Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream
Heavily promoted throughout the show the main event segment saw The Authority holding a special ceremony for World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, entitled Architect of a Dream (which is superbly annoying name). Earlier in the night in a backstage segment Triple H gave Kane the task of organising the segment, in what seemed to be the end of the Big Red Monster's tiff with Rollins. Rollins turned up with champagne, after what appeared to have been a night out with his boys J&J Security, to continue to wind up Kane was a nice touch, with Rollins continuing to knock his character work out of the park. Talking of great character work, Dean Ambrose turned to request a World Heavyweight Championship match with Rollins at Elimination Chamber, ending up winding up Kane so badly ("What would Paul Bearer think?") that he was placed in a match with Bray Wyatt later in the night. An enjoyable backstage segment, with each part of the puzzle coming together nicely. A quick backstage segment with Kane getting things ready, whilst also being disturbed by a kissing Adam Rose and Rosa Mendes was also a thing that happened.
The first part of this segment was magnificent. The faction of The Authority has grown into a something that is both entertaining to watch and easy to hate, keeping elements of the group off of television at certain times has kept thing feeling fresh. I enjoyed seeing the group back together, as they all heaped praise upon Rollins. Kane's promo in particular was a highlight, his "We don't always see eye to eye...I'm over a foot taller than you are" line was spot on, a highlight package of Rollins' career that Kane had made was the icing on the cake, whilst also highlighting an end to their rivalry. Jamie Noble also shone in his time on the mic, grabbing some cheap heat and continuing to lick Rollins' little hole.
Of course, Dean Ambrose was back out, attempting to get the World Heavyweight Championship match he had requested earlier and this is where the segment began to struggle for me. Of course, Ambrose losing to Bray Wyatt earlier in the night (see below) didn't exactly help his cause and whilst Ambrose and Stephanie sparring on the mic was entertaining, the string of action that erupted afterward felt a little long and convoluted. Essentially, Ambrose managed to get his title match by threatening to hit Rollins with a steel chair with Rollins' head on some cinder blocks at ringside, before Rollins was able to gain control to close the show with a Pedigree. This was two or maybe three weeks worth of booking squeezed into one segment. Obviously this was needed due to Elimination Chamber occuring in two weeks, although I'm not sure the show even needs a title match (almost every PPV last year didn't have one) I wouldn't have liked to have seen Ambrose have to struggle a bit more to get his match and prove himself.
Ambrose and Rollins' history over the last year should allow the two to put together an strong title bout at Elimination Chamber, and this show left me interested in seeing how things are going to develop over the next week and then past the PPV in Money in the Bank in June. There's still space to develop the rivalry as it was left rather open in their previous blow-off match at Hell in a Cell last October. I'm hoping we'll see the pair given a lot of freedom to create a competitive wrestling match, rather than an more over-booking, Rollins needs to have a little more credibility if he is going to look like a believable challenge for Brock Lesnar when he finally returns. Perhaps we'll see either Randy Orton or Roman Reigns neutralise the Authority's threat early doors?
Ryback vs. Sheamus
Taking up the opening segment of the show, this one came together when Stephanie McMahon and Triple H were talking about the upcoming Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship. It was great to see Stephanie back on Raw and she was on top form on the microphone, working the crowd well and delivering some superb lines like "Unlike Daniel Bryan's career, the show must go on". The back and forth between Sheamus and Ryback following both interrupting the Authority was okay, but neither really stepped up to the challenge of being part of the opening segment of the show. Ryback seemed desperate to get a rub from repeatedly mentioning Daniel Bryan and whilst it tied in nicely to the storyline, I'd have preferred a few less references.
Once the match got started business really picked up. I've enjoyed Sheamus and Ryback's two bouts on television last year, and the duo seem to have a good chemistry in the ring, being able to bring out the best in each other. This was no different, possibly the best match that the duo have put on, for a number of reasons. With Ryback's mid section heavily bandaged due to his match with Bray Wyatt at Payback, Sheamus' offence was mostly focused on that area. Ryback continued to impress with his selling that worked so well the previous night, putting over the pain whilst also seemingly struggling to breath, not just when Sheamus was in control but also at appropriate points during his own offence like after hitting a Gorilla Press onto the announce table.
This style of match suited Sheamus' heel persona well and gave the character some different directions to go in, beyond the bloke that bullies the smaller the guys which can only ever run for so long. He looked good in control and viciously working over the ribs, however it was the sneaky means of victory that really allowed the character to shine. Sheamus appeared to injure his eye after colliding with the ringpost, and with the referee holding Ryback at bay, Sheamus delivered a Brogue Kick to pick up the victory and stretched his streak over Ryback to 3-0. The Celtic Warrior then showing his eye wasn't hurt after the match was a great touch that the Irishman played very well indeed.
