For any and all complaints about WWE, it still falls under the same umbrella of most things about wrestling: Most every bad thing in it is easily forgiven when there’s even just one truly one great thing. All you need is one thing. To get super insufferably smarky, think of Ring Of Honor’s first show ever for a moment. Have you watched or rewatched that lately? In case you haven’t, let me refresh your memory/teach you: There’s a lot of homophobic, post-ECW nonsense to start it all up. It’s a hot mess, to the point where a 2008/2009 phrase like “hot mess” is still very much applicable. Then you get to the main event, and what you get is the immortal match of Low Ki, Christopher Daniels, and Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan to the rest of you). It’s still talked about today when it comes to ROH, as it is honestly the moment that put the company on the map. It’s beauty in an otherwise ugly start to such an important wrestling company.

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This is a roundabout way of talking about a post-Payback RAW, when the main event of Payback was so good that it made the months of jobbing Dean Ambrose, unwanted chosen one Roman Reigns, and Kane bearable. For those who haven’t watched Payback, do yourself a favor and watch the main event—especially the moments from the Shield “reunion” through the Ambrose/Reigns one-on-one. Those are the nice things we supposedly can’t have until SummerSlam (or SummerFest, if you’re a part of the Entourage cast who won’t be guest hosting next week’s RAW), but they happened in a somewhat decent (maybe even “kind of good” WWE pay-per-view), and now everything is askew.

And that’s where we are with these week’s RAW. As we all know, your friendly, neighborhood WWE RAW reviewer is one of the cynical and bitter WWE viewer persuasion. As you all know, she might as well quit watching WWE if she hates it so much and not just because she’s currently referring to herself in the third person. But the latest edition of RAW does stay the course of the latest decent RAW (last week’s), which is often the most we can hope for these days.

The thing that maintains the heights of RAW is again the John Cena Open Challenge For America Courtesy Of The Paparazzi Championship Series Featuring Best Friends Alex Shelley And Kevin Nash. You could probably assume after my emotional reaction to Sami Zayn challenging Cena that I would feel the same about the RAW debut of Kevin Owens, and you would definitely be right.

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I was able to see and meet Kevin Owens the night of his last PWG match, which means more to me than I could ever put into words. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, I firmly believe that Sami Zayn is the best wrestler in the world, but he and Kevin Owens are so deeply connected in everything they do that all of the emotions transfer. Of course, the Owens segment is a way to promoted Zayn/Owens on Wednesday.* It’s not even a match (yet.) But despite that, it’s so good. It’s too good. Owens and Cena cutting promos on each other, face-to-face is the type of thing people fantasy book for their e-feds. It’s not the type of thing that happens in “real life.”

And then it happens in real life, and real emotions take over. There’s barely a logical, critical way to approach it, because it’s a “holy shit” moment, if ever there was one.

I literally shrieked out loud at the sound of Kevin Owens’ theme music. That is the new normal for an NXT cat when they challenge John Cena. Hell, I’d probably mark if Bull Dempsey challenged Cena at this point. Sadly, you’re not really going to get that with a main roster guy who chooses to challenge Cena. Sure, if it’s someone from the past in WWE—say, Rhyno, who is also kind of an NXT cat—the crowd is going to go insane. But when NXT (or even Seth Rollins) says the future is now, this is what they’re talking about. This is what makes an otherwise good WrestleMania that spits on the future worthwhile. The John Cena Memorial For Children Who Can’t Read Good has provided truly fantastic matches, but the best thing it can do is set up something great for the future, which it’s been doing in spades. Before the Owens segment, I wanted to dedicate the Cena segment of this review to the difference between a typical Cena feud and the Cena open challenges, but now everything has kind of changed. It’s amazing, because change and WWE are two things that have been in constant conflict for so long, especially in terms of all things Cena. (I’m willing to talk Cena/Rusev in the comments though, because I have so much “I Told You So” juice left in me.)

