In-Person Raw Review – Tiny Arena Hosts Surprisingly Big Show

8/10/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters


Randy Orton Overcomes Cesaro and Kevin Owens for Shot at Seth Rollins

WWE typically runs a tour through the Pacific Northwest about once every year. In almost every case, they run televised shows from the Moda Center in Portland and Key Arena in Seattle with a house show in Tacoma, Vancouver, or both. When this summer’s tour was announced, the Vancouver house show and Portland Smackdown were slotted appropriately, but Everett’s 8,000 seat Xfinity Arena was bizarrely scheduled to host Raw. As I did some additional research, I discovered that an international video game tournament for a game called Defense of the Ancients had sold out Key Arena for the weekend, forcing WWE about 40 miles north to a minor league hockey venue.


I assumed the relocation meant that WWE would run a second-rate show from this second-rate venue, but I was very wrong. Despite the absences of Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, and John Cena, Raw felt important and stood alone as a self-contained episode only two weeks before SummerSlam. For the second week in a row, Seth Rollins defended the WWE Title on Raw, and this week’s match against Randy Orton was even more high-profile than last week’s defense against Neville. When Cesaro, Kevin Owens, and Randy Orton each interrupted Rollins at the top of the show, HHH announced that they would face each other in a triple threat match for the right to challenge Rollins later in the show.


The outstanding triple threat match was the clear highlight of the show. Even before the first commercial break, Owens came over the top with a sommersault plancha to both Orton and Cesaro. Cesaro recovered to spin Orton in the ring and lock him into the Sharpshooter briefly. Orton recovered and hit both opponents with a double hangman’s DDT. The action moved outside, where Owens hit a fallaway slam on Orton that sent him into the barricade and Cesaro came over the top with a plancha of his own to match the one Owens delivered earlier.


With Orton recovering outside, Owens and Cesaro fought in the ring once again. Cesaro’s spinning springboard uppercut earned him a near fall that the fans believed had a chance to end the match. Owens regrouped and hit a superkick. He whipped Cesaro off of the ropes, but when he threw him for a Pop-Up Powerbomb, Orton appeared and hit an RKO on Owens. Still dazed, Cesaro walked right into another RKO and Orton got the pin to go on to the main event. Even in defeat, Cesaro and Owens looked great in the match. Additionally, their proximity to the title picture further legitimizes their rivalry and their standing in the company.


Randy Orton def. Seth Rollins by DQ; Rollins Remains WWE Champion

As the show continued, WWE effectively hyped the Rollins-Orton main event. HHH had to persuade Rollins that he needs to prove himself week in and week out to cement his legacy. Meanwhile, a highlight package of Orton and Rollins from Wrestlemania reminded fans of their hot rivalry and the excellent matches they have worked in the past.


Due to their familiarity, Rollins and Orton wrestled a very tight, precise match in which they countered one another constantly. Rollins became frustrated early and tried to leave with his belt, but Orton cut him off and slammed him onto the announce table. Rollins tried to get himself disqualified again when he shoved Orton toward the referee. Orton caught himself before the collision and Rollins used a schoolboy for a two count. After a superkick, Rollins tried to go to the top, but Orton met him there and delivered a gigantic superplex.


After Rollins and Orton exchanged several blocks and counters to each other’s signature moves, Rollins hit Orton with a hangman’s DDT. He mocked Orton’s movements in the ring and set up for a Pedigree. When Orton fought free, Rollins came off of the ropes with a springboard, straight into a big RKO. As the referee counted, Sheamus hit the ring and broke up the cover at two.


Sheamus dispatched Orton outside the ring and followed with a Brogue Kick to Rollins inside. Rollins was so dazed that Sheamus tried to cash in his Money in the Bank. Before the referee could call for the bell, Orton recovered and hit an RKO on Sheamus to cut that opportunity short. Much like Cesaro and Owens, Sheamus and Orton feels like a more important rivalry when the wrestlers come so close to the title. Rollins also kept the man event rolling without Cena in the building by wrestling another very good match. Now, instead of a handful of matches without stakes, Summerslam features two matches with indirect title implications in addition to the WWE Title match.


