12/14/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Roman Reigns def. Sheamus to Become WWE Champion
Raw has not been essential viewing for WWE fans for several months. Scott Strandberg and I have both written at length about the slow creep of all meaningful content to the WWE Network since its launch. It seemed to me natural and logical for WWE to migrate its best matches and stories to a platform that can continually generate new revenue, so I assumed that the transition was intentional. As TV ratings have predictably declined, WWE responded- surprisingly- by pressing the panic button. The company sent out surveys and promised big changes on its flagship TV show. On Monday, we saw the fruits of that labor on the most eventful episode of Raw in ages.
The night after Reigns savaged HHH to close out the TLC PPV, Stephanie McMahon opened the show by berating the newly popular star. She insulted him and pled for sympathy as a mother and husband, but Reigns simply said that her whole family is a disgrace. She lost her cool and slapped him repeatedly before she told him that her father would be on Raw later and would deal with him personally.
When Vince McMahon finally arrived, he did so in the middle of an R-Truth-Bo Dallas match that he promptly ended. He invited Reigns to the ring and ordered him to beg for his job on his hands and knees. Reigns refused to capitulate and the squared off to fight. Sheamus appeared on the ramp and offered to defend his title against Reigns. McMahon accommodated the request and added the stipulation that Reigns would be fired if he lost the match. He stuck out his hand to Reigns and kicked him in the groin on his way out of the ring. As great as Stephanie and HHH are as heels, this segment served as a reminder that Vince is still the platonic ideal of an evil authority figure.
Reigns and Sheamus traded big strikes in and around the ring when their match finally started. Sheamus suplexed Reigns onto the announce table to reinjure the back on which he focused the night before. Reigns recovered and delivered a Samoan drop from the second rope. He countered an attempt at White Noise with a schoolboy powerbomb. Sheamus was not done yet, though, and he countered a Superman Punch with a modified powerbomb of his own. He put Reigns in a cloverleaf and nearly got the submission before Reigns reached the ropes.
A headbutt bloodied Reigns’s face just before he blocked a Brogue Kick with a Superman Punch. When he went for the cover, McMahon pulled the referee out of the ring to break up the count. McMahon kept the referee occupied while Rusev and Alberto Del Rio ran in and jumped Reigns. Reigns fought them off with a seriers of Superman Punches and even ducked another Brogue Kick to hit a second Superman Punch on Sheamus. Rather than go for the cover, he hit McMahon with a Superman Punch to prevent further interference and that move earned him the biggest pop of the night.
The brief hesitation gave Sheamus a moment to recover and he took advantage with a Brogue Kick. As protected as that finish has been, Reigns kicked out at two. Sheamus went for a second Brogue Kick and Reigns met him with a spear to get the pin and finally secure the WWE Title. After more than a year of ambivalent fans reactions, Reigns finally got the full-throated crowd support on the night he seemingly reached the top of the mountain.
The two lingering questions at the end of the night are about sustainability. Can Reigns maintain this momentum, and can Raw stay this entertaining, at least every once in a while? The concern with Reigns is that he has been fed two of the biggest heat magnets in the business- HHH and Vince- on consecutive shows. It will be hard for him to ever get the kind of reaction he did last night, let alone on a weekly basis. Reigns does not have the verbal skills to be an era-defining star, but if he keeps his promos short and sweet while focusing on his raw physicality, he can be in the class of Batista or Goldberg as one of the top guys with a big run in him.
The more interesting issue to me is whether this show represented a paradigm shift for how WWE books Raw. The TV shows have been used to sell WWE Network subscriptions for over a year and very little of substances has happened on TV. Monday was the first time since 2011 that featured a WWE Title change in a match on Raw. Aside from the main event, there were several other segments on Raw that felt original and important. There’s no way to know at this point whether WWE will commit to this type of storyline allocation (there’s only so much that can happen in a month, and whatever happens on Raw won’t happen on the Network). I think all fans who invest 12+ hours per month in Raw would like to see at least a bit more content on Raw on a consistent basis.
Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler Wrestle to a Double Count-Out
Ziggler was an interesting matchup for Ambrose the night after he finally won the Intercontinental Title because he split the fans somewhat. Nonetheless, they had a very fun match that was building to a very good conclusion. They started on the mat until Ziggler hit a neckbreaker and Ambrose answered with a suicide dive. They worked back into the ring where each wrestler countered the other’s finisher.
