A lot of last night’s Hell In A Cell PPV evoked apathetic feelings. It was hard to work up much of a reaction one way or another. The matches ranged from boring to fine to brutal, but nothing really stood out. Much of that was because WWE spent the weeks leading up to the PPV failing to inject any stakes into the predominant feuds. There were a lot of people fighting with one another, but it often wasn’t clear why, or more importantly, why we should care. If there was one promising outcome generated by Hell In A Cell though, it was that many of the feuds looked to be finished. There were a number of clean finishes, meaning that there was very little reason to keep those stale storylines going.

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Tonight’s Monday Night Raw certainly benefits from the clean slate that Hell In A Cell provided. There are a number of fresh matchups and, for the first time in a long time, there’s a real sense that new, exciting things can happen. That doesn’t mean we should all get our hopes up because this is still 2015 WWE and oh boy has this been an inconsistent year, but at least tonight’s episode boasts a sense of purpose (and fun!) that’s been missing for the last few weeks/months.

A lot of that promise and freshness comes down to the episode’s structure. I’ve mentioned in the past that, more often than not, Raw benefits from structuring its episodes around a single idea, premise, or goal. Such a structure means that the three-hour show feels a little less unwieldy, and the pacing is much more compelling. Tonight’s episode largely revolves around a series of matches to determine the new #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. As the Authority explain at the top of the show, there’s going to be four singles matches involving the winners from Hell In A Cell, and the winners of those matches will go on to compete in the main event, a Fatal Fourway for the #1 contendership. After such a lackluster PPV, one that was built on a bunch of feuds where the character motivations weren’t even close to clear, having a handful of matches with a direct purpose adds energy to the show while also allowing for some fresh matchups.

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Every singles match in the series is good to great and really shows how simple booking with clear motivations can really elevate the quality of Raw. Now you can’t have a #1 contender night every single night, but the philosophy behind the matches, which is giving guys reasons to fight outside of just “they’re in a feud,” is something that should be used more often. It creates reliable and immediate tension, especially when the winners of the matches aren’t necessarily predictable. Yes, Roman Reigns was of course going to beat Kofi Kingston, and logic (non-WWE logic, that is) would suggest the two champions win their matches, but there’s still an unpredictability built into the #1 contender premise that’s exciting. Plus, the structure usually allows for everyone to feel more like equals. There’s not a squash amongst the matches. Kofi gets a ton of offense in on Reigns and comes away looking great. Cesaro and Owens, obviously, tear the house down, with Cesaro all energy and talent, and Owens getting another cheap heel win. Big E and Ziggler end up working well together, and their match is easily the most unpredictable of the night. Personally, I’d rather see Big E get the shot in the main event, but in reality he doesn’t need it and Dolph desperately needs something in terms of a storyline and motivation.

For me, the best match in the series though is Alberto Del Rio vs. Neville. It’s a match with two seriously talented superstars, and they get a ton of time to work. There’s a bit of chain wrestling, some high-flying moves from Neville, and a whole lot of aggression from Del Rio. It’s so beautifully paced and tells a compelling story, and both guys come out of the match looking like legit stars. Admittedly, Neville is still in a weird spot on the roster, his talents suggesting he should be moving somewhere more important than where he is right now, but it’s certainly not the time to shoot him up to the #1 contender conversation. That’s not because of a lack of talent, but rather how he’s been booked so far. Putting Del Rio in that spot makes a lot more sense, especially if WWE wants to keep the United States Championship feeling important in Cena’s absence. Plus, Del Rio looks great, both in terms of physique and his in-ring work. Of course WWE borders on ruining his return by having him work a weird angle with Zeb Colter which sees Del Rio call Neville an “entitled immigrant,” but let’s give that a pass this week and see how it all plays out. For now, Del Rio is back!

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Those matches stand out even more compared to the rest of the night. There’s the consistently disappointing Divas division match, which ONCE AGAIN sees Team PCB take on Team Bella, and ONCE AGAIN sees Nikki get the win, and ONCE AGAIN sees Paige turn heel (or something close to heel; who even knows at this point). I could literally copy and paste my thoughts on the Divas segment every single week and it’d apply; that’s how repetitive and atrocious the storytelling has been. Seriously, the commentary team explained Paige’s attack tonight by saying “she’s jealous” because that’s the only motivation WWE can muster for its Divas. It’s pathetic.

Still, the rest of the night is moving things forward and that’s promising. Kane comes out to interrupt a Bray Wyatt promo and ends up getting carried away into a smoky abyss just like his brother was at Hell In A Cell, presumably moving closer towards a Survivor Series match of some sort. And then there’s the main event, which is beautiful chaos, just like a Fatal Fourway should be. It helps that the crowd is super into it, as they were for most of the night. There’s an urgency to the match because of what’s on the line, and while Reigns winning might be predictable, it’s easily the best option. If you’re still down on Reigns at this point, you’re being willfully stubborn. That’s not to say he doesn’t have room to improve, but man, how good does he look across two matches tonight? I mean, the guy’s moveset is more precise and forceful, and his more goofy tendencies have been put on the backburner. Add to that the fact that he has some serious motivation to beat the shit out of Rollins, and add in the variable that is Dean Ambrose, and you have the potential for a lengthy, emotionally-involved, exciting feud. When Rollins and Reigns end the night face-to-face, it feels important, a feeling Raw hasn’t produced in quite some time.

Stray observations

  • Results: Roman Reigns defeated Kofi Kingston; Kevin Owens defeated Cesaro; Team Bella defeated Team PCB; Alberto Del Rio defeated Neville; Sheamus, Rusev, and King Barrett defeated The Dudley Boyz and Ryback; Dolph Ziggler defeated Big E; Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens, Alberto Del Rio, and Dolph Ziggler (Fatal Fourway to determine the #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship).
  • New Day wants you to know that Roman Reign’s style is not on fleek.
  • Two New Day segments in one night is really a blessing.
  • Great to see the crowd into the matches tonight, especially during that main event. It really makes a difference, and Reigns was getting resounding support.
  • Poor Becky Lynch. That’s all I have to say.
  • Man, the Dudleys do not look good since their return. Everything is moving at half-speed, especially when D-Von is in the ring.
  • I love that the Dudleys lose because of their table fetish. You can’t even use a table in a normal 6-man tag match! But they can’t help themselves!
  • I don’t know, that Ambrose pep talk was maybe too friendly. I don’t trust him to not turn at some point, to get sick of being Reigns’ sidekick.
  • Tyler Breeze is here! And he’s not really doing anything! But it’s still awesome!
  • Thanks to LaToya for braving the main roster while I was on my honeymoon. She’s a goddamn saint and didn’t deserve to watch two straight weeks of Raw.

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