Last week's episode of Raw was buoyed significantly by two factors: the bevy of call-ups and returns, and the very fact that this was the Raw after 'Mania. The show benefitted from a hot crowd that was itching for some changes, and the Red brand brought that in spades. Bobby Lashley made his return, and made his mark by laying out Elias. The Authors of Pain showed up and left Paul Ellering behind. No Way Jose…danced a lot. Big badasses and dancing gimmicks that will probably fail aside, Raw simply benefitted from the refresh that comes after WrestleMania.
This week, both Raw and SmackDown Live really get into that idea of refreshing storylines and rosters with the Superstar Shakeup. It's a chance for old feuds to be reignited, and for stagnant wrestlers to find more opportunity on a different show. The change of scenery is usually a benefit, both for the wrestlers and viewers who've been watching the same matchups over and over again. In other words, the Shakeup gives Raw another opportunity to craft something memorable and exciting after WrestleMania, and from the initial look of things, the Red brand has set itself up nicely.
Telling stories with the Shakeup
The key to the Superstar Shakeup is using the injection of new talent to tell meaningful stories. This is a unique opportunity—I can't help but read that in Dario Cueto's voice—to do something fresh and exciting with the superstars already on Raw, and a chance to give the more complacent storylines from the show new life. This week's Raw doesn't always succeed, but it largely uses the Superstar Shakeup in interesting ways, creating memorable moments while also keeping an eye on the future.
The first half of the show has two really good examples of how to use the Shakeup to tell stories. First, Kurt Angle comes out to open the show, and the crowd is obviously excited to get to whatever surprises are coming. So, what's better than using that anticipation to then reveal…Jinder Mahal. The arena is chanting "RUSEV DAY," and here's the man we all hate the most coming out to stake his claim on Raw. It's a beautiful use of crowd knowledge to flip the script and get some good heat.
A singles run for Jeff Hardy?
Of course, that heat only means so much without any follow through, so Raw immediately pivots, as Angle takes Jinder up on his boast that he can beat anyone in the locker room and institutes an open challenge for the United States Championship. That brings out the recently returned Jeff Hardy. This is really the best situation for both guys. Jinder gets a fresh match on Raw and a reset without the title, Hardy gets a huge championship win, and the show gets to kick off with a very clear babyface vs. heel scenario. This also leaves open the possibility of Hardy and his title heading to SmackDown tomorrow, removing him from Matt Hardy for awhile, while also allowing Seth Rollins and the Intercontinental Championship to stay on Raw. Smart moves all around.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have jobs again!
While the Riott Squad gets a rather unceremonious introduction to Raw, essentially repeating what they've done on SmackDown, another great use of the Shakeup to tell stories comes with Miz TV. The Miz brings out his guests, two new members of Raw: Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. It's an incredible segment, funny, logical, and inspired all at once. It trades on the history of not only KO and Sami with Shane McMahon, but also the Miz with Daniel Bryan. Apparently the former SmackDown Live GM has requested the Miz be moved back to the Blue show, and that's incredibly exciting. It's a great way to not only give the Miz something new to do, but also keeps Bryan occupied in a feud that needs a conclusion before putting him into any main event title scene.
Drew McIntyre is here
It's difficult to say if the rest of the night really bothers to tell stories with the returns, shakeups, and call-ups, but for the most part this is still a fun, compelling show. When Dolph Ziggler showed up halfway through the show, I can't say I was all that interested, especially when he's sporting the same gimmick that's failed to get off the ground over on SmackDown. But then he brings out the man he came with, Drew McIntyre, and things get real interesting. It's heel Drew and a reinvigorated Ziggler, and I'm definitely curious about what happens with those two from here on out.
Everywhere else it feels like Raw is mostly biding its time, that the moments are bigger than any relevant story. Ember Moon gets a win over Mickie James, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns continue throwing insults at each other, and Natalya becomes the most lackluster addition to Raw (along with Baron Corbin, who gets a video package and nothing else this week). This is Raw just kind of resting before it can (hopefully) kick into a higher gear with all the new talent.
The boring United States Championship scene makes its way to Raw
All of this culminates in a house show-style 10-man tag match, where Bobby Roode is revealed to be the latest addition to Raw. It's a fun match, but what's clear is that SmackDown Live has trimmed a lot of its fat. There's some semblance of potential in Jinder, Roode, and Ziggler, of course, but they've been stagnant on SmackDown for a long time. The change of scenery might benefit them. At the very least, Raw is much more focused on its main event, which means that the likes of those three guys won't be charged with carrying a significant part of the show every week. That bodes well for both Raw and SmackDown, as the week's Superstar Shakeup gets off to a great start.
- I really thought Rusev would get that final spot in the main event. Hopefully the removal of Roode, Jinder, and Ziggler means he can find a new direction on SmackDown.
- No Way Jose seems doomed to fail, but this week's interruption of Jinder's backstage promo was great.
- Any chance the Fashion Police get inserted into the title match at the Greatest Royal Rumble after their win tonight?
- Ember Moon is such a natural fit on Raw. She already feels important, ready to make her mark on the division.