"Go-home show" had more than one meaning in Minneapolis. Not only was it the final Monday night before SummerSlam (in case that failed to register amid Triple H and Stephanie's lengthy opening address), it was also Brock Lesnar's chance to bask in the adulation of his adopted home state. Side effect: The Undertaker got pooped all over, as did the Divas and anyone else in the final few segments who wasn't Brock Lesnar.
But hey, let's not dwell on the more controversial aspects of a fine show.
After all, we had a contract signing with no physical contact and a blink-and-you-miss-it tag match that generated no new heat for this Sunday's tussle over PTP's belts. Thus, there's plenty to pick apart. So let's all throw off our high heels and get ready to thrown down with the five key things (in addition to the usual Twitter-friendly sidebar observations) that I took away from the August 17 edition of Raw.
5. I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream Team Bella
Here's a puzzler: All the commentary crew can talk about is how Brie and Nikki Bella run roughshod and – to use timely political-campaign parlance – suck all the air out of the Divas' locker room. Yet, it's quite apparent by even the broadest set of criteria (i.e. screen time, wins/losses, crowd response, breathless hyperbole from said commentary team) that the ex-NXT upstarts, along with Paige and Naomi (sorry Tamina), are where the buzz begins and ends. And that's no knock on the twins. Anyone who reads these recaps knows I admire Nikki and think she carried the women's ranks through tough times. I'm just saying the narrative no longer fits with what we see from week to week. A cynic might argue it's a perfect illustration of WWE stubbornly sticking to the script rather than letting what happens in the ring be self-dictating. An optimist, however, might suggest I pick my battles and just be pleased the ladies are ostensibly main-evening Raw again. But to that end…
4. Boo to Minneapolis
Not the city at large. Just the very vocal contingent of fans who got impatient with Lesnar's inevitable arrival and all but ran Nikki Bella and Sasha Banks out of the ring throughout the night's final match, down to what sounded like a Bronx cheer when Banks scored the submission. It was easy enough to brush off the first wave of clamoring for their hero. He's their guy, they're excited and it's nothing personal against Bella and Banks. We get it. But once the requisite "JBL" chants piped up they forfeited their benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, the women will merely take that as incentive to work even harder. Jump to the climactic Lesnar/Undertaker confrontation, and let's just say there's a difference between favoring your hero and shitting on a legend. If I were Taker, I'd head backstage after delivering that Tombstone to my SummerSlam foe, find the nearest executive and caution, "The next time I come out of semi-retirement and schlep my ass to Raw, do me a favor and don't schedule the show on the other guy's home turf. Duh."
3. Ziggler and Rusev = Pawns
It's not the most precise algebra, but I'm reasonably certain I can make a case for its mathematic integrity. So, let's see: Rusev was hobbled with a bad foot for some time; Dolph Ziggler skipped town to film a WWE Studios flick and was replaced by Dog Ziggler; Lana and Summer Rae brought us back to the days of bras and panties with a series of glorified catfights; and then just in the nick of time, days before SummerSlam, Dolph makes the least surprising return in recent Raw history (way to be subtle with those glances, Lana) and challenges Rusev to a decisive one-on-one despite nary any time to reestablish their rivalry. Why? Well, because the real headliner for this feud's yet to come, and it's between Lana and Summer Rae (or with their beaus in an inter-gender tag bout). Come to think of it, I take back my earlier remarks about letting stories happen organically. Someone calling the shots should have kept this thing on a slightly more conventional course or simply held it for when Rusev and Ziggler were both healthy and available. Much as it's great to see the women shine, not sure Lana and Summer's war over who wore it best is what we had in mind.
2. Please Split Up Roman and Dean, Pretty Please?
With a cherry and extra sprinkles on top? Yikes. Sorry for that. My point was going to be plain and simple: Like any good pair of brothers-in-boots, there's only one direction left for this little bromance between Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to turn, and that's right into Splitsville. Sayonara, last remaining vestige of goodwill among former Shield partners. See ya later, Lunatic Fringe and Samoan Superman. Your days as mutual protectors and costars in heartwarming vignettes about the true nature of friendship shall be done! We hope. Nothing else particularly riveting can come of their bout against Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper on Sunday, and it's unclear whether either man is in the Heavyweight Championship picture at the moment. But break these two up, and you get solid gold. (You can also get Solid Gold by following this link.) That Roman sure did a good stoic heel. Then again, Ambrose would be a mighty fine addition to any pack of outcasts, even the Wyatts. It's only one recapper's opinion that both competitors are valuable commodities without the right counterparts (whereas someone like Cesaro has at last found his in Kevin Owens), and the answer is standing right there beside each of them at SummerSlam.
1. All Hail Seth
No, no, no. Those aren't the right words. We all know any hailing shall be reserved for the "Cosmic King," Wade Barrett (sigh). Whatever the intro, I would like to propose a toast to the champ, Seth Rollins. He can go "on and on and on" on occasion, and per his role, plays the cowardly heel despite his extraordinary in-ring ability. But he has been front and center at Raw and SmackDown every week, carrying the load when others were hurt or taking time off or shooting a straight-to-DVD movie. He's kicked off nearly every broadcast and closed out nearly as many. He does about as good with tightly controlled promos as anyone could possibly expect – last night was no exception – and still has the capacity to thrill and surprise us with singular athletic skill when given real time to work a match. The future may well be in hand with Rollins at the helm, and there couldn't be a better moment to go all in and bequeath him both the U.S. title and heavyweight belt on Sunday. Be it broken or surgically repaired, even John Cena has enough of a nose for business to sense that's what might be best.
Below the Belt:
- SportsCenter, Jon Stewart, Stephen Amell, oh my!
- Not sure how I feel about Becky's goggles.
- RIP Submission Sorority.
- The last seven seconds of this would have been a much better mantra for Ambrose and Reigns.
- Sweet Rusev flag.
- I'm thinking maybe Cesaro/Sheamus and Owens/Orton for the next program.
- Cena was a tad rusty.
- Was fun seeing Lesnar in awe.
- Move of the Night: Ryback should definitely, permanently swing that suplex into a Shell Shock from now on.
- Line of the Night: Jeez, JBL, take it easy on Big Show with the, "You were good as Shrek too."
- Sign of the Night: Hug Life!
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Domino's is really going all in. See, it's like White Men Can't Jump, get it? And Bonnie Tyler's having a good year.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: J&J gotta be on the mend by now, no? Also, Neville.