Monday Night Raw. Two weeks before Battleground. LET’S, DO…THIIIIIIS?!
Last night’s Raw was unique in a lot of ways, but not the least of which is the fact that it didn’t end with an Authority promo, or an Authority beat down, or a trite tag team (or worse, handicap) match involving members of the Authority. For I believe the first time, the John Cena US Championship Open Challenge was the main attraction of the evening, with Cesaro forcefully taking up the challenge from the clutches of Kevin Owens, who ostensibly was planning to use the opportunity to get two chances at the US Championship. After Cesaro got in his face, Owens thought better of it and likely gave Cesaro the opportunity to soften the champ up a little bit before their showdown at Battleground.
I’m not sure what kind of bizarro world we’re living in where we’re clamoring for John Cena to main event Raw because it freshens things up, but here we are and I’m not complaining, especially when he’s facing woefully underused talent like Cesaro. Cesaro, for his money, seemed to have at least a modicum of faith placed back in him, given enough mic time to explain his position and wrest control of the title shot from Owens’ hands. Granted, it wasn’t the most moving promo I’ve ever heard in my life, but I think part of the reason is that I’m feeling incredibly stressed that he’s going to screw something up, so I can only imagine what he’s feeling. It’s like he’s talking on eggshells, hoping to avoid another “these four ropes” comment. He got the job done though, and even got in Owens’ face a little bit, teasing the biggest IWC wet dream this side of Punk vs. Bryan in the process.
Alas, it seems that Cesaro is mostly just a pawn in the greater Owens vs. Cena story, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the match. And what a hell of a match it was. Cesaro is just so damn smooth and good in the ring. He’s every bit as strong as Cena and they are both deceptively agile, which made for a great match, even if the ending was pretty much telegraphed. But the sign of a great match is this: at one point, I was so caught up in the match that I actually thought for a split second that Cena might tap out. To the Sharpshooter. ON RAW. FOR THE TITLE. I’m obviously insane, but that’s how good at wrestling these two guys are, to turn a jaded jerkwad like me into a hapless mark.
I really didn’t think it was possible to revive the United States Championship; to save it from the brink of total obscurity. The five year Dark Ages between The Miz’s excellent reign in 2010 and Cena’s current run tarnished the importance of the championship so much I didn’t think it was possible to come back from it. Thankfully, Cena proudly defending it in Raw main events could make any championship look like a million bucks, and with the Intercontinental Championship seemingly languishing in the lower mid card after Daniel Bryan’s unfortunate forfeiture, it’s nice to have a second-tier title that feels like a big deal. Rusev deserves some credit for that too, I think. His reign made the US Championship feel big-time, and like finally stripping him of it was going to be a big deal. (Facing Cena for it on the Grandest Stage Of ‘Em All doesn’t hurt, either.)
Thoughts of Cesaro being “buried” can hopefully be put to rest after last night. A man who is being buried does not main event Raw in a 25 minute instant classic. And before that, he was in arguably the most entertaining tag team in the company (besides maybe New Day). I think they know what they’ve got with Cesaro, they just haven’t/don’t know how to pull the trigger on him just yet. With Tyson Kidd hurt though, there doesn’t seem like any better time to start putting him in some meaningful angles. Speaking of Kidd, I love that Cesaro’s still paying tribute to the team, with the Tyson Kidd armbands and the Canadian maple leaf insignia, and of course by incorporating the Sharpshooter into his moveset.
And in the midst of this wrestling clinic, we actually got a new wrinkle in the Owens/Cena saga. Owens lost his NXT Championship to Finn Balor in Japan over the weekend, which means that he is currently (kayfabe) making less money than he did when he was a champion. So, in his own words, he no longer just wants the United States Championship, he NEEDS it. And while cocky asshole Kevin Owens is a lot of fun to watch, pissed off psycho Kevin Owens may be even more fun.
The other major thread last night was of course, the pissed off Beast Incarnate. Raw did open with a promo, as it is wont to do, but at least it was yet another excellent Paul Heyman promo, wherein Heyman dubbed Brock the God of Violent Retribution and warning Rollins “thou shalt not intentionally provoke the Beast.”
