With many of the top Wrestlemania feuds involving wrestlers who are not on Raw every week, the war between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton has become the biggest storyline on TV for the last month. This week was no different at the start, as Rollins and the rest of the Authority all expressed their anger and frustration over the way Orton manipulated them a week before. Rollins said he would take Orton’s challenge for a Wrestlemania match if Orton would face him on Raw. Orton agreed enthusiastically, even though he knew he was walking into a trap.
Throughout the show, Rollins struggled to keep his allies on his side. First, Big Show and Kane were at one another’s throats and Rollins managed to alienate both of them when he intervened. Rollins lashed out at Jamie Noble when Noble suggested that Rollins was to blame for Orton’s attack last week. He slapped Noble and inspired both members of J&J Security to walk out on him.
The frustrated Rollins finally turned to HHH and Stephanie McMahon to help him solve his problem. He showed how much his ego has swelled when he suggested that Stephanie was to blame for the disintegration of the Authority. HHH told Rollins to stand down and Rollins dismissed his mentor by saying that HHH would never do anything to the future of his company.
The result of the discord was that Rollins came onto the ramp for his main event match without his usual cadre of support. In fact, he entered for the match completely alone. He stood on the stage at the top of the ramp and told Orton once again that he would not forgive him for his three-week ruse. He added that it only took him three hours to pay Orton back. The entire Authority entered behind Rollins onto the ramp to reveal that their internal struggle was a diversion.
Orton retrieved a chair from ringside and prepared himself for the attack from the entire stable. Just as the Authority were about to enter the ring, the lights went black and Sting appeared next to Orton. Sting and Orton used a bat and chair to fight the Authority away from ringside. They were left with J&J Security in the ring and hit a Stinger Splash, a Scorpion Death Drop, and an RKO on them for good measure.
As much as I have enjoyed the story between Orton and Rollins, I think it was a smart move for WWE to give some main event focus to one of the other top Wrestlemania matches. The way the show was built kept plenty of focus on Rollins and Orton- and even moved the story between them incrementally forward- while also building excitement for fans to see Sting return to the ring. The Sting-HHH match does not need much promotion. Sting’s return and the special attraction of a HHH match are enough to contribute to the sale of the show. Even so, appetizers like this one help to whet the appetite for the entrée.
On the whole, this episode of Raw was surprisingly entertaining. Where I expected a holding pattern for three hours, there were a couple of very good matches and some unintentional comedy that made the show more enjoyable than I anticipated. This time of year, it’s easy for Raw to devolve into a three-hour commercial for Wrestlemania. I was satisfied to get any more than that.
Match of the Night – Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Dean Ambrose def. Bad News Barrett, Luke Harper, and Stardust
R-Truth found yet another creative way to perpetuate his Intercontinental Title heist. He came to the ring with the belt strapped to his back and walked sideways to prevent anyone in the ring for seeing it.
In the ring, the faces took turns controlling the first part of the match. Barrett led a comeback with a nice neckbreaker on Ziggler. When he went to the corner, Ziggler found it empty and had to fight off a Harper powerbomb with a famouser. All six wrestlers brawled until Harper isolated Ziggler and hit a big boot and powerbomb for a near fall. Ziggler recovered and accidentally superkicked Bryan. With everyone on the floor except Barrett and Ambrose, Barrett went for the Bullhammer, but Ambrose ducked it and hit Dirty Deeds to get the pin to end a very exciting tag match.
After the bell, the action continued. Truth threw the belt into the ring. Ziggler and Bryan faced off over it until they came to blows. Everyone fought in the ring until Barrett hit a series of three Bullhammers. Barrett finally stood tall at the end of the segment to make himself seem, for once, like a viable contender to defend his own title.
Missing the Mark – Rusev Lawyers Up
Before Rusev came to the ring for a contract signing, John Cena gave a hyper-patriotic promo in which he made his own declaration of independence and said that it is an embarrassment for all Americans for Rusev to represent them. Rusev came to the ring with a fake Russian lawyer in place of Lana. His accent was so horrifically bad that it was hard to focus on his message. Between jokes from the commentary team (“Where’d they get this guy, Des Moines Community Theater?”), he said that Rusev never agreed to the contract and he would only sign it if Cena could restrain himself during a prepared statement.
Rusev made the same insults he has made many times while smoke came out of Cena’s ears. When Rusev finally signed the contract, he tipped the table on Cena and left in a hurry. If the segment was supposed to be serious, it failed due to the comically bad lawyer. If it was supposed to draw more heat on Rusev, it failed because he offered nothing new. The only way it worked was as a comedy bit, and I’m fairly certain that was not the intent.
