'WWE Raw': AJ Styles Is Sweating Bullets - Rolling Stone
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‘WWE Raw’: AJ Styles Is Sweating Bullets

Phenomenal One nearly comes to blows with Gallows and Anderson, League of Nations erodes and ‘Payback’ suffers its final growing pain

WWE; AJ StylesWWE; AJ Styles

A.J. Styles gets Roman Reigns at 'Payback' – will his old friends have his back?


WWE is in a time of transition, to put it mildly.

Familiar faces are ceding ground to eager upstarts, expats from rival promotions are pillaging the field and the women formerly known as Divas are dueling for equal respect (if not screen time). Last night encapsulated those shifts, in addition to shoring up the backdrop behind this Sunday’s Payback. But more than anything, it reminded viewers of one very simple fact: People really hate Roman Reigns.

So before this recap gets obscured by an old-timey, black-and-white drop shadow, here are the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the April 25, 2016 edition of Raw.

5. Leagues of Their Own
Why bother with storytelling devices when you can simply authorize talent to announce a stable’s dissolution during a shoot interview and move on from there? As abruptly as it coalesced, League of Nations appears to be all but over. If this bears out, will the League go down in the annals as WWE’s most hastily assembled, cockamamie hodgepodge of partnerships, particularly at the main-event level? Quite possibly. And could Sheamus, Rusev (reunited with Lana, cause, why not?) and Alberto Del Rio have been reintroduced as singles competitors in any more undignified a manner than by losing matter-of-factly to A.J. Styles, Sami Zayn (!) and Roman Reigns, respectively. I repeat: Rusev was pinned by Sami Zayn. So much for the afterglow. 

4. Banks’ Withdrawal
We get it: Last night was all about putting pieces in place for whatever they’ve got planned for Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson and A.J. Styles, and ensuring people pay money on Sunday to see how it goes down. Though couldn’t the ladies have been better represented than by merely having Emma job to Natalya while Charlotte maxes and relaxes ringside with papa Ric? There had to have been some disappointed New Englanders ready to go wild behind their girl Sasha, and some little women disappointed that lass kicker Becky Lynch was left off the card (dark matches I’m not aware of notwithstanding). It’s hard to figure how: A) The ill-timed Bray Wyatt injury didn’t create a pathway to another prominent women’s angle, and B) More females from NXT haven’t been called up concurrent with their male counterparts. Guess Raw‘s reached its…Total number of Divas?

3. Stray Bullets
Oh, just give people the stupid Bullet Club reunion they want already. Or don’t. Whatever you do (you meaning whomever orchestrates these things), please reconsider Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows’ ring attire and entrance theme. Gallows specifically more closely evokes Max von Sydow in Flash Gordon than the foul-mouthed maniac who menaced New Japan opponents. And their music, the turgid CFO$ non-starter (where, oh where, has our Jim Johnston gone?) “Omen in the Sky,” could easily be mistaken for a generic Ring of Honor/Warner-Chappell license. I am intrigued to see whether they let A.J.’s heel flag fly at Payback (please do) or keep things cozy and have his old running mates cost him the title against Roman Reigns, but am primarily concerned that they (you know, they) don’t kill the duo’s magic.

2. Lag Team Action
Echoing the dearth of women’s action, there sure was a whole lot of nothing happening in the tag scene last night outside of Gallows and Anderson’s perfunctory win over the Usos. Hard to figure why the number-one-contender tourney finals weren’t held on Raw rather than have Enzo and Cass, Vaudevillains and New Day pointlessly act out a merry-go-round of promos without any physicality. The Dudleys, meanwhile, were tabled, while not even the Lucha Dragons breathed some fire into the proceedings (because, we assume, the focus needed to be on Payback preshow battler Kalisto, even though no time was allotted to further he and Ryback’s beef?) Far be it for me to suggest that, with three-plus hours, there should be plenty of opportunity to propel and prolong myriad angles – regardless of whether they fit an upcoming PPV’s rubric – but then let it be far of me!

1. The Great Hall of Chyna
If ever someone earned a “you deserve it” chant, it would have been Chyna, even if it came her way posthumously, subsequent to WWE’s wholly appropriate tribute on Raw (though it was odd and telling that they fell short of a moment of silence at broadcast’s outset). Joanie Laurer lived the past 15 years of her public life shrouded in infamy, but as the Attitude Era’s Ninth Wonder of the World, truly did – to borrow former adversary Chris Jericho’s lyrical motif – break the walls down. It would be cruel to deny her future Hall of Fame entry, even more so than having kept her at arm’s length up till now. Either way, no one needs a series of validating superstar social-media posts to confirm what any wrestling fan knows: Chyna was on a continent all to herself.

Below the Belt:

  • If the crowd’s not behind Roman Reigns against Alberto Del Rio, he really might be doomed.
  • Good thinking on his feet by Shane to correct Steph’s dubious remark about Vince not letting the people decide Raw‘s GM.
  • Why do Jericho and Dean Ambrose hate each other again?
  • Kevin Owens vs. Zayne oughta run through SummerSlam, IMHO.
  • Why do Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler hate each other again?
  • Simon Gotch basically suffered a Tara Reid boob slip going last night.
  • Does Enzo know 100 is actually a rather low fever?
  • When is Titus O’Neil’s release from Universal Studios detention?
  • Lana really giving new meaning to heel valet there, huh?
  • Did Apollo Crews expect a handshake from Stardust, not a hiss?
  • How much would Japanese audiences love Stardust?
  • TMC, Y2J (that’d be “too much crack,” specifically).
  • Man, Cesaro really lingered on that Jackass punch line.
  • No idea how Del Rio wouldn’t be concussed after last night.
  • Well, I guess it’s something for the Usos to do.
  • Sorry for no line/move of the night. Once again, nothing moved me.
  • Sign of the Night: Re: “Why Is Your Hair So Wet?” finally someone said it.
  • In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Not sure I get the point of advertising day drinking at night. I’m thinking recurring roles in Vinyl and Veep so far this year should soon spare Peter Grosz from more Sonic spots. Hey Taco Bell, ring me when you put the bacon soft taco back on the menu. And fuck Jay Leno’s Garage.
  • Noticeable In Their Absence: Golden Truth (seriously, what’s the deal?), Fandango (see ya next U.K. tour), the aforementioned female competitors, Dudley Boyz, Social Outcasts, non-injured Wyatts.

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