RONDA-NIA ANGLE- This happened at the NBC Universal up-fronts. Ronda was hanging out with Charlotte (most certainly not a coincidence) and WOOOOing when Nia just walked up to her and said “you can woooooo but can you do this” and held up her title belt. Renee Young tells us that apparently there was more that happened and we’ll have to stick around to find out what it was. Based on what we saw here, though, I’m not optimistic. This didn’t come off as people being natural but rather as people trying to act naturally in an obviously scripted situation. I don’t want to see Ronda acting like a mark, all three of them just looked way too ordinary. They were sharply-dressed people in a room full of sharply-dressed people, including some mulling around in the background while this was being shot. None of them came off as stars here… which I know sounds weird considering that they did this at an event for important people, but the area they shot this in was just so busy that these three felt no more important than anyone else we saw mulling round.
OPENING SEGMENT- good
The show proper opened with Roman Reigns coming out. Unlike most weeks, when Roman is met with an overwhelming show of boos, this week the booing was in a British accent. Roman calls out Jinder Mahal, who screwed him out of his MITB qualifier last week.
Instead Kurt Angle comes out and announces that Jinder won’t be coming out. He says he got a phone-call from WWE management telling him that when he “denied Jinder the opportunity to qualify for the Money in the Bank Ladder Match” he was “thinking emotionally” when he “should have been thinking logically, because that’s what’s best for business.” Kurt announces that Jinder has been booked in an MITB qualifier tonight against Lashley and The Drifter.
Well… “thinking logically” as one should always do (even WWE just acknowledged that that’s best for business), why is Kurt still employed as the GM? Hunter and Steph hate him, and this is not the first time over the past few weeks that Steph has had to correct a mistake that Kurt made, so why don’t they just fire him as GM and make him an active wrestler where he will surely make the promotion a lot more money wrestling the likes of Bryan, Nakamura, AJ, Joe, Roman, Rollins, Balor, etc. than he will as GM where not only does he draw no money but the office thinks he is actually hurting the product?
Roman responded to the news that Jinder is booked in an MITB qualifier against Lashley and The Drifter tonight by saying “that’s perfect” and suggesting that he be added to that match as well… which is an excellent because not only does Roman want to avenge the wrong that Jinder committed against him, but he did also get unfairly screwed out of his MITB qualifier last week so adding him into this week’s makes perfect sense. They should make Roman the GM. He’d do a much better job than Kurt.
Kurt tells Roman he can’t do that because “WWE management has made it clear that you will have no more qualifying opportunities.”
“WWE Management” in this case obviously has to mean some combination of Vince, Hunter, and Steph, right? They’re the only ones who are above Kurt, right? And the framing of this whole thing fits into what Roman’s story has supposedly been since WrestleMania, which is that the management is trying to prevent him from being champion. The problem with that story, however, is the fact that despite losing clean at WrestleMania, Roman was immediately just given the title shot in Saudi Arabia. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to determine the #1 contender for that show in some sort of gigantic match with the entire roster involved in which the deck could somehow be stacked against Roman. A gauntlet match would be way too long and a lot of people would have to lose in a spot where they really shouldn’t, and although it’s otherwise the best option it’d be a little silly to do a Royal Rumble to determine the #1 contender on a show where the main event will be another Royal Rumble, so maybe the best option would be a regular battle royale and you spend up the show building up rumors that someone has put a bounty on Roman in that match so a lot of the match is everyone going after Roman. The point is that it would need to be something that we could now look at in hindsight and say “oh. That was management subtly trying to make sure that Roman never even got another shot at Brock,” which would play into the story rather than working against it.
Roman tells Kurt that he understands that he Kurt is only doing what he is told so he doesn’t get fired and can feed his family (because apparently no other company will hire a WWE Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist). Kurt thanks Roman for understanding but Roman interrupts him and says that he, too, is now going to do what he has to do, and Roman heads backstage to look for Jinder.