So, naturally, that’s exactly what Rollins did.
Later in the show, Seth Rollins came out and poked at the monster himself, calling him Paul Heyman’s bitch (the standard “Oh no he di-in’t!” wrestling insult) while he and J&J Security wielded, for some reason, just the handles of axes. Lesnar came out and from a fire safety chest pulled out two actual axes. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any singular thing scarier than Brock Lesnar coming at you while literally dual-wielding axes. Of course he didn’t actually go after the Authority with these weapons, but he did take them to Noble and Mercury’s brand new $55,000 Cadillac that Rollins gifted them last week for helping take down Lesnar.
We’ve seen the downfall or at least defacement of many a car throughout the annals of WWE history, but this one was pretty spectacular. A man as strong as Brock taking an axe to a car door is a sight to behold, as is him easily tearing off the back door of a goddamn car off its hinges. Lesnar then went after Rollins in a failed attempt to get his hands on him a little early, but Rollins escaped through the crowd. It was a fun as hell segment, and I’m loving babyface ass-kicker Brock, especially with a heel as hateable as Seth Rollins. Everything just feels different when Brock is around, like the stakes are much higher. This was the second hour main event, and throughout the rest of the show they continued to show the destroyed car from time to time, to remind us of the Beast’s destruction.
There were other things relating to this storyline sprinkled throughout Raw as well. The photographs of Kane’s Hawaiian vacation were funny, but video segments would have been even better. Especially when these photos were just plainly Photoshopped. But maybe that was the point. The video clips of J&J’s “summer roadtrip” were awesome, though. As were the huge dual exhaust pipes, the camo racing stripe, the “REDNECK” decal, and the mudflaps. Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury are undergoing an on-screen renaissance, and I for one am loving every second of it.
The most hilarious thing about Seth Rollins is that he can make almost anything sound sinister or dastardly. During a backstage segment, after being shown clips of J&J’s road trip, he said something along the lines of “you guys went all around in that thing ::sinister, Val Venis-esque laugh:: all around.” Way to make a summer vacation sound like an evil plan, Seth. Of course, Seth fell victim to one of the worst cases of “you realize there’s a camera televising this internationally right now, right?” when he monologued his intent to call out Brock Lesnar later on in the show. Lesnar is looking to basically murder you. I can assure you he’s watching the show backstage to see what you’re up to. Maybe stop saying everything that crawls up in the ole’ noggin and leave something to the element of surprise.
Give Divas a Chance, Please
This was going to be just a blurb in the “Rest of the Card” section, as Divas segments usually are, but there’s something more going on in the Divas division that really irks me.
The Divas match itself last night was decent, and it further stressed the fact that Paige can’t seem to find anybody to help her out in the face of Team Bella. I was really hoping for an NXT debut last night, and the beatdown she sustained seemed like the perfect time for it, but I’m not going to complain about them having a long term storyline in the Divas division.
But on the subject of complaining about Divas, there’s this strange duality between the hardcore fans where they on the surface really hate the treatment of the women in WWE, and yell “give Divas a chance” to anyone who’ll listen, but they’re also the first people to chant “JBL” or “CM Punk” during a Divas match featuring the most popular Diva on the roster and a cohesive championship storyline. You guys are the reason Divas don’t get a chance, because in one breath you’re bashing Vince McSexist for hating women and not giving them enough time or levity to showcase their skills, and in the next you’re chanting for a retired announcer during their matches or spouting the same tired “DAE PISS BREAK LOL” jokes about the match.
I attended WrestleMania 31 and the Raw the next night this year. During the Divas match on that Raw, the crowd went from playful to plain disrespectful real fast, with chants about every woman in the ring’s sexual lives. Vince isn’t the (only) one objectifying these women, fellas. You do plenty of it yourself, and you perpetuate their spots on the card. It’s a real shame because it’s just stuck in this endless cycle, and until everyone, not just WWE’s front office, changes their perception of women wrestlers, it’s not going to change.
