Joseph Hegarty: Monday Night Raw 16/09/13
I start this week’s LockUP report on Raw with a brief explanation of change, as his week I will be trying something different with my weekly column. After my transition a fortnight ago from Smackdown correspondent to that of Raw, I have found that the full in depth reporting style that I previously used in my Smackdown column does not directly translate to the longer three hour format of the WWE’s Monday night output. Not only does it take a significant amount of time and words (averaging around 5000) for you to read and for me to write to cover the 3 hours of the WWE’s flagship content, but I also feel that in trying to address every single detail on Raw I am perhaps limiting myself in the amount of true insight I can offer; perhaps unfortunately falling into the trap of describing rather than analyzing. For these reasons, I am experimenting with the new concept of Monday Night Four, in which I single out 4 elements, segments, matches etc. that most interested me on this week’s episode of Raw. Hopefully, this bring a more concise, meaningful, insightful and most importantly hopefully a more enjoyable experience for you the reader here at LockUP wrestling. Don’t fear, I’ll still do a little recap somewhere in the column of everything that’s not included in the more in depth focuses, plus all my column usual bells and whistles including Raw’s Superstar of the Week and Match of the Night, as well as a new Raw Word of the Day feature. So Ladies and Gentlemen, if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin.
This week’s episode of WWE Monday Night Raw came hot on the heels of the rather underwhelming September pay-per-view Night of Champions. While from my view, that show didn’t do much particularly bad, neither did it to anything particularly good. It was quite the middle of the road affair, with comparisons of it to a regular episode of Raw not being that unfair. However, while it’s rather uneventful nature may well disappoint the pay-per-view customer, perhaps also discouraging them from shelling out their money next time WWE comes to PPV next month at the debut Battleground (replacing 2010-2012’s Over The Limit) show in Buffalo, New York, last night’s events did set up Raw to be an intriguing. Night of Champions only really had two moments that really stood out at all as extraordinary, however both these occurred in the show’s two biggest matches: Daniel Bryan’s surprising pinfall victory over WWE Champion (albeit through a fast count from senior referee Scott Armstrong) and Ryback’s rescue of Paul Heyman, who was finally at the mercy of former best friend CM Punk, leading the Walrus to a shock victory over the Best in the World.
In the first of our Raw Four focus points, Daniel Bryan opened the evening’s entertainment entering the Quicken Loans Arena to the introduction from Justin Roberts as the new WWE Champion and a deluge of “YES!” chants from the Cleveland crowd. The WWE universe does not seem to be tiring Bryan’s the main event push and seem genuinely pleased to see the WWE Championship return around his waist. Bryan thanks the fans for their ovation telling them “You guys are awesome!” before informing them that while there might be many ways to celebrate this victory, “YES!” says it best, before once again leading the more than reciprocal crowd in a rendition of his favourite word. However, this celebration is cut short due to the interruption of the WWE’s Chief Operating Officer, Triple H, who enters to audible boos and wishes to address the “800 lb gorilla in the room”, the fast count which sealed Daniel Bryan’s second WWE Championship win the previous night. The COO therefore decides to bring out the official in charge of that match, Scott Armstrong, who is welcomed by a chorus of “NO! NO! NO!” by the fans in attendance. In true WWE style, next up the footage was well and truly rolled, and we saw several recaps of the fast count, Armstrong’s regular count and then both counts side by side, showing us that the decisive three count lasted roughly the same duration as the referee’s standard two count. The exact point of this segment other than for progressing the narrative is unclear, perhaps it’s not productive to speculate any other reasoning, it surely isn’t to bury Bryan who is well and truly being pushed to the moon by the WWE who could have easily booked him to lose or only win by disqualification