We’re one week closer to Summerslam, as the WWE Universe silently tries to cope with the sudden death of Hulkamania. Let’s see if WWE’s efforts last night were enough.
Champion vs. Champion
Last week I mentioned that I really, really hated the segment that kicked off the apparent WWE World Heavyweight Championship program that will lead us to a match between Seth Rollins and United States Champion John Cena at Summerslam. Cena came out and made Rollins look like a fool, instantly discrediting his championship reign and going so far to call Rollins a joke.
This week, Cena interrupted an Authority promo and did pretty much the same thing.
But let’s back up for a minute. Yes, Raw kicked off with an Authority promo. Yes, we’ve seen Triple H, Stephanie and Rollins (albeit usually with a few more associates) saunter down to the ring to kick off Raw by talking down to the audience. But the atmosphere was a little different last night: The Authority is down to its core members as Brock Lesnar took out Kane and J&J Security, and mamma and papa bear seem to be having something of an identity crisis: Triple H and Steph have been long-standing heels, but last week they came off as decidedly babyface as they tried to protect a huge main event. And Stephanie seems to be babyface when talking about the Diva’s Revolution, and heel in any other situation. This kind of inconsistency usually leads to fatigue for the audience and ultimately a complete lack of caring. But at least we got Stephanie hyping up the crowd for a World Championship match then just taking it away for the hell of it. Hilarious.
So, yeah, Cena asked for a World Championship match on Raw, but The Authority being The Authority, they instead forced Cena to put his United States Championship on the line against Rollins in the main event. Fast forward two hours and 45 minutes and we have ourselves a hell of a match, including a broken nose for Cena at the hands of a brutal knee to the face from Rollins:
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 28, 2015
Cena showed why he’s the face who runs the place though, fighting through the last five or six minutes of the match despite having to be checked by the doctors multiple times after his nose pulled a Rory MacDonald on him. Despite the gruesome injury, the match was excellent—not that you’d expect anything less from John Cena and Seth Rollins. Rollins busted out a sequence of moves I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: A superplex off the top chained into a thunderous falcon arrow. In the end though, he fell to the STF, and rather quickly I might add, in a finish where I’m not so sure that they didn’t have to call an audible given Cena’s condition.
I actually like this angle a lot more than I did last week, and I think it’s mostly thanks to a matter of perspective. It’s a lot more fun when I think of it as Rollins encroaching on Cena’s United States Championship storyline, rather than Cena entering Rollins’ story. In the end it’s the same, and it will inevitably end in a World Championship match (a situation you can never count Cena out of), but yeah, that’s how I came to peace with this storyline, with this one weird trick (smarks HATE me!).
One small thing I want to note about this match: Cole was on his game calling it. He seems to be acting a bit more realistic, and actually using mistakes/obviously faked moves are part of the narrative. For example, Rollins hit an enziguri on Cena, but it was clear that he hit the shoulder and not Cena’s head. Cole called it out, saying “I think he hit the shoulder; that may have just saved Cena.” It’s small touches like that that makes it that much easier to suspend your disbelief and get truly invested in a match.
The same old story from last week, but an excellent match makes the pill a little easier to swallow. Despite the thusfar shallow storyline, it’s hard to hate on this entirely when both guys are world class wrestlers.
Bank on That
I still can’t believe that I’m writing about women’s segments in their own sections at the top of the review. Last night current NXT Women’s Champion, Sasha Banks, went one on one with the first-ever NXT Women’s Champion, Paige, in what I believe is the longest women’s match I have ever witnessed on Raw. Kudos to WWE; it’s one thing to say you hear the criticism, but it’s another thing entirely to actually give the girls time to show that they are capable of having compelling matches and getting viewers invested in their stories. The match started with some fun chain wrestling—it was almost as if Paige was excited to be in the ring with someone who actually knows how to wrestle, because we haven’t often seen Paige bust out these types of moves in a long while. I mean, for real, when’s the last time you saw a WWE Divas match that featured top rope arm drags and fallaway slams?