I thought Roman was very good here and Kurt was fine, so this was a rare opening segment that wasn’t annoying.
ROMAN GOES ON A JINDER-HUNT- good
I liked the idea of someone going from the ring to the backstage area to find someone he/she wants to fight. It’s a nice little deviation from the usual routine and makes perfect sense here, as it emphasizes both Jinder’s cowardly nature and Roman’s determination to get revenge on Jinder whether management wants him to or not. Roman found him relatively quickly, although the spot Jinder was standing was somewhere he could keep an eye on the ring while being out of sight of everyone else, so it made sense for him to be there and for that to be someone relatively close to where Roman would be starting from. They had a fine brawl which spilled back out onto the stage where Kurt Angle came running in with a team of referees and road agents to break it up.
WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH: Seth Rollins(c) vs. Kevin Owens- 7/10
Owens losing streak continues, while Creative continues their streak of using this “open challenge” nonsense as a crutch so that they don’t have to put any effort into actually trying to build up worthy challengers for their midcard belts, which I’m sure will be followed by yet another bout of then wondering why the likes of Corbin, Drifter, Roode, etc. remain paralyzed in the midcard.
These guys had an exciting match with a few big bumps, some great nearfalls, and some very bad commentary by Booker T.
WOMEN’S TITLE UP-FRONTS STUFF- It somehow got worse.
This time we got the full segment… and I hated it even more. It started off with WWE’s won Cathy Kelly telling us that “WWE has a huge presence” at the up-fronts via voice-over, then cuts to her congratulating Ronda on her WrestleMania win. WrestleMania was FIVE WEEKS AGO. Are you telling me that Cathy Kelly hasn’t congratulated Ronda yet?
I know that seems like a silly thing to harp on, but it builds to an important point about what went wrong here. While it’s silly for Cathy Kelly- a WWE employee- to be congratulating Ronda on that over a month later, it would have been fine coming from someone from outside the company who might have been interested in talking to WWE’s most mainstream Superstar. And if someone else was doing this interview here and WWE worked out turning it into an angle to set up Ronda vs. Nia then I could forgive the idea of doing it at the up-fronts because it was necessary in order to justify the coverage by whatever more mainstream media outlet they were working with in the hopes that it would drum up some mainstream interest.
But that’s not what happened. Instead this was just WWE taking their cameras to the up-fronts and filming this angle there rather than backstage at a random Raw (or a PPV post-show if you want Charlotte to be there), and the problem with that is that WWE is WWE, so it resulted in this whole thing feeling like they just wanted to be able to make sure we all saw that “WWE has a huge presence” at the up-fronts this year.
As for the angle itself… it was bad. Based on what we saw before, this almost felt like a bait-and switch, as the hinted-at antagonism between Nia and Ronda completely vanished seconds after the point where they chose to leave us hanging earlier. Nia said she had an “obligatory title defense” at the PPV (you know… as opposed to those “optional” title defenses) and she wants to face Ronda Rousey. Ronda was all humble and pointed out that she has only won one match in her WWE career thus far and surely there are many women more deserving of a title shot than she is, but Nia insisted that she wanted to face Ronda and so they shook hands and Charlotte stuck her head back in and assured us the match would be “good” and she put her arms around the other two and there was WOOOOing and then they all skipped off together like the best of pals. F*ck that! I want to see some ANIMOSITY. This didn’t make me want to see any of these women fight anyone. They didn’t come off as pro wrestlers; they came off as celebrities doing a bit.
Obviously this is WAY too rushed (unless of course they’re going to give us a f*ck finish at the PPV, which is also not a good thing to do) but this is just about the worst thing you can do with Ronda right now (other than beat her, obviously). She made it clear that she wanted “no special privileges” and yet she has been in the company for almost three months now and has only had ONE match (she doesn’t even work house shows) and despite us being promised that she would be on the show every single week she misses some (like last week, for example) and WWE tries to cover their tracks by taking down the article where they had announced that she would be on the show every single week. Long story short, Ronda is being turned into a hypocrite, which is just about the worst thing you can do to a babyface.
