'WWE Raw': AJ Styles' Clash Is Just the Beginning - Rolling Stone
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‘WWE Raw’: AJ Styles’ Clash Is Just the Beginning

A.J.’s Bullet Club pals run in on Roman Reigns, NXT upstarts reach tag tourney finals and Jericho and Ambrose fill the injury void in London

WWE; Monday Night Raw; RecapWWE; Monday Night Raw; Recap

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson lay out Roman Reigns on 'WWE Raw'.

I see London, I see France, I see the 02 Arena crowd doing their customary Fandango dance.

That was but one of many crowd-pleasing concessions to the U.K. audience, who proved that they’re as up to speed with the recent influx of NXT rookies as any red-blooded Midwest American crowd. On the flipside, they were forced to endure an anticlimactic closing segment thanks to the recent injury to Bray Wyatt and its utter derailing of whatever momentum was gained from last week’s electric main event.

But before I get too crazy giving away all the details and risk being committed to the Ambrose Asylum (or another year subscription to the WWE Network), here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the April 18, 2016 edition of Raw.

5. Apollo Snooze
Sorry, Mr. Crews. WWE put together a nice little (if belated) hype package for the high-flying muscle man, but it’s becoming more evident that he was hurried up to fill Neville’s super-cruiserweight slot. The smiling, the squash matches and the Kurt Angle-lite entrance theme don’t amount to a memorable main-roster character just yet, and the spate of new additions boasts – if nothing else – plenty of big personalities. Like the aforementioned former Olympic champion, Crews could do well to subvert his All-Americanness and come back repackaged a bit arrogant and entitled. Although I will confess that when he and Kevin Owens exchanged stares on the ramp after Crews dispatched, I did perk up at the notion of them some day joining forces as an elite Powerbomb Squad. Isn’t that what all grown men think about?

4. There’s No Such Thing as Heel-Endorsed Cereal
Yes, it is as sobering a truth as the myths of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But you just don’t see too many bad guys peddling cereal boxes with their likeness – even when they’re filled with more merchandise rather than actual foodstuff – in pro wrestling. So the moment Booty-O’s were put up for sale on WWE.com, it should have been obvious New Day’s run as malevolent irritants was on notice. And last night, the trio completed their transition to fan favorites when Secret Service Cesaro ripped off his breakaway pallbearer suit, revealed his Booty-O’s tee and announced the tag champs as his partners against League of Nations and the Miz. The outcome was more about building up Cesaro for his IC match at Payback, but the preamble served notice that we are now all to unambiguously cheer for Kofi, Big E and Xavier. Which is fine, ’cause they rock, and there’s plenty of tag-division heel heat, but they sure were fun to hate while it lasted.

3. The End of the Usos Era
Jimmy and Jey came a long way from Main Event staples to anchors of WWE’s tag ranks for a number of years. And they’ve got plenty left in the tank. But the gimmick has gotten a bit stale, the injuries have been halting and New Day’s remarkable run has hastened the debuts of duos like Enzo and Cass to revitalize the competition. And last night, the Usos were asked to unceremoniously job out to the Vaudevillains and cede their spot in the tag-tourney finals. Seems like the right time for a bit of retooling. You can never have too much good, healthy talent. But it is surreal to see these upstarts storm in and instantly render this decade’s veterans almost obsolete.

2. Stalls of Jericho
Apart from filling time in the wake of Bray Wyatt’s injury, it’s hard to figure why the main event wasn’t a tag match pitting Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens against Dean Ambrose and Sami Zayn. Zayn vs. Jericho was fine. And KO vs. Ambrose to close out the show was fine. And Y2J did his best to run in and make a statement against Dean, his Payback opponent and rival for kookiest talk show host. But to return to my original point of contention, let’s play this out. Why, for instance, couldn’t the women have had a featured solo bout in addition to a tag collision, rather than compress all their time into one eight-woman showdown that really only furthered one storyline (i.e. Charlotte vs. Natalya). Would anyone have minded seeing, say, Sasha vs. Naomi in the Jericho vs. Zayn slot, thereby allowing for my suggested men’s-tag finale at the rear? Heh. I said rear.

1. Bullet Curbin’
Forgive me, as ever, for putting on my fantasy booker hat. Unless you’d prefer my King Booker hat. Though I think we’d all agree that there’s more to say after last night about what’s happening in proximity to Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles than between them. In short order, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows buddied up with their former pal Styles; then the Bullet Clubbers pounded on Reigns after he and A.J. cut a promo; Styles and Reigns accused Styles of the attack, and the prior week’s on his cousins (nice touch) being premeditated; and we got the requisite glimpse of A.J. seemingly pleading with his boys to let him fight his own battles. There’s a couple of enticing, practical scenarios here: 1) Anderson and Gallows cost Styles a win at Payback (be it strategically or impetuously), and Styles and Reigns partner up against the insurgents, thereby helping Reigns stay over as a face for now and offering some good insider drama for NJPW/ROH nerds (like me); or 2) A.J. shocks the world, wins the title with Gallows and Anderson’s aid, makes the easy flip to heel figurehead and incites a family feud opposite Reigns and the Usos. Where, say, Finn Bálor would fit into these forecasts is hard to say, but let’s live in the here-and-now. And personally, and with all humility, I must say that either fantasy of how Payback could play out would tide me over till Seth Rollins et al are ready to reinvigorate the singles scene.

Below the Belt:

  • No “Cor-Den’s Pa-Rents!” chant?
  • Sure, JBL, Y2J tried to “duck out of the way” of Zayn’s moonsault.
  • Ditching the cheetah look was probably a good move for Enzo.
  • But I’m not sure he and Cass’ Rocket Launcher is my favorite move.
  • So, remind me: Is Reigns the good guy or the bad guy?
  • I prefer Sheamus’ bushier, less dingleberry-ish beard.
  • Awfully quick tap from the women’s champ there.
  • London’s really gotta step up its sign game.
  • Fandango’s token Fandango is becoming like Stan Lee’s Marvel-movie cameos.
  • Loved Owens’ gagging noises after “knees to the midsection.”
  • And this, my friends, is how you kick ass when you’re out of bubblegum.
  • Line of the Night: Ambrose’s Strowman punch line was meh, but I did enjoy his confession that he “can’t believe that joke was a hit.”
  • In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Stouffer’s bourbon steak anyone? Anyone? And gotta love how Pandora’s current slogan could endorse or refute them. What tricks will Cracker Barrel unsheathe from their sleeves next?! Unicorns, perhaps?
  • Noticeable In Their Absence: Zack Ryder, Wyatt Family, Ryback, Lucha Dragons, Alicia Fox, Golden Truth, James Corden.

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