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Raw Redux (February 29th, 2016): A Stalemate and a Sudden “Leap” into Action

Last night’s Raw was the first ever episode to take place on February 29th and in regards to the Divas, it was a leap year worth remembering. Three backstage segments, two matches and an in-ring promo where what we were treated to, with some unprecedented results on display that I’m pretty happy with. The unpredictability of Shane McMahon‘s return seems to have rubbed off on WWE’s female athletes and I for one am excited about it!

The first stop on our Leap Year journey is a match advertised since last Thursday’s SmackDown: a Divas Championship number one contender’s match pitting Becky Lynch against Sasha Banks:

The segment opens with Charlotte positioning herself at the ringside area alongside Ric Flair to watch the match up-close and personal. This reeks of Charlotte causing a double DQ right? Right?

Following entrances to great reactions (with Sasha looking absolutely incredible), the match begins. Before that however, I need to call out Michael Cole (and now I’ve heard Mauro Ranello at it on SmackDown to a lesser extent. “Becky is the self-proclaimed Irish Lass Kicker from Ireland”. As far as I’m aware, Becky has only ever described herself as the Lass Kicker. Secondly, if she is Irish, you would think she was from Ireland. This is like Demon Kane all over again. He is just Kane.

Anywho, this match is lit from the get go. Sasha applies a grounded side headlock that Becky reverses into a pin attempt. Becky quickly shifts her hips and tries to lock in her finisher but Sasha evades. The pair lock horns again, with Sasha trying to take Becky down from her midsection. She applies a schoolgirl and then a second pin attempt that Becky bridges up from. After a drop toe hold from Sasha and alternating crucifix pins from both girls, the two showcases superb chemistry as they jockey for position, both wishing to lock in their patented submissions. Amazing start!

The NXT graduates end up on the outside shortly after, and Becky gets the upper hand with a basement dropkick and flying forearm. The back and forth nature of the bout continues however as Sasha sends Becky into the ring post as we head to a commercial break.

We’re back live and the tide has turned again, and then quickly changes once more a few moments later. We return to see Becky deck Sasha with some clothesline but then The Boss blocks Becky’s attempt at a jumping calf kick, blasts her in the face and then drops her with a vaulted set of double knees. Following a near fall, Becky comes back into the realm of momentum yet again, this time hitting a springboard kick and a Bexploder, as JBL so neatly called. That was nice but his butchering of being able to tell which was Becky and which was Sasha wasn’t as smooth!

What was smooth was the unbelievable fluidity of each and every motion from the Divas in the ring; we see Sasha hits a sunset flip before rolling through and catching Lynch with a second set of duo knees. Sasha cannot quite get three, so she takes it upon herself to drill Becky with some serious strikes. Becky hammers back with some of her own, before the pace quickens yet again. Sasha traverses a headscissor into a throw across the ring, leaving Becky on the apron.

Becky boots Sasha right on the lips and then looks to damage that trash-talking orifice of Sasha’s a little more with a top rope dropkick. Bex is shocked to not have picked up the win, and the audience seem impressed with Banks’ resiliency too. She showcases that further when fighting out an armbar attempt from the Lass Kicker, and she displays it again when Becky practically concusses her with a stiff elbow. The two then end up on the top rope and Becky pummels Banks with headbutt after headbutt. That foray makes Becky groggy too, and she drops to the second rope. Surely just on instinct, Sasha is able to hit a sunset flip powerbomb from the top rope! Both girls’ shoulders are down as they are both goosed and the match ends in a tie! Quite the innovative way of having a match end in a draw.

Later on, this draw is “resolved” by Charlotte, who books a rematch for this week’s SmackDown:

Stephanie McMahon finally gets chance to accept her Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award in our next noteworthy moment of the evening:

Stephanie begins to read from a leather folder that brought to the ring with her, but that is soon thrown out of the window when the fans interrupt her, calling for Shane O’ Mac. Not only is the pre-prepared contents of the speech proverbially thrown, but so is the presentation table! Stephanie grabs her award and her mic tightly. She is pissed off and ready to seethe!

