Solid, if unspectacular, edition of ‘Raw’ last night. There was too much time between ‘Wrestlemania’ and what is essentially ‘Wrestlemania: The Rematches,’ which made for some dull weeks of television. The creative team has been stuck in neutral for a month or so, and it was good to see things pick back up a little heading in Extreme Rulez.
Intro Video Package recapping Kane and Ryback from last week on Raw, and the Lesnar-Heyman invasion angle. Not enough good things can be said about the creative team behind these WWE video packages. They kick-off the show well, and make the storylines seem urgent. There might be a lot of filler on Raw these days, but these packages cut through the garbage and focus on the essentials.
Jericho – Fandango Dance Competition: This is a soft “good” for me. I’m never really crazy about dance competitions on Raw (and when Jerry Lawler asked the audience to judge strictly “on their ability and their dance moves,” I about spit out my Pepsi. Yeah, because the WWE Universe is such an impartial party.) I also wasn’t too fond of Fandango during this segment (more on that below), or the fact that they never danced. Why build up having a celebrity dancer on Raw if the intention is to never actually dance?
However, I liked the fact that this rivalry was spotlighted in such a big way. These two had a lot going for them coming out of Wrestlemania, and it seemed like WWE creative honestly forgot about them for a few weeks. They needed this segment, and the brawl in lieu of dancing put a little more heat on Fandango.
Chris Jericho: Chris Jericho is so good on the mic. While I’ve been sick of his stupid “Fandango name-game” promos, he stepped up the intensity last night. His backstage segment, promising to wipe the floor with Fandango on Sunday, drew me in. This match has potential, and I think Jericho walks away with the win on Sunday.
Prime Time Players def. Tons of Funk: This is probably on the “good” side only because I love Prime Time Players. They’re funny, athletic, and unlike most of the WWE’s odd-couple pairings, they’ve been a team from the get-go. The match itself wasn’t much to write about, but I liked the fact that PTP wins with a decidedly heel-like tactic.
Kofi Kingston def. Damien Sandow: Good, quick match. Commentary was awful (“snells vs snails”?), but Kingston and Sandown gave it their all in a fast-paced back-and-forth bout. While I hate to see Sandow lose, Kofi is the champion and should be getting the mid-card wins. However, (beating a dead horse here), both of these guys deserve a bigger share of the spotlight.
Mark Henry “Hall of Pain” Induction: Solid segment. I really liked the flashback to JBL vs Eddie Guerrero from the 2004 Great American Bash – it was a great way to introduce the stipulation. Also, I appreciate that WWE continues to build up Mark Henry as being the “World’s Strongest Man.” It makes him seem more like a monster. Henry is so fantastic in this role, and even though it goes against everything the “Be A Star” campaign stands for, his heel run since late 2011 has been the best work of his career. Sheamus gets the upper hand tonight, but I’m predicting a Mark Henry victor on Sunday.
Also, this segment had one of my favorite lines of the night – “Sheamus knows where his bread is buttered.” Funny.
Team Hell No and John Cena vs The Shield ends in count out: So, according to WWE magainze, John Cena is the ‘King of Hardcore’? Guess somebody forgot to tell Sabu/Terry Funk/Mick Foley that…
Otherwise, this was a decent match, and a good way to get everybody on the card. The match was lengthy and seemed to have greater implications, and the crowd was really into it. Team Hell No was eliminated first, but they looked strong in defeat (Kane eliminating himself made him look like a monster). Also, it keeps heat on The Shield, and makes them a credible threat to the WWE Tag Team Championship this Sunday.
While I’m not a big fan of Cena pretty much wiping out the entire Shield in a matter of minutes, I understand that he is the WWE Champion and he needs to look strong. However, the fact that Ambrose never tapped out – and that The Shield decimated him afterwards – made this, as Lawler said, “a hollow victory.” Good booking decision for all parties involved.
My only gripe was with the post-match segment. Ryback comes out to attack Cena’s ankle. This would be great if I thought Cena had any chance at losing come Sunday. However, WWE always makes this storyline about “Cena overcoming the odds to retain his championship,” and because Ryback has been made to look like a fool in recent weeks, this whole attack came off rather lame. This is probably more of an issue with the Cena character than the segment itself, though.
HHH/Brock Lesnar Face-Off: WWE saved the best segment of the night for last. The Triple H/Brock Lesnar feud has had moments of greatness and moments of insanity. However, I think this match has had the best build the last few weeks. These guys seem intense, focused, and ready to beat the crap out of each other. Although I’m not a huge HHH fan, when he brings it on the mic, the younger guys should take notes. He sells his intensity.