as is more commonplace in situations similar to his where the babyface chases the heel champion. Speaking of the heel champion, perhaps he could be a possible more underlying reason for the repeated proof of the speed of Armstrong’s three count, in order to keep him looking strong despite losing his title; we’ll see more of this later in the night. My only other speculation for the delivery of this opening segment is both to further put the Cerebral Assassin over as a heel and to give WWE a more realistic feeling presentation with sports like coverage of last night’s events, scrutinising replays in detail. Triple H demands answers from Scott Armstrong, who timidly responds, “It was a fast count, I don’t know.” before being further pushed to admit “I made a mistake.” The COO expresses that he thinks the referee is not telling the whole truth, this seems to spur Armstrong to turn and say something inaudible to Daniel Bryan. Triple H appears to be trying to set up Bryan in some kind of match fixing scandal, telling us that Armstrong had in fact said “They’ve got us”. He then quickly decides he is vacating the WWE Title at least until further investigations have been undertaken; he’s obviously been studying his dictionary as he claims that the WWE title will be held in Abeyance (see below for the WWE Word of the Day). From the presentation of this angle, from the both the in ring performers and the commentators, there seems to be no reason to believe that Bryan has in fact turned heel and contracted Armstrong’s help in regaining the championship in some sort of screwjob. Of course, why would they book that angle it would be a ridiculous decision to turn Bryan heel in this situation, but it seems prudent just to clarify. Triple H further sticks the boot in, telling Daniel Bryan that he has disgraced himself, his family and the entire WWE. He adds that further edge to the segment by telling the WWE Champion that he is ashamed of him and that he thought Shawn would’ve taught him better, of course referring to his own best friend in wrestling and one of the trainers of Bryan in his early career; I liked this little detail. The action then picked up once more as Bryan’s opponent from the previous night, Randy Orton, makes his way to the ring looking ready for a fight. However, the Chief Operating Officer demands that there will be no fight tonight, and tries to diffuse the situation before ordering Bryan to hand over the WWE Championship, who shouts “NO!” but is hit with an RKO from Orton while Triple H tries to wrestle the belt from the champion’s grip. The COO then turns his back on the situation and takes the title belt with him, ending the night’s first segment, as the crowd loudly chanted “Randy Sucks!” After we return from our first commercial break of the night, we’re backstage where Stephanie McMahon is discussing with her husband discussing the events before the break, before Randy Orton interrupts their condemnation of Daniel Bryan; the Viper is not in the best of moods. He angrily questions why the WWE Championship has not been restored to him and passionately demands he is given it back. Stephanie steps in with demands of her own, warning him to be more respectful of the Chief Operating Office of the WWE. She explains that Orton has let them down by losing last night (so it wasn’t a fix?), before she puts him down as a toothless viper (God, they should get me writing these promos eh?) and tells him as far as they’re concerned he deserved to lose last night. She then proceeds the cut a promo similar to her father’s classic “We want the old Stone Cold.” as she asks Orton what has happened to the “Sick bastard,” who handcuffed her husband and made him watch as he DDT’d her. Finally, she warns him that until he finds that Randy Orton, they might have to find a new face of the WWE. I thought this opening segment worked well moving on the events of the pay-per-view, and while at first I was admittedly somewhat confused by the booking decision that ended the championship match at the weekend, this segment (and the rest of Raw) delivered on that choice and it may well have been the best decision they could’ve made. It was certainly a more surprising decision than a more typical DQ or countout finish.
WWE Word of the Day:
n. A state of temporary disuse or suspension:
“Matters were held in abeyance pending further enquiries”.
An honourable mention is given to “Cadence”.
