That's the theory anyway. The two RAWs we've had since the Rumble have done very little to mark this out as a special or important time of year. The highlight of last week's show were an in-ring confrontation between Randy Orton, Batista and Brock Lesnar and a six man tag match putting Sheamus, John Cena and Daniel Bryan against The Shield. It's not unfair to expect more from the promotion at this time of year.
This week's episode was even less interesting. In addition to the absence of CM Punk (which went unacknowledged for the second week in a row) Brock Lesnar and John Cena were both absent. Lesnar's appearances are being hoarded for later weeks while Cena was held off the show because of an eye injury he suffered in a match with Randy Orton at a house show on Saturday. These things are unavoidable but there's nothing to stop WWE using the guys and girls they do have on the show better. The increased audiences should be an incentive to do that anyway: perhaps a new viewer will take a liking to a newly pushed act and continue watching to see them. Longer term new acts are going to be needed because returning names like Batista and part-timers like Lesnar and Undertaker are not going to be the answer forever.
|Lengthy Randy Orton promos: always a popular way to start RAW|
RAW started with a Randy Orton promo. Chants for CM Punk started up as soon as he opened his mouth, forcing him to speak quickly in a attempt to drown them out. He didn't manage that but the audience did get bored quickly and dropped the chant themselves. The mention of 'The Viper' potentially losing his titles got cheers. The mention of Batista got boos. It was a stumble-ridden, uncertain effort from the usually reliable, if unimpressive, Orton.
The Authority strolled to the stage after Orty again chose to speak out against them. Steph called the champ paranoid as the Punk chants started up again briefly. Triple H said Orton says the same thing every week. That's true but it's a bit rich coming from the man who said the same thing every week during the his time as top heel from 1999 onwards. More importantly 'The Game' said they'd maybe have to consider selecting a new face of the company because of Orton's excuses. That earned cheers and a halfhearted attempt at a Daniel Bryan chant (give me an east coast audience for crowd participation any day of the week). It was announced Randy will face his five Elimination Chamber opponents in singles matches on RAW and SmackDown episodes before the show and if any of them beat him they'll be in the running to be the new face. The first man to face him would be Bryan. He seemed like an odd choice. I'd have thought they'd want to save him until last and build up to him. Then again a series like this can only really work if the two biggest names open and close it. With Cena indisposed Bryan was the only realistic choice to wrestle 'The Viper'.
After a steel cage tag title match was announced for later in the show The Shield strolled to ringside. They were facing Rey Mysterio, Big E Langston, and, outside of his natural hour two habitat, Kofi Kingston. Notable commentary included JBL highlighting the fact that Ambrose hasn't defended his US title in months and Michael Cole trying to force the nicknames of 'The Architect' and 'The Lunatic Fringe' on Rollins and Ambrose (I really hope neither catch on because they're about as nonsensical as wrestling nicknames can get, and wrestling nicknames can get pretty nonsensical). It was a decent opener, marred slightly by Big E recklessly busting Reigns open during his running body tackle. It's not the first time that's happened. Langston needs to take more care.
The dissolution of The Shield also continued to be hinted at. Reigns dropped Big E with the Supermsn punch but Ambrose tagged himself in before he could follow up with a spear. Ambrose then got the win with his tumbling DDT. As Rollins tried to keep his teammates cool the Wyatt Family appeared on the Titantron and did one of his strange promos, this one mentioning The Shield waiting to serve their king. Harper added something about Bray being that King and whistled. Erick Rowan's single line was to tell 'The Hounds of Justice' to run.
Back at ringside Bad News Barrett perched atop his really tall podium and said America had overeaten so much during the previous evening's Superb Owl that most of them would be dead by next year's game (which seemed a bit dark). Jerry Lawler stood up at commentary and said he had some bad news himself: he hoped Barrett wouldn't be around the following week. Not strictly news, 'King', but fine, whatevs.
Match two saw Christian defeat Jack Swagger with a roll up. After the match Zeb and Swagger had words and Cesaro shook his head sadly. It looks like Swagger's been lumbered with a variant of the losing streak gimmick. Again.
|I think Cody's about to get a face full of fence|
The tag team title cage match was on after that. Rules vary in these sorts of matches. This week tags were being made and only pins and submissions would win the bout. The match suffered from a slow pace and an uninterested crowd. That changed, though not by as much as was deserved, when Cody performed a moonsault from the top of the cage at the finish of the match. It was nicely done and would have made a better match feel special. As it was it felt a little incongruous doing something so extreme to end a decidedly average bout. Rhodes hit Road Dogg but got pinned by a Fameasser, giving the Outlaws the win.