Ambrose got the first near fall of the match with an atomic facebuster. Ziggler continued to fight back and nailed Ambrose with a superkick, only for Ambrose to rebound with a clothesline. It looked like Ambrose was gathering momentum and Kevin Owens hit the ring. Owens dispatched Ziggler and hit a pair of Pop-Up Powerbombs on Ambrose. Ziggler tried to fight back and Owens powerbombed him on top of Ambrose.
After the attack, Owens said in an impassioned interview that he would take it upon himself to drive Ambrose insane. I wrote before TLC that it felt like Ambrose and Owens were just starting their rivalry. The Ambrose win made me second guess that conclusion, but Owens got his heat back in the most classic way possible on Raw. With a few simple actions and words, Owens made himself look like a credible threat an introduced an emotional element to the rivalry.
Wyatt Family def. Dudley Boys, Tommy Dreamer, and Rhyno
With Raw in Philadelphia, the ECW team had a fantastic vignette that included clips of their original runs with the company. They challenged their TLC opponents to a rematch and the crowd was red hot from the start. The old men had some success early and hit Rowan with a Wassup Headbutt. Rowan, Harper, and Bubba followed that with one of the heaviest towers of doom of all time.
That gave the Wyatts the advantage and they held it until Rhyno went on a rampage. Dreamer then dropkicked a trash can into Harper’s face. Strowman dove toward the announce table and missed everything but the table itself. The anarchy carried up the ramp, where Dreamer hit a modified Death Valley Driver to Harper off the ramp and through two tables. He came back toward ringside and suffered a running powerslam from Strowman through the barricade.
They Dudleys made their way back into the ring and hit a 3D on Harper through a table. Devon went for the cover and Wyatt pulled him out of the ring before he could get the three. Rhyno came into the ring and Wyatt hit him with Sister Abigail. Rowan stacked Rhyno on a table and hit him with a top rope splash through the table to get the extremely fun win.
The whole match was a great trip down memory lane with the former ECW crew. Every member of the match got a chance to shine, including the four veterans, who put up a great fight. WWE might have also stumbled into something because the hardcore stipulation really works for the Wyatts. Harper and Wyatt are so talented and creative that they can innovate on the fly while Strowman and Rowan are so enormous that they make everything look more impressive.
Rusev and Alberto Del Rio def. Ryback and Jack Swagger
The League of Nations partners were able to corner Ryback for several minutes and wear him down. Ryback finally hit a belly-to-belly and reached Jack Swagger for the hot tag. Swagger strung together some offense and put Rusev in the Patriot Lock, only for Del Rio to break it up with a back-cracker. Lana got on the apron and distracted the referee to allow her team to double superkick Swagger, which allowed Rusev to get the pin. For League of Nations to get any traction as a heel team, they will need wins like this one. The fact that fans actually dislike most of the members is a good first step.
Neville def. Tyler Breeze
My first reaction to this pairing was that these two developing stars have no business wrestling each other while neither should be taking losses. I quickly changed my mind when it became apparent that the match was a backdrop for Miz to sit ringside and bark “directorial” orders, as if he was the heel manager for the babyface Neville. It didn’t take long for Neville to use some kicks to set up the Red Arrow and get the win, for which Miz took credit. I am intrigued by the direction of Miz and Neville (especially Miz’s post-match offer to put Neville in Star Wars Episode VIII), but it still seems questionable for Breeze to lose decisively so early in his run.
-New Day complained about their injuries and brought the Usos and Lucha Dragons to the ring for a round of compliments. They even apologized for winning the match by interference. As soon as their adversaries left, they started their celebratory dance and the Usos and Dragons came back to beat them up. The TLC match between these three teams was so exceptional that I’m glad that another chapter looks probable.
-Things went well for the remnants of Team PCB in a tag match with Brie Bella and Alicia Fox. Brie dominated Charlotte early. Charlotte tagged Becky Lynch and she owned the rest of the match until she won with the Disarmer.
-Adam Rose’s delivery in The Rosebush segment actually showed some improvement this week. That didn’t help the terrible content of the jokes, though.