Well, that was something.
Arguments about Brock Lesnar ending The Undertaker's streak that don't mean much yet (and won't until we find out the reasons for it) aside, WWE put together an amazingly booked WrestleMania weekend. At WrestleMania and especially on Raw, new stars were shining all over the place. Before we go more in-depth, let's quickly review what happened on Raw last night:
- Daniel Bryan was the clear top babyface, bookending the show.
- John Cena was relegated to a midcard kiddie babyface attraction spot. His team (with Sheamus and Big E) lost cleanly to the Wyatt Family when Bray pinned Big E.
- Bo Dallas and Adam Rose (!) are coming to the main roster, with each getting two vignettes to promote their impending debuts.
- Bad News Barrett made his return to televised in-ring action, cleanly beating Rey Mysterio with the Bull Hammer.
- Alexander Rusev made his TV debut and squashed Zack Ryder.
- Paige made her main roster debut by beating AJ Lee in an impromptu match to win the WWE Divas Championship.
- Cesaro dropped Zeb Colter as his manager...because he's a Paul Heyman guy!
- The Shield cemented their babyface turn by saving Daniel Bryan and attacking what appears to be the newly reunited Evolution.
There's not a lot new to say about Daniel Bryan other than that after last night, it's clear they're running with him as the top guy for now. He bookended the show in major angles, he got to be himself, he came off as a star and the guy a lot of fans perceive as being in his way, John Cena, was heavily downplayed. Since the direction for Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton appears to be a match with The Shield at Extreme Rules, it's not clear at all who his first challenger is, though.
Of course, I suppose it's possible that Bryan will just give Orton his rematch on TV this month and Extreme Rules will be headlined by an eight-man tag team match with Bryan and Kane added to the Shield and Evolution teams, respectively. That's probably the best way to read the ending of the show. It's a really exciting main event for Extreme Rules, especially since Extreme Rules is a gimmick match show, and that match with no disqualifications at the very least should be pretty wild. Plus, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the babyfaces would lose, putting over the fresher faces in a big way.
I have no idea where John Cena goes from here other than being the guy who puts over Bray Wyatt to put him over the top. Sure, he won their WrestleMania match, but coming out of the show I have to wonder if that was because The Undertaker was losing. From here on, it doesn't really make sense that anything happens other than Wyatt winning their future matches.
With newness being the theme of the night (and the weekend in general), we got two vignettes for NXT stars who are being called up. Bo Dallas is taking the Kurt Angle route: the overbearing heel who really, truly thinks he's the babyface hero of the people. He's plateaued in NXT after being in developmental for so long, so this is the right time to call him up.
Adam Rose, on the other hand, while he's been in the system for years (as Leo Kruger), has only been in this gimmick on NXT television for about a month or so. The character is great (if obviously inspired by Russell Brand) and his in-ring style is unique and fits the gimmick really well, like "Exotic" Adrian Street without the gay baiting. Throw in his crazy ring entrance and I don't see how he doesn't become a big star.
After months of just promos, Bad News Barrett wrestled on TV, easily defeating Rey Mysterio. I have no idea if Mysterio was put in this spot on purpose with how he's been hated by so many of the hardcores since "taking Daniel Bryan's spot" in the Royal Rumble, but the fans in New Orleans hated him. Barrett's been on WWE programming exactly as long as Daniel Bryan, as they were on the first season of the original NXT together, but this feels like the first time he's catching on in any substantial way. Bad News Barrett is not a main event gimmick, but it doesn't have to be for him to be successful.
Alexander Rusev needs work, but he has potential. He looks completely different from anyone else on the roster and they're trying to make him stand out. For a monster whom they're building slowly, he's fine.
Paige winning the WWE Divas Championship was a little odd, but still a great way to debut her. She wasn't acting like her NXT character at all, and I thought it would be revealed that she was lulling AJ Lee into offering the title shot, but they didn't go in that direction at all. Hopefully, she goes back to being "tough chick" Paige on SmackDown or next week's Raw. It also felt like the type of angle you'd run if AJ was leaving, but you can probably write essays about that and I'm not even going to try to get into that now.
Cesaro's segment was fascinating for obvious reasons. I'm not entirely sure if he's still "officially" a heel, or if he's a babyface with a heel manager, or Heyman is now a total opportunist, but it was awesome. Think about this for a second: Hulk Hogan had to quickly leave the segment so they could move on to a more important angle featuring Claudio Castagnoli of the Swiss Money Holding. Anyway, as much as I love Zeb Colter, this is perfect for Cesaro, because it keeps him on the path to becoming a main eventer. It also makes a match with Brock Lesnar almost a certainty down the line, and that should be incredible.
Unless this was fan service to the live crowd of hardcore fans (including thousands of tourists from the United Kingdom and Ireland who loved Barrett and Paige), which I suppose is possible, this weekend and this show especially felt like a sea change. What I wrote about here covered almost every segment of note except for the Brock Lesnar stuff, the return of Rob Van Dam (looks like he's being used as an attraction, but he's still much fresher than guys younger than he, due to time away) and Batista and Randy Orton vs. The Usos (right spot for Batista/Orton right now, helps them and the tag division).
If WWE follows up everything from last night with the natural direction one would expect, things are going to be in awfully good shape for the next year.