Joseph Hegarty: Monday Night Raw 10/03/2014
The March 11th episode of Raw began with Hulk Hogan’s second appearance of his 2014 return to the WWE. He was in similar form to his first appearance a fortnight ago, almost immediately plugging the WWE network in the salesman role he seems to have been hired to full by the WWE. However, he did have something interesting to say after mentioning his greatest Wrestlemania opponents including the Ultimate Warrior and Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Andre the Giant. It was the latter wrestler he elaborated on to announce a new match for this year’s wrestlemania, an over-the-top 30 man Battle Royal to crown the very first winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy. Not long had that announcement settled in and we were joined by this generation Hulk Hogan as “The Time is Now” blared out in the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Cena ran to the ring, not showing any sign of the leg injury he sold last week, being greeted with boos as his music faded before thanking Hogan for coming back home and doing an impression of the Hulkster, for which he was even more roundly booed. Cena then threw his hat in the ring to be the first competitor in the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy Battle Royal, however this announcement was interrupted by the Wyatt Family. Bray then cut a promo, looking at Cena and Hogan and declaring his fascination for his favourite sin, pride, before doing a Hogan impression of his own telling Cena to take his vitamins. This brought heat too, although it felt more like the right kind of heat (if you believe in that kind of thing), he then told Cena that if he looks up at him then he’s a friend, if he looks down on him he’s an enemy but if he looks him straight in the eye he’ll be looking at God.
John Cena responded to Bray Wyatt’s promo, laughing it off before singing Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in an attempt to pop the crowd, it felt a bit cheap and seemed somewhat detrimental to the Wyatt character. Wyatt responded in character chiding Cena as always being about fun and games, but it would be unsurprising if that’s how Bray Wyatt the performer also felt. Although, with Cena’s character in mind, it’s hard to see another direction to go to in response. The segment then took a surge in momentum as Cena officially challenged Bray Wyatt to a match at next month’s Wrestlemania, but there was no official answer and the Wyatt Family instead moved into the ring as Raw went to its first commercial break. On the return to action, the night’s first match had already begun, pitting John Cena versus Erick Rowan. The Wyatt Family member dominated the former WWE Champion, coming out of the gates with an powerful fallaway slam before grinding Cena down with submissions; most notably a bear hug that he locked in as an impressive counter to an attempted Cena shoulder tackle. Cena’s pursuit of a comeback continued to be denied by Rowan, who delivered a clubbing blow to Cena even after he had powered out of the bearhug. With Cena reeling, Rowan hit a running powerslam, before attempting a second where he would meet his demise as Cena rolled him up for the win.
The match was fine enough, it fit its purpose by making Rowan look strong in defeat against Cena, but the unusual thing about this match was the lack of injury sold by Cena to his leg, which had previously been an important part of his story with the Wyatt Family so far. The injury was seemingly forgotten by both Rowan and Cena, so it seems like they’re going in a different direction with the feud’s narrative, but it seems a shame to waste what was actually some quite good selling from Cena in previous weeks when it did seem the leg injury would play a part in the story. After the match, Cena presumably fulfilled a boyhood dream by embracing Hulk Hogan then posing with him as “Real American” rang around the arena. However, the crowd seemed less than enthused with Cena mirroring the Hulkster’s iconic posturing, presumably to the WWE and Cena’s disappointment, in what seemed like it was supposed to feel like a big moment in wrestling. Later in the night, Wyatt cut a backstage promo announcing his acceptance of Cena’s challenge to confirm the first of two matches officially made for Wrestlemania on this week’s episode of Raw.
The second piece of the puzzle that is this week’s Monday Night Four featured two of the WWE’s all-time greats who are still performing to this day. First, Undertaker entered with all the fanfare of his classic entrance, but as he stood in the ring with a microphone ready to make a rare public address to the live crowd in Memphis, he was interrupted by arguably the greatest manager of all time, Paul Heyman. The former ECW promoter introduced himself and apologised for his interruption. He then sells the history of the streak brilliantly, giving a different take on the phenomena, going into sport-like statistical details that aren’t often used by the WWE. He outlined how “Mr. Wrestlemania” himself, Shawn Michaels, never even won two consecutive matches on the grandest stage of them all. Whereas Triple H did manage two but went no further, while the iconic Hulk Hogan saw his limit at three consecutive victories. Finally, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena have both managed an impressive streak of four wins in a row at Wrestlemania, but this still leaves them an enormous 17 consecutive wins behind the Undertaker. After building up the greatness of the streak, Heyman then somewhat facetiously pleads with the Undertaker to not step in the ring with Brock Lesnar in New Orleans because he and the WWE Universe will lose the streak as Brock Lesnar will conquer it. Undertaker responds somewhat cryptically, citing “The fear of death is far greater than death itself but the fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all.” presumably suggesting that Brock Lesnar should fear competing against the streak because beating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania is an unknown in itself. The segment closes with the Deadman issuing his signature threat, with the crowd joining in, that at Wrestlemania Brock Lesnar will “Rest in Peace!” Overall this was very enjoyable fare with both men performing their roles to near perfection, with Heyman being in particularly excellent form enabling the segment to build up Brock Lesnar’s challenge to the streak without the man himself being in attendance.
