The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Seven

This is the seventh episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Monday Night Raw, originally televised on February 15, 2016.

Once again, Monday Night Raw begins with Dean Ambrose wanting to get in the face of Brock Lesnar. Unlike previous episodes though, this time Stephanie McMahon is the one that answers Ambrose’s challenge. With Ambrose looking for a fight, Stephanie schedules him a match: an Intercontinental Championship match, against Tyler Breeze, Stardust, Neville, and Kevin Owens. And if Roman Reigns interferes, Ambrose loses the match, and his place in the #1 Contender Match at Fastlane…

With Dean Ambrose holding the Intercontinental Championship as well as being in the World Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender, the risk of one costing him the other is great. Stephanie McMahon’s distaste for Ambrose shines through here, as she puts him in a situation he almost certainly can’t win, and denies him the support of Roman Reigns (though Reigns could remove an obstacle to the title by willingly interferring…)

Match #1: Neville vs Kevin Owens vs Dean Ambrose vs Tyler Breeze vs Stardust (Intercontinental Championship

The Fatal Five Way Match sees the chaos spread well beyond the boundaries of the ring, as long time rivals Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens, and Neville and Stardust, come to blows on the arena floor and in the crowd. A brief alliance between Ambrose and Tyler Breeze sees them leaping through the ropes at Owens and Stardust, before the high flying Neville takes down all five competitors with an over the top rope splash.

Scrambling back into the ring, Breeze hits the Beauty Shot on Owens, but after Stardust hits the Queen’s Arrow on Breeze, Neville takes them both out with the Red Arrow. Ambrose looks to capitalise, but a returning Owens throws him from the ring, hitting a Pop-Up Powerbomb on Neville for the victory, and to regain the Intercontinental Championship.

With Dolph Ziggler being replaced by Neville in this match, a couple of the major moments have to change, and the ending is a little different than the televised version, as there is no Zig Zag from Ziggler. That said, the main points remain. Ambrose is not the one pinned, and Owens is the new champion heading into Fastlane. In addition, the rivalry between Stardust and Neville is furthered, as Neville’s Red Arrow probably cost Stardust the championship.

Match #2: Summer Rae vs Paige

Summer Rae returns to action, and finds herself quickly overwhelmed by the former Women’s Champion, Paige. Paige has an answer for everything that Rae throws at her, countering a Tornado DDT and almost breaking Rae’s nose with a knee to the face. But Paige can’t quite lock in the PTO when she looks to end the match, and Rae finds an opening for a roll up and the victory.

The result of this match is largely about frustration for Paige. Building on the platform of falling out of the title picture (at least for the forseeable future), losing to the returning Summer Rae provides far more opportunities for her to either grow organically or to switch up her character in response to the frustration as things progress. On the other side, Summer Rae’s victory strengthens the rest of the Women’s division, by ensuring that there is not a upper and lower card, or wrestlers that are just there to be opponents for the stars.

Brie Bella’s interview with Byron Saxton after the break is interrupted by the arrival of Charlotte and Ric Flair, intent on convincing Bella to give up her match at Fastlane. With her husband now retired due to injury, and her sister recovering from neck surgery, Charlotte suggests that perhaps Bella is better suited to being a stay at home nurse than a wrestler. Charlotte’s antagonism is met with a slap and a series of kicks, forcing her father to help her retreat before any major damage is done.

The promo goes exactly as was televised (though I’m sure we would all love to see Byron Saxton replaced with a broom, or a picture of Byron Saxton). Charlotte’s comments were brilliantly antagonistic, getting under Brie Bella’s skin and undermining any confidence she would take into the match by getting in her head.

Match #3: AJ Styles vs The Miz

Before the match even starts, The Miz ambushes AJ Styles as he makes his entrance, throwing him against the barricades and kicking him repeatedly. When they finally enter the ring and the match starts properly, The Miz continues the assault, forcing the referee to pull him off Styles several times.

Once Styles gets back to his feet though, the match becomes more about who can kick the other’s teeth out first, as they trade blows and counters, until Styles counters the Skull Crushing Finale with a Calf Crusher for the victory.

With Chris Jericho watching everything from commentary, Styles takes the opportunity to challenge him to a third and final match at Fastlane, but will have to wait for an answer…

The match essentially remains the same, though Styles counters the Skull Crushing Finale rather than kicking out of it, largely because I’m of the belief that finishing moves should be exactly that, except for heightened moments at pay per views in rivalry matches. Beyond that, very little changes from the televised version. Miz and Jericho both play the role of a veteran disapproving of a new rookie with Styles, and with Miz losing a second time, their story ends here. However, Jericho gave Styles his only loss in WWE so far, so a rubber match to break the tie is needed.

Match #4: Heath Slater vs Jack Swagger

Jack Swagger’s match with Heath Slater never really… happens. With Swagger waiting patiently in the ring, all four Social Outcasts come down the ramp, surrounding the ring, each with a microphone in their hand. They climb the turnbuckles, until they are sitting on each of the four ring posts. From there Bo Dallas preaches at Swagger, telling him he understands Swagger’s frustration and uncertainty. How he lacks the confidence and the cause needed to succeed, like the Social Outcasts did, before they came together. It was understandable. The WWE doesn’t care. And the people don’t really know what they want. But there was an answer. All he really needed was to trust the words he was hearing, and Bolieve!

Heath Slater gets off the corner ring, and pats Swagger on the shoulder, before leading the Outcasts out of the ring to the back, leaving Swagger alone as their music plays.

There are a number of things happening in this segment. Jack Swagger, still trying to fight through the uncertainty he has been feeling, finds himself in a match that becomes almost like a sales pitch instead. The Social Outcasts feel much the same way, and hope to sway him to their cause; or at least to weaken the resolve of a potential roadblock as they begin to make their cases for runs at the championships. Or hope to, rather…

Match #5: Becky Lynch vs Naomi

After a pre-Raw attack by Naomi backstage, Becky Lynch goes looking for vengeance. She wastes little time as she throws Naomi around the ring, and out of it, wary though of Tamina’s constant presence. When Naomi starts to build a little momentum, Lynch counters an arm drag into a Dis-Arm-Her, ending the match in submission.

Post-match though, Tamina charges the ring, joining Naomi in a brutal attack that only stops when Sasha Banks comes to the ring to turn them away, though her casual response does little to prevent the damage being done.

The difference in response time for Becky Lynch rushing to Sasha Banks’ aid, and the reverse, is clearly shown here, as their differing personalities and attitudes comes to the fore. The match is identical to the one that was televised, as is the post match assault. With one episode to go before Fastlane, it is clear that Lynch and Banks are not on the same page just yet, and could well fall apart when in the ring together.

As the focus remains on Dean Ambrose’s attempts to pick fights with Brock Lesnar in the lead up to the #1 Contender Match, Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman have in some ways fallen by the wayside. But with the other combatants pre-occupied, Heyman takes to the microphone to call out Reigns, and drive home the fact that in less than a week he will have to choose between his chance at being champion, and his brother-in-arms. While they’ve both said they have no issue fighting each other, each has had the title taken away from them in recent months, and Wrestlemania is within their grasp.

With Reigns unmoved by Heyman’s prodding, the Advocate departs, only for The Ascension to attack Reigns from behind, hoping to make a statement before their own #1 Contender Match at Fastlane. Ambrose rushes to the ring to save Reigns, though once they chase off The Ascension, he makes an attempt at hitting Dirty Deeds on Reigns. Reigns escapes before he can, but Ambrose’s smile makes it clear he’ll put everything on the line to win this match…

The promo, sneak attack afterwards, and Ambrose’s attempt at Dirty Deeds are all as televised here. While there are arguably better ways and times for Ambrose to turn on/attack Reigns, emphasising Heyman’s point further underlines the idea that Heyman knows what he is talking about better than anyone in the business. I considered waiting till the next episode before having Ambrose try Dirty Deeds, but in the end felt that having this happen now, and then in the next episode fight as a tag-team, works better building the tension between them.

Match #6: King Barrett vs Sin Cara

Hoping to build some momentum leading into his tag team partner’s United States Championship defense at Fastlane, Sin Cara takes on The League of Nations’ King Barrett. With Kalisto and the League watching on from ringside, the numbers advantage threatens to distract from the match itself. Kalisto finds himself cornered by Rusev and Alberto Del Rio, and when Sin Cara looks to intervene, King Barrett knocks him from the top rope, leaving him as easy pickings for a Bull Hammer Elbow and the victory, while Rusev and Del Rio leave Kalisto rocked by a pair of kicks to the head.

The League of Nations’ numbers advantage over The Lucha Dragons makes for an easy opportunity to dominate their opponents; one that isn’t used enough around some of the heel stables. In this, one of several new matches in the episode, the League uses the numbers advantage effectively to win the match clean, and then to attack Kalisto to ensure Alberto Del Rio has as much of an advantage as possible, and the League take as much momentum into their #1 Contender Match as they can.

