February 20, 2014 by Joey Keogh
Lately, it’s been sadly rare that Monday Night Raw delivers a surprise of awe-inspiring magnitude. The spectre of CM Punk continues to hang low over the proceedings, and the powers that be in the WWE (hey, that rhymed!) seem intent on pushing wrestlers we don’t care about, while neglecting the guys (and, er, sometimes girls, I guess) for whom we cheer and campaign tirelessly. In a lot of ways, it’s infuriating, but yet we keep watching, hopeful that it’ll get better, that our loyalty will pay off.
This week’s episode was peppered with some of the usual antics, as is to be expected, but somewhat shockingly, it also delivered in ways it hasn’t for quite some time, and it was bizarre in the best possible way. In fact, this is the first Raw in weeks that had me totally captivated, held my attention throughout, and during which I only emitted a few dozen snorts of derision. Well done, WWE! You (kinda) still got it!
Tonight’s proceedings take place in Denver, Colorado, where the crowd are still smarting over their recent Superbowl loss, which let’s face it means absolutely nothing to anyone outside of that particular area. However, this would explain why, when Daniel Bryan makes his grand entrance, as he is wont to do, there is a smattering of boos. To his credit, he doesn’t seem to notice, or maybe he doesn’t care because, well, why should he!?
But before all that, someone who is getting booed out of it is John Cena, the man with the unhappy task of opening the show and getting people pumped for, y’know, whatever the hell they’ve got planned for us tonight. Cole still thinks that last week’s main event was AMAZING, which makes me want to write a strongly-worded letter to the company, to suggest turning his mic off for the foreseeable future.
For all his weaknesses, Cena is a phenomenal speaker, and he usually manages to turn his fortunes around quite quickly, with casual pops for the place he’s in or by passionately divulging his strategies for the match in which he’s about to take part. Tonight, he’s mainly getting pumped for Elimination Chamber. He points at the Wrestlemania sign (of course), while making a wonderful analogy about how he’s been on the road many times and lots of people probably want to kick him out of the car at this stage. Good work, Cena, self deprecation is admirable in a fine specimen such as yourself. You are like the Channing Tatum of the WWE.
While he’s speaking, it occurs to me that his sort-of rival, Randy Orton, has already fought some of his EC opponents and lost, which hopefully doesn’t allude to a win for him at the PPV. A quick mention of Bryan elicits the first “Yes!” chant of the night (funny how the YES Movement isn’t one of the “Did You Know” segments tonight, what a missed opportunity), but it’s less enthusiastic than it should be. As the camera pans over the assembled crowd, a number of signs are presented, which suggest that Denver may be a more interesting place than was at first obvious – one is for 3MB, so kudos to that poor fucker.
We then have a succession of Cena’s opponents, from Cesaro – nèe Antonio Cesaro because that sounded a bit too fancy on a show with someone called Batista – who is finally getting a push thanks to an interesting feud on NXT, a great match on Smackdown against Bryan, and the fact he also beat Orton not too long ago, too. Considering he totally deserves it, it’s great to see Cesaro finally get some recognition – whether he’s in the running to win at EC is another matter entirely, but we can hope. Sheamus emerges, alongside Christian, Orton, and finally Bryan, who delivers one of the best lines of the night by stating that, while all the other guys are busy talking, “These people are doing my talking for me” which naturally elicits rapturous cheers from the crowd.
Just when things are looking a bit dull and samey, Kane emerges to advise that The Authority aren’t here tonight, which means he’s in charge and, as a result, we’re going to get some good matches for once! Cesaro is going to go up against Cena, Orton is fighting Sheamo, and Christian will be taking on Bryan. What is this madness!? All of these matches have the potential to be good! Am I not watching Raw!? But, with some good, we have to take the bad too, including a match pitting Los Matadores and Sin Cara against The Wyatt Family (yes! Bury them where no one can hear Bray Wyatt pontificate!) Mark Henry will also be going up against Roman Reigns, but first up, we have the much-anticipated (as in, over the last few minutes, since it was announced) Bryan match.
Daniel Bryan -v- Christian
Christian ambushes Bryan before the bell has even rung, which bodes well for what’s to follow. There are strong chants for Bryan throughout, as his opponent works a sort-of heel angle that suits his postulated arrogance quite nicely. The focus is mainly on disabling Bryan’s shoulder throughout, which would be exciting and interesting if the goddamn commentators didn’t keep referring to it every two seconds. Seriously, I know this is wrasslin’ and everything, but we don’t need to be spoon-fed that fucking much, guys! Although the chatter does elicit another killer line from JBL, who notes that there are two sides to every story – the truth and Cole’s. Otherwise, it’s nice to see Bryan up against a formidable opponent for once, even though he does take quite a beating. Christian gives as good as he gets, in spite of the fact he surely must be aware that he has no chance against the people’s champion.
