Tuesday 17 April 2012

That RAW Recap 16.04.12

Over the years I’ve been to quite a few wrestling shows. I’ve been to events held by various British indies. I was there for ROH’s first (joint) show in the UK. I saw CM Punk and Colt Cabana’s first match outside of the United States. I’ve been to a SmackDown taping and a RAW house show. I was even at the London Arena in November 2000 when WCW filmed Nitro (that was an interesting experience). But it wasn’t until last night (alongside friend and former colleague Dan Pryce) that I was able to say I’d seen Monday Night RAW filmed live.

I’m happy to say that the RAW taping was the best WWE show I’ve ever been to. The crowd was lively from start to finish and we got to see every big name you could realistically hope for. There was no Brock Lesnar but he was never going to be there. I was happy with the names on offer.

The seats we had were close to the entrance, which was good, but slightly behind the Titantron, which was bad. We got a pretty good view of wrestlers as they entered but couldn’t see anything that happened on the big screen. Thankfully it was a vignette-light episode so the lack of ‘tron view wasn’t as catastrophic as it could have been.

We were close to the exit at the side of the stage, which meant we could occasionally catch glimpses inside the Gorilla Position and cheer (or boo) some of the wrestlers as they left. The very first wrestler I saw was thanks to those seats: Damien Sandow came to sneak a peek at the set and the crowd. That would be the only time we’d see him: he didn’t wrestle or appear in other capacity.

The opening match was announced as being for Superstars but as the commentary team were introduced directly after its conclusion I’m not convinced that was right. It saw Dean Ambrose defeat Alex Riley with a cheeky rollup. Most fans chanted “Who are ya?” at the developmental talent. As I recognised him and prefer him to the nondescript A-Ry I cheered him. Cheering heels would be a theme of the evening.

Match two was a lengthy-by-current-standards Divas contest. Kelly Kelly entered first to an almost Cena-like mixed reaction. Kids and their parents cheered her. Everyone else seemed keener on Eve Torres. I was firmly in the Eve camp. She got the surprise win. By WWE standards it was a good women’s match.

That was followed by Jack Swagger losing to R-Truth. Truth got a good reaction but couldn’t hold onto the crowd for the whole match: a few minutes in “Let’s go Swagger!” chants started up.

Lillian Garcia was out next to sing God Save The Queen. It’s nice that WWE goes to the trouble of having our national anthem sung but it’s not in the nature of the British to go wild for it. That’s more of an American thing. As such Lillian got booed for most of her performance, the crowd only relenting at the end to cheer and clap her. Hopefully she understood it wasn’t anything personal.

Mark Henry lolloped to the ring before RAW officially started. That saved valuable airtime: the guy does not walk quickly. The main show kicked off with the advertised WWE title match between Henry and champion CM Punk. ‘The Second City Saint’ got a great reaction and somehow managed to drag ‘The World’s Sweatiest Man’ to a bearable outing. That’s no small feat when you consider how cumbersome and limited Henry truly is.

I thought this was a great match. It was possibly the only contest of the night where I cheered the face and booed the heel. There were chants of “CM Punk”, “Sexual Chocolate” and many cries of “Yes!” Punk went over with the Macho Man Elbow, which drew loud cheers from the audience.

CM Punk prepares to drop the match winning Macho Elbow

Jericho then appeared on the Titantron for a lengthy exchange with the champ. We weren’t able to see him from where we were but we could hear him. That was (mostly) enough. ‘Y2J’ again taunted ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ about being drunk and then introduced some footage. Punk handily referenced the footage so we knew it was a shot of him doing something at a pub. He reaffirmed he’s straight edge and then ‘The Highlight of the Night’ revealed the two will clash for the WWE championship in a Chicago Street Fight at Extreme Rules. That should be one of the better matches on the show.

RAW’s second match was for the United States title. Champion Santino Marella was introduced first. He stood at the top of the ramp peeling off various football shirts to get heat. As I’m not a football fan I wouldn’t have reacted even if I could have seen this display. I wouldn’t have recognised what shirt belonged to what team, and wouldn’t have cared if I had. Having watched the broadcast I now know that one of the kits belonged to Chelsea. Amusingly this prompted Jerry Lawler to say "Come on, Santino, you're in London! That won't work here!" ‘The King’ needs to work on his geography.