This week’s second Monday Night Four focus came in the form of a returning WWE Hall of Famer. Each episode of Raw in the past three weeks has had a segment featuring a Rhodes family member, firstly (and best in this writer’s humble opinion) Cody Rhodes battling for his career and having it unjustly taken away from him through the combined forces of Triple H and Randy Orton, before his older Brother Goldust returned to Raw failing in an attempt to win Cody’s job back, and now this week Raw hosts the family patriarch “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. However, he quickly casts off his gimmick persona as he begins to address the fans in attendance as well as us at home, establishing a worked shoot mode to the promo by telling us that this is Virgin Runnels speaking. However, he goes on to declare that this isn’t about him but about his son Cody’s job and what’s “Best for business.” Harking back to “Hard Times” and some of the other classic promos of his career, Dusty stresses that it is family that is best for business. He claims he is proud of both his sons and that he is simply here to ask for Cody to have a chance to earn his spot on the roster. He then invites Stephanie McMahon to the ring, who apparently has a business proposition for him. Stephanie mocks dusty telling him “That was beautiful!” but Rhodes maintains Stephanie declared she had a gift for Rhodes, it looked like some kind of gift card (maybe a wedding present) it may have been an American reference that went straight over my head. She then compares herself to Dusty, stating that while he may be the son of a plumber, she is the daughter of a genius. Surprisingly she then offers a job to the Rhodes family, but the catch is Dusty has to choose which of his sons the WWE employs. She is clearly toying with him just as she did with Goldust last week, this provokes the American Dream who tells her to go to hell. This in turn provokes the wrath of The Shield who storm the ring to aid Stephanie, who is still in the ring but now with a different offer for Rhodes: either he is dismembered by The Shield or knocked out by The Big Show (Who we saw earlier in the night once more being threatened by Stephanie over his job security.) However, since Dusty Rhodes once more refuses to make a choice, McMahon makes the choice for him, as she urges the World’s Largest Athlete, who is now in the ring, to knock out the 68 year old Hall of Famer. Show, as he has done so far in the angle, displays confliction, saying he won’t give into the McMahon’s orders before capitulating and doing their bidding to continue to support his family (so if it’s for family does Dusty think Show knocking him out is best for business?). The Giant hugs Dusty telling him “I gotta do it, I ain’t got no choice!” before punching his lights out, catching him before he hits the floor once more cradling him in an embrace. The Big Show cowers over the limp 68 year old’s body, crying while medics see to the fallen Hall of Famer. The commentators put over how disturbing these scenes were before going to commercial break. Much like after tonight’s first segment, as we return from the break we are presented with the fall out of the in ring action. Dusty Rhodes is wheeled on a gurney and lifted into an ambulance followed by a despaired looking Big Show.
Our third Monday Night Four focus centres on a match pitting the former WWE Champion (Remember that?) The Miz versus the defeated WWE Champion of Sunday night, Randy Orton, who enters first before the Cleveland native enters to one of the biggest pops of his career. The Miz greets his parents at ringside who look on with pride before Randy Orton viciously blindsides him from behind, throwing him into the steel steps, then ferociously beating him down on the outside with stiff looking kicks and punches. It appears Stephanie’s earlier pep talk has really got under the skin of the Apex Predator. After returning from commercial break, the match officially starts and the Miz comes out fighting, raining strikes down on Orton. The action spills back to the outside and Miz slams Orton into the barricade and the ring apron; the Cleveland faithful are fully behind their man. However, the fired up Cleveland native is still nursing the injuries inflicted on him before the break and Orton reclaims the upper hand by driving his opponent into the ring post. Regardless, the match ends in a double count out but neither man is concerned this is suddenly about much more than wins and losses. Miz is brutally thrown over the announce table taking a big bump, but Orton’s not done yet as he stomps down on the fallen Miz. The Viper seems to have lost it and he drags Miz over in front of his parents so they can witness this savage beatdown, but this momentary lapse from Orton gives Miz a glimmer of hope from which he hits a clothesline launching the Apex Predator over the barricade. However, once again