Joseph Hegarty: Monday Night Four: 13/01/14

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First of all I’d like to apologise to any regular readers for the lack of a Monday Night Four column over the Christmas period; we missed the unification of the WWE’s two World Championships, Daniel Bryan joining the Wyatt Family, a reasonably good midcard heel turn from Brodus Clay (who seems to have gone somewhat quiet recently) as well as the rise of Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston and the beginnings of cracks appearing in the unity of The Shield. However, back to the here and now, let’s get on with critiquing this week’s episode of WWE Raw and in a rare turn we’ll start off with this week’s LockUP Raw Match of the Week. After the opening segment, which we’ll return to later in the column, a graphic advertised John Cena being in action in a WWE ring for the first time this year. As we returned from the next commercial break, Damien Sandow was standing in the ring after making his entrance and Michael Cole was selling the former Money in the Bank briefcase holder’s rough past few months. Cena’s music then hit to the usual mixed reaction that accompanies his pre-match routine, the two wrestlers then locked up as the bell rang to begin the rematch of their very enjoyable World Heavyweight Championship matchup from October last year. The match began with a trade of arm drags and hip tosses from both men as the crowd chanted “Let’s go Cena! Cena sucks!” before Sandow then took control with a low kick. The Intellectual Saviour of the Masses enjoyed some offence mostly consisting of strikes until Cena fought back with his trademark comeback of running leaping shoulder blocks followed by a spin-out powerbomb and the Five Knuckle Shuffle fist drop. Cena then stalked his opponent and picked him up to deliver the Attitude Adjustment but Sandow struggled out and delivered a sitout rear mat slam counter reminiscent of one of Cena’s greatest rivals WWE Hall of Famer Edge, which kept the former world champion down for a two count. Sandow then earned another near fall with his Terminus straight jacket neckbreaker and continued to stay on the offensive, countering Cena’s STF attempt into a submission move of his own, which again looked uncannily like a move out of Edge’s repertoire, a kneeling inverted sharpshooter that John Bradshaw Layfield labelled the Royal Arch on commentary (surely simply the educator fits better due to his intellectual gimmick?).

Next it’s John Cena who counters and comes back with some offence of his own, powering out and hitting a half-nelson neckbreaker for a near fall on Damien Sandow before climbing to the top rope to deliver his diving leg drop bulldog. However, Sandow has this scouted and attempts to deliver a superplex to the prone Cena perched on the top rope, but Cena once again powers out and hits a tremendous tornado DDT for another exciting near fall. The former World Heavyweight Champion then tries to put this one to bed with an Attitude Adjustment but Sandow once again counters, this time with a sunset flip pinning combination with Cena kicking out at two. The Beacon of Light within a Harbour of Iniquity (Man, I wish that nickname had caught on…) then brought a rare move to the table with some sort of hangman’s spinning neckbreaker, which forced a near fall from Cena. Now it’s Damien Sandow who goes for his finishing move for the first time in the match, attempting to put away Cena with his You’re Welcome full nelson slam, however the Leader of the Cenation rolled through and caught Sandow in the STF. Sandow surprisingly crawled to the ropes and kept the match going at an exciting pace as commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler somewhat surprisingly puts over Damien Sandow, who locks in the cross face on Cena who impressively uses his power to lift Sandow from the mat and onto his shoulders to finally succeed in hitting the Attitude Adjustment, winning the match via pinfall. This was a well-paced and very enjoyable match featuring a varied array of moves leading to some enjoyable near falls and false finishes. The chief success of the bout was delivering the obvious Cena win while still making Sandow look strong, which I think they delivered well, both with the in-ring content of the match and the presentation from the commentary team. Therefore it’s no surprise that this contest, although it didn’t quite match up to the original due to the tension that the Money in the Bank cash in added, qualifies as this week’s LockUP Raw Match of the Night. Both men showed good chemistry together and I can really see these two having an enjoyable rivalry if WWE top brass ever pulls the trigger on Sandow as a legitimate main event heel. Following on a related Cena note, later in the night after Randy Orton surprisingly lost to Kofi Kingston, the WWE World Heavyweight Champion took his frustrations out on John Cena’s father who was sat in the front row. Cena came to his dad’s aid chasing off Orton and brings the WWE house doctor over for his assistance. Of course, this has all been done before in a previous Cena/Orton rivalry, but the acting and general presentation of the angle was pretty good nonetheless.

