John Cena Appreciation Night
The main storyline this week centered around the return of The Authority and there attempts to get to John Cena. Following a recap of the end of last week's show, the show opened with the "entire" roster in and around the ring, although the focus was clearly on the red and yellow clad John Cena. Cena cut a promo about going back on his word last week, with his usually angsty facial expression, I don't think this promo was particularly needed, neither was it particularly impressive. Everything Cena said had been communicated to the audience in the recap at the start of the show. Luckily, after interupting Cena, Stephanie McMahon did a much better job, playing her patronising boss character perfectly, with Triple H also doing a decent job, gaining the group a decent amount of heat. The Authority thanked Seth Rollins by placing him in the World Heavyweight Championship bout with John Cena and Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, which definitely makes the match more interesting for me. Finally, the duo announced that tonight would be "John Cena Appreciation Night", which would clearly be the main event segment.
To tie in with the John Cena Appreciation Night theme, a number of vignettes featuring big moments from Cena's career, starting with Cena's debut answering Kurt Angle challenge on Smackdown in 2002, winning the WWE Championship for the first time from JBL in 2005 and being drafted to Raw on an edition of Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel also in 2005. These clips have been pretty much played to death over the last few years and I'm not sure if they were supposed to be annoying to play into The Authority's ideas behind the John Cena Appreciation Night deal.
The main event segment started with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon winding up John Cena in the ring, by going over how much they appreciated him bringing them back. Stephanie was once again on point here, but Triple H launched into one of his rambling promos that never quite goes anywhere. Eventually, Ryback, Erick Rowan and Dolph Ziggler were bought out to the ring, with The Authority talking about their futures as if they weren't in the ring. This worked really nicely, as I think a lot of the viewers would be able to relate to having a condescending and frustrating boss talk in such a manner.
Eventually with The Authority retreated to the ramp, they revealed they had decided the fate of the three member of Team Cena, with Stephanie doing her best Mr. McMahon "You're Fired" impression. With Cena continuing to pull his conflicted face, streamers and balloons came down from the ceiling for his Appreciation Night, contrasting with reactions of Ziggler, Ryback and Rowan as they left the ring. This gave a nice visual for the end of the show, whilst also leaving a number of open questions, that made me want to tune in next week. It's important that Ziggler, Ryback and Rowan aren't seen for sometime in my opinion to push the fact they have been fired and to get the biggest reaction out their respective returns. Personally, I would want them all to have, at least, a month off television and perhaps even longer, a Ziggler return at WrestleMania to return the favour for Sting could get a huge reaction and be well worth the time off.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt
This match would the be the zenith of the Wyatt vs. Ambrose feud that's been raging on since late October. This was confirmed in a pre-taped promo from Bray Wyatt that aired earlier in the night. It was Wyatt's usual style of promo, talking about Ambrose's father and the devil. I think having a clear direction for where the promo should go helped Wyatt here as this was one of his stronger efforts as of late. Dean Ambrose also had an opportunity to get the match over on the microphone, with his own pre-taped promo. Everything he said, the way he said and his expression made me want to watch a fight. Can't ask for more than that really.
I'm not a big fan of Ambulance matches, and I also haven't been convinced by the majority of the Wyatt and Ambrose's feud, however I rather enjoyed this bout. Almost certainly the strongest match on the card and pretty much the only bout that the crowd gave a shit about either. The early brawling between the two was convincing and it got across to any new viewers that these two didn't like each other a whole lot. The pair fighting out in the crowd and near the Ambulance early was a nice twist to the regular pattern of the Ambulance match. It was here that the story of the match really came together, with Wyatt slamming the Ambulance door into Ambrose's leg, going on to focus a lot of his offence onto this leg. Again this was another welcome addition, and suited Wyatt's character down to the ground, whilst also allowing Ambrose to really show off his selling ability.
The spots were kept simple and used at effective point during the match, which gave the bout a strong flow. Ambrose's unique offence and character worked was more often than not tied into these spots, hitting a lovely version of his pendulum lariat using a stretcher, as well as the stand out spot of the night hitting an elbow drop off the top of the ambulance through a table (which was painted white with a red cross, which looked ridiculous). All the time Ambrose was selling the leg, aiding his crowd reaction as a babyface, whilst Wyatt's offence was kept simple and dirty, which is all good with me.
