Dean Ambrose's return in the final moments of the final Monday Night Raw leading into SummerSlam elicited strong reactions. The live crowd lost it when the fully recovered, shaved-head and significantly more muscled Ambrose came out to serve as Seth Rollins' backup in his battle against Dolph Ziggler.
There was an equally enthusiastic reaction from a sizeable contingent of viewers at home, happy to see Ambrose for the first time on WWE TV in eight months. After a superkick from Rollins on Drew McIntyre, he fell right into the waiting arms of Ambrose -- who promptly hit a Dirty Deeds to send everyone home happy.
As is usually the case in this type of scenario, there was a rush to try to figure out the endgame from the moment Ambrose's music hit. Was the Ambrose reveal an explicit attempt to take him out of play for the SummerSlam main event between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar? Is Ambrose more likely to strengthen his bonds with Rollins and re-energize an anemic Raw tag-team division, or turn his back on Rollins and return the favor from years ago to reignite their bitter rivalry?
With that came complaints about how Ambrose should've gone back to SmackDown to pursue Samoa Joe for putting him out of action (despite Joe being embroiled in an entirely different rivalry). Or how Ambrose could've played a factor elsewhere or debuted in a handful of other windows that would've made for a bigger moment. In less than five minutes time, some WWE fans got so worked up that they completely missed out on the excitement of a great moment to wrap up Raw's path to SummerSlam.
Is it fair to be skeptical about long-term storytelling possibilities, given the current state of the WWE? Of course. But perhaps let's give it a few weeks to see which direction Ambrose is headed in. For now, all we know is that he'll play a crucial role in a Rollins-Ziggler intercontinental championship match that's certain to be one of the most entertaining contests on the card -- and more so now that Ambrose is involved.
Paul Heyman pulls the old switcheroo... or does he?
Over the last three weeks, Paul Heyman has taken the world of WWE on an emotional roller coaster of a journey. It started with a week of trying to do whatever it took to get Brock Lesnar out to the ring, and save his job in the process. Then Heyman, teary-eyed with a week's worth of stubble on his face, questioned every aspect of his relationship with Lesnar and still managed to promote how undefeatable Lesnar is at this stage and in the state of mind that he currently resides. But he left an out clause as he started to say "unless" before cutting short his interview with Renee Young.
That one word set the stage for a dramatic swing in the opposite direction on Monday night. As Reigns talked about how his central goal has always been to leave the WWE better than he found it, and how that would be impossible with Lesnar around, Heyman's voice cut through the moment. Clean-shaven and dressed up in a suit, Heyman wore a giant smile, complimented Reigns' cousins The Usos as the future of the WWE tag-team division and then buttered Reigns up with every compliment in the book.
A bemused Reigns allowed Heyman to go on, as Heyman went on an in-depth sales pitch about how he could reveal all of Lesnar's secrets and put Reigns over the top as the new champion. He offered his hand to Reigns multiple times, but Reigns predictably shut him down and brought up how he'd already be champion if it wasn't for Heyman's actions in Saudi Arabia. He then brought up his family, and how he was groomed and taught how to swim with sharks. More specifically, he was taught how to notice a shark that was drowning -- in this moment, Paul Heyman -- and how dangerous that could be.
For the second straight week, Heyman wielded a few of his greatest weapons to create a genuinely surprising and heartfelt moment. Heyman told Reigns of how he too had sat under the learning tree with Sika, Reigns' father, and Afa, Reigns' uncle, when Heyman was still a teenager. He spoke a key phrase in Samoan that caused Reigns to react in shock, handed Reigns what he claimed was a provisional agreement and told Reigns to give him an answer at SummerSlam.
Then Heyman pulled out a can of what appeared to be mace and doused Reigns in it. Lesnar, not advertised for the show, shocked a lot of people by coming out and engaging in two wave attacks that ended in an F-5. While some feel this was a waste of a perfectly good tease of tensions between Lesnar and Heyman for a cheap sneak-attack on Reigns and not enough gained, there are many layers to what happened that have to be parsed.
Heyman has everyone on their heels. Was this a well-coordinated, well-devised plan crafted simply to get into Reigns' head, as it appears on the surface? Did Heyman actually have tensions at some point in this process and regain Lesnar's trust and partnership through his actions? Or have we not yet seen the endgame of Heyman's plan, with something in the Samoan phrase Heyman spoke or the message written on the page handed to Reigns representing either the final part of Heyman's ultimate plan --- or his back-up option?