Also… at WWE’s most recent PPV, Nia Jax injured Alexa Bliss! during their match. She had similarly injured Bayley last year. Ronda Rousey is WWE’s most valuable mainstream commodity. She’s also very green. This seems like there is a distinct chance that it could end badly for WWE.
Just in case seeing the segment and then being told by the announcers how exciting this was didn’t get you excited for it, we then got to hear Kurt Angle talking to someone on his cellphone about how exciting and unexpected it was that Nia made this challenge to Ronda Rousey for a WWE Raw Women’s Title match at Money in the Bank.
KURT ANGLE, BO DALLAS, & CURTIS AXEL BACKSTAGE- Bo & Axel, too, have to plug the Ronda thing, apparently. After some dumb comedy that results in them deciding to call themselves “The B-Team” because they’re dumb, they ask Kurt for a tag title shot. He laughs this off, telling them that they haven’t won a single tag team match in WWE. I figured there was no possible way this could be true so I went and looked it up, and it turns out the combination of Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas have never won a match as their own unit. They were on the winning end of a grand total of TWO six-man tags with Miz and were allowed to win in eight-man tags for one weekend during their Social Outcasts days, but that’s it. They’ve won five matches total (only three on TV) over the past two years plus. HOW THE F*CK ARE THESE LOSERS STILL EMPLOYED?!
Kurt tells him that he won’t give them a title shot, especially seeing as how they just lost cleanly to the tag chaps last week. He says that he’ll book them in a tag match later tonight if they stop bothering him.
Speaking of tag teams, it has now just occurred me to that we haven’t seen the Authors of Pain in a few weeks at this point.
MONEY IN THE BANK QUALIFYING MATCH: Baron Corbin vs. Bobby Roode vs. No Way Jose- 6.5/10
I’ve often expressed my displeasure at Cole’s (likely Vince-mandated) “talking to the audience without actually talking to the audience” where he says something to one of his broadcast partners that is actually meant for the audiences’ benefit but as a result makes it seem like Cole thinks his broadcast partners are morons… but with Booker T in the booth, I wouldn’t be surprise if Cole telling him to “remember the rules, Book” and then going on to explain how a Triple] Threat Match works isn’t actually a shoot.
This match got good after a while, but for the most part this felt like a complete and total mid-card match between guys who have nothing going for them and are just treading water.
KURT ANGLE & KEVIN OWENS BACKSTAGE- Owens demands a rematch with Rollins. He has no basis for this, so Kurt tells him no. Owens threatens to call Steph. Kurt says he is tired of Owens threatening him.
KURT ANGLE & JINDER MAHAL (& SUNIL SINGH) IN THE TRAINER’S ROOM- bad
Jinder’s ribs are taped up. He implores Kurt to postpone his MITB qualifier until next week because it’s not fair that he should have to wrestle injured because Roman attacked him. Kurt Angle tells Jinder that he “already dealt with Roman. I gave him the rest of the night off.” Gave him the rest of the night off? That sounds like a reward, not a punishment! If Kurt had said that he “suspended” Roman or fined him tonight’s pay and won’t book him in a match that would be one thing, but instead Roman got to show up, do most of what he wanted to do, and then go home early.
Kurt rejected Jinder’s plea to postpone the MITB qualifier, saying that he can’t do so because “tonight is the last night for the qualifiers.” WHY? The PPV is OVER A MONTH AWAY! And if that is the case then Kurt should really get some more women’s qualifiers booked because there is only one Raw woman out of four spots qualified so far and he’s only got one other qualifier booked. Or maybe the men’s and women’s MITB matches have different qualification deadlines because… um…
Anyway, Kurt claims that this is “best for business.” Jinder says that if that’s the case the will fight tonight and overcome adversity and win tonight. He sounded like he was the babyface here, and the announcers saying he would have to “overcome the effects of the attack by Roman Reigns” didn’t help matters at all.
