Brock Lesnar makes his expected return to the WWE on RAW. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

WWE RAW Report (July 21, 2014): Brock Lesnar returns, Stephanie McMahon arrested, and everything feels right again

The WWE is more self-aware than I often give them credit for. HHH began this week’s RAW by cutting a promo against people like myself who complained about how awful Battleground was. Such promos have been a recent trademark of the WWE’s so-called “Reality Era” and it serves as an interesting crack into the WWE’s fourth wall.

Yes, the WWE is very aware that many people weren’t pleased with how Battleground played out. Even HHH himself admitted that he wasn’t happy, albeit for kayfabe reasons, but he made a point to say that he was just going to sit back and relax because in the end, he would still win. In kayfabe, he was directly referencing finding a way to get the belt off John Cena, but, in reality, it was a veiled message that all the stalling that the WWE Universe has suffered through would come to an end tonight.

While we can certainly debate the wisdom of the WWE sticking to a holding pattern for over a month, it’s clear that the WWE wasn’t willing to sacrifice their SummerSlam plans simply to make Battleground a little bit better.

The biggest of these plans was the return of Brock Lesnar, perhaps the WWE’s worst kept secret in recent memory. While Brock’s return may not have been a shock, the promo delivered by Paul Heyman to set up the main event at SummerSlam against John Cena certainly made up for any lack of surprise.

Leave it to Heyman to hype a spoiled main event. Within just a few minutes, he insulted the entire WWE Universe, attacking fans that both love and hate Cena. His client doesn’t care about your hot Cena takes. He’s there to destroy Cena and take the belt away, a threat that carries an abundance of force now that Brock has broken the Undertaker’s undefeated Wrestlemania streak.

Yes, Cena has made a career of overcoming odds to a ridiculous level, but, if the WWE is willing to have Brock’s victory over the streak (cleanly, I might add), he could very well be the odds that Cena fails to overcome.

Beyond the future main event, many other programs finally broke their holding patterns and saw a push out of stagnation. Perhaps choosing RAW to do so in order to expose the new storylines to the biggest audience possible.

It may have been a night late, but at least a large audience saw a great heel turn from Paige. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

It may have been a night late, but at least a large audience saw a great heel turn from Paige. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

 

Paige finally made her heel turn against Divas Champion A.J. Lee in what was one of the more vicious assaults that I have ever seen in the divas division. Paige skipping away from the ring like A.J. was incredibly priceless and the icing on top of that heel turn cake.

The “Stephanie McMahon hates the Bellas” program started going places as well. In having what seemed to be a throwaway 4-on-1 match for Nikki Bella, Brie made a surprise appearance and confrontation that ended up leading to Stephanie’s arrest later in the evening. And that angle even had an additional layer of hilarity as HHH decided to leave his wife in jail for a bit to announce Cena’s SummerSlam opponent.

Roman Reigns has likely found himself firmly planted in a program with Randy Orton. Cesaro broke away from Heyman cleanly and wants to work for the Authority which now gives his character all kinds of options. The Miz and Dolph Ziggler put on a hell of a match, even if it feel into the non-title loss variety that is a pet peeve of mine. Bray Wyatt managed to raise the stakes in what seemed like a soon-to-be stalled rivalry with Chris Jericho that featured a backstage attack that left Jericho on the receiving end of Sister Abigail’s Kiss into a locker (which he sold as if he died).

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Xaiver Woods forming a stable with Kofi and Big E. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was Xaiver Woods forming a stable with Kofi and Big E. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

Xavier Woods of all people came out to form a stable with a dejected losing tag team of Kofi Kingston and Big E, a move seemed to be in direct response to the Atlantic’s recent article on the WWE and racism. Yes, that’s Xavier Woods taking a leadership role out of nowhere and causing “Nation of Domination” to trend on Twitter as fans wondered if that faction would see a new incarnation.

Even the weekly taped Goldust and Stardust promo hinted that their return to the ring was near.

The episode of RAW was everything that Battleground wasn’t. It was far from perfect (hell, it included a performance from Flo Rida and a stinker of a match in Khali/Rusev), but the WWE is moving forward once again. There are new, exciting possibilities for next week’s episode.

The conversation can now move back to “is this the right move?” instead of the far worse “why didn’t they do anything at all this week?”

And now, a rant

So, let’s talk a bit about the whole Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella program for a bit.

As I said above, I am glad that the story has finally gone somewhere past throwing Nikki into terrible matches every week. That lone fact doesn’t spare this program from my ire.

It wasn’t so much the logic of what happened either. Sure, as soon as Stephanie was arrested, it certainly felt like the WWE jumped the shark. Despite that, I did laugh a bit and the crowd popped hard when Stephanie was being read her rights.

The "cops" reading Stephanie's rights on a Miranda card was a nice, simple touch of hilarity during this crazy segment. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

The “cops” reading Stephanie’s rights on a Miranda card was a nice, simple touch of hilarity during this crazy segment. (Photo Credit: WWE.com)

You could have a debate on whether or not Brie was being a complete hypocrite. After all, she slapped her own boss, quit, and saw no kayfabe legal consequences as a result just a little over a month ago. This week, she needlessly called Stephanie a bitch twice and, as a fan, reached over the barricade and stole a mic, a move that would see any other fan swarmed by security and ejected. She certainly provoked the entire situation.

