Joseph Hegarty: Monday Night Four: 20/01/14
The go home Monday Night Raw show for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view began as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon stood in the ring as the Game’s “King of Kings” theme blared around the Nutter Center in the Dayton, Ohio. The two then began their sales pitch for the Royal Rumble as the first step on the Road to Wrestlemania before rather abruptly moving onto introducing the returning former WWE Champion “The Animal” Batista, stating that “In a lot of ways we evolved together…” However it wasn’t the expected former Evolution stable mate who emerged at the top of the entrance ramp but rather the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton. Once his music cut, Orton received some pretty decent heat with the fans who presumably wanted to see Batista heavily booing the WWE’s Apex Predator. Orton demanded of the Authority “Who in the hell do you think you two are?”, with Stephanie asking him he exact same question of him in return. She then warns Orton, stating that there have never been so many eyes on the product (okay Steph we both know that’s just not true but we’ll see where you’re going with this…) because of the announcement of the WWE Network. She then showed the footage of Randy assaulting the father of his title-rival John Cena last week after his loss to underdog Kofi Kingston, explaining that all those eyes saw his unprofessionalism and that if his unacceptable behaviour continued he would be fired. This continues the confusing nature of the Authority’s character, supposedly they’re both heels but tonight they’re reintroducing a babyface character in Batista and clashing with a major heel character. Nethertheless, Orton snaps back, telling the Authority that it is their fault for frustrating him and inducing his recent bout of unprofessionalism by rewarding him for his good work as face of the company by bringing back “The Beast” Brock Lesnar, “The Animal” Batista and now forcing him to once again defend his championship against John Cena (yeah, we’re not exactly jumping for joy about that one either Randy…) Triple H then continued the Authority’s moral ambiguity, telling Orton that they made him the face of the company because they believe in him, something that he thinks Orton no longer has in himself. The WWE’s Chief Operating Officer then finished their dialogue by demanding that Orton rise up to be a man and fix what is broken, firstly by defeating Kofi Kingston in a rematch from last week and secondly by apologising to John Cena when he arrives at the arena later tonight.
It was only after this confrontation that the familiar opening guitar riff of Saliva’s “I Walk Alone” hit and the returning Batista made his way down to the ring with fully pyro and accompanying posturing, but also wearing a quite frankly ridiculous looking ensemble of Nike running shoes, skinny jeans and a tacky white jacket with red trim. Admittedly, professional wrestling isn’t exactly well known for its good taste, whether in fashion terms or otherwise, but it did seem a like an odd choice of outfit for a returning wrestler with an apparent bad ass persona. Once in the ring, The Animal, greeted the crowd from each corner of the ring as his entrance music faded and the fans chanted his name. He then got down on his knees and kissed the ring, which I thought was a nice little aside from the Washington D.C. born heavyweight. He then hugged both Triple H and Stephanie, adding yet more confusion to their babyface heel dynamic, before they both left the ring. This left Randy Orton remaining in the squared circle, he stretched out his hand offering Batista a welcome back handshake, which he ignores and instead greets him on the microphone before telling Orton why he has returned. Batista points at Orton’s championship belts and tells him he has only come back to win the royal rumble, go on to headline Wrestlemania and become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The Animal then eloquently finished his returning segment with the words “So deal with it!” This segment didn’t have any gaping holes in it per se, but it did seem to fall somewhat flat. Perhaps, the ultimate indictment is that to me it almost felt like the debut of some famous wrestler on a TNA Impact Wrestling show (that’s not a dig at TNA, just obviously WWE and their competition have different standards). Or perhaps it just felt slightly inferior because the big returns in recent years, namely The Rock and Brock Lesnar, have been legitimate big time feeling moments from big time stars, and while Batista achieved success with the WWE and is seemingly beginning to find his feet in Hollywood, he’s still not on a par with their ilk. In a way the segment’s focus on Randy Orton perhaps detracted from Batista’s return, yet at the same time it didn’t particularly put the Viper over, leading to a flat feeling to the segment, which isn’t to say the fans in attendance didn’t seem to enjoy themselves or Batista, who they were chanting for throughout the segment. In this sense, Batista’s return far from bombed and