This week’s Raw was something of an emotional roller coaster. To its credit, it was extremely well paced, which is not something you can normally say about an episode of Monday Night Raw. The mid-card is heating up to the point where nearly everybody has at least some type of storyline going on; something that makes the hours fly by rather than feeling like a slog of meaningless matchups, just filling time until the main event. And the main event isn’t suffering because of this mid-card renaissance, either–this go-home episode of Raw effectively sold the upcoming Payback main event very well. But those were the peaks; we also endured a huge valley in the form of Daniel Bryan once again relinquishing gold. Let’s get into it.

No! No! N…No…

This whole scene felt eerily familiar. A short time after a great performance at WrestleMania that saw him win gold, Daniel Bryan is in the ring talking about endless doctors visits and relinquishing the championship he had just won. The promo itself was excellent, if heartbreaking. You could see the real emotion in his face–you could see he wants nothing more but to be in that ring competing but once again, his body betrays him. He seemed to express genuine surprise that after all this time the fans treat him like he’s “something special.” Well, that’s because…he is. Daniel Bryan has a connection with the fans the likes of which haven’t been seen in WWE in years. And what he said about the fans giving him the opportunity at WrestleMania XXX is absolutely true. There will always be that connection between Bryan and the fans in that we would not relent until Daniel Bryan was rightly placed in the main event of WrestleMania, and that’s exactly what happened. The leadup to ‘Mania XXX may not have been what was planned, but it turned out to be one of the most fun and emotional roads to WrestleMania in history.

But at least there is a shred of hope that he’ll take a good amount of time off, recover fully, and be back in the ring where he belongs. And in a way, at least in the case of last year with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, maybe it was a good thing that his run was cut short. The writing was on the wall for his reign last year: he was to participate in a hokey, straight out of a B horror movie feud with Kane for a few months, then become the first denizen of Suplex City at SummerSlam 2014 (a position Cena eventually ended up taking). This is Vince McMahon’s WWE, after all, and while his hand may have been forced into centering WrestleMania XXX around Daniel Bryan, he’d be damned if he was proven wrong and Bryan was the right choice of champion. Look at Rey Mysterio’s World Championship reign. He may have had his WrestleMania moment, but he spent the rest of his time getting destroyed by Great Khali and Mark Henry, because in the mind of Vince that’s how you sell an underdog champion: always have him lose.

But here we are in the same situation this year. So, hopefully this isn’t goodbye forever. He may have come back from injury a little too early; the thought shifted from “we don’t know what’s wrong with my arm” to “lol jk I’m fine now” a little too quickly to believe. So D-Bry, take all the time off you need to fully recover.

Fatal Four Way

I know it’s been said plenty of times, but we were all dead wrong about Seth Rollins before the Shield broke up, huh?

At least I was. I thought he’d be a very talented mid-carder, hamstrung by his lack of ability on the mic. Little did I know that by mid 2015 he’d be one of the most compelling characters on the roster, in and out of the ring. His character has matured past the point of simply being the Authority’s golden boy, and there are actually (gasp!) levels of nuance going on here. Triple H still believes he’s best for business, but even he is admitting Rollins’ smarminess makes him want to wring his neck. J&J Security ostensibly working outside of the Authority and simply working for Rollins directly makes for some fun segments, like H talking down to Noble and Mercury, and throwing them into a fun match against Ambrose. Hell, even Rollins’ theme song is absolutely perfect and has become a part of his character in some ways. After initially not liking it, it has grown on me to the point where it’s one of my favorites in all of WWE (they need to stop messing with it, though–they keep adding and removing a few guitar notes in the intro that really make it sound a lot fuller).

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the loss of the Curb Stomp, though. RIP. Even more so than his theme, the Curb Stomp was a huge part of his character, and Rollins is definitely missing something without it. Or any finisher, for that matter. I’m hoping the complete silence on the subject coupled with the fact that Rollins hasn’t been trying to push a new finisher yet is a sign that the Stomp’ll come back when this whole concussion stuff blows over, but we’ll see. (Yes, he has finished matches with that lame falling single-arm DDT a couple of times, but that’s hardly a suitable finisher for a World Champion.)

Oh, and as if I didn’t already love him enough, Rollins takes the HBK style flipping turnbuckle bump. Swoon. The whole sibling bickering-type storyline with Kane is a little tiresome (because Kane), but the current Fatal Four Way storyline has been excellent. If you missed SmackDown last week, go back and watch the contract signing for the upcoming match at Payback, because that’s how you build a main event match and a storyline. Rollins is being shown as very manipulative, in a way more nuanced than the normal pro wrestling way of writing a manipulative character, which is just having the commentators yell “HE’S MANIPULATIVE MAGGLE!” over and over again when he’s on screen.

