WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (May 12, 2014) from Greenville, South Carolina, featuring a show that set up the top two matches at the upcoming Payback pay-per-view (PPV) on June 1 in Chicago while also casting serious doubt on the future of the WWE world heavyweight champion.
Click here to get full results with the live blog. Let's get to reacting to all the night's events:
Daniel Bryan loses his smile, then his life (but not his title)
We are going to do our very best to unravel this situation surrounding Bryan and his nagging neck but right now, we're essentially in the dark. The best we can gather right now is that no one in WWE knows much of anything other than he needs to get operated on soon and there's no telling how bad things could really be.
Because of that, it was necessary to leave a lot up in the air, like the status of the WWE world heavyweight title, while also getting him off television with an explanation that satisfied the ongoing story with Kane.
They accomplished this by having him cut a promo channeling his inner Shawn Michaels sans smile and get all emotional at the idea that he has to go away for a while because he's hurt and he's not sure when -- or even if -- he'll be able to come back.
Like a true champion, he's resolved to do so (and, of course, there's zero expectation he'll be done for good; just dramatic effect).
However, he does have to go out and a simple explanation wasn't enough. No, he had to be murdered in cold blood by THE DEMON KANE.
No, he's not dead, but we were left to assume as much when THE DEMON KANE came out on stage dragging Bryan's lifeless body behind him like he was pulling a lawn mower the wrong direction. This was necessary so WWE could run another story on its website about how the champ's injuries were EXACERBATED by the vicious assault that occurred backstage, presumably in front of the same medical personnel who did nothing until THE DEMON KANE had stopped dragging him and decided to just leave.
Off to go back to hanging out with the devil, probably.
Meanwhile, they teased the whole way that Bryan would either relinquish the WWE title (he didn't) or Stephanie McMahon would strip him of it (she didn't), all while Stephanie continued her act of being concerned for Bryan's well being while expertly heeling on him with the beautifully crafted slam that he's really not an "A+ player" because he suffered a neck injury.
Also, that look after Brie Bella -- who avoided THE DEMON KANE by not hanging around Bryan until he was dead, funny how that works -- pushes Stephanie is every reason this angle is even worth paying attention to the thread it's currently hanging onto.
Segment grade: B+
ASK HER IF SHE'S READY
I hate that the above video released by WWE doesn't include all the pre-match greatness from Alicia Fox -- cutting a short but effective promo establishing a real story for Divas Champion Paige with AJ Lee still gone and Tamina disposed of, then beating her upside the head with the microphone after telling Paige to tuck tail.
I love that it begins with the spot in the match when Fox hits a crushing backbreaker and when Paige doesn't roll off her knee, she picks the champion back up and throws her to the mat.
HOW DARE YOU REST ON MY LEG AFTER I JUST BROKE YOUR BACK!
Fox was the perfect mix of pissed off, angry, insane, and happy about all of the above. She was vicious and cold with a varied attack that was stiff and impressive. Not only did it get her over as a monster heel -- she was the female version of Brock Lesnar in this match -- but it made Paige vulnerable, a babyface champion in peril who proved she could overcome with a timely and well executed Paige Turner.
A true champion overcomes and all that.
To top it all off, we got Fox losing her mind post-match, slapping around hapless WWE employees while shouting down referees and scaring the ever loving shit out of JBL. My favorite part? She didn't lose her mind over a guy! WWE actually booked a female to look this strong, then flip out that crazy over losing a match because she feels like she should be champion.
Such progress, paid off with such strong performances.
Segment grade: A+
The spear of justice crushes you ... overpower
WWE booking is, sadly, oftentimes a lot like buying a lottery ticket. Not a Powerball ticket, mind you, but a scratch off gimmick. It's a fairly low investment with huge potential upside but you're usually left wanting. Even when you win, it isn't much of a victory because you likely only managed to break even.
Then, every once in a great while, and maybe even then only once, you buy a $2 scratch off and win $1,000.
That's The Shield.
Consider, if you will, that this trio of previously unknown (sorry but most fans aren't watching independent shows) and certainly unproven wrestlers burst onto the scene in a huge angle in a main event match between CM Punk, John Cena, and Ryback. That was their introduction in November 2012.
First impressions and all that.
But then think of what came next. An unstoppable blitz of breakthrough performances, each seemingly topping the last. They weren't just having consistently good matches, they were stealing the show on nearly every card against nearly every opponent.
But they weren't just being fed jobbers, or mid-card acts, or former main event talents who had cooled off and needed something to do. No, they were going over clean in main event level matches against the John Cena's of the world after tearing the house down on PPV.
Now consider the breakneck pace hasn't slowed for even a second.
It's now May 2014 and the recently reformed Evolution are finding it nearly impossible to get the upper hand on them. This was best personified in what we were treated to last night, an attempted 15-on-3 mugging that somehow turned into a bloodbath in favor of the 3.
The best part? It never feels like too much with this crew. It never feels like they're going over when they shouldn't, or that they can't be defeated, or that they're too dominant, or that they aren't vulnerable.
It just feels right.
Segment grade: A
All the best to all the rest:
- Lana's improvement may not even be an improvement so much as WWE simply allowing her to showcase her range with actual story within a segment. She was positioned so very well here too. She was repping Vladimir Putin and Russia, as per usual, while America was represented by Hacksaw Jim Duggan of all people, an old man who always looks like he's coming off a three-day drug binge and thinks he's patriotic because he shouts "U-S-A" at the top of his lungs. He is the epitome of a dumb, loud America who is ultimately weak and pathetic. Lana reacting to him with casual boredom and minor annoyance before lording over him was pitch perfect.
- Rusev did, in fact, crush Big E this week, everyone. How long until Al Sharpton shows up?
- John Cena & The Usos vs. The Wyatt Family was a really fun, well laid out match that serviced each master about as well as possible. Bray Wyatt's drunken stupor sell of the two superkicks from Jimmy and Jey was only matched by Jey's avoiding contact of the falling big man. We could sit here and whine about CENAWINSLOL and all that but sometimes it's fun to just have the babyface team go over the heel team in front of a super hot crowd in a well worked pro wrestling match. That simple.
- Call me crazy but I also enjoyed Nikki Bella vs. Natalya. Was it the best worked match you'll see? Certainly not. They were sloppy in spots, especially toward the end. That said, the psychology was on point and it's just so refreshing to see so many women on WWE television in powerful positions. They were in there laying their stuff in and you can't ask for much more than a stiff forearm and stretch. Issues with Natalya breaking kayfabe on Twitter aside, this was good.
- A first: Curtis Axel was entertaining. Rock, Paper, Scissors with Ryback to determine who works a match? Win. Rigged coin flip to determine the same while getting over on THE BIG GUY (OUT) because Ryback is dumb? Win. Working a good match after all this? Dear lord, I might become a fan if they keep this up.
- Sheamus not only didn't turn heel, he's about as clear cut a babyface as it gets. What's more, he's now a fighting champion who overcomes difficult challenges to earn the praise he's getting. This may or may not have been in response to reports of his turn. It also may or may not be a stop gap measure thanks to the upcoming European tour. Whatever, he's a HOSS with a sick Cloverleaf finish. For that alone, I'm forgiving all of the flaws with his character.
- We need more 'Dango. Also, if you're not excited for the pending Layla-Summer Rae feud, you're doing it wrong.
- Speaking of 'Dango, props to whoever decided to have JBL take shots at the idiots who were disgusted with the Michael Sam video from the NFL Draft. I can't be certain that's what that was, but it sure felt like it. Even if it wasn't, I'm going to assume it was and feel good that WWE took the right side on this one.
- Damien Sandow went all worked shoot on the pre-show, then tried to do the same on the main show, saying he was upset because "they" were scared of what he might say and were burying him and what not. That's paraphrasing, but it's the gist of it. Then, later, he assisted the very same people he was referring to. This is why we can't take any of this seriously.
- Adam Rose has died three deaths in front of WWE crowds now. I wonder how many more it will take before the powers that be decide he's a flop -- word from the Wrestling Observer is that they were already thinking as much before this show happened -- and send him back to NXT. His big problem? The announce team of Michael Cole, JBL, and Jerry Lawler trying to convince you he's cool. Also, that blow pop. You can't be a babyface with a blow pop. You just can't.
This was a really fun show that only had minor issues and the problems were easy to forget about/overlook.
Overall grade: A-
That's it from me, Cagesiders. Now it's your turn to sound off in the comments section below with all your thoughts on last night's show. How did you like it, if you liked it at all?