It’s nearly impossible for Monday Night Raw to deliver a compelling show from top to bottom. The format just doesn’t allow that kind of consistent success. From the lengthy runtime to the need to push a certain corporate narrative, there’s always something standing in the way of Raw being a truly great watch, even when it’s mostly delivering the goods. That’s the case with the show this week. What starts out as a hot show filled with heated segments and some damn good wrestling eventually succumbs to the format’s inherent issues, buckling in its second hour and then stumbling toward a violent finish.
Cena and Reigns are at it again
The key to understanding what makes Raw successful this week is contained within the show’s first half hour. It’s a simple setup: an opening video package recaps the fiery promo between John Cena and Roman Reigns from last week, which is followed by Cena facing off against Jason Jordan to start the show, which is then followed by Roman Reigns coming out and getting in Cena’s face.
On the surface that’s not exactly a remarkable way to start the show, but it works because for once WWE shows some semblance of connecting the dots with a story, drawing in other players, past actions, and current anger to create something that gives the first half hour a gripping and nuanced structure. WWE sets up a clear narrative and follows through.
The opening video package reminds us of where Cena and Reigns stand. The match between Jordan and Cena not only does wonders for getting Jordan over, it also serves as a storytelling piece to be used later. So then, when Reigns comes out, he has fuel for his promo. He can lambast Cena for not handily beating a rookie in a matter of minutes, and start to run down the 16-time champ for being soft and full of himself. On top of all that, the performance from Jordan acts as a launching point for Cena’s barbs, as he tells Reigns that he respects guys like Jordan who show up and hustle for their spot, and that he has no respect for someone like Reigns, a guy who just expects it to be handed to him.
That’s incredibly effective storytelling, moving a lot of different angles forward while giving a little shine to each performer involved.
The Miz vs. Jeff Hardy is a good placeholder
Raw keeps that momentum going throughout the first hour. Rhyno and Slater vs. Cesaro and Sheamus acts as a fun, brief transition match, leading into Jeff Hardy vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship. Much like Cena vs. Jordan, it’s a fresh matchup, and sometimes that’s enough to keep things interesting. Plus, the match itself is actually a solid contest, with Hardy really giving The Miz a run for his money. Considering neither guy is doing much right now, there’s nothing wrong with throwing them in a competitive match. It’s what WWE should be doing with the Intercontinental Championship anyway.
Can we exorcise the Balor-Wyatt feud?
Essentially, Raw puts together a solid first hour or so by delivering fresh feuds while also paying attention to the motivations of its characters. Unfortunately, the show does go down hill from there, as much of the rest of Raw feels like a lesson in patience until the monstrous main event gets underway. So, we get another six-man cruiserweight tag match, and while it’s intriguing to see Enzo heeling it up a bit, it’s not enough to make the Purple segment any more interesting than usual.
Similarly, Balor and Wyatt continue to tread water in their feud, talking about demons and sins and such; you know, all the same stuff that they covered leading into SummerSlam. Even Rollins and Ambrose can’t ignite a spark in the show’s sluggish back half, as the tag division continues to feel like a rudderless ship. There are tag teams in the ring and around the championship scene, but there’s no reason to be invested in what they’re doing.
The Women’s Division gets a sense of direction
Still, Raw makes it through that section to find some inspiration near the end of the show. Firstly, there’s a tag team match that sees Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks forced to team up against Nia Jax and Emma. The stipulation is that if Nia and Emma win, they’ll be added to the Women’s Championship match at No Mercy, making it a Fatal Fourway. That adds some stakes to what could otherwise be a throwaway match, and what’s more encouraging is seeing the match follow through with the storytelling.
Much like that opening segment, there are multiple stories influencing the direction of the match. There’s the obvious tension between the tag team partners on both sides, but there’s also more subtle touches, like Bliss and Banks knowing that cooperation is in their best interest, or like Emma stealing the pin because, more than anything, she’s here to make her own mark at all costs. She’s sick of being overlooked and now she’s doing something about it. All of those details combine to form something that gives the division a sense of direction for the first time in awhile.
No cage can contain Braun Strowman
Then, of course, there’s Braun Strowman. Is there anything that man can’t do? This week he goes toe-to-toe with Big Show inside a steel cage, and while I was worried we’d run out of fresh ways to deliver this match, both Strowman and Big Show prove me wrong. Their match is long, brutal, and beautifully paced. The match builds from a slower start to each big man getting more desperate to finish the other off. That sends Big Show to the top rope for an incredible elbow drop, but it’s not enough. Braun does what he does, finding his strength and putting down the Big Show, perhaps permanently, as he throws him through the steel cage after the match.
The goal of this match? To once again make Braun Strowman look like the guy who can actually beat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship. The Strowman train just keeps on running, and I can’t wait for it to pull into Suplex City.
- Jason Jordan’s entrance music is better, but it’s still not quite there.
- That said, it’s hard to care about his music while he’s doing roll-through Northern Lights suplexes. Good lord.
- Both John Cena and Roman Reigns look like they’re absolutely sick of each other. The facial expressions are adding a lot to this feud.
- Somebody tell Roman Reigns, and a few others on the roster, that the gay jokes should be left on the WWE Network archive.
- I am so sick of Enzo, but I did enjoy him telling Tony Nese that he was just some dude who “lost his job at Chippendales.”
- A question for everyone: is there a way to make Bray Wyatt interesting again? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
John Cena defeated Jason Jordan; Cesaro and Sheamus defeated Rhyno and Heath Slater; The Miz (c) defeated Jeff Hardy (Intercontinental Championship match); Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander, and Gran Metalik defeated Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, and Noam Dar; Nia Jax and Emma defeated Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss; Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins defeated Gallows and Anderson; Braun Strowman defeated Big Show (Steel Cage match).
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