It’s a New Era in WWE, and as such, the same six guys who wrestle each other every week are going to wrestle each other this week. On the one hand, these six guys are all extremely talented wrestlers who have traveled the world, honed their craft, and know oh so well how to sports entertain the pants off a crowd—whether that crowd’s in Oklahoma City or Winnipeg (you idiot) or Mexico or Japan. You get the picture. Plus, this week’s opening segment with them all ridiculously sitting on ladders—Chris Jericho crosses his legs!—is dumb fun. On the other hand, no one is clamoring to see Owens/Ambrose 50: This Time, It’s In Oklahoma, no matter how loud those “FIGHT OWENS FIGHT” chants get… near the end of the match.
A quick refresher: Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, and Alberto Del Rio are wrestling in the Money In The Bank (MITB) match at this year’s Money In The Bank pay-per-view. Even before they were in this upcoming match, they were only able to wrestle each other. Sure, sometimes Sheamus or The Miz gets involved, but for the most part, they’re only able to wrestle each other. Originally, WWE announced a seven-man MITB match, but we’re to believe they gave up on the last silhouette when they finally learned Alex Riley had been released or something. They’re six of the best wrestlers in the company (and world) and can make magic in the squared circle on a regular basis. But that doesn’t change the fact that WWE’s approach to feuds being “keep wrestling each other to hype you wrestling each other” isn’t the quickest way to make wrestlers you could watch wrestle all day kind of boring. Each singles match Captain Obvious (more on that later) Stephanie McMahon makes out of this sextet feels repetitive, even if it’s not a match that’s happened before.
Seriously, I thought that Sami Zayn had gone against Alberto Del Rio at least once in singles competition, and it turns out I was confusing Del Rio with Sheamus. Then again, at this point, aren’t the two interchangeable? Right down to Michael Cole’s talking points about how they were both once overpushed (as a fan of both men, that doesn’t make that any less true) in 2011.
And while Teddy Long’s initial promo ends up being a dud—both on Teddy’s end and the crowd’s reaction—at least he throws out different match ideas for the MITB six. Instead, RAW goes with three singles matches, and while the past few weeks, months, years have done extremely well to show the different dynamics between all of these men (they all turn into sitcom characters around each other), this particular story isn’t really one fueled by anything other than them wanting to win MITB. And it shows in the singles matches. There’s barely any passion behind them, except for Owens/Ambrose, because of their history only wrestling each other. Jericho may hate everyone and everything, but he’s only fighting Cesaro because Stephanie drew MITB participant names out of a hat. Same with Del Rio, but I don’t think Sami Zayn cares either way about the guy, even though Del Rio has taken to calling him “Paperboy.” These singles matches kind of feel like tournament matches, without the importance. Because WWE just had tournament matches, and all these guys won them— they’re in the match already, they don’t have to earn it again, and the audience has to sit and wait for that match to happen for anything to matter.
Meanwhile, despite RAW pre-show discussion about their storylines, neither Apollo Crews nor Dolph Ziggler/Baron Corbin show up this week. The former may be at the whim of whatever Sheamus’ publicity schedule is for TMNT 2, but as brought up by the pre-show panel, there’s plenty to go with in the Big Show part of the angle. Mentorship, another heel turn, training montages—you know, things happening. As for the latter, there’s truly no reason for neither to show up. Corbin may be still doing his “they don’t deserve me” schtick, but isn’t that only a schtick if we get the promo? You can probably chock it up to an elderly man constantly rewriting shows even during the shows themselves. But that doesn’t make it excusable, now does it?
Also inexcusable is the state of the women’s division, which serves as a casual reminder that women don’t actually write for WWE. The Charlotte promo where she dumped her dad is one that was somewhat ruined by the one thing that somewhat ruins a lot of Charlotte promos: the “WHAT” chant. It’s never going to die, because true stupidity is impossible to kill, but it certainly makes those already long segments even longer. (Yes, if you’re a “WHAT”-er, that segment you think you’re so smart for interrupting actually takes longer. That’s how time works!)
