Another Monday night, another night of exciting debuts, storyline continuity and excellent wrestling. …Wait, what?! I picked a great time to start recapping Raw every week, because it’s been really solid lately, despite some setbacks. Let’s get right into it.
Fight Owens Fight!
Man, the future really is here, isn’t it? NXT permeates every corner of WWE right now. Think about this: Seth Rollins is WWE Champion. Xavier Woods and Big E are (two thirds of the) Tag Team Champions. Paige is the star of the Divas division. John Cena is US Champ after a long, bitter feud with Rusev, and he gave Sami Zayn a Championship match last week. It was only a matter of time until the reigning NXT Champion hit the main brand. And damn, was it worth the wait.
John Cena, fresh off a win in Sunday’s I Quit Match (John Cena not giving up?! What a novel concept!) laid out his usual US Championship Open Challenge which was answered by none other than, in Michael Cole’s words, the “vile, vulgar human being,” NXT Champion Kevin Owens. For the uninitiated (shame on you), Kevin Owens, née Kevin Steen, was one of the biggest names in indie wrestling for years before his high profile signing in NXT. He’s a bigger dude, and certainly not the prototypical WWE Superstar, but he’s deceptively agile and his MO is fucking people up.
He delivered on this MO, cutting a cocky, awesome promo on the leader of Cenation. And well, I have to correct myself. He didn’t technically accept Cena’s Open Challenge; rather, he sucker kicked Cena in the gut, delivered his propup powerbomb and disrespected the US Championship by stomping on it next to Cena’s lifeless corpse (GAH!). The message was clear: The NXT Champion > the US Champion.
My first thought here was that this was an incredibly cool segment that was really just a really fancy commercial for this Wednesday’s NXT Takeover event (which is live, this Wednesday, on the WWE Network, for the low price of $9.99, if you didn’t catch that in this promo), but we found out later in the show that Owens will face Cena at Elimination Chamber, presumably for the United States Championship. If that’s the case, they seem to be blurring the line between NXT Superstar and WWE Superstar, and that’s a great thing. In an era with no actual competition, this is the closest we’re going to get to the feeling of seeing a WCW wrestler jump ship and suddenly appear on Raw.
Owens knocked it out of the park last night. He went toe to toe with the biggest star in wrestling of the past 10+ years and he looked confident, menacing, and like a legitimate threat. For a randomly sprung on us, decided on at the last minute, Network-exclusive event, Elimination Chamber is shaping up to be can’t-miss. As for his feud with Cena, I have concerns that it’s just a time filler, short feud where Cena will inevitably win that will lower Owens’ stock somewhat, but I’m holding out hope that that’s not the case. The Cena/Rusev program seems to have wrapped up, and it’s too early to start worrying about Summerslam just yet, so I say let these guys duke it out for a couple of months.
It will be interesting to see how feuds change to fit into this new era of constant Network specials, though. My fear is that feuds will become quick and inconsequential, but honestly, WWE hasn’t been creating many riveting feuds as of late anyway. Maybe this new approach will help some, because while WWE does create compelling stories from time to time, they seem to have forgotten how to string a story along from week to week. So for instance, maybe the story of Cena bringing prestige back to the US Championship will be better supported by a quick feud with Owens, followed by a quick feud with wrestler X then wrestler Y in succession rather than cutting the same promo on Rusev every week just because they’re feuding.
Architect of a Dream
I know you won’t believe me, but Raw opened with a 20 minute Authority promo and closed with a 20 minute Authority promo. Thank god Trips and Steph are back, amirite guys?! I’ve been an Authority supporter for a while, but the whole storyline is getting very long on the tooth. We’re going on two years of this current incarnation, but the whole idea of a heel authority figure stacking the odds against the beloved babyface(s) to push their hand-picked golden boy is something we’ve been watching since Austin vs. McMahon.
Giving credit where it’s due though, Triple H and Stephanie are perfect in their roles. Stephanie’s reactions and side-comments are hilarious. “Daniel, I’m sure you’re watching on TV…oh wait, you don’t have a TV. You’re probably picking berries or chopping wood or…whatever it is you do.” The amount of time they spent on Bryan in the opening promo makes me hopeful that THEY’RE hopeful that he’ll be back eventually. Stripping him of the title was obviously the right thing to do though, and the Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship should be excellent.
After announcing the IC Title Chamber match, the focus shifted to Seth Rollins, as has been custom for the past year almost to the date (where were you one year ago when Seth Rollins turned his back on The Shield?). The opening promo laid the groundwork for the main event, amazingly and hilariously titled “Architect of a Dream.” It was standard fare Authority smoke-blowing, but Ambrose interrupted the celebration—he truly is crazy if he’s getting into the ring with the entire Authority, Maggle! After demanding a title shot, he and Rollins engaged in a brief kerfuffle, which ended with Ambrose pinning Rollins to a conveniently left stack of cinder blocks.
Storyline continuity? In MY WWE?!
Granted, it’s about seven months past the point, and doesn’t quite explain why Ambrose took half a year off his life’s mission of screwing up Rollins’ career to go on a gimmick match world tour with two members of the former Wyatt Family in succession, but I’ll take it where I can get it. Ambrose uses the same thing that nearly ended his career last year to coerce the Authority into giving him a championship rematch, and suddenly we go from Ambrose jerking the curtain in a nothing feud to top billing two PPVs in a row.
