Welcome to the first week of RAW reviews for Backlog Adventures. In an effort to create more wrestling-centered content, I’ll be handling RAW reviews henceforth, for as long as I can stand what has been a generally terrible three hours of professional wrestling.
Let’s move on, shall we?
First, an explanation of the grading system. Promos, backstage segments, and anything that isn’t a wrestling match will be graded on an A through F scale. The score will be based on clarity of the dialog, how the segment serves to better the feud in question, and whether or not the segment is a proper use of on-air time.
Matches will use a grading scale that I have applied to my PPV reviews, in that I will talk about what I liked, disliked, how the match came to a close, and a general score based on five stars. Matches are scored on technical showmanship, storytelling, match flow, and, of course, entertainment value.
With that out of the way, please enjoy this week’s review of RAW, filmed live and in front of a studio audience in Montreal, Quebec Canada.
SEGMENT A: “In which RAW starts with a long form promo for the eightieth week in a row.”
The post Extreme Rules setup for the main event scene is far more engaging and favorable with the addition of Roman Reigns. Trust me, I am just as shocked as everyone else. While I certainly haven’t hated the Orton/Rollins program put forth in recent months, it also hasn’t set the world on fire. Something has been lacking to make the program interesting. Maybe this is because I am simply tired of Orton. After all, the guy has been in the main event scene as long as Cena at this point, all while pretty much carrying the same personality, for better and worse.
Reigns adds a wildcard to the proceedings as the young, powerful competitor looking to right what he considers to be a major wrong. All the while, Seth Rollins continues to turn in some of the best heel work the WWE main event scene has seen since CM Punk. Rollins has reached the holy land of being an incredibly popular and entertaining superstar who is overcoming that popularity with being a smarmy, egotistical, and cowardly heel that pulls at everyone’s patience in just the right ways.
In other words, he’s the glue of this feud, and in the case of our opening segment, what makes the main event scenario interesting. I am not interested in Orton and Reigns flexing their man boobs at each other in a contest of who can be more laconic and boring.
Luckily, The New Day enter the picture with a continuation of some of the best heel work on the roster as of late. Sure, they’ve stolen Bo Dallas’ gimmick without so much as a “how do you do?”, but there is something amazing about the chemistry, charisma, and jerkhole-ery at work by the tag team champions.
Leave it to The New Day to improve the show, a reoccurring theme throughout the night.
SEGMENT A GRADE: C
The opening segment also gave us this awesome GIF of Randy Orton getting down to The New Day theme. THEY ARE THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING, PEOPLE.
MATCH ONE: The New Day vs. Randy Orton and Roman Reigns (Handicap Match)
WWE Creative righted their previous wrong from a month ago with this match, which involved Randy Orton ghetto stomping the then-tag champions Cesaro and Kidd single-handily. It was a poor move that didn’t make Orton look better but certainly made Team UpperCats look weak.
I appreciate that The New Day are being presented as not only a credible threat, but as performers to be trusted with good material. Big E and Kofi have always been under appreciated in-ring talents, while Xavier Woods is yet another worker with a golden tongue who may have been ignored otherwise, given his size and work rate.
Sure, the ending could be seen coming a mile away, but putting The New Day over (mostly) clean was the wise decision, as Orton and Reigns are in a position here to take a loss and not fall backwards from doing so.
The Finish: Roman drops some molly, forgets to hydrate, and accidentally spears Orton, giving The New Day the win.
The Time: 13:05
The Good: It’s nice to see a team as diverse and talented as The New Day being utilized as more than fodder for Rusev.
The Bad: A blindfolded Stevie Wonder locked away in Jodie Foster’s panic room could see that finish coming.
The Rating: ** out of *****
Kane comes out to show off his “I LOVE RAND PAUL” button and to put Orton against Reigns in the main event. Whoo.
Meanwhile, The New Day start the celebration backstage. A lot. Like, all night. It’s dumb, but also makes me super happy to see New Day screaming and cheering for themselves in the background of just about every backstage segment of the night.
Nice character touch. Doesn’t hurt that it is also super funny.
