Ah, San Antonio, home of multi-time WWE/F World Champion Shawn Michaels, the many-times-over NBA champions Spurs and this. But last night, America's most venerable mohair-manufacturing city (it's true) played host to a different, more insidious kind of royalty: those dastardly McMahons. Or at least Vince and Stephanie, since Triple H continues waiting for the optimal moment – Royal Rumble, methinks – to strike and sabotage Roman Reigns and likely put in motion their collision at WrestleMania.
And representing the lower rungs of sports-entertainment prestige was the newly formed Social Outcasts, who abetted the further degradation of poor Dolph Ziggler. Titles were retained, Rumble stakes were raised and some guy with a bunch of dated catchphrases came out in an ill-fitting vest and interrupted the most entertaining superstars in pro wrestling today (all due respect to Joey Ryan). Oh, yeah, and AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and the Bullet Club are probably coming to WWE. NBD.
So until the cavalry arrives – and without any further delay to discuss various superstars who will try and fail to claim Reigns' title on January 24 – here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the January 4, 2015 edition of Raw.
5. Kalisto Is a Star
Sin Cara version 2.0 is great, and the Lucha Dragons are great, but Kalisto's singular star qualities have shone even brighter while ostensibly competing on his own the past week. (Let's hope the odd coupling of he and the Dudleys runs its course, and the latter duo find a feud that sticks soon enough.) Let's be real: WWE's been hoping beyond hope for a charismatic talent from the lucha libre tradition to succeed Rey Mysterio, and they may have found their masked man. Kalisto can obviously go, but we've seen that he's able to handle some verbal sparring, and since that iconic Salida del Sol at TLC, his profile's risen far higher than his diminutive stature. Tagging him up with a guy like Neville down the line may not be a bad though either, but in the immediate future, Kalisto – who isn't yet 30, whereas his current partner's pushing 40 – can follow in Mysterio's footsteps as the next great super-cruiserweight.
4. Free Stardust!
This is nothing new coming from me, but the failure to translate all Cody Rhodes' imaginative work as Stardust into something people pay to see can't possibly be on him. His gimmick's been one of the most creative and constantly innovative reinventions WWE's had going for these up-and-down past couple of years, yet he's been relegated to carrying arbitrary alliances with Wade Barrett and the Ascension and limited to the antics of a cartoon imp. His lame-duck loss to Titus O'Neil last night was a new low for the character, which may as well join forces with Dolph Ziggler to do battle with WWE's Bore Horsemen, aka Social Outcasts. To that end…
3. Here's My Theory on the Social Outcasts
The League of Nations has endured a range of taunts since its formation, most notably that it better resembles a league of jobbers. But WWE's all-in, as evidenced by last night's debut of their collective entrance theme. The question then becomes how to help LON scan as more than the sum of their parts. One solution is to introduce a literal stable of jobbers that makes Sheamus and Co. seem world-beating by comparison. Enter the Social Outcasts, a stable of squash victims led by Heath Slater – because that worked out so well the first time. To my mind, Bo Dallas merits better. Slater arguably might as well. And that seemingly unscripted mess of an unveiling last night only served to make Adam Rose and Curtis Axel appear more lost than found. Not-quite-wrecking crews are always fun, but less so when they're heels, and especially when it's painfully apparent this new allegiance isn't built to last. Then again, that's what so many of us said about New Day.
2. Keep the A-Listers Comin'
Last night wasn't Vince's finest hour (more on that later), but as aforementioned New Day usurper Chris Jericho mentioned, ratings and attendance have been flagging, the boss' integral presence is always a plus. So is having had John Cena return just in time last week, and ditto for teasing Brock Lesnar's appearance at next week's Raw. This is what was missing in the wake of Seth Rollins' injury and the departure of part-timers like the Undertaker. Things are entirely too tenuous right now to afford another month of middling television without any marquee names to make WWE appointment television. There are only so many warm bodies out there, so it's smart that they're staggering the cameos, and specifically building up anticipation for Triple H's. That being said…
1. Time to Bring Back the Game
Not even Brock Lesnar could have rescued that ramshackle main event, which was merely an appetizer for the enticing news that Reigns will be putting his title up for grabs against 29 competitors during the Royal Rumble's climactic signature free-for-all. Reigns vs. Sheamus with Vince as referee defied logic, lacked suspense and made Mr. McMahon genuinely look the fool as opposed to gamely playing one. If the plan is in fact to have Triple H crash Reigns' chances at winning the Rumble, that's objectively pretty sound. And his father-in-law's done a great service by putting Roman over in the interim, but how much longer can we watch these two half-heartedly emulate a story that was etched in WWE history more than 15 years ago? The answer? Definitely not three more weeks.
Below the Belt:
- Don't ever let anyone say Dolph Ziggler hasn't paid his dues.
- Once again, Kevin Owens flashed an arsenal of heel nuances – even while laid out – to help step up his feud with Dean Ambrose.
- Soooooo, Big Show's a face again now? Again?
- Why can't the Wyatts pick on someone their own collective size
- Braun Strowman does nothing for me.
- Actually, Bray, this is Pestilence.
- Michael Cole is devastated to concede that Charlotte and Becky are no longer BFFs.
- Speaking of which, is there a better-booked angle in WWE right now than Bex vs. Charlotte?
- Jericho. Meh.
- Although he did abbreviate New Day's weakest segment in some time.
- Doesn't anyone wait for the three count before celebrating anymore? (Ahem, Alberto Del Rio.)
- Not sure how I feel about the McMahons riffing on their reputation for working guys literally to death.
- Move of the Night: Well-done Ambrose elbow off the barricade and through Owens and the announce table.
- Sign of the Night: San Anton brought it, oaktag-wise, though I'll get behind "Gingers Have No Souls."
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Does Taco Bell hopping on the Sriracha craze effectively kill it? Oh, this is whatWalking Dead people do in their spare time. And I'm still having trouble getting over this decision by the Pantera braintrust.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: John Cena, Wade Barrett, Lana, the Miz.