'WWE Raw': New Year, Same Authority

Triple H and Stephanie resume their reign of terror over Cenation. Plus, Ambrose and Wyatt's feud comes to a fitting end

John Cena in the ring on Monday's 'WWE Raw.' Credit: Courtesy of WWE

We're less than three weeks away from the 2015 Royal Rumble, and there are a few things we know for certain: the Earth is round, gas is a volatile state and man once evolved from ape (or at least most of us accept that). As far as the WWE goes, not much is crystal clear. Fortunately, I'm here to lay bare the various happenings within pro-wrestling's most widely viewed promotion, by way of untangling three-plus hours of Monday night madness.

So without further pause, pregnant or otherwise, here are the five things I took away (in addition to some sidebar observations) from the January 5 edition of Raw.

5. The Authority Is a Bummer
There's a popular opinion that Raw the TV show was indeed better off with fictional villains Triple H and Stephanie overseeing business inside the ring. But much as I enjoy the glee with which Mrs. Helmsley-Levesque-McMahon in particular goes about her on-screen persona (and she was relishing her return last night), the net result of their omnipresence seems to be lots of rote interference/DQs and excessive talking.

Last night was true to form, culminating in that most dreaded of storyline bluffs: mass employee termination. The Authority's antagonistic "Cena Appreciation Night" culminated with Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan receiving their alleged walking papers, effectively resetting circumstances as they might have been had Seth Rollins and his teammates triumphed at Survivor Series. Revisionist tyranny was Raw's prevailing theme, as demonstrated with Wade Barrett toppling Ziggler and regaining the IC title he abdicated due to injury. That development was well and good (more on it in a bit), but as for the so-called firing of the company's top babyfaces, all it suggests is a dearth of creative thinking for how to reintroduce our corporate heels.

4. Bad News Crown
I didn't see Wade Barrett's swerve back to ruthless bad guy coming quite so quickly, especially since he was receiving cheers last week while conquering Cesaro. Nor did it seem obvious that Ziggler would drop his Intercontinental Championship mere days into the New Year. Although, in retrospect, the Authority couldn't well fire him while he lorded over the WWE's second-most prestigious singles honor. Still, it all shakes out reasonably well. Dolph (pending his presumed reinstatement after winning some kind of conditional Rumble match) gets to graduate to the upper card, while Barrett can put shine on the IC belt with a long, dominant run, punctuated by his chafing, Preston-bred self-assuredness. A face turn may well have been good for Bad News, but all in all, he and Ziggler's three-falls epic delivered.

3. The Ascension Are Kind of a Bummer
Whether it was Konnor and Viktor's own brave choice or the directive of a Raw writing staffer, the Ascension's decision to address criticisms that their gimmick smacks of dated Demolition/Road Warrior theatrics was a dubious one. Maybe their claims of superiority to the aforementioned tag legends would have been more compelling after squashing their opponents, or even a couple months down the line after rampaging through the division as portended. But last night's prematch promo felt unearned, and exposed a supposedly impenetrable duo as being vulnerable and insecure. Right now, their robust entrance music – and certainly not those spastic, slithering tandem poses that bookend their matches – is all that suggests the Ascension won't be due for a new look by this time next year.

2. Diva Disorder
The only WWE performer who ping-pongs between heel and face more erratically than Big Show might be Alicia Fox. Although now you can add Paige to that list of contenders, as she's apparently been partnered up with Total Divas-mate Natalya to help create naughty and nice factions within (and outside of) the E! series' cast.

OK, sure. But first someone still owes us an explanation about how and why the Bella Twins' feud fizzled into some kind of tacit reunion, whether Tyson Kidd is now fully extricated from his role as "Nattie's Husband," if Jimmy Uso and Miz are done decking each other out over Naomi's attention and whether AJ Lee is still in future plans or if someone else's (be it Paige, Charlotte, Sasha, whomever) time is now. The whole women's landscape is a bit incoherent and underserved, which is duly unfortunate for both the ladies in question and audiences craving more coherence and competition when they're in the ring.

1. R.I.P. Ambrose vs. Wyatt
They came through when it counted.

After months of stipulated bouts that resounded with little acclaim, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt said sayonara to their battle of lost souls when Wyatt stowed his opponent into the back of an EMT vehicle. Much was made by Michael Cole and crew of this being Raw's first-ever "Ambulance Match," an effort to spin the reality that this feud was running on fumes and wouldn't make it to Royal Rumble. Nevertheless, both competitors made each elbow drop through a table and Sister Abigail onto the arena floor count. The pace was still wanting, but the impact of each blow was blunt, and the timing of every counter-attack precise.

Despite the hokey premise, Dean and Bray's cumulative contest was their finest pure wrestling showdown to date, and hopefully sends them both off to more meaningful rivalries. Where each wanders from here (after Dean is released from the local Corpus Christi ER, of course) will be one of Raw's great intrigues. And while their lengthy saga wasn't always captivating or kinetic, there's no doubt they're both better performers for it in the end. One day, they might make even better allies.

Below the Belt

  • Was that Cesaro and Tyson Kidd or escapees from the Bodies exhibit?
  • Nope, New Day still not working.
  • Hey, Darren Young! And Sin Cara!
  • The Miz is generating great heat.
  • Yeesh, Rowan was really lacking in the pop department.
  • JBL is dead-on that we know way too little about Luke.
  • Weird that JBL is anti-Ascension, no?
  • Does Barrett really need three finishers?
  • Nice Stuart Scott tribute.
  • Loved Steph saying, "Ex-squeeze-us."
  • Man, Nikki didn't even try and sell any fight of that roll-up.
  • Why, exactly, does Rollins need to be in the Cena v. Lesnar match when he has the briefcase?
  • Rusev knows the U.S. is actually looking to be less involved in international affairs of late, right?
  • Move of the Night: Ambrose adapting his springboard-clothesline off the stretcher.
  • Line of the Night: I'd be remiss not to acknowledge Booker T for musing aloud that Ziggler "did not become Rolling Stone Wrestler of the Year by laying down." Good on ya, Book.
  • In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: So, Raw lovers really love fast food, huh? And Gary Busey just doesn't give a fuck.
  • Noticeable in their Absence: Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman.