Hi everyone! Brooks here, giving Kendra a much-deserved break this week. I jumped at the opportunity because the last month or so has had some of the best Raws in recent memory. I also jumped at the opportunity because I am an embarrassingly large mark for Daniel Bryan, so his current direction has me in a constant state of "WOW I WANNA TALK TO PEOPLE ABOUT HOW COOL THIS IS." But I'll get to that. Last week's Raw was one of the best episodes I've ever seen, if I'm judging, so we'll see how this week's episode stacks up.
I'll be trying out a different format this week. In lieu of letter grades, I'll be discussing the highlights (and the lowlights) of each segment or match. It keeps me from rambling, so it's for the best, I promise.
RAW Is Blogged: The Dragon's Gauntlet
WWE Championship Contract Signing
- Brad Maddox Finally Starts To Have An Alignment - Ever since his debut, the crowd hasn't really known what to make of Brad Maddox. You could certainly make the argument that character alignments are outdated, and more realistic characters would benefit the business, but as it stands, the audience needs to know whether to cheer or boo a character. Brad's been a sympathetic character, a suck-up, and an enigmatic goof. And throughout that time, no one knew whether to cheer or boo the guy. Nobody ever asserted that Maddox was explicitly a good guy or bad guy: not Maddox, not the commentary team, not anybody. So it's nice that Brad's finally working as a distinct self-important heel.
- John Cena Puts Daniel Bryan Over - Cena has been under fire before for latching himself to an IWC favorite. For example, you may have seen his friendship with Zack Ryder as an earnest display of support, or a failed attempt at getting Internet fans to cheer him by proxy. Perhaps he does have selfish intent with his defense of Bryan's size, but it's more likely that he's trying to build his opponent as a credible threat in the eyes of the casual audience. There's plenty to criticize when it comes to Cena's character, but putting over a guy like Bryan should be praised (unless he befriends Bryan, only to steal the girl he loves before immediately getting the entire to WWE Universe to call her a slut for accepting his advances).
- Bryan's Mic Work - It's gotten so much better since 2010. It's no secret that mic work was seen as Bryan's weakest point, but he's now competent enough on the mic to carry his weight in a main even feud. Not to mention, he knows when to get the crowd involved. You used to be able to tell when he was trying to be passionate when he would punctuate his sentences with "Okay?!" Fortunately, he's cut that out and become a much more organic speaker.
- Recognizing Bryan's Shortcomings, If It's Going Somewhere - Pointing out Bryan's small stature is nothing new in WWE. It's been done since he debuted on NXT. Back then, it did him no favors. Those that knew of his work on the indies generally liked him, but why would someone who only knew the Daniel Bryan from NXT cheer for a pint-sized geek? But now that he's a credible performer, recognizing that he's at a physical disadvantage could be used to get him even more over. Underdog stories are easy to tell, and fans love them. Admitting "Yeah, he's smaller than Cena, but look at how he's holding his own!" both recognizes and squashes the idea that Bryan is too small to be in the main event.
- Brad Maddox's Awkward NO Motion - He started doing Bryan's NO arm motion, but had to bring the mic back to his mouth every time he shouted NO, so it resulted in this incredibly robotic motion that belonged on an airport runway, not a wrestling ring. I could try to justify it being a highlight by saying it cemented Maddox as a contrarian, condescending boss, but it was just hilarious. A lot of people give Maddox grief for being an awkward talker, but I'm of the belief that the awkwardness is at least mostly an intentional persona.
- Recognizing Bryan's Shortcomings, If It's Not Going Anywhere - A few people seem to have missed the memo that explained that Bryan is getting built up to the main event, so meaningless jabs and insulting nicknames should be stopped unless they're intentionally being used to build him as an underdog. There's no reason for JBL and Lawler to continually make goat puns while Bryan's doing his comeback sequence, but it keeps happening.
