More than during any other build, it's difficult for the shows leading into WrestleMania to capture something truly special. Once the matches are set, or the eventual destination can be predicted, a lot of the potential drama vanishes. It's the nature of the Road to WrestleMania, as things tend to get predictable; management or the Authority almost always starts the show, and the segments tend to feel like Raw just going through the motions. Raw is in a bit of a weird place right now, and it's showing from week to week. Just about every title match for Mania can be predicted, and that means the show has to work extra hard to keep us all invested. The journey is great and all, but it's harder to sell when the destination is so clearly marked on the map.
To Raw's credit, the build to WrestleMania so far has been compelling. Not every single segment and story is landing, but there's the larger-than-life feeling to a lot of what's going on; that feeling defines WrestleMania season. Angle's fired up in his opening promo. Cena is fired up, trying to bring a certain deadman back from the grave. Rollins is talking about being fired up because it's WrestleMania season. Sometimes that kind of talk is enough. But let's take this opportunity to break down a few of the major feuds, one by one, and see where we're at and how it's contributing to the quality of Raw.
John Cena, mic maestro
Let's start with the obvious, and that's John Cena. He's back on Raw after his loss at Fastlane, which means he's back to doing the one thing he can do to get a match at WrestleMania: challenging The Undertaker. Cena has no other options, and so he's going back to that one iconic match that apparently we all want to see. Cena's promo is great. It's his signature mix of goofy mugging and straight fire. Here's the thing though: how badly do we really want this match? Undertaker has looked progressively worse in each Mania match since Brock ended the streak. If anything, Cena should have put the deadman down last year, when Taker's failing body could have been used as a part of the story in a way it just couldn't with Roman Reigns. Now, it feels like this is all too little too late.
A familiar Brock Lesnar story
And that kind of encapsulates the weird spot Raw is in at the moment. On the one hand, Cena's promo is the most memorable part of this week's Raw. On the other hand, the potential destination isn't all that appealing. It's good and bad all at once, which I guess isn't all that far removed from the usual quality of the show.
But, back to the feuds. The next most obvious place to go is Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar. This is a situation where the match will probably be pretty good—I'd imagine that just like WrestleMania 31, they'll hook the crowd by legitimately beating the hell out of each other—but the build has been just okay. The story itself isn't really the problem, with Roman running down Brock's special treatment and the way Vince McMahon just does whatever Brock wants him to do. That's a perfectly fine story to tell. The trouble is that it's just so familiar. Again, in the long run it probably won't affect the match much, but from week to week it feels like a stilted story. Roman calling Brock "Vince's boy" is pretty damn rich. Again, this Roman Reigns would have made sense a few years ago, but now the character misses the mark. We're long past Roman as some sort of anti-authority figure.
Can Nia Jax successfully get the crowd behind her?
As for the women's division, we'll have to see how that develops. Blowing off Bayley and Sasha's crumbling friendship at Mania sounds like a good idea, and a potentially great match, but I'm growing weary of the storytelling steps. I'd like to see Raw commit to one of them turning on the other. Right now, they're both just kind of sulking and glaring at each other, and that leaves a lot to be desired. Bayley leaving Sasha to fend for herself in the ring this week has the result of making us feel sympathy for Banks, which runs counter to all the previous moments.
More interesting is the continued discord, to put it lightly, between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. If they're running a singles match at Mania it has no chance of standing next to Charlotte and Asuka, but it’s the right story to tell. WWE has teased the idea of Nia Jax as a babyface numerous times, but always walked it back in order to benefit some other wrestler's run. Now, this could be Nia's moment. I genuinely think the crowd is ready to get behind her the way they do Braun Strowman, especially with such a dastardly, spoiled heel as her dance partner.
Tag team champion Braun Strowman?
Speaking of dance partners and Braun Strowman, apparently the Monster Among Men doesn't need one to make a statement within the tag team division. I was expecting a surprise tag team to show up during the main event, which is a battle royal to determine who will face The Bar for the titles at WrestleMania, but instead Braun's music hits and he destroys the entire division. I have no idea if this means he'll wrestle solo at Mania, or if Elias will come back to haunt him somehow, but this is an intriguing development, and could be a fun use for Braun, a guy who deserves a unique spot at the big show.
A feud that elevates everyone
That leaves us with the feud over the Intercontinental Championship, which is probably the most compelling part of Raw at the moment. Rollins is on some kind of hot streak right now, really enjoying the momentum coming out of his gauntlet match performance. On top of that, The Miz is, as usual, at the height of his powers, and that's transferring to good will for Finn Balor. Finn's the weakest on the mic, but he can connect in the ring, so this is perfect for him. He gets to be the extra piece that can steal the show when he's needed, but he doesn't have to carry the feud.
Looking at all of this, Raw is in pretty good shape, even if the weekly show is hit or miss. The feuds are largely finding their footing, even if some of the beats are predictable.
- Look, I'm not going to lay out all the details here because we all have Google, but naming the first women's Mania battle royal after the Fabulous Moolah is an atrocious decision.
- Vince is back as a storytelling tool to try and get Roman over!
- I love Finn Balor saying pointing out that he beat Seth Rollins with one arm. The winner of the Mania match is totally unpredictable at this point. Their match also had a great finish, with Balor scouting the superplex into the Falcon Arrow.
- Where'd Elias go? He's so sad now!
- Ultimate Deletion! Next week!
Sasha Banks defeated Sonya Deville; Finn Balor defeated Seth Rollins; Asuka defeated Mickie James; Nia Jax defeated Joan King; Braun Strowman defeated Titus Worldwide, The Revival, Slater and Rhyno, and The Club (Tag Team Battle Royal to determine who will face The Bar at WrestleMania)