There’s no denying that last night’s Money In The Bank PPV was sluggish at times, especially in the early going. With that said, by the time the three-plus hours was done, WWE had earned a lot of credit. The PPV ended up booked perfectly—it’s hard to remember a PPV in recent memory where so many of the outcomes made sense—and the last few matches really gave WWE some momentum going into tonight’s Raw. The build to MITB was undercooked, but the follow through redeemed it all, thanks in large part to AJ Styles and the Club taking out John Cena, and Dean Ambrose finally using his unhinged nature in a productive way and cashing in the briefcase he won earlier in the night to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Seth Rollins.
Raw makes good on that shift in momentum by upping the ante tonight. This isn’t one of those Raws that spends a ton of time recapping the previous PPV and slowly building weeks of story that we already know is going to happen (though, of course, there’s a bit of that). This Raw jumps right back into the action, and it’s clear that the regime change at the top, represented by wins from Styles and Ambrose, makes a huge difference in the feel of the show. The effect is immediate when Ambrose arrives in a cab and nearly forgets to grab the WWE World Heavyweight Championship out of the back. He then makes his way to the ring and, together with an interrupting Reigns and Rollins, manages to craft an opening twenty-minute segment that’s actually engaging. Sure, the beats are obvious: Reigns and Rollins argue over who should get a shot at the title until Shane McMahon comes out and books a Rollins vs. Reigns match for the main event to determine who will get the title shot at Battleground. That doesn’t stop the segment from showing how much potential lies in this Shield feud.
The bottom line is that WWE learned the right lesson from Rollins’ injury. That is, you can’t always rely on doing a storyline sometime down the line because this business is dangerous and unpredictable. So, now’s the time to do “everyone in The Shield goes after the WWE World Heavyweight Championship” because it could be your only chance. Plus, giving Dean Ambrose the strap makes for the perfect dynamic between all three guys. Rollins still gets his win, he still gets to proclaim he’s the “best” even if he doesn’t have the title, and Ambrose being the crazy, hungover champion takes a lot of pressure off of Roman to be THE Guy while also allowing him to lean into his heel tendencies. That’s superb booking that sets WWE up for months, and that opening segment, and the stellar main event where Ambrose makes no bones about wanting to stay champ at all costs, show that there’s plenty of life in the story of these three former friends.
Perhaps even better than the Shield segments is what AJ Styles, along with Gallows and Anderson, is doing with his feud with John Cena. Here’s the thing: this is the exact same feud Cena is in every few months. A new guy shows up and starts talking about taking his spot, Cena confronts him, loses a match via some shady business, says his opponent can’t win without the help, then wins every subsequent match. The setup is all here for another cycle of that, but credit needs to be given to AJ Styles. He’s running with it, subverting it, and making it work. He’s coming out on Raw and giving a killer heel promo—the “insincere high road” promo coming from Styles, all smiles and country charm, is a thing of beauty—and making his cronies apologize for interfering in the match. Then he’s playing on Cena’s pattern of boisterous behavior and Never Give Up attitude and luring him into a beatdown. It’s hard to understate just how great tonight’s Club vs. Cena segment really is. It’s absolutely electric, and with both Cena and Styles doing great work, there’s a ton of potential for this story to shirk the typical CENA WINS storyline going forward.
Expanding the stakes of feuds isn’t limited to The Shield or The Club vs. Cena; in fact, much of tonight’s show works to make sure that with five weeks to go before Battleground, and only four weeks until the live brand extension draft on Smackdown, everyone has something big going on. That means that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn get to wrestle the first match of the night because, if you haven’t heard, they are destined to do this forever. As usual, they prove that WWE’s faith in their longstanding feud is more than justified. Owens is out there still selling last night’s ladder match, superkicking Zayn into oblivion, and then the two of them just can’t stop fighting so when we come back from commercial they’re going at it backstage after the match. It takes goddamn Fit Finlay and the Road Dogg to break them up. Raw begins with two straight matches boasting nothing but NXT talent, and that’s a sign that things are still heading in the right direction post-Mania, even if the MITB build was often underwhelming.
When Raw isn’t upping the ante with previous feuds, it’s doing wonders to build new ones with purpose. First there’s the epic return of Sasha Banks, whose music hits shortly after Charlotte gets a schmoz win over Paige during her title defense. The Boss (sorry Bruce) first forearms Dana Brooke into oblivion (if she actually sold anything, mind you) and then lays Charlotte out, raising the Women’s Championship above her head and immediately changing the dynamic of the stagnant Women’s division. There are a number of interesting storylines emerging. Nattie has turned on Becky, but both feel they’re legit title contenders. Then there’s Paige reasserting herself as a threat, and Sasha coming straight for the queen with no intention of missing. This is what a meaningful Women’s division looks like; the stories have clear motives and consequence, and the women are given significant time to explore all the nuances in the storytelling.
Sasha isn’t the only boss making her return though. An early video package teases a Wyatt Family return and, sure enough, they (sans Harper) emerge later. Just as Bray’s starting to cut a promo though he’s interrupted by, of all people, New Day. I didn’t see it coming at all, but as the segment unfurls, with New Day teasing Bray’s “skeeting off negativity” and Bray promising absolute destruction, it’s hard not to buy in immediately. It’s a clash of styles for sure, but it could be just what the Wyatt Family needs. If they can knock off New Day and assert their dominance, it will not only establish them as real threats, but it will give New Day even more babyface fire.
Essentially, this week’s Raw is filled with simple decisions. Just like the booking at MITB this Raw leans into the idea of giving the audience what they’ve been looking for. So here’s a Shield Triple Threat for the title at Battleground. Here’s The Club once again laying Cena out. Here’s Ambrose standing tall after another great Rollins-Reigns match. Here’s Sasha Banks coming for the title, and Bray Wyatt with purpose and fire in his belly. Considering the sluggish Raws that dominated the build to MITB, tonight’s cohesive, engaging, fun episode is certainly promising.
- Results: Sami Zayn defeated Kevin Owens; Enzo and Cass defeated The Vaudevillains; John Cena defeated Karl Anderson; Baron Corbin defeated Zack Ryder; Charlotte (c) defeated Paige (Women’s Championship Match); Rusev vs. Titus devolved into a brawl; Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns ended in a double countout.
- WWE: please stop showing Enzo getting a concussion.
- WWE: please keep having Enzo and Shane bond over dope sneakers.
- Look, live TV is hard and I genuinely want everyone to succeed, but Dana Brooke has had three straight weeks of mishaps. Not being able to get Charlotte’s foot on the rope was an egregious error. She took that Sasha forearm like a champ though.
- Psst, this Roman Reigns guy keeps having stellar main event matches, almost like he’s pretty good at what he does.
- “Quail protein.” Keep these Miz updates coming.
- I really like that the Titus-Rusev match just ended up being a brawl. We understand Titus’ motivation and he delivered.
- How many among us were tweeting The Big Lebowski references when Ambrose said we could all call him The Dude? All of us?
- Sign of the night: REIGNS ENJOYS SOCCER.
- Dean slipping in a Dusty Rhodes reference was a nice touch.
- So many mixed reaction to John Laurinaitis. I, for one, am enjoying this whole “parade of GMs” thing they’ve got going.
- “You gave John Cena an excuse!” AJ Styles knows how Cena feuds work. He has the Network.
- “Did y’all miss me?” You’re damn right we did, Bray.