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The Smark Henry RAW Report (4/27/15): Shuffling the Deck

One of my biggest takeaways from listening to last week’s episode of Grantland’s Cheap Heat podcast is that episodes of Monday Night RAW during the Attitude Era opened and closed with different segments involving different wrestlers. It’s very much unlike the current era, where every episode must start and end with either the Authority or the current World Champion and whoever he’s feuding with. That’s something I never really thought about since I’d become so accustomed to seeing the top dogs on the roster in the opening and closing segments on every damn episode every since I started watching wrestling religiously again in 2010. Seeing the same guys in the same spots over and over again leads to viewer fatigue. This is the reason why John Cena became so polarizing throughout much of his run as WWE’s franchise player. I guess this is also the reason why–as much as I love him–I will eventually get tired of Seth Rollins and J&J Security, and Randy Orton (who’s become boring again after he stopped doing the meth-fueled rant schtick that got him so over before he was taken out prior to Survivor Series). This is also one of the reasons why I will continue to be a Roman Reigns hater -- with the other being that I feel he’s constantly shoved down my throat as the heir apparent to John Cena -- especially after he’s been reinserted into the main event of Payback following the events of this week’s RAW. I wasn’t a wrestling fan during the Attitude Era, and whatever wrestling I did manage to watch firsthand was in limited doses thanks to its late timeslot and to my mother, who dutifully snuck in at the most opportune times to take me out of the room and put me to bed. But I can imagine how fun it must have been to have different ongoing storylines all being given equal amounts of importance. Maybe this was the direction WWE intended to go when they decided to elevate the state of the United States and Intercontinental Championships by letting Cena and Daniel Bryan hold these titles respectively after WrestleMania Play Button. Alas, Bryan’s ongoing rivalry with the injury bug is seeing him spend this latest chapter on the shelf (again), while Cena’s U.S. Championship Open Challenge has been opening either the second or the third hour of RAW weekly. Shifting gears now, let’s go through this episode of RAW and… wait, the King of the Ring (KOTR) tournament is back?! Really, WWE? You couldn’t be bothered to hype one of your oldies but goodies, even a week prior to it actually happening? It’s been five years since a King of the Ring tournament took place, and WWE just announces it a day before RAW airs? Way to hype a classic tournament that puts extra meaning into matches that would otherwise be random tangos on an episode of RAW. Four quarterfinal matches took place on RAW this week, while the semifinals and the finals matches are to take place a day afterward on a WWE Network special. The quarterfinal matches were Bad News Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth vs. Stardust, Sheamus vs. Dean Ambrose, and Neville vs. Luke Harper. King of the Ring Quarterfinals Match: Bad News Barrett def. Dolph Ziggler
The winning Bullhammer. Photo from WWE.com
Barrett’s inclusion seemed like a no-brainer since Bryan’s status is left uncertain because of his injuries. Without a dance partner, we might as well write Barrett into the KOTR tournament, which by the way, BNB has a very strong chance of winning given the field. That being said, his match with Ziggler gave us quite a treat. Both of these former Intercontinental Champions can go, and if Bryan were to drop the IC Title, I wouldn’t be opposed to either of them having another run with it if it would mean that they would feud against each other. In the end, BNB picked up a win after an assist from Sheamus, who came down to the ring to gloat about the previous night’s arse-kissing, distracting Ziggler in the process. BNB hit the Bullhammer from outside the ring–which I will always mark out for–and got the win to advance to the next round of the tournament. King of the Ring Quarterfinals Match: R-Truth def. Stardust R-Truth vs. Stardust wasn’t much of a match, if only for the lack of time it was given. Two things did stand out from this match: R-Truth’s picture-in-picture promo during his entrance–which is something all the KOTR tournament entrants got during their respective entrances–whereas the other seven men talked about how important being King of the Ring was or why they should be King of the Ring, Truth’s promo sounded more like a political campaign. The brother seriously talked about getting rid of spiders as his first order of kingly business. Wonderful. Oh, and Truth actually won the match after hitting his Lie Detector on Stardust… FROM OUTTA NOWHERE! Hell, that win came from outta nowhere. Moving on… King of the Ring Quarterfinals Match: Sheamus def. Dean Ambrose When Sheamus vs. Dean Ambrose took place, I figured it was a foregone conclusion that Ambrose would win. After all, Sheamus dicked Dolph over and distracted him during Ziggler’s match against BNB, so a Ziggler run-in to exact revenge was definitely in play. True enough, it was in the cards, but not before a fairly competitive match between two of the most entertaining performers WWE has today in Sheamus and Ambrose. The match wasn’t pretty, which was to be expected from two brawlers who just wanted to fight, but it was enjoyable just the same. 

