WWE’s RAW stormed into Cleveland again last night, delivering four hours of body-slams, choke holds, and signature finishing moves to the thousands in attendance at Quicken Loans Arena.
And once again my nine-year old son was at our side, clueing us into WWE’s myriad characters and the dense story threads defining their week-to-week careers. Who’s that guy? What’s his deal? Who are those dudes, and what’s their schtick? The little guy filled me in.
A lot of the faces have changed since I paid attention to wrestling, back when Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage dominated the spectator sport. But the concept is the same: Athletic showdowns fueled by grudges and greed. The WWE—formerly the WWF—is still a multimillion-dollar entertainment proposition wherein talented, acrobatic individuals vie for big bucks, bragging rights, and the hearts of fans around the globe.
Fake? Sure, maybe the plotlines are prefabricated and the intent-to-kill never quite as serious as it looks. But there’s no denying that this stuff takes inhuman amounts of endurance, agility, and strength.
Decades removed from its inception, WWE still commands the attention (and dollars) of billions of youngsters everywhere. They put on one heck of a show—wrestling, lights, video, pyro—making for memorable experiences for hero-worshipping pre-teens who have the posters on their bedroom walls.
We’re guessing a few moms and dads are wowed at these things, too.
Running some twenty years, wrestling’s recurring Monday night event (compare with WWE Smackdown! on Fridays) was broadcast live from Cleveland on USA Network. Reruns will air on WWE’s own dedicated network, which launched this past February and offers both current, past, and archive programming to paid subscribers.
Monday Night RAW last trounced through our neck of the woods in January. No word yet on when the sinew-stretching circus returns to C-Town. The WWE’s biggest event of the year, Wrestlemania, will host its 31st annual blowout in March 2015 at Levi Stadium in Northern California.
Following up on the events of the past two weeks—which saw fan favorite Daniel Bryan stripped of his World Heavyweight Championship belt after sustaining a neck injury and “Shield” member Seth Rollins turning on former teammates Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose—June 16’s agenda focused on the title vacancy. And an embittered Reigns, who appeared to have Cleveland in his corner all night long.
Following a RAW preshow featuring guest wrestler Booker T and Smackdown! general manager (and Brock Lesnar rep) Paul Heyman, WWE “Diva” Nikki Bella grappled with Alicia Fox. Going live on USA, RAW then pitted Rob Van Dam against Jack “The Real American” Swagger. Kicking his way out of Swagger’s painful Patriot Lock, “RVD” muscled his way to a win.
WWE executive (and former wrestling superstar) Triple H entered the ring next to tease fans with upcoming matches, which—according to the front-office villain—would consist of “whatever’s good for business.” Accompanied by his wife (and Vince McMahon daughter) Stephanie, Triple H announced that the evening’s highlights would include a Battle Royal featuring several superstars.
But heroes John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose weren’t invited, snickered the suited CEO.
Triple H then backpedaled, offering Cena an opportunity to increase his shot at the title later this year—but only if the all-American athlete went head-to-head with sinister Kane in a Stretcher Match later on.
Quitting the stage to let spectators soak all that in, Triple H and Stephanie retired backstage while Cleveland’s own Dolph Ziggler traded blows with former Shield bad-boy Seth Rollins. “Show Off” Ziggler had the hometown crowd on his side—but he required an “interference” assist from Dean Ambrose after Rollins got the upper hand. Ambrose ejected his ex-teammate from the ring, only to have Triple H dispatch British pugilist “Bad News” Barrett out to even the score.
“Your boy band is no more!” Barrett teased Ambrose. “Wah, wah, wah!”
At one point, Ambrose was able to knock both Rollins and Barrett out of the ring, making good Ziggler’s escape.
The Wyatt Family—an alliance consisting of Bray Wyatt and his two dimwitted, semi-mute cronies—entered the arena under cover of darkness. Wyatt engaged in a ten-minute monologue about “power and influence” whilst pondering the up-for-grabs title belts mockingly suspended from the rafters.
“Hanging above this ladder is the change you’ve been waiting for,” he suggested.
