'WWE Raw': Sting and Brock Lesnar Bring It Home

Plus: Ziggler, Ryback and Rowan get reinstated in time for the 'Royal Rumble,' and the Ascension get their initiation

Sting on 'Monday Night Raw.' Credit: WWE

There were a lot of quick finishes and long soliloquies last night, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There was also a legends panel and a Raw reunion, not all of which was necessarily great. But all anyone will remember is Sting staring down Triple H and Brock Lesnar launching Big Show like he was a duffel bag stuffed with down.

So without either of my feet touching the floor, here are the five things I took away (in addition to some sidebar observations) from the January 19, pre-Royal Rumble edition of Raw.

5. WWE Really Likes NEEDTOBREATHE
Maybe it's because WWE's corporate acronym and NEEDTOBREATHE's spelling both require all capitals. Or that the South Carolina band's frontman, Bear Rinehart, was once a standout high school athlete, something he has in common with much of the pro-wrestling pool. Or repeated licensing of their music is simply what's best for business. Whatever the impetus, Raw has really taken a shine of late to NTB's (if I may be so bold as to use that shorthand, and subsequently use up even more editorial space by seeking such permission) anthemic ditties. Last week, "The Heart" played behind their tribute to "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and last night, their single "Difference Maker" opened the show and set the tone for a touching MLK tribute package. NTB's songs are a bit pat for my ears, but I do enjoy that Rinehart's hometown coincidentally shares a name with the Texan lake that inspired this 1990s alterna-classic.

4. Flair for the Old
I'm all for guest icons and reunions and associated hoopla (although the notion of an advertised Raw reunion still feels nebulous and broad the morning after). And it was good times watching Ric Flair pause from playing self-serving heel on the Royal Rumble legends panel (alongside Hulk Hogan and the born-again animal sniper formerly known as Shawn Michaels) to do his patented Arrested Development chicken dance and get punched in the face. Ditto for witnessing a newly healed Billy Gunn go apeshit on the Ascension (not to mention reintroduce his Billy and Chuck-era clean-cut look and a bronzing job that looked like Kramer after an afternoon of butter-tanning).

But both the aforementioned panel and heavily hyped N.W.O. brouhaha – which developed into an N.W.O./DX/APA free-for-all, though oddly absent of Hogan – carried on for quite a bit of time before paying off with another Big Show/Roman Reigns showdown and New Age Outlaws ass-kicking, respectively. Nor was the banter between Michaels, Hogan and Flair particularly crisp. Ditto for Kevin Nash, X-Pac and Scott Hall (although the latter still knows how to play to a crowd). If these segments don't get worked into the night's storylines in any really meaningful way, it might be best to keep the cameos novel and brief. Sort of like what appears to be the best direction for the Ascension's initial main-roster run in general.

3. Cesaro and Kidd Are Fun
That was one weird, anticlimactic ending to Cesaro and Tyson Kidd's umpteenth squaring off against some combination of the New Day. And though they lost the match, it's clear which of these tag teams is headed in the right direction, proving that in-ring chemistry and ingenuity will invariably trump – and be able to progress at a quicker rate – than half-baked faction works. At some point, Cesaro and Kidd will need to refine their own presentation, whether that means uniform tights, a new name (even something as simple as T&C) or whatever will make their union feel like it wasn't a happy accident. But the pairing of their styles and tempos happens to be perfect, and they've already shown tremendous tandem creativity and both seem equally comfortable in the skin of a cocky villain. In a tag-team landscape where recent champions have included face-painted, pseudo-philosophizing brothers and a wannabe A-lister and his stunt double, is the notion of Kidd and Cesaro as viable competitors really that strange?

2. Hell in a Sell
Personally, I'd forgotten all about the fact that Dean Ambrose's knee is supposed to be slagging after his ambulance match with Bray Wyatt. Daniel Bryan's neck injuries, on the other hand, are harder to put out of mind, given that they put him on the shelf for most of 2014. Still, in both men's matches − Ambrose pinned Wade Barrett in a non-title contest, while Bryan fell to Wyatt after Kane's interference – the kayfabe sell was overkill. Not that Bryan's bout in particular didn't have its share of other distractions, especially two commercial interruptions that abbreviated whatever story these two old foes were telling that provoked a "This is awesome" chant from the Dallas audience. Plus, no one over-emotes nagging aches and pains quite like Jey Uso. But even though it wasn't my ligaments and nerves being punished by Barrett, Bray or Kane, I couldn't help but groan every time Ambrose or Bryan stumbled and screamed.

1. That's How You Go Home
Just when it seemed all hope was lost, and that Triple H and Stephanie had mandated us all to one more round of John Cena vs. Authority goons with superstars' careers on the line, up popped Sting (er, "the Vigilante") on the TitanTron. And then through the curtain he came. Within a matter of seconds, Cena rolled up a bewildered Seth Rollins, order had been restored to the WWE roster, Triple H had begun his vengeful quest for Sting's blood in earnest and everyone turned off their TV sets before enduring even a moment of Chrisley Knows Best with satisfied smiles. Then Brock Lesnar's music hit. The Beast pummeled his adversary Rollins and dispatched of Kane, before turning his sights on Big Show and hoisting him up for an F5 in a show of raw, unquestionable strength that was downright scary. Which is what you want heading into he, Cena and Rollins' main event on Sunday, i.e. that the onus is on Lesnar's opponents to come and pry the championship from his Kimura grip. In a night that featured plenty of monsters getting over, Brock stood triumphantly on the shoulders of demons and giants.

Below the Belt

  • Dolph Ziggler's gonna get one hell of a reception when he storms the Rumble. And maybe win?
  • I'm OK with Bryan losing. It definitely helped put he and Kane's feud back on the map.
  • The Ascension got their final initiation last night, but will ultimately look good getting over on the Outlaws Sunday.
  • An all-around good job of building heel heat last night.
  • More X-Dow!
  • Alicia Fox is the first to kid about her hair extensions, but man those wigs are crazy.
  • Rusev no crush without Ryback.
  • Two things I need to keep reiterating: New Day is not working, and we're still owed an explanation for the WTF Bellas reconciliation.
  • OK, Cena hugging that kid was pretty cute.
  • Move of the Night: Cesaro and Kidd (again). Specifically, Cesaro, for basically balancing Kofi Kingston on his shoulder with one arm for half a minute.
  • In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Who's John Cusack to say no to Hot Tub Time Machine 2? And that was one shameless Friday Night Tykes promo.
  • Noticeable in Their Absence: Luke Harper, Goldust and Stardust (again) and Jerry Lawler.