Earlier today, when WWE announced that John Cena and Roman Reigns would be locking up at No Mercy in just a few weeks, I was hesitant. Cena vs. Reigns is an undeniably huge match, and I was worried for two reasons: 1. Their match was happening at No Mercy and not at a more meaningful PPV, and 2. Didn’t their feud deserve a longer build? Those reservations (mostly) went out the window this week as Raw gave us every reason to want to see Cena vs. Reigns right now. But before we get to that absolutely incredible segment, there’s a whole lot more to deal with.
No rest for The Miz
This week’s Raw doesn’t quite hit the same highs as last week’s post-SummerSlam episode, but there’s at least one nice change in the presentation: the pacing feels different. That may not sound like much, but when you’re basically getting the same three-hour show every week, any slight change is worth noting. Here, that means that The Miz is already in the ring at the top of the show, interrupting Kurt Angle and going off about how the GM hasn’t been giving The Miz and the Intercontinental Championship the showcase it deserves.
Having Miz in the ring to start the show is a nice change, but things get better when Angle announces that the show is starting with a Battle Royal to determine who will face Miz for his title on next week’s Raw. Not only does that mean we get a Battle Royal right off the bat, it also means we get some sense of direction for The Miz, and added stakes to the opening match. It’s not often that the opening segment feels meaningful, but that’s the case here. On top of that, the winner is a legitimate surprise: after Bray Wyatt takes out the clear choice to win in Finn Balor, Jeff Hardy ends up snagging the opportunity from Jason Jordan.
What is WWE doing with Emma? And Enzo?
Much of the night is filled with these sorts of surprising choices. This Raw feels like it can go off the rails at any moment, and that’s both good and bad. It leads to some truly baffling moments, but also some memorable ones. For every horrible choice—seriously, why did WWE change Emma’s music?—there’s an inspired one, like Enzo actually proving himself in his first Cruiserweight match with Noam Dar. I can’t say I’m in any way invested in a title run from Enzo, but at least he had a good first showing in his new role.
The bottom line is that while much of Raw is rather chaotic in its presentation—and I mean that as a compliment, at least for this week—there’s some solid storytelling anchoring everything. Enzo’s brief ascendancy makes sense for the guy just entering the division and coming off a feud with a seven-footer. Emma getting a quick win helps her make her case to be featured more on the show. Rollins and Ambrose having singles matches with Cesaro and Sheamus allow their bad blood to continue boiling without immediately doing the stale “rematch clause” angle.
A Boss-worthy main event
Then, on top of all that, you have Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks battling for the Raw Women’s Championship. The match itself is a good one, but the storytelling is what really matters…and it’s hit or miss. On the one hand, it’s great that WWE is using Sasha’s inability to defend her title as a narrative piece. If they follow through with that and use it to fuel some anger and determination in Sasha, then the title constantly changing hands is worth it. Your title is only a storytelling piece, and it must be used to enhance a feud. It doesn’t do so automatically, just based on its presence, so having that cloud of failure hanging over her could really benefit Sasha’s character.
On the other hand, the post-match confrontation, where Nia Jax lays out Alexa Bliss, feels like it should have happened quite some time ago. Nia Jax has been bugging Bliss for a title shot for some time, and other than her loss at the end of a gauntlet match, her record is pretty much unblemished. She deserves that shot, and her history with Bliss is ripe for drama. It’s the story that made sense heading into SummerSlam, no matter how green you might think Nia is in the ring. It’s good that WWE is pulling the trigger now, but it also feels like it’s coming at a time where the impact and storytelling logic doesn’t have the same potential.
Cena and Reigns aren’t kidding around
While the Jax-Bliss feud has its holes and a certain amount of potential, the storytelling moment of the night has to go to the contract signing between Roman Reigns and John Cena. This is a feud that, as I mentioned above, I felt was being wasted on one of WWE’s throwaway PPVs. That doesn’t mean I thought the match would be bad, but rather that it’s importance didn’t exactly fit with No Mercy.
With all that said, this week’s promo segment sells the feud in every single way possible. There’s no doubt anymore. Reigns and Cena are about to tear the house down at No Mercy and, with any luck, well beyond that. The segment gets off to a rocky start with Cena being his goofy self from last week, but things quickly heat up once Reigns is in the ring.
Reigns brings the fire and tells Cena he’s not as big a deal as he thinks he is, and that despite all of Cena’s accomplishments, none can top what Reigns did: retiring the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Cena is quick to fire back that he’s no man past his prime with a busted hip, but rather a dude who’s still crazy hungry and ready for a fight. That alone is enough to sell the fight: Reigns’ one big, Cena-proof accomplishment going up against Cena’s pristine record is a something I want to see play out. But WWE doesn’t stop there. Oh no, there’s a hell of a lot more.
Before long Reigns is forgetting his lines and Cena is using that as an opportunity to truly lay into him. He chastises him for failing to cut a decent promo before telling him that the reason he’s still around is because “you can’t do your job.” It’s an insult that cuts deep, playing on the idea that Reigns can’t get over as a face while also toeing that line between being a definitive heel or face statement. Reigns comes back with some solid lines himself, talking about Cena burying talent and only showing up for the money, but he’s no match for Big Match John.
Whether Cena and Reigns were “shooting” during the segment doesn’t matter, and I personally couldn’t care less. All that matters is whether or not the barbs they were trading added something to their feud, and the answer to that is a resounding, Daniel Bryan-esque YES. What was only a special attraction match is now one imbued with personal stakes and a whole lot of WWE history driving the story forward. I’m all in, and you should be too.
- Pelvis Wesley is on the show! And Southpaw Regional Wrestling is now canon!
- Lots of good smaller moments in that Battle Royal, from Balor immediately going after Elias, to him then teaming up with Anderson and Gallows to take out Big Show.
- It’s certainly not a bad thing that all Brock Lesnar has to do to be intimidating again is utter the words “Suplex City, bitch.”
- I’m not big on picking apart the tactics used by heels and faces, but Rollins interfering in Dean’s match felt like too much of a heel move for me.
- John Cena called Roman Reigns a “corporate created John Cena bootleg” and I almost died and ascended to smark heaven.
- I don’t know why WWE chose to follow up the intense Cena-Reigns segment with them tagging together. A truly baffling choice.
Jeff Hardy won a Battle Royal to become the #1 Contender to the Intercontinental Championship; Enzo Amore defeated Noam Dar; Cesaro defeated Seth Rollins; Dean Ambrose defeated Sheamus; Emma defeated Mickie James; Roman Reigns and John Cena defeated Gallows and Anderson; Alexa Bliss defeated Sasha Banks (c) (Raw Women’s Championship match).
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