WWE Championship Tournament 1st Round (Part One)
With WWE World Heavyweight Champion and Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s #1 of 2015’s Top 500 Wrestlers Seth Rollins out of commission, Monday Night Raw kicked off the journey toward a new face of the company.
Triple H opened the show with an homage to a great champion, and the audience in Manchester, England responded with great appreciation for what many consider was a modern heel too good to jeer.
After paying tribute to Rollins, Triple H introduced Roman Reigns. The proceeding promo was pure brilliance in the light of current events, with the head of the Authority attempting to coerce Reigns into joining the dark side. It was another master stroke from H:
“Don’t let some misguided morals ruin what you can get out of life. Are you kidding me? You think they [the fans] are not gonna criticize, no matter what you do, if you get this [the title]? […] criticism comes with the gig, pal. That’s the way it works […] You don’t wanna get criticized? Then do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. But if you want this, you be a reality man. See the reality of the situation. Understand that this comes with criticism, and you will never be liked by everybody, Roman. Understand what I am offering you here. This is everything you ever wanted.”
Triple H’s promo was brilliant. It cut across and through kayfabe, addressing the way fans felt about Reigns, Rollins, the Authority and Triple H’s character. It planted the seeds for future stories between H and Rollins and Reigns and the Authority. It built up Reigns while also building up Rollins and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Roman Reigns vs The Big Show
It seems a shame that such a dramatic opening to Raw culminated with a showdown with Show, who has maintained a lackluster position as semi-successful enforcer for the Authority over the past year.
The commentary team itself pointed out how a break-out moment for Reigns this past year came at the expense of The Big Show. With that fact in mind, how are the fans listening in (or paying attention) supposed to take this match seriously?
The match was engrossing enough. Both men are accustomed to working with one another, and they built a classic hero match to kick off the show and the tournament.
Reigns looked good, both in the promo segment with H and the match that followed. His story with be the one to follow in the tournament, as he becomes the first to advance to the quarter-finals.
Kevin Owens vs Titus O’Neil
Since the Rollins injury and subsequent championship tournament was thrown together a) on short notice and b) during a European tour, all first-round matches were thrown together at the last minute.
Most matches felt like pairings of superstars who were well-accustomed to each other, and thus could put on a good match in a short amount of time. Others felt random, such as the combination of O’Neil and Owens.
Owens gave the match its heat thanks to his pre-amble, in which he toyed with the UK crowd. He definitively proved that he deserves more mic time on television, in case he didn’t already accomplish that during his debut program with John Cena.
Titus O’Neil looked strong in the match, getting in a decent amount of offence and adding an in-ring presence to his charity work which has begun to overshadow his career as a wrestler.
Unfortunately for O’Neil, Owens came out on top after a pop-up power-bomb out of nowhere.
The Miz vs Dolph Ziggler
Two Ohio natives, one billed from Hollywood, Florida and the other from Hollywood, California squared off in a brief but highly competitive match.
Miz played the part of opportunistic heel well, targeting the knee of Ziggler and attacking unrelentingly throughout the match. As opposed to most television appearances as of late, he appeared focused, driven, and formidable.
Ziggler did what he does best – take massive bumps and make his opponent look great. He and Miz have a storied history, having juggled the Intercontinental Championship over the course of 2014.
The Show-off, playing up his injury suffered at the hands of Tyler Breeze, gave the heat to Miz, scoring a sudden win with a superkick.
Cesaro vs Sheamus
Not even the celebrity presence of Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney could take away from the epic encounter between two Euro-style brawlers.
Sheamus, with King Barrett brashly at his side, put on the best match of the night with Cesaro. The crowd was hot as ever for the Swiss Superman, who has gained considerable momentum in the past months since left on his own after Tyson Kidd getting side-lined.
In the end, Rooney’s slap to the face of Barrett caused enough of a distraction in Sheamus for Cesaro to roll the Celt up for an upset win. It was a great way to end the match without making either man look bad, which seemed to be the theme of the evening – and, often times, the theme of away shows.
Dean Ambrose vs Tyler Breeze
In his first match on Monday Night Raw, NXT veteran Tyler Breeze faced former #1 contender Dean Ambrose for the opportunity to become current #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
If that wasn’t enough, Prince Pretty was not treated like a throw-away jobber or a one-hit wonder in the slightest. Even though he came away with a loss, he was put over as a strong competitor against the seasoned Lunatic Fringe.
This contest was a huge feather in the cap for Breeze, who begins his career in the race for the big prize and comes away with a push. Ambrose, on the other hand, secured himself a spot in the next round of the tournament.
Summary and Predictions
With the first of the first-round matches in the books, the tournament for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is already taking shape, and some early predictions can be ventured forth.
Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens are being positioned at opposite ends of the tournament bracket. This configuration, coupled with the polarizing effect both invoke in the WWE fans, makes it likely that they will wind up facing one another in the finals.
In order to get to Reigns, however, Owens has to get through the powerhouse’s best friend, Dean Ambrose, or another fan-favourite, Dolph Ziggler.
It is likely that an embittered Tyler Breeze will involve himself in the quarter-finals and cost one of the baby-faces a victory. The question remains: which will pursue a program with the NXT rookie, and which will climb the ladder to the title?
On the other side of the bracket, Reigns faces a tough challenge in Cesaro. With the amount of crowd push the Swiss Superman has collected lately, the only way Reigns will get over is with a clean win after a highly competitive match – one that observers cannot take away from him. It would also help if, like Daniel Bryan this past February, Cesaro made a show of respect to Reigns after the match.
How will the rest of the tournament play out?
Odds are that Owens will face Neville in the quarter-finals, considering the chemistry they share in the ring. Also, expect Kalisto to upset Ryback and Alberto Del Rio to put down Stardust, allowing fellow AAA veterans to go at it in the quarters.