**KICK-OFF SHOW (joined in progress)**
KURT ANGLE, JASON JORDAN, & ELIAS SAMPSON BACKSTAGE - Bad. Jason shows up to wish Kurt luck and tell him he is an inspiration. Elias shows up and wants to talk to Kurt. Kurt asks him to wait a moment so he and Jason can finish talking, but Elias just keeps on trying to talk to Kurt and Kurt pays attention to him. Elias claims that "the spirit of Prince overtook me" and says that he needs to play his music in front of the crowd tonight. Jason Jordan rightfully said that this was idiotic (although he stopped short of asking why we have a guy coming out and playing songs on his guitar in the middle of a wrestling show). Even after Elias was a jerk and wouldn't give Kurt a moment alone with his son, and then right after said son pointed out how idiotic this request was, Kurt just gave Elias what he wanted.
MICKIE JAMES IN THE SOCIAL MEDIA LOUNGE - They let her point out that not only is she not actually the oldest woman on the roster, but also a good chunk of the male roster is older than her and yet she is the only one who's age people are talking about. Good.
ALICIA FOX vs. SASHA BANKS - 6/10
They actually gave this quite a bit of time and I thought it was pretty good for an Alicia Fox match.
ROLLINS & AMBROSE TALK TO THE PANEL - Dean was unhappy that they're teaming with a guy who hasn't wrestled in years. Seth is happy to have a third partner.
ASUKA vs. EMMA - 6.75/10
Big pop for Asuka upon her debut, but I was expecting something louder. The match was a good showcase for Asuka while still letting Emma get enough offense in to not look like a total chump.
MIZ, SHEAMUS, & CESARO BACKSTAGE - They talk about beating Kurt up and say mean things about him. Miz is forced to deliver a terrible set-up to say "Monster Among Men" so that Braun can show up and talk about how he wants to destroy Kurt, Dean, and Seth. Then Kane walked up and said essentially "I want to be the one to beat them up" so they're building dissension between Kane and Braun, because that's a match they think people want to see, and that building to that match is worth telegraphing the finish to their big main event. Even I don't want to see that match, and my username is Big Red Machine.
More talking happened. Braun got to say something that sounded cool. Kane was forced to say something that sounded painfully lame.
"THE DRIFTER" ELIAS SAMPSON SINGS A SONG - On a f*cking pay-per-view. Someone is throwing vegetables at him. It's Jason Jordan. He's got a shopping cart full of produce and is throwing it at Elias. He was a total douchebag here. Two wrongs don't make a right, Jason. Maybe your father can teach you that instead of just giving in to a douchebag when he acts like one. And where did he even get a shopping card from?
You'd think that this would result in some sort of violent confrontation, but Jordan just walked away and Sampson did nothing about it, and then they just cut to one of those terrible WWE 2K18 commercials. I cannot believe that they actually put this bullsh*t on a PPV. Not even on the pre-show, but the actual PPV itself.
JACK GALLAGHER & BRIAN KENDRICK vs. RICH SWANN & CEDRIC ALEXANDER - 6.5/10
Fun tag team wrestling with the babyfaces winning at the end. The only damper was the fact that this was the third time that the babyfaces had cleanly defeated the heels in this feud in the past week.
CHARLY CARUSO INTERVIEWS ALEXA BLISS! - Good. WWE is really trying to get this "biscuit butt" thing started, but it's never going to happen, because, as Alexa said when Charly asked her about it, "Biscuit Butt? I don't even know that that means." And neither does anyone else so why would they chant it?
Ever resilient in the face of this entirely fictional adversity WWE really wishes they could stir up, Alexa soldiers on, declaring "I like my butt." That's the spirit, Alexa! Don't let that mean old Mickie James body-shame you! Stay positive. In fact, I'll even help out by letting you know that I like your butt, too. And can we please take a moment to consider the irony of a babyface Mickie James trying to body-shame a heel after the way the internet completely overreacted to the Piggy James angle?
The rest of Alexa's promo (the part where she found a clever new and poetic way to call Mickie old while saying that the nostalgia would go away soon) was also good.
