What you need to know
For two guys in the main event of the next pay-per-view (PPV), one of the "Big Four" events on the company's calendar, Randy Orton and John Cena have been missing in action. It would be weird even if they weren't feuding over the only championship that matters in the company right now, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
In their absence, the 1A programs and even the mid-card have had an opportunity to show what they've got. Many of these cats are no strangers to the Raw and Smackdown main event, but haven't been given "face of the company" opportunities. Case in point: The Shield. In any combination, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have been killing it for over a year. But as they simultaneously work with CM Punk, Big E Langston and The Usos, they're getting a chance to show more of their individual personalities.
While The Hounds of Justice tease going their separate ways, The Best in the World still seems destined for a collision with Triple H and The Authority. Creative has made it pretty clear that Punk won't be revisiting his issues with former manager Paul Heyman and his man main Brock Lesnar any time soon. Before decimating Mark Henry last week, that pair announced their intent to capture the two belts that The Viper is currently carrying around.
Another group getting a chance to shine are Bray Wyatt and his flock. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are chasing the tag team titles possessed by Cody Rhodes and his brother Goldust. Those pairs have traded wins lately. A Wyatt target who had no wins over The Eater of Worlds was Daniel Bryan. Or should I say, Daniel Wyatt? The smark jury is certainly out on whether or not this is a heel turn, if it's a "de-push" or vote of confidence for Bryan. It's definitely an indication that the company has big plans for Clan Wyatt, and especially their partriarch.
The rest of the undercard have gotten on television, in booking that seems to follow the booking of the women. Instead of Total Divas vs. non-Total Divas, it's general babyfaces (like R-Truth, Xavier Woods and Dolph Ziggler) against general heels (like Brodus Clay, Fandango and Damien Sandow). It's not much, but it's better than what the Divas are doing. Or Wade Barrett.
What to look out for
Monday Night Raw goes Old School, a couple of miles from my house in Mob City...the home of the no-longer-defending Super Bowl champions. You can expect plenty of opportunities to Michael Cole to say "vintage"...many of them even an appropriate use of the word!
One man we know will be there is Bah-rock (pause) Lez-nrr. After making an example of The World's Strongest Man, will anyone stand up to The Beast? The men set to do no frills battle for the unified titles at Royal Rumble will both be in Baltimore. With only a couple of more weeks to that match, the two have to address it this week. Will they address Lesnar as well?
CM Punk will keep working to split The Shield, as he completes his solo series against the trio with a match against Roman Reigns tonight.
And while all that stuff is well and good, everyone will be tuning in to see in Daniel Bryan and/or Bray Wyatt have anything to say about their new union.
What they should do
The seemingly inevitable break-up of The Shield got me thinking about the masterful way that WWE brought the three men along. Sure, many have been annoyed at their lack of direction at times, or the confusing messages that have been sent about their motives. But from teasing us with run-ins and secret hideout video, to wowing us with six-man tags and backstage segments with Hunter and Steph, these guys have been rolled out in a way that made them look strong every step of the way.
And I'm not even talking about the wins or stellar performances that kept them "strong" in the traditional pro wrestling sense. Those things kept us interesting, but the in-ring charisma and bits of dialogue made us want to know more about their individual characters. Integral to this has been the progression of their speaking roles: pre-tapes by themselves to backstage interactions to finally, just recently being let loose with a microphone and a live audience. They've been protected and pushed at the same time, and in a way that has left the audience wanting more.
It's time to start following that model with more of the roster.
The tag division is hopping, in addition to the champs and The Shield, Jimmy and Jey, The Real Americans and The Wyatts constitute a deeper pair division than WWE has had in more than a decade. But what do we really know about the roles that these guys are playing - especially faces like The Usos. I haven't seen anything that makes me want to see the twins cut a live promo on tonight's show yet - but I haven't seen anything that tells me they're not capable of it, either.
Follow the blueprint. Give us something from backstage or on the app that gives us an idea of who these guys. Build from that into longer interviews that factor into a larger program. Then, when the right feud is in place and the fans are behind them, they'll be ready to talk from the ring to really sell it.
Or, if they prove incapable of doing that, you've established their ceiling and can try again with the next wrestler or team from you developmental system.
What we're afraid they will do
Spend too much time with Cena and Orton. Their issues need to be re-established and their next showdown built to, but the product has settled into a nice rhythm in their absence, and trying to make everything about them right off the bat could really upset that balance and spoil some of what they have going with The Shield and The Wyatt Family.
What are you looking for as Raw puts on the throwbacks and kicks it old school?
Sound off below, and be sure to be here at CSS tonight for the always excellent discussion and laughs of the live blog.