Coming out of a WrestleMania that largely entertained until it went off the rails in its final 90 minutes or so, Raw had a lot of questions to answer. Sure, the Red brand had mostly stolen the night with its matches: Seth Rollins became a Grand Slam Champion after winning the Intercontinental Championship in a blistering Triple Threat. Ronda Rousey, no matter how much of a cushion she was given, proved to be a real draw and presence in the ring, and Nia Jax finally got to put Alexa Bliss in her place, ushering in a much-needed shift in the women's division. Raw may have had the matches of the night, but they still had a lot to answer for.
On the one hand, there's the fun questions, like would Braun Strowman defend his new Raw Tag Team Championship along with his partner Nicholas, the kid pulled from the audience at WrestleMania in one of the night's most charming moments? On the other hand, there's the questions we're all sick of pondering, like, what the hell is WWE doing with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar? After Brock retained on Sunday, the options were endless, and not in a good way. If 'Mania wasn't the payoff to a lengthy Roman Reigns story, and the end of Lesnar's dominant streak, then what could possibly be next? WWE seemingly booked themselves into a corner; if Brock can't be beat, even by the golden boy of this era, then what are we even doing here?
NXT talent is here
We'll get to the Roman and Brock of it all in a bit, but before that we have a lot of fun stuff to get to. I don't need to run down all the reasons why the Raw after WrestleMania can be either incredibly exciting or obnoxious, but I'm happy to report that, for the most part, this is an episode that's firing on all cylinders, bolstered in large part by a super hot crowd. For all of the understandable criticisms you can lob at the crowd for these shows, they have an ability to make or break a segment or match. Thankfully, they're more game than contrarian this time around, and that means there's a palpable energy to much of the show.
The first half of the show is more or less built for moments rather than stories. Yes, there's a continuation of the feud for the Intercontinental Championship, and yes Alexa Bliss makes it known that she'll be coming for her Women's Championship, but those are just familiar narrative beats that are purposefully familiar so as not to distract from what's fresh. That means that Ember Moon gets a big showcase as Nia Jax's partner in a tag match, even getting the pin on Bliss after an Eclipse. That's how you debut a talent.
You know how you don't debut talent? Just look at No Way Jose, the man who's been stuck in NXT for what seems like forever, and finally makes the jump here in rather unceremonious fashion. I'll admit to having a soft spot for No Way Jose. I think his gimmick, size, and in-ring talent (something NXT TV has never really given time, but if you’ve been to a house show you know he's got something) would make him a solid midcard guy, but his debut here is lackluster. He does his entrance, his finisher, and that's it. It doesn't set him up for success in any meaningful way, which is a shame. If you're going to debut new talent, then give them the best possible chance to succeed.
A farewell to Paige, a trailblazer in the Women's Revolution
It's difficult to not make this review just a string of raves about certain debuts and returns, because there's just so much packed into this three hours. There's no overarching story, no connective thread from one segment to another. What there is though is plenty of energy and momentum. Everybody is feeling the crowd and the moments and the shift that comes after WrestleMania, and it's infectious. In the first half of the show alone, on top of what I've already mentioned, Bobby freaking Lashley comes back, shutting down Elias real quick, Jeff Hardy makes his return and inserts himself into the Intercontinental Championship scene, and Paige gives a heartfelt retirement speech.
The latter is the lone somber moment on a night filled with moments that pop the crowd and the audience at home. Paige is still so young, and it's difficult to watch her move away from something she truly loves, especially when the women's division is finally getting to a place of equality that she helped usher in. She doesn't get to have the moments afforded Charlotte, Asuka, or Nia Jax, and that's a shame.
Joe! Joe! Joe!
The rest of the night is filled with returns and debuts that act as tectonic shifts in the very foundation of Raw. Samoa Joe is back, and his presence immediately changes the atmosphere of the show. He's one of the best performers on the roster, and easily one of the best on the mic. He runs down Roman Reigns for continuously losing to Brock Lesnar, and it's perfect. Then, the Authors of Pain debut to make their mark on Raw, taking out Rhyno and Heath Slater. It's interesting that they're not in Kurt Angle's "Tag Team Eliminator" for the vacant Raw tag team titles—vacated because Nicholas has to attend the fourth grade—but they still make an impact, and leave Paul Ellering behind in the process.
There are a few segments this week that aren't strictly about debuts and returns. Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy move on to the next round of the Tag Team Eliminator, and their gimmick continues to be a boon to both performers who were previously adrift. The Sasha-Bayley feuds moves closer to blows, and both Zayn and Owens come looking for a contract, only to have their incredible talent stop them from landing one.
In essence, this is an incredible show. It's fun, energetic, and exciting, and the crowd never veers into that truly obnoxious territory. It doesn't get much better than the Raw after WrestleMania.
- Who's your pick between The Revival and Hardy and Wyatt to challenge The Bar at the show in Saudi Arabia? The Revival could use the shine, but it's hard to argue with the story developing with Wyatt and Hardy.
- I love the backstage segment where Jeff Hardy meets up with Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy, and Seth Rollins and Finn Balor look on in complete confusion.
- "I hear TNA is hiring."
- The Superstar Shakeup takes place next week, on both Monday and Tuesday.
- I'm genuinely curious about what's going on with Zayn and Owens.
- The Miz using his daughter as motivation and manipulation is a thing of beauty.
- It's cool that Bobby Lashley is back, but I have no idea where he slots in on this roster. That'll be something that clarifies in the coming weeks.
- Samoa Joe should be the Universal Champion.
Nia Jax and Ember Moon defeated Alexa Bliss and Mickie James; No Way Jose defeated John Skyler; The Revival defeated Gallows and Anderson; Many Rose defeated Sasha Banks; Authors of Pain defeated Slater and Rhyno; Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy defeated Titus Worldwide; Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens ended in a No Contest; Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Jeff Hardy defeated The Miz and The Miztourage.