New year, new attitude. Sure Raw’s main event scene has been like a tire fire with some elephant dung thrown in the flames. But the calendar has flipped, and it’s time to find the positive in Raw. We’re at the on-ramp to the Road to Wrestlemania. This car is bound to get going at some point. Right? Right?!

WWE Monday Night Raw
January 4, 2016

Introducing Stepha… Roman Reigns

The show must be running long already, as Roman’s entrance music interrupts Stephanie’s walk to ringside. They need to work on the timing of these things.

A brief chant for Roman might not be the most desired reaction, but at least he didn’t get booed by the half the crowd. Any progress is a good thing.

This segment would be vastly improved by Swagsuke appearing and strutting down the aisle. This is true for every segment from now until the day he appears.

If you haven’t read my magnum opus about Stephanie McMahon, you should. It ties in very neatly with what we saw during the segment. Stephanie tried to duplicate the same menace, the same 1 percenter privilege that allows a wealthy corporate leader to do whatever they want to a single employee who dares to stand up for themselves. But the growl wasn’t there. She played the Vince card and so far it hasn’t worked. Roman knows that. He knows right now Stephanie is pretending the play boss, but even she admits that a higher power is coming that is the one to concentrate on. That’s why when Roman put his threat out there (quite well I must say, the reaction to those two lines was probably the most honest and positive one he received in the whole segment) it was only to tell Stephanie what she would be doing after he interacted with someone other than her. Her character is being diminished and ignored. That is unlikely to be allowed to continue. Something is going to explode. At some point she is going to have to do something drastic to reassert her importance. And when that happens, someone is probably going to get hurt.

Positive thoughts: When Roman threatened great violence, the crowd reacted with true enthusiasm. There is a fondness there for Roman. It’s just a question of presenting him in a way to maximize that emotion. For a moment in this segment, the template was shown.

Kevin Owens vs. Neville

Dean Ambrose is at ringside on commentary. If I could remove 5 tropes from WWE for 2016, one of them would be that one. Pretty much unless its the Miz, New Day, or Titus the whole gimmick is a waste of time. Maybe with a smaller, better announce crew it might be able to have some juice for angle development, but with these three bumblers talking over each other it’s just more noise with no signal to be found.

To wit, that opening minute for Neville was awesome. He went balls out, knowing he’s not going to win a battle of attrition. Literally the entire time Ambrose was shout-talking about Owens and the IC title. I appreciate that he tried to shoehorn in some praise for Neville, but it would have been much more effective had he not been there at all.

The sell by Neville on the DDT from the corner was, dare I say it, Perfect?

Pulling the tape of an injured body part is one of those things that is easy for the audience to understand, makes the heel look like a sadistic jerk, and gives the work a focus so that every thing seems more brutal.

Neville is throwing everything at Owens tonight. Really giving the desperation a tangible feel.

For a short match, I thought that was absolutely awesome. And the postmatch had some venom in it. I don’t normally want to see three way matches, but I would not be at all unhappy if these three had a nice long triple threat at a Network Special.

Call me crazy, but I think we saw snow in the very first Raw match of 2016.

Positive Thoughts: It’s a 3.5 star match. On Raw. I think that’s quite positive.

Winner: Kevin Owens  Rating: ***½ 

Titus O’Neil vs. Stardust

I do not have high hopes for the snow streak continuing here.

For anyone who doesn’t watch ESPN8, the Ocho, on the regular, John Mitchell is the new USA Rugby coach. He was formerly the coach of the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks. The All Blacks are Evie’s national team. So here’s Evie supporting her team. Now when the hell is NXT going to bring her in? I want her and Asuka to give us the NXT version of Shibata/Ishii.

Wait, JBL, the guy who has routinely referenced people from almost a century ago, is busting Saxton’s chops over a dated reference? Do we need to discuss Tom Mix again?

Titus just doesn’t have the same offensive snap when he’s not being tagged in. If the PTP are not a thing anymore, why not just go full on musclemania and have Ryback and Titus as a tag team full of PMA and philanthropy?

Positive Thoughts: They’re keeping Titus in the mix, so hopefully that will lead to better things for him in the new year. As for Stardust, with Goldust back on the show, that does allow the possibility of finally getting a Rhodes vs. Rhodes match as Dustin’s Mania swan song.

Winner: Titus O’Neil

Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch

That is almost certainly not the first time today that Ric Flair walked up behind a woman and surprised her. It might however be the first time it happened with Ric fully clothed.

