At this point in the brand split, the problems with Monday Night Raw are well known. We’ve all sat here week after week hoping for some sort of spark, for WWE to give us something to latch on to that says, “hey, we know this has been rough ever since we split up the rosters, but trust us, we’ve got this.” There have been some of those moments, but they’ve either been fleeting, like Kevin Owens winning the Universal Championship, or largely isolated from the main roster stories, like with last week’s intense return of Goldberg. Those are moments that are, without a doubt, memorable. So, Raw has some of those big moments that are necessary to pro wrestling, but as they say, the devil’s in the details, and at this point it’s clear that Raw is struggling to define not only what makes it must-see when compared to Smackdown! Live, but also what makes it a compelling TV show in its own right.

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Bringing up Smackdown! Live every week is no way to structure reviews, but the Blue show bears mentioning early on because it can help illuminate just where Raw is going wrong, especially in terms of how it builds towards its PPVs. So, for just a second, think about everything that’s happened on Smackdown! Live since the brand split. There are probably moments that stand out just like on Raw, whether it’s AJ Styles beating up John Cena, or James Ellsworth connecting with that superkick last week. But, more than that, you probably remember the smaller details. You can probably recall just how Smackdown! Live built to Dean Ambrose losing the WWE World Championship to Styles. You can probably recall every beat in the fiery feud between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler, culminating in that huge win at No Mercy. The point is, Smackdown! Live does a great job of not only fleshing out its stories, but making sure they track from one week, and one PPV, to the next. Raw, as exemplified with this week’s episode, can’t be credited with doing the same.

One of Raw‘s most glaring problems is the fact that it seems incapable of constructing stories around its performers. There’s no question that the Red show has some serious talent, and yet heading into Hell In A Cell there’s hardly a feud that feels meaningful. The main reason for that lack of intrigue is the constant presence of, for lack of a better word, the “Authority.” Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley are an integral part of two of the biggest feuds heading into Sunday’s PPV. Rather than creating some sort of engaging drama though, they end up detracting from what could otherwise be seriously hot storylines. There’s Seth Rollins and his feelings of betrayal, and the vengeance he needs to enact on Kevin Owens. Add in the wild card that is Chris Jericho, who’s more and more a babyface each week, and suddenly you have some unpredictability. Then there’s Sasha Banks and Charlotte, who have spent years fighting not only for titles, but for spots on WWE’s roster. They have history and relatable hatred for one another.

And yet, Raw insists on making Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley the highlight of each segment. Their inclusion doesn’t add much to the mix—though, I will say, I enjoyed Foley’s impassioned pleas for Charlotte and Sasha to understand what they’re getting themselves in to, even if the delivery wasn’t quite there. Instead, they end up distracting from what should be the main draw: the in-ring performers. Because make no mistake about it, the main event stars here are doing tremendous work with what they’ve been given. Charlotte and Sasha are doing everything they can to pivot from the rather empty boasts of how their PPV match is making history for women, and instead selling their hostility towards each other. Tonight’s contract signing went a long way towards showing us why Sasha and Charlotte hate each other so much—Charlotte in particular was absolutely on fire on the mic, showing us once again why she’s the best performer in this division—when Mick Foley wasn’t inserting himself into the proceedings. Again, I think Foley’s experience brings a lot to the table, especially in setting up a Hell In A Cell match, but that doesn’t mean the mere presence of an “Authority” figure isn’t frustrating.

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The same criticism can be applied to the struggle for the Universal Championship. Rather than leaning on the talents of three next-level performers in Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho, WWE is choosing to tell a story based around the murky intentions of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. There’s the potential for a fruitful story there, as Rollins transitions from being the face of the Authority to the one shunned and discarded by them, but the build to Survivor Series hasn’t done a good job of fleshing out the details of that arc. Instead, Raw is stuck in a holding pattern, attempting to move around too many pieces at once, resulting in a main event feud that feels overstuffed and convoluted.

That’s the essence of Raw right now. It’s a show that manages to craft a few big moments, but can’t find a way to connect them over a significant period of time. Meanwhile, Smackdown! Live is using James Ellsworth to deepen the continuing feud between Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles. If Raw is going to prove that it’s the flagship show it’s consistently touted as, it needs to start putting all of its pieces together, because right now the Blue show is embarrassing them week in and week out.

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Stray observations

  • Results: Enzo Amore defeated Karl Anderson; Sheamus and Cesaro defeated New Day; Dana Brooke vs. Bayley ended up being an arm wrestling match for some reason; Bo Dallas defeated Curtis Axel; Golden Truth defeated the Shining Stars; Rich Swann defeated Brian Kendrick; Braun Strowman walked away from his match with Sami Zayn; Seth Rollins defeated Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho (Triple Threat).
  • You have to wonder if a Jericho babyface turn is in our near future. I guess it all depends on Y2J’s schedule, but the seeds have been planted, and clearly the WWE Universe is ready to cheer for him again.
  • Can we get Jericho to add “Triple Main Event” to the list?
  • The match between Cesaro, Sheamus and the New Day told a great story, with the former finally starting to put it all together, but, as usual, they couldn’t have left that for Sunday?
  • What was that Paul Heyman promo? Even he seemed frustrated, either by the lack of time he was given or by the fact that he’s cutting a promo for a part-timer while Survivor Series is still four weeks away.
  • Goldberg is back on Raw again next week because WWE can’t just let a good thing be a good thing.
  • I mentioned this on Twitter, but it bears mentiong again: Brian Kendrick is the best actor on this show by a wide margin.
  • Byron Saxton says that the upcoming Roman Reigns vs. Rusev match “could be their final encounter.” Please, no more of this.
  • I have no more time for this pretty abysmal Raw, but I will say that the post-match beatdown Seth Rollins received at the hands of Owens and Jericho was more inspired than the rest of the show. That apron powerbomb is still a thing of beauty.

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