The return of John Cena was heavily hyped up by World Wrestling Entertainment for the last month. Cena’s been the “face of WWE” for the past 11 years, so his return to action after five months on the sidelines was a big deal. What wasn’t expected was a confrontation with AJ Styles, leading to Cena getting attacked and laying on his back as the seeds of WWE’s bigger summer feuds were planted on this Memorial Day edition of Raw.
Give WWE credit for putting Cena’s return at the perfect time of the show because it took place at 10 p.m. ET, at the top of hour three. That was around the time when Game 7 of the Golden State Warriors-Oklahoma City Thunder NBA Western Conference Finals was at halftime. A lot of people likely flipped over to Raw at that point and if they didn’t, they missed an amazing segment.
Cena did a promo about being grateful for military personnel because he’s always been a strong supporter of them. It was Memorial Day, so it was very fitting for him to do a speech like that. He transitioned to talking about WWE’s “New Era,” while saying that if anybody wanted to prove themselves, they had to go through him. It was clearly building to somebody confronting him and Styles was a nice surprise.
When Styles got in the ring with Cena, the crowd was going wild. Both guys did a great job of milking the reaction by just staring at each other, as well as at the crowd. There were chants of “AJ Styles” and “Let’s Go Cena” for over a minute, which is pretty rare. It showed that Styles belonged in the same ring as Cena, while the crowd thought this was a big deal — which it was.
Styles told Cena he respected him and extended his hand for a shake. Cena shook it. The crowd thought it was great. Then AJ’s “former” buddies Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson showed up to say they were there to kick ass, rather than kiss ass like AJ does. It was last week on Raw when Styles told Gallows & Anderson that he didn’t need them and they appeared to be angry about it.
It looked like Cena was going to fight them with Styles, but then Styles turned to Cena and nailed him with a punch! It was a shocking turn that most people didn’t see coming. I certainly didn’t think that was going to happen because I bought the Styles split with Gallows & Anderson. Instead, Gallows & Anderson went into the ring to join Styles in beating up Cena. They really didn’t do a lot of damage other than kicks and punches (Styles pounded away on Cena four different times), but it was the message sent that told the story. The crowd booed “The Club” for their actions, so it’s fair to say the heel turn worked perfectly.
Is it the right move? I think so, because WWE really needs top heels. It’s why Seth Rollins returned in the heel role last week too. Styles is a guy who has always been an excellent babyface wrestler just because of his style (no pun intended) in the ring as a high flyer that can have a great match with anybody. I think with Gallows & Anderson by his side, he should do really well as a heel.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) May 31, 2016
While there is the brand extension draft that might happen on July 11, I think WWE is looking at getting three matches out of this feud. If they do it at Money in the Bank on June 19, then Battleground on July 24 and SummerSlam on August 21, they could have three major matches with a major show like SummerSlam having their blow-off match.
There’s already a concern from some fans that Styles is going to get “buried” in this feud. I think fans overuse the term “buried” way too much, although I can understand why some feel that way. He was defeated by Chris Jericho at WrestleMania to lose that feud. Then he lost twice to Roman Reigns. If he has those three matches with Cena, it’s probably going to lead to Cena winning two out of three like he did against Rusev, Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens in the last two years. I don’t think Styles will be hurt by feuding with Cena. Just being in the ring with WWE’s top guy is a big deal for Styles. I’m happy he’s in that spot. Styles should win the feud to really elevate him. It doesn’t mean that he will.
— AJStyles.Org (@AJStylesOrg) May 31, 2016
Cena vs. Styles can be one of WWE’s best feuds this year. It’s funny how Styles comes across as the new guy when they are both 39 years old this year. But that’s just how it is because he has spent the majority of his career outside of WWE. That “new” feeling which exists with this feud is what WWE is going for. If you listened to the crowd during Raw, you could tell that what they did was a huge success.
That was one of the best heel turns on WWE programming in a long time. Great job by Styles, Cena, Gallows & Anderson in pulling it off.
This Week’s Raw Matches
Here’s a rundown of this week’s matches on Raw with quick notes on each. It was a poor episode of Raw in terms of the matches, aside from the main event.
The New Day defeated The Vaudevillains by disqualification
They were building to a decent match here, but then Gallows & Anderson attacked all three New Day guys. It sets up the obvious New Day vs. Gallows & Anderson feud. There could be a title change coming, because Gallows & Anderson have a lot of momentum right now. Putting the tag titles on them would help.
The Usos defeated Tyler Breeze & Fandango
A two-minute match to put The Usos over a new team. After the loss, Breeze & Fandango argued with Goldust & R-Truth. That led to Goldust and Truth beating them up. All of it is leading to another Golden Truth vs. Breezango match. Should we care when we just saw Breezango lose in two minutes? Nope.
Rusev defeated Zack Ryder
Another short match, this time with Rusev winning with the Accolade submission. After the match, Titus O’Neil stepped up for America to challenge Rusev for a fight. Rusev was punched out of the ring. This is probably leading to a US Title match that will see Rusev retaining, because I doubt WWE thinks that highly of O’Neil to put a title on him.
