I’m starting to think that WWE has no idea how to do a go-home show anymore. I’d have to dive into the WWE Network to really map this out but for quite some time the Raw before a PPV has boasted a similar structure, one with a frustrating tendency towards just throwing superstars into matches with no focus on storytelling. That’s not to say there can’t be McMahon’s hated “wrestling for wrestling’s sake,” but rather that WWE continually blows out, or at least slows the momentum, of its feuds leading into a PPV by giving just about each and every wrestler on the PPV a match against their upcoming opponent.

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This means that the contestants in the Money In The Bank ladder match all have singles matches tonight. There’s Randy Orton versus Sheamus, also known as “hey, that match was on Raw last week, right?” There’s Dolph Ziggler versus Kane, which is not only ridiculously slow moving–and Kane can’t sell Ziggler’s DDT or Famouser if his life depended on it–but ends with a dumb distraction finish. Seriously, does Kane ever win with a single chokeslam anymore?

The lone ladder match standout is Neville, who’s part of the only interesting segment tonight. John Cena opens the show and says some stuff about fighting for everybody and loving wrestling and such. Thankfully, he’s interrupted by Kevin Owens, who comes out and cuts an honest promo, which is exactly what makes Owens so compelling. He manages to find a wonderful balance between those who chant “Fight Owens Fight” and those who chant “Let’s Go Cena.” He can get the larger WWE crowd to boo him by being a jerk who doesn’t care about things like hustle, loyalty, and respect while also making valid points for all the smart marks out there. When he tells Cena people are sick of seeing him open Raw, he’s right. It’s beautiful stuff. That extends to his in-ring work to, where he plays the cowardly heel to perfection until he absolutely unloads on his opponent and shows how much of a force he is.

Owens, after shutting down Cena’s open challenge and suggesting that the next person to come down the ramp should decide which title they want to fight for, faces off against Neville. The rest of the show aside, it’s remarkable to see Raw open with Cena, Neville, and Owens in the same ring. The match is predictably great, with Owens continuing to show off new offense while Neville still looks like a dangerous guy with a lot of guts. It helps that Cena actually contributes on commentary, putting over the new talent in a meaningful way–if only Adam Rose was so lucky. He talks about how tough Neville is, how Owens surprised him at Elimination Chamber and is obviously talented, and talks about how these two guys prove that WWE’s future is bright. It not only makes the ongoing match seem more important, but also builds up the Cena-Owens fight on Sunday while selling NXT.

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That type of competent storytelling doesn’t extend to the rest of the episode. The rest of Raw is a mess of dull matches and weird face-heel alignments. For instance, I guess the Bellas are officially heels again, especially after the twin magic of last week? They were just babyfaces, but hey, this is the Divas, so who’s even paying attention, right? Sigh. The main throughline of the episode has the same problem. The overarching narrative this week is that Seth Rollins is sick of the Authority (other than Triple H and Steph). He’s out to prove he can do things on his own.

That’s fine in theory, but the problem with the execution is that the Authority treats him like a joke for the whole episode. J&J lash out at him (and pin him), Kane laughs at his chances of beating Ambrose on Sunday, and Triple H and Steph treat him like a spoiled teen they’re sick of dealing with. The result is a weird situation where the Authority are essentially babyfaces. They’re tearing down their own champion, their own future and face of the company. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of storytelling, and it leaves the majority of the show feeling conflicted and rudderless, especially since Ambrose spends most of the episode only appearing in photos (that are, admittedly, pretty great).

That’s par for the course though, as storytelling is absent from so many of the matches and segments tonight. Nikki Bella squashes Summer Rae and proves what? Ryback talks a lot then Shell Shocks Big Show, spoiling the only moment to look forward to during their match on Sunday. There’s so little motivation to these matches that it’s hard to get wrapped up in them. At least Roman Reigns versus Kofi Kingston was a fresh matchup (and physical), which distracted from the lack of storytelling and motivation.

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WWE only had two weeks to build to Money In The Bank. You could read that as an excuse for the lackluster booking, but it really shouldn’t be. If anything, the shorter build should allow for some variance, for a change of pace from regular WWE programming. Instead, it’s more of the same. There’s no excitement leading into Sunday, which is a shame, because Money In The Bank is a consistently great PPV.

Stray Observations:

  • RESULTS: Kevin Owens (c) defeated Neville (NXT Championship); Nikki Bella defeated Summer Rae; Shemaus defeated Randy Orton (DQ); Kane defeated Dolph Ziggler; Harper and Rowan defeated Los Matadores; Big E defeated Titus O’Neil; Roman Reigns defeated Kofi Kingston; J&J Security defeated Seth Rollins.
  • LaToya is pretending WWE doesn’t exist this week, so you’re getting a double dose of me. I’ll be reviewing NXT on Wednesday as well.
  • As has been the case lately, the New Day injects Raw with some much needed life. They’ve been stellar but are only getting better every week.
  • R-Truth delivered the lone laugh of the night and the first legitimately funny moment in I don’t even know how long.
  • If two beautiful men hurling childish insults at their elders is your thing then stay tuned, because we’ve got a Reigns-Ziggler-Kane segment you’re going to love!
  • Joey Mercury talked!
  • I refuse to accept any of this Ziggler-Lana-Rusev stuff. Rusev and Lana are a power couple that are meant to be together. Their relationship is sacred and inspiring. Fact.
  • #MinisterOfMass
  • What does my girlfriend think of [insert Raw thing here]: What does she think of Lana, Ziggler, and Rusev? “Why are they doing this to Lana and Rusev? It’s breaking my heart.”
  • “Who’s Mr. Ed?” Byron Saxton with the sly age difference joke; you know, when he could actually get a word in.

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