Then WWE decided to have the WWE Superstars chime in, and for every relatively logical talking head (Dolph Ziggler pointing out how Charlotte was right, even Dean saying Ric didn’t teach her everything he knows), there were… Natalya and Becky’s, in which the latter (after all that time of Ric’s sexual harassment and whatnot) called Charlotte out for dumping her dad and the former kept harping about how Charlotte needs to be able to stand on her own. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but every Natalya promo is the equivalent of the Bellas’ “say it to our faces” after AJ Lee said—to their faces—in a promo how she felt about Total Divas. Charlotte gets rid of her father, and it’s not enough for Natalya, a person who has no claim to the belt after habitually losing to Charlotte one-on-one since Charlotte was in developmental. Becky has more of a claim, and she’s constantly lost to Charlotte too. So two losers are supposed to be threats to Charlotte, why? Because Charlotte was mean to her deadbeat dad? The same man they both constantly insulted and/or attacked?
It’s just dumb, and that’s a problem with a lot of stuff WWE thinks the phrase “new era” will fix. And there aren’t any women’s matches—at least not over five, no, three minutes—to keep anyone interested. Too much wrestling in one corner, not enough wrestling in the other.
Obviously, it’s most likely a holding pattern until SummerSlam. Because while Money In The Bank is often fully capable of a good show from top-to-bottom, it’s still not a “top tier” show. So we get things like Charlotte and Dana against the losers and Titus O’Neil as the number one contender to the United States Championship for no other reason than: “he’s the loudest and this is America.”
Titus O’Neil is good at commentary—and talking, in general—when he gets to joke and be funny. He’s not good at it when he has to be serious, especially when he has to try to sell a one-sided, xenophobic feud and act like a serious threat (despite his size). Unfortunately, that’s what we get here, and that includes him comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, clearly not realizing he’s comparing himself to MLK and Ali. He also basically throws Darren Young under the bus when he blames being in a tag team for keeping him from greatness in the form of singles titles. Rusev is now calling himself an “American Hero,” and Titus takes offense to that—which is understandable—but his only argument is that Rusev needs to “fight.” He keeps making these arguments after Rusev fights and then is confused why Rusev won’t fight a guy who’s 100% after he just had a match (and won clean). He and his noted xenophobic buddy Jack Swagger jump Rusev two-on-one after Rusev outsmarts Jack and wins with a count-out. We’re all supposed to cheer because “USA! USA! USA!” and brains are dumb, but it’s 2016. And while the people who chant “USA!” when rooting for Sami Zayn (my favorite instance of this is Ezekiel Jackson versus Wade Barrett in 2011—Jackson is not from the USA) are still ever-present, in a time when wrestling is getting more coverage than ever and being looked out through different perspectives, why is this still a part of the show? Especially when the “evil villain” has long reached a point of simply being a proud foreigner, who cheats less than a good number of babyfaces in this company, and gets reasonably angry (in matches, when that anger can be channeled) over his garbage employees.
You try working with John Cena and Dolph Ziggler—or really, any wrestler—in the kayfabe world of WWE and try not to hate them. You’d be a saint.
Rusev is disrespectful to America? Cena just gave sermon on free speech last week. Meanwhile, what has Titus done or won to deserve a title match in this situation? Because despite the losing, Becky and Natalya at least wrestle and aren’t in the back of the line because of a suspension. American entitlement isn’t something anyone should have to bring up in a review of WWE—Lucha Underground and even the very concept of the Bullet Club as it is now obviously create discussions for days about that—but because WWE doesn’t see it as a story so much as it sees it as correct, that’s how you get more words than anyone ever needs to write about Titus O’Neil outside of the context of original NXT or the Prime Time Players. That and the fact that, whatever Darren Young’s DOA gimmick is, it actually makes more sense for him to challenge Rusev than the guy who couldn’t be professional on live TV.
It’s all just fatigue at this point.
But it’s a different kind of fatigue with regards to the Vaudevillains/Enzo and Cass. Maybe in a different era (and not “the bygone era”), this segment possibly would have worked, but we’re very far-removed from said era. It’s already bad enough that WWE keeps playing the footage of Enzo getting concussed. This is a company that is being sued over concussions, had the biggest wrestling tragedy ever happen as a lingering result of concussions, bans moves because of concussions… and someone in this company thinks that it’s a good idea to keep showing the footage. Maybe they know it wouldn’t be admissible in court or something, because that’s the only thing I can think that actually makes sense.