- The Crowd -Don't get me wrong, the crowd was good. It just wasn't at the level it was last week. There were still plenty of people doing YES hand motions, and plenty of Daniel Bryan chants. It was just a little more subdued. That's not a good sign, especially since next week's Raw is a taped show. Bryan's crowd support is the most important factor in his success right now, and raucous crowds are necessary to prove to the back that Bryan isn't just a fad. If Bryan's reactions continue to taper off, so will his push. It probably had more to do with the city and the crowd's understanding that contract signings are always boring, but it's still worth noting.
Sheamus vs. Alberto Del Rio
- Alberto Del Rio Telling A Story - Sometimes, Del Rio is compelling in the ring. Other times, he's competent, but boring. The arm is the most boring part of the body to work - it just lacks the impact that moves to other body parts have. So when Del Rio is doing his regular schtick, his matches aren't anything special. But when he's given a story, he becomes ruthless and much more fun to watch. His match with a recently-concussed Dolph Ziggler was a great example of Del Rio having a distinct mission: hit his head a lot and do not stop until you have won. We saw a similar story in this match, with Sheamus' bruised leg, and it made the match a lot more interesting than "I'm gonna codebreaker your arm!"
- A Finish That Makes Sense, And Also Involves Sheamus Taking A Pinfall Loss - For a second, I thought Sheamus had just botched White Noise. That was not the case, as it was just Sheamus selling his injury, allowing Del Rio to take advantange and roll him up for the win. It was convincing selling, a realistic finish, and Sheamus took another pin, albeit another roll-up. I don't have a vendetta against Sheamus, but his pinfall loss to Daniel Bryan a few weeks ago was his first pinfall loss in a singles match since TLC 2012 (when he was defeated by The Big Chair). The guy can take a couple of losses, and it's refreshing to see.
- Del Rio's Enzuigiri To Sheamus On The Top Rope - It's usually the best-looking part of Del Rio's usually-crisp offense, and this time was no exception. Go watch it again.
- Why Is Del Rio Still Doing The "Si" Thing? - You're the bad guy now, remember? Don't do that. It was a cool thing when it happened the night after WrestleMania 28, but like all witty chants, it ran its course. If you were still gung-ho about the USA, then by all means, do your lame wrist thing, but now that you're a rudo again, give it a rest.
Booker T & Teddy Long Backstage With Renee Young
- Renee Young - Yo.
- Keeping Booker T On TV - I was worried that after being relieved of his duties on Smackdown, we'd see less of Booker. It seems as if that's not the case, and they're going with the weird "One of us is going to be a heel eventually but we're not totally sure which one yet" angle they were doing before Booker got injured. I don't really know what the payoff could be, but Booker can still go in the ring and gets consistent pops. Why not keep him around? Teddy can stick around too, even though turning him heel at this point makes no sense to me.
- Giving Teddy A Backbone - It's been too long since Teddy stood up to an authority figure, even if it's Booker. He's been the sympathetic GM that gets yelled at by Vickie Guerrero or has to rub oil on Antonio Cesaro for too long, and it's nice to see his character changing a little.
- Not Immediately Firing The Person That Keeps Filming The Shot Of The Crowd Watching The Tron - It doesn't look good and nobody likes looking at it, but it happens during every single backstage segment.
- Teddy/Aksana Flashbacks - I have a bad feeling that this angle is going to turn out like the Teddy Long/Aksana angle that happened a while back. It was weird, nobody cared about it, and it didn't lead up to anything remotely interesting. I hope this angle doesn't end up being dropped, but I also hope it doesn't meander forever and just keep happening for no reason.
Christian vs. Titus O'Neil
- Wow What The Heck Why Don't You Always Book Titus Like This - Titus looked like a beast in this match. I enjoy whistleblowing and dancing Titus as much as the next guy, but he was tossing Christian around like he was nothing, and it was impressive. Titus is already 36 years old, so I doubt we'll ever see him in the main event or anything close, but he could easily be a force in the midcard.
- A Solid Meaningless Match - I watched this whole match with the assumption that it would be ending at any moment due to an interruption/triple murder from the Wyatt Family. That ended up not happening, and it just ended up being a decent match with no real reason other than to keep giving Christian a negligible amount of momentum. I'll take a match like this over a recap segment, no contest.
