The feedback on Fastlane (which, let's face it, can be out to pasture as an annual PPV) wasn't exactly neutral. The majority of fans were nonplussed – at best – by Sunday's ho-hum affair, and that sentiment carried over to last night, when Heavyweight Championship challenger Roman Reigns was enveloped by boos. That is, until the Detroit crowd went bananas as Triple H busted the upstart open with a barrage of ring bells and taped-up fists.
That was the no-nonsense conclusion to a Monday-evening affair that opened with one of the – pardon the expression – rawest promos we've seen in some time, thanks to some family drama and a returning Shane McMahon. And in between Brock Lesnar did some violent things, Dean Ambrose did some loony things, Bray Wyatt kissed some foreheads and a couple senior-circuit tag teams took varying steps closer to being a thing.
But before I get misty eyed over my poor Miz missing out on all the action, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the February 22, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Ryback Turns His, Uh, Back?
I've been gushing praise on the Big Guy of late, much to the dismay of anyone who comes to this column for credibility. Though I've got a feeling this latest twist on his character, which has necessitated entirely too many behavioral modifications in a few-year span, may spell doom. During another six-man hookup that saw he, Kane and Big Show take on the Wyatts, Ryback hopped off the apron and ditched Kane in a classic, "I wouldn't be a part of any club…" gesture of defiance. Weird thing was, it seemed like Kane had things pretty well in hand – literally, as he readied for a vintage chokeslam – so not sure how much of a statement it made to leave when his partner wasn't in dire straits. Anyhow, we learned after the match that it was nothing personal. The Big Guy's just tired of playing nice with other titans and wants to plow his way back into the title picture on his own. By no fault of Ryback's, it reeks of a new direction with no big-picture plan, but all the best to him with this whole, "Break it, take it" mantra, 'cause he has put in the effort to become a better wrestler, even if detractors think both his persona and ring work are a bit stuff.
4. Flair for the Old
Have I used that line before? Well, it fits. Someone tell Ric he's gotta go. He's absolutely manic out there, and Charlotte's doing just fine on her own. I have no idea what went down when the Divas champ hit the ramp to spar with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. I was blinded by the dancing fool to her right. The man's a legend, and I shouldn't be so flip. But it probably makes the most sense to keep his appearances limited to the "special" variety, so his bad-grandpa shtick is more charming than gratuitous. Unless this is all part of some plan to build toward a mixed-gender daddy-daughter tag partnership at 'Mania against Banks and Lynch. Please don't let it be a build toward a mixed-gender daddy-daughter tag partnership at 'Mania.
3. Dean Ambrose: Hot Cop Returns!
I alluded to it in the afore-linked Fastlane roundup, but my only hope for the Lunatic Fringe coming out of Sunday night was that he get off the fringe and go full lunatic, lest we prefer more "Hot Cop" antics. Well, someone behind the curtain really wants Ambrose to keep doing his best "Stone Cold" lite. Sure enough, there was old Dean-o, haplessly steering an ambulance into the arena after Brock Lesnar put him in the hospital with a pre-show sneak attack. And in an earlier promo, there was Roman Reigns, lamenting his buddy's condition while bearing no ill will toward the guy who cracked a steel chair over his back at Fastlane. I like Ambrose, and I like the real-life man behind his character and good for him getting a one-on-one with the Beast at 'Mania. Now if only they can find a way to make his mean streak a bit more…bracing? (Ya know, cause of the cervical collar he was sporting after Lesnar's beatdown. No?)
2. Roman/The Game, Heel/Face…Who Cares?
It really doesn't matter. Really, folks just went batty last night 'cause somebody's blood was spilled. And was it ever. The implicit message in Triple H's show-closing assault on Roman Reigns was much more important than the explicit one he sent to his storyline adversary. It was in sync with what was communicated in the McMahon clan's riveting confrontation (see below), and the message was this: We are not fucking around heading into WrestleMania. It will be good, you will get your money's worth and please accept this olive branch and shut the fuck up already. Shane and Vince set the tone with ultimatums, but the Game reinforced it with violence and magnetism. Let's all suspend our trepidations from now till April 3 and just enjoy the ride. And then start booing on April 4.
1. 'WWE Presents: Shane-O-Mac's Six-Week Stand!'
To invoke a stunt famously pulled by filmmaker Werner Herzog (no relation), if Shane McMahon topples the Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell clash at WrestleMania to assume de facto on-air control of WWE, I will eat my shoe. Good thing I wear smoked salmon on my feet. Anyhow, the point here is to say there's no reason to take the elder McMahon sibling's stunning re-emergence – which, happily, put a premature end to the Legacy of Excellence chicanery – as anything more than what it is: a mighty Hail Mary to help rescue WWE's signature event and a dearth of intrigue anywhere else on the roster. Still, it was awesome. Awesome enough, in fact, to deserve a chant to the effect of, "This is awesome." From his silver-fox coif down to his ridiculous sneakers (maybe I'll eat those), Shane-O Mac exuded more than just charisma. It was clear he was having a blast, and therefore so did we. No one's really sure what any of that, "I still have my place in line because dad made this agreement before we went public" stuff was all about, but one thing was crystal: Shane and the Phenom will go mano a dead-mano inside a cage. In 2016. Somehow, this is happening. And in case you thought, "Yeah, but it's not like there will be blood," Triple H had two words for ya.
Below the Belt:
- Does WWE have "nearby medical facility" trademarked?
- OK, I guess the New Day are still villains.
- This guy must be bummed.
- Wake me when Y2AJ's over.
- Lotta A.J. shirts in that crowd.
- A Nakamura shirt or two already. Nice.
- Re: Paul Heyman's "Those hardcore kids on their bikes." He finally had his Costanza moment.
- Was that a Gillberg chant launched at Ryback?
- Wake me when League of Nations is over.
- Shouldn't we only be seeing the Ascension's entrance?
- Kalisto: latest victim of random momentum-killing.
- Move of the Night: Solid springboard splash to the floor onto the hapless Social Outcasts.
- Sign of the Night: A lot to choose from, but I'll go with "Raw is Stale Cole Slaw." Hey man, it's your ticket money.
- Line of the Night: "I remember those beatings very vividly." Wait, what are we talking about here?
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: No, not the cats! I wish I was stoned enough to get excited about this.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, the Miz, Tyler Breeze, Undertaker