Winner: Daniel Bryan (yay!)
Before he can rest up for more beard-stroking and boundary-pushing, Kane has a surprise for Bryan – he’s going to have another match tonight, and it’s against…him! Oh no! Corporate Kane is even scarier than regular Kane, in spite of his lack of mask with attached fake hair!
(Corporate) Kane v Daniel Bryan
As is to be expected, given what we’ve just witnessed, there isn’t a whole lot to this match. For a lot of it, Bryan just lies there and takes it. Kane, having removed his dress shirt to reveal a snazzy undershirt and some impressive guns that weren’t there a year ago, looks a bit like a dodgy accountant who hides out in someone’s attic, just waiting for the feds to turn up at any moment and rumble him. Given he’s in better shape now, he’s a good match for Bryan, but sadly the latter is far too exhausted to do anything of interest. Even after Kane is disqualified for going a bit too far, he continues to beat his ex-friend because, let’s face it, he’s the Director of Operations so what does he care!?
Thankfully, the camera helpfully pans away from Bryan’s crumpled form to the commentators, who are dubiously happy as always. But no matter, Renee is with The Shield! And they are in fine form, selling the fact that they are a team and nothing can break them apart, blah blah blah – we get it, their days are numbered, but come on, please keep them together! Otherwise Rollins is going to have to commute between the houses of the other two and be a latchkey kid! Renee asks Reigns how he feels about his upcoming match against Mark Henry, and Ambrose butts in to explain that he beat the shit out of him last week, thus softening him up for his comrade, who couldn’t handle him otherwise (in spite of being much bigger).
Rollins assures Renee, in spite of this assertion, that they’re always on the same page, bless him, and Ambrose does a weird thing with his hands that makes me laugh. Sometimes, I swear, he thinks he’s a fucking pantomime villain and it’s SO awesome. Next, Network plug! Don’t you want to watch all previous Wrestlemania events!? Eh, no, but thanks anyway, WWE. Fandango is already in the ring, dancing around, so I guess he doesn’t get an entrance this week?
Fandango (accompanied by Summer Rae) -v- Santino Marella (accompanied by Emma)
Before the match begins, we are treated to footage of Emma from NXT, which is bizarre because, if the WWE are trying to sell her to us so hard, why don’t they just give her a goddamn match? Like, against Summer Rae, perhaps? Anyway, she irritates me, and her entrance music is the worst I’ve ever heard (yes, even worse than AJ’s, who is sadly missing tonight, along with all of the other Divas) so I hope she doesn’t take. Sorry, Emma, my loyalty is to the great Summer Rae, who may or may not be dressed as a Disney princess half the time. Anyway, this is essentially the same match as before, only with the addition of Santino’s cobra. Snore. The only time that was ever funny was when it was charmed by Jinder Mahal. At one point, Emma steals focus by spinning Summer around, which makes it momentarily interesting.
Winner: Fandango (dances away smugly)
Renee is busy tonight, she’s now with Mark Henry, who’s sporting some new merch emblazoned with a ticket to the house of pain, which is a nice touch. He says he’s allowing entrance for only one person tonight, Reigns. Ooooooh.
Mark Henry -v- Roman Reigns
As the participants take their spots in the ring, we get another good look at some of the impressively clever signs in the crowd – in particular, one sporting Batista’s smug, sunglass-sporting head alongside the simple words “Boo this man” As The Shield enter, King makes a timely reference to the Ba-Ha Men and their classic hit song, by asking “who let the dogs out?” That joke was funnier, and cleverer, when Will Ferrell asked “who let the cats out, huh?” about ten fucking years ago. King is also a bit too fond of the word “collision”, the meaning for which he should really learn before he tries to use it again to describe a meeting of two sweaty, oiled-up dudes in a ring.
Winner: Roman Reigns (stares lovingly towards Rollins)
Ambrose is so jealous of his friend’s win, he attacks Henry, which leads a bemused Reigns to enquire “What are you doing?” from the safety of the ring. Then, the giant head of Bray Wyatt appears on the screen to spew garbage for what seems like an eternity. Thankfully, Reigns invites them out before it can go on too long, and they appear in all of their, em, glory. But nothing happens yet again. Clearly, this is supposed to create anticipation for their match at EC, but it’s pretty repetitive and boring at this stage, which doesn’t bode well for the match itself. Elsewhere, the Rhodes brothers are playing with Stack Down toys and reminiscing about their disturbing childhoods, when Bad News Barrett shows up to wreck their fun! Okay, it’s not exactly going to drive the story forward or amount to anything in the long run, but this was a brilliant segment, and in a lot of ways, it captured the spirit of WWE.