Stephanie says that she works everyday of her life for the fans, and they show her no respect?! Steph says the people revere the fact that Shane blackmailed Vince and hasn’t even been at an episode of Raw, nevermind WrestleMania for the past seven years. She questions Shane’s loyalty and support for his family, and his support of the fans. She labels his behavior over the last few years as “abandonment”, a word also apt for his attitude towards Vince, her and her daughters. That’s right, he doesn’t care according to Steph.

Sidenote: How cool is it that Shane had three sons and Stephanie had three daughters. That’s going to be one amazing six person intergender tag team match some way down the road!

Back to the Queen, she calls Shane’s constant stabbing of her in the back as “sad”, stating that whilst she loves him, she doesn’t respect him, nor does she respect his disloyalty to his nieces, who he decided to overlook last week. Steph says that it eats Shane alive to see her wielding so much power, and that she is married to Hunter. Steph says that just because Shane is a man, that doesn’t mean he can swan back in and take over her empire. She says the thought of her having to work for him makes her want to vomit.

Stephanie explains that come Mania, Undertaker will dismember Shane, allowing him to take a more permanent leave of absence. Following that, the “narcissistic, apathetic, lazy, weak-minded, wastes of life” in the audience will get slapped in the face by reality, leaving them bowing down to The Authority, bowing down to The King… and bowing down to your Queen! *mic drop*

A defiant Stephanie slams the mic down and raises her award high. A mic hasn’t been that brutalized since she made Brie her bitch. I’m bowing down right now. Only one woman opposes Beyonce in running my world and her name isn’t Hillary Clinton. Her name is Stephanie McMahon.

Next up, the newer, slimmer but just as incredible Natalya is seen backstage talking to Renee Young… about Subway. Skip to 7:40 if the video doesn’t do it for you:

This was thankfully not a footlong segment in length, although it nice to see WWE give Natalya this TV time and acknowledge her tremendous weight loss. You look amazing Nattie!

Renee is back for our next segment, a backstage interview with Brie Bella:

Renee asks Brie how she is doing since her Fastlane loss to Charlotte, and Brie is pretty optimistic about the entire thing. She is proud of the match she had, despite coming up short. Before Brie can then address Nikki and Daniel (I’m surprised the first interview question wasn’t about them in all honesty!), Lana of all people interrupts!

Lana snatches that TV time, telling Brie that she always bites the big one. Then she lets RIP! She says that Brie isn’t a true woman. She has a figure whereas Brie is just skin and bone. She has a brute for a partner, where as Brie has a “tiny little goatman”. Don’t hold back Lana! Lana keeps laying it on thick, telling Brie that the fans like her because they pity her. Like Brie’s marriage, her career is doomed to fail says Lana. Brie hits back nicely, telling Lana to tell neanderthal fiance that she loved him playing a bear in the movie, The Revenant. He needs to shave his back though. Brie’s match is next!

Entrances are cut when we return from commercials, and it is Mrs Danielson taking on Naomi, who is accompanied by Tameezus. The pair trade collar-and-elbow tie-ups before Naomi gets the better hand with hair pulling, a knee to the stomach and a club to the back. Naomi then wrenches Brie with a wristlock, which Brie nicely floats out of using the ropes. A fireman’s carry later and Brie has Naomi flat on her back with her arm all wrapped up. It isn’t long however until Naomi regains control, clocking Brie in the face with a sharp kick on the apron. Tamina cements Naomi’s total control of the pace of the match by sending Brie back first into the apron.

A rough basement dropkick later and Naomi continues her assault. She lands vicious closed fists and a tantalizing leg drop. A basic submission is locked in next, a hold the Floridian follows up with her patented corner bulldog. The leader of the Naomob jolts to the top rope, but misses when crashing down with a split legged moonsault. She is able to keep Brie down with some kicks, but Brie manages to duck one and blast Naomi with one of her own. I think this is what is known as a momentum shift!

