Raw last night was the culmination of a long weekend celebration of all things WWE, following an absolutely amazing NXT Takeover event on Saturday and Summerslam on Sunday. While Takeover was essentially the end of an era for NXT, Summerslam was sort of just another PPV in the never-ending season that is WWE; that is to say, we came out of it with more questions than answers. This episode of Raw, from the same Barclays Center in Brooklyn that the two previous shows took place from, looked to answer them, and set things up going forward for Night of Champions.
And what a job they did. Last night’s Raw was superb, and one of the most fun episodes I’ve seen in a while. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started:
Seth Rollins did it. He did what he told everyone he was gonna do: he defeated John Cena at Summerslam, and is now both the United States and World Heavyweight Champion. (Of course, it took a certain former talk show host interfering in the match to get that done, but that’s just details.) And true to their word, The Authority, proud parents that they are, got right to work immortalizing Seth Rollins in the form of a statue to stand in WWE HQ next to all time greats Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant and Ultimate Warrior. They teased this for most of the night, culminating in the main event segment where Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were set to unveil the statue in the middle of the ring (only after singing happy birthday to Mr. McMahon, who turned 70 yesterday—happy birthday, Vince!). After the birthday celebrations and a long-winded promo from both The Authority and the man himself, the veil was finally lifted, but it was not a statue under the curtain, but rather The Icon, Sting!
Sting’s character in WWE is billed as ‘the vigilante,’ meaning he basically pops up on behalf of the WWE Universe whenever he feels there’s been a grave enough injustice. And evidently, Jon Stewart hitting Cena with a chair and allowing Rollins to hit a Pedigree on that chair to walk away with two of the three male singles titles in WWE is one such injustice. Seeing the Stinger is always a thrill for any longtime wrestling fan, and this was no different (despite the fact that he sweat half his face paint off in that little box).
Plus, we’re getting Sting in a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match! That’s a big piece of history, and it proves that WWE thinks the world of Seth Rollins. He is the first man to cash in Money in the Bank at a WrestleMania, and did it in the main event no less. He is essentially billed as Triple H’s successor. He is holding two championships, and is now giving motherfucking Sting his first ever WWE World Heavyweight Championship match.
Jon Screwed John
Former Daily Show host and last night’s Summerslam host Jon Stewart was on hand to explain his actions from the night before, and it essentially boiled down to Stewart is an old school wrestling fan who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that Cena might tie and eventually break Ric Flair’s legendary record of 16 world championships. They actually did a really good job with this, as at Summerslam this angle for Stewart was foreshadowed when he confronted Heyman over Brock’s breaking of The Streak. There was a surprising amount of character development in a short amount of time, especially for a celebrity guest.
I am so, so happy they decided to not only make reference to Cena approaching Flair’s record, but also actually bring Flair on the show. I would have rathered Flair being upset about the record rather than endorsing Cena’s breaking of it, but some importance shown to Flair’s record is welcome. Cena, enraged, delivered an Attitude Adjustment to Stewart before trying (and failing, thanks to The Authority) to confront Rollins in the main event segment. Side note: is Cena the first wrestler ever to be escorted out by security and not return later on in the show? Between that and his contract signing last week not ending in any violence, Cena is setting do-gooder records left and right.
I’m interested in the eventual storyline where Cena is truly chasing reign #16, but they may have themselves backed into a corner with it. It’ll be a huge moment worthy of a huge event, but the bigger the event the smarkier the crowd, and the hardcore fans are going to HATE Cena overtaking Flair as the all time record holder. Unless we end up seeing pro wrestling’s last remaining unicorn—the Cena heel turn—I’m not sure how they are going to get the reaction they want. Although, honestly, Cena seemed pretty damn heelish last night, so I guess we can’t totally discount that as a possibility.
Get the Tables!
I feel it’s apropos for a couple of reasons to quote the voice of the original ECW, Joey Styles here: “OH MY GOD!” This year I’ve seen the return of DX and the nWo and Seth Rollins cash in Money in the Bank in the main event of WrestleMania live, but my true mark out moment of 2015 this year was the return of the Dudley Boyz to a WWE ring for the first time in a decade. There have been rumors/hopes that they’d return, but nothing was ever confirmed. The pyro, the amazing reception from the crowd, the signature spots…this is what pro wrestling is all about. This was the most fun segment of the night, hands down.
And let’s not forget the efforts of the team the brothers from Dudleyville came to attack: The New Day. The new champs absolutely killed it both at Summerslam and on Raw last night—Xavier Woods played Frank Sinatra on trombone, for Chrissake!
This segment was just so much fun, made a thousand times more so by the crowd’s uproarious reaction to it. The Whazzup, the 3D through a table…I was 12 years old again. Just like that, the tag team division got a thousand times more interesting. Bubba Ray and D-Von seem to be defying the march of time and are in the best shape of their careers. A year long nostalgia run involving the likes of the New Day, Prime Time Players, Lucha Dragons, and the new and improved Wyatt Family? Yes please.
