Welcome wrestling fans (or curious onlookers) to a new feature on the site. Depending on interest we’ll see how long it sticks around. But for now, let’s get down to business.
Raw has been struggling under the weight of its three-hour schedule for years. While the roster split and switching Smackdown to a live format rejuvenated the secondary show, Raw has suffered the loss of half the roster (and the best workers).
This week’s Raw however, was on the better side of average. It opened with montage reminding us of Strowman’s epic assault on Roman Reigns that included rolling his gurney several feet to the floor and tipping the ambulance over whilst poor Reigns was inside. Strowman’s star potential is starting to shine through as he can make silly lines like “I’m not done with you” quite fun. It also helps that most fans despise Roman more than ever and popped huge seeing Reigns beaten to a pulp. The “you deserve it” chants were hilariously accurate.
Strowman was the focus of the show, opening and closing with a few plot points sprinkled throughout.
Strowman opened the show to a huge cheer, stomping his way to the ring for a promo. The music team did a great job with the heavy, thundering guitar and drums in his theme. It seems like half the time they create something perfectly fitting (Ambrose, Samoa Joe etc) but the generic songs with vocals (Orton, Miz) sound like the bland days of WCW. But I digress.
Strowman declared he was proud to put Roman out of action and off this week’s Raw. The crowd loved it.
The crowd popped even harder when new GM Kurt Angle’s music interrupted the big bruiser.
Angle chastised Strowman’s actions and told him to take the night off, threatened a suspension, and also announced a Strowman and Reigns match for payback. Strowman acted bewildered at this, which seemed off-character. Based on his actions you’d think he’d want another opportunity to beat Roman down and couldn’t possibly fear a man coming out of hospital. Oh well, wrestlers acting is never a great thing.
The segment ended with Strowman and Angle going nose to forehead as the big man demanded more competition…”or else”.
This was an energetic and story-driven part to the show with great crowd engagement (they were great most of the night). How the WWE continues to book Reigns as face and Strowman as heel when they get completely opposite reactions is bewildering.
Samoa Joe vs Chis Jericho
Jericho is winding down his latest (and very successful) WWE run by making Joe look strong for his match with Rollins. The match had a barebones setup of Jericho seeking revenge for an Owens and Joe beatdown. WWE definitely needs to get Owens back to a meaner persona as they need more top heels. While he handled the comedy with Jericho beautifully, too much humor can take the teeth out of a killer and waste his Cena-beating debut.
Jericho was a pleasure to watch, working the crowd beautifully and drawing a true babyface reaction to his pain and attempted comeback. Although the modern wrestlers pull off death-defying stunts it’s still a biut shocking to see how well jericho performs the fundamentals and how efffective they still are (and always will be).
Seth Rollins was out on commentary as the broadcast team hammered us over the head with his new nickname “The Kingslayer”. It was uttered so often you could hear Vince laughing at HHH in the back.
Joe scored the win and took the mic for a great promo on Seth. Talked of his previous injury, and set the stage for what should hopefully be a brutal PPV match with Rollins.
Rollins appears a bit lost in his role as the feud with HHH was booked terribly. His face turn was weak and Hunter simply looked cooler than him at ‘Mania. Now Helmsley is off the roster and Rollins has to pick up the pieces.
Rollins is liked by the crowd but his great offense and ability to whine could be better showcased as a heel. Seeing him hobble to bigger heels tends to take the excitement out of the match though I’m sure Joe will provide a much better match than the lumbering affair at ‘Mania.
The Club vs Enzo and Cass
The Club – like Owens – desperately needs to get away from their weak comedy booking and return to their punishing side. They were originally supposed to face Golddust and R-Truth, but a backstage assault from Strowman derailed the match, leading to Enzo and Cass filling in.
This was a solid match-up, reminding me of the best days of WCW. Gallows and Anderson are fantastic workers, dishing out brutal offense and taking ridiculous bumps from Cass, especially a vicious running boot to the face that sent Gallows flying over the rope.
In true tag-team fashion, Anderson capitalized on the diversion, hurling wee Enzo into the turnbuckle and holding the tights for the pin. The Club immediately fled the ring for the cocky victory.
Both teams looked strong and the quick finish felt great.
Miz TV and Ambrose
At one point I couldn’t stand the Miz, but his last year has been incredible. He’s turned into an excellent mid-card utility heel the WWE can use to elevate younger faces. It’s a shame he moved from Smackdown as a feud with Nakamura would have been a great start for the new face.
Instead we get a stale feud between the two vets. Miz started off the segment re-introducing himself and Maryse to the RAW crowd until Ambrose rudely interrupted him. The following dialogue was either poorly written or lost in translation as they both had different ideas of what exactly Ambrose was interrupting.
Miz highlighted the difference between the two, stating that he cared how WWE superstars were perceived, while Ambrose’s greasy-haired-leather-jacket-wearing shtick set their industry back to the ‘rasslin era. Miz is always great at mixing in enough reality for the smart fans without undermining his opponent.
Ambrose proclaimed he didn’t care about branding nor did he know the meaning the word. Maryse called him a ‘street rat’ while Ambrose slowly removed his jacket with care before instigating a brawl. The heels ran off leaving Ambrose to soak up the mini-victory.
Hopefully the bit of reality included in the feud can spark a decent battle between the two and elevate it beyond killing time for the next story.
