Sting’s first appearance on WWE Raw was extremely simple. He did not come down from the rafters. He did not show up with a baseball bat and clear The Authority out of the ring. He didn’t even make contact with any of his adversaries. Sting merely appeared backstage and walked onto the entrance ramp to frighten The Authority enough for John Cena to pull off a win that earned Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, and Erick Rowan their jobs back.
It was the simplicity of the appearance that made it so effective- there is no guesswork about Sting’s motivations or alliances. Sting has a problem with The Authority’s abuse of power and Monday was the second time he put that abuse of power in check. As tempting as it can be for any creative person to leave their mark on a story, Sting’s brief involvement in WWE has been brilliant in how it has not reinvented the wheel. Sting was at his zenith in WCW when he silently undermined the nWo. Two decades later, WWE is using that story’s fundamental elements and beautifully redeploying them.
It is impressive that Sting dominated Raw with such a brief appearance, especially considering that it was one of the best Brock Lesnar shows in ages. Lesnar came to the ring at the start of the show and angrily ordered Seth Rollins to the ring to answer for his Curb Stomp a week earlier. HHH came to the ring to try to smooth things out, but Lesnar only wanted to fight him, as well. Not to be forgotten, Cena made his way to the ring and said that The Authority is the real problem and that he would marginalize them by winning the title at the Royal Rumble. HHH responded by creating a poll on the WWE App- fans would have the opportunity to vote for whether Cena would wrestle a mystery opponent with the jobs of his three fired friends and his Rumble title shot on the line.
Naturally, the motion passed with overwhelming support. Cena’s mystery opponent turned out to be Seth Rollins, Kane, and the Big Show, who overwhelmed him for an extended period at the start of their match. When Cena finally hit Rollins with an AA, Kane pulled him out of the ring to break up the cover and Big Show speared him. As Rollins set up for an opportunistic Curb Stomp, Sting appeared on the screen. He walked out to the ramp and the distraction allowed Cena to do a schoolboy rollup on Rollins to get the win.
An irate HHH stood on the announce table and yelled for Sting to come back to face his punishment. Instead, Lesnar’s music hit and he angrily stalked toward the ring. He went straight for Rollins- both in retaliation for the Curb Stomp and his failure to remove Cena from the Rumble main event. He gave F5s to Kane and Big Show, but only got in a few shots on Rollins before he ran away.
The three-way tension between Lesnar, Cena, and Rollins is working extremely well. There is tension between each permutation of the three wrestlers and Rollins makes the program fresh. Lesnar has shown a ton of personality and has been much more of a tweener in the last couple of weeks. Even if Lesnar is more villainous than Cena, Rollins is the true heel of the trio right now. Lesnar has been so compelling in the role that I wonder whether he and Rollins might be the two to headline Wrestlemania.
That main event is distinct from the Sting-HHH animosity, but it is connected in a way that enhances both programs. Sting has an investment in the title match, which forces fans to wonder whether he will show up. On the other hand, his burgeoning rivalry with HHH has a strong foundation. Once again, it is a simple feud with a fairly predictable trajectory from here to Wrestlemania. Since the storytelling has been so effective, that simplicity is a great virtue.
Match of the Night – Bray Wyatt def. Daniel Bryan
I started out the match confused and disappointed that WWE somehow didn’t make Bryan a new shirt for his big return, but the match helped swing that impression in a more positive direction. Kane came to ringside early to observe Bryan before their match on Smackdown. Wyatt took control of the match inside and out of the ring with a variety of attacks to Bryan’s neck. He hit a huge lariat that flipped Bryan upside down. Bryan finally put together a rally with a series of kicks and a hurricanrana. When it looked like Bryan had the match going in his favor, Kane pulled Bryan off of the apron while the ref’s back was turned. The turn in momentum allowed Wyatt to slam Bryan into the turnbuckle and hit Sister Abigail to win.
The match was solid, but the little flourishes made it great. Wyatt’s facial expressions and mannerisms made him look like a truly vicious heel. The Dallas fans were loud and fully engaged in the match. Even the result made sense. Wyatt needs to keep winning to make his victories over Dean Ambrose meaningful. One loss will not doom Bryan, especially when it came through cheap means.