Developing Story – Tag Team Division Reshuffles
With one of my two favorite Usos out of commission for Wrestlemania, the challengers to Tyson Kidd and Cesaro changed direction ever so slightly. In a taped promo, Kidd said that his team is better than New Day at wrestling, athleticism, and even clapping. Things were not as smooth in the ring when the referee got in the way of their swing-dropkick combination. Meanwhile, Big E got a friendly reaction from the Iowa fans. Kofi Kingston tried to hit Trouble in Paradise, but he connected with the non-legal Kidd. Cesaro hit an uppercut and pinned Kingston- a rare win for a secondary champion in WWE.
After the match, things got a bit more interesting. Los Matadores served Kingston back to Cesaro. He took the opportunity and hit a Neutralizer. Then, El Torito entered the ring and hit Cesaro with a hurricanrana. While Los Matadores as possible heels is not terribly thrilling, I am interested to see whether another team works its way into this match. Either the Prime Time Players or The Ascension could use the spot in the match now that the Usos are out.
- Big Show Ambushes Erick Rowan
After tongue lashings from Kane and Seth Rollins, Big Show took out his frustration on Rowan before their match started. He hit him with a KO punch and dropped his huge frame on Rowan with an elbow drop from the second rope. If WWE wants to continue to use Big Show, he needs the occasional dominant victory like this one, even if it’s a shame and a dead end for Rowan.
Hall of Fame Update – Larry Zbyszko to the HOF
For someone branded the “Living Legend” for much of his career, Zbyszko will finally receive the professional honor to match the moniker. His turn on Bruno Sammartino was legendary, but he never became the true main event star that he appeared destined to be. Nonetheless, he might be the second biggest inductee to this class, which does not speak well of the rest of the group.
- Mark Henry Dominates Warm-Up Battle Royal
While Big Show took out his aggression on Rowan, Kane tried to do the same to a battle royal full of jobbers. With the ring full of also-rans, Mark Henry joined the fray and announced himself for the ATGMBR. He and Kane cleared the ring. As he finished off Kane, Curtis Axel ran in from behind. Henry threw Axel to the floor to win the battle royal and make himself one of the ATGMBR favorites.
- Ryback def. Miz
Miz told Mizdow that he has to assist him during the ATGMBR or he will be fired. The alliance did not pay off so well during the match. Ryback tried to bait Mizdow to hit Miz. Although he didn’t hit him, he did nothing to stop Ryback from hitting the Meathook and Shell-Shocked. The irate Miz hit a Skull Crushing Finale on his assistant after the match.
Divas Division Update – Nikki Bella def. AJ Lee
The match got off to an inauspicious start when the Bellas gave a nonsense promo about how AJ and Paige used to be at each other’s throats- the Bellas were fighting with each other even more recently than their opponents. Nonetheless, they started the match with some solid back and forth. Nikki worked on AJ’s arm with a nice armbreaker and a variety of other holds. AJ finally fought back with a Thesz Press, a neckbreaker, and a cross-body from the top rope. Nikki desperately threw AJ to the floor. Before Brie could interfere, Paige stood up to her. As AJ and Nikki made their way back into the ring, Brie sucker punched Paige and slammed her into the ring post. AJ looked down at her partner and Nikki used the distraction to hit a forearm and the Rack Attack to get the pin.
When fans reacted to garbage segments featuring WWE’s women, the goal was not to vault them to the main event; it was to give them enough time on the card to prove that they are at least competent as wrestlers. They did so in this match. It was a timeslot usually reserved for a mid-card men’s match and they delivered on a level commensurate with that standard.
- Bray Wyatt Addresses Undertaker
Wyatt was more excited than fearful now that his match with Undertaker is official. He reiterated that he wants to win his match to honor his sister Abigail. He also showed that filled Undertaker’s urn with ashes from his burned chair. At this point, there is little to do to sell this match- Wyatt merely has to remind fans that it is happening and most will want to see it.
- Roman Reigns Answers Brock Lesnar
Lesnar’s excellent taped video package focused on his reputation as a remorseless fighter. He punctuated it with a simple Wrestlemania prediction, “I’m going to f*** up Roman Reigns. The end.” Later in the show, Reigns acknowledged that he’s in for a war with no fairy tale ending. He said that he knows he will be carried out of the arena, but said that he’ll do so with the WWE Title. Other than the absurd “I can, I will” shirt, Reigns did a good job. Due to Paul Heyman’s consistently outstanding mic work and some more restrained booking for Reigns, the main event no longer looks like a trainwreck.