The Black Sheep
As mentioned, the Wyatt Family is new and improved as of last night thanks to the addition to an absolute behemoth of a man, who we later learned is named Braun Stowman. Dude looks like a bigger, meaner Bray Wyatt, and was pretty impressive in his absolute ragdolling of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns.
Is this the first main roster debut of the NXT Era where the guy is a relative unknown who has had no exposure on NXT television? Kudos to WWE for going that route, as the shock of “who the hell is this guy?” combined with the sound thrashing he gave the remnants of the Shield was truly a special moment. He basically seems to be an upgraded Erick Rowan, down to the evil, black version of the sheep mask.
I’d like to see Rowan return and re-join the Wyatt Family, honestly. The only hope for Bray Wyatt at this point is to make the Family a legitimate force in WWE. Hell, bring back Rowan when he’s healthy and recruit one more member—ideally someone already on the roster who isn’t necessarily doing much—and have two tag teams running roughshod on the division.
As far as the match that preceded the shocking debut, it was way better than it had any business being. It was more fast paced and generally more entertaining than their Summerslam bout, which begs the question of why didn’t they just do all of this on Summerslam instead of Raw? Either way, hard to complain with what we were given here.
We Want Sasha
Sadly enough, the one and only poorly executed part of last night’s show was the so-called Divas Revolution which looks less like a revolution every week. I am a huge proponent of women’s wrestling—I was at NXT Takeover Brooklyn live, and Sasha Banks vs. Bayley was one of the best matches I’ve seen in a long, long while. Better than the main event ladder match, even. It should have main evented Takeover, it was that good. Everything from the cohesive storytelling in the ring to the jaw-dropping high spots to the storyline and promo package before the match to the post-match, Curtain Call 2.0 celebration—it was just about perfect.
WWE followed that emotional performance up on Sunday with a meaningless tag match at Summerslam, and followed that up with another meaningless tag match on Raw. It appears as if WWE is completely missing the point with the Divas Revolution. Having talented wrestlers is part of it, sure, as is giving them more time to tell a story in the ring. But when the story week in and week out is nothing more than “these women have a tag match pitting one recently thrown together faction against another with really nothing at stake,” what’s the point? The women in NXT have become arguably the most engaging part of the show through a combination of great wrestling and great storytelling.
Unfortauntely, clusterfuck 6 or 9 person tag matches with nothing on the line usually feature neither. The Divas took to social media to put the Brooklyn crowd on blast for being disinterested in the match, but consider that this was likely essentially the same crowd that was at NXT Takeover and gave the Women’s Championship match a standing ovation. We want women’s wrestling to succeed, and we don’t blame the women at all—Team Bella, Naomi and Tamina are plainly less talented than Paige and the NXT call ups, but with the correct storyline it could be worked past. Unfortunately, the writers seem to think the same scattershot booking with 15 minute matches is all it takes, and that’s just not the case.
Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher was the complete exclusion of arguably the most over wrestler of the entire weekend, Sasha Banks. The “We want Sasha” chants were deafening, and they’d have to be brain-dead to not see that coming. Her performance at Takeover was incredible, and she’s easily the most over woman in the company with the potential to reach Trish Stratus levels of importance. So obviously, the logical thing to do is give the crowd who was so appreciative of Sasha a throwaway tag match not involving her at all. Ugh. This segment was a huge letdown, and took away some of the high I was on from the events prior.
The Rest of the Card
- You know it was a chaotic Raw when the fallout from the main event match at Summerslam is not much more than a footnote in the review. That said, Heyman’s promo last night absolutely made me way more into the Summerslam ending than I was coming out of the show itself. I really dig the imagery of Undertaker as an aging gunslinger with a few more bullets left in the chamber, but who has met his match in Brock Lesnar in his old age. Enough really can’t be said about Paul Heyman’s interview skills—I was downright against the ending of Summerslam at first but he sold me on it so hard that I can’t wait for the next chapter in the story.
Regarding what we got last night, Bo Dallas may kayfabe be the stupidest man in the world, but it was a very fun segment that made the crowd happy. I guess he just really BO-lieves in the power of BO-lieving.
- Stardust turned on King Barrett, which puts to rest any thoughts of the Prince of Dark Matter and the Cosmic King remaining teamed up. This was an incredibly short segment, but it at least accomplished a couple things: it showed Stardust’s alliance with Barrett was only one of convenience, and it showed that Neville and Stardust still have beef. Short but effective.
- The 8 man tag was clearly just put there to get all those guys on a crowded card, but it ended up being a really fun match. The amount of truly innovative RKOs they come up with sometimes astounds me, and two of the strongest guys in WWE lifting the World’s Largest Athlete in a gorilla press to come crashing down into an RKO was a good one.
Top to bottom, this was an amazing episode of Raw. This was like the anti-last week’s Raw. If you couldn’t find one segment to be entertained by last night, pro wrestling just isn’t for you. We got hardcore nostalgia, shocking debuts, fun wrestling, and multiple swerves that combined for one hell of a way to spend three hours. If not for the incredibly disappointing Divas segment, this would be a perfect 10.