Match #7: Sheamus vs Ryback

Hoping to make an impression one week before Fastlane, Ryback looks to dominate Sheamus, whose League of Nations compatriots are absent, still celebrating their victory before the break. While Sheamus powers his way through the opening moments of the bout, matching strength with strength, the bulldozing Ryback eventually runs over his opponent, with double Meathook Clotheslines leading to a match sealing Shell Shocked.

The new match sets Ryback up as a potential contender leading into Fastlane, with a couple of spots still open on the card. It also adds the slightest touch of animosity within the League of Nations, as their absense post King Barrett’s win was noticeable. This can be used later on to potentially act as the beginning of the end…

The Main Event of the evening is the final Tag Team Tournament qualifying match, before the Fatal Four Way at Fastlane. The crowd waits patiently, as no teams have been announced for the match. After a few moments wait, The Dudley Boyz’ music plays, and Bubba Ray and D-Von make their way to the ring. Bubba Ray takes the microphone, and tells the crowd that he’s tired of being disrespected by the tag team division. They are the most loved team in history, and they shouldn’t have to compete to get their title shot. Cause no one can run with them.

And Enzo and Cass’ music hits.

The most popular tag team in NXT history makes their Monday Night Raw debut, Enzo with a microphone in hand, as he unloads on the Dudley Boyz. How You Doin’ chants rain down around the arena, as they charge the ring, and the match begins…

Match #8: The Dudley Boyz vs Enzo and Cass

Despite the surprise debut, The Dudley Boyz control the early goings of the match, keeping Big Cass out of the match by trapping Enzo in their corner. Enzo eventually gets free, though not long enough to tag in Cass. Instead, he finds himself hit by a 3D in the centre of the ring, when D-Von grabs his ankle and pulls him backwards. Cass breaks up the pinning attempt, but it looks like the damage might be done.

Until The Usos music hits. Jimmy and Jey Uso, carrying a table between them, make their way to the ring, drawing all attention from Bubba Ray and D-Von. The Usos make their way to the Dudleys’ corner outside the ring, and set up the table, a few feet from Bubba Ray. With all the attention on them, The Usos sit casually on either end of the table, taking snacks from the crowd and watching intently.

The Dudley Boyz attempt to get The Usos removed, but the distraction has the desired effect. Enzo tags Cass in, and he almost kicks Bubba Ray’s head off with a Big Boot. A fast tag leads to Enzo hitting the Rocket Launcher, and while Cass handles D-Von, Enzo finishes off Bubba Ray for the pin and the victory.

After the match, The Usos rush the ring, taking advantage of a battle tired D-Von, dragging him from the ring and Double Powerbombing him through the table; settling the score from their elimination from the tournament earlier in the month.

The new main event is a pivotal moment in the course of the rivalries built up for Fastlane. The debut of Enzo and Cass, one of the more popular young tag teams, furthers the strength of the division, while the removal of both the Usos and The Dudleyz ensures that a new rivalry will have to emerge in the division with The New Day, rather than the same matches we have seen before. Beyond that, the post match attack clearly sets up a Tables Match at Fastlane between The Usos and The Dudley Boyz, to end a rivalry that has been going on far too long on the televised version.

Summary

With only one episode left before WWE Fastlane, a myriad of power shifts occur in rivalries across the card. A new Intercontinental Champion is crowned. Charlotte gets inside Brie Bella’s head. A new tag team challenger emerges. And a long brewing rivalry comes to a brutal, wood cracking climax.

Next episode, the Fastlane card is finalised, and the Beast returns to leave his mark…

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Dean Ambrose Promo Dean Ambrose Promo
Kevin Owens def. Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Stardust and Tyler Breeze (Intercontinental Championship) Kevin Owens def. Dean Ambrose, Neville, Stardust and Tyler Breeze (Intercontinental Championship)
Big E def. Mark Henry Summer Rae def. Paige
Charlotte/Brie Bella Promo Charlotte/Brie Bella Promo
AJ Styles def. The Miz AJ Styles def. The Miz
Summer Rae def. Paige Heath Slater def. Jack Swagger
Roman Reigns/Paul Heyman Promo Becky Lynch def. Naomi
Heath Slater def. Zach Ryder Roman Reigns/Paul Heyman Promo
Sheamus, Rusev, and Alberto Del Rio def. The Lucha Dragons and Neville King Barrett def. Sin Cara
Becky Lynch def. Naomi Ryback def. Sheamus
Big Show def. Braun Strowman via disqualification Enzo and Cass def. The Dudley Boyz