Tuesday 31 March 2015

That RAW Recap 30.03.15

The more I think about it the more I think WrestleMania 31 (reviewed here) is one of my favourite instalments ever. There were things I disliked about it but the good far outweighed the bad and the quality of even the worst stuff (Big Show winning the battle royal, for example) was so high that as a show it deftly overshadowed the last several 'Mania cards. It's still too early to tell but it might even be that this show is my second favourite WrestleMania behind X7, a show I, like many others, hold in incredibly high regard.

The last few years have seen the RAW after WrestleMania more lauded than the big spectacle its followed. Whether it was The Shield saving Daniel Bryan from a beating at the hands of a reformed Evolution in 2014, Dolph Ziggler's electrifying cash-in in 2013, or Brock Lesnar returning to F5 John Cena in 2012, RAW has always had something to rival 'The Showcase of Immortals'. The excellence of WrestleMania 31 meant that for the first time in years RAW was going to struggle to be the more highly regarded of the two shows.

Rematch clause, bitch.
Things got off to a strong start when Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman marched out to the ring. Heyman introduced them, reminded everyone of what had happened the night before (because I'm sure there were loads of people watching RAW who'd chosen not to watch or read about WrestleMania), and announced that Brock Lesnar was enacting his rematch clause right then and there. Instead of new WWE champion Seth Rollins it was Stephanie McMahon who answered the pair. She informed them Rollins was still flying back from his early morning TV appearance on the east coast but that she felt certain he'd accept Lesnar's challenge upon arrival.

As an opening segment this was great. It gave the crowd Lesnar, the one person they really wanted to see, positioned him as an official babyface, and set something up for later in the programme. The writing team tries to do this fairly often but they usually have no idea what people want to see as a show's thread. I suspect this was more happy accident that considered insight, but the result's the same.

The first match saw new Intercontinental champion Daniel Bryan defend against Dolph Ziggler. Going with Ziggler versus Bryan in this spot was a clever move. It gave the crowd two more guys they cared about and the pair were awarded enough time to have a satisfying match. In storyline terms it did seem a bit off that 'The Show Off' got the first shot at D-Bry while the former IC champ Bad News Barrett was relegated to the commentary desk.

Oh, Sheamus. Who did this to you?
Bryan won after surviving a super kick and a Zig Zag and hitting the running knee. Bad News then attacked both Bryan and Ziggler before a returning Sheamus ran out to chase him off. He was sporting a ridiculous Mohawk and beard beads. In a move that shocked precisely no one 'Great White' attacked Bryan and Ziggles too, then cut a two word promo. "Oi'm back." He didn't even toss in a "fella".

An eight man tag match followed that. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd teamed with The Ascension to tangle with New Day representatives Big E and Kofi Kingston (Xavier Woods was again on standing-at-ringside duty) and the debuting Lucha Dragons. Kalisto proved incredibly popular with the live crowd. They immediately broke into an NXT chant and stayed invested in Kalisto throughout the match. The Cesaro v Kalisto exchanges were the easy highlight and made it clear that Kalisto could work as the company's new lead masked Latin star. 'The King of Flight' got the win for his team when he pinned Viktor off the Salida del Sol.

After a slow mo video of Adrian Neville performing the Red Arrow Brock Lesnar returned. Seth Rollins followed him. That the WWE world championship match was supposedly kicking off RAW's second hour set alarm bells ringing. The match clearly wasn't going to happen at this point because it was a natural main event. It was only going to happen here if an angle was planned.

The angle we got was something special. Rollins backed out of the ring at the beginning of the match and announced that he was jetlagged and his foot hurt a bit so he wasn't going to be defending the title against Lesnar. This triggered one of the most furious rampages in wrestling history from 'The Beast'. He grabbed Rollins from ringside and tossed him back into the ring. There he tried to German suplex him but Rollins landed on his feet and hit an enziguri, which Lesar no-sold.