It’s a shame Becky isn’t over enough for her theme music to get a reaction worthy of its awesomeness.

Do we think no one has thought of the implications of “Protein Sisters” or that it is just a rib being played by Kevin Dunn?

Becky’s offense being so low impact at the beginning is doing a good job continuing the story. She’s trying for flash pins, and using moves that will wear Charlotte down but not cause her any injury or significant impact. Winning is important, but winning without causing damage to the person she still believes is her friend is paramount. Charlotte of course has no such compunctions and her offense has been as such. Making use of offense designed to not only wear her down, but to show her that she is always her better.

Crowd actually giving a “Becky” chant. Amazing how a decent match and a clear face and heel can engage fans.

This was a really well constructed match. Becky’s offense growing more strike focused and willing to mess up her friend, but still not able to go all the way into being Charlotte’s enemy. At the end of the match Becky had the option of going for the Majistral or pulling Charlotte into the Disarmer. She chose the flash pin. After the post-match beatdown, I suspect she will go for the arm next time.

Bird gotta fly, fish gotta swim, Flair gotta heel. The only thing I worry about is how much crowds are going to be willing to boo Ric’s actions. We’ve been cheering him doing heel things for a decade plus. Even in Evolution the crowd always wanted him to leave the group. Just look at the night where Flair challenged HHH. Charlotte is plenty unlikable as a character, but can Ric really get crowds to think he’s evil, as opposed to a harmless old scamp?

Positive Thoughts: A very nice match, followed by finally giving us clearly defined character arcs to go forward with.

Winner: Becky Lynch Rating: ***

Ryback vs. Big Show

I can’t understanding wasting this match on free tv. This is a main event in any arena in the country.

Ryback is going to feel silly when he discovers that the Wyatts were just running early for an interview segment.

How does this count when tallying up Big Show alignment turns? Was his appearance last week a heel turn, followed by a face turn tonight because he was attacked, and if next week he’s back feuding with Ryback would that be another heel turn?

Two years ago you might have been able to main event a show with Ryback vs. Wyatt. Now I’m just waiting for next week’s 8 man tag with the Wyatts vs. Big Show, Ryback, and the Dudleyz.

Positive Thoughts: Heading into the Road to Mania, WWE seems to want to get the Wyatts heated back up. It might be a good sign that they’re going against some guys lower on the card. They need to eat some people up if they want to be a true threat again, and Ryback and Show would be excellent fodder for that.

Winner: No Contest

Alberto Del Rio & Rusev vs. Usos

And a Nigel Owens reference by JBL for good measure. Apparently Nigel is the only openly gay Rugby Union ref. If this was a sneaky bit of progressiveness by JBL, I applaud it.

The mention of the Horsemen allows for a thought experiment. Which Horseman through the years would each of the Legionnaires be? No rule that they need to be a group that ever actually was together:

  • Alberto Del Rio – Barry Windham. Comes from the wrestling family, can be immensely talented but often lacking motivation.
  • Rusev – Sid Vicious, the most intimidating Horseman ever. And since I love Sid a high compliment to Rusev.
  • Sheamus – Arn Anderson. Briefly the leader of the Horsemen in exile while Ric Flair was being starved by Bischoff. He was never a man born to leadership, but a great sidekick. Sheamus reminds me of this so much.
  • Wade Barrett – Paul Roma, the most forgettable Horseman ever.

Another well constructed match. The Usos were able to control the match when they were able to make use of their tag team experience. Combination moves and teamwork to gain an advantage and nearly win the match. However, when circumstances allowed for the match to become in essence a singles match, the greater skill of the US Champion was able to come to the forefront and win the match when the moment presented itself.

So far tonight this has been a good night for wrestling. Hopefully that was the resolution for WWE.

Positive Thoughts: A fun match to watch. Everyone got to look good, and the top heel group won to continue their reign of terror.

Winners: Legionnaires

Dolph Ziggler vs. Heath Slater

Wow, that was a total 1991 promo by Dolph. I loved it.

NJPW brought back the nWo and DX and called them Bullet Club. TNA brought back D.O.A. and called them Aces and Eights. And now WWE has brought back the J.O.B. Squad. Needs more Blue Meanie.

I wonder what JBL thinks of Richie McCaw refusing to accept the honor he was offered in the New Year’s Honors. Also I wonder how much rugby JBL watched this weekend.

