An old-school heel as the face of WWE's new era? That has a heck of a ring to it.
In one of the more shocking turns to an episode of Raw in recent years, WWE put the fans first on Monday with a swerve finish to the Fatal 4-way elimination match as Triple H emerged from the crowd to help Kevin Owens capture the vacant WWE Universal championship.
- Kevin Owens (@FightOwensFight) August 30, 2016
This wasn't just WWE doing the right thing for fans who have long endured frustrating (and predictable) booking at the highest level. This was the WWE doing it well, with a perfect execution of storytelling to set up the surprise finish.
One week after WWE fully embraced its future by putting its brand-new title around the waist of Finn Balor at SummerSlam, a serious shoulder injury to the former NXT champion provided the company a built-in excuse to return to business as usual.
The native of Quebec may have already established himself on the main roster over the last year as the company's top pure heel and a trusted source of comedy on the microphone, but there's a deeper element at play as to why his winning the title resonates so well with fans.
Though this might not fit the exact narrative of Daniel Bryan's impossible dream, it's not far off. Owens, 32, built a storied career as a favorite on the independent scene before finally achieving his dream with WWE. Now he has become the de facto face of the company by virtue of wearing its most prestigious title (and the one defended on its flagship show).
In many ways, Owens is also the perfect balance between where the WWE was last year and where it's going post-draft and brand split.
Over the past 12 months, the WWE spent too much time getting its booking team over as the most despised heels in the company, serving up one gratuitous Reigns push after another. But there seemed to be a figurative element at play to Triple H's appearance, and the pair of Pedigree finishers he landed on Reigns and Rollins in the no-disqualification main event.
Often seen as a shining creative light thanks to his work with NXT, here was Triple H taking it upon himself to prevent the two faces of where WWE was previously headed from going over again.
Regardless of the moment's true intention, it presented a powerful statement to behold, making Monday's Raw not just a great episode that will be remembered for years to come, but a possible turning point in the WWE's creative future.
As the telecast went off air, Owens stood in the ring with his new belt as the Houston fans serenaded him with a passionate cry of "You deserve it."
Owens certainly did. But considering the hours invested each week, so did the fans.
If this was a snapshot of the WWE's new era, consider it alive and well.
Hits and misses
• In hindsight, what seemed to be an odd moment of Rollins and Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon exchanging niceties and hugging backstage before the main event goes down as excellent foreshadowing for the double cross that would come.
• While it was no surprise that Big Cass was eliminated first in the Fatal 4-way main event, the big man held his own -- even though it was fair to question whether he was ready to compete in the match. Big Cass was the central figure of the match's first 10 minutes and sold well enough to elevate his stature simply by taking part. He also provided a memorable big boot to the face of Reigns, sending both over the top rope and onto the floor in a key early spot.
• Speaking of selling, it's hard to see Reigns double over in pain after absorbing a punch to the stomach while wearing a chest protector. Maybe it's just me.
• It's always nice when Paul Heyman drops by to remind us that he still cuts the best promo in the entire company. His back-and-forth with Stephanie McMahon was one of Monday's highlights, even if the tail end of the segment lacked the thunder of the start. Steph was no slouch herself, delivering a handful of gems including, "There is a storm coming, Paul Heyman, and it is coming your ugly way." She ad-libbed a response to the crowd's "ECW!" chants for Heyman by saying, "Thank you, thank you. I purchased ECW from Paul Heyman quite a long time ago. Thank you for that reminder."
• Hopefully Chris Jericho has no plans of stepping down from his full-time schedule any time soon. From creepily offering "the gift of Jericho" to Neville in a pre-match interview (complete with a "Drink it in mannnnnn!") to putting on an exciting opening match, Jericho -- at 45 -- is writing a memorable late chapter to his career. He might also prove to be the perfect foil for Neville, an incredible in-ring performer who has yet to find the same swagger on the main roster that he carried in NXT. A meaningful feud with the likes of Jericho could be the secret to getting Neville over as more than just a daredevil.
• Having evolved from their early days as heels into the marketable babyface machine they are today, it was nice to see The New Day pull off a traditional "bad guy" move so well on Monday. Borrowing from Demolition's famous stomp in the corner during their mixed six-man tag alongside Bayley, The New Day implemented a quick-tagging system of putting the boots to Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson that both Ax and Smash would be proud of.
• Sometimes it's the little things in pro wrestling that leave the largest impact. Credit WWE women's champion Charlotte with executing a perfect heel stare from the announcer's booth while Bayley danced in the ring with The New Day after their win. It there was ever an ice-cold glare that said far more than any promo could have, this was it.
• Cesaro's best-of-seven series with Sheamus has produced a pair of strong (and stiff) matches to kick things off. But something is still missing. Without a tangible prize or stipulation at stake for the winner -- outside of the "future title opportunity" that was mentioned in passing on Monday -- it's difficult for fans to get behind a feud they weren't too keen on from the beginning. With Cesaro down 0-2 in the series and selling what appears to be a legitimate back injury, it's hard to tell whether setting him up for an epic comeback will be enough to save it.
• No one is under the illusion that Raw and SmackDown Live aren't owned by the same company. But openly promoting the Sept. 11 Backlash pay-per-view (the first branded event for SmackDown) on the main video screen inside the arena at Raw on Monday failed to provide any illusion that the two brands are actually in competition with each other.
Move of the night
For as maligned as Reigns' Superman punch often is, he delivered a pair of stellar ones that played a major part in the main event. None was more spectacular than the leaping punch he landed on Rollins, who had jumped off the top rope in hopes of landing a knee and was met in midair by Reigns.
Line of the night
"The good news is I don't think Americana was conscious to see the end of this or the disrespect that followed." -- Raw commentator Corey Graves on Braun Strowman's unmasking of Americo, after his lopsided win in their squash match.