Daniel Bryan and Ryback Return to Miz TV

Bryan hit the nail on the head when he said that he couldn’t miss an opportunity to be on Raw from his home state of Washington. Even in a smaller venue outside of Seattle, the fans were so unified and enthusiastic in their support of Bryan that it disrupted the interview segment three or four times. Naturally, Miz used the excitement for more heat and even transitioned it into his storyline by saying that Ryback should do the thing that Bryan did with the Intercontinental Title and vacate it.


Big Show emerged from the back and hammed it up at Miz’s expense. Suddenly, Ryback’s music hit and he made his way to the ring with the Intercontinental Title to a very positive response. He clotheslined Big Show and Miz out of the ring and celebrated with Bryan. The injuries to Bryan and Ryback have undermined the Intercontinental Title’s “working title” reputation and dinged its prestige. Nonetheless, fans are behind Ryback and his most recent bit of bad luck can be incorporated into the storyline. Even with narrative perseverance and support from Bryan, the most important thing for Ryback to do now is to wrestle and win a good match at SummerSlam.


Stephen Amell Confronts Stardust

After months of social media barbs between Amell and Stardust, the modestly-famous actor finally appeared in the front row at Raw. After an instantaneous win over King Barrett by Neville (a disappointment given the quality of match these two could have wrestled), Stardust attacked Neville. He proceeded to get in Amell’s face at ringside and hit him with a forearm. Amell jumped the barricade and the ring ropes, took down Stardust, and punched him until security pulled him away.


Backstage, a sweaty Amell (to his credit, the arena was about 85 degrees), pleaded with HHH for a match with Stardust, even offering to sign any waiver necessary. After HHH initially laughed him off, he eventually conceded to a tag match of Neville and Amell against Barrett and Stardust. The pairing is the right way to go because Neville can work 90% of the match and allow Amell to execute a few spots with which he is most comfortable. To his credit, Neville was much more athletic than anyone would have expected, and his backstage segment with HHH was executed perfectly. Many actors cannot pull off the combination of improv and broad emotion that wrestling requires, so Amell earns my begrudged praise.


Luke Harper def. Dean Ambrose

More than this match, the key segment in the Wyatts 2.0 vs. Shield 2.0 rivalry was a very good taped promo with Ambrose and Roman Reigns. They focused on how their brotherhood is based on respect and equality while Bray Wyatt views himself as superior to Harper. The match itself was physical and rough. They spilled to the outside repeatedly and involved both Wyatt and Reigns at ringside. Wyatt tried to hit Ambrose with a running clothesline, but when he ducked, Reigns caught him with a Superman Punch. The group continued to brawl outside, and as soon as the competitors reentered the ring, Harper caught Ambrose with a discus clothesline to get the win.


I have been critical of this program at times, but it is now entrenched as the fifth or sixth match on the card. The historical tensions between the teams as well as the desire to show who is tougher are enough to justify the fight.


Team Bella def. Team BAD

This six-person tag was not one of the better women’s matches since the mass NXT call-up. Predictably, Tamina ate the pin from Brie Bella and all nine women on the three teams stared each other down after the match. Also predictably, the match led to a nine-woman elimination tag at SummerSlam, which makes me wonder if Nikki well ever defend the Divas Title again. I think the primary reason this match fell flat was that the Bellas worked both heel (Nikki going for a pin while standing on Naomi) and face (Brie firing up the crowd for hot tags) in the very same match.


New Day def. Los Matadores

New Day were hilarious once again, with their dancing to the ring and the commentary from Xavier Woods. It’s importantly that their wrestling is not pure comedy because it keeps them threatening. As usual, they looked great in the ring. It didn’t take long for Big E and Kofi Kingston to hit the Big Ending to get the win. During their celebration, Renee Young broke the news that they would face the Prime Time Players, the Lucha Dragons, and Los Matadores at SummerSlam. In no way is that a better match than a PTP-New Day rematch.


Rusev and Mark Henry Wrestled to a No Contest

As soon as Summer Rae got involved on Rusev’s behalf, Lana left commentary and attacked her. Rusev distracted Lana long enough for Summer to get the upper hand. He mimicked Lana and told Summer to crush her. She put her in the Accolade and hurt her so severely that she could not get up while Rusev revealed a new banner with a giant face over the backdrop of the Bulgarian flag. As funny as the flag looked, rivalry will continue to feel stuck in the mud while we await Dolph Ziggler’s return.