I'm not saying last night's broadcast was a tepid affair, but typically I come away from Raw with a couple Moleskine pages worth of notes, and this morning, I find myself working off maybe a quarter of that. Which is fitting, since it felt like less than 50 percent of the active roster was in attendance for the lame-duck Austin, Texas crowd, likely owing to WWE's U.K. and European tour that commences tomorrow.
So, see ya next week Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Wade Barrett, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, the Usos, Rusev et al. And in their stead, hello to lots of Kane, Big Show and canned backstage interviews! On the bright side, folks like Neville, Lucha Dragons and the Bella Twins got decent screen time.
But before I depart and attempt to locate Steph and the Game's private Pacific island, here are five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) from the April 6 edition of Raw.
5. Could AJ Be a Work?
I'm so not a gossip (although OMG, did you see what that guy was wearing?), but a small part of me gets excited by the possibility that AJ's "retirement" from her in-ring WWE career is step one in repackaging her character. After all, how much longer can she teeter on the brink of turning face or heel while skipping down the ramp to an entrance theme that's ceased to reflect her evolution? I'll concede that, as portrayed, AJ's departure seems mutual and amicable (unlike that of her husband's), allowing WWE to own it creatively, as they did by citing her goodbye tweet to fans and showing footage of her involvement in last week's six-woman Divas bout. Addressing AJ's stepping down could merely signify the company recognizing fans' savvy and preempting any future CM Punk-chant reprisal, but ain't it more fun to think that my colleague Jensen Karp is onto something and kayfabe really is back?
4. More PTP Silliness, Please
Sure, Prime Time Players' new promos could use some polish, and the audience still needs to figure out exactly what their aims are to get behind this latest push, but I'm enjoying Titus O'Neil and Darren Young's parodies of their competition. If New Day continues to tilt toward an apparent ultra-serious heel turn (as should have been the plan from the jump), PTP could have a lot of fun poking holes in their identity crisis. And what will make the Ascension successful villains at this point is allowing opposing banter to get under their skin. Cesaro and Kidd (who absolutely should have been in action last night) are finding their common ground in all areas and starting to outdistance their division, so it's the perfect time to give O'Neil and Young a chance to find new dimension in their longtime union and develop into rival foils (no pun on their mock-Ascension getups intended) for the champs.
3. Cena = Finisher-Proof
It's getting a bit ridiculous already. If Stardust can't pin the U.S. Champ with Dark Matter, then there's absolutely no way for viewers to suspend disbelief and invest themselves in the remote possibility that an upset is in the offing. And really, without that, why are we watching John Cena vs. Cody Rhodes for 10 minutes, outside of the aforementioned absences, Cody's workmanlike reliability and the need to establish Cena's Open Challenge gimmick as a means to legitimize his title? Anyhow, we're all accustomed to Super Cena, and we've accepted that finishing moves are often mere preamble to some surprising or spectacular finish. But if Cena can ostensibly bench press his way out of Dean Ambrose's Dirty Deeds or an Authority choke slam week after week, doesn't it devalue both those maneuvers and anyone who can't muscle out before the ref counts to three?
2. We Have a Blowoff Problem
It's understandable that Miz vs. Mizdow was a logical way to present a match that felt like the culmination of something in light of pervasive storyline stasis. But similar to Goldust and Stardust's premature clash at Fastlane, this long-in-the-making mentor vs. protégé tango was too much too soon. And a la the Dust Brothers' confrontation, Austin's lukewarm enthusiasm for Miz and Mizdow's portends that the duo's compelling feud may have flickered out before catching fire. Part of the blame belongs to Mizdow, who should have toned down the aggression and antagonized Miz a bit more and played more broadly to the crowd. Still, the lackluster affair was symptomatic of WWE's recent mishandling of builds and blowoffs. Last fall, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose all but sacrificed closure on their saga to elevate an Ambrose/Bray Wyatt rivalry that never soared; Rollins and Randy Orton have effectively hit reset on their beef after Orton's return from "injury" was bungled and bogged down with contrivances; we've discussed the Rhodes boys' rocky road; and now the best grassroots singles-division story going looks to be in dire straits heading into an important post-WrestleMania pay-per-view. Although…
1. Does 'Extreme Rules' Even Matter?
To WWE, that is. New April subscribers to the WWE Network get it for free, while those already signed up have already paid for the privilege. Prioritizing a European tour two weeks after WrestleMania could support the notion that, as John Cena attested during his Live! with Chris Jericho podcast interview, taking positive momentum overseas is paramount. And let's face it: Randy Orton (who overcame Ryback and Roman Reigns to earn number-one-contender status for Rollins' belt) against Seth Rollins; whoever wins the upcoming Divas battle royal to take on Nikki Bella; whatever's going on in the tag-team ranks; and a presumed multi-participant brouhaha for Daniel Bryan's Intercontinental gold (one would think Sheamus, Wade Barrett and Dolph Ziggler would be involved) doth not a banner evening make. Then again, everything suddenly feels like nothing without Brock Lesnar around.
Below the Belt:
- Kalisto's mask tail is hypnotic.
- I agree with all of you that the Rear View as a finisher is silly.
- Brad Maddox!
- Byron Saxton's really in over his head.
- Not for nothing, Big Show, but Andre wouldn't get pinned by Roman on Raw.
- Does Bray Wyatt realize it's awfully smoky in there?
- Move of the Night: Loved Neville countering the patented Rollins turnbuckle powerbomb into a hurricanrana.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: OK, Minwax lady, we get it: You did it; So, if you're on a date with a dude drinking Three Olives, he's most likely a lycanthropic predator? And nope, don't get what Wink is.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Where do I begin?