In the end, Dolph came in to attack Sheamus while both he and Ambrose were lying prone outside the ring, leading to a Sheamus win via DQ. I liked how this still kept the Sheamus-Ziggler feud moving forward. At the same time, it could open the door for a future Ziggler-Ambrose feud since Deano now has legitimate beef with Ziggler for costing him a shot at being King of the Ring. King of the Ring Quarterfinals Match: Neville def. Luke Harper
Luke Harper got up close with Neville's boots. Photo from WWE.com
And finally, the most entertaining segment of RAW had King of the Ring implications as the Man That Gravity Forgot, Neville, took on the eccentric Luke Harper. Both men’s contrasting styles came into play from the opening bell, with Harper trying to use his strength and brutality to ground the high-flying Neville. Meanwhile, Neville used his speed and athleticism to mount the aerial offense we’ve come to love and expect out of him. Given both wrestlers’ skills, they made their contrasting styles complement one another and brought out the best in each other in a solid TV match. During the match, one moment stood out to me, and it wasn’t any of Neville’s high-flying moves: JBL and Booker T were on commentary and talking about how Neville could be the first ever high-flying King in WWE. The late Owen Hart’s name was brought up, and JBL argued that Owen was a high-flier, just not on Neville’s level. Booker then added that Owen “didn’t defy gravity like Neville.” Welp. Way to put your foot in your mouth, Book. I get that JBL and Booker T were actively trying to add layers to the match by bringing up history–something they should be doing more often. And even as Booker made the “gravity” comment, it sounded so innocent, like he didn’t intend to make fun of Owen Hart. But it doesn’t matter what one’s intentions are. Your words and actions could very well have the greatest of intentions, but if they’re said and/or done irreverently, you’re going to get called out on it. Needless to say, the comment irked the IWC, and Booker T (rightfully) got a lot of flak on social media. Back to the Neville-Harper match, I wouldn’t mind seeing a feud between both of these guys if it would mean more matches like this on bigger stages. Since Sheamus advanced to the semis in the previous KOTR match, it was more than logical that the babyface Neville were to pick up the win to set up the semifinal match against Sheamus. It certainly helps Neville’s case that he’s also one of the “undersized runts” that Sheamus is picking on these days. It will be Bad News Barrett vs. R-Truth and Sheamus vs. Neville heading into the semis. I expect Barrett to Bullhammer his way to the final round without a hitch, while I expect Dolph to come out again and interfere in Sheamus vs. Neville–this time to ensure that Sheamus doesn’t make it to the finals. This sets the table for a rematch of the Extreme Rules Kickoff match between BNB and Neville, which I wouldn’t mind seeing again! As far as predictions go, I’ll have to give it to BNB because he seems more primed for a good push right now than he’s ever been. Big E def. Tyson Kidd Let’s talk about the rest of the show, speaking of which, the running theme through the entire show was basically reshuffling the deck so that new feuds could materialize. And part of the reshuffling involved putting The New Day and K-Swiss in a feud that’s longer than a one-off PPV bout! I like that they booked a singles match between Big E and Tyson Kidd on RAW. I’ve always been a firm believer in maximizing the players in a rivalry to make the most out of a feud. And in a tag team program, the best way to go about this is to have singles matchups using the different individual permutations of the teams involved. Xavier Woods came out wearing one of the penny belts, while Kofi wasn’t wearing his, even though technically, Kofi and Big E won the Tag Team titles at Extreme Rules. Does this mean that the New Day are following the Freebird Rule the same way the Spirit Squad did in 2006? Why aren’t the commentators bringing this shit up? Real talk: of course they’re following the Freebird Rule. But someone -- Kane as Director of Operations, or at least an announcement via the commentary team -- should have explained this. We as the audience really shouldn’t be made to fill in all these blanks as much as Creative has been. During the match, it really seemed like K-Swiss had indeed turned face, while the crowd continued to turn on the New Day. I thought it was great that Woods’s pre-match promo involved instructing the crowd to chant “New! Day rocks!” It just riled the fans up even more, and it was a nice touch of denial for the New Day members, who have become the heels I have wanted them to be since they started the “Clap or Snap” schtick. The match