After last week’s apology of a show that was mitigated by the start of a feud ten years in the making between John Cena, the face of the WWE, and AJ Styles, the face of everywhere outside of the WWE, RAW emanated from Oklahoma in an episode that built towards what is being billed as “the biggest Money in the Bank in history”.
Cesaro defeated Chris Jericho.
Rusev defeated Jack Swagger by count out.
Enzo & Big Cass vs The Vaudevillians ended in a DQ.
Alberto Del Rio defeated Sami Zayn.
Dean Ambrose defeated Kevin Owens.
Tyler Breeze vs R Truth ended in a no contest.
The Club defeated New Day.
— WWE (@WWE) June 7, 2016
The show began in surreal fashion. Dean Ambrose approached the ring as Alberto Del Rio, Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Cesaro, the participants in the MitB ladder match, were perched a top of ladders. Kevin Owens, acting as the jaded viewer, cut off Lilian Garcia’s introductions and Chris Jericho’s catchphrases, claiming “we have heard this all already”. Each participant made their case for the title in what transpired to be an incredibly contrived segment infused with some straight to DVD acting.
As the inevitable brawl ensued, Teddy Long emerged following an extended absence from WWE television. Long fumbled his lines, proclaiming that he was here to take SmackDown into the new era. Long listed a number of matches in the most incompetent way possible before Stephanie cut him off. Stephanie, patronizingly, contested that she hasn’t decided the fate of the separate brands and who will be running both shows before emphatically stating that Shane was on vacation this week. Stephanie, after sending Teddy Long to the back in a manner resembling a daughter appeasing the absurd claims of her ageing father in an old people’s home, announced Zayn vs Del Rio, Owens vs Ambrose and Cesaro vs Jericho. Ostensibly, WWE brought back Long to ostensibly garner a cheap pop before Stephanie asserted her dominance. Despite this, the product of this tedious opening segment was three singles matches, two of which have never been seen before, somewhat negated the dreadfulness of the entire opening segment.
Cesaro vs Chris Jericho was underscored by eerie silence that only an absurd opening segment could precipitate. Although the fans struggled to engage with the match minus an incongruous “this is awesome” chant, this was a perfectly fine back and forth TV match that built the tension between two of the competitors in the MitB match. Surprisingly, following a swing, Cesaro applied the sharpshooter to submit Jericho.
— WWE (@WWE) June 7, 2016
The commentary team billed AJ Styles vs John Cena and Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins as WrestleMania main events.
When the story is in place, few forms of entertainment can produce a better five minute video package than the WWE. In the vein of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn’s video package before Payback, part one of a two part series examined the Seth Rollins vs Roman Reigns feud from Rollins’ perspective. Interestingly, Rollins wasn’t presented with any propensity towards any moral alignment, probably erring closer to a babyface promo. This was baffling considering Rollins’ behavior over the past two weeks. This week-as things are changing with Rollins seemingly on a weekly basis- WWE appear to be encouraging the viewer, as they did in the Styles/Reigns feud, to pick a side without an overbearing good guy/bad guy dichotomy.
Rusev faced the perennial thorn in his side, Jack Swagger, whilst Titus O Neil lambastes Rusev ringside for not being a “true American hero”, whatever that means. Just as this match got going, Rusev gained the victory following a count out. At least they didn’t pin Swagger in his home town.
Evidently, WWE are running the identical programme to last year that consists of Rusev running down these great United States of America with numerous mid carders attempting to protect the honour of the US.
John Cena emerged, appearing visibly chastened by AJ Styles’ deception last week, contesting that last week’s stare down was a once in a generation moment.
Styles, with a detestable grin written on his face, flanked by Gallows and Anderson, arrived to provide his rebuttal. Cena asked why Styles needed the “Bullet Club” flunkies, to which Styles retorted that he had a plan to prevent a “guy like Cena burying guys like me”.
Styles contested that he had nothing to lose as he made his way to the ring accompanied by Gallows and Anderson. As The Club were about to perpetrate another beat down on Cena, New Day evened the numbers to prevent such an eventuality.
The dream match concept has become somewhat diluted over recent years, but John Cena vs AJ Styles is undoubtedly a dream match between two of this generations finest. As evinced by the crowd’s reaction, this feud has the potential to be era-defining. Considering the meta discourse in this promo, this feud has another intriguing layer.
Enzo Amore’s concussion at Payback was shown to shill Just for Men hair dye. Wow.
Enzo and Cass delivered their usual pre-match promo with typical exuberance and vigor before they faced The Vaudevillians. It is always astonishing to witness Enzo’s charismatic delivery carry some of the corniest dialogue imaginable.
Following a brief back and forth match, Cass’ pent up frustration at the injury inflicted to his partner and most importantly friend manifested in a violent beat down of both members of The Vaudevillians to cause a DQ. This non finish, despite the means in which it was achieved, protected both teams and made sense considering what followed.
Stephanie asked if she was on an episode of Swerved as Teddy Long danced along to his entrance music on his phone. Long produced a dollar bill from his coat, claiming that the tag team match at MitB should be a fatal four way before Stephanie asked him to leave.
