Tuesday 8 April 2014

That RAW Recap 07.04.14

WrestleMania weekend ends not with WrestleMania but with the RAW after it. ‘Mania provides the hype, spectacle and closure while RAW sets things up for the future. It’s just as important, perhaps more important, than ‘The Granddaddy of Them All’ because it’s used as a tool to prepare new things as opposed to revelling in its own grandiose existence. It has developed into being amongst WWE’s most important annual shows by virtue of exploring the fallout from ‘Mania.

The post-‘Mania RAW has also become known for its rowdy crowds that react to things the way they like, not necessarily the way WWE desires. Which is important to note, because these crowds have been important in the ascent of Daniel Bryan over the last two years. It was such a crowd that firmly established the “Yes!” chants as a thing the night after WrestleMania XXVIII and, more than that, embraced Bryan as a star based on his ability and personality. Without those reactions he wouldn’t be on top now. Without those reactions it’s entirely possible Batista would be the WWE champion now.

Worth waiting for?
Daniel Bryan referred to this in his show opening speech on Monday’s RAW. Before that we were treated to the video package that had preceded his match with Triple H the previous evening, which was just as good a second time, and over a minute of “Yes!” chants from the crowd. After acknowledging that it’s harder to lift his arms to chant while holding two belts, something the audience ate up, Bryan heard “You deserve it!” chants. He told the crowd that he deserves it only a bit and that we’re the ones who really deserve it.

Then he was joined by Triple H, entering to his bad guy ‘King of Kings’ theme. Trips didn’t get into the ring because he didn’t want to hurt Bryan (ahhhh… the old “I’m scared what I’ll do to you” routine, it’s a classic), instead standing on the apron to inform Bryan that he still intended to destroy the Yes Movement. Bryan held his belts up in ‘The Game’s’ face and led a thunderous “Yes!” chant.
Tripper said Bryan’s moment would not last the night then booked himself into a title match in the main event. That was received well by the crowd: they wanted to see Bryan give Triple H another good kicking.

After the first break we got some more Triple H. He and Stephanie stood backstage discussing the end of Bryan’s Yes Movement. Then Batista walked in, followed seconds later by Randy Orton. They wanted title shots against Bryan for themselves. Batista said he’d earned a singles match for the title by winning the Rumble (which isn’t actually the case) and Orton reasoned that as the former champion he was entitled to a rematch. They were both peeved that Tripper had given himself first crack at Bryan. The boss soothed their egos and said he’d get them both world championship matches in the future, then booked them for a tag title match against the Usos.

No mention was made by any of the three that they’d been involved in a feud the week before, cheerfully overlooking Bryan and expecting to battle amongst themselves for the title. This was particularly incongruous considering the knocks Batista had sent Stephanie’s way. In fairness the rest of the show, this thread in particular, was pretty well put together, so a relatively minor aspect like this can be overlooked. The union did ultimately make sense, and that’s what counts.

The first match of the night was a six man tag pitting Big E, Sheamus and John Cena against The Wyatt Family. You know it’s a packed show when Cena’s in an opening six man tag. The bout was okay but nothing special. There was no real reason for it to be happening beyond Cena’s issues with Bray. Shaymo and E had had zero troubles with The Wyatt Family and none were created by this. Unless of course you think Bray pinning E after Sister Abigail was done to set up an Intercontinental title match, which I don’t. It was an excuse to get Cena and Wyatt together and Big E and ‘Great White’ on to the show.

Between the first two matches we got the first of two vignettes for Bo Dallas. They had a motivational speaker vibe to them, playing into his gimmick of acting like a 1980s babyface who thinks he’s adored but is actually hated. I hope this run goes better for Bo than the one he got last year did. So much can be done with his deluded character.

Match two was a mixed tag match pitting Emma and a bearded Santino against Summer Rae and Faaaaaan… daaaaaan… goooooo. WrestleMania and the RAW after it are the two nights of the year where Fandango is massively over (thanks to his entrance music) so I’m pleased he got something to do on the show. The match was very short. The ladies tagged in almost instantly and Emma submitted Summer with an Emma Lock. Santino and Emma celebrated awkwardly together afterwards.

