We’re just five days away from Survivor Series, and last night, WWE decided to amp us all up with a Raw that opened with a 20-minute promo and closed with a contract signing. Feel the excitement!
OK, so it wasn’t all bland. Or bad. Greenville, South Carolina was also treated to a quartet of quarterfinal matchups in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament, an unmasking of a luchador and some old-school heeling that probably went a bit too far. Oh, and at one point, the Intercontinental Champion got into a Twitter feud with Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
So before Kevin Owens blocks me (or Alberto Del Rio tries to rip my head off), here’s my five-point takeaway from the November 16 edition of Raw.
5. Bane Wyatt
OK, a few questions: Did we ever find out how Undertaker and Kane escaped from Bray Wyatt’s bayou dungeon? Now that they’re back, how is Bray Wyatt still able to use their souls to control the elements (or the Druids)? And why, with a four-on-two advantage, would Wyatt agree to a traditional two-on-two matchup with the Brothers of Destruction at Survivor Series? I know, I know: This feud is as silly, spooky and supernatural as they come, which means I should probably throw common sense out the window…but as soon as ‘Taker and Kane strolled into Raw last week, all the momentum they’d been building with this story was lost completely. So last night, to ratchet up the intensity, we had the Brothers rasping their way through a boring promo (Sample line: “The powerrrruuuuggghhhhh of the dark siddeeeeeuuuggghhhhhhh”), Wyatt showing up in his rocking chair – and talking like Bane for some reason – and an army of Druids attacking Kane and ‘Taker as slowly as possible. Wake me when this is all over.
4. Let’s Just Have Tournaments All the Time
Did we all see the Final Four of Reigns, Del Rio, Owens and Ambrose coming the very second WWE unveiled its WWE World Heavyweight Championship bracket? Absolutely. And while this tournament may have lacked in suspense – Kalisto’s win over Ryback was the only upset – it’s served its purpose perfectly, weaving in the storyline of who will sell-out at Survivor Series, setting up potential feuds and leaving us with four viable challengers for Seth Rollins’ vacated title. More importantly, it gave WWE an excuse to showcase actual wrestling on Raw, from last week’s standouts (Cesaro/Sheamus, Breeze/Ambrose) to last night’s matches. Owens and Neville showcased their big/small dynamic perfectly, Reigns and Cesaro were outstanding (more on them in a minute) and Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler decided to work in a style that showcased submissions and sleepers – a nice change of pace from their usually frenetic stuff. Oh, and I loved Ambrose’s postmatch promo, which recalled South Carolina’s territory days and felt appropriately off-the-cuff…especially the whole “More action, less talking” bit. We’ve long discussed the depth of WWE’s midcard, and in recent weeks, with so much of the top tier injured or missing in action, we’ve gotten to see those talented men and women do what they do best – work. Here’s hoping that trend continues when John Cena and Randy Orton come back.
3. WTF, ADR?
Alberto Del Rio and Kalisto’s quarterfinal match was a mess, plain and simple. I’m not one to fault performers for occasional slip-ups during a match – since this is essentially live stuntwork – so let’s just overlook the botched moves and the part where ADR accidentally (?) ripped off Kalisto’s mask (which, if you never follow lucha libre, is kind of frowned upon) and instead focus on how badly WWE appears to have screwed up with Del Rio. Desperate for a draw, they brought him back, put him over John Cena clean and set him loose – with a terrible gimmick (this “MexAmerica” thing) that’s done nothing but harm his character. He got no reaction last night, and maybe I’m just reading too much into his match (or his ample history), but it seems like Del Rio has started to notice. And can you blame him? I’m not sure why WWE feels the need to play up his Mexican heritage – can’t he just be an ass-kicker, plain and simple? – but it’s not clicking. They either need to let Del Rio work (as viciously as possible, por favor) or let him go, because right now, ADR is DOA.
2. Did the Divas Go Too Far?
So, whose idea was it to main-event the Survivor Series go-home show with a Divas contract signing? Was Vince McMahon just looking for some of that residual Holly Holm heat, or was this the latest sign of progress in the ongoing “Revolution?” (it was probably the former, BTW). Either way: Yeesh. Charlotte continues to struggle as champ, and no matter how often WWE likes to remind us she’s Ric Flair’s daughter, let’s just say no one’s going to compare the two when it comes to cutting a promo. Last night, she was all over the place, from monotone mumbling to comical shouting (with a crying spell somewhere in the middle), so it was once again up to Paige – who is supposed to be a heel, a fact audiences occasionally remember – to keep things moving along. Which she did by making an off-color remark about Charlotte’s brother, Reid, who died of an overdose in 2013. Did WWE cross a line? Depends on your perspective. My biggest problem was that this whole segment seemed like a desperation move, a last-ditch effort to make the Divas Championship match at Survivor Series seem like a blood feud – something that could have been accomplished weeks ago had they bothered to stick to a storyline. Can we just give Sasha Banks the belt already?
1. The Cesaro Section
Here’s the mark of a good match: I knew Roman Reigns was going to beat Cesaro last night, yet despite that, there were still a few moments when I found myself thinking, “Wait, could Cesaro actually win this?” Credit the way this one was laid out – a slow build that toyed with the loyalties of the audience, worked in a bit of psychology and some big spots and teased a few near finishes before Roman finally came out on top – and the added intrigue of Cesaro possibly grabbing that “brass ring” by aligning himself with the evil Authority. But, really, this was all about the efforts of both men, who brought the roof down and imbued the bout with a big-fight feel. When he wasn’t putting on an offensive onslaught, Cesaro was cartwheeling off of the ropes and countering Reigns’ apron dropkick into the Giant Swing. And when Reigns wasn’t swinging for the fences with his Superman Punch, he was powering out of crossface submissions and right into Samoan Drops. And, sure, you could fault Roman for some spotty selling of his injured arm (it’s the right one, dude) but small details like that are largely lost when you’re emotionally involved in a match, and that was definitely the case here.
Do I wish the Swiss Superman would’ve won this? Absolutely. But in the four months since his tag team partner Tyson Kidd was injured, Cesaro has been on fire, and his weekly efforts have gradually gotten him over with WWE audiences. I’ve begun to see comparisons to Daniel Bryan’s unlikely rise to the top of the promotion – and while I’ve been burned too often to fully believe we’ll see Cesaro main-eventing WrestleMania, with so many of WWE’s stars on the shelf and the Royal Rumble taking place in Orlando (home of NXT), hey, you never know. Actually, you probably do. But you’ll still watch anyway.