Moments later, Stephanie called marketing to detail that New Day would be defending their tag titles at MitB against Gallows/Anderson, The Vaudevillians and Enzo/Cass: Teddy Long’s idea. Although Stephanie wanted to please the crowd, her behavior was laced with malicious intent as she plagiarized Long’s ideas for her gain to belie her obsequious facade.
Sami Zayn faced Alberto Del Rio in a peculiar TV match. The story was that Del Rio used his veteran nous to maintain the advantage throughout in a match that was, at times, clunky and punctuated with awkward pauses. Del Rio secured the clean victory following the double foot stomp. Once more, the crowd was largely apathetic throughout.
Owens approached Ambrose backstage, suggesting that Ambrose was even more off than usual. Amrbose responded by listing the times that he had beaten Owens recently.
Part two of the special look at the history of the Roman Reigns/ Seth Rollins rivalry continued with the WWE Champion’s perspective. This was another excellent package that threw a different light on the feud: Reigns spoke of the anger Rollins inspired following WrestleMania 31 that lead to his redemption at WrestleMania 32. Reigns proclaimed that he came to WWE to stand with his brothers, but now he “stands alone” evidently forgetting about The Usos’ assistance in recent months.
Again, the tone of this package wasn’t confining the story to the good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Considering the general reactions to Reigns, this means of story telling is a smart way to attempt negate the aforementioned reactions by inviting fans to support either Reigns or Rollins.
— WWE (@WWE) June 7, 2016
In the final MitB ladder themed match, Kevin Owens faced Dean Ambrose. This was the same match that we have seen multiple times laced with the intensity of both competitors seeking to gain an advantage heading into MitB. Ambrose secured the victory out of nowhere with Dirty Deeds before ascending a ladder. Owens, incandescent with rage, pushed Ambrose from the ladder to stand tall.
More Darren Young and Bob Backlund stuff. I wonder if it will ever translate into a match.
Charlotte, accompanied by Dana Brooke, made her way to the ring as she reminded the audience why she left Ric Flair. Ostensibly, Charlotte’s denouncement of her father, who was continually sabotaging her matches to help her gain victory, was a face turn. The means in which she executed it, though, was unashamedly a vicious. Charlotte contested that, despite claiming that her “father was dead” to her, she still wanted to spend Christmas with him.
Soon, Natalya and Charlotte emerged to protect the honour of Ric Flair. After lambasting Charlotte for treating her father with such disdain, Becky and Natalya attempted to convince Dana Brooke that Charlotte would eventually turn on her. Brooke appeared to align with Natalya and Becky before attacking them from behind and was soon assisted by Charlotte.
This entire story is a complete mess: why is Becky Lynch defending Ric Flair, who sexually assaulted her at the Royal Rumble? This is an instance of astounding tone deafness to not only character development but issues that afflict women on a broader scale.
In what is one of the most exciting developments of 2016, Tyler Breeze announced that he had undergone surgery to remove the hair follicles from his body before proceeding to shave Fandango’s back. Although the team of Breez-ango was seemingly created as a means of developing the team of Golden Truth, this may well be the best thing to happen either man for sometime.
A singles match between Breeze and R Truth was soon thrown out as Fandango attempted a roll up on Truth for a some reason. Teddy Long further descended into madness, demanding a tag team match be made before security dragged him to the back.
Stephanie accosted the former SmackDown GM, further dressing him down backstage. Stephanie rancorously stated that the new era wasn’t going to be defined by a nostalgic reach towards the past before demanding that the incompetent old man must leave, which he duly did.
WWE paid homage to Mohammed Ali in a video that located Ali’s inspiration as coming from Gorgeous George.
New Days’ goofy comedy is the antithesis of all The Club stand for. As New Day ran through their usual routine, The Club stood in the ring, astonished by the jovial antics of the Tag Team Champions. This was an excellent match that firmly established The Club as THE dominant stable in WWE. Following a couple of dives to the outside by Xavier Woods, The Club gained the advantage following a Styles Clash to the mat before the match could start. New Day’s happy go lucky approach to matches proved ineffective against the stoic Club as Big E and Kingston were forced to change their approach after Woods was carried to the back.
As the bell rang, Kingston and Big E challenged The Club three on two, who were in the ascendancy early on before the numbers game allowed The Club to gain the advantage. Styles secured the victory following the Phenomenal Forearm as the beat down continued post-match.
Cena made the save but Styles evaded him; Cena delivered an AA whilst Big E delivered the Big Ending as the show closed.
Final Word: Last week’s RAW proved an aberration in the solid post-Mania string of shows: despite the peculiar depiction of Teddy Long as a dementia patient and the absence of Reigns and Rollins in person, this week’s edition delivered a solid build to the top three matches at Money in the Bank whilst suggesting that Stephanie’s fawning to the crowd is a mere facade in an attempt to curry favour with her father. Heading into MitB, the show looks set to be one of the best of the year.