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WWE Raw Report
CALDWELL'S WWE RAW RESULTS 3/23: Complete "virtual-time" coverage of live Raw - Sting opens Raw, Lesnar-Reigns ends Raw, Bryan vs. Ziggler, final WM31 hype, more

Mar 23, 2015 - 10:11:33 PM


WWE Raw TV Results
March 23, 2015 - Episode #1,138
Live in Los Angeles, Calif.
Report by James Caldwell (@JCTorch), PWTorch assistant editor

- The Card: Sting to open Raw, Brock Lesnar returns for final confrontation with Roman Reigns, final hype for WrestleMania 31, Snoop Dogg guest-stars, Nikki Bella defends the Divas Title against either A.J. Lee or Paige, and Randy Orton faces a poll option of Kane, Big Show, or Seth Rollins & J&J Security. Basically, The Authority forcing the audience to put Orton in a handicap match if Orton is going to get his hands on Rollins before WrestleMania.

Live Raw on USA Network

Raw intro video and full pyro to kick off the final Raw before WrestleMania. From inside Staples Center, Michael Cole introduced the show starting at 5:00 p.m. local time. Cole and JBL hyped Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns going face-to-face tonight. Plus, Snoop Dogg and Bill Simmons guest-appearing on the show.

After a pause, Sting's crow noises played and the arena went dark to signal Sting's arrival. Sting's image flashed on the screen, then a black & white light and sound display welcomed out Sting to a big reaction in his home market. Sting soaked up the crowd response on-stage as Cole went back to 14 years ago to the day when WWE bought WCW. Cole said it's the first time in history that Sting has opened Raw.

After Cole, JBL, and Booker T talked on-camera about Sting's arrival and match against Triple H at WrestleMania, Sting took the mic in the ring. "Sting, Sting" chants. "So, this is what it feels like to kick off Monday Night Raw," Sting opened. "Woooo!"

Sting said he's been known as the WCW solider while watching Triple H climb to the top of the ladder by all kinds of underhanned tactics. Sting said Hunter thinks he's unstoppable, like there are no consequences to his actions. And, yes, he might be the last soldier standing from WCW, but it would be ridiculous to keep fighting that war. He said he is here for one specific reason: "To take Triple H down." Cue up Stephanie McMahon with the interruption.

Stephanie, wearing giant heels to stand eye-to-eye with Sting, waited out boos, then said this must be what it feels like to stand in the ring with ... The Stinger. And now he's made it to the big time. Sting replied that Steph is that spoiled little brat who's had everything handed to her in life and thinks she earned. "It's nice to meet you, Steph," he said.

Stephanie replied that Sting was a big fish in a teenie, tiny little pond known as WCW (boos). But, he's a small fish in a big pond like WWE now. She commended Sting for his loyalty to WCW, but even dogs are loyal. She said dogs are kind of stupid, though. And she doesn't want to insult dogs. Steph told Sting that WCW lost, so he lost. Steph said Sting is going to lose any ounce of respect these people have for you when her husband, Triple H, pins Sting in the middle of the ring. Steph called him a facepainted freak.

Sting replied with a "wooo" shout and a smile. Stephanie then turned to slap Sting, but Sting intercepted and grabbed Steph's arm. Sting held Stephanie in place as Triple H's music played. Hunter marched down to the ring after removing his tie while Steph bailed to the outside. Hunter circled the ring, had a brief conversation with Steph, and removed his suit jacket. Sting stood his ground in the ring as Hunter slowly walked up the ring steps.

In the background, Hunter knelt down and grabbed a sledgehammer from under the ring. She handed it to Hunter, who confidently started to enter the ring, but Sting pulled out his trademark baseball bat from his trenchcoat. Hunter paused and Sting taunted him with the bat. Sting backed away to give Hunter an opening, but Hunter bailed from the ring to boos. Steph told him it['s six days away, then Sting removed his jacket and told Hunter to come get some.

Hunter clutched the hammer and looked up at the WrestleMania sign hanging over Sting's shoulder, but Steph backed Hunter away, telling him to save it for WrestleMania. Sting's music then played as Sting stood his ground in the ring while Steph continued to lead Hunter up the ramp to the back.