David Otunga came out to face him. He got a loud cheer from me. I’m a fan of Otunga, largely because he’s so ridiculous and prone to botching moves. He was on fine form last night, at one point even managing to go for a cover incorrectly. That, as Michael Cole would say, is vintage Otunga. Laurinaitis’s legal aid predictably lost. The match was nowhere near as enjoyable as simply seeing David Otunga.

Backstage Josh Mathews spoke to Lord Tensai and his young boy. A kid sat in front of me said to his friend “We’re going to see Lord Tensai. He’s funny.” That should tell you all you need to know about whether the former A-Train is over as a monster heel.

A Lesnar video aired. It lost a surprising amount of impact without being able to see the accompanying footage. The message was basically that ‘The Pain’ sees himself as an athlete and an ass-kicker, not a superstar. He didn’t come back because he missed the crowd or going through the curtain. He came back because he likes to beat people up and win. He also said had he stayed around Cena wouldn’t be where he is now. I’d disagree with that. Cena still would’ve gotten over and Lesnar would have remained at the top of the card but fizzled out a little. His initial success was as much thanks to willing opponents and the good booking of Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon as it was his own ability.

Kane came out to squash Ryder. Amusingly he stood in the ring for around three minutes as his attacks on Ryder and Randy Orton were recapped. He then slapped Ryder about at ringside and then gave him a choke slam in the ring. That was followed by a tedious promo that I’ve sat through twice but still couldn’t tell you the point of.

Woo woo woo! You got beat!

Backstage Kofi Kingston was talking to AJ in hushed tones. I like to think he was saying something vastly inappropriate. Daniel Bryan showed up. I couldn’t see any of this but I knew immediately that Bryan was on the screen because the audience erupted with chants of “Yes!” Bryan told Kofi that just because he didn’t want AJ that didn’t make it open season, then told AJ that he would make ‘The Dreadlocked Dynamo’ tap out to the LeBell Lock. He stopped himself there and said that he didn’t like the move having that name as he was far greater than Jean LeBell. He said the move would be known as the Yes Lock, then shouted “Yes!” over and over again directly into Kofi’s face. It was hilarious.

That was followed by a John Cena promo. The face of the company received his traditional mixed reaction, though there were more boos than cheers. Cena is not a popular man in London. He talked about how he thinks John Laurinaitis wants to replace him with Brock Lesnar. Storyline-wise that’s probably the case: ‘Mr Excitement’ is a heel and so naturally wants to dispatch all top babyfaces. That’s how WWE works. The truth is that Cena is not going anywhere. He’s far too valuable to WWE and everybody knows it.

John Laurinatis strolled out onto the stage to refute Cena’s conspiracy theory claims and book him in a match. We were told it would be an Extreme Rules match but wouldn’t reveal the name of Cena’s opponent. Why? Apparently it’s something to do with People Power. Whatever. I was just excited to see John Laurinaitis and hear his raspy voice. Unfortunately his mic work left a little to be desired live and it was difficult to hear what he was saying. Thankfully Cena recapped it during the break. He earned some humour points there.

Next was the best match of the evening: Kofi Kingston v Daniel Bryan. There was no way we were going to boo Bryan during this. The “Yes!” meme is just too over and Bryan is too well respected. Kofi started off getting a good reaction but eventually ended up hearing boos… as well as shouts of “No!” when he started getting offence. Pretty much strike the former World champion got in elicited cries of “Yes!” Following his win via the Yes Lock Bryan reapplied the hold (which finally got him some boos) until Sheamus ran out to make the save.

Daniel Bryan! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I think WWE are going to have to seriously consider turning Bryan face again. He’s very good in the heel role but he’s just so popular that it’s going to be hard for him to stay over as a bad guy. Once his run with Sheamus is over I hope he becomes a good guy again. A feud between he and a heel Christian would be great to see.

‘The Funkasurus’ continued his run of unmitigated popularity, getting a big pop from the London crowd. He was one of the highlights of the night for me, up there with Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and David Otunga. As much as I enjoyed seeing Brodus Clay I was even more excited to see Dolph Ziggler, his opponent for the evening.