The second focus for this week’s Monday Night Four is somewhat less positive than the first and involves The Big Show taking on Jack Swagger of the Real Americans. Before the matchup there was a recap video of Big Show throwing Brock Lesnar across the ring last week, then the bell rang and the World’s Largest Athlete performed that same throw on Swagger and then before you could say “Why is Big Show getting this push in 2014?” the Real American was being choke slammed into the mat by Big Show ending a very brief and squashy bout. Not satisfied with squashing Swagger (Although to be fair to him, Show did put Swagger over in his post-match interview backstage), the Giant then chased off his tag partner Antonio Cesaro and then turned his attention to the team’s manager Zeb Colter. A long drawn out sequence then began in which Big Show grabbed Coulter by his aged behind before bringing him in close for the Knockout punch, although not quite yet as he had to delay the strike to add some oh so great humorous tension during which many of the WWE Universe must’ve drifted off to sleep. Not only was this an idiotic segment due to its lack of quality but also for its larger place within the narrative. While I was disappointed to see the Big Show thrown into this feud with Brock Lesnar rather than Mark Henry as it originally seemed or even an alternative such as Big E Langston or even Antonio Cesaro, I at least took comfort in the fact that Big Show was being booked as somewhat of bad ass in the feud. This changed as Show wound up a comedy punch on an elderly manager with no relation at all to his current (or any recent for that matter) feud. In all this just seemed to be a very counterproductive segment that destroyed any real interest I had in this feud on Big Show’s end.

Monday Night Four’s third focus from this week’s episode of Raw saw CM Punk team with New Age Outlaws against his rivals The Shield. The Road Dogg Jesse James and the Bad AssBilly Gunn go through their usual entertaining pre-match shtick as well as adding a special introduction to their tag team partner for the night. Once the bells rings, Gunn and Dean Ambrose begin the six-man tag match in the ring, the Shield member gets the upper hand and tags in Seth Rollins while the crowd chant for the New Age Outlaws. Gunn then hit a tilt-a-whirl side slam before tagging in his partner the Road Dogg while Rollins crawled to tag Ambrose back in. The Wild Card of the Shield then ate the Shake Rattle & Roll punch combination from Road Dogg followed up with a running knee drop. CM Punk then tagged in, he and Ambrose went at it, with the former WWE Champion getting the upper hand almost delivering the Go to Sleep to Ambrose and then Rollins but both managed to avoid harm, tagging in the powerhouse of the group Roman Reigns. Reigns is greeted by an audible chant of his name from the crowd, he floors Punk but is soon sent tumbling over the top rope before being flattened by a suicide dive from the Straight Edge Superstar as raw went to a commercial break. The match continued with Punk hitting his signature swinging neckbreaker manoeuvre but Rollins hit back with a reverse STO hanging up Punk on the bottom rope. This left the self-professed Best in the World wide open for a breath-taking dropkick from Roman Reigns to the head. The Shield then dominated Punk with frequent tags, with Rollins seemingly directing traffic issuing instructions to his partners, for instance reminding Ambrose “Don’t forget the eye!” to which Ambrose answered with a nasty eye rake. The heat continues to build until Punk finally gets the baby face comeback and goes for the hot tag from his partners, but the New Age Outlaws simultaneously drop from the apron leaving Punk alone in the ring with The Shield. Punk manages to send Rollins and Ambrose flailing from the ring but this gave Reigns the opportunity to hit an opportunistic Spear on the former WWE Champion to secure the victory for his team. The Shield then celebrated their win before returning to the ring to hit a triple powerbomb on Punk to end the segment. This was a decent match with an interesting twist in the shape of the New Age Outlaw betrayal, which seemingly points to an official feud for Punk with Triple H who is of course heavily linked to Road Dogg and Billy Gunn due to their days in Degeneration-X.

