After Seth Rollins had unfortunately had to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship due to an injury sustained at a live event, would WWE come out swinging with a killer of RAW? Or would the absence of The Architect end up seeing WWE's flagship programme slip in quality after two strong weeks of television. We got The Wyatt Family's eulogy to the Brothers of the Destruction in the main event slot, Cesaro facing off with Sheamus, and Roman Reigns scrapping with The Big Show, both in the first round of a tournament to crown a new champion, and more across the show, but was this week's edition worth staying up til 4am for?
If you had Triple H opening RAW with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on a red velvet plinth in your office pools then you'd have been a happy chappy! Let's be honest, the show was only going to start this way, and with The Game getting roundly cheered by the Manchester Arena (who also started a "Thank You Rollins" chant when the former World Heavyweight Champion was mentioned). Certainly not the strongest opening segment in the world, as Trips called Roman Reigns down to the ring, to put him over (strongly) and offer him Rollins spot as "The Man". Whilst I can leave and take Triple H's big long monologues, this fell apart on the fact that the crowd HATED Roman Reigns (especially when Triple H lay the belt across his shoulder) and mostly cheered Triple H, something which the creative seemingly hadn't bargained on. Not terrible, but certainly needed a bit more thought on how to get this smarky Manchester crowd on board with the direction.
Match 1 - WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Round 1 - Roman Reigns vs. "The World's Largest Athlete" The Big Show
My absolute highlight of this match was Big Show shouting "I am a giant" and Michael Cole on commentary hollering back "Indeed you are". In fact, the commentary team was full of gems in this one. From Cole losing his shit when Show got a near fall of a jumping splash or asking "Who can forget the Last Man Standing match earlier in the year between these two?"...erm...obviously you think some people will have forgotten...because you're reminding them, right now! While the commentary team was unintentionally making me chuckle, the crowd was pissing me off big time. A Mexican wave followed by "We Are Awesome" chant...no, just no Manchester. Embarrassing. Oh yeah...the match...kind of what you would expect. Show battered Reigns early door, couple of hope spots, Reigns hit a Superman punch out of nowhere and a spear for the win. Not terrible, although Big Show shouting spots should have been editing out seeing as they had the opportunity, but failed to capture the crowd in the way that should have.
Winner - Roman Reigns via pinfall (Spear) in 11 minutes, 50 seconds
Fast-Forward...The first of a handful of video packages looking at The Brothers of Destruction's careers aired, with a look at their WWE debuts at Survivor Series 1990 (teaming with Ted DiBiase & Rhythm & Blues to defeat Dusty Rhodes, Koko B. Ware and the Hart Foundation) and Bad Blood 1997 (interrupting the Undertaker's Hell in a Cell match with Shawn Michaels) respectively...Before his bout Intercontiental Champion Kevin Owens cut a promo that had the crowd cheering him, until he called them dumb, it really was that easy *slow clap for Manchester*...Owens defeated Titus O'Neil in a short bout, which saved me having to talk too much about how the hell O'Neil managed to get himself into the 16-man World Heavyweight Championship tournament in the first place...Owens strutted around with JBL hat on, looking a fat, white, male Alicia Fox...In an interview with Renee Young, Paige called Charlotte a cunt, really, go check it out if you don't believe me...More Brothers of Destruction highlights, as Undertaker goes over Psycho Sid at WrestleMania XIII and Kane cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Rey Mysterio at Money in the Bank 2010....The crowd singing along with Paige's theme music was probably the best thing they did all night...
Match 3 - Singles - Paige vs. Becky Lynch
This should have been another break out moment for the Diva's division...and it wasn't. It would be easy to blame the fact that the two were only given just over five minutes, but for me, that's enough time for a quick and enjoyable TV match. The dynamic was pretty undefined here, in terms of who was supposed to be the heel and the babyface, which meant the crowd had no idea what to do. They clearly wanted to get behind Paige, but how do you get behind someone who's just locked on an abdominal stretch? Either have Paige come out and trash Manchester (a la Bad News Barrett) to get the crowd behind Becky or do it the other way round and have Paige as a babyface for one night in her home country. Whilst the bout was poorly booked, both girls looked a little lost out their at times and it all contributed to what was a decidedly shoddy encounter. Becky Lynch winning with Paige being the Number One contender for the Diva's Championship also made very little sense, even with a handful of tights.
Winner - Becky Lynch via pinfall (Roll-up) in 5 minutes, 5 seconds.
Match 4 - WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Round 1 - The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler
The main problem I had with the Tournament matches were that they were just too damn predictable. Take this match for instance, I could have told you what was going to happen move for move and would have been pretty damn close. Miz worked the leg, Ziggler sold the leg, Ziggler escapes the Figure Four Leg Lock, flash win off a Superkick for Ziggler and done. It was perfectly fine, but I just couldn't bring myself to care. Miz has been doing a whole lot on television recently and Ziggler has been treading water in a feud with Tyler Breeze. Neither man did anything that stood out particularly, this was a decidedly average bout, in a tournament that needed to catch the imagination of everyone from the very first match.
Winner - Dolph Ziggler via pinfall (Superkick) in 5 minutes and 1 second
Fast-Forward... More Brothers of Destruction highlights as The Undertaker returned to haunt Randy Orton and destroy most of the Smackdown roster at Survivor Series 2005 and Kane won the WWE Tag Team Championships with Daniel Bryan from Kofi Kingston & R-Truth at Night of Champions 2012....Zeb Colter and United States Champion Alberto Del Rio came out on the ramp for a bit, to berate the crowd and continue to leave me to ask questions as to why WWE creative thought they would have any chemistry...I was cringing throughout Natalya and Naomi's bout, in which Natalya tried to join in with the "We Want Sasha" chants like an annoying Auntie trying to be cool... Rightly the crowd erupted when Sasha put Natalya in the Banks Statement post-match...More Brothers of Destruction highlights as things began to get a bit much, with The Undertaker defeating Edge inside Hell in a Cell at SummerSlam 2008 and Kane ruining Edge & Lita's wedding on RAW #630...Before Sheamus' contest with Cesaro we got shown some interaction between King Barrett and Wayne Rooney (An English footballer, who plays and captains both Manchester United and the England National Team...for anyone who was a bit clueless last night)...
Match 6 - WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament 1st Round - Sheamus with King Barrett vs. Cesaro
The first bout to really attempt to break out of the 1st Round tournament bracket, Cesaro and Sheamus showed the chemistry we've seen out of them time and time again. A hard-hitting clash as one would expect from these two European bruisers, but also featured some quite lovely reversals and sequences, like Cesaro ducking under a Brogue Kick and turning it into a Sharpshooter. The Swiss Superman's selling of an injured arm was spot on throughout and added a lot to his comeback towards the end of the bout, consisting of series of strong European uppercut and dropkick that knocked Sheamus off the top rope to the outside. Obviously, the moment that got everyone talking was Rooney's involvement as he slapped King Barrett at ringside, allowing the distraction that gave Cesaro the win. I thought the whole sequence was incredibly well done, and whilst you could see it coming a mile off, it did give the bout that little sports entertainment flourish that will have people remembering it for much longer than they would have otherwise.
Winner - Cesaro via pinfall (Small package) in 15 minutes, 30 seconds
Fast-Forward...Rooney awkwardly standing next to Cesaro, whilst "Scottish legend" and West Bromwich Albion widget Darren Fletcher stood on like a proud Uncle, was something I never thought I'd get the opportunity to see...Tyler Breeze's backstage interview with Renee Young, whilst being oddly placed in the middle of the entrances for his tournament match with Dean Ambrose, was a lot of fun, with Breeze adding lots of little touches and wealth of depth to the character that many current WWE roster members lack....
Match 7 - WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament Round 1 - Dean Ambrose vs. Tyler Breeze with Summer Rae
Topping off a really pleasing selection of action and certainly the most enjoyable part of the show, this was a cracking TV encounter. Breeze was allowed to shine in his RAW in-ring debut, with some great character touches like moving Summer into the path of an Ambrose suicide dive, and a chance to show off his vicious streak by focusing in on an Ambrose shoulder injury. The shoulder injury for Ambrose off an English-style dropkick was done finely and kicked the match into the next gear. The narrative didn't feel contrived and I reckon it would have been pretty easy to get drawn in, if you had been watching as a channel hopper. More Tyler Breeze and Dean Ambrose on RAW please and thank you.
