Just because you bill your episode of Monday Night Raw as a “night of firsts” doesn’t mean everything, from matches to backstage segments, is suddenly more meaningful and impactful. WWE didn’t get that memo though. Throughout tonight’s episode of Raw, we’re reminded that we’re seeing a lot of firsts. Typically that would mean a lot of fresh match ups and new angles, which is partly true tonight, but it doesn’t make much of a difference overall because the storytelling is largely the same. The show hits many of the same beats it always does. After all, when Triple H starts the show by saying, “for the first time ever on Monday Night Raw, the Big Show…” you know you’re not exactly in for anything new. Still, despite such a ridiculous storytelling angle, tonight’s Raw does pull out a lot of great wrestling.
First off, the #DivaRevolution is in full swing and might actually be a real thing. I was worried that when the NXT women debuted and WWE split them into three factions, that the storyline would be too simplistic, too obvious of an “us against them” type of feud. Instead, the factions have given the feuds some structure, making sure that everyone gets involved and nobody gets left behind. That means that Becky Lynch gets a submission win tonight, despite sharing the ring with Charlotte, by far the easier talent to get over with the WWE crowd. For the second week in a row there are two Divas matches and both are given significant time. The first, which sees Paige face off against Sasha Banks, is a contender for the match of the night and runs for about 14 minutes. That’s huge for the Divas division. It may not sound important, but the fact that there’s a commercial break during the Paige-Sasha match is a big deal. Just the other day, while being interviewed on Grantland’s Cheap Heat podcast, Daniel Bryan mentioned how frustrating it can be to follow his wife’s career because of how little opportunity the Divas have to prove themselves. He mentions how even when he’s losing he still gets 10-12-minutes to look great on TV. The Divas get three, tops, to get their stuff in and make the crowd care. That’s not enough, and it conditions audiences to see the Divas division as filler and the performers as less talented than the male superstars on the roster. Matches like the two from tonight help change that ridiculous perception.
The rest of the show isn’t half bad either. Neville takes care of Fandango in about two minutes; a match that’s just an excuse to have Stardust cut a promo and get a feud started. He mentions something about a green hood, stoking the fire of those rumors that Stephen Amell, aka. The Green Arrow from CW’s Arrow, might make an appearance at (the now four-hour) SummerSlam next month. The feud between Stardust, Neville, and maybe Green Arrow isn’t built on much right now, but both Neville and Stardust are immense talents that aren’t being used to any substantial end right now, so if they get some space to work every Monday night from here on out, there could be something entertaining there.
The same can’t be said of the tag title situation right now. Let me be clear: the feud between the Prime Time Players and New Day has been amazing. More specifically, New Day remains one of the most consistently entertaining parts of Raw every single week. Kofi Kingston skipping down to the ring this week was the best non-wrestling moment of the night. These guys get how to be heels, finding a nice balance between being annoying, using heel tactics to win, but also being legitimately talented in the ring. The problem with the tag title scene then is the fact that WWE is once again going down a familiar road, having Los Matadores and the Lucha Dragons get wins on TV, meaning that they’re in line for a championship match. It’s WWE logic, which means it makes no sense at all. Los Matadores won because of a New Day distraction last week; there’s no reason why that should get you a title shot. Tonight is even worse. The Lucha Dragons get the win after another New Day distraction, pinning the Los Matadores. So, because they pinned the team that pinned the champs last week, the Lucha Dragons deserve a title shot now too? That’s ridiculous, and pours cold water on the entire tag division. There’s no tension or motivation built into a storyline that just involves “we pinned the champs.” You need something more, and right now, the tag title scene doesn’t have that.
That kind of familiar and stale storytelling extends to the main event as well. While Owens has perhaps taken a step down in some folks’ eyes, it seems that he’s gearing up for a feud with Cesaro, which is something that will undoubtedly be amazing. Therefore, with Owens in Cena’s rearview mirror, the United States Champion has focused in on WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins. The main event match they have tonight is great. Rollins looks seriously strong (he moved Cena’s nose about 3 inches to the right), but Cena gets the win. The fact that Rollins loses isn’t necessarily a problem. What’s frustrating is that the storytelling is relying on the same old “odds stacked against Cena” narrative. The show opens with Cena wanting a match for the WWE Championship, but the Authority refuses and tells him he can battle Rollins, but it’ll be for his United States Championship. “How is that fair?” laments Michael Cole, and that’s where the problem lies. How exactly is him defending his title, something he’s been doing on practically every single Raw since he won it, unfair? It’s not, but it positions Cena as the guy who has the odds stacked against him, which isn’t a bad way to get a face over, but Cena hardly needs it; we’ve seen this with him a hundred times over.
Despite my hesitation towards that type of storytelling, this was another solid episode of Raw. It doesn’t have the same highs as last week’s episode, but it continues the trend of WWE putting wrestling first. From the two Divas matches, to a spot-fest tag match, to the incredible main event, and solid matches between Randy Orton and Kevin Owens, as well as Dean Amrbose and Big Show, tonight’s Raw never really faltered. Plus, we got to see Rusev throw a fish, so everything’s right in the world of WWE.
- Results: Big Show defeated Dean Ambrose (via countout); Neville defeated Fandango; Sasha Banks defeated Paige; the Lucha Dragons defeated Los Matadores; Charlotte and Becky Lynch defeated Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox; Randy Orton defeated Kevin Owens (via DQ after interference by Sheamus); John Cena (c) defeated Seth Rollins (United States Championship Match).
- Fun news update: looks like I’ll be writing up a review of SummerSlam for the TV Club! If all goes well, you’ll hopefully be seeing more PPV reviews in the future, especially for the big shows. Thanks for reading and discussing each and every week, folks!
- Dog Ziggler. That’s all I have to say.
- Okay, but seriously, Rusev is one of the best guys on the mic in WWE right now. He’s hilarious and scary and has an accent. That’s money in WWE terms!
- Love that we got a video package for Sasha Banks. Reminded me of NXT and how they build up talent through their backstories.
- Serious props to Cena for wrestling through that broken nose. That looked unbelievably painful.
- More Rusev: “Take it. Take the fish.”
- “I would have done exactly the same thing!”. I’ll take Miz on my commentary team any time. He’s funny and manages to insult the other talent while also putting them over. Great stuff.
- That Ambrose-Big Show match was surprisingly great. Still a shame that Ambrose isn’t being used to his full potential though. Listen to the pop he gets every single week!
- Bray Wyatt did a thing, but I nodded off during that segment.