The finish played into Ambrose's leg injury as he grasped at his leg following the elbow drop through the table, which allowed for Wyatt to hit a Sister Abigail into the ambulance, followed by one onto the concrete and pick up the victory. This worked as a satisfying finish to the match as the story all came together, but I'm not sure how Ambrose will be effected going forward from losing this feud. However, I also think Wyatt needed to win this one, after his feuds with John Cena and Chris Jericho in 2014, so I am a little conflicted. I am happy to see how things move for both men going forward and I'd still expect both to featured in big matches on WrestleMania in March.
Intercontinental Championship Two Out of Three Falls Match
Dolph Ziggler (C) vs. Bad News Barrett
Part of the show opening segment involved the announcement that Dolph Ziggler would be defending his Intercontinental Championship against Bad News Barrett, with the reasoning being that Barrett had never lost the the title, after having to vacate the title back in July. I was left a little confused, as on the previous weeks Raw Barrett had returned and appeared to be a babyface, defeating Cesaro after Cesaro had cut a heel promo and offered an open challenge. Now, was this match just to make Cesaro look silly for his previous comments about the company, or do creative just not give enough of a shit to bother with something silly like consistent storytelling?
The first part of the match saw Barrett completely dominate, using mainly strikes and rest holds. The Corpus Christi crowd didn't seem to be into this at all, being very quiet, with a mild clap for Ziggler whilst Barrett had him locked in a headlock. I'm not sure if like me they were also confused with Barrett's sudden and unannounced switch back to a heel. Pretty much out of nowhere Ziggler managed to steal a victory with a rather nice crucifix pinning combination as a reversal for Barrett's Wind of Change. This first part of the match wasn't anything near what these two are capable of doing, their match on Raw last June would prove that.
However, the pair would be given a reprieve, as after losing the match Barrett went on to absolutely batter Ziggler around the ring. Using everything around the ring, Barrett's insensity here was particularly impressive. He looked strong and showed a different side to his character that we perhaps hadn't seen in a while, it made sense that he would be frustrated after dominating the match, but it also made it easy to see him a "sore loser" type guy, meaning he should have gotten a bit more heat that he actually got from a rather quiet crowd. After Barrett had finished his beating, Kane made his presence felt by revealing that the match was supposed to be Two out of Three Falls and hence the match would continue.
With the match continued and I still found myself feeling a little disapointed with the quality of the action. Barrett quickly got a cover after a big boot and Wasteland, meaning the match was tied at 1-1. Following this there was just far too many rest holds for my liking, especially considering how long the match was and how quiet the crowd was, neither guy really attempted to get the crowd into the match. The closing stages bout something a little extra than the rest of the match, with a decent sequence that ended in Barrett hitting the Bullhamer elbow to pick up the win and pick up his fifth Intercontinental Championship. Personally, I would've liked Ziggler to have got a lengthy title reign heading into WrestleMania at least, but with the event elsewhere, it was clear that the title needed to be drop for that storyline to work.
Two-on-One Handicap Match
Ryback vs. Seth Rollins & Kane
Ryback's initial punishment from The Authority was a handicap match against Seth Rollins and Kane. Ryback was one of the most over guys on the show with the crowd, with numerous "Feed Me More" chants throughout the match, and the Big Guy did a good job of playing to the crowd and for the most part looked good when on the offence, a nice belly to belly suplex in particular stood out for me.
Where this match fell apart for me was an over reliance on rest holds, Kane in particular seemed to be in love with headlocks. The match could have easily been four or five minutes shorter and been much better off because of this. Rollins and Ryback did seem to have at least something regarding chemistry when allowed to go at it, with a nice sequence building towards a spinebuster from Ryback. Rollins picking up the victory following two Curb Stomps after Kane had recieved a Shellshocked, was a strong and satisfying ending to the bout that finished up the numbers game story that the match told.
Big Show vs. Roman Reigns
The build up to this match began with a video package detailing the rivalry so far, which has essentially been each man tipping the announce table on each other, for the craic supposedly. A Roman Reigns interview with Renee Young was also presented, in which Reigns explained what Big Show could expect in the match later on. I couldn't help feeling that Reigns is trying too hard with promos, I'd like to see him relax a little and allow that natural charisma to he does have to come through, because everything here felt a little too forced.
