April 3, 2014 by Joey Keogh
The go-home show before Wrestlemania is always a biggie. It has to be, or else nobody is going to pay to watch the PPV less than a week later (okay, we still will, but we’ll grumble about it at the same time). As previous instalments of Monday Night Raw, which have occupied this hallowed spot, have proven the best way to spend these imperative three hours is by building momentum for the show on Sunday. And that, my friends, is exactly what this week’s Raw managed to do, also throwing in a few well-placed surprises along the way (although the best was saved for last).
Tonight is sold out yet again, which also ties in with Raw’s impressive, seven week consecutive reign at the top for viewing figures in this coveted Monday evening slot (which was particularly shocking this week, considering the badly-received How I Met Your Mother finale was broadcast during it this week), a factoid that will be proudly presented later on in the show. We are in Washington, DC, hometown of Batista, so if you were looking forward to some good old-fashioned booing later on in the show, you’ll have to wait till Cena shows up.
None other than The Undertaker kicks things off, leading Cole to suggest we get #TheStreak trending on Twitter before the man has even appeared onstage. He stumbles getting into the ring, possibly because he can’t see with that long-ass hood, before we get a replay of his impressive, casket-and-druid-themed segment from last week. Taker is old school, so he looks at the WM sign for a bit before lowering himself to point at it, as he opines that 21 men have lost to him (not technically true, but okay). He cuts a pretty decent promo, eliciting a few scattered “Woo”s from the all right, yet not terribly hot, crowd before Brock Lesnar turns up and Cole yells “Not so fast!” like a Bond villain who’s been waiting for this moment for about ten years.
After getting a rare opportunity to speak last week, Lesnar’s manager Paul Heyman is back to taking the mic on his behalf, and let’s face it, nobody does it quite like Heyman. Although the crowd chant for Punk during most of it, Heyman does get a few good lines in, suggesting for instance that Lesnar beating the streak isn’t a prediction, “it’s a spoiler”. Then, a sort-of standoff ensues, during which Lesnar advances on the ring, then retreats, twice, before circling it and finally entering to pummel Taker and Power-bomb him. The whole idea of beating the streak has become quite stale after all these years, but at least with heavyweights like Lesnar and Heyman involved, it allows for some decent moments of brutality and intrigue – it could be worse, he could be up against Batista (shudder).
Big E -v- Alberto Del Rio
Big E Langston has gone a bit Cesaro on us by appearing as just Big E now. Maybe his mother wasn’t too impressed with him disgracing the family name, which would be odd considering he’s actually called Ettore Ewen – a far better wrestler name, I’m sure you’d agree. Poor ol’ ADR is so dead in the water he doesn’t even get an entrance anymore, practically seething as he watches his opponent receive the same massive reception that was once afforded to him. Both of these men are taking part in the 30-Man Battle Royal (wasn’t it Royale before – as in, the correct term?) at WM, which means this is all supposed to build excitement for them facing each other in about six days. Luckily, both are great fighters, and even though it’s unlikely that either will walk away the victor at WM, this match still allows them to show off what they can do, with Big E leaping over ADR in practically the first minute of action, before picking him up and Power-bombing him backwards – something which is a theme of this match as, later on, Del Rio grabs his opponent’s arm and twists it while hanging off the ropes backwards like a weird, very tanned Spiderman. Big E also manages to catch ADR as he’s mid-leap from the top ropes, cracking his spine over his knees, which leads to a mini “Si” chant from the first few rows. ADR also manages to perform a crazy Backstabber on E, which leads him to try for his finisher, the dirty-sounding Big Ending, which Del Rio counters, before putting him in a cross-armbreaker, in turn leading to a Power Bomb, and ADR grabbing the ropes to break his opponent’s hold. After so many impressive moves, the match ends with more of a whimper than a bang as Del Rio delivers little more than a kick to Big E’s jaw to win it all.
Winner: Alberto Del Rio (Si?)
