WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (Feb. 2, 2015) from Denver, Colorado with a show that featured all the latest build to the upcoming Fast Lane pay-per-view scheduled for later this month in Memphis. There was also a special announcement to be made that was going to shake us to our very core.
Click here to get full results with the live blog. Let's get to reacting to all the night's events.
My core, it shakes
There was no big announcement.
The Authority was going to make it, then Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins got into an argument over who really deserves a WWE world heavyweight title match at WrestleMania 31, so the announcement was changed to book Rollins vs. Bryan with the winner getting Reigns at Fast Lane and the winner of that getting Brock Lesnar at 'Mania.
Later, it was revealed that Triple H and Stephanie McMahon had manipulated the situation to better situate Rollins, who lost to Bryan anyway.
Let's cut to the bottom of it: The reality era sucks.
The idea of the reality era is that we're never supposed to know what reality actually is. The problem is that we absolutely know WWE is trying to play us against the reaction we gave when they tried to play us the first time which was a response to the fact that they attempted to play us the time before that.
What they want to accomplish here is to give the appearance that Reigns is getting screwed around but he'll earn it despite that while Bryan is used to get him over both verbally and, when the time comes, physically. Essentially, they're attempting to transfer Bryan's fan support to Reigns via Bryan himself helping push the message that Reigns isn't actually the chosen one and he's getting screwed over just as badly as Bryan was last year. But when he faces Bryan, they'll ignore all the screwjob nonsense, make it fair, and the winner will deserve the WrestleMania match.
The idea, then, is to create the false hope that Bryan has a chance at winning by playing on the reality of what happened last year when the fans helped push him to the main event without ever actually intending on repeating that. This also seemingly helps solve the problem of fans booing Reigns because they feel Bryan deserves it more because Reigns will defeat Bryan fair and square, and undoubtedly get an endorsement from the man himself on the way out.
Again, the reality era sucks for exactly that. They're making clear how much it sucks via a fundamental misunderstanding of the function of fan unrest. And even if they weren't, is it really smart to assume they're going to make it better by having Reigns beat the guy fans wanted to headline WrestleMania over him?
Reigns was actually getting cheered wildly despite the Royal Rumble response when they visited cities that weren't Philadelphia. And isn't this the company that preaches how great it is that fans care at all? If they boo him out of the building, great! Just turn him heel. That would be giving fans what they want, not trying to manipulate the situation while admitting you're manipulating the situation for a different reason than you're actually manipulating it for while hoping that amidst all the confusion we just accept Reigns as the right guy to headline WrestleMania 31 as originally planned and cheer him as if he were Bryan on that one night in Philadelphia.
There's a part of me that loves the side of WWE that uses the Internet response to the product against itself but they've taken it to such an extreme that kayfabe has been obliterated beyond repair. You could argue that happened long ago, but the entire premise of this is they're trying to make you think they gave you the pencil when that was never really the case at any point. They are doing what they want to do anyway, which is what they always should have done. Really, this entire ordeal has made me long for a return to a much simpler time when Guy A can beat Guy B and if the fans boo it they turn Guy A heel.
But that's always been the biggest problem WWE has faced throughout the entire history of the promotion. They've consistently attempted to make fans accept characters as they want them accepted instead of how they are actually received. THAT is why Reigns is getting booed. It's not that he's bad at his job, it's that he's bad at what they're asking him to do because they want so badly to put him in a box he doesn't fit in that no one wants to see him in anyway.
We need less focus on trying to work the fans who know the reality and more focus on simply telling a strong story and letting the fans respond to it how they would like. There need to be adjustments, sure, but only for realizing when something is so blatantly not working that it requires a subtle shift, like a heel turn, not a seismic one, like suddenly acknowledging that fans can alter storylines if they cut enough promos on the product.
All the rest
No controversy here: Curtis Axel more or less asked us not to change the channel when he came out and started talking, which is usually a good indication you should do exactly that. But if that wasn't clear enough, JBL laughed at his promo and said we totally should change the channel. Those who did so -- certainly wouldn't blame any of you -- would have missed the best part of the show. Dean Ambrose walking out, throwing Axel over the top rope, and telling him "there; now you're eliminated."
Bad news, maybe: Speaking of Ambrose, the basis for his upcoming Intercontinental title feud with Bad News Barrett is that he beat Barrett in a non-title match and he wants to see his face on the wall at WWE headquarters. That's the best they could come up with.
The Ascension vs. Goldust & Stardust: It's getting to a point where I'm more interested in how JBL will bury The Ascension on commentary than I am in watching their matches. Meanwhile yet another tease of a Goldust & Stardust break up was furthered with Goldust referring to his brother as "Cody" and being admonished for it. That's a step in a direction that leads to a road I would love to travel down.
John Cena brings back guys who were already back: I'm not entirely sure what the point of this segment was. This already happened on SmackDown with Bryan playing the role of Cena and it went over just fine. My only guess is they wanted to use Cena in some form despite some eye ailment so they recycled a SmackDown segment hoping no one would notice. To their credit, I suppose, I'm not sure anyone did. If they did, I'm not sure they cared. That's a bad thing either way.
Ryback vs. Luke Harper: During this match I was getting tweets from folks inside the building telling me how unbelievably over THE BIG GUY was in this match. It came across on television too. It helped that they put together a solid big man match that saw Ryback go over clean with the Shell Shock. More of this.
Cesaro vs. Jimmy Uso: We got ourselves a flying Us UPPERCUT OF DEATH.
Bray Wyatt vs. Dolph Ziggler: How good was this? And not like "Dolph sold big for a dominating Bray" but like you could buy both competitors as legitimate threats to win while understanding that Bray had momentum on his side and he used that momentum, both in and outside the match, to help him to victory to keep the hot streak going.
Paige vs. Alicia Fox: This match was secondary to Nikki and Brie Bella sitting in on commentary as the single most annoying duo in the history of mankind. At one point Nikki said "it feels like hashtags just keep getting longer and longer" and even Brie scoffed at the remark. That said, I loved the post match angle. The twins spray painting Paige to "give her some color" is such a bully move and Paige nearly coming to tears humilated over it really helped get that over. That's strong heeling and setting up a babyface you can get behind.
The Miz vs. Sin Cara: Again, not so much about the match here but the story surrounding it. Earlier in the night, The Miz fired Damien Mizdow as his stunt double and hired him back as a personal assistant. I'm not sure why Mizdow went along with this, all things considered, but he did. Later, his want to play to the crowd got the best of him and he ultimately cost Miz his match with Sin Cara. I liked the idea here: Get Miz even more heat by having him be the one who stops Mizdow from doubling him. Simple and effective. I'm going to be a mess when they have their match, and it's going to be great.
Rusev vs. Erick Rowan: So we're clear, Rowan was born to die at Rusev's hands. Rusev is inching closer and closer to that point where he's the best thing about the show week in and week out. If the Russian flag wasn't gimmicked and was supposed to fall behind him as normal, he handled the production snafu about as well as possible. Same goes for Lana. These two are gold right now, which makes it just a little sad that they're in a feud with John Cena of all people.
Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins: There is no better argument to support my wishing for a Bryan-Rollins Iron Man match headlining WrestleMania than the match these two put together here. At the very least, we need these two to headline a pay-per-view someday, preferrably soon.
The first hour of this show was really bad, featuring that long talking segment and yet another Big Show-Roman Reigns match. But after that, it was pretty damn good.
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?