Monday Night Raw
August 17th, 2015
Last night I attended my third Monday Night Raw live taping in Minneapolis, MN at the Target Center. This episode of WWE television was their “go home” show for the SummerSlam pay per view coming up this Sunday. While the live event in itself was fun, the content of the show was slightly lackluster. This was not the best wrestling show I have ever attended (that honor goes to Elimination Chamber 2014). I definitely enjoyed being there for the spectacle of live pro-wrestling, however.
WWE shows in Minneapolis usually host a lively, energetic crowd with a good mix of families with their children covered in John Cena gear and adults who appreciate the WWE product and the pro-wrestling artform. There was a buzz in the building since it had been announced prior to the show that Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker, two huge wrestling superstars and the corresponding men in the main event of SummerSlam, were set to appear on the show. Brock Lesnar is billed from Minneapolis, MN and his appearance was declared as his “homecoming.” Brock hadn’t been in Minnesota for a WWE show in over a decade and there was a large proponent of fans there just to see him. The Undertaker is even more of a legendary WWE character and hadn’t appeared in Minneapolis in several years either. Brock and ‘Taker were certainly the two major ticket-selling draws for Raw, and I pitched in for better seats because of their advertising. I probably won’t ever get to see The Undertaker in person again, if rumors of his upcoming retirement come true.
I got to my seats in time for Superstars to begin taping. This is a short, WWE show that not many people watch since nothing of storyline significance happens, but it allows for the lower-card wrestlers to get a chance to work in front of a crowd and try to hype them up to open the night’s festivities. Adam Rose came out first and called us all poopy-heads or whatever and issued an open challenge to anyone in the back. Out came Curtis Axel, another Minneapolis guy and the son of Minnesota pro-wrestling legend “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. Axel received a good reaction from the crowd because of this and got the win to pop the crowd. R-Truth and Fandango were out next for a tag-team match against The Ascension. These cartoon characters killed time while people were getting to their seats and stocking up on popcorn and nachos. The Ascension won and Raw was about to start.
The crowd filled out and started to buzz thinking that Brock Lesnar was about to come out to open the show. Instead, we were greeted with The Authority, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. They’re normally the most heinous villains on the show but for whatever reason, they came out as babyfaces and ran the crowd through the card for SummerSlam. This sort of flip-flopping of character morality is something that takes me out of my investment in modern day WWE.
Up first was a tag-team match featuring Randy Orton and Cesaro versus Sheamus and Kevin Owens. Orton came out first to a boisterous reaction. He’s one of the few characters in WWE that kids and adults seem to like universally. Orton is set to square off with Sheamus at SummerSlam, while Cesaro gets Owens for a dance partner. This match was perfectly serviceable in showcasing everyone’s characters going into SummerSlam, but did not do much in raising the stakes for the pay-per-view. The last couple minutes of the match got a little sloppy with some mistimed spots but it still was decent enough to open up Raw and get the crowd pumped up with the Orton/Cesaro team winning.
WWE is very big on claiming that they “tell stories.” I’m failing to see what the story behind this tag match was, in regards to the matches booked for SummerSlam Sunday. Of course, there’s no commentary at live tapings where storyline things should be explained, but upon a rewatch the commentary didn’t help matters much. There are no stipulations behind Cesaro vs. Owens or Sheamus vs. Orton and WWE has never really explained to us why any of these characters want to win their respective matches. In addition, the good guys in the tag team match came out on top. To me, usually the better pro-wrestling story involves the villains getting the upperhand for a while and the babyfaces finally getting their revenge. Goku didn’t defeat Frieza right off the bat. Perhaps I’m thinking about this too much. I enjoyed the tag match live and the crowd was really into it, for what it’s worth.
The Undertaker appeared live on the jumbotron and spoke about what he’s going to do to Brock Lesnar on Sunday. The live crowd was very excited to hear him speak, even if it was a pre-recorded video.
We followed that with another backstage video of WWE Champion Seth Rollins speaking with The Authority. Seth gets a very solid heel reaction. The kids hate him since he’s set to face off against John Cena, and the adults hate him because they’re supposed to. I respect his work as a character and what he can do in the ring, but I boo him since he’s the villain and is supposed to be slimy and despicable.