Of course, one would hope the NXT women won’t get this kind of reaction, but Paige was pegged as the savior of the Divas division (like AJ Lee before her), and look at the kind of rut she’s in now. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Rest of the Card
- Am I taking crazy pills? Am I the only person in the world who likes the Ziggler/Rusev storyline going on right now? Everyone cries all the time for multilayered, smarter storytelling that isn’t just evil ne’er-do-well vs. valiant hero, but the moment we get a sympathetic heel and a slightly selfish babyface, suddenly WWE is stupid? You can’t have it both ways. Yeah, Ziggler’s coming off as kind of a self-centered ass, but he is The Show-Off, guys. He’s showing off the hot blonde who has for whatever reason taken a liking to him. I think any other guy on the planet would do the same thing in his shoes and just ride it out as far as Lana was willing to take it. And hell, why not gloat about it? Lana is one of the most beautiful and beloved women in WWE, and if Ziggler can get under the skin of a former US Champion and maybe even take him out, it could re-propel his career. The Summer Rae inclusion seems a little out of left field, but it’s a simple storyline of Lana and Rusev trying to make each other jealous. And it’s apparently working.
Oh and anyone thinking this angle is falling completely flat or ruining Ziggler, I’ll direct you to the enormous pop Ziggler got when his music hit. Sorry, but just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s a failure to everybody. It’s the same logic that people delude themselves with when they convince themselves no one likes Roman Reigns, when he got a mostly positive reaction. In Chicago. Speaking of…
- Like I said, Reigns got a pretty impressive reaction for being in the middle of Smark Mecca. Granted, he was facing Sheamus, who pretty much no one gets behind, so eventually the match devolved into some of the loudest “CM Punk” chants I’ve heard in almost a year. And of course this helped set up Orton coming out to further his program with Sheazzzzzzzzzz……oh, sorry. I fell asleep at the keyboard there for a minute thinking about a Sheamus/Randy Orton feud. Anyway, Wyatt was involved, with more strange, probably-not-very-effective mindgames. For whatever reason I was really hyped to see Wyatt and Reigns go at it when Wyatt’s music hit, so him not actually being in the flesh was a let down. But I am still definitely looking forward to their matchup at Battleground.
- Not sure I can think of a less exciting sentence than “Big Show vs. Ryback.” At least, as he has in the past couple of weeks, The Miz and his hilarious antics are keeping this triple threat feud afloat. It’s actually working better than it has any business to. Too often mid card triple threat feuds end up with one of the participants lost in the shuffle due to insufficient writing. This one works well because Ryback and Big Show have beef with each other, but they both can’t stand The Miz. And The Miz looks down on anyone who’s not himself. Props for the Jericho wannabe “I’m from Hollywood you idiot!”, by the way. I could easily see The Miz sneak away with the win at Battleground and becoming a five time Intercontinental Champion. With Bryan out of the picture, Miz is probably the best choice.
- King Barrett fought R-Truth. Surprise! No one gave even the faintest of shits.
- Titus shut JBL down on commentary multiple times last night, and it was a thing of beauty. I hope JBL took his comments to heart, because he really, really brings the commentary team down. It’s been written about ad nauseum, so I won’t beat the dead horse, but yeah, it’s awful.
- Sign of the Night goes to “#LonelyVirgil”. Making fun of Virgil will never get old.
- Very weird that the crowd was going insane for Bo Dallas vs. Dean Ambrose. I know Ambrose is hella over, but Bo has been doing fuck-all lately and is treated as a dirt-tier comedy jobber these days, so it was surprising and refreshing to get dueling “Let’s go Ambrose!” “WE BO-LIEVE!” chants during the match for a solid three minutes. The match went about as you’d expect, and I’m left wondering what the point of it was. Bo is getting more screen time, but not in any meaningful way. And Ambrose is just kind of left out in the cold since Brock is back in the title scene, which is a shame.
The show was fun, if lacking in direction and progression for the first two hours. But the last hour, between Brock going all psycho killer on a Cadillac and an instant classic in Cena vs. Cesaro for the main event, reminded you why you love this crazy form of entertainment in the first place.