Things were looking rough for WWE after last night’s SummerSlam PPV. Leading up to the event it looked like we were in for something special. A lot of matches and a lot of young talent signaled a changing of the guard and some great surprises. As the night arrived and rolled on though, there wasn’t much to feel other than disappointment. SummerSlam, in almost every way, failed to live up to the hype. It was a sluggish, baffling show, resulting in an obvious question: could Raw and SmackDown Live do the necessary recovery work and find that pre-PPV momentum again?
For Raw, the answer is a resounding yes. This week’s show is everything SummerSlam should have been: electric, urgent, surprising, and packed with solid wrestling. Sure, there are some of the usual slips and the occasional dull segment, but for the most part this is a shockingly compelling three hours. The show starts by addressing the main event scene and the Universal Championship, and there’s a lot of good storytelling shaping up there, but let’s save that for later, and start by analyzing how Raw tries to correct the mistakes from SummerSlam.
Hit the trumpets!
Correcting mistakes comes in the form of just hitting the refresh button on a lot of feuds, and there’s really no better way to do that than introduce a variable into the mix. So, when Angle comes out to announce a “surprise” and introduces John Cena to Monday Night Raw, you can feel the atmosphere shift. The addition of Cena changes everything, and that’s before the segment truly goes off the rails in compelling fashion.
In other words, Cena’s presence is enough to shake up Raw, but the men who come out to confront him adds a lot more to the story. First it’s Roman Reigns, who Cena says he was looking for. Then it’s The Miz, who goes off and cuts one of the best promos in recent memory—which, I know, describes nearly every Miz promo—asking Cena and Reigns how many moments and shots they need while getting heated talking about being an Intercontinental Champion that’s relegated to the SummerSlam kickoff show. Then, after Cena challenges Miz to a tag match, Joe comes out to be Miz’s partner.
It’s chaotic, but it’s wonderful. Everyone in that ring has a reason to be there. Cena is there to confront Reigns, and Reigns is there to defend “his yard.” Miz is there because he’s genuinely being looked over despite carrying a prestigious championship on his shoulder, and Joe is there to make a statement, to show that not only does he have Reigns’ number, he’s ready to knock Cena’s teeth out too. WWE is setting up all sorts of storylines with some of their top guys, and that’s exactly what you want. Now if only the Brooklyn crowd could behave long enough to enjoy those same four guys putting on one hell of a main event.
Big Cass goes down hard
As good as the main event scene on Raw is, there’s still some filler that needs to be dealt with. Take Cass and Enzo for instance. There doesn’t seem to be any clear plan for those two, and the result is weeks and weeks of the same promos and same matches. This week Enzo and Cass face off in a Brooklyn Street Fight, but no stipulation can change the fact that the storytelling is stale at this point. Every single match drives home two points: that Cass is angry and doesn’t care about Enzo anymore, and that Enzo has heart and will keep fighting no matter what. Matches are storytelling tools used to progress feuds and tell us something about the story we’re watching play out, and right now Enzo vs. Cass is just repeating the same narrative beats over and over again.
Seriously, give Emma a chance
Similarly, it seems like we’re waiting for the Women’s division to get a little more complex. The division is in a curious place because Raw is telling a number of stories with the roster which is great, and yet they seem so isolated from each other. Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks remain in each other’s orbit, all while Emma is squashed by Nia Jax earlier in the night. What ever happened to Nia’s title shot that she demanded from Bliss? And what about pushing Emma as a serious contender? There are a number of piece here that can be used to strengthen the Raw Women’s division, and yet the show seems perfectly happy running the same old stuff out there each and every week. It’s not bad per se, but WWE is leaving a lot of intriguing possibilities on the table.
Patience with Finn Balor will pay off
Speaking of possibilities and opportunities, a match between Jason Jordan and Finn Balor this week is easily the best those guys have looked in awhile. The match is a win-win for both, as Jordan gets to look like a guy starting put all the piece together, and Finn gets the benefit of wrestling someone who’s more of a wrestler than a character. Balor has been stuck in feuds with character-based guys ever since his return, so it’s nice to see him showing off his in-ring abilities in a competitive wrestling match. All of this is to say that WWE seems to be taking the slowburn approach with Balor and any potential babyface title chase, and I think that’s the right call. He needs more time to show what he has to offer, and he needs some more time to get the crowd to connect with what he’s doing. If executed properly though, he could become THE guy by the next Wrestlemania…along with Braun Strowman, of course.
Braun Strowman is, without a doubt, a star
All of this is to say that, after an underwhelming SummerSlam, Raw really starts to put things together tonight, hitting the reset button and finding ways to reenergize a potentially stale roster. We get a number of fresh matchups—who knew The Hardys and Ambrose and Rollins would put on a damn good tag team match?—quite a few killer promos, and more importantly, Raw cements Braun Strowman as the next big thing. Not only does he definitively lay out Universal Champion Brock Lesnar in the opening segment, he also gets a title shot at No Mercy in a few weeks.
More than just a chance to see two beefy monsters throw down, the Strowman-Lesnar feud is brimming with nuanced storytelling. Heyman is out here talking about how unfair it was for Lesnar to be in a Fatal Fourway for his championship, and yet all the evidence suggests that the match worked to his advantage. You see, what Heyman doesn’t get into is that while the Fatal Fourway didn’t favour the champ in terms of the odds, it did keep Strowman away from Lesnar in a one-on-one setting. The SummerSlam main event proved that Strowman can take down The Beast like no one before him, and the only reason he didn’t win the title was because two other guys were there to get in the way.
Now, Strowman doesn’t have anyone standing between him and Lesnar, and that must terrify Heyman. Just look at how easily Strowman puts Lesnar down in that opening segment. This is how you build not only a compelling championship story, but also a legitimate star to carry your main event for the foreseeable future.
- Enzo is a much better sincere promo than he is a jokey promo.
- I could do without Michael Cole repeating everything that Emma and Nia Jax said in their promo literally moments before their match. We’re not that forgetful, Cole!
- Miz is the MVP of the night. He deserved a better crowd than the one he got.
- Cedric Alexander’s Lumbar Check never, ever gets old. (Editor’s Note: It’s still my favorite finisher in WWE.)
- How good do those titles look on Ambrose and Rollins? Welcome back, boys.
Enzo defeated Cass due to injury (Brooklyn Street Fight); Nia Jax defeated Emma; Elias defeated R-Truth; Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, Gran Metalik, and Mustafa Ali defeated Tony Nese, Noam Dar, Arya Daivari, and Drew Gulak; Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins defeated The Hardys; Finn Balor defeated Jason Jordan; Roman Reigns and John Cena defeated The Miz and Samoa Joe.
What did you think of the post-SummerSlam Raw? Let us know in the comments below!
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