“This is the best night—ever!”
My 9-year old son was nothing short of giddy as we entered the bowl at Quicken Loans Arena and he caught his first glimpse of the wrestling ring, dead center on the floor a couple tiers below.
Oh, he’s been to The Q before. We’ve taken him to Cavs and Lake Erie Monsters hockey games, which he enjoyed.
But this was different. This was WWE Monday Night Raw.
The little guy caught the wrestling bug at school a few months back. We don’t have cable TV at home, so his classmates must’ve turned him on to the awesomeness of the WWE and its cadre of colorful characters—at which point he starting tracking his faves on You Tube. It’s been nothing but “C-Punk this” and “Undertaker that” around our house since Labor Day.
The WWE was called WWF (World Wrestling Federation) back when I was a kid (er, decades ago), back when Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage were the guys to watch. So I had junior update us on today’s marquee marvels, their storylines, and all relevant team-ups and rivalries. Our chat with WWE Superstar Xavier Woods last week helped fill the gaps: http://www.examiner.com/article/xavier-woods-set-for-wwe-monday-night-ra...
The card for January 27’s RAW wasn’t finalized until that afternoon. Much of what transpired in Cleveland was determined by the results of the previous night’s Royal Rumble at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, where Randy Orton defended his championship belt—and Dave “Animal” Batista emerged victorious from the evening’s titular 30-man melee.
Some of the big names in wrestling have changed over the years, and spectacles like RAW and Smackdown are decidedly more lavish. But the essence is the same: Muscular dudes (and dudettes) with unique personalities, colorful costumes, and clever nicknames taunt one another before converting nasty words into well-executed knee-drops, back slams, and choke holds within the confines of the four turnbuckles.
A couple “dark” matches (before live broadcast on USA Network) enlivened an already enthused Cleveland crowd. Female “diva” wrestlers Natalya and Summer Rae battered one another for a few minutes, then the bullfighting-themed duo Los Matadores (cousins Diego and Fernando) unleashed their Ole! oeuvre . Their pint-size companion El Torito even got in on the action, tap-dancing across the ring ropes and launching himself at the villains when the ref wasn’t looking.
Going live for broadcast, wrestler-turned administrator Triple-H (aka The Authority) and main squeeze Stephanie McMahon (daughter of WWE CEO Vince McMahon) trotted out in suits to greet Q spectators with a run-down of Sunday’s results. Heavyweight champ Randy Orton joined the couple with his two shiny belts and gloated over his recent victories—only to be rewarded with a hail of boos. But the arena erupted in cheers when fan favorite Daniel “The Beard” Bryan emerged to confront the execs about his exclusion from the Rumble. Being shut out of the 30-man battle royal will complicate Bryan’s quest for a title shot this season (and frustrate his entry in the 5-man “Elimination Chamber” at April’s touted Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans), so the goat-faced pugilist wasn’t shy about expressing his disappointment.
“Aw…did somebody not get what they wanted?” teased Triple-H. “You put in a good effort last night, but not good enough!”
The jab was directed at the Cleveland contingent as well as Bryan, who made a good case for having match-ups that reflected the wishes of the viewing audiences. But his window for grievance was slammed abruptly by hateful hit squad The Shield, whose three flak-jacketed assassins appeared unexpectedly and began throttling the “Yes Movement”’s diminutive leader into the corners as Triple-H fought to suppress a smile. Fortunately, Bryan’s Celtic buddy Sheamus came to the rescue and temporarily distracted Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose before being overcome himself.
Enter John Cena—the WWE’s heroic ex-military All-American—whose added muscle helped Sheamus and Bryan send The Shield bullies scurrying away.
Masked marvels Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara were besieged by the bigoted Real Americans (Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger) and verbally tormented by their handler, Zeb Colter. The spring-vaulting Mexicans gave it their all—with Mysterio letting loose with his patented 619 feint-kick and Sin Cara delivering his signature swan-dives and Sentan bomb—but the Americans’ ferocious uppercuts and Neutralizer finishing hold put an end to the inspired uprising. We’re sure to see a grudge match down the road.
Charismatic rapper-wrester R-Truth led the crowd in a “What’s up!” chant before confronting dance phenomenon Fandango. Xavier Woods cheered on his mouthy mentor while Summer Rae rooted for her fancy-footed beau, who ultimately succumbed to R-Truth’s lethal Lie Detector—a debilitating, flying corkscrew forearm smash.
