At its very core, Monday Night Raw is a variety show. It’s a variety show built around wrestling and competition. So, while the wrestling itself is the reason so many of us watch, and there’s few things better than a classic match to pay off a heated feud, Raw plays by different rules. The weekly WWE shows aren’t going to look like independent shows in your hometown, or regularly scheduled shows like the Progress chapters. Raw and SmackDown Live need to accomplish something different every week. Raw in particular has to be a number of different shows all at once; a three-hour runtime will do that.
Essentially, Raw can certainly get by on wrestling alone—all hail our Kingslayer, Seth Rollins, in the gauntlet match—but to really succeed it needs to be a number of shows at the same time. You need the highly contested battle, the squash, the comedy segment, the stories of friendships falling apart, teams finding their groove, and underdogs overcoming the obstacles. I’m not about to make excuses for the worst tendencies of Raw, but when you start to think of the show in this way, and what’s involved with making an episode of Raw, you come to understand why every week can be such a crapshoot in terms of quality. Throwing that many ideas at the wall means at least some aren’t going to land.
Roman Reigns hates The Authority
I say all of this as a way to approach the first hour and fifteen minutes of Raw. That whole stretch is essentially made up of two storylines. The first is the ever-evolving story of Roman Reigns vs. The Authority, and the second is the midcard feud between Sami Zayn and Bobby Lashley. Dedicating that much time to two stories is a bold move, and in so much as both segments boast different tones and purposes, it’s not a bad idea. The thing is, the execution is all off, but for very different reasons, so let’s pick this apart.
The Roman Reigns portion of the first hour and a bit doesn’t really work overall, but it’s the kind of idea that looks good on paper. If we break down the story, and leave out the names, you can see why Raw would lead with this segment. There’s the return of a vindictive commissioner looking to make her mark, a babyface superstar looking to get out from under the thumb of that commissioner and her husband, a match with the Authority’s hand picked, conniving heel, followed by said babyface being saved by his brother in arms. That’s a great story to tell, if two of those pieces aren’t Roman Reigns and Jinder Mahal. With them, and Stephanie McMahon, included, the story doesn’t hit the beats it needs to because the reactions to those characters don’t align with what the story needs from them.
The Bobby Lashley experiment hits rock bottom
Then, there’s a segment that we should never speak of after today. It involves Sami Zayn interviewing Bobby Lashley’s “sisters” in the ring. Those sisters, because this is WWE, are just men in drag, and what follows is every bit as atrocious as you can imagine. In fact, I’m not even going to recap what happened, because everything you’re imagining is probably true. It’s an unfunny, obnoxious, vaguely transphobic segment that doesn’t do anything for anybody. Sami is trying to heel it up as much as possible, but this is all DOA. Lashley has failed to connect since coming back to WWE, and this whole smiling, relatable schtick isn’t working.
The joy of the B-Team
The rest of the night has its moments, and that’s largely because of the variety show idea I mentioned above. After a pretty dull first half, Raw rolls out the rest of its varied segments, and it’s pretty standard hit-and-miss fare. There’s the B-Team getting another win and rolling with their undefeated streak, which includes Curtis Axel humping the announce table in a truly glorious celebration. There’s the requisite midcard feud match between Baron Corbin and No Way Jose that’s, you know, fine. There’s finally another appearance from Ronda Rousey, in a contract signing that’s about what you’d expect; a predictable stepping stone to a match that should be interesting despite the lack of a true heel.
Then there’s everything involving Money in the Bank, which amounts to a qualifying match and two “previews” of what we’ll see at the June 17 PPV. Natalya earns her way into the women’s ladder match when, shockingly (note the heavy dose of sarcasm), Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan, and Dana Brooke can’t get it done. Alexa Bliss and Ember Moon lock up in singles competition, a match that gives Ember Moon a welcome, convincing win. Then there’s Finn Balor vs. Braun Strowman, which may not be imbued with any stakes, but at least tells the David vs. Goliath story it sets out to tell, and proves that you can create a compelling match through nothing more than solid in-ring storytelling. Like I said, Raw is a variety show, and that means there’s a lot of hits and misses. Unfortunately, this week’s show is largely defined by the misses.
- Can we somehow get winning streaks for both the B-Team and Breezango?
- The end of the Rollins tag match features a great callback to his Intercontinental Championship match with Kevin Owens. It comes at the end of the match, as Owens avoids the Blackout on instinct, learning from the last match, only to have Rollins turn around and go for it again, connecting this time while Owens is still dazed. It’s beautiful.
- Roman Reigns vs. Jinder Mahal is confirmed for Chicago. I am so excited.
- Steph tells Braun Strowman and Finn Balor that they can’t get a tag match for the evening because they’re not a tag team, because that is a totally real rule in WWE.
Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens (via DQ); Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens and Jinder Mahal; Ember Moon defeated Alexa Bliss; Baron Corbin defeated No Way Jose; The B-Team defeated Breezango; Dolph Ziggler defeated Chad Gable; Natalya defeated Sarah Logan, Liv Morgan, and Dana Brooke (Money in the Bank qualifier); Elias defeated Bobby Roode; Braun Strowman defeated Finn Balor.
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