For the first time in awhile, the focus within WWE and amongst wrestling fans is on the future. NXT is an inarguable hit, with the developmental promotion selling out the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a show during SummerSlam weekend. The #DivaRevolution is in full swing, with Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks making an immediate impact on the main roster. Then there’s the influx and promotion of WWE’s young, new talent, from Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens to Neville and Cesaro. WWE is in a transitional phase of sorts and it’s exciting to witness, to see new talent shake up a main roster that had been stagnating (outside of a few feuds) for a while.

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This focus on the future has been especially true in the last few weeks. Raw has largely been structured around lengthy matches that serve to put the new talent over. Neville looked great against Rollins, and against Cena weeks before that. Cesaro has been enjoying a singles push ever since Tyson Kidd went down with an injury. Kevin Owens beat John Cena in his debut on Raw and followed it up with two classic matches against The Face That Runs The Place. It’s been refreshing to see WWE focus so much of its attention on actual wrestling, on matches that serve a clear purpose and don’t feel like a retread of the last few months.

As great as this build to SummerSlam has been, tonight’s Raw does show some cracks in the foundation. There’s the repetitive Rusev segment that accomplishes nothing. It’s not even Rusev who’s in a feud right now, but Lana and Summer Rae. That’s not very compelling, because the drama is between Lana and Rusev, but the two have nothing to do week in and week out. Instead, Summer gets to lock in an Accolade, which is a good way to keep the heat on the couple, but does little in terms of storytelling. Even the Divas division, which has been great ever since the debut of the NXT talent, is just going through the motions tonight. The Bellas have a solid match with team B.A.D., but it devolves into the same chaos that explodes almost every week. There’s little to the story beside “these three teams don’t like each other,” and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing when starting to build a feud, there needs to be more as the feud evolves. Hopefully WWE has a plan for the division after SummerSlam.

The biggest problem of the night comes in the buildup to another Seth Rollins title defense. After a lengthy but fun opening segment–Rollins getting mad when he’s interrupted is always good–Triple H schedules a Triple Threat match between Cesaro, Kevin Owens, and Randy Orton. The winner of the match will face Rollins for the WWE Championship in the main event. The match is solid, if not exactly a barnburner, but then there’s the finish. Randy Orton delivers an RKO to Owens, then turns around and does the same to Cesaro, landing the pin and heading to the main event. The question is: why? Why does WWE, who can shake things up in the main event scene while Cena (however temporarily) is out with an injury, decide to put one of its veteran talents in a spot he’s been in before? It’s very unlikely that the title is going to change hands anyways, so why not let Owens or Cesaro go out there in the main event and put on a classic with Rollins?

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Don’t get me wrong; both Owens and Cesaro look great right now, and it’s clear WWE wants these guys to succeed. Not putting one of them in tonight’s main event seems silly though. There’s no reason why Orton needs to be in tonight’s main event, so give the shot to one of the newer talents and let them continue to look great in the ring, even if a loss to Rollins is inevitable. If you’re not sure Cesaro or Owens could take a loss to Rollins, just look back to last week, when Neville had everyone convinced he was about to win the title. A large part of the appeal of new talent on the main roster is that every wrestler is unpredictable. Who knows when they’ll snag a quick win and rise to the main event. Paige won the Divas title on her first Raw appearance, and Owens beat Cena in his first WWE match at Elimination Chamber. That’s unpredictability, and it drives the great matches we’ve been seeing lately. Having Orton win tonight doesn’t achieve anything, and it’s frustrating to see after weeks of great matches.

Still, SummerSlam is shaping up nicely, and the lackluster nature of tonight’s main event scene means that two other storylines looked great. The feud between the Wyatts and Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose feels urgent and personal. There’s history between the four guys and that means the storytelling feels meaningful, even if the booking doesn’t do much to further the feud. Better than that, though, is tonight’s guest star, Stephen Amell. His confrontation with Stardust has been inevitable for weeks now, but tonight’s payoff is better than almost anyone could have imagined. After Stardust gives Amell, who’s sitting in the front row, a solid facewash, Amell hops the barrier, jumps the top rope, and attacks Stardust. His athleticism isn’t surprising for anyone who’s seen him do this on Arrow, but it’s still promising to see him so committed. He’s a noted fan, and that’s what you want from a guest star. You want someone who respects and understands the business and can hold his own in terms of physicality. That’s Amell, and I can’t wait to see him in the ring at SummerSlam.

Stray observations

  • Results: The Bellas defeated Team B.A.D; New Day defeated Los Matadores; Randy Orton defeated Cesaro and Kevin Owens; Luke Harper defeated Dean Ambrose; Rusev vs. Mark Henry ended in a No Contest; Neville defeated King Barrett; Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins (c) via DQ after Sheamus interferes (WWE World Heavyweight Championship match).
  • It was really nice having Daniel Bryan back on my TV screen, outside of Total Divas.
  • Ryback is back! I popped for this more than I care to admit. Big Show calling Miz a crossdresser? Not so much.
  • New Day dance moves are my new favorite thing in WWE.
  • Commentary lambasting Amell for hopping in the ring was a nice touch. Usually WWE just glosses over that.
  • Check out this great fan-made trailer for the Stardust-Amell feud. It’s fantastic.
  • How great is it that during a Divas match on Raw we get a “we want Sasha!” chant?
  • Commentary referred to Paige, Charlotte, and Becky as Team P.C.B. Guess they found out Submission Squad brings up some interesting search results.
  • That Undertaker-Lesnar video package was suitably hype. You can always trust WWE with a video package.

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