Hello, and welcome to last week’s RAW recap. It’s the RAW before Fastlane, the last Pay Per View before Wrestlemania and so far only PPV without a clear reason for its title. But never mind that, because John Cena’s already talking.1
If you take last week’s Cena-Rusev promo and subsequent brawl and reverse their roles, you know exactly what happened tonight. Cena opens the show by declaring that the fact that Cena’s gotten his ass kicked but keeps coming back somehow makes him more formidable than the undefeated Rusev. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how bodies work. Rusev and Lana emerge at the head of the stage and tell Cena that he’s dumb, America is dumb, and also that he’s not going to lose the U.S. Championship title to Cena at Fastlane.
The question here obviously isn’t who’s the better wrestler; that’s seldom what’s actually being decided. The question is would the WWE rather put Rusev over Cena to create another powerful villain to be taken down at Wrestlemania, or give the U.S. title credibility via the undefeated Rusev forfeiting it to perennial Heavyweight Champ Cena?
For the record: WWE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN ORDER OF PERCEIVED IMPORTANCE:
- Heavyweight title (because of Wrestlemania, Money in the Bank, etc.)
- Tag Team title (Because it’s a category separate from singles wrestling)
- Intercontinental title and U.S. title (because there’s no PPV built around the belt or real incentive to possess it outside the announcers declaring you a significant figure because of previously held titles; it could be argued these belts currently signify a wrestler’s entrapment in mid-card hell rather than conferring status.)
- Divas belt?? (By virtue of the non-wrestling-centric nature of the Divas division.)
Associating the U.S. title with a figure as significant as Cena —who is never not a contender for the Heavyweight title — therefore associates the U.S. title with the Heavyweight title, potentially elevating its significance. Or the WWE could stick to their plan of making their highest paid wrestler out to be an underdog with a loss to Rusev at Fastlane, followed by the golden boy’s glorious campaign to bring the Bulgarian Bear down at Wrestlemania.
Cena rushes Rusev on the stage, smashes his head into the Jumbotron and punches him in the head ten successive times.
Ambrose cuts a promo ahead of his match with Luke Harper, rendering a potentially enjoyable bout DOA, since opening a fight demanding a wrestler you’re not about to face (in this case, Bad News Barrett) sign a title match contract to face you at the upcoming PPV almost always results in the one doing the calling-out emerging victorious. Last Monday was no different. Ambrose hit the the former-and-occasionally-current Wyatt brother with a clothesline and Dirty Deeds in quick succession, pinning him.
Wade Barrett takes on Damien Mizdow, who, much2 like last week, still takes breaks in the middle of the match when Miz calls upon him to shine his shoes, opening Mizdow him up to annihilation at the hands of his opponent.3 Barrett takes one such opportunity to assault Mizdow and win the match, only to be assaulted himself by Dean Ambrose. Ambrose zip ties Barret’s arms around the turnbuckle and forces the Intercontinental champ to sign a contract for a title match against Ambrose at Fastlane.
Wyatt cuts several promos over the course of the night, each of them addressing an unspecified “you.” On an almost certainly unrelated note, Sheamus will soon return to the WWE.
Veteran wrestler Dusty Rhodes returns to the WWE to deliver a pre-match lecture to sons Goldust and Stardust about brotherhood, and how the literal entire galaxy is worthless compared to familial bonds. Stardust and Goldust appear to make up, but after a swift loss to the New Day —the match largely features Kofi Kingston finding creative ways to pummel Goldust — Stardust helps his defeated brother up, only to slam him into the mat himself. Offstage Stardust gets in a final “YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME, DAAAAD” at Dusty, confirming his heel turn with the classic maneuver “screaming at the elderly.”
The Bellas steal Paige’s clothes from her dressing room ahead of her match against Summer Rae, which is all I feel I have to say about this. No? Okay, Paige instead uses a princess/fairy costume “borrowed” from one of the MDMA addicts in Adam Rose’s exotic express harem and defeats Summer Rae soundly, contorting her into the “PTO”4 submission hold until she taps out. The announcers almost exclusively discuss Paige’s attire, and Booker T fails to find a TV-PG way to say “I’m into this role-play,” so he settles for saying “Um” a lot. The Bellas rush Paige after the match, but Paige counters their assault, ready for her shot at the Divas title at Fastlane.