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For those uninitiated to the cult of Kevin Owens (a distant relative of Kevin Steen, who retired to help his best friend El Generico with the orphans in Tijuana), you should know that he’s a guy who the powers that be in the independent professional wrestling circuit believed couldn’t “make it.” A phenomenal speaker and even worker, he lacked “the look,” and that was that. As Scott Steiner would probably say, “he’s fat.” It doesn’t matter that “Mr. Wrestling” is one of his nicknames.

The date is May 18, 2015, and he’s in a WWE ring on Monday Night RAW, getting the better of John Cena, verbally and physically. It’s CM Punk all over again. It’s Daniel Bryan all over again. It’s Seth Rollins all over again. It matters, especially on a night when #RAWlternative (which is also something worth supporting, by the way) is happening again. It’s the type of thing that makes wrestling cool—the investment in these guys and gals who have started from the bottom to get to the top, even if the WWE Universe or the commentators don’t truly acknoweledge it. That’s why wrestling and WWE endures in a way things like the XFL don’t. Sorry to any He Hate Me fans, but that can’t compare. We’re bound for life, even when we quit. It’s there in the back of our minds, waiting to be awakened. It’s unhealthy most of the time, but it can also be beautiful on occasion. That’s the case for the Owens/Cena segment, as well as the Owens segment announcing he would be Cena’s opponent at Elimination Chamber. You can’t manufacture that feeling, which is something someone like, say, Alex Riley never learned. It’s the type of thing Vince McMahon can’t take away from someone, and it’s part of why Daniel by god Bryan was able to main event WrestleMania.

Outside that beauty, this RAW is honestly another solid effort by WWE. It’s not as good as two weeks ago, but it’s possibly better than last week’s (which is also fine), even though it’s also also a holding pattern for the events of Elimination Chamber and Money In The Bank. What the Payback main event also made clear is that things will all supposedly come to a head at SummerSlam, and while I’m upset that won’t be in Los Angeles this year, I’m still excited. It’s still strange how WWE works to make the bulid-up to WrestleMania a mess but finds a way to make the post-shows and WrestleMania Jr. the real most wonderful time of the year.

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The Authority sees the return of Stephanie McMahon, and for once, it feels complete. (Sorry, Big Show.) Many years ago, it might have been seen as sacrilegious to say, but Stephanie McMahon has easily surpassed Triple H on the mic and as a character, and her return on RAW quickly rejuvenates the Authority (in addition to Triple H’s “I’m proud of you, son” moment from Payback and Seth following my advice to make the Pedigree his finisher). Her “Go get him, Seth” is a throwaway highlight of RAW, and it’s a reminder that the reincarnated version of a still alive Vince McMahon (that would be Steph) is an integral part of the show. Plus, the build-up to the “Architect Of A Dream” main event segment is genuinely fun Authority in a nut shell. It’s one of those RAW things that is so amusing it’s difficult not to be hyped for it, and “actual mute” Joey Mercury almost speaks during it. It’s ridiculous that the simple things in WWE are the things that work the best, but then again, there’s a reason “overbooked” is a phrase in the “biz.”

If you buy into the fact that WWE is all about storytelling, this RAW really is the right show for that. The one big weakness is that the show isn’t full of insanely good matches. For example, the New Day/Kidd & Cesaro match is really a shadow of their phenomenal match from Payback. But looking at the card, there’s really nothing wrong with it at all:

  • Sheamus (winner) versus Ryback
  • Barrett (winner) versus Neville
  • Bray Wyatt (winner) Dean Ambrose (due to J&J, to stop him from facing Seth at EC… which is happening, by the way)
  • Cesaro and Tyson Kidd (winner) versus New Day (DQ) (Tag Team Championship)
  • Ziggler (winner) versus Stardust
  • Erick Rowan and Luke Harper (winner) versus Fandango and Zack Ryder.
  • Nikki Bella (winner) versus Naomi (Diva’s Championship)

It’s all a build-up, and it’s one that works in this rare occasion. With the exception of the New Day/Kidd & Cesaro match, which is a typical indecisive match (for good reason—this feud is on fire), the matches are cut and dry. They’re mostly decently lengthed, but the flow is ruined by commercials for Arby’s and Mr. Robot, because they don’t “matter.” The Prime Time Players have been let out of their cages—which is code for the black room they kept Stardust (who is another rant for another day, because Cody Rhodes is too good for all that is happening to him) and Tom Phillips in—and finally get the physical upper-hand in preparation for Elimination Chamber. There’s also the fact that Rusev dumps Lana in this RAW, which is still kind of a mess of a storyline but somehow works better than it could, considering the typical WWE possibilities.

