Let me start by saying something that no reviewer should ever say: at some point with Monday Night Raw, you just run out of things to say. Normally I reach this point of speechlessness when the show's been really bad for weeks on end. Pointing out the bad promos, the illogical storytelling, and repetitious booking can only get you so far. This time around though, everything is different. For the last few weeks Raw has been engaging and dynamic. It's boasted clear storylines that run through the entire show, and the matches are being given time to tell a story. There's nary a squash match or meaningless backstage segment in sight. As of right now, Raw is firing on all cylinders, using Elimination Chamber as an endpoint for one of the best builds in recent memory.
Of course, throwing my hands up and proclaiming that there's nothing else to say about Raw isn't my job, and it's certainly not even true. But I hope it conveys a feeling that's rarely experienced when watching this show: just about everything from top to bottom has been great as of late. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the show when it's operating like this. Don't get me wrong, there are issues within the women's division that persist, and the specter of Kane still haunts every single episode, but for the most part Raw has been, for lack of a more nuanced and impactful string of words, really solid as of late.
The Miz and John Cena renew their rivalry
"Solid" is a good thing. It means the show isn't flailing and directionless. It means that everyone who's on screen is using their time wisely and to further stories. It can make all the difference. This week's show starts with the usual 15-minute promo, but The Miz and John Cena are the main players, and that makes it all the more compelling. This isn't Kurt Angle rambling on about an announcement that's obvious to everyone. It's two guys with a complicated history, and an uncertain future, verbally squaring off and getting the crowd into the action.
On top of all the verbal sparring, they put on one hell of a match, with the stipulation that whoever loses has to enter the elimination chamber match first. Again, how many times can I mention "stakes" before it gets tiring? How many times can I say that Raw can succeed by letting its most compelling superstars wrestle meaningful matches? The Miz and Cena renew their rivalry and you can feel it throughout the match. You can feel the story seeping into every single lock-up. Cena gets the tough win, and that feels huge. Despite that win, we're getting chinks in the armour of Cena, and The Miz has played a big part in that.
Tune-ups for The Revival and The Club
This is a Raw that feels energized, and the Miz and Cena taking up the first half hour is just the beginning. After that, Raw never once settles down. It continues to roll out one meaningful match after another. The Revival and The Club get to duke it out for a bit in a match that's designed to give a little shine to each team. Both tag teams could use a little more time to solidify their characters and role within the division, and this week's well-contested match is a good start. Roman Reigns and Shemaus don't have much of a reason to wrestle each other beyond the vague link of Seth Rollins, but it's the kind of hard-hitting match with no PPV implications that perfectly rounds out this show. The crowd is hot for Reigns vs. Sheamus because it's two guys beating the holy hell out of each other. What a novel concept!
Women's wrestling that allows the women to wrestle
Then there's Bayley and Sasha Banks, who continue the streak of Raw giving the women ample time to tell their stories. Their rivalry is probably the most consistent in WWE/NXT—Charlotte vs. Banks is a close second—and the continued exploration of the cracks in their friendship is a smart choice. With the women being given more time to work in the ring, Banks and Bayley are able to explore the nuances of their competitive friendship. Their match this week, in all of its brutal glory, is more insightful in terms of character than months of backstage segments teasing a Banks heel turn, or every instance of Michael Cole shouting about them being best friends. Now if only WWE could commit to this kind of weekly storytelling with the women's division for more than a few weeks at a time!
An uncertain Elimination Chamber
Moving away from the women's division, which still includes the listless actions of Absolution, we get to the two big setpieces of the night: Braun Strowman and Elias doing their own surreal version of "Dueling Banjos", and the Fatal Fiveway to determine who will fill the final spot in the men's elimination chamber match. They're both perfect examples of what makes pro wrestling so magical. The former is an absurd piece of comedic television—we'll never forget the image of Braun Strowman slinging a cello over his shoulder like a lightweight guitar— that quickly turns violent, and the latter is an incredible match that gives everyone their moment and sets up a payoff next week.
Raw isn't always this focused. Raw isn't always this compelling. But for the last few weeks, it's been a must-see show. For whatever reason, it's as if Raw suddenly understands how every single superstar fits into this mess of matches and motivations and title chases. Everyone is being used in a way that makes sense, and that gives them plenty of material to dig into while heading into Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania. What more could we ask for?
- The Miz cuts right to it when Cena says The Miz can't hang with Brock Lesnar: "You're the founding father of Suplex City!"
- Enough with the on-screen graphics during the backstage promos. They're terrible.
- So Kurt Angle just drops the news that Ronda Rousey will be signing with Raw at Elimination Chamber like it's nothing?
- Really looking forward to Alexa using Mickie as long as she needs to before turning her back on her in the chamber match.
- Braun Strowman. A cello. A segment with Elias. What a wonderful time to be enjoying pro wrestling.
John Cena defeated The Miz (loser enters the elimination chamber match in the #1 spot); The Revival defeated Gallows and Anderson; Bayley defeated Sasha Banks; Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose defeated Mickie James and Alexa Bliss; Roman Reigns defeated Sheamus; Finn Balor and Seth Rollins defeated Bray Wyatt, Matt Hardy, and Apollo Crews.
What did you think of Raw this week? Let us know in the comments below!