It was a good night for John Cena, who might finally have the crowd in his corner after A.J. Styles pissed all over his comeback, right in the midst of a fiery speech about Dylan Thomas.
It was a great night for folks who think WWE motors best when there's a murderers' row of malevolent heels manning the card. Styles, Gallows and Anderson, Seth Rollins, Charlotte, Kevin Owens…hell, even Rusev's looking fierce again holding down the midcard as U.S. Champ. In retrospect, good thing they hit the gas on New Day as fan favorites.
But before I lose my train of thought and derail this introduction like it were Golden Truth's momentum, here are the five key insights (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the May 30, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Hybrid Theory
That's right, a Linkin Park reference. I'm OK with it. My gripe here has to do with tag-team-nickname fatigue. I love a good pun or play on words more than any reputable journalist should, but even I've grown weary of slapdash duos born of oddball circumstance Human Centiped-ing halves of their names until something seamless sticks. The practice may have hit its peak with Jeri-Show, so suffice to say that seven years on, Breezango feels fairly insipid. Not to mention it's a tacit acknowledgment of a duo's temporariness. Thing is, Fandango and Tyler Breeze make sense together, so why not christen them with a more permanent moniker befitting their evident chemistry, as if their pairing were considered with care rather than thrown together? I doubt Lex Luger would mind if this one was revived and pluralized.
4. Karl and Luke Warmer
After 30 minutes of monologues and commercial breaks, the night's first brush with consequence arrived when Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (or whatever order they prefer) bum-rushed New Day during their match with the Vaudevillains. Now, a curious nuance in all this was Aiden English and Simon Gotch – who were theoretically aiming to reassert themselves as title contenders – happily offering up a prone Big E to Gallows and Anderson. You'd think they'd take umbrage with suffering a DQ loss and get in Gallows and Anderson's faces. But alas, the real headline here is that A.J. Styles' former running mates made their inevitable push for New Day's belts. And in a vacuum, I'd have made a gentleman's bet that Kofi and crew retain at Money in the Bank, but with the Bullet Club (or Club, or whatever) back in sync (more on that in a bit), looks like we're headed toward a full-scale invasion, not unlike the faction's gold-plated dominance overseas.
3. I Could Flair Less
Does anyone really care that Charlotte kicked her meddlesome, increasingly doddering dad to the curb in a puddle of tears? He was playing a bad guy, and he was making for bad TV. The idea that we're more inclined to boo his daughter now that she's humiliated him would suggest he'd been acquitting himself with self-respect during his recent run. It's not much less abrupt than Charlotte's initial main-roster heel turn, all of which is worth a head scratch when – much credit due to Ric's genetic and legacy of influence – the prodigal Flair flexes more than enough muscle and strength of character to have skipped the sisterhood drama and bloodline saga to begin with. If the idea is to let Charlotte's heat simmer until Sasha Banks returns as an alpha heroine and their beef boils over, I'm fine with it, even if the recipe's been a bit overcooked.
2. How to Lose 'The Guy' in 10 Days
For starters, cede the spotlight to his adversary, i.e. Rollins. Compound that by keeping he and his foe at a physical distance, likely on account of the challenger's ongoing recovery. Stack the deck by bringing back Cena as part of a massive storyline involving three A-list antagonists. While you're at it, continue to encourage debate about the New Era vs. old guard, neither of which the current Heavyweight Champ fits cleanly into. Roman Reigns is getting lost in the mix, not to mention his "The Guy" catchphrase is doing him a disservice by trying to neatly encode the nebulous space that he occupies. The looming, live SmackDown airings and subsequent roster splits may help clarify Reigns' role, whether he still carries the strap by then or not. But it's too bad that after busting his ass to claim the number-one spot on the call sheet, his mystique into Money in the Bank has been dialed way down.
1. That Is The A.J. Styles We Love
After Seth Rollins nailed his heel performance last week, A.J. Styles made his most indelible impression on WWE yet with a virtuoso villainous turn, realigning with Gallows and Anderson and beating the hell out of John Cena. (Also, Styles repeatedly storming back to the ring and delivering added punishment was a clever complement to Rollins' stuttering retreats earlier in the evening.) The crowd hated it, because they want to love Styles, because they want to root against Cena and apparently just because. But Styles only evolved into a must-sign free agent after establishing himself of late as a leader of bad men. So for those of us who've cringed through his aw-shucks routine since debuting at Royal Rumble, man did his about-face feel good.
Below the Belt:
- Yeah, you lost me at Ronald Reagan.
- Simon Gotch's attire might be a tad too cheeky.
- Gallows really overdoes it on the glistening oil.
- Ah, so Big Show's been in his bus watching Ride Along all this time.
- At least Zack Ryder's hung on to his spiffy WrestleMania gear.
- Man, Titus O'Neil gets really pumped about Memorial Day.
- Enzo and Cass just got way too on the nose about their cheesiness.
- Also, who decided to hit un-pause on their Dudleys feud?
- Stop saying, "New Era."
- Boy, the camera managed to find the least excited person in Green Bay when Cena's music hit.
- There sure were a lot of people speaking very matter-of-factly last night.
- I'm just not feelin' Dana Brooke. (Or that botched Michinoku Driver.)
- I was enjoying Dolph Ziggler's Rick Steiner look.
- Never too late to reconsider this whole Shining Stars thing.
- Is there anything to say about that main event?
- Move of the Night: Gotta admit, I enjoyed Ziggler's loony low blow.
- Line of the Night: KO's got some comic timing. See: His dry "What are you, eight?" to Jericho.
- Sign of the Night: Did that say, "Please Don't Mute Us Mr. Dunn"? (Seriously. It was, ironically, hard to discern.)
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: I wonder where Jane Krakowski's sympathies laid in the Verizon strike? Goldberg's in the new WWE video game, where he'll probably fare better than at batting practice. Hey, do the Rock and Kevin Hart have a new movie out?
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Sheamus, Wyatt Family, Kalisto, Darren Young.