Rollins again left the ring and tried to run through the crowd and was again caught by the former champion. Lesnar went for an F5 through the announce table but Noble and Mercury saved Rollins. Lesnar clotheslined the pair of them, giving the champ enough time to dive over the barricade and run backstage.

RIP Michael Cole.
Lesnar hurled the announced desk onto its side in frustration, crushing JBL and Booker T. Then he grabbed Michael Cole (to thunderous cheers) and took him into the ring to hit him with an F5. Not satisfied with killing WWE's former lead heel Brock grabbed an indy guy who was cosplaying as a cameraman at ringside. This brought out Steph again, demanding 'The Pain' put the man down. Lesnar did so with an F5.

Steph screeched about Lesnar' actions being unacceptable and suspended him. Lesnar paced back and forth in the ring, Heyman trying to reason with him. For a moment it felt like they were trying to tease Lesnar hoisting Heyman up for an F5 but that didn't happen. Instead the crowd chanted "One more time!" so Heyman called an audible and told Lesnar to F5 the camera lad again. Lesnar obliged and then stormed backstage with the crowd chanting his name.

This was another great sequence. It kept Lesnar as the unstoppable monster, made Rollins look like a complete coward, and created a logical reason for Lesnar's next sabbatical (necessitated by his light contract). This was the best thing on the show.

Sadly things went downhill from there. Damien Mizdow's win over Stardust was enjoyable because the audience was so into Mizdow. The Miz's post-match attack went down well for the same reason. Curtis Axel versus the debuting 'Don't Call Me Adrian' Neville was also warmly received although the match was too short to be anything particularly special.

Does the United States title mean more after this match? Not really.
Surprisingly, it was John Cena's open challenge that stopped the audience's buzz. Cena himself was greeted with a strong mixed reaction, as is always the case the night after 'Mania. Dean Ambrose got a loud response when he came out to face him. But once the match started the audience just died. They weren't as into the match as they had been the rest of the show, presumably because people would have rather seen Ambrose do something less obviously designed to simply get him on the show and seen Cena confronted by Russian killdozer Rusev. Cena won with an AA, the inevitability of which may also have harmed the crowd's response to the match as a whole.

Backstage, Renee Young asked Seth Rollins for his views on Brock Lesnar. Before he could give much of an answer Randy Orton showed up to remind us of his existence and to declare that he was going after 'The Future's' title. Rollins booked a six man tag main event with Kane and Big Show as his partners. This left Orton approximately half an hour to find two partners, the idea being that this would be hard as he's not a popular guy.

AJ Lee, Paige and Naomi defeated the Bellas and Natalya when Naomi pinned Divas champion Nikki with the Rear View. In a locker room Ryback approached Orton and talked to him about eating. This seemed to signify that he was going to help Orty out and team with him. Rusev returned to his winning ways in a match against Goldust. This match felt like what it was: an excuse to have Rusev on the show without getting him involved with Cena.

Gold piping. Gold belt. Rollins has started liking gold.
The main event saw Randy Orton, Ryback and Roman Reigns defeat Rollins, Show and Kane when Reigns speared 'The Big Red Machine'. When you stop and think about it Reigns being in this match was odd. It was a last minute addition to the show, meaning that had Rollins not made the match Reigns wouldn't have been booked but Curtis Axel an Goldust would. The crowd clearly weren't interested in the match. They amused themselves by performing a Mexican wave and performing chants for various NXT stars, including Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami and Enzo Amore. I don't blame them. This was an uninspired main event. Things should have been reworked so that the Lesnar angle closed the show.

For the first time in years WrestleMania was easily better than the RAW that proceeded it. Everything that happened with Lesnar was great, and the less-is-more approach taken with Reigns is what should have been done all along. But there wasn't enough on offer to come anywhere close to competing with 'The Granddaddy of Them All'. 2015 was the year WrestleMania took back its crown.

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