But no, the biggest issue I had was how much time this program was given. Not just the live segments, which were longer than some of the matches on the show, but the constant replays. I believe there were three separate occasions in which RAW replayed Stephanie slapping Brie and then replayed Stephanie’s arrest twice.

I didn’t do any exact timing, but I would wager RAW neared the 30-minute mark of airtime devoted to a program that, in the grand scheme of things, is a sideshow.

I love the idea that SummerSlam could see Stephanie pay in-ring for some of the terrible things she’s done as a half of the power-abusing Authority. But if that’s the payoff, the reality is that a someone that isn’t an in-ring performer would face off against a mediocre one. Even if Stephanie pulled a Vickie firing swerve and got someone else to do her dirty work, the WWE still won’t drag more than a few minutes out of that kind of a match.

Why devote so much time on RAW for something that’s going to result in a cooldown segment for a cheap pop at SummerSlam? The WWE was practically shoving this segment down everyone’s throat and in doing so killed it. This was nothing more than glorified filler packaged as the most important thing ever.

This was a great RAW and this program should have been a happier diversion than what it was. Do less, WWE.

Other assorted RAW quick-hits

  • I can’t stress enough how much I love HHH acting as either the Internet or responding to it. It’s a fantastic way to work the crowd and it makes me feel personally involved in what’s happening in the WWE Universe even though I know it isn’t really true. Like I said in my Battleground report, the WWE doesn’t operate in a vacuum and I love when they publicly acknowledge that.
  • Roman Reigns played the Internet this week. Hearing a WWE superstar say that Cena/Orton for the 1,000th time and Cena/Kane are the worst ideas ever for SummerSlam was great.
  • Brie Bella proudly called Stephanie a bitch twice and then the WWE proceeded to edit that out in their constant replays. Really? Let’s make up our minds on how edgy you want your TV-PG show to be, WWE.
  • Kudos to reaction of the guy sitting right next to Brie though. He had a “mommy she said a bad word!” face and it was amazing.
  • Sandow reprising his LeBron bit was probably more telegraphed than Lesnar’s return, but if you’re going to dip back into that bucket and be lazy, purposely making it look ten times more lazy by just taping up Miami on Sandow’s jersey and writing “Cleveland” in Sharpie is the way to do it.
  • Bo didn’t have a chance to give LeBron some insBOration and I have no words for how sad that makes me.
  • I was all-in on Bray’s revitalization of his program with Jericho until he got to the part in his promo where he stated he was more interested in winning wars than battles. He’s been losing the wars too. That’s a terrible talking point.
  • Dolph Ziggler can make anyone look like a million bucks, but watching Miz push his selling into the best Ziggler impression he could muster made their match even more amazing. Miz is getting closer to that 2010 magic he had and I hope that trend continues.
  • If you didn’t pop for HHH announcing Cesaro/Ambrose, you have no wrestling soul.
  • A.J. Lee delivered what had to be one of the stiffest moves in divas history with her Shining Wizard on Natalya. Nattie didn’t oversell it either and acted like it was all planned. Accidental or not, that was an awesome sequence and made both A.J. and Nattie look like badasses.
  • Seriously, Paige skipping off after beating the living hell out of A.J. can’t be over-stated. That pushed the segment to a top-tier heel turn.
  • Zack Ryder getting a win on RAW by Layla being incredibly late in knocking Fandango’s foot off the rope seemed incredibly appropriate.
  • I’m incredibly worried with the direction Summer Rae and Layla are going. Mostly because I know JBL and Lawler aren’t going to be able to refrain from making slut-shaming jokes when they keep coming out with a new male friend.
  • I loved that Heath confronted Flo Rida and kept their beef from a couple of years ago going. I hated that the payoff was poor Heath being shoved into oblivion a few seconds later.
  • The new Xaiver Woods led Nation of Domination (or whatever it’ll be eventually called) has the potential to be the greatest thing ever or a disastrous WWE racist trope. My worry right now is that the trio is positioned as heels which would lead to the latter and would be utterly disastrous. Making them all faces that are simply tired of playing the WWE’s usual minority game though? That’s brilliant.
  • Related, this better allow Big E some serious mic time. His lack of being allowed to speak to the audience has been a crime.
  • Great to see the announce team re-write last night’s history. Instead of a terrible countout finish, Jack Swagger tapped out to Rusev. They didn’t bother to correct themselves either. Why do they do stupid things like this?
  • Rusev still selling a hurt ankle was on the level of Paige skipping to mock A.J. The simplest things are the best things.
  • That match with Khali, however, was hot garbage.
  • Ambrose/Cesaro lived up to expectations. I don’t even care that it had a non-finish. I’m buying everything Dean is selling right now. The dude’s got it figured out.
  • Let’s do more of this next week, WWE. This was fun.

 

Tags: A.J. Lee Big E. Bray Wyatt Brie Bella Brock Lesnar Cesaro Chris Jericho Dean Ambrose Fandango Goldust Great Khali Heath Slater HHH Jack Swagger JBL Jerry Lawler John Cena Kane Kofi Kingston Layla Natalya Nikki Bella Paige Paul Heyman Randy Orton Roman Reigns Rusev Stardust Stephanie McMahon Summer Rae The Authority WWE WWE Raw Xavier Woods Zack Ryder

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