When Raw wrapped up last week, it felt like there was no more story to tell. Everything for the upcoming PPV, No Mercy, seemed to be in place. John Cena and Roman Reigns had put an exclamation point on their build to a huge match, with Cena dropping a line about Reigns' failed drug test; Braun Strowman had popped up from one of Brock Lesnar's patented german suplexes and once again laid out the beast; and both the Tag Team and Women's Championships, while nowhere near as competently built, were on track for No Mercy. There seemed to be nothing left to be said, and yet one more episode of Raw remained. This week's go-home show doesn't exactly fire on all cylinders, especially in its first hour, but it does do enough to tease the massive clashes that are coming our way on Sunday.
A bad start, even with The Miz
The fact that this Raw is rather dull in its first hour should be evident right off the bat. When Kurt Angle comes out to hype up the matches for No Mercy on Sunday, he's interrupted by The Miz, who's furious that the Intercontinental Championship is once again being overlooked. After Angle announces a #1 Contender match, The Miz complains some more, and Jason Jordan comes out to defend his dad, Angle announces the night's main event: a Six Pack Challenge to determine who will face The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship at No Mercy.
Look, the IC title should be important, but when the main event of the night is a #1 contender match with some pretty inconsequential wrestlers—no disrespect to the talent; just an observation of where they stand within WWE's established hierarchy—and said main event gets underway with about 10 minutes to go in the show, it's typically a sign that WWE is just killing time.
A direction for Gallows and Anderson?
I mean, the centerpiece of the show is a triple threat tag match that ultimately doesn't mean a thing to anyone involved. It's a really good match, and for once it looks like Anderson and Gallows are maybe starting to get a bit of the spotlight—and, encouragingly, the crowd is into it—but it's hardly a consequential, compelling piece of storytelling to get us to tune into No Mercy.
In a way, Raw is a victim of its own success; it's beautifully built up the sheer enormity and importance of Reigns vs. Cena, and Strowman vs. Lesnar, so much so that there doesn't seem to be any reason to check in with anything else. At this point we're just itching for No Mercy to happen, and that means a lot of this Raw, at least in the early going, feels rather complacent.
Too much filler
Need an example? Look no further than Curt Hawkins and Apollo Crews throwing down early on. Rather than giving some more time to the Women's division to try and flesh out some actual stories, Hawkins and Crews get a few minutes for a throwaway match. As much as I enjoy WWE finally leaning into Hawkins' losing streak, that's time that could be better used.
That's the case with Balor and Wyatt too. There's intrigue in Goldust coming out as Dustin Rhodes and doing battle with the Eater Of Worlds, but any potential for storytelling depth is cut short in order to give Balor a promo that's nearly as goofy as the ones Wyatt cuts in every single feud.
A Roman Reigns promo like no other
While there's a decent amount of filler in tonight's Raw, that doesn't mean it's a terrible episode. It's a strange beast, actually: on the one hand, I'd argue that outside of the main event instantly injecting Jason Jordan vs. The Miz with substantial stakes, the show doesn't add much to No Mercy. On the other hand, there's just enough fresh material when it comes to the PPV's most highly anticipated matches, and two real good matches to boot, that writing off this go-home show as useless or boring wouldn't exactly be fair. Yes, the first hour or so really dragged, but once Raw gets around to Cena vs. Reigns, and Strowman vs. Lesnar, things really pick up.
Take the Strowman-Lesnar segment for instance. Typically these "via satellite" interviews feel stilted, robbed of the energy of having the guys in the building. Here though, Strowman and Lesnar have a commanding enough presence that their split-screen interaction feels like its moments away from ending in a brawl that comes through your TV. Strowman makes his case for being the one to beat Lesnar, while Heyman remains unconvinced. The segment doesn't tell us anything we don't already know about the two men, but it does give us one beautiful moment that's worth it: Strowman smiling when Heyman says he "woke up The Beast." That's exactly what Strowman wants. He wants destruction, and he's going to get it on Sunday. This week, he settles for doing us all a favour and laying out Enzo Amore.
Strowman, as usual, is the highlight of the week, but damn it, Roman Reigns isn't far behind. Without Cena in the ring to derail him, Reigns delivers arguably the best promo of his career. Where his jabs at Cena in previous promos haven't exactly landed, he's on point here. He exposes Cena for being a hypocrite, and in a truly inspired moment, he lambasts the man for saying he's a carbon copy of Cena. "Do I look like a jacked up white dude with a big head and a military crew cut?" he says before mentioning that if he did look like that, he wouldn't have a job. "Ask Alex Riley about that," he says, and he's right. Love him or hate him, Reigns has his own look and a presence that feels unique to him. That presence doesn't always shine through when he's cutting promos—though it's always there when he's working in the ring—but tonight is does. Tonight, Reigns is dripping as much confidence as he his hair grease. He feels like a goddamn star in that ring, and he caps it off by mocking Cena's salute and mic flip.
Strowman vs. Lesnar. Reigns vs. Cena. This is what No Mercy is about; massive fights with far-reaching consequences.
- Neville hitting a Red Arrow on a decimated Enzo, then laughing into the mic and shouting "HOW YOU DOIN'" once again confirms that Neville is doing God-level work.
- So, Bayley returns tonight and immediately gets inserted into Sunday's title match because Raw isn't interested in giving her any sort of storytelling structure. Raw seems to completely misunderstand what made Bayley work in NXT, giving her opportunity after opportunity rather than position her as the underdog.
- I feel like WWE is slowly letting Anderson and Gallows be funny, and it's working. It's the Southpaw Regional Wrestling approach, and I'm digging it.
- "I used to give inspirational speeches." We'll never forget, Bo.
- Booker T describing the potential of Curt Hawkins: "He's got...skills."
- I'll take a Neville vs. Gran Metalik program where Neville has no respect for luchadors and constantly insists that he's the more modern, enhanced version of those guys.
Nia Jax defeated Alexa Bliss; Cesaro and Sheamus defeated Gallows and Anderson, and Rollins and Ambrose; Apollo Crews defeated Curt Hawkins; Bray Wyatt defeated Dustin Rhodes; Neville defeated Gran Metalik; Jason Jordan defeated Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Elias, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel to become the #1 Contender for the Intercontinental Championship.
What did you think of the final Raw before No Mercy? Let us know in the comments below!