There’s a moment about two hours into No Mercy where everything seems to be clicking. It’s not a specific segment or match or anything like that, but rather a subtle feeling that creeps in. You’re two hours into No Mercy and you suddenly find yourself thinking, “this is the best PPV of the year. Every match has been incredible, and the night’s two biggest matches are still to come.” It’s a thrilling feeling to realize you’ve been so wholly wrapped up in the event, especially considering the typical ebbs and flows that come with WWE’s PPVs. Those ebbs and flows make the first two hours of this show feel truly special; the crowd is energized, the matches are beautifully paced, and everything seems to be moving in the right direction. And then, things start to go off the rails, and before long, that feeling has vanished, and all we’re left with is a smirking Brock Lesnar and the sense that we’re a long way from anything truly changing for the better.
Bow down to The Miz
Before we get to all that negativity though, it’s necessary to highlight just how much of No Mercy exceeds expectations. In fact, the PPV itself runs contrary to the build; the best feuds on Raw didn’t really satisfy on Sunday, and the weekly feuds that seemed unimportant suddenly shined when given the spotlight. In other words, No Mercy is a strange beast, seemingly flipping all expectations on their heads, for better and worse.
If you’re looking to start your PPV off right though, you can’t really go wrong with The Miz. Not only does he light up the kickoff show by getting in everyone’s face and underlining his importance to WWE, he then comes out to thunderous applause from the Los Angeles crowd. It’s the first sign of the night that the crowd is ready to be into this PPV, and that trend continues until a certain Big Dog reclaims his yard.
Before then though, The Miz and Jason Jordan put on a great opening match. Like many of the matches tonight, the success comes from the pacing and the in-ring storytelling. Jordan, being the relative rookie and the guy with the most to prove, comes out focused and aggressive early, staying on top of The Miz and never letting him get a moment to recover. He follows him to the outside and picks him up after every move, refusing to let The Miz breathe. Eventually, though, the numbers catch up with Jordan and Curtis Axel helps The Miz get a sneaky win. This isn’t mind-blowing storytelling, but it’s effective. Jordan looks like a legit contender in the loss, and you have a reason to continue running with a feud that’s just starting to find its legs.
Balor’s stock continues to rise
Bray Wyatt vs. Finn Balor succeeds for similar reasons. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone longing for more Balor-Wyatt matches, but this one at least finds a way to clarify their feud. Again, the way the match is laid out, and all the attention to detail, makes all the difference. Take Balor getting jumped before the match for instance. It’s a typical heel move from Wyatt, but it’s important because it immediately establishes that this is Balor and not The Demon. The Demon would have never let Wyatt get the jump on him. From there, the two tell the story of Balor working his way back into the match. For all the stagnation with both of these guys, I’d say this is the best they’ve looked in a while. Wyatt looks mean and intimidating, and Balor is slowly putting together a winning streak that could be useful for a bigger push down the road.
Finally, a tag team match to rival SmackDown Live
What’s interesting about the success of these matches is that they don’t really need any “big” moments to make an impact. There were no title changes outside of the Cruiserweight division, and yet it still feels like Raw is moving forward rather than reinforcing the status quo (at least until later on). So when Rollins and Ambrose retain their titles, it’s not a case of not knowing what to do next, but rather not messing with what’s working.
Raw‘s tag team division is certainly lacking, but there’s no denying that Rollins and Ambrose, along with Cesaro and Sheamus, have been putting in good work to make the tag titles matter. They do it again at No Mercy, with Cesaro even sacrificing a few teeth in the process. This is a match that’s on the level of the bouts New Day and The Usos are having over on SmackDown Live; each match feels like a natural progression of the feud. More importantly for No Mercy, this feels like a PPV match, with stakes and brutality to match. Both teams expertly play to the false finishes, making that final moment where Ambrose and Rollins isolate Sheamus all the more satisfying.
Nia Jax makes a statement
A similar story plays out within the Raw Women’s division. It’s a match that doesn’t exactly do much for the direction of the division—with no real story heading into the match it’s hard to come out of it with one, especially when the champ retains—but does put the talent on display and, more importantly, cements a new, integral piece of the division. This is Nia Jax’s match. She’s gone from pretty green in the ring to having a good showing at Wrestlemania, but this is her coming out party. It’s a glimpse into what she can do and what kind of presence she can bring to the division. From the incredible Double Samoan Drop to her refusing to go down until all four women contribute to a powerbomb to the outside, Jax looks like a force to be reckoned with.