Heath did a lot of work there to get Ziggler into the counter for his rollup.

I’m so all in on #SocialOutcasts if they actually get treated like they are anything more than just a comedy act there to be mocked by the announcers. The idea of four guys who never get attention on their own, who never can break through against more talented people, finding strength in numbers and demanding to be noticed is a new one in WWE. Let’s see where it goes. After Week 1, I’m intrigued.

Positive Thoughts: #SocialOutcasts has potential. Significant potential. WWE has the opportunity to show that everyone on the roster has the chance to matter and should be paid attention to. Caring about everyone would go a long way to making people more likely to pay money to watch them.

Winner: Heath Slater

For all the times that WWE has had Roman Reigns talk too often, his confrontation with Vince is a case where saying something there might have helped. I know the goal is strong and silent, but there’s no need to be literal about it.

New Day vs. Kalisto & Dudley Boyz

New Day Theatre was a far more impressive piece of amusement than the new Star Wars movie I saw this weekend.

Any countdown on WWE programming has the potential to work as a summoning spell to bring Chris Jericho back. Also, what the hell is with that shirt?

Jericho is heeling while pandering to the crowd and working against the heels that everyone really secretly loves and using every old catchphrase in his damn history. That said even with his cachet being diminished by his repeated returns and sounding like an old guy using terms he found on Urban Dictionary, he still comes across as more of a star than most of the roster. I think it is because he believes he is a huge star and carries himself as such. Watching him on that stage, he was giving the crowd a gift by his presence. Everyone else seems so glad to have a job most of the time that they don’t have that swagger.

WWE is really trying to make the Slammy Awards a thing that they keep in the minds of people. Anything that encourages fans to have memories longer than one week is a good thing.

These bastard fans are hurting Kofi Kingston’s feelings. Why must they do such things to such a nice old man?

The discussion of what would happen if Kalisto won the Royal Rumble shows how rarely anything is allowed to break out of the norm in WWE. I understand the need to use the Rumble to set up Mania, but there’s plenty of time to rectify things before Mania if someone out of the norm wins the match. Even if the person doesn’t end up in the main event of the big show, at the very least it is a chance to put someone unexpected in a top card angle and give some exposure to him.

It was a hell of a performance by Ando this weekend, wasn’t it JBL? Gotta love the darts.

New Day is not having as much silly fun in this match, and having more violent fun. Which makes sense given they were made fun of. However, no bad mood can stop the Big E Wiggle surely taught to him by Norman Smiley) and Francesca from doing their thing.

Big E has the best facial expressions in wrestling. Also, he might have the best Twitter in wrestling.

Positive Thoughts: New Day is all about the power of positivity. And hey, Chris Jericho is back. Maybe if he’s taking every single persona he’s had and using them all at once it can be so crazy as to be quite funny. Also, rooty tooty booty

Winners: New Day

WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus
Special Referee: Vince McMahon

Watching Vince McMahon moving around and looking like that at 70 years old is so absurd and ridiculous it boggles the mind. He is a cartoon character that came to life.

Does Vince know the referee’s decision is final? He could just say Roman submitted. Not like he hasn’t done that before.

This ending segment has been such a drag. 20 minutes into the segment and there’s been about three minutes of action.

There have been some decent strikes, but I find a lot of the match they haven’t really been leaning into it the way that they often do.

Roman seems shocked that Vince is not being an honest ref. I wonder if Roman has actually ever watched WWE before.

It just struck me that we never saw John Cena tonight. Could that change in the last few minutes?

At some point Roman is going to need to destroy Vince in order to pay this off. The crowd was ready for it. The time has come for someone to get the honor of putting Vince out to pasture for good, and if they really do see Roman as the long term answer, you might as well fire that bullet.

I want to know how the hell this is going to work at the Rumble. Is the title vacant? Does whomever throws Roman out get the title, and the winner get the title shot? I want answers dammit!

Positive Thoughts: The Royal Rumble sure took on huge importance tonight. And that’s even before Brock Lesnar returns next week. Lots of combustible elements coming together.

Winner: Roman Reigns

Final Thoughts: The main event may still be McMahon-centric, but there are at least reasons to be intrigued going into the Royal Rumble. The show seemed much more focused tonight. Hopefully the show will stay lean and mean for the next few months. If so, this might not be a bad ride on the Road to Wrestlemania. Can’t feel bad about a show with two matches of three stars or more, a lot of angle development, and nothing really awful. Thumbs up show.