-Last stop on the road to WrestleMania. Count the potholes with me.
-Live from Los Angeles
-On the call are Cole, JBL, and Booker. Hopefully Cole gets his time zones right tonight.
-Sting kicks off Raw to a pretty good reception. Cole notes that it's been 14 years to the day that WWE bought WCW. That's a lie; Shane bought it March 26. Damn revisionist history. My buddy Dave is holding out for a live version of "Man Called Sting" at WrestleMania. Hearing Sting's WHOOOO on Raw is quite surreal. "I'm not here to fight for WCW, that would be ridiculous at this point." Don't worry, Sting, nobody of note did in 2001 either. Stephanie arrives, presumably to angrily ask Sting why he didn't help out The Alliance when she needed him. More "WWE killed WCW", blah blah blah. Stephanie compares Sting to a dog, because dogs are stupid. According to Stephanie Storyline Logic, Sting as a dog is still one-up on Unified Champion Jericho, I believe. Stephanie tries to slap Sting, but gets stopped mid-swing. Triple H emerges. Cole: "Here comes Stephanie's husband". That's a better nickname than "The Cerebral Assassin". Stephanie passes off a sledgehammer to Hunter, but Sting produces a bat, and it's a standoff with Hunter backing down, despite Sting's goading. 13 minutes into the show and I'll bet this is the last we see of either man tonight.
-CHOOSE RANDY ORTON'S OPPONENT! Big Show, Kane, or Seth Rollins + J&J Security. Cole: "This is why the App has been downloaded 17.3 million times!" Yep, that's why.
Dean Ambrose/R-Truth vs. Luke Harper/Stardust
Quite the random pairings, even if they've been mostly done to death in the past six weeks. And Truth is actually wrestling? Forgot he did that. Bad News Barrett is on commentary for a change. Stardust fares poorly with Truth, and double tags to the CZW contingent draw a good cheer. Bad News is informed by Booker that he has 4-1 odds of losing Sunday. Always bet on the one with the longest odds, that's who the WWE writers have wagered on. Barrett: "I can beat all of these Superstars one on one!" Just not when he's saddled with that albatross of a belt, obviously. Following commercial, Stardust works a chinlock on Ambrose. The App, now maximized full screen, informs us that a Harper boot brought down Ambrose while Barrett jaws with Booker over the match odds. Harper sideslam gets 2, while JBL notes Booker should be on Grantland. Actually, he and Jalen Rose could be fun together. Ambrose blocks a Stardust superplex, but Harper knocks Ambrose to the outside. Ambrose fights his way back, getting a tornado DDT inside. Hot tag to Truth, who Hat Rack Cracks Stardust for two. Match breaks down with all four in, and Lie Detector finishes Stardust at 10:39. Ambrose busts some R-Truth dance moves because he can. Crowd's energy made it fun, even if these matches have been overdone. **1/4
-Renee Young introduces a host of Special Olympians, which WWE has a hand in sponsoring. It's nice of them, certainly.
-Recap of a Roman Reigns sitdown, building him up as a ruthless yet understated animal. Certainly a far cry from the nursery rhymes of December and January. Precisely what Reigns should have been all along.
-JBL insults everyone that would spend $65 on a WWE PPV. Maybe they don't want the sparingly-updated Network? Maybe there are just holdouts for more World Class content.
Ten Man Tag: The Miz/Damien Mizdow/Adam Rose/The Ascension vs. Ryback/Prime Time Players/Zack Ryder/Erick Rowan
Miz tries to embarrass Mizdow while interviewing Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart earlier in the day. See, these are the celebrities that should be on Raw instead of Bill Simmons, who once admitted in his book that he himself should never be on TV. All of these guys are in the battle royal, as you probably guessed. O'Neil with a throwing fallaway slam, followed by a front suplex on Young onto Miz. Why were they split up again? Bill Simmons brings up The Rabbit, proving he has more awareness than the company itself. Rowan gets the chilly tag and manhandles Rose. Commentary focuses more on Simmons' fandom, and Cole overlaughs at a Jesse Ventura joke. Surprised he didn't throw his back out. Crowd pops big for Mizdow tagging in. "It's Single White Female crossed with wrestling." Come to think of it, Simmons is the ideal color commentator. Ryback gets the real hot tag and annihilates Miz. Ryback fights off the interfering teammates, allowing Miz to gain control. Meathook breaks it up and Shell Shock finishes at 5:47. Match was just a collection of tags and quick spots, but it was fine. *1/2. Simmons' meta-commentary is actually refreshing. Sadly, Cole won't let Simmons leave without a Network testimonial at gun point. Not really, but practically.
Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins/Jamie Noble/Joey Mercury
In 2015, WWE apparently still thinks that Rollins can only equal Kane or Show if he has two cruiserweights with him. Los Angeles wanted Rollins, and so do the App voters. Makes sense that 77% of the fans would want this match; three-quarters of the fans chant for CM Punk during boring parts anyway, so they do love their ex-ROH champs. Orton punks Mercury quickly and demands Rollins, but gets Noble instead. Noble fares as well as you'd expect, and gets tossed to the outside. Orton does manage to get his hands on Rollins, but the stooges break it up. Noble with a Garvin Stomp on Orton. He must have had two finisher icons stored. Orton does manage to DDT both J&J off the middle rope. Booker; "This might be a first!" Well, to be fair, Booker was in TNA during WrestleMania 24. RKO finishes Noble at 3:14. Kept Orton and Rollins apart, which is good, because I'm actually looking forward to their match on Sunday. Short and sweet. *1/4
-Cena wants the US to have the best rep for the namesake belt. Which is why he went 10 years without challenging for it.
-AJ and Paige discuss the Bellas trying to divide them. AJ still doesn't like being called 'crazy'. Hey somebody there DOES have a memory!
WWE Divas Championship: Nikki Bella vs. Paige
#GiveTitleMatchesonPPVaChance. Lilian gives it the in-ring introductions to pay off the actual hashtag. At least Los Angeles loves Paige. Paige takes Nikki down over a clean break, and knees her while she lays prone over the middle rope. Cole explains that AJ interprets the "GiveDivasAChance" hashtag as letting the different personalities of the women be seen. That he says it skeptically is frightening. Paige hits a dive to the outside, but Nikki manages to regain the advantage as we hit commercial. Hey, two straight weeks of Divas matches getting the commercial treatment. Nikki hits a spinebuster after we come back, getting 2. Warrior/Hogan double clothesline drops both, each getting up at 6. Running dropkick gets 2 for Nikki. Booker gushes that Paige could become a ten-time champion. That means she'd lose it nine times. Enzuigiri gets 2 for Nikki. Paige comes back with a thrust kick for 2. Nikki cradle gets 2. Nikki comes back with an Alabama Slam, getting just 2. Fans are really buying the near-falls. Nikki goes for the Rack Attack, but Paige escapes and gets the RamPaige for a close 2. Paige and Nikki take a spill to the floor and AJ prevents Brie from interfering. AJ accidentally hits Paige in the fray, and Nikki takes over, hitting Paige with the Rack Attack to retain at 10:41. Paige beats the shit out of AJ afterward just to further drive the wedge. Match was pretty good, and it's amazing what happens when you give Divas time to work. **1/2. Crowd is so sympathetic for the plight of AJ and Paige's discontent that they chant "CM PUNK". Maybe he's a peer mediator, too.
-Snoop Dogg is here, dancing with a handful of Divas, giving me flashbacks to Victoria trying to dance at WrestleMania 24. She couldn't dance, and she didn't give two shits. Snoop goes into hype mode, only to get disrupted by Axelmania. Well, his dad told him that Rap IS Crap. Crowd is eating up Axel's schtick with a spoon, including his awkward attempt at rapping. Snoop brings out Hogan to give us the much anticipated Battle of the Manias. I hope this kicks off a feud over Mr. Perfect smashing Hogan's belt with a hammer. Snoop is carrying the segment by doing interpretive poses behind a ranting Hogan. Axel tears the T-shirt in a declaration of war, so Hogan strikes and Snoop sends Axel flying. Snoop tears his own tee off. Harmless fun. Between Hogan and Sting, I've found my enthusiasm. I for one cannot wait for Starrcade this Sunday.
-Lesnar pre-record plays once more, because it's fucking awesome.
Cesaro/Tyson Kidd/Natalya vs. Los Matadores/El Torito
A Smackdown rematch! These never happen. The Usos are on commentary and Jey insists he'll be in the match despite his injury. Still no main show appearances for The Usos, which is a crime. Kidd's still brushing Natalya off, so the story's still quite inconsistent. Cesaro swings one Matadore and Kidd dropkicks him for a pin attempt. One of the Usos simply says, "That hurts," in the same voice you'd say that ice cream sandwiches are tasty. Kidd gets dropkicked out of the air and Diego takes over on Cesaro before tagging Torito. Torito tries an alley-oop attack, but is caught by Cesaro, only for Diego to dropkick Cesaro down, and Torito gets 2. Natalya tags in and spears Torito for 2. Natalya tries for a powerbomb, but Torito gets a sitdown for the pin at 4:14. 3/4* That's her greatest indignity, besides, you know, the farting thing.
-Kane collects Barrett's Intercontinental Title for hanging purposes. Five days early. I wonder if any ZANINESS will happen?
