WWE Raw after Money in the Bank a home run

In recent years, the best episode of WWE Monday Night Raw has always been the night after WrestleMania. Last night's show, on the heels of a solid but not spectacular Money in the Bank pay-per-view, may very well take the honors in 2014. Quite honestly, Raw was – in the words of former co-Women's champions LayCool – simply flawless.

The night was filled with returns, swerves, face turns and even a title change that were all brilliantly executed, and set up the summer angles to keep WWE interesting heading into a Battleground PPV that was awful last year, a SummerSlam show that is arguably the second-biggest event on the WWE calendar, and Night of Champions which may need to be really strong to help WWE get Network subscribers to re-up for another six months, as the early adopters will have their six-month commitment fulfilled after SummerSlam.


Here's a breakdown of the big angles from Raw and my perspective on where they seem to be leading.

The Champ vs. The Authority


I've got no issues with WWE putting the title on John Cena Sunday night because, presumably, he's a transitional champion until Brock Lesnar takes the title at WWE SummerSlam in August. But it did leave WWE in a little bit of a lurch for the title match at Battleground. They couldn't do a straight Cena vs. Orton match again -- Cena's already defeated Orton numerous times and based on the reaction the last time these two met one-on-one at the Royal Rumble fans aren't particularly interested in seeing these two battle over the championship again. Cena also just disposed of Kane in a stretcher match to qualify for the Money in the Bank championship ladder match, so there isn't a whole lot of intrigue there either.

A Triple Threat match might've made more sense, but it would've left Roman Reigns without an obvious opponent, since it's clear Triple H isn't getting back in the ring until at least SummerSlam to face off with the Big Dog. So, a Fatal 4-Way match at Battleground makes business sense, although the inclusion of Reigns by the Authority in kayfabe really doesn't. Hopefully, that will get explained in Triple H's weekly promo on the WWE App or on Raw next week.

Still, that's a minor complaint. This was about the best WWE could do to keep fans from turning on the main event, and because it's probable that Kane will eat the pinfall from Cena, it'll keep Orton and, more importantly, Reigns, protected in the match. That probably puts Reigns-Orton on track for SummerSlam, and Reigns-Triple H for Night of Champions.

Mr. Money in the Bank


Seth Rollins, as seen last night, remains the "Plan B," with his Money in the Bank briefcase, although WWE is using Dean Ambrose perfectly, having him get all of his heat back by saying it'll be more fun being a thorn in Rollins' side and keeping him from cashing in.

Honestly, I can't see Rollins actually cashing in the briefcase until after WrestleMania next year (I'm assuming once Lesnar gets the championship, he won't be relinquishing it until 'Mania, although how they pull that off with the limited dates in his contract remains to be seen).

Rollins got off to a strong start as the briefcase holder last night, cleaning defeating Rob Van Dam in an above average match. In the past, the briefcase has been a bit of a curse, as the holder seems to do a lot of jobs, supposedly to make it more unpredictable when he finally cashes in and wins. Given his association with the Authority, I don't see Rollins doing a lot of jobs, although one to Ambrose isn't out of the question.

Former champion and multi-platform whatever… holy cow, they're doing Jericho vs. Wyatt

In an absolutely swerve-tacular segment, WWE teased the return of a former WWE Champion and cross-platform entertainer, clearing teasing Chris Jericho, only to give us the Miz instead, who also fit those qualifications. After Miz cut a cocky Hollywood heel promo, WWE swerved nearly everyone by then actually having Y2J return to a huge reaction.

Seemingly setting up a Miz vs. Jericho program, after Jericho hit a Codebreaker and started to cut a promo, he was interrupted by Bray Wyatt and company, and I think the internet exploded.

Like usual, it seems Jericho is around to put over new talent and may have requested to work with Wyatt (with whom he had a strong match in NXT during Jericho's last run). While I'm not as into Wyatt as others, I recognize he's connecting with the crowd and should remain an important player. Unfortunately, they already fed him to Cena, which makes it tough for anyone to rebound (look at the countless list of heels who've been fed to Cena and ended up in the mid-card or worse... Oh, hey Miz, how are you?). Jericho should give him a good feud through the summer and put him over strong until they can figure out what's next for Wyatt in the fall.

Attacking Jericho also CLEARLY established Bray Wyatt as a heel, which is what he needed. Maybe he turns face in the fall, but right now, he needs to be the best heel he can, and putting him against someone universally loved like Jericho versus Cena or Sheamus is #BestForBusiness.

