Joseph Hegarty: Monday Night Four: 03/02/2014

JosephHegarty

It seems almost wrong writing an article about what’s going on inside a WWE ring with all that’s going on outside it concerning Daniel Bryan and CM Punk in particular. Nevertheless, we continue here at LockUP, although we don’t stray too far from the controversies of the past couple of weeks with Raw’s first segment and our first Monday Night Four focus point of the week. The night started off with Randy Orton making his way to the ring with both World title belts in hand, as his entrance music faded the WWE World Heavyweight Champion attempted to cut a promo but his words were drowned out by a loud chant for AWOL former WWE Champion CM Punk. However, Orton shouts over the chants and the fans seem to give up and boo him instead as he asks “How many times do I have to beat John Cena?” before going on to ask the same thing about the Elimination Chamber match’s other participants. He then claims to be the main attraction of Monday Night Raw, which brings out Triple H (and Stephanie McMahon) because after all we all know he is the real focus of WWE programming.

The Authority’s appearance provoked another loud but once again somewhat brief CM Punk chant. There is a lot of fan discord regarding the current direction of the WWE product, from the reliance on aging talent typified by the push of Batista, to the lack of confidence and credibility put behind younger superstars such as Daniel Bryan and of course the absence of CM Punk. However, of all WWE’s faults, I would argue that the most infuriating is the character (or lack thereof) portrayed by Stephanie McMahon and particularly Triple H as The Authority, in particular the lack of consistency in their heel/babyface status. Supposedly they’re the top heels in WWE, picking favourites, holding down talent and ruling with an iron fist, but the messages they send out are very mixed. Take this segment for instance, they come out to confront the heel champion, and punish him by putting him in tough matches against all five of his Elimination Chamber opponents in the coming weeks, presumably making them babyface by proxy. As Orton’s first opponent from those five will be Daniel Bryan in this week’s main event, Triple H was even doing the “YES!” chant, a seemingly babyface gesture, while just last week he was ridiculing the fan’s support of Bryan in Raw’s opening segment. Sure, The Game could have been mocking Bryan by imitating his gesture but the general tone of the segment suggested that wasn’t the case, and The Authority was instead pandering to the fans in attendance as babyfaces. There is an argument to be made that characterisation producing a more ambiguous shade of grey rather than simply black or white makes for a more interesting brand of entertainment, but in this scenario I just don’t think things need to be that complicated.

This week’s second Monday Night Four focus point follows the burgeoning rivalry between the WWE’s two most prominent factions, the Shield and the Wyatt Family. Raw’s first match of the night saw Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and United States Champion Dean Ambrose take on Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston and Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston. Before the match a recap video from Friday night’s Smackdown was aired showing the Shield demanding a match versus the Wyatts due to their interference in the main event of last week’s Raw main event, which cost the Hounds of Justice their place in the Elimination Chamber match for Randy Orton’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Meanwhile, back to Raw and the Shield’s match was decent for what it was, a brief yet fun match to keep the narrative of the group’s tension going while keeping them and Langston (who took the pinfall) looking reasonably strong. The two mid-card champions began the match before Kingston tagged in and was dominated by the Shield, building up the heat for the hot tag from Rey Mysterio who hit his luchador offense on Rollins, who sold to perfection, before the Shield countered Mysterio with a modified Doomsday Device where Reigns Superman punched the Master of the 619 off the shoulders of Rollins. Not long after Big E Langston got the tag from Mysterio and hit some impressive agile big man offense, unfortunately he split Roman Reigns wide open (the hard way) before delivering an impressive overhead belly-to-belly suplex on the powerhouse of the Shield. Reigns then battled back and hit his Superman punch then set up for the Spear, only for Dean Ambrose to tag himself in and deliver his headlock driver finish to win the match for his team but presumably more importantly for himself.

After their match the Shield were addressed on the titantron by the Wyatt Family, Bray claimed that he understood them and that they were all pawns. Wyatt’s followers Luke Harper and Erick Rowan surprisingly speak up, with the former claiming that Bray Wyatt “has always been your king!,” while the latter merely warned the Shield to “run!”. Later in the night the Wyatt Family took on Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth and Xavier Woods in a six-man tag match. The Wyatts dominated Truth and Woods until a loud “We want Ziggler!” chant brought the former World Heavyweight Champion into the action hitting his signature offence before Wyatt delivered Sister Abigail to ensure the victory. The Shield returned the favour after this match, appearing on the titantron with Dean Ambrose amusingly mocking Wyatt’s frightening demeanour, while Seth Rollins labelled Wyatt delusional and Roman Reigns warned that playtime was over. The Segment ended with Bray Wyatt proclaiming that he “Welcomes this war!”

Our third focus point of this week’s Monday Night Four column sees the second debut of a talent from WWE’s NXT developmental territory, after Alexander’s Rusev’s impressive introduction to the man roster in the Royal Rumble last month. The segment began with dance partners Fandango and Summer Rae entering and being introduced by Justin Roberts to face Santino Marella in a dance contest. Santino claimed that Fandango wouldn’t be able to match him in a dance-off and instead suggested they pick a competitor out of the audience to challenge Summer Rae. Santino picked NXT’s Emma, who has been in attendance at Raw for several weeks, out of the crowd. The two former NXT divas then competed with the Australian using her trademark comedy dance move. The crowd seemed to not quite know how to react but a small chant for Emma broke out in the arena. This was a hard segment to judge as due to the comedic nature of Emma’s dancing gimmick, the fans weren’t necessarily enamoured with her. On NXT, the charm of her bad dancing and clumsiness came organically as part of her performance rather than the crux of her character as it seemed to be here. It is understandable how WWE singled out that part of her character as the key theme to sell her character as on Raw as it was the most instantly noticeable part of her character on NXT, but hopefully in the coming weeks she is given the opportunity to show off her talent in the ring and her endearing personality rather than being a one tricky comedy pony.

