Sunday night, the Superstars of Raw hit the squared circle in Los Angele’s Staples Center for a WWE No Mercy pay-per-view event that had all of the potential to be one of the best presentations the company has produced in 2017.
While the overall quality of the show is up for debate, what is not is the fact that several Superstars emerged from the pack, standing out Sunday as undisputed winners or losers.
From industry icons to current champions and young upstarts, they are the men and women whose names were on the lips of WWE fans.
For better or worse.
Winner: John Cena
The franchise star rolled into the very same building in which he defeated John Bradshaw Layfield for the first of 16 WWE titles for a showdown with Roman Reigns. The match, arguably the most anticipated on the card, was a legitimate WrestleMania-worthy main event that had inexplicably landed in the lap of a B-level broadcast.
Understanding the gravity of the match and more importantly the significance of putting Reigns over as strongly as possible, Cena did what he tends to do when the time is right: he made his opponent look damn good.
While the timing of the match was off, the structure called into question, there was no denying the fact that Cena put Reigns over as strongly as he possibly could.
Four of his finishers could not keep The Big Dog down. Cena, on the other hand, fell to what was a pretty routine Superman Punch and spear, putting over the effect of Reigns’ signature stuff.
After the match, he initiated the ceremonial passing of the torch, showing respect to his opponent and offering a few unheard words of wisdom to Reigns.
Despite his reputation for beating other acts into the ground or being overprotected by WWE Creative, Cena once again solidified his reputation as one of the more giving main event acts of all-time, ensuring the future of the industry by clearing the way for Reigns to finally ascend to the top of the business.
If you thought Bayley struggled to get over with a snarkier, more cynical WWE fan base before she was injured, coming back and eating a pinfall via Alexa Bliss DDT will not make it easier.
The silver lining in the nonsensical booking decision?
The seeds were planted for a feud between her and on-screen friend Sasha Banks as the NXT alumni took turns breaking up each other’s pinfall attempts.
Still, the idea that Bayley made this magical comeback in her hometown Monday, then was booked to take the pinfall clean and in the center of the squared circle, to a heel nonetheless, is simply mindblowing. How is she ever supposed to get over with the masses, including her harshest of critics, when she is booked as weakly as consistently as she is?
The only obvious answer? She’s not.
Posting a video in which Bayley shrugs the loss off and adopts a “well, there’s always next time” mentality will do her no favors.
The misuse of NXT’s surest thing continues.
Winner: Nia Jax
If Bayley was the biggest loser from Sunday’s Fatal 5-Way, Nia Jax was its biggest winner.
Her theme song kicks off with the words, “I’m not like most girls” and never more was it apparent Sunday night.
Jax was a beautiful badass, intent on running over the competition and claiming her first women’s title. She did just that, at least the first part.
The cousin of former WWE champion and Hollywood icon The Rock dominated the action, obliterating anyone unfortunate enough to be in her way. So much so that noted rivals Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks set aside their differences to try and wear her down.
It did not work.
Jax answered with an incredible feat of strength that saw her drop her opponents with a double Samoan Drop. Eventually, the only way to keep her out of the deciding fall was to first engage in a quadruple powerbomb that landed Jax on her head and shoulder at ringside.
When that did not work, she was sent shoulder-first into the ring post and to the arena floor.
It was in defeat, and during Bliss’ post-match promo, that the enormity of Jax’s performance set it.
Not only did fans in Los Angeles legitimately want to see her emerge with the women’s title, they were eager to watch the seething get her hands on the conniving, braggadocios Bliss as soon as humanly possible.
Analysts even took to Twitter to praise Jax’s efforts during the bout.
Kris Zellner @KrisZellner
Nia was clearly the star of that match……her best performance
Scott Fishman @smFISHMAN
This match has been a spotlight for Nia Jax. She definitely isn’t like most girls. #WWE #WWENoMercy
WWE Creative, whether or purpose or not, has created a competitor in Jax fans are buying into and want to see succeed. The time has come for her to ascend to the top of the division and the evil Bliss to get what is coming to her.
Loser: Jason Jordan
Between the ropes, Jordan looked like a championship wrestler. He demonstrated the abilities necessary to succeed in an industry more and more predicated on athleticism. Unfortunately, the significance of a developed character and natural charisma have not diminished to the point that they are not absolutely necessary for sustainable growth and success.
Sunday night, the lack of that charisma and character development was obvious as Jordan rolled to the ring and cut a painfully awkward and boring promo just moments after his loss to intercontinental champion The Miz.
The fans in Los Angeles booed Jordan and rightfully so.
There is a very real disconnect between management and fans as to what the audience is willing to accept today.
Pushing Jordan based on the fact that he is Kurt Angle’s biological son is not it.
More so than ever, audiences want to see the men and women they perceive to have worked for everything they received succeed. They do not want Superstars crammed down their throats inorganically. Jordan, without the star aura of Reigns, the frenetic energy of Dean Ambrose or the numerous accomplishments of AJ Styles is not going to walk on screen as the long-lost son of a Hall of Famer and instantly get over.
It does not work that way.
Sunday night, the fans in Los Angeles let management, WWE Creative and Jordan himself know loud and clear.
A slingshot to the turnbuckle cost Cesaro his two front teeth Sunday night.
Bloodied, most likely in considerable pain, he remained in the Raw Tag Team Championship match, working alongside Sheamus in a concentrated effort to dethrone Ambrose and Seth Rollins at the top of the division. Even in defeat, The Swiss Superman’s efforts did more to elevate the significance of the titles than outright winning would have.
Cesaro’s face was caked with the blood that poured from the gap where his two front teeth used to be, he continued to fight for the right to be called “champion.” He threw the same stiff offense, showed the same incredible athleticism and took the same risks he always does.
He lived up to the “Swiss Cyborg” nickname the commentary team has been desperate to get over of late and established himself as one of the toughest athletes on the roster.
After all, this writer is damn sure he would have been on his way to see Isaac Yankem, DDS before he ever thought of finishing the match Sunday night.