Before we can cope with the disappointment of that not-so-big ending, our trusted commentators want us to go to the App (of course) and choose a member of The Shield to go up against Kane later on. Who will it be? Seth Rollins, the young sparkplug? Dean Ambrose, the crazy-eyed loon? Or, Roman Reigns, the…eh…big dude? Don’t get me wrong, I adore Reigns, and he’s really coming into his own lately, but this result is easier to predict than all those times Cena was pitted as a choice in a poll against Zack Ryder. Speaking of which, there’s lots of cool shit to come later on, including Batista versus Randy Orton as the Main Event (woo?), a Farewell to the Yes Movement starring The Authority (but, presumably, not Daniel Bryan) and, up next, we’ll Follow The Beards as The Wyatt Family broadcast directly from their shack in the outskirts of deep, dark West Virginia, and totally not a darkened room backstage that’s been made to look a bit grotty thanks to some discarded chairs and tissue paper.
Bray is upside down again, as is his wont, but it’s hard to concentrate on his bat-like ability to look creepy while the blood rushes to his head, because there are three, very impressive beards involved in this segment and each looks as conditioned as a man who sleeps in the back of a van’s facial hair has any right to be. “Do I have your attention now, kids?” Bray asks, which results in many, many ear-splitting screams from full grown adults. It seemed like the easiest, and most obvious, play in history when this lumpy weirdo was pitted against the unstoppable, Superman-like John Cena but damn it, the man can deliver and Cena is clearly loving having a genuine, three-dimensional opponent to spar with as opposed to, oh I dunno, Randy Orton, who could easily be replaced with his own Standee every week and no one would be the wiser. Next up, we have a Divas match, which seems a bit early in the show except that the great Vickie Guerrero is here to do commentary, thanks to her crazy bout at WM which stars pretty much all the ladies on the roster. King is a big fan of Total Divas, and because Summer Rae is up against Natalya next, we simply must be shown a scene from the show where the two got into a slanging match and Summer slapped Nati, because that’s totally relevant here.
Divas Match: Summer Rae -v- Natalya
Holy shit, Summer has entrance music now! She isn’t just coming out to Fandango’s theme! In fact, her boyfriend is nowhere to be seen, which bodes well for Summer because, although he’s great at standing ringside and offering very loud, confusing messages of support, he’s also a major distraction. At first, this seems like typical Divas fare, as there is lots of screaming, hair-pulling and, of course, drop-kicking, but there are moments of interest, such as when Nati goes for a Sharpshooter and fucks it up, or when King mentions that he really likes the idea of all the Divas at once. Apparently, Vickie’s Invitational is unfair to AJ on purpose. Shocking!
Winner: Summer Rae (yay for her getting a match, nay for it lasting twenty seconds)
Next, we are informed that one of the themes (how many are there, exactly?) of this year’s WM is something called “Legacy” by Eminem, which Vince probably paid, like, a zillion Dollars for in spite of the fact that it’s a really sad song and doesn’t fit with the show and its zany, party atmosphere at all. The Authority then appear to tell us, once again, that Trips is gon’ win on Sunday, y’all, and that the Yes Movement is well and truly over. He compares it to when the Fandango dance was a thing, conveniently forgetting that Bryan has been hugely over for about three years at this stage and it’s not because he has a fairly easy chant at his disposal (remember “Feed Me More”?) In an effort to drive the point home, Steph starts her own “Yes” chant, before telling everyone that there is no Bryan tonight so they can all shut up, which obviously just makes them louder. He’s never gonna be an A+ player so we can all forget it, but here’s someone who is – Triple H!
Some poor schlub in the WWE has been given the rather daunting task of creating a promo, narrated by Steph herself, which seeks to show just how unstoppable Trips is. What it really shows is that he’s become a bit of a belt mark over the years, only wanting to win and pick up accolades left and right while other greener, yet often far more deserving, wrestlers fall by the wayside. The crowd chant “Bor-ing” throughout, stopping only to gasp as an image of Steph and Trips smooching from a previous week’s show, when he memorably beat the absolute shit out of Bryan, is shown onscreen just to cap everything off. “They are just players in the game, and I AM The Game” Trips says. Steph is horny now so they have to go, but before they can, Batista turns up dressed in the douchiest outfit imaginable – seriously, it’s like he’s trying to look like a complete twat.
