WWE has never been shy about trying to grab the spotlight. It goes all way back to Vince McMahon’s affiliation with MTV in the 1980s. Grab something that is a hot topic, attach yourself to it, and ride the wave.
Really, it’s a smart move.
That trend continued into the ’90s, when Vince booked Lawrence Taylor in a match at WrestleMania XI while he was still a lightning rod for controversy, and who can forget Mike Tyson’s involvement at WrestleMania XIV, when Tyson was still considered the “baddest man on the planet.”
So it should come as no surprise that WWE, more than once on Monday’s Raw, invited Michael Sam to their program next week. Sam, the first openly-gay player in the NFL, was cut by the St. Louis Rams over the weekend as NFL teams trimmed their rosters to 53 players. WWE invited Sam to their show next week, and said if he accepts, they’ll give him an open microphone. This is on the heels of Darren Young announcing last year that he was gay, becoming, at least as far as I can remember, the first openly-gay wrestler in a WWE locker room.
Will it result in any buzz? Not likely. Unless Sam decides to show up …
Confusing “Highlight Reel” opens the show
The show opened with a Chris Jericho “Highlight Reel” segment that soon devolved into a confusing, twisted mess.
If you watched WWE’s television last week, you were sure that John Cena would challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions, because the match was announced. They hyped it. There were graphics, and everything. Yet all of a sudden, Cena’s title shot seems to be in jeopardy. Given how the show ended – we’ll get to that in a bit – this seems like just a little wrinkle to get them through the weeks until the pay-per-view, but man, was it confusing.
Jericho, Cena, Randy Orton, Kane, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins all claimed to have rights for a title shot against Cena. Orton went as far as saying his loss to Reigns at SummerSlam “didn’t matter.”
Wins and losses need to matter.
Triple H booked a six-man tag for later in the show, and said he would be at ringside to watch the match and decide who is “best for business.” Triple H and Jericho had some good back-and-forth daggers during this promo, but what really stood out was how serious Cena was. He incorporated a tad, just a smidge, of hokiness when he spoke, but his demeanor was noticeably different. He didn’t veer to the camera at the entrance and talk to the at-home audience like he normally does, and he was on a straight line to the ring, ignoring the outreached arms of fans as his eyes were locked on the squared circle.
Cena said before SummerSlam that he was going to have to go “to a dark place” in order to beat Lesnar, and he never did. Really, he never got a chance to. Lesnar hit Cena with the F5 just seconds into the match, and dominated throughout. We’re seeing the evolution of the John Cena character, and given that it’s been relatively the same for the better part of a decade, that’s a positive sign.
Miz & Cesaro def. Sheamus & Dolph Ziggler
Damien Sandow was in Miz’s corner, again acting as his stunt double. I preferred Sandow the past few months, when his imitations varied. The finish came when Sandow tried to wrestle for Miz, which the referee of course said wasn’t allowed. As Ziggler tried to go after Sandow, Miz snuck up from behind and hit the Skull Crushing Finale for the victory.
Layla, Naomi & Summer Rae def. Cameron, Rosa Mendes & Eva Marie
Total Divas is returning soon!
Otherwise, there was no real rhyme or reason for this six-diva tag match. The entire division has focused on Paige and AJ battling for the title, and that’s alright with me. Natalya has been sprinkled in as well, which is a good thing. Right now, they’re by far the three best wreslters in the division, in terms of in-ring work.
This match felt like filler, and that’s really all it was. I’m sure it was to help promote Total Divas, which is making its television return soon, and is prominent in re-runs on the WWE Network. WWE needed to try to remind its audience who these ladies are.
Layla’s team won the match in just over one minute.
Mark Henry & Big Show def. Erick Rowan & Luke Harper via DQ
WWE is going all-in with Mark Henry vs. Rusev, as the Bulgarian, who is now Russian, brute interfered late in the match, kicking Henry in the gut and causing the DQ. They’re angling towards a match, possibly at Night of Champions, and it will be quite the visual. Rusev and Henry are from similar backgrounds and are both hulking individuals.