itself was pretty quick, and much like R-Truth vs. Stardust, we all know both E and Tyson could really go if given more time. However, having Xavier pull on Tyson’s leg while Big E pinned him was another genius heel move that is giving the New Day the heat they need right now! Plus, it makes K-Swiss even more sympathetic. I love the direction this feud is going. My one question is: where are the other tag teams in the division? What the hell happened to the Ascension? Are they just on Superstars duty now? And weren’t the Prime Time Players taking pot shots at the New Day – and the other tag teams – just a few weeks ago? Why are they off RAW again? I realized I just asked five questions. Bray Wyatt finally attacks his mark I’ve openly wondered on the SGP Podcast whether Bray Wyatt actually knows who he’s referring to in his promos since defeating the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Wyatt’s promos used to be some of the most compelling bits of RAW, but they’ve easily been the most confusing–and to a degree, annoying–mostly because none of us knew who he was referring to. Wyatt finally made his intentions clear this week as he attacked Ryback right after the latter squashed Bo Dallas. I thought it was cool that Wyatt decided to attack the man who destroyed Bo, Bray’s real-life brother. Am I the only one who’s been rooting for Bo and Bray to eventually team up? Rosa the Rosebud
Fandango's not going to know what hit him. Photo from WWE.com
Fandango and Adam Rose continued to feud this week, with Rose picking up the win this week after Rosa Mendes came out disguised as a Rosebud to give Rose the assist. Rosa then cut a promo about how she could not believe Fandango picked the fans over her and that Adam Rose could love her for the flower that she is. Then she and Rose went at each other for a rosy make out session. This feud isn’t likely to culminate at any PPV, but it’s nice to see that they’re doing something with Fandango and Adam Rose. More importantly, it’s nice that they’re giving Fandango a story to justify his face turn by having Adam Rose and Rosa bully him. Rose and Rosa. What a flowery storyline. If this were in the Philippines, the only one missing would be Rosa Rosal! Daniel Bryan Injury Update! The RAW announce team hyped up a Daniel Bryan injury update via a Renee Young interview. Renee appears on-screen and introduces a supposedly sympathetic Brie Bella, who, by the way, still hasn’t explained why I should cheer for her again. I don’t care if you’re Daniel Bryan’s husband, Brie Bella. You owe us two explanations for two changes of allegiance now. Anyway, Naomi interrupts Brie’s DB injury update, which wasn’t really much of an update because she basically said “only time will tell how long Bryan will be out.” Great, really helpful, Felicia. Naomi mercifully cuts it short by attacking Brie and yelling that nobody cares about her and her husband. Interestingly enough, Brie’s promo straddled that fine line between reality and kayfabe because Bryan is legit injured. This type of storytelling, which has become symptomatic of the Reality Era, is now more common than ever. But when Naomi attacked Brie, it felt as if I got sucked in back to the kayfabe “reality” of pro wrestling. I’m not quite sure right now if that’s a good thing or not. Naomi def. Brie Bella It looks like Naomi kept her neon lights kicks from Extreme Rules, which is wonderful because I’ll never get tired of seeing those boots. Bonus points to Naomi for singing along to her own damn theme song and bobbing along to it on her way in and out of the ring! Meanwhile, Nikki Bella just continues to look heavenly. Nikki fans everywhere will lay it on me for only realizing this now, and that’s probably because this is the first stretch in recent years when Nikki’s makeup didn’t come off too strong. To add to that, while I’m a fan of Nikki wearing her cap, I will always fall for a beautiful girl wearing a ponytail. You do you, Nikki Bella! In keeping with the #GiveDivasAChance movement, this match between Brie and Naomi wasn’t a bathroom break at all. There was a story that they could tell stemming from the previous night, when Brie kicked Naomi from the outside, allowing Nikki to pick Naomi up for the Rack Attack and the win. The backstage attack from a few minutes earlier certainly helped, and having Naomi just talk trash was another fine detail that will allow her to keep getting her heat. The best part of this match was… Naomi didn’t use the Rear View! She won the match with a kick to the face and a roll up. Not exactly a decisive way to beat your opponent, but if this means she’s transitioning to a different finisher, then I’ll take it. Plus, this means that this feud is far from over, which is fine. If they could build to a fatal 4-way for the Divas Championship for SummerSlam involving both Bellas, Paige, and Naomi, that’ll be great! We’ll still get to achieve the same sort of long-term storytelling we’ve been hoping to see from the Divas, with Naomi filling in AJ’s supposed slot. Maybe then I’ll get my resolution for the Bellas’ on and off feud. At the very least, we’ll get an awesome fatal 4-way for the Divas title! #ThankYouSandow
