WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (April 25, 2016) from Hartford, Connecticut, and they couldn't have done a better job of building to the most important match on the upcoming Payback pay-per-view (PPV) that is now just days away.
Click here to get full results with the live blog. Let's get to reacting to all the night's events.
WWE, by simply introducing a couple of AJ Styles' friends from New Japan, has created one of its most intriguing stories heading into Payback. It has every angle covered.
Roman Reigns is the polarizing WWE world heavyweight champion who still stands on his moral high ground, even if he does it with a shit eating grin. AJ Styles is the darling challenger who represents everything the forgotten (at least in perception) portion of the fan base wants in a champion. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows are the wildcards.
This doesn't feel predictable, likely because there are so many options on the table, most of which would be satisfactory if that's the route WWE chooses to go. What's really satisfying, though, is they've managed to create intrigue through philosophical differences in approach.
Let's assume Styles is being honest and he hasn't been behind his friends various attacks on Reigns. Let's also assume he was honest when he pulled them off Roman last night on Raw. That clearly establishes that while he wants to win, he wants to do it the right way.
What he found when he went that route was a Superman Punch and a clear path to defeat. When he was given further assistance -- at a time when he was unable to prevent it -- it presented a clear path to victory. The prize, the WWE world heavyweight championship, is enticing enough to create the juicest moral dilemma.
Your life is defined by the choices you make, often when you're the most vulnerable. It's easy to make the choice to call off the dogs when there's nothing on the line in the moment but what happens when the ultimate prize is right there for the taking? When the surest route to victory is also the shortest but the most corrupt?
How much is your innocence, if it ever existed in the first place, really worth?
It's entirely possible he already decided all this, they've been working for him all along, and that fact comes to light on Sunday. That would be just as satisfying.
Finally, a PPV main event title match where any outcome is a win.
All the best to all the rest
McMahon family drama: Just make it stop. Please. I'm not above begging.
Be sour: This episode of Raw perfectly illustrated what I've always argued re: Eva Marie. The Vaudevillains are an awful act, painfully boring and uninteresting to such a degree that I'm going to be SUPER pissed when they beat Enzo & Big Cass, a team I've come to love dearly for being the exact opposite of that. It's why WWE should absolutely go through with having English and Gotch win at Payback. From where I'm sitting, it's the only way to get me to care about them -- have them beat a team I really, really want to see succeed. I'm pissed just thinking about it. That's a good thing! By the way, New Day eating up Enzo and Cass' schtick is a contender for Raw Moment of the Year now.
Gallows & Anderson def. The Usos: Speaking as a fan who mostly sticks to WWE and was kinda sorta in the camp that was taking this match as a first impression, this felt no different than any other tag team match involving The Usos. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, it just didn't do much to make me feel like these two are worth paying any more attention to than any other tag team, which I think is the opposite of what they were going for here. That said, their affiliation with Styles is enough to keep them interesting ... for now.
Sami Zayn def. Rusev: This was fine. Rusev was good in his role as overbearing big man taking it to Sami but ultimately proving himself to be an obstacle that Zayn would overcome, as he did. Lana throwing shoes stole the segment, but they ended right with Kevin Owens launching an attack from behind after an outstanding promo aired hyping their feud earlier in the night.
Apollo Crews def. Stardust: The idea, I think, is I'm supposed to love him because he's an "incredible athlete," as JBL described him. He does a cool move or two and wins his match and that should be enough, I guess. Except it's not. There isn't nearly enough personality here and not enough natural charisma to make up for it. He's physically impressive, sure, but how far can that take him?
Stupid Idiot: Chris Jericho's contribution to the Reality Era is that he has transformed his character into a heel who believes he's further up in the food chain that he actually is. He's playing on the ridiculous notion that wrestlers are better off for working with him, no matter the outcome, but doing so in such a way that the story works because, really, he's just an insufferable ass. To really drive it home, his go to insult is to call everyone a "stupid idiot" like an infant and if that isn't enough to convince you he's an ass, he made sure to give us a look at his actual ass by putting Dean Ambrose in the Walls of Jericho on the announce table. Remember, it's more effective there.
Natalya def. Emma: Charlotte was on commentary for just long enough to say Ric Flair is the greatest ever. Nattie submitted Emma. That's about all that happened.
ATTACK: Baron Corbin was supposed to wrestle Damien Sandow when Dolph Ziggler attacked the former from behind and had to be led away by officials. He was intense, because he's pissed at how he's been getting thrown around, and at Payback we'll see the payoff. Good enough!
Bad movie star: The Miz is an average actor who is really good at playing the role of a bad actor. His impressions of famous acts delivering even more famous lines only makes me want Cesaro to swing him into the sun that much more. Maryse jumping on her man to prevent the swing here was surely a tease for the PPV where Cesaro will swing them both SHUT UP IT'S HAPPENING DON'T TURD IN MY PUNCHBOWL.
A good show.