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Monday Night Raw briefly remembers that it’s a wrestling show

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It’s kind of strange that at the exact moment when WWE is more riddled with injuries than perhaps ever before, Monday Night Raw gets back to being a show that has actual wrestling throughout the night. Or maybe those injuries are just what the company needed. Maybe they realized they hadn’t built up any of their talent beyond the three or four top-tier guys of the last few years, that they hadn’t given a lot of them significant time to work out their stuff in the ring, and are now just throwing guys in there and seeing what sticks. That’s both good and bad, as this week’s Raw suffers from a lack of storytelling but also makes up for it by simply tossing out a lot of matches. There’s hardly a lengthy promo in sight, and that’s always a welcome change in pace.

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Make no mistake though, the best part of the night happens at the top of the show (when was the last time you could say that?) and it’s a promo. While Paul Heyman is listing all the physically intimidating aspects of his client, Brock Lesnar, he begins to throw some shade at Dean Ambrose. That brings Ambrose out immediately, and the promo he cuts is a thing of beauty. For too long Ambrose has been a goofy character, a guy whose “unstable” nature doesn’t result in him being more aggressive or angry, but rather just plain stupid. Tonight, he goes back to being the Ambrose the crowd absolutely adores. He walks right into the ring and shows he’s not scared of Brock. He says that while he respects Brock, he’ll drag his broken body to Wrestlemania to fight Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship if he has to. It’s an energized, stirring promo, with Ambrose looking like a complete badass, legitimizing his spot in the Fastlane main event while also serving to complicate the final outcome. WWE’s history of booking suggests Reigns wins (and that may be the right story to tell), but the presence of Lesnar and a more driven Ambrose (even with the IC title) makes things more unpredictable.

For the most part, the Fastlane main event is the only feud that really sees its story move forward this week. It’s the focus of the opening promo and the main event, where Reigns and Ambrose take on New Day. The rest of the show moves a few feuds forward incrementally, but there’s no big shift. When Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch have a match, it ends in a DQ because Team BAD, who come out to support Sasha, turn on her when she refuses their help. It’s a segment with unclear motivation—is Sasha supposed to be a babyface? Is that the point?—but, to WWE’s credit, at least Sasha’s former faction played into the story. Usually they’d just ignore that Sasha was ever involved with Team BAD and move on with her singles push, so it’s refreshing to see them flesh out the story a bit, even if the execution is undercooked. Elsewhere, it looks like Ziggler and Owens are building towards something at Fastlane, but without a title, there isn’t much motivation there for either guy. Still, I stand by what I said last week: I’m not sick of seeing those guys go. Plus (Fantasy Booking Alert!), when the Undertaker shows up during one of their matches to feud with Owens, it’s all going to be worth it.

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Peppered throughout the rest of the show is a number of meaningless matches that vary in quality. Big Show, once again an official WWE babyface because why the hell not, faces off with Erick Rowan in a match that’s exactly what you’d expect it to be—complete with post-match Wyatt family beat-down—meaning there’s no need to watch it. For some unknown reason, Brie Bella gets a win over Charlotte after Ric Flair distracts his daughter. At least I think that’s the story being told; tonight was not a good night for storytelling within the Divas division. Other matches though don’t even hint at storytelling: The Usos, rolling out a D League version of a Youngbucks performance, get a pin on Axel Rose, which is what I’m officially calling the pairing of Social Outcasts Curtis Axel and Adam Rose, while Kalisto gets a countout victory over Rusev while Del Rio sits on commentary, apparently nursing a back injury until Fastlane if certain reports are to be believed. Still, those matches are better than a lengthy Authority promo or some tossed off backstage segment—I’m looking at you, R-Truth and Goldust—so it’s hard to get too worked up about the lack of storytelling.

Other than Ambrose at the top of the show, the night is largely carried by two practically wordless performances. First, there’s AJ Styles making an appearance on Miz TV. It goes like every Miz TV segment does, with the host not letting AJ get a word in, and AJ beating the hell out of him once Miz moves from slight praise to insults. It’s a smart segment in terms of booking AJ. There’s no need to have the guy talk, but you also want his storied career to be out there so that the audience can connect to him. By having Miz deliver his whole story, you not only get it out there, but you also get AJ the huge pop that comes with him beating down the Miz, a guy who knows how to get real heat in WWE.

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The other wordless performance is, of course, Brock Lesnar. Just as with last week’s episode, it’s hard to argue with just about any Lesnar appearance. He’s so magnetic, such a fun variable, that he livens up any show he’s a part of. Again though, as with last week’s segment, the way the main event plays out is predictable. Lesnar is at his best when he’s unhinged, when his actions are erratic. Tonight’s main event was far from unpredictable. That doesn’t by any means ruin the potential of the Fastlane main event—it has the makings of something really good—but it does see the third hour of Raw limp to a close, which isn’t something we should ever be able to say when Brock Lesnar is on our screen.

Stray observations

  • Results: Kalisto defeated Rusev via countout; The Usos defeated Curtis Axel and Adam Rose; Brie Bella defeated Charlotte; Big Show defeated Erick Rowan; Titus O’Neil defeated Tyler Breeze; Dolph Ziggler defeated Kevin Owens; Sasha Banks defeated Becky Lynch via DQ; Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose defeated New Day.
  • First, some good news. After a lengthy hiatus, LaToya Ferguson is ready to step back into the Raw coverage game! She’ll be reviewing next week’s show, and we’ll be rotating weeks from here on out. Here’s hoping Bo Rida makes his triumphant return as well.
  • Seriously though, was Bo left off TV because he got over when Flo Rida was supposed to? I know that sounds a little paranoid, but I’m not sure what else to think.
  • New Day pointing out a kid shaking his hips in the crowd, and then saying they’d still fight him, was beautiful.
  • Also beautiful: Paul Heyman calling Triple H a trophy husband.
  • Kalisto hit a pretty sick Tornado DDT on Rusev.
  • In case you haven’t already, grab a few tissues and head over to Bret Hart’s Instagram page and read about his battle with prostate cancer.
  • The Miz has crowned himself the Father of the Yes Movement, and I couldn’t love that man more.
  • Dean Ambrose describing Stephanie McMahon: “Lotta sass!”
  • Owens to the ref, while holding Dolph in a chinlock: “His stupid hair is in my face!”
  • Reigns was surprisingly absent tonight. Interesting.
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