WWE RAW WOMEN'S TITLE MATCH:
Alexa Bliss!(c) vs. Mickie James - 6.5/10
Alexa worked over Mickie's shoulder, and also played a good cowardly heel when it was called for. Mickie made a decent comeback (although that missile dropkick could have gone better), but Alexa always cut her off by going to the shoulder. Alexa hit the DDT and won, and although I am by no means an advocate for excessive finisher kick-outs, I think the false finish (and a longer match) would have really helped here.
During this match the announcers were very supportive of Mickie James and emphasized that "age is just a number," pointing out the that we were going to see Kurt Angle wrestle tonight, and that Goldberg won the Universal Title earlier this year... and yet I couldn't help but notice that even while doing this, they purposely avoided giving out exact ages for either Mickie, Kurt, or Goldberg, or even mentioning other members of the roster who have won championships in the past year despite being older than Mickie, including but not limited to the current Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, AJ Styles and John Cena, who have both won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, The Hardy Boyz and Rhyno, who have all won tag titles, and former NXT Champion Bobby Roode (and, of course, Shane McMahon). Age is just a number... but the entire concept scares WWE so much that they won't acknowledge it unless you put a gun to their heads.
CHARLY CARUSO INTERVIEWS MICKIE JAMES - Great. I think Michael Cole put it best when he described this promo (and Mickie) as always being "classy, even in defeat."
KURT, ROLLINS & AMBROSE BACKSTAGE - Kurt says that he couldn't let them face these odds by themselves, thus he had to step in. Why couldn't he have assigned someone else to team with them? Matt Hardy, Jason Jordan, Elias Sampson, Apollo Crews and many others didn't have matches scheduled for tonight. Anyway, they are here to present him with a flak jacket to show that he is now an honorary member of The Shield.
THE DRIFTER SINGS AGAIN - Again... this is a f*cking PPV! At least the fans are reacting the way they should and booing the hell out of him, and The Drifter is doing a good job of playing off of them. Jason Jordan is back with his shopping cart full of vegetables. The Drifter leaves. So yeah. They did the exact same thing TWICE on this stupid PPV.
ENZO AMORE PROMO - Good
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
Kalisto(c) vs. Enzo Amore - 5.75/10
And the award for Most Random Sign of the Night goes to "Kalisto killed Harambe." I'd also like to point out that Kalisto is enmascarado, so we don't actually know for a fact that this accusation is untrue.
Enzo stole KUSHIDA's wind-up punch, but at least he built up to it so it didn't seem like he just outright decided to steal the spot. Speaking of stealing, Enzo stole the win here, poking Kalsito in the eye before hitting his finisher for the win. Now that Hispanic Heritage Month is safely over, they've taken the belt right back off of Kalisto. WWE never ceases to amaze me. Charly Caruso interviewed Enzo after the match. He cut a very basic heel promo on the fans.
AJ STYLES vs. FINN BALOR - 8.25/10
And... Too Sweet, finger-poke, 1-2-3. There's your match. Just kidding. The match was awesome and all, but it wasn't anything amazing, either. Balor won clean, which was a bit surprising, but with the way they've been pushing Survivor Series as Raw vs. Smackdown (which never works and yet they always do it), it's not impossible that they do a rematch at Survivor Series to even them up, which sets up nicely for a third match down the road.
They Too-Sweeted after the match as a sign of respect, and definitely not because WWE wanted them to do it for any other reason that may or may not have to do with a recently-sent cease and desist letter. Then Vince, Hunter, Steph, and Jerry McDevitt all came out to the ring holding a banner that said "Hey, Bullet Club: SUCK IT!" and sang a song about how they swapped the nights of the 2018 Hall of Fame and Mania Weekend Takeover just to f*ck with ROH while they passed Jimmy Jacobs' recently-terminated contract around between them and took turns pantomiming defecating on it.
JASON JORDAN vs. "THE DRIFTER" ELIAS SAMPSON - 4.25/10
Booker T was claiming this was a quick count and they showed replays of The Drifter's shoulder being up, so I guess they're going to have The Drifter claim that Kurt instructed the referee to favor Jordan or something along those lines.
