The WWE ended 2014 with a bang, as Daniel Bryan gave one of the promos of the year before announcing he was finally making his return at the Royal Rumble.
Bryan, of course, has been out since May after undergoing neck surgery. What was expected to be a relatively simple procedure did not go as expected, as he had trouble regaining strength in his arms. Over the past few months, as the timetable for his return fluctuated, many fans even started wondering if we would ever see him in a wrestling ring again. However, that question was answered Monday night.
Late in the afternoon, Bryan posted on Twitter that he would be at Raw, and address a crossroads he had reached in his life. Many people took that as a possible sign that he would be announcing his retirement, and at the beginning of his speech, he certainly played that up.
He talked about what an unreal year 2014 was for him, winning the title at Wrestlemania, getting married, losing his father and then his surgery and recovery. He talked about people like Edge (who was on Raw) and how he had to retire early. He even broke down a few times, making it seem like he was about to retire. But then when he rhetorically asked if he was going to retire, he said no, and not only that, he was officially entering the Royal Rumble next month.
The delivery of his promo was fantastic, as it sent everyone on an emotional roller coaster, and then when he finally announced he was returning, it sent the crowd into hysterics. It's hard to remember many times a wrestling crowd has been that genuinely happy (and many of those times in recent years have come from Bryan). Besides the quality though, what's interesting is the timing.
Why would the WWE have him go out there, give an amazing promo, and then have him enter the Rumble? It certainly seems logical that if you're going to bring him back, he has to be a favorite to win it. Otherwise, why bother having him return for the match when he could easily sit out until February? Granted, whoever eliminates him will get unreal heat, and could start a big feud, but there would also be a lot of logic into bringing him back after the Rumble, particularly with who the other favorite right now is.
Before tonight, everyone assumed that the Rumble was going to be Roman Reigns' to lose. The question was always what sort of reaction he would get. Now, with someone like Bryan in the mix, that makes the proposition of Reigns winning even more dicey. Will the fans react like they did last year if Bryan doesn't win? If Monday night was any indication, the WWE Universe still truly cares about him. If the plan is to have Reigns win, why even make Bryan an option?
We'll have to see where they go from here, but with one promo, Bryan sent all wrestling fans into 2015 happy.
The rest of Raw:
**While Bryan was the biggest news to come out of Raw, that's not what the show ended with. Guest hosts Edge and Christian conducted an interview with Seth Rollins. Rollins, who wanted to make a New Year's toast, invited Big Show out, before asking John Cena to come out. When Cena didn't come out, Rollins attacked Christian before going after Edge. He set up Edge in a position where he would curb stomp him on the money in the bank briefcase, which brought out Cena. He told Cena to stay outside the ring, threatening that he would stomp Edge. He insisted that Cena authorize The Authority to come back, or he would injure (and later upgraded the threat to kill) Edge. Finally, Cena agreed, and said The Authority could come back.
Rollins went to attack Edge anyways, and Cena raced to the ring. The numbers game piled up, and they left Cena lying in the ring. Rollins, Big Show and J&J security went up the ramp, where they were greeted by Brock Lesnar, and then Triple H and Stephanie. The group celebrated as Raw went off the air.
The angle did seem slightly rushed. If Triple H is going to have a match at Wrestlemania, he would have been needed back soon, but for the stipulation to only stay in effect for five weeks after that fantastic match at Survivor Series seemed a little bit short. The interesting part in this is Chris Jericho. Will the other members of his team be angry at him for giving up what they had worked so hard to attain? And if so, how will Cena react? In this entire angle, THAT might be the most interesting part.
**The Usos regained the Tag Team titles from Miz and Damien Mizdow. The four had another good match that was a nice combination of good wrestling and comedy spots. In the end, the Usos prevailed, which actually drew one of the loudest pops of the night from the crowd. It was a little surprising that the Usos took the titles back, but I can only assume that it has something to do with what happened later in the night.
Miz and Mizdow demanded a rematch for the titles immediately. While Edge and Christian wouldn't give them the rematch, they did send them back out to the ring for another match. The Ascension made their debut and made quick work of Miz and Mizdow. If The Ascension aren't going to be pure faces, but instead just a wrecking crew that destroys everyone in their path, faces or heels, then it would probably work better if they beat The Usos for the title than Miz and Mizdow.
**Roman Reigns beat Seth Rollins by disqualification after Big Show got involved. This match felt like a bit of a stumble in the push of Roman Reigns. The crowd seemed to have a hard time getting into the match. From my position in the crowd, my take was that the style of match didn't do Reigns any favors. It wasn't that he couldn't wrestle a longer match, it was that the crowd wanted to pop for the Reigns power moves. Whenever he hit a move that showed off his power, whether it was something like the Superman Punch or the Spear, or even something like a powerbomb, the crowd popped. But they had a hard time getting behind him when he was playing the face-in-peril role. If the WWE takes anything from this match, it's that they have allow Reigns to get in more offense during matches. At least to me, the crowd seems to want to cheer for him, they just have to be given reasons to do so.
**The opening segment featured Edge and Christian, who bantered back and forth like they had never stopped teaming. Just as they were about to do one of their famous 5-second poses, Brock Lesnar interrupted, coming out with Paul Heyman. When Lesnar looked like he was about to attack one (or both) of them, Cena came out, and confronted Lesnar. Cena said his New Year's resolution was to take the belt from Lesnar, and then tried to attack Heyman. Lesnar stopped that, and then Cena scooped up Lesnar. Lesnar was able to escape, and retreated up the ramp.
**Dolph Ziggler and Rusev faced off in a champion vs. champion match (though neither belt was on the line). Ziggler won by DQ after Rusev wouldn't stop attacking him in the corner. After laying out Ziggler, he locked him in the Accolade, assisted by the ropes. After refs finally were able to drag him off, Ryback came out, and after a brief confrontation, Ryback knocked down Rusev, and Rusev escaped.
After the confrontation, Ryback had what was almost certainly his longest promo of his WWE career. He talked about his whole WWE career, from starting on Tough Enough to debuting with the Nexus and his injury that took him away from the Nexus to his debut as Ryback. There was plenty of video included in it. I'm not totally sure what the purpose of it was, but it was interesting to see him talk as much as he did. He didn't do a terrible job either. The crowd shouted "What" at him a lot, though that wasn't really his fault. He hit his lines well, and had decent pacing. So we'll see what develops with him, if anything.
**Speaking of surprise promos, Cesaro got some mic time as well. He referenced the Austin/McMahon podcast when Vince said that he wasn't connecting with the fans. He turned this into part of his character, where he doesn't care about connecting with the WWE Universe, and that he's just a good wrestler. He was interrupted by a returning Bad News Barrett, apparently returning as a face. The two had a bit of a confusing match. Despite Barrett apparently being a face, and Cesaro being the heel, they seemed to reverse roles in the match. Barrett used a lot of heel tactics to win, while Cesaro played it pretty straight. Barrett's sudden face turn also seemed to confuse the crowd. I get that Barrett was getting cheers, but making him a face just seems like a bad decision at this point.
**Nikki Bella beat Natalya. Natalya got distracted at one point when Nikki was knocked off the apron, and Tyson Kidd caught her. After Natalya came out and threw Nikki back in, she glared at Tyson, and Nikki was able to hit her from behind to get the win.
**Luke Harper beat Jack Swagger in a decent match.
**A Bray Wyatt vignette aired, where it was announced that him and Dean Ambrose would face off in an Ambulance match next week. Is there really a need for this? They've already faced off in a TLC match and a street fight recently. Why bother having an ambulance match so soon?
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