Kofi Kingston -v- Jack Swagger
Another surprise of the night is that this match isn’t terrible! Kofi, as always, is delighted just to take part, while Swagger, accompanied by the great Zeb Coulter whom, I learned this week, has been sporting that moustache for most of his adult life, does his best to distinguish himself from Curtis Axel, who is basically the same person. Coulter shouts things from the sidelines throughout, but for once it isn’t really necessary, because both participants are lively, and involved, and into it. Of course, it ends somewhat stupidly, with Kofi tapping out of a Patriot Lock (definitely NOT the same thing as an Ankle Lock).
Winner: Jack Swagger (Coulter twirls his moustache happily for days to come)
2-on-1 Match: Big E Langston -v- Drew Mc Intyre and Jinder Mahal
Yes! 3MB represent! Coulter is hanging around to talk shit during this match, even though it has nothing to do with him, but who cares, he’s fun. For instance, he asks Big E what the E stands for, then guesses “Embarrassed” is the answer because he’s going to get his ass beat at EC. The crowd boo like crazy, especially when he mentions the Broncos loss, which only further cements the fact that Coulter is a fantastic heel, and should be allowed to haunt the sidelines of each and every match on Raw. Clearly, Heath Slater is too busy perfecting his hair to join him ringside, and Mahal isn’t wearing his sparkly pants for once, which is really off-putting, but otherwise this match serves its purpose – it’s fun, silly, and includes some interesting moves, like when, after being tag-teamed by his opponents, Big E turns it on them and knocks both of them out in one fell swoop.
Winner: Big E Langston (his giant man breasts offer a celebratory jiggle)
Three, fairly meh, promos follow; the first being that cheap-ass one for Rusev, who nobody gives a shit about, while the second focuses on EC. Accompanied by a super-serious voiceover, it argues that this is the scariest, toughest, PPV ever, which of course means it won’t be. The first segment of Black History Month to make any sense is then delivered, which features Ron Simmons, the first black World Heavyweight Champion. It’s the only interesting addition to this feature thus far – moving, but informative also, with a lovely piece from the Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, and absolutely no mention of The Rock! Finally, we are sold Wrestlemania once again, with the same serious voiceover, and zero mention of how awesome and fun New Orleans is, for once. Meanwhile, Renee is with none other than John Cena, who proves once again just how good of a talker he is, before running happily off to his match.
Cesaro -v- John Cena
This is arguably the best match of the night, with both participants giving absolutely everything they’ve got – Cena, because he always does, and Cesaro, because he has to – delivering awe-inspiring move after move and taking brutal hits like the champs that they are. Much like Bryan, it’s nice to see Cena against an actual opponent, instead of a jobber, or Randy fucking Orton yet again. It’d be great to see Cesaro win the EC and get a MASSIVE push to Wrestlemania but it seems unlikely. Given the strength of Cena’s performance lately, it wouldn’t be terribly annoying if he won it, though let’s face it, anyone against Boo-tista is going to suck.
Winner: Cena (rapadooooo!)
It’s Presidents Day, apparently, even though it hasn’t been mentioned thus far, so here’s a quote from Abe Lincoln, just to interrupt the proceedings. Drink it in, folks. The magic. Inspirational, isn’t it? On Monday Night Raw. I’d struggle to think of a more fitting place to showcase the deep thoughts of Lincoln than on Raw. Maybe Clone High?
Orton is backstage with Trips whom, as you remember, isn’t even supposed to be here today. The two are chatting amicably, until Orton starts laying into Boo-tista who, as luck would have it, is standing right behind him, waiting for his line – speaking of which, the Guardians Of The Galaxy trailer debuted this week and Boo-tista’s totally going to be the best thing in that movie, right!?
Orton runs away like a scared little girl, leaving Davey to lay into Alberto Del Rio, who is sporting a neck brace and has no match tonight so is basically hanging around, waiting to be beaten up. And he is. Hopefully this means he’ll beat Batista’s ass at EC.
Elsewhere, the busiest (only?) journo in the WWE is now with Titus O’Neill, who is wearing a suit, so he must also have no match tonight. Titus is pissed off at his ex-partner Darren Young, and he reckons the word “champion” is spelled T-I-T-U-S. Grammar and common sense are both taking a hit tonight, clearly. Some shit happened on Smackdown that nobody cares about. This really advances nothing, it just happens and then it’s over.
