The Authority returned with a vengeance on WWE Raw on Monday night, putting John Cena in a place where he hasn't been in quite a while.
When Cena was coerced into allowing The Authority to return last week, the question became how they would react, not just to Cena, but also to those who helped put them out of power.
They came out on the top of the show, and while they started targeting those who had wronged them in the past, they went out of their way to praise Cena, even setting up a "John Cena Appreciation Night."
At the end of the night, a special ceremony took place in which The Authority praised Cena for having the courage to bring them back. They even brought out his teammates from Survivor Series (minus Big Show, of course).
After threatening to suspend them, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon decided that Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan would all be fired, leaving Cena stunned in the ring while confetti and balloons fell from the rafters.
The WWE has a chance to do something special here with Cena, without turning him heel.
The overarching problem with Cena isn't that he's a face, it's that he hasn't changed in years, and all his feuds have him more or less acting the same throughout. The completely disgraced look on Cena's face, as opposed to the usual angry and defiant look that he usually would have in this situation, was a nice change-of-pace for him.
If the wrestlers return but still are angry at Cena, and if the locker room turns on him, that's a place that WWE never has ventured before with him. Or, what if Cena keeps messing up, allowing The Authority to increase their power?
The WWE could go a number of ways with this, including a harkening back to 1996 when a certain top face in WCW felt that the locker room turned its back on him.
The key to this storyline is going to be time. Clearly Ziggler and the others need to return, but they can do that in a way that doesn't involve Cena winning their jobs back.
The absolute worst thing that could happen would be if Cena won a match next week, or even the week after, and everything went back to normal. The question is if the WWE has the guts to make Cena look vulnerable for a long stretch. If they do, this has the potential to be the storyline that starts a change in how a certain subset of fans views Cena.
The Rest of Raw:
-- In addition to targeting those who wronged them, The Authority also rewarded those who helped, specifically, Seth Rollins. He was added into the WWE championship match at Royal Rumble, making it a Triple Threat. This is interesting for a lot of reasons. The cynical side of me questions if this is a way for someone to get the win without Cena or Lesnar getting pinned. However, the idea of Rollins walking out with the title is an intriguing one. Right now, one of the problems with the Royal Rumble is that, if Lesnar is champion, there's a very small group of wrestlers who could conceivably win the Royal Rumble and be credible in facing him. If Rollins is all of a sudden the champion, the number of wrestlers who could win grows considerably.
-- Bad News Barrett beat Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental title. The Authority made the match at the top of the show. Ziggler beat Barrett quickly, catching him with a rollup, and then Barrett continued the attack after the match. Kane came out (who is back to being Corporate Kane) and said the match was two out of three falls. Barrett won the next two after he had worn down Ziggler with the assault. Let's look at the past week for Barrett: he returned to Raw last week as a face (for an unknown reason). He showed up to Raw this week, was put in a title match with a face (Ziggler), turned heel with the assault, and then wion the title. This was an epic rush-job by the WWE, and it hurts Barrett. The fans' heads were spinning with all the unexplained turns there, and they barely reacted to his win (or the angle against Ziggler).
-- Bray Wyatt, once again, beat Dean Ambrose, this time in an ambulance match. It's definitely a little surprising that Ambrose didn't get a measure of revenge here. He has wrestled four matches against Wyatt, and the only one he won was at Tribute to the Troops. Clearly they're pushing Wyatt for something big, probably at WrestleMania, but where does that leave Ambrose? To me, only one thing really makes sense: A feud or WrestleMania match with one, if not both, of the former members of The Shield wouldn't require him to be in a prominent position going into the feud. If that's the way they're going at WrestleMania, then him losing won't impact him at all in the long run. It would be nice to see him win a big match here or there, though.
-- Roman Reigns faced Big Show again. I think they did a better job of spotlighting Reigns' strength in this match. Even though offensively he went about 50-50 with Big Show, they didn't have Reigns spend a long time in the match. It was more of them brawling, which is a step in the right direction in my mind. Reigns ended up winning by disqualification when Big Show used the steps to attack Reigns. When Big Show looked like he was about to hit Reigns with the steps, Reigns speared him, causing the steps to land on Big Show in a pretty decent spot.
-- Luke Harper beat Erick Rowan in a match that should have gotten way more build. The Authority was getting back at their enemies, and made Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble guest referees for this match. They helped Harper win. I can't tell you how much enjoyment I'm getting out of "J&J Security." They legitimately might be a better version of The Stooges.
-- Rollins and Kane beat Ryback in a handicap match. They actually did a good job of making Ryback look strong in this match, though he eventually fell to the numbers game.
-- The Ascension destroyed a jobber tag team. Before the match, they referenced the Road Warriors and Demolition, saying they were better than both. The self-awareness right now is a bit odd. While the Road Warriors part of their gimmick has been spotlighted since the move to the main roster, if NXT watchers think about it, they've been emulating the Road Warriors since at least February. To not only emphasize that aspect, but to now openly acknowledge it in promos is an odd way to go. We'll see how crowds respond.
-- Big E beat Adam Rose by disqualification when two of the Rosebuds ran into the ring to attack Big E. They unmasked to reveal Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. The Cesaro-Kidd pairing has a lot of potential for both wrestlers. Their in-ring ability is unquestioned, and their personalities mesh well. Hopefully the WWE lets the tag team go somewhere.
-- Natalya beat Nikki Bella in a nontitle match, continuing her run of beating the Bellas. Before the match, Paige came out to be in Natalya's corner. She neutralized Brie Bella during the match, and when Nikki Bella tried to attack Natalya after the match, she stepped up and took her out. While I believe this stemmed from something that happened on Total Divas, it's also good to see Paige around the title picture again.
-- The Miz, Mizdow and Alicia Fox beat the Usos and Naomi.
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