It’s been a busy old week in McMahon’s kingdom as we stumble towards both the women-only PPV Evolution and the old clanger that is Hell in a Cell, but as is so often the case with modern WWE, nostalgia bombs have been dropping fast and hard on the flagship shows RAW and SmackDown, leaving the redheaded stepchildren of 205 Live and NXT to do the real work.
The Shield are back! Again! The Undertaker is back! Again! Shawn Michaels is back! Did he ever leave? It’s hard to tell with HBK, there’s always that sense that he’s the ex-employee who loiters around in case there’s something for him to do.
After continuing to pitch the Shield vs. Strowman/McIntyre/Ziggler clash set for Hell in a Cell with a good old-fashioned “entire locker room has to separate warring factions, one of whom is then ‘arrested’ for their troubles” routine, the Bella Twins made a return to tag team action against the Riott Squad. It’s clear WWE are nervous at the star power of their current women’s roster and its ability to hold down an entire PPV, so the return of the Bellas, Lita and Trish Stratus feel like fanboy-pleasing compromises rather than firm creative decisions.
All we have here is the Bellas showcasing their ring rust and merrily burying Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan, continuing the baffling drive to make the NXT favourites look like chumps on national TV. Sure, you could argue that it’s all about Vince refusing to put former NXT stars over, ever, but in a Women’s division packed with quality wrestlers already, do we really need the Bellas at this point?
Elsewhere, Bobby Roose and Chad Gable are apparently a tag team now, because what better boost for your division than cramming two more singles wrestlers with nothing to do into it, and Elias is now getting in on the Bliss/Rousey feud with Bliss getting some easy heat by dismissing her hometown crowd. It’s often hard to take the sneering villain of Bliss seriously when her social media is full of beaming selfies from Disneyland, but also a testament to how well she nails the character week after week. It’s telling a good story with the savvy Bliss gradually gaining a psychological edge on Ronda Rousey, with the UFC champ not used to the mind games of modern WWE. Will it make a difference? Hopefully so – Rousey still needs to earn the title she took from Bliss, after all.
The first big shock of the night saw McIntyre (seriously, how huge is that guy?) and Ziggler wipe out the Revival backstage, before trouncing the plucky ‘tweeners The B-Team to take the RAW Tag team titles. The division has managed to make solid teams out of singles wrestlers (The Bar, primarily), but it’s still bafflingly short on actual tag teams, so burying the Revival here can only hurt them going forward. It’s even more galling when the terrifying Authors of Pain are stuck flattening jobbers instead of brutalising main roster competition – we can only hope that an AoP/Mc n’ Zig program is on the cards once this business with the Shield is out of the way.
Undertaker’s return to answer Shawn Michaels’ trash talk, while yet another ‘hey, fellow kids, remember this?’ moment, also showcased the sheer presence ‘Taker still commands after all these years. The crowd still lose their collective shizz as soon as those iconic bells start a-ringing, although the promo kind of forgot to big up the ‘Taker/HHH match set for the Australian PPV ‘Super Show-Down’ (aha ahah Down as in Down Under you see WE CAN MAKE JOKES TOO please like us). Are ‘Taker and the Heartbreak Kid really going to have another match?
Rounding off the pre-main event segments, we had Dana Brooke turn her back on Titus Worldwide after their interference cost her a loss in a tag match, which garnered about as much reaction as you’d expect, before one of those cringey ‘comedy’ segments WWE regularly fails to land had Bobby Lashley attempt some meditation with Jinder Mahal, before Kevin ‘I Quit’ Owens stormed back in to deliver a beatdown.
Nobody knows what the heck is going on here, much less the actual writers – Owens spent months being buried by Strowman in increasingly embarrassing fashion (an actual portaloo was involved at one point) before apparently ‘quitting’ just last week, now here he is again? Don’t get me wrong – Owens works best as an unhinged, dangerous bruiser even his Best Friends Forever run with Jericho was a thing of beauty, but it feels like he’s being used here to try (again) to inject some momentum into Bobby Lashley. A true Big Name on Campus back in his day, Lashley seemed poised to help dethrone Lesnar but has pottered around aimlessly in the months since, leaving a talented wrestler with no story and no direction. Again – and I know we say this a lot, but that’s what being a modern wrestling fan is all about – let’s hope this is going somewhere.
Talking of sacrificial lambs, oh hey look, it’s first-ever Universal Champion Finn Balor, one of the coolest dudes on the block, getting squashed by Braun Strowman to help set up the big tag match we already know is happening. Credit to Balor for putting up a convincing fight, but this was all about the beatdown on the Shield that followed. Seeing every heel on RAW take turns to demolish the Big Dog, Lunatic and Architect, directed by dastardly new general manager Baron Corbin, is a very old school ‘Authority vs. babyfaces’ angle, but if it ain’t broke, keep churning the same thing out as they probably say.