MIZ PROMO - He says he has a surprise tonight, and that his team will treat the babyfaces like garbage and send them to the dump. Dumb ideas like what this lead to might well be the thing I hate the most about WWE.
HANDICAP TLC MATCH:
Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, & Kurt Angle vs. The Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, Braun Strowman, & Kane - 6.5/10
I think most people went into this match hoping for the best, but well aware that it could easily wind up being a disaster. While thankfully no one suffered any obvious injuries (although Seth & Dean's mishap with the tables on the double-chokeslam and Kurt bumping his head on the apron while tumbling out of the ring at the end might well have actually caused some injuries I just don't know about yet), I think this match definitely wound up trending towards the disaster side. I have given this match the score I have in recognition of the bits of story they had in the first part of the match and few exciting moments after that, but on the whole, this was a huge f*ck-up on WWE's part. The wrestlers did the best they could with the atrocious storyline limitations the idiots in charge set them up with.
Seth, Dean, & Kurt all come out through the crowd, and to. The Shield's music, so we didn't even get to have that big pop for Kurt. Speaking of Kurt, he looks like an idiot in that Shield gear.
Seth, Dean, & Kurt grabbed chairs right away because they're not idiots. Seth charged into the heels to create a distraction so the others could whack them with chairs. From there they told a bit of a story that was essentially that Seth, Dean, & Kurt would wind up taking out either Kane and Braun or Cesaro, Sheamus, and Miz, and would have the advantage on the one set of heels while the other set was down until the other set got back up and took them out from behind, just as they had finished dealing with the set they were currently fighting. It's not a great story (I'm really not fond of how mad it makes the heels look), but it was a tolerable, and they told it for a while... and then things just started to spiral downhill.
First the heels took Kurt out and he had to be helped to the back, which feels like I'm getting cheated out of their big hook for this match, which was getting to see Kurt return to action. And if Kurt was hurt that badly, why didn't Braun (who had put Kurt through the table with a running powerslam) just PIN HIM RIGHT THEN AND THERE?!
Then they did the thing they telegraphed painfully with their pointless backstage segment earlier... and the stare-down once they both got into the ring (I'll chalk Cole's earlier line that Braun had said that "Kane will regret that he ever returned" up to just Cole misspeaking, which happens to everyone occasionally): Kane accidentally hit Braun with a chair meant for one of the babyfaces so Braun got angry and shoved Kane down. They were about to fight but Seth and Dean decided to interrupt it and run at all five heels.
More stuff happened and bumps were taken and weapons were used until Miz had them drag Seth and Dean all the way up the ramp, where he then summoned a garbage truck that was parked by the stage which I guess was just sitting there, blocking where the ambulance would go if, G-d forbid, one becomes necessary. This was his surprise from his pre-match promo. He was apparently being quite literal when he said he wanted to treat the babyfaces like garbage and take them to the dump, so he ordered his guys to throw Seth and Dean into the back of the garbage truck so that the driver could drive away and take them to the dump. If you really want to do this, Miz, then fine. Whatever floats your boat. But how about before dragging them out here to be thrown into the garbage truck and taken to the dump, you PIN THEM SO YOU CAN WIN THE MATCH?!
Seth and Dean were thrown in but they fought back and jumped off of the garbage truck, onto the heels. More fighting happened and Seth and Dean were once again thrown through tables to get them out of the way so that more overbooking could happen.
Kane, still angry about being shoved by Braun after that accidentally chairshot about ten minutes ago, decided that now would be a good time to randomly start attacking Braun. They fought a bit, ending when Kane chokeslammed Braun through a part of the stage that was so gimmicked that there was almost no noise made by Braun's bump at all. Don't get me wrong: I'm happy that they set this up so that it would be as safe as possible for Braun, but it also made it very clear that this was all gimmicked, which took me out of the match.
Then Kane walked a full one hundred and eighty degrees around the hole Braun and just fallen through so that he could be standing in the right spot so that when Braun dramatically reached his hand up and grabbed Kane's ankle, Kane could grab one of those giant strings of chairs they have hanging from the ceiling as a set piece (man, this company spends time and money on a lot of stupid, pointless sh*t) so that all of the chairs fell down onto Braun, putting him out.
