Joseph Hegarty: Monday Night Raw 02/09/13
First of all, for any readers of my weekly Smackdown column here on LockUP, I extend you my apologies but it’s unlikely that I will continue to write it on a regular basis. If you read my reports to keep up on WWE’s Friday night output without having to watch it, I’d recommend you use my absence as a reason to to bit the bullet and tune in every week because (as you will have learned if you’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks) the WWE are seemingly beginning to broaden their storytelling to include major moments on the B show as well as Raw. However, do not fear dear reader, I will now be writing a new weekly column for LockUP primarily focusing on WWE’s flagship television program, Monday Night Raw. This weekly report intends to use each week’s episode of Raw to inspire analysis and offer insight on more general themes and issues in the professional wrestling industry, as well as describing that week’s action. So without further ado, let’s get straight into another compelling episode of Monday Raw in this hot streak that the WWE has propelled itself into.
This year’s first September episode of Raw began with arguably the hottest heel in professional wrestling right now, WWE’s Chief Operating Officer Triple H, stood in the middle of his ring introducing the WWE Champion Randy Orton. While the new Face of the WWE made his way to the ring, the commentators discussed the current climate of the WWE, with Michael Cole repeating his assertion from Smackdown that a superstar backstage who he did not want to name (for obvious reasons) had described the situation as a reign of terror. John Bradshaw Layfield fought back on the side of the Game, instead characterising it as a reign of order rather than terror. Meanwhile Orton had entered the ring and been given a microphone, he continued to cut a promo on what he felt his responsibilities are as WWE Champion; telling us that as champion and Face of the WWE, it is his duty to uphold the image of the company. By this logic, he claims that if anybody disrespects him they disrespect the entire WWE, this was met by jeers and an outbreak of Daniel Bryan’s “NO!” chant. The viper then latched onto this chant, whether skilfully or coincidentally, wanting to try his hand at a piece of Bryan’s audience participation himself; asking the crowd if the Submission Specialist should face Orton for the WWE Championship at Night of Champions and if he even had the slightest chance of beating the Apex Predator? To which the crowd answered “YES!” while Orton disagreed, before asking several more questions aimed to put down the challenger. However, Randy changed his answer instead selecting Bryan’s other favourite word when he got to his final question: should the No.1 Contender give up his title opportunity at Night of Champions? “YES!” he proclaimed, although unsurprisingly the crowd vehemently disagreed.
The microphone is returned to Triple H, who himself too has a desire to describe his duties, telling us that it is his responsibility to ensure that the WWE puts on the best possible product while remaining to look after the health and welfare of the company’s talent. To this effect he admits to being worried about Daniel Bryan’s ego getting him into trouble, which he blames the WWE Universe for with their incessant “YES!” chanting. However, he dismissed their support since being WWE Champion isn’t a popularity contest (Yes, I’m sure he knows how ironic he’s being with all the politicking – it just adds another layer to his heel persona), and then suggests In a delightfully smug and obnoxious tone that perhaps if he brought the Cruiserweight or European championships back that they’d be nice little goals for the Bryan. The No.1 Contender himself now enters the fold to a chorus from the Iowan fans chanting his name, he then cuts a promo mostly regarding his underdog status finishing on the point that he knows deep down that he can be WWE champion again; claiming that Orton and Triple H must know it too or they wouldn’t be throwing him in gauntlet matches. The COO fires back at Bryan, telling him it’s not them he should be angry at but Big Show for not helping him out despite his ironclad contract, and books the main event for tonight to be Daniel Bryan vs the Big Show. This was a fine opening segment, it set the scene for the episode and continued the main narrative arc with the added layer that Orton and Triple H clearly fear the No.1 Contender taking the title from their grip. All the promo work was delivered well, I’m glad to see Orton not letting the angle down at his end with the previous criticism he has garnered for his mic work. It’s also worth noting that Jerry Lawler for once earned his pay slightly on commentary, putting over Daniel Bryan by pointing out that it took 4 superstars to take him out on Friday.