With both men being announced to be apart of the Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber on 31st May, this match worked well to keep each man looking strong, using the relevant injury to give Ryback an excuse for the loss and the Big Guy probably came off better in a valiant defeat than he would have pulling out an unbelievable win. Ryback needs a couple of victories heading into Elimination Chamber after losses to Sheamus, Wyatt and Seth Rollins over the last week, in order to have him look like a viable challenger for the title.
John Cena United States Open Challenge
John Cena's Open Challenge has become one of the major highlights of WWE television since it was introduced on the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania. Things were turned on their head a little here, but we'll get to that in a moment. Things opened up with Cena's now customary promo, which didn't hit the spot with me. The main reason for this was the heavy focus on 'Murica, Cena's "We're all proud Americans" perhaps the most perplexing of the bunch. I'm not American, there's plenty of guys on your roster that aren't American, the last two people to hold the US title before Cena weren't American. I do understand that Cena is United States Champion and and I'm all for him putting over the belt as a belt of the people, so to speak, but I couldn't buy into the promo and get behind things as much as the live crowd (and especially a bunch of soldiers) did.
However, things quickly took a turn for the better as NXT Champion Kevin Owens made his Monday Night Raw debut, as he appeared to head out to answer Cena's challenge. Owens and Cena going back and forth on the mic was a truly special moment. One of those goosebumpy, edge of your seat moments. Whilst it was clear that not everyone knew who Owens was, he made sure they would remember him by nailing his time on the microphone, working the crowd well, keeping his no-nonsense character that viewers of NXT will be more than familiar with. On his part Cena also raised his game, running down Owens for disrespecting the fans. The two characters just seemed to click, whilst there was certainly chemistry between the two performers.
Interestingly, Owens decided that he didn't want a United States Championship match because he was already a Champion. For me, this did everything for the NXT title, showing it as a prize that was worth holding onto on it's own, whilst Cena's prior promo protected the United States title. With Owens looking to fight Cena on his own terms, he quickly attacked the US Champion, delivering a swift and impressive pop up powerbomb, before holding the NXT title a loft. Owens came across fantastically in this moment, not just because he looked like a bastard for treading on the United States title (again helped along by Cena's promo earlier, although none of the commentary team picked up on Owens being Canadian), but he looked like an absolute beast by destroying the biggest name in wrestling in a matter of seconds.
With NXT Takeover: Unstoppable coming up on Wednesday, this segment (along with Sami Zayn's appearance a few weeks back, which formed a large chunk of the discussion between the two) helped to promote the show to an audience that may not have been particularly interested in the show before, which can only be good for the brand as it continues to grow. Even more intriguing was the backstage segment that saw Owens talking to Triple H, before revealing to Renee Young that he would face Cena at Elimination Chamber. If the two can deliver on the promise of their segment and build on their evident chemistry this match has the potential to be something very special indeed.
Billed as Rusev's reaction, the initial segment involving Rusev and Lana going back and forth on their relationship and eventually parting ways. I thought the scripting of this segment was nice, with both Rusev and Lana putting in decent performances in what must have been a difficult segment to play out in front of a live audience. Lana's delivery made it clear that she will be taking the babyface roll going forward, trying to garner sympathy by pleading that she was "only trying to protect [Rusev]" by "quitting" for him in his match with John Cena. Maybe this was a little lengthy for what it needed to be, and could have had two minutes or so shaved off with a little tighter scripting, but for what it was it an entirely watchable piece of the WWE Soap Opera.
Whilst this seemed like the last we would see of Rusev and Lana, they made another appearance later in the show, following Dolph Ziggler squashing Stardust (seriously, a nothing match). During a Michael Cole interview with Ziggler post-match, that revealed Ziggler would be involved in the Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship on 31st May, Lana would come down to the ring and kiss Ziggler. Ziggler's supposedly a changed man since the day when he was snogging the face of AJ Lee on Monday Night Raw every week, with two sharing a couple of pecks, Ziggler even seemed smitten as the two walked away. Before they could leave, Rusev charged the ring, but ended up taking a Zig Zag after Lana acted as a distraction for the Bulgarian Brute. I'm interested to see how this goes, Ziggler and Lana could make an interesting partnership, but I have a feeling this will be short lived and there to allow Lana to feud with Rusev without getting physical. But for now, long live Dana/Lalph.
Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose
In a return to their feud that was big part of WWE television from October last year through to January, Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose piece together a strong television contest. The characters meshed back together well, presenting a series of enjoyable sequences and decent spots. Things were pretty much back and forth throughout the entire bout, which suited the characters, with both men showing that they don't need a gimmick match to be creative, Wyatt's rope hung suplex to the outside stands out as a particularly impressive moment, as does a double clothesline spot on the outside.
