Last night, Monday Night Raw emanated from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Québec, and as is custom, wrestling fans around the world gathered together to complain about it and armchair book a better show in their minds. But WWE threw us a curveball and gave us…a well rounded show?! Let’s take a look.

Olé, Olé Olé Olé…

We’ve all been envisioning how Sami Zayn would debut on the main roster for a long time now. So long in fact that at least part of me had resigned and even become comfortable with the fact that maybe he’d just stay on NXT forever–I for one would have no objections to an eternal Sami Zayn/Kevin Ownens feud. After all, it’s become a cause for concern; for every Seth Rollins and Paige, there have been colossal missteps like what happened with Bo Dallas and Emma. It seems getting called up from NXT is a crapshoot, and the most realistic way to get called up is the Bo Dallas/Ascension route: beat on jobbers every week, progress nothing, and get the crowd to hate you or even worse, feel apathetic toward you.

So kudos had to be given to WWE when just about the complete goddamn opposite happened. Anyone who fantasy booked last night’s debut would have been laughed out of any online forum for being too unrealistic. “OK, so John Cena does his US Championship Open Challenge, then Bret Hart comes out and introduces Sami Zayn and they have an amazing match and Cena raises his hand at the end.” Uhh…yeah, sure man. Then The Shield reunites and somehow joins forces with an in-his-prime Ric Flair to take out The Yeti, right? But I’ll be damned if that isn’t exactly what we got, and it was glorious. Zayn was over HUGE in his hometown, and a ringing endorsement from the eternal mayor of Montreal certainly didn’t hurt.

Zayn hit most of his signature moves in a showcase of his talents against, like it or not, one of the top guys on the roster. The Blue Thunder Bomb looked sick, and it must have felt great introducing the world to his running through-the-turnbuckle tornado DDT to a whole new audience of people who haven’t seen it yet. He even had Cena locked in the Koji Clutch at one point. In a lot of ways, it was a fantastic callback to that fateful 2002 episode of SmackDown! where a young John Cena displayed his ruthless aggression against leader of the old guard Kurt Angle.

Time will tell where Sami goes from here on the main roster (he is main eventing the upcoming NXT special, after all; is this a full time callup or a one time opportunity they couldn’t pass up?), but I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better introduction to the WWE Universe proper.

Oh, and can we talk about how great the US Championship Open Challenge is real quick? Cena has quickly gone from the most tired, boring parts of the show to one of the most exciting. The Open Challenge has been the segment I’ve looked forward to the most over the past couple of weeks–you’re virtually guaranteed a solid match showcasing an up-and-comer against one of the greatest to ever step into the squared circle. Mid card Cena is best Cena. He’s in that echelon of legends that could lose every match for the rest of his career and not lose a drop of credibility, and is still one of the most over Superstars on the roster. Using him to elevate the next generation of wrestlers is EXACTLY what we need right now, and I’m loving every minute of it.

WWE Writers Suddenly Remember Dean Ambrose Exists

Last week was an interesting Raw. If there was one complaint I had it was that I couldn’t have cared less about the main event. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Seth Rollins as World Champ, but his program with Orton has just kind of been running off the fumes of WrestleMania while at the same time feeling like an obvious pit stop on the way to SummerSlam, where Brock Lesnar will likely regain the strap. Throwing Reigns into the mix didn’t really do much for me, either.

I’m not a Reigns hater by any stretch, especially after ‘Mania. He’s had great, entertaining matches at the last three PPVs, and has proved that while maybe he’s not the guy just yet, he can certainly hold his own toward the top of the card. His promos have been more serious ass kicker and less “sufferin’ succotash” lately, too, so that’s a plus. But in any event, the triple threat seemed a bit watered down. Reigns is rightfully pissed at Rollins for ruining what was supposed to be his coronation as WWE übermensch at ‘Mania, and Orton is pissed at Rollins for usurping his role as the Authority’s golden boy. It’s…fine, I guess, but seems a little rote.

Enter: Dean Ambrose. The Man That Creative Forgot. If you told me a year ago that when The Shield broke up, Rollins and Reigns would be main eventing Mania while Ambrose would be jerking the curtain in a seven man match, I’d have thought you were crazier than The Lunatic Fringe himself, but here we are. Ambrose has been the victim of listless booking and a complete lack of long term vision, despite being one of the more talented guys on the roster. Call it Dolph Ziggler Syndrome. I love Ziggler, but the last thing I want for Ambrose is for him to end up like my boy Zig-Zag Man.

But last night, Corporate Kane introduced a deus ex machina of epic proportions: seemingly just to get under Rollins’ skin, he announced that the planned match last night between Rollins and Ambrose now had the implications that if Ambrose won, he’d be inserted into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship title match at Payback, making it a fatal four way. Long story short, Ambrose won and Payback is infinitely more interesting now.

I was watching an early 1998 episode of Raw on the Network the other day. It was the one where the New Age Outlaws throw Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie off the stage while they’re in a dumpster. Essentially the entire show was based around the Outlaws. That happened, Road Dogg was scheduled to face Austin and Billy Gunn faced Owen Hart. It all tied together with DX encouraging the Outlaws’ actions. It accomplished a few things: Pushed the Outlaws as the premiere tag team in the company, teased their involvement in D-Generation X, and pushed the DX feuds of HHH/Owen and HBK/Austin.