Our fourth and final Monday Night four focus brings us back to the opening segment of Monday Night Raw, which saw The Uso brothers take on Daniel Bryan and his new comrade Bray Wyatt. The match came about after The Usos with Rey Mysterio defeated Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Daniel Bryan in his first outing as part of the Wyatt Family last week, and was preceded by a promo from Wyatt in which he asked “Have you heard the good news?” concerning Bryan siding with himself, claiming “He only hears my words now.” This seemed to be the case as the former two-time WWE Champion took control of the matchup early on with a kitchen sink to Jay Uso before tagging in Bray Wyatt, who continues the domination with his heavy brawling style, while fans in the Dunkin’ Donuts Centre chant for the Usos. However, once Daniel Bryan tags back in it’s his name the fans are chanting loudly throughout the arena, which the commentary team acknowledges, with Lawler suggesting the fans are chanting because they don’t want to see Bryan teaming with Wyatt; JBL disagrees. The King goes onto to state that Bryan is with the Wyatt Family because they’ve beaten him down, surely it’s the WWE system that has beaten him down, not rewarding him for his hard work and the support he has gained from the WWE Universe, but JBL doesn’t argue this time. With their very first offense of the match, Jay Uso struck Bryan with a wicked enzuigiri before leaping for the hot tag from his brother. Jimmy hits a big Samoan drop and follows it up by showing shades of his father Rikishi with a running hip attack to Bryan in the corner. Jimmy seemingly can’t be stopped as he sends both Bryan and Bray Wyatt over the top rope to the outside, he’s then joined by his brother Jay and they both go diving over the top tope hitting cross bodies on their opponents. The Usos want yet more high-flying action however as they both climb to the top rope but before they can inflict any more damage on Bryan and Wyatt, Harper and Rowan come to their fellow Wyatt Family members’ aid pushing the Usos off their turnbuckles and thus ending the match via DQ. Before Harper and Rowan can do more harm, Jay dodges their offence and connects with a superkick to Bryan, the brothers then managed to retreat from harm’s way.

Back in the ring, The Wyatt’s circled Daniel Bryan and Bray ordered him to his feet, before whispering in his newest charge’s ear. Bryan proceeded to fall to his knee and spread his arms out wide beside himself as the fans in attendance shouted “No!”, although Bray took no notice of their words and delivered Sister Abigail to the self-sacrificing Bryan. Wyatt declared “I do this for all of us, this will make a change,” then Luke Harper and Erick Rowan picked up Bryan and took him away to the end the segment. Backstage later in the night, Raw General Manager Brad Maddox and WWE Director of Operation Kane discussing the night’s opening contest, deciding that due to Harper and Rowan’s interference a rematch would be booked for later that same night in a steel cage with a locked door to prevent any further interference. The rematch took place in the main event slot to close out Raw, both teams made their way to the ring before Kane joined them to lock the cage door. The Uso brothers started out the brighter of the teams but soon found themselves in trouble as they both find themselves eating steel as Daniel Bryan dropkicks one brother into the cage and Bray Wyatt launches the other into the structure. The match then sees its first attempt at an escape as both Daniel Bryan and a Uso twin scale the cage, where they’re soon joined by Wyatt who prevents the Uso from clambering over the top. However, he soon finds himself pulled off the cage and thrown down to the mat below by the other USO brother, leaving Bryan on his own to suffer a double Russian leg sweep off the cage. The Usos then turn their attention back to Bray Wyatt as one of them hits him with an impressive corkscrew senton from the top rope, but Daniel Bryan isn’t staying down and fights back hanging one of the Usos in the Tree of Woe and kicking seven shades of Samoan out of him while the Rhode Island crowd chanted “Yes!” After disposing of Wyatt, the other Uso twin distracts Bryan by attempting to ascend the cage and while Bryan went after him the other brother managed to free himself. Daniel Bryan now stood on the top rope, a sitting duck with an Uso on each side who drove him down to the mat with a super backdrop, which it appears has unfortunately caused Bryan a concussion according to the internet dirt sheets. The brothers then covered Bryan but Wyatt managed to save the match, breaking up the pinfall at two. The match seemed to suddenly turn in the opposite direction as Wyatt pulled on of the brothers in close to perform his Sister Abigail finishing manoeuvre, only for the match to once more flip-flop the other way as the free Uso delivered a beautiful superkick flooring Wyatt before he could deliver the swinging reverse STO. The live crowd chanted for the Usos and cheered them as they climbed the cage to escape to victory, but soon enough they were joined by their opponents and all four men found themselves battling on top of the cage. However, soon four men were two as Bryan was pushed onto Wyatt hanging him up on the top rope in the worst possible way for a man. The Usos then climbed over the top of the cage and dove down to ringside to battle Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, therefore winning the match by escaping the cage. However, back in the ring things got even more interesting, the scene following Bryan and Wyatt’s loss to the Usos earling in the night repeated itself but before Wyatt hit a second Sister Abigail of the night Bryan freed himself much to the crowd’s excitement. One word echoed around the arena, “Yes!” was seemingly shouted by every member of the audience as the camera cleverly panned out to show a crowd thrusting their arms in the air. Now it’s Bray Wyatt who is on his knees, inviting Bryan to attack him but he refuses until Wyatt makes it back to his feet and the two men go at it as the crowd goes wild. Bryan quickly got the upper hand delivering his signature kicks in unison with the crowd’s “Yes!” chant. He then stripped off his Wyatt family attire, revealing his own signature attire underneath, producing another great reaction from the crowd. Meanwhile, Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt climbed the cage attempting to come to their leader’s aid, but Bryan had their number too, launching Wyatt into the cage to knock each of his followers off the cage. The fan favourite then positioned himself in the corner of the ring, performing an extra impactful slowed down version of his “Yes!” gesture, with the crowd unsurprisingly copying him. The man of the moment then flew across the ring delivering his now trademark running high knee to the face of Bray Wyatt. Raw went off air as Daniel Bryan celebrated on top of the cage as the crowd chanted his name.