Hour two started with Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman sauntering to the ring to gloat about ending The Undertaker’s Streak the previous evening. Heyman spent several minutes hyping up ‘The Beast’ as someone truly remarkable within wrestling and sports in general for accomplishing things nobody else can. It was a necessary speech because the whole point of having Lesnar snap The Streak is to turn him into an unstoppable force of nature, but I zoned out halfway through. Heyman’s Lesnar-themed promos have all started to sound alike. Lesnar is an impressive athlete with a main event aura to him but I can only hear the same accomplishments reeled off so many times.

After the commercial break we got another vignette, this one the first of two for Adam Rose and his Erotic Express. I was surprised to see him getting promoted to RAW because the character only appeared on NXT a month or so ago. I’m pleased though. Adam Rose is a fun character, exactly the sort of thing RAW needs. Hopefully a call-up for Adam Rose is also a call-up for Bowler Hat Guy, Masked Bodysuit Guy, and The Spartan. The gimmick will only work if he keeps his beefy entourage.

The evening’s third match was the tag team title match. Orton and ‘The Animal’ got their own separate entrances. I was disappointed they didn’t wander out to the Evolution theme. For two guys who’d hated one another the night before they looked very chummy as they huddled in a corner chatting as the Usos shimmied their way down to ringside. Maybe they were griping about WWE’s recent ban on baby oil.

Poor Jimmy (that's Jimmy).
The match went to a double count out within a few minutes. Batista and ‘The Viper’ battered Jimmy and Jey at ringside, Orty hitting his draping DDT off a barrier and Batista hitting a Batista bomb onto some steel steps. The point was clearly to show how dangerous Orton and Batista are when working together and to hint at a permanent union as part of a reformed Evolution.

That match was followed by the return of Rob Van Dam. He faced Damien Sandow in what is best described as a typical RVD match. He did some of his popular spots. The crowd popped for them and chanted his name. It didn’t take long for ‘Mr Monday Night’ to hit a Five Star frog splash for the win. I’ve no idea what they’re going to do with him now he’s back. No obvious storylines present themselves. At least not featuring performers WWE wants us to care about.

After another break Rey Mysterio came to the ring. He got a polite reaction. At this point it’s pretty clear the memories of Mysterio’s good work have been erased by years of bad knee related subpar performers and lengthy layoffs. I still think he should conserve his energy for one short and final meaningful run culminating in a match at SummerSlam or WrestleMania. In 2014 throwaway matches on RAW do nothing for him, WWE, or fans.

Mysterio was wrestling Bad News Barrett, who entered wearing a luxurious cape. For the record this was the first televised match Barrett has wrestled under the Bad News moniker. He started by grabbing a microphone and telling Rey he had some bad news. The fans loved that but were less keen on Rey peppering him with punches before said news could be delivered.

Barrett's bad news was that Rey's knees are knackered.
Bad News soon regained control and worked the match as a babyface, a decision at least partly made because there were so many English fans in the crowd. They joined in with his “BOOM!” shouts and chanted both for Bad News Barrett himself and for Eng-ur-land. All of Rey’s moves were met with boos. Bad News got the massively popular win with a Bullhammer elbow. After the match he celebrated by shouting “BOOM!” and doing the overhead double clap that Scotty Riggs used to do. So that’s something.

Another break was followed by Lana coming out to the stage where she introduced Alexander Rusev for his debut. They’re very clearly doing a Cold War thing with these two, and an aspect of it that’s been overlooked is that Rusev’s name graphic is not just written in Cyrillic but has a grey, understated background and off centre placing on-screens. It’s a small touch but a great one.

Lana's legs. That is all.
‘The Bulgarian Brute’ beat Zack Ryder in a basic match with the camel clutch. Here the move was called the Accolade. The shoulders over the knees application variant Rusev used here used to be known as the Steiner Recliner.

The final hour kicked off with The Ultimate Warrior. He walked out wearing a suit with a gimmicked jacket over it (which had a painting of him on the back) and started by saying “Speak to me, war-yerrrrrrrrrrs!” and snorting. TThe fans ate his act up, bursting into an enthusiastic “Warrior!” chant. He said it was hard for him to find the words to speak so he pulled out a string Warrior mask and put it on. The crowd were less into that, regarding it as the strange act that it was.

