When Monday Night Raw hit the reset button last week, the results were mixed. Some new feuds felt better than others, but there was still a lingering sense of killed momentum. The build to No Mercy was so brutal, so perfectly paced, that Raw's immediate slip back into building new feuds was a little disappointing. Of course, those new feuds have to start somewhere, but last week's show felt too much like WWE throwing ideas out in the ring without really trying to signal bigger moves down the road. A lot of that changes this week though, as Raw provides a ton of clarity to its creative vision for the next few weeks, offering up one hot segment after another. This might not be the Raw that was at the height of its power when Braun Strowman was laying out Brock Lesnar each and every week, but it's damn close.
It's the stories that matter
I think what's really working about Raw this week is the fact that it's, quite simply, trying to tell actual stories. More often than not the show focuses on one major storyline, maybe two at most, and then relegates everyone else to doing some serious heavy lifting with their segment, which are often directionless and lacking in any intrigue. Right now though, Raw is finding ways to tell all sorts of compelling stories, be it big time ones like teasing a reunion of The Shield, or more low stakes ones like Elias continuing to dominate midcard talent. Even Enzo Amore has a story to tell! The wrestling Gods are blessing us right now.
Highlights from the midcard
Before getting to the heavy hitters, let's take a look at what's going on with the smaller-scale stories. WWE isn't hitting every mark it needs too when it comes to the Women's division—Emma, Bayley, and Sasha Banks are still languishing in tag team purgatory—but I appreciate the attempt to build a story that's more than just "she wants the title." Using Mickie James' age as an angle gives the feud some personality and some personal stakes.
Similarly, Elias is filling his role as a dominant midcarder pretty well. Raw needs talent that can fill specific roles every week. Not everyone can be circling around the Universal Championship or even the Intercontinental. You need talent and feuds that fill the rest of the time, and Elias is a good example of Raw getting it right. He's working his way through the members of Titus Worldwide and putting together a nice winning streak while he's at it. Plus, this week he executes a line delivery that's spot-on. It's a small moment, but when Elias doesn't even get his song started and says, "don’t start with me, Denver," it's a perfect way to switch up his typical attempts at cheap heat.
We should be getting more from Banks, Emma, and Bayley
As good as most of the non-main event stories have been, there's certainly issues within a few. While I'm enjoying the rebuild of Mickie James into a legit contender—this week she comes close to beating Nia Jax before Alexa Bliss interferes in the match—it's not exactly clear why Nia Jax is best friends with Bliss again. The tension between those two has been one of Raw's more promising stories, and now they're suddenly backtracking. It's a baffling choice, a narrative dismissal that undercuts the otherwise focused storytelling on display.
The same can be said of the tag teams that aren't lucky enough to be The Shield or The Bar. Gallows, Anderson, Matt Hardy, and Jason Jordan are having perfectly fine matches on Raw, but they really don’t amount to much. It's nice to see Gallows and Anderson having competitive matches and getting wins, but for now it's all just Raw spinning its wheels. With any luck though, it'll pay off in the future. We haven't discounted a Shield vs, Balor Club feud just yet, have we?
Teasing The Shield
Anyways, let's get to the stuff that really matters and that we all want to talk about, which is Raw doing a damn good job of teasing a Shield reunion and making The Miz and all his cronies look great in the process. When, early last week, it looked like The Shield was going to lock up with The Miztourage, I wasn't sold. It felt like a rushed feud in order to get Roman Reigns to a better place before the Royal Rumble. While that might still be the case, things are in much better shape this week, and that's because Raw takes the time to make a Shield reunion so much more than a move that panders to nostalgia.
So much of this week's Raw is dedicated to making a potential Shield reunion feel meaningful. There's Roman Reigns' incredible match with The Miz, a spectacular bout between two dudes plagued by "you can't wrestle" chants during their career; there's Dean Ambrose coming out to (unsuccessfully) help Seth Rollins with Braun Strowman; there's Cesaro and Sheamus walking past Strowman and laying a beating on the tag team champs.
All of this builds to a stunning episode tag post-main event. After Enzo is once again beat up at the end of the show, this time in a deflating segment that essentially reveals Kalisto as his next opponent, the camera cuts backstage, where Reigns is nursing his injuries. Then Ambrose walks into the frame, and Rollins follows after that. There's no words and no fist bump. There's just exchanged looks of camaraderie. It's a beautiful scene, electric in its simplicity. In just two weeks Raw has made a Shield reunion, and a showdown with The Miz, Cesaro, and Sheamus, feel like a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime clash. That's a feat worth praising, and I can’t wait to see where Raw goes from here.
- I try not to get too mean here, but not having Michael Cole on commentary tonight was a nice change of pace.
- When Seth Rollins smacks Braun Strowman, The Monster Among Men has a pointed reply: "Are you stupid?"
- Booker T when The Bar comes out after Rollins and Ambrose have been laid out: "Maybe they just want to talk. Just relax." He was so much better tonight than in previous weeks.
- Bray Wyatt was legitimately creepy tonight, and I think there's promise to him breaking down and struggling with how to define himself. Plus, he teases an appearance from Sister Abigail. All of that is a lot more narrative direction that Wyatt has ever had.
- Give me all the Asuka debut vignettes.
- Nia telling Mickie James that she needs "Life Alert" is the wrestling content I want.
Braun Strowman defeated Seth Rollins; Elias defeated Titus O'Neil; Mickie James defeated Nia Jax via DQ; Gallows and Anderson defeated Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan; Roman Reigns defeated The Miz via DQ (Intercontinental Championship match); Bayley and Sasha Banks defeated Emma and Alicia Fox.