The WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture appeared muddled as Raw went on the air Monday night, with six different Superstars making their case for a clash with Brock Lesnar September 21 at Night of Champions.
Why anyone would volunteer to step in the ring with Lesnar following his merciless defeat of John Cena at SummerSlam is a mystery, but what was not was Cena's determination and obsession with retaining his contracted rematch with the Beast Incarnate.
After having his rightful spot called into question, Cena delivered a performance in the main event that established him as the Superstar most capable of knocking the unstoppable champion off his pedestal and winning the top prize in the sport for a record-tying 16th time.
AJ Lee stood face-to-face with Stephanie McMahon, teasing a match between the two that got the fans in Des Moines buzzing. It was the perfect cap to an uneven segment featuring some over-the-top acting from the Bella Twins.
Mark Henry vowed to induct Rusev into the special international wing of his Hall of Pain, the stars of Total Divas wrestled a particularly awful match, and one of Adam Rose's Rosebuds made a memorable contribution to the night's festivities.
Here, now, is a look at the biggest winners and losers from the September 1 episode of Raw.
Winner: Mark Henry
The World's Strongest Man made up for a mediocre performance in the tag team match against the Wyatt Family's Luke Harper and Erick Rowan by delivering an impassioned promo directed at Rusev, whom he finds himself engaged with in a war of national pride.
Representing the United States, Henry has stood up in the face of the Bulgarian Brute, forcing the otherwise dominant star to retreat and save himself from enduring another World's Strongest Slam.
Henry has been booked incredibly strong thus far, forcing Rusev to show weakness for the first time in his main roster stint. Wherein he bailed out of the ring for what appeared to be strategic reasons during his feud with Jack Swagger, Rusev looks legitimately intimidated by Henry, something that will create doubts as to whether he can beat the former World Heavyweight champion.
When he finally does, it will mean that much more for the blossoming young performer.
Losers: The Bella Twins
After a solid performance by Nikki Bella last week, the Bella Twins both took steps back this week with showings that bordered on overacting.
The problem with the sisters is that neither is particularly experienced on the microphone. Outside of pretaped vignettes, neither had been allowed the opportunity to partake in any extended mic work, and as a result, they come off as completely unnatural.
That was the case Monday night, as they were completely overshadowed by both McMahon and Lee, both of whom are head and shoulders above them in terms of promo ability and delivery.
With so much time and energy invested in their program, hopefully their skills and comfort level on the mic develop sooner rather than later. If not, forced and uncomfortable segments not unlike the one fans were exposed to Monday night will become the norm.
Winner: AJ Lee
The former Divas champion interrupted the soap-opera drama between the Bella Twins and returned attention and focus to the top prize in women's wrestling. By the end of the convoluted Divas segment, she and McMahon were involved in a staredown that had fans salivating at the idea of a match between the two.
That Lee has been able to remain as over and relevant as she has, despite the hiatus she took earlier this year and more losses than wins in recent weeks, is a testament to her and the connection she has formed with fans over the last few years.
Easily the strongest, most over woman this side of McMahon, Lee would be the perfect opposition for the principal owner of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Just imagine a match between the two at WrestleMania or one of the company's other major pay-per-view events...
Loser: Seth Rollins
The Iowa native was greeted with a great reaction at the top of the show and again as he made his entrance for the main event, but that was the extent of his happy homecoming.
His involvement in the huge Six-Man Tag Team match that capped off the night's festivities was limited, likely to prevent him from overshadowing the babyfaces involved in the contest, and he suffered two huge bumps from Cena that looked extremely painful.
Why the company did not do a better job of capitalizing on the reaction for Rollins and using it to put him over strong is a mystery. They missed out on a huge opportunity that could come back to bite them if they struggle to get the so-called "Architect" over as a legitimate main event attraction.
Winner: The Bunny
Yes, the bunny.
A grown man in a bunny suit was one of the undisputed winners of this week's Raw, thanks to a beatdown of Heath Slater and a post-match celebration with Adam Rose.
Let that sink in and really register before considering the overall quality (or lack thereof) of Monday's show.
John Bradshaw Layfield was the best commentator on Monday's show, by far. When both Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler approached the broadcast with the boredom and disinterest that it deserved, Layfield brought energy to his performance on the headsets, injecting sarcasm into segments and matches that deserved them while treating the more important segments with excitement.
It was a strong performance by a guy who, since returning to the announce table, has been largely hit-or-miss.
Losers: The Cast of Total Divas
We have already covered the Bella Twins, but the rest of the cast of WWE's hit reality show was particularly bad, wrestling a match that will one day rank as one of the worst in Raw's long and illustrious history. It was so bad that, even though it lasted less than a minute, every fan watching was better off for its conclusion rather than having to endure another second.
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