Despite that enthusiastic headline, the flipside of Randy Orton's triumphant return to fan favorite last night – which concluded with his bloody head being curb-stomped into the dreaded steel stairs – all but sealed some time on the shelf so he can film The Condemned 2. But hey, if Dean Ambrose can come back from hiatus after shooting Lockdown/getting storyline-sidelined after an Authority beat-down, Randy should be able to milk the most out of returning in several weeks time.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves or dabble entirely in speculation. There's plenty of concrete business to parse through following three-plus (plus some more if you flipped to the WWE Network for Sheamus v. Rusev) hours of scripted drama and perilous sports entertainment. 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 3 edition of Monday Night Raw.
5. Wait, So What's at Stake?
While fretting over Vince McMahon's stipulation that if Team Authority loses to Team Cena at Survivor Series, the former cedes control over the WWE, faction-head HHH seethed, "Do you know what's at stake here?" No one answered, but I'm not so sure the question was so rhetorical.
Fun as it is to have the Chairman make a cameo, it's not especially clear what it means to have a storyline dictatorship featuring at least two real-life corporate execs put their power on the line. Does that purely suggest that, should Team Authority lose, HHH, Steph, Kane et al can no longer run roughshod over Raw and SmackDown? Or does this get more meta, where we're made to believe that Hunter and Mrs. Helmsley-Levesque-McMahon vacate their offices in Stamford and representatives of Team Cena appoint new leadership both behind the scenes and in front of the curtain? This sort of thing might have required less explanation in the era of Jack Tunney or J.J. Dillon, but in an age when boardroom politics bleed through to broadcast content, some delineation might apply.
It's been a tough several weeks for Jimmy and Jey, who've lost their tag-team titles, and with it, much of their luster. The brotherly duo's rise from the drudgery of weekly Main Event filler to Raw main-event thrillers was earned on the sweat of terrific matches and commitment to the finer points of in-ring tag-team presence and performance. But since dropping the belts to Goldust and Stardust (are they officially the Dust Brothers?) it's been up to the brothers Fatu to generate interest in a new feud and rally support behind their re-ascent toward the top.
While anyone who watches Total Divas can attest that these twins have charisma out of character, little of that magic's come across in corny promos and overeager backstage interviews. And over the past eight days, they've either cheated to settle a score with Miz and Mizdow or struggled to keep pace with that duo's superior comedy. As Jimmy battled (and eventually lost to) the Miz last night, Jey antagonized Mizdow outside the ring by mirroring his stunt-double antics, which not only flattered Damien with imitation, but made the Usos look like bullies to boot. All signs point to some kind of fatal four-way tag match for the belts at Survivor Series or sooner (why else have Los Matadores continue embarrassing the champs?) but of all four theoretical teams, Jimmy and Jey suddenly seem the most in need of a functioning gimmick.
3. Bray of Lite
This is what we waited for? This is what the WWE squandered the conclusion of its Ambrose/Rollins rivalry on? I've admitted in the past to being Bray Wyatt's biggest skeptic (purely in terms of gimmick, not physicality), but as he appeared and disappeared from his rocking chair on the ramp while Ambrose laid waste to Cesaro (at least sans jack-o'-lanterns this time), was I the only one who thought: Is this all there is? Is he now merely a shepherd without his flock (and oy to the most recent Erick Rowan sighting), rather than some sinister, newly motivated shaman whom Ambrose has real reason to fear? As the careers of rare, legendary bogeyman and cultish archetypes like the Undertaker can attest, smoke, mirrors and monologues only transcend if we can't see right through them.
2. Randy Feels Dandy
Even if it bears out that the Viper takes a breather due to "injury," maybe even missing Survivor Series, a hero's welcome awaits when he's "medically cleared" to return. And while, in off-screen interviews and on social media, Orton has always contested that he prefers a villainous assignment, he seemed pretty damn comfortable pumping fans up to get behind him against Seth Rollins.
The fact is that WWE's Apex Predator was far from at the top of his game throughout this series of runs with Evolution 2.0 and the Authority. But over the past month, he's uncoiled and commanded attention in his simmering beef (mmm, simmering beef) with HHH's new golden boy. And he was electric to close out the show in Buffalo, giving the fans (who were otherwise hard to please) what they came for by planting Rollins with an RKO and beating down the chief operating officer before the proverbial "numbers game" put him out of commission. So while we'll all miss Randy's cocky, god-like poses and petulant unpredictability, and the guy changes stripes more than Mark Henry in a 12-month span, I welcome the new direction – even if it was partially prompted by a certain viral phenomenon.
1. So Much for the Slow Build
Unfortunately for us all, Mark Henry and Big Show have yet to fully settle their differences. Nor are new U.S. Champion Rusev and Sheamus done fighting over a country neither claims as their native land. And as has been discussed, Orton and Rollins have plenty left to reconcile. Still, it was pretty shocking to watch Raw dedicate half its run time to nearly blowing off three storylines that had only started to boil over since the final bell of Hell in a Cell.
Granted, the imperative was to have audiences stick around until Rollins' final curb stomp, by which point they'd feel morally obligated to watch Rusev invariably take home the title against Sheamus on the Network and subsequently indulge in 27 additional days of free content, courtesy of the benevolent McMahon clan. That is, assuming they didn't log on, see that the 2K15 roster-reveal special was listed as currently airing (which it was), figure they missed the match, tune back into Monday Night Football and forget what they could be getting for the ongoing, low-low price of just $9.99. All I know is I no longer have any idea what to anticipate at Raw in six days, never mind Survivor Series on November 23. Maybe that was the idea. Or maybe it's best to heed wisdom from the one man who can not only answer these questions, but also possibly deconstruct just what bonds Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt.
Below the Belt:
- I might finally be on board with the urgency for a Sheamus heel turn.
- Man, that Buffalo crowd was brutal, huh?
- I guess this is what it takes for Natalya to get time on Raw.
- No more "Rusev/Ryback crush Zack Ryder/Titus O'Neil" please.
- Logic dilemma: If HHH thinks Ziggler's such dead weight, why does he want him off Team Cena so bad?
- Cesaro seemed pissed about that bloody head. More so, oddly, than his SmackDown pumpkin head.
- Sheamus' loss to Rusev was sealed soon as Cole alluded to his 181-day reign.
- Props to the fan who shouted, "Your vodkas stink" to Rusev during he and Sheamus' bout.
- Line of the night: Lawler to JBL: "Why do you go on vacation? You're on a permanent ego trip as it is." Hey-oh!
- Move of the Night: Orton countering curb stomp into a vintage power slam.
- In case you fast-forwarded through commercials: The bartender seen six seconds into this Miller Lite ad is basically me with disco-era hair and wardrobe, and Horrible Bosses 2 looks only slightly more contrived than this.