Kane then went over to beat up the babyfaces some more, which is when we got the aforementioned double chokeslam to Seth and Dean through two tables that were side by side that went wrong when either their aim was off or the tables didn't cooperate and both Seth and Dean seemed to have VERY painful landings.
More stuff happened and the heels went to put the babyfaces in the garbage truck again when Braun climbed out of the hole. At first I thought this was kind of dumb because they could have actually done something with this and a least kept Braun off of TV for a week, but then I remember that just three-and-a-half months ago we saw Braun literally walk off an attempt to murder him via car crash (after he had just wrestled a grueling match, no less) so him getting up after this at least made some sense.
Miz begged Braun not to go fight Kane but Braun tossed him into the big screen on the stage. For some reason Cesaro and Sheamus decided to pick a side in the obviously inevitable Kane vs. Strowman fight. They decided to pick Kane's side even though Kane was the one who started the fight, really with no provocation whatsoever at the time he turned on Braun. Kane was the one working against the team, so shouldn't they have been on Braun's side? Or why even pick a side at all? Even if Kane and Braun decided to brawl away into the night never to be seen again it would still be three-on-two in favor of their team! (Yes, I know that Braun had just attacked Miz, but that was obviously Braun just removing the obstacle that was physically getting between himself and his target, not a decision to go after Miz specifically, and even if it was, since when do Sheamus and Cesaro really care enough about Miz to want to immediately seek vengeance on his behalf?)
So Cesaro & Sheamus went after Braun, who, despite having just been chokeslammed through the stage and had chairs fall hundreds of feet down onto his head, easily handled the former Raw Tag Team Champions all by himself. Kane finally showed up to help them overpower Braun, and after doing so they threw Braun into the back of the garbage truck. Then someone- and I didn't see any of the heels do it, so I guess it must have been the random guy who was hanging around there- hit the button to activate the hydraulic compressor, apparently crushing Braun Strowman to death. At this point I was half expecting some idiotic Russo swerve where Roman Reigns would jump out of the driver's seat of the garbage truck and Kurt would come back out and Kurt, The Shield, and the heels would all celebrate the success of their elaborate plan to murder Braun Strowman.
The heels beat the babyfaces up some more and dragged Seth to the ring and they hit their finishers on him but Dean made the save at the last moment. Then the heels beat Dean up and went for the Triple Powerbomb but Kurt came back out. Like Braun, he beat up Cesaro and Sheamus all by himself. He went after Miz but Kane made the save. Kane went to give Kurt a Tombstone Piledriver but Seth and Dean made the save and took Kane out with a double-shoulder tackle through the barricade. Miz hit the Skull-Crushing Finale for a nearfall. Kurt got the Angle Lock but Miz kicked him away. Then the babyfaces surrounded the ring, hit Miz with all of their finishers, then did the Triple Powerbomb and one of them pinned the Intercontinental Champion to help us remember that that belt isn't really important anyway.
As I hope I've made clear, this match became a bigger and bigger mess as time went on. I think we all knew from the moment that Kane was added to the match that he and Strowman would start fighting during this match as a way to make the heels not look like total losers by losing despite having a two-man advantage (instead they would only lose a fair fight), but the whole idea of this was negated by having Kurt be taken to the back early on because that meant that the heels would still have a numerical advantage even without Kane and Braun, and then further ruined by booking the Braun vs. Kane stuff to result in Kane sticking around after so rather than 3-on-3, it was 4-on-2 and then 4-on-3. Then, of course, there was the overcomplicated stupidity of the garbage truck- both the "Miz wanted to send them to the dump even though this would mean he couldn't pin them to win the match" thing and the "Braun should be dead right now" thing. Then we've got Cesaro and Sheamus being buried even more by being singlehandedly beaten up at the same time by an old man who supposedly hasn't wrestled in eleven years and only had two days to prepare.
