Look, I’m not a religious man, but from what I understand the second coming is kind of a big deal. I think I finally understand why, because WWE’s savior, the Crossfit Jesus, the Architect, the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, made his return at Extreme Rules last night and seemingly blessed the whole company. Having Rollins come back way earlier than originally predicted is huge for WWE. The company has been on a roll lately, offering up two straight post-Mania PPVs that delivered on clearly constructed stories. Styles and Reigns have been killing it, and their feud feels real. Miz, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, and Sami Zayn have brought life back to the IC title picture. New Day and some NXT call-ups give the Tag Team division the kind of depth we haven’t seen in quite some time. Rollins coming back adds another significant piece to the puzzle that’s been coming together since Wrestlemania XXXII.

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The key to the recent success of Raw and the WWE product as a whole has been the focus on creating clear motivations and following through with logical matchups. This week’s Raw is a perfect example of that, as pretty much every match has a purpose and either builds off of relatable feelings of disdain or some sort of conflict leftover from Extreme Rules. There’s continuity to the product right now, and it means the show has stakes every week. Take the opening segment for instance. Rollins opens the show and basks in all the glory, and then turns on the audience and gets his Heel on. The way Rollins controls the crowd and (mostly) gets them to do what he wants is a thing of beauty, but the highlight is how the rest of the segment unfolds. Roman Reigns interrupts, Rollins bails from the ring, then Shane McMahon comes out and brings them both into the ring. From there he immediately sets up a title match for Money In The Bank. It’s a great decision. There’s no fuss, no clumsy tiptoeing around something everyone figures is going to happen. Instead, Shane understands that Rollins never lost his title, so he probably deserves a shot to get it back.

This is the difference Shane, the character, has made. He’s a voice of reason, someone who gives order to the chaos of wrestler’s emotions, feuds, and demands. He sees the bigger picture and knows where everybody fits in, and it’s giving Raw a feeling of clarity and purpose that’s creeping into every hour of the show. We don’t need weeks of lengthy promos to set up Reigns-Rollins. The two have history; we all know it, so let’s get to it. It’s the same attitude that inspires the rest of the night, which is filled with qualifying matches for the Money In The Bank ladder match. Again, we all know the deal, so let’s just get to the matches. That faith in the audience, and in the performers, allows WWE to skip past all the filler and let the wrestling tell the story.

Without all the usual nonsense, Raw just gets to the good stuff. Sami Zayn and Sheamus square off in the first MITB qualifying match, and it’s a perfect matchup for both guys. It gives Sami a legit, big opponent who’s also last year’s MITB winner, meaning that when Sami gets the win it means that much more. Furthermore, it gives Sheamus a reason to demolish Apollo Crews back stage, as he was just beaten by a member of the “New Era.” That kind of continuity is rare on Raw, but here we are! From there we get Miz vs. Cesaro, which boasts some of the night’s best in-ring psychology. There’s Miz getting a jump on Cesaro as soon as the bell rings because, deep down, he knows he can’t beat him. His whole IC title run is built on taking advantage of opportune moments, but here he’s stuck one-on-one with Cesaro, so he just goes at him and hopes to get a quick win. Cesaro overcomes though, selling the hell out of a shoulder injury and then getting the win.

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Two other MITB qualifying matches don’t quite have the same stakes and energy. Chris Jericho vs. Apollo Crews is a sluggish affair. Part of that is because Crews was attacked backstage and Jericho just got through removing tacks from his back, but it doesn’t make for a compelling match. Still, props to Jericho for coming out on the ramp and making it look like he had no interest in wrestling because he’s still beat up from the night before. It doesn’t stop him from getting the win though, and that’s the right move. It’s too early to put Crews in the MITB spot; he’ll benefit more from an extended feud with Sheamus, where the crowd can learn to love him. Similarly, Ziggler vs. Ambrose doesn’t amount to much, mostly because WWE has been jerking us around on these guys for months. It’s hard to care about them in just about any feud because there’s hardly ever a decent payoff. Both guys can go, and they do here, but it just doesn’t have the same spark the rest of the MITB qualifying matches do. The Ambrose win does set up a potential Shield showdown though, with all three guys circling the title if Ambrose can get the briefcase, so it’s hard to complain too much.

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The match of the night goes to Kevin Owens and AJ Styles though. The two square off in the final qualifying match and main even, and they go full bore. Styles is doing springboard 450s and striking Owens like his life depends on it while Owens is attempting moonsaults and screaming at Cole. It’s all so good, the work of two guys who know how to craft something special from beginning to end. Much like Jericho winning, I can sense some uncertainty about Owens winning the match clean, but there’s really no reason to leave Owens hanging. He’s done what he can with the IC title, so why not thrust him into the MITB match with his archrival Zayn? Plus, with the Club going through a breakup, it’s only a matter of time (we presume) until Styles and Balor are facing off, and considering how Styles has elevated his stock in his short time in WWE, that feud certainly can’t hurt either guy.

What’s really great about this week’s Raw though, outside of all the fantastic wrestling, is the show’s sense of urgency and purpose. Almost every single segment serves to build on Extreme Rules while also moving towards MITB. There’s no ignoring of storylines, no sluggish, tedious build of new feuds. Instead, this Raw gets straight to the action. There’s the return of Enzo Amore on the mic, New Day handling the Social Outcasts with ease, and a number of stellar MITB qualifying matches. However, the night might be best represented in the Charlotte segment. After a rocky start to the promo, Charlotte rips into her father for being absent during her childhood, and for then stealing her spotlight once she won the Women’s Championship. She tells him she doesn’t need him anymore, banishing him from the ring and making him weep. The reason this segment exemplifies this Raw, and WWE’s encouraging direction as of late, is that it sees Charlotte, a new talent, setting out on her own and creating a new normal for WWE. That’s what this week’s Raw does. It doesn’t just boast about a New Era; it makes it happen.

Stray observations

  • Results: Sami Zayn defeated Sheamus (MITB qualifier); New Day defeated the Social Outcasts; Cesaro defeated The Miz (MITB qualifier); Chris Jericho defeated Apollo Crews (MITB qualifier); Big Cass defeated Bubba Ray Dudley; Dean Ambrose defeated Dolph Ziggler (MITB qualifier); Kevin Owens defeated AJ Styles (MITB qualifier).
  • Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel costing Heath Slater the match because they’re trying to do the Bo Train while he’s hurt is wrestling poetry.
  • We need to protect Enzo at all costs because he is one of a kind. The whole “hard sneeze” into a dab bit was great.
  • Sheamus insults Sami Zayn because “he’s not even from this country.” Where exactly does Sheamus think he’s from?
  • The way Miz derisively says “Dwayne Johnson” only makes me love him more.
  • “Enzo forgot to pay his electric bill.” Is WWE cool with concussion jokes? I was kind of surprised to here Enzo be so frank about it.
  • Why did Ambrose no-sell the hell out of Dolph’s superkick? Ziggler was using that to win some matches not all that long ago.

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