Monday, 18 April 2016

TV Review: WWE Monday Night RAW #1194 (Cesaro vs. Owens *WWE Intercontinental Championship #1 Contender's Match*)

On 11th April 2016, WWE aired the 1194th episode of Monday Night RAW live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA on the USA Network. 8 days removed from WrestleMania 32, Kevin Owens confronted Shane McMahon (who was in control of the show for the 2nd week running), and ended up facing off with Cesaro for a shot at The Miz's WWE Intercontinental Championship, WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns teamed with former rival Bray Wyatt to face League of Nations member Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio and Sami Zayn attempted to insert himself into WWE World Heavyweight Championship match by taking on #1 Contender AJ Styles...but was it any good? Let's take a look, shall we?

monday night raw #1194 match card

Match 1 - WWE Intercontinental Championship #1 Contendership - Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

Match 2 - WWE Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership Tournament Quarter Final - The Lucha Dragons: WWE United States Champion Kalisto & Sin Cara vs. The Dudley Boyz: Bubba Ray Dudley & D-Von Dudley

Match 3 - WWE Women's Championship - Natalya vs. Charlotte (C) w/Ric Flair

Match 4 - WWE Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership Tournament Quarter Final - The Social Outcasts: Curtis Axel & Heath Slater with The Social Outcasts: Bo Dallas & Adam Rose vs. The Usos: Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso

Match 5 - Singles: If Sami Zayn wins he get's a WWE World Heavyweight Championship shot at Payback - AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn 

Match 6 - Singles - Adam Rose with Bo Dallas vs. Apollo Crews

Match 7 - Tag Team - Bray Wyatt & Roman Reigns vs. The League of Nations: "The Celtic Warrior" Sheamus & Alberto Del Rio w/ Rusev

In Memory of: Blackjack Mulligan

Commentary: John "Bradshaw" Layfield, Michael Cole & Byron Saxton

Sponsored by: Tapout and JC Penney

owens interrupts mcmahon, cesaro defeats owens to get a shot at the wwe intercontinental championship

This week's Monday Night RAW kicked off with Shane McMahon giving it the big ones, because for some reason (apparently "overwhelming social media support", which of course WWE has been known to listen closely to in the past) he was in charge of the show for the second week in a row. Los Angeles was pretty hot for him and his run down of what he had planned for the show gave a much clearer picture than last week's opening segment. The climax of the segment saw Kevin Owens interrupt "The Boy Wonder", with Owens bursting into a rant about how many thing weren't fair, including the fact that he was yet to have his rematch for the WWE Intercontinental Championship that he lost to Zack Ryder at WrestleMania 32, but is now in the hands of The Miz. Of course, McMahon decided to hand Owens another pretty unfair decision, by placing him in a match with Cesaro where the winner would receive a WWE Intercontinental title shot. 

A belting opening contest from Cesaro and Owens, as you'd expect from these two. The bout was driven by it's narrative as Owens targeted Cesaro's arm and shoulder, which was wrapped in kinesio tape with a number of different submission holds. The Swiss Superman was spot on with his selling for the most part, making sure he was using his other arm for his uppercuts. The other side of the story was Cesaro's multiple attempts to use the Cesaro Swing, the first of which produced a brilliant moment when Owens halted the attempt by kicking Cesaro in the injured shoulder, before the Swiss Superman just double stomped him in the chest. The King of Swing did manage to get the move down for a short while, but once again the arm gave out in another moment of quality storytelling. It was a shame that the finish came off as a little sloppy as Cesaro attempted to turn a Pop-Powerbomb into a rana and transition it into his Neutralizer finish. It was a little bit too much going on here and unfortunately one little slip made the rest of the sequence fall down like a deck of cards. However, we are left with Cesaro placed in title programme just two weeks after his return, whilst Owens is freed up for his feud with Sami Zayn to continue.

fast-forward...Some bloke called Dr. Phil turn up and had some random shit to say to Charlotte and Ric Flair for reasons that I will never truly understand...

dudley boyz defeat lucha dragons to advance to the semi finals of the wwe tag team championship number one contenders tournament, enzo and cass have more words for dudley boyz

