'WWE Raw': Welcome to Monday Night 'SmackDown'!

Amid Roddy Piper tributes and without John Cena, Undertaker or an IC champ, WWE puts on show better suited for Thursday

Dean Ambrose pays tribute to 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper on 'WWE Raw.' Credit: WWE

Have no fear, those of you wishing there were some significant drama in San Jose despite the absence of injured Intercontinental and U.S. Title champs and no word from the Dead Man: King Barrett is here to show everyone a thing or two about royalty by squashing serf prince Zack Ryder.

Or if that doesn't fit your fancy, Rusev and "Hot Summer" will cool off Mark Henry and then take Dog Ziggler for a walk. Not convinced it's an "incredible" evening of action, as Michael Cole concluded after the hastened main event (there's a podcast that needs to be punctual over on the WWE Network, after all)? Well then hold on to your foam fingers, because there's a rematch from last week's eight-man SmackDown tag with New Day, Ascension, Lucha Dragons and Los Matadores. Because lord knows that not heightening the beef between Prime Time Players and New Day is where the focus in their divison should be.

Anyhoo, I could go on, and I will. Below. So without further disruption for the earth-shattering news of Stephen Amell's appearance in a week, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual Twitter-friendly sidebar observations) that I took away from the August 3 edition of Raw.

5. Who Knew We'd Miss Ryback So Much?
Maybe we don't, really. But the cumulative effect of he, Cena, Dolph Ziggler and Undertaker in absentia means there's not a whole lot for their rivals – Big Show/Miz (I guess?), Seth Rollins, Rusev and Brock Lesnar – to do. Or at least nothing that keeps the momentum of their central stories going as we slog through the dog days toward SummerSlam. Guys getting hurt and needing rehab and recovery can't be helped. Plenty you could do, however, about initiating a feud (i.e. Ziggler vs. Rusev) as one party was getting off crutches while the other was prepping to shoot a film. Rollins did what the champ ought to by stepping and up and kicking off the show with a fine promo about Cena's mangled schnoz and even better "open challenge" title bout against Neville. And Miz made the most of paying homage to Roddy Piper while playing comic relief alongside Kevin Owens and Cesaro on Miz TV. But there was little to salvage Rusev's superfluous workout with Henry, and not even Paul Heyman could stir up new intrigue in Lesnar/Taker's feud sans a peep from his client and/or even a TitanTron cameo from the Phenom. Too bad Amell wasn't there one week ahead of schedule to be our hero.

4. Nikki's Still the Boss
This bears repeating: Nikki's promo last night was no joke. She did put the Divas division on her shoulders over the past several months, staying healthy and kicking ass. And she was terrific in the ring again last night in a tag bout with her sister against Charlotte and Becky Lynch. No shine lost in defeat (gotta give the fans the Woos and Figure Eights they want) either, because all anyone should remember is the way Nikki meted out brutal face busters, spine busters and every other combination of moves that busts faces and backs. She's got it all going on right now. There's no dead air with Nikki Bella, and she's set the tone for what's to come with the revived women's ranks and figures to be in the mix for the foreseeable future. I love Sasha Banks and all the new blood, not to mention established stars like Naomi and Paige, but as a viewer, the line still forms behind the champ.

3. Who Knew Bray's Clubhouse Was So Roomy?
It always seemed so claustrophobic in that little room where Bray Wyatt delivers his soliloquies about outcasts and leaders of men. Even when surrounded by brothers from different mothers Harper and Rowan, they've always crowded and shrouded him real tight, making it slightly easier to suspend disbelief that their sermons were beamed in from some faraway cellar, as opposed to a production office next to the locker rooms. But lo, the curtain was pulled back last night, and it turns out the Wyatts' clandestine quarters are fairly spacious, and there's an accessible side entrance where guys like Sheamus can drop in and kibbitz. And far as Bray's concerned, his casa is Sheamus' casa. You don't even need a password. The only requirement is having been undermined in some way by Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. I'm pretty sure those three are planning a potluck before SummerSlam. I want to go. Don't you want to go? Everyone, party at Bray's house! Oh, right: Run!

2. Is It Too Late to Save Neville?
Stardust keeps going on about needing a hero, but it seems like his adversary (or at least once he's through with Amell) Neville could use some rescuing. He electrified over his first few weeks and held his own against some veteran heavyweights, but I guess the temptation to mold him into an archetypal PG-era face proved difficult to resist. The cape, the entrance, the nicknames, the comic illustrations…the sum total is watering down his act to sideshow appeal, a daredevil diversion before the premium attractions. That's too bad, because even if Neville's not Mr. Personality, he's fully capable of co-authoring matches that transcend big spots and an outsized mainstream persona (e.g. last night, against Rollins). Alas, it seems as though his fate as kid-friendly canon fodder has been written in the stars.

1. Clean Wins Feel Dirty
I will never again advocate for a night of clean pins and submissions. Give me as many run-ins, DQs and outside distractions as I can handle. Turns out the alternative is pretty boring. Randy Orton, Ambrose and Reigns pinned Sheamus, Wyatt and Harper clean; New Day and Ascension pinned Lucha Dragons and Los Matadores clean; Rollins pinned Neville clean; Rusev booted Henry; Barrett barraged Ryder; Charlotte and Paige made Nikki and Naomi tap; and so on. And there really wasn't even a bit of fallout following the 1-2-3 or "I quit" in any of the aforementioned. No sore losers or melees after the bell. In a night already compromised by only one side of too many rivalries represented, the card itself was mundanely free of controversy. Or maybe I'm just going through Bachelorette withdrawal and need my fix of melodrama. But seriously, should this ever happen during the latter half of a Raw running up to SummerSlam in 2015?

Below the Belt:

  • Cesaro and KO might steal the show on Aug. 23
  • I can't commend Stardust's commitment to his character enough.
  • Not sure how I feel about "Lass Kicker."
  • Definitely am not feeling "Submission Sorority."
  • We see you, Bullet Club shirts.
  • Speaking of, possible that the inspiration for a Cena vs. Rollins, title-for-title match came from Jay Lethal vs. Jay Briscoe?
  • Stop saying "Divas revolution."
  • Loved the nuance of KO saying he's built "for this business."
  • Time to bring back BNB.
  • Lilian needs to start introducing Summer as "Hot Summer." Please.
  • Move of the Night: That was some top-turnbuckle hurricanrana, Neville.
  • Line of the Night: I love when Heyman taunts the audience, e.g. "'Oooooh,' nothing."
  • In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: No, Owen Wilson, don't throw her! More Keith and Clyde being creepy, please. And maybe less of creepy Darrell Hammond.
  • Noticeable In Their Absence: Weird to say Hogan's absence was felt in the wake of Piper's passing?