Oh, what a three hours and five minutes it was in Detroit's oft-referenced Joe Louis Arena on Monday night. Faces long in absentia descended, queasy alliances seemed to gel and poor Fandango and Adam Rose were emphatically re-cemented as transitional squash talent.
It's a lot to take in, I know. But neither quiver nor fret, because as always, I've broken the action down into five essential takeaways. And, as a bonus, thrown in a bunch of stuff that may have taught us nothing, but gave everyone something to tweet about.
Here's what I learned from the December 15 edition of Monday Night Raw.
5. Dress-Code Breaker
Many of us were expecting Brock Lesnar's music to hit as Raw came on the air, but instead the TitanTron counted down to the emergence of Chris Jericho, there to bait Fandango into handing over his Extreme Moment of the Year Slammy statue. Fortunately, it wasn't long before Paul Heyman interjected and saved the segment, but one still can't be rescued from another deep dive into Y2J's wardrobe. This time, the Ayatollah whipped a skull-patterned black scarf around his neck, complementing a brown leather coat for an overall look that was less Fozzy than Mozzie (you're welcome, impending White Collar finale). Jericho seems to be very much in on the joke of his perma-out-of-date Chippendales vests, Lite-Brite jackets and European accessorizing, but it's hard not to imagine his locker-room ritual resembling something akin to this.
4. Rusev Does Crush
Generally, the more Michael Cole and Co. harp on a character's calling card (e.g. Ambrose residing on the lunatic fringe), the more it tends to water down that aspect of their personality or gimmick. But I gotta say, the constant reinforcement of how Rusev has yet to be pinned or submitted has impressed upon me just how substantially they're positioning the Russian hero (née Bulgarian brute).
It's also been essential, since his feuds have circled the wagons of Cold War concerns, and Lana's running out of ways to tell American audiences that they stink. Though I remain unmoved after months of witnessing him Accolade Jack Swagger, Heath Slater and Mark Henry into unconsciousness, I am quite eager to see how (and who) they choose to threaten his preeminence. Ryback, who stared him down last night, is probably not that guy, but at least their pairing suggests that Rusev might make enemies who simply want to take down the undefeated monster rather than rally for the red, white and blue.
3. The Usos Are Kind of Cheaters
The Fatu brothers have been known to pull a little "twin magic" to get over on the Miz and Mizdow, and last night, Jey helped Jimmy pick up the W over antagonist Miz by halting the self-professed A-lister with a Slammy trophy to the gut. Granted, when the Usos opt for subterfuge, it's typically to even the odds against their duly conniving opponents. Yet it's still curious behavior for a team that has definitely won fans over with their in-ring ability and long journey to the upper card, but hasn't necessarily overwhelmed with babyface charisma. A return to their heel roots could be in order, even if last night's antics weren't explicitly called for with that turn in mind. It could, if anything, provide more subtle foils for the fledgling New Day faction.
2. A New Day Yawns
I don't mean to be cruel and persistent, and I think I can understand what kind of connection WWE was hoping New Day would make with the audience. Moreover, I was optimistic for their debut and would only root for all three individuals to succeed (well, I'm still not sure how much I love that Xavier Woods guy). But there's no real cause to mince words: This is not working. Pieces of it have potential, namely Woods' athleticism, Kofi Kingston's likeability – although I'll join JBL in the "curb your enthusiasm" camp – and Big E's versatility as playful big man or silent muscle. But like Adam Rose ceding his screen time to a bunny, New Day's in trouble when Big E's leaky sweat glands steal the spotlight from whatever message all those unanswered call-and-response chants are supposed to convey.
1. Eyes on the Surprise
There's nothing more exciting in pro wrestling (er, sports entertainment) than a good storyline swerve. And just when it seemed this installment of Raw was all too easy to telegraph (Jericho was the only one in the building who didn't realize Brock Lesnar would come down and beat his ass), the broadcast concluded with Heyman shaking Seth Rollins' hand after Lesnar laid waste to Royal Rumble opponent John Cena.
For all Rollins' claims of engineering the Shield, ever since going out on his own he's been notable for needing the protection and mentorship of others. Heyman, while rightly boastful of his role as Lesnar's advocate, could benefit from another convincing main-event protégé in his stable after failed courtships with Curtis Axel, Ryback and Cesaro. As Cole and crew breathlessly observed, it's unclear whether their partnership was premeditated, but it didn't seem so, though it's awfully difficult to fathom Lesnar letting that curb stomp at Night of Champions slide.
Wherever this new intrigue leads, it helps restore the product's recent success ratio at keeping us on our toes (for those counting, Sting's Survivor Series entrance would count as a success, Internet speculation aside, while Roman Reigns' TLC interruption was hard not to see coming). Most importantly, it sets the tone for WWE's headiest few months, i.e. the road to WrestleMania, where all storyline sins and gimmick gaffes can be atoned for and forgotten with a well-placed F5 or game-changing betrayal. So long as we almost never see what's coming next.
Below the Belt
- Cool camera work outside the steel cage tonight.
- Unreal that Dolph Ziggler and Luke Harper were at it again.
- Fandango's pronunciation of Slammy as "salami" should be enough to guarantee him more time next week.
- I have my doubts about the Ascension.
- Now would be a great time to create a Brothers of Destruction-esque backstory for Rowan and Harper.
- At this point in his career, Kane is much more fun to root for than against.
- Good idea to keep Reigns' speechifying brief, and not a bad confrontation between he and Big Show.
- Move of the Night: That was a pretty sweet top-rope AA from Cena.
- Line of the Night: Kofi, encouraging JBL to lighten up: "You play golf, right?"
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Ah, so Famke Janssen dies in Taken 3, rainbows are now for petting and you too can look like Steph McMahon!