We wrap up this week’s coverage of Raw with this week’s main event and LockUP Raw Match of the Night, which sees the WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton going one on one with Daniel Bryan. The match began with the two competitors locking up in a grapple with Bryan successfully forcing Orton into to the corner of the ring as a loud Daniel Bryan chant echoed around the arena. Orton rolled out of the ring to audible heat, before he brought his finger to his lips to silence the crowd, only to bring out another chant from the audience for Daniel Bryan followed by a chant for AWOL superstar CM Punk. Back in the ring Orton shhs another chant for Bryan and hit a shoulder tackle followed up with his trademark pose. Bryan then regained the upper hand with a kitchen sink knee and his signature “YES!” kicks, before working on Orton’s long legs with a dragon screw and ramming them into the ring post. Bryan’s work on Orton’s legs continued with an Indian Deathlock manoeuvre modified into a pinning combination forcing a two count. Another CM Punk chant rang around the arena as the commentators sold Bryan’s viciousness. Orton then had to resort to cheating by biting to end Bryan’s assault on his lower limbs for the time being, escaping from a modified figure-four leglock. The action then spilled to the outside where Bryan threw Orton over the top of the announce table onto Michael Cole who did a hilarious job of selling it, seemingly falling asleep for 30 seconds. Once the action made its way back into the ring, Daniel Bryan hit a frankensteiner off the top rope for a near fall. Orton then did a good job of selling Bryan’s submission offence, crying for him to stop as his opponent applied a surfboard. The submission offence continued with a half Boston crab, but Orton’s long frame allowed him to gain a rope break, rolling to the outside and hitting Bryan with a backdrop onto the barricade as he joined the World Heavyweight Champion at ringside.

Next it was Randy Orton who showed off his submissions skills, working on one of Daniel Bryan’s arms after throwing him into the ring post and twice into the steel steps outside, he applied a fujiwara armbar with added finger snapping. Orton’s offence leads the announcers to question whether Orton could perhaps take out all five of his opponents before the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. Despite Orton’s offence Bryan managed to counter a superplex and hit a missile dropkick, although he sold the effects of this high-flying maneuver on his arm well. The crowd urged him along chanting his name as he applied the Yes Lock to Orton, struggling to fully apply the move due to his injured arm allowing Orton to struggle free. Instead, Bryan went for his trademark running dropkicks to Orton in the corner, but the champion came back with a beautiful dropkick of his own. With Orton on top, he delivered his signature rope hung DDT before stalking for the RKO, however Bryan avoided defeat with a superkick then almost grabbed victory himself with a diving headbutt that led to a nearfall. As Bryan seemed to be in the ascendancy, the WWE’s Director of Operations angrily made his way down to the ringside, eating a dropkick from Bryan sending him flying off the apron. Bryan threw Orton out of the ring to join Kane and then hit a spectacular suicide dive taking out both of them. Kane then came running at Bryan only to be sent flying into the steel steps with a drop toehold while Orton slithered back into the ring. Bryan followed and managed to counter Orton’s attempt at an RKO and hit his own finish, delivering his running single leg high knee to win an enthralling match. But the night’s action wasn’t over as Kane returned to the ring and with the help of a distraction from Orton, Kane hit a devastating looking chokeslam on Bryan to close out Raw.

This week’s LockUP Raw Superstar of the Week award goes to a man who put his body on the line in a breathtaking spot in a WWE Tag Team Championship cage match. The match closed out as Cody Rhodes climbed the steel cage and delivered a spectacular diving moonsault. However, the impact of the manoeuvre left him vulnerable to a Famasser from Billy Gunn, who retained his tag titles for himself and his tag team partner Road Dogg. Speaking of whom, Cody’s impressive feat was only let down by the veteran Jesse James not fully being in place to catch his opponent after his sensational fall. This contribution from Rhodes was enough to gain this week’s ward, although I must admit CM Punk’s appearance in almost every segment, due to the crowd’s chanting of his name, did nearly earn him the award. However, I feel it would wrong to measure Punk’s perhaps somewhat selfish exit from WWE as more impressive than Cody’s brave and selfless contribution to this week’s Raw.

The rest of this week’s episode of Raw featured an odd segment where Wade Barrett performed his usual amusing cheap heat-seeking “Bad News” skit followed by commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler standing up and retorting into a live mic, “I have some bad news for you, hopefully you won’t be around next week,” BURN… Afterwards, Christian pinned Jack Swagger with a springboard sunset flip in a rematch from Smackdown’s Elimination Chamber qualifier, the recently heel  turned Titus O’Neil defeated Zack Ryder with the Clash of the Titus spinebuster, while Sheamus beat Curtis Axel with his Brogue Kick, Batista and Alberto Del Rio featured in a segment to extend their mini-feud with Batista again being booked to dominate and Naomi defeated Aksana with a split-legged moonsault after receiving a very stiff looking knee to the face from the Lithuanian diva in match that featured AJ Lee on commentary. Somewhat surprisingly, judging by the company’s usual standards, AJ didn’t seemed to be buried by the commentators as you might expect her to be considering she is the real life partner of CM Punk, who is presumably in hot water with the WWE after walking away from his contract (that ends in July) last week. 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. 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!

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