WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (Mar. 2, 2015) from Newark, New Jersey with a show that promised Jon Stewart, Paul Heyman and more on the road to WrestleMania 31 next month in Santa Clara.
Click here to get full results with the live blog. Let's get to (guest) reacting to all the night's events.
The Architect and The Powerhouse
Creative seemed to have a couple of key points it wanted to hit on throughout the three hours they had our attention tonight. One was the continued selling of Roman Reigns readiness to be in the WrestleMania main event. The other was to tease dissention within The Authority, and especially the recently returned Randy Orton as the reason those tensions were increasing.
Across a variety of different segments, they managed to do a nice job with both.
From the opening gun, they established the players and their positions. Seth Rollins was out to mock Jon Stewart and puff himself up. The Big Dog interrupted, and Mr. Money in the Bank got to be the voice of the voiceless, saying that he's faced Brock Lesnar, and been in pay-per-view (PPV) main events, something with which Reigns has little-to-no experience. When Rollins went on too long, Roman punched him in the mouth.
That would lead to our main event between the former Shield brothers. Along the way, Rollins was shown up on the microphone by Jon Stewart in a segment that managed to be better than it had any business being, because as a former stand-up comedian, Stewart is comfortable with a live microphone in front of a crowd, because he's obviously a fan who gave a crap how the segment came out, and because it too was focused on one of the night's main themes.
The Daily Show host planted some of the same seeds of doubt that Paul Heyman and Reigns had before - namely, are you sure The Authority is behind you all the way? To drive that point home, and continue to build to an eventual program against The Viper, Orton's music was the distraction Stewart needed to deliver a swift kick below the belt and skeedaddle to safety.
Reigns delivered probably the second best singles' match of his career in the main event. A lot of that can probably be attributed to the opponent again, but some credit should be given to The Shield's powerhouse. He's learning how to string the stuff he used to do as the clean-up hitter from a trio across a solo outing. Roman actually ate a pin here, because after fighting through DAT NUMBERS GAME, Orton reluctantly grabbed his leg so Rollins could roll him up.
Afterward, a conflicted Randy strode off with a wink to the camera, while Reigns woke up and decimated a five remaining Authority members.
The New Jersey crowd gave Roman a luke-warm reception, but warmed to him throughout the main. It's hard not to when he's delivering powerbomb counters with one-arm. Rollins is watching his back around everyone, not sure whether he should be more worried about the Apex Predator or Mr. & Mrs. The Game. They're using a lot of moving parts, but they're working in synch to tell the same story.
Man, I do not know what to do with this story.
On the plus side, having all of these men - several of them top stars - obsessed with the white & gold does make it seem more important. It doesn't hurt that a bunch of them are very talented, and have résumés that make the Intercontinental title seem a little beneath them.
On the other, the IC belt is now like the old Hardcore Championship, except with petty larceny in place of random acts of violence.
R-Truth stole the belt and gave it to Luke Harper. Harper had it for a while, but it was stolen for him while he was losing to Daniel Bryan, eventually ending up in Dolph Ziggler's hands. One would presume Dolph would give it back to Bad News Barrett, but who knows?
I'm ecstatic to see Harper featured prominently in this storyline. The match at 'Mania could be epic.
But the guy who officially holds the title, and who had never lost it before his injury, hasn't won in months And the whole thing feels more like it's being driven by a whole bunch of cases of "Creative has nothing for you" instead of any kind of long range plan to elevate the belt. One imagines that after-WrestleMania, whoever is holding it will be back to losing non-title matches that set-up future championship bouts, and no one will care again.
I really hope I'm wrong. But the last half-decade or so worth of secondary title programs tells me I'm probably not.
All the rest
#GiveDivasAChance: Maybe? Nikki Bella and Paige got a few minutes to work a Divas championship match, and it was...okay. They hit numerous clotheslines on one another, and it ended with by disqualification when Brie ran in rather than let her sister lose the butterfly belt by tapping out to PTO (or whatever they call the Scorpion Cross Lock at this level). The big news is that AJ Lee ran in to save the Anti-Diva from a Bella beatdown, and she name dropped the hashtag movement but made no reference to her tweets to Stephanie. So the frank discussion of pay was a shoot, but they're going to turn the fans' Twitter uprising into a work? This was a very small start. Alundra Blayze/Madusa is going into the Hall of Fame, but John Cena called Steph a "bitch" because he's a hero to the children? Like making the IC strap matter, check with me again in a couple of months.
