With WrestleMania just three weeks away, many of Raw's matches for the big show were all set heading into this week's episode. The women's title match was clear though not confirmed, Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar has been set for a few weeks now, and the Triple Threat for the Intercontinental Championship was the most anticipated match on the card by far. With those destinations determined, all that's left is to fill in the final steps and figure out who the hell is going to team up with Braun Strowman to challenge The Bar at Mania. Three weeks feels like a long time to draw out what already feels like a lengthy build to WrestleMania, and there's certainly parts of tonight's show that drag because of that. Watching Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, and Asuka for the final half of the first hour isn't a whole lot of fun because it feels rather pointless, a fact compounded by a countout victory for Asuka after getting almost no offense in on the champ. Unfortunately, much of the show swings between impressive segments that have that WrestleMania feel, and segments and matches like the one with Bliss and Asuka, where the stakes are nonexistent.
The first hour: a study in contrasts for Roman Reigns and Alexa Bliss
There's a good chance that Raw is well aware of the fluctuation in quality because of how balanced this show is. Nearly every single important, meaningful segment or match is followed by something that either doesn't matter in the grand scheme of WrestleMania, or is overly familiar for this show. Take the very first hour of the show, for instance. It's dominated by two segments: Brock Lesnar laying waste to Roman Reigns, and Alexa Bliss trying to end Asuka's streak before Nia Jax comes for her.
The contrast between the two is staggering. The first segment is one that, no matter how contrived or familiar it may be, serves a purpose. It makes Brock Lesnar look like a badass, and it tries to give Roman Reigns a little sympathy. Does it work? Not completely. This version of Reigns is still too much the same Reigns we've always known, and no amount of brutality from his opponent is going to change that. Also, Brock Lesnar's losing his mystique. There's no way around that. He's the same man in every single build to WrestleMania, and it's a character that, quite frankly, isn't what it used to be. When Raw spends weeks on end establishing the no-nonsense approach of guys like Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe, Lesnar feels a lot less special. On top of all that, there's no hatred here, no sense of why these two really can't wait until Mania to throw hands. Still, the structure of the segment makes it feel important, even if it's familiar.
On the other hand, there's hardly any point to going through the motions with Alexa Bliss at this point. In fact, it's infuriating to see her get so much offense in on Asuka and just walk away from the match. That certainly makes the eventual beatdown she'll get at the hands of Nia Jax at Mania all the more satisfying, but it doesn't make for much on the weekly show. With Asuka already facing Charlotte at WrestleMania, having her stick around to tell a bland story on Raw feels like a waste. To be fair, there aren't too many other options, but that's the trouble with the WrestleMania build in general. There's still a fair amount of time to fill, but it feels like just about every feud is ready to go.
It's time to pull the trigger on Bayley or Sasha Banks
It's an issue that plagues so much of what's happening right now. Bayley and Sasha Banks are clearly on a path to facing off against one another, and yet they're stuck in repetitive matches with Absolution. The story isn't necessarily bad, but it feels like it's killing time before the payoff, and that doesn't do anyone any favours. The Triple Threat for the Intercontinental Championship is in a similar (non-dilapidated) boat. Everything the story needed to establish before April 8 has been established: The Miz is playing mind games, and Balor and Rollins working against each other could be their downfall. So, all that Raw has in order to keep these guys on our TVs is a six-man tag match between the Miztourage and Balor Club. It's a completely meaningless match that ends in a predictable face-to-face stare down. Again, this is fine in terms of the build, but the rote nature of it all leaves a lot to be desired for everyone who's still investing three hours in this show leading into WrestleMania.
John Cena is still spitting fire
Still, Raw is rewarding those still investing three hours every week with the occasional glimmer of brilliance. This week there's Cena yet again lighting it up on the mic. He's all in on The Undertaker match for Mania, and he's doing everything he can to make it happen. Ignoring the wet blanket that is Kane, this is an angle that's working. Nobody wants to see Cena vs. The Undertaker, especially after last year's abysmal WrestleMania main event and the subsequent "retirement," but Cena is out there selling the hell out of it. Cena is so good on the mic that he's actively convincing all of us to beg for a match that none of us want to see. That's incredible.
The Ultimate Deletion
Finally, speaking of incredible, Ultimate Deletion main events Raw this week, and its way better than it has any right to be. All the key players are there, from Senor Benjamin to the dilapidated boat, and the result is not only something that feels like a necessary, complete introduction to the Hardy Compound and Matt Hardy's strange creation, but also a surprisingly effective progression of Bray and Matt's feud. For a feud that's been struggling to do anything captivating, Ultimate Deletion is a huge step in the right direction. That's what Raw needs to be doing right now in general: turning its focus to the neglected feuds and making them matter.
- The U.S. Marshalls are no match for Samoan blood.
- I love that Raw is still teasing the mystery of who will be Braun's partner. It's really the only surprise the show can pull off in the next two shows before Mania.
- "The consumer of terrestrial entities."
- Mark Henry going into the Hall of Fame is the best. There's really nothing else to say.
- "You love carrots like I love green beans."
- "Tyler Black and Prince Nevitt."
- "Where are my manners? I forgot to give you a housewarming gift!"
Asuka defeated Alexa Bliss via countout; Braun Strowman defeated Cesaro; The Revival defeated Titus Worldwide; Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville defeated Sasha Banks and Bayley; The Balor Club defeated The Miz and the Miztourage; Matt Hardy defeated Bray Wyatt (Ultimate Deletion).