Let freedom ring! After months of anticipation, carefully seeded #GiveDivasAChance memes and arbitrary merry-go-rounds of contenders for Nikki Bella's title, the revolution was finally televised. All hail WWE, as the glass ceiling has at last been lifted! OK, it wasn't quite that groundbreaking, but the introduction of Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte to the main roster (we assume) was a nice kick in the knickers. Not that there wasn't plenty of other brouhaha before all was said and done in Hotlanta, notably surrounding what's suddenly the company's hottest commodity, John Cena's U.S. title.
But without dragging this out any further so I can strategically grab an ax handle from beneath my desk and presume it will foil the physicality of a 300-pound beast, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual Twitter-friendly sidebar observations) that I took away from the July 13 edition of Raw.
5. Feud Awakening
What went down with the Divas was great (more on that later), although it ultimately has no bearing on Battleground. And it was only logical to give fans more of Iron Man Cesaro after his "instant classic" matches with Cena the preceding weeks. And he and Rusev certainly delivered in their triple threat with Kevin Owens to determine who'd accept Cena's U.S. Open Challenge (it would be Rusev, though KO would run interference and bust it up). But as of this moment, the Swiss Superman isn't on this Sunday's card. After last night, I'm not sure I care any more or less than I did 24 hours earlier about Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt's beef; New Day and Prime Time Players' tussle; Miz/Big Show/Ryback's three-way throwdown; or Randy Orton and Sheamus' apparently immediate need to shame the other. Though in fairness, there's no mistaking the stakes in Wade Barrett and R-Truth's battle for quasi-kinghood. A fine overall evening of matches awaits on Sunday, but far as go-home urgency is concerned, Raw mostly rested on its laurels.
4. Welcome Back, Cody
That was an odd reception for Stardust from his ostensible home crowd in his first televised match since Dusty passed. Even the "Cody Rhodes" chants sounded more derisive in keeping with the heat on his character than supportive of the real man's return. Sure, he and Neville's bout was positioned awkwardly between the U.S. title anarchy and Rollins/Lesnar's contract signing (yawn), and maybe folks would have preferred Cody, not Stardust, appear in the ring and say a few words. But, I, for one, would like to eagerly welcome back both Cody and his spaced-out alter ego. And if disappearing into Stardust for now helps ease his re-entry into the world his father helped refine and popularize, then I'll even forgive the horrid animation that preceded his match (not that it was his call). Also, the angle between he and Neville makes a good deal of sense, so hopefully it carries on. Here we are now, Stardust: Entertain us.
3. New-Finisher Frenzy
It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's…Ryback splashing down from the top rope again to victory! And down on the ground, could it be? Why, yes, it's Cesaro locking in another crossface submission hold in an attempt to make Rusev tap. And don't take your eyes off those stairs, because Rollins is about to demonstrate his mastery of the Pedigree on Lesnar (yeah, that didn't work out so well). New finishers are all the rage, perhaps in acknowledgment of how performers' coup de grâce have become more susceptible to kick outs. Or, in Rollins' case, left opponents vulnerable to concussions, but who's splitting hairs? (If we are, I want one of his blond ones.) It's also almost certainly a nod to guys staying on their toes now that all the young tykes are graduating from NXT with CrossFit physiques and unpredictable assaults. Might I nominate Roman Reigns as the next superstar to demote his current finisher to set-up status, subbing in something new and exciting (or classic and familiar, but more dynamic) for that tired old spear? Triple-powerbomb, we hardly knew ye.
2. Wake Me When the Signing's Over
There was an odd little flourish at the culmination of that closing segment, with an outmaneuvered Seth Rollins returning to the ring and unloading a hysterical promo on Lesnar and denigrating a wounded Kane. But for the most part, it was a by-the-books contract signing. Office chairs were wheeled out; signatures were applied to single-page sheets of paper embossed with an outsized WWE logo; efforts to sabotage the proceedings went awry; and, of course, tables were flipped and bodies got tossed. Quick question: Wouldn't it be premature to officially announce Lesnar and Rollins' match before contracts were actually signed? And while I get that the contract signing is pro wrestling's answer to a weigh-in, isn't putting ink to parchment with six days to spare cutting it a wee bit close? Fact is, I wouldn't be asking questions I know the answers to if these signings ever left me more than nonplussed. Nonplussed, I say!
1. About Those Divas…
One tiny criticism: I kinda wish the warring female factions (called it, BTW) jelled more organically amid a flurry of run-ins during an actual Divas match. Stephanie coming out to pat herself on the back, roll out Becky Lynch and Charlotte (both now allied with Paige) and, lastly, Sasha Banks (there to bolster Naomi and Tamina) and introduce her manufactured trios wasn't doing it for me. Fortunately, the ladies did the rest themselves, kicking ass in a melee that did more to legitimize women's wrestling in WWE than any infinite number of costumed battle royals or petty catfights. One still wonders where Natalya fits in the mix, and it will take some time to create real heat between groups thrown together like prefab boy bands, but who can deny the electricity when Paige's crew commandeered Team Bella with synchronized submission holds? As long as this uprising gets the push it deserves, it should be some time before the women of WWE lose their grip on our attention again.
Below the Belt:
- So, with Ziggler "out indefinitely," do I care more or less about he, Lana and Rusev?
- Maybe this new comedic Rusev is planning to open for Dolph Zigger's stand-up gigs?
- All Cesaro needs is that right guy to feud with.
- Not sure Steph's appearance can, as yet, be classified as "rare."
- Nice recovery, Seth.
- Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac.
- Wish there'd been more time lately for warring vignettes between New Day and PTP.
- Nikki is just gold.
- So, is this the future, John?
- KO taking on Rusev was a bit too close to babyface for my comfort.
- Forget all the hoodoo voodoo: Reigns vs. Wyatt needs to be physical.
- Move of the Night: Figure 8! Woooo!
- Line of the Night: Who else but Sir Paul? "My heart is pounding out my chest, and not because I'm fat."
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Mr. Robot really is as good as it looks; hopefully Vacation is better than it seems; and hey, Prime Day's almost here!
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Triple H, Lana, Luke Harper.