Matches matter. It's a simple statement that Monday Night Raw seems to forget sometimes. Sometimes the show only has one meaningful match across its three hours. Sometimes there are a several wonky finishes that leave everyone in the arena and watching at home feeling deflated. That's because matches matter, even in a scripted, live spectacle like wrestling. They matter because they are the physical embodiment of the story being told. Promos are obviously integral to storytelling, but it's the match that truly counts. It's why Dolph Ziggler, Bobby Roode, and Baron Corbin can succeed at Clash of Champions despite a horrendous build, and why Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton at WrestleMania is such a mess despite the detailed storytelling.
Last week Raw did a great job of following up on a hot Royal Rumble by immediately building toward the Elimination Chamber. This week it keeps that momentum going by once again delivering a bunch of matches with stakes, and the time to tell a significant story. None of the outcomes are all that surprising, but that doesn't really matter. WrestleMania is still a ways off, but every single feud needs to be forming, and that's what this week's show accomplishes. Plus, when your show is three hours long, it's never a bad idea to let your best performers go out there for 15-20 minutes each and wrestle a good-to-great match, no matter what the outcome of each individual bout may be.
Being predictable doesn't stop Raw from being compelling
Again, the Elimination Chamber qualifying matches act as the anchor for the show. Their inherent stakes make the matches feel big, even when that match features a kayfabe nonstarter like Apollo Crews, or when the result seems pretty obvious. The two qualifying matches this week, between Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt, and The Miz and Apollo Crews, feature pretty obvious outcomes. Wyatt is headed towards a feud with Matt Hardy, and while Crews goes into the match as a potential dark horse pick, The Miz is still the odds-on favourite. That means Reigns and The Miz come out on top. The thing is, the matches are still incredibly compelling. Crews playing the role of the dark horse imbues his match with just enough unpredictability that you buy into the near-falls, and Reigns and Wyatt have years of history behind them, and great in-ring chemistry, to drive their own match.
Asuka's streak stays alive
In essence, what Raw is doing right now, in a smart but rather simple move, is building the show around meaningful matches. It sounds obvious, but considering the fluctuating quality of the show, it's worth pointing out. It's not something Raw does each and every week. Asuka vs, Bayley might not have the PPV implications of the Elimination Chamber qualifying matches, but it's a great follow-up to Asuka's bout with Sasha Banks from last week. It's smart to use Asuka in the same way Raw has been using Roman Reigns, which means that she's anchoring the division with lengthy matches that make everyone look good. That's a good formula to work with, and gives Asuka a sense of direction before her title shot at WrestleMania.
Women's division problems
As good as that match is, there's still a lot of problems within the women's division. It seems like Raw has no idea how to tell stories with its women, instead focusing on branding every slight bit of equality as some gigantic step forward for the company. Here's the thing though: none of those words about a "Women's Revolution" matter without some sort of meaningful action to back it up. So, when Alexa Bliss chastises Kurt Angle for making her defend her title at Elimination Chamber while Brock Lesnar sits at home, and the whole idea is that we're supposed to hate her for it, it's difficult to make that leap in logic. Bliss should be treated as an equal champ, and yet Raw refuses to confront that issue.
Similarly, all of the men get their chance to qualify for the Elimination Chamber, and yet the women are just announced unceremoniously. Yes, the women's division is smaller, but there's no reason why Raw can't run a few matches to set the stage in a more appropriate and compelling way. Hell, bring in some legends from the Rumble to fill out the matches! Instead, it feels like everything is predetermined in a way that hinders every single interaction. I mean, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, after basically disrupting Raw in the most insignificant way possible, get spots in the chamber, while Nia Jax is only given a one-on-one shot against Asuka where she might get a WrestleMania title shot. It all feels so convoluted, whereas the storytelling with the men is spot-on.
Of course, a lot of the storylines still have to play out, and Raw, as a whole, is putting together solid shows. The tag division is thriving—The Revival and The Club feel important, and the Jason Jordan story continues to unfold perfectly—and the Elimination Chamber has the kind of WrestleMania consequences that make the stepping-stone PPV feel important. Raw is in good shape on the Road to WrestleMania, but it's women's division is leaving a lot to be desired. When everything else is going right on Raw, it only underscores how underserved the women truly are.
- Finn Balor just seems so happy to be with Gallows and Anderson, and it makes my heart melt each and every week.
- Bray Wyatt cutting a solid promo on Roman Reigns and then working a good match with him is a reminder that Wyatt can be great and focused when WWE gives him something to work with.
- I'm really not down with writing Alexa Bliss as a heel who uses "sexism" as a flimsy accusatory tool, especially when WWE is shilling their "woke" bonafides. DO BETTER.
- Cena walking back and forth in the hallway during his selfie promo had me laughing and I'm not really sure why.
- Match of the night goes to The Bar vs. Rollins and Reigns.
Roman Reigns defeated Bray Wyatt (elimination chamber qualifying match); Finn Balor and Karl Anderson defeated The Revival; Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali defeated Tony Nese and Drew Gulak; Asuka defeated Bayley; The Miz defeated Apollo Crews (elimination chamber qualifying match); The Bar defeated Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns via DQ (Raw Tag Team Championship match); Nia Jax defeated Vanessa Floyd; Mickie James defeated Sonya Deville; Elias defeated John Cena and Braun Strowman (match to determine who enters the elimination chamber match last).
What did you think of this week's edition of Raw? Let us know in the comments below!