Enzo Amore & Big Cass defeated The Dudley Boyz
They got about 10 minutes with the Enzo & Cass team getting the clean win. Good timing for this match because the crowd was dead for that first hour, but Enzo does such a great job with his energetic promos that the people were into it.
Dana Brooke defeated Natalya
Hey look, it’s another short match! Way too many of them this week. Natalya was the dumb babyface distracted by Charlotte on the apron, leading to Brooke hitting a sloppy-looking finisher to win. Post-match, Becky Lynch made the save. WWE loves booking women faces to look like idiots leading to tag team women’s feuds. They did it with the Bellas so many times.
Baron Corbin defeated Dolph Ziggler by disqualification
There was no match here as Ziggler looked like he wanted to have a “technical wrestling match” complete with amateur wrestling headgear. Then he just kicked Corbin in the groin for payback for what Corbin did to him at Extreme Rules eight days earlier. The ref called for the disqualification immediately. This never-ending feud is still going on.
Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn & Cesaro defeated Kevin Owens, Alberto Del Rio & Chris Jericho
This was the longest and by far the best match on the show. They got nearly 20 minutes. These are six of the best in-ring performers in WWE, so it’s no surprise that the match was great. Some fun moments included the crowd chanting “stupid idiot” at Jericho since he says it all the time. He was funny reacting to it in an over-the-top way. Ambrose was kept out of the majority of the match until he received the hot tag, everybody was hitting signature moves and Ambrose finished off Owens with the Dirty Deeds for the win.
Three Other Key Items From Raw
1. Last week WWE set up the Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins match for the WWE Title at Money in the Bank. It left the fans wanting more. This week, WWE let us down by doing a segment where Rollins didn’t say a single thing, didn’t get into the ring to confront Reigns and really didn’t do anything that would be considered interesting.
All they really had to do was have them brawl around the ring a bit, have referees break it up and once again leave us wanting more. Instead, Reigns still hasn’t got his revenge on Rollins since being hit with a Pedigree after Extreme Rules eight days earlier.
Does WWE forget that they should want us to be excited about this match? Let them brawl. Roman should make us believe that he wants to destroy this guy. Yet every time Rollins is close to him, Reigns just stays in the ring and does nothing. We want to cheer for guys that fight, not have staredowns. It’s a fundamental booking error that continues to hurt WWE programming as it pertains to Reigns.
2. The opening segment on Raw was pretty bad. Shane McMahon and sister Stephanie were in the ring talking about the brand extension and live Smackdown that were announced last week, but they didn’t offer up any new information or insight into what WWE might be doing. The New Day came out to push certain ideas like the possibility of the team being split up.
The problem is, we don’t know if there’s going to be a draft or when it might be. The rumor is it might be July 11 in Detroit (a show I might attend). Why not announce it here? Get people excited. It’s over a month away, but they should still give us more information about this big announcement that they hyped up heavily.
A lot of people tuned into Raw hoping for some encouraging news about the brand extension. Instead, they were met with no answers as WWE did a poor job of following up what should have been a big moment.
3. This isn’t storyline-related, but there was a commercial that aired during Raw that showed former WCW and WWE World Champion Bill Goldberg emerging from some sort of hatch. It was a way to advertise him for the WWE 2K17 video game that will be released this October.
There was a brief moment in the video where you could see the words “Suplex City” suggesting something with Brock Lesnar, who Goldberg beat in a memorably bad match at WrestleMania 20. That night was also the last match Goldberg had in WWE in 2004. It probably doesn’t mean anything at this point because the deal for Goldberg was done by 2K Games and it’s just their way of creating buzz.
In the past few years, 2K signed Ultimate Warrior and Sting to video game deals. Soon after that, both of them returned to the company as well as eventual Hall of Fame inductions. Could that happen for Goldberg too? It’s very possible because he has talked openly about how he had his son after his wrestling career was over, so he may want to get back into a WWE ring to let his son see what Daddy could do.
Whether you like Goldberg or not, he was a huge name during the Monday Night Wars on the WCW side and is still in great shape at 49 years old. It wouldn’t shock me to see him in a WWE ring again at some point within the next year. If he’s willing to be in the video game after all this time, they could work out some sort of deal to get him in the ring one more time. A future Hall of Fame induction is likely too.
Looking Ahead To Money in the Bank
The WWE Money in the Bank event takes place on Sunday, June 19 in Las Vegas. Here’s what we know so far.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio and possibly one other person.
The reason I put “possibly one other person” is because last week, WWE said there would be seven guys in that match. This week, they didn’t mention it at all. It’s WWE, so who knows what they are doing.
Based on events from Raw, I think other matches on the show could be Styles vs. Cena, New Day defending the Tag Team Titles against Gallows & Anderson, and Rusev defending the United States Title against Titus O’Neal.
They still need to add more matches, but there are two more weeks on Raw to go.
There were really only two highlights of the show, with Styles turning on Cena and the excellent main event tag match. The rest of it was pretty forgettable while reminding us that three-hour episodes of Raw are tough to sit through sometimes.