For the second week running, WWE managed to put on a strong Raw. It’s a mark of how dreadful the last few months have been that I can’t remember the last time that two consecutive weeks were good. Here are five talking points from the show:
A week ago, I speculated that Zack Ryder’s one-day Intercontinental Championship reign could mean one of two things: (1) The start of an exciting push (2) A return to the mean streets of Jobberville. After this week’s Raw, all signs point to the latter. Not was Cesaro revealed as Miz’s first challenger for the IC Title, Ryder wasn’t even featured on the show. Unless he is added to the mix next week, the Wrestlemania title victory may sadly turn out to be the peak of Ryder’s WWE career. I am looking forward to Miz v. Cesaro, though. Miz has quietly been doing excellent work for the last year or so, and Cesaro has returned in fabulous form. Right now, I see Miz winning Round 1 with an assist from Maryse. This would be a way to establish their relationship on-screen, although I think Cesaro will end up as IC champ sooner rather than later.
Staying on the IC Title scenario for a moment, it’s interesting that Kevin Owens is being excluded from the picture. WWE usually can’t resist booking rematches, but indications are that KO won’t be receiving one for the title he dropped to Zack Ryder at Wrestlemania. Odds are that this is being done to set up an Owens/Sami Zayn feud for Payback, but Owens’ two heated interactions with Shane McMahon on the show made me wonder if he is being primed for something even bigger. Will Owens seek some manner of revenge against Shane for not granting him his rematch, and furthermore, booting him out of the building? Or will he simply double down on his beef with Sami Zayn? Or maybe he’ll attack Cesaro for supposedly screwing him out of an opportunity that should have been his? It’s a mark of how good a heel Owens is that he is engaged in these multiple feuds simultaneously. He’s the best heel in the company at the moment, even arguably the best performer. Let’s hope they have big plans for this chap.
Speaking of Shane, where on earth is all this going? WWE announced a few hours before Raw that Shane would continue to run the show this week due to ‘overwhelming social media support’. Word on the street is that the original script justified Shane’s presence by quoting a ratings boost from him running the show last week. Unfortunately, such a ratings boost failed to materialize, so WWE went with what they thought was their next best explanation. I’ve decided not to look too closely for logic in this whole angle, but the recent burst of talent acquisition and NXT call-ups suggest a roster that is being readied for a brand split. Watch this space.
Did somebody say talent acquisition? In the most noteworthy moment of Monday’s episode, two of wrestling’s hottest free agents made their long-rumoured WWE debut. Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, 3-time IWGP Tag Team Champions as members of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s much feted Bullet Club stable, marked their arrival by attacking the Usos after the latter’s victory against The Social Outcasts. With AJ Styles being a former Bullet Club leader, many fans had speculated that Anderson and Gallows would align themselves with him. NXT Champion Finn Balor also led the Bullet Club during his NJPW stint, and he too has featured in a number of feverish fantasy booking scenarios on the Internet that envision a WWE reunion of the wrestling supergroup. While things could obviously develop in the coming weeks, the debuting duo’s first order of business seems to be a feud with The Usos. Whether or not a Bullet Club revival is on the cards, this is definitely something to be excited about.
Note: Technically, it is only Anderson who is making his debut. Gallows worked for WWE between 2005 and 2010
Anyone But You, Roman?
Last week, I wondered whether WWE was considering the possibility of a Roman Reigns heel turn. From what I saw this week, I wouldn’t put my money on it. Repeating his “I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a good guy, I’m the guy” line from last week, Reigns seems to be morphing into a babyface that’s indifferent or even defiant of the crowd’s antagonism towards him. I actually enjoyed his no-nonsense demeanour this week, it suits him far better than the forced Cena 2.0 gimmick that WWE has been thrusting upon him. Even if Reigns doesn’t turn heel, there are still a number of interesting things that could happen in his feud with AJ Styles, so it’s still something to keep an eye on.
However, the Reigns-Styles feud hasn’t even begun yet. In an interesting turn of events, Reigns found himself facing a monologue-interrupting League of Nations all by himself, when what do you know, The Wyatt Family came to his rescue. Shane McMahon then appeared, announcing a main event between Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio vs. Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt. Although Wyatt made it clear before the match that he is still against everything that Reigns stands for, he was in full babyface mode during the match itself – and the crowd loved it. Is this a bona fide face turn for the Wyatts, and if so, will this finally be Bray’s break? How, if at all, does any of this tie into Reigns vs. Styles? There’s only one way to find out: follow the buzzards.