Previously on Monday Night Raw
They were still packing up the Money in the Bank set down in Philly when new General Manager Brad Maddox welcomed us to Raw in Brooklyn.
And what a Raw it was.
Fandango got a chance to work the microphone with WWE champion John Cena and then work a match with new Mr. Money in the Bank, Randy Orton. In between, the Viper promised the champ that he would never see the cash-in coming.
Dolph Ziggler dealt with AJ's "screw-up" at the pay-per-view (PPV) by kicking her to the curb. The Divas champ cost him his rematch with World Heavyweight champion (WHC) Alberto Del Rio, too, with some clever use of the ring bell. And then Big E Langston rang the Show-Off's bell as Dolph became the latest male superstar to fall prey to the black widow.
Mark Henry gave the champ his props for his PPV victory, and The Shield gave him a triple powerbomb. Bray Wyatt and his Family used R-Truth as the medium through which they sent another message to Kane.
CM Punk demanded answers from Paul Heyman for his betrayal the night before. He didn't like the answer, though. It seems Paul just made a business decison - he has love for Punk, but his money is on Brock Lesnar. The Beast Incarnate made it seem like the smart play, too, as he bloodied and bruised the Best in the World at Heyman's behest.
Chris Jericho said goodbye to Raw while Rob Van Dam said hello again in a heck of a match.
And Maddox promised Cena that he could pick his opponent for SummerSlam. He stuck to his guns, even though Stephanie McMahon and Triple H thought it was sure to get him in trouble with Vince McMahon. After running down his options, the champ made the crowd say "YES!" with his selection - Daniel Bryan.
Keeping Austin weird at the Erwin Center!
How will the Straight-Edged Superstar respond to last week's backstabbing and beating? As Heyman pointed out last week, this year has seen Punk lose almost everything he holds dear...is rolling with the Gracies enough to give him a chance at changing his fortunes against a former UFC Heavyweight champion?
Weeeellllll, it's the Big Show! The world's largest athlete returns to Raw tonight. Will he still be a heel, and where does he fit in a crowded landscape?
The Shield picked a fight with the World's Strongest Man last week. Henry looks to be turning to the light, and might face United States champion Dean Ambrose and Tag Team titleholders Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins in a program with the Uso twins, who impressed in a losing effort against The Shield at Money in the Bank.
The Wyatts continued their path of destruction to Main Event last week, so it's mostly likey to continue tonight. With an inexperienced GM at the helm, can we expect anything short of the supernatural to be able to stop them?
And what comes in the wake of the GM, and John Cena's, big decision concerning the SummerSlam main event?
Expect to pop for:
Daniel Bryan. Who else?
There's not a whole lot not to like about the WWE product these days. But the story that stands out in a book full of good ones, the brightest star in a clear sky - is undeniably the undersized goat-face himself. Whether you subscribe to the theory that he has succeeded despite the powers-that-be trying to bury him or you believe that we're getting to the third act of a long-planned underdog story, we're witnessing something that even the most optimistic internet fan never expected to see.
Conventional wisdom has it that either Vince will begin to take a more active, on-screen role in hindering his rise, or Orton will get his long-desired heel turn in nuclear fashion by crashing Bryan's championship celebration at SummerSlam or a PPV shortly thereafter. Even though neither case means a long, dominant championship run for the our boi D-Bry, what follows should be even better for his career.
The money is in the chase, as they say. Though it's never exactly been WWE's formula (they've historically favored long reigns by babyface-of-the-company types like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan and Cena), they have employed the counter trope before - most recently during the era of HHH that dominated Raw during the early-to-middle part of the last decade. Like it did for WWE's Voldermort during those years, DBD chasing Orton, or Vince's figurehead (or Randy as Vince's chosen one?) could really cement the master of the Yes Lock as a hero of the masses.
Unlike he-who-shall-not-be-named, Daniel Bryan connects with the audience as he entertains them. It's been a long time since someone was beloved by as wide a cross-section of fans as the bearded wonder. Cena has never been able to ingratiate himself with the smarks and adult males, while Punk can't quite pull the kiddies. Barring his being pulled from the title picture so he can walk Brie Bella's dog on E!, the goatface killah* can transition from underdog to face-of-the-company.
And then we can get a long, dominant championship run.
* If anybody from WWE creative is reading this, you can have "goatface killah". It'll get over huge, I swear. Just remember where you got it from when my portfolio comes across your desk, know what I mean?
The heat is on:
Kane. Get it? Cause he can make fire come out of the ringposts with just a wave of his arms.
Seriously, like I said, I'm kind of in love with everything non-Total Divas that WWE is doing these days, so this not really a panning of the Devil's Favorite Demon. But I am very curious to see what he does and how he comes out of his program with the amazing Bray Wyatt. As smarter Cagesiders than I pointed out, the Eater of Worlds promo last week was even more of an indicator that he and his family are on a collision course with Kane than their attack on the Big Red Monster the week before.
Who joins him to battle them with his tag team partner main eventing and his brother on the shelf? Does he have plans for an even longer hiatus should he lose that battle? Or does he join the family? And would that mean he unmasks again, or can the Wyatt's gimmick stand-up to having another strong gimmick in their midst?
Perhaps most troubling, his recent program with Dean Ambrose has shown that, whatever you thought of Kane's best days as in-ring performer, those days are behind him. Is he the guy to showcase the latest rising star from NXT as a wrestler, even if their matches are of the multi-man variety?
Will tonight be the night we start to find out the answers to those questions?
What can tonight's Raw do to top last week's excellent showing? Is the answer as simple as "Daniel Bryan" or will a non-Northeast audience not be as enthusiastic as last week's crowds?
Let us know what you think below. And stick around to get all the latest as we build to tonight's show (and always entertaining live blog)!