In spite of this, he’s not booed for the first time since his not-so-triumphant return, because this is his hometown. He points out that he wasn’t in Trips’ little vanity clip package because he’s never beaten him, and then Snoreton turns up – still looking as though he didn’t have time to put any pants on before heading out – to tell The Authority to “leave Big Dave alone” Trips is wise to his ass-kissing, though, and tells him his reign of boredom is OVER because he’s going to annihilate him on Sunday unless, of course, he can become The Viper again. I didn’t realise that Orton is taller than Trips, so this whole spot was really funny to me. Later on, we’ll be treated to a special edition of Piper’s Pit with Hall Of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper, who will always be Rowdy Roddy Peeper to the cool kids. In other news, the WM Pre-show is going to be a whopping two hours long, the second hour of which will only be available on the Network. Presumably the tag team match will be saved until the end, then.
8-Man Tag Team Match: The Usos -v- Los Matadores -v- Rybaxel -v- The Real Americans
No entrances for anyone! Suck it, jobbers (and Cesaro)! Remember when Ryback was a thing and he used to sort of whisper-yell “Finish HIM!” to nobody but himself? Well, he starts the match against an Uso, which is a mistake, because those dudes are experts at tagging each other in and out, and they have been dominating tag team matches lately as a result. Cesaro and his teammate Jack Swagger are gaining traction on their own though, learning to work as a unit under the watchful eye of silent movie villain Zeb Coulter, who screams from ringside throughout. It’s worth noting that Cesaro is the only one the crowd will cheer for during this match, which is really great to see (now if only they could give him something interesting to do). He gets the best spots throughout, which makes him look even better, especially against waste of space Ryback, who can’t even sell falling out of the goddamn ring, and is inexplicably saying what sounds like “Sa” as he’s put in a headlock. The match ends rather strangely, though, as Swagger puts one of the matadors in a Patriot-Lock and, when he’s not paying attention, they swap places so that they can cheat and win. Perhaps they’re being pushed as heels, but surely if that was the case then WWE could just use the fact that they’re pretending to be Spanish but clearly aren’t to get us on board? Hell, it worked with Finlay.
Winner: The Usos & Los Matadores (was it four against four? This match was confusing)
Tag Team Match: Fandango & Damien Sandow -v- The Rhodes Brothers
What did poor ol’ Sandow do to be buried so badly? His gimmick was awesome and he had such potential. Even Fandango gets an entrance tonight, it’s bizarre. Summer is posing ringside throughout, in a different outfit to earlier that incorporates a sarong for some reason. Goldust is doing his best work in years these days, and much like Kane, he’s in the best shape of his life, so it’s fitting that he closes this rather short match with a Final Cut, after Cody launches himself off the ropes at Fandango and Summer shrieks madly from the sidelines.
Winners: The Rhodes Brothers (no dancing this time around, sadly)
There’s a fantastic super-cut of everyone involved in the 30-Man Battle Royal, which funnily enough only showcases the fact that so many of these dudes are nobodies (no, not you 3MB, you’re awesome, keep on rockin’). Next up, the Hounds Of Justice are here to disperse sexiness and hair-care tips. JBL still reckons King helped Bryan occupy Raw that time, but sadly nobody else cares. There’s a weird recap of a match at last week’s Smackdown, involving the great 3MB, which incorporates lots of strange slo-mo, seemingly for no reason.
Kane and the New Age Outlaws were involved, so chances are they’ll be making an appearance later in all their greasy, carnie, old man glory. The Shield do another great promo from what looks like a rather spacious air vent, during which Rollins informs us that his fist is “the new symbol of excellence”. These dudes have lasted for an amazing 500 days or so, which is pretty impressive, and they’re all such great talkers/fighters that it’d just break my heart to see them go their separate ways. Their development was organic! They’re like brothers, damn it! I need to stop reading Shield interviews.
