The Good, the Great and the Awesome from Raw 8/4/14
The August 4 episode of Raw continued World Wrestling Entertainment's outstanding build to what could be one of the best SummerSlam pay-per-views of all time.
With the exception of some of the Hour 3 nonsense involving Diego, El Torito, Fandango, Hornswoggle, Summer Rae and Layla, as well as Bo Dallas and R-Truth, everything on the show had a direct or indirect effect on the summertime spectacular.
The main events of August 17 event were properly highlighted as Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella took center stage in the night's main event segment, John Cena and Brock Lesnar hyped their monumental title bout in an instant classic video package, and Dean Ambrose got the best of Seth Rollins in the Beat the Clock Challenge.
Chris Jericho's disqualification win ensured that Luke Harper will not be at ringside, but Bray Wyatt's assault on Y2J may prove that stipulation fruitless. Meanwhile, Rusev left Jack Swagger in a heap ahead of their Flag match at the show.
Yes, WWE Creative turned out another incredibly effective show as it inches closer and closer to SummerSlam, an event that will prove vital in the long-term future of the WWE Network.
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Relive the best of the best from Monday's show right now, courtesy of The Good, the Great and the Awesome!
Flag Match Hype
The international incident brewing between Jack Swagger and Rusev continued to build in intensity Monday night as the former world heavyweight champion and manager Zeb Colter confronted the Bulgarian Brute and social ambassador Lana just moments after the Ravishing Russian sang "Happy Birthday" to President Obama in her native tongue.
In front of a wildly pro-American Texas crowd, Colter cut a passionate promo about the men and women that Swagger will be fighting for come SummerSlam and the Flag match against Rusev. He put over the U.S. troops who fight for the country's freedom and, in the process, ensured that the fight was about more than who got to wave his nation's flag at the end of the night.
Rusev responded to the promo by leaving Swagger lying in a heap on the arena floor and teased assaulting Colter but was ordered away by Lana, who apparently did not want the assault of a grizzled Vietnam veteran on her conscience.
Nothing that Colter said was new or original, and the overall presentation of the angle wasn't novel. What helped it stand out was the incredibly crowd heat, which is surprising. It is rare that a feud, especially one as old-school as the one between Swagger and Rusev, can maintain its heat for as long as this one has. It is a testament to Colter and Lana, as well as WWE Creative, that fans still care and will continue to as long as they hold up their end of the bargain.
Chris Jericho vs. Luke Harper
It has been quite some time since a match disappointed on the level that Chris Jericho vs. Luke Harper did Monday night. Sure, they did not have the time that Jericho and Erick Rowan did on SmackDown, and the crowd was exhausted from what had been a long show, but that does not excuse the fact that neither Jericho nor Harper appeared to be on his A-game.
With that said, Jericho and Harper on their B-games is still better than most, and while what we got was disappointing, that does not mean it was bad. On the contrary, the match was quite competitive and better than almost anything else on the show. The near-falls, especially off Harper's power-based offense, were quite good, and the finish was hot.
Unfortunately, the interference by Bray Wyatt was unnecessary and led to a repetitive beatdown of Jericho. Had Y2J been allowed to beat Harper, Wyatt could have cut the same promo later in the night and done more to add heat to their SummerSlam match than booking the same Sister Abigail to Jericho that fans have witnessed countless times over the last month.
It is very difficult to decipher exactly what Paige's character is supposed to be. Is she crazy? Delusional? Insincere? Whatever the case may be, she is doing such a great job of portraying it that it is forgivable that WWE Creative seemingly cannot make up its mind.
"We're still friends, AJ," she says, despite the fact that she left the Divas champion to be stretchered out of the arena on SmackDown with a whiplash injury. While that line may mean little to most, the way Paige delivers it, with a smile on her face, is either indicative of a special kind of crazy or the work of a sarcastic young woman attempting to play elite-level mind games heading into SummerSlam and the Divas title match.
Whatever the case turns out to be, Paige is more than delivering in the opportunities given to her to perform on the microphone. Now, if only WWE Creative would back her up and give the fans an indication of what's going on with her, so they can respond accordingly.
Ambrose Plays Mind Games, Slater Wins (No, Really!)
When ring announcer Justin Roberts announced that Seth Rollins would not be taking on Rob Van Dam in the Beat the Clock Challenge but instead would face Heath Slater, the crowd's disapproval of the booking swerve was apparent in the chants they launched from their seats.
As it turned out, that booking swerve played heavily into the events that unfolded in the minutes following the announcement.
Earlier in the evening, JBL pointed out on commentary that Rollins had yet to be pinned or made to submit since joining The Authority. While it seemed like a throw-away comment at the time, it was laying the groundwork for what would come later in the evening.
Rollins completely outclassed Slater, as one would assume based on their placement on the card. One is clearly headed for bigger and better things, while the other is a comedy midcarder, albeit a consummate professional. It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a one-sided match.
Then Dean Ambrose appeared at ringside and immediately stole the focus of his former friend and partner. Rollins became distracted by Ambrose, who tore up the guaranteed WWE World Heavyweight Championship contract, poured soda and popcorn in the Money in the Bank briefcase and was a general pain in the neck as he paraded around the squared circle.
