With quite a few weeks until the Royal Rumble, and some of its talent either off filming movies or coasting on that sweet part-time schedule, Raw has made a smart decision: it's taken its entire main event scene, which consists of six or seven major players (Jason Jordan is the variable) and used them to anchor the entire show. By using two tag teams and two singles stars as the de facto main event scene, Raw has the ability to fill out its show with intertwined feuds that feel important. Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe may have their own thing going on, but they're hardly isolated, and that's a boon to everyone involved and the show in general.
Where's the structure?
With that said, it's also creating a clear division on Raw between the important stuff and the segments that we can tune out or turn off. The success of last week's episode largely came down to the structure. Raw threaded the story of The Shield vs. The Bar and Samoa Joe throughout the whole night. This week, that structure isn't really there. Sure, each member of their respective teams is in a match, and those matches are spread throughout the evening, but there isn't the same overarching storytelling that made last week's Raw so compelling.
Looking at the two matches that don't involve Roman Reigns provides a perfect example of why this week's show is so hit or miss. On the one hand, both matches are great. Rollins and Sheamus beat the hell out of each other, and Ambrose and Joe do the same with the added novelty of having this be the first time they've locked up. Without a doubt it's great to see Raw running longer matches that are tied to larger stories. On the other hand though, there's hardly any stakes. That's all fine and well every now and then, but considering how much of the rest of the show feels like Raw in a holding pattern, something different in these matches could have really paid off.
Roman Reigns' run as IC Champ is exactly what Raw needs
At the very least though, Raw is complicating Jason Jordan's character in interesting ways, and while there might not be all that much to latch on to when it comes to the other Shield matches, Roman Reigns' Intercontinental Championship run continues to be the best part of the show. This week he defends his title against Cesaro, and the match is every bit as brutal as you'd expect it to be. Each guy completely gives it their all. Reigns sells the hell out of his arm for the match—and the ending doesn't go against the logic of that selling, like in Rollins' match—while playing the role of the slightly injured babyface that has to come out from under the focused offense, and Cesaro, as usual, brings the dynamic goods, pushing Roman to his limit.
Unfortunately, without that overarching story thread, Raw loses the pacing that helped it succeed last week. That doesn't mean certain feuds aren't moving in interesting directions, but rather that there isn't quite the same flow to this show. It seems like nearly every decent match on the card is punctuated by segments that kill all of the momentum. Samoa Joe is great in the opening segment, even if it's a little long, but the intensity built there is immediately nuked by a tag match that sees Bayley and Mickie James square off with Mandy Rose and Paige.
They're not DOA, but Absolution is struggling
Simply put, the Absolution storyline is faltering. It's had its moments, but it's also buckling under the weight of expectation and storyline necessity. What I mean is that Paige, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose are being strapped with carrying the narrative of the entire division. That's a lot to ask of even Paige, who is a cemented, bonafide talent, never mind two very green NXT call-ups. Every single story on Raw should ideally be constructed to give everybody involved the best opportunity to succeed, and that's especially true when you’re debuting new talent. Right now, Absolution looks like a mess—and the Riott Squad is a B-show afterthought—so much so that I struggle to understand why Paige didn't just come back and go after Asuka on her own. It makes kayfabe sense that she'd want backup, but sometimes what's logical within kayfabe isn't necessarily best for the talent involved.
Send Kane back to politics
Look, there are things about tonight's Raw that I like. I love that the matches are long. I love that the cruiserweights are getting serious in-ring time to show off what they can do. I love that Raw is trying to tell multiple, interweaving main event stories all at the same time. And yet, this week's show can't help but feel like a dud because so much of it feels like predictable steps in a predictable narrative. I mean, Raw spends three hours hyping up a match between Kane and Bruan Strowman in order to determine who will face Brock Lesnar for his title at the Royal Rumble—stakes!—only to go off the air after a double countout. If that's not telling your audience that there's no need to tune in until the Royal Rumble, I'm not sure what is.
- I love that Samoa Joe took the time to run down each member of The Shield. He's wonderfully specific with his insults.
- I have no further comment on Woken Matt and Bray Wyatt until they actually do something other than cut nonsense promos that end in endless laughter.
- Unless this whole Nia Jax-Enzo thing ends with her slamming him through a table, I am not interested.
- Michael Cole: "Cesaro is vying for his first Intercontinental Championship." All of us: "You have done Cesaro wrong so many times, WWE."
- The inevitable Drew Gulak-Enzo Amore confrontation is one of the best things on Raw, and I'm so happy I get to say that.
- Cruiserweight division ideas: just run Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander matches until the end of time.
- "Holding your own is not winning." It's about time Kurt Angle dropped some truth on his entitled son.
Mandy Rose and Paige defeated Mickie James and Bayley; Finn Balor defeated Curtis Axel; Seth Rollins defeated Sheamus; Cedric Alexander defeated Arya Daivari, Tony Nese, and Mustafa Ali; Rome Reigns (c) defeated Cesaro (Intercontinental Championship match); Samoa Joe defeated Dean Ambrose; Kane vs. Braun Strowman ended in a double countout.