[ Reax: Very effective opening segment keeping it simple on the dated WWE-WCW business, not overstaying its welcome, keeping the issue focused on why Sting wants to take down Hunter, making sure Hunter and Steph are clear heels, giving the audience reasons to like and support Sting (which the L.A. crowd bought into), and saving the physicality for WrestleMania. That's textbook booking. ]

Backstage: A.J. Lee and Paige talked about who should get the Divas Title shot tonight against Nikki Bella.

[Q2] In-ring: Dean Ambrose's music played to a big reaction. Ambrose marched down to the ring for a tag match.

[Commercial Break at 8:16]

Vignette: is back.

Back live, Cole noted they are in Hollywood, where JBL lost the WWE Title (to John Cena) at WrestleMania 21.

In-ring: IC Title contenders were assembled in the ring for the opening tag match. Meanwhile, IC champion Bad News Barrett was ringside for commentary.


"Cody, Cody" chants from an engaged L.A. crowd to taunt Stardust early on. Cole presented some WWE Math to Barrett on not having a good chance of retaining the title in the ladder match on Sunday, to which Booker countered with actual odds of Barrett winning. Back in the ring, all four men found themselves in the ring. Ambrose dumped the heels to the floor, then Ambrose and Truth stood tall in the ring heading to break.

[Commercial Break at 8:23. Stanley Cup Playoffs on USA Network? Interesting.]

Back from break, Cody was working on Ambrose with a reverse chinlock. Dean broke free, but Stardust dropped him with the Alabama Slamma for a two count. Barrett celebrated the wrestlers wearing each other out before WrestleMania as Harper tagged in to continue working on Ambrose. But, Booker threw the betting odds at him. Harper then dropped Ambrose with a Black Hole Slam for a two count, only. Harper had a word with Barrett, then ran into a clothesline from Ambrose on the outside.

Back in the ring, Ambrose dropped Harper with a Tornado DDT out of the corner. Stardust started going nuts running back and forth on the ring apron looking for a tag. He got the tag, but ran into clotheslines from Truth on a hot tag. Truth dropped Cody to the mat, but Harper broke up the pin. Ambrose suddenly exploded on Harper with a rebound lariat, then Truth grabbed Cody for What's Up. Truth pinned him for the win.

[Q3] Post-match, Barrett high-tailed it from ringside, not wanting his title to be stolen. Back in the ring, Truth and Ambrose danced for a cheering crowd. Oh Ambrose, a former PPV main-eventer.

WINNERS: Truth & Ambrose at 10:37. Fine opening tag match playing to an engaged crowd and hyping the IC Title ladder match on Sunday. They did not have the favorites, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan, in this segment, pointing to follow-up later in the show.

Back to Cole, who plugged the App Vote on who should face Randy Orton tonight - Big Show, Kane, or Rollins & J&J Security.

Still to come: Lesnar-Reigns face-to-face confrontation.

[Commercial Break at 8:32]

Generic Smackdown plug: WrestleMania Axxess sights & sounds this Thursday.

Special Olympics plug: WWE is participating in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games this July in Los Angeles.

On-stage: Renee Young was standing by with the Special Olympics World Games CEO, plus athletes competing in the Games.

Announcers: Cole, Booker, and JBL applauded the athletes before shifting gears to hyping Roman Reigns ahead of his WrestleMania main event title shot against Brock Lesnar.

Video Package: Roman Reigns.

Still to come: Lesnar-Reigns face-to-face confrontation.

Up Next: Bill Simmons matches wits with JBL, who vowed to clothesline him.

In-ring: The Miz's music played to bring out Miz to boos in his adopted home. Damien Sandow then emerged behind Miz to loud cheers. Lilian Garcia announced a 10-man tag match up next. Before that...

Video: The Miz and Damien Sandow "interviewed" Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart about their new "Get Hard" movie. Miz tried to lead the witnesses in admitting that stunt-doubles or assistants are terrible. Sandow, sitting in a tiny chair next to Miz, drew praise from Ferrell and Hart about having a look. Miz tried to cut off this discussion before asking if anyone needed water. Ferrell got up to get the water instead. "No, that's not - Will!" Miz frustratingly shouted.

Back live in the ring, Miz tried to coach Sandow on what he did wrong in the interview.

[Commercial Break at 8:43]

[Q4] Back live, various men were in the ring. Included were The Ascension, who have apparently entered the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Also at ringside was Bill Simmons from ESPN who looked like he just woke up and showed up to TV. JBL noted as much to set up their back-and-forth. The latest plug was Coach Gruden from Monday Night Football breaking down the Andre the Giant battle royal line-up.


Lots of in-and-out before it came down to Ryder giving Rose his Broski Boot. Ryder lost focus and Rose tagged in Konnor, who attacked Ryder. Meanwhile, Simmons wanted to know where the rabbit is. (He quit.) The heels continued to work over Ryder as Simmons needled JBL for losing the WWE Title to John Cena in this building at WM21. Superstar pop for Sandow tagging in. But, Miz cut him off and demanded Sandow tag out. Sandow obliged, but Miz ran into a face-smash from Ryder. "Feed Me More" chant from the crowd. Meanwhile, Simmons talked the history of color commentators, praising Jesse Ventura. He deadpanned that JBL has set the position back 15 years.

Ryder tagged in Ryback to a strong reaction and Ryback ran over Miz before over-powering him. Ryback pounded his chest, then shook his shoulder. Press-slam for Rose, then double clotheslines to Ascension. But, Miz attacked Ryback from behind and beat him into the corner. Miz celebrated too early and ran right into a Meathook Clothesline. Ryback scooped up Miz and dropped him with Shell-Shock in the middle of the ring for the pin and the win.

WINNERS: Team Ryback at 5:48. Ryback is geared up to face Brock Lesnar in the main event of ... nevermind, win the giant Andre battle royal trophy at ringside. Surrounded by lower-carders, Ryback sure looked like a big deal getting the spotlight here.

Announcers: Cole and Co. quizzed Simmons on what they like about WWE Network, leading to a plug for WrestleMania Week programming on the Network.

Last Monday: Sting took out The Authority after coming to the aid of Randy Orton.

Up Next: Who will Randy Orton face?

Soup Plug: The Soup salutes WWE Friday night on E!.

[Commercial Break at 8:55]

[Q5 -- second hour] In-ring: Randy Orton was introduced for the next match. From ringside, Booker T took Jerry Lawler's role standing up to reveal the App vote results. The winner was Rollins & J&J Security with 77 percent for an unstated handicap match, followed by 12 percent for Kane and 11 percent for Big Show. Apparently the audience does not see this as an unfair situation for Orton, they don't see J&J as threats, and/or they just want to see Orton get his hands on Rollins no matter the circumstances. Or, as Pat McNeill tweeted, they just don't want to see Kane or Show wrestle.

Seth Rollins cockily walked down to the ring with Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury to begin the match. Orton wanted a piece of Rollins as the bell sounded.


Seth taunted Orton as he sent his security personnel into the ring to start the match. Seth avoided Orton, then looked for an opening to attack Orton from behind. But, J&J lost control of the match and Orton went for a double DDT as J&J hung on the middle ropes. That's a tough spot to see shortly after El Hijo Del Perro Aguayo's death. Orton then dropped Noble with an RKO for the pin and the win.

Post-match, Rollins quickly bailed from the ring as Mercury tried to keep him moving away from Orton, who seethed in the ring.

WINNER: Orton at 3:21. Fine "save that RKO for Mania" booking.

Video Package: U.S. Title feud between John Cena and Rusev. WWE cut to a portion of Cole's sit-down interview with Michael Cole last week on WWE's website when Cena talked himself up as a man who will represent the U.S. and become an ambassador for the country.

Still to come: Jack Swagger gets to lose again to Rusev.

Backstage: A.J. Lee approached Paige for another conversation about their Divas Title shot tonight. A.J. said it's apparent the Bellas are trying to divide them before WrestleMania. Paige presented her case that she's been dealing with them for months while A.J. has been gone, so she should get the title shot. A.J. told her not to fall for the trap. Paige said if she wants to turn down a title shot, then she's crazy. What did you say? Paige hugged her and said the only thing falling tonight is Nikki's title reign. Paige walked off, leaving A.J. to stew.

[Commercial Break at 9:11]

Back live, a reading from LL Cool J on "Mania." WrestleMania. Cole said that LL Cool J will be at WrestleMania on Sunday.