Ambrose being thrown into the mix just adds so much, and having him stand tall in his hometown to close out the show was a nice moment. I was worried that they seemingly got him out of the way early and that they weren’t going to have him come out again, but the ending was just about as perfect as you can get for a go-home Raws for a B-PPV. Of course, the wrestling law of opposite momentum states that Ambrose standing tall two Raws in a row means he’ll likely be eating the pin this Sunday, but hey, we can’t have it all.

Oh yeah, and Roman Reigns fought Kane, and uhh…yep. That happened too.

The Rest of the Card

  • It’s great that Ziggler/Sheamus was added to Payback, but it’s pretty disappointing that it’s just a standard 1v1 match. This feud is a lot more personal than that, and should blow off in some kind of a gimmick match. The feud has also disappointingly been very paint by numbers the past few weeks, as well.
  • Unbelievably, most of the focus in the mid-card has been on the tag team division, and I am all for it:
    • Harper and Rowan are back together, which gives both much-needed purpose. Harper could be fine on his own, but it just dooesn’t look like there’s a spot for him in any singles program right now. And Rowan, while serviceable in the ring, isn’t really an attraction on his own. The two together is another formidible tag team for the surging division, though.
    • New Day continue to kill it, and I could watch any variant of New Day vs. Uppercats every day and not get bored. The 2 out of 3 falls match at Payback will be excellent. Oh, and did anyone else notice Michael “They All Look the Same to Me” Cole mix up Kofi and Xavier on commentary and just not even bother to correct himself?
    • Prime Time Players are a great tag team, but they need to start actually having (and hopefully winning) some matches instead of just doing whatever the hell it is they’re doing backstage. Making fun of the current tag teams was one thing and actually made some modicum of sense, but what is the point of randomly paying homage to the New Age Outlaws (with ::pushes up glasses ’cause I’m about to get real pedantic:: props only Shawn and Hunter used, not the Outlaws)? My guess is they want to keep them on the show and in people’s minds, but don’t know what else to do with them just yet. I suppose there are worse positions to be in.
    • Are Axelmania and Macho Mandow going to stay a tag team? Because I’m…actually pretty okay with that. I wish more for Sandow, but Axel and Sandow together is just so absurd, and a comedy duo fills a welcome role in the division.
    • Were the Ascension trying to make some kind of meta commentary on their own appearance when they derided Axelmania and Macho Mandow for trying to make a name for themselves by emulating teams of the 80s? Because…you’re Road Warriors adjace, dudes. They also were doing their best Batista impression with the “there’s a difference between being laughed AT and being laughed……..with!” gaffe. Which gives me the opportunity to post this video, an opportunity I’ll never pass up:
    • That’s SIX! SIX credible tag teams!
  • Cena and Neville tore the house down. Let’s keep the US Championship Open Challenge forever, please.
  • Tamina faced Brie Bella. I grabbed a beer. I want to love women’s wrestling again, but yipes do they make it hard.
  • Still not feeling Bray Wyatt/Ryback. I want to love Wyatt; I DO love Wyatt. He’s the most unique character they’ve had in a long, long time. It’s hard to pull off the whole supernatural/horror character, but Wyatt does with aplomb, and he has a real chance to supplant the Undertaker and the resident spooky character. His whole gimmick is awesome, but every feud he’s in just sucks. He tries to explore these huge, grand concepts like global death and failing economies in a feud with fucking Ryback, and it just comes off as someone trying too hard roleplaying in an e-fed.

    We still have no idea why he’s targeting Ryback of all people, outside of an incredibly vague “he got in my way.” Of what? Your descent back down to the mid-card? 3spooky5me!

    Pretty cool that he called him “The Ryback” ala Daniel Bryan, though. Let’s keep that going.

  • BIG O!!!
  • Whoa, Elimination Chamber is coming back? Kinda cool, but I find it kinda strange that they’re losing guys left and right to injury so naturally their response is to revive the most brutal, punishing match in WWE history. The Tag Team Championship and Intercontinental Championship Chamber matches should be awesome, though. I’m in.
  • WWE RAW Recap: 5/11/15 – Say It Ain't So, Daniel!
    Mid card gets a lot of time and developmentTag team division is stackedMain event storyline is a lot of fun
Daniel Bryan 🙁Wyatt/Ryback continues to not make any senseDivas match progresses nothing
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  • Russ Dobler

    Cat Fancy. We agreed to call them Cat Fancy.

    Or, if you’re feeling jaunty, The Brass Ring Club.

    • Patrick Ross

      Uppercats, Cat Fancy, Brass Ring Club, Masters of the WWE Universe, Millennials…any work for me, I just wish they’d pick one.