THE B-TEAM (Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel) vs. TYLER BREEZE & FANDANGO- 3/10
Bo & Axel coming out in white t-shirts that they had taken a black marker and colored a big B on the front of made me laugh, which is quite possibly the first thing these two supposedly comedic characters have ever done that actually managed to do that.
During this match, Michael Cole finally noticed that wins and losses don’t seem to count for sh*t in WWE. Bo & Axel picked up the win, although Breezango came across as the team I would much rather see wrestling every week.
CHARLY CARUSO INTERVIEWS THE B-TEAM- They were happy that they won and say they’re coming for the tag titles. Why is it that when WWE finally does an angle where guys win matches, say they’re happy about winning and want to go for the titles, they have to do with guys I have no interest in seeing?
THE RIOTT SQUAD vs. SASHA BANKS, EMBER MOON, & NATALYA- 6/10
Sarah Logan has been on the main roster for six months now and they still have no conception of what her character is other than “rural.” Michael Cole told us that Logan was raised on her uncle’s “tater farm.” This, of course, contradicts Nigel McGuinness’ previous claim that Sarah Logan was raised by wolves, and because Cole has far less credibility than Nigel at this point, I’m going to continue to believe Nigel’s story.
They had a fine six-woman tag whose main flaw was the fact that it was quite clear that this was only happening to fill time. The Riott Squad really should not have lost to a makeshift team.
MCINTYRE & ZIGGLER SELFIE PROMO- They’re building up a match against Braun & Balor tonight. This was a great promo that would have been even better if they had been able to shoot it like normal.
They gave us a Did You Know fact about Sheamus tonight, even though he’s on the other show.
THE REVIVIAL vs. MATT HARDY & BRAY WYATT- 4.5/10
The Revival deserve SOOOOO much better than this! They are probably the best tag team in the world when they’re given the time have an actual match of any reasonable length, they would be either cult heroes or cult villains on the indies, depending on how much of a Bullet Club crowd comes to the show that particular night, most of the bigger promotions in North America and Europe need a big act that could spice up their tag team scene, and the only one that don’t are PWG (where they would still mesh well with most of the division) and ROH, where all of the biggest matches for them are (Briscoes, MCMG, Young Bucks). Can you imagine how well ROH would do running the Bucks vs. Revival for the ROH World Tag Team Titles as the main event of Final Battle? I think they could probably do 10,000 in NYC with that plus a well-built world title match.
SASHA BANKS & BAYLEY BACKSTAGE- Sash wishes Bayley good luck and Bayley says “thanks,” so we’re basically back right where we started before there were any teases of one turning on the other. BOOOOOOO!
SAMI ZAYN PROMO- didn’t like it
He claims to have contracted vertigo from a delayed vertical suplex from Lashley a few weeks ago, and claims to have a doctor’s note for it. He then goes on to talk about Lashley’s interview last week, claiming that he talked to Lashley’s sisters and they said he lied in the interview. He says he has invited Lashley’s sisters to appear on Raw next week and that he will “expose the real Bobby Lashley.” I have no interest in this whatsoever.
MONEY IN THE BANK QUALIFYING MATCH: Alexa Bliss! vs. Mickie James vs. Bayley- 5.5/10
Why did Kurt book Alexa and her lackey into the same MITB qualifier? It seems like that would be pretty unfair to Bayley. And lo and behold, the first chunk of this match was Alexa and Mickie teaming up to beat the sh*t out of Bayley (although this could have been done better, as Alexa shouting at Bayley to “give up” while Mickie had her in a rear chin-lock seems counterproductive for Alexa).