Seth Rollins opens his match against Dolph Ziggler with some classic in-ring mic time, updating his “I am the FUTURE of the WWE” shtick to “I am the RIGHT NOW of the WWE.”5 Ziggler is granted some rare mic time in response to Rollins, and no sooner has the match begun than the referee throws out J&J security. A whole match of pure, uncut Rollins against Ziggler? Why isn’t this the main event? Due to the incredible technical proficiency of both men, their match largely consists of counters and reveals and countering counter-reversals, so it’s difficult to understand who’s actually on the offensive until the first man picks himself up off the mat.
All good things must come to a close, and eventually J&J emerge and assault Ziggler at the cusp of winning an extremely entertaining match. Ziggler wins by DQ, and Ryback and Erick Rowan arrive and fight alongside Ziggler against Rollins and J&J, until the babyfaces clear the ring and send Rollins and co. scampering up the stage.
Darren Young, out gay pro wrestler, returns alongside a nameless jobber to battle the Ascension. Just when it looks like certain defeat for Young and No-name, Titus O’Neil arrives, and he and Young fight off the Ascension and clear the ring together, signaling the return of their tag-team, the Prime Time Players.
What appeared to be an awful Total Divas tie-in husband and wife match wound up being a legitimately impressive mostly-Divas match. Naomi and Jimmy Uso teamed up against Natalya and Tyson Kidd, but Kidd refused to tag in for more than thirty seconds, resulting in a primarily Naomi-Natalya scrap better than any Divas match I’ve seen in ages. The Divas counter one another’s pins with reversals into pins on their own, spending most of the match horizontal on the mat, vying for dominance. Naomi reverses a counter-pin of Natalya’s after Natalya unsuccessfully tries to tag her husband in, and Naomi pins her for the win.
The main event of the night was technically Daniel Bryan against the Big Show, but that match-up is inextricably partnered with the Roman Reigns against Kane match that happened the same night. During the Reigns-Kane match, Bryan joined the announcers at their table, but interrupted the match several times by starting up a huge “Yes” chant. Reigns eventually bests Kane with, you guessed it, a spear, knocking him out outside the ring and winning by count-out.
Flash forward to Bryan fighting Show, and Reigns takes the opportunity to hugely distract the audience by signing autographs and taking selfies with folks in the front row.6 Bryan continues to rough up the Big Show, putting him in a sleeper hold as Reigns signs autographs and splitting open Show’s lip.7 Eventually Reigns proves too distracting, and Bryan confronts him outside the ring. While the men bicker, Big Show attempts to spear Bryan, who darts out of the way in time for Reigns to be crushed in his place. Reigns retaliates by superman punching Show, and doing so wins the match for the Big Show by DQ. In retaliation for that retaliation, Bryan jumps off the top rope to dropkick Reigns. Bryan and Reigns fight until separated by a herd of referees.
Fastlane is next, followed by Wrestlemania. How many belts can switch hands before then? Tune in next time.
Yes, yes, we know Fastlane has already transpired by the time you are reading this, but you’ll have to wait a few days for a Fastlane recap ↩
read: exactly ↩
What are the stakes in this relationship again? Why are we to believe Mizdow would listen to the Miz after demoting him to “personal assistant” when he has, you know, a wrestling career? ↩
“Paige tap out” ↩
The only way in which Rollins fails as a heel is his inability to draw boos on his own. After a victory against a babyface or speaking alongside the Authority, sure, boos abound. But when it’s just him, the fact is the guy’s solid on the mic and a damn entertaining wrestler — who wants to boo that? Despite successfully combining the pompous/effeminate heel trope with the cowardly/underhanded weasel heel trope, Rollins is an incredibly easy wrestler to like. ↩
After the post-Rumble fallout, now is an excellent time to work in some direct Reigns-to-audience pandering. ↩
Between even mild bleeding, a huge spear and a flip-on-impact later in the match, this is the best match I’ve seen Big Show in recently, which isn’t saying much. ↩