Los Matadores and Sin Cara -v- The Wyatt Family
Speaking of shit nobody cares about, and advancing nothing, this match is a big pile of shit. Easily the worst of the night, nothing of note happens and it lasts a pretty long time in spite of itself. That still isn’t Sin Cara.
Winners: The Wyatt Family (follow the giant head)
Bad Ass Billy Gunn -v- Jey Uso
Thankfully, it’s followed up by this pairing, of one half of the awesome New Age Outlaws versus one of The Usos. It’s Jey, because Jimmy is doing commentary with none other than Road Dogg! So even if the match is dull, at least the commentary should be lively. In all seriousness, at least it’s not just the New Age Outlaws versus the Rhodes brothers again. This lot are against each other at EC for the Tag Team Championship, even though really it should be the Rhodes brothers, right? But who cares, anything that involves the Outlaws is cool by us! Emphasis is placed on Gunn’s age, as he struggles to catch his breath and even falls out of the ring at one point, Dogg rushing to his aid like the pal he is. The match is all mostly by the book and silly, but the commentary livens it up, as expected, as Dogg and Uso trade barbs about Daddy Uso (Rikishi, who starred in a recent episode of Nickelodeon’s Victorios, much to my amusement) fighting the Outlaws back in the day “Gee, you guys are OLD” Jimmy seems to want to say, but doesn’t, because he’s not Michael Cole.
Winner: Jey Uso (when I say JOB, you say ER)
There’s a theme tonight of matches continuing even after the bell has rung, and this one is no exception, as the two other members of the opposing tag teams get involved despite the face it’s supposed to be finished. Perhaps this is meant to hint at the viciousness of the upcoming EC? Or maybe the writers are just getting lazy, and simply telling the stars to “keep going” after all has been said and done, with no further instructions.
Elsewhere, the man who is not Renee (or Josh, who I hope is still employed/alive), now identified as Byron, is interviewing Sheamo about what else – being Irish and foightin’. Apparently, his aggressive side is his best side. I disagree, I think the side of him that eats Sunday dinner at his Ma’s place in Cabra is his best side, but whatever. He makes a fleeting reference to “Irish style” which I presume translates to “drunk” Unfortunately, when Sheamo gets excited, his accent gets thicker, and no matter who’s interviewing him, it always becomes clear that he/she has stopped following and is merely holding the mic up, hoping to stop if any curse words present themselves. I’m sure he could say “bollocks” and get away with it, though, like Colm Meaney on Star Trek.
A quote from Roosevelt now, before the match begins, because that makes total sense…
Randy Orton -v- Sheamus
Chants for CM Punk open the match, though they only seem to bother crybaby Orton. Sheamo is happy to be there, much like a very, very, very white version of Kofi. At least Orton seems to be slightly more awake this week. The commentary is mind-numbingly bad throughout, in spite of the fact this is otherwise a decent match. We are constantly reminded that Sheamo had a shoulder injury and that Orton is now focusing on it, which is obvious to anyone with eyes. Lately, it isn’t Raw unless someone goes through the announce table, and this week, it’s Sheamo’s turn to cause Cole to shriek, King to look confused, and JBL to grin hugely. Suddenly, with little warning, The Shield turn up! “But…but…their intro music didn’t even play”, stutters Cole, desperately checking his notes. John Cena! Daniel Bryan! Cesaro! “The ring is chaos” Indeed, it is. Christian! The Wyatts! Suddenly, it’s a mass of bodies, EC-style, and as everything turns a bit gay – er, I mean, rough – the camera cuts out and Raw is over for another week. A classic ending, if ever there was one.
A shockingly good Raw this week, already one of the best this year thus far, with a focus on decent matches and popular, likeable, stars. There were funny moments, interesting twists, decent segments, and even a lack of promos, which is a welcome change from recent weeks, during which all we were getting was “BUY THIS SHIT!!!” from all angles.
It was a great choice to let some other people do commentary (thankfully that idiot who shall not be named did not turn up to plug his “film career” this week), too, and, even though Cole is still the WWE lapdog, there were enough JBL quips to keep us laughing, when the main trio took over.
Denver was an enthusiastic crowd, with a wonderful array of signs that almost require another viewing to truly appreciate, and everybody seemed on top form – in particular, Cena, who is really the driving force behind the show, and at times the only one who gives a damn, Cesaro, who is finally getting the push he deserves, and of course our beloved Bryan, whose star continues to rise.
Can the EC PPV live up to this go-home show lead in? Only time will tell, but after this week’s Raw, I’m surprisingly optimistic about the chaos of the Chamber. But if Orton wins yet again, I cannot be held responsible for my actions.