Look, Monday Night Raw is a long show. It’s the kind of show that seems to actively balk against the idea of weekly analysis. There’s so much to cover that it can be nearly impossible to focus in on the relevant threads and give them the attention they deserve. When Raw is really firing on all cylinders, there’s a lot to talk about. With that said, there’s no problem distilling this week’s Raw, and really much of the show in the last few months, to one single, beautiful story, and it’ll be the main focus of this whole review: the rise of Braun Strowman.
Braun Strowman, a superstar among men
What’s been rather remarkable about Raw in recent months, and in the establishing of Braun Strowman as an unbeatable monster in WWE, is how many different pieces are being used. This isn’t just the story of one guy making a run for the title. Rather, it’s a story of historical parallels, aging superstars, and multiple storyline threads that converge to make Strowman’s ascent all the more meaningful and exciting.
Consider that for two straight weeks a combination of John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Jason Jordan has kicked off the show. Strowman is nowhere in sight, and yet each of the opening segments ultimately tie into his story. It doesn’t happen often, but WWE is interweaving multiple storylines here. I can’t underscore how incredible it really is. So, Jordan once again gets a good showing against a top star—I hope those back-to-back Northern Lights Suplexes end up being his finisher—while Reigns and Cena get another excuse to be in the ring trading “worked shoot” insults.
Reigns gets better on the mic
Roman’s the best he’s been on the mic this week. He brings the truth when he says that Cena, usually the one getting challenged by dudes looking to make a name for themselves, came to Raw to call out Roman, a sign that his name and influence is fading and he knows it. Of course, Cena comes right back with a barb about Reigns’ failed drug test, so let’s call this one even. No matter how you call it, the feud isn’t exactly moving forward, but it is doing enough to keep the intrigue high. Reigns vs. Cena is sold at this point, so anything else on Raw is just gravy.
That said, the true benefit of keeping these segments and matches going is in deepening No Mercy‘s other huge match: Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman for the Universal Championship. There’s connections, shared themes, and historical parallels everywhere, and it’s making the impending Strowman-Lesnar match feel even bigger than when it was announced.
Shades of Brock Lesnar in 2002
The various connections and parallels become clear when Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar make their way to the ring at the top of the second hour. Heyman says that for the first time since his client faced The Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXX, the odds aren’t with Lesnar. He’s the underdog in this match because Strowman has been on a path of destruction. What’s fascinating about it all is that Lesnar rose to prominence in a similar way in 2002. He beat the bloody hell out of Hulk Hogan on his way to winning the WWE Championship from The Rock at SummerSlam. Then he ran through Big Show as well before Heyman turned on him and screwed him out of the title.
Now, in 2017, Brock is the aging but still dominant star who’s going up against the monster making a name for himself. Now Strowman is the man running through Big Show, and putting in incredible performances against the era’s top stars (Cena and Reigns specifically) on his way to a championship opportunity.
Man in the mirror
Lesnar sees himself in Strowman, and that terrifies him. When he delivers a German Suplex to Braun, and Strowman just gets right back up, you can see it in his eyes. He sees the strength, determination, and sheer brutality that he used to pride himself on. Now Lesnar has to face off against one man he maybe can’t beat, one man who embodies everything Lesnar was when he started in WWE.
That’s a theme that’s coursing through Cena vs. Reigns as well. Cena is still at the top of his game, but there’s no doubt that Reigns is moving in on his territory. Hell, Reigns essentially got the one spot that was primed for Cena’s taking: retiring The Undertaker. So, much like Lesnar, Cena is grappling with the idea of being replaced, of losing a step and coming up against a younger, maybe even more accomplished version of himself. WWE is tying together all of this in a way that benefits everybody, and it has No Mercy feeling like a really big deal. For once, Michael Cole is justified in yammering on about how these matches are “WrestleMania worthy.”
Some other things happened too
What’s that, there was more to Raw than Cena, Reigns, Strowman, and Lesnar? To be honest, not really. This was a solid show, but everything outside of the main event scene suffered by comparison. The Miz and Enzo Amore had a surprisingly heated and compelling segment, hitting on their similarities in being unlikable while also tearing each other down for being opportunists and soft wrestlers, which was better than it had any right to be. There was also a silent backstage appearance from Dean Malenko, the tease for a future Asuka appearance, and another performance from Elias. But really, Raw knows where its strengths lie right now, and it’s capitalizing on them by telling intricate, stirring, engaging stories that draw on personal feelings and WWE’s own history. That in itself makes No Mercy a must-see PPV. Now, we wait to see how they deliver with the go-home show next week.
- The commercial breaks tonight contributed to Raw feeling more like a TV drama. Two prominent examples: cutting to commercial when Cena said he was about to confront Reigns, and when Nia Jax came out during Emma and Sasha Banks’ match.
- You know it’s football season when Lesnar makes an appearance at the top of the second hour, and Cena vs. Strowman starts the third.
- The Miz and Maryse getting a genuine, heartfelt pop for their pregnancy announcement was great. As was Miz’s, “unlike Kurt Angle, I will be there for our child from day one.”
- That video package recapping last week’s Steel Cage Match between Strowman and Big Show had some real Attitude Era vibes.
- Corey Graves: “Match contracts with Braun Strowman should come with a free epitaph.”
- Cena coming with the perfect Roman Reigns impression tonight. “Keep it to one sentence, like, It’s my yard, or, believe that.”
- Kurt Angle tells Ambrose and Rollins that he can’t put his champs into a precarious position before No Mercy, but he’s out here throwing Strowman into cages against Big Show and then putting him up against the 16-time champ in Cena. C’mon, Kurt.
- Neville just laughing at Enzo is all of us.
- Corey Graves asked Michael Cole what was wrong with Matt Hardy, who has seemed a bit fractured as of late, and Cole gave the only proper response. “What isn’t wrong with Matt?”
Roman Reigns defeated Jason Jordan; Sasha Banks defeated Emma; Bray Wyatt defeated Goldust; Elias defeated Kalisto; John Cena defeated Braun Strowman via DQ; Enzo Amore defeated The Miz via DQ; Ambrose, Rollins, and the Hardys defeated Gallows, Anderson, Cesaro, and Sheamus.
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