I was pleasantly surprised by this match, as Show and Reigns worked around their limitations by presenting a decent story to follow of Show working over Reigns stomach, which as the commentary pointed out would be where Reigns' recent surgery took place. Reigns' comeback is perhaps the strongest part of his game, as many would have known from his days in The Shield, and we saw some of that here when Reigns exploded out of the box with multiple close lines and an impressive Samoan Drop. Unfortunately that was cut short with a DQ finish after Show used the steel steps, before Reigns hit a Spear on the inside meaning the steps landed on big show. Personally, I think this should have been a clean victory for Reigns, as whilst this match wasn't bad I have no desire to see the feud continue and Reigns could have used the momemtum heading into the Royal Rumble.
Six Person Mixed Tag Team Match
The Usos & Naomi vs. The Miz, Damien Mizdow & Alicia Fox
There was a surprising amount of build up going into this match, firstly with a recap of last weeks show which saw The Usos regain the tag titles from The Miz & Damien Mizdow, followed up by a backstage segment that saw Alicia Fox attack Naomi. It was a shame that this attack seemed to be forgotten about by these performers once the bell rang, as there was a lack of any real aggression between the two women in the match. The rest of the action between the men in the match was dull, as Miz spent most the match in control, and as soon as the hot tag was made for the Usos, the match was over with a confusing finish that saw Miz pick up the win with a school boy roll up.
Special Guest Referee's Match
Erick Rowan vs. Luke Harper
The Authority continued to punish the members of Team Cena by placing J&J Security as the special guest referees for Erick Rowan's match with Luke Harper. As you could guess this was a very quick match, with Noble & Mercury's antics getting in the way of Rowan's attempts at victory. Harper picked up the victory after a clothesline and a quick count from the pair, with the three continuing the beat down after the bell. I'd like to see what these two could do when given a bit more time, as I think an extended feud with Harper could do wanders for Rowan, both in terms of in-ring work and getting more over with the crowd.
Adam Rose vs. Big E
Going less than a minute, it was difficult to get much of a feel for either Big E or Adam Rose, who now seems to be a full on heel, in this one. Even then the bout included a headlock, which there really was no need for at this point. It was caught short when two of the Rosebuds, dressed in morph suits attacked Big E and the rest of his New Day partner, giving Big E the DQ win. The two men hit a terrific double team move, before revealing themselves as Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. If the two teams get given time for their feud this could potential provide some entertaining match ups, whilst also elevating both teams at the same time, but that's a big if in today's WWE.
Nikki Bella vs. Natalya
Before this match, Paige came out to show support for Natalya, with the pair sharing a hug at ringside. This again, showed a lack of consistency for WWE, as to the best of my knowledge Paige has been playing a heel on television for the last six month. This was too short to really get anything going, although Nikki did pull off a rather nice headscissors which would be my highlight of this bout. Natalya picked up the win with a roll up, following Nikki getting distracted by Paige and Brie on the outside. Nikki attacked Natalya after the match, Paige would make the save hitting a Superkick. Perhaps, if Paige had made a run in, rather than coming down to the ring earlier, the moment would have had a lot more impact.
Tag Team Match
Ascension vs. ???
Ah, The Ascension. What has happened here? Before the match Konnor and Viktor cut a shouty promo running down Demolition and the Road Warriors, which was very odd indeed. Are the Road Warrior going to make a run in? No, one of them is dead! So don't trash talk about them! Their match against a pair of unamed local talent, was dominated by JBL talking about how pissed off he was that they mentioned the Road Warrior and he did seemed genuinely annoyed. The match was less than a minute and the Ascension picked up the victory following the Fall of Man.
Rusev & Lana Promo
United States Champion Rusev and Lana were involved in a short pre-taped promo segment, which was essentially all the stuff we've heard from Lana for some time. Rusev did get some time to talk and wasn't awful, but did nothing that particularly made him stand out either. This seemed to be included just give the pair some face time on a packed show.
Bar Ambrose and Wyatt's enjoyable Ambulance match, these wasn't a single match on the card that looked to stand out as better than average, whilst a number of the matches were dull or felt unimportant. Elements of The Authority storyline worked, especially Stephanie McMahon's performance which was spot on all night long, and created a number of interesting possibilities going forward. This was a great Raw to start the new year on, it's time for WWE to kick it's self into a new gear, as WrestleMania is only three months away!