A 'Mania without Cena, but with lots of Axel: In John's lone segment, he was shot down by Rusev for a U.S. Title rematch and by Steph when he tried to put himself in the match named for her friend, Andre the Giant. WWE has a better chance of convincing Geno that Curtis Axel is worth a damn than they will of convincing us Cena isn't going to the big dance. Speaking of Perfect, Jr., he had one of my favorite bits on the show - and via a promo! The Axe Man made it through a fairly lengthy speech with nary a stumble. What critics like my boss miss is that Axel isn't just aping Hulk Hogan, he's satirizing all of WWE's 'Mania cliches...booking himself into matches, claiming wins in qualifying matches by technicality and especially pointing/staring longingly at the WrestleMania sign. Now that he can actually rip his shirt instead of just going through the motions, he's unstoppable!
We want Harper: And we got him, bay-bee. He still didn't get any kind of character development, but he did work his usual strong match with Bryan (maybe let's not have The Beard taking half-and-half suplexes onto his recently cleared neck, though, huh?). Now, why, on a three hour show, can we not have Harper and Stardust at the same time? Is it because we need fifteen minute talking segments every half-hour on the half-hour? Like...
Hey, who won the Monday Night War again? The Triple H/Sting program has become nothing but a way to remind us of Vince McMahon's triumph, Hunter's loyalty, and that we can watch it all on WWE Network for just $9.99 per month. Which I guess is good because it distracts us from the fact that this is not the dream match anyone was thinking of when they fantasy booked the Stinger into Vince's company. Tonight, they had Booker T stand in for WCW and its most famous face - which only served to make me uncomfortable when The Game repeatedly reminded me that he had power over the five-time WCW champ, and give me flashbacks to WM 19.
The natural instincts of fire: Unlike whoever wrote Trips and Naitch's 2003 promos, fire has no prejudices, and that's why Bray Wyatt likes it. The Eater of Worlds joined the club of people who have called out Undertaker by setting fire to a coffin. Just think, only three more weeks of these!
Use Rousey as a verb, why don't you: Not to be outdone by Jon Stewart, Paul Heyman was...Paul Heyman. He came out to set the record straight about his client, the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and he did saying that the Beast would be at 'Mania while being wherever he damn well pleases before and after March 29th. We just have to hope that if Brock Lesnar does head back to MMA, WWE can find something worthwhile to keep his Advocate around. Because only Heyman could get away with mocking us for buying what he himself was selling us about Reigns last week. And dealing with multiple shoddy microphones, while shooting down a heckler. Believe that.
Respect this (neverending) program: It's so great that Tyson Kidd and Cesaro are not only getting a chance to wrestle every week, but that they're getting time to show us how entertaining they are as all-around performers. Cesaro's fear of Natalya is laugh out loud funny every time it happens, as is Kidd's cocky belief that he has his wife wrapped around his finger. But, are they going to feud with The Uso family forever? Oh wait, there aren't any other tag teams, so I guess the answer is yes.
Niagra fell: Remember when we were worried that they didn't know how to blow off The Miz and Damien Mizdow program, or that it would drag on to long? Well, Damien tricked Miz into making an erectile dysfuntion commercial and...
As I've said before, I have no idea how to grade these things. Over the course of three hours, there are highs and lows. Tonight's show delivered some focused story development, but it relied way too much on talking to do it. Several big angles for the biggest show of the year are ALL talk right now, and so much of it that things like the Andre the Giant battle royal could barely get on the show, and others like The Dust Brothers feud couldn't at all (and just when that feud was starting to finally get some traction, too).
So I'll shoot down the middle, and tilt the scales toward the positive because I was grinning like a fool throughout the Axel and Stewart segments.
Sound off below. And if you really hate my grade, don't worry, this isn't my regular gig anyway. Tell 'em Rusev...