Slater, a former WWE tag team champion whose skills should not be second-guessed, capitalized on the distraction provided by Ambrose and won his biggest match in years. Rollins was left shell-shocked by the turn of events, coming to the realization that Ambrose would now have the opportunity to pick the stipulation for their match at SummerSlam.
After weeks of watching Rollins and Kane leave him lying motionless, it was good to see Ambrose use his wit and intelligence to outsmart the man he once considered a brother and get one up on him heading into SmackDown.
Last Man Standing Match
Don't look now, but Kane had a good match on Raw Monday night. A really good match, not just "good for Kane" but legitimately good.
The Last Man Standing stipulation meant that he and Roman Reigns, whose move set is admittedly limited at this point in his singles career, would not be exposed in a rather lengthy bout to open up the in-ring portion of this week's show. They brought the chaos as they utilized kendo sticks, steel chairs, the ring steps and a table to dish out punishment to one another in hopes of keeping their opponent down for the count of 10.
Neither man really gained control of the match for too long a period of time, ensuring that it came across as a much more competitive bout than it otherwise would have.
Reign's win was no big shock given the push he is currently receiving. The quality of the match, on the other hand, was, and that was a testament to the performers' ability to work within the confines of the stipulation and use their creativity to craft a match the fans in Texas were hot for throughout.
The Authority Promo
Triple H managed to cut a promo to kick off Raw that advertised the WWE Network (and got the fans to join in at the same time), announced three matches for the night's broadcast and put over the stellar SummerSlam card. There is no better way to utilize 12 minutes of promo time than the COO did Monday night—something that may get lost in the shuffle but deserves recognition.
Brie Bella-Stephanie McMahon Contract Signing
While it was not greeted with the heat of their previous segments, the show-closing contract signing between Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon was an awesome way to further the build for their match at SummerSlam.
Brie was far better on the microphone than she has been at any point in her career, but she still needs to work on her delivery. That will come with increased mic time. She was articulate and got her point across without reverting to the overdone yelling that she has been guilty of in the past, which improved the overall quality of her promo.
Stephanie was outstanding, showing what years of mic work and developing a heel character can do for one's performance. The way she condescendingly talked down to Brie, as if she was nothing but a commoner with the gall to even look at her let alone challenge her to a fight, was extraordinary and will only help enhance the emotion of the match.
The most interesting part of the entire verbal war was the fact that Brie evoked the names of the Rhodes family, Big Show, Daniel Bryan and Nikki and promised to beat and embarrass Stephanie for them.
After WrestleMania, it seemed like Bryan had set everything right, repaying The Authority for months of torment, but Stephanie never really got what was coming to her in response to her actions. Brie has a chance to change that. It was a nice touch by WWE Creative to remember that far back and tie it into this story.
Stephanie's Pedigrees to Brie and Nikki prove that she has been working with, and learning from, her husband Triple H, who will undoubtedly have some influence in Stephanie's ring work come August 17.
Like or hate the women involved, the story is easy to follow, and fans care about it. More importantly, the booking is so strong that there is reason to believe the match will exceed expectations if it continues this way. Think Stephanie vs. Trish from No Way Out 2001, if you will.
Dean Ambrose vs. Alberto Del Rio
The best match of Monday's broadcast was the Beat the Clock Challenge bout between Dean Ambrose and Alberto Del Rio.
While the contest failed to put over the urgency on the part of Ambrose until late, it did feature two skilled Superstars who worked their tails off to deliver a great match for the passionate Texas fans.
Del Rio targeting the arm may be a regular part of his game plan, but it made sense Monday night, especially considering the previously established injury to that part of the Lunatic Fringe's anatomy. That Ambrose was able to fight through the tremendous pain, counter the Cross Arm Breaker and deliver Dirty Deeds for the win only continued the push to put over his grittiness and toughness.
Big props to Ambrose too, for switching arms to the uninjured one when delivering his finisher. It is a little thing that most would not have thought of far enough in advance. JBL called it out on commentary, meaning he, as a veteran performer, appreciated the subtlety of doing so. Those little things are what separate a good worker from a great one, and Ambrose is proving to be the latter.
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar Hype Video
To say excitement surrounding John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam was not high entering Monday's Raw would be an understatement. It was a match fans had seen before and one that guarantees an outcome no one really wants. Either Cena retains the title and continues his tiresome reign, or part-time worker Lesnar wins the title and disappears after September's Night of Champions show. Either way, the outcome is not exactly appealing.
But then the hype video aired Monday night, and everything changed.
Lesnar cut the promo of a lifetime, realistically and honestly laying out his opinions on his victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania, the reason he came back to WWE, his feelings on his co-workers and what he plans to do to Cena come August 17. It was real and believable and sold more subscriptions to WWE Network than constant hounding by JBL, Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler ever could.
Cena offered his typically solid stuff, staying calm but expressing himself in a way that left fans knowing he was being honest with them. Would it have been nice to see him up the intensity a bit? Sure. But that's not Cena or true to his character and would have looked hokey next to Lesnar's outstanding work.
What fans got were two polar opposites cutting two polar opposite promos, and thanks to the extraordinary work of the production team, it worked tremendously. This outstanding video should be held up as a benchmark on how to promote a major pay-per-view main event in any sport.