The Feb. 3 edition of WWE Raw is set to reroute the road to WrestleMania.
Pressure from Daniel Bryan fans and CM Punk's sudden departure has forceed the company to make major changes to the premier event. Monday's Raw will at least partially reveal what shifts will come about.
Omaha, Neb. hosts a show where Bryan is sure to get significant time on stage, John Cena may be limited and Batista, but not Brock Lesnar, is scheduled to appear.
The night's marquee matchup is Cody Rhodes and Goldust vs. The New Age Outlaws, battling for the WWE Tag Team Championship inside a steel cage. Last week, the Rhodes brothers' rematch ended in chaos thanks to a chair-wielding Lesnar.
Triple H has since announced this rematch, one that is intended to prevent outside interference.
A look at backstage reports and WWE.com's Raw preview reveals much of what else fans can expect on Monday's Raw. With Lesnar and Punk not around, that leaves a good portion of center stage for someone unexpected to stand on.
Titus, Solo Player
Titus O'Neil and The Prime Time Players in general haven't been a prominent part of either Raw or SmackDown. That is set to change, at least temporarily.
On Friday's SmackDown, Darren Young offered little resistance against Ryback and Curtis Axel en route to a loss. The effort frustrated O'Neil, who turned on his partner and clocked him in his bloody mouth. That moment has seemingly propelled him forward for now.
Aside from showcasing him on Backstage Fallout, WWE played up O'Neil's attack with an Instagram photo that shows Young recovering in the trainer's room.
WWE.com's Anthony Benigno also included O'Neil's story in his five-point preview, asking, "With 'The Big Deal' gone solo and D. Young reeling, what's next for the former partners?" It's been a long while since there has been this much focus on The Prime Time Players.
At the very least, count on O'Neil getting some mic time to explain his actions.
WrestlingInc.com reports that WWE announced at the Feb. 2 live event in Kansas City, Mo. "that John Cena was injured and wouldn't be there."
There was talk of an eye injury, one that appears to be legitimate. Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com writes, "I was told that Cena was willing to wrestle with the eye issue but the company pulled him from last night's house show in Lakeland, Florida."
A fan tweeted a photo of Cena with Nikki Bella. In it, his right eyes looks to be swollen.
This won't mean that Cena won't appear on Monday's Raw, but don't expect him to wrestle a long match. He has worked through pain before, but WWE isn't going to risk further injury this close to WrestleMania, especially with Punk already out of the picture.
Instead, look for Cena to call out The Wyatt Family. Last week, Bray Wyatt and company attacked him for the second night in a row. The Wyatt Family will focus on The Shield in the short term, but Cena is Wyatt's rumored WrestleMania opponent, per PWInsider (via WrestlingInc.com). The build for that match is already under way and should get some foreshadowing treatment as well.
Powerhouses in Action
After suffering a beatdown courtesy of Lesnar, Big Show didn't appear on last Monday's Raw. He left that match/mauling surrounded by medical staff, seemingly on his way to the disabled list. His storyline injuries appear to be fully healed now, though.
Marc Middleton of WrestlingInc.com reported the following:
"Big Show returned to action last night in Orlando after the chair shot beatdown from Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. Show defeated Kane and was not selling any kind of injury."
"The World's Largest Athlete" is scheduled to be on Monday's Raw. This house show appearance seems to be a warm-up for his return. Big Show doesn't have a match scheduled for Elimination Chamber and hasn't been a part of rumored WrestleMania matches.
Expect Raw to shine a light on what's next for the big man.
The No. 1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship will join him as a featured star on the episode. Count on him colliding with Alberto Del Rio, setting up a singles match at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view.
Benigno asks of Batista and Del Rio in his five-point preview on WWE.com, "Is The Animal truly ready for anything the former WWE and World Heavyweight Champion can throw at him?"
The Del Rio-Batista story is clearly not over. Del Rio continued to bash his new-found foe on last Monday's Raw, and now it's Batista's turn to retaliate.
Before the Royal Rumble, the reported plan was to put Bryan in a match against Sheamus at WrestleMania 30, per F4WOnline (h/t WrestleZone.com). Since then, Bryan fans have hijacked WWE programming and sent a petition to the White House, per PWInsider.com, demanding WWE make him world champ.
Will WWE brass listen to the uproar over Bryan's position?
Last Monday, Bryan was the clear centerpiece of the show. He opened the night by confronting Triple H and Stephanie McMahon and ended it by earning a spot in the upcoming Elimination Chamber match.
There is reason to be believe that he will continue be a major focus of the show. The WWE.com preview details what Bryan is up against at the Elimination Chamber, but more importantly, word backstage is that his exclusion from the Rumble was all part of a developing narrative.
F4WOnline. via WrestleZone.com, reports the following:
It's being said that keeping Bryan out of the Rumble match is in fact part of WWE's current story line plan of Bryan having to overcome the "machine" that's holding him down. The idea behind the angle is WWE wants fans to be outraged that Bryan isn't being pushed more.
If that is indeed the case, WWE has certainly succeeded. Bryan's perceived slights have inspired all sorts of rage on the Internet. Can the company effectively turn that emotion into a positive going forward? Does it have a master plan that has Bryan succeeding in the grandest of ways?
While fans won't see that climax on Monday's Raw, they will see what direction this story is headed. Punk's absence has Bryan in line for a possible WrestleMania bout against Triple H. WWE fans will have to watch on Monday to see if that clash is foreshadowed or if there are championship-centered plans for Bryan ahead.
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