A week removed from his coronation as WWE Champion, Seth Rollins gave us an idea of what Raw will look like under his reign. He opened Raw in the ring with The Authority and gloated about his win. He spoke highly about his partners in The Authority, except for Kane, toward whom he showed very little respect. As retribution Kane, booked a triple threat match between Randy Orton, Ryback, and Roman Reigns to determine the #1 Contender at Extreme Rules, and also booked each wrestler in another match earlier in the show.
Before the main event, Kane put Rollins in a match, as well. The champion faced Neville, only a week after the latter debuted. It looked like Neville might be in line for a quick loss, but instead he gave Rollins everything he could handle. He hit a hurricanrana and a spinning plancha early to show that it would be much more than a squash match. Rollins hit an STO into the turnbuckle and worked very slowly to leave plenty of time for villainous interactions with the referee and the fans. It looked like Neville might pull off the upset when he countered a buckle bomb with a hurricanrana and climbed to the top rope. J&J Security got in the way of the Red Arrow, though, and Rollins hit a buckle bomb and a Curb Stomp to get the win. Even in the loss, the competitive effort put Neville several rungs higher than anyone expected so soon after his debut.
Predictably, the pre-main event singles matches for Orton, Ryback, and Reigns were all relatively short. Orton faced Kane in the first match of the show and Kane ended it quickly with a chair shot DQ. It looked like he wanted to continue the beating, but Orton stole the chair and chased him away.
Ryback looked very impressive against Luke Harper. He hit a Gorilla Press Slam on the big man early. Harper met a Meathook with a superkick and took the action outside. When he missed with a dive in the corner, Ryback hit Shell-Shocked and got the win. Some might say it is a bad loss for Harper, but I don’t think a loss to someone who is clearly a tier above him at present does much damage. Plus, it makes Ryback look good to get a decisive win against a competitive opponent.
Lastly, Reigns had to wrestle Big Show yet again. Big Show maintained his momentum from the Andre Battle Royal and manhandled Reigns for much of the match. Reigns had very little offense before he won with a trio of Superman punches and a spear. The fans seemed to embrace Reigns more in this underdog role. Just as I suspected, now that he is finished with the premature Wrestlemania main event push, the boos have started to subside.
The busy show did not leave much time for the main event. All three fan-favorites went at each other quickly with big offense. Reigns hit a Superman punch on Ryback. Ryback recovered and hit the Meathook on Reigns and a spinebuster to Orton. Reigns made it back to his feet for a spear to Ryback. At that point, Reigns decided to go after The Authority at ringside and hit a plancha to the whole group. Big Show avoided the contact and knocked Reigns out with a KO punch on the ramp. That left Orton and Ryback in the ring, where J&J Security saved Rollins from an attack by Orton. Ryback turned his attention to J&J, which allowed Orton to hit him with an RKO to win the #1 Contendership (which he seemingly already received on Smackdown). I wondered why The Authority got involved at all until Rollins hit a Curb Stomp on Orton to short-circuit his celebration. Even though Orton won a title shot, The Authority stood tall at the end of the show.
The biggest challenge with a three-hour live TV show is making it feel exciting for the long haul rather than boring. I have said since Raw went to three hours that the best way to accomplish that goal is to entwine several storylines to give the show a unified feel. The interplay between The Authority and the #1 Contender’s Match on this show helped tie the show together. One of the hallmarks of the Attitude Era- albeit in a two-hour timeslot- was an overlap from one segment to the next. Hopefully, WWE makes this a pattern rather than a one-time occurrence.
[Production note: I am testing a new Raw Review format that describes each segment as I see fit rather than placing them into categories. I have found that the categories often do not describe the show and I sometimes must fit a square peg in a round hole. If you have strong feelings for one format or the other, leave a comment below.]
John Cena def. Stardust to Remain U.S. Champion
After another predictable patriotic promo, Cena issued an open challenge for the U.S. Title. Stardust answered the call and pushed Cena to the limit in my favorite match of the night. After a hot start for Stardust, Cena used his power to slow his opponent down with a very nice delayed vertical suplex.
Stardust answered with a Disaster Kick, but Cena caught a splash and turned it into a powerbomb. Not to be outdone, Stardust flipped out of an AA and hit an Alabama Slam. He set up for Cross-Rhodes, only for Cena to respond with a powerslam.
Stardust went on a nice roll- he blocked the Five Knuckle Shuffle and hit a DDT. He hit a nice moonsault for a two count and connected with Cross-Rhodes for a very close near fall. Cena recovered to hit his new version of the Lethal Injection and punctuated it with an AA to win.
The key for Cena in this U.S. Open Challenge will be to give his opponents a chance to look good, even if he continues to win. It’s a fine line between giving opportunities and simply making every younger wrestler’s finisher look pathetic each week. I think he has stayed on the right side of that line so far- it seemed like Stardust had a real chance to win, and Dean Ambrose looked great last week-, but it will be a continued challenge.
Sheamus def. Mark Henry
Sheamus channeled Rick Rude before his match when he claimed that he is the only real man in WWE. Mark Henry begged to differ as he answered his challenge. Sheamus initially tried to run away, but came back for a hard-hitting bout. Henry found some success until Sheamus escaped the World’s Strong Slam and hit a chop block. He followed it with a Brogue Kick to win. I respect how much effort has gone into the Sheamus heel turn. He did not just turn on Dolph Ziggler, he has changed his look, his entrance, his mannerisms, and his wrestling style. It all fits together well to make him very unlikeable.
Miz def. Mizdow
It was very amusing to even watch the identical entrances, one after another. Mizdow continued to look very good in the encounter. It is impressive that he can do so much of Miz’s move set better than Miz himself. In spite of his early success, Miz snuck up behind him and stole a pin to Mizdow’s dismay. With the fans behind Mizdow, it makes sense for Miz to keep him down until their final encounter, likely at Extreme Rules.
Naomi and Paige def. The Bella Twins
The Bellas used interference behind the referee’s back to gain control on Paige early. They dominated her for several minutes until she reached Naomi for a hog tag. Naomi seemed to tweak her back on a flip, which disrupted the flow for the rest of the match. Brie helped Nikki to her feet, only for Nikki to receive a kick from Paige. That set up a head-scissors DDT by Naomi for the pin. The match would have been fine, but everything after Naomi’s injury was simply too awkward and they should have called an audible.
Lucha Dragons def. New Day
After the Prime Time Players made fun of New Day and the Ascension, New Day faced Lucha Dragons. The highlight of the match was when Xavier Woods went from incredulous to delighted at Kofi Kingston’s outside interference. It was the start of the long-awaited heel turn for New Day. Nonetheless, Kalisto quickly hit the SDS and Sin Cara hit a Swanton to get the win. The fact that there are four tag teams all involved in a segment that does not include the tag title makes the whole division more fun.
Divas Division Gets a Shakeup
WWE acknowledged AJ Lee’s retirement from last week- a very different treatment than her husband got a year ago. In her stead, a big opening became vacant at the top of the division. Natalya, Alicia Fox, Cameron, and Summer Rae requested a #1 Contender’s Battle Royal for next week and Kane agreed. It is not clear whether the Battle Royal had anything to do with Naomi’s apparent injury, but it helps to add some depth to the division either way.