The second segment of the night sees Orton and Triple H walking and talking backstage discussing their situation, when they bump into Cody Rhodes who asks his former Legacy mentor why he’s trying so hard to avoid a rematch with Daniel Bryan. This gets under their skin, especially after Rhodes adds he thinks that match is clearly what’s best for business (obviously he’s right, this feud is money right now). It is then revealed that the son of a son of a plumber is soon to be married, and with Triple H being the kind hearted soul that he is, although he is not invited to the wedding, he has a wedding present for Cody: a non-title match tonight with the WWE Champion, with the added stipulation that if Rhodes loses he’s fired from the WWE. This was an interesting development that both garnered heat for the pair’s tyrannical heel personas but also added the kind of tension to a match on Raw that is often lacking in the booking of the show.
Raw’s first match of the night saw Fandango take on the Miz as part of their feud that has slowly been simmering around since Summerslam where the ballroom dancer repeatedly encroached on the Miz’s hosting duties. Although, not particularly a slow burn in a good way, more this feud has lacked anything to really set it alight yet (I’m really stretching this flame metaphor aren’t I?), and unless they go with some kind of injury angle then this match didn’t do much to change that. Said injury occurred when the Miz hit a stiff big boot to a seated Fandango, catching (and perhaps breaking) his nose which apparently bled profusely during the commercial break until the doctor was able to stem the flow. Otherwise the match was decent with a few nice looking moves from both men, particularly a modified leg drop from the Ballroom Dancer, but otherwise the match didn’t seem to build to anything further than a reasonably entertaining contest that Miz went on to win with his aesthetically unpleasing figure four leglock. After the match we see Daniel Bryan backstage being advised by Booker T that nobody can beat the McMahon machine and that he shouldn’t try because he’s too good to go back to wrestling in high school gyms; Bryan retorted with Booker T’s catchphrase “Tell me you did not just say that!” before we went to another commercial break. While a reasonably throwaway segment, it’s good to see Daniel Bryan to continue to be associated with big names.
Returning from the commercial break, Raw’s second match of the night pitted Dolph Ziggler against a mystery opponent picked by Triple H, thus continuing Ziggler’s presence in the McMahon tyrant angle and in theory helping to put over Ziggler in his still reasonably new babyface role. The mystery opponent appears to be US Champion Dean Ambrose as he attacks Ziggler from behind, throwing him into the ring post. Ambrose, muttered under his breath that Ziggler would “Learn to respect the business!”, and while this could just be a generic corporate trash talk line, to me it felt like one of the little subtle nods to the smarky fans watching, who read on dirt sheets about Ziggler often being very vocal backstage about how he feels about his direction etc. in the company. To me it definitely seems like they’re marketing one product to two different demographics, a bit like an episode of The Simpsons where the kids can laugh at Homer suffering while the more knowing members of the audience can be amused by the show’s subtle messages. However, the familiar sound of Ryback’s music fills the arena and it appears that he is in fact Ziggler’s opponent; Ambrose as one of Triple H’s lackeys was merely wearing down Ziggler. Due to Ambrose’s interference this match never really got out of the blocks, with it’s storytelling dictating that Ziggler was at a large disadvantage from the get go, presumably to protect Ziggler’s character from being hurt by this loss and to further draw heat for Triple H’s reign of terror. Despite the limitations of this squash-like contest, it remained entertaining due to Ziggler’s selling of the Human Recking Ball’s bullying big man offence, which included a huge belly to belly suplex, repeated slams of Ziggler’s head to the mat and various heelish maneuvers such hair pulling and using the rope for leverage. There was a brief glimmer of hope for Ziggler fans, when he hit the Big Guy with a dropkick to counter the Meathook clothesline, before following it up with punches in the corner. However, this fightback was short lived for the weakened Ziggler, with Ryback managing to successfully hit the Meathook before following it up with his Shellshock finish for the three count. I’m in two minds over Ziggler currently, while it’s sad to see that his star has fallen so far since his Money in the Bank cash-in the night after Wrestlemania, I can also understand that this new involvement with the biggest current angle in professional wrestling is a positive step forward for the Show Off; while it doesn’t offer instant gratification for Ziggler fans, it should help to build a more fleshed out character and ultimately lead to greater success for the former World Heavyweight Champion.
