ladies’ man Fandango got Lana to come out of her shell a bit and “fandango” with the rest of the crowd. Rusev got pissed, sent her backstage and put ‘Dango in the agonising Accolade hold. Rusev picked up the win and Payback’s “I Quit” match with Cena seems that little bit more open. Having said that, smart money will be on the “Never Give Up” action figure seller.
Raw also gave us the weirdest match I’ve seen in a while – Stardust vs. R-Truth. It was a throwaway comedy gimmick match, with a twist in the form of Stardust’s fixation with a star-patterned bag with mysterious contents. As the match progressed, R-Truth started becoming fascinated by the bag. The two men seemed to want to put the other down long enough to get to the bag, rather than win the match. Stardust won the match after Truth managed to open the bag and the famous arachnophobe got unconvincingly scared by a bunch of plastic spiders.
More of John Cena‘s U.S. Title Open Challenge came next. After working the crowd and turning about half the boos into cheers, like Cena always does, he laid down the gauntlet again. Suddenly, a familiar electric guitar wail hit and the arena went nuts. Hall of Famer Bret Hart came out, not to challenge for the title, but to introduce the challenger. Heath Slater interrupted, saying he’s sick of being attacked “outta nowhere”. Hart did the thing we all wanted him to and clobbered Slater with the mic, shutting his loud mouth. Finally, Hart introduced NXT star Sami Zayn as the challenger to insane amounts of cheering.
The fact that Zayn wrestled company top dog John Cena in his main roster debut after being introduced by a bona fide legend is very telling. Clearly they know that he can go far. Anyway, I loved the match and it hit all the right notes for me, making it my co-favourite of the night. Zayn showed off a fraction of the amazing things he can do and Cena sold like a champ. The “thread the needle” DDT Zayn does on the outside of the ring, flinging himself between the ropes and driving his opponent to the floor, never fails to impress. Cena won, of course he did, but there was no shame on Zayn’s part. This didn’t feel like his proper debut as he still has NXT commitments but hopefully he makes regular Monday night appearances soon. He’s fantastic. Whilst I was pissed that New Day hijacked Zayn’s post match interview to gloat about their minor win earlier, I have to admit it’s some stellar heel work on their part.
We didn’t really get a Divas match, just a beatdown of the Bellas by Naomi and the returning Tamina Snuka. It seems that Naomi and Tamina are the new heel team to beat. The way they looked and operated reminded me slightly of Bradshaw and Farooq from back in the day. If the Divas division just got themselves a female A.P.A. I’m so down for that.
Tag action followed in the form of Dolph Ziggler and Neville vs. the newly crowned King Barrett and newly eye-blackened Sheamus. The match was incredibly enjoyable as it should be with the talent involved. The bad guys were bad and the good guys were good. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Neville got King of the Ring flashbacks as he ate another Bull Hammer courtesy of Barrett, leaving the King to pin That Fella What Gravity Doesn’t Know. The Ziggler/Sheamus rivalry is now well established, but it does seem like they’re stoking the fires between Neville and Barrett too, which is more than fine in my book.
We eventually got to the main event of Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton. Seth Rollins came out flanked by Kane and J&J Security to do spot on commentary. As is usually the case when that many people are at ringside and a wrestler’s on commentary, interference was on the cards and soon the Authority turned the match into chaos, beating down both men. Soon enough, Dean Ambrose thundered down the ramp and got involved. The ring was cleared except for the four Payback competitors and three of them turned their attention to Rollins. Seth got Speared. Then Reigns got RKO’d. Then Orton was hit with Dirty Deeds, leaving Ambrose the last man standing and his music playing to fade. What a fantastic way to end Raw.
Despite some minor fake arachnid related missteps, the May 4th edition of Raw was an absolute belter. The storytelling was on-point, the matches ranged from solid to brilliant and we had some geniuinely exciting moments like Bret Hart turning up and Sami Zayn‘s debut. The last hour, usually the weakest in WWE programming, was awesome and begs the question why they can’t do this more often. I expect great things next week.