- Titus' Florida Gators Taunt - USF Go Bulls.
Ryback Interview With Josh Mathews
- Bully Ry - I assumed it was impossible for Ryback to have an interesting character back when he was destroying the Barry Stevenses and Stan Stanskys of the world. I was wrong. It's not award-winning stuff, but Ryback is a convincing bully. He's still not the best on the mic, but it's added so much to his character now that he's not a cyborg that only says catch phrases. He's a much better character as a heel, and I can't imagine him going back to being a face at this point.
Mark Henry & The Usos Fight Off The Shield
- Mark Henry On The Mic - Henry is money on the mic, and I can't believe he was wasting away as a jolly Kool-Aid Man impersonator for all those years. It seems like he has a new Henryism every time he's onscreen (e.g. "If I charge for air, you keep your bills paid!" and "My heart don't pump Kool-Aid!"), and I'm happy to see that he's still tough as a face.
- Not Giving Up On The Usos - If you missed The Shield vs. The Usos in the Money in the Bank pre-show, stop reading this and go watch it. The match was great, and The Usos are the closest thing we have to a credible face tag team in the post-Team Hell No tag division. There's no reason not to continue the feud and keep the tag division on life support.
- Henry Pushing An Uso Across The Ring - During the Shield beat-up, Henry goes after Roman Reigns, but there's an Uso in the way. Henry grabs the Uso by the shoulders and tosses him to the other side of the ring before doing the same to Reigns. There's a sort of neutering that often happens with recently-turned faces, where they're immediately friends with all the good guys and their moralities are completely pure. It's nice to see Henry stay intense enough to not let anything get in the way of what he wants.
- The Shield Is Probably Coming To An End Soon - You can sense it too, can't you? The Shield is starting to run its course. It's not necessarily a bad thing. They'll all three probably move on to bigger things, and the faction isn't as hot as it once was anyways. Especially with the advent of The Wyatt Family, they've taken a back seat in recent weeks. They're no longer the heat magnets they once were, and maybe it's for the best if they break up before they fall as low as The New Nexus with Otunga & McGillicutty. It was fun while it lasted, though.
John Cena & Daniel Bryan Backstage
- "I've Got A Hunch Maddox Isn't Making His Own Choices" - Cena may have let us in on a bit of foreshadowing with that line. If Maddox isn't making his own choices, then perhaps Vince is pulling the strings. That would explain why Maddox was chosen, and it would mean the Vince/HHH/Stephanie storyline can stop being really boring and actually pick up some steam.
- Don't Tell John Cena Not To Be A Hero - This telegraphed the ending of the show. Of course Bryan's going to be in peril and Cena's going to save the day. Bryan told him not to, so now there's an issue between the two for next week. It definitely didn't ruin the main event, but it was completely unnecessary and made the upcoming angle obvious enough for anyone to see coming.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Darren Young
- Dolph Ziggler Has It - Take a step back and watch any of Ziggler's entrances since turning face. He doesn't look like Vickie Guerrero's boyfriend or Kofi Kingston's midcard rival anymore. He looks like a star. He seems more like himself now, and not someone playing a role. You can tell that he's Nick Nemeth turned up to 11. He's got the cool entrance music, recognizable poses, and cocky attitude. He looks main event-level.
- Darren Young's Electric Chair Drop - What a nice-looking move! I don't know who decided to make The Prime Time Players look like legitimate threats this week, but they deserve a raise.
- Zig Zag Outta Nowhere! - A lot of people aren't high up on Ziggler's finisher, and I'm one of them. However, the Zig Zag works as an "Outta Nowhere" finisher. As a stalking move with buildup, not so much, but the way Ziggler hit it on Young looked convincing.
- Ziggler Eluding Big E Langston - Over the last few weeks, Ziggler has slipped away from 3MB on numerous occasions, which is the worst thing in the world. I understand that it's intended to be eluding, not fleeing, but when you run from a group on the level of 3MB, it looks like fleeing. But when you elude Big E Langston, it looks like brains over brawn. A winded Ziggler beating down a fresh Big E wouldn't look realistic at all, so it worked. Let him fend off lower-level baddies, and elude the big guys.
