Watching Ryback teeter toward, and then away from, Team Authority last night was a fitting microcosm of the shell-shocking brute's past couple of years. The former Nexus member has swung unpredictably from face to heel, not to mention main-event relevance to glorified tag-team enhancement, since breaking through in 2012. Though now it appears, in lieu of the "injured" Randy Orton, WWE's ever-starved monster is stepping up as the company's unallied wild card heading into Survivor Series.
But before we dive too deep inside the thought process behind Ryback's latest push, there's plenty of other ground to cover from Raw's trip across the pond to Liverpool (which, as we were frequently reminded, is home to both the Beatles' legacy and namesake museum). And as always, in the interest of providing a service to you readers, 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 10 edition of Monday Night Raw.
5. Into the Woods
I'm not necessarily expecting greatness from Xavier Woods' New Day faction (which can be classified as its presumed working title for now). But given the ragtag group John Cena's assembled for Survivor Series and the midcard's recent failure to generate any memorable phenomena outside of Mizdow, consider my anticipation piqued for how WWE can take the varyingly established personas of Woods, Kofi Kingston and (we again presume) Big E and repackage them as a unit.
Raw desperately needs something fresh, and per recent vignettes' assurance, help could be on the way. Contrary to where many saw the trio headed, New Day looks less like Nation of Domination 2.0 than a funky Baptist twist on Bo Dallas' evangelical self-help. The big question is (particularly as it pertains to Kofi): Will their characters debut to uplift, or turn out to be slick and duplicitous? I'd assume and hope for the latter, but at least we know it can't be any more ill conceived than a certain lemon-loathing South African's ascent through the roster.
4. Hornswoggle, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down
Even in the Attitude Era's heyday, Raw's script doctors couldn't stop themselves from occasionally threatening the vitality of a quality joke. In fact, they sent up that reputation not long ago when the late Mae Young miraculously delivered yet another life into the WWE locker room, only in the form of perpetual good sport Hornswoggle as opposed to a human hand. And all due respect to Hornswoggle's impressive utility over the years, his participation in the Miz and Mizdow's bout with Los Matadores – in which he came attired as his partners and dubbed to be "Mini-Miz" – nearly turned a tenuous comedy act into total farce. Having him at ringside to mimic Mizdow's mimicry and, ultimately, get face-planted by El Torito, only took eyes away from a match that featured some really solid mat work. The Mizdow angle doesn't need any more moving parts. Its cast already runneth over.
3. Match of the Jeer?
Someone wake me up when Rusev and Sheamus are done testing each other's pressure points for 30 minutes. There's really no other way to map out a match between the two heavyweights than lots of ground-and-pound punctuated with occasional flying feet. But with little-to-no story developed outside the ring, it was difficult to read between the ropes during their U.S. title rematch and pick up on any drama. And as for the outcome – Rusev picking up the win via awkwardly delayed count-out thanks to interference from Seth Rollins' muscle – it begged a similar question as Rollins and Dean Ambrose's Hell in a Cell climax: Why dedicate time to a rivalry and hype up a grudge match when it's all just a means to some other, disconnected end? In this case, setting up sides at Survivor Series by siding Rusev with Team Authority and Sheamus with Cena and Co. That being said, I will happily watch half an hour every week of Stephanie lecturing Lana on WWE diplomacy.
2. At Least There'll be no Swagger
The only thing stranger than hearing thousands of Brits chant "We the People" was being asked to believe Cena and Dolph Ziggler could be thrilled with the prospect of Real American (and Ziggler's long-ago teammate) Jack Swagger joining their squad for Survivor Series. Thankfully, he was storyline-concussed by a pair of Seth Rollins curb stomps (a move that, even upon initial infliction, apparently calls for immediate medical assessment now). The only ingredient that could make witnessing Big Show and Sheamus barrel around the ring opposite Kane and Mark Henry on November 23 more insufferable would be enduring Swagger and Zeb Colter's hostile patriotism. I was actually on board with the Oklahoma kid's 2013 resurgence as a silent ethnocentric assassin, but jumped ship the second they tried to spin him as a hero and would have had an awfully hard time rooting for the good guys with Swagger as one-fifth of their axis.
1. The Big Guy Stands Tall
A couple of wrinkles have been added to Ryback's presentation since he came back, most notably an emphasis on squaring up alongside his face as he barks, "Wake up, it's feeding time!" and descends down the ramp. But it's clear that most of the Vegas native's time off was spent tightening up his performance in the ring and focusing on regaining his high-impact agility after months of passively taking bumps and losses.
It's still a stretch to accept that he's suddenly back at the center of things, with Teams Authority and Cena vying for his contribution to their cause (and, at episode's end, after laying waste to all comers, remaining essentially independent). It's one of the more jarring resets in recent WWE memory, down to the way we've witnessed the Big Guy meat hook his way through a series of squashes like sweet kisses to Paul Heyman's cheek and a slumping Rybaxel never happened. Yet, you have to admit: Ryback made good where it counted, spine-busting and power-bombing the competition in the show's opening and closing segments, essentially carrying a broadcast missing Orton's thrilling momentum, Cesaro's blunt force and much of the tag team division's electric stunts. No one needs another round of Ryback v. Cena or Ryback v. Henry any time soon, but a program with Rusev or Rollins could be promising. And along with imminent advents like the aforementioned New Day, could appropriately shake things up on the upcoming road to Royal Rumble.
Below the Belt:
- Both Bray Wyatt and Ambrose need, and can execute, better feuds. Perhaps just not with each other?
- May I propose Bray and Dean in a Lantern Match?
- Crazy-eyes Luke Harper's the Authority's new hired gun. Now can HHH buy him a clean shirt?
- So, Rowan's stalking Natalya, we guess?
- Wishing Brie and AJ had a better match.
- Well, that Paige/Alicia business ended quickly.
- Nice shirt, Jerry.
- Tip of the night for Sheamus: If you want to win your title back, and you've got the big man down, don't yell "fella" and wake him up!
- Michael Cole's commentary during the bunny-Adam Rose fiasco made no sense.
- Now that Steph mentioned it, why doesn't her music every play when she and HHH come out?
- Line of the night: Steph deadpanning, "There are no such thing as politics in WWE."
- Move of the Night: Having Ryback disrupt Cena's "five moves of doom" with a power slam.
- In case you fast-forwarded through commercials: OK, I give: What the hell is Cricket? Was the chainsaw lady in that Queens of the Ring ad a GLOW reference? RIP, White Collar.