Typically, there's a predictable structure to the weeks that follow WrestleMania. It's a transitional period, one that doesn’t really tell us a lot about what's to come in the following weeks and months. The Raw after WrestleMania and the Superstar Shakeup offer up two straight weeks of fun debuts, returns, and surprises, but they're not exactly representative of the quality of the shows going forward. They're isolated events that certainly set up feuds, but it comes with the caveat that it all feels so temporary. The result is a string of episodes that are fun, but also transitional in nature.
This week's show, in any other build, would be the one that'd get us out of that transitional period and into something more concrete. That's not the case though, and it's largely because of one thing: the Greatest Royal Rumble. Friday's "PPV" throws a wrench in the traditional schedule, and its weird mix of matches makes it difficult to parse out what we're meant to care about at this moment in time. Add in the co-branded PPVs that will return with Backlash, and suddenly the landscape is looking very different, and right now, Raw is struggling to adapt and build meaningful stories.
More of the same Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar
The most obvious example of how transitional Raw is right now is in the seemingly never-ending feud between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. After Raw kicks off with a great tribute to the late Bruno Sammartino, it's time for Lesnar and Heyman to show up, presumably because Lesnar has something better to do late on Monday night. The segment is not only ridiculously long, it's exactly the same segment we've seen from these two for months now. This feud has been spinning its wheels since day one, struggling to build something out of the usual angle where the babyface chastises Brock for being a part-timer. Nothing's changed. WWE is still running the same program, with the same talking points, and the same underwhelming crowd reactions. Is it over yet?
A sluggish first hour with Elias, Bobby Roode, and Matt Hardy
That's the highest profile example of Raw just spinning its wheels and refusing to offer up anything new and exciting, but there's plenty of examples elsewhere, even if the matchups are fresh. Elias vs. Bobby Roode is a new pairing, and I definitely like the idea of a more robust midcard on the Red brand, but it's difficult to get excited about this iteration of Roode. He's just so bland, so lacking in any sense of character, that it's practically impossible to invest any emotional energy in his segments and matches. Sure, the crowd claps when Roode's being held in a submission, but that's instinct more than anything else. For the most part, Elias is getting cheered. He's the guy that's over, making this yet another example of WWE failing to acknowledge what's clear to just about everybody else.
The first hour of the show is defined by this kind of nothingness. Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt continue their run to the titles, which is completely fine but not exactly exciting, and it's the capper to an hour that struggles to give us anything new. These are familiar stories, or stories that don't feel particularly fully formed, and that's a problem. This is a Raw that's treated like a go-home show for the PPV in Saudi Arabia, and that means we get all the good and the bad of a WWE go-home show. If there's something to be grateful for, it's that the worst of everything is crammed into that first hour.
The Sami and Kevin Show saves the day
The show does find some much-needed inspiration later on. It all starts with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens rolling out the inaugural episode of the Sami and Kevin Show. It's a segment filled with the usual KO-Zayn goodness: they acknowledge the massive hole left by The Miz, poke fun at Shane McMahon, get cocky about their place on Raw, and interrogate the terrible math in last week's Kurt Angle segment while pointing out that WWE, and Angle, forgot all about Jason Jordan. It's a delightful segment, and more evidence that Owens and Zayn are consistently the best characters in WWE. They're stuck in a rut right now, forced to go up against authority figures that want to punish them, and thus losing matches against top babyfaces, but their character work is still something to be appreciated every single week. Here's hoping they get something more to do in the coming months.
Ziggler, McIntyre, and other highlights
Another disappointing No Way Jose segment aside, the rest of Raw is largely entertaining. There's Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel's charming search for a new leader, leading them to Rollins and then Balor, only to be turned down by both. There's Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre truly making an impact in their first match, showing that they have something special that, with the right booking, could morph into something very important to Raw. There's Braun Strowman proving, yet again, to be one of the biggest babyfaces in the company and destroying Owens and Zayn after a hot tag. There's Chad Gable getting a chance to redefine himself as a babyface against Jinder Mahal, a move that could really benefit him in the long run.
There's also a women's main event that's unfortunately nothing more than a multi-woman tag match. Raw vaguely gestures at the story of Bayley and Sasha's crumbling friendship, but it's hardly enough. The women's division on both shows has been abysmal for months now. WWE seems to have no interest in telling individual stories and giving them the spotlight they deserve. Instead, they're wrapped up in other storylines, whether it's Ronda Rousey as little more than a talking point for Kurt Angle, or the Riott Squad being all talk and no action, there's no sense that either Raw or SmackDown is dedicatd to giving women's singles matches meaningful time. It's a disappointing truth, and a bad note to end the night on.
- I love how production found the lone ringside section supporting Roman Reigns during that opening segment. They kept cutting to them.
- Kevin Owens: "You forgot Jason Jordan." Sami Zayn: "Not a big deal, Kurt kind of forgot about him for years too."
- Great promos from both McIntyre and Ziggler tonight. I'm incredibly excited to see what they can do together.
- A No Way Jose vs. Baron Corbin feud sounds...lackluster.