Miz TV w/ The Cast Of Total Divas
- I Mean, You Have To Promote The Show Somehow, Right? - The crowd was going to boo regardless of how they chose to promote the show. Reality TV is something everyone loves to hate, so it was going to happen. I can't think of a particularly good way to sell Total Divas to the crowd (wrestling, maybe?), so it wasn't 100% terrible.
- You've Gotta Hire Some Actresses Or At Least Someone That Knows How To Speak Like A Human Being - The catty heel Diva is always done in the most cartoonish way, and The Bella Twins are the absolute worst at being convincing characters. I could ask you, dear reader, to record yourself doing an impression of a jealous valley girl and I could dub it over any Bella dialogue. Nobody would notice the difference. I understand that reality TV isn't reality, but speaking like a person whose only known emotion is "scowl" is not a real thing that human beings do. Eva Marie gets a pass because it's her first time in front of a live WWE TV crowd. The Bellas have been doing this for years, with literally zero improvement.
- Did Miz Not Want To Get Slapped, Or Did WWE Think Miz Getting Slapped Would Get A Good Reaction? - I can't think of any other reason why Jerry Lawler subbed in for Miz in the middle of his own talk show. Eva Marie's slap had all the force of a newborn kitten gently pawing at your hand, so I am completely at a loss as to why Miz didn't just take the slap.
Brad Maddox, Triple H & Stephanie McMahon Backstage
- Back To Square One With Brad - I can't imagine anyone watching this segment and thinking, "Yeah, Brad's getting what's coming to him!" He's stuck between a bunch of egos and he's trying to please everyone (not to mention, putting on great shows). Despite having a drum roll entrance, he still seems more sympathetic than anyone else in the McMahon/Triple H/Whoever Else storyline.
- Stephanie McMahon Was Literally Standing Next To Brad Waiting To Speak - So Triple H finished his speech and walked off. As soon as he's out of frame, Stephanie steps in from the other side. What kind of husband sees his wife standing there and doesn't acknowledge her in any way? I sense some troubles in the McMahon-Helmsley household.
Fandango vs. Cody Rhodes
- Replace Anyone On The Raw Commentary Team With Damien Sandow - Sandow is just brilliant at playing his character, and it shows during off-the-cuff conversations on commentary. He's committed to his character, entertaining, and when he detracts from the match to talk about himself, it's on purpose because he's supposed to be arrogant.
- Fandango Makes The Save - Cody Rhodes' moonsault is usually a thing of beauty. I'm not 100% sure whether Fandango was out of position or Cody didn't jump far enough, but Fandango saved the move from being a complete botch.
- Cody Rhodes' Face Turn So Far - I think Cody works great as a face. Money in the Bank was enough evidence of that. However, more needs to be done to make him a guy to cheer for. The logic of Sandow being evil for believing the "may the best man win" axiom that everyone agrees to before a gimmick match is strange, and more needs to be done to cement Sandow as a vicious heel. If Sandow acts more like a scumbag, Rhodes' face turn will benefit, but if they're both lukewarm, no one benefits. I have high hopes they'll do a better job in the coming weeks.
CM Punk & Paul Heyman Promo
- CM Punk Is Back - It finally feels like the CM Punk we know and love is back. It's easy to tell when Punk really believes in the program he's in, and he wants to make this feud special. Punk has a fire behind his words that he sometimes lacks, and it makes all the difference. The best part about this feud so far is that it's just getting started. There's still nearly a month before SummerSlam, and Punk will make this rivalry even more intense.
- Paul Heyman In General - Heyman is doing legendary work on the mic lately. Last week, he delivered one of the best back-and-forth promos I've ever seen with Punk, and this week had another strong performance. It's well-documented that Punk & Heyman wanted to work together, and it has already produced mic work that should be studied by upcoming talent. In my view, Heyman deserves to go down as one of the best talkers of all time.