Missing the Mark – Rusev def. R-Truth
Truth said that every American wrestler will target Rusev at the Royal Rumble. The warning did not mean much as Rusev trounced Truth in a match that didn’t even make it to the one-minute mark. Rusev and Ryback had sparks between them when they faced off. It finally took Rusev in a direction other than the same patriotic feud he has repeated so many times. I do not believe I was alone in my excitement to see Rusev do something new and different. When Ryback was fired as part of the Authority storyline, Rusev took several steps back. It was a mistake by WWE to write Ryback out of the Rusev storyline without a backup plan.
Developing Story – Big Show Crashes the Legends Panel
Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, and Ric Flair got off to a good start putting over the importance of the Royal Rumble match. After they made their picks (Michaels- Bray Wyatt, Hogan- Daniel Bryan, Flair- Dean Ambrose), Big Show came to the ring and yelled about how they do not respect him enough. Flair stepped up and delivered a couple of chops before Big Show knocked him out. Roman Reigns came to the ring, scuffled with Big Show, and chased him out of the ring and away.
While it’s a hard row to hoe, I respect the work Big Show has done to try to create some interest in his program with Reigns. If he remained on the brink of irrelevancy, a win by Reigns would have meant next to nothing. After a couple of effective promos and an attack on a beloved legend, he is headed in the right direction. It’s also worth noting that Reigns kept his mouth shut after a couple of memorably awful promos.
- WWE Prepares for the Royal Rumble
In addition to the various Rumble promos throughout the night, WWE ran its annual “Royal Rumble by the Numbers.” That segment gets me every year and I love to hear the updates that they add each year. It was no surprise that Roman Reigns’s 12 eliminations last year were the top story.
- Jey Uso def. The Miz
For the 73rd week in a row, one of the Usos wrestled one of the Mizes. It was hard to figure out why this match happened at all. Jey kicked Miz from the floor while he was hung up between the ropes and hit the Superfly Splash to end the match.
- A New Day def. Masters of the Universe
New Day changed things up by talking through their entrance. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd were as impressive as ever with a vertical suplex by Cesaro that Kidd aided with a cross-body from the top rope. They stayed in control with a swing into a dropkick. As good as they continue to look, they lost again when Kofi Kingston rolled Cesaro up into a pin. Also, Adam Rose was there.
Divas Division Update – Paige and Natalya def. Summer Rae and Alicia Fox
Summer caught Natalya with a powerful spin kick and Alicia added a Northern Lights Suplex. Paige reversed the course of the match with a couple of clotheslines and superkicks. She finally made Alicia tap out to the PTO with the Bella Twins looking on from ringside. It is surprising that Paige and Natalya will face the Bellas in a tag match at the Royal Rumble without the Divas Title on the line. Still, I don’t mind anything that undermines a predictable routine.
- The Ascension Continues Its Assault on the Past
The Ascension interrupted an nWo reunion featuring Kevn Nash, Scott Hall, and X-Pac. They tried to bait the veterans into a fight. Before things got physical, JBL stood up from the commentary table and brought Ron Simmons to the ring to join him. As the crowd went crazy, the New Age Outlaws’ music hit and Road Dogg and Billy Gunn also hit the ring. They ganged up on the Ascension and beat them until JBL finished the assault with a beautiful Clothesline from Hell. It is nice to see that the hatred for the Ascension on commentary went somewhere. The rub they got from this segment is worth far, far more than the damage of losing a 7-on-2 fight. They will also get a chance to prove themselves against the Outlaws in a match at the Rumble. What looked like a poor introduction until recently now looks like a great way for the Ascension to make a name for themselves.
- Dean Ambrose def. Bad News Barrett
Ambrose came out of the gates hot in spite of his storyline injury and recent losing skid. He hit a nice bulldog and followed it with his elbow drop to a standing Barrett- a move that impresses me every time I see it. When Barrett lifted Ambrose onto his shoulders for Wasteland, Ambrose slithered off and hit Dirty Deeds to get a clean pin.
I have no problem with Ambrose getting back on track, but I don’t like when the Intercontinental Champion loses so often. The real problem, as it was at the time, is that Barrett lost to Sin Cara for no reason. If Barrett had put together several wins since he took the Intercontinental Title, Ambrose’s win would have meant more and Barrett would also be stronger.