What you need to know
WWE fans still had a case of the Mondays on Thursday night, thanks to a Seth Rollins show opening promo full of product placement and self-aggrandizing revisionist history. The WWE Champ boasted about burning the Roman Empire and razing Suplex City before using his Authority-granted booking powers to make some matches for his old Shield-mates...Dean Ambrose got Bray Wyatt, and Rollins took Roman Reigns - a man the heels believed might not even be in the building.
Not wanting to wait, The Lunatic Fringe stormed out with a kendo stick in hand, looking for a little retribution for the beating he and Roman took in Raw's main event. He got some licks in on Joey Mercury, Jaime Noble and their Apple Watches, which prompted Seth to call for his opponent immediately. In the match proper, it wasn't a prop monitor this time, but Ambrose's zeal for violence got the best of him again. A leap off the announce table lead to his being driven into the barricade, hit with Sister Abigail and put down 1 - 2 - 3.
After Wyatt once again promised to take away everything Reigns has before ending him, the champ had J & J use the timepieces he gave them to countdown from ten to see if his old partner would show. The Big Dog was there alright, and even managed to fight through DAT NUMBERS GAME to stay alive long enough for the referee to notice some interference and give him a disqualification victory. When The Authority came at him without a decision on the line, he was rescued by Dean, ending another edition of SmackDown: Friendship is Magic with Ambreigns standing tall.
The Blue Brand was light on talent because quite a few names were overseas for a big WWE weekend in Tokyo. Production didn't rely completely on the former Hounds of Justice and recaps of Raw, though. The undercard got some work in as King What's Up with broke up some Rose-on-Rosa action to score a royal W, Ryback sent a message to Miz and Big Show that the Intercontinental belt is staying with him by Shellshocking Mark Henry, and tag champs The Prime Time Players took care of business against The Ascension.
With her sister in Japan running her streak with the Divas championship ever closer to #300Days with a win over Tamina and Paige, Brie held it down on the homefront by beating Naomi. Meanwhile, Rusev sent a message to Dolph Ziggler while he was in Ryogoku Kokugikan main eventing with John Cena.
Of note across the Pacific (something that Cena & Ziggler's defeat of Kane & King Barrett was not), Brock Lesnar returned to action and showed no ring rust, or ill effects from his grounding at the hands of The Authority, in decimating Kofi Kingston & The New Day. And we learned that the man who will challenge Cena for his United States championship in a few weeks at Battleground will do so without a title of his own, since Kevin Owens lost the NXT belt to Finn Bálor - his second pinfall lose during the kayfabe week.
What to look out for
Tonight, WWE sets up shop in Chicago, and hopefully enough time has passed that we don't have to worry about chanting any UFC-contracted guy's names...even if Raw could probably stand to be hijacked. No offense to Reigns & Ambrose, who the company's website is setting up opposite The Authority after their back and forth last week (with Wyatt lurking as a wild card), but most of us are looking to see what a couple of guys just back from Tokyo do tonight.
After a week off, Lesnar is back on Raw. Though we probably have seen our last suplex until the next pay-per-view (PPV), this will be his chance to respond to Rollin's Pedigree a couple weeks back. And since Paul Heyman should be there, hopefully that response won't sound too much like a pick-up line.
Someone who doesn't need anyone to talk for him is Kevin Owens, but who knows if the former NXT champ will be able to use his words. KO was distraught at the loss of his title, and since that defeat was seen as part of a promotion to full-time status on the main roster, his anger will be directed at Cena more than anyone else.
Taking a few moments off from their duty on the sinking ship Tough Enough, Miz and Paige will attempt to keep the IC and Divas championship programs interesting. On the not inconceivable chance that their efforts fail, we can always wait to see if Vince McMahon will find a way to get himself in front of the camera in an attempt to cure his flagship show's ratings problem.
What they should do
Outside of the use of Kane as a prominent player and main event draw in 2015, one of the more frustrating elements of WWE booking is the "everyone is kind of a horrible person" Divas division. The newest wrinkle in Nikki Bella's reign - overtly chasing the longest run with the butterfly belt - is really sticking in my craw as a result.
Though I think it's a pretty petty move, that's not because I want AJ Lee to hold the record forever. Records are made to be broken - especially ones that were determined by Creative fiat . And there's a great story (or two) to be told in Nik's striving to do so.
But any wrestling story is neutered by the tweener character that she, and every other female on the main roster, plays.
With the champ as a heel, taunting babyface challengers with her greatness, flaunting her talent and connections to an audience cheering for her to be taken down a peg. This is the easiest path, and could even be accomplished while still keeping Nikki the character that so many of her fans love on Total Divas. Her glamourous lifestyle can be something 'reality' show audiences and Instagram followers admire and something wrestling fans' boo. The online Bella Army wouldn't need much more than the twins social media presence to stay on their side, while so-called "smart" fans wouldn't need much than for Paige (or Natalya, or any NXT call-up) to mock that presence to get behind a crusade to dethrone her.
They could even position Bella as a face, questing to become the greatest Diva's champ ever for her fans. This could, in fact, look very much like her boyfriend John Cena's character and U.S. title run. While mainstream fans would love her unconditionally, hardcore ones would have to admire her improved work rate while she put on good matches with younger talent - or cheer for a heel that her fans could definitely hate, like NXT call-up Sasha Banks.
As it stands, crowds are bored and/or confused, and even the bouts that the deliver are met with silence. #RoadTo300 won't change that any more than #GiveDivasAChance did unless WWE can give us a reason to care about who wins or loses.
What we're afraid they will do
Call-up a bunch of women from NXT and immediately have them start acting like horrible people.
Anyone else worried about the ladies, or do you just want to see Suplexes and Pop-up Powerbombs?
Here's where you share your questions, concerns, screams and cries about tonight's Raw, Cagesiders.