Rumble winner Batista was challenged by a thoroughly displeased Brock “The Anomaly” Lesnar and his agent, who gave Triple-H and McMahon an ultimatum over the PA system: Let his confounded client take on Orton for the title or battle Batista later in the show—or suffer the consequences. When RAW General Manager Brad Maddox departed glumly to relay the message, few could’ve guessed Triple-H’s decision (or lack thereof) would yield such dire consequences a mere ninety minutes on.
Wade “Bad News” Barrett teased Clevelanders from a podium perched atop an elevated cherry-picker. Prefacing a special matchup between hometown boys The Miz (Parma) and Dolph Ziggler (Lakewood), the smarmy wrestler-turned-commenter expressed relief it was called “The Battle of Cleveland” and not “The Battle for Cleveland.”
“If it were a battle for Cleveland, then both would be losers!” huffed Barrett. “Because Cleveland is full of looosers!”
Thankfully, both Miz (clad in Browns trunks) and Ziggler (sporting Cavs wine and gold) ignored the ugly intro and gave fans a thrilling showdown peppered with swing kicks, sleeper holds, and Zig-Zags (reverse jump slams), with St. Edward High School alum Ziggler prevailing.
The Usos (Jimmy and Jey) trounced Ryback and Curtis Axel with super-kicks and top rope slashes, their speed and willpower trumping their adversaries’ dump truck size and brute strength. Dreadlocked dynamo Kofi Kingston went flying off the turnbuckles in his trademark purple pants versus “Essence of Excellence” Alberto Del Rio, but his breathtaking aerodynamics weren’t enough to overpower his aristocratic opponent’s arm-breakers and back-slamming suplex.
Siblings Cody Rhodes and Goldust (in black and gold attire) defeated tag-team champs The New Age Outlaws—Billy Gunn and Road Dogg—but the triumph was accompanied by an asterisk: Tired of waiting on Triple-H for an answer, Brock Lesnar’s agent sicked the burly bawler on “The Brotherhood.” The crew-cut menace with puffy pectorals bludgeoned Rhodes and his costumed companion with a folding chair as the Outlaws made good their escape, relenting only when refs defused the attack.
Then it was ladies’ choice once more, as The Bella Twins collaborated with femme fatales The Funkadactyls to reckon with a girl super-group comprised of A.J. Lee, Tamina Snuka, Alicia Fox, and Aksana. The mind-blowing eight-woman bash-a-thon ended when three Twins / Funks locked arms to administer a jaw-dropping, simultaneous triple-suplex on three of the latter bunch, who exited the arena with aching backs and broken spirits.
Both mine and my sons’ eyes nearly fell out of their sockets.
The main event was a more controlled (relatively speaking) tag-team contest between the evening’s early instigators, The Shield, and the “good guy” alliance of Bryan, Sheamus, and Cena. It was a close call, with the trio of Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose relying on rage and trickster tactics to counter the finesse of big-bicepped Cena, “Great White” Sheaumus, and “surfboard”-stretching Bryan—who locked up all four of his adversaries’ limbs at the same time while pinning him over his head like a stuck crustacean. The heroes won, all three earning spots in April’s Elimination Chamber—but only because those backwoods miscreants The Wyatt Brothers showed to assist the nearly-submissive Shield boys.
During one of the station breaks, ‘80s Superstar Jake “The Snake” Roberts” was selected to join Ultimate Warrior as a 2014 WWE Hall of Fame inductee. Another wrestling legend—Jerry Lawler—made the announcement, which seemed to delight Q ticketholders.
Noticeably absent on this occasion was CM Punk, who’d entered Sunday’s Rumble as the #1 contestant (but was eliminated by Kane). As of this writing, it’s rumored the Punk has gone rogue.
Miss Monday’s big show? Not to worry. April 6th’s Wrestlemania XXX will bring an apocalypse of aggression—a veritable circus of submission holds, a festival of finishers, and a knock-down, drag-out carnival of clotheslines to Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the Big Easy. Till then, you can check out all the action on the new WWE Network, which will consolidate the brand’s many programs upon its February 2014 launch.
Oh, and Monday Night RAW returns to The Q on June 16. Those tickets go on sale soon.
My kid won’t let me forget.