By Andrew Berg
On their first night back in power, The Authority tried to resolve all family business, Godfather style. The result was an episode of Raw that saw the members of John Cena’s Survivor Series team systematically punished and eliminated through various Authority tricks. Meanwhile, Seth Rollins stayed on his positive trajectory with another win and a big opportunity in the storyline. Altogether, the episode was not as exciting as the one packed with returns and surprises last week, but the stories tied together nicely and created some real intrigue in the main event.
Cena started Raw with an apology to the fans for allowing The Authority back in power, even though his agreement came under duress. Most of the other wrestlers on the roster were in the ring with him to show solidarity and silently protest the return of HHH and Stephanie McMahon. Before Cena got too far into his apology, The Authority interrupted him and said that they intended to take a new direction in the New Year. The first new opportunity they gave out was to Seth Rollins, who they added to the Brock Lesnar-Cena title match at the Royal Rumble to make it a triple threat. Rollins’s inclusion is not only deserved, it makes the match more interesting because it distinguishes it from the prior encounters and introduces a variety of potential screwy finishes. The Authority did not stop there. They went on to say that Raw would be John Cena Appreciation Night and Cena’s attendance was mandatory. The rest of the show sprinkled in clips of some of Cena’s greatest moments to set the stage for the ceremony.
Before the appreciation ceremony, The Authority singled out each member of Cena’s Survivor Series team for some sort of physical punishment. Ryback came to the ring to face Rollins in a singles match, but Kane announced at the last second that it would be a handicap match with him on Rollins’s team. Ryback actually put together some offense in the early part of the match before the team started to wear him down gradually. He rallied to hit Rollins with a Meathook, only for Kane to save him from the Shell Shock. Ryback instead hit Kane with Shell Shock while Rollins recovered to hit a Curb Stomp on Ryback. He gathered himself and hit a second Curb Stomp to get the win over Ryback due to the unfair advantage.
Finally, The Authority brought Cena to the ring for the appreciation ceremony. Stephanie said that Cena proved to her that he is a hero and HHH added that he was always hard on Cena because he saw how much potential he had to truly understand the business. They brought the beaten members of Cena’s team- Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan- to the ring and discussed various suspensions or fines as punishment for their actions against The Authority. After they thought it over, they landed on firing as the appropriate punishment and said that all three have Cena to thank for the consequence. Cena stood in the ring in disbelief as confetti came from the rafters and a Sousa march played over the speakers.
Although firing angles are overdone in modern wrestling, they have their benefits. Primarily, those who were fired will all come back hotter than when they left because absence truly makes the heart grow fonder in wrestling. Ziggler is already in such high regard with the fans that his return will be a special occasion, even if it is only a few weeks away. On top of that, I like the twist to this story that Cena is the one responsible for the firings. The main goal of the angle is to create animosity between Cena and The Authority and this storyline does that more effectively than anything to date. Not only do I want to tune in next week to see how Cena will react, I’m also excited to hear Paul Heyman’s input on the new stipulation to the main event. With a couple of storyline developments that create anticipation for next week’s show, Raw has to be considered a success.
Match of the Night – Bray Wyatt def. Dean Ambrose in an Ambulance Match
Ambrose and Wyatt have wrestled far too many gimmick matches over the last month- so many that it cheapens the impact each time they meet. Moreover, their promos remain entertaining yet utterly pointless. In isolation, though, this match might have been the best one in their series and really engaged the live crowd in Corpus Christi. The wrestlers went straight for the ambulance at the start of the match and Wyatt slammed Ambrose’s knee against the ambulance and the entrance ramp. Ambrose avoided Wyatt’s attempt at Sister Abigail and set up a “medical table” that was inexplicably stored in the back of the ambulance. He climbed up the ramp and jumped on top of the ambulance. From there, he delivered another crazy elbow drop through the table and onto the concrete floor. Both wrestlers struggled to their feet and Ambrose’s bad knee allowed Wyatt to hit him with Sister Abigail into the ambulance. While he was able to fight his way out of the vehicle, Wyatt delivered another Sister Abigail onto the floor to put Ambrose down and load him into the ambulance. I enjoyed how much of the match was built around the injury to Ambrose’s leg. I am also increasingly interested in the emerging narrative of Ambrose’s self-destructiveness. I am not sure what happens next, but for the first time since early in his program with Wyatt, I want to see what it will be.
Missing the Mark – Roman Reigns is no Superman
Prior to another uninspired match with Big Show, Reigns compared himself to Superman in an incredibly corny backstage interview. The delivery was fine; poor writing was to blame on this occasion. Later, Big Show targeted Reigns’s surgically repaired torso with an early spear and a variety of other holds. He added a very stiff knee to the face. Eventually, Reigns rallied with a clothesline and a Samoan Drop. He set up for a Superman Punch, but Big Show blocked him and threw him outside the ring. Out on the floor, Big Show used his favorite weapon- the ring steps- to smash Reigns and get himself disqualified. As Big Show tried to hit him again, Reigns recovered and hit Big Show with a spear to end the segment. Reigns needs to take the next step toward stardom and he was not in a position to succeed on Monday. He had a garbage script for his promo, he had to someone who makes everyone look clumsy, and the match did not develop in an interesting way.
