From the moment general manager Kurt Angle announced that the main event cage match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman would swing the fate of Sunday's TLC main event, there was a clear sense that something would come up. Angle said that if Reigns defeated Strowman, the match at TLC would become a three-on-three bout with Strowman taken out of the equation. However, if Strowman won, the match would become a five-on-three.
Making his second appearance of the night, interrupting Miz TV, Angle banned everyone else in the match from ringside, which didn't stick as Sheamus, Cesaro, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose brawled all over the arena, only for Miz to lock the chaotic fracas out of the building once it spilled backstage.
Knowing The Miz and the unlikelihood of him trying to fight fair, the bread crumbs were laid for a mysterious fifth man to take the stage and turn the result of the match against The Shield.
After Curtis Axel walked himself into a three-on-one beating and got hung upside down from a forklift for his troubles, and Miz insisted Axel wasn't going to be the fifth man no matter his status, the wheels started to turn in everyone's heads. The popular theory centered around Samoa Joe, who has been out with an injury of late, or perhaps Bo Dallas would come back from his mysterious, yet unexplained absence, though that seemed unlikely.
- WWE (@WWE) October 17, 2017
And then the answer hit like a ton of bricks. At the tail end of the match -- another great, physical effort from Reigns and Strowman that featured Strowman superplexing Reigns while his legs started out draped over the top of the cage -- the lights went out and a familiar tone of organ music filled Portland, Oregon's Moda Center. Everything turned red, and Kane popped out from under the ring.
Two chokeslams, a running powerslam, a jumping Tombstone piledriver and one final powerslam -- a devastating combination from Strowman and Kane -- was too much for even Reigns to overcome. Kane earned the Miz-helmed team a fifth member and quickly claimed that role, making an impressive return ten-and-a-half months after last appearing in a WWE ring.
While on the surface Kane's return seemed a bit puzzling beyond the awesome shock of the moment, there's plenty tying Kane to The Shield and its various members. At TLC five years ago, Kane was part of a team that featured Daniel Bryan and Ryback that lost to The Shield in the latter's debut match. Kane was both partnered with and opposed by Seth Rollins during the peak of The Authority's reign of terror, and stood in full opposition to Reigns and Dean Ambrose in that period.
But Kane's ultimate source of motivation, or so it seems, would be Reigns' destruction of his brother, The Undertaker, during what appeared to be Taker's last hurrah at WrestleMania back in April. While we don't have time to get through such an explanation before Sunday, Kane tips the balances in Sunday's TLC main event in such a way as to make either potential outcome of the match make sense. Either The Shield will once again overcome the odds, with Kane just as likely as anyone outside of Strowman to take the fall, or The Shield will suffer a setback and potentially lay the ground work for a return match at Survivor Series.
All of the chaos in the closing moments took some of the attention away from what was a thrilling opening to Raw. As Angle opened the show, he was quickly interrupted by a phrase all too familiar blaring from the arena's speakers -- "Sierra. Hotel. India. Echo. Lima. Delta. The Shield."
With their old music playing, Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins returned to an all-too-familiar position in the crowd, all decked out in black vests and pants, and walked slowly down to the ring. Fans in the arena and worldwide lost their collective minds, if only for a moment.
They all said their piece, briefly drew Miz, Strowman, Cesaro, Sheamus and Axel out, and the tension for the night was set. The Shield was put on their heels by the end of the night, but the story to come should be all the better for it.
Hits and misses
-- There are other things to digest from this edition of Raw, but first and foremost the slow-moving, ongoing trainwreck that is Bray Wyatt/Sister Abigail versus Finn Balor/The Demon simply cannot be ignored any longer. From editing the sound from last week's Wyatt promo from a semi-creepy, synthesized sound to Wyatt's own high-pitched impression of a female voice was a downgrade on an already rocky premise, and then there's Balor's in-ring promo in response. Clunky jump-cuts from Balor's promo to a pre-recorded image of Balor done up in face and body paint -- cheesy orange-and-black, Halloween-themed rather than Balor's traditional red-and-black, on top of it all -- only served to plunge this rivalry further into the depths of incomprehensibility.
I hope Sunday is more psychotic rage than kitschy horror, a la Wyatt's WrestleMania match with Randy Orton, but any positive that can come out of this match will be a welcome change of pace. These guys are too talented to get so far bogged down in such a strange way.
-- Rollins & Ambrose successfully defended the Raw tag team titles against Sheamus and Cesaro in another solid outing for all involved. "The Bar" in particular seems to be getting more in tune with one another by the week, as the match featured some creative double team spots and several moments that built upon the foundation of their instant classic at No Mercy.
-- Enzo Amore seemingly paid off a mob featuring Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Tony Nese and Drew Gulak to ambush Kalisto in the ring. Mustafa Ali tried to come to his aid and got equally punished. Amore's ability to sway the opinions of the mob, who over the last few weeks have felt his rage and verbal abuse as much as anyone else in the cruiserweight division, was essentially unaddressed on TV -- another lapse in writing that could have been cured with a single line of dialogue. At least this time, Cole and Graves pointed out the plot hole on commentary, and there are ways of fixing that in the future.
There's still no further word on Neville, who has been absent over the last two weeks of Raw and 205 Live and the subject of rampant rumor and unconfirmed speculation during that time. The division, and WWE, would be far worse off without him. A second cruiserweight match featured Cedric Alexander landing a sick-looking lumbar check on Jack Gallagher to pick up the victory, with Rich Swann and Brian Kendrick scrapping on the outside during the tail end of the contest.
-- TLC will now have three women's matches, after a match between Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox and a subsequent backstage scuffle. That will take place as part of the Kickoff show, in addition to the already scheduled debut of Asuka against Emma and the Raw women's championship match between Alexa Bliss and Mickie James.
James partnered with Bayley and picked up a pinfall victory over Bliss and Emma in a tag team match on Raw.
-- Elias got some "good brothers" to help out with his vocals, as Karl Anderson dug into a mean rendition of the Honky Tonk Man's "Cool, Cocky, Bad." That's as good as it would get on the night, as Anderson once again took the fall in a match against Titus O'Neil, Apollo Crews and Jason Jordan. Crews picked up the win with his spinning powerbomb, and Jordan may have found himself a future home as part of "Titus Worldwide."