They made the most of the opportunity, doing some expert damage control on the standing of Rumble victor Roman Reigns. The show was constructed around five sit-down interview segments and a couple of announcements for Fast Lane. They were interspersed with links from Michael Cole, JBL and Booker T. It was a smart approach that made the most of what the company had at its disposal. If only that were true of their booking approach in general.
Slightly more questionably the decision was also made to air the two biggest matches from the previous night’s Rumble. That means that people tuning into RAW were treated to the triple threat WWE championship match and the Rumble itself for free. Monday saw WWE finally hit their goal of one million subscribers for the WWE Network so I’m sure they’re pleased with the decision to air those matches. The likelihood is that they convinced a number of people that the Network was worth a look. But it wasn’t the greatest idea with regard to customer satisfaction: everyone else had had to pay $9.99 for the event. Or £9.99 if in Britain. Or a staggering $54.99 to watch on regular pay-per-view. I’m sure refund requests have been sailing WWE’s way since Monday night.
|The state of your briefcase, mate.|
The first of the interviews was with Seth Rollins. He told Michael Cole that he thought his Rumble performance spoke for itself. He felt he deserved to be in match and that he did everything he could to win and become champion. I agree with him. Rollins did deserve to be in the match and he made the most of the opportunity. He took the pinfall but that didn’t matter. ‘The Future’ left the show looking like he belonged at the top.
The interview was brought to a close with Rollins being asked about what would happen in a Lesnar v Rollins singles match. Avoiding a direct answer Rollins admitted that he’d underestimated Lesnar but that Lesnar had also underestimated him and added that he had and has what Lesnar doesn’t: the Money in the Bank briefcase.
When Cole plugged the Lesnar interview that was to follow Rollins declared that he wouldn’t leave, Lesnar would have to kick him off his chair. This bravado turned out to be true when the show returned from a break. Rollins was still sitting on his chair, although he was looking less smug and more wary.
Lesnar wandered up and, fairly politely, said to Rollins "I believe you're in my seat." Rollins got up, brushed the chair and then knocked it over. Lesnar laughed as Seth walked off and a stagehand appeared to sort out the seating situation. It was a good bit of character development for both wrestlers. Rollins was shown to be the coward who was all mouth until he had to back up his words in a fair fight. Lesnar was the intimidating monster who picks his fights with care.
Paul Heyman was on board for this interview but Lesnar did speak for himself at the start. As usual it was short and sweet. He acknowledged his broken rib but said it didn’t matter: when it comes to match time he makes sure to win.
Heyman was more talkative (obviously). He explained that Lesnar and The Authority have a symbiotic relationship. Lesnar's in WWE because The Authority needs a box office attraction. He’s also useful for taking care of problematic guys like Sting, The Undertaker and John Cena (although he failed to explain why The Authority finds these men so problematic in the first place). While they're paying what Lesnar's worth he's for hire. Mention of negotiations was made, which was pretty clearly included to weave in the thread of Lesnar potentially leaving after WrestleMania.
After a video package reminding us that Brock Lesnar ended The Streak at ‘Mania XXX Cole asked how Lesnar overcame ‘The Dead Man’s’ “psychological warfare”. ‘The Beast’ said he did it the same way he’s done everything else in his life: he didn’t respect Undertaker. Heyman interjected to ask why people were so surprised by the WM30 result or the previous night’s result. Nobody has Lesnar’s credentials and he’s a true once in a lifetime talent.
Cole said he meant no disrespect and brought up Reigns. Lesnar looked bored during the apology but smirked at the mention of Reigns. Being rather blasé, Lesnar said he was happy for Reigns and hoped that he was up to the challenge. Then he threw out a “baby” and called himself a steamroller.
When Cole asked if Reigns could stop his client Heyman said “No.” The interview ended with Cole telling them he’d be interviewing Reigns later in the show and Lesnar saying he’d stick around to meet him. It was a great exchange that would have acted as a great introduction to the Lesnar character. It gave you everything you needed to know: he mentioned his amateur wrestling credentials and his UFC title win and Heyman made him out to be the biggest draw in wrestling. It left you with no doubt that he’s a bad, intimidating dude, albeit one who has inexplicably started calling people “baby”.
Byron Saxton was given the Roman Reigns interview. Reigns talked about his Rumble win being incredible, mentioned his family (who I won’t list here: if you’re interested check out that oracle of the modern age, Wikipedia) and admitted he’s not the most experienced wrestler on the roster but that he’s willing to get thrown in at the deep end and seize opportunities when they come his way. He also stole Cena’s line about how good, honest, hard-working punters are entitled to react however they like at WWE shows. Reigns is happy simply being allowed to perform.
When asked if he’d been hand-picked for success by WWE higher ups Reigns didn’t actually refute the suggestion. He simply said if he had been he’d have to thank them and explained that if it were true he’d still need to perform at a high level in order to continue getting opportunities. It seemed like an exchange designed to tease the idea that Reigns may be cool with the idea of getting a bit of preferential treatment.
A few minutes later a replay of the Rumble Fallout show was introduced. I’d highly recommend watching it in its entirety. It’s heavy on Reigns giddily marking out during Rock promos designed to get him over as a badass. But that wasn’t the focus here. What we were shown was Rusev interrupting John Cena’s dejected mutterings about not winning his sixteenth world title. We were told The Authority had “planned” Cena v Rusev for WrestleMania but had brought it forward to Fast Lane, presumably because Cena and Rusev had already put themselves on a collision course. Amusingly JBL ventured the thought that Cena might be the guy to best Rusev as though it would in some way come across as a controversial opinion.
