As is often the case with WWE’s go-home shows leading into a PPV, and especially if the PPV on the docket is one of the Big Four, there are two different versions of Raw this week. On the one hand, you have a number of stories reaching a boiling point; a few scores are somewhat settled as “Summerslam comes early,” and others are brought to the point of no return.
A number of bouts scheduled for Sunday have that big fight feel, and it’s a credit to Raw‘s stellar storytelling as of late. Then there’s the other side of a Raw go-home show; it’s the one that feels the need to catch up with every single feud, whether the narrative beats are necessary or not. In other words, this week’s Raw fluctuates in quality, and the result is a fair amount of whiplash.
The Shield, Forever and Always
The whiplash doesn’t start until the second hour though because Raw gets off to a real hot start. A lengthy video package recapping the struggles facing Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose as they try to find common ground and work together as a team sets the table for a nearly 20-minute opening segment that finally sees the Shield brothers reunite and fist bump.
WWE briefly runs the risk of dragging out the moment, but as the two finally put their fists together and the Boston crowd erupts in YES chants, it’s hard not to feel emotional, and that’s because of the patient, focused storytelling. WWE isn’t normally one for nuance, but the re-connection of Ambrose and Rollins has been full of it. Raw has been using their shared and divisive history to truly explore themes of friendship, love, honour, and betrayal, and that makes the payoff all the more satisfying; it actually hits you right in the feels.
Raw keeps the momentum going after that by rolling out Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax to determine who will face Alexa Bliss for her Raw Women’s Championship at SummerSlam. The match itself is great, and WWE finally pulls the trigger on a win for The Boss. Banks and Jax have really good chemistry; Banks can sell the hell out of Nia’s offense, and Nia makes for a formidable opponent that accentuates Sasha’s underdog in-ring style. It’s not often that you get that out of Sasha, but it works so well here. The only question though is this: why not make this the main event?
WWE had yet another chance to deliver a huge moment, giving Sasha the big win in her hometown to cap off the third hour, and yet they’re slotted halfway through the first. It’s the typical WWE mistake, choosing to play to a TV audience rather than the live crowd. I certainly understand why the main event is a bunch of beefy dudes staring at each other intensely, and it damn sure works, but it also serves as an example of how WWE can miss an easy layup. The final segment with Joe, Lesnar, Reigns, and Strowman would have worked at the top of either hour, whereas the match between Sasha Banks and Nia Jax could have benefited from the main event slot.
From there Raw really finds itself struggling to define what makes a good go-home show. The theme of the night is that SummerSlam is coming early, so Kurt Angle throws together a few matches that are supposed to take place on Sunday. Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor throw down, but it’s hardly satisfying. Firstly, Raw hasn’t given us any reason to care about Finn Balor since he’s come back from injury, and secondly, this is the same old feud that Bray Wyatt always finds himself in. There’s nothing new here, and that’s especially true when Angle immediately gives Balor a rematch against Wyatt at, you guessed it, SummerSlam. But hey, at least we’ll get The Demon.
Tozawa gets his moment
While running the Wyatt-Balor match early doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—there’s been ample opportunity to give Balor a reason to summon the demon on Sunday—the Cruiserweights benefit from the move away from SummerSlam. WWE is running a rematch on Sunday, but it’s hardly necessary; Tozawa and Neville put on a show this week.
Tozawa is one of the most likeable babyfaces WWE has put near the Cruiserweight Championship, and his win tonight feels well earned. Placed on this show, where the crowd is super into seeing a title change, rather than sticking it on the SummerSlam preshow or on the main card that’s stuffed with significant matches, gives Tozawa and Neville the moment they deserve. Both have done a lot to make another shoddy bit of Cruiserweight storytelling work, and it’s wonderful to see the crowd on its feet when Tozawa climbs the top rope and hits his finisher to win the title.
Lesnar, Strowman, Reigns, and Joe
All that’s really left then is to talk about Sunday’s huge main event (and no, we’re not talking about Jinder Mahal). The build has been a strange one: on the one hand there’s been way too much interaction for my liking, with a number of matches taking place between all the competitors (minus Brock of course) in recent weeks. Typically, that kills any sort of intrigue for the match itself.
Here though, it doesn’t seem to matter. These four guys are such monumental characters, such massive presences in the ring, that there’s nothing stopping Sunday’s match from feeling like one of the biggest, baddest main events SummerSlam has ever seen. All we can do now is wait, and prepare for a collision that promises to be brutal and unpredictable. You really can’t ask for much else.
- There’s some serious editing going on to make sure Roman’s face doesn’t appear in the episode’s opening Shield video package.
- That Ambrose-Rollins segment to start the show is a perfect example of how leaning on real history creates something special. It’s far too often that WWE is hesitant to acknowledge its past and use it to tell a meaningful story in the here and now.
- “The Intercontinental Champion would like to speak to you.” I wish I had Bo Dallas at my disposal to alert all my editors when I need to run an idea by them.
- Emma’s simmering frustration, coupled with a loss to Mickie “oh yeah, she’s on the roster” James is certainly intriguing, but I can’t help feeling like we’ve been down this road many times with her. Just pull the trigger already and give her a mean streak and a meaningful story!
- Nobody gives a damn about Big Cass. Nobody gives a damn about whether Big Show beats him or not. Gallows and Anderson helping Big Cass evokes nothing but a literal shrug. This whole thing is DOA.
- I love that Elias Samson’s (first?) WWE shirt is designed like a band’s tour merch. It’s beautiful, and as a bonus it probably makes Corey Graves so mad.
- The Hardys doing everything they can to give Jason Jordan that veteran babyface rub, but I’m not sure it’s working. Raw hasn’t given us any reason to be invested in Jordan’s story. That generic theme music certainly doesn’t help either.
Sasha Banks defeated Nia Jax (will face Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship at SummerSlam); Akira Tozawa defeated Neville (Cruiserweight Championship match); Mickie James defeated Emma; Jason Jordan defeated The Miz via DQ; The Hardy Boyz and Jason Jordan defeated The Miz, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel.
What did you think of the final Raw before SummerSlam? Let us know in the comments below!
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