I know I complain about it in nearly everything I write now, but the whitewashing of the Curb Stomp is starting to really affect storylines. The Rollins promo package just showed him magically winning matches, including the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle freaking Mania, with no impact whatsoever. Runs down to the ring, boom, wins. Sets up Ambrose on a table of cinder blocks, boom, suddenly Ambrose is laying motionless in a pile of crushed concrete. And when Ambrose had Rollins in that same precarious position, with his boot pinning Rollins’ head to a stack of cinder blocks, Cole was forced to make the vaguest of references: “Ambrose is gonna…he’s gonna do that unnamed, unshowable thing Rollins did to him!” I’m starting to think Rollins’ finisher should be the video feed freezing up for a second and then his opponent suddenly laying unconscious, because that’s how promo packages would have you believe he won the majority of his matches over the past year.
That said, in lieu of my beloved Curb Stomp, Hunter bequeathing the Pedigree to Rollins is a fantastic consolation prize. It makes complete storyline sense, and is a solid kayfabe explanation for the Stomp’s absence, even if they didn’t explicitly make that connection. Frankly it kind of blows my mind that they DIDN’T use this as an explanation for the sudden disappearance of Rollins’ former finisher, but oh well. In today’s WWE you kind of have to fill in the blanks yourself. So let it be known that the official canon is that Seth Rollins stopped using the Curb Stomp because he was gifted the Pedigree.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do; or, Stealing the Show And Your Girlfriend
The other major story of note this week was the apparent breakup of Rusev and Lana. It’s something that’s been highly speculated for a while now, but that doesn’t make it feel any less sudden. Lana has been a heat magnet for Rusev, but honestly, I think it might not be such a bad time to break them up. They’ve been doing the anti-American, Boris and Natasha schtick for a while now, and the crowd has organically taken a liking to Lana, so we can’t complain that WWE never listens to the audience and then complain when they do.
As with a lot of WWE storylines, I don’t have any problem with the destination, I have a problem with how we got there. The result of Payback was predictable, but I didn’t think they’d expedite the breakup so quickly that they’d be going their separate ways as early as last night. And Lana didn’t even seem to really care that much! She got angry for a few seconds, then she just immediately left the ring. She obviously has something up her sleeve regarding Dolph Ziggler, so I’m going to reserve judgment until we see this storyline to completion, but as with many things in WWE, it just feels very rushed right now.
Oh, and this week’s Bookerism of the Week was brought to you by this segment: “SOMEBODY’S GONNA DIE TONIGHT!”
The Rest of the Card
- The Tag Team segment was a lot of fun, and it was refreshing to see Prime Time Players not only actually in the ring, but looking tall when all the dust settled. The Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber match should be absolutely bonkers…my only question is why are Los Matadores in there instead of Harper and Rowan? They reunited one of the better tag teams in recent years just in time to…not add them to a multi-team championship match? Huh? And while we’re at it with Los Matadores, they’re a solid team in the ring but the gimmick just holds them back so much. Epico and Primo were totally fine, and the Colon name speaks for itself. Why not use that instead of some ridiculous gimmick that Repo Man and The Mountie would find cheesy? Who exactly is this gimmick’s target demo? Three year old Spaniards from the 1800s?
- Speaking of Wyatt Family alumni, Bray Wyatt convincingly defeated Ryback Sunday at Payback—in a surprisingly solid match, might I add—, then defeated Ambrose last night via heavy interference from J&J Security, but unfortunately there has been really no storyline progression for him in a long time. I was vehemently against the outcome of his match with Taker at WrestleMania, because “The New Face of Fear” is nothing but a sham at this point. What are we supposed to be afraid of? It seems like his mini-feud with Ryback is over, but I almost wish it wasn’t. Wyatt needs to actually convert someone to his side, or take someone out of action, or do SOMETHING sinister to further his character. Losing all the time then delivering vague, bombastic promos about how evil he is isn’t doing anyone any favors.
- Paige is back! And just in time. I like Naomi better as a heel than a face and thank goodness any remnants of Planet Funk is finally dead and gone, but her program with Nikki just does nothing for me. And Naomi isn’t a terribly convincing heel, either—she comes off as someone pretending to be a bad guy rather than actually being a bad guy. As I write this though, her theme got stuck in my head, so she has that going for her. Anyway, Paige is the best thing going as far as main roster Divas go, so it’s great to have her back to inject some life into this lackluster program.
- Hey, Bo was actually on TV, and he actually succeeded at something! He must have been BOlieving really hard for the past few months to cobble together one successful attack. In all seriousness though, this is the kind of thing that’s been missing from WWE for years: a coherent midcard. I’m totally down for Bo Dallas vs. Neville with the story being Bo is jealous of Neville’s quick ascent to the top of WWE’s ranks.
- Sort of a general comment here, but Jesus is Raw way too long. Listen, I love wrestling. Absolutely love it. More than just about anyone I’ve ever met in real life, and by 10:30 I’m looking at my watch and asking when the hell I can finally go to bed, even if Raw is solid, as this one was. I know it probably won’t drop back down to 2 hours anytime soon even though everyone from the fans to Triple H himself thinks it should, because it brings in more money. But the point stands: Raw is too long.
Another solid show this week. Elimination Chamber should dazzle based on merit of the match itself alone, but kudos to WWE for putting together decent storylines from top to bottom. We’ll see you next week for the go-home to the first-ever Network-exclusive ‘PPV’!