Remember how it felt watching Enzo’s injury, live on the WWE Network? Remember how it sucked all the air out of the room in the arena and even at home? Because it was real and it was bad and it’s not what anyone would want to happen to any member of the roster? WWE apparently didn’t get the reasoning behind it and thought recreating the spot was a good idea. Wrestling is all about making the audience feel something, and no one watching at home or in that arena wanted to feel that way again. But seeing it here, they either did feel that way again or they felt the anger of WWE wanting them to feel that way again. They were never going to boo it—the way it made them feel took away that power to react in the agreed upon way a wrestling fan is supposed to react. So when Cass goes to “that place” in retaliation? It’s no wonder the crowd isn’t hot for that fire: They’re already too terrified of what just happened, and if they’re actually paying attention to Cass and his rage, it’s not doing any good to assuage that terror. His reaction isn’t cool. It’s scary.
Believe me: The Vaudevillains have finally unlocked their potential as villains and the sky’s the limit for them there. These guys are busting out facial expressions alone that would make Alexa Bliss proud. But the pessimist in me—and trust me, it’s actually way at the bottom for this one—thinks there will possibly be blow-back for this particular misstep, and the Vaudevillains will end up getting thrown to the wolves for it, through no fault of their own. And no one’s brother is even dead in this scenario, so maybe there’s even more of a chance.
Basically: If you want to see the rematch the way it was intended, watch last week’s Main Event, which also gives both teams good mic time. That’s where they’re hiding Sasha Banks too.
Speaking of WWE’s questionable way of approaching most situations, as well as lack of self-awareness, let’s talk about Stephanie McMahon. This is often a point of contention, because Stephanie is quite possibly the one WWE character who doesn’t have a true checks and balances system; she tears everyone down, and no one can touch her, literally. Then again, she’s the bad guy, but ultimately, everything that makes her a bad guy (she then just acts accordingly to justify it) comes down to her being a woman. She’s not suitable for running RAW, because her older brother who quit (because his ideas weren’t being listened to—that’s part of the story) got to jump back into the front of the line just because he’s her brother. She’s evil for wanting to run SmackDown, even though the only thing Shane has said he’s wanted since returning is control of RAW. She’s devious for kicking out a senile (you saw that first promo, man) former employee who called her—a businesswoman with three kids—“baby girl” and taking his idea of the most obvious match ever for a pay-per-view. Shane McMahon is “on vacation,” because he really cares about this position and being the McMahon to keep it. Stephanie is the bad one. Got it.
Here’s the thing: She’s a hypocrite who abuses her wrestlers. That’s it. That should be the focus. (And she should get some comeuppance, even if it’s just an onscreen tax audit.) When she dresses down Charlotte for being a bad daughter two weeks after slapping Ric Flair herself? That shouldn’t even happen. But it does, and that’s a reason to hate her. Not every other instance of her doing her job well… but not being likable or nice enough. Yet that’s what they keep trying to tell us. I’m a wrestling fan, but I’m also a grown adult woman who doesn’t just accept things are face value. If I did, these reviews wouldn’t exist in the first place and I wouldn’t have spent so much of my time writing about Titus O’Neil.
Then there’s the John Cena/AJ Styles/The Club/New Day situation. I know it’s wrong, but John Cena and black people still gives me CTC-induced PTSD. Plus, in just one night, Cena reminds the audience and New Day about one thing that wasn’t missed in his absence: He’s the worst friend ever. He doesn’t come out to help until the beatdown has gone fully down. The next thing you know, John Cena’s “friend” is in a wheelchair and WWE stops making merch for the guy. Now imagine New Day with three wheelchairs. Yes, that’s actually funny and they couldn’t definitely pull that off—but that’s not the point.
Outside of the team aspect is the Cena and AJ stuff. Cena’s black preacher accent is back this week, and AJ lets him know that he can’t match up to him as a wrestler. Sound familiar? Well Cena addresses that too, and AJ brings up how Cena buries guys like him. Cena throws out the fact that AJ “couldn’t even beat Roman Reigns,” and everyone watching can only imagine the mental jerking off motion that goes with that line.
