Just about every year, WWE and its two flagship shows, Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live, visit the UK, and just about every year WWE misses out on an opportunity to do something different and compelling. Rather than use the hot crowd, the unique location, and the ability to edit the show since it doesn't air live to their advantage, Raw just rolls out the same old stuff. It's a symptom of current WWE in general; you don’t play to the audience in front of you, but to the ones watching at home. It's a brand of homogenization that's certainly understandable when you're an empire like WWE, but it's counter-intuitive to the spirit of pro wrestling. In essence, if you put on a good show and get the crowd hot by playing to what they specifically want to see, that will translate to those watching on TV.
In other words, this week's episode of Raw, which took place in Manchester, didn't feel any different from any other episode of Raw, and that feels like a missed opportunity. That doesn't mean there aren't interesting moments peppered throughout this episode, and the presence of Pete Dunne is certainly a UK-specific decision (and a welcome one at that), but there's the sense that WWE is missing out on a necessary change in tone when it moves Raw and SmackDown Live to the UK. Why not try something different for a single night? And I don't mean putting a British flag in the corner and a taxi on the stage.
Renewing an NXT rivalry
This episode is also saddled with having to continue to move forward a build to Survivor Series that's been laborious since day one, largely because all sense of storytelling has gone out the window. The organic momentum provided by the return of The Shield, the continued dominance of Braun Strowman, the reliable presence and intensity of The Miz is gone, replaced by a paint-by-numbers approach to building the Survivor Series teams.
Now and then, that paint-by-numbers approach can lead to some good stuff. This week, the perfect example is Samoa Joe angrily attacking Titus O'Neil before their match, and then getting on the mic and demanding more competition, and getting Finn Balor in return. The two renewed their NXT rivalry and it was palpable in their match. It was a match filled with counters and compelling psychology. With the commercials breaks, and that there's nothing really at stake here, it's difficult to fully comprehend the story being told, but what we saw is enough to prove that these two can sell real animosity.
That animosity spilled out of the ring, leading to a double countout, but that doesn't stop the brutality. They just kept going at each other, and it's perfect. There's legitimate heat there, and the fact that Kurt Angle came out to put them on his Survivor Series team suggests that we're far from seeing the end of these two feuding. It'd be nice if WWE wasn't so resistant to mentioning NXT and commentary added some sense of the history between Balor and Joe during the match, but at least this is a solid bit of wrestling on a mostly dull show.
The Bruiserweight vs. The Cruiserweight
I mean, even the Pete Dunne appearance was rather lackluster. Sure, I will always be excited to see one of the best young talents the UK offers, and him forearming Enzo Amore in the face was delightful, but it came after a horribly annoying Enzo promo—I know, I know, heel heat and all that, but I don't care—and really served no purpose other than to pop the UK crowd. It's indicative of this episode in general, which can't seem to get any momentum going during any segment.
Essentially, it feels like Raw is coasting into Survivor Series. Asuka isn't doing much beyond squash matches, which is an inherent problem in the "Nobody Is Ready For Asuka" marketing; Elias and Jason Jordan are still fighting over guitars for some reason; the Cruiserweight title is the only one being defended at Survivor Series, so there's an immediate lack of stakes heading into the PPV; the Women's division is nothing but random tag matches at this point; and Rollins and Ambrose lost the tag titles after some SmackDown Live distraction tactics.
Potential in New Day and The Shield
Look, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Roman Reigns is set to come back next week, and that opens up some interesting storytelling opportunities. Plus, there are smaller storytelling moments that are working throughout Raw: Samoa Joe is looking vicious, Jason Jordan's getting gifted a spot at Survivor Series should get some kayfabe backlash, and Braun Strowman remains a gigantic star. But outside of that, Raw is feeling like a rudderless ship, lost in the night with no sense of direction.
If there's a lighthouse somewhere in the darkness though, it's that we could be on the verge of some sort of feud between New Day and The Shield, and the Roman Reigns return could be the spark the show needs. I don't know if that feud will happen anytime soon based on the brand split, but New Day cost The Shield their Tag Team Championships this week, and it's the first bit of Survivor Series-related storytelling that's been fresh and inventive. It's an inter-brand story that not only has tremendous potential, but it also has immediate consequences. For the first time, it actually feels like there's meaningful heat between the two brands.
- The Miz called Baron Corbin "the bathroom break of SmackDown" and I jumped off my couch and cheered.
- Also: "I'm going to make you and your title actually relevant."
- This show was in full recap mode. There were multiple TLC recap packages, many involving Braun Strowman, and for some reason WWE decided we needed a video recap of the three promos Brock Lesnar and Jinder Mahal have cut leading to their Survivor Series match.
- Finn Balor jumping off the stage was a great way to end that segment with Samoa Joe. You could feel the hatred.
- Asuka's jobber opponent this week was "Stacy Coates," aka. Isla Dawn, who's apparently been awarded a WWE tryout.
- So, the line reading of the year goes to Braun Strowman. When Kane came out to confront him, the first thing he said was "YOU THREW ME IN A GARBAGE TRUCK!" It was tremendous.
Jason Jordan defeated Elias (Guitar on a Pole match); Asuka defeated Stacy Coates; Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe ended in a double countout; Sasha Banks and Bayley defeated Nia Jax and Alicia Fox; The Miz vs. Braun Strowman ended in a No Contest because Kane is the worst; Pete Dunne defeated Enzo Amore; Cesaro and Sheamus defeated Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) (Raw Tag Team Championship match).