WWE Raw preview (Mar. 31, 2014): Who (and/or what)'s next?

WWE.com

All the big angles are in play as WWE brings you Raw (and tapes Smackdown) for the last time before WrestleMania. And because we're such greedy marks, we spend as much time preparing for tonight as we do wondering what's next for favorites like Brock Lesnar and The Shield.

What you need to know

Batista wants to know what happened to the WWE he used to know and love. Everything seems S-A-W-F-T to him since coming back...Triple H playing exec, the fans chanting for vanilla midgets. Corporate Haitch wants to know when The Animal got so whiny. In an effort to help his former friend and foe find his inner asskicker, he booked him in a match with The Celtic Warrior.

He may or may not have found The Animal, but he continued to find his heel groove. Batista bailed when the going got rough (and the Brogue Kick was a'coming), beating Sheamus down with a steel chair and vowing again to claim the belts at WrestleMania.

The Shield extracted revenge on 3MB for their role in Kane's master plan from a few Fridays back, and when the Director of Operations and his fellow Authority cronies New Age Outlaws tried to push the tag team of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins with a second match, they made quick work of Rybaxel before Roman Reigns joined them to give their opponents for New Orleans a preview of their triple-powerbomb-filled future.

The most interesting Divas program actually involves the champ, where Tamina has turned on AJ Lee and will be looking to take the title for herself in Vickie Guerrero's Invitational on The Grandest Stage of Them All. That is, unless you're a fan of Summer Rae feuding with Goldust and Santino and Emma's bad date theater.

The Real Americans continue to be booked strongly, including a submission win for Jack Swagger over one half of the tag champs on Smackdown. Which probably means the champs will retain in their upcoming Fatal 4Way. The Miz remains a human punching bag, and that helped Mark Henry regain a modicum of respectability last week, but they're both probably toast when it comes to the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

Bray Wyatt explained that his actions on Raw were designed to show that when you wear a mask too long, as John Cena has, you become the mask. He then sent a more physical message to his 'Mania opponent - with a little help from his friends. A distraction from Erick Rowan and an assault by Luke Harper primed Big Show for Sister Abigail, and The Eater of Worlds stood tall to end the week.

What to look out for

Live from the nation's capital (if your nation is the United States of America, of course)!

Expect all the big angles to get plenty of play, as tonight's show should serve a bridge between the last several weeks worth of Raws and The Grandest Stage of Them All, currently being erected in New Orleans. Plus, the always entertaining "whoever stands tall on the go home show is doing the job at the event" game!

Does The Undertaker have more scares in store for Mr. "Eat Sleep Break the Streak"? Just how deeply has Bray dug himself into Cena's mind?

Will The Shield's unity hold long enough for them to take out the friends of The Authority and earn a second 'Mania victory? How frayed are the nerves of Rumble winner Batista and WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, knowing that there will be a third man in their title showdown, but not knowing who?

Speaking of that third man, will we see Daniel Bryan for the first time since the beating he took from The Cerebral Assassin two weeks ago? And if he shows his face, what punishment will Trips and Steph have in store for the leader of the YES Movement this time?

Plus, Smackdown tapes tonight, too - so anything can happen (but most stuff will happen on Raw)!

What they should do

I've been greatly enjoying the work of Paul Heyman's only client lately. Brock Lesnar was always a charismatic physical presence, but in his part-time return of the last couple of years, he's really shown development as a physical performer outside of the confines of an official match, too.

With his last official match for the next few months upon us, I was noticing the distinct lack of rumors or plans for his next program. It's probably a good thing that he only works a few shows a year, otherwise we'd expect him to be dominating the title scene. Or WWE would book him like a Henry or Show and he's be a comedic face every once in a while because they don't know how to write for him otherwise. But last year at this time, we know there was more of the Triple H program coming, and looming issues with CM Punk. In 2014, after Taker there's...?

The best use of him, and the ones that a lot of fans would be excited to see, involve the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, or up-and-comers like whoever remains a babyface from The Shield come SummerSlam. Any iteration of those programs probably means that The Beast would be slain, though. Presuming he loses at WrestleMania (which I think is one of the safer presumptions you can make in the world right now), does Brock need a feud he can come out on top off after his Streak match?

Unlike Punk last year, there really isn't a made guy right now who (1) presents a new, compelling and saleable match-up or (2) can afford a big loss. Lesnar vs. either Sheamus or Orton do much for you? Me neither.

So, can Heyman's guy be protected in another loss? I think so, but it may just be my desire to keep a certain trio intact; and a well-founded hypothesis that you can solve any booking problem by throwing The Hounds of Justice at it.

The Shield have a history of accepting payment from Paul E., in exchange for rendering services. Now that they've turned on one former employer, it shouldn't be too hard to explain that a Heyman guy could wander into their refocused sense of justice. Maybe even in an uber-popular face move like coming to Undertaker's side to stand up to Brock on the Raw after WrestleMania?

String along the story to build to Reigns versus Lesnar in Los Angeles this August. You could either protect Brock in a loss by having Ambrose and Rollins get involved on their partner's behalf, or protect Roman by having his fellows betray him. Cite jealousy that he got the shot, or claim Heyman paid them off. You get a couple more months of great trios matches, a bigger spotlight for the dissolution of The Hounds than a middle of the pack match against a team of 40 year olds, and a break-up program that will take you through the slow autumn months.

Much better than a face-turned Viper losing to Brock.

What we're afraid they will do

As exciting as the booking-on-the-fly has proven to be for the Daniel Bryan/Authority/WWE WHC program, I'd hope there are some plans in place to get us through the summer months. I've got a lot of "what do you do with so-and-so after their 'Mania program ends?" questions. If there's a plan from the powers-that-be, that can be a very good thing for us fans. If there's not...

Can this week's Raw sell us on this Sunday and build toward future ones at the same time?

Find out with your all your rowdy Cageside friends in tonight's live blog, and don't forget to listen to Cageside Live for discussion of the show (and whatever else crosses our minds)!

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