Despite the silliness of Cole and Teddy long fighting over a sentient computer, I quite liked the way RAW opened this week, with the Smackdown team from Bragging Rights brazenly filling the ring. I’ve always liked the ring being shown as symbolically significant, so the image of the Smacdkown blue in the ring was a good one given the upcoming PPV. The big news of the opening segment was that the seventh member of Team RAW will be (not Daniel Bryan!), but ‘Big Zeke’ Ezekiel Jackson. Like Bryan, however, this could be a crucial time for his career that he needs to take full advantage of.
The first match was a tag team bout between WWE Tag Team Champions Cody Rhodes and Drew McIntyre (sporting Confederate red and blue, seemingly) against the Hart Dynasty (who came out to a huge pop). It’s important to be said that this ‘go home’ episode of RAW featured little quality wrestling, but this first match had it’s fair share. Rhodes and McIntyre are really starting to look the part as a legitimate team now, and they flowed well as a tag team, introducing some modest double-teams. As for the Harts, they seemed cohesive too initially, and I started to wonder whether WWE were making (perhaps an intelligent) u-turn on splitting up the dynasty. However, the way the end of the match came about, it was soon clear that that wasn’t the case. This was the best angle the Harts have done to do with their break up, losing the match because DH Smith didn’t attempt the Hart Attack, but instead put the onus on him by attempting a Sharpshooter (made especially pungent by their being in Calgary). An infuriated Kidd berated Smith, and the distraction cost them the match. Now all they need is some big ‘moment’ to finally split them up. I must say though, I would rather they stayed together for now. For one, the tag team division needs them, and for two, they’re not established enough for most people to really care emotionally about the split.
Goldust squashed Zack Ryder, which is good for Goldie, who deserves the attention, but bad for Zack, who deserves better. I like this Comic angle with DiBiase, but something new needs to happen for it to move forward, i.e. a match.
In the second of two quality wrestling matches (though one must allow some leeway for storyline progression in a PPV go home show), Randy Orton and John Cena took on Husky Harris and Michael McGillicutty. This week’s interactions between Cena and Nexus were unmissable in my view. I might prefer Cena to seem a bit more compliant, but taking what i’m given, everyone involved (and especially Cena) is playing it superbly! The segment before the match where Barrett made Cena get him a glass of water before simply throwing it over him was a superb image of abuse, bullying and humiliation. Now, from last week I had the impression that Barrett wanted Cena to help Harris and McGillicutty win, and destroy Orton in the process; this turned out to be wrong. Barrett wanted Cena to give the two upstarts everything he had in order to test them, and indeed he did. This was the first time since being forced to join Nexus that Cena had the chance to go out and be himself (i.e. go out and dish out an attitude adjustment to some punks he believed were behaving badly). Cena looked liberated in the ring, absolutely demolishing everything in his way. This is quite a subtle thing to portray, so Cena deserves kudos. This was a good match, and McGillicutty and Harris had their moments, and the match was no squash, but at no point did Cena or Orton look too troubled by the pair, eventually beating them with a combination of an AA and an RKO (you gotta love acronyms!). This was the last we’d see this night of Harris and McGillicutty and their status regarding their alignment to Nexus was left frustratingly unclear, though perhaps it was intentionally so, so as to mask further involvement at Bragging Rights.
Even better was the post-match action. Nexus surrounded Orton and Cena in the ring, and ordered Cena to leave Orton’s side. Of course, Orton and Cena are no friends (even threatening each other earlier in the night), but Cena knows that Orton is (currently!) much more honourable than Nexus, and also knew what the latter was about to do to the former. So his slowly leaving the ring, looking apologetically at Orton was yet another superb image produced by this storyline. Nexus proceeded to beat the crap, so to speak, out of Orton, with Cena forced to watch on, effectively powerless. However, once Orton was already broken from the attack, Barrett called Cena back in to the ring and ordered him to join in the attack with an AA on Orton. This was something Cena was reluctant to do, but went about doing anyway. Now, it would have been very easy to just have Cena hit his AA on Orton and that all be very shocking (which it would have been), but in an even more powerful moment, Barrett told Cena that, in fact, he wanted to finish Orton himself, and hit his Wasteland on Orton, which Cena turned his back to. Not only does this show a symbolic prominence over Cena, but it displayed a more subtle but very powerful meaning, that Cena was willing to do Barrett’s bidding, and Barrett knew it, and wanted to show it off, before further humiliating Cena by stopping him from doing it as easily as he would have had him do it. Fantastic.
Following this, and on a lighter note, out came Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler to, well, brag. At this point, his mid-card champion equivalent, Daniel Bryan came out and spoke well of how he might not be the ‘superstar’ that Dolph is, and can’t attract women as easily as he seemingly does, but he sure as hell is better in the ring. The challenge was made for Bragging Rights: US Champ vs IC Champ, which Dolph accepted before slapping Bryan disrespectfully. This led to a scuffle which ended in Bryan backing up his earlier claim that he knew that he could make Dolph tap out. Most probably relating to the earlier talk to attracting women, the RAW divas came out at this point, forced Vickie to leave the ring (botching the old bucket of water that is actually confetti humiliation) before showing an interest in The American Dragon. I never thought i’d see ‘snap or tap’ Daniel Bryan dancing in the ring, but there it was, and to be fair, it was pretty funny (Bryan has a natural, Foley-esque warmth that makes this easy for him). Importantly, he seemed to be enjoying it himself. I’m pretty sure Bryan enjoys having fun in the ring as much as anyone else and isn’t one of those that insist on constant frowning. It’s rumoured that Bryan as a ladies man may be a continued theme from now on, and if it is, I support it as a good way of getting him over, as long as it doesn’t intrude on his actual wrestling!
Natalya beat Alicia Fox with relative ease with the Sharpshooter to the delight of the fans before LayCool came out to spoil her party, drawing huge heat in the process. Nothing new really came from this other than additional build-up for their Bragging Rights match. However, Michelle did a cool spot where she used the Sharpshooter on Natalya (the sort of move that used to get HBK heat thirteen or so years ago). I thought that was a nice nuance to the feud.
Regular readers will know that, while I understand their usage, I am no fan of Battle Royales. All that needs to be said is that after a spirited performance from both sides, Smackdown came out on top. The only thing that really stuck out here was the domination shown by Ezekiel Jackson, who was a very prominent participant in the match. It struck me here that if the guy can talk and wrestle well enough, he could be a top star.
To finish the show, we returned to the Nexus locker room where Barrett wanted to make a point to Cena while further humiliating him by ordering him to raise his [Barrett’s] hand as he insists he will be doing at Bragging Rights. Another very potent image to take away with you going in to that huge main event on Sunday, suggesting that Cena – who after all, has no choice – will do his utmost to help Barrett become WWE Champion.