6/8/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Dean Ambrose Costs Seth Rollins Match Versus J&J Security
In the build to Money in the Bank, WWE is using a classic wrestling storyline in which the heel champion looks vulnerable and bound to get his comeuppance. The story between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose has been so well-executed that it has been easy to miss this theme and get caught up in misdirection or the myriad fantasy booking options.
The central story over the last month has been Seth Rollins’s desire to branch out and prove his independence from The Authority. He has repeatedly chafed at the implication that he was a hand-picked champion who only maintains his status due to intervention from some combination of HHH, Stephanie McMahon, Kane, or J&J Security.
This week, Stephanie and HHH promised to stay out of his match at Money in the Bank against Ambrose and to let him pick his opponent for Raw. He had a falling out with J&J Security and chose them as his opponents for the main event. Later in the show, he argued with Kane and came off as less of a chicken than at any point since he won the title.
Dean Ambrose sent out numerous pictures on Instagram through the show from locations around New Orleans in which he posed with the WWE Title. When it came time for the main event, Ambrose obtained a ticket and made his way to ringside decked out with the belt, several strings of Mardi Gras beads, a soda, and a bag of popcorn. He led cheers for Mercury and Noble, who Rollins admirably made look both interesting and semi-threatening, especialy with the help of Kane at ringside.
When Mercury dodged a splash, Noble got a hot tag and hit a swinging neckbreaker and went to the top rope to cheers from the crowd. Rollins pulled him from the top rope, but almost lost the match when Mercury held his feet on a cover. Rollins took control and set up for a Pedigree when Ambrose jumped the rail and slid the title belt into the ring. Rollins held the belt while Mercury rolled him up with a schoolboy, which made for a clever visual contrast.
Naturally, as soon as Rollins posed with the belt, Ambrose ran in behind him and hit Dirty Deeds. He took the belt back for a third time and left the champion laid out in the ring. He ascended a ring-side ladder and posed with the belt as the show ended.
Each of Rollins’s individual actions seems to hint at some sort of major storyline change. When you step back and look at the aggregate story, it adds up to the heel champion looking vulnerable and weak before a big title defense. It’s a classic booking pattern, and the fact that WWE has made it seem non-obvious is a credit to the main event storytelling.
Kevin Owens def. Neville to Remain NXT Champion
Another episode of Raw, another week in which Owens and John Cena stole the show. Without a video package lead-in, Cena opened the show with a promo aimed at Owens. In response, Owens said that Cena is delusional for thinking that people still want to see him in the ring at the start of Raw and offered an NXT Title Open Challenge in place of Cena’s typical challenge. Cena tried to accept, but Owens declared him ineligible. As a compromise, they agree to allow any challenger choose which of their titles he would seek.
Neville came to the ring and declared that he would face Owens. He started the match quickly with a hurricanrana and a spinning plancha. Owens fought back with a devastating cannonball and continued to dominate with a gut buster. On commentary, Cena (joined by Byron Saxton, who subbed for Booker T) continued to sell his rematch with Owens and said that it will prove whether Owens is really as good as he says he is. Owens stared Cena down as he attempted an AA on Neville, only for Neville to counter into a DDT. Neville then went for a springboard DDT and mostly missed it to the floor.
Back on offense, Owens hit a fisherman’s brain buster for a two count. Neville recovered with a bridging German suplex for a near fall of his own. Neville tried for the Red Arrow, but missed. He hit a superkick and went back to the top rope. This time, Owens knocked him off of the turnbuckle and nailed the pop-up powerbomb to get the pin and retain his title.
After the match, Owens invited Cena back into the ring. When Cena joined him, Owens simply walked away to a chorus of boos. Altogether, it was a very strong match and a good, different way to open Raw. Owens-Cena I did everything that was necessary to sell Owens-Cena II, but the wrestlers have done a good job to elevate the stakes even higher.
Sheamus def. Randy Orton by DQ
One of the Money in the Bank preview matches was a rematch between Sheamus and Orton, but it felt more like the start of a feud than a go-home match. It started out with a characteristically slow pace as they exchanged stomps and strikes. Sheamus took his time on top until they started to trade fists. The exchange ended with an Orton powerslam that gave way to an exploder suplex and a hangman’s DDT.
Both wrestlers dodged each other’s finishers and they brawled to the floor. Orton took a chair from Sheamus and threw it at him to draw a DQ. They continued to scrum and Orton took control. He suplexed Sheamus on the announce table, stomped him on the ring steps, and punctuated the beating with an RKO in the ring. This burgeoning rivalry makes it seem less likely that either of these two will win the contract on Sunday. The silver lining is that they could string together some very good matches over the summer if they continue to work together.