Hour two continued with Zack Ryder falling to the newly heel Titus O'Neil. The Miz stormed to the commentary desk during this and said it was wrong that Ryder and O'Neil had a match on RAW but he didn't. Fandango v Santino instead became a dance off between Summer Rae and Emma. The crowd did not get into Emma's dancing. That wasn't surprising. They still picked her as the winner though. I think that can be taken as Summer Rae being an effective heel as anything else.
Sheamus v Curtis Axel was also in hour two. Six months ago Axel looked like he was going somewhere. Now he looks like a no-hoper. His team with Ryback, while enjoyable for its overwhelming naff factor, isn't going to amount to anything. 'Great White' won with the Brogue kick and then shouted at 'The Human Wrecking Ball'.
The crowd's earlier pro-CM Punk chants were shown to be meaningless when they cheered Batista. I don't think Batista deserves all the negativity he gets but he is a very clear target if fans want to send a message to WWE that they don't like what's being put on TV. He's a shorthand for the perceived lack of creative team support for the likes of Bryan and Punk. This week 'The Animal' was wearing a jean jacket, shades and a tight blue V-neck (because clothing is what people really care about with Batista segments). Before 'The Animal' could speak Alberto Del Rio strolled out. Batista said he didn't have a problem with ADR. ADR punched him in the mouth, showing he still has a problem with Batista. A Batista bomb was attempted but Del Rio ran away before he could take it. It was a pretty poor segment. Batista pulling shirt off for no reason didn't help. Though it probably didn't hurt.
|Note Bray Wyatt's boots|
Hour three began with Dolph Ziggler teaming with R-Truth and Xavier Woods against the Wyatt Family. The Family won with a Sister Abigail on Ziggler. It was not a surprising result. This match is a good example of what I said above about WWE making better use of the guys they do have. The Wyatt Family were always going to win but imagine if the match had been about Truth or Woods being isolated and constantly trying to get the hot tag to Ziggler. Teased enough it could have provoked a strong reaction and Ziggler could have cleaned up on his opponents before being pinned after a double team move and then Sister Abigail. That layout would have made Ziggler look more like a star and kept him strong in defeat while further establishing Bray's finisher and the Family's teamwork. Pairing 'The Show Off' with more credible partners, such as Mysterio and Sin Cara wouldn't have hurt either.
The Shield returned the promo favour after the match. Ambrose mentioned not living in a world of monsters and haunted rocking chairs, which was funny. Rollins' few lines were delivered well. I think he's improved at delivering wrestlespeak since joining WWE. He's worlds better than he was as Tyler Black in ROH.
A promo for Alexander Rusev was shown. He spoke in Bulgarian before Lana speared to say "Alexander Rusev crush." There was no hint as to what the plan with Rusev is. There probably isn't one.
Naomi v Aksana followed that. It was inconsequential. AJ Lee was on commentary. Naomi won with a split legged moonsault. The point of the match seemed to be to give Naomi a win and Cole the chance to talk about how she's pinned AJ twice. Presumably they'll face one another at Elimination Chamber.
|Sticking this guy in the main event was, ahem, best for business|
Randy Orton v Daniel Bryan was the evening's final match. It was around the same level of quality as their PPV series last year. Not bad but probably capable of being better. It's their June 24 street fight they should be trying to emulate. That was great. Bryan targeted the knee of the champ and the champ retaliated by targeting his arm. That was the story of the match until Corporate Kane wandered out to start the finish. 'The Big Red Machine' got knocked off the apron and drop toe held (holded?) into the ring steps after Bryan had dived through the ropes on to him. Back in the ring Bryan pushed out of the RKO and performed his running knee for the victory. After the match Kane and Orton double teamed Bryan (not like that) and 'The Dazzler' was put down with a choke slam. Kane then did his pyro. Yeah, he still does that. That's what's great about him, the fact that he still does the magical and supernatural stuff while wearing a suit. 'The Apex Predator' posed as the show closed.
The result of this match would mean more if Orton went on to defeat every other Elimination Chamber opponent in singles matches. Bryan's victory would become more significant if nobody replicated the feat and it would show that Orton's a skilled competitor and worthy champion. People will pay more to see him lose if it happens less often. That's what I think anyway.
Once again I find myself ending a RAW recap hoping that WWE can pull things together next week. Now is the time to impress people, not put them off with loads of filler matches and a lack of ort for wrestlers that are cared about.