There have been better go-home shows. But then again, an episode of SmackDown still stands between us and Hell in a Cell, so all may not be lost. The folks in Kansas City did their darndest to put a promo-heavy Raw on their shoulders with equal parts passionate interaction and irksome subversion – poor Randy Orton – and the minority of talent who squared off in the ring (i.e. Usos, Mizdow, Gold/Stardust, Ziggler/Cesaro, etc.) ran circles around the night's plodding microphone work.
But in the interest of providing a service to you readers, I've broken the action down into five essential takeaways. And, as a bonus, a bunch of stuff that may have taught us nothing, but gave everyone something to tweet about.
Here's what I learned from the October 20 edition of Monday Night Raw.
5. Poor Miz
When Miz returned from shooting The Marine 4, a rise back toward relevance seemed fait accompli. His heel gimmick had been tweaked with just enough new life, and for what seemed like a one-off lark, he even benefitted from the services of erstwhile Damien Sandow as his "stunt double," all to communicate the Miz's unrivaled vanity.
What he may not have counted on – but what the WWE universe made so – was the newly rechristened Mizdow being positioned to pull a Virgil (or an Alex Riley, if you will) on him before the "money maker" shtick even clicked. Odds are, it will be a bit before Mizdow deposes his on-screen mentor. For now, the routine is co-dependent and mutually beneficial. But eventually, Damien will do something devilish, like failing to heed Mr. Hollywood's bidding, and it will be interesting to see how each lands on their feet after an inevitable blow-off altercation (perhaps with the very Miz moniker on the line?)
4. Props Till You Drop
How did this become Dean Ambrose's M.O.? I'm referring to the "Lunatic Fringe" coming out each week with bags of runaway merchandise, hot dog carts and now duffels harboring life-size dummies of Seth Rollins and hardware-store items.
It's hard to fathom last night's disastrous promo – one crucial to creating a mystique around Ambrose and Rollins' upcoming Hell in a Cell confrontation – being all Dean's idea. Nor could he be expected to necessarily think on his feet and find a way to transcend it. But you're starting to get the sense that WWE is so desperate to sell Ambrose's instability that they're forgetting what got Daniel Bryan over just last year. For all the time spent sending up Bryan's out-there-ness, he ultimately won us all over between the ropes. And that's where Ambrose can distinguish himself as well if given the chance to improvise from bell-to-bell, rather than be asked to elevate something that's DOA.
3. Poor Ziggler
What Mark Madden might call "The Ballad of Dolph Ziggler" has been sung for some time now. Its basic refrain is this: Prodigiously gifted athlete, selfless bump-taker and all-around charming, good-looking guy gets ensnared in some hellish limbo wherein he receives due acknowledgement for his efforts, yet continues to come tantalizingly close, in perpetuity.
But after the IC champ fell to Cesaro fair-and-square last night (and at the hands of a single, grounded uppercut, despite Cesaro traditionally doling out dozens of those to set up higher-impact maneuvers), perpetuating a virtually uninterrupted losing streak since acquiring his belt, the question must be asked: Does WWE have any intention of legitimizing the Intercontinental title any time soon, or have they intermittently assigned it as a shield for Ziggler's reputation as he continues absorbing punishment in both the kidneys and win-loss column?
I'm a fan of the guy's ethic and ability, and of how much other fans cheer for both of those things. I also understand that he's not tops on the mic (though, as I observe in the next entry, who is?) and hasn't capitalized on holding down his half of a prime-time feud when given the chance (see: he vs. John Cena). Nor am I prone to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about backstage bureaucrats doling out gold stars and demerits. But I am having a hard time reconciling or making any sense of the precious metal around Ziggler's waist with bruises to his person and pride.
2. Might Be Time For Bray To Get Back in the Fray
I am not, nor have I ever been, on the Bray Wyatt train. Count me among those whose appetite was whetted by the older Rotunda brother's earliest promos but soured once he sauntered into arenas like some spider-walking, sermonizing bayou bogeyman.
But at the very least, Bray has a command of his words and cadence, rarely wasting his breath. That's opposed to last night's roll call of unconvincing monologues, from Big Show's hyperventilation about America (more on that to come) and Ambrose/Rollins' aforementioned flameout – hard as Mick Foley may have tried to reignite it – to the live crowd's complete ownership of Randy Orton (a folly halfway redeemed by an ensuing RKO on Paul Heyman) and a series of stumbling backstage vignettes. Yes, Rusev might crush. And touché to Rollins for admonishing the hypocritical attendees' tendency to boo one moment and then brag about him on Instagram the next. And without a doubt, Heyman's return was welcome, and Cena delivered his reliably fiery (if corny) diatribe on cue. But the roster's overall failure to fundamentally talk the talk, particularly when there's an onus to get millions signed up for the WWE Network and tuning in to Hell in a Cell, had me longing for a bit of Bray's silver tongue (ew).
1. Patriot Lames
Firstly, the idea of Rusev getting into his attire in a Russian dressing room is hilarious. Secondly, by the time Big Show lumbered over to the door and kicked it in, only to discover his adversary had already fled the building (shocker), it had been 15-full minutes of real time since Rusev squashed Big E.
During that unrecoverable epoch, we bore witness to several atrocities: Larry the Cable Guy endorsing heartburn medication on a Jet Ski, Lana somehow making reference to human excrement, Big Show blubbering his way through interminable stretches of dead air and, as the coup de blah, a supposed army veteran running amok from his seat and storming after Rusev, only to be met with a foot full of Muay Thai. I get that support for the troops (and the company's upcoming, network-broadcasted Tribute to them) is a huge part of WWE's connection with fans and the mainstream public/media alike. And in terms of the weekly product, it's definitely been easier to sell giants like Show and Mark Henry protecting us from big, bad international bullies than it was to push the satire of Zeb Colter as tyrannical coot brainwashing Jack Swagger with good old boy bigotry. The "U.S.A.!" chants buoying Show and burying Rusev make that matter of fact.
But put me in the minority of those rolling their eyes every time someone bellows of being "American-made," or an actor/indie wrestler is asked to stand in for G.I. Joe, get his face kicked in and and potentially make a real mockery of the sacrifice actual soldiers make. The irony is, Rusev is big and compelling and skilled enough where he doesn't need to personify or represent anything other than a pure, physical threat, the kind that last night's Raw – for all its posturing – flatly lacked.
Below the Belt:
- Definitely keeping an eye on this Orton/Rollins business.
- It's pretty impressive how quickly Gold/Stardust turned the masses against them.
- To that end, they need a better feud than the low-wattage Usos.
- I'm starting to think the Sheamus heel turn might be necessary.
- Loved Ambrose not needlessly dragging out the hot tag.
- Good move making Orton vs. Cena about the history of their rivalry.
- Nice try on the anti-pop pop to the Royals fans, Randy.
- Wait, so is Dirty Deeds a different move now?
- Love Brie, but never liked her pumping-up antics.
- That was sweet of JBL to usher Cole out of harm's way.
- So Kane can just order people to bring the cage down?
- Move of the Night: Rollins taking the big bump into the cage from Ambrose's dropkick.
- Line of the Night: I'll give it to Cena for chastising Orton with, "A lot happened in 2002. That's the last time you were relevant."
- In case you fast-forwarded through commercials: John Cena = Dylan Thomas.