Here's the good news heading into Sunday's Night of Champions: All the belts are officially on the line, now that Ryback vs. Kevin Owens for the IC strap was made official, New Day vs. The Dudley Boyz was cemented with the former's win over PTP and Nikki Bella's been saddled with a rematch against Charlotte for the Divas crown.
Less encouraging is that the go-home show did little to intensify most of the current beefs, nor drum up much more intrigue for matches without any hardware at stake. Still, at least we got to see Trips and Big E do their best send-up of Gob and Lindsay Bluth's tandem chicken dance. But before anyone cries fowl toward my poultry attempts at humor, here my five key things (in addition to the usual Twitter-friendly sidebar observations) that I took away from the September 14 edition of Raw.
5. Stardust > Bray
When it comes to whose disciples are more compelling, there's no contest. I'd rather watch Bray Wyatt's boys do battle any day rather than Stardust's new recruits, the Ascension. But far as cult leaders go, give me Cody Rhodes' quirky comic-book villain over Bray's morose shaman every time. The aforementioned Konnor and Viktor can learn a lot from Rhodes (despite both being several years his senior) about that fine line between outsized and cartoonish, and will hopefully be the first and most primitive of Stardust's flock. As for Wyatt, he, Luke Harper and Braun Strowman spooked the Miz and had a little stare-down with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, who've apparently got their mystery partner groomed for Night of Champions. I may actually be more excited to watch Stardust and his groupies go at it against Neville and the Lucha Dragons during kickoff.
4. Somebody's Got a New T-Shirt Catchphrase (Hint: It's Sheamus)
Catch that little moment during Sheamus' match against John Cena (which he eventually lost) when he polished his spiky 'do and mandated we all, "Respect the Hawk"? It's the most recent gesture in a coordinated strategy to further stoke his "you look stupid" heat. Now, it may just be a nuanced heel move to get under the WWE Universe's skin by invoking their hero Daniel Bryan's "Fear the Beard" mantra. Either way, I'd be shocked if the Great White's upcoming line of merch didn't tout his latest turn of phrase as a way of profiting on fans' mockery of his Mad Max makeover. #RespecttheShill
3. Sasha's Too Good to Be Bad
No early 2016 (if not sooner) face turn's more inevitable than Sasha Banks'. Though I hope it's deferred for at least a little while, because the chemistry between Teams PCB and B.A.D. is off the charts. But, as they say, the cream rises, and the Boss – who was flawless in her win over Paige – has had superstar potential since the day she arrived at NXT. The fans love her and respect her, she's got charisma for miles and there's very little about her overall ring presence that isn't versatile enough to carry the women's ranks no matter what her allegiances. (It'd be a tad more challenging to, say, turn the stoic Tamina into a fan-favorite.) Mark my words: In six months, babyface Sasha will be feuding with villainous Paige over the Divas title. And yes, I might even suggest you can bank on it.
2. OK, Sting's Still Got It
There's no more meaningless chant than, "You Still Got It." It's patronizing to returning talent and grammatically inert. Alas, I concede: It applies when it comes to Sting. He may feel most comfortable underneath several layers of athletic attire these days, and his hair might be thinner and dyed, but man, can the Icon still go. The only other 56-year-old nearly this spry and agile at their occupation might be Nina Hartley. If nothing else, that silly main event last night between he and Big Show – which devolved into the requisite tag-team audible involving Cena and Seth Rollins – was a showcase to assure hesitant Network subscribers that the Vigilante will make NOC worth paying for. He wasn't asked to go above and beyond, but the Stinger was crisp and energized taking on Show and Rollins, enough to make you overlook the curious decision to have the company's Heavyweight Champ tap to a Scorpion Deathlock in less than two seconds. He and Seth's rivalry may have been slapped together, but kudos to Sting for doing more than anyone could have expected to be so committed to his role.
1. Finish What You Started
I get it: Buy-ins to the Network is paramount. The days of title changes and twists and major storyline developments going down on Raw have gone the way of Adam Rose. What I can't abide was the way last night's two most-anticipated confrontations – Nikki and Charlotte for the Divas title and Sting, in his first-ever Raw match, against Big Show – wound down. Didn't we see that exact non-win scenario instigated by "twin magic" take place at Money in the Bank, only with Paige mistakenly thinking she'd won it all? Nothing new under the sun, one supposes. So what, really, was the point of pushing up Charlotte and Nikki's clash a week instead of just letting Nikki build heat with an obnoxious celebration (that Charlotte crashes) of her record-setting night? And after actually managing to create some backstory as to why Sting would be squaring off opposite Show of all comers, why the premature run-in from Rollins? Ah, so we could sleep through Cena selling for 10 minutes till the inevitable hot tag. Where's that statue when you need it?
Below the Belt:
- Charlotte might be too intense for me.
- A whole segment written around The Secret? OK.
- Dare I say the Dudleys didn't exactly earn this title shot?
- To that end, I hope New Day wins, extends that feud and runs gratingly roughshod over the division. They're a good story.
- What did Miz say about Hell in a Cell?
- So will Reigns and Ambrose's mystery man indeed be Baron Corbin?
- I don't get why the STF is effective.
- What's with JBL talking over Ryback?
- Did we mention it's the "season premiere!"
- Move of the Night: I guess you'd have to give it to that nifty scissor-hold flip thing of Charlotte's. Although I also grimaced at Big Show boring his fist into Cena's gut.
- Sign of the Night: On any other night, "Who Farted?" would be a no-brainer, but not with "Rollins Wears Pink Panties" in the crowd.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: NPH could do better. That Colony show looks pretty sweet though.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Randy Orton. And where oh where is our beloved Kane?