The Good, the Great and the Awesome from Raw 7/7/14
There was a great deal to like about the July 7 episode of Monday Night Raw.
Without Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in attendance, the focus remained on the in-ring product, and fans were treated to some quality wrestling as a result. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose vs. Randy Orton and the Usos vs. the Wyatt Family all gave a hot Montreal crowd matches to be proud of.
The show was more focused than in recent weeks, and nearly every match featured the latest chapter of an ongoing story. Save for Bret Hart's return to the site of the most infamous moment of his career, nothing felt meaningless within the context of the raging feuds.
Everything had purpose.
Roman Reigns again stood out as the unquestioned star of the show. His ability to elicit a reaction thanks to his move set, understated charisma and "short and sweet" promo style is amazing and will only help him achieve everything he could possibly dream of. And more.
With so much to like about the July 7 show and WWE Creative hitting its stride as it makes its way through the heart of the summer, relive the very best of the best from this week's Raw with the Good, the Great and the Awesome!
Rob Van Dam vs. Rusev
Rusev, despite being as hot as he and Lana have gotten over the last month, was still in desperate need of a major victory over a top star to cement himself as a threat to any and all WWE Superstars. He got that victory Monday night when he defeated Rob Van Dam in the biggest test of his young career.
Rusev overwhelmed Mr. Monday Night with his power and caught him square in the face with his devastating side kick. Moments later, he finished him off with the Accolade, making the former WWE and ECW champion tap out despite a hot Montreal crowd behind him.
The win enhances Rusev's winning streak as he prepares to meet Roman Reigns this Friday night on SmackDown. More importantly, it adds even more heat to a character that will clash with Jack Swagger at Battleground. That is, if he and Lana opt to accept Zeb Colter's challenge for the match.
That is almost a certainty, and when it does happen, Rusev vs. Swagger will likely be one of the hottest matches of the night—something no one could have expected a month ago.
The Love Square
On last week's Raw, Dolph Ziggler benefited from interference and a kiss from Summer Rae as he knocked off Fandango and gained momentum heading into Battleground and the Battle Royal for the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
This week, Fandango sat in on commentary, while Ziggler met Alberto Del Rio for the right to challenge Sheamus for the United States Championship on Main Event. There was no sign of Summer Rae—an unwise decision on the part of WWE Creative if she is to be paired with Ziggler in the future—and Layla was "backstage crimping her hair," according to Fandango.
The ballroom dancer hopped on the announce table and began dancing, providing a distraction for Ziggler that Del Rio was happy to capitalize on.
Backstage, Fandango was approached by Layla, who questioned whether he cost Ziggler a match because he was jealous of the kiss between him and Summer Rae. In typical sleazy-guy fashion, Fandango ensured Layla that she was the only one he cared about, pulling her in for a big hug.
At the same time, he looked lustfully at Summer Rae, who was standing across the corridor and tempting him in what was a very flattering blue dress.
While both Fandango and Ziggler are deserving of something better than a C-level soap-opera angle, it at least gives both them and the Divas something to do on a show that was once criticized for not having enough stories for the midcard and undercard talent.
At the very least, it should make for some interesting and intriguing developments during the intercontinental title Battle Royal—a match that has been surprisingly well-hyped over the last two weeks.
Stardust and Goldust Promo
This writer still is not sold on the Stardust character, but it is hard to deny the chemistry between Cody Rhodes and brother Goldust, as evidenced by another strong backstage promo on this week's show. Eventually, they will have to move past RybAxel and get into the tag title hunt if they are to remain relevant, but for now, the character seems to be getting over. That is all that one can ask for.
Kudos to Rhodes, though, for making the most of another gimmick thrown at him. One has to wonder when he will finally get his reward for making so many different characters and gimmicks work.
John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
The main event of Raw pitted WWE world heavyweight champion John Cena against Money in the Bank winner Seth Rollins in a nontitle bout. The entire story of the contest, however, centered on Rollins' ability to cash in anytime he saw fit, including right in the middle of the match against Cena—especially if he could beat the champion down enough to render him incapable of fighting back.
Cena and Rollins had a very competitive, if rushed, match that saw the Architect of The Shield do a phenomenal job of keeping up with someone as experienced and decorated as Cena.
It was a strong indicator that the main event spotlight will not be too bright for the former Ring of Honor standout, who did a fine job of getting heat from a Montreal crowd that was not exactly supportive of the leader of the Cenation.
The finish seemed far too familiar to last week's main event conclusion, but it allowed Rollins to maintain his heat and put emphasis on both the Battleground title match and Rollins' impending battle with Dean Ambrose.
All-in-all, it was a great way to cap off a very entertaining broadcast.
Chris Jericho vs. The Miz and Bray Wyatt's Promo
One week after making a triumphant and unexpected return to Raw, Chris Jericho stepped foot inside the squared circle for his first televised match in nearly a year. His opponent? The man who made a less triumphant return on last week's show, The Miz.
Their match was good enough for what it was, and one has the feeling that it would have been better with more time. Ultimately, it was just a showcase for Jericho and an excuse to overplay the "face is his moneymaker" element of Miz's new character.
The meat of the segment came after the bell as Bray Wyatt cut a promo on Jericho, mocking his "save us Y2J" catchphrase and implying that Jericho can't save himself. Although it was never expanded upon, it was still excellent work from the always reliable Wyatt.
Jericho threatened to fight Wyatt but was cut off when Luke Harper and Erick Rowan appeared at the top of the ramp, creating a numbers disadvantage for Jericho.
Whether this leads to Jericho doing the wise thing and recruiting help in the same way that John Cena did prior to the big blowoff match between him and Wyatt back at Payback should be interesting to watch. If not, expect Jericho to fall prey to the Eater of Worlds in the same fashion that so many before him did.