Next up Stephanie McMahon (-Helmsley do we still call her that? Or is it Levesque? Sometimes it hard to know with WWE’s blurring of kayfabe.) makes her way to the ring, before introducing the Big Show, who she claims helped her learn many lessons when she was growing up in the industry (who knew?). They then hug before Stephanie reveals another unknown about the World’s Largest Athlete, he’s flat bottom broke after poor financial dealings over the recession. Then much like JBL to Shawn Michaels several years ago, she seemingly starts to blackmail him over his difficulties, telling him he needs to do as he’s told so he can look after his family. She warns him he won’t be able to support them as the world’s largest gas station attendant and distastefully reminds him that giants don’t medically live as long as other people, before hugging him again and leaving (I could’ve sworn I heard some Y2J chants at this stage, which I suppose is sort of possible considering his past with both performers, still a little odd, mind). When we return from a commercial break we see Show taking his obvious frustrations out on the set backstage. I’ve heard this segment getting some stick, and while I understand where the critics are coming from I think it worked for the most part. Both Show and Stephanie performed well emotionally and on the mic, and while the bankruptcy/blackmail angle has been done before with HBK (five years ago) it’s far from inconceivable that with so much recent financial trouble in the world, the same thing would happen to two wrestlers in that time period. Furthermore, it’s even more conceivable that in the kayfabe cutthroat world of professional wrestling, someone would take advantage of those victims of capitalism.
Raw’s third match of the evening pitted Heath Slater and Jinder Mahall of 3MB (why does Drew Mcintyre never get to wrestle these days?) versus Darren Young and Titus O’Neil. Although it follows no real kayfabe angle, the Prime Time Players face turn is working out well with a lot of “Millions of Dollars” dance moves in the crowd. This was a brief match centering around a few entertaining spots, the first of which was Slater somewhat amusingly imitating O’Neil’s trade mark bark as the match up started. Titus then got Slater in the corner hitting him with multiple stomps, blowing his whistle with each striker, a sort of aerophone based equivalent of Daniel Bryan’s “YES!” kicks; I could see the fans getting into that as a regular babyface sport, hey they could even sell Prime Time Player branded whistles at the merch stand. O’Neil then tagged in his partner who took a nasty looking (but safe, I think) bump, being pulled of the top rope and hitting his head on the turnbuckle on the way down. Slater followed this up by catapulting Young throat first into the bottom rope, as 3MB isolated Mr. No Days Off, giving him a heavy beat down. But of course, following the usual tag match formula, Young fought back with a belly to belly suplex and got the hot tag from his partner, who hit a very nonchalant looking fall away slam on Mahal, before the action broke down with bodies flying everywhere and O’Neil hitting a spinebuster for the three count. After this match we saw another vignette featuring the Wyatt family, with Bray (or the Minister of Sinister as Lawler labelled him) cutting a promo based around the idea of Icarus, the mythical figure who flew too close to the sun, and Kane getting too close to the fire like a lamb lead to slaughter; telling us “He made his bed and now he’s burning in it,” while repeatedly asking “Where is Kane?”. I’m starting to worry a little about the Wyatt family, I am of course still enjoying Bray’s promos and their videos are edited very well, but they seem to be losing steam and I’m starting to wonder if they should maybe have debuted them a little later. Maybe some would call me hypocritical for this criticism, since I advocate the slow build the WWE are using with their headline angle, but at least there is some momentum with that angle, even if not as much as some would like.
Next up is my Match of the Night: Cody Rhodes makes his way to the ring as a tweet he has just sent out appears on the screen, reading “I’m ready for the fight of my life #allin #RAW”, before Orton shortly join him in the ring to begin the contest. The two men lock up (Because every good match starts with one, remember?) and Orton grapples the younger man into the corner, proceeding to strike his former protege with multiple vicious elbows to the head, Randy is really stepping up his game in terms of appearing to be a wretched human being both in and out of the ring. In fact, Michael Cole notes how other wrestlers backstage have been referring to him as the disgrace of the WWE rather than the face. Rhodes fought back with stomps to Orton’s midsection, before throwing his former mentor into the the opposite corner, only for the Apex Predator to explode out of the corner in his signature style with a hard clothesline followed up by a front suplex to the ropes. Orton takes Rhodes outside in an attempt to use the steel steps to his advantage but Cody counters turning the tables (or rather the steps) on Orton before throwing him back in the ring and applying a crossface chickenwing variant, which the Viper managed to slip out of before being hit by a beautiful dropkick from Rhodes. The two wrestled on until in a nice moment Rhodes hit Orton with that signature clothesline that Orton hit earlier. He then attempts to rain down punches on the WWE champion in the corner while stood on the second rope but Orton manages to counter it into a nice variation of his “Vintage” backbreaker. The action then once again spilled to the outside where Rhodes managed to regain some measure of control