“Well then, you shut up Warrior and let meeeeee do the talking,” were the next words out of Warrior’s mouth. Yes, WWE booked a schizophrenic breakdown for the RAW after WrestleMania. He talked, in a roundabout, Warrior-esque way, about the fans helping to make WWE stars what they are. The audience didn't seem to follow all the ins and outs of what Warrior said, but they got the gist and gave Warrior a rousing ovation as he left the arena.

Out next was AJ Lee. She continued her CM Punk tribute act by talking about having held the Divas championship for 295 days and referring to herself as the best Divas in the world. Yeah, AJ trolled the RAW crowd into giving her a CM Punk chant. Once that had died down some new music hit and Paige walked out, in her ring gear natch, and stepped into the ring. The audience chanted her name (I was a bit disappointed they didn’t go with a “Zebra Kid!” chant), demonstrating why WWE had chosen to have debut on this episode: she was a known quantity to the diehard fans in attendance and was ensured a good reaction. That made her RAW debut feel like an event.

Paige said she was just there to congratulate AJ on her win at WrestleMania. AJ told her she didn’t need congratulations and ordered her back to NXT. Then she challenged Paige to a match but Paige said she wasn’t ready. The champ gave her a slap and told her they were having a match and that as a “WrestleMania gift” she’d make it a title match. The crowd exploded at that. They could sense what was coming.

The match was short. AJ immediately attacked Paige, skipped around the ring, and applied the Black Widow. There was an awkward moment where it looked as though Paige was tapping out but in actuality she was just shifting AJ’s weight so she could reverse out of the move and perform her Paige Turner finisher. That got her the three count and the title.

The shot in the arm the Divas division needed.
The audience exploded again. AJ was left to seethe and shriek in the ring as Paige dashed up the aisle looking shocked. I think this was the closest thing on the show to Ziggler’s cash-in last year.

The penultimate segment of the evening saw Hulk Hogan hit the ring to formally present the Andre the Giant memorial trophy to battle royal winner Cesaro. ‘The Hulkster’ started off with a Superdome reference and then briefly chatted about his memories of Andre the Giant. The amount Hogan talks about Andre you’d think they’d been married.
The crowd gave Cesaro a huge reaction when Hogan introduced him, and he was treated to his (Real Americans) entrance theme being hummed. Zeb Colter was with him, which made sense: Cesaro’s association with The Real Americans faction needed to be addressed and Zeb needed to be there for that. In the ring Cesaro (who was sporting a natty black jacket from the Chris Jericho range) posed with the trophy and got congratulated by Hogan.

Before Cesaro could speak Zeb took the microphone and told him he’d take care of things. That got some heat, as did his “Let’s let a real American talk here” comment. Zeb said he’d hand the microphone back to Cesaro after he’d finished so Cesaro could tell the world what kind of guy he is. Then he talked about bringing Cesaro into the fold as a real American, even though he’s a foreigner, and making him a Zeb Colter guy.

Having heard enough Cesaro took the microphone and told him he wasn’t a Zeb Colter guy… he was a Paul Heyman guy. Heyman strode out to “Yes!” chants and proclaimed himself the new advocate for the ‘King of Swing’ Cesaro. Heyman informed Zeb that his services were no longer required and then headed to the commentary table to brief Cole and his crew on how he wanted Cesaro discussed. It took seconds for a ‘King of Swing’ chant to break out and a hashtag to trend on Twitter.

The inevitable Jack Swagger attack wasn't far behind. He not only knocked Cesaro out of the ring but also lobbed the (coveted) trophy to the floor, smashing it into pieces. A break followed and when we returned there was a match in progress between the two former teammates. After a few minutes of back and forth Cesaro went for a Swing on Swagger but Swagger slid under the bottom rope and took a count out loss.