Eventually Mickie tried to roll Alexa up, which led to them arguing and shoving each other, but not after poor Bayley got the crap kicked out of her for several minutes of what was supposed to be an “every woman for herself” match. They were about to start fighting when Bayley came back in and so they started to team up on Bayley again.
The story went on like you would expect from there, with moments of friction between Bliss and Mickie that Bayley would take advantage of to find an opening where she could take out one of the heels and turn this into a fair fight. It was a very welcome change of pace to get a match on this show that was all based around a (slightly more complex) story rather than being all action within the loose outline of a story (like the standard tag formula is). Alexa won in the end, pinning Bayley cleanly even after Bayley had disposed of Mickie, so Bayley continues to be a failure and Alexa continues to be awesome.
JINDER, SUNIL, & THE TRAINER- bad
The trainer tells Jinder that he is cleared to compete tonight if he thinks he can deal with the pain. Jinder assures him that he can deal with it, even though he is clearly in pain as he leaves the room. Then the cowardly Roman Reigns came charging in and blindsided the injured Jinder Mahal with a spear. The stuff they did before was fine, but at this point Jinder is really starting to feel like he’s the babyface and Roman is the heel.
To make matters worse, their attempt to make this look really cool by having Roman spear Jinder through a wall wound up looking like Roman spearing Jinder through some cardboard that was painted to look like a wall and hide a secret passageway.
KURT ANGLE STANDS OVER THE FALLEN JINDER- Kurt is adamant that “the match must go on” and says that he has to go find Jinder’s replacement. It’d be nice if Kurt looked like he gave a sh*t about Jinder.
FINN BALOR & BRAUN STROWMAN vs. DREW MCINTYRE & DOLPH ZIGGLER- 6.75/10
Drew & Dolph are using Drew’s music now. That’s very good. So was this match. Drew & Dolph won cleanly. Dolph pinning Balor was a bit of a surprise, as I expected them to either have Dolph get pinned or have Drew pin Balor because Drew is the shiny new toy, but I like Dolph being allowed to pin Balor as part of some sort of rebuilding process for him so that he doesn’t look like a tag team partner who Drew is carrying. All of that being said, I really wish they would have given this, like twenty minutes because I thought the match up had a lot pf promise and we desperately need a really great match on WWE TV right now to break this total spell of ennui.
Braun did his now-signature spot where he gathers up a head of steam and bowls someone over on the outside. He did it to McIntyre… who fell into Braun’s Greatest Royale Rumble trophy. I bring this up because I found it amusing rather than because I think it will matter in any way because Braun winning the Greatest Royal Rumble has not mattered one bit so far.
After once again showing us the Ronda/Nia angle, WWE then touted all of the mainstream publicity they got from it by showing us some articles. The first one, from E! News, seems to jhave completely missed the fact that this is a title match, as it was nowhere in the headline, and nowhere in the few paragraphs that they had on the screen was Nia ever identified as a champion. The only place the word “title” was even mentioned (I didn’t see “champion” or any derivate thereof, either) was in Ronda’s statement, which was apparently as follows:
“We are very civil and professional ladies, so Nia did just challenge me for Money in the Bank to come after her title… I happily oblige respectfully so I can sit next to her.” If THAT is how Ronda responds to an on the spot question about something like this, then she has a lot more to work on than her in-ring skills.
The next article they showed was from Forbes. It not only had a headline that was arguing “Why it’s not too early for Ronda Rousey to become Raw Women’s Champion,” but of the two paragraphs they showed, one of them read as follows: “Though Rousey has not competed in a WWE ring since WrestleMania, capturing the Raw Women’s Championship would serve as a much-needed shot in the a WWE women’s division in need of good press.”
Then showed an article from Bleacher Report, which despite covering pro wrestling a lot more than E! News does, also had the same failure to note that it was a title match, and seemed to mostly be taking quotes from the E! News article. I think this justifies every time I’ve buried Bleacher Report’s terrible analysis of WWE and TNA over the years.
