It’s amazing how much difference a week can make.
Last week, all the pieces for Survivor Series seemed to be put in place, as we awaited the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match between Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, which was by all accounts likely to be Reigns’ coronation as the new face of WWE. Unfortunately for just about everyone, though, Crossfit Jesus suffered a knee injury at a house show in Ireland last week which forced WWE to vacate professional wrestling’s top prize. Yes, ‘Vacant’ is now the winningest WWE Champion of all time, and he also holds the TNA and AAA World Championships at the same time!
A tournament was immediately declared to decide the next WWE World Heavyweight Champion, so this combined with the fact that Raw emanated from the United Kingdom meant that this week’s edition had more buzz behind it than usual.
Triple H tries to bring Roman to the dark side: Yes, this anticipated Raw kicked off with a 15 minute Triple H promo, but it was expected and the right thing to do in this case, with the richest prize in the game in such upheaval. Roman Reigns was eventually summoned to the ring, as he was crowned the #1 contender some weeks ago, but it’s hard to know exactly what that means when there is no champion. Hunter told Roman that when The Authority was searching the WWE roster for their next hand-picked champion, Reigns was considered, but what gave Rollins the edge was that Rollins showed he was willing to do absolutely anything to win and keep the championship, up to and including stabbing his brothers in the back and interrupting the main event of WrestleMania.
All this was a way for Triple H to propose that Reigns skip the tournament altogether and face the winner for the title, as long as he promises to be “Hunter’s man.” Slow down Haitch, this is a family show and you’re a married man! Of course, Roman rebuffs this offer, even though he explicitly earned it by winning the fatal four way match, because reasons.
This was a really good promo, honestly. Roman declining the offer was obvious from a mile away, but it helps build some tension and conflict between he and The Authority, and helps keep the idea of a Reigns heel turn fresh in our minds. Looking at the bracket for the tournament, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion of a Reigns vs. Ambrose final, and if we do get that, someone‘s gotta turn, right?
It’s almost eerie how much Reigns’ career has been mirroring that of his big cuz, The Rock. Blue chipper athlete hand-picked by management to become the next big thing. Refused by the fans for being inauthentic and not paying his dues. Fans slowly start to come around after some mic work that feels more natural and more appropriate booking. Sudden vacation of the WWE Championship leaves main event scene in upheaval, necessitating a tournament at Survivor Series to decide a new champion. Unexpected heel turn where he sides with the Corporation/Authority to secure his first World Championship win…?
Weeeeellllllllll…: Of course WWE would book the first match in a hotly anticipated episode of Raw as Big Show vs. Roman Reigns, and one that went on entirely too long at that. Big Show was moving around even more slowly than normal, as rumor is he’s working on a bum knee. But really, did anyone expect Show to win this, especially after the big to-do they just gave to Reigns in the segment immediately preceding this?
The “who could possibly remove the 7 foot, 400 pound Big Show from the tournament/Royal Rumble/battle royal?!” trope has got to go, because the answer is always “Everybody. All of the time.”
Owens has pockets, hates the Queen: Owens’ promo here was immaculate. Sure, disparaging the Queen doesn’t exactly get the kind of heat they look for as most Britons don’t really give a damn about the Royal Family, but still, spot on and hilarious stuff from Kevin Owens as always. He and Titus had a quick, fun little hoss fight where the obvious choice advances. That was a theme throughout the first round of these tournament matches.
Owens may be a dark horse in this tournament. I’m about 99% sure Reigns will ultimately win, but if it isn’t him, WWE may want to put it on a heel for Reigns to chase. There aren’t many dominant heels in the tournament, but Owens isn’t just a dominant heel, he’s a straight savage, and would be a great choice for next WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
Paige’s fun with letters: I enjoyed Paige’s backstage interview quite a bit, where she said she’s going to deal with the “B” tonight, then all that’s left will be that “C”. Clever wordplay that flies even in a PG environment, so I’m behind it, and the hometown reaction only helped matters.
