By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
New Day vs. Chris Jericho and AJ Styles: The best match of Y2AJ was also their last match as a team. This was the best tag title match in recent memory and I like that New Day won clean, as that’s something that could be presented in a way that gives them more in-ring credibility. Of course, the big story was Jericho turning on Styles afterward. I love that Jericho had nearly unanimous heat. The live crowd didn’t get off on siding with the heel as they often do in these situations. Rather, the Chicago crowd booed Jericho more with each Codebreaker he performed on Styles. Heel Jericho vs. the popular Styles at WrestleMania is going to be a lot of fun. Sure, they had three previous matches, but this one should be the best now that they have the traditional babyface vs. heel dynamic. I am anxious to hear heel Jericho logic to rationalize his actions in his next promo.
Kevin Owens vs. Neville with Sami Zayn’s return: The Owens vs. Neville match was the latest reminder of just how much Neville has been wasted. It was nice to see him get a one week reprieve from working time-filling six-man tag matches. I would love to think that this match will serve as an eye opener for the WWE brass, but I also felt that way when he had a great Raw match with Seth Rollins that led to nothing last year. The return of Zayn was a pleasant surprise, and I’m curious to see how effectively WWE can establish their history in just three weeks, assuming they are going to work against one another in the Intercontinental Title match at WrestleMania. I was surprised to hear the broadcast team present Zayn in a way that suggested that all viewers should be aware of him. There are plenty of us who know him from NXT and going back to his run in Ring of Honor, but there are also a lot of Raw viewers who know him best as the guy who blew out his shoulder in an open challenge match with John Cena. This longtime feud making its way to the main roster is a treat, but WWE needs to explain the history in a way that gets the casual viewers excited in order for it to make the most impact.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt: A good main event with Wyatt looking more aggressive than usual. Wyatt’s running cross body block and the uranage on the barricade looked especially vicious. It’s too little too late as far as making Bray look like a threat to Brock Lesnar. Heck, they didn’t even make this match feel like a big deal. It’s a crime that we never heard Wyatt and Paul Heyman engage in a verbal battle leading into this match. Still, Lesnar vs. Wyatt is more appealing on paper than Lesnar working with one of the usual suspects. I also liked that Ambrose looked good heading into his match against Triple H on Saturday. I just wish there was more chemistry between him and Triple H on the mic. More on that later.
Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon segment: We need to break this into a couple parts. The Hit goes to the verbal exchange between father and son. Shane was fine and the live crowd is still very much in the honeymoon phase with his returning character. The real star of the segment was Vince McMahon, who is really on his game again while hamming it up and playing the sadistic father who is renouncing his son while telling him that he’ll be a better father figure to his grandsons. Vince seems to found his groove again and he really seems to be having a blast while going over the top in his feud with Shane.
WWE Raw Misses
Shane McMahon beats up four security guards: I am in the camp that wants to see the spectacle match, freak show that is the Shane vs. Undertaker match at WrestleMania. As wrong as I know this match is on so many levels, I can’t fight the burning desire I have to see Shane take a hellacious beating and perform at some of the insane stunts that were showcased in his highlight video. However, I have no desire to see Shane positioned as a tough guy. It’s bad enough that he didn’t even flinch when Vince told him that he would be facing Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match, but now it seems like they want us to believe that he’s some sort of middle age badass who can fight off four security guards simply because he’s “amped.” The Shane vs. Taker match is a lot of things, but a showdown between two elite forces like we normally get with Taker’s WrestleMania matches is not one of them. I’m happy that Shane looked terrible while clearing the security guards from the ring. Maybe it will be enough to make everyone involved realize that the appeal of the match is not Super Shane, it’s Mortal Shane getting his ass kicked by Undertaker and somehow showing enough heart to keep coming back for more.
Triple H and Dean Ambrose: Ambrose’s manic character and the “above it all” Triple H character do not play well together. It’s not that their segments are poor, it’s just that they don’t click in a big money way. I’m not a big fan of the Ambrose character spouting one-liners, and it’s especially bad when he’s in there with Hunter, who no-sells everyone else’s humor. The Triple H character doesn’t show fear these days. You don’t get the sense that he’s even the least bit intimidated or threatened by Ambrose, which makes the manic Ambrose character feel tame. While I am looking forward to their match at Roadblock, I really expected a stronger build. Ambrose sold me on Smackdown last week regarding the possibility of him winning the title and shaking up the WrestleMania lineup. They didn’t emphasize that enough on Raw.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev, Sheamus, and King Barrett in an elimination tag match: At least they didn’t book Dean Ambrose and/or Roman Reigns against League of Nations in the Raw main event for a change. That’s about the best thing I can say about this match. Did anyone know what Dolph and Stephanie McMahon were talking about when they started discussing a tweet that Stephanie made Dolph delete? Did they really set up an angle on the same Twitter platform where Stephanie talks about how she enjoys playing the part of a villain on television? In fairness to the wrestlers, the ring work was fine and the fans got up briefly when Ziggler pinned Barrett and then had Sheamus down. This would have been a fine segment if the babyface was truly over and the heels had good heat. I feel bad for all four guys because they are victims of bad booking and poor character development. By the way, whatever happened to Alberto Del Rio?
Ryback vs. Curtis Axel: Another match with Ryback destroying one of the guys from the DOA faction that consists of characters who may or may not be babyfaces. I assume Ryback is a heel based on the way his character expresses entitlement due to his size, but WWE isn’t doing him any favors by booking him in the dead zone known as the third hour against wrestlers the fans feel nothing for. If Ryback is a heel, then why does Michael Cole continue to praise his new mean streak?
Kalisto vs. Tyler Breeze: The miss is more about the way Kalisto has been positioned. Fans know nothing about the guy other than he drops the names of Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio in every promo. Kalisto has a cool look and performs cool moves, but the guy needs an actual character. Playing the part of the ultra respectful generic babyface makes him a semi-popular mid-card babyface. Kalisto can be more than that.