Henry doesn’t have a shot at a victory, at least he shouldn’t, as it makes much more sense to keep Rusev undefeated moving forward. Assuming Cena loses to Lesnar at Night of Champions for a second straight month, he’s going to need to move into a feud and pick up a win that has some importance. They’ve built Rusev well enough that Cena ending his undefeated streak would carry some much-needed weight, no pun intended.
I thought the Cena-Lesnar match was off?
Coming out of commercial, WWE ran a hype video for Cena-Lesnar at Night of Champions. You know, the match earlier in the show they told us might not happen. Paul Heyman was out next to talk in place of Lesnar, and was once again great on the mic. Heyman had a great line to close the promo, saying Cena is “a cash cow, who will be milked for the last time at Night of Champions.” WWE then ran a graphic hyping Cena-Lesnar at Night of Champions again, despite leading us to believe in the opening segment that maybe it wouldn’t be, if Triple H changed his mind.
Jack Swagger def. Curtis Axel via submission
Ryback is hurt, and Axel slides back into a “jobber to the stars” type role.
Swagger won with an Ankle Lock but the real development came after the match, when Bo Dallas appeared and over-exaggerated Swagger’s losses to Rusev. Dallas said he let down 318 million Americans, and then gave some examples. Dallas was really good here, and really over-the-top exaggerating, which helped put sympathy on Swagger, despite his recent losses.
This is obviously leading towards a match, which should ultimately lead to Swagger getting a win back. It’s a good use of Dallas and should help get Swagger back over after he was used as a tool to put Rusev over in recent months. As backwards and confusing as the booking around the World Heavyweight Championship is on this show, the booking around Swagger was really well done.
Adam Rose def. Titus O’Neil
General filler. They should be pushing O’Neil more. It ended in a roll-up pin.
Rusev def. Zack Ryder via submission
General filler. Rusev dominated. The end. After the match though, they continued to build up the Henry-Rusev feud, as Henry charged the ring and forced Rusev to bail out.
Through the first two hours of the program, Nikki Bella ran vignettes explaining why she hates her sister, Brie, so much. They were called “Growing Up Bella,” and included things like “she stole my prom date” and “she crashed the car and blamed me.” Generally, these were awful, didn’t add anything to their story and just weren’t needed.
Later came an in-ring promo with the sisters and Stephanie McMahon, where Stephanie awarded Nikki exclusive rights to use the Bella Twins theme music. Phew! I’m glad that’s settled. Stephanie then awarded Nikki a title shot.
That brought out A.J. Lee, who reminded Stephanie that she’s due a title rematch against Paige as the former champion. That brought out Paige, which resulted in total chaos.
A.J. and Paige argued, Nikki told Brie she will forgive her if she just quits WWE, and Brie shoved Nikki. As she fell, she also took out Paige. A.J. picked up the Divas Title and skipped around the ring with it as bedlam ensued around her.
One aside here – Stephanie’s heels were gigantic during this segment. I’m sure this was done purposely, but it made for a terrible visual. Stephanie TOWERED over every diva in the ring, especially A.J., and it didn’t do much to make A.J., or anyone else, feel like a big star.
Goldust def. Jimmy Uso
WWE is starting to better define Goldust and Stardust as heels, as Goldust picked up the win and then the Rhodes Brothers attacked an injured Jey Uso at ringside. The crowd still seems as if it wants to cheer for Goldust and Stardust, but segments like this will ultimately quiet those.
John Cena, Chris Jericho & Roman Reigns def. Randy Orton, Seth Rollins & Kane
A really long main event match that spanned almost 25 minutes ended with Cena scoring the victory after a hot tag. The result put us back in the same position we were in to start the show: Cena challenging Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions. Some things progressed, but when it came to the main event story, literally nothing happened. There was no progression at all.
And maybe it was planned that way.
Holiday programs tend to dip in the ratings, even though Raw airs late on a Monday night. Perhaps they were just looking for a way to get to next week without having to explain too much. If so, job well done. Because they won’t have to explain anything.
It was like a Merry-Go-Round … we’re right back where we started.