This final segment was absolutely brilliant, but did it all come too early? It certainly could be argued so, with Bryan only remaining a Wyatt family member for a mere two weeks before his turn, could a sufficient pay-off really have developed to end the angle so soon? Usually in a scenario like this I would argue no, the angle had legs and should have been further exploited for further worth. However, damn you WWE, it just worked! When Bryan first “turned” I was unsure but over the following weeks I was happy to see where it would go, hey at least it seemed Bryan was getting an interesting storyline. Therefore with it all ending so abruptly I was in two minds, but that moment at the end of Raw was too brilliant to doubt. The Daniel Wyatt angle may be over but Daniel Bryan is OVER, and there’s no denying that, surely even to WWE top brass. I’ll admit it, I’m excited and I can now even see there being a chance of him winning the 2014 Royal Rumble, something I never really thought would happen, and yeah sure they’ll still probably hand it to Big Dave but Daniel Bryan is now in a position where he is so over with the crowd that he can be seen as a main event talent. In some ways Raw’s final segment this week was comparable to Punk’s pipebomb moment on that Raw in Las Vegas in 2011, it may have been unconventional and it may well have only been booked at the last minute (if the dirt sheets are to be believed) but it bloody well worked and unsurprisingly Daniel Bryan is indisputably this week’s LockUP Raw Superstar of the Week.

The rest of Monday Night Raw featured AJ Lee and Tamina defeating The Funkyadactyls via a Shining Wizard, Cody Rhodes & Goldust defeated Ryback & Curtis Axel with a CrossRhodes, Alberto Del Rio got out of his recent rut by tapping out Rey Mysterio with his Cross Armbreaker and the first inductee to the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2014 was revealed to be former WWE Champion The Ultimate Warrior. Finally, I hope you enjoyed this week’s returning Monday Night Four column. Make sure you come back to this blog and tell me exactly what you think by commenting below or tweeting me @HelloHegarty, I would love to hear you opinions on the column and Raw in general. Do you agree with me this week? What did I get wrong? I’d really love to turn this blog into more of a dialogue, rather than me just telling the internet what I think about wrestling each week. Thanks for reading, see you next week wrestling fans, along with the return of “The Animal” Batista…

P.S. If you’re interested, in 2014 it was perhaps somewhat surprisingly Randy Orton who the Monday Night Four column rated the WWE Superstar of the year by receiving the most RAW LockUP Superstar of the Week awards. Whereas, Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns were jointly awarded the most LockUP RAW Match of the Week awards.

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