Tuesday, 14 July 2015

That RAW Recap 13.07.15

In my opinion the July 2015 edition of Monday Night RAW deserves to go down as one of the best episodes of recent times. As usual it featured both good things and bad but unlike usual the good things outweighed the bad and, more importantly, when things were good they were really good. And things were never better than when Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins faced off and when the Divas division finally got the shot in the arm it's needed for what seems like years.

Lesnar and Rollins was great because everyone involved knew exactly what was expected of them and made sure they were on top form. The pair were given the standard  issue WWE trope of a contract signing to play with but got to do something different with it. Rollins played the cocky heel who claimed to have a plan to take down his more dominant foe. Lesnar played the super-cool face not at all rattled by Rollins' bravado. Both were excellent, as were their respective seconds Kane and Paul Heyman.

I still love Lesnar even though they're going OTT with this Suplex City stuff.
What made the exchange truly great was the brawl (because there's always a brawl). Rollins tried to sneakily palm a weapon he'd stashed under the desk. Heyman noticed and called him on it. 'The Future' denied the accusation, playing up the affront for all it was worth. Lesnar's response was to flip the table over and pull out the stick1 Rollins had hidden there. He then calmly placed it on the table and sat back down, gesturing for Rollins to make his move.

Rollins showed caution but did make his move, beaming with pride after he'd grabbed his stick back. He began taunting 'The Beast' but didn't get far before Lesnar sprang to his feet and lobbed the table in Rollins' face. A German suplex followed before Kane got involved, briefly helping Rollins to give Lesnar a kicking. Naturally this didn't last: Lesnar would shrug off Kane's efforts and F5 him outside the ring before smashing his ankle with the ring steps.

Once Lesnar had left Rollins would return to the ring and cut a promo on him, promising to "slay" him (because he's a beast, y'see) at Battleground. He then turned his attention to Kane, telling him he was nothing and stomping on his injured ankle.

Rollins left this segment looking like an opportunistic coward who people should be desperate to see receive his comeuppance. Lesnar left looking like an unstoppable juggernaut. Which is exactly what he should be. Along the way we were reminded that Lesnar is not just freakily strong but impossible to intimidate and smart, all excellent qualities in a take-no-prisoners type babyface. Basically it's stuff like this that reminds you just how great Lesnar is.

As good as the Lesnar-Rollins stuff was it's the stuff with the Divas2.

Let's start with (an attempt at) a succinct summary with what happened. Divas champion Nikki Bella strolled out with her sister Brie and Bella groupie Alicia Fox. The usual routine of Nikki talking about being a strong champion only to be interrupted then played out. Paige being one of the people interrupting was not a surprise. Stephanie McMahon being the other, however, was.

Steph, inexplicably playing babyface3,  talked about Paige wanting to bring about a revolution in the Divas division and made it clear she thought this was commendable (and in fairness she couldn't have done this as a heel). She then introduced NXT stars Becky Lynch and Charlotte as Paige's allies. Charlotte, being the daughter of Ric Flair, naturally got the louder reaction of the two but not by a huge amount. That this can be said of Lynch shows how far she's come since she was entering to stereotypical Irish music and doing awkward jigs in the ring.

As Paige and her designated pals had a staredown with Team Bella the entrance music extravaganza continued and Naomi, the forgotten woman of the division, sauntered out with Tamina. Naomi said she had unfinished business with both Nikki and Paige before being told, almost patronisingly, by Stephanie that she absolutely deserved to be in the ring. Sasha Banks was then introduced as the new playmate of Naomi and Tamina and joined them in the ring to face off with Team Bella.

Finally, an exciting Divas scene.
Which is where things broke down. Nikki, Brie and Alicia turned around only to find they were also being confronted by Paige, Charlotte and Lynch. A brawl broke out. It was lengthy and a bit sloppy but it drew the audience in and it made it clear that all nine women were equals. It also ended exactly as it needed to, with Lynch trapping Brie in the armbar, Charlotte applying the figure eight leg lock to Alicia, and Banks giving Nikki the Bank Statement. It was the perfect introduction for the three women from NXT, and it was particularly nice to see women's champion Banks paired up with Divas champion Nikki.

What made all of this work is that WWE have spent so long getting around to it. It's would be misleading to say that they've done a slow burn build because they've have an awful main roster women's division for much of the last decade, but they have taken a more deliberate pace over the last few months. Team Bella has been built up as a dominant force ruling over a stagnant division. They've played on the fact that their women's division is weak as well as the common view that Nikki and Brie "don't know how to work" and written in a sensible story about a lone crusader, Paige, trying to instigate change.

With just one fifteen minute segment WWE made their main roster women's division interesting. There are so many directions they could take and matches they could present. I'm excited about the Divas division for the first time in years. And for that alone this episode will always be memorable for me.


1 That it was a stick, albeit a very nice one (by which I mean it was nicely smoothed and had some varnish on it), was the only disappointing thing about this segment. With the current story being that Rollins is becoming increasingly like his on-screen mentor Triple H it would have made far more sense for him to have hidden a sledgehammer under the table.

2 Look, I'm aware of how unprogressive it is to refer to women as Divas. I think we all are. But that's the label WWE (by which I mean Vince McMahon) has chosen for its female wrestlers so I'm going to use it. I'm nothing if not accurate when it comes to this sort of meaningless stuff.

3 To be fair Steph rapidly switching between heel and face is not new. She was doing it as long ago as 2003 during her time as GM of SmackDown, where she would happily play both good and bad on the same show. At least these days she tends to have the good grace to leave a few days between her turns.

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