Breaking Down the Best and Worst of the WWE for Week of June 2
An act of treason and a hero entombing a monster stood atop WWE's best offerings of the week.
Seth Rollins played turncoat, Bray Wyatt failed to rise and WWE continued to showcase its champions as June began. Those highlights juxtapose moments where the company dragged its feet, slipping in ineffective comedy rather than something more creative into its programming.
Add the latest word on Daniel Bryan's recovery from injury to the list of letdowns. The world champ is in a battle to return to action, one that he's not winning in the next few weeks.
It will be Rollins, Wyatt and perhaps the midcard titleholders who will have to make up for his absence as WWE rolls toward Money in the Bank, thrilling fans as they have shown they can do.
Best: Focus on Midcard Championships
The spotlight is glistening on the Intercontinental Championship and United States title.
Those belts have been too often neglected in the recent past. Champions went long stretches without defending them. Storylines didn't come the titleholders' way.
On the May 30 SmackDown, WWE not only pitted Bad News Barrett and Sheamus together in a champion-versus-champion match, it showed clips of each title's history beforehand. Fans are being reminded more and more about the long list of Hall of Famers who once held those straps.
Both Barrett and Sheamus defended their titles against high-quality opponents at Payback. Sheamus vs. Cesaro opened the pay-per-view in enthralling fashion, the two bruisers forcing fans to pay attention.
Barrett also put the IC title on the line on Tuesday's Main Event. Cesaro appears to be heading into contention for that championship as well, as he angered Barrett with an ambush to interrupt that bout.
It looks as if neither European brawler is in danger of suffering the Dean Ambrose treatment—WWE seemingly forgetting that he was in possession of the title.
With the World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE title merging, the midcard belts have garnered added focus. Their prestige is returning, their champions benefiting.
Worst: Payback Opens with a Whimper
The WeeLC match at Extreme Rules was the right blend of comedy and action, a surprisingly good match between El Torito and Hornswoggle that was arguably better than some of the marquee clashes at the event.
That was the perfect peak to that feud, but WWE stretched on the story from there. El Torito took on Hornswoggle in a Hair vs. Mask match on Payback's pre-show. It was not nearly as entertaining as their last meeting.
Instead, it weakly kicked off the pay-per-view.
The ratio of comedy to action leaned too far to the former. El Torito chasing Heath Slater around with shears, Hornswoggle only pulling off the bull's top mask and Hornswoggle getting his head shaved were moments only worth of a chuckle at best.
WWE still dragged the feud on even past this point. Hornswoggle, now adorned with an afro, battled El Torito the very next night.
The company's shows need its comic-relief and filler, but it can't just be the same combination of enemies tangling in a never-ending series.
Best: John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt III
Bray Wyatt and John Cena provided Payback's peak. They composed a violent symphony that ranks as one of 2014's biggest highlights thus far.
Even with the company's stubbornness about keeping Cena away from defeats, Wyatt looked like a destroyer for much of the match.
He delighted in the suffering he caused his opponent. He survived Cena throwing the ring steps at his head and responded with chair shots and smashing him through the security barricade.
The Usos and The Wyatt Family had their own battle around these men, ending with the teams writhing among piles of broken wood.
The Last Man Standing bout was so expertly paced, compellingly brutal and crackling with energy, that it enters the debate for best match of its kind. That's a major victory on Wyatt's resume, even if it was officially an "L" on his win/loss record.
Worst: Bad News on Daniel Bryan's Health
WWE Superstars are so superhero-like, it's easy to forget that they are human.
Even though it has only been a few weeks since Daniel Bryan underwent neck surgery, the hope was that he'd recover in time for Money in the Bank. That would allow him to close his rivalry with Kane, but more importantly it would allow him to keep the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
There'd be no need to rip that title, which symbolized his long struggle to the top, out of his hands.
Then came Monday's Raw, and Stephanie McMahon clued fans in on WWE's doubts about him being able to recover in time. She announced that Kane would challenge Bryan, but added a contingency plan that would make the vacant title up for grabs in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match if Bryan couldn't make it back.
The reason for adding this Plan B emerged. Mike Johnson of PWInsider reported that "WWE received word over the weekend that Bryan may not be cleared in time for the Money in the Bank PPV."
Worse news followed that.
According to Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc), "one person close to Bryan said that not only is he not making gains but he's actually losing strength in his arm while doing rehab." That doesn't sound like someone who should be battling anyone, scripted or otherwise, in just a few weeks.
It's getting more clear that WWE can't do a rush-job with Bryan's recovery. Vacating the world title isn't ideal, but it's the only sensible thing to do when considering the long-term future.
It's just going to be less fun without Bryan kicking folks in the chest for longer than we expected.
Best: Seth Rollins Turns
Fans knew it was coming. All alliances crumble in the WWE. That was going to be true for The Shield, the when and how of it happening was unclear, though.
The prevailing thought was that the more unstable, arrogant member, Dean Ambrose, would be the one to tear away from the group. Instead, it was Seth Rollins, so often the glue of this trio, who did the tearing.
Fresh off defeating Evolution in a fantastic match at Payback, The Shield celebrated in the ring on Monday's Raw.
Roman Reigns was set to face Randy Orton. This stable-versus-stable feud would continue on, even though Batista had quit Evolution early in the show. Rollins shifted the narrative. He attacked Reigns and Ambrose, leaving them lying out for Orton to finish off.
The shocking moment was a stellar cliffhanger and a betrayal that tore at one's emotions. WWE had done such a great job of portraying The Shield as comrades that this act inspired hate aimed at Rollins.
He now ventures into the newest stage of his journey as a traitor and perhaps soon a top-tier singles star.
Worst: Monday's Raw Sags Early On
WWE can't blame fans for turning off Monday's Raw before Seth Rollins turned on The Shield or before The Usos collided with The Wyatt Family.
Much of the show's first half gave the audience little reason not to flip over to American Ninja Warrior. All the filler and comedy acts were placed too close together, creating a long stretch of unappetizing fare.
In a short span, fans watched Damien Sandow mock Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, El Torito and Hornswoggle clashed again and an underwhelming Divas match that featured just a handful of moves. John Cena and Kane followed that with a tepid outing.
Not every episode can be a taut, enthralling masterpiece, but WWE can't test the crowd's patience so much either.
This kind of soporific spell is exactly why so many folks were doubtful about Raw moving to three hours. A longer show makes things difficult for the creative team and can lead to portions of Raw inspiring the audience to drift.
Best: NXT's Fighting Champion
Adrian Neville continues to look like a warrior as he takes on all comers for his NXT Championship.
WWE has wisely had him battle a variety of foes, including several little-used stars from the main roster. On Thursday's NXT, he faced Justin Gabriel, a man audiences haven't seen in ages.
It was one of Gabriel's best offerings to date as his speed and agility meshed with Neville's skills perfectly. He ended the night with a nasty lump above his eye.
Clashes like these give Neville a stage to work on, introduces him to fans and gives WWE a preview of what he might do on the main roster. The more he thrives against folks like Brodus Clay, Tyson Kidd and Gabriel, the closer he gets to a call-up.
In the meantime, fans can marvel at his uncanny ring work in his continuing series of hard-fought wins.