Roman Reigns def. Kofi Kingston
While Orton and Sheamus have a history and more than enough experience, Reigns and Kingston made for the freshest Money in the Bank preview matchup. Reigns surprised Kingston by outwrestling him to start, and Kingston regrouped with his team. He used Xavier Woods and Big E as a divesrsion to take control of the match. He was able to stay a step ahead of Reigns for a while, but things changed when Reigns hit a big clothesline. He tried to take out all of New Day outside, but as he attacked Big E, Kingston hit a suicide dive to swing the momentum back in his favor.
Kingston stayed in control with a stick-and-move offense until he ran into a back elbow and a series of clotheslines. Reigns added a powerslam and countered Kingston’s SOS into a schoolboy powerbomb. Another New Day distraction allowed Kingston to use a schoolboy and Reigns kicked out at two. Kingston went to the top rope to try a cross-body and Reigns met him with a giant Superman Punch.
Of all of the Money in the Bank preview matches, this one was the strongest. It was great to see Kingston back in a meaningful spot on the card and living up to his potential. Reigns also continues a string of matches that exceed expectations. Throughout the last year, I often wrote that his biggest need was better psychology in the ring to let him use his skills to put together a more compelling match. He has steadily improved in that area, and even though the moves have not changed much, the overall match quality has taken a big step up.
Kane def. Dolph Ziggler
Kane and Roman Reigns exchanged words in preparation for the Money in the Bank Contract match on Sunday. Ziggler, R-Truth, New Day, and Sheamus each interrupted to add their two cents about the match. Ziggler insulted Kane by calling him the biggest tool in WWE and comparing him to a hardware store. The only highlight was R-Truth mistakenly assuming he was in the match and apologizing- “That’s on me. My bad!”- when Kane told him he was not an entrant. As one would expect from a seven-way promo, it dragged on and didn’t offer much entertainment.
Out of that promo came a match between Kane and Ziggler. Lana came onto the ramp to watch Ziggler’s match, but she only saw him struggle with Kane’s offense. Eventually, he hit a basement dropkick and a rocker dropper to finally put Kane down.
Around that time, Rusev hobbled onto the ramp on crutches and started to harass Lana. He cornered her and bumped her off of the ramp (a far cry from James Storm throwing Mickie James off of a train platform) and caused her to twist her ankle. The distraction allowed Kane to hit Ziggler with a chokeslam and get a rare pinfall victory. It was probably the most effective segment for Rusev post-breakup and got some real heat on him. It’s not clear whether WWE will be able to continue the same until Rusev heals.
Big E def. Titus O’Neil
Things have gone so well for O’Neil lately when he has been able to serve as the hot tag guy in the Prime Time Players. He has his strengths, but he simply lacks the mechanical skills to put on an entertaining singles match. That deficit was on display as he faced Big E with Darren Young at ringside.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the match was Big E leading a New Day clap on O’Neil’s torso while he had him locked in an abdominal stretch. O’Neil mounted a rally against the big man that included a splash in the corner and a giant shoulder block. The other members of New Day got O’Neil’s attention on the apron and allowed Big E to hit the Big Ending to get a win.
Ryback and Big Show Hijack Miz TV
Miz invited his two adversaries in the Intercontinental Title picture onto his talk show and quickly started to argue with both. He called Ryback and all of the fans ugly and tried to turn him against Big Show. Ryback saw the ruse coming and welcomed the challenge from Big Show, who responded that he can take whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. After an insult, Miz tried to jump Big Show with a microphone. Instead, Big Show threw him to the floor and Ryback picked up Big Show for Shell Shocked. At least the visual of that finisher was impressive; the rest of this grouping has felt uninspired.
Nikki Bella def. Summer Rae
Before her match, Nikki repeated the same yarn that she has used in virtually every feud in which she has played the heel. She said that Paige is jealous and simply wishes she could be in the top position. There was room for Nikki to occupy some in-between space as part of her most recent heel turn, but this interview felt repetitive.
In the ring, Summer found some early success. She used a flying forearm to set up a spinning heel kick. When Summer threw Nikki into the corner, Nikki elevated off of the ropes and hit a version of a springboard enzuigiri. She followed it with the Rack Attack to get the win in a simple, effective match.
Luke Harper and Erick Rowan def. Los Matadores
Harper and Rowan physically dominated Los Matadores from the opening bell. Rowan threw El Torito into the barricade, which distracted one of them and made it even easier for the heels. They hit their version of the Dudleys’ 3-D (called “The Way”) to get the pin and did it again to the other matador for good measure. Post match, they warned that judgment day is coming, though they did not identify a target. Regardless, their reunion seems to be shifting into gear and they have the potential to be one of the top tag teams in the company.