It would be generous to refer to what happened between Ziggler and Clay as a match. ‘The Show Off’ took a suplex before Swagger got into the ring and took a headbutt. Ziggler then took one of his trademark ridiculous bumps to a loud pop and Vickie got into the ring to be shoved to the floor by Naomi. Brodus and his girls then posed and danced as the heels slinked off to the back.

Backstage John Laurinaitis gave David Otunga a pep talk about focusing on his career. Eve showed up and the three went into what was presumably Laurinaitis’s office. No comment.

A video for Chief Jay Strongbow was followed by more backstage shenanigans with R-Truth and Teddy Long. These videos had been played throughout the night. Having seen them I can honestly say they wouldn’t have added to my enjoyment of the show at all.

The penultimate match of the night saw Big Show team up with The Great Khali to take on Epico and Primo. Why the tag champions were chosen for job duty is a mystery. Show has been feuding with Cody Rhodes and Khali been involved in a SmackDown pseudo-rivalry with Drew McIntyre. Why those more prominent heels didn’t get to face Khali and Show I can’t say. Still, at least we got to see Rosa Mendes. That’s never a bad thing.

The heels tried to escape but were caught by Big Show. They then took a choke slam and a Punjabi Plunge back in the ring. Show and Khali then did some embarrassing dancing. Something I didn’t realise was that Abraham Washington was stood at the entrance during the match. I like the way WWE are using him so far and I hope he gets to become a prominent manager. Next time I’ll buy better seats so I can see random FCW call-ups when they stroll out to watch matches.

After the final break of the evening John Cena came back out for his Extreme Rules match. He got a few more cheers on his second appearance. Perhaps because people knew he wouldn’t be talking. I still booed him.

His mystery opponent was introduced by John Laurinaitis and David Otunga (who sat at ringside during the bout). It was Lord Tensai. On commentary Lawler referenced the man’s previous time with WWE and subsequent success in Japan. I was disappointed that there was no back hair to chant about but the loud chants of “Albert!” made up for it.

The crowd was indifferent to Tensai's pre-match disrobing ceremony

Before that match I’d be fairly disinterested in the former A-Train. It seemed as though he was yet another guy being introduced to television with the winning streak gimmick. You can only see that so many times before it becomes boring. That he got to face Cena on his third week of TV is a positive sign for Tensai. The match was a slow starter but when it got going it was pretty enjoyable. The two men brawled around ringside, with Tensai taking a shot from the steel steps particularly well, before heading back into the ring. Otunga involved himself, tossing SuperCena back into the ring to take Tensai’s double underhook facebuster for a two count.

They battled back and forth for a few more minutes before Otunga interjected himself again. He took an AA, which allowed Tensai to catch Cena by surprise with a green mist and double-handed choke bomb for the win. I’d taken it for granted that Cena would be victorious so I was pleased that Tensai went over. Technically it was a clean win too, as the Extreme Rules meant that the mist was not illegal.

After the match Tensai posed in the ring and Cena oversold in a corner. Once the cameras stopped rolling the various heels sauntered to the back while medical staff assisted Cena up the aisle. That Cena sold the mist so much was ridiculous. It may get it over as a dangerous “move” but it only highlights the fact that Cena never sells for younger stars, only for established guys (and Tensai’s former time with the company puts him firmly into the latter camp).

The dark match main event saw Chris Jericho (who didn’t appear in the ring during RAW) take on CM Punk. The champion attacked the challenger before the bell and they had a brief exchange in the ring before Daniel Bryan dashed out to cause the disqualification finish. That brought out Sheamus to even the odds. He was followed by Cody Rhodes, who was followed by Big Show. They were then joined by Alberto Del Rio and Randy Orton. Orton and Sheamus hit their finishers then went round ringside high-fiving fans to send us home happy.

Chris Jericho enters for his dark match main event. He was not the highlight of the night...

Not only was this a good episode of RAW it was a great experience live. It narrowly pips the SmackDown taping I went to last year as the most enjoyable WWE event I’ve attended (and the SmackDown event was only in the running as I got to see a Five Second Pose from Edge and Christian). I’d recommend going to see RAW whenever it’s in the area. The list of names on offer makes it well worth it.

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