It could be said this week’s edition of Raw had some intrigue going into it, though not because of any major storylines, announcements or returns. The show’s ratings have been at record lows in the past few weeks, leading many to speculate that Vince McMahon and company are preparing to smash open that “break in case of emergency” glass, leading to bombshell announcements, a shift in direction or worse, a rash decision involving John Cena and the main event.
At its heart, though, the show’s main goals were twofold: build to the upcoming pay-per-view Hell in a Cell, for which there is currently only one official match, but also promote the upcoming live event at Madison Square Garden, which will be broadcast on the WWE Network this coming Saturday. The Network makes possible these interstitial events to build towards, and they usually end up interesting if for no other reason than the matchups are a bit unusual compared to what we get at a standard PPV.
Incredibly, we get to see Brock Lesnar wrestle not once but twice in the month of (Br)October—one being presumably the final blowoff match between he and The Undertaker, and one this Saturday against…Big Show. Sure, it’s an underwhelming opponent, but it’s been built to fairly well all things considered (we’ll get to that later).
So for a Raw that has the unenviable task of attempting to build to two supercards concurrently, the show kicked off with a segment that actually attempted to do so admirably.
The best part about John Cena reclaiming the United States Championship is, of course, the return of the US Championship Open Challenge. He has absolutely been the best thing for the midcard title in years, and has elevated it to a position where it’s not only desirable, but differentiated enough from the other titles in that it’s defended nearly every week ala the WCW or ECW Television Championships that is feels truly unique and special. While we’re on the subject, it still shocks me that WWE has never had any type of TV Championship analogue—the short-lived, unsanctioned Internet Championship seems perfect for this concept in the Network Era, but I digress.
Anyway, Cena laid down his open challenge and out came hands-down the most entertaining part of the show in recent weeks, New Day. After some of the usual shenanigans (that never get old), it was decided that Xavier Woods would take on Cena for the United States Championship.
I love the United States Open Challenge. I love the New Day. Why didn’t I love this segment? Well, for one, it in a lot of ways embodied the complete opposite of what the open challenge usually stands for: simple, 10-15 minute wrestling matches with a clean ending and a showcase of both wrestlers’ talents. Woods and Cena had a good match, but it was cut short by an interference-caused disqualification ending, resulting in a beatdown from the New Day, which lead to the Dudley Boyz making the save for Cena. This would have been enough to make me leave the segment feeling sour (sorry, E), but the match was restarted in Teddy Longian fashion as a tag team match during the commercial break.
While I’m a little bent out of shape that the first open challenge for the US title in some time wasn’t everything I perceive it to be about, I do completely understand why they went this route and what they set out to accomplish with it. And to that end, bravo. This segment was able to both promote the Dudley Boyz’ Tag Team Championship match against New Day at the Madison Square Garden event, as well as tease some future interaction between Cena and New Day, which may end up culminating in a US Championship match at Hell in a Cell.
So I come out of this segment of two minds. On the one hand, I’m happy to see the United States Championship Open Challenge return, and it was successful in pushing two programs at the same time. However, the ending of the first match is precisely what I’m not looking for in an open challenge match.
Human Resources and Brimstone
WWE’s done it. They’ve given Kane a character wrinkle that makes him interesting in the year 2015. I’m having a lot of fun with this schizophrenic form of the Big Red Machine, whatever way they end up going with it. Kane’s got some surprisingly good acting chops for a guy who spent the prime of his career behind a mask and ‘unable to speak,’ and the goofiest parts of last night’s story—Ashley from Human Resources’ evaluation of Kane as Director of Operations—were a blast to watch due to that range. It evokes memories of the last time I truly enjoyed Kane, the segments involving his Team Hell No compatriot Daniel Bryan and their therapist, Dr. Shelby. There’s something about taking a man who has been kayfabe-confirmed as being a literal demon from hell stuck dealing with the humdrum minutiae of everyday life that’s funny.
I really didn’t think I’d be remotely interested in a Seth Rollins/Kane WWE Championship program, but here we are. It actually has the potential to do wonders for Seth’s character too, as he transitions from chickenshit heel who hides behind his powerful allies to a deeply paranoid egotist obsessed with proving to everyone he’s the best—basically, Triple H 2.0. It’s a role Seth is killing, and thanks to Kane’s veteran savvy and the fresh take on his character in general, either outcome in their inevitable Hell in a Cell showdown could work.
And oh, the ambulance scene? Beautiful. The 2spooky4me type of stuff that usually encapsulates Kane’s character is usually yawn-inducing, but Corporate Kane being stretchered out into the ambulance, the ambulance pluming with smoke and Demon Kane emerging and quite literally stomping his shattered ankle back into place like it ain’t no thang was awesome.
While the realist in me says that this is nothing but a stopgap feud, stalling for time until Survivor Series or even Royal Rumble, part of me can see and would love a Kane win, giving him one last run at the top before his retirment (if that ever happens). That is the mark of a good feud, one where either outcome could lead to interesting things in the future. Count me in for this one.
Oh, can we talk about how Kane, as his title suggests, directs all operations within World Wrestling Entertainment, but had never met the head of Human Resources? No wonder WWE is such a clusterfuck, the disarray extends from the ring to the boardroom!
The Rest of the Card
- Team PCB vs. Team Bella: The Divas segment was fine. Paige is so much more natural as a bad girl, though after the events of last night it seems like for the time being she’s toeing the line as a tweener. She teamed up with her former PCB comrades, but walked away from the match and attacked Nattie who attempted to take her place. I’m usually down on six-person tags, especially in the Divas division, but this worked.
The line of the night goes to Paige at the tail end of the Miz TV segment that preceded the match: after Nikki asked Charlotte, “with friends like her who needs enemies,” Paige fired back with “yeah, and with boyfriends like yours, who needs ambition?!” Please proceed to the nearest burn center, Nikki.
- Big Show vs. Mark Henry: Ugh. We did get a promo later on involving Paul Heyman and the Big Show that promoted the upcoming showdown between The Beast and The Giant, but yeah, the match itself here was shitsville.
- Stardust vs. Neville: King Barrett returned and took out both these guys, but I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news: WWE’s stifling of Barrett has succeeded and I no longer find myself able to care about him in any way, shape or form. If that was your goal, bravo.
- Bo Dallas vs. Randy Orton: Not sure what the point of this was, but hey, at least Orton didn’t face Sheamus. In fact, unless I have just blocked it from memory, Sheamus was nowhere to be found on this show, which can’t be anything but good.
- Rusev vs. Kevin Owens: This kept the Ziggler/Rusev and Owens/Ryback storylines chugging along, but only in the most technical sense of the term. Not much really happened here.
- Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt: This match took me by surprise, and was exactly what this feud needed. The match itself was just sort of whatever, but once it ended via a double-countout, the post-match brawl was really special, with both men coming out looking much stronger. I’m actually a big fan of this feud, and think it has been doing wonders for elevating both men after both came out on the losing end of some high-profile feuds. This feels like a back to basics type of feud, between two relative newcomers who should be (and are being) groomed for the main event for years to come. This is the kind of feud that could and should be revisited for years to come, as both characters evolve and grow.
It felt like this show was bookended by great stuff—Cena and the New Day opening the show, and an excellent Reigns/Wyatt brawl closing it—with a lot of filler in the middle. That is of course excepting the Kane/Rollins storyline, which is way more fun than it has any business being. It’s important to note that WWE apparently did not freak out over the dipping ratings by trotting out the stars of yesteryear; honestly, almost the opposite. It seems that they’re staying the course, almost defiantly so, and while it may not make for three hours of compelling television just yet, it’s indisputably the right call for the long term.