SEGMENT B: “HEY GUYS: DO YOU THINK KANE DOESN’T LIKE SETH? I CAN’T TELL.”
Kane continues his passive-aggressive, “best for business” tweener schtick, while Seth continues to basically state everything everyone is doing or saying as a question. WRESTLING? ON A WRESTLING MATCH? HOW DARE KANE PROPOSE SUCH A THING?
Rollins versus Ambrose is set for later on, with Ambrose being plopped into the Payback main event if he wins. A perfectly decent exposition segment, once again showing that Kane is far better at talking than anyone ever expects, and Seth is the douche I love too much to hate.
SEGMENT B GRADE: B
SEGMENT C: “IN WHICH RYBACK THINKS THE THOUGHTS WE THINK HE THINKS HE THOUGHT. I THINK.“
We come back from break to see Renee Young introducing Skip She–I mean, Ryback, for an in-ring interview.
I mean, it isn’t like Bray Wyatt is going to show up and do something creepy, right? The ring is probably a safe choice.
This segment was a bit of a bummer, as I really do think Ryback has a lot of potential. He attempts to keep the segment from drowning with the audience, but pretty much loses them until he starts up a “FEED ME MORE” chant. To be fair, it didn’t help that Ryback got a wee bit rambleicious, talking about his positivity and other things he likes to metaphorically eat.
Bray, shockingly, interrupts the interview for “Spooky Bearded Man Big Screen Time.”
Yawn. Ryback was inoffensive, Wyatt spouts more jibberish. I see no point in this feud other than it giving Bray something to do until they figure out the next way to ruin him. NEXT.
SEGMENT C GRADE: D
MATCH TWO: The Ascension vs. Cesaro and Kidd
After a cooling off period, it seems Creative is giving The Ascension another shot at being something other than that thing JBL yells about when he isn’t telling those kids to get off his lawn. Meanwhile, Cesaro and Kidd are turning in excellent technical work and getting a face reaction that both have rightfully earned by this point. This was a perfectly acceptable match, and probably the best one The Ascension have had since being brought up from NXT.
Cesaro is wonderful. That is all.
The Finish: Der Cesaro Swing into Das Boot. Fin.
The Time: 4:01
The Good: Cesaro makes everyone look good and Kidd continues to turn in quality work rate with a fluidity you just don’t see very often.
The Bad: Short tag matches on a three hour show make zero sense, but I suppose it’s better than a 10 minute match of nothing but chin locks.
The Rating: ** out of *****
Backstage, Seth calls Kane a moron. That seems harsh. It’s not his fault he’s a Libertarian.
MATCH THREE: Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins
Here we have a rematch of their bout on last week’s Smackdown. However, nobody watches that garbage, SO IT IS ALL NEW TO ME!
As usual, Ambrose and Rollins work incredibly well together, putting on a thoughtful and properly paced match. Ambrose has the unique talent of being able to kick a match into that next gear all by himself, and certainly is the pace setter in this match. There isn’t much else to say: These guys never fail to entertain, Ambrose being in the main event is the right decision, and Seth’s angry face is always funny.
One of the best television matches on RAW in a long while. Give it a watch.
The Finish: A failed J&J Security run-in gives Ambrose the opportunity for a roll-up and the victory.
The Time: 16:40
The Good: Seth’s springboard kick, Ambrose’s intensity, and the correct finish for both guys.
The Bad: I wish Ambrose would take that variation of Rainmaker Okada’s Rainmaker Lariat that he used on Smackdown and make it a regular move in his arsenal. Alas.
The Rating: **** out of *****
Backstage, Kane and Seth are yelling at each other once again like any long-term couple. Kane has a plan. Seth looks constipated. Moving on.
MATCH FOUR: Fandango vs. Rusev w/ Lana
Before the match, Lana is interviewed by Syron Braxton backstage in what is assumed to be yet another step in transitioning the Ravishing Russian into a face. Look: I get why they think Lana can work as a face. She is a personality driven entertainer, attractive, and clearly has motivation to perform well. However, I’m not sure that splitting up Rusev and Lana via the “Marc Mero and Sable Method” is such a great idea in the long term.
