New Day didn’t even get to stand tall on the night they tied—and, unless they accept an impromptu challenge on SmackDown Live tomorrow, effectively broke—Demolition’s record for longest tag team title reign. As such, the least I can do is make them the focus of tonight’s review. It’s well-deserved, considering how much all three members delivered the goods in the ring. Big E is one hell of a workhorse, putting in significant time in a pair of matches even when you wouldn’t necessarily say cardio is his best asset. Xavier Woods is the breakout star of tonight, hanging in there against the combined might of all four of Raw’s main eventers and damn near pinning Roman Reigns. And Kofi Kingston would be the MVP of that first match if not for the fact that Cesaro exists, but the Swiss Superman rarely looks better than when he’s going up against Kingston. New Day formed back in 2014 because all three men had, to varying degrees, hit a wall as individual performers, but if tonight made one thing clear, it’s that all three have done more than enough to deserve a shot at a new solo run.

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Implicit in that statement is the suggestion that New Day has run its course as a tag team, but let’s break this down a little bit and take it in stages, because the issue with New Day runs deeper than the fact that, yeah, they have probably run a bit stale. First of all, why is New Day about to break the record for longest tag team range? The constantly cited—though understandably never confirmed—reason is that Demolition is part of the class-action lawsuit against WWE, so the company is motivated to erase them from the record books. Dovetailing with that is the fact that New Day managed to get massively over, necessitating a face turn around Wrestlemania that I’m guessing cemented their merchandise sales. And, again, this is never going to get confirmed, but the tempting conclusion is that WWE’s business incentive to keep New Day’s earning potential as robust as possible has limited how much the characters can change. They have to remain faces, because kids like to root for them. They have to remain a bunch of cool goofballs, because that’s what made them so popular in the first place. And they have to keep winning their title defenses on the biggest bullshit they can, because, well, that one made a lot more sense back when they were heels.

As a rule, I hate speculating on the business side of things like this, because it ought to be irrelevant to how a WWE show works as a story. But here, it’s damn near inextricable. New Day’s pursuit of the record is something that appears to mean a whole lot more to the announce team than it does New Day themselves. New Day shows genuine interest in breaking the title tonight, but neither their promo nor their in-ring psychology—at least not until Xavier Woods empties the tank—suggests this is the most important thing in the world to them. It’s an excuse to throw a party, and in turn some ill-aimed champagne is what lands them that second triple threat match instead of anything tangible to do with the titles. Now, it’s not that that is necessarily a problem. I’m not an absolutist when it comes to the championship belts and how they ought to be used. But titles are fantastic storytelling devices for those who need them, and New Day haven’t needed them in months. Sheamus and Cesaro could use them as the natural, deeply satisfying conclusion to their story. Gallows and Anderson need them because it’s about the only thing that could give them more than a pulse at this point.

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But New Day’s act, much like that of Enzo and Cass, works just fine without the titles to give them credibility. That the belts only mattered to the extent they fueled New Day’s braggadocio worked beautifully when they were heels, because it set up an obvious storyline for a babyface team to prove their mettle and restore the integrity of the tag titles. The New Day’s annoying disregard for the titles made all the sense in the world when they weren’t the subject of the story, but rather the object of somebody else’s chase. But that great face team never really emerged—let’s all take a moment and pour one out for the code-breaking, risk-taking majesty that was Y2AJ—and New Day’s charisma necessitated the turn. But Raw never really figured out how to reconfigure the New Day’s match style, which is so heavily dependent on the numbers game, to fit their new personas, which meant a whole lot of making their heel adversaries—mostly Gallows and Anderson, though do you remember that hot second the Vaudevillains were coming after them?—look like chumps.