As for the Miz, I wonder if he and Jericho don't have a time-killer program through Battleground, with Wyatt possibly costing Jericho the match so those two can feud at SummerSlam. Miz could use a victory in his first PPV back, and I think him using the movie star persona will set-up a ready-made feud with a "real" movie star when Dave Batista returns fresh off what is expected to be a break-out role for him as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Divas double turn

Had it not been for Jericho's surprise return earlier in the show, then the return of AJ Lee in the third hour definitely would've been the comeback everyone was talking about.

AJ "Mrs. CM Punk" Lee made her presence known after Divas Champion Paige gave a pseudo-heel speech about how she had proven herself since she won the title the night after WrestleMania. In AJ's promo, she did the babyface thing by saying she'd gotten a big head and needed Paige's "slap of reality" that night. Paige said she wasn't stupid (a word that doesn't get used by babyfaces) and wasn't going to be naïve like AJ and give her a title match on the spot, although the fans eventually convinced her otherwise.

The short match ended with AJ using a small package to, as Michael Cole said, "get her baby back" (while she did refer to the Divas title as her baby during her record-long reign, this was obviously a poke at recent pregnancy rumors).

The double turn they tried to pull didn't work as well as it could've – in part because the crowd busted out CM Punk chants that might chase AJ for a while --  but I think I like where they are going with this. Everyone seems to think Paige is just going to get pushed down the card, but I think they just set-up a long-term AJ-Paige feud with AJ as the babyface and Paige as the heel. I think once they get a full-on heel promo from Paige and she starts raging like she can get away with as a heel, they can take last night's promo/match, juice it up in video production, and really make Paige look like a piece of dirt heel and make this feud great.

There aren't many good heel Divas on the roster, and WWE recognized fans were going to mark for AJ, so this was a smart move. I think Paige will be a great heel and these two could give us women's matches we haven't seen since the Trish-Lita-Molly-Victoria-Mickie days.


Battleground Battle Royal and WWE App finishes


Following Wade Barrett's injury on Smackdown last week, WWE announced the Intercontinental Championship would be vacated and would be decided in a battle royal at Battleground. There was no indication how many participants there might be, although at least four were announced Monday.

Cesaro was positioned, at least by his hype man Paul Heyman, as the favorite to win, since he's already won the Andre the Giant battle royal this year. I think, ultimately, Cesaro will emerge as the new Intercontinental Champion by the time fall rolls around, although he might not be the winner of this battle royal. Remember, Cesaro was slated to win the tournament – and presumably the IC title -- that ultimately saw Barrett emerge victorious after the Raw script leaked.

Cesaro was also part of a really interesting experiment last night. He lost his match to Kofi Kingston in fluke fashion, but did so on the WWE App. Since WWE began airing content during commercial breaks of Raw on the App, I think fans have wondered if they'd ever do a match finish or a big angle there. They finally pulled the trigger and, although I didn't like it at first, after realizing the post-match beatdown was what they were trying to get across, I was fine with it.

Having the finish during the commercial break gives a sense of urgency to the App, that you might miss something important if you don't have it, even though I HIGHLY doubt they have another match finish on the App anytime soon. It also gave the finish a sense of realism because, if you actually did take commercial breaks during UFC fights, for example, it's entirely possible a fight would end during the commercial. Having the finish on the App also kind of protected Cesaro because no one really saw him lose to an opponent clearly lower than him on the card, but viewers did see that dirty beatdown afterward that got him a lot of heel heat. When all was said and done, I think it was executed well.

Kingston has been king of the big spot in battle royal matches, and it would be nice to see him actually win a battle royal after a spectacular save. I could certainly see this IC battle royal coming down to him and Cesaro, with Kofi coming up with a big save and eliminating Cesaro to win the title. However, he'd ultimately be a transitional champion to allow Cesaro a win on a bigger stage – at SummerSlam or Night of Champions.

USA! We the People! Let's go Swagger!

Two of those chants we've heard a million times before, the third, "Let's Go Swagger!" I've only heard one time in my life and that's when I was the lone person doing it at Old School Raw in Hershey, Pa., all the way back in 2010. Until last night.

Since Rusev and Lana started the pro-Russia gimmick shortly after Rusev's debut, it's always felt like having him face off against the WWE's resident "Real American" was a natural feud, except they are both heels. While Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter have been presented as pseudo-racist, right-wing heels since the duo's debut as the Real Americans in 2013, it only took a little tweaking of the gimmick and the right opponent to turn their message into that of a babyface.