A dominant performance from the Dudley Boyz here as they coasted through a fairly hapless looking Lucha Dragons. To protect Lucha Dragons a little bit and mainly current WWE United States Champion Kalisto, they did an angle during the ad-break where Kalisto got injured down by the announce table, therefore leaving Sin Cara to go it alone. There was actually some cool shit that came out of it, with a spirited and skillful comeback sequence from Cara, but with the bout going less than four minutes, there wasn't enough to fully get your teeth into. I'm all for highlighting the strength of the Dudley Boyz (who won with a 3D), but I feel like this tag tournament should be being used to highlight the strength of the tag team division as a whole rather than just a handful of teams. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady were out to chat shit with Bubba Ray and D-Von and it seems clear that these teams might be on collision course in this tourney, with Enzo and Cass set to face The Ascension on Thursday Night Smackdown. Personal highlight, Enzo calling D-Von, Devon. 

the l.o.n. confront reigns, wyatt family attacks the l.o.n., shane makes the l.o.n. vs. reigns and wyatt for later in the show

It was the ghosts of storylines past for Roman Reigns this week, as all his late 2015 feud descended upon him in a weird mish-mosh of a segment. Firstly we were taking back to December when after Reigns had done his "I'm not a good guy" schtick out came Sheamus and his League of Nations buddies to talk about being from places other than America and such. They also mentioned chucking the "weak link" King Barrett last week, which the audience was supposed to buy as somehow making them strong and more of a threat. The most interesting things about the segment was, of course, the continued babyface turn of Bray Wyatt and his Wyatt Family who would make the save for Reigns and even coloborate with him to take out the L.O.N. The group is gaining more traction as babyfaces, but there is still a lot to be explored within the group dynamic, with Braun Strowman in particular stand out like Jim Duggan's thumb. Shane O'Mac was out to make himself a match, trying to push the whole odd couple partnership between Reigns and Wyatt, which let's face it, was the only real hook that the match had going for it.

charlotte defeats natalya to retain the wwe women's championship

More head scratching celebrity booking here. At the heart of it though was a solid television bout between Natalya and Charlotte, who both worked hard and created some quality submission based wrestling that was crisp and enjoyable to watch. Despite Natalya getting another title shot for literally no reason at all, the whole Hart vs. Flair stuff was played well and would have been a recognisable trope for many a casual or lapsed fan that may have been tuning in, that could have potentially pulled them in to the quality of the still-fledgling WWE Women's division. Whilst the pair never threatened to produce a break-away match, it was all done nicely and allowed Charlotte to continue to build her already impressive run as WWE Women's Champion and showcased the shiny new belt well. That lad Dr. Phil sitting at ringside and occasionally being interviewed by Byron Saxton was super weird though, especially when he initially condemned Charlotte's cheating and then went on to put over WWE's women's division as if it was the best thing since sliced bread no. 2. Who is Dr. Phil? 

fast-forward...Renee Young interviewed Sami Zayn, with AJ Styles interrupted the interview to give it the big ones a head of their headline bout later in the show...

the usos defeats social outcasts to advance to the semi-final of the wwe tag team championship number one contenders tournament, Gallows and Anderson return/debut and attack the usos

After The Usos won a fairly straight forward bout over Curtis Axel and Heath Slater of the Social Outcasts, it was finally time for NJPW's Luke (Doc) Gallows and Karl Anderson to show up on WWE programming. They got a big pop and went about dismantling the Usos, just because they bloody well could. The whole attack angle made Gallows and Anderson look like bad-ass motherfuckers who don't need no man. Or something like that. Having them get kicked out of the arena while Michael Cole jizzed over them "finally showing up" was a bit weird though. Basically Gallows and Anderson are here and they looked the real deal, with The Usos providing them with solid opposition that will help the WWE audience get themselves acclimatised to the former 3 time IWGP Tag Team Champions. 
fast-forward...The Miz had problems with M&Ms, water and Cesaro...

styles defeats zayn to deny zayn a shot at the wwe world heavyweight championship

  A savvy piece of booking here that managed do a number of things at the same time. The first point to address has to be that it provided us with a top drawer contest on television, that was crisp and clean, in front of a hyped crowd and actually meant something. Styles vs. Zayn was always going to be a winner wasn't it? Two of the best pro wrestlers on the planet right now, going at it provided some great back and forth action that had the crowd on the edge of it's collective seat. The added caveat that Sami Zayn had the opportunity to earn himself a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match if he were to win the match made it feel ten times as important as if the bout had just been thrown out on television and made each near fall and submission hold mean even more. Similar to the Owens vs. Cesaro bout earlier in the night, the finish perhaps struggled to live up to the action that had gone before, but credit has to go to Zayn for recovering from his minor slip well. 

The second point about the contest that I'd like to talk about is how it managed to add to AJ Styles legitimacy as the Number One contender to Roman Reigns' WWE World Heavyweight Championship. We'd seen Styles win the opportunity to face Reigns last week by pinning Chris Jericho, but it was a Fatal Four-Way match. It was a fun bout, but the contest doesn't exactly lead itself to creating strong babyface title contenders, with there always having to be an element of luck for the winner. So WWE used the storyline from last week, where Zayn missed the bout due to a backstage assault by Kevin Owens and used it to drive this week's show and solidify Styles as a top contender. Zayn will be more than fine, we've seen him lose a number of times across WWE programming and it only seems to make his appeal grow, thanks to the way that handles himself. Plus with the feud with Owens being allowed to bubble under this show, Zayn has a programme to slot straight into and keep entertaining the millions with straight away. 

fast-forward...After a recap of their match, AJ Styles put over Sami Zayn backstage, with Shane McMahon putting both guys over also...

highlight reel get cancelled, ambrose asylum takes it's slot

A straight-forward segment here, that actually worked a hell of a lot better than it probably should have and that's down to having two top quality talkers in the ring. Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel had been advertised as having it's biggest guest ever and anyone who'd been paying attention to Jericho's recent character shift knew exactly who it was going to be. Of course it was Jericho himself, talking to himself. It continued just long enough to get annoying and get a decent pop for an interruption from Dean Ambrose. What followed was a fun mix of the two's characters, with Ambrose's comedic timing putting an exclamation mark on the confrontation and produced a fun segment that advanced a fledgling rivalry well. 

crews defeats rose

Apollo Crews continued to impress as he smashed through Adam Rose to pick up his sixth TV victory in a row. Another squash for Crews after we've seen him walk over Alex Riley, Tyler Breeze and Curtis Axel in short contests over the last couple of weeks. The One Man Nation once again looked impressive with Rose doing a decent job of making his opponent look as strong as possible. I'm patiently waiting for Crews to be put in a strong storyline at the moment, but I've got a feeling WWE will continue with these quick victories for at least the next couple of weeks.

fast-forward...A vignette on Baron Corbin aired, focusing mainly on his Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal win at WrestleMania 32 and his match with Dolph Ziggler on Monday Night RAW #1193...

reigns and wyatt defeats the l.o.n.

The tag bout played out almost like a house show match in it's structure, mainly because there was no real consequence on the action, but the added level of intrigue based around Bray Wyatt's babyface turn made it more than watchable. Wyatt was the clear star of the bout for me, which is interesting considering that Roman Reigns is the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion and how much effort WWE has put into making him look like a star over the past twelve months. Once the contest had settled down, it was Reigns who was working the face in peril role with Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio roughing up the champ. It was a wise move by whoever helped to put the match together, as Reigns got a heated response from the Los Angeles crowd, which also certainly fed into a stronger face pop when Wyatt got back into the action. 

The relationship between Wyatt and Reigns was played well, with the little moments, like Wyatt initially teasing that he wouldn't accept Reigns' tag, really making the match for me. The dynamic between the two drove the match, and even though the League of Nations have never seemed like a viable threat to anyone but themselves, even their part in the narrative worked and helped to produce a more interesting match. Whilst the bout clearly established Wyatt and his family as babyfaces, I'm not sure what direction that WWE will take them following this match. Reigns will need to be pushed in AJ Styles' direction to push their match at Payback, but after seeing Wyatt defeat the L.O.N. with a partner that he isn't used to, I'm not sure that there's much interest in having the two groups continue to feud.

atpw scale rating - 5.85/10 

Another strong outing for WWE's flagship show here, with a number of stand-out matches. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens provided a strong opener with Shane McMahon kicking off the show getting the crowd hyped quickly, Roman Reigns teaming with Bray Wyatt offered plenty of intrigue even if there was a lack of urgency against the League of Nations, whilst AJ Styles and Sami Zayn arguably stole the show with a great TV bout. The undercard was highlighted by a fun interaction between Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose to continue their feud and the show remained interesting by having stipulations on every match but one. 

WWE has come out of WrestleMania swinging on Monday night's, with two good edition of RAW, we'll see if they can continue this next week with episode 1195.

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