Wow, it’s been a while since we got an episode that bad, huh? Well, let’s start with the positives at least.
Flirting With the Dark Side
The main event angle continues to be excellent every week with yet another strong chapter here. I love the way they're portraying Styles and Reigns. Both guys are more similar than they'd like to admit and more than willing to flirt with the dark sides of their personalities, but you can tell AJ has a bit more nobility left and is struggling harder to fight his demons.
AJ remains reluctant to go to town with the chair, but Roman Reigns shows no hesitation whatsoever and just lights up AJ with it. Once it sets in what place AJ has to go on Sunday, he doesn't let up, including the awesome spot of the Styles Clash on to the steel chair. Both the pull of Roman Reigns' actions and the prodding by his former partners in crime have been pushing him to the dark side, and tonight he embraced it. And with the Extreme Rules stipulation, he needed to, because that might be the only way he has a chance on Sunday.
As for the opening segment, that Tokyo Dome line was Hogan-Andre tall tale level exaggerated. Unless Styles was working Battle Formation against Hash in ‘96, I'm pretty sure he didn't headline in front of 60,000 people. Plus, Okada and Tanahashi headlined both years he was there. So that was a bit much, but otherwise, I thought the two acquitted themselves well here given that promos are neither of their strong suits.
Luckily for them the heat is enough from the excellent work building this feud and the six guys' work in the ring, especially its two leading men, Styles and Reigns. The interesting thing about Styles' promo is that only in WWE would it take them four months to let him cut it. Why would you even want to lead with the idea that he's an international superstar? Especially after paying a lot of money to sign him. Much better to call him a Redneck Rookie.
One other thing worth mentioning is just how strong they've been booking Reigns, and I mean that in a good way. The interesting thing about Reigns is that even though the meme is "Make Reigns Look Really Strong", what it seems that people hate most is actually when he's presented as a geek. He's much more entertaining when he's actually booked as a badass and just superman punching everyone, rather than crying or failing to overcome the odds against dudes like Sheamus. That stuff is the worst.
I actually rewatched the Reigns/Styles match for probably the 5th time, and one thing I picked up on commentary was them comparing Styles to Triple H and Lesnar and basically talking about all these great performers that just have not been able to beat Reigns, and I think that really works. It makes AJ look great even for hanging with him, and makes whoever does beat him look like a legitimately big deal. This angle is doing yeoman's work getting each other over after the two albatrosses they worked at WrestleMania have finally been lifted from their necks.
I can't imagine not being extremely pumped for the match on Sunday. It should be tremendous.
The Odd Couple
The second things started to break down in Cesaro versus Zayn, I had a sense of what was coming, and it did not let me down in the least. I'm glad they finally decided to team up the old friends as a feuding odd couple for one episode and it made for a really fun tag team match. Owens in particular really stuck out with his dynamite babyface hot tag sequence just flying all over the ring with missile dropkicks and cannonballs, and when these two crazy kids do eventually put their differences aside for a bit and chase the tag team titles (before KO inevitably turns on him again, because that's what they do) it should be a really hot run.
Shane still being the most over babyface in the company is probably less than ideal, but they seem happy with the brand and the McMahons being the stars, and as long as they're making money, not sure what incentive they have to change that.
Also worth mentioning, Stephanie McMahon is getting non-ironic Yes! chants, what a time to be alive.
New Day's Excellent Adventure
This is really only a semi-con, because the thing about New Day is that they're not ever going to be one hundred percent hit rate act. That's part of their appeal. They're willing to take risks and do weird stuff and have a few whiffs but a lot of home runs, and that's so thoroughly preferable to just being average every week. You don't get New Day over by being average, you get it by being willing to be brave and do stuff that may bomb in the hopes of hitting home runs.
That being said, this bit just felt too corny for me, but I imagine that will be a pretty polarizing segment as is a lot of New Day's ouvre. Big ups to Kofi though. "Leave me here, 2009 was my best year!" was an excellent line.
McMahon vs. Flair
So, there were parts of this that worked at least: Charlotte trying to corral her dad losing his mind, a wrestler actually reading a contract for once, Charlotte's heel mannerisms, the segment actually getting over with the live crowd, and obviously Stephanie slapping the taste out of Ric's mouth.
But man, Ric is so far gone at this point that you completely forget he's one of the best of all time, and Nattie really is hard to warm to. She's just got nothing about her that draws you in and makes you want to root for her. She's just so lame, but not in an endearing kind of way. I assume that's why Stephanie was meant to carry Nattie's end.
And now Charlotte might also get a match against Stephanie McMahon... Because that's what the people have been clamoring for.
Not the put upon underdog Becky Lynch or maybe Bayley down the road in a Bryan/HHH style story. Not The Boss v. The BO$. Not even Stephanie getting her bleeping head kicked in by the Asuka. What's even the hook for Charlotte? She's not a lovable underdog like Bex or Bayley that Stephanie can be horrible to. She doesn't have the Boss v. Boss cachet. She doesn't have the prospect of Stephanie getting kicked in the head or choked out by Asuka as catharsis for all of her many sins. It's just that Stephanie slapped Charlotte's dad. Bleh.
Can they actually try and tell some interesting stories at some point during this title reign? They had one in December and January, and then just seemingly gave up trying.
The Shining Stars
Wow. That might legitimately be the most muted reaction I've ever heard. That was just dead silence. Like their debut happened in the middle of a black hole. After probably blowing a bunch of money on all those vignettes too. I really and truly hope that this failure does not cause them to go back to eliminating vignettes, because it's very much the concept of this act that is the problem, not the concept of vignettes. Vignettes can actually be great if you have a good act behind them. They never even really made clear in the vignettes how we're meant to take these two guys. Sometimes it came across like we're supposed to think they're cool and other times that they're over the top smug about how great Puerto Rico is.
Really happy to see Corey Hollis and John Skyler on Raw though, both in the sense that they're two talented guys and that WWE going back to non-contract jobbers once in a while would be nice so they don't blow through every match a million times so quickly.
Clockwork Orange Redux
Yet another wow. As bad as WWE has been for most of the past 24 months, it's been a while since we've had some honest to goodness Wrestlecrap, but the Asylum Match! definitely qualifies. Besides the fact that these two men are feuding over talk shows, a light up jacket, and a potted plant, the whole affair reached an entirely different level tonight with Jericho's forced ack-ting as Dean was announcing this insanity, the ominous music and the ridiculous concept for the match. This was like something Vince Russo would do in TNA.
But hey, on the plus side, no escape rules! Escape rules are the worst WWE affectation for cage matches. The point of the cage match should be that both guys want to brutalize each other and need to be contained in a cage. It should be about violence, not a bunch of climbing.
Playtime Might Not Be Over
Obviously she's a really fun character, but I had thought Dana had shown a bit more potential than this in the ring in NXT, even accounting for Asuka being especially great in matches where she can carry the offense, but this was a really poor performance tonight, and if you're poor against Becky, I'm not sure who you're meant to be good with, as Becky is the most consistently good worker in the division other than her EnD partner who's now on the shelf. Really stunned they put Dana over clean tonight too.
Truth Loves Goldy
It's sort of incredible just how much commitment they've shown to this angle when WWE drops so many angles at the drop of a hat. But this angle? Five months of consistent television time to build to tonight. Definitely felt like Jimmy Jacobs' finger tips were on the video at least.
R-Truth and Goldust really are the Match of the Year.
Overall, the two angles that have been working the best continued to work, but the rest was an absolute slog to get through. I was stunned after the Golden Truth segment when I realized it was only 9:40. I almost turned it off at that point. If not for AJ and Reigns, I might have. This was a really "sports entertainment" heavy episode outside those two big angles, so if that's more your taste, maybe you liked the episode better than I.