Miz fails to hold the advantage and Orton hits his signature DDT off the barricade to the floor, which seems to have knocked the former Most Must See WWE Champion unconscious. The Viper drags this debilitated body into the ring, before heading back to ringside to get his hands on a steel chair to inflict yet more punishment, while staring down Miz’s terrified parents. Randy Orton seems to have something twisted planned as he folds the chair around the Miz’s head, he then proceeds to hit a heinous jumping knee drop on Miz’s chair wrapped skull to end this gripping segment. I found myself surprised to enjoy seeing the return of this Randy Orton, as a vocal fan of Randy Orton’s recent face run, and not much of a fan of his heel run, which I found somewhat boring at times. However, I have to admit it felt very refreshing to see Orton in the role that most fans have been clamouring for online for a long while. But it begs the question, why do we like Orton in this mode? Is it that if we know that if he plays this role we’ll find it easier to sympathise with the babyfaces on the roster? Or are we simply just a little unhinged in what we find entertaining? Does the truth in fact lie even deeper than that, do we secretly (or perhaps less secretly) wish we could act like Orton in his psychotic heel role? Whatever the reason, I am certainly interested to see where Orton’s character goes next. On the other side of this segment, what does the future hold for Miz? There’s a parallel with CM Punk 2011 after his infamous pipebomb promo. While the impact of that promo was huge especially on the smart fans, it is important to remember that initially he wasn’t over as a babyface everywhere to everyone straight away, it wasn’t really until the Chicago crowd got behind him at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view that he became a fully-fledged fan favourite. I’m interested to see if a similar hometown effect could encourage fan support to the Miz character that has been struggling to find a connection with his babyface character since his turn almost a year ago, and was torn apart by the Canadian fans in Toronto last week. Of course, it’s extremely doubtful that this week’s injection of hometown support will put Miz over anywhere near the same extent as Punk’s hometown moment did in 2011, but it may still help his floundering babyface run if this influences fans in other cities to get behind him at all. Overall everyone involved, from Miz and Randy Orton to the commentator’s and Miz’s mother sold a great beat down, should be commended for their efforts in making this a standout segment and possibly a landmark moment in both men’s careers; except for perhaps Miz’s dad who is doing the rounds currently as the IWC’s new favourite meme for how disinterested he seemed… For his part in this segment as well as the opening and closing portions of Raw, I award Randy Orton this week’s LockUP Raw Superstar of the Week.
Raw’s main event gives us our fourth and final Monday Night Four focus point, as well as the Match of the Night in which the recently stripped WWE Champion Daniel Bryan faced the powerhouse of The Shield, Roman Reigns. This segment begun with Bryan walking through the backstage area where various superstars expressed their support before he received a hug from his real life partner, Brie Bella, the first time I believe their relationship has been acknowledged other than on the WWE’s reality TV series Total Divas. It will be interesting to see if she takes a larger role in the current Daniel Bryan angle in the future, for now it’s just another example of the WWE offering a reality tinged brand of sports entertainment that continues to move further away from the larger than life superheroes of wrestling’s past. Bryan then made his way to ring before being joined by his opponent Roman Reigns, who is as usual flanked by his fellow Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, but also joined by Randy Orton who takes a seat at ringside. Reigns begins the match by using his superior physical strength to grapple Bryan in the corner but the former WWE Champion in turn uses his own superior ability to turn the tables on the powerhouse. Daniel Bryan goes on to dominate the match up early on as the Cleveland crowd chant his name, while Randy Orton looks on pouting sat at ringside. Reigns eventually stamps his mark on the match with a heavy lariat from behind, before locking Bryan in a rear chinlock, this got the crowd back into the match chanting Daniel Bryan’s name encouraging him to break out of the hold. Which of course he does before hitting his trademark front missile dropkick from the top rope. Bryan follows this up with another of his signature maneuvers now Reigns is on the outside, he catapults himself through the ropes with a suicide dive, but Reigns catches him in an impressive feat of strength, slamming him into the ring apron and then the barricade. Back in the ring Reigns attempts a superplex on Bryan but the former WWE Champion fights out pushing Reigns down to the mat, ready to deliver his signature Flying Goat diving headbutt. However, Reigns dodges and pins Bryan for the nearfall, before hitting his opponent with a nice looking spinout side slam for another two count. This competitive match took another turn however, as Bryan pulled off his comeback routine backflipping off the top rope over Reigns before hitting a crooked arm lariat and Hulking up as the crowd chants “YES!”