WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (Feb. 1, 2016) from Birmingham, Alabama, and it was all about getting us good and ready for the upcoming Fastlane pay-per-view (PPV) scheduled for later this month in Cleveland, Ohio. They did a damn fine job of that, too, at least for the main event.
Click here to get full results with the live blog. Let's get to reacting to all the night's events.
You can't kill me
This was far and away the best opening Raw segment I can remember.
Brock Lesnar comes out with Paul Heyman and he stands around looking scary as hell because he's Brock Lesnar. Dude is a human version of a bear. We get exposition from Heyman and it was fine, considering he wasn't saying anything anyone else wouldn't be saying in the same position.
Gotta tell us the who, what, when, where, and why and all that.
Heyman makes sure to get a few shots in on Lesnar's upcoming opponents, though, including calling out Ambrose for being a nutjob. Then, Ambrose shows up.
The interaction between Dean and Brock is PERFECT.
Ambrose starts by making clear what we've been saying all along: He's not crazy. At this point he's a sympathetic babyface if only because people keep dismissing him as crazy when that's so clearly not the case. He walks right up to Brock and tells him he knows this was probably a bad idea but he isn't stupid and he's not scared.
Chuckling, Lesnar responds with "is that right?"
Dean plays it straight: "I came out here to tell you I want the title. I want it so bad, I'm going to fight my own brother for it, and I'm going to fight you for it. Take me to Suplex City, baby!"
"Oh, I will," Brock tells him smiling.
Ambrose went on to say, essentially, that he knows Brock is going to beat him almost to death but he's made of iron and he will never, ever stop coming forward. His dream is in sight, and he will go through hell to do it.
This was Ambrose, knowing he's fighting a fucking bear, climbing into the cage and sizing the bear up. At first I thought it was about finding out if he could do it but I think that initial response was misguided. I think there was more to it.
Lesnar, the big ol' bear, couldn't have shown him any less respect. A puny human had just walked into his cage. He sees no threat there. In his mind, he's already won, it's just a matter of getting to the match to get to the killing.
What makes this so interesting is everything we've talked about with the Ambrose character up to this point, and what I was referencing when I said there was more to this. Yes, it's entirely possible he will get mauled and bruised and damn near destroyed. But there is nothing Lesnar can possibly do to him that his life hasn't already done. He's been fighting battles like this from day one. He was born into the struggle, molded by the sacrifices it's taken to get him to this very point.
Lesnar, as the bear in the cage, can't know this. If there is a single thought in his head, there is a 0-percent chance that thought has anything to do with doubting his own ability to easily dispose of this man.
As Dean has already indicated, that's where he can win. That's the weakness he has to exploit. Lesnar is a big, muscular beast, strong and ferocious but what happens when that kill doesn't come as quick and easy as he anticipates? What happens when those big strong muscles get tired?
It's almost a shame there's a wildcard involved here.
Cause I'm already inside you
There is a wildcard involved here, however, and that's Roman Reigns. He first came into the picture in a backstage meeting, alongside Ambrose, with Stephanie McMahon. This was also great because it gave Stephanie the chance to be deliciously evil self, attempting to play the two against each other.
"Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Reigns and Ambrose played this off well but there are still two weeks for The Authority to continue poisoning the well. She put the two in a tag team match in the main event to provide even more opportunity for distrust and deception.
When the main event came around, they just worked a regular match and the two went over on New Day clean. After, Lesnar came out and took advantage of New Day coming up from behind to attack a waiting Ambrose and Reigns, hitting Dean with an F-5 and leaving while Roman was taken to the outside, spared of any interaction.
This was bizarre for a number of reasons. For starters, why not at least tease the possibility of disfunction in the tag match, if only to add some intrigue? What's more, why keep Lesnar and Reigns so far apart? If I didn't know better, I would think they were setting up to establish the Lesnar-Ambrose side of the triple threat to be the featured side, but it's far more likely they're attempting to build to a some sort of epic confrontation between Brock and Roman.
If so, that's incredibly poor planning. That opening segment absolutely showed the far more interesting story here is with Ambrose and Lesnar. Reigns can add to the story but at this moment, I'm not seeing how if they aren't going to tease some dissension between the two.
Even so, they completely turned this around with one episode of television. How they got here is still incredibly stupid but what they did in the first week leading to the match at Fastlane was perfect.
All the best to all the rest
Kalisto vs. Rusev: A fine match that featured Rusev selling like he was contemplating the vastness of the universe. The finish was lame and commentary still isn't taking Kalisto seriously enough -- at least on Raw -- but it continued the wildly consistent story that League of Nations are a bunch of boobs we shouldn't take seriously. So that's fine.
The Usos def. Social Outcasts: This match happened. For those having trouble with the Outcasts and how unbelievably annoying they are, here's what I do: Think of the fact that they actually believe they're cool. They think they look cool, talk cool, and act cool. They fully believe this, and it's why their dumbassery is entertaining.
Miz TV with AJ Styles: If there was fear WWE would fail booking Styles, they held that off for at least another week. The entire premise of this was Styles was supposed to introduce himself to WWE fans but Miz did it for him, first talking him up and then changing him mind. Never once did he let Styles speak for himself. He put him over strong, then acted like he shouldn't be in WWE and he can't swim with the sharks. By the end, Styles, who had come out to a tepid reaction, was getting cheers and his name was being chanted by those same fans. That is 100-percent a credit to Miz and his work here. It ended with Styles finally beating him down and chasing him off. This was perfect. They worked to everyone's strengths and the heel got the babyface over. You can't ask for more in a segment. Even better, it gives them a reason to have a match on SmackDown. They set up a continuation of the Jericho feud in a later interview, so this was a good night for Styles.
Brie Bella def. Charlotte: Because they wanted a story on Total Divas where Brie beat the Divas champ for her sister while she is recovering from neck surgery. If that sounds so dumb your brain can barely handle it that's because it is. The only potential good to come of this is Charlotte getting pissed at her father for failing to properly interfere and sending him packing. Still, Brie Bella is in the title chase now, folks. Strap in!
Big Show vs. Erick Rowan: BEEF ON BEEF BABY. This is fun when you just think of everyone involved as giant sacks of flesh who are running into each other. Don't put any more thought into it than that. They set up a future match here. Nothing more, nothing less.
Titus O'Neil vs. Tyler Breeze: There's nothing to say about this.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens: A good match that felt dull because no one in the arena seemed to care about it at all. Ziggler also won, which doesn't make a ton of sense to me considering the career trajectory of the two men involved, and also offends me as a fan, but heels are born to lose and we've been conditioned not to care anyway. Whatever.
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch: What a disaster this was. Banks broke away from Team BAD saying she's sick of people stealing her spotlight, then Naomi and Tamina came out and literally did exactly that and she was totally cool with it. Then, they hung out and interfered in her match, which upset her, which makes even less sense than her allowing them to already steal her spotlight. I guess they stole it just a tad too much? This was dumb. Then, Lynch helped Sasha fend off the attack, because she's cool with bad gals doing bad gal things, I guess. They were given no time and nothing made sense.
Golden Truth: R-Truth doesn't want to team with Goldust because he's weird. Get it?
The main story delivered in spades. Everything else ranged from average to actively bad.
That's it from me, Cagesiders. Now you go.