Thursday 16 June 2011

That RAW Recap 13.06.11

I thought this week’s episode of RAW was good. The use of guest General Manager ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and R-Truth, the continued build of the Miz/Riley feud, and the Punk v Cena main event all stand out as particular highlights. There were some bad points too, but I’ll get to them. On the whole I consider this a Good Episode, and I feel it’s important to start off by saying that (it being a positive statement and everything).

The opening segment was one of the best WWE has produced this year. Miz came out in one of his lovely suits, covered in fake tan, and did a good job of getting the audience to boo him. He played up to the crowds “What?” chants very nicely (“That was cool in 2001”), called Alex Riley a fraud, and then focused his attention on the stars of the Attitude Era, claiming that Austin and The Rock are jealous of him and keep returning to steal his spotlight. As far as heel logic goes it was fine.

Miz “called out” Austin, who entered to the most thunderous pop of the night. As heartening as Austin’s reaction was it underlines what I said last week: there are no current WWE stars that can provoke that sort of reaction on a weekly basis. Cena (on a good week, with the right crowd, the right opponent, and the right alignment of stars) and Orton get solid reactions, but they do not come close to rivalling Austin’s popularity. This is a problem because WWE cannot keep relying on stars of yesteryear for ratings boosts: sooner or later a new batch of stars is going to have to be built if the company is to keep running on its current scale.

Austin’s interaction with The Miz was great. He did most of the talking and showed that he still has “it”. When announcing a Piper’s Pit segment for later on the show Austin did a great job of putting over Alex Riley, saying that he could give and take an “ass-whoopin’” and cut a good promo. Perhaps WWE are starting to do what I suggested in the paragraph above after all.

Miz ended up leaving having been threatened (indirectly) with a Stunner. At this point I was expecting the first ad break but instead we got Alberto Del Rio driving out. He began talking about his destiny but ‘The Rattlesnake’ cut him off and said his destiny would be to take a beating if he didn’t shut up. It was great to see Del Rio sharing screen time with Austin but he didn’t get to look as strong as The Miz. With his treatment in recent weeks this came as no surprise.

Kane was announced as ADR’s opponent and the two men had a painfully average match. You can’t really expect much more from Kane in 2011. The match lasted a few minutes before Del Rio locked in his arm breaker submission and Big Show ran in for the save. He ended up punching Ricardo in the face over and over again as Del Rio ran off. This lead to some faintly homoerotic bellowing from Kane and some heaving panting from Show. The thing I remember most about all of this is that Big Show was wearing a yellow glove on his right hand that was not acknowledged by the announce team and didn’t seem to have any reason to be there. That glove carried the entire post-match beating segment.

The second match on offer was Wade Barrett (still Intercontinental champion, for anyone still interested in such things), Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase losing to Ezekiel Jackson, Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson and Sin Cara. It was a decent affair but was never going to be anything more because it simply didn’t get the time. The decision to pair Sin Cara with Daniel Bryan is a smart one: Bryan can work the majority of their matches with his fellow English-speakers, tagging Cara in for his trademark high spots. It’s good for Bryan too: Sin Cara’s push will ensure he keeps getting television time.

As far as the lighting effect for Sin Cara’s matches goes: I understand they’re doing it to help him stand out, but it really should be toned down. It seemed far too murky this week. On the plus side I enjoyed Cole noting during the opening moments of the match that ‘King’ really likes Sin Cara. Perhaps it’s because Cara would have been such a natural fit in Memphis...

An ad break was followed by R-Truth kicking Hornswoggle in the face. WWE clearly hoped this would make Truth an even bigger heel, but it just made me like him even more. I find Hornswoggle an irritating, unsympathetic and unnecessary character so I’m naturally going to enjoy him getting mercilessly beaten by a heel. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Truth’s facial expressions during this segment were very good and managed to keep things on the right side of comedic.

After another break we saw four (yes four) referees carrying Hornswoggle to the back. One could have managed it easily. A Santino v Sheamus match then played to a mixture of apathy and loud “We want Ryder” chants. Sheamus took the massively predictable win with a Texas Cloverleaf.

This seems as good a point as any to address the non-appearance of Zack Ryder. It was a huge mistake not to utilise him. He is one of the most over people on the entire WWE roster: by refusing to use him WWE is doing itself, its fans, and a hard working, talented guy a great disservice. The chants from his hometown (or is that home island?) crowd throughout the evening prove that Ryder would have been given a warm reception. Had he been used intelligently, maybe gaining a surprise upset victory over someone like Sheamus, then it could have started a push that could have lead to a reliable new act that people are willing to pay to see.

The trouble Zack Ryder has is that WWE sees him as enhancement talent. They didn’t hire him to be one of their featured guys and so it’s incredibly unlikely that they will ever reward him with the push he deserves. Ten years ago Ryder’s hard work would have been given at least a token push, while now it looks as though Vince McMahon and his writers see Ryder as stepping out of line. Yes, it’s a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, but Vince would rather do that than push someone who hasn’t been hand-picked for a push by him.

Back to RAW: a Christian and Orton segment was well received by the fans and shows WWE made the right call in turning Christian heel. He does his best work as an antagonist, and while I originally thought it would be best to have Randy turn I’m happy to see that the feud is working out as well as it is.

