Sunday night at Battleground, the Undertaker cut down Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins vanished into thin air and John Cena put Kevin Owens in his rearview mirror. None of those developments provided solutions to WWE’s long-term problems, but with SummerSlam just five weeks away, that wasn’t the point. All that mattered was setting up a Beast vs. Dead Man main event.
So Monday’s Raw was tasked with developing the rest of the card – which it did. You might not like everything we’re going to see next month at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, but they’ve gotta fill three-plus hours somehow. And give credit to WWE creative for pulling out all the stops last night, teasing an intriguing champ-versus-champ showdown, developing factions in both the men’s and women’s divisions and throwing together one hell of a Pier Six Brawl between Lesnar and ‘Taker to stoke the flames (and give the guys standing around in the back something to do.)
So let’s dig through the rubble. With a tip of the cap to Kenny Herzog (he’s back next week), here are five key things that I took away from the July 20 edition of Raw.
5. Family Tradition
After Battleground, a show designed to address the present (namely, “Holy shit, SummerSlam‘s in five weeks,”) it’s already looking like the best development for the future was the reformation of the Wyatt Family. It reinvigorated Bray Wyatt’s bland boogeyman character – because who’s going to believe to a cult leader with no cult? – almost as much as his win over Roman Reigns did, put the talented Luke Harper back on our TVs and, with Erick Rowan on the shelf for the next six months, created a prime spot open in a premier stable. Who will Wyatt tap to fill it? That’s just part of the fun. And speaking of, last night’s continuation of the Family’s feud with Reigns was plenty entertaining, a hard-hitting hoss fight between Harper and Reigns that also worked R.R.’s old pal Dean Ambrose into the mix. Is this just a slightly modified version of the Wyatt Family/Shield beef from 2014? Yes, but I’m not complaining. Everyone worked their tails off and, after weeks of slightly aimless vignettes, it was great to see some actual violence. And the Kansas City crowd certainly seemed to agree with me.
4. Six Men, One Direction
With U.S. Champion John Cena apparently turning his attention to bigger things (more on that in a minute), we’d better get used to seeing matches like the main event, featuring the contenders currently left in the lurch – Kevin Owens, Cesaro and Rusev – and the guys with nothing better to do (Sheamus and, as always, Randy Orton) battling it out just because. Plug the returning Dolph Ziggler into Cena’s slot and you’ve got your SummerSlam payoff to the whole Lana debacle, too (thank God). Was this six-man tag anything special? Not really, but the finish, which saw all three faces hit their finishers in succession (Cesaro’s catapult of Rusev into Orton’s RKO was great) was a nice touch. Is anyone excited by the potential of an Owens/Sheaums feud? Not unless the Great White’s Money in the Bank contract is on the line. But hey, if you’re gonna tread water, I suppose it’s better to do it with your fellow swimmers.
3. The Champ Is Here. And the World Champ, Too.
OK, so Seth Rollins did exactly what we all expected him to do after literally disappearing at Battleground – he came out and claimed to have conquered Brock Lesnar. And while it would be nice to actually believe his boasts for once (seriously, why couldn’t the Undertaker’s interference have resulted in a pin for the World champ?), there was some added fire to Rollins’ promo – especially his pointed claim to be “the end-all, be-all of champions in this industry.” Of course, at the time he was speaking, he was still without an opponent for SummerSlam…so thank goodness John Cena showed up to bury him and his reign as champ, setting up a presumed title vs. title match next month. Given the rise of the United States Championship since WrestleMania, this was the right move, and everything Cena said about Rollins’ run atop the promotion was true, but considering Mr. Hustle, Loyalty, Respect’s track record, their showdown at SummerSlam has me feeling nervous. For months, we’ve been crowing about Cena’s “selfless” work as U.S. champ – turns out, he might get his reward just yet, in the form of yet another Heavyweight Championship. Hey, it’s the American way.
2. The Revolution Is Being Televised
After last week’s momentous arrival and a solid, if a touch sloppy, debut at Battleground, Monday night continued to show the evolution of the, ugh, #DivasRevolution. For starters, we got two solid women’s matches – Charlotte vs. Brie Bella and Paige and Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks and Naomi – both of which were designed to showcase the wrestling acumen of the NXT three. And by allowing the women to play to their respective strengths (Charlotte’s athletic prowess, Lynch’s in-ring abilities, Banks’ skills on the mic – she’s a great wrestler, too – Naomi’s attitude and Team Bella’s sheer Divatude) it provides the entire division with a newfound breadth and depth. And while the commentators should do a better job letting that grow organically – note to the guys, not every women’s wrestling feud is about “jealousy” – Raw was another step in the right direction. The tag match, in particular, was booked perfectly: Lynch playing face in peril, the teased hot tag to Paige (who looked better than she has in months), Banks getting the win by submission…it all showed promise and progress. Of course, to then to follow it up with the drivel between Lana and Summer Rae just shows how far we still have to go.
1. Dead Man Talking, Brawling
Can someone get the Undertaker a lozenge? When the Undead Icon kicked off Raw with a gravel-voiced promo explaining his motivations for attacking Brock Lesnar last night – payback for breaking the streak – I couldn’t have been the only one rolling my eyes (why didn’t ‘Taker exact his revenge when both men were in the same building at WrestleMania 31?) Thankfully, Paul Heyman was on hand to throw gasoline on the flames, cutting a masterful promo that hit all the plot points, touched on the two men’s shared history and made this one appropriately personal. In short, though many have tried to end Undertaker’s ‘Mania run (his “greatest claim to fame,” according to Paul), only one man has, a fact that ‘Taker can’t let go. And when Lesnar himself raced down the ramp to save his advocate from certain destruction at the hands of the Dead Man, all bets were off. The resulting brawl brought the boys out of the back and blew the roof off the Sprint Center, earning well-deserved “This is awesome” chants and raising the intensity of this feud exponentially. Can a rematch between Brock Lesnar and Undertaker live up to the hype? Here’s hoping…but in the likely event it can’t, explosive segments like this are a smart way to make fans feel like they still got their money’s worth.