before having that rug pulled right out from under him with a backdrop from Orton to barricade. Back in the ring, Orton hits a big knee drop to the downed Cody Rhodes, before the camera cuts to backstage where we see many of the roster gathered around a television set cheering on the son of a son of a plumber. As if he can feel their support, Rhodes fights back countering a back body drop attempt (with a move straight out of his brother Goldust’s playbook) dropping down and uppercutting Orton, following it up with a beautiful springboard dropkick for the nearfall. Building some momentum, he earned another very nearfall with his signature Disaster springboard kick, as the fans began to really get behind him, chanting his name. This encouraged the man with his career on the line to go to the top rope and attempt a beautiful looking moonsault, but once more the Viper slithered out of the way, before pinning Cody for a two count and hitting his trademark rope hung ddt. The new Face of the WWE taunts the crowd as they boo him while he stalks his opponent for an RKO to finish him off. With Rhodes up to his feet Orton strikes, but his RKO attempt is magnificently countered into Cody’s own finisher the Cross Rhodes, to a seriously impressive pop from the crowd which gave this writer goosebumps. Alas, Orton kicks out of the cover at two and seven eighths. The crowd cheer on Cody (who shows some great emotive acting here) encouraging him to hold Orton down for that bit longer and keep his WWE career alive, as Cole shouts “Stay on him, Cody!”. Orton uses his veteran’s instinct (God, I’m sounding like a commentator) to cling to the bottom rope for safety, kicking his former mentor away before hotshotting him on the top rope before getting back in the ring. However, Rhodes manages to compose himself, hitting an elbow and following it up with a roll-up pinning combination for a very near fall, once again getting the crowd on the edge of their seat. He then goes once more for the Disaster kick but Orton dodges and Rhodes tweaks his knee. The Viper strikers, stomping on the injured limb, before pulling his former protege in close for the RKO, and the 1-2-3. After that extremely compelling match, it seems like this is the end for Cody Rhodes. Triple H comes out to confirm this, initially putting Rhodes over on the mic but decisively telling Cody and the WWE Universe that “This is a business, and in business you need winners. So Cody, it is with deep regret that I have to tell you you’re fired.” This announcement is greeted with boos from the crowd and a few “Thank you Cody chants.” while the fired wrestler made his way to to the back, utilising some great emotional acting on his way.
After the commercial break we have a change of a change of pace with CM Punk coming out to the now empty ring with Kendo stick in hand. He promises it’s time for no more empty threats, posturing or talking, but no he isn’t talking about the WWE’s headline feud between the McMahon’s and the roster, but instead his own struggle against his former manager and best friend Paul Heyman. Consequently, it did seem a little odd that Punk was more or less complaining about his situation with Heyman while Cody Rhodes had been fired just minutes ago, although I suppose this is somewhat justified by him saying that wrestling is far from his mind right now. The rest of the promo simply built up his impending elimination handicap match with Heyman and his new client Curtis Axel at Night of Champions, he didn’t have too much to work with but as usual he managed to whip the crowd up into a frenzy. This feud is fine so far, with it’s main purpose presumably to occupy Punk while the main event heat is being built up until he finally involves himself to mass hysteria. With Lesnar gone for the time being, Punk and Heyman are what this feud is really about with Axel merely acting as much as a prop as the Intercontinental Championship he currently holds has become, perhaps (somewhat ironically) since Rhodes held the title in 2012. Next we’re treated to a recap of AJ Lee’sbrilliant promo from last week, that CM Punk himself in fact christened it on twitter as a #pipebombshell (aha, so Punk does know what’s going on in the WWE, ah the blurred lines of kayfabe). We then have a pretty decent triple threat match pitting Brie Bella vs Naomi vs Natalya, which featured some nice spots, mostly featuring Naomi’s posterior. However, the match came to an abrupt end when the Divas Champion interfered in the matchup breaking up a pinning combination. This led to the other three women taking down AJ and leaving her incapacitated in the ring; it was later announced backstage by Stephanie McMahon that due to the inconclusive ending of the match all three women will challenge AJ in a Fatal Four-Way at Night of Champions. Our next matchup also featured a challenger for a title at the next pay-per-view, Rob Van Dam taking on Mr. Money in the Bank Damien Sandow, in a rematch from Smackdown that seemed to go a little longer than their clash on Friday night. Both men traded blows in the opening, before Sandow got the upperhand reversing RVD’s hurricanrana attempt into a nice falling powerbomb followed up by a vicious looking big boot. The Whole Dam Show almost got back into with a springboard thrust savate kick but he didn’t follow it up with his signature Rolling Thunder senton due to a distraction from the man he faces at Night of Champions, Alberto Del Rio. The rest of the match mainly consisted of Sandow working Van Dam’s abdomen, receiving some decent heat from the crowd booing him. However, Mr. Monday Night eventually turned the tide and was finally successful in hitting the Rolling Thunder, following it up with his Five Star Frog Splash finish for the win.
