'WWE Raw:' Hillbilly Whim

A title change and a surprise addition to Team Cena ahead of Sunday's 'Survivor Series'

Luke Harper defeats Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental Championship on 'WWE Raw' Credit: WWE

There we were, a mere six days from the 28th annual Survivor Series, and the question on everyone's mind was simple: Will the Bunny finally fight back against Adam Rose by simulating a sexual act? Breathe easy, because the answer was: Yes! Yes! Yes!

But for real, folks, there was plenty of substantive mat action and even more prolonged banter on the microphone last night, and I'm here to disassemble it all into an occasionally useful and intermittently amusing digest. I've broken the action down into five essential takeaways and, as a bonus, a bunch of stuff that may have taught us nothing, but gave everyone something to tweet about.

Here's what I learned from the November 17 edition of Monday Night Raw.

5. Stunt-Catting
Apparently, nothing says comedy like feline dwarfism. That is to say, count me among those already not compelled by memes and viral vids of adorable animals, let alone the phenomenon known as Grumpy Cat. 

Yet, there she sat, perched near a scratching post backstage at Roanoke's Berglund Center, trading glances with the Miz (no doubt insecure about how Grumpy's upcoming, made-for-TV holiday flick compares to Christmas Bounty), who belied his heel tendencies to pitch the four-pawed creature on a collaborative project and give her a peck on the cheek. All the while, Mizdow stood by, gamely muttering and miming in silence, as his character continues to careen from inspired meta-comedy into enhancement buffoonery. And then there was Rowan…

4. Ducks in a Rowan
Team Cena finally got their fifth man! Or their fourth, I guess. Ryback was actually numero cinco (concluding a two-week long non-mystery), since Erick Rowan (who, a la Rusev and Cesaro, may now be going solely by surname) emerged first to join John-John, Dolph Ziggler and Big Show. And, as we inferred, sub for Sheamus, who was so devastated by a World's Strongest Slam through an announce table that his removal from Survivor Series was already a foregone conclusion.

It's not entirely clear what made the (former?) Wyatt Family disciple run down that ramp, fingers-a-pointing at his cult brother Luke Harper and juices flowing in a babyface lather. A code of solidarity between redheads, perhaps? Tiring of being relegated by the Authority to spot appearances in silly promotional vignettes for Kane's new movie? Woke up on the lofty side of the bunk bed? Surprises are certainly welcome, and it was kind of a cool reveal, but ultimately more random than momentous. Though, with SS being available free to all WWE Network subscribers this month (and yes, I know how redundant that sounds), it was a pretty low-risk go-home show, so why not?

3. Git-R-Done With This
Rowan and Harper's antics included but aside, there was a pervasive feeling last night that Raw had gone full country. The setting in Roanoke, and relative hometown boy Heath Slater's requisite appearance in an Uncle Sam outfit (odd choice, given that character's New York-based origin story) to stand up against Rusev certainly lent a southern flair to the proceedings. But there was also the announcement that Larry the Cable Guy will be next week's guest star, leading to collective groans on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. Not to mention advertisements for season two of CMT's redneck reality series Party Down South. In a way, WWE embracing its NASCAR-favoring audience brings rasslin's territorial legacy full circle. But in present day, and specifically this coming Monday, it'll translate to three hours of this.

2. Tune In Early…
On Sunday at Survivor Series, because the Kickoff Show may just be more entertaining than 10 multi-participant tag matches put together. Fandango may have fizzled in the ring, but the guy's persona is downright performance art in the proper context, e.g. conducting a panel on the evening's impending matches with ideal foils Bad News Barrett and Paul Heyman. Granted, it's not as if the trio (rounded out by Rosa Mendes, just to ensure we get to reflect on the recent half-season of Total Divas) will be offering essential analysis or insights into a pre-determined card. Still, their charisma's been missed on Raw and SmackDown, and I, for one, am guaranteed to be parked by my streaming device of choice at 7 p.m. ET.

1. Ryback to the Drawing Board
Perhaps we (OK, I) were (was) a bit hasty in welcoming the Big Guy back to main-event relevance. To be fair, the anticlimactic outcome of Ryback's Survivor Series holdout was carefully scripted and out of his control. But the one thing entirely in his domain – in-ring performance – fell far short of putting him back over. His plodding match with Cesaro (who, it should be noted, made a bizarre, disappointing and inexplicable cameo faking out Team Cena during the closing contract signing) exposed a Goldberg-like weakness when it comes to hanging for a couple segments with a versatile ring technician.

There was the awkward top-rope splash on offense, poor selling of Cesaro's uppercuts on D and just an overall, tangible sense that the King of Swing was tiring from carrying the match. There's plenty of entertaining and profitable rivalries yet to be explored by re-converting Ryback into a fan favorite, and he continues seeming more comfortable being asked to talk, but at the end of the day, we tune in to see hungry monsters like him walk the walk.

Below the Belt:

  • Well, so much for that prestige-restoring IC title run.
  • Still not sure why I care about Wyatt v. Ambrose, but good to see Dean doing the kind of manic sneak-attack run-in he does best.
  • Brie did look pretty good as AJ.
  • Why, exactly, didn't Cena come to save Sheamus and Big Show? Maybe Ryback was right!
  • The eight-man tag-title match may well steal Survivor Series.
  • Randy Orton's gotta cause an Authority loss in his hometown on Sunday, no?
  • Man, they really blew it not having Cesaro join Team Cena.
  • That Adam Rose v. Tyson Kidd match really seemed like a lose-lose to me.
  • Love that Mercury and Noble actually made the teaser graphic as part of Team Authority.
  • Lana's losing her luster.
  • Line of the night: This was a tough one, but I'll go with Slater's, "Ding ding you son of a bitch."
  • Non-Move of the Night: Mizdow double hip-tossing himself out of the ring.
  • In case you fast-forwarded through commercials: 2K15 is coming! 2K15 is coming! Also, why does anyone needs five razors on one blade, people at Schick? And color me interested in Dig.