Developing Story – Dolph Ziggler Becomes Target for The Authority
The members of John Cena’s Survivor Series team were systematically targeted by The Authority and nobody was hit harder than Ziggler. Bad News Barrett, who never lost the Intercontinental Title in the ring, was announced as his opponent to start the show. Ziggler quickly got the best of Barrett with a crucifix that earned him a sudden pin. After the bell, Barrett lashed out and annihilated Ziggler. He targeted the shoulder, the same body part that took Barrett out of action for months. No referees came out to stop the beating, but Corporate Kane emerged from backstage and announced that the match would actually be a 2-of-3 falls match. Barrett quickly hit a Wasteland slam for a three count to even that match at one fall each. Ziggler fought off doctors and staggered to his feet to make the bell for the third fall. He kicked out of a second Wasteland and struggled to even defend himself. It was very reminiscent of his performance at Survivor Series as the sole survivor. He ducked Barrett’s Bullhammer and hit a superkick for a two count. Kane jumped on the apron and Ziggler hit him with another superkick. While Ziggler focused on Kane, Barrett hit the Bulhammer and pinned Ziggler to win the Intercontinental Title back.
I think the match would have had more of an effect later in the show because the fans were charged up at the start in a way that made it hard to appreciate the drama of Ziggler’s struggle. On a more positive note, the placement of the match shows that Ziggler remains a key foil for The Authority. With or without the belt, it appears that very big things are in store for Ziggler in the months to come. The firing angle only reinforces his importance.
5. The Ascension def. Jobbers
After a pre-match promo in which Connor and Viktor bragged that they are better than Demolition and the Road Warriors (to be clear, they did not make fun of the fact that Road Warrior Hawk is dead, they made fun of the Road Warrior gimmick), they squashed a couple of curiously small local wrestlers. The most perplexing part of the segment was the fact that heel JBL and babyface Booker T both talked down about The Ascension. In their favor, I will say that as long as they are going to rip off their predecessors, they might as well embrace the similarity rather than run from it.
4. Booker T on Commentary
With Jerry Lawler away from Raw dealing with an illness, Booker T took his turn on commentary. Booker has been atrocious on commentary in the past. He deserves credit for changing his style and being much more tolerable on this night. His demeanor was calmer, he spoke as if he was addressing an intelligent listener, and he even offered some nuggets of wrestling analysis. I have no illusions and I am aware that a fresh voice can sound good for one night before becoming annoying in subsequent weeks. Even so, it was a marked change from Booker’s time as Smackdown announcer and deserves recognition.
Divas Division Update – Natalya def. Nikki Bella
The conflict between Natalya and the Divas Champion continued, but this time with Paige in Natalya’s corner rather than the previously distracting (and distracted) Tyson Kidd. Paige attacked Brie Bella on the floor and the disturbance allowed Natalya to win by rollup. A brawl ensued, and Paige was left standing tall. Although the distraction-rollup finish is severely overdone and Paige’s involvement smacks of reality show promotion, I think a triple threat that involves her is infinitely more interesting than a simple Natalya-Nikki title match.
3. Big E def. Adam Rose by Disqualification
Booker T got squarely behind the New Day message when Big E started to preach to the Rosebuds. Big E got the better Rose until two masked Rosebuds in bodysuits attacked him. After they hit the Uppercats’ finisher, they unmasked to reveal themselves as Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. Although Cesaro’s talent does not belong in in comedy segments, there might be some promise in matches featuring these two and the skilled New Day members.
2. Luke Harper def. Erick Rowan
As punishment for Rowan’s participation against The Authority at Survivor Series, J&J Security served as guest referees for this match. They refused to count Harper down when Rowan hit him with a spinning heel kick, and quick-counted the pin when Harper hit a clothesline. After the pin, all three attacked Rowan and Mercury and Noble left him laid out with a cool double dropkick. The segment as a whole would have meant more if Rowan hadn’t lost all of his momentum against Big Show at TLC.
1. The Miz, Damian Mizdow, and Alicia Fox def. The Usos and Naomi
A pre-taped segment showed a backstage conflict between Alicia and Naomi that was readymade for Total Divas. Once they got in the ring, Miz once again refused to let Mizdow participate in the match in a meaningful way. With Naomi on the apron, Jimmy hesitated so he would not knock his wife to the floor. The momentary delay allowed Miz to roll him up, grab a handful of tights, and steal the win.