Monday Night Raw has been on a roll lately. Despite SmackDown Live boasting some serious storytelling opportunities coming out of Survivor Series, it was looking like the Red brand would be the one leading the charge into the Royal Rumble with the most interesting feuds. The reformation of The Shield has invigorated Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose. Samoa Joe and The Bar have, unsurprisingly, proven to be the exact foes they need to create something that feels monumental. Moving down the card, Absolution offered up a welcome change of pace in the women's division, the cruiserweights were suddenly getting substantial time to tell stories, and the shifting nature of Jason Jordan's character arc provided some intrigue to a character that'd been flailing.
The year of Kane fatigue
But after setting up a number of feuds nicely with the last few shows, this week's episode struggles to keep the momentum going. The end to last week's show in many ways acts as a premonition for this week's events. As Kane and Braun Strowman battled—a word that's probably too generous when it comes to what actually went down—to a double countout, the feeling was pure deflation. As Raw begins this week, with Kane and Strowman making their claims to the Universal title, that deflating feeling sets in yet again.
The opening segment is rather representative of the show; good intentions derailed by familiarity and, quite frankly, a complete lack of anything fresh or exciting. I mean, in the first ten minutes of the show Kurt Angle teases an announcement for Lesnar at the Rumble, mentions Lesnar is in the building, a mention that subsequently ruins the potential surprise of Heyman coming out moments later, only to then shift to Kurt announcing the predicted Triple Threat for the Rumble followed by Lesnar struggling to give Kane an impactful F-5. Normally I appreciate an expedient segment, but this is a mess. WWE could have told a number of interesting stories with the Universal Championship. There's no reason to not run with Lesnar vs. Strowman. Instead, we're getting Kane inserted into the mix for no real reason—other than, if we want to be pessimistic/realistic, giving Strowman an excuse to not win at the Rumble—and the crowd reaction to the segment tells you everything you need to know. This is a shameful main event feud for 2017/2018.
Raw essentially takes that opening ten minutes and repeats the spirit of it for the next three hours. There's seriously no momentum to this week's shows; rather, it's nothing but isolated segments that don't amount to much of anything. This is the type of show you can watch 40 minutes of and understand exactly how the rest will play out. What’s worse is that there's not even any of the good wrestling that's anchored the last few shows. It doesn't help that Roman Reigns isn't there to deliver the show's centerpiece match where he goes for 25 minutes with a worthy opponent.
The very definition of "filler"
Instead, we get a number of matches that are basically slight variations on matches we've either seen last week, or plenty of times in previous weeks. In the last two weeks Finn Balor has pinned both Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas, so this week he's put into a handicap match against both of them. Seth Rollins wrestles Jason Jordan after the latter once again demands that he get yet another opportunity. Then there's the show peddling the idea that Absolution will be teaming up in a tag match the first time, though they're really just adding one extra team member from last week's match.
At least a Women's Royal Rumble is on the way
In essence, this show is a near-carbon copy of last week's show, and it's difficult to ignore. There are certainly some moments that manage to shine through, like Hideo Itami showing up to help his buddy Finn Balor, which also serves as a nod to NXT. There's Elias continuing to be the wonderful midcard presence he is. There's Drew Gulak losing to Cedric Alexander and further complicating his relationship with Enzo Amore. Of course, there's also the return of The Revival, a more than welcome addition to Raw's rather stagnant tag team division. On top of all that there's the announcement that WWE will be running its first ever Women's Royal Rumble match. Considering the talent in both divisions, that's a decision that makes a lot of sense.
But those moments get lost in the mix. There's really no other way to put it. This week's Raw is a sluggish, unfocused show. By this time next week, when Raw is airing live during on Christmas day for some absurd reason, we'll be struggling to remember anything meaningful from this week. We'll remember the Women's Royal Rumble announcement, but the rest is just white noise. This is the very definition of a filler episode, and it doesn't make for compelling television.
- Michael Cole keeps saying that Finn Balor is an "extraordinary man that can do extra ordinary things." What?!?!? Does he not know what the word "extraordinary" means? What a stupid line to trot out week after week.
- Seth Rollins desperately needs a new finisher.
- I'm genuinely surprised that Drew Gulak didn't win his match against Cedric Alexander, but there's still a lot of potential in the story of him growing apart from Enzo.
- I really thought Gallows and Anderson were going to help out Balor, but I guess Itami, the newest addition to 205 Live, is fine.
Seth Rollins defeated Jason Jordan; Finn Balor defeated Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas via DQ; Hideo Itami and Finn Balor defeated Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas; Cedric Alexander defeated Drew Gulak; Asuka defeated Alicia Fox; Samoa Joe and The Bar defeated Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Jason Jordan; The Revival defeated Heath Slater and Rhyno; Mickie James, Sasha Banks, and Bayley defeated Absolution via DQ.