When WWE doesn't have any sort of storytelling hook for a given feud, or if it's already established everything it's needed to, there's one thing that they always return to: "momentum." The quotes are purposeful, because it's a largely meaningless term. It's one of those storytelling terms that WWE trots out a few weeks before a PPV, especially before a Big Four, in an effort to make their scripted drama feel more like sports, because WWE is nothing if not kind of insecure about what type of entertainment it offers. The idea is that, like sports teams, a wrestler going on a losing streak right before a big match is something to be avoided. You want to stack up the wins and build "momentum" so that you're feeling confident on the big stage.
That's a perfectly fine fictional storytelling tool, but it's also total nonsense when it comes to a weekly wrestling show. This week's episode of Raw is filled with matches and segments built around the idea of "momentum." All I have to do is type the word and you can hear Michael Cole breathlessly trying to convince us of its importance. Look, this isn't a knock on keeping kayfabe—on paper, the idea of wrestlers building momentum heading into a PPV is solid—but rather a criticism of WWE's lazy storytelling. This is rote, familiar stuff, and it infects so much of this week's episode. The WrestleMania card is absolutely stacked, but that doesn’t mean the weekly show is capturing the spirit of the PPV.
What is "momentum" anyways?
Essentially, Raw is leaning on the same angles, the same segments, and the same kayfabe talking points it always does. So, no matter how distinct and interesting the WrestleMania card might be, Raw is stuck looking familiar and complacent. Consider the first few segments and matches of the night, all of which use familiar tropes in ways that do little to add something to the stories being told.
The first segment of the night is essentially a continuation of last week's Brock Lesnar beatdown of Roman Reigns. This week though, Paul Heyman cuts a lengthy promo about Roman's inability to be "a man" and come take the Universal Championship. Look, the ensuing brawl is great, as Reigns makes his way through the crowd and does his best to deliver a few shots to Lesnar, but what's really left to say here? The story has been told, the stakes have been established, and all that's left is the vague sense that these two want to get their hands on each other. It's fine, and that's about it.
Doing a disservice to Nia Jax
The next two matches are much more indebted to familiar tropes. Nia Jax takes on Mickie James, and once again Michael Cole is going on about "momentum." He mentions, quite a few times, that if Nia loses this match she won't stand at chance at WrestleMania because she'll be emotionally ruined. Why? Why would that be true? Jax wants nothing more than to get her hands on Bliss, and as soon as she can she'll destroy her. Inserting this angle of "momentum" is counterproductive to the story, which is that Nia Jax is going to murder Alexa Bliss. It's ridiculous to portray her as weak, as someone who might not be able to handle the moment she's earned. That's not the character. The character is someone ready to kick some ass, who's livid that she was betrayed, not some cowering, helpless woman. This is Raw using an angle that it's just used to using, without any attention paid to whether it makes any sense.
That's followed by the typical "can these two opponents work together?" angle, where Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander compete in a tag team match and we're all supposed to wonder about some potential bad blood boiling over. Again, this is an angle that's done just for the sake of it, because it's what WWE is used to doing. Alexander and Ali have been each other's biggest fans in this division since the day it began. They share a common respect, and a bold vision for what the division should be. Why can't they get some time to tell that story? Why does every feud have to be compressed into something it's not? Again, the match at WrestleMania will no doubt be great, but it's beyond frustrating to sit through these narrative beats that don't feel unique to the feud and the performers.
Miz, Rollins, and Balor are the stars here
The only feud that's rising above its build is the one that sees The Miz defending his Intercontinental Championship against Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. The whole "mind games" angle isn't all that inspiring, but Miz, Rollins, and Balor aren't really engaging with it. Yes, they're trying to goad the Miztourage into betraying their leader, but there's so much more going on. This is a feud that's built on personality. Rollins has found his babyface fire again. Balor is finally coming into his own as a presence on WWE TV. Of course, the Miz is doing his god-level work, using his ego and entitlement to build up his opponents while simultaneously cementing his legacy as Intercontinental Champion.
Cena still can't see The Undertaker
Similarly, while the waiting game on The Undertaker could be considered tiresome, the angle is without a doubt fresh. Desperate Cena is a thing of beauty, and at every turn WWE is refusing to give the fans what they want. If Undertaker shows up next week, that's great. If he doesn't show up until WrestleMania, that's even better. Tease this out until you can't tease it any longer. It's the opposite of everything else already set for WrestleMania: a build that's fascinating and yet destined to end in a match that's underwhelming.
But hey, at least Cena isn't out there talking about his "momentum."
- Lots of good energy from Brock and Roman tonight. I really feel like WrestleMania could have aired two weeks ago; these feuds are established and everyone is ready to go.
- I can't believe I'm saying this, but the best thing on Raw involved Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. That video package of them training, running down Ronda as an "employee," and just generally being arrogant and cold, was incredible.
- I'm so sad that Bo Dallas doesn't really believe that The Miz is a "phony A-lister who can't fight."
- Pre-match interviews for Asuka's doomed jobber opponents is a nice touch.