Backstage, we witness an angry Cody Rhodes being escorted from the building by security before Josh Matthews manages to grab him for a quick (albeit perhaps as badly timed as usual on his part) interview. I recommend all reading this to check out Cody’s promo work in this segment, the son of a son of a plumber really seemed to come of age cutting a great reality tinged promo concerning the McMahon family’s history burying the Rhodes family and regarding how he will now struggle to provide for his new family. I firmly believe that with his showing in the past whenever creative has given him any kind of character, that’s more developed than just having a moustache, he has excelled (see his runs as Dashing Cody Rhodes followed by his crazed masked character following his broken nose) and tonight has confirmed that. Therefore, for this outstanding performance I am awarding Cody Rhodes with the inaugural Lockup Raw Superstar of the Week accolade. Rhodes is a good example of what I like to call the trickle down process, in which the main event angle benefits the whole roster rather than stealing attention away from them. If Rhodes is to take time off for his marriage, I see it as much better for him to get heat from the main overarching angle than just getting taken out with some generic injury angle (it also gives a bit more legitimacy to the McMahon regime who have so far only threatened firings and not actually dealt any out). This process is perhaps not always perfect (although it’s certainly working well for Rhodes) but in general it seems to work. While there is a risk of the mid-card talent looking weak, in theory they should always come across as strong by being associated with the top level talent; it’s better losing to Randy Orton than losing to say Curtis Axel.
Tonight’s main event pitted a reluctant Big Show vs the No.1 Contender for the WWE Championship, Daniel Bryan, in a match designed by Triple H to punish both men. Before the match up, we are shown a recap from Smackdown where Show was unable to help Bryan as he suffered a four man beat down from Randy Orton and The Shield. Back with Monday night’s action, Big Show tries to tell Daniel Bryan that they don’t have to do this but it appears Daniel Bryan wants to take out his frustrations with the McMahon regime out on the World’s Largest Athlete, who throws him out the ring when Bryan attempts some early offence. However, the underdog returns to the ring and takes Show down with kicks to the bigger man’s legs. The World’s Largest Athlete then attempts to bring a halt to Bryan’s offence with a Spear but the Submission Specialist remains in control hitting Show with a low dropkick. Bryan then attempts to put the Big Show away with his signature kicks followed up by a big DDT but the Giant kicks out. The Flying Goat heads to the top rope but has he comes diving down he his speared out of midair by the World’s Largest Athlete, who then appears to be getting into taking his own frustrations out on the smaller man, before composing himself and attempts to leave ringside before he is met by Triple H and his lackeys the Shield. The Chief Operating Officer demands that Show gets back in the ring and finishes the match: he refuses. Meanwhile in the ring, The Shield end the match by disqualification with a three versus one beat down on Daniel Bryan. The Big Show attempts to enter the ring for the save but the Game warns him he shouldn’t do that if he wants to keep his job, and should instead knockout Bryan. This causes an emotional Big Show to plead “Please, just leave me alone!” as he attempts to leave. However, Stephanie cuts him off halfway down the ramp telling him he has to do this to support his family, causing Show to get back in the ring and, after a brief tease of instead punching Triple H, knocking out Daniel Bryan. Randy Orton’s music hits and Raw goes off the air with Orton standing with one boot on Bryan’s chest and his WWE title held prominently in the air as Raw goes off it (the air that is…)
I hope you enjoyed the inaugural edition of this new Raw column, until next week Raw fans, where we will see the return of WWE Hall of Famer The Rated R Superstar Edge, in his hometown of Toronto; that should be a fun one. Make sure you come back to this blog and tell me what you think by commenting below or tweeting me @HelloHegarty, and let me know what you think the return of Edge will bring. Cheerio.