On a night that featured involvement from Brock Lesnar, Sting, and the Undertaker, it was Randy Orton and Seth Rollins who once again carried the storyline on Raw and closed out the show. Across the board, Raw started to crystalize the last few storylines for Wrestlemania. After a few months of confusion and instability, the Wrestlemania card is looking extremely interesting.
At the start of Raw, Orton lashed out at The Authority and pointed out the most painful flaws in each of them. At the end, he said he was only kidding, which made everyone but Rollins very skeptical. It was funny to watch the gullible Rollins try to sell the rest of The Authority on Orton’s allegiance in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary.
With Kane and Big Show out of the building after a tongue lashing from Stephanie McMahon, Orton and Rollins came to the ring for a handicap main event with Roman Reigns with only J&J Security. After Jamie Noble started to argue with Orton, Rollins sent them to the back, doubling down on his misguided trust in Orton. When he went for a tag, Orton pulled his hand back and gave him double middle fingers. Reigns hit a spear and pinned Rollins, but the beating was only just getting started.
Orton yelled at Rollins that he never should have trusted him and that he would never forget what Rollins did to him to put him out of action. He beat him in the ring, on the floor, and through the crowd. He took his time to let the beating sink in and brought Rollins to the verge of tears with a series of chair shots. At last, he hoisted Rollins onto the announce table, waited for the right moment, and delivered a big RKO through the table. As with the gradual division between Orton and The Authority, this segment was perfectly executed and fun to watch from beginning to end.
Perhaps the most notable exchange of the night took place in isolation of the main storylines. Bray Wyatt, with the urn in hand, demanded that the Undertaker meet him in the ring. He said he followed the buzzard straight to Undertaker’s corpse, as was always his goal. He invited Undertaker to face him at Wrestlemania as his redemption.
He opened the urn and said it was empty and hollow. No sooner had he said it than smoke started to billow from the urn. Lightning bolts appeared on the big screen and Undertaker’s bell started to ring. A rocking chair, reminiscent of the one Wyatt had until it was destroyed, appeared in a spotlight in the ring. The screen turned to a Wrestlemania logo with the words “The man comes around” scrawled beneath it- an homage to Johnny Cash, whose music has been associated with Undertaker before. Finally, a lightning bolt hit the chair and lit it on fire while Wyatt sat in the corner and laughed maniacally.
It was one of the most theatrical segments in WWE and was extremely well executed. It sounded like the live crowd was a bit disappointed that they did not see Undertaker in the flesh, but the interaction was perfect for the TV audience. Wyatt has effectively established the mystical connection between Undertaker and himself. It was a challenge to sustain the story this long with no feedback. Even this succinct message from Undertaker was thrilling.
Altogether, the show felt like the start of the homestretch on the road to Wrestlemania. There are no more stories that need to start to develop. We have a good idea of what the card will finally look like, and the narratives have taken clear shape. While there are some lingering concerns about the quality of the main event match, WWE has filled out the card as well as they ever have. Orton-Rollins has developed perfectly, Undertaker-Wyatt is exactly where we would want it to be, the Divas match is intriguing, Rusev and Cena should have a strong match, and Sting-HHH has lots of promise. The Intercontinental Title Ladder Match might be the best match on the card. With the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and a multi-team tag match likely filling out the card, there are plenty of great wrestlers and very little filler.
Match of the Night – Dean Ambrose def. Stardust
Ambrose cemented his status as one of the favorites in the Intercontinental Title ladder match as he continued his recent winning streak. Stardust landed some offensive maneuvers between cartwheels and acrobatics. Ambrose answered with a suicide dive to the floor. He snap mared his way out of Cross-Rhodes and hit Dirty Deeds to get the pin.
Barrett came back for his belt and he was joined by Bryan, Luke Harper, and Dolph Ziggler While they brawled, R-Truth left the announce table to put the belt in a burlap bag. Barrett came for the bag, but got the wrong one and wound up with a kids version of the Intercontinental belt. It was a fun segment and the Intercontinental Title program continues to be one of the most creative and unexpectedly exciting as we build toward Wrestlemania.
Missing the Mark – Wiz Khalifa Doesn’t Wrestle
From KISS to Florida Georgia Line, I have never been a fan of mini concerts on wrestling shows. Wiz Khalifa started strong in a humorous segment with Miz and Mizdow. Miz tried to enlist him for a duet, but he said that he already found a rap partner in Wizdow, who rapped his way into the ATGMBR. Wiz Kahlifa went on to perform a medley of songs on the entrance ramp. At least Wiz is a true wrestling fan and the live crowd seemed interested in their hometown musician. On TV, though, it felt like a waste of time.