Rob Van Dam vs. Wade Barrett
- Rob Van Dam - I didn't follow RVD in TNA, but I had heard that he had become lazy. So I had low expectations of RVD, but he's proven me wrong. His kicks especially, aside from the one that bloodied Barrett's mouth, have looked as on point as ever. This wasn't the caliber of RVD's match with Jericho, but it looks like WWE has another valuable veteran asset to rely on.
- Wade Barrett Deserves Better - I'm not even a huge Wade Barrett fan, but being fed to RVD seems so below him. Even holding the Intercontinental Championship felt below him, but now it seems like he'll have to work to even make it back to that level. I haven't heard of any morale problems, so it's probably a combination of him paying dues and not getting very much heat, but Barrett seems very out of place so low on the WWE food chain.
Daniel Bryan vs. Jack Swagger
- This Is How You Get Daniel Bryan Over - This is the kind of legitimizing wrestling clinic that Bryan fans have been clamoring for since Bryan debuted in WWE. Even with his popular character and improved mic work, his specialty is wrestling. Even when he was a glorified enhancement talent, he could get over during his matches. I was worried about the tepid crowd at the start of the show, but they picked up for this match and the matches following it, which was great to see.
Daniel Bryan vs. Antonio Cesaro
- Antonio Cesaro - This was clearly Daniel Bryan's night, but Cesaro deserves praise too. Usually the first two matches in a gauntlet match are foregone conclusions, but there were several times when I thought Cesaro might defeat Bryan. This was a pay-per-view-quality match, which Cesaro is more than capable of putting on. Once Cesaro finds a gimmick that will get him over, he should definitely rise through the ranks quickly.
- THE SPOTS - I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but between Swagger pushing Bryan off the top rope into Swiss Death, the mid-air counter to the back superplex, Cesaro's 1,000,000 European uppercut combo, and the flying small package finish, there wasn't a dull moment.
Daniel Bryan vs. Ryback
- The Guy That Quit Against The Miz Is Still Credible - Credit to Ryback. There was still a feeling of "Oh man, he's boned" when Ryback's music hit, despite Ryback's terrible recent booking.
- Submission Wrestling - Bryan is always touted as a submission specialist, but we rarely see different submissions from him. So I was pleased to see a half crab utilized, and judging from the pop, so was the crowd. Having the Yes Lock as the finisher but knowing a plethora of submission holds that can be used as any time is another easy tweak to Bryan's character that could result in more support and more credibility.
- Turning A Botch Into A More Brutal Spot - It looked like Ryback was supposed to catch Bryan off the apron and powerbomb him through the table immediately, but Bryan ended up taking a powerbomb to the floor and another through the table. They did what they had to do to complete the spot, but it ended up being even more brutal than just the single powerbomb would've been.
Cena Saves The Day
- Giving Bryan The Closing Shot - The show could've ended on Vince and Maddox discussing the matches made for next week. However, the decision was made to get Bryan back in the ring and have him "YES" along with the crowd to close the show. Without that decision, it may have looked like Cena trying to steal Bryan's spotlight after wrestling for 40 or so minutes, but Cena gave Bryan his moment.
- Bryan Not Getting Injured During The Gauntlet - There were plenty of chances for injury, as Bryan was facing Jack Swagger (who concussed Ziggler), working an intense, lengthy match with Antonio Cesaro, and taking a number of big power moves from Ryback, who doesn't seem to mind working stiff. I'm sure he's gonna be sore in the morning, but I hope it's not as bad as your girlfriend have a nip slip on national television.
- Interesting Matches To Tune In For! - Although it's only been a few weeks, it feels as if Bryan has grown so much since Team Hell No's split, so it should be interesting to see the dynamic when they face off next week. A Cena/Ryback tables match will hopefully help the taped show to maintain some hype.
This turned out to be a fairly strong show. It lacked the pure energy from last week, but it made up for it with several solid segments and a main event that lasted nearly 40 minutes. Kendra should be back next week, so don't worry about having to read my accidental long-windedness again. Until next time, thanks for reading and be sure to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments below!