[Q6] In-ring: Paige was introduced to the ring for the Divas Title match. A.J. joined her on the way to the ring. The Bellas were out next for Nikki's title defense as A.J. and Paige glared toward the twin sisters. Once everyone was in the ring, Lilian Garcia handled formal ring introductions. All-cheers for Paige and mostly boos for Nikki.

4 -- Divas champion NIKKI BELLA (w/Brie Bella) vs. PAIGE (w/A.J. Lee) -- Divas Title match

As the bell sounded, Cole said Paige has a chance to tie A.J. and Eve Torres for most Divas Title reigns. That would be a quick accomplishment in Year 1 for Paige, which also reflects WWE hot-potato'ing the belt before it settled on Nikki. Paige knocked Nikki out of the ring, but Nikki cut her off getting back in the ring. Nikki took control heading to break. On the way to break, WWE briefly flashed another "WhoIsMrRobot?.com" spot.

[Commercial Break at 9:20]

Back live, Nikki was still controlling the match. Double knockdown and both Divas sold on the mat. Nikki took control on a reset, but could not put Paige away, much to Brie's chagrin at ringside. Paige got her own super-close nearfall, prompting Paige to freak out.

At ringside, the secondary participants got involved. A.J. knocked down Brie, then accidentally elbowed Paige, thinking it was Nikki. Nikki rolled a lifeless Paige back into the ring and dropped her with the Rack Attack as A.J. watched helplessly at ringside.

Post-match, A.J. entered the ring to check on her Mania tag partner, but Paige attacked her and the fight was on as the Bellas watched from ringside. "C-M Punk" chant from the crowd. Does the crowd want Punk as special ref for Paige vs. A.J. on Sunday? The ref finally got separation to close the segment.

WINNER: Nikki at 10:40 to retain the Divas Title. Solid match given the time to tell a complete story. Although, the end result was creating more interest in seeing Paige vs. A.J., rather than Paige & A.J. vs. the Bellas on Sunday.

Smackdown replay: Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler went at it in the final match of a gauntlet match Thursday night on Smackdown.

[Q7] Still to come: Daniel Bryan vs. Ziggler re-match. Speaking of special refs, WWE has a poll option of Ambrose, Truth, BNB, Stardust, or Harper as the ref for the match.

Up Next: Snoop Dogg is on the show.

[Commercial Break at 9:31]

Back live, Cole noted they are live in Hollywood, so that means Snoop Dogg. Lilian Garcia formally introduced Snoop, who emerged on-stage surrounded by Divas. Dogg danced down to ringside with Rosa Mendes, Alicia Fox, Cameron, and Summer Rae before entering the ring.

In the ring, Snoop shouted out to L.A. before saying it's about to get Stone Cold --- he was cut off by Curtis Axel's theme music. Axel cut a promo on Snoop, calling back to his dad with the "Rap is Crap" run in WCW. Axel sounded inspired cutting a promo about Axel-Mania. Snoop replied that here's the guy who has been popping off on Twitter, but he needs to know that it's about Hulkamania.

Hulk Hogan's music played to bring out Hogan for a surprise appearance. Curtis Axel, dressed in his red & yellow "Axel-Mania" t-shirt, stared down Hogan as he posed to all sides of the ring in his red & yellow "Hulkamania" t-shirt. Hogan then stood next to Snoop to address Axel. "Let me tell you something, brother," Hogan opened.

Hogan went back to pressing Andre the Giant over his head, then shouted out to Dogg's career. But, as far as Axel-Mania? He asked what this brother is smoking over here. Axel remained smug, then ripped off his shirt Hogan-style. Hogan answered with a right hand blow that rocked Axel, getting in his Mania Season physicality. Dogg then tossed Axel over the top rope to the floor. Dogg ripped off his shirt to reveal a Hulkamania tanktop. Super-skinny Dogg then posed to all four corners with Hogan as the announcers yukked it up.

[ Reax: Basic deal giving the Muhammad Hassan Rub to Axel while continuing to market WrestleMania as a must-see, can't-miss, huge deal with celebrities and Hulk Hogan appearing on Raw. ]

Announcers: Cole, with Zeus appropriately sitting behind him on the front row, transitioned to a video package on Brock Lesnar.