Based on a working WWE knowledge: AJ has to win, right? How else can he lose to Cena two more times or be told that he hasn’t really beaten Cena until he beats Cena? If AJ loses, then do we get “one more match” begging? Cena pointedly doesn’t call this “once in a lifetime,” because no one believes that garbage line anymore (and he mentions The Rock in this particular promo), so it can happen as many times until Cena’s beaten him enough. As WWE does its best in this segment to erase CM Punk’s existence for good, it really brings out more red flags for the “same old shit” aspect of a Cena feud than anything else. There are plenty of questions to ask, but to ask any of them only leads down the path of “vintage Cena” and WWE. The match itself should be great—that’s not one of the questions. But this promo plays into every single hardcore wrestling fans’ insecurities. And while that’s obviously intentional, and Cena knows what he’s doing there, WWE’s track record doesn’t make it seem like they’re still not going to be disappointed. And not just in that “wrestling fans are always disappointed way.”
On the plus side, it does look like New Day and The Club compliment each other, especially when it comes to Kofi Kingston. That guy is at full force throughout the match, and that’s been the case both in this match and his very good singles match with AJ on SmackDown. Although, the true MVP of the match is Xavier Woods, and he doesn’t actually make it to the match. Every time WWE reminds us how good of a wrestler Woods is, it’s even more frustrating that they don’t use him in that capacity as much. But watching his clean house, only to suffer a Styles Clash on the outside, is so satisfying. (By the way, watch the Main Event show from two weeks ago if you want to see Xavier embrace the “Power of the Singlet” in a trios match against Social Outcasts. Trust me, you do.)
But the best part of the entire RAW is obvious. Even though it’s intrinsically linked to Golden Truth—a team of two middle-aged men who are now hopefully doing this all to put a young team over, because they really don’t need to win—it’s still the actual shining star of the WWE. Just as a wrestling and WWE fan, Breezango falls under the category of something I need. Like oxygen, but better. Since I started wrestling reviews here at TV Club, I’ve praised both Tyler Breeze and Fandango/Johnny Curtis constantly, while especially noting my my disappointment in WWE’s absolute mishandling of the former. So maybe there is a sports entertainment God and he finally got Vince McMahon to watch Zoolander. A miracle had to have happened in the past month. They have a pretty great mash-up theme. They have matching fuzzy vests. Tyler Breeze probably knows the Malaysian Prime Minister. “Science. I’ve heard of it.” They’re the one thing in this world of aforementioned chaos and stupidity that makes perfect sense.
- RESULTS: Cesaro defeated Chris Jericho; Rusev defeated Jack Swagger; The Vaudevillains defeated Enzo & Cass (DQ); Alberto Del Rio defeated Sami Zayn; Dean Ambrose defeated Kevin Owens; Tyler Breeze (with Fandango) defeated R-Truth (with Goldust); The Club (AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows) defeated The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Big E)
- But seriously: Who do we think was going to be in the seventh MITB spot? My thought is Miz, but then The Marine got in the way.
- CM Punk not existing to WWE anymore is made especially amusing by Cole having to keep mentioning the 2011 MITB match (and Del Rio’s 2011, in general) on a pay-per-view main evented by this, as well as Cena’s description of the type of reactions he got with AJ (without being able to mention “LET’S GO CENA”/”CM PUNK”).
- Cena also called The Club “The Pull It Club,” because when Cena becomes vintage Cena… This is definitely not what’s been missed about him. In the same sentence, he called Gallows and Anderson “junkies” (not “flunkies”). Okay!
- Last week’s Main Event had a fantastic match between Summer Rae and Sasha Banks. Seek it out, immediately. And last week’s Superstars had Summer Rae—who shut up “YOU CAN’T WRESTLE” chants—out-wrestle Natalya and work her leg brutally for the whole match. As a result, Natalya finished the match by completely no-selling the leg work, hitting the Sharpshooter, then celebrating as though she hadn’t had a wrestling match at all. Considering ring-work was all she supposedly had going for her, it’s difficult to see anything redeeming left about Natalya as an in-ring competitor.
- After all that wasted money on Puerto Rico, WWE has relegated the Shining Stars to the Performance Center’s greenscreen. WWE and Primo/Epico are really good at finding new ways to say: “There’s very little excuse for their continued spot on this roster, outside of nepotism.”