I suppose we’ll see. Oh, right, there was a wrestling match. It was over in the time it took to write the above paragraph. Squash, squash, squashity squash.
At least Rusev has moved on from just beating up The New Day every week. After all, they’re too busy celebrating.
The Finish: RUSEV SMASH.
The Time: 2:11
The Good: I find Fandango’s creepy love machine routine corny and entertaining. Also, see the below GIF.
The Bad: Beating up the dancing chimp doesn’t make Rusev look particularly strong. However, that red and yellow jacket is doing quite nicely.
The Rating: SQUASH out of *****
At least the segment gave us the GIF below. Okay, maybe Lana can work as a face. We’ll see.
MATCH FIVE: Stardust vs. R Truth
I suppose this “sort of a feud” gives these two something to do until Creative figures out what to do with the both of them. Sadly, both Stardust and Truth fall in the catagory of “mid-card guys that are lost in the shuffle”. They aren’t on the same level as Ambrose, Sheamus, Neville, or Barrett, yet they aren’t slumming it with the likes of Heath Slater or Los Matadores.
Being stuck in this nether region is dangerous, as that is when the fans — and Creative — begin to forget about you as a performer. Both guys deserve better.
Sorry, I digress. There was a match. Plastic spiders were involved. It sucked. Let’s move on.
The Finish: T Truth, ever terrified of spiders, freaks out at Cody’s bag of plastic arachnids, giving the former Beautiful One time to score a roll-up victory.
The Time: 3:05
The Good: Stardust never fails to be entertaining and R Truth is more over with the crowd than most would expect him to be.
The Bad: Sure, comedy. Whatever. The spider bit was still a stupid ending.
The Rating: SQUASH out of *****
SEGMENT D: “WHY DO I LIKE THE JOHN CENA OPEN CHALLENGE SO MUCH? WHY?”
As much as it pains me to admit, the John Cena Open Challenge has been the one segment on RAW since WrestleMania that I always make sure to catch live. Maybe I enjoy title matches, no matter if the ending is set in stone. There’s something interesting about Cena coming out each week and throwing down the gauntlet.
Smarks can hate Cena all they wish, but this promo was a great example as to why John is still the company’s ace and a legend in the business. Cena weaves a fantastic promo that leads into a surprise appearance by Bret Hart.
It’s good to see Bret. I will always love The Hitman. It’s a shame he was never able to have a second stage career revival like Shawn Michaels managed from 2002 to 2010. In an alternate reality, Bret Hart vs. the likes of Kurt Angle, CM Punk, and Brock Lesnar may have occurred. I want to go to there.
Everyone involved in this segment was golden. Heath Slater continues to be the best “jobber to the stars” that WWE has available. More to the point, WWE managed to make every NXT fan pass out from sheer emotion and excitement by bringing out Sami Zayn, your new future favorite wrestler ever.
Everything about this segment worked to perfection. Good on WWE Creative for doing the smart thing and making the Open Challenge genuinely intriguing, as well as exciting.
SEGMENT D GRADE: A
MATCH SIX: Sami Zayn vs. John Cena (c) (UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH)
The best and worst thing about John Cena is that he performs to the level of his opponent. Lucky for him, as well as everyone watching, that someone was Sami Freaking Zayn.
I could write 1500 words on what exactly makes Zayn such a great performer, but the only answer that matters is that he is the consummate showman. Sami makes every punch, fall, dive, and flip look as impactful and real as possible. I’m not talking about Dolph Ziggler’s style of overselling to the point of looking like a cartoon character. Zayn’s ability to sell is nuanced. Pay close attention to the little things, such as how he kicks out of Cena’s AA or how he reacts to John’s punches towards the finish of the match.
To steal a line from another NXT talent: You can’t teach that.
The clip I’ve provided hits the match’s broad strokes, but do yourself a favor and find the full bout. It is worth your time and gives the WWE Universe a quick glimpse at what they can expect from Sami in the future.
The Finish: Cena lands his springboard stunner and a second Attitude Adjustment for the victory.
