Sometimes it's difficult to tell when WWE is in a state of crisis. It's partly because crisis means different things to different people, meaning that the casual fans, more vocal ones, and WWE's management can all have conflicting understandings of what is and isn't working with the current product. I'd argue that outside of some pretty obvious examples, like Jinder Mahal's title reign and the stretch of SmackDown Live that hasn't let AJ Styles be the best WWE Champion he can be, it's been a pretty good 18-24 months for the company. There's plenty of bad in that time, don't get me wrong, but there's also plenty of memorable moments, feuds, and matches that have seen WWE hitting another level with stars like Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, New Day and The Usos, and so many more. All things considered, it's been a pretty good run if you look at a larger timeline.
A problem named Roman Reigns
Within that timeline though, there's two consistent problems, and it's no accident that they're seemingly endlessly intertwined. Of course, those problems are Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar; I promise this is a review of tonight's Raw, so just bear with me. Reigns and Lesnar are without a doubt top-tier performers. Lesnar is still a special attraction, and Reigns is undoubtedly a great storyteller in the ring.
Success in WWE takes more than that though, and there's a key ingredient missing here: audience reaction. In theory, WWE could absolutely build Raw and its PPVs around Roman Reigns and cement him as the next big star. He has all the tools. And yet, through a mix of overexposure, infallibility, a never-ending program with Lesnar that spans years, and a lack of relatability, Reigns simply hasn't been able to connect in a way that you can call a success. Triple H can talk about Reigns getting any reaction being all that matters, and he's not completely wrong, but at some point there has to be a moment of reckoning, one where you can't simply write off the crowd's revulsion as something insignificant and perpetuated by a vocal minority.
No other superstars can get ahead
At last night's co-branded PPV Backlash, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe got booed out of the building in the main event. Coming on the heels of a lukewarm reaction in Saudi Arabia, and a truly thunderous revolt at WrestleMania, that's three straight PPVs where Roman Reigns' main event match has been actively booed or ignored by the crowd. As Bleacher Report's Dave Schilling noted on Twitter last night, it's simply bad business for WWE to keep rolling out Reigns in this spot, because it's clear that reactions aren't about to change. In fact, they've been getting worse. WWE briefly fixed Reigns by having him reunite with The Shield before relegating him to the upper-midcard and allowing him to be a workhorse that puts on good matches with no titles involved, but that all seems like a distant memory now.
In other words, using Roman Reigns as the anchor of the show isn't working, to the point where anybody paired with him suffers as well. Samoa Joe is one of the most beloved characters on WWE TV, the crowd clearly able to get behind the man who cuts incredible promos and presents a terrifying physical presence, and yet he couldn't save Sunday's main event because of the presence of Reigns, the inevitability of his winning, or at least super-powered abilities, just too difficult to ignore. So, at what point does Raw stop handing Reigns that spot? At what point does it retool itself in order to better suit not only the talent on the roster and the audience watching in the arena and at home, but also Roman Reigns himself?
The sidelining of Seth Rollins
This week's Raw doesn't really make any moves to rectify the issues facing the weekly show. Despite the presence of a few genuinely compelling Money in the Bank qualifying matches, there's hardly anything meaningful on tonight's episode. This is a show that gives plenty of time to Jinder Mahal's search for a spot in the MITB ladder match and Roman Reigns' struggles against authority, and yet doesn’t bother to follow up with Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins after his massive performance at Backlash until the top of the third hour. Rollins gets to institute an open challenge, and that's exciting, but it's also indicative of what Raw is doing wrong. Rollins, or other stars like Strowman and Balor, should be the centerpiece of the show.
The story if always Roman Reigns
Instead, we get more Reigns. He's in the main event here, one night removed from a Backlash main event that saw rows of people walk out of the arena during his match. Now, Reigns doesn't win his match tonight, as Finn Balor earns his spot in the Money in the Bank ladder match. But the outcome is beside the point. This is still Roman's story. The whole match is built around Roman; his dominance, his downfall, his comeback, and then his getting screwed by Jinder Mahal. Roman Reigns is still the focus, even as Finn Balor, to rapturous applause, gets his win.
It's maddening. Raw is maddening right now. And there seems to be no end in sight.
- Kevin Owens calls Bruan Strowman "a very, very bad Monster," and it's incredible.
- Mojo Rawley is a perfectly fine heel with a role to play on Raw, but I don't need him in high-profile matches against Seth Rollins.
- Way too many selfie promos tonight.
- When Bobby Lashley is stilted in a pre-recorded video package, you know things are dire.
- Man, WWE sure does love having Jinder Mahal be a part of pretty much everything on every show.
Braun Strowman defeated Kevin Owens (Money in the Bank qualifier); Baron Corbin and The Revival defeated No Way Jose, Titus O'Neil, and Apollo Crews; Ember Moon defeated Ruby Riott and Sasha Banks (Money in the Bank qualifier); Jinder Mahal defeated Chad Gable; Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler defeated Slater and Rhyno; Bobby Roode defeated Elias; Seth Rollins defeated Mojo Rawley (Intercontinental Championship match); Finn Balor defeated Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns (Money in the Bank qualifier).