Brie hits back with “Shades of Her Husband” and her textbook running knee, all of which look super impressive. She begins to climb to the top rope to hit a missile dropkick, but instead takes Tamina down with a dropkick with her name on it. This momentary distraction is enough for Naomi to try and turn the tide however. She applies a crucifix to aim for a pinfall win. When Brie kicks out, Naomi is still able to overpower her; she locks in the Slayomission and although fighting the pain for a time, Brie has no choice but to tap out.

Thoughts: What a night for the Divas! First off, major thanks to Erin for covering last week! You really are the Steph McMahon to my Adam Rose!

I want to address Charlotte first tonight. I know some people disagreed with my harsh critique of her and Brie’s promo from two weeks ago, and I’d like to discuss my thought process on that. I was as passionate as I was as about that as I want the girls to succeed and be treated as equally as the men. I just didn’t think that particular segment did them any favors.

Fast forward two weeks and Charlotte has continued to improve on the mic. Her mannerisms and expressions have been great since she turned heel, but now the dialogue and delivery seem to be all falling into place. She comes across as prissy and self-entitled and I love it. Everything she did tonight was on-point. It’s as simple as that.

Regarding Charlotte’s Fastlane opponent Brie, she also really impressed me tonight. Her mic work didn’t feel as basic as it has in the past, and her rapport with Lana was actually really fun. Her chemistry with Naomi was also really nice and I enjoyed their match. The reversal of the split-leg moonsault and barrage of quick kicks were nice moments, as was Tamina’s influence. It’s always nice to see the Slayomission too.

I am also super glad to see that Naomi and Tamina haven’t been thrown on the back burner. Whilst they lost at Fastlane, they were booked well beforehand and Naomi has racked up two submission wins in the space of a week since, against Paige and now Brie. It is safe to say that outside of the WrestleMania picture, Naomi is next in line. She just needs to make sure she doesn’t shout “DUCK!” when wanting Brie to duck one of her kicks next time! XD

The inclusion of Lana this week and hint at an in-ring debut were really surprising and refreshing! Her mocking of Brie after she lost and the clear hint from Brie in the backstage segment “Until you get in the ring…” are signaling the start of Lana’s in-ring journey; facing a solid, established worker like Brie is a great place for her to start. What with the rumblings on Twitter about a multi Diva match at WrestleMania, could we see Lana/Summer/Tamina/Naomi vs Brie/Alicia/Natalya/Paige on the Grandest Stage of Them All?

Speaking of, I think it is more obvious than ever that we are going to get a Triple Threat – hooray! I am so impressed with the build to this too. Instead of immediately having Charlotte cause a double DQ and set the match up, WWE baited us by having the champ at ringside, and then Becky and Sasha pulled off possibly one the best, most logical double finishes I have ever seen. Sometimes those situations look so stupid (HBK and Sami Zayn spring to mind) but this made total sense. Sasha was totally groggy, and she pulled off a high-impact move that took the last of her energy out of her. Loved it!

The match was a total clinic too. A hard-hitting, high-tempo combo that delivered. The only downside would be that the commercial break took a little bit out of the match, but I was still really impressed and was entertained on the whole. That chain wrestling at the start was absolutely flawless.

I mentioned Sami Zayn there and I wonder if WWE will throw us a curveball, and have Becky or Sasha lose the Number One contenders match and have them face someone else? It happened to Sami recently, could the Divas receive similar treatment? I doubt that will happen what with the natural history a triple threat feud has behind it, but could one of them face Bayley at Mania instead? Becky and Charlotte have more main roster history with Sasha and Bayley having more on developmental soil. Definitely something to think about!

Saving the best for last – Stephanie Marie McMahon. Forget the Oscars, that is how you deliver an acceptance speech. That promo was incredible. Stephanie really is the creme of the crop when it comes to the best ever talkers the industry has ever seen. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to be Shane right now!

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