“Celtic Warrior” Sheamus had other ideas. The red-headed hero went mano-a-mano with Wyatt until he found himself knocked through the ropes and surrounded by Luke Harper and the sheep-masked Erick Rowan. Fortunately, tag-team champs The Usos joined the fray, keeping the backwoods bullies busy while Sheamus finished with Wyatt. The aforementioned ladder figured in later, with Sheamus leveraging the aluminum frame as a springboard for the Uso brothers—who flung themselves at Harper and Rowan.
Next up, youngster Heath Slater confronted Alexander Rusev, the “Ravishing Russian.” Rusev marched into the arena accompanied by pro-Putin propaganda videos on the WWE big screen and received a big talk-up courtesy his blonde bombshell manager, Lana. Clearly based on Brigitte Nielsen’s Rocky IV character, (Ludmilla Drago), the trash-talking Lana (who was all of six months old at the time of that film’s release) poo-pooed everything American while Slater (clad in aviator shades and star-spangled pants) cringed. When the bell rang, the burly Russian made quick work of Heath, momentarily quelling The Q crowd.
Curtis Hussey—better known as Fandango—locked arms with Adam Rose in a bout midway through the evening. Even the wrestler’s girlfriends got in on the action, with Fandango’s Layla going after Rose’s sweetheart (and Fandago’s ex), Summer Rae. It was a cursory contest, however, as Rose pinned the hip-swiveling, pink-pantsed Hussey in a hurry.
As promised earlier, a multi-superstar Battle Royal pitted nearly twenty wrestlers against one another. Denied an admission ticket to the bout at show time, Roman Reigns nonetheless appeared, having smooth-talked Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero into letting him complete. In a running gag, Reigns—also spiked the coffee Vickie later served to coworkers Triple-H and Stephanie (who was seen throwing up later on backstage video).
Fandango, Rusev, Swagger, and Ziggler punched and kicked their way through the last-man-standing melee—but all were eventually eliminated.
The rumble also gave several as-yet-unseen brawlers a chance to strut their stuff: Curtis Axel, Ryback, Sin Cara, Damien Sandau, Titus O’Neal, Xavier Woods, and Kofi “I Can Fly” Kingston numbered amongst the hopefuls vying for a spot on WWE’s forthcoming “Money In the Bank” Championship Ladder mMatch. But it was apparent from the onset that Reigns—who made a dramatic entrance from beneath the big screen but a doorway in the lower boxes—would emerge victorious.
And he did.
In town to promote his new film Think Like a Man, Too, comedian Kevin Hart hung out backstage with wrestler Adam Rose—and later joined the party-time pugilist and his entourage ringside as Rose tackled Bud Lemon. Afterwards, Hart danced in the ring with Rose and was carried out by the “Rosebuds” posse along with him in celebration.
Picking up an ongoing story thread wherein Cody Rhodes abandoned his tag-team brother in shame, we got to learn who Goldust’s new partner would be. Making his live debut in Cleveland: Stardust, who was obviously Rhodes himself in gold makeup like his brother—but who made such short work of two-man team of Ryback and Axel (“Rybaxel”) that Goldust didn’t even get to participate.
Current “Diva” champion Paige made quick work of The Funkadactyls, pitting one of their female combatants in a full-body submission hold.
The evening’s main event comprised of the Stretcher Match between military muscleman Cena and sinister, crimson-masked Kane. In a bout that had no rules save pushing one’s opponent across the finish line (beneath the big screen) on a paramedic’s stretcher, the rivals pummeled one another for twenty minutes, tossing steel staircases and crushing commentators’ tables before all was said and done. Shield exile Seth Rollins intervened—along with Randy Orton—to tip the odds Kane’s way, but Dean Ambrose arrived to neutralize their interference in the match. Things look bleak for Cena at one point, but the “You Can’t See Me” superstar summonsed extra strength to punch and arm-bar Kane into submission.
After a couple botched attempts, Cena bundled his enemy onto a gurney and rolled him across the finish line for the win.