After a section of good back and forth action that saw both men dodge each other's signature moves, it took interference from J&J Security to allow Wyatt to hit Sister Abigail to pick up the win. An interesting result for Ambrose who would end up getting a World Heavyweight Championship in two weeks at the end of show, and whilst I understand the idea of building the rivalry between he and Rollins, there really was no need considering they spent most of the Summer and into the Autumn of last year feuding (and the PPV is only two weeks away). Wyatt on the other hand is building some strong momentum with another win here, he's looking like a solid pick to win the Money in the Bank Ladder match on 14th June in Columbus.
King Barrett vs. Neville
The match itself was a pleasure to watch, telling a great story and with Neville doing a superb job of selling an injured leg, after being attacked by Bo Dallas prior to the match (In an interesting segment, that may have proven that the United States just can't understand Geordie) Being unable to do the German Suplex, being unable to hit a springboard because of the knee was a really nice touch that more often than not is forgotten in modern day pro wrestling. Whilst I'm interesting to see where a Bo Dallas vs. Neville feud could go in the future, I can't help but feeling that there was still more space to develop the story between Barrett and Neville, hopefully it will be picked up again in the future.
Tag Team Championship Match
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd with Natalya vs. Big E & Kofi Kingston
Things were moving quick in the tag team division, and whilst this match was built around Xavier Woods being banned from ringside, it quickly descended into a melee, with Kofi Kingston and Big E disqualified for refusing to stop their assault on Tyson Kidd while he was trapped in the corner. What was presented during the match was entertaining, with Kidd and Cesaro dominating the majority of the match with some cool offence. With Elimination Chamber on the horizon, all the teams that would be involved ended up running out as the Lucha Dragons, Los Matadores, The Ascension and The Prime Time Players came out. This was an exciting twist on WWE's cliche mass run-ins, with some cool high flying spots from Lucha Dragons and Los Matadores. The Prime Time Players ending up standing tall after Darren Young delivered a Gut Check to Xavier Woods was a solid touch after the Players' recent run of promos on the division.
Diva's Championship MatchNaomi with Tamina vs. Nikki Bella
Before the match, Stephanie McMahon forced Brie Bella to stay backstage because she was supposedly worried about Brie's mental health following husband Daniel Bryan's injury. Strangely this didn't play into the match at all, with Tamina doing absolutely nothing until the finish, which didn't exactly help Naomi. Not a patch on their match from Extreme Rules and failing to build with the blocks that had been provided was just silly. It was however great to see Paige return, making the save for Nikki Bella after the match, before hitting her with a Rampaige because why the fuck not, I suppose. It would seem we'll get a Triple Threat between these three at Elimination Chamber, with Michael Cole desperate to get over that Paige was the "true number one contender"
Tag Team Match
Luke Harper & Erick Rowan vs. Fandango & Zack Ryder
An extended squash match for the former members of the Wyatt Family, as they continue to dominate their opponents. Your basic tag team structure, with Fandango playing your Ballroom Dancer in peril. The surprisingly still mildly over Zack Ryder got in a fair amount of offence, but eventually succumbed to Full Nelson Slam/Superkick combination that allowed Erick Rowan to pick up the win. For what it was it was it was fine, Harper and Rowan look to be getting a big push as duo, and with the pair surprisingly left out of the Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber, it would have be taken that the duo will become the challengers for whoever walks out of the Chamber with the belts.
The same promo video for Tough Enough that ran during Payback was shown, which was a real treat. Daniel Bryan dropping the Intercontinental Championship last week was also replayed again, WWE seems to really want to hammer home the point that he is injured after showing the same recap on Payback the previous night. NXT Takeover: Unstoppable also received a promo, it's on the WWE Network this Wednesday. This week's Smackdown with feature the "return" of Roman Reigns, because he's been away since Sunday. Titus O'Neil winning Celebrity Dad of the Year received a little mention, good for Titus.
Overall, I thought this was a solid edition of Monday Night Raw, with WWE working quickly to announce matches for Elimination Chamber. The main segments delivered, especially John Cena and Kevin Owens back and forth on the microphone, and although the Ambrose/Rollins storyline was incredibly rushed, there was still some good performances. Rusev and Lana shone in the mid-card as their storyline was furtherned with the addition of Dolph Ziggler, whilst Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose had the strongest bout of the night. The undercard offered some fresh rivalries for the main roster, even if the matches (with the exception of Barrett vs. Neville) didn't quite deliver.
As a television product this was a decent follow up to a strong Payback PPV, that moved quick to turn that momentum towards Elimination Chamber. Thanks for reading our next TV review will be Wednesday's WWE NXT Takeover: Unstoppable.