Jack Gallagher vs TJ Perkins feat. Neville and Austin Aries
Perkin’s is beginning a heel run that fits him like his douchey haircut and dab. His great physique and hit-on-your-girlfriend attitude could go far if booked correctly.
Unfortunately, Gallagher got the upper hand for most of the match, using goofy antics to derail any serious tone. Neville attacked Aries at ringside to give Perkins the advantage, leading to a win.
Perkins could thrive in the heel role and booking him as Neville’s protege could be useful, eventually leading to a Sith apprentice taking out the Lord situation, even turning Neville face in the process. But jokey matches like these aren’t helping the cruiser-weights achieve legitimacy on the big show.
Alexa Bliss vs Mickie James vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks
No. 1 contender match
The WWE constantly insults the women with four-way matches designed to get them all involved but failing to truly showcase the individuals. They’re difficult to pull off and it looks ridiculous when two wrestlers constantly wait on the outside feigning injury while secretly watching for their moment to rush back in.
WWE made great strides in the last year, letting the women headline televised events and even a PPV (in a cell!) but constant four-ways are a lazy way to include more talent without booking more matches and storylines.
Although a heel, Alexa Bliss received a great reaction from her hometown crowd. She stayed true to character however, and looked disgusted at their reaction during her entrance. Bliss has loads of talent and charisma and should take the top heel spot on RAW now that Flair has left for Smackdown. Banks has talent but has struggled to connect with her recent booking and could use a change of some kind.
Mickie James also is not connecting with her happy-go-lucky babyface role, but this is a common problem. Oftentimes wrestlers think a babyface needs to suck up the crowd and smile like a fool to play the role, which only alienates them from the crowd as it reeks of desperation. The true role of the face is to exact vengeance on the heel in the name of the crowd. Austin was ridiculously popular by playing the same bad-ass role whether heel or face, but letting the crowd feel vindicated through his revenge on MacMahon and other dastardly villains.
James had great success as a crazy stalker and her ability to appear deranged should be under-utilized.
Despite my criticism, the match was successful. Banks and James did most of the work while Jax looked strong and Bliss opportunistic. Jax and Bliss had great chemistry as well (and appear to be friends outside the ring judging by their social media posts).
Jax decimated Banks with a Samoan Drop but Bliss dispatched Jax long enough to steal the pin. A great story was told and budding storylines were planted. Hopefully WWE grows them properly.
Balor squashes Hawkins
Speaking of how to play the face, Mickie James and others should watch Balor’s act. He doesn’t need to smile to the fans or do anything other than kick ass and look great doing it.
Last week Balor took a vicious elbow from Jinder Mahal and appeared to suffer a concussion. He surprised the crowd by answering Curt Hawkins challenge, but avoided any contact during the quick match. Balor ducked Hawkin’s opening strike and proceeded to decimate him in short order.
While I don’t think doctors would clear him even for a non-contact match, it is a bit suspicious that he avoided any contact whatsoever.
Balor is killing time until Wyatt finishes his feud with Orton at Payback so a safe squash job is very smart booking considering the near disaster of last week.
Cesaro vs Jeff Hardy
The Hardy Boyz will defend their titles against Sheamus and Cesaro at Payback, so the WWE decided to preview the action with a singles match. A pre-match promo showed Cesaro apologizing for Sheamus’ aggressive behavior towards Team Extreme, as the Swiss preferred to enjoy the contest as gentlemen.
Jeff might be nursing an injury as he grimaced several times when simply climbing the ropes during his entrance. Though that could just be his unique charisma that’s so powerful he can pull off the dad dressed a raver look.
The match was decent enough with two skilled combatants involved. Cesaro impressed me with a slick veteran move late in the match. After Hardy dumped him crotch first on the ropes, Cesaro had the positional awareness to sneakily back up and provide Jeff with enough room to perform a top-rope dropkick. A subtle adjustment that could mean the difference between a successful spot and an injury. Cesaro is a pro.
After Jeff picked up the win, the teams reluctantly shook hands. Will this polite angle mean something at Payback? Will Cesaro tire of Sheamus’ rude antics? Will WWE completely forget this match ever happened after Payback? Most likely yes.
Braun Strowman vs Big Show
Strowman’s earlier backstage rampage culminated in dumping Kalisto into the garbage. Big Show must be the only one taking backstage bullying seriously, as he stepped in to challenge Strowman (could he take care of JBL too?). This led to a main event bout between the two.
The match was mostly a recreation of their last meeting. The humongous athletes combined impressive displays of strength with acrobatic wrestling moves straight out of the Hart dungeon, Strowman once again performing his impressive kip up.
They teased a superplex twice before Strowman finally gave the crowd what they wanted, super-plexing Show and collapsing the ring. We’ve seen the ring break before, but this was probably the best it’s ever looked. Kudos to the ref for falling off the apron when it fell, whether intentional or not it added a chaotic feeling to the event.
The match was stopped and both wrestlers lay in the wreckage until Strowman popped up and roared his feelings on the matter as the show ended.
Overall it was an entertaining RAW with a few nice matches, memorable moments and a cohesive storyline. Of course it could always be better if they removed the pressure of the third hour, but that will never happen while they receive the profitable ad revenue. Until then, we can only hope.
I’ll post a review after tonight’s Smackdown as well.
Comment below if you’d like more WWE coverage regarding news and reviews (both new and old).