If Daniel Bryan bummed everyone out last week by stepping down from competition once again, NXT champ Kevin Owens single-handedly reinvigorated the WWE Universe by crashing John Cena's U.S. Open Challenge segment on Monday night, going face-to-face with the 15-time world champ then leaving him crumpled on the mat after a pop-up powerbomb.
Yeah, it was a moment (one K.O. neglected to mentioned to me when I spoke to him earlier in the day), and while it's hard to see past their resulting match at Elimination Chamber – which airs live on WWE Network May 31 at 8 p.m. – there were a few other late-hour developments in what turned out to be a pretty hot slice of Monday-night action. But before taking that pizza metaphor any further and observing that it did, in fact, deliver, here are the five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) from the May 18 edition of Raw.
5. Oh, Hello Paige
While the building still buzzed with KO fever, Paige put an unexpected wrinkle in Naomi's seemingly unstoppable quest to claim that elusive Divas championship. After Tamina interfered in her cousin-in-law's title match with Nikki Bella, instigating the requisite DQ and post-match melee, the twins' old foe returned to save their hides. Well, sort of. After dispatching of Naomina (why not?), Paige promptly rammed Nikki's face into the mat and wailed about moving back into "my house!" Heel/face ambiguity aside, this is as close to organized chaos as the women's ranks have had in some time, and exactly what the division needs. Now maybe someone can rescue Natalya from standing idly by her husband's tag matches to play a part? She can even bring the Mad Max get-up with her.
4. Take It Or Bo-Lieve It
If you're like me (i.e. just over six feet tall and of Jewish descent), you were pleased with the outcome of Neville and King Barrett's bout at Payback. It seemed to prolong their beef, which was good news for Neville and great competition for the artist formerly known as BNB (RIP). Alas, that was a classic bait-and-switch, as the storyline injury Neville absorbed on Sunday was a means to an end for being served up to Wade the following evening and left lying out like a pile of bones for former NXT rival Bo Dallas to pick at. It's gotta be a tough pill to swallow that, despite getting called up well in advance of the new sensation that gravity failed to recall, Bray Wyatt's baby bro is trying to keep pace with his once-and-again adversary's meteoric rise. All of that could translate to a compelling on-screen narrative, so long as Dallas sticks to promos and beatdowns and steers away from the commentary booth. That was tough.
3. Fine, I'll Watch Elimination Chamber
Not that, professionally, there was an option. But even were that not so, and even though I resent WWE's refusal to give some of these Sunday-night special events a breather (and, furthermore, recognize this for what it is: a test to see how they do without PPV providers as broadcast partners), I'd be in, dammit. If only so much were at stake for the company's bigger business strategy with every marquee card. The tag fracas that manifested last night in the wake of New Day and Cesaro/Kidd's rematch being called off (a silly development) was a bit much, but it was fun to see PTP finally storm the ring and will be good to see them back in action on May 31. Moreover, the notion of Sin Cara and Kalisto flying around that structure opposite New Day, Tyson and Cesaro is must-see stuff (let's overlook Los Matadores and Ascension).
And while truly sad, the timing of Bryan vacating his title opens up EC as a perfectly legitimate way to settle a new champ and open up a story heading into Money in the Bank from there. And sure, I'll take a Heavyweight Championship headliner between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. We know who'll win, but we're also guaranteed a quality collision between two guys who've really worked out their chemistry in front of the wrestling world's biggest crowds. And, oh, yeah, John Cena taking on a certain NXT up-and-comer we just profiled. Four physical, highly dramatic fights. This is what every pay-to-partake affair should look like, regardless of how you can access it and for how much.
2. Let's Talk About Rusev
And how Lana should maybe talk less, since that Russian accent starts to lapse the longer she's asked to carry a conversational segment, as she did while pleading with Rusev before getting berated and sent to the back. Never mind that. The real takeaways as it pertains to this pair are these: Rusev did but didn't quit; Lana still hates Americans (but they love her); Dolph Ziggler got a kiss from a pretty lady as reward for splitting his head open 24 hours before squashing Stardust; Rusev clearly isn't over his constant companion, 'cause he got super-mad at Dolph and super-kicked him halfway to Georgia; and Lana ultimately is now an upper-card Rosa Mendes, asked to drum up conflict between the men by shaking a tail-feather here and there. Meh. Rusev vs. Ziggler is a nice little pairing though, and can make the Bulgarian look like a brute again while keeping Dolph squarely in his comfort zone of stealing the show without necessarily winning the day. Though speaking of those who seized and conquered…
1. The Champ Is Here...and His Name Is Kevin Owens
Back in December, he got tongues wagging by decimating CJ Parker and sabotaging Sami Zayn in his NXT debut. Five months hence, he basically broke the Internet by answering John Cena's U.S. Open Challenge, only to spit in the face of his "veteran" experience, decline the option to fight and then sucker-punch and powerbomb him to hell, standing atop the champ with arm raised high (and boot on the U.S. strap). The biggest question marks surrounding Owens' readiness have had to do with talking the talk as well as he physically steamrolls guys in-ring, but the 15-year indie icon was damn ready and not about to miss a beat going back-and-forth with the best there is. As it turns out, the expanse of a big arena might just benefit Owens' aura more than the pressure-cooker of Full Sail. And that, my friends, is dynamite for WWE. In the interim, they've lit a fire under tentative fans on the fence about subscribing to the Network prior to Unstoppable and Elimination Chamber, which is the only short-term goal that matters. Owens is merely one step closer to fulfilling the promise of a long and patient journey.
Below the Belt:
- Let's not diminish John Cena's role in continuing to act as gracious ambassador for NXT's next generation. What a guy.
- Way to ride that Daniel Bryan goodwill, Ryback?
- Also, Big Guy: You don't "like bullies?" Tell that to you circa 2014.
- Lana's playing a little fast and loose with that accent.
- Shouldn't J&J's interference have resulted in a DQ win for Ambrose?
- Austin/Heyman will be the goodness. And maybe portends Brock's return?
- What on earth was that music over the Payback highlights?
- PTP for the gold!
- Is "I'm a notorious line-jumper" some kind of drug talk?
- Move of the Night: I liked that little suplex Bray engineered on Ambrose from the middle rope to outside.
- Sign of the Night: Simple can be best, e.g. "You Suck!"
- Line of the Night: Rusev, inadvertently invoking Billy Madison: "I speak your stupid langa-language!"
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Hope Zabka got paid well for that. Is that Big E voicing over Arby's ads? And I always did like that guy from Vegas.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Donde eres Reigns and Orton? And um, Mandaxel?