The third focus of this week’s Monday Night Four column crowns the LockUP Raw Match of Night, which saw two teams of former WWE tag champions facing eachother in a rematch of last October’s classic encounter between Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns of The Shield and the Rhodes brothers Cody Rhodes & Goldust. The match was set up earlier in the night as The Shield, who seem in the midst of an enjoyable slowburn babyface turn, verbally clashed with WWE’s Director of Operations Kane. The Big Red Machine taunted the Hounds of Justice over their recent losses to the Wyatt Family, claiming that they used to be a valuable asset to the Authority and that he wants to make sure they stay that way. The tag match was then booked with Kane pinpointing that the first cracks in the Shield appeared when Rollins and Reigns lost their WWE tag team championships to the Rhodes Brothers at the Battleground pay-per-view, so therefore books a rematch to get them back on track. Rollins, who has been increasingly getting more of the spotlight as of late, accepted the challenge but questioned whether Kane was merely trying to deflect attention from his recent losses to Daniel Bryan, causing some enjoyable attention between the four men.
The match began with the two more agile and younger members of their teams, Seth Rollins and Cody Rhodes, with the former initially getting the upperhand with swift kick to the gut, followed with more striking offense. However, the momentum soon swung as Cody blocked a suplex attempt from Rollins and delivered an impressive stalling gourdbuster, allowing him the opportunity to tag in his older brother. Goldust kept his first foray into the match brief, hitting a big back body drop on the Architect of the Shield before tagging his younger brother back into the match. Cody continued the offence on Rollins with an alleyoop attack in the corner but the Shield member countered with a display of breathtaking dexterity, quickly flipping out of the maneuver and somehow landing on his feet. Rollins then capitalized on his amazing feat of agility by delivering his innovative reverse STO to Cody, forcing his face impactfully into the bottom turnbuckle. Rollins then tagged in his partner Roman Reigns for the first time in the contest, but soon enough Goldust was also tagged in and gained the upperhand by hitting Reigns with a spinebuster and then took out Rollins too by executing a twisting crossbody from the top rope to both active Shield members below, as Dean Ambrose looked on from outside the ring. He was then joined by his brother to perform another diving attack, after they had thrown both Rollins & Reigns to the outside, they both came flying down on their opponents, Cody with an impressive doublejump crossbody and Goldust with a flipping cannonball senton.
As Raw returned from the first commercial break of the contest, Roman Reigns brought the control of the match back into the Shield’s hands with a powerful suplex and his trademark apron dropkick. He then laughed and joked with Ambrose about the team’s current dominance before tagging Seth Rollins back into the match. However, momentum flipped once again as Goldust came back with a smooth scoop powerslam that brought an encouraging chant for the veteran out of the crowd in the FedExForum, which I particularly appreciated considering the out of place CM Punk chant earlier in the bout. He then got the hot tag from his brother, who rolled up Rollins for a two count before hitting his signature Disaster kick on Reigns, who was perched on the apron looking for the tag. He then dove from the top rope once more with a moonsault that forced another nearfall from Rollins. Cody then brought out a rare muscle buster maneuver, looking to have won the match, only for Reigns to return and break up the pinfall. This interruption kicked off a chaotic turn of events that saw Goldust speared by Reigns, while the legal men duked it out, with Rollins catching a Disaster kick and turning it into a powerbomb to the turnbuckle that set up his Blackout finish handing the victory to The Shield. The Shield then showed unity as all three members stood tall in the middle of the ring, fists clenched together in solidarity. `
Finally, we focus on Daniel Bryan’s plight against the Authority that ran throughout the night as the underlying theme of the episode. Things began as the Authority entered the arena, greeted by their usual boos, and Stephanie McMahon addressed the crowd recapping last week’s conflict between Daniel Bryan and her husband. She then declared that Bryan’s actions deserved termination but says that they’ve decided to issue an apology to him and won’t fire him as long as he returns the favour and apologizes to them in turn. She then continued her heel schtick putting down Bryan as a +B with a niche following while putting over Batista, Randy Orton and Triple H as A+ stars. Later in the night, it was Daniel Bryan’s opportunity to address the live crowd in Memphis. He opened by asking the Memphians whether they thought Stephanie’s apology earlier in the night was sincere, to which the crowd responded with a chant of “NO!”. He then moved onto Triple H, declaring that after last week’s Pedigree he can’t have it both ways, stating that he can’t be both Chief Operating Officer and a fighter. Returning to the apology, Bryan referenced the Game asserting that if the Authority want him to apologise for standing up for himself then he doesn’t have two words for them, but just one, cueing the crowd to once more chant “NO!”. He then moves on from a negative to a positive, issuing a rallying call to the YES! Movement, proclaiming that tonight they will occupy Raw and won’t leave the ring until Triple H accepts his Wrestlemania challenge. He then surprisingly invites members of the movement to join him in the ring. Fans decked out in Daniel Bryan t-shirts then entered the ring as Raw went to a commercial break. WWE returned on the air to an astonishing sight, the ring was awash with bodies, of course they were all plants but it was nonetheless a very striking image. I didn’t think the WWE could beat the visual of Daniel Bryan performing his YES! chant upon the cage after turning on the Wyatt family, before a potential Wrestlemania moment, but they might just have done that here with this segment with the ring full of WWE fans overspilling to ringside chanting “YES!”.