Bray Wyatt -v- R-Truth
Obviously momentum needs to be built for Bray’s appearance at WM, but is he really going up against this jobber? Why not Sandow or Ziggler? Both of them deserve a match more than fucking R-Truth. Anyway, both of these dudes have crazy man gimmicks, the only difference being one of them (guess which one!) does it well. Bray has an edge, and a brutality, to his ring style that works better when he’s against a more formidable opponent – like, dare I say it, Cena – but he showcases his talents well here, picking R up with one arm before cracking him mercilessly over his knee. Clearly the match is destined to end with the Sister Abigail, but that doesn’t make it any less fun when it does happen, nor does it distract from the fact that this match is really just to show how totally fucked Cena is.
Winner: Bray Wyatt (what’s up)
“This is not the beginning” Bray tells the raucous crowd, “this is the end”. There’s some indeterminate redneck yelling as the Wyatts stand around the ring looking imposing but what’s this? Another person in a sheep mask and black boiler suit that’s two sizes too small has popped up behind them! It’s Cena! Clearly wearing what Bryan did when he was part of this little group of weirdos! The crowd go absolutely nuts as Cena lays waste to the Wyatts, leading them to flee in frenzy as he sits back and basks in the glory of finally being cheered for once. This is a genuinely amazing moment, one of my favourite spots from Raw lately and a really, really great way to build anticipation for a match without having the two dudes involved just circling each other in the ring for ten minutes. Incredible.
Divas Match: AJ Lee -v- Naomi
What the hell did we do to deserve two goddamn Divas matches tonight? The ring being surrounded by so-called “lumberjills” (oh lord) doesn’t help, either, because even though AJ does run away a lot, nobody cares because they’re all just Divas matches she’s escaping from anyway. Vickie is on commentary, which elevates this match from “totally boring” to just “dull” but either way, we all know where this is going. There’s lots of yelling, neither Tamina nor AJ are given any room to show off what they can do, and the best moment is when AJ tries to crawl over the announce table and Cole yells “That’s my stuff!” like a little boy. Seriously.
Winner: Naomi (we’re all losers here, though)
Up next, Cena is going to face his fear, whatever that means, but first the identity of that stupid song that plays over the yee-haaaaaw style WM promo is revealed to be a Kid Rock track called simply “Celebrate”. So, that’s two theme tunes courtesy of skinny white dudes pretending to be black, then. Renee is with Cena (boos) who is a man in dire need of some new lines because god damn it, he loves a cliché. Over the course of this two-minute interview, he will manage to include several, including the classic “Desperate times call for desperate measures” and the often-used-by-opportunistic-genies “Be careful what you wish for”
He then goes completely off script by yelling “Damn!” before asking if we have shoes, catching himself ever so slightly by suggesting we watch the Network and finally ending it all with a rather good impression of Bray and a jaw-droppingly explicit (for WWE anyway) promise that he’s going to “stuff my foot” in his ass. Backstage Pass is still keeping track of Josh Matthews’ whereabouts while serving no other purpose other than to give the intolerable Alex Riley an opportunity to speak over the legendary Booker T, and the rather likeable Bad News Barrett, for whom several people are cheering, and whose bad news this week is that Cena is going to lose at WM. We can only hope, Barrett, we can only hope.
Kane -v- Roman Reigns
The results are in and the winner, by an absolute landslide, is…the big dude! What a surprise! Reigns is getting proper groped as he enters the arena, but he doesn’t seem to notice/care, possibly because who needs ladies when one shares an air vent with Seth Rollins? This is another quick match, because in case you’ve forgotten we still have Snoreton versus Boo-tista to look forward to later, but it’s great nonetheless, especially with Kane showcasing his insane power with a Sidewalk Slam, which Reigns follows up with his classic Superman Punch. The two are strangely well-paired, which means the sparring is even more fun to watch. Just as it’s getting interesting, the New Age Outlaws show up on cue, only to be tackled by Reigns’ Shield teammates ringside. It all erupts as Rollins and Ambrose intervene in the match, and the three line up to perform their oft-used Triple Power Bomb, just as Kane is dragged to safety by his leathery old buddies.