The other part of this feud is the genius of Paul Heyman. He does so well as the mouthpiece for Brock Lesnar, and unlike certain other managers, manages to keep the focus on his client. But, I thought having Triple H call out Brock Lesnar was a smart move. It reminds everybody that the focus is on these two men, and their battle inside the steel cage. While I’m usually not a big fan of two superstars getting their hands on one-another the final show before a match, especially within the confines of their stipulation, I think it was served well here. It reminded everybody that these two bring an intense presence to the ring, and their war on Sunday should fit the moniker of ‘Extreme Rules.’
My only gripe here is that, yet again, WWE’s best matches are centered around part-time guys. Every PPV main event of 2013 has included a guy who doesn’t show up on Raw every week. This makes a certain amount of sense for The Rock, because he’s such a huge star outside the business, but less so here. What happens after Sunday? Will either competitor being on the show Monday to gloat? Are either of these guys going to be chasing down Cena (or Ryback) for the gold? Doubtful.
Ryback def. Zack Ryder: For starters, why is Zack Ryder the “jobber to the stars” now? He has talent, charisma, and a loyal following. WWE politics aside, my biggest issue is the fact that this match doesn’t accomplish anything. Ryback looked like a monster in his defeat of Kane last week – how does beating Zack Ryder (a guy who loses to Antonio Cesaro on a weekly basis) really build him up any more? This felt like a step back. On the positive side, at least Ryback didn’t speak…
Teddy Long announces Dolph Ziggler will NOT be stripped of the title, and the match at ‘Extreme Rules’ has been changed to Swagger vs Del Rio in an ‘I Quit’ match. This was a terrible announcement. I know that Ziggler being hurt put the creative team in a tough spot, but why change the entire dynamic of the match? People love ladder matches, and could care less about ‘I Quit’ matches (like my wife pointed out, what if he gets knocked out?). Also, with the ankle-lock and cross-armbreaker in play, why not just make it a submission match?
I’m also not happy they’re only fighting for a number one contendership now. Shouldn’t Del Rio get a rematch either way, since he was the previous champion? I wish WWE would have taken a cue from UFC in this case: If the champion is injured, crown an interim champion. Then, let the two “champions” fight it out at a later date. They could have kept the ladder match stipulation, and made the match feel more important.
My other issue is with the build. People simply don’t care about seeing these two fight. Ricardo Rodriguez is the most over of anybody involved with this rivalry, and Zeb Coulter has the most heat. That’s a bad sign.
Randy Orton def Antonio Cesaro: Seriously, how many times are we going to see these guys fight? Randy Orton wins again, Cesaro loses again, and it doesn’t do much for either wrestler. Also, there was no build towards Sunday’s match (other than having Orton on the card). And the match was too short to be interesting. Waste of a segment.
Miz def Heath Slater: Miz looked solid in the ring, and it’s good to have him back. On the other hand, the match felt like a WWE Main Event burn-off. Bring Cody Rhodes out and have them build towards their pre-show (ugh) match on Sunday. Otherwise, this felt inconsequential.
Jack Swagger def. Big E Langston via count out: While I’m glad to see Big E get more screen time, there’s already been too much focus on the managers in recent weeks. Plus, the crowd was dead throughout the entire match.
Unfortunately, Swagger doesn’t even win here by a legitimate means. A count-out victory just makes him look even weaker, and incapable of beating a guy who has only been on the main roster for half a year. How, again, is he a real threat? Expect him to lose on Sunday, and be relegated to midcard duty shortly thereafter.
WWE App: The fact that they now have interviews during matches is a nonsense. I know “wrestling” is a bad word, but this is a ridiculous way to push the app. WWE is the only one who feels like it has too much content to fill a three-hour Raw.
Fandango: His gimmick is dancing. Yet he loses to The Great Khali in a dance competition (you know, they guy they make fun of for being unable to walk or talk on a weekly basis), and the next week refuses to dance at all. Bad marketing.
Fandango’s Outfit: Seriously, it looked like a rainbow ate a zebra, and vomited afterwards.
Ryback’s Right Nipple: Will somebody please buy Ryback a singlet that fits? Or at least tell him to start wearing something that leaves his entire chest open. That one nipple feels like the eye from Poe’s “A Tell-Tale Heart.”
Teddy Long’s Suit – Of course.
The Bellas on Commentary – With such great insights as, “The slap that should be heard around the world” and “Here comes the boring best friends fight,” I can see why McMahon wants them as the face of the division on E! network.
Michael A. Wiseman – follow me on Twitter @therealwiseman