New Day’s long march to the tag title record hasn’t been a bad story, because that implies there has been a story at all. Just as when they were heels, New Day are great promos and terrific workers who don’t really make sense as the protagonists of any given story. Hence months of stalled momentum, be it for the Club’s pursuit of the titles, Enzo and Cass’ (very) brief flirtation with an underdog title push, or Sheamus and Cesaro’s newfound partnership. In all these, New Day are pivot, not focal points. And again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if you want to know why the New Day has felt so stale for so long, well, I’d point to all this as why. They sit at this awkward junction of behind-the-scenes politics, great merchandise sales, and misaligned characterizations. That’s as good a recipe as any for a slog, particularly when the march to the record necessarily takes several months.

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And yet, and yet… my goodness, New Day can go. They are equally at home with a pair of established tag teams in the opening match—hey, Sheamus and Cesaro get along now, so I’m counting them as established—and with the main eventers in the closing match. The necessity of all those screwy finishes makes it hard for me to name too many great New Day matches, but I do go back to that Y2AJ match as an underrated slice of excellence, and it’s hard to imagine two better matches to cap off their reign. That New Day win both more or less clean just adds to the satisfaction, with the second match in particular a beautiful bit of booking: All the main eventers come out of there looking various degrees of strong (as ever, there’s regular strong and then there’s Roman strong), but Xavier’s resilience means his unconscious victory feels earned. And Cesaro’s unbelievable burst of offense makes me hang onto the hope that he and Sheamus are still destined to dethrone the New Day eventually, although perhaps that too was meant to be a climax of their story instead of the last break before the final push. As ever, we’ll see.

Like so much that happens on Raw, the road to New Day’s record-breaking night was long, nonsensical, involved the authority figures for no particular reason, and made a select few on the roster look good while damaging pretty much everyone else. It’s hard for me to say with a straight face that two fantastic matches tonight justify the last few months. But Raw is the moments show, and there were absolutely moments tonight that will live on in the highlight packages forever. With New Day, WWE didn’t tell a story worthy of that record. But New Day itself, the tag team of Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods? You’re damn right that they deserve this record. That they deserved a better story is just par for Raw’s course.

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Stray observations

  • Results: The New Day defeated Gallows and Anderson and Sheamus and Cesaro to retain the Raw tag team titles; Braun Strowman defeated Curtis Axel; Ariya Daivari defeated Lince Dorado by disqualification; The Brian Kendrick defeated TJ Perkins; Bayley defeated Alicia Fox; Sami Zayn defeated Jinder Mahal; the New Day defeated Jeri-K.O. and Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to retain the Raw tag team titles.
  • Jack Gallagher is the best. And Daivari is no slouch either, come to think of it.
  • There were some tremendous false finishes in the main event, with me sincerely believing Raw was going to blow up everything and give the tag titles to either Jeri-K.O. or two-thirds of the SHIELD, both of which would have been lunacy. But that’s the kind of lunacy I could have gotten behind.
  • Honestly, I only really started to doubt the New Day would retain when Xavier Woods gave a shout-out to his dead grandmother in the opening promo. I will never underestimate WWE’s capacity for sadism, so I figured Xavier might have been doomed as soon as he said it. I’m glad things went the other way.
  • Others, like your august SmackDown reviewer LaToya Ferguson, had some strongly negative takes on how Mick Foley treated Sami Zayn tonight. But since she’s not here to review things, I’ll just say… eh, it was fine. I mean, Foley’s attempt to bring out Zayn’s angry side was really convoluted and didn’t necessarily fit the character progression of Zayn’s program with Strowman, but… eh, it was fine. After unloading on the New Day, I’ve used up my kvetching reserves for the night.
  • Neither Sasha nor Charlotte appeared on the Roadblock go-home show, though that clips package did as good a job as anyone has on making sense of their feud. I can buy into the notion that they don’t exactly hate each other as much as each is desperate to prove she is better than the other. There’s some logic to that I can get behind.
  • No Emmalina tonight! The slim possibility this is all a swerve for the return of Evil Emma lives!
  • I hope I am ever as excited about anything as Corey Graves was at the prospect of Eva Marie coming to Raw.
  • Did Roman stand tall for no particular reason? Oh, you better damn well believe Roman stood tall for no particular reason!

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