Winner - Dean Ambrose via pinfall (Roll-Up) in 11 minutes, 5 seconds
Fast-Forward...Another Brothers of Destruction highlights package, this time with The Undertaker jousting Triple H inside Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania 28 and Kane setting the Royal Rumble eliminations record during the 2001 event...
Whilst this week's New Day pre-match promo wasn't exactly still a home run, but it was certainly still entertaining. Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods make we want to sit up and listen every time they come on the screen and this was no different, even if the content wasn't quite as coherent as it should have been. The promo basically poked at the plot holes that had arisen out of none of The New Day being involved in the World Heavyweight Championship tournament, despite Big E and Kingston being involved in a Number One contender's tournament two weeks ago and the fact that all three members were part of Seth Rollins' team in last weeks' main event.
Match 8 - Six Man Tag Team - WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day vs. Neville & The Usos
Another average bout, that was perhaps a little disappointing with the talent that was in this match. There was some nice spots, like The Usos dual superkicks and stereo dives, followed up by a Corkscrew press by Neville to the outside, but the contest as a whole never looked to become anything other than lengthy filler. The finish was done well, with The New Day using all three members to steal a pinfall on Neville, but it strangely took a little bit of the momentum away from The Usos who only returned last week and Neville as the only man in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament in the bout. Continually teasing Neville's Red Arrow finish and not delivering was a little shitty as well.
Winners - The New Day via pinfall in 8 minutes, 43 seconds
Fast-Forward...The New Day's gyrating in victory is still a joy to behold...The final Brothers of Destruction highlight of the evening saw things take a turn with The Wyatt Family taking both men out at Hell in a Cell 2015 and then Monday Night RAW #1170 respectively...
I still haven't gotten my head around the finish to the show. It was so rushed and put out the majority of my interest in the B.O.D. vs. Wyatt Family feud, but it got a massive reaction out of the live crowd. Basically Bray Wyatt said some words about Kane and The Undertaker, the legendary repair returned, the Wyatt Family turned up and The Brothers of Destruction battered them to end the show. It made the Family look shit, as four of them struggled to take out the end-of-the-road duo, and eventually all got took down. I can certainly see why someone would have enjoyed this segment, but in terms of continuing to build interesting in an upcoming Survivor Series match it was a pretty poor close to the show. I'll accept that WWE was backed into a corner with Seth Rollins injury, but they could have done many better things with this main event spot.
ATPW Scale Rating - 4.66 - Average-Good TV
It was very clear that this was a WWE scrambling to pull something for the penultimate RAW before one of their biggest PPV's of the year, without a WWE World Heavyweigt Champion and with a house show elsewhere on the same night. Whilst the tournament for the main championship seemed to be picked completely at random, there was two quality match out of the five that were broadcast. Cesaro vs. Sheamus and Ambrose vs. Breeze were both very good television matches, whilst Wayne Rooney's involvement with King Barrett was a lot of fun. The main event segment gets by on having a "surprise" appearance from The Undertaker in Manchester alone, even if the content wasn't quite for me.
Elsewhere the tournament wasn't exactly setting the world on fire, Roman Reigns and The Big Show's being unable to grab the crowd standing out as a particularly weak bout. However, the ropiest contest of the night for me, was Paige and Becky Lynch short bout, that couldn't deliver on expectations, due to a number of mistakes in-ring and with the booking.
This was a bit of a step-back on the previous two weeks and it's a real shame that WWE had to change direction just as the Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins feud was beginning to gain traction on the back of two good episodes of WWE's flagship. I'm willing to be kind on WWE who not a whole lot of time to sort something out for the show and had the added problem of having half a roster elsewhere during the show. Here's hoping we get a return to form for the go-home show for Survivor Series next month.