In more Fast Lane news we were informed that Triple H had issued a challenged to Sting to meet him face-to-face at the show. Something tells me that challenge will be accepted.
A shot of Dean Ambrose arriving at HQ was shown. After a break Byron Saxton caught up with him and asked how he got there. Ambrose said he walked from Hartford to Stamford.Then he told a story about hitchhiking his way there. Both stories can’t be true, so what this told us is that Ambrose is a liar. But hey, ‘Lunatic Fringe’! Am I right?!
Ambrose said he’d turned up to prove a point: he's going to make it to WrestleMania. That was literally all the reasoning that was given for a man walking through a blizzard wearing nothing but jeans, a leather jacket and a T-shirt with his own name on it. It was an embarrassing, hard to watch segment. Ambrose is over based on his ability to connect with a crowd. He's a good promo guy but nobody could have turned what he was given here, which was essentially nothing, into something worthwhile. This is what Vince thinks a loose cannon is and it's awful. It could not be more obvious that nobody in WWE understands the Ambrose character or has any idea what to do with him.
|Bryan's a Reigns fan. Who knew? Probably not even Bryan until he got the script.|
Interview number five saw Renee Young maxing and relaxing with Daniel Bryan, who she described one of the most "newsworthy superstars to come out of last night's Royal Rumble". Just stop and think about that description for a few seconds and you, like me, will realise that it is meaningless. They started out talking about Bryan’s 2014, how elated he was to make it to ‘Mania based on the support of the fans and how difficult it was to find out he’d suffered a potentially career-ending injury. They ended nattering about Bryan’s casket match collision with Kane, which D-Bry vowed to win because he wants to move on from ‘The Big Red Machine’. But it was the stuff that sat in the middle of the interview that was most interesting.
Bryan said he’s disappointed Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble. Not because it was Reigns but because it wasn't him. He outlined the David v Goliath scenario that could have been his match with Brock Lesnar but said that the loss was ultimately his failure. It's on him. Reigns took the opportunity of being in the Rumble and used it to win. He did, however, mention that he didn't have The Rock helping him or WWE feeding him when he was a kid. Bryan’s final Reigns related comments were that he has no doubt that Reigns can make the same sacrifices as himself and Ziggler and Ambrose and put on a great show against Lesnar.
On the one hand Bryan’s words were very clearly designed to endorse Reigns. Bryan said he had the chance to win the Rumble, unlike last year, and he didn’t. He wasn’t being held down, he just didn’t deliver the win when it counted. But on the other hand that dig about Reigns getting help from The Rock wasn’t exactly subtle. Although the framing of him as currently being inferior to Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose was. I expect in a few months times we’ll be able to look back and point to this interview as the first sign of a Reigns v Bryan rivalry.
The main event (I use that term loosely) saw Lesnar and Reigns sit down with Cole. Although that didn’t last. Heyman immediately interrupted to shake Reigns’ hand and congratulate him on his win. When Reigns said he wouldn’t mind Heyman asking the questions (actually, his exact response was “I’ve got nothing to hide”, which is neither a yes or a no) Heyman put on his journalist hat and replaced Michael Cole.
Heyman said that he’s known Reigns’s family longer than Reigns himself. He told stories about meeting various family members (again, consult Wikipedia) during his time working as a photographer, promoter and manager earlier in his career. He acknowledged that he’d first met Reigns when Reigns was a kid and said he’s proud of him and respects him. It was interesting stuff because it was so obviously real.
|Wall-to-wall promos. It's what WWE's always wanted.|
The Rock was the last name he mentioned. The Rock knows Brock Lesnar. In 2002 Rock was the champ, the top guy. He lost the title to Lesnar and never asked for rematch. One match with Lesnar was all ‘The Brahma Bull’ could handle. What was interesting in that was that Heyman drew parallels between Reigns and the young Lesnar: he said that Rock came up against a new guy, like Reigns is the new guy, and stated his belief that Reigns is ‘The Next Big Thing’. It was almost like Heyman was courting Reigns as a client or hinting that he’d be willing to double cross Lesnar if Reigns were willing to take him on as an agent.
Heyman said he gets it: Reigns is the one to beat the one in 21-1. He told Reigns he wouldn’t be able to beat Lesnar and asked him how he’d cope with disappointing his family like that.
Reigns squeaked his chair around to face the champion. He told Lesnar he knows who and what he is and what he’s signed up for, but he doesn’t think Lesnar knows what he’s in for. He said he’d beat him and take the championship and that they both knew it. Lesnar’s response was to shoot to his feet and offer a good, old fashioned test of strength handshake. At that point Lesnar told Reigns that he’s not like Heyman, he doesn’t respect him.
"But you will" was Reigns’ action movie response. A smirk from Reigns would have been better there. It would have seemed more confident, like he doesn’t need to try convincing Lesnar or anyone else.
Michael Cole described the Reigns-Lesnar confrontation as “powerful and emotional”, before he, Booker T and JBL started shilling the WrestleMania 31 main event. Naturally they all agreed it was going to be amazing.
And that was RAW. Considering the limitations they were under I think it was a great show. They got Reigns’ push on track, acknowledged the disappointment people feel at Daniel Bryan not losing, set some stuff up for Fast Lane, covered the Lesnar, Ambrose and Rollins characters, and started working on the main event for their biggest show of the year. In fact it as so smooth that I can’t help but think WWE would rather present shows like this than bother with arenas and all that bothersome non-pay-per-view wrestling.