Video Package: Brock Lesnar was born to hurt people.

Still to come: Lesnar-Reigns confrontation.

[Q8] [Commercial Break at 9:45]

Back live, a Tag Title scenario was unfolding. The Usos were at ringside and announced for a Fatal Four-Way Tag Title match on the WrestleMania pre-show - Kidd & Cesaro vs. Usos vs. New Day vs. Los Matadores. Jey Uso deflected questions from Cole about his health after reportedly suffering a shoulder injury.

5 -- WWE tag champions TYSON KIDD & CESARO & NATALYA vs. LOS MATADORES (DIEGO & FERNANDO & EL TORITO) -- six-person tag match

The re-match from Thursday's Smackdown settled down with Kidd working over un Matador as the Usos tried to talk up their Tag Title chances on Sunday. Tags to el otro Matador and Cesaro, who got knocked down before Torito tagged in and nailed a sit-down splash on Cesaro. Natalya entered the ring, though, and speared Torito for a two count. Natalya was stunned, so she went for a powerbomb, but Torito leaped over Natalya into a sunset flip for the pin and the win.

Post-match, Natalya sold being sad and embarrassed over taking the loss. Meanwhile, Kidd sold conflict over being a supportive husband versus mad about losing.

WINNERS: Los Matadores in 4:00.

Locker Room: Kane walked into the locker room to greet IC champion Bad News Barrett. Kane mocked him for holding onto the title for, what, 72 hours? Kane told Barrett that he has to relieve him of his title now. Barrett said there's no way. Kane replied that he has been tasked with taking the title so that it can be hung above the ring at WrestleMania. Barrett complained after all the effort he went through to get back his title belt, so Kane threatened to strip him of the title if he does not comply. Barrett called this a travesty, then handed over the belt. Kane said he doesn't know what Barrett is complaining about when all he has to do is beat six other Superstars. Kane mockingly said he likes his odds. Barrett was left lamenting losing possession of the title again, babyfacing Barrett in the process.

Up Next: U.S. champion Rusev vs. Jack Swagger.

[Commercial Break at 9:56]

Thursday on Smackdown: Big eight-man tag main event of Cena, Reigns, Bryan, and Henry vs. Rollins, Big Show, Kane, and Bray Wyatt. After all these weeks, WWE is finally putting the advertised post-Raw dark match on TV.

[Q9 -- third hour] In-ring: U.S. champion Rusev was already waving his flag in the ring. No Lana. No explanation so as not to draw attention to her absence. Jack Swagger was introduced as Rusev's opponent. No Zeb Colter, who drew a mention from JBL, noting that Zeb is still on the shelf after being attacked by Rusev months ago.

6 -- U.S. champion RUSEV vs. JACK SWAGGER -- non-title match

As the match started, the crowd chanted, "We Want Lana," forcing the announcers to address her absence. Cole said the rumor is that a rift has developed between Rusev and Lana after Lana gave in to John Cena a few weeks ago. The crowd then chanted "U-S-A" to help Swagger rally against the champion. But, Rusev smashed him with a thrust kick to the throat. Rusev then flipped Swagger onto his stomach and slapped on The Accolade. Swagger was forced to tap, giving Rusev the win as the announcers hyped Rusev being on a whole different level.

Post-match, Rusev kept the hold locked on Swagger. Referee John Cone desperately tried to get a break as Cole noted that Lana is usually here to call off the dogs, but there is no Lana. Instead, John Cena's music played and Cena stormed the ring to brawl with Rusev six days away from Mania. Cena got the best of Rusev early on, but Rusev tossed Cena away. On the floor, Rusev smashed Cena into the barricade, then stood over him. Rusev continued to punish Cena before chucking him clear over the announce table.

Rusev then grabbed his Russian flag and waved it on the way out. But, Rusev's music never played, the segment was not over. Rusev saw Cena moving on the other side of the ringside area, so he walked back toward Cena and smashed him with a bicycle kick to the face. Rusev was not done, as he tossed the announce table. "Rusev has completely lost it!" Cole exclaimed. Rusev then wheelbarrow-slammed Cena gut-first onto the announce table. Rusev stood over Cena, then put him in The Accolade on the announce table. Rusev got that crazy look in his eyes as Ref Cone called for help. More refs spilled out to try to help as Cena faded out in the hold. Cena sold losing consciousness as Rusev refused to break the hold.