Then there's the fact that these three winning actually takes away from the idea of a Shield reunion being particularly significant by having the babyfaces win even though it's Seth and Dean teaming up with a guy they've never even teamed with before because it makes Roman less integral to the group if he is shown to be replaceable. As New Jack once said to Mustafa, "I could dress my mama up to play you." Yes, even an almost forty-nine year old Kurt Angle with just two days to train for his first match in eleven years is significantly more talented than New Jack's mother, but I think that even Roman's biggest detractors can agree that Roman Reign is significantly more talented than Mustafa (and especially in kayfabe, I think all can agree that Roman Reigns in his physical prime is probably supposed to be more of a threat than Kurt Angle going into tonight's match). Like I said at the beginning, this score is reflective of the efforts of the eight wrestlers in this match, in spite of the limitations WWE put in front of them. If I were just grading the booking or the layout, it would have been much worse.
This was a very disappointing show from WWE. Yes, a lot of things went wrong and they had very short notice to find solutions, but Roman being available would only have solved part of the problems in the main event, I and I think pretty much everyone agrees that AJ vs. Balor was a vast improvement over whatever horrific surprise that WWE had planned for us in Balor vs. Wyatt (and I mean in addition to Bray wrestling in drag, because you know they were going to do some sort of magical bullsh*t), so you really can't blame the failure of this show on that. The issue was that WWE's response to a crisis was to keep all of their eggs in the two matches they were pushing anyway and taking desperate measures to ensure that people would still be excited for those matches, but the flawed nature of their plans for the main event essentially made this a one-match show, and as awesome as that one match was, it was a match that I think a lot of people were expecting something truly special from when all we got was the "usual" awesomeness you'd expect from AJ Styles or Finn Balor going up against a talented opponent for eighteen minutes. I think they could have tremendously helped this show by finding more time not just for AJ vs. Balor, but also for the Raw Women's Title match. Cutting out all of the Jordan vs. Drifter stuff definitely would have helped. Even if you keep that nine-minute match on the show, there were probably almost ten minutes to be saved by cutting out the stupid vegetable-throwing segments. It would certainly make a lot more sense for Kurt to book them in a wrestling match following their confrontation on the pre-show than for him to book The Drifter for a concert, never mind three of them. Split those ten minutes up into five each for the women and the dream match and you've drastically improved your show by giving AJ and Balor the time necessary to really hit something special (the WWE style tends to require a match to hit that certain level because of the lack of working body parts), and you've given the Raw Women's Title match the time necessary to elevate itself into being a match that will really stand out from the usual level that WWE allows non-Charlotte women's matches to hit due to time constraints (Bliss vs. Becky from last year's TLC is the only women's title match or women's match on PPV since last year's WrestleMania that went more than fifteen minutes that didn't involve Charlotte, and even of the ones involving Charlotte, none has done so since February, and none has ever done so that didn't also involve Sasha or Bayley. Not even the TLC match on PPV got fifteen minutes. In fact, the only women's match in all of WWE to go more than fifteen minutes since February was the MITB match on TV). Doing this would have at least given people more substance before doing their stupid plan in the main event. But if we're being honest, all WWE is really concerned about is if the main event got people's attention enough for them to tune in to Raw tomorrow night (although they should really just cancel the show in memory of Braun Strowman), which I'm sure it will, although more to see how WWE will try to justify this attempt on Braun's life and to see if Brock is really going to waste his time with Jinder than because they're actually interested in the matches WWE is building towards, but I honestly don't think WWE cares about the distinction between those two things.
STUPID ANNOUNCER QUOTES
1. Nigel McGuinness told us that Kalisto "grew up in a very rough neighborhood of Chicago."
Um... Nigel? Kalisto is a kayfabe Mexican.
2. Booker T would often talk about how Kurt Angle hadn't wrestled in "eleven years."
I'm usually someone who can just ignore WWE's petty crap like this where they'll just pretend that TNA doesn't exist, but Booker saying it here was completely ridiculous because earlier in the night, he had talked about having wrestled AJ Styles, which he only did in TNA! Either TNA exists, or it doesn't. You've got to pick one and stick with it, Booker.