Still, Bliss retains, and while part of me wishes the title changed hands in an effort to give the division some semblance of storytelling, there are enough moments here that point toward a brighter future. Bayley and Sasha’s friendship is starting to crumble, as they each break up the other’s attempt at a win; Nia looks like the woman who just needs a single one-on-one opportunity to win the championship; and Emma gets a few good spots in, though it still feels like she’s an afterthought when she should be so much more. All in all though, it’s not easy to follow up Cesaro sacrificing his teeth to the Wrestling Gods, but the five women in this match did more than enough to keep building the momentum that No Mercy establishes in its first two hours.
John Cena vs Roman Reigns is about…wrestling?
Then, after the women light it up, things start to go down hill. Like the superstars themselves, Roman Reigns vs. John Cena is bound to be a polarizing match. It’s at turns slow, dull, ridiculous, captivating, brutal, and exciting. It’s a confusing match on the surface, as it never quite seems to find its footing. But what if that’s kind of the point? In many ways, this match is about so much more than whether Reigns or Cena is the biggest star in WWE. The way the match plays out, it reads like a meta commentary on the art form itself, and on the role of performance that comes with the job.
What I mean is that Reigns and Cena—the latter more than the former—seem to be openly acknowledging the performance aspect of their match. Cena immediately listens to the crowd’s “you both suck” chants and feigns leaving, getting halfway up the ramp before Reigns brings him back to the ring. Then, Cena and Reigns each get thrown into the steel stairs, creating a mirror image of their specific style of pushing the stairs out of their way rather than taking the hit. On top of that, each superstar gives a little smile before hitting their signature move, as if winking at the crowd and saying “we know exactly how you will react, but this is what it means to be a massive WWE superstar.” Love it or hate it—and there’s certainly a case to be made either way—Cena and Reigns told a story about the performative nature of pro wrestling; all the super finishers and near falls contribute to that idea, and eventually, to the transcendence of it. It’s the performative nature of the art that makes it so damn compelling, that makes it feel larger than life. I wouldn’t say that Cena and Reigns put on a classic by any means, but I would say that they told a damn fine story given the short timeline allowed to build this into anything.
If Reigns vs. Cena didn’t do it for you, that was the moment everything started slipping. For me though, there’s a steep downturn in quality from Reigns vs. Cena (weirdly paced but also strangely compelling and fun) to the final two matches of the night.
The Certified G is the Certified Champ
Look, I think we all expected Enzo Amore vs. Neville to be a bit of a disaster, but I think there was hope that there’d be something to latch onto within that disaster, be it a Neville squash or some sort of character progression for Enzo. Neither of those things really happens tonight. There’s potential in Enzo getting the win after a low blow goes unseen by the ref, but it’s a moment of promise after a sluggish match where Enzo got manhandled at every turn. This is the kind of match that allows the next few matches to be interesting, but can’t stand on its own.
Then there’s the final match of the night, and it legitimately pains me to say that it’s been quite some time since I’ve been this disappointed in an outcome. Based on the way Raw built the match, Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar was shaping up to be nothing but destruction and mayhem. When the main event finally rolled around though, all we got was a more competitive Brock Lesnar match that was still very much a Brock Lesnar match.
I’m just truly baffled. What’s the goal here? What’s achieved by having Braun Strowman dominate Lesnar for the whole match, hit his finisher three times, and then get put down by a single, surprising F-5? Lesnar winning isn’t even the biggest disappointment because at this point we’re just used to the Universal Championship being held hostage. No, what’s most disappointing and egregious is that Strowman didn’t even get to look all that good in the loss. Yes, he took Lesnar further than anyone, but he still came up short and still got laid out by a single move. It’s beyond frustrating to see WWE kill Braun’s momentum in that way. But that’s the case with the night overall; what was looking good eventually came crashing down.
- To be clear, I don’t think Strowman is ruined by any means, or that the failure of the match lies at his feet. This felt like WWE refusing to pull the trigger on something very obvious, and instead sticking us with more of the same old, same old.
- I’d love for Neville to just leave the Cruiserweight division now. So much more he could do.
- Nia Jax is making her mark on the division just as Asuka is about to show up and run roughshod over everybody. Now, we impatiently wait for TLC.
- Cesaro locking in a crossface while blood pours out of his toothless mouth is quite the memorable image.
- Cena’s “goodbye” moment felt weird, mostly because we know he’s not leaving for good anytime soon.
The Miz (c) defeated Jason Jordan (Intercontinental Championship); Finn Balor defeated Bray Wyatt; Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) defeated Cesaro and Sheamus (Raw Tag Team Championship); Alexa Bliss (c) defeated Bayley, Sasha Banks, Nia Jax, and Emma (Raw Women’s Championship); Roman Reigns defeated John Cena; Enzo Amore defeated Neville (c) (Cruiserweight Championship); Brock Lesnar (c) defeated Braun Strowman (Universal Championship)
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