When Kurt Angle's music hits right as Monday Night Raw begins, Corey Graves tells us that when the Raw GM is kicking off the show, you know what's about to follow is going to be great.
If only that was the case. If only such predictors existed. Of course, there's nothing within this week's episode to distinguish it from others. We are firmly on the Road to WrestleMania at this point, and unfortunately that means that Raw is coasting. There are feuds and storylines taking shape that are certainly interesting, but for one reason or another, Raw can't quite seem to find its momentum. It's a fascinating thing to pick apart, and this week's show's is especially intriguing in its messiness. Goldust shares a ring with John Cena, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Looking around Raw, there' are a lot of questions to be answered before we get to WrestleMania. While the Universal Championship match is set, everything else is up in the air. Asuka is continually talked about as Alexa Bliss' challenger at WrestleMania, but the champ's story with Nia Jax doesn't seem finished. The Revival look to stamp their ticket to the big show with an opportunity against The Bar this week, but then they come up short. Who's next in the tag team division for The Bar then? Raw is filled with superstars who need something to do on April 8th, and somehow that's both encouraging, because there's still plenty of time to build something meaningful, and worrisome, because right now Raw feels like it's spinning its wheels.
Ronda Rousey gets her WrestleMania match
The problem is that there's no middle ground on Raw between the feuds that are locked in and the ones that still need to develop. The balance of the show feels off. The opening segment this week is a perfect example of a perfectly fine way to build to something that everyone knows is coming. After Kurt Angle calls out Triple H, and gets Stephanie McMahon instead, the predictable happens: Ronda Rousey comes out, which leads to Triple H showing up, and the eventual announcement from Angle that him and Rousey will take on Stephanie and Triple H at WrestleMania.
It's a segment that gets the job done, and that's really all you could want. The story of Rousey and Angle vs. Triple H and Stephanie doesn't need much in the way of character building. It's a spectacle match that can get by on the names alone. It's nostalgia and newness all in one. The match sells itself, and that's something the opening segment understands. Sure, there are issues here: Rousey is still very hesitant on the mic, and a lot of the interactions feel forced. But with a match like this one, the setup, for better or worse, doesn't really matter. I'm glad that WWE didn't dwell on this story for weeks and weeks before announcing the match, instead doing something much more efficient. They sold the match in a single segment, and that's something.
The Bar truly have no equals
What's troubling is that the rest of the show seems to be taking a similar approach. While the barebones build works for a name like Rousey, the rest of the card needs something more. Raw needs a lot more clarification right now. The tag division is most in need of some semblance of direction. The Bar are just beating the hell out of everybody. As far as I can tell, there isn't a team on the roster they haven't beat recently. While that kind of dominance can be useful, the tag team division mostly feels like its formless. Injuries and the necessity of changing plans has hindered what should be the story of a remarkable run by The Bar and the challenge presented by a plucky babyface team. That story is nowhere in sight, and all we're getting is the same tag team match over and over again.
Despite bland matches, the women's division boasts compelling stories
The women's division is in a similar spot, running many of the same matches week in and week out, but at least a few stories are being told. After Sasha Banks helps Bayley during a post-match attack from Absolution, Bayley rejects her hug. Their eroding friendship has sometimes been too much of a slow burn, but with WrestleMania on the horizon, each of these small steps feels meaningful. The same can be said of another friendship that's suffering, and that's the one between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. After Jax loses yet another match to Asuka—don't even get me started on how often Nia is losing these days—she's distraught in the locker room. Bliss only makes it worse, running her down in the passive aggressive way that makes her such a delightful heel. The story of Jax and Bliss is a long one, and it's hit some road bumps along the way, but everything is progressing in an intriguing way. Jax is emerging as a crowd favourite, and no matter what role she plays at WrestleMania, that sort of character progression is a good thing.
Where have we heard this before?
Elsewhere, character progression doesn’t really matter. When it comes to Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar, what's even left to say? Reigns cut a good promo last week, and Heyman cut a good one this week (minus some icky stuff that seems to always come with the Paul Heyman territory), but they don't amount to much. It's the same old talking points about Samoan blood, UFC, and Brock's part-time schedule.
The feeling Raw is engendering right now is indifference. The triple threat for the Intercontinental Championship should be great. It's cool that Hardy and Wyatt are heading to the Compound. Miz is always killing it on the mic, and this week his victim is Finn Balor. Raw isn't a total disaster by any means, but outside of a few storylines, that indifference is tough to shake. Raw seems to know its destination, and yet is showing no interest in making the journey compelling.
- WHAT chanting Kurt Angle at the start of Raw in 2018 is a stupid thing to do.
- I really enjoyed Angle in the opening segment. He's so much more fun when he's fired up and not being forced into the role of a bumbling fool.
- I have no idea what to say about Goldust and John Cena interacting. It was fun.
- Elias desperately tries to get out of his match with Braun Strowman by saying that "music should bring us together." Angle doesn't buy it.
Asuka defeated Nia Jax; The Bar defeated The Revival; John Cena defeated Goldust; Bayley defeated Mandy Rose; Braun Strowman defeated Elias (Symphony of Destruction match); Bray Wyatt defeated Rhyno; Seth Rollins and Finn Balor defeated The Miz and The Miztourage.