The last article they showed, from their old buddies at ESPN, was fine but non-descript, which brings up another question about this whole thing, and that is… what, exactly, is WWE trying to accomplish by putting all of these articles on our TV screens?
Other than the Forbes article, all of them gave basic information about the situation: Nia challenged Ronda to a match at MITB, and Ronda accepted. The match will take place on such and such a date in such and such a city. The problem is that the people WWE is showing this to- the Raw audience- already know this.
So what are they trying to do by showing us these articles? It’s obviously not show us some analysis or else they would left the articles on the screen long enough for us to read without using the pause button, and only one of the articles seemed to have anything that even resembled analysis. We’re already watching Raw so telling us that they had articles about them on these mainstream sights won’t help get us interested in giving the product a look because we’re already watching it.
There are therefore only two reasons I can think of for them to be doing this, and neither are good. The first is the idea that they’re bragging to us about how much news coverage they got, which 99% of fans don’t care about. The second is that by showing us WWE getting covered by mainstream news sites, they are trying to tell us that WWE is part of mainstream culture and we shouldn’t feel weird for watching it or telling others that we do… and when that’s your reason for doing something, I think it’s best to just not do it because you doing it in and of itself serves as a reminder that being a wrestling fan is something that is considered weird and uncool for someone above the age of ten in most circles, and I think it really just backfires by making fans feel more self-conscious about watching wrestling rather than making them feel better about it.
Then they tried to tell us that “Social Media blew up” with comments about the match. Their evidence for this was… six Tweets, all by WWE employees: Kurt Angle, Asuka, Carmella, Ronda, Nia, and Charlotte. How about showing a Tweet for a fan or something that makes this not feel like totally phony hype?
KURT ANGLE ON HIS PHONE BACKSTAGE- And, of course, Kurt Angle is once again on his phone telling someone about this match, just in case any viewers didn’t get the message the first eight times. The person on the phone is Steph, which makes her and Kurt masturbating to the thought of a Ronda vs. Nia match during a private phone call even more weird.
Kurt says he was a replacement for Jinder, but apparently Steph has ordered him to give a different person “another opportunity,” with the implication that that person is Kevin Owens. Why is Steph such a big Kevin Owens fan all of a sudden? Cole later tried to justify this by pointing out that Owens is one of Hunter’s boys, but that doesn’t explain why neither Steph not Hunter have done a damn thing for him since his involvement with the Hunter/Rollins storyline ended, which was well over a year ago.
MONEY IN THE BANK QUALIFYING MATCH: Bobby Lashley vs. “The Drifter” Elias Sampson vs. Kevin Owens- 5.25/10
The two heels teamed up against Lashley. The fans chanted for “Bobby’s sisters!” because G-d forbid they actually pay attention to the match instead of trying to get themselves over. While Owens and Lashley brawled, Elias grabbed his guitar and attempted to have a concert because I guess he cares more about singing than winning the match. To point out how stupid this was, it still would have been stupid if Jeff Jarrett did it, but at least Jeff Jarrett was theoretically making money by promoting his music because he was selling CDs. Elias doesn’t have an album coming out! His entire income is based on his performance in WWE competitions! The fans were sad when they didn’t get a concert. Don’t they know The Drifter is just going to insult them?
We went back to the two heels working together against Lashley, so the fans went back to cheering for Lashley’s sisters. They started to actually cheer for The Drifter at one point so at least they’re caring about something. Lashley had the match won but Zayn pulled him out of the ring. Owens then hit the Bullfrog splash and pinned Elias. This was nowhere near acceptable for a main event. Michael Cole pushed the idea that Owens really didn’t deserve this win because he had already been given an opportunity and failed cleanly. I don’t remember Michael Cole taking this sort of tone when Roman Reigns was immediately given another title shot after losing to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.
A slightly better show than recent weeks from Raw, but this was still far off from what I would call a good show. Calling this mediocre would probably be a bit too generous.
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