WWE were probably reasonably happy with how it went. However, considering Batista’s strengths lie in his intensity and the physical charisma that it produces, it appears a somewhat unwise move for Batista’s strangely wacky appearance and under-par mic skills to be exposed in his return this week. Batista is a man of action and action is where is he excels, this I believe is the main reason his return felt like it lacked something. This criticism was somewhat met later in the night when Batista appeared for the second time in the night after Alberto Del Rio had defeated the Animal’s close friend Rey Mysterio in this week’s LockUP Raw Match of the Night. As Del Rio has been trash-talking Batista on air and Twitter since the announcement of his return, the Animal took this opportunity to deliver some restitution to the Mexican aristocrat by hitting him with a spinebuster followed up by a Batista Bomb, albeit a standard variant rather than his more familiar sit-out delivery he is known for, quite possibly due to those figure hugging skinny jeans…
Moving onto the second focus point of this week’s Monday Night Four analysis of the WWE’s flagship television programme, we move onto a returning segment that struck more of a chord with me, albeit more the return to character rather than the return of a performer. Of Course, it is to Daniel Bryan that I refer, cutting his first promo since enjoyably leaving the Wyatt family last Monday night. Seemingly Bryan wasn’t just striking a chord with me but the majority of the WWE Universe as he received tremendous support from the crowd in Dayton, Ohio, who chanted his name at the top of their lungs. Bryan coyly responded to the ovation, “And some people say I shouldn’t be the face of the company…” which I’m not going to lie, brought a huge smile to my face, it’s great to see the fan favourite growing in confidence. He then cut a promo regarding his two weeks as a member of the Wyatt family, stating that while he had to stand side by side with three men that he absolutely despised, it was a necessary as to take down Bray Wyatt he needed to fight him mentally as well as physically. Bryan then claimed to have exposed the Wyatt Family, flipping their catchphrase “Follow the Buzzards” to claim he himself had become the Buzzard feeding on Bray Wyatt. Finally, Bryan allayed any fears over potential injury by revealing that Erick Rowan and Luke Harper’s presence in the Royal Rumble leaves Bray Wyatt alone to fight him one-on-one this Sunday. The challenged Wyatt then appeared on the titantron to address Daniel Bryan, telling him that’s he’s a traitor, which is a sin of the highest order. The fans seemingly didn’t care what Wyatt had to say as they chanted for Daniel Bryan, leaving Wyatt to condemn them as only looking up to Bryan because they chose to kneel, with the segment ending on a break as the crowd continued to chant Daniel Bryan’s name. This segment worked well to keep Daniel Bryan hot but safe after last week’s excursions, while adding an interesting match to the pay-per-view but perhaps the most intriguing development to come from Bryan’s promo is suggested from his claim that Rowan and Harper’s inclusion in the Rumble leaves him free to fight Wyatt, so is he himself not competing in the thirty man over the top battle royal? If so the implication seems that Batista is indeed nailed on to win the Royal Rumble, with most of the other superstars WWE has hinted at winning being somewhat unlikely such as CM Punk, who is presumably fighting Triple H at Wrestlemania rather than whoever is WWE Champion, and a member of the Shield, most likely Roman Reigns, who seem also unlikely to be headlining Wrestlemania due to both their relative inexperience in the WWE and the fact they may well be fighting each other on the supercard instead. However, with all roads seemingly leading to Batista, he just seems way too obvious to win, which makes me doubt his victory somewhat considering WWE history of booking reverse momentum. So you have to wonder, with WWE quickly turning Bryan back babyface will they also give in to the wishes of his fans and hand him a surprise Royal Rumble win? It’s a possibility. Bryan and Wyatt’s involvement in the evening wasn’t quite up after this segment with Harper and Rowan taking on the Usos further up the card. This was a decent enough match, not match of the night worthy but it didn’t do anything wrong, it had the usual tag trajectory with the Usos impressing early before being dominated by the Wyatt Family, while Bray get on the mic telling the crowd “This is the type of punishment that awaits your hero Daniel Bryan!” before the Usos got their second wind and came back with some nice spots including a corkscrew senton and an over the top rope crossbody from Jimmy. The match then came to a head as Daniel Bryan made an appearance seemingly to show Bray Wyatt the kind of punishment he can expect this Sunday, this distracted Luke Harper and Jey Uso rolled him up for the win to keep The Usos hot streak going, ending the segment joining Daniel Bryan on the stage where he was chanting “YES!” along with the crowd.
