On the 18th anniversary of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” that not only helped create the villainous Mr. McMahon character, but kick-start the entire Attitude Era, WWE Raw took over Manchester, England on Monday night, for a show that – hey, who knows? – could end up being historic in its own right.
Because, as you’re no doubt aware, WWE is currently without a World Heavyweight Champion, after Seth Rollins suffered a serious knee injury at a house show in Dublin that will put him out of action for at least six months (thanks, Coach!) That means a new champion will be crowned, and last night saw the opening stages of a tournament that will culminate with a coronation at Survivor Series. Does that mean we’re witnessing the dawning of the Roman (Reigns) Empire? Probably, but there are plenty of other intriguing options as well.
So, hey, here’s to a new era. And get well soon, Seth. You’re definitely missed. This is my five-point takeaway from the November 9 edition of Raw.
5. Tournament Time
Seth Rollins’ knee injury is unfortunate, and his absence was evident on last night’s Raw, but credit WWE for scrambling to find the best possible solution: A 16-man tournament for his Heavyweight title. If last night’s first-round matches were any indication, the next couple weeks are going to be fun, and while you can nitpick some of the folks who are competing – Titus O’Neil? Kalisto? The Miz? – their inclusion probably had more to do with the rash of injuries and absences that have thinned the roster in recent weeks. And besides, from a pure wrestling standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with letting Cesaro and Sheamus slug it out, or giving Tyler Breeze some shine in a tough defeat at the hands of Dean Ambrose (Summer Rae was great once again, as well). Oh, and how about that angry little kid shouting at Breezus when he was dumped to the outside – “That’s what you get, you idiot, for messing with Dolph Ziggler!” That was a pure moment if ever I saw one. The tournament works as a storytelling tool, too, teasing a showdown between Kevin Owens and Ambrose that could carry over to the Intercontinental Championship scene and – more importantly – sowing the seeds of a potential Roman Reigns heel turn. Will he go corporate, a la the Rock at Survivor Series ’98, to claim the title, or will Roman grit his way through yet another gauntlet to win it all? It’s probably the latter, though kudos to Triple H for trying to tempt him to take the easy way out. Either way, Reigns ends up a lot more compelling than he was a few short weeks ago.
4. Heel Owens Heel
Speaking of shifts, doesn’t Rollins’ injury make Kevin Owens the company’s top heel by default? With Bray Wyatt busy devouring souls in the WWE hinterlands, Rusev recovering from a torn biceps tendon and Alberto Del Rio saddled with this MexAmericans shtick, KO stands alone – though the competition isn’t exactly fierce. That could be problematic if WWE decides it’s time to give Roman Reigns the belt at Survivor Series, because who does he face in his first feud as champ? Sheamus? King Barrett? Barring an unexpected heel turn by one of his former allies, it just might end up being I.C. champ Owens, who wasn’t even on the main roster six months ago. Then again, Kevin’s more than ready to assume the role – last night, he cut a promo that buried U.K. crowds (and the Royal Family), blasted Titus O’Neil with a Pop-Up Powerbomb, stole JBL’s cowboy hat as he made his way to the back and did this in his postmatch interview. Dude is a treasure…not to mention a different breed of heel than Rollins ever was. So expect the company to lean on him hard in Seth’s absence. If KO doesn’t get Roman now – he certainly seems to be on a collision course with Dean Ambrose, which should be great – he’ll get him one day, and you already know he’ll deliver with heelish aplomb.
3. Give Banks the Belt Already
After spending the past couple weeks praising the recent direction of the Divas division – funny what happens when you make the title mean something, right? – it’s time to dole out a bit of criticism. In short, WWE needs to stop wasting time with this Paige/Charlotte feud and just give the people what they really want: Sasha Banks as Divas Champion. You hear the crowds chant her name each week (Manchester definitely was more interested in Banks than anything happening in the Nattie/Naomi match), and it’s becoming apparent that we’re reaching the end of the Team era that kicked off this “Divas Revolution,” so if there’s ever been a time to let the Boss loose, it’s now. I understand the need to give Charlotte a few successful defenses of her title, but each week that passes without Banks openly challenging for the championship lessens her lightning-in-a-bottle luster just a little. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with Sasha breaking her opponents with the Bank Statement – bonus points for making Nattie tap while wearing Stunner shades last night – which is good enough. For now.
2. The Brothers Gonna Work It Out
OK, so apparently Kane and the Undertaker managed to escape from Bray’s bayou dungeon with enough strength to beat down the entire Wyatt Family without uttering a single word. And I guess all that special-effects laden, soul-devouring gobbledygook Wyatt was spouting last week was just for show (so how did he summon that thunder and lightning?) Those are the takeaways from last night’s show-closing segment, which saw the Brothers of Destruction return (I’ll admit, that shit was awesome) and dole out some justice. From a story perspective, it didn’t make a ton of sense, but here’s hoping last night’s beatdown represented Kane and ‘Taker getting a short-term win, since it gives a flicker of hope that Wyatt and his clan are going over at Survivor Series. And with the paucity of bad guys currently competing in the company, WWE needs monster heels more than ever. Then again, that PPV does mark 25 years of ‘Taker, so I’m going to temper my expectations just a tad.
1. The Cesaro Section
Can we just have a moment for motherfucking Cesaro, who took on Sheamus in a tourney match that seemed like little more than an excuse to get a clip of British soccer star Wayne Rooney slapping Wade Barrett on SportsCenter, and turned it into a hard-hitting hoss fight that thrilled the Manchester crowd? Maybe that was due to his staggering physical skills (like that flip reversal into a slam) or the risks he takes on a weekly basis – he definitely looked like he hurt his right elbow on a nasty over-the-rope spot – but whatever the case, last night was more proof that the Swiss Superman shines whenever, wherever and with whomever. Can he win the Heavyweight title? Well, considering he takes on Roman Reigns in the tournament quarterfinals, I’m going to say the answer is no, but what a match that should be (if not for sheer schadenfreude alone). Cesaro definitely deserves a shot at something of substance, it’s just a shame WWE’s current landscape doesn’t provide him with many potential challenges. Or challengers. So let’s give some shine to the hardest-working man on the roster, even if it’s just for one week.