STORY OF THE NIGHT
A surprise winner here, as the best story of the night actually goes to one that has ended up lost in the shuffle. While the continued battle between Rollins and Ambrose was solid, the early giveaway that Ambrose will stop any cash-in attempt was a rare blip in the story. All of the numerous returns did a good job of creating new feuds, but it was actually the culmination of a month of hints that scored the best story.
Jack Swagger and Zeb Coulter completed their face turn, coming out to finally confront Lana and Rusev about their hatred of the USA. The result saw the crowd give the loudest ever (and one of the loudest reactions of an exciting night) “We the people!” along with Coulter and Swagger. The Real American getting the better of Rusev was a good touch too to present Swagger as a true threat, something that WWE failed to accomplish with Big E before him. Rusev and Swagger could have a great feud that could even stretch to being a part of the SummerSlam card if it continues to play out as strong as it has so far, and Swagger could be the first to hand the Bulgarian his first singles loss.
MATCH OF THE NIGHT
As good of a show as it was, the greatest match was on first. The Money in the Bank briefcase winner Seth Rollins took on one of the men he bested in Rob Van Dam. The match received a well deserved “This is awesome!” chant as the two men fought through the pain, one night removed from their brutal Ladder Match.
STAR OF THE NIGHT
So many options. The man who just edges out his competition is Bray Wyatt. Not only was he victorious in the latest round of battles with Sheamus and The Usos early on in the night, but he got to crash the mega-return of Chris Jericho. Most of all, he didn’t feel at all out of place doing so. It didn’t feel like this was a push, it simply felt like an exciting prospect, which is in itself a testament to the regard he is currently held in by WWE and the fans. The chanting of “This is awesome!” in reaction to a feud beginning between Jericho and Wyatt also summed up how positively the fans view him.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
One thing is clear, John Cena’s endless repetition of “pool of crap” was not a contender. The award is actually shared for the show, between JBL and Paul Heyman.
When Summer Rae kissed Dolph Ziggler, JBL’s reaction of “Attaboy Ziggler!” was brilliant, especially considering how little it fitted with the tone of the story and commentary. Heyman’s introduction of Cesaro as “My client, who is true Battle Royalty” was excellent wordplay and Cesaro deserves to win the Intercontinental Championship for that potential nickname alone.
SURPRISE OF THE NIGHT
Sorry to AJ Lee, Jack Swagger, Damien Sandow and Seth Rollins but there was one segment that stood head and shoulders above the rest: delivering not one but THREE massive – and all welcome – surprises.
The return of a former WWE Champion, multi-media STAR was a major double bluff as The Miz returned. Finally going back to his ‘awesome’ gimmick that saw him be an egotist with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove, like during his most successful run in early 2011 when he was the WWE Champion. This would’ve been a great resurrection of The Miz, but unfortunately for him he was simply there to be fed to the true return (sadly possibly putting the final nail in Miz’s coffin for another solid run).
Chris Jericho finally returned to the WWE! As expected, the crowd went absolutely nuts, and Jericho barely had to say a word. So little in fact that Miz called him out on being a re-run of his 2012 silent “light bright” jacket. Miz also got a great line in “I’m The Marine dammit!” before receiving a Code Breaker.
That wasn’t even the final shock in store, as the lights went out on Jericho’s exclamation of “Raw is Jericho!” and The Wyatt Family surrounded him! Jericho took a swing at Bray but was immediately beaten down by the trio.
REVIVAL OF THE NIGHT
The Divas division. Whilst it was regrettable and irrational to have AJ Lee win the championship on her return instead of begin a hunt for it, her return was huge for the division. Stephanie continuing her feud with Brie Bella through Nikki was logical, and it led to the breaking point for the Funkadaktyls at long last. It is far from the strongest division, but at least it is getting freshened up.