The entire sequence was excellent. Cesaro received a great face reaction that only improved when he was paired up with Heyman. The split of The Real Americans was made to mean something and a match was teased, which is exactly what should happen when a double act splits. Any concerns of a babyface Cesaro being managed by a heel Heyman should be forgotten. WWE have been moving away from such clearly defined terms for a while now (as you can read here). Besides which Heyman is fully capable of working as a heel and a face in different segments of the same show, as he proved here. I already much prefer him with Cesaro than with Lesnar. The latter pairing stems from necessity, Lesnar being unable to articulate his own storylines. The Cesaro pairing comes from WWE actively trying to turn Cesaro into a name player.

Between the final two breaks of the night we saw The Shield backstage with Stephanie McMuffcakes. The Authority were still keen to make use of The Shield even though they’d officially turned face several weeks before and come to blows on various occasions with Director of Operations Corporate Kane. Speaking of Kane he was there too, arguing with ‘The Hounds of Justice’ and insisting that Steph couldn’t trust them. It all ended when Steph got everyone to agree that their goal was to see Triple H leave New Orleans as WWE champion.

Daniel Bryan entered first for the main event, to an explosion of “Yes!” chants. Before Triple H could appear Batista and Orton rocked up and attacked Bryan. Kane strode out and called them off. Bizarrely the commentary team acted as though Kane was going to be the voice of reason call Batista and Orton off in the name of sportsmanship and fair play. The backstage segment we’d just seen, plus the fact that he’s very clearly been allied to The Authority for months and shown no signs of turning on them, told us, and should’ve told Cole, that was not going to be the case. Anyway… ‘The Big Red Machine’ choke slammed Bryan and then Triple H came out for his scheduled match.

‘The Game’ smirked at the crowd when the match began. What he should have done was go for a cover while things were obviously going his way and Bryan was prone, but he’s a heel and heels don’t do that kind of thing. They gloat. At this point I was expecting Tripper to go to pick Bryan up and get caught with a small package for a swift Bryan victory, triggering a brawl in which The Shield would make the save. What we got was better.

The standoff.
Before H3 made a move against Bryan The Shield’s music hit and the trio stormed to the ring through the crowd. They lined up outside the ring on the commentary table side with Batista, Kane and Orton lined up on the aisle side. Triple H looked at the two opposing factions with concern, which only grew when The Shield stepped up on to the ring apron. On the opposite side of the ring The Authority boys responded in kind. Triple H barked for nobody to get into the ring so naturally that happened too, with the two sides staring one another down and Triple H caught in the middle.

Triple H told Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns to stand down and then backed up Kane, Orton and Batista, telling them he didn’t want a war. When he turned around to address The Shield again he got speared by Roman Reigns, triggering a fight between the two factions. Orton and Batista were sent tumbling to the floor then took a pair of dives from Rollins and Ambrose. Back in the ring Reigns powered out of a choke slam attempt and dropped Kane with a Superman punch.

Bryan and The Shield versus The Authority? Sounds good to me.
The Shield surrounded a prone Triple H in the ring. He slowly got to his feet, trying to talk his way out of a hiding and then turned around into Bryan’s running knee. Kane quickly grabbed the boss and pulled him out of the ring, leaving The Shield and Daniel Bryan standing tall as the show went off the air.

The ending was great. It sets up potentially interesting singles and tag matches involving Orton, Batista, Kane, Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns, as well as the obvious six man tag match. It kept the Bryan versus Triple H issue alive for another match there too. Longer term it keeps Orton and Batista around as challengers for Bryan (and potentially makes the tag division more interesting if they go for the belts again) and lines Triple H up for singles matches with each member of The Shield. Reigns versus Triple H could be big if teased long enough and held on a larger show. SummerSlam for example.

The rest of the show was great too. Yes there were some throwaway matches but there was nothing actively bad. Crucially even the throwaway material always featured someone over or new. It felt like a fresh start.

The absence of The Undertaker, CM Punk and Sting, all of whom had been talked of as potential surprises for the show, didn’t stop my enjoyment at all. In fact it probably added to it. The only return I would have liked to see was Vince McMahon, and the quality of the show we got without him made his involvement completely unnecessary. WWE was unconcerned with kisses to its past during this RAW. They were all about building for the future. And it looked bright.

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