It was a masterful bit of storytelling that WWE doesn’t usually approach these days, but I think they’re close with this fatal four way. You have the aforementioned Rollins/Reigns ‘Mania fallout, the aforementioned Orton/Rollins beef, and now with Ambrose you have the obvious Shield backstory that they can easily revisit whenever they want and it will be meaningful. Ambrose spent the better part of last year waking up in the morning for the sole purpose of ruining Rollins’ plans, and now he has another shot at it. Reigns’ residual Shield emotions will likely be brought to the forefront by virtue of being in there with Ambrose, and now we have the additional wrinkle of Ambrose and Reigns, two people who are kayfabe (and likely out of it) great friends, pitted against one another for the ultimate prize. He may not walk away with the gold, but look for Ambrose to steal the show at Payback.

Tag Division Garners Cautious Optimism

I want to believe in WWE’s tag division. I want to oh so badly, but like a spurned lover, I’ve been burned too many times to lose myself in it once again. But it’s hard not to get excited: A hilarious, rejuvenated New Day opened the show and dirty or not, got the pin on Randy Orton. Sure, it was a 3 on 2 handicap match and anything but a clean win, but considering the very same Viper beat the former Tag Team Champions in a 2 on 1 handicap match not a month ago, we’ve made some big strides in a short amount of time.

New Day’s really been great in their role as smarmy, overtly positive heels–the role we all envisioned for them months ago, but I’m going to side with WWE on this one, because I think the months of tone deafness were necessary to make the turn work. Consider Bo Dallas. New Day is basically following the NXT Bo Dallas formula: Bo was a squeaky clean, white meat babyface who got hated on by the crowd for being so milquetoast, and he became increasingly oblivious to this fact, which made the crowd hate him even more. It’s a sort of meta heel that works on many levels. The problem with Bo Dallas, though, was that this transformation happened in NXT, so the fans there had some frame of reference. When Bo debuted on the main roster, he was just kind of an asshole who told everyone to BO-lieve, and it fell sort of flat for the fans who don’t watch NXT (shame on them). New Day got the benefit of having the crowd show their displeasure for their babyface act for months, which makes the turn all the sweeter.

The heel turn has worked out so well that it’s turned resident powerhouse tag team Cesaro and Tyson Kidd into de facto faces, which is just as well I suppose, since they’re always been over anyway (fact). Cesaro has been sorely needing to go face for years at this point, and while this ‘turn’ was as anticlimactic as it gets, if it means we’ll get more of the Uppercut Express and a return to form for the King of Swing, count me in.

The Rest of the Card

  • I’m a little apprehensive of the rumored Lana/Rusev split, but I’m enjoying the added dimension of Lana craving more attention from the crowd. It feels too similar to the Miz/Mizdow saga, especially when Rusev comes out to a chorus of boos, only for the boos to turn to pure adulation when Lana makes her grand entrance, but it works. The crowd organically loves Lana (for obvious reasons), and having that get to Rusev is an easy way to get him heel heat without simply talking some more about how much America sucks. Hey, it worked for Marc Mero.
  • I really, really don’t like the Bray Wyatt/Ryback angle. Wyatt spent three months carrying a feud with the Undertaker entirely by himself, only to lose, rendering everything he said about being the New Face of Fear nothing more than a snake oil sales pitch. Then he goes after…Ryback? Talk about lowering your goals. I like Da Big Guy, but Wyatt should be and is on a higher level than he is. And I think this is a situation where instead of elevating Ryback, it devalues Wyatt even more. Bray is one of the most unique and talented guys on the roster. He deserves better.
  • Is it just me, or did Booker T completely lose his mind last night? He’s never been the picture of stability, but last night was rife with some of the most bizarre Bookerisms I’ve heard in some time. As Cesaro is doing the Big Swing: “I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS MAN AT THE GYM!” Booker yells at the man billed as the strongest competitor in WWE, and who very obviously spends quite a bit of his waking life at the gym. “HE’S CRAZY! HE SHOWED UP IN A PAIR OF JEANS READY TO FIGHT!” he says of Dean Ambrose, a man who has been wrestling in jeans for about a year. I ain’t even mad. I love me some Booker man. The crazier the better.
  • Ziggler/Sheamus and Neville/Barrett are two feuds that should be great on paper, but haven’t really had much spark. Hopefully a good gimmicky-type match is added to Payback to blow off the Ziggler/Sheamus feud and the Neville/Barrett storyline gets some traction. King of the Ring would be a terrible thing to waste, and it could get over both Barrett and Neville huge in the long run.
  • So we #GiveDivasAChance by…not even having any match? A brief run-in by Naomi and a returning Tamina ostensibly as her new heavy (because she’s married to a Samoan, Tamina is Samoan, ergo they’re family) is all the Divas division got this week. Paige can’t come back soon enough.
  • I miss Daniel Bryan. :'( That is all.

And that’s a wrap. What did you guys think of the show? Did it get you any more excited for Payback?

WWE RAW Recap: 5/4/15 – The Lunatic Fringe!
Payback just got infinitely more interesting. Ambrose lives!SAMI ZAYN!Are we in the midst of a tag team renaissance?
Wyatt/Ryback does nothing for meNo progression for Ziggler/SheamusKing Barrett seemingly isn't a priority
9Overall Score
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9.0