After a few weeks of both Raw and SmackDown Live struggling to build any sort of meaningful intrigue for the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, the arrival of Friday's PPV made it very clear why the weekly shows had been so lackluster. As the Greatest Royal Rumble unfolded, it became clear that the whole event, when not engaging in a sanitization of the policies and actions of the current regime in Saudi Arabia, was nothing but a glorified house show. No titles changed hands, few matches looked better than anything we see on the weekly shows, and for the most part the whole show presented a watered down version of WrestleMania XXXIV, with the added bonus of Titus O'Neil sliding his way into our hearts.
So long, Greatest Royal Rumble
The lone bit of hope coming out of Friday was that by putting the Greatest Royal Rumble in the rearview mirror, WWE's weekly shows would be able to start fresh and focus on building up interesting stories removed from the shadow of WrestleMania and the dull necessity of the show in Saudi Arabia. There were certainly signs that welcome change was on the horizon. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt claimed the vacant tag team championships, Braun Strowman once again cemented himself as the next (and current) big thing, and Roman Reigns was maybe, finally ready for a new opponent, even with Friday's "controversial" ending still lingering in everyone's mind.
That hot Montreal crowd
While the Roman Reigns of it all doesn't seem to be changing any time soon—he comes out at the top of the show to declare himself the true Universal Champion—this specific Raw is buoyed by two things: a raucous Montreal crowd, and the impending Backlash PPV, the first of the new co-branded shows. Essentially, because Raw only has just one show to sell Sunday's feuds, it seems to gain some focus. This is a Raw that certainly has a few dull moments, but is largely a success because it keeps things simple by running matches and segments that feel connected to Sunday's PPV. It's really that simple!
Take the Seth Rollins and Finn Balor feud, for instance. They're two of the biggest stars, the crowd loves them, and they have unreal in-ring abilities. There's not a lot that WWE needs to do to sell us on a match or really anything they do, and Raw seems to understand that. The segment with Balor and Rollins is electric. The crowd's fired up for Rollins, who's getting everyone rowdy by talking about how he'll be a fighting champ unlike Lesnar. Then Balor comes out, everyone is speaking French, and Bo and Axel make their way to the ring to act as the necessary counterparts. It all devolves into chaos, with Balor and Rollins fighting off the Miztourage before Balor hits a single move on Rollins. As he stands above him with a smile on his face, you can feel the energy coursing through this feud. A title match is scheduled for the main event, and we already know how that goes. Spoiler: they steal the show...again.
Braun Strowman, the only likable babyface on his team
This week's Raw is all about creating memorable moments that tie in with Sunday's PPV. There are quite a few good matches, from Sasha Banks and Ruby Riott getting some significant time to build something interesting, to the six-man match that ends the second hour and sees Owens and Zayn get their spots before Braun Strowman destroys everybody. Raw needs matches like that peppered throughout the show, acting as a necessary and welcome bit of extended, legit wrestling on a show that doesn't always feature such matches.
A sluggish third act
Even the in-between moments are either funny or compelling. "A Moment of Bliss" continues to be brilliant, Titus gets plenty of time to double down on his show-stealing slide from the Greatest Royal Rumble, and Elias delivers one of his best performances yet; "I truly am a gift," he utters before Bobby Roode shows up acting like the wet blanket he always is. This is a show that isn't perfect by any means, as most of the final hour is rather sluggish. Between Wyatt and Hardy's ridiculous promo—WWE is still having trouble figuring out the tone that led to the success of Matt's gimmick in TNA—a match between Mickie James and Natalya that only furthers the dull and predictable Rousey story, and a totally fine but also throwaway match between Baron Corbin and No Way Jose, the third hour doesn't offer up much to get excited about until Finn Balor and Seth Rollins hit the ring in the main event.
Rollins and Balor deliver once again
And what a main event it is. Rollins and Balor have ridiculous chemistry, and it's manifested in a very real rivalry. This is the type of rivalry that WWE loves to think it has in something like Reigns-Lesnar. It's the type of rivalry that allows each guy to have their own separate feud, and yet you could revisit this again and again. They don't need to be in constant competition, but if you have them lock up every now and then, always trying to be the better guy, you could build something truly special and pay it off with a massive match down the road. For now though, Rollins retains, and Raw is barreling into Backlash with a full head of steam.
- So much Quebecois French tonight! And "OUI" chants! My Canadian heart was swelling with pride.
- Bobby Roode is truly destined for midcard nothingness, eh? Not that I'm really complaining.
- Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel desperately need their own music. As much as I love them, you can't promise me The Miz and then give me the Miztourage.
- Baron Corbin, of the famous failed cash-in, hardly seems like the guy to be chastising Titus for his embarrassing moment.
- Balor countering Rollins' superplex into his own Falcon Arrow was probably the moment of the night. Unreal stuff. The whole final stretch of that match was incredible.
Elias defeated Bobby Roode via match stoppage; Authors of Pain defeated Jean-Paul and Francois; Ruby Riott defeated Sasha Banks; Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, and Bobby Lashley defeated Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Jinder Mahal; No Way Jose defeated Baron Corbin; Natalya defeated Mickie James; Seth Rollins (c) defeated Finn Balor (Intercontinental Championship match).