Rusev finally released the hold, then grabbed the U.S. Title and ran into the ring to pose with the belt as the Russian flag dropped from the ceiling. Cole called for some medical help for Cena, who remained face-down inches away from a red highlighter pen positioned precariously on the table. Raw faded to break with Cole continuing to call for help.

WINNER: Rusev via submission at 4:37. The match and post-match served as great reinforcement of Rusev as a monster heel to make that the lasting image for TV viewers before he likely loses at Mania when Cena overcomes a super stacked deck.

[Commercial Break at 10:12]

[Q10] Vignette: WhoIsMrRobot. The voice in the video said the higher-powers do not want him to have power.

Network plug: Triple H and Arnold Schwarzenneger together on for an interview after Raw.

Moments Ago: Rusev destroyed and dismantled John Cena.

Announcers: Cole set up the stacked deck for Cena, noting there is no way that Cena will be 100 percent at WrestleMania.

Bray Wyatt Promo

In-ring: Suddenly, Bray Wyatt's theme interrupted. Bray walked out in the arena with his lantern leading the way as Cole hyped Bray vs. The Undertaker happening at WrestleMania. Cole noted they haven't seen Taker's face since losing to Brock Lesnar at last year's WrestleMania.

Once in the ring, Bray listened to the crowd making various noise. Bray wondered aloud why people hide from the truth. Fear? Embarrassment to show the world who you really are? Bray said reality can be a very difficult pill to swallow, but that does not change the fact that each and every person is guilty. Guilty because you hate the person you have become. You don't like the person in the mirror. But, it does not change the fact that you are all liars. "But, me, I'm different," Bray said.

Bray said he is not a liar. As a matter of fact, his tongue is the sword of truth and his tongue cuts through the deception of this world. And if people want the truth, he knows the truth about The Undertaker. Bray said Taker is a liar and tries to deny the fact that he wants so desperately for his soul to be set free. But, don't worry about it, Taker. The angel with the burnt wings has been sent to take Taker back to the other side.

Suddenly, Taker's imagery flashed in the arena. Bray laughed, saying these spirits no longer operate under Taker's command, but it all belongs to him. Bray said he controls everything now because he judges the living and the dead. "Undertaker, I have judged you and you are guilty!" he shouted. Bray vowed to give Taker his fate sealed by Sister Abigail's kiss. And then he will take his rightful place among the gods as the new face of fear.

Bray passionately vowed to take Taker out of his misery so that he can finally Rest In Peace. Lightning flashed in the arena as Bray knelt down in the ring and shouted toward the crowd while WWE cameras shot the WrestleMania sign hanging over Bray.

Instead of letting Bray's promo sink in, Cole was produced to kill the mood by immediately going to a plug for Cricket Wireless sponsoring an App vote. Cole said they will find out who should be special referee for Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler tonight.

[Commercial Break at 10:24]

Announcers: Cole went through quasi-celebrities sitting in the crowd. Not exactly the Lakers celebrity crowd.

[Q11] HOF Announcement: Kevin Nash. The focus was on Nash as Diesel in mid-1990s WWF. Bo Dallas resurfaced talking about Diesel in the video. Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, and Booker T also talked. WWE showed the clip of Diesel beating Bob Backlund for the WWF Title in eight seconds. The focus shifted to Nash going to WCW with Scott Hall. Then, the formation of the NWO with Hulk Hogan. Triple H talked up Nash as WWE flashed through Kliq clips, including Shawn Michaels and Sean Waltman. Back live, Cole said Nash is the last 2015 HOF inductee. The graphic showed Nash as Diesel.

Backstage: Natalya was randomly applying lipstick. On the other side of a random curtain was Tyson Kidd sitting down with a bag of Burger King. Kidd had headphones on, so he didn't know that Natalya was responding to his loving affection toward the BK product. Natalya eventually walked around the curtain and saw Kidd enjoying BK Chicken Fries. Natalya grabbed the product and took a bite. Pause as Kidd waited for her response. Natalya appeared to be ready to jump Kidd or the BK product. They cut away before things got out of hand.

