For better or worse, the Raw after Wrestlemania has become a destination event. Of the 70,000 fans at Wrestlemania, the 20,000 most obsessed need another three hours to fill their wrestling fix. That level of commitment, combined with the precedent set over the last half decade, combine to elevate expectations for this annual show. In other words, a normal episode of Raw will not do under the circumstances.
This year, WWE delivered half of a “Raw after Mania” show, but ran out of momentum after about 90 minutes. The last half of the show felt like a very bland episode of Raw- or even a generic Smackdown- and the fans responded in kind. It would be one thing for the fans to lose interest, but this group decided to make the rest of the show about itself. There were entertaining moments (when Lillian Garcia offered a future San Jose presale code, the fans chanted “We’re not from here”), but there was plenty of embarrassing, self-promoting garbage. The sexist chants throughout the divas match (“You suck Cena,” etc) made me ashamed to be in the audience, and the “we are awesome” chants during a boring main event did nothing to improve the show.
Setting aside the raucous crowd, there was plenty of action, at least before the midway point. Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar opened the show with Lesnar dressed to compete. Heyman solidified the face turn by saying that Lesnar does not want to tie up the WWE in litigation over whether Rollins can even cash in Money in the Bank mid-match, and that he wants to invoke his rematch immediately.
Stephanie McMahon initially assented to the rematch. When Seth Rollins arrived about an hour later, though, he said he would not grant the rematch until he was ready, and that his foot was still sore from the Curb Stomps at Wrestlemania. Lesnar lost his mind and went on a rampage. Rollins narrowly escaped, but both of J&J Security were thrown into the announce area. He tipped the commentary table on top of JBL and Booker T. He brought Michael Cole into the ring and hit him with an F-5 and then hit two more F-5s on a fake cameraman. Finally, Stephanie came to the stage and suspended Lesnar indefinitely.
With Lesnar out of the picture, Rollins had to turn his attention to Randy Orton. Unfortunately, that meant a Teddy Long special of a six-man tag match for the main event. Rollins brought Ryback and Roman Reigns to the ring with him to face Rollins, Kane, and Big Show. The fans rebelled against the slow match and started to do the wave. After a series of finishers, Orton hit an RKO, Reigns hit a spear, and the face team won.
I get the feeling that WWE should go for broke the night after Wrestlemania with fans paying so much more than face value and demanding an exciting show year after year. Conversely, I also see how WWE hit the ball out of the park at Wrestlemania and did not have many stories left to tell on Raw. If fans are disappointed, I will not argue with them. What bothers me is when a few fans ruin the experience for everyone else in the arena and those watching on TV by “hijacking” the show and making it about an uncreative wrestling crowd rather than wrestling.
Match of the Night – Daniel Bryan def. Dolph Ziggler to Remain Intercontinental Champion
One of the problems with Raw was that it was far too top-heavy. It felt weird for the Lesnar rampage to happen in the middle rather than the end of the show. Even if that stayed in the same place, I think it would have been wise to put the exciting Bryan-Ziggler match in the main event slot so fans had a light at the end of the tunnel during some of the boring third hour segments.
Bryan and Ziggler went on second instead and had the best match of the show. They started out grounded on the mat with a variety of Greco-Roman Knuckle Locks and submission holds that they reversed back and forth. They showed that fans can still get excited through pins and reversals if put together well, but eventually got to a more exciting conclusion. Bryan went for a series of corner dropkicks and Ziggler caught him with a big superkick. They traded punches and headbutts, much like they did at the end of their ladder match, and Bryan finally put him down with a running knee.
Missing the Mark – Sheamus Looks Like a Clown in Return
Immediately after the Bryan-Ziggler match, Bad News Barrett left the announce table and hit both wrestlers with Bullhammers. Sheamus returned and appeared to save the faces, but hit Ziggler with a Brogue Kick instead. While the swerve was easy to see coming, the real problem was that Sheamus looked absurd in his Mohawk and Lou Albano-style beard tassels. If the idea is to make him look like an intimidating villain, I don’t know why they would choose to make him look like the butt of a bad joke. Nonetheless, Sheamus is slated to team with Barrett against Bryan and Ziggler on Smackdown. Those are four entertaining wrestlers and I can see several fun permutations coming out of it.
Developing Story – Fans Remain Down on Reigns
I was a bit surprised at the persistent negative reaction to Reigns. The fans turned against him when it started to look like he was the inevitable Wrestlemania main event winner. Now that he has lost that match and fallen out of the top spot, there is no reason for the hatred to continue. More importantly, Reigns has responded with some of his very best matches since the fans turned on him. In my opinion, Reigns is on his way to where WWE hoped he would be before Wrestlemania and it’s time for many fans to reevaluate him.
- Mizdow def. Stardust
After he abandoned Miz in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Mizdow came to the ring for his first singles match in this persona. He easily dispatched Stardust with Miz’s moves, including the Skull Crushing Finale. Miz hit the ring after the win and assaulted his former stunt double. He stretched it out in a way that got some real heat. It was a good idea to keep this rivalry in the battle royal so it can have a more featured spot at Extreme Rules.
- Neville def. Curtis Axel
After Axel refocused on “Ax-treme Rules,” he took on the main roster debuting Neville (don’t call me Adrian). Neville looked good in his hooded cape and quickly took care of Axel with the Red Arrow. It’s hard to say exactly where Neville lands on the card, but this match showed that his skills translate.
Divas Division Update – AJ Lee, Paige, and Naomi def. The Bella Twins and Natalya
It was odd to see Natalya fully associated with the heel team, and it was odd that AJ wore a Bayley shirt when none of the anticipated NXT women arrived on Raw. The shamefully disrespectful fan behavior toward both teams marred the match. It was not one of the best, but it would be hard to reach that level given the interruptions. Naomi looked best and eventually got the pin, which raises the question of whether she might be in line for a shot at Nikki’s title along with her teammates.
- Rusev def. Goldust
One of the problems in the second half of Raw was that Goldust and Rusev felt like it lasted interminably before it got to its inevitable conclusion. Of course, Rusev won with the Accolade, but it was not clear why this match needed to have the back and forth, or even needed to happen at all. I would have rather seen the Neville match or the Stardust match get the extra time that was dedicated toward Rusev getting heat back that he didn’t really lose.
- The Lucha Dragons and New Day def. Kidd & Cesaro and Ascension
It might not have been the surprise entrant many fans wanted, but the Dragons looked very good on Raw. Kalisto, in particular, got plenty of time to shine in the match. He looked great with a variety of hurricanranas and aerial moves. The Dragons got the pin with a sit-down version of the SDS. As good as Kidd and Cesaro are as champions, they have yet to have an entertaining challenger. Perhaps the Dragons can get to that level.
- John Cena def. Dean Ambrose to Remain U.S. Champion
Ambrose got another shot at gold when he answered Cena’s open challenge for the U.S. Title. They wrestled a long, highly entertaining match in which Ambrose repeatedly got very close to the win. He kicked out from an AA and avoided a couple more. He also escaped the STF and applied one to Cena. When he hit Dirty Deeds, it felt like he had a legitimate chance to get the pin. Instead, Cena kicked out and eventually hit another AA to pull off the victory. Even though he has struggled recently, Ambrose remains one of my favorite wrestlers to watch. It’s just a matter of time before he clicks and works his way to the top of the card.