IMPRESSION OF THE NIGHT
The night of returns managed yet another one, only with a twist. When it seemed like Mr McMahon had made a triumphant return, instead came Vincent Kennedy McMahondow. His impression was spot-on, opening with the classic “Welcome to Monday Night Raw!” and even including the rarer “genetic jackhammer” nickname, Sandow took great glee in getting to act as the boss.
WORST OF THE NIGHT
The storyline between John Cena and The Authority was just awful. The opening segment saw Cena randomly go street in his retort to The Authority’s original niceness in announcing him as the (ill-advised) cover star for WWE 2K15. The news didn’t land very well with the crowd in attendance or with WWE’s beloved Twitterverse, and Cena did little to soften the blow. Although Triple H’s mocking imitation was surprisingly entertaining.
The main event of Battleground sounds uninspiring, as Cena will defend against Randy Orton, Kane and Roman Reigns. The four split into an equally uninspiring and dull main event – made even worse by the excellent show the preceded it – that needed three run-ins afterwards just to get the crowd back up.
John Cena. While Brie Bella is intertwined in Daniel Bryan’s storyline with The Authority, Cena remains completely distant from his partner Nikki. He just ignored as she was punished by Stephanie for being Brie’s sister, watching her get put into yet another handicap match without even acknowledging it. Even in his newfound problems with The Authority, Nikki has not been mentioned once. And Stephanie hasn’t mentioned Cena in her problems with Nikki, but that is understandable because her feud is with Brie. Cena just comes across as self-centred, something encouraged by his actions on Total Divas.
WWE will find themselves one referee down next week, as whoever called the main event will be punished. Not quite sure which referee it was, but his endless delaying – for no good reason – of cashing in Seth Rollins briefcase cost The Authority dearly as Ambrose made the save. If the referee claims he was waiting for Cena to be fit to fight, that isn’t the precedent of a cash-in, especially where The Authority are concerned. In the immortal words of Vincent Kennedy McMahondow: “YOU’RE FIRED!”
“WHY?” OF THE NIGHT
Adam Rose‘s already difficult gimmick got turned into a walking advert thanks to his backstage skit with Santino, seeing them all endorsing and indulging in Twisted Tea.
When Damien Sandow was being punished for his impression of Vince McMahon, and Stephanie said that his opponent would be another member of the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal, the opportunity was rife. Standards were high given the speculation surrounding the show and a big return, and the reveal of The Great Khali was disastrous, even worse with hindsight of all the returns that took place afterwards.
There are very few options that would’ve been a worse opponent for Sandow, and a worse announcement for the Battleground Battle Royal. Mark Henry could have returned, Jack Swagger could’ve been given a second rub in one night, even Big Show would’ve been better.
Honourable mention to Bo Dallas, who didn’t take the opportunity to give Nikki Bella an inspirational speech when she interrupted him to enter for her handicap match.
WWE had a very difficult job ahead of them, following the underwhelming and predictable Money in the Bank pay-per-view that had reinstalled the status quo of John Cena as champion. Few fans were excited about the prospect, and the opening segment did little to sway that sense of “been here, done that.” But what followed was one of the best episodes of Raw in quite some time.
In fact, if you removed the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture from the equation entirely, this show would be a perfect beginning on the road to SummerSlam (via Battleground). Sadly, the dull and uninspired main event will be WWE’s Achilles heel over the next couple of months, despite a thrilling overall card.
The returns of Chris Jericho, AJ Lee and to a lesser extent, The Miz are all exciting. Jack Swagger’s face turn was excellent and all of the above open brand new interesting possibilities. Jericho-Wyatt, AJ-Paige, Swagger-Rusev are three potentially excellent programs – alongside the already brilliant Rollins-Ambrose and the long running Steph-Brie and HHH-Reigns – SummerSlam and Battleground are looking good (all except the main event).
Thanks to the main event match being saved by the post-match run-ins of the three former Shield members respectively, the show doesn’t get knocked down for its biggest fault. And ignoring Great Khali’s existence.