Coming out of Survivor Series it looked like Monday Night Raw was going to be able to capitalize on the number of stories told that night and find ways to move towards the Royal Rumble (and the PPVs before then) in interesting ways. The tease of a split between Y2J and Kevin Owens kept their friendship feeling fresh, and a stellar main event showed that Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins are both more than capable of holding down a main event feud on their own. Hell, even the Cruiserweights had a good week last week, wrestling the kind of fast-paced match that made the Cruiserweight Classic such a hit. Last week’s Raw presented a recipe for success, a night filled with memorable moments that also found ways to build on a number of storylines while also making sure that nothing was too predictable or repetitive.

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This week’s Raw doesn’t quite capture that same magic, but it’s not a lost cause either. There’s a lot of good stuff sprinkled throughout the show. Sami Zayn is getting an actual storyline and character development; Braun Strowman continues to be protected in the best possible way; the trend of great Women’s matches with gimmicks stays intact; and Chris Jericho is there being Chris Jericho. There are quite a few segments that manage to push some interesting storytelling details in the service of building intrigue towards not only December’s Roadblock, but also January’s Royal Rumble. At the same time, those segments are constantly threatened by some of the same baffling choices that have defined the worst of Raw since the brand split.

Let’s get the worst of it out of the way, because there is a lot of good stuff this week struggling for attention. So, first things first: Enzo’s feud with Rusev. If you thought the love triangle angle that WWE ran with Dolph Ziggler not all that long ago was bad, this is perhaps worse, even at this early stage. It’s a feud that embodies everything wrong with the way WWE tells mixed-gender stories. Here, Lana is central to the story, and yet she’s not an active participant. Instead, she’s nothing but a body, an object for Enzo to make crude “turkey stuffing” jokes about, and an object for Rusev to defend. Not only is it gross and the product of a time in WWE that should be firmly in the past, it’s also a terrible way to book babyfaces and heels. It’s not uncommon for many wrestling fans to complain about the way certain motivations don’t line up with the heel and babyface alignments, but it’s worth pointing out again here because it’s particularly egregious. The idea here is that we should all cheer for Enzo because…he has a dick? That’s the best I can come up with, because any sane, respectable person would see that Rusev is the face in this feud, the man doing everything right—outside of that (totally justified) low blow—in the face of someone being totally obnoxious and offensive. Furthermore, what’s the justification for a rematch here? Enzo got beat clean last week, and in no time at all, so why repeat the match? Putting Enzo and Rusev into this mess of a storyline does nothing for either performer.

Similarly, Roman Reigns is still here doing his Roman Reigns thing, just with the increasingly worthless United States Championship haphazardly slung over his shoulder this time around. He’s fresh off taking a crucial losing pin at Survivor Series, which, by WWE logic, means he’s in line for a shot at the Universal Championship. More specifically, he gets a match with Kevin Owens, sans Chris Jericho due to a best friend fight, and the stipulation is that if he wins he’ll get a shot at the title at Roadblock. Sure enough, Roman gets the win. That’s fine. What’s baffling is that there’s no real shadiness when it comes to the finish. Now, part of the story being told is that Kevin Owens can’t survive without Y2J by his side, so a loss here makes sense to a degree. At the same time though, this is a missed opportunity to make Owens look like more than a paper champ, like a guy who can’t get it done when he needs to. So, the result based on the storytelling isn’t really a problem, but the fact that Roman Reigns is in the spot adds some troubling context that keeps all of this from really hitting its mark.

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So, there’s still a lot of larger issues plaguing much of Raw, especially with all the feuds surrounding the Universal Championship, but that doesn’t mean tonight’s episode falls flat. In fact, the show manages to find some spark in the smaller details of some important feuds, and then stick the landing with an incredible main event. Those smaller details are perhaps most beneficial to the Cruiserweights, who continue to benefit from a little more TV time, and a little more freedom in the ring. For the second week in a row there are Cruiserweight matches that actually contain high-flying moves, and while the same issues still remain—Cedric Alexander loses in his hometown because that’s what WWE does now—it’s a step in the right direction, especially when WWE is launching 205 Live after Tuesday’s Smackdown! Live.

But the benefits of attention to detail extend beyond the Cruiserweights. For all that’s wrong with New Day’s record-breaking title reign being protected, their matches continue to toe an intriguing line. There’s shades of grey here again tonight, as Xavier Woods gets the tough win while holding onto Anderson’s tights, and that’s a good way to keep New Day interesting while also opening up ways for them to do new things after the Demolition record is broken. Then there’s the biggest surprise of all, which is that WWE is actually making a lengthy Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar feud work. This week Paul Heyman is in a pre-taped interview looking like he just came off a week-long bender, talking about how he underestimated Goldberg and how Brock is going to come back like we’ve never seen him before, with a purpose and a drive to prove himself. It’s exactly the route WWE should be taking post-Survivor Series. The Goldberg win has the potential to do a lot for both characters—this is the most I’ve been interested in a Brock Lesnar match since he lost the title to the Seth Rollins cash-in, and WCW Goldberg is the best possible version of Goldberg—and tonight’s pre-taped segment is the first step in that promising direction.

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As if that wasn’t enough, Raw caps off a solid night with a main event that once again proves that Charlotte and Sasha Banks have one of the hottest feuds going in WWE. Here, they wrestle a match earlier in the night to a double countout, only to have Mick Foley reschedule their match for the main event, adding in a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation while he’s at it. Removed from the notion of “making history,” the two can go to town on each other, using kendo sticks to leave welts, and brawling into the crowd. There are jokes to be made about the result—Sasha once again gets it done on Raw, despite consistently losing at PPVs—but the fact of the matter is that Sasha Banks and Charlotte have some of the best chemistry in the business, and their matches continue to up the ante. For a show that’s struggled to add any definition to many of its feuds, it’s encouraging to see the Women’s division continue to find new ways to tell a familiar story.

Stray observations

  • Results: Braun Strowman defeated R-Truth; Tony Nese defeated Cedric Alexander; Sasha Bank vs. Charlotte ended in a double countout before being reschedule(Raw Women’s Championship match); Enzo Amore defeated Rusev (via DQ); Rich Swann defeated Noam Dar; Roman Reigns defeated Kevin Owens (If Reigns wins, he gets a shot at the Universal Championship at Roadblock); New Day defeated The Club (Raw Tag Team Championship match); Sasha Banks defeated Charlotte (Falls Count Anywhere match for the Raw Women’s Championship).
  • Okay, I couldn’t really work it in above, but the best segment of the night is by far Sheamus and Cesaro finding some common ground by getting into a bar fight with a bunch loud, obnoxious drunk folks who just so happen to resemble NXT and indie talent. It was perfect in every way.
  • That Sami Zayn promo was great. Fiery, pissed-off, not getting his due Sami Zayn is the best version of Sami Zayn.
  • Kevin Owens says Canadians are a “superior breed of human” and I’m not about to argue.
  • “It was clearly Sin Cara in a Chris Jericho mask.”
  • Looks like WWE is moving towards Seth Rollins vs. Chris Jericho at Roadblock.
  • Rich Swann has a hook kick that Tajiri would be proud of. So crisp.
  • Nothing new here, but Kevin Owens is the king of in-ring banter. Tonight: “You can’t slip out even though your hair is greasy!” “Go back to football or whatever the hell you were doing!”

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