11/16/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Raw opened with a moment of silent reflection in honor of the terrorist attack victims in Paris. The introduction was subdued, appropriate and respectful. WWE is a company that used to find ways to offend regularly, but it has grown up considerably and now handles difficult times about as well as anyone.
WWE Title Tournament Quarterfinals
Roman Reigns def. Cesaro
Although the Tournament has started to feel like a formality for an inevitable Reigns victory, one positive effect was that it created an episode of Raw full of entertaining, well-worked matches. One of the best of those matches was the top-billed contest between presumptive champion Reigns and Cesaro, the challenger with seemingly the most popular fan support. Cesaro looked very good in the match. He threw Reigns into the post early and hit him with an uppercut outside the ring rather than taking a possible count-out. He dodged a Drive-By from Reigns and turned it into a Big Swing and Sharpshooter. As Reigns started to work his way free, Cesaro transitioned into a crossface on the shoulder Reigns hurt earlier in the match. Reigns nearly passed out, but finally stood to hit a Samoan Drop to free himself.
From that moment, the match elevated the intensity another notch. Cesaro hit a top rope dropkick, but Reigns blocked an attempt at a deadlift vertical suplex. He hit a Superman Punch instead. When he tried to follow that with a spear, Cesaro blocked it with an uppercut. He failed to hit his Neutralizer, but got a near fall off of a backslide instead. When he came off of the ropes, Reigns hit him with a sudden Superman Punch and finished him off with a spear.
Amidst a sea of internet hate, it’s easy to forget the things that Reigns does well. He had tremendous endurance and understands how to sell his opponents’ offense. Those skills were on display in this match as he and Cesaro both made each other look very good. The match followed the same blueprint as many of Reigns’s best matches- he took loads of punishment and looked strong in his comeback. While I will have the same criticism of this tournament’s inevitability if the obvious result comes to fruition, the in-ring work by Reigns still deserves praise.
Kevin Owens def. Neville
As much as I enjoyed Cesaro and Reigns, the match between Owens and Neville was even better. Neville repeatedly set Owens up for the Red Arrow, only to have his attempted foiled in a different way each time. The first time, Owens rolled to the floor and Neville hit him with a moonsault outside the ring. Moments later, he dodged a cannonball and hit a German suplex and phoenix splash for a very close two count. He hit an enzuigiri to set up another Red Arrow attempt and Owens knocked him off of the turnbuckle. Neville countered an attempt at a Pop-Up Powerbomb with a reverse hurricanrana for a two count. He went back to the top rope for his fourth try at the Red Arrow. Owens dodged it again, threw Neville into the ropes, and hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb to win.
Although Owens was the overwhelming favorite to advance to the semifinals, this match was engaging and created some real doubt about the outcome. Owens has worked with so many undersized, super-athletic opponents in the indies that it comes as second nature to him. He did it beautifully once again in this match.
Dean Ambrose def. Dolph Ziggler
With four related tournament matches, the wrestlers in each match had to find a way to distinguish their matches from the others. Ambrose and Ziggler did a good job making their match look different than the rest by mucking it up and making it into more of a brawl. They traded pin attempts and blocked signature moves early until they collided with cross-bodies and knocked the wind out of one another.
Ambrose put together some momentum with a rebound lariat for a near fall. They traded right hands back and forth until Ambrose broke free. He slid out of Ziggler’s tie-up and hit Dirty Deeds to get the win. Ambrose always looked most likely to come out of his quadrant in the bracket. He also looks like the most likely of the four wrestlers to create some storyline intrigue during Reigns’s march to victory.
Alberto Del Rio def. Kalisto
Del Rio came to his quarterfinal match with HHH in his ear about (once again) become WWE’s corporate champion. He dominated early and showed the type of natural fluidity with another luchador that he has demonstrated in the past. When he dove into the ring post, Kalisto got his offense started. He controlled the match until they fought into a corner and Del Rio hit his tree of woe stomp to get the win. The victory was slightly disheartening because it removed the last real possibility of an unexpected result. I would have liked to at least see a stronger showing from Kalisto to create a possible rivalry and make good on his first round upset of Ryback.
Brothers of Destruction Ready for Wyatt Family
Outside of the WWE Title tournament quarterfinals, the rivalry between the Brothers of Destruction and the Wyatts felt like the next most important part of the show. Undertaker and Kane vowed to punish the Wyatts and said that their brand of evil has stood the test of time. Bray Wyatt appeared and claimed to have overtaken them. With a clap of lightning, he borrowed an old parlor trick and the druids appeared in sheep masks. Undertaker and Kane fought through Wyatts druids and Bray kept his family members away until Sunday.
Although I didn’t learn anything new from the promos and the segment didn’t equalize the beating the Brothers put on the Family last week, it hit the right supernatural notes and I’m looking forward to the match at Survivor Series. My only complaint is that WWE missed the opportunity to use the four-man Wyatt Family in a traditional elimination match.
Charlotte and Paige Contract Signing Ends Badly
Charlotte initially said that she looked up to Paige as a mentor in NXT. She went on to get emotional as she described how important Paige was to her when her brother passed away. She brought honest emotion into their rivalry and it was easy to believe. Paige arrogantly dismissed her and even insulted her late brother. That led to pure rage from Charlotte as they broke into a brawl. From Paige’s gradual turn to this perfect personalization of the rivalry, this feud is the best booking in WWE at present. It’s easy to understand why they are fighting, Charlotte and Paige are likeable and unlikeable in a complementary way, and the outcome of the match feels important. Their slot in the show’s main event segment was earned.
New Day def. Ryback and the Usos by DQ
New Day’s pre-match promo focused on how they deserve the attention that Undertaker has received and the injuries that put the Usos out of action for months. They took the same cocky attitude into the match and isolated Jey Uso while dancing and singing in their corner. The referee missed a tag to Ryback, who became enraged and shoved the referee while fighting through everyone. Despite the DQ, Ryback and his team stood tall after fighting off New Day. I liked the more aggressive version of Ryback. And while I don’t think it’s likely, it would be a fun Survivor Series twist to put the Tag Titles on the line in a six-man elimination match between these teams.
Tyler Breeze def. R-Truth
Truth fulfilled his normal role as a catalyst for a younger wrestler’s push. He controlled much of the match until Summer Rae helped Breeze recover by giving him some lip balm. He worked Truth’s leg consistently and wore him down with a half Boston Crab. Finally, Truth hit a scissor kick for a two count, but Breeze recovered with the Beauty Shot for a solid win.
Dudley Boys def. The Ascension
The Dudleys returned to WWE for two reasons. One was to help New Day get closer to the main event, and the other was to reinvigorate the tag team division. Given New Day’s progression, they have to be considered a success on the first account. Taking care of business against a team like The Ascension doesn’t do much on the latter.