We’re about 30 minutes into the show and Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns were out next. Roman Reigns was set to have a match with Luke Harper, a member of The Wyatt Family. For SummerSlam it will be Dean and Roman vs. Harper and Bray Wyatt in a tag match. This was a long match that started to lose the crowd’s interest until the last couple minutes. I should mention that this feud is sort of a rehash of The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family from a year and a half ago. That saw Roman, Dean and Seth Rollins as The Shield facing off with Harper, Wyatt and Erick Rowan in 3 on 3 brawls. In this same building those teams put on one of the best matches I’ve ever seen in person at the Elimination Chamber pay per view, so I’m hoping these 4 guys can recapture some of that magic on Sunday. Tonight though, Roman Reigns vs. Luke Harper did not. The guys hit their signature spots and I started thinking about the storyline too much again. Reigns gets the win here.
The Wyatt Family’s entrance still rules live. My cellphone picture doesn’t do it justice.
Up next was Tamina Snuka vs. Becky Lynch. I needed a break from nonstop matches and took the opportunity to check out the merchandise and walk around a little.
I returned to seeing Lana come out to commentate a match between Rusev and Mark Henry. Rusev won in quick fashion and Lana enters the ring to confront her dastardly ex-boyfriend along with his new partner, Summer Rae. Rusev and Summer started to corner Lana and the crowd could tell that Dolph Ziggler was about to return after missing a month of action. Ziggler’s music hit and the crowd exploded. Ziggler returned with a house of steam on Rusev and Lana throws a kick right into Summer’s face. I liked this segment since superstar returns are usually a good way to pop the crowd.
We see several commercials for things like the Brock and Undertaker match and The Big Show’s upcoming straight-to-DVD movie with Dean Cain. Monday Night Raw is 3 hours long and can definitely be a slog to get through, especially when they pad it out with video packages and commercials for the live crowd. The Big Show, Miz and Ryback are out next.
Ryback gets a good reaction and squashes The Miz in quick order. I like Ryback and think his whole act has plenty of unintentional comedy. Big Show, Miz and Ryback meet in a triple threat match for the Intercontinental championship at SummerSlam.
The Authority comes out again followed by Seth Rollins is out next with the title belt in hand. We’re due for a contract signing for his match with John Cena at SummerSlam. Seth runs his mouth for a while to get some heat. He insults John Cena, The Twins and Bob Dylan for some cheap heat. Kids around me are jumping out of their seats trying to yell at Seth, while their excitement builds since they know John Cena’s coming out next. Cena’s music hits in the middle of Rollins saying something and the place goes nuts. Sure, people react to the other wrestlers, but guys like John Cena, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker really come off like true superstars. Cena gets a huge reaction initially but you can soon hear the crowd split off into the pro and anti-Cena fans. The kids and families love Cena, while the adults boo him out of the building. Either way, Cena gets one of the louder responses.
Cena talks for a while and runs down his opponent for Sunday while throwing in a few jabs at Triple H. Cena ends his promo by calling Rollins a bitch and walks away after signing his portion of the contract. For once in the history of WWE, a contract signing went down without anybody throwing a punch or anybody going through the table.
Up next was an 8 man tag match featuring all the teams in the tag team match at SummerSlam. I was very excited to see The New Day, the team of Xavier Woods, Big E and Kofi Kingston. The other three teams, The Prime Time Players, The Lucha Dragons and Los Matadores came out for the match followed by The New Day. The three guys came out with a freestyle and some words to try and roast their opponents. Xavier got into it with El Torito, the tiny bull-person at ringside while the Lucha Dragons picked up the win in a quick match. People love to hate The New Day and they’re one of the highlights of Raw every week for me. Unfortunately here, their time on the show was short lived.
Stephen Amell from Arrow is set to team up with Neville at SummerSlam to face the team of Stardust and King Barrett. Amell is one of many celebrities to get in the ring and is actually a huge wrestling fan, overall nerd and devoted to putting on a quality match. It’s too bad he couldn’t be here live tonight to build his match some more, but his match will be fun to watch on Sunday.