If Heyman, the character, has taught us one thing over the course of his lengthy career, it's that he almost always has his bases covered, and there's always something else brewing beneath the surface. With SummerSlam upon us, Heyman has injected serious energy and intrigue into a rivalry that many felt outlasted its shelf life. If the result of Sunday's main event is anything but a dreaded chorus of boos or apathy, there's a great chance that Heyman is one of the crucial reasons why.
Rousey takes out Bliss' entire security detail
After Alexa Bliss takes a cheap shot at Ronda Rousey, Bliss stands behind her security team and Rousey quickly dismantles them.
- Ronda Rousey has been hit-and-miss on the microphone thus far in her WWE career, to put it gently. Her ability to adapt to the in-ring element of performing has been exemplary, but taking her off the microphone and having her actions speak for her over the last few weeks was a smart and well-calculated decision. It was a big risk, then, to have her open the show with the task of addressing the tragic death of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and her relationship with his daughter, Natalya, and then transitioning into the ongoing WWE storylines without appearing too crass.
For all intents and purposes, Rousey threaded the needle. She started with a poignant speech about the importance of fathers and how they work their whole lives to make their children strong enough to carry the weight once they're gone, and then moved the action along. She announced Ember Moon as Alexa Bliss' new opponent, tossed a trio of male security guards and chased a fourth away, and stood menacingly on the outside of the ring throughout the match. As the match ended in a DQ, Rousey tossed Alicia Fox around with a trio of over-the-shoulder judo arm tosses after Fox disrupted what was almost certainly going to be a Moon win following an Eclipse on Bliss.
With her movie "Mile 22" set for release this weekend, and a real shot at her first WWE title reign, it's so far so good to start off Rousey's big week.
- Renee Young filled in for Jonathan Coachman on commentary and performed valiantly, with the vibe in the booth feeling altogether more relaxed and conversational instead of stiff and scripted. In the short-term, she'd be a great option to fill in for Coach the next time his other obligations take him elsewhere on a Monday night. In the long-term, Young has the potential to do big things on commentary.
- The triple threat match for the Raw tag team titles was really starting to pick up steam towards its finish, with a good pace and energy going. The Revival got to show off some of the best of what they can do in front of a hometown crowd, and even hit a Shatter Machine on Bray Wyatt before Curtis Axel tossed Scott Dawson out of the ring and onto Dash Wilder to steal the pinfall.
While that set up a SummerSlam Kickoff match for the Raw tag-team titles between The Revival and the B-Team, the biggest story coming out of Monday night may be the winding down of Matt Hardy's current run. He's been teasing such a move in a pronounced way on social media, citing pain and injury concerns, and a post shortly after Raw went off the air on Monday night brought the most outward of statements regarding the future of the "Deleters of Worlds".
There's always a chance that this could be a move geared toward subterfuge ahead of a dramatic storyline change, but if this was indeed another step toward the goodbye of Matt Hardy, it was quite a show that was put on for a North Carolina crowd by Hardy, someone who traces everything in his career back to his home state.
- Baron Corbin abused his power by making a pair of matches for himself and Finn Balor. Corbin took some time to put away Tyler Breeze, but he did so with a super-charged version of his Deep Six. He then tried to put Balor in a handicap match against Kevin Owens and Jinder Mahal, but Kurt Angle made it a tag match with Braun Strowman as Balor's partner. Strowman and Balor won, with Strowman catching Mahal in a powerslam, but as Strowman chased Owens backstage, Corbin got the last laugh by blindsiding Balor.
If there's one other takeaway from that match, it's credit to Strowman and Owens as they keep coming up with an endless number of ways to make the chase around the ring a little bit different every time.
- The three-match SummerSlam kickoff show lineup is official. It'll be the Raw tag title match between the B-Team and The Revival, a mixed tag-team match with Rusev & Lana vs. Andrade 'Cien' Almas and Zelina Vega and, predictably yet still a bit disappointingly, the cruiserweight title match between Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak.
- How far has Bobby Roode fallen? Over the last two years, Roode had tremendous weekends in Brooklyn as he took center stage with NXT. There was the first crazy "Glorious" entrance as he descended from the heavens, which set the tone for everything that followed, and then last year he closed the show in a tremendous NXT championship match with McIntyre.
On Monday, Roode found himself in a six-man tag-team match with no televised entrances, and though he got another pin on Mojo Rawley, it's hard to see a clear path forward without some kind of dramatic shift.