How ironic that Sandow should be mocked by Axel, who is basically an impersonator himself. Photo from WWE.com
Slightly lost, but definitely not forgotten in the shuffle that was this week’s RAW was the return of Damien Sandow. It’s not that he was ever gone. It’s just… When’s the last time he even went by Damien Sandow anyway? Sandow’s Wikipedia entry says that it has been a full year since he first started impersonating other characters. His first impersonation? Magneto. Anyway, Sandow cut a promo recapping the journey he had from being on the chopping block last year to finally finding a niche in WWE. He sounded genuinely grateful to the fans for eating his act up and giving the powers that be a reason to keep signing his paychecks. It should also be noted that Sandow acknowledged his failed attempt at being the intellectual savior of the unwashed masses… and that he cut this promo in a plain black t-shirt, jeans, and with no interruptions from the Miz. Curtis Axel, however, was the one to come out and interrupt Sandow. And in a nice ironic segment, Axel tore into Sandow for making a career out of ripping off another guy’s gimmick. Sandow just used his comedic timing and mimicry to mock Axel, pissing the Axe Man off and endearing himself further to the WWE Universe. Afterwards, Axel attacked Sandow, who countered and defended himself, culminating in a Hulk Hogan leg drop tease from Sandow. He ultimately performed the Cubito Aequet, or the Elbow of Disdain, a move which we haven’t seen him perform in about a year. After sending Axel out of the ring, Sandow celebrated with a new theme song! It’s official: Damien Sandow is back and is his own man again. Randy Orton and Roman Reigns def. Kane and Seth Rollins (w/ J&J Security) I’m over 2,800 words into this RAW review and I’m only getting to the main event now. Damn. Let’s get through this as quickly as possible:

  • What did you think of this week’s RAW? Are you excited that they brought the King of the Ring tournament back? I’ll be talking about Extreme Rules, RAW, and more on this week’s episode of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast with Ro Moran and Raf Camus, so stay tuned and subscribe to us! In the meantime, follow me on Twitter: @_stansy.
  • The “Justin Bieber!” chants at Seth Rollins during the opening segment and the main event were nothing short of glorious. Peter Rosenberg of Cheap Heat first mentioned that Justin Bieber’s such a huge heel in showbiz today – and I agree – that it made perfect sense to compare him to Seth Rollins.
  • The match and the lead-up to it did a great job of teasing the tension between Kane and Rollins, leaving me to wonder when Kane would turn on Rollins, if at all.
  • There’s not much to say about Kane using his authority as Director of Operations to have the WWE Universe decide what the main event at Payback would be. Okay, fine, maybe there is something to say. Are we bringing Cyber Sunday back? Then again, given the choices, it was pretty obvious the fans were voting for a Triple Threat match to piss Seth off. What should be noted is that Kane’s basically playing a babyface role now.
  • Kane finally snapping during the main event after Seth inadvertently hit him with a suicide dive outside the ring was wonderful! They had built up to it all night, and finally, Corporate Kane lost his cool and attacked Seth and J&J! He then rolled Seth back into the ring to set up a Superman Punch and an RKO that everybody saw coming for the win.
  • As if the announce tables haven’t been taking enough punishment in recent weeks, Kane had to go demolish the innocent tables again before revealing the results of the voting via the WWE App. Being the petulant, chickenshit heel champ he was, Seth was visibly upset over the result, which made the incoming Superman Punch from Roman Reigns more satisfying as a fan.
  • Of course, all that satisfaction quickly went down the drain when RAW ended with a celebrating Roman Reigns. DAMMIT, JOE!

What did you think of this week’s RAW? Are you excited that they brought the King of the Ring tournament back? I’ll be talking about Extreme Rules, RAW, and more on this week’s episode of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast with Ro Moran and Raf Camus, so stay tuned and subscribe to us! In the meantime, follow me on Twitter: @_stansy.

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