Rusev vs. Jack Swagger
Cole notes that Rusev is a Bulgarian now living in Russia, which is old news, unless they're setting up an angle where Rusev denounces Putin. Rusev pounds Swagger in the corner as we get the "We Want Lana" chant. See, give Divas a chance! The fans want to respect Lana for her athletic prowess. Rusev wears Swagger with a half chinlock/half katagatame, but Swagger powers out. To be fair, Rusev should be squashing the shit out of Swagger here. Big boot drops Rusev, as does a clothesline. Swagger hooks the Patriot Lock, but is kicked off. Swagger rebounds with an elevated slam for 2. Rusev has enough of this and just decimates Swagger with strikes in the corner, finishing with a clothesline from the apron. Jumping side kick connects. Rusev has to do his own "RUSEV CRUSH" command, with no Lana. This will be the focal point of Rusev's E! True Hollywood Story when he declines. Accolade finishes at 4:38. Fun extended squash for Rusev. *. Rusev won't break, bringing Cena out. A short brawl ends with Rusev sending Cena into the rail, and then into the post. And then a toss over the announce desk for good measure. Jumping side kick floors Cena, and Rusev clears the desk of the monitors, because even evil Bulgarians know the value of obsolete TV equipment. Face-eraser onto the desk, and Rusev applies the Accolade on top. Because Savage attacked Crush in 1993, Booker is strictly forbidden from dropping his headset and saving Cena. Effective use of Rusev. It'll be a shame when Cena makes him tap on Sunday.
-Bray Wyatt joins us next, and we get JBL insisting that Undertaker was fine 'not coming back' before Wyatt tempted him. IRS: "Did you wreck the car?" Bray/Bo: "No!" "Did you summon Taker?" "Yes!" "But the car's okay?" Wyatt indicts the crowd for their dishonesty, and the crowd tries chanting over him. Undertaker's a liar, you see. And we get a light-show, which Wyatt claims he controls. Well. Bray's not fazed by lightning, so he's one up on my dog and several of my friends. Wyatt hits the Rest in Piece for good measure. Just your typical Wyatt promo with special effects.
-Good thing we have Rolling Stone to break news on Hall of Fame inductees. Kevin Nash is in, with both Diesel and nWo footage shown. Wonder why Hall got the Razor-only treatment? This company is weird.
-Natalya and Kidd have a miscommunication involving headphones and a Burger King plug. Natalya's knee-high boots make it worthwhile.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Daniel Bryan
Booker stumbles through the intro of the app-chosen referee. Ambrose wins with 57%, because duh. Mat exchange begins things with no one getting the advantage. Bryan lands a shoulderblock and gets a headlock takeover, which Ziggler escapes, leading to a standoff. I guess if we're not getting this at WrestleMania, we oughta get it now. Bryan lands a wrist-lock suplex and tags Ziggler with a European uppercut before Dolph unloads with rights. Elbow drop gets 2. Match degenerates into disrespect and a slugfest while Ambrose openly approves. Bryan skins the cat after getting tossed, headscissoring Ziggler to the outside. Baseball slide sends Ziggler into the railing. Diving knee misses and Ziggler clotheslines Bryan over the railing as we hit commercial. Return to Ziggler applying a sleeper, which Bryan breaks with a turnbuckle ram. Ziggler misses a fameasser and is cradled for 2, awkward count from Ambrose. Ziggler is Germaned for another 2. Booker talking about Bryan still taking risks with a surgically-prepared neck is a bit winceworthy after this weekend. Bryan blocks a superplex attempt, but Dolph counters with a springboard facebuster that almost looked bad for 2. Fight over a backslide is won by Ziggler, fast count for 2. Bryan kick to the head gets another 2. Bryan kicks away in the corner, and gets superkicked on a charge. Zig-Zag finishes abruptly at 10:53. Really good, even with the sudden ending. **3/4. Ambrose attacks Ziggler afterward, hitting Dirty Deeds and fetching a ladder. Barrett stops his climb and we get the entire seven man horde. The Intercontinental Title actually feels important. I wonder when the feeling will wear off. These seven men are fighting for the unimpeachable right to lose non-title matches to one flavor-of-the-week after another. Harper takes a bad spill, and nobody ends up getting the belt. Abeyance wins!
-LL Cool J hype time. Wish he could sing Deepest Bluest in honor of Batista's Payback attire.
-Lesnar/Reigns hype time at the 11:00 PM hour. Damned if Brock doesn't get a hero's welcome when he enters. The crowd is gonna be u-g-l-y on Sunday. I like how Brock's menacing "BACK TO BREAK MORE" shirt has a Jimmy John's logo on it. Because when you're done breaking spines, you can break bread. Heyman feels he's done hyping the fight, but then goes into hyping the fight. Funny, I've never known Heyman to ever contradict himself, have you? Crowd's really happy that Cena's not in the WrestleMania main event. I guess WWE *does* put smiles on people's faces. Heyman's hard-sell, in which he says Reigns needs to assume every aspect of Lesnar's life to beat him, momentarily freaks out even Brock. Reigns comes out to mostly boos and scattered apathy. Oh, Sunday's going to be a fun sociological experiment. Lesnar holds the belt in Reigns' face, and Reigns snatches it from him. Crowd doesn't like that. Lesnar and Reigns have a laughable tug-of-war, and the show ends. Uh, that's IT?
OVERALL: A mostly enjoyable show, to be honest. A minimum of bullshit, even with the silly scrap between Lesnar and Reigns at the end. As far as WrestleMania hype shows go, it was fine for what it was. It just remains to be seen how they decide to end the show on Sunday night.