Monday night’s go-home edition of RAW served as much as a prelude to the inaugural, draft-edition, of SmackDown Live, as it did a go-home show for Sunday’s Battleground PPV. In this columnist’s opinion, it succeeded far more in the latter regard than it did in the former. Let’s get into it.
— The Hits —
12-man tag shenanigans
Devoting over a half-hour to anything in modern day WWE is fraught with risk, but the 12 men involved in Monday night’s top-of-the-second-hour segment managed to make it work.
Although I could have done without Xavier Woods listing Pokémon at the end of the lengthy pre-match verbal joust, the vast majority of the superstars’ spoken word contributions hit their mark. While it was nice to see the charismatic Karl Anderson get a rare chance to shine, Enzo Amore was unsurprisingly the clear highlight.
Amore’s takedown of Luke Gallows was brutal and hilarious in equal measure, “The only time women open their mouths for you is to yawn!” And John Cena’s inability to see the subtle parallels between the Jersey boy’s character and the mid-noughties version of his own was also tremendous.
As for the ensuing match, while it may have gone long at almost 20 minutes, it did not outstay its welcome. AJ Styles pinning Amore, after an inadvertent clothesline to Cena by the latter, felt like the right finish leading into Battleground.
It was also telling that the action started with a close-up of Big Cass and Braun Strowman’s face-to-face, underlining that Amore’s buddy is taller and that the bloom is long off the rose for the bumbling ex-clown.
As a footnote, wasn’t it wonderful to see the company drop the Final Deletion rip-off and acknowledge its failure? Apart from a couple of offhand references, we were mercifully spared the shaky-cam follow-up to last week’s decidedly uninteresting firefly-filled finale. Good.
Seth Rollins’ empty arena promo was excellent, both for its content and the fact that the WWE appears more open to different settings for its monologues and dialogues in recent times.
For the past fortnight, SmackDown has kicked off with little verbal snippets from its superstars, delivered from varied locations around the arena-du-jour.
Rollins’ Shield-centric reflection, delivered as he made the old walk down the steps and over the guardrail, continued that welcome trend of production innovation.
As for what he actually said, I’m always a fan of a self-convinced heel delivering us a large slice of hypocrisy without possessing the self-awareness to realize it.
Calling Dean Ambrose a “coward” and a “thief” for cashing in on him last month, while in the same breath referencing his own WrestleMania 31 exploits, was absolutely pitch-perfect.
— The Misses —
Cruiserweight announcement buried by the Baron
Monday’s opening segment informed us that the returning cruiserweight division would be exclusive to a Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley led RAW.
Without getting into the undiscussed draft implications of that news, which may or may not mean that competitors under 205 lbs will be unavailable to SmackDown, let’s instead focus on the treatment of said competitors at the bottom of the second hour.
Having just informed us of the Lucha Dragons announcing their split on Facebook, the company commenced their newly-minted cruiserweight singles careers by sacrificing Sin Cara to Vince’s guy, Baron Corbin, in under a minute.
Later, Kalisto ran out to save his buddy, only to get similarly creamed. You really have to laugh.
We know that Mr. McMahon has never taken his light heavyweights seriously, but to effectively bury a brand new division in this manner in a vain attempt to make a generic tall guy look strong? Absolutely, hilariously, pathetic.
Make Darren Young fluke again
Debate raged in the aftermath of last week’s RAW about the way in which Bob Backlund’s protege was booked.
Darren Young won the Battle Royal to determine a number one contender for The Miz’s Intercontinental championship by default, prompting some commentators — myself included — to point out the folly in building up a challenger in this not credible manner.
To the assumed surprise of none of those commentators, the company followed-up that flub by having Young fluke a three-minute victory over Alberto Del Rio on the Battleground go-home show, thanks to botched interference from The Miz.
Prior to the finish, Del Rio enjoyed a visual pinfall to protect his heat, and suffered no offense from Young apart from one stiff right hand.
I’m sure the Kool-Aid sippers will continue to beseech us to “see how it plays out,” but this is an unequivocally appalling way to build to a title match at a PPV, in this columnist’s humble opinion.
The main event mess
Despite the announcers clearly stating that Stephanie McMahon will only assume full control of RAW next week, Vince’s daughter somehow had the *ahem* authority to declare Rollins the victor after the double-pinfall finish to his title match against Ambrose.
Would someone like to explain that one to me?
I’d also like an explanation to the subsequent, Network-exclusive, video-assisted announcement of a draw not being hyped by the abysmal announcers at RAW’s close. I must admit to only discovering that Ambrose remains the WWE champion AFTER writing this column, which forced me to go back and add this paragraph. Mind-boggling.
While I assume that this was the first step towards the disappointing decision to run with two world titles again, this was far from a good start.
The match itself was also disappointing, clocking in at almost 25 minutes, with a dead crowd that wasn’t into Ambrose’s comeback in any way, shape, or form.
Although the match (and the crowd) picked up significantly during its extended near falls segment, it still undershot expectations overall and I really can’t stress how much that finish absolutely stunk. I was a big fan of that rebound clothesline-buckle bomb-Dirty Deeds spot, though.
Foley as Steph’s second?
While I enjoyed Mick Foley’s spirit of competition face off with Daniel Bryan in the third hour, I am at a loss to explain why dastardly heel Stephanie would choose such a self-confessed panderer to run the WWE’s flagship show.
The irony of Stephanie calling out her brother and Bryan for pandering to the fans wasn’t lost on me when she announced the “King of Cheap Pops” as her general manager going forward.
The backstage discussion between Foley and Shane, in which the former claimed to admire his sister’s “passion” did nothing to convince me that this isn’t the latest example of nonsensical writing from the biggest wrestling company in the world.