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(I’ll be honest, I spent most of the Rusev dumping Lana segment being too distracted by the fact that Rusev and Lana remain one of the most adorable real life WWE couples.)

As someone who is still not on board with the Rusev/Lana break-up situation, I will say that Lana making her way to Dolph Ziggler does work more than any other scenario might. As the show-off who’s here to show the world and it’s too bad he’s just too good, there’s really no reason Dolph Ziggler shouldn’t always have a girlfriend. Even Adam Rose is getting some backstage. One of the worst things to happen to Ziggler was the face turn that made him drop his girlfriend AJ and bodyguard Big E, just because WWE faces are lone wolves who hate people. Given all of Ziggler’s… everything, he should be a character who has ladies hanging off of him. Lana isn’t just some random Diva, but if she’s going to move on from Rusev, it makes sense to be with a guy like Dolph and not the asexual, misogynistic (aka typical WWE face) John Cena.

Plus, it leads to a Ziggler/Rusev feud, and it’s always fun to remember that Ziggler was technically the first person to defeat Rusev.

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As this RAW review has become a simultaneous Payback review, I will have to bring up some more points on that main event. Probably more than WrestleMania, Payback found a way to make Roman Reigns really work. It’s amazing what happens when you have a guy fighting more guys than Kane and the Big Show, right? There have been arguments for the Daniel Bryan and/or Brock Lesnar matches being the best of Roman’s career so far, but I’d say the Payback Fatal-4-Way was the match. Because in addition to the whole wrestling thing, the character thing was on display for Roman, and he was the best he’s been at that since the Shield days in the match. It’s easy to be charming when you’re working with your best (or at least kayfabe best) friends. That was the whole thing about The Shield, and it’s what’s honestly made Roman the most interesting and best wrestler he’s been since those days in the Payback match. WWE initally shot itself in the foot when it decided to immediately sever Ambrose and Reigns’ ties, because nothing about the Big Dog Who Is One Versus All rang true. He was one-half of the tag team champions with Seth. He lost one of his brothers. He then kept all the Shield hand me downs. There was no reason for him to be Randy Orton. The Fatal-4-Way took him back to those roots, and boy were he and the match better for it. Roman honestly gives Jame Noble a middle finger in that match, and maybe that’s not TV-PG, but it’s pretty damn cool. (Please don’t consider that my endorsement of the “WE WANT TV-14” sign on RAW.)

Of course, this RAW posted a banner for the “return” of Roman on SmackDown—even though he was there last week in the main event and only missed this RAW—so there’s every chance they missed all of that.

Stray Observations:

  • What does my brother think of [insert RAW thing here]? This week, what does my brother think of Kevin Owens’ debut? “Shhh!” That was him shushing my shrieking.
  • R-Truth is in the IC Elimination Chamber match because I’m being personally victimized.
  • Can Bo Dallas join New Day yet? He finally shaved, just like Xavier Woods. Let’s just make New Day a huge Freebirds Rules tag team faction of awesome, please.
  • Also, just give Naomi the title so they can boast about how athletic she is before she drops the title. Giva Divas A Chance is a disaster on the main roster (not NXT!) at this point. (Hey, Paige!) But at least the Payback Kickoff Show saw Brie Bella display “real” emotion toward the whole Bryan situation. Finally. Tears!
  • It amuses me that Barrett raises his sceptor during every “boom” now. He still needs queen though.
  • Kevin Owens beat up John Cena, and nothing can ever take that away from me.
  • Reminder: NXT Takeover starts my official NXT coverage. Try to read my words through all of my tears, please.

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