Because Randy was suffering from a traumatic storyline concussion (the very worst kind of concussion) the RAW GM emailed in to say that Orton would be stripped of the title if he got into a physical confrontation with Christian. I don’t think we’re meant to ask the obvious questions of “How would the RAW GM strip a SmackDown wrestler of a SmackDown championship?” and “Isn’t Austin in charge?” ‘The Rattlesnake’ appeared and announced Mysterio v Christian. Despite having an extra hour to play with the match was kept short and so wasn’t as good as it could have been.

After the match CM Punk came out with the Nexus and Mason Ryan smashed Rey into a ring post. Christian then hit the Killswitch (which I miss calling the Unprettier) on Rey and made the traditional “belt around the waist” motion that all challengers are contractually obligated to make before they challenge for a world title.

Next was the evening’s worst segment involving Austin. Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero went to his office to ask for a US title match at Capitol Punishment. Austin said he’d make the match if Dolph fired Vickie as his manager. Dolph agreed only for Austin to reveal he’d been joking and walk off, leaving Dolph to deal with a furious Vickie. This segment could have been funny, but it was poorly directed, so it wasn’t.

R-Truth came out for a match with John Morrison, who had returned in a backstage video with Austin earlier in the evening. Morrison’s music played and he didn’t come out. This happened several times as Truth took a microphone and said that earlier Morrison had acted like Billy Bad, and that Morrison was right to be scared because Truth is scared of himself. It was yet another example of Truth being the best new heel in WWE this year.

With Morrison still not in the ring Truth went backstage to find him. It was quickly made apparent that Morrison was lying unconscious on the ground, having been attacked by Truth earlier. In what was probably an unintentional nod to the hardcore matches of the early 2000s Truth slammed a steel box on wheels into Morrison. I’ve never been a fan of daft backstage injury angles, but I’ve seen worse than this, and Truth’s facial expressions helped to soften the blow and make it all enjoyable.

A tag match pitting Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston against Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler failed to excite the crowd. It was just there to fill time, which raises the question of why WWE felt it necessary to make this a three hour broadcast if they didn’t have three hours worth of material. It also reminds you that all four of these men should be in much more prominent positions and receiving better responses from the crowd.

The Piper’s Pit segment with Miz and Riley was next. That’s at least one feud that’s getting booked correctly: Miz has done everything possible to make Riley look like his equal. It’s paid off because Riley has heard cheers every week since he turned on Miz and if he keeps getting treated this way he should be a credible name performer within a few months. I hope WWE realise this and continue to build this program with the care and attention it has received up until now.

The Pit segment quickly deteriorated into a boasting contest before Miz and Piper agreed to have a match (at Riley’s suggestion, once again giving him the opportunity to get the pop). Austin made it official and added Riley as the official. The bout that followed saw Miz lose to Piper (while wearing his lovely suit) having been punched into a schoolboy by A-Ry. All three men did a good job.

Following a truly atrocious fourteen women tag match that never stood a chance of being taken seriously we saw this, the best segment on RAW:

What’s not to enjoy about this? Punk v Austin is one of the most natural feuds ever. I’m pleased WWE did something with the two of them together, because it means they are at least considering this match for a future event. Personally I think the ideal place for a Punk v Austin match would be SummerSlam in August, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see whether WWE agrees. Whether it happens or not, this was still a show stealing segment.

Austin came out to the ring to announce that next week’s RAW will be another three hour show (remember what I said above about having enough material for a three hour show?), but not just any three hour show: a fans’ choice three hour show! The common assumption is that it will be like the Cyber Sunday pay-per-views that saw fans vote on who would get title shots, the stipulations of certain matches and various other things. If some thought goes into the show it could be a good one, but it strikes me as a desperate attempt to get a few extra ratings points with a minimum of effort.

Finally it was main event time. After weeks of enjoying solid babyface reactions the world returned to normal and Cena got some serious hatred from the fans. CM Punk got a solid pop. There were duelling chants throughout what turned out to be a surprisingly watchable contest. Punk did some pretty big moves to the outside which should have got him booed but were all met with cheers by the vocal adult male portion of the audience. Cena’s used to it all by now, I’m sure.

Towards the end of the bout Truth appeared in the audience and stole a child’s hat. It’s hardly a more heinous act that kicking a midget in the face is it? Nevertheless Cena feigned concern from the ring (he wasn’t bothered enough to actually leave and go to help the child – though in fairness the kid’s parents didn’t do anything either) which allowed Punk to sneak in from behind and connect with the Go To Sleep. I love that finisher, but Cena always manages to take it poorly. This bout was no exception. Punk still got the win, despite Cena’s inability to fall convincingly (every week I am astonished by the basics of wrestling Cena still hasn’t mastered – watch him lock up at the start of his next match).

Punk left the ring to celebrate as Truth came in and smacked the champion with a water bottle. Predictably Cena oversold that. Truth hit his jumping STO finisher and posed with the title over Cena before leaving the ring, still with the belt, as the show went off the air to chants of “Little Jimmy”.

There may not have been much in the way of hype for Capitol Punishment and Alberto Del Rio is still not being used for anything meaningful, but the inclusion of Austin and several enjoyable (if short) matches helped to counterbalance that. I do think the hyping of pay-per-views needs to be addressed though: when a show six days away is barely mentioned throughout a three hour broadcast something, somewhere, isn’t right. I’ll be discussing that more in my preview of Capitol Punishment. For now, treat yourself to another watch of the Austin and Punk backstage meeting again. You’ve earned it.

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