Developing Story – Paul Heyman Brings Business into Ring
After a very good Roman Reigns promo video, Heyman invited Brock Lesnar to the ring and gave another memorably great promo. He said that the video was propaganda and papered over the fact that Reigns comes from a family of savages who trained him to fight from the time he was a young child. If not such an obvious wrestling ploy to get heat, it would have been too retrograde for TV.
He went on to say that he can see The Authority trying to find a way for Reigns to win so Seth Rollins would have an easier opponent on whom to cash in Money in the Bank. He warned that if The Authority tries a version of the Montreal Screwjob to avoid paying Lesnar that Lesnar would annihilate everyone in the building. Fans have reacted negatively to the inevitability and predictability of the Reigns ascent, so it helps to augment the story with the interesting and believable business angle for Lesnar. The highest compliment one can pay Heyman right now is that it is no longer so crystal clear that Reigns will win the Wrestlemania main event.
- Ryback and Erick Rowan def. Big Show and Kane
The troubles between Kane and Big Show deepened when they self-destructed as a tag team. They succeeded early, starting with a Kane big boot to counter Ryback’s Meathook Clothesline. With the ref dealing with Ryback, Big Show tried to KO Rowan, but hit Kane instead to allow Rowan to get the pin. While they continued to argue, Stephanie McMahon came to ringside and lectured them about how weak they have become. If anyone can launch them back to relevance, it’s her.
- Daniel Bryan def. Bad News Barrett
Bryan hit a double-underhook suplex and slid between Barrett’s legs to hit him with a kick. Barrett fought back with a superplex to put together a rally. Bryan ducked a clothesline and Bryan turned around to hit a running knee. Although Barrett hit Bryan with the Bullhammer after the loss, it was easy to forget that he is the Intercontinental Champion due to the belt swapping and his interminable losing streak.
Divas Division Update – AJ Lee def. Summer Rae
After a silly promo by the Bellas that focused on the Flintstones, of all things, AJ took on Summer with Cameron and Eva Marie at ringside. Summer controlled the match with a nice flapjack slam. She stayed on top in the match while the announcers focused on her potential. Eventually, AJ locked her in the Black Widow and made her tap out. After a brief respite, it felt like business as usual in the Divas Division.
Later in the night, Naomi and Natalya had slightly more luck. They started the match with a series of chained pins. Natalya put Naomi in the Sharpshooter, but Naomi flipped her way out of it. While the Usos tussled with Kidd and Cesaro, Naomi hit the rear view on Natalya to get a quick yet entertaining win. Natalya was so frustrated with the loss that she took her husband’s title belt for herself.
- Tag Team Chaos: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro def. New Day; Los Matadores def. The Usos
A pre-match promo from New Day was so incredibly corny that it was hard to see it as anything but a trolling parody of silly babyface promos. Nonetheless, New Day declared their desire to become Tag Team Champions on Wrestlemania night (seemingly indicating a possible pre-show match). Kidd and Cesaro looked good early as they focused on Xavier Woods’s knee. When Tyson tried to keep Natalya out of harm’s way, Woods hit a sunset flapjack to get a surprise pin.
The match gave way directly to Naomi vs. Natalya, which transitioned directly into the Usos vs. Los Matadores. While it had little tangible impact on the show, it certainly kept the show moving at a brisk pace. Los Matadores functioned like a well-oiled machine until a midair collision between Jimmy and one of the matadors. While Jimmy got the advantage in the ring, El Torito distracted him. Los Matadores shoved him into El Torito and got the pin with a schoolboy. These results certainly point to some sort of four-way tag match at Wrestlemania, although it is strange that the Prime Time Player were nowhere to be seen.
- Sting Declares his Intentions
In a video package, Sting finally broke his silence- albeit with a strangely altered voice- with a speech directed at HHH. He said that he tried to save WCW from a corrupt and self-centered authority group and now sees HHH in the same role as Eric Bischoff. If nothing else, Sting answered the question of “why now?” I enjoyed Sting’s mysterious silence, but this short video goes a long way in terms of explaining why he wants to fight HHH.
- Rusev. Def. Curtis Axel
After JBL hilarious declared that, “if this match lasts for 42 days, I think it favors Axel,” Rusev put him in the Accolade and made him tap out after a few seconds. He started to insult Americans and Cena confronted him in the ring. He locked Rusev in a very snug STF and made Rusev pass out. After Rusev has used the unconscious gimmick so frequently, the fans responded to the reverse.
Cena found a water bottle, splashed it on Rusev to awaken him, and put him back in the STF. Lana finally relented and gave Cena the match he wanted to get him to break the hold. Even if we all knew this scenario is exactly how Cena would get his Wrestlemania match, it was well executed and I enjoyed the performances from all three.