The Funkadactyls Explode
When the heel turn finally does happen, Cameron will become one of the most hated women in WWE history. Bank on it.
She was so immediately unlikable on both Total Divas and Tough Enough that the idea that she would play an effective heel is valid. She showed hints of it Monday, as she stood on the ring apron like a pouting puppy, completely disinterested in anything tag team partner Naomi was doing.
As the former NXT contestant reached out to her for a tag, Cameron could be seen doing her nails in one of the more creative bits in recent history. When she finally did decide to tag into the match, Cameron wound up on the receiving end of the Paige Turner and lost the match for her team.
The Funkadactyls' match against Paige and Divas champion AJ Lee was nothing special, centering more on the dissension between the former dancers for Brodus Clay rather than the actual ring work involved. What came after it, though, was a great, old-fashioned catfight that effectively brought an end to the Funkadactyls.
The Divas fought inside the squared circle before the action spilled outside the ring. Cameron ultimately walked away to a smattering of boos, while Naomi was left to wonder what was going on with her former friend and partner.
It is rare to see the Divas have so many characters and feuds occurring at the same time. With the Divas' title feud between Paige and AJ Lee, the vendetta that Stephanie McMahon has against the Bella Twins and the rivalry between Layla and Summer Rae, it is a great time to be a fan of the Divas division in WWE.
Whether WWE Creative can maintain that momentum remains to be seen.
The Usos vs. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan
The WWE tag team champions and their top contenders kicked off the in-ring portion of Monday's show with another outstanding match in a long line of them.
Harper and Rowan took turns isolating the champions, while both Jimmy and Jey made energetic comebacks at different points in the bout. The twin sons of former Superstar Rikishi appeared to have control late in the bout, but a well-timed trip up from Rowan led to a discus clothesline from Harper and a win for the brutes from the Wyatt Family.
The match was not without controversy, however, as the champions argued with the official after the bout. As it turns out, Jey was the Uso pinned by Harper, but he was not the legal man. That distinction belongs to Jimmy, who had been pulled outside the squared circle by Rowan.
How that plays into the feud in the days and weeks to come remains a mystery, but it does appear as though WWE is headed for another pay-per-view clash between the top two tag teams in the sport over the top prize they can attain in the company.
The Usos continue to stake their claim for recognition as MVPs of WWE in 2014, while Harper and Rowan have become a smashmouth team in the same vein as Demolition. Rowan, in particular, has improved by leaps and bounds over what he was a year ago. His development has been fun and enjoyable to watch.
Harper, as most knew prior to his call-up to the main roster, is one of the best big men the sport has produced over the last five years.
Dean Ambrose vs. Randy Orton
Dean Ambrose continued to prove his worth to those who were worried about the kind of success he will attain as a singles competitor when he squared off with Randy Orton in a Match of the Night contender. Utilizing his old-school brawling style, Ambrose raked at the face of Orton, clubbed away with forearms, threw stiff punches and caught him with straight dropkicks to the chest.
While his unorthodox offense can be a killer to those unable or unwilling to work with it, Ambrose was in there with the right opponent in Orton, who is a master psychologist. Both men are so great at working the crowd and eliciting a reaction that they can make the simplest things look that much more meaningful.
Their sequencing and the back-and-forth nature of the match kept the crowd invested, and their ability to win the people over helped them recover from what was a nasty botch on Orton's part. The finish, which saw Orton deliver a rare big boot to the face of his opponent and then catch him on the rebound with the RKO, was outstanding.
While some (including this writer) will question the intelligence of having Ambrose drop a match to Orton this early in his singles run, he loses nothing in defeat. He went toe-to-toe with one of the best wrestlers in the company and nearly beat him. That he regained his heat later in the night by attacking Seth Rollins; drawing a big pop from the Montreal fans immediately made up for the defeat.
Ambrose has the talent to make up for any loss. Do not be surprised if, by the time his career winds down, he is one of the most popular stars in wrestling despite a win-loss record that is less than flattering. He is that good at getting over and remaining over.
The Reigns-Cena Teases
Monday night on Raw, Roman Reigns kicked off the broadcast with a brief promo aimed at putting over the Battleground main event, a Fatal 4-Way match pitting him against Kane, Randy Orton and WWE world heavyweight champion John Cena. Midway through the segment, he stopped and listened as the fans in Montreal chanted "Cena sucks." Reigns acknowledged the chants, responding, "When Roman Reigns is in this ring, you're damn right Cena sucks!"
It was a moment that others Superstars would not have been comfortable with. Reigns diverted from his scripted promo and, rather than pretending that the people were voiceless, reacted to what they were saying. That sort of thing is what sets main event guys apart from those in the midcard who are too afraid to be bold.
The reaction also made later interactions with Cena that much more interesting. For weeks, booking seemed to indicate that Reigns would tangle with Randy Orton or Triple H at SummerSlam. On Monday night, however, it looked like there may have been some second thoughts.
On two separate occasions, Reigns and Cena came face-to-face. They stared each other down and built anticipation for a match between them at some point in the future. With Reigns being hotter than any other star on the roster right now, perhaps that future is nearer than anyone could have thought.
There is no denying that John Cena is the top star in wrestling. To ascend to that level, Reigns will have to knock him off his throne. Why wait until WrestleMania to crown Reigns the next big thing and risk him losing momentum?
Why not strike while the iron is hot, pop a big buyrate for SummerSlam and entice more new subscriptions for the WWE Network with a match between Reigns and Cena that, if audience reaction is any indicator, fans want to see right now?
It worked for Brock Lesnar when he wrestled The Rock 12 years ago. It will work for Reigns too.