I know what you're thinking: How am I supposed to focus on wrestling when the Rockies just reportedly traded All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays for a package including equally injury-prone shortstop Jose Reyes? I hear you, but did you see what happened to John Cena's nose against Seth Rollins? When was the last time one of your precious MLB superstars suffered a spontaneous, bloody blow to the face during three hours of otherwise PG entertainment? Oh, wait.
Well, nonetheless wrestling still rules. Usually. And last night featured a celebrated string of mostly premium, first-ever televised matches (unless you're cynical enough to think of it like a house show with cameras present). The Divas benefitted from more screen time than we've seen in years, Kevin Owens' newest feud picked up a notch and Rusev romanced us all with further wooing of "hot Summer." So without any further flopping around the particulars like a still-warm fish (had to be there), here are the five key things (in addition to the usual Twitter-friendly sidebar observations) that I took away from the July 27 edition of Raw.
5. KO Will Be Fine
We can discuss whether Kevin Owens should have been made to tap to John Cena at Battleground, but all this hubbub over KO moving "down the card" after his feud with John-John seems shortsighted. Firstly, he was contesting for the U.S. title, not Rollins' Heavyweight belt, and he and Cena never once main-evented a PPV or WWE Network special. Moreover, one would think this was the plan: Get Owens over with an established veteran so he can credibly headline and help elevate the middle ranks. And judging by this brewing rivalry with Cesaro, it's working. The Swiss Superman has finally found a definitive heel to flex his babyface muscle against, and his run-in to save Randy Orton from Sheamus and KO was thrilling stuff. Guys like Orton and Sheamus will be back in the mix for a major title again soon, but till then, it's hardly a demotion for Owens to hang around them every third hour of Raw heading into SummerSlam, and it certainly doesn't hurt his impending opponent.
4. Two Rusevs Walk Into a Bar….
Just figured a comedic setup was apropos to talk about what's happening with the Bulgarian Brute. I've been supportive of how WWE's softened Rusev a bit, making him more of a character than caricature. But without the hard edge of him kicking ass week after week, the hijinks between him, Lana and Summer Rae are making the former U.S. Champ look a bit ridiculous. Either Dolph Ziggler needs to come back sooner or later or Rusev needs to resume squashing opponents in the interim while regaling us with more odes to "hot Summer" (still my favorite would-be wrestling meme of the year). Right now, he's the real cold fish in this love triangle.
3. Some Firsts Are Bigger Than Others
One gets the feeling that last night was a test-run for a WWE Network event this time next year dubbed Night of Firsts! Perhaps it will supplant Night of Champions. Or maybe the gimmick was merely as it appeared: A not entirely un-clever way to take our minds off the fact that we'd have to wait another week to hear from Brock Lesnar and possibly longer till we see the Dead Man again. But hey, Big Show vs. Ambrose turned out to be a creatively staged bout that made both guys look badass; the women's collisions – especially that excellent contest between Team Bella and Charlotte and Becky Lynch – continued to capitalize on new blood; and Orton vs. Owens was worth getting excited about, even if it concluded prematurely by prioritizing this go-nowhere storyline surrounding Orton and Sheamus. Let's be honest though: No one was leaping out of their La-Z-Boys (not that anyone ever does) at the prospect of Lucha Dragons tussling with Los Matadores, nor was Neville vs. Fandango something to relish, salvaged as it was by Stardust's stellar promo after his adversary emerged victorious. I appreciate Triple H's ringmaster ballyhoo, and love seeing new combinations of guys and gals go at it, but maybe that should simply be the norm and speak for itself.
2. SummerSlam Is How Long?
Let's put aside the fact that a four-hour SummerSlam means an extra hour of work for me on a Sunday night. Let's also acknowledge up-front that beefing up the evening's running time is a tacit confirmation of SummerSlam's preeminence alongside WrestleMania. Still, four fucking hours? Do I take it, then, that there'll still be a preshow, ballooning this thing up to half my waking hours on an evening that I could be spending admiring one of summer's last lingering weekend sunsets with a barbecued steak and bottle of beer? Should I assume this makes room for one or two superfluous musical performances by whatever bands' songs serve as the night's official soundtrack? Shall I infer that Lesnar and 'Taker will glacially manhandle one another for a full 45 minutes, or that there'll be some kind of tag-team gauntlet for Prime Time Players' titles taking up several spots on the card? Still three-plus weeks removed from August 23, it's difficult to rally around Triple H's enthusiasm about the announcement, or simply comprehend how that's a bonus for the fans when overall results of recent PPVs have been spotty at best. But hey, what do I know of what lies in wait, let alone what's best for business?
1. Damn You, Cena
There's only one scene in cinema history that can sum up how the WWE universe feels – or should feel – about John Cena after last night. It's not so much that he rode pure adrenaline and carried on for what felt like an eternity after Seth Rollins busted his nose wide open. It's more that you can intuit just how seriously Cena takes the responsibility of fulfilling his obligation to entertain the fans to the bitter end, no matter how they might pay their hard-earned money to make him feel unloved. The guy even stuck around after making Rollins tap (I know: boo, hiss) and offered his gratitude to those in attendance before scurrying off and presumably having his face reset by a ringside physician. Credit to Rollins for not losing his composure, but make no mistake: In that moment, Cena was the ring general leading by example, and whether or not he's your preferred opponent for Rollins on August 23, he was the man this July 27.
Below the Belt:
- You do have to wonder if the main-event outcome was changed on the fly. It's not like Cena could be asked to sell a Pedigree at that point.
- Can we reinstate the Light Heavyweight belt for folks like Neville? If it was good enough for Gillberg…
- Stardust > Bray Wyatt.
- Loved Cody's subtle tribute to dad in that promo.
- How was Miz ever a face?
- That Sasha Banks is the total package.
- Nah, I'll pass on playing 2K16 as nude Arnold.
- Kofi's clap-dance down to the ring is my favorite thing ever.
- I continue to sour on the Pop-Up Powerbomb.
- Move of the Night: What was that little submission hold from Fandango?
- Sign of the Night: First-ever wrestler recipient: New Day's "Real Mega-Dad of the Year."
- Line of the Night: Cole! "#CommentaryAwful"
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Hey, it's Topher Grace. This kid's really psyched to work at Subway. And Playing House is much easier to root for than Chrisley Knows Best.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Was I imagining that Roman Reigns was in absentia? Also MIA: 'Taker, Brock, Heyman and an injured Ryback. And, uh, Hulk Hogan?