These two stars were given 10-15 solid minutes to tell a story in the ring, and they pulled it off with aplomb. In the end, Sasha gets the clean win with the Bank Statement. The Diva Revolution storyline hasn’t necessarily been the most inventive story just yet, but it seems as though they are trying to establish a pecking order before they actually pull the trigger on anything more than “Team Bella hates Team Paige who hates Team B.A.D.” And I think that’s a good thing. There are people who don’t watch NXT (for shame), so showcasing Sasha, Becky and Charlotte is important, as is reminding the audience of just how good Paige and Nikki are.
Speaking of Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Nikki Bella, they along with Alicia Fox (three out of the four of them have last names, more evidence of how far we’ve come!) had a tag team match later on in the night. I don’t know if it was #GiveDivasAChance, the women’s soccer team winning the World Cup, or WWE’s current obsession with Ronda Rousey (probably a combination of all three), but whatever finally caused WWE to pull the trigger on this Divas Revolution, I’m grateful for. This match wasn’t as good as Paige vs. Banks, but it was still solid, and of higher quality than Divas matches from a month ago.
In a perfect world, they’d use the next few weeks just as they have been: have the women put on solid matches that establish them as something to actually anticipate rather than being a bathroom break. Have this culminate in some sort of #1 contender’s match (or even a tournament if they are feeling particularly daring), resulting in Sasha Banks taking on Nikki Bella at Summerslam for the Divas Championship.
The Rest of the Card
- Rusev has been absolutely hilarious lately, and last night was another great chapter in the bizarre Rusev/Summer Rae/Dolph Ziggler/Lana love rectangle. Dog Ziggler? Lana the fish? Sure, it was stupid, but in that funny, intentionally stupid way. “How you Americans say…I am smitten.” Rusev’s interactions with Summer are hilarious, and to her credit, she’s doing a great job. On the other hand, though, the past couple of weeks haven’t really affected the storyline too much here. It feels like they are just treading water right now until Dolph comes back to start building toward a Summerslam showdown between the Show Off and the Bulgarian Brute.
- Speaking of treading water, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper cut a promo explaining Harper’s rebirth as a member of the Wyatt Family. Well, that’s how it was positioned, but in true Wyatt fashion they spoke a lot of words without really saying much of anything. There are rumors (spoilers I guess) of a Wyatt Family vs. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Sting of all people, so if they want to get the ball rolling on that, they are going to need to add a new member of the Wyatt Family and explain why Sting has any investment in the outcome of this storyline at all real quick. I did get a laugh out of Wyatt bluntly telling the children in the audience, “your mommys and daddys don’t love you,” though.
- Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens was solid, if unremarkable. And with Sheamus on commentary, you knew it was going to be some silly finish that rendered the in ring action all but meaningless. And, that’s pretty much what happened. At least Cesaro ran down and ended up getting some payback for Owens’ attack on Smackdown. Cesaro’s ascension has been one of the most interesting things in WWE recently, and while some may cry that it’s a demotion from the impossibly high standard set by having John Cena be Owens’ first main roster feud, I am looking forward to Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro more than pretty much anything on the card.
- I actually liked the way Big Show vs. Dean Ambrose was booked last night, as it made Ambrose’s usually insufferable “craziness” seem more like an asset than just a quirky personality trait, and the KO punch during the suicide dive was sick. Still no sign of Ryback, though. It’s too bad; evidently the Intercontinental Championship has been cursed by some sort of bad juju. Anyone have tabs on what Papa Shango’s been up to lately?
- Fandango lost to Neville in a quick match that was really nothing but a vessel for a Stardust promo, which is always welcome. Stardust killed it yet again, and is setting up the program with Green Arrow quite nicely. Notice what he tore up in his promo?
- Los Matadores and Lucha Dragons had a fine match, with Prime Time Players on commentary yet again. I like PTP on commentary (okay, really just Titus, as Darren doesn’t really say anything), but it feels like they are going to the well a little too often with that one. “It’s time to push the tag team story…let’s have two unrelated teams fight it out with PTP on commentary and New Day interfering in the outcome.” “Genius boss!” I will say though that the way Kofi skips to the ring while clapping will always get a nice laugh out of me. New…Day rocks!
An entertaining episode of Raw, even if it wasn’t earth-shattering. Summerslam looms in the distance, and it seems that they’re treating it with more reverence than usual—almost like a mini-WrestleMania—so hopefully they dial up the drama a bit more next week.