The Authority joined the scene and Triple H dryly congratulated Daniel Bryan on his movement, before labelling him a troll and a hippy. He then warns everyone in the ring that they have 30 seconds to leave or he’ll call security; the fans respond with a loud chant of “NO!”, while Bryan suggests moving Raw to the car park. Two security guards come to the ring but retrain back to Triple H as they find they don’t pose much of a threat to the masses of fans thronging in the spotlight. This move from the security doesn’t please Stephanie McMahon who berates them telling them to do their job before going off on a rant about power and her family. Bryan stands tall atop the turnbuckle, telling the Authority that they underestimate the power of the people, before turning to the fans and telling them “We own this ring!”. Triple H seems to have had enough and brings out Damien Sandow for the next match of the night, in turn Bryan invites Sandow to join the “YES!” Movement. Bryan was really in his element here. Sandow turns to leave but once again Stephanie berates him for turning back and loses her cool. Triple H isn’t far behind, frustrated with the holdup to Raw, he threatens Bryan and tells him he’s been trying to protect him. The Game grows increasingly infuriated and warns Bryan that if they fight at Wrestlemania that he would end him. Finally, he warns Bryan that he should be careful what he wishes for and accepts his ‘Mania challenge.
Daniel Bryan is clearly happy but he takes a moment and declares he think he might’ve “misspoke”, and claims that what these people really want is him fighting for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Therefore, he amends his challenge, adding the caveat that if he beats Triple H at Wrestlemania then he gets added to the main event to compete in a triple threat match against Randy Orton and Batista. This seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and he storms down the ring to end this occupation himself, only to be held back by security, this frustration of not being able to get his hands on Bryan leads him to accept Bryan’s deal, ending a quite special Monday Night Raw segment that was only really limited by a somewhat tame crowd (although this segment cleverly made the crowd look better than they were). Later in the night, Bryan teamed up with the Big Show to take on Authority favourites Batista and Randy Orton, which was a decent enough match considering it featured an out of shape Animal and an aging Big Show with little motivation. The match ended after Bryan countered an RKO attempt into a backslide pinning combination on Orton, who kicked out at two and a half but subsequently ran right into a Busaiku Knee Kick from Bryan that secured the victory. WWE really seem to be giving Bryan the ball to run with and man is it exciting; understandably he cannot be challenged in his claim to this week’s LockUP Raw Superstar of the Week.
Overall, the WWE really have to be congratulated, the creative weakness in the current product was the misguided babyface dynamic of Batista, exposed by negative fan reaction highlighted by the “Boo-tista” chant, and the lack of tangible success/payoff for the fan favourite Daniel Bryan. In recent weeks, both these issues have been addressed successfully. Yes, maybe the WWE should have acted sooner, or maybe even the way it all played out as brought the best possible entertainment. Either way, the direction of the WWE right now is entertaining and I appreciate it. The rest of Raw saw the Uso brothers defeat the team of Curtix Axel and Ryback, who entered himself into the Andre the Giant memorial match, much like Big E who defeated Jack Swagger in a match that continued to fuel the fire between the latter and his fellow Real American Antonio Cesaro. Action from the Divas’ division saw Nikki Bella getting the pinfall teaming with her sister Brie to defeat Divas’ Champion AJ Lee and her bodyguard Tamina Snuka. Sheamus beat Christian once more in a Memphis street fight, hitting a Brogue Kick through a bass drum to secure his umpeenth victory over the Canadian. I hope you enjoyed this week’s Monday Night Four column as much as I enjoyed what can only be described as the Daniel Bryan edition of Raw (feat. the Undertaker & Paul Heyman). Make sure you come back to this blog and tell me exactly what you think by commenting below or tweeting me @HelloHegarty, I guarantee I’ll respond to any of your tweets. I would love to hear you opinions on the column, Raw and the build to Wrestlemania in general. I’d really like 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! Cheerio.