[ Reax: That was quite possibly the most random product placement scene of all-time. Which, in the world of reverse psychology marketing, is what they were going for to make a memorable impression and drive sales. ]

In-ring: Daniel Bryan was introduced to the ring for the default main event. Dolph Ziggler joined Bryan in the ring, then Booker revealed the poll result for special referee. The winner was Ambrose with 57 percent, followed by Truth with 19 percent, then BNB, Stardust, and Harper.

Dean Ambrose marched out on-stage with a referee shirt hanging out of his back pocket. Ambrose then pulled out the shirt and walked down to the ring before Raw cut to break.

[Commercial Break at 10:37]

7 -- DANIEL BRYAN vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER -- special referee Dean Ambrose

As the IC Title belt hung above the ring after being retrieved by Kane earlier in the show, the bell sounded with Ambrose now appropriately dressed in the ref shirt. As Bryan and Ambrose locked up, Cole hyped an interview with Bryan this Wednesday on WWE's website. The announcers then talked up the IC Title as Bryan and Ziggler went back and forth. The babyface vs. babyface exchange turned unpleasant when things got a little too physical.

Fists flew, which Ambrose liked, then Bryan skinned the cat going over the top rope. Bryan head-scissored Ziggler over the top rope to the floor, then followed with a baseball slide kick through the ropes. He tried a running knee, but Ziggler moved and clotheslined Bryan over the guardrail into the timekeeper's area. As Raw cut to break Dean went mock-serious yelling like a ref: "Hey, you guys need to get back in the ring!"

[Q12] [Commercial Break at 10:45]

Back from break, the match was back in the ring. Ziggler hung on Bryan's back with a sleeperhold, but Bryan rammed Ziggler into the corner turnbuckle. Bryan followed with a snap German Suplex with a bridge for a close two count. Bryan then climbed to the top rope as Booker talked about Bryan's surgically-repaired neck. Ziggler crotched Bryan on the top turnbuckle, then climbed up top looking for a superplex. But, Bryan blocked and knocked down Ziggler. Bryan was slow to follow up, so Ziggler gave him an X Factor off the top rope for a two count. Cole was nervous about how Bryan landed.

Reset with Bryan and Ziggler battling for leverage in the backslide position. Ziggler nearly got a three count, but Bryan escaped and hit a kick strike for a two count. Bryan got up and landed kick strikes to Ziggler's chest. A dueling crowd chanted turned into "Yes!" for Bryan landing his trademark kicks. Big corner dropkick, but Ziggler intercepted a second with a big superkick. Ziggler followed right up with the Zig-Zag for the pin and the win.

WINNER: Ziggler at 10:52. Good singles match, but just a sample of what they're capable of. WWE has made it clear where Bryan stands after starting to lose regularly now. But, they quickly tried to shift the focus in the post-match...

Post-match, Ambrose raised Ziggler's hand, then dropped him with Dirty Deeds after ending his referee service. Ambrose then pulled out a ladder and started to climb for the belt, but Bad News Barrett ran down to the ring to try to get his belt back. A brawl broke out with the other IC Title ladder match participants joining the brawl. Dirty Deeds to R-Truth.

Suddenly, multiple men found themselves on the ladder. Barrett gave Bryan the Bullhammer Elbow, but took a superkick from Ziggler. Luke Harper eventually just shoved down the ladder and the wrestlers on the ladder. Bodies were everywhere as the crowd murmured. Wrap-up music played with all seven men down and out on the mat.

Announcers: Cole transitioned to a plug for fans watching Raw in the Middle East via OSN. He added that OSN will carry WrestleMania via WWE Network. Cole transitioned to the WrestleMania Week schedule on WWE Network. JBL did the bit yelling at PPV buyers spending $65.

Backstage: WWE showed Paul Heyman knocking on Brock Lesnar's door. Heyman smiled and told The Champ that it's time. Cole said the face-to-face is next.

[Commercial Break at 10:56]

[Q13 -- over-run]

Lesnar-Reigns Confrontation

Right at the top of the hour, Brock Lesnar's music played to bring out Brock Lesnar returning to Staples Center, where he destroyed John Cena at Summerslam in August. Lesnar bounced up and down on the stage as Paul Heyman stood next to him. Lesnar, with the WWE World Title belt around his waist, bounced down to ringside before entering the ring to pace with the belt over his shoulder.