. The crowd continues to chant as he Bryan delivers repeated kicks to a kneeling Roman Reigns. However, as he goes for the decisive roundhouse blow, Reigns ducks and delivers a huge Samoan drop, then proceeds to gesture to Rollins and Ambrose that he is going to finish Bryan off with a powerbomb. In spite of this, Bryan manages to roll through the powerbomb attempt and hit a pretty looking sunset flip roll up pinning combination for a two count, following up with the hard roundhouse kick to the head which he missed earlier for another nearfall. The Shield sense danger and approach the ring, but Daniel Bryan is on fire and hits a slingshot dropkick through the ropes to Rollins who takes an even nastier looking table bump than the Miz did earlier in the night. Ambrose is next up to get his from Bryan as he hits a dropkick on the US Champion as he attempts to get in the ring, sending him back to the outside. However, this distraction from Ambrose allows Reigns to find a way back into the match with his trademark leaping clotheslines. Nonetheless, when up against the Submission Specialist he can lock on YES! Lock at any moment and that’s exactly what happened next. Despite this, Daniel Bryan was never going to get a clean victory under the watchful eye of his arch rival Randy Orton who hit the ring only to eat a YES! Lock of his own. However, the numbers game soon catches up with Bryan as Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose come to Orton’s aid and the three of them beat down the fan favourite. Orton places a steel chair around Bryan’s head just as he did to the Miz earlier in the night. A chant for CM Punk breaks out, but we all know he’s not entering this feud just yet. However, that doesn’t mean Daniel Bryan has no support as the locker room finally comes to his aid led by The Usos and Kofi Kingston. The WWE has done well to hold off this moment until now because this was a truly exciting end to Monday Night Raw, with the roster finally standing up to the Triple H/McMahon regime. Raw went off the air as The Prime Time players hoisted Daniel Bryan up above their shoulders as the whole arena chanted “YES!” I found this conclusion genuinely exhilarating and was marking out like a child. More of this please.
The rest of this week’s Monday Night Raw was highlighted by a great little Bray Wyatt vignette, which you’re probably better off checking out on YouTube rather than me rewording it here. A pretty good Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose match, which was considerably more entertaining than their slightly underwhelming contest the previous night, was probably the highlight of the midcard. Although they were pushed close by the continued resurgence of the tag team division in an elimination tag match between the Usos, Tons of Funk and the Real Americans, with the former and the latter particularly impressing. The other most notable segment on this week’s Raw was the first appearance of the new (dangerous?) alliance of Ryback and Paul Heyman (and Curtis Axel?). The wheelchair-bound Heyman claimed to be the new Best in the World since he defeated CM Punk the previous night, drawing some good heat which he responded to by telling the crowd “Envy is one of the seven deadly sins and we all know how many heathens there are here in Cleveland.” Cue more boos. The biggest revelation of this segment was probably that, according to Heyman, Ryback took it on himself to help Ryback because as the Big Man told us “If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s bullies,” thus there was no plan and their alliance came together organically. The segment ended with Heyman thanking “this big beautiful man right here” for saving his life at Night of Champions, before planting a kiss of gratitude on Ryback’s cheek before the Big Man wheeled him backstage.The rest of the episode was rounded out by matches between Fandango & R-Truth, Brie Bella, The Funkadactyls & Aksana, Layla and Alicia Fox, as well as Rob Van Dam & Damien Sandow. The WWE followed a below average pay-per-view with an above average Raw, so take from that what you will, but I’m glad to see they seem to back on track.
Until next week Raw fans, I hope the new structure of the column made for a more enjoyable read. Make sure you come back to this blog and tell me what you think by commenting below or tweeting me @HelloHegarty. Cheerio.