Monday Night Fours penultimate focus for this week centres on the last confrontation between the heavyweights Big Show and Brock Lesnar, in a segment where Show puzzled me and Lesnar impressed. Much like last week, the creative team and presumably the World’s Largest Athlete found it wise to use comedy to sell this clash of the titans rivalry, this week rather than doing comedy wind up punches on elderly racists Big Show cut a promo impersonating Paul Heyman in a peculiar high pitched imitation that the announce team needed to tell us was spot on. The impersonated man appeared at the top of the entrance ramp, how is ears must’ve burned, he soaked in the “Walrus” chants until Brock Lesnar’s music hit and the Beast joined his advocate on the stage. Lesnar marched down the ring to meet the Big Show but it appears it was all a tease and he turns around and leaves. This unfortunately leads to Show picking up the microphone again, fortunately it’s his own deeper voice that comes out of his giant mouth as he calls Lesnar out once more. The former UFC Heavyweight Champion appears once again and slowly, somewhat tentatively makes his way back down to the ring, pausing arms crossed at the bottom of the entrance ramp before climbing into the ring. The two behemoths go nose to nose in a striking image, Lesnar psychs out Big Show with the threat of a headbutt before going for a double leg takedown but is unable to takedown the huge weight of the World’s Largest Athlete. The two then go at it, leading to Big Show gutwrenching Lesnar over the top rope to the outside. Brock proceeded to take his anger out on the announce table, removing it’s cover and bashing it with a steel chair. He then attempted to take that chair in with him to the ring, while Paul Heyman tried to distract his adversary, but Show stepped on the chair with one of his giant feet preventing Lesnar getting the advantage. Lesnar showed frustration and it call it a day, throwing a television monitor from the announce table at show as a parting shot as he joined back up with Heyman and retreated up to the stage. The segment ended with Big Show threatening “Try me, I will knock your ass out!” and Lesnar promising “I will see you on Sunday!” Throughout the segment Lesnar’s selling was superb, his physical acting is very underrated as can be seen from last year’s steel cage match with Triple H at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view. He is doing enough on his end to keep me interested in his and the Big Show’s match at the Royal Rumble and for this I award him this week’s LockUP WWE Raw Superstar of the Week. Show’s comedy antics have put me off so far in this feud but I know he does have high quality matches in him such as those with Sheamus (whose style is not too dissimilar to Lesnar’s) in 2012, particularly their clash at Hell in a Cell, so all is not lost on his side if he can stay focused and serious. The narrative of the frustrated Lesnar and the indomitable Giant could work well on Sunday.
Throughout Raw, John Cena’s arrival, and Randy Orton’s subsequent opportunity to clear the air with him, was teased with a camera set up on the wrestler’s entrance to the arena. Therefore, Monday Night Four’s final focus deals with his arrival, which came amidst Randy Orton’s main event contest versus Kofi Kingston, the man who beat the WWE Champion last week. Orton started the match aggressively before getting distracted shouting at the titantron “Where are you John?” Kingston made the most of this opportunity and got upper hand until Orton bounced his skill off the announce table to regain control. However, Cena is still clearly on Orton’s mind as he imitates his rival’s “You Can’t See Me” hand gesture and again shouts “Where are you?” after delivering a picture perfect suplex. We then saw two near falls after Kofi countered a European uppercut into a backslide pinning combination and Orton kicked out and hit a heavy clothesline followed up by a lateral press. The Apex Predator then went for his signature rope aided DDT manoeuvre but Kofi Kingston, in a move reminiscent of his victory last week, countered with the S.O.S. but only caught the champion with a two count this week. At this point Cena appeared on the tron and subsequently came running down to the ring. He didn’t come to talk. The match ended in Disqualification giving the W to Randy Orton, something that has to annoy you if you’re Kofi Kingston and had the chance to get a win over the WWE World Heavyweight Champion two weeks in a row; kayfabe lives. Cena flings Orton into twice into steel ring posts before powering him over the barricade, where they brawled into the crowd. Cena went to deliver the Attitude Adjustment amongst the sea of bodies but the Viper slithered out and somewhat comically quickly walked away. Cena followed the retreating Orton all the way to the top of the arena, getting the occasional successful punch as they went. Orton then escaped through a skybox, out of the arena and into a car through the passenger side, prompting JBL to announce “I think Randy Orton just stole a car!” Monday Night Raw ended as John Cena interacted with the fans in attendance and the commentators sold the Royal Rumble match, which was all well and good but it seems somewhat peculiar to end Raw with that somewhat silly segment, when it could have ended with something which would’ve hyped the Rumble match for them rather than having to try to slip in a somewhat pathetic sell for it on commentary in the closing moments of Raw. IT also seems slightly odd that the WWE’s commercials are selling John Cena and Randy Orton’s match at the Royal Rumble as the biggest title rematch in history, while on the product they’re focusing on Orton attacking Cena’s father, perhaps the rich history of the title should be enough to sell their match on Sunday, but I suppose quite frankly who cares, it’s the Rumble that sells the Rumble and I for one am excited for it.
The rest of Monday Night Raw featured an entertaining match where the WWE Tag Team Champions Goldust & Cody Rhodes teaming with the WWE Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston lined up against The Shield where Seth Rollins was booked to look particularly impressive winning the match with the Blackout before bragging “No-one can touch us!”, Fandango squashed Xavier Woods in a match with another sighting of Emma from NXT in the crowd, CM Punk defeated Billy Gunn in a fun bout that preceded the announcement from WWE’s Director of Operations Kane that Punk would begin the Royal Rumble as the #1 entrant, and WWE Divas’ Champion AJ Lee & Tamina Snuka were defeated by The Funkadactyls. I hope you enjoyed this week’s 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. And as I stated last week, 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, so please get in touch! Thanks for reading, see you next week wrestling fans, for all the fallout from the Royal Rumble…