Winner: DQ, so nobody. Aw, Mrs. Reigns will be so disappointed (mother, not wife, because obviously Seth is Roman’s wife)
Hulk Hogan is slated to appear on Smackdown this week, so make sure you skip it. A legend who you might actually care about, though, is Rowdy Roddy Piper, who has turned up tonight to do a special, WM edition of his classic Piper’s Pit, which is like Miz TV except good. The ring is draped in tartan in his honour, and he has a lot to discuss tonight, because he was in the very first WM Main Event, don’tcha know. But, before he can get into it, The Miz turns up to say things that literally no one cares about at all. Why is Miz in his ring gear!? He hasn’t had a match in weeks (thankfully)! Sheamo then appears, followed by Titus O’Neill and finally Ziggles, who is proudly sporting an Andre The Giant T-shirt and quips “I hate to come out here and steal the spotlight”. Give him more airtime, damn it! Piper is not impressed with this utter insubordination and pokes Miz in the eyes to teach him a lesson, which sets off a major rumble in the ring, leading every other participant in the 30-Man Battle Royal to run out and claim their moment to shine. There might be some decent spots here, but it’s really hard to tell because there are so many men involved. Hopefully Sunday showcases everyone properly, instead of just a mess of bodies.
Main Event: No DQ Match: Randy Orton -v- Batista
And now, the moment that nobody has been waiting for, it’s these two again! At least this match gives us time to appreciate all of the great angles the camera people have been getting with the WM sign tonight. It’s really been some very special work, especially for employees who have to run around all the time and constantly be on watch for anything that might happen. The Authority turn up to stir shit (i.e. do commentary) and Batista mouths “What the fuck” as they enter, which is the funniest thing he’s done since wearing that outfit earlier. Weirdly, Orton is on fine form tonight, causing Trips to yell “THAT’s the Viper!” at one point. The crowd cheers for pretty much every spot, but mostly when Orton grabs a chair, and later a Kendo stick. Otherwise, Batista yells “You wanna see the animal?” with about as much enthusiasm as a man about to get a prostate exam, before completely botching a move, leading Orton to impress with a Spinebuster that is still kind of boring just simply because of who it’s being used on, but appreciated nonetheless. Just as we’re starting to wonder how the hell this is going to fill up fifteen minutes of airtime, Daniel Bryan turns up out of nowhere and attacks Trips from behind. The crowd start to lose it as Steph shrieks like a harpy, totally playing it up. Snoreton drags Bryan off and slams him into the steel steps, but he cannot be deterred, kicking Batista in the head after he spears him, before dropkicking Snoreton and launching himself out of the ring to tackle Trips. Cole sounds like his head is going to spin off into another dimension, yelling that the Yes Movement is in full effect as Bryan grabs a Kendo stick and the crowd’s chants turn absolutely deafening. Finally, as Bryan takes the top rope and poses proudly with the WM sign perfectly juxtaposed behind him, The Authority practically crawl away as the anticipation for the match on Sunday almost jumps out of the TV screen.
Winner: So…the match then? Anybody? Hello?
An explosive ending to a packed, exciting and very fitting pre-PPV Raw. All of the elements were present, as we were reminded of brewing tensions, while others spilled over in front of our eyes. As it stands, the most exciting match up at WM is probably going to be Cena v Wyatt, because it has the biggest push behind it, and is arguably the most interesting. The six-man tag should be decent, especially as Kane and NAO have become actual teammates now, instead of just wrestlers who were stuck together at random. Trips and Bryan could be good, although it also has the potential to be utterly boring if the latter doesn’t win and advance to the title match.
Taker’s match will be great, as always, although it’s really just a re-tread of past bouts. The 30-Man Battle Royal should, at the very least, boast some good spots, even if they didn’t do a great job selling it to us tonight, and the Divas, well, the less said about them the better. Overall, this was a consistently strong instalment with a cohesive narrative running underneath everything. It set the tone for WM, and built some much-needed momentum for the Main Event, which hopefully will feature Bryan and not Trips. The message of this episode was clear – get excited. And, funnily enough, we are.