Even if he ultimately loses this feud with Rusev, which I think he might (although if fans keep going nuts for him like they did last night, who knows?) I hope he at least gets some wins as a mid-card face and doesn't just slip into the Dolph Ziggler role of putting over heels. If nothing else, Swagger being an All-American babyface opens up the possibility of revisiting his feud with Alberto Del Rio and winning (and possibly sending Del Rio packing, since his contract is allegedly up soon), possibly feuding with Barrett when he comes back, or Sheamus if they ever turn him heel like they supposedly want to (an Irishman doing a Fourth of July United States Championship challenge like they have planned on Smackdown could do it actually) and revisiting his feud with Cesaro, are all possibilities for him.

As for Rusev, while I don't think losing once to Swagger will completely derail him, I do think he ultimately needs to come out ahead in this feud, as he's got a higher ceiling at this point.

Love rectangle

Fandango loves triangles. But how does he feel about rectangles? After Layla defeated Summer Rae at Money in the Bank, with Fandango as the guest referee, it seemed like this angle was over. Clearly, it's just beginning.

During what seemed like an otherwise filler match between Fandango and Dolph Ziggler, Summer Rae made an appearance, got in the ring and made out with Ziggler. Fandango seemingly had regrets about choosing Layla over Summer, and was distracted long enough for Ziggler to hit his finisher for the win.

Hopefully, this wasn't a one-night thing for Ziggler and Summer, as Ziggler desperately needs something to be involved with, even if it's just a mid-card feud that centers on the Divas. He and Fandango are both above-average workers who could actually have a strong match if given some time.

I don't see this as a long-term pairing between Ziggler and Summer Rae – Summer may even ultimately end up back with Fandango, since making him jealous seems to be her real motivation – but it should work to get both of them over.

Six-man tag

Watching the Wyatt Family vs. the team of Sheamus and the Usos isn't exactly a fresh match-up, especially if you watch Smackdown regularly, but these six always seem to deliver the goods. The Usos and Sheamus are both in really good spots right now as the tag team and U.S. champions, respectively. All three work their tails off in the ring and get over that way, but they leave something to be desired from a character standpoint. The Usos have obviously never been pushed beyond where they are at (but their backstage promos are often cringe-worthy) but Sheamus – although I personally like his work quite a bit – just never had his character connect with the audience when he was pushed to the moon as a World Champion. He's settled in nicely as a mid-card champion who can put on great matches and make other guys look good, like he's done with Bray recently.

A strong mid-card has always been a staple of WWE boom years, and right now, the mid-card is about as strong as it gets, it's just the top that is lacking a bit with stale faces like Cena, Orton and Kane at the top while "newer" talent like Daniel Bryan is sidelined and CM Punk is "retired." WWE is obviously trying to make a new star in Roman Reigns, and while they are getting there, it takes time.

Regarding the Wyatt family, Harper and Rowan continue to impress me every outing and I do think a run with the tag titles is in their future. I honestly think they are more entertaining in-ring than Bray, but obviously Bray is the one of the better talkers in the company right now. Prior to his interaction with Jericho, I thought maybe Bray Wyatt would be entering a feud with Sheamus for the U.S. Championship, but I don't think that would do either person any favors right now.


Everything else

The Dust Brothers, as I plan to call them from here on out, need another team to feud with that isn't Rybaxel. Because WWE has be doing such a good job as of late booking feuds for nearly everyone on the roster, there really aren't any singles heels that could be paired up to form a new tag team for Stardust and Goldust to feud with, so it might mean it's time for The Ascension to be called up from NXT. Unfortunately, that would mean one of these teams would have to lose. Regarding Cody Rhodes, I don't know if the Stardust gimmick has legs long-term, but you can't deny that he's just owning what he's been given and is getting it over.

I've been over Adam Rose and the Exotic Express since the moment they debuted and having him doing comedy skits backstage with Santino and shilling merchandise from sponsors is pretty much where he belongs. With that said, it's interesting that WWEPG would take on Twisted Tea – an alcoholic beverage – as a sponsor, considering their audience. While it worked for these guys, I wonder if they won't get some negative publicity for having a character like Santino that is mainly for the kiddies getting drunk. Oh well.

Are we actually seeing four Divas storylines play out at one time? In addition to the AJ-Paige wonderfulness, and the Fandango love rectangle, there is also a break-up angle going on with the Funkadactyls Naomi and Cameron, and the Bellas are continuing their issue with Stephanie McMahon. I do think it's interesting that, while it's been made very clear that Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan are married, and that was worked into the Bryan vs. the Authority storyline, there has been no mention of Nikki and John Cena as an item now that Cena is feuding with the Authority and Nikki is still taking flak from Stephanie. There has to be a strategic reason for that, but it's interesting that some stuff from the Total Divas reality show is cannon on Raw and Smackdown and some of it isn't.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun