Getting on for four years later and RAW was back in Richmond. There were no Confederate uniforms and only a little R-Truth. What there was was a very solid episode of WWE's flagship show. The kind of episode that is all too rare.
The most notable part of the show was the first main roster appearance from Kevin Owens, in which he shared a ring with John Cena. Whether this was the beginning of a full-time call-up or, as seems more likely, something designed to hype Takeover: Unstoppable and give Cena something to do at Elimination Chamber isn't that important. It was NXT champion Kevin Owens on RAW with his championship belt.
The segment started fairly innocuously with Cena issuing his now standard open challenge for a United States title shot. Owens' music didn't get much of a reaction, probably because it's a bit generic, but the audience popped when he appeared. They popped more when he started speaking, saying that he didn't need to introduce himself because Cena knew who he was, as did everyone in the audience who mattered. This prompted Cena to cut in and introduce Owens to the crowd. Owens responded to that with "Thank you. That was nice", a very Owens ad-lib.
After giving Owens a telling off for saying the paying customers don't matter and plugging Takeover: Unstoppable Cena went to offer Owens some veteran advice. It was Owens' turn to cut Cena off with an emphatic reminder that he'd been wrestling for fifteen years, longer than Cena. That prompted Cena to change tack and offer a warning: he said he could tell Owens was a scared kid and that if he wasn't careful Sami Zayn would beat him for the NXT championship at Takeover.
|The champ is here.|
Back on the US title open challenge Cena asked if Owens wanted the shot. Owens said he'd a prize fighter but that he already had a prize: his NXT championship. He promised Cena they'd face each other one day but that it would be on his terms before going to leave and then surprising Cena with a kick to the gut and a pop-up power bomb. The segment ended with the onetime 'Mr Wrestling' stamping down his foot onto Cena's US title belt and holding his NXT title belt aloft.
This was a great segment. It introduced Owens's character and immediately positioned him as a big deal by having him hold his own verbally with Cena. Having him power bomb 'Mr CeNation' underlined this, making it clear that Owens is not just another prospect but someone who's destined for big things. The final shot of Owens standing on the United States championship and standing over Cena was symbolic of not just Owens' dominance over Cena but of his perceived dominance of the brand he represents over WWE.
In the main event segment the Rollins v Ambrose feud was revived to provide Network special Elimination Chamber with a world title main event. Ambrose interrupted a shindig held in Rollins' honour, just as Triple H, Stephanie, Kane and the New Stooges were putting him over as the greatest wrestler ever. After being told he'd have to join Roman Reigns and Randy Orton at the back of the line 'The Lunatic Fringe' attacked Rollins and they brawled around ringside.
Over at the announce desk Ambrose revealed he'd pulled a trick from Rollins' own play book and stashed a pile of cinder blocks at ringside. With 'The Future's' head in danger of being caved in (which would have put him out of action for a month, as Ambrose demonstrated last year) Stephanie agreed to grant Ambrose a title match. The brawl then continued and Ambrose wound up taking a Pedigree from the WWE champion. No paperwork was signed to make his title match official but something tells me he'll wrestle Rollins anyway.
|These guys reviving their series is a good thing.|
This segment wasn't anything out of the ordinary. It's one of WWE's standard approaches for setting up world title matches and gets a lot of use in short notice situations like this one. The reason I mention it is that it's good that we're getting a Rollins and Ambrose match again, and that it was nice to see the continuity at play, both with the cinder blocks and Rollins' continued use of the Pedigree. These things are simple to set up in a wrestling environment but they're so rare in WWE and it's frustrating.
In addition to the WWE title match for Elimination Chamber being set the entrants for both of the cage matches were announced too. King Bad News Wade Barrett I, Sheamus, Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev and, for some reason, R-Truth will compete for the vacant Intercontinental title. I'd have much preferred Adrian Neville in Truth's spot. It's still a possibility, Sheamus or Barrett could wipe Truth out before the Chamber show for example, but it probably won't happen. With or without Truth match quality should be high and I'm interested to see how Rusev's handled. He's coming off three straight big event losses. Would they do a fourth and give it to someone who isn't Cena? I doubt it, but I also can't see them giving him the Intercontinental title.
Meanwhile New Day will defend their tag straps against Cesaro and Kidd, the Lucha Dragons, the Prime Time Players, Los Matadores and The Ascension. It would have been nice to see the recently reunited Luke Harper and Erick Rowan in the match in place of the one of the latter three teams and I'm surprised (but relieved) WWE didn't go overboard and give the Meta Powers a slot. Rowan and Harper would make this match more interesting for me, but I'm fine with the Dragons, New Day and Cesaro and Kidd being in there. This is another good-looking Chamber match.
Considering Elimination Chamber wasn't going to be a thing until around a week ago a good job was done prepping it here. For the first time in years there are enough teams in the tag division to make a six team match feasible and the company's spoilt for choice when it comes to potential IC champions (which, to be honest, makes the inclusion of R-Truth even more puzzling. Ambrose and Rollins never have a bad match together and Cena v Owens, while unlikely to be a classic encounter, feels like a genuinely important moment: the NXT champ meeting the face of the company.