The “B” in question is of course Becky Lynch, who had a real good match with Paige, even if it did ultimately end in a roll-up. At least it wasn’t a distraction roll-up. This led to Paige losing her mind and attacking Becky, which culminated in a PTO on the announce table, where Charlotte made the save. Simple storytelling, but this kind of A-to-B booking usually eludes the Divas division, so I welcome it with open arms.
Ziggler advances: Dolph Ziggler and The Miz competed in the first round of the World Championship tournament, in about the match you’d expect. What was slightly unexpected was Dolph Ziggler getting the win with the superkick, which they have seemingly been building up to be a bigger and bigger deal for Dolph in recent weeks but haven’t really pulled the trigger on. Superkicks are incredibly common these days (it’s even a setup move for Dolph’s nemesis, Tyler Breeze), so I don’t know if it’ll be able to get over in a Sweet Chin Music kind of way, but it’s certainly better than the “I just kinda grab the guy’s shoulders and slam ’em down real fast” Zig Zag.
Mex America: So I guess their thing is going to be that they still hate everyone, just under a guise of unity? So far they’ve dogged on Canadians and the British. Zeb’s always hated everyone but Americans, and del Rio’s usually considered anyone but the wealthiest Mexicans perros, so I guess that makes some kind of sense, but there is still no explanation as to why Zeb suddenly accepts his former most hated nation. This whole thing could stand to be explained a lot more.
This also left us without any idea as to who del Rio is actually feuding with at this point. Though, he is in the World Championship tournament and will likely advance against Stardust who finds himself trying to claw his way out of the bottom of the card, so I suppose this tournament may be a blessing in disguise as far as Alberto is concerned, as it lessens the need for a Jack Swagger stopgap feud until John Cena returns to try to get his belt back.
Making a (Banks) Statement: The secondary plot in the currently Bellas-less Divas division is Natalya trying to take on/break up Team B.A.D. for whatever reason. To this end Natalya called out Naomi and the two had a brief, yet fun match. Of course, as is the case whenever Team B.A.D. is on the screen, Sasha Banks was the real story as the crowd did indeed want her, while Nattie played up the chants in an attempt to get into Naomi’s head. The segment ended with Nattie in a Banks Statement after a Sharpshooter was broken up by Tamina.
Much like Paige vs. Becky, this was simple, but effective.
Hoss fight MAGGLE!: The two powerhouse mononymic Superstars Cesaro and Sheamus went at it in the first round of the tournament in easily the best match of the night, full of interesting spots. Sheamus some sort of a double-arm, flip Michinoku Driver on a Cesaro who was sitting on the trop rope which I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen before. There was also a slick sequence that saw a Brogue Kick get ducked and reversed into a Sharpshooter. Two Sharpshooters in as many segments, might I add—Bret must have been beaming from ear to ear. I do find it funny how lax the degrees of separation people can be away from Bret Hart and still have a decently convincing connection to the Sharpshooter have become. Cesaro used to team with Tyson Kidd, who married a Neidhart, whose family married into the Harts. Tangential, sure, but enjoyable nonetheless.
The best part about this match is that I honestly didn’t expect Cesaro to win, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s Cesaro and he’s a lazy Swiss millennial who just doesn’t connect. Second of all, that makes for a face vs. face matchup in the next round. And sadly, that matchup is against Roman Reigns, which barring some miracle means that Cesaro’s journey in the tourney will come to a screeching halt almost as quickly as it began.
This segment also featured a run-in between King Barrett and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney—who was sitting ringside—the first part of which was relegated to the commercial break for some reason. Maybe because most viewers in the United States, myself included, has no idea who this guy is. In any event, the crowd seemed to love the interaction, and Rooney got a slap on Barrett which caused the arena to erupt.
Veteran instincts: Tyler Breeze faced Dean Ambrose in another first round matchup, but not before cutting an entertaining backstage promo with Renee Young. “The world is an ugly place…obviously…” Burn. The match may have been beter than the promo, though, as is usually deceptively the case with Breeze. Ambrose (kayfabe) tweaked his shoulder early on after a missile dropkick and Breeze worked the arm for the rest of the match, which helped this match tell the best story of any match on the card. There was even a point where I thought Breeze might have won, which speaks volumes about how the suspension of disbelief can work when wrestlers make logical connections throughout a match like Breeze did.
He may be new to the main roster, but make no mistake: Tyler Breeze is a veteran in dis business, and an absolute joy to watch in and out of the ring. There is the oddity that Breeze somehow got an opportunity to advance toward the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in his Raw debut match, but hey, you take logic where you can get it.
Glee birds: Just when I thought this episode of Raw was going to be missing the power of positivity entirely, Big E’s soothing voice hit the loudspeakers and everyone’s favorite act finally graced our television screens in yet another amazing promo, where New Day dedicated the upcoming six man tag match to their fallen captain, Seth Rollins.
The match itself was against Neville and the Usos. Of note, thanks to reddit I can finally differentiate between the two Usos, using this handy, if contrived, mnemonic device: Jay Leno left the Tonight Show, and Jimmy Fallon came right in. Match those two directionals with which side each Uso’s facepaint is on, and there you have it. In any event, the match was pretty damn good, and featured the usual amazing acrobatics from Neville as well as some FLYIN’ USOS, MAGGLE! Alas, New Day steals the win, and one has to wonder if this is setting up for the next tag team championship feud, ostensibly while Bubba Ray and D-Von look on from Dudleyville, wondering why they ever left TNA.
Eulogy: Sprinkled throughout the night were clips depicting The Undertaker and Kane’s dominance over WWE throughout the past 20 years, along with a promise that Bray Wyatt would eventually eulogize the Brothers of Destruction. This came in the main event, where Wyatt cut a surprisingly brisk (for him) promo before being interrupted by the Deadman and the Demon.
This was incredibly well done, and it’s nearly impossible to be a fan of WWE and not enjoy the theatrics involved in The Undertaker and Kane, but I’m disappointed in the type of story they want to tell here. I was enthralled with Wyatt’s promo last week where he claimed to devour the souls of Undertaker and Kane, and was optimistic when he displayed said powers in the arena. But if he really did do what he said he did, Undertaker and Kane would have appeared tonight in some kind of a weakened state. That obviously wasn’t the case, which sadly relegates Bray Wyatt to his usual status as snake oil salesman, who spews out grandiose ideas but never actually follows through on them.
I also have a hard time understanding how this is supposed to sell their upcoming match at Survivor Series (if there even is one—it still hasn’t been announced, but that’s clearly what we’re building toward). Undertaker and Kane handily took out the entire Family tonight, so where’s the suspense in what’s going to happen in a match where each team is at full strength?
There’s still the thread to follow that Wyatt did actually demonstrate the powers, but I have a feeling that will simply be forgotten and the audience will be left to deduce that Wyatt simply paid off the pyrotechnics team or something.
Bray Wyatt has the potential to be a once-in-a-generation Undertaker-type character, but his claims constantly being undermined by his lack of action prevents him from ever reaching that level, and it’s extremely disheartening. So I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it’s always a cool visual to see the Brothers of Destruction slowly march to the ring to feast on some poor souls, and it’s all the more special knowing this might just be the last time Undertaker and Kane are involved in a story together as both performers inch closer to retirement. Wyatt interacting with Undertaker and Kane is also a dream come true and has potential to do wonders for his character. But on the other hand it seems like yet another case of Bray’s actions not jiving with his words, and you have to wonder how many times he can make empty promises before he simply isn’t seen as a threat by anyone.
Overall: In the wake of losing their champion Seth Rollins, forcing their hand to quickly rewrite all the roads leading to Survivor Series, WWE gave us a decent episode of Raw featuring some good-to-great wrestling matches thanks to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament, and a fun “eulogy” that still left a lot to be desired.