Lesnar continued to pace as Heyman took the mic to address matters. Heyman introduced Lesnar, then summed up the past few weeks of promos with "yak, yak, yak, yak, yak." Heyman said if he has not convinced everyone to tune in this Sunday to see Roman Reigns get the beating he has coming to him, then there's nothing left for him to say. Heyman said Lesnar is going to lay a beating on the Samoan Badass like no one has ever done before. He said you're going to get your money's worth this Sunday seeing Lesnar give another man the beating of a lifetime.

Lesnar continued to pace the ring as Heyman said Lesnar is everything he says he is, or he is not. And, Reigns is everything they hype him up as, or he is not. Because there is one winner proven right and one loser proven wrong. Heyman said Lesnar makes failures out of everyone. Go back to last year, where people said he could not and he would not. But, Lesnar could and he did break The Streak. The same for John Cena at Summerslam. Heyman said John Cena is not in the main event of WrestleMania, but Brock Lesnar is.

Heyman had a little secret for Roman Reigns, who wants to *take* the WWE Title from Lesnar. Heyman said that WWE labels Lesnar as a mercenary who just wants the money. But, he is really an intensively competitive person who enjoys beating the ass of any man who tries taking the title from him. Heyman said Lesnar takes that title personally. As personal as Lesnar's wife, children, and food on his plate. Lesnar stopped pacing and shot Heyman a look to see where Heyman was going. Heyman said Lesnar is a conqueror who takes women, children, and food. And this Sunday, Lesnar conquers the main event of WrestleMania. Lesnar smiled. Did WWE drop the bit about mysterious forces cutting off Heyman's mic?

The Shield's music played to bring out Roman Reigns to a mixed reception. Heyman left the ring as Reigns entered the ring to go face-to-face with Lesnar. Lesnar continued to pace the ring before the music stopped for loud boos aimed at Reigns. Lesnar smirked toward Reigns, who nodded that he's the man to take the title. So, Lesnar smiled and held up the title belt right in Reigns's face. Reigns looked at the belt, then took the belt to boos. Reigns then held up the title belt to more boos. Some cheers mixed in.

Lesnar grabbed the belt to try to take it back, but Reigns held on tight. A mini-tug-of-war broke out in the middle of the ring like two middle-schoolers fighting on the playground. Credits flashed on the screen, the announcers did not speak, and the tug-of-war was the final image heading to WrestleMania as Raw signed off 11 minutes past the top of the hour. No verbal from Reigns and only a brief in-person appearance on the final Raw before main-eventing WrestleMania.

FINAL THOUGHTS: WrestleMania hype started really strong in the opening segment with Sting and Hunter, Bray Wyatt and Rusev were strong in the middle, Heyman book-ended it with another strong promo while pretending not to cut a promo, and the rest was hit or miss. (Orton-Rollins seemed like an afterthought by the end of the show after all the attention that program received the previous three weeks - was that to "hide" Rollins MITB briefcase for Sunday?)

WWE having Sting talk over Reigns on the final Raw before WrestleMania was very interesting. Overall, WWE missed out on Reigns's story of fulfilling a destiny after winning the Rumble and retaining his Rumble win at Fast Lane. It's like the Rumble never happened. The marketing was about Lesnar giving Reigns a beating aimed at anti-Reigns Fans, but for Reigns Fans, where was the journey from the Rumble to Fast Lane to the Mania Main Event? Even if the idea was less is more with Reigns, for whatever the motivation was (under-play him before he beats Lesnar at Mania, double turn, or something else), it wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of Reigns on the final Raw before Mania. It came across like WWE was concerned about the crowd reaction, so they quickly shuffled him out there for the final face-to-face with Lesnar. Which, if so, is even more to the point about this not being the right timing for Reigns in the WM main event. If WWE was determined to put him in the spot, then tell a better story or complete the journey. There's no half-way or half-speed on the final Raw before Mania. We'll see what WWE has in mind at and after Mania, but the ending here and Reigns's lack of story was weak.


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