The Time: 10:40
The Good: This could have easily been a squash. Kudos to Cena for letting Sami go to town with some of his best spots, including that incredible corner post dive DDT.
The Bad: Yes, Sami botched a few times. However, I think it can be forgiven considering that not only was he hurt, but that this was most likely the largest — and loudest — crowd he has ever worked for — His hometown crowd, no less.
The Rating: **** out of *****
Backstage, The New Day are CELEBRATING ALL OVER THE PLACE. The tag champs have a short interaction with Cesaro and Kidd and I begin to wonder if I’ve slipped into an alternate reality where RAW is entertaining and worth my time each week.
Wait, never mind. Here come the Bella Twins. Reality averted.
SEGMENT E: “WHICH DIVA IS FACE AND WHICH ONE IS HEEL? I CAN’T TELL.”
The Bellas come to the ring, only to get stomped by Naomi and a returning Tamina Snuka, who apparently can only fulfill one role, that of a female Diesel.
I know that Naomi is supposed to be the heel in this equation, but it’s awfully hard to not enjoy watching her stomp the crap out of Nikki and Brie. After all, it was only two weeks ago that the Bellas were supposed to be the snotty, high school-esque heels.
Shrug. I give up. Wake me up when NXT starts and I can watch actual women wrestlers.
SEGMENT E GRADE: C
MATCH SEVEN: King Bad News Barrett and Sheamus vs. Neville and Dolph Ziggler
I feel like this dueling feud is a good use of all four competitors who fill the same spot of “upper mid-card” on the roster. Frankly, all four of these guys are interchangeable as the go-to top mid-carder who is waiting to be elevated. Creative has done an excellent job of protecting all four, especially Neville, who appears to have quickly become a fan favorite and avoided any talk of an NXT call-up curse.
This tag match was nothing spectacular, but it does the job in regards to keeping story lines moving forward. I hope this means that the Neville/Barrett rubber match is coming, as both guys have worked very well together thus far.
The Finish: Neville becomes distracted at the sight of Sheamus’ mohawk, allowing Bad News to hit The Bullhammer for the win.
The Time: 8:41
The Good: I’m glad to be seeing Neville placed in such a high spot on the roster, despite only being around a month. All four guys work well together and a tag match is a good way to keep things moving without hurting any of the individual wrestler’s story lines.
The Bad: In a RAW already packed with matches that received decent time, this match was bound to get less than ten minutes. I wouldn’t hate seeing this match in a 15 minute version.
The Rating: ** out of *****
The main event comes fast, as Orton and Reigns hit the ring. J&J Security come out to announce stipulations to the match, with the duo, Kane, and Rollins all being at ringside.
MATCH EIGHT: Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns
Well, at least it isn’t a tag team match.
There really wasn’t much going on for this match, as it is a clear “push the story line forward” moment. The bout didn’t last very long, shenanigans were abound, and eventually Ambrose hits the ring and stands tall over all four men set to be in the Payback main event.
It was what it was.
The Finish: Reigns wins by DQ after Kane gets lonely.
The Time: 6:15
The Good: Orton and Reigns work well together, as this is yet another week where Roman doesn’t overtly offend my senses.
The Bad: Gee, with all of these bad guys at ringside I just have no idea at all what will happen.
The Rating: * out of *****
THE FINAL WORD
Was Vince asleep? Maybe Mr. McMahon wasn’t in the arena? He certainly didn’t appear to have his mitts on the script for tonight’s RAW.
Of course, I mean this as a good thing. Triple H and company have a good eye and ear for what makes a weekly show work and The Game’s fingerprints are all over this week’s episode.
There were a few great matches, some legitimate surprises, and nothing was so bad as being cringeworthy. Quite honestly, this was the best RAW of the year thus far. Go out of your way to see the Ambrose/Rollins and Zayn/Cena matches, but maybe put the 90 minute Hulu version on and sit yourself down for some wrestling.
Thanks for reading. Until next time.
Will Harrison is a freelance journalist covering the video game industry for The Toledo Blade, a daily print newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. You can contact him at @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.