Barrett and Stardust appeared on the jumbotron and cut a ridiculous heel promo about being the Cosmic Lords of Darkness who will put an end to the comic book superhero, Arrow. Stardust adorned King Barrett with a new cape and Barrett declared himself the “Cosmic King.” This was one of the better segments on the show despite only being about a minute long.
Up next was a divas match that unfortunately lost the crowd completely. WWE Divas Champion Nikki Bella versus NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks took place and was essentially our main event wrestling match for the night. A few things went wrong, probably unintentionally here. For what should be a huge champion versus champion match between the top two women’s champions, this was given away without any buildup. Neither title was on the line and nothing was at stake here. The live crowd knew that Brock Lesnar was set to come out next and began to turn on the match, chanting “we want Lesnar.” On top of all of that, the match wasn’t very good and never quite found its legs. There were a few moments where the women would do a big move and the crowd would start to get into it, but then they’d slow down and totally lose us again. Sad to see this happen but it’s unfortunate they were put in a position to fail like this.They did the right thing here and gave the clean victory to the up-and-comer Sasha Banks though. SummerSlam will see these women involved in a three way elimination match.
The show was almost over but we had yet to see Brock or Undertaker. People knew what was about to happen when Paul Heyman entered the ring. Everybody in the crowd rose to their feet as if they’d forgotten how to sit down. Paul Heyman, Brock’s manager and mouthpiece introduces Brock as a former WWE, UFC and NCAA amateur wrestling champion. Heyman really hypes up Brock as a Minnesota hero making his triumphant return (Brock did win the NCAA championship for UofM!) and introduces him to one of the most thunderous ovations I’ve ever heard.
Brock comes out to pyrotechnics, confetti and streamers. This is my video of the celebration of his existence. I apologize for shooting it vertically.
Brock makes his entrance and basks in the glory of the Minnesota crowd collectively going nuts. He’s holding back a smile as the live audience shows their appreciation with signs and cheers. He enters the ring and Paul Heyman begins to serenade him with a version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” changing the words around to center around the beast himself. This really needs to be seen to believed:
Undertaker’s classic “gong” sound effect plays in the middle of Heyman’s song and the lights go down causing another huge pop from the crowd. It’s just a fake out, for now. Heyman cuts an incredible promo hyping up Brock some more and shrugs off Undertaker’s “jedi mind trick.”
The gong hits again. This time when the lights come back on, Undertaker is in the ring and he immediately kicks Brock in the crotch. The Undertaker is booed. Taker gains the upper hand and delivers a chokeslam and a tombstone piledriver to Brock, laying him out to end the show. Raw is over.
Undertaker makes his exit and Brock slowly makes it up to a knee in the ring. Lesnar called for the microphone and says: "I have to take a knee. Undertaker, good one buddy. I don't what to say but thank you very much. Come this Sunday at SummerSlam, Undertaker, it will be your last ride. And where are we going to go?" Brock holds up the microphone and the crowd enthusiastically responds, “SUPLEX CITY!”
After tonight I am 100% behind Brock Lesnar defeating The Undertaker again on Sunday. It’s very interesting to see how much the tables have turned since Brock originally ended The Undertaker’s streak. The night after Wrestlemania 30 when that happened, Brock was the most hated villain in the entire wrestling world. After tonight, The Undertaker looks like the old man who will resort to dirty tactics to try and gain revenge. The Undertaker’s legendary status holds him in such high regard that to witnesss him get booed by any crowd is surreal.
What other media does this ever really happen in? The top villain destroys the heroic legend and over the course of a year the two switch sides. I can’t imagine many people wanted to see Walter White and Gus Fring turn their alignments and see Gus walk out victorious. While at the same time, people wanted to see The Undertaker get his revenge against Brock. I stated earlier that The Authority flip flopping around takes me out of the immersion of the WWE, but for some reason Undertaker and Lesnar swapping hero and villain roles somehow works for me. All it may have taken was a low blow and a hometown hero’s response to do it.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at Monday Night Raw. A few segments were sluggish to sit through but the final 15 minutes between Brock and The Undertaker were worth the price of admission. I will be watching SummerSlam on Sunday to see what happens next.
by Nathan Dimit (@ndimit)