Here's the bad news: The League of Nations are still a thing.
The good news? It's highly unlikely any of them will leave this Sunday's Royal Rumble as World Heavyweight Champion (more on that in my Rumble preview later this week), which in turn means we most definitely won't have to suffer through another one of their brutal opening-segment promos next Monday night.
Although, really, all one can hope for by then is a main event that doesn't feature the Ascension, even if it means a fresh iteration of McMahon's Million Dollar Mania. But before Bray Wyatt gets agitated and starts kissing more top superstars' foreheads – save us, A.J. Styles – here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the January 18, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Vince's Belly Flop
WWE's venerable chairman has single-handedly resuscitated Raw since returning as a regular villain, so he kind of gets a pass. Though it must be said, he seemed every bit a travel-weary 70-year-old man doddering his way through that bungled Rumble lottery bit. I'm pretty sure the takeaway was he and Steph fixed the drawing to screw Roman Reigns and remind us that someone from the McMahon clan's gonna do him in at the Rumble. But all I really saw was an instantly infamous five minutes where the line between scripted chicanery and actual ineptitude was uncomfortably indistinguishable. Couldn't the show simply have kicked off with Vince staring Reigns down and unapologetically stacking the odds against him? Or anything besides what amounted to 10-minute-long coming attraction for the Highlight Reel? Speaking of which…
4. Balls of Jericho
Like Peyton Manning, Chris Jericho might be at the end of his rope as an active performer. (More like Twilight Reel, am I right?) This latest part-time run has been his least celebrated. Stephanie might have been joking, but it's the hard truth that Jericho's shtick has worn thin. Sheamus might look stupid, but he wasn't wrong for poking fun at the Ayatollah's inauspicious attire (though we'll just assume he did not, in fact, eat his shirt). And evidently, the part-timer's evolved into some kind of quasi-commissioner and full-time prankster rather than the proud middle-aged man who still leaps off steel cages. Yet, there were man and character, brashly insinuating themselves into the go-home show and selling the crowd on their positive odds to win Roman Reigns' title this Sunday. Maybe Jericho will turn heel that night as theorized online and become instrumental in storylines between here and WrestleMania. Short of that, Y2J – while he'll always be beloved and will soon be a Hall of Famer – may have failed to face the facts that it is indeed a New Day.
3. Becky's Big Night
The WWE's little "Lass Kicker" has had a lot to overcome since getting called up from NXT: that silly nickname, a wardrobe apparently inspired by Carl McCoy and the dynamic presence of contemporaries Charlotte and Sasha Banks. But last night was a real breakthrough for Bex, as she stole the Flairs' mojo with a charismatic promo that parodied papa Ric's signature bluster. She and Charlotte's feud was somewhat hastily set in motion, but it's prevailed as one of the Rumble's most compelling grudges.
2. We All Came to Talk About the Social Outcasts, Right?
What is the deal, exactly? They've got their own entrance theme and line of T-shirts, make the Wyatt Family look like punks and pull off wins against teams boasting superior talent like Goldust. Yet, they also seem authentically dysfunctional, are neither faces nor heels and just got thanklessly fed to the Big Show so he can appear a genuine threat heading into the Rumble. I want to love the Outcasts. Who doesn't? But it's hard to go all in when the gimmick feels more like a desperate Hail Mary than something thoughtfully mapped out, which might as well be a case study in WWE's creative lapses of late.
1. Anyone But Bray
We all know the Wyatt Family's siege to close out Raw was a red herring. Granted, Bray had a premature exit last year and could credibly be among the last several Rumble competitors standing. But where in the holy hell did that entire sequence come from? We didn't even get the requisite, "Every Rumble entrant storms the ring as a preview for the upcoming battle royal" run-in. (And how that didn't get tacked on to the preceding eight-man tag to justify its existence, I shall forever ponder.) All that remained was Bray, mounted atop Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns in a position of dominance that belies his track record of mediocrity for the better part of a year – not to mention that aforementioned humiliation at the hands of Heath Slater and Co. Did that make you want to subscribe to WWE Network over the next six days? Oh, right: If you sign up for the first time this week, the Rumble's free anyway, so who cares? They should. Cause that sign-off, while unexpected, was far from a strong argument for skipping Sunday's NFC championship game. And more confounding, made WWE's top two attractions – Reigns and Brock Lesnar – look shockingly weak.
Below the Belt:
- I don't know Steph, could the Rumble winner be someone we've never seen before?
- Way to decelerate the otherwise excellent Ambrose/Owens feud.
- Big Show's officially back to shaking hands and kissing babies.
- Poor Brie.
- Wade Barrett's got a salt-and-pepper thing happening, eh?
- What, you didn't notice?
- A new episode of WWE 24?! Or just new Network content, period? Is it Christmas again?
- So we like Paige again?
- Got a feeling we may see Randy Orton return at the Rumble.
- I need more of Rusev's childhood tales of woe.
- Can the Rumble end just so we can retire this year's all-time-worst, white-chocolate-Olympian design motif?
- Move of the Night: I try not to be snarky with this, but how can we not mention Mark Henry's failure to catch Tyler Breeze?
- Sign of the Night: Really, "Trump 20:16"?
- Line of the Night: Bo Dallas' "I'm OK!" victory lap might have been the highlight of the night, period.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: How, and why, have more than eight million people viewed this ad? And you're invited to a tour through Mila Kunis' "rack house," get it?
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Sasha Banks