8/31/15 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Seth Rollins Faces a Pair of Challengers
With a severe tropical storm bearing down on their city, it’s easy to understand why the WWE fans in Tampa were more subdued than normal for Monday’s episode of Raw. The preoccupation resulted in such a detached crowd that it almost felt like Raw happened in front of an empty arena. The fans weren’t entirely to blame for their lack of enthusiasm. Despite several good matches and very little filler, Raw featured very little narrative development a week after a series of turbocharged storylines.
The story that took center stage for a second consecutive week was Seth Rollins and Sting facing off for the WWE Title. Sting spoke at the top of the show and gave a clear, concise promo that didn’t seem to fit his WWE vigilante character. Rather than focusing on his dislike for HHH’s abuse of authority, he pivoted and said he has a great deal of respect for HHH and wishes that Rollins would be more like his mentor.
Backstage and in the ring, Stephanie McMahon used the comparison to HHH to focus and motivate Rollins. Despite some initial disagreement, they got on the same page and Rollins demanded that Sting come to the ring and return the statue he displaced last week. Instead, John Cena’s music hit and Rollins’s other rival made his way to the ring.
Cena said that Rollins’s status as the corporate-backed “man” was very transient and that The Authority would toss him aside if it was best for business. He proved his point by invoking his US Title rematch clause for Night of Champions, the same night that Rollins will have to face Sting. Stephanie agreed to the challenge and Cena posed with Sting at the end of the show.
There is plenty of precedent for wrestlers wrestling more than one match on a WWE PPV. Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania XXX and Bret Hart at Wrestlemania X are two of the most notable examples, and Rollins certainly cuts the figure of the creative, technical worker who can manage the physical and psychological demands of two high-level matches on the same show. The even more intriguing part is the creative storytelling that can come from the double-barreled challenges, so long as Sting’s motivation starts to make more sense.
Dolph Ziggler def. Rusev by DQ
The SummerSlam match between Ziggler and Rusev was obviously only the opening chapter and Raw featured the next match between the two men. This time out, Rusev used his power to head off every bit of offense from Ziggler, including a side suplex and a spinning heel kick. Ziggler suddenly hit a superkick and it got him a near fall. The match spilled outside, where Ziggler dodged Rusev and sent him into the ring steps. They both barely made it back into the ring. Rusev hit a thrust kick to set up The Accolade, but Ziggler played possum. He wriggled free of Rusev and hit the Zig Zag. When he made the cover, Summer Rae ran in and broke up the likely pin.
After the match, Lana jumped Summer and left triumphantly with Ziggler. When Ziggler entered his locker room and Summer snuck in behind him. Later in the show, during an interview with Ryback, Summer ran out of the locker room laughing leaving Ziggler with nothing but a towel. Lana was angry that Summer saw him naked coming out of the shower. The backstage storyline and Lana’s anger were a bit contrived, but the match between Rusev and Ziggler was very good. Moreover, the next phase of the rivalry was to bring Lana and Summer into the wrestling part, and I think that was accomplished this week.
Charlotte Becomes #1 Contender to Divas Title
Each member of PCB got a singles match as part of a Beat the Clock Challenge as a reward for their win at SummerSlam. Becky Lynch wrestled first against Alicia Fox. She targeted Alicia’s arm and used a variety of suplexes. Alicia went for a roll-up, but Becky countered into the Disarmer and made her tap out at 3:40.
Charlotte’s match came next and pitted her against Brie Bella. Brie awkwardly tried to run away from Charlotte (which wouldn’t prevent Nikki from having to defend her title since Becky had already logged a win). She executed precisely zero offensive maneuvers before Charlotte hit a neckbreaker and Natural Selection for a win in 1:40.
Finally, Paige cut a promo about taking back her house as proof of a more athletic Divas Division. She proceeded to face Sasha Banks in a match with a very short time limit. Paige hit a running knee and countered a hurricanrana into the Rampage, but Naomi and Tamina rolled their partner out of the ring. Paige failed to win in under 1:40 and the referee called the match, making Charlotte the #1 Contender.
Nikki Bella came back onto the ramp to pose under the Bellatron- a countdown timer to the date when she will become the longest running Divas Champion. Charlotte looked back at her confidently while Paige expressed frustration over her loss. It would seem that we’re finally nearing the end of Nikki’s title reign and Charlotte is a worthy successor. The truly interesting rivalries will be the ones that follow- with Sasha and her own PCB teammates.
Dudley Boyz def. New Day
New Day gave yet another brilliant promo as they defended the integrity of tables to drum up heat with the Dudleys. They introduced an endangered table covered in bubble wrap and vowed to protect it.
It was no surprise that the Dudleys looked great right from the start of the match. Before too long, New Day cornered Devon and wore him down with quick tags. When Devon hit a clothesline, he tagged Bubba, who hit a Bionic Elbow and set up a Wassup Headbutt. Kofi Kingston broke up the headbutt, but got a 3D instead and the Dudleys pinned him for the clear victory.
Braun Strowman def. Dean Ambrose by DQ
Bray Wyatt thanked Sister Abigail for bringing Strowman, the “face of destruction,” into his stable. Strowman threw Ambrose around the ring and showed no ill effects from anything Ambrose did to him. Reigns came to his friend’s defense when the match went to the floor, but even the DQ couldn’t get them the upper hand. Strowman thrashed both of them and no sold a chair shot from Ambrose.
At last, Harper hit a superkick and Wyatt ended the segment decisively with Sister Abigail. It has been awhile since WWE introduced a wrestler as an unstoppable monster. Strowman certainly has the monster in-ring style down and has made an impression in his first couple of weeks. At the same time, he has to be more than an unbeatable monster and his continued evolution will say much about his own career and the program with Reigns and Ambrose.
Kevin Owens def. Cesaro
Those who complain about 50/50 booking should be happy that Owens backed up his SummerSlam win with another clean victory. More impressive than this match’s high spots was the impact with which each wrestler laid his strikes in on the other. The big offensive moves added to that physicality to make it a very strong match.
Early on, Cesaro hit a delayed vertical suplex and both wrestlers punched the other with Owens suspended in midair. Owens answered with a cannonball and a torture rack neck breaker, all while taunting Cesaro and Michael Cole. When he climbed the ropes, Cesaro hit him with a dropkick and an amazing gut wrench suplex for a near fall. He caught an Owens tornado DDT and turned it into a cross-face. Owens turned the tide when he shoved Cesaro into the announce table and targeted his injured ribs with a superkick. He finished Cesaro with a Pop-Up Powerbomb to get his second clean win.
The victory presumably ends the feud between Owens and Cesaro because Cesaro has no claim to a rematch after a pair of legitimate losses. Owens has regained some of the momentum he lost with a pair of defeats at the hands of John Cena with excellent matches and positive results. Now, he will have to do something with his positive momentum that pushes him back up the card.
Ryback def. Big Show to Remain Intercontinental Champion
After a strong backstage interview, Ryback fared much worse early in his match with Big Show. The match was so one-sided that Big Show took a microphone to yell at the fans and taunt Ryback. When Ryback tried a bodyslam, Big Show’s weight was too much and Ryback collapsed for a near fall. Ryback twice tried a Meat Hook Clothesline, but Big Show blocked the first with a chokeslam and the second with a spear. Miz got up from the commentary table and distracted Big Show. The brief interruption was enough for Ryback to hit Shell Shocked and win the match. The heel-heel tension between Miz and Big Show is confusing, but it’s certainly interesting.