The Shield def. Team Hell No and Randy Orton: Great continuity from the way Smackdown ended Friday night, and good position on the card (to hook viewers during the NBA Game 7 pre-show). Bryan performed an amazing hurricanrana from the top rope, tossing Rollins onto a fallen Ambrose. Plus, I loved the ending – The Shield intelligently used the chaos of the match to their advantage. These guys are the highlight of weekly WWE television. Enough said.
Randy Orton, Kane, and Bryan Backstage Segment: This was great. These guys all acted like their loss was a big deal, and Bryan’s intensity sold the angle. His promise to destroy somebody else later in the night left me hooked.
Triple H Backstage Segments: When Triple H finally arrived, he argued with Stephanie and Vince that he was going to wrestle Curtis Axel. I liked the intensity here, and think that this should have opened the show – It did a much better job of selling the story.
Later, he left (at the beckoning of Stephanie), but promised to come back and fight Axel at the start of the show next week. As a storyline, this works for me. I just hope the eventual payoff, whatever that might be, is worth all this bickering.
Sheamus vs Cody Rhodes: Both of these guys have wrestled better, more exciting, or more athletic matches. I also hate to see Rhodes loose. However, this segment (mostly) worked for me because it seemed like the next step on the build towards an eventual Sheamus-Sandow matchup. I just question having Rhodes-Scholars look so foolish on a weekly basis.
The Wyatt Family Promo: Michael Cole described these as more “clues” about The Wyatt Family, and while they didn’t provide any real information, they were very entertaining/creepy, and served as a great build towards a new character.
Daniel Bryan def. Ryback by DQ: My favorite part of the night. These two matched up well, and this felt like a main-event caliber match. Bryan continues to adapt his in-ring work to be a combination of his technical, skill-based background and the high-bump, high-intensity WWE style. After a dull second hour, the fans were asleep, but Bryan (and Ryback, to a lesser extent) did a great job of getting everybody invested. Most impressive was Bryan’s flying headbutt from across the ring.
Ryback demolishing Bryan by putting him through a table makes sense for his character – he’s supposed to be a monster heel. Also, he’s already in line for a WWE Championship match, so why does he need the win? This is where Ryback shines. Plus, segments like this help sell the intensity of a table’s match by making them seem (somewhat) dangerous.
Opening Segment w/ Stephanie McMahon & Vince McMahon: This was a great surprise to kick-off Raw. Stephanie came out and said she was making an “executive decision” not to let Triple H compete (but doesn’t he outrank her as Chief Operating Officer?). Vince McMahon chastised the fans for booing her, and claimed that “WWE is family entertainment – it’s not a blood sport!” Sweet, sweet irony.
But while I really liked the surprise appearance, I thought this segment was weak overall. So, basically, the McMahons only care about a superstar if he’s family? I might have appreciated it more had the match been announced a week out, or been otherwise hyped-up. As it stands, I just never really felt invested.
Bait-and-Switch: The Shield showed up at the end of the opening segment before going to commercial, and I was excited to see the confrontation. Unfortunately, the McMahons were gone by the time Raw returned. Does this count as false advertising?
The Usos def. Prime-Time Players: Decent tag-team action, but the audience couldn’t care less. And I’m not sure what the WWE gains here from pushing the (very bland) Usos at the expense of a very entertaining duo in PTP.
Alberto Del Rio def. Big E Langston: Michael Cole did a great job by building this up as the ‘rubber match’ between the two men and making it feel important. They’ve essentially wrestled a best-of-5 series, which I’m a fan of when handled properly. Short, high-energy match, much like their previous outings, and Del Rio won with a very unique roll-up transition from the cross armbreaker. However, Ziggler was conspicuously absent here (especially after returning at live events this past weekend), and it made the segment fall flat. His distraction would have been a great way to give Big E a cheap win, and stoke the World Heavyweight Championship feud, which has otherwise burnt-out by this point.
The Miz/ Wade Barrett/ Fandango/ The Great Khali segments: This whole segment of Raw just felt like filler. Khali defeating Fandango by count-out was really just setting up the next segment, where The Miz defeated Wade Barrett. My issues are that the whole thing felt overbooked, and the only person who came out of this looking good was The Miz. Where’s the drama?
Paul Heyman – Chris Jericho Contract Signing: After last week’s fantastic segment, I was excited about this confrontation and the possibility of a surprise Punk appearance. Unfortunately, (like so many contract signings) this seemed to go nowhere fast. I’m glad Paul Heyman played up the fact that this was going to be Punk’s crowd in his hometown. Jericho’s response just seemed indifferent, and left me feeling the same.
The Funkadactyls & Natalya def. AJ & The Bellas: Kaitlyn won with a pinfall after AJ left. Is this supposed to make their rivalry feel more intense? I don’t get it.
Curits Axel def. John Cena in a No DQ Match by Count-Out: This was strictly an OK segment (and would have been “good” except for the finish). Cena and Axel both came out at the end of the Bryan-Ryback match, and seeing Axel with all the main-eventers really did make him look like a star.
The match itself was fine. Slow pace, but it turned into more of a hardcore-style brawl, which was enjoyable. However, Cena loses by count-out when Ryback puts him through a table. So, let me repeat that – CENA LOSES BY COUNT-OUT IN A NO DISQUALIFICATION MATCH. Where does WWE come up with these stupid stipulations? While I’m glad Axel got the win here, flukey garbage like this makes it impossible to suspend belief long enough to really invest in the characters, or the stories they’re telling.
My Overall Impressions: Internet wrestling fans are criticised for being ‘too critical’ or ‘out of touch.’ This is probably true, to a certain extent. The thing is, internet fans are really invested in the product. They watch it, and I believe most of them legitimately want it to succeed. They remember the glory days, when Monday nights were “must-watch” television.
Unfortunately, WWE seems determined to cater to the casual fans. Last night’s show screamed of creative emptiness. Many of the matches we had seen before, and many of the segments seemed like a simple rehashing of the same ideas. Nothing new entered the fold. It was basically “WWE on Replay!” To fans who actually watch the shows every week, especially Smackdown and Raw, it felt like we’ve seen it all before.
While I’ll acknowledge the Triple H stuff was new, it also felt purposeless. Why should I care that Triple H, a guy who doesn’t even wrestle on a regular basis, is dying to get in the ring with Curtis Axel, a guy who’s been around for two weeks? Is there going to be any real payoff here?
Raw Rating: Going up against the NBA’s Game 7 of a very entertaining Heat-Pacers series will do this show no favors.
Ryback speaking: Awkward pauses do NOT make someone sound intimidating. Like saying, “Hey John…. Cena, I’m going to eat…your Rice Krispy Treats…okay?” It just makes me want to give him an inhaler.