Remember last week when “Here Comes The Money” hit and Shane McMahon came out on the ramp and the crowd went crazy and all of a sudden everything felt urgent and exciting in the WWE? If you’re answer is no, you’d be forgiven because your brain was likely numbed by tonight’s Raw, making it hard to remember why we all gave WWE so much credit last week. Last week’s Raw seemed to signal that gear shift that they always pulls just a few weeks before Wrestlemania, throwing a few wrenches into the plan and making things a little more unpredictable. In some ways, the company is still moving in an unpredictable direction, but not the good wrestling version of unpredictable, but rather the terrible, “none of this makes any sense” type of unpredictable.

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It almost feels like WWE knows this too, as so much of tonight’s Raw is spent recapping last week’s episode. Look, I get it. WWE hit it out of the goddamn park last week when Shane McMahon returned, and since WWE lives and dies by its creation of “moments,” they want to capitalize on this and remind everyone that they are capable of doing cool things. The problem is, tonight’s episode fails to really build on that momentum. In fact, last week’s episode, from the return of Shane to the viciousness of the main event and all-around electric feeling of the show, feels like it happened in a vacuum.

Somehow, some way, WWE managed to set up a match between Shane McMahon and The Undertaker last week, and then completely fails to follow through with it tonight. The sluggish, incoherent nature of tonight’s Raw is really embodied in a single segment. When Vince McMahon brings out the Undertaker to talk about his match with Shane at Wrestlemania, it’s a chance to make some sense out of a story that, while certainly intriguing, is lacking in making kayfabe sense. Why would the Undertaker do Vince’s bidding? Why did Vince choose the Undertaker? Is there more to the match, to the feud between Vince and Shane? What about the Raw ownership stipulation? Rather than attempt to answer any of these questions, WWE sends Undertaker out there to say a few words to Vince, saying he’s not culpable for murdering Shane at Wrestlemania, and then has Vince dive head first into Freeform family drama territory (though not even as good) and lament that he doesn’t even know his son anymore.

It’s a wildly misguided, inexplicable segment that does absolutely nothing to explain or build up the Wrestlemania match. It’s a segment that falls completely flat, especially coming on the heels of Shane’s return last week. It’s par for the course on Raw this week though, as the show seems to have very little interest in taking some steps towards Wrestlemania. In fact, tonight’s episode is mostly a string of forgettable, brief matches. Bubba Ray defeats Jey Uso, which we all know is important because WWE showed a “three weeks ago” video clip before the match. Kevin Owens lost to Big Show via countout because Big Show lost the same way on Smackdown and the booking needs to be 50-50 and Owens is contractually obligated to wrestle guys five times in a row before he gets a new opponent.

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Then there’s Ryback getting vicious on Adam Rose because Ryback wears nWo colors now, meaning he’s a badass or something, and The Miz rolling up Dolph Ziggler 47 seconds into their match. What’s the point of all of this? The answer is: there is no point. I’m all for just letting guys wrestle—sometimes that makes for the best matches!—but how does having sub-three-minute matches help anybody? What’s even more egregious is the fact that in order to fit so many of those pointless matches in, The #1 Contender match between Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch barely got any TV time. What they had was good, but a commercial break and a wonky, but admittedly necessary, finish left a lot to be desired. That’s fine, because you have to save some good stuff for Wrestlemania, but considering how throwaway matches dominated tonight’s show, there’s no reason why WWE couldn’t let Sasha and Becky work for another 10 minutes. This is a #1 Contender’s match and it should feel like it! There should be urgency, viciousness, and desperation. Instead, it all feels rushed so that we can get to Natalya shilling for Subway.

Now, there is some good stuff peppered throughout the three hours. Lana cuts a great promo on Brie Bella, talking her under the table while also seemingly building towards Lana’s in-ring debut. AJ Styles wrestles again, and that’s always a good thing. There’s also Stephanie McMahon at the top of her game, going in on not only the audience, but also Shane and Vince’s assumption that his sons will take over the family business instead of her daughters. It’s fiery, pointed stuff, the kind of promo Steph kills when she just lets go. Alongside that good stuff is the main event and the potential coming out of it. WWE continues to do (relatively) right by Dean Ambrose. It’s clear they recognize that he’s a star, and they’re playing the long game with him. Credit where credit is due: I have no idea where this is going. I could see Ambrose winning the title match against Triple H and heading into Wrestlemania against Roman Reigns. I could see Ambrose somehow sneaking into a Triple Threat. I could also see nothing of interest happening and WWE just staying the course and struggling to compile an engaging and exciting Wrestlemania card. I could see a whole lot of other things happening too, some more plausible than others, and I guess that’s a good thing. It’s comforting to know that as of right now, WWE is treating Dean Ambrose right, even if the rest of tonight’s Raw is an absolute mess.

Stray observations

  • Results: Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch ends in a draw (#1 Contender match); The Miz defeated Dolph Ziggler; Rusev and Sheamus defeated the Lucha Dragons; Ryback defeated Adam Rose; Chris Jericho and AJ Styles defeated New Day; Bubba Ray Dudley defeated Jey Uso; Big Show defeated Kevin Owens via countout; Naomi defeated Brie Bella; Dean Ambrose defeated Alberto Del Rio via DQ.
  • “Do you like Shane McMahon?” I feel like Ambrose caught Triple H off guard with that question. Doesn’t he know he’s supposed to keep the feuds separate!?!?
  • Rusev is the only person in the League Of Nations doing anything remotely compelling. Dude’s a stud.
  • I…kind of didn’t dig New Day tonight? I think it’s a mix of the overall show and them being forced into stupid feuds with no heat whatsoever.
  • I don’t have anything else to say. That was a long three hours.

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