This week, some growly men beat up other growly men, a couple of skinny dudes were brutalised by big scary men and another growly man talked about how he was going to beat up a different growly man. Welcome to Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment!
This week’s RAW opened, as so many do, with an extended promo going into a scuffle which led into a match for later on. Creative has used this opening gambit so many times as to render it meaningless – you can always safely go get a cuppa for the first ten minutes of any given RAW, although this week the unofficially-helmed ‘Dogs of War’ (Strowman – who you notice now is extra growly when being a heel – McIntyre and Ziggler) got into a tussle with the Shield that (again) involved the whole heel side of the locker room.
Watching Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose steamroller everybody from Gulak, the Ascension and even the Authors of Pain before tamely tapping people in the bellies with bits of wood (because Hounds of Justice! Rargh!) reminds you of both the overblown silliness and engaging ridiculousness of modern wrestling, all in one segment. Unfortunately, nobody came out of this looking good, so roll on Sunday where this lot can hopefully put an end to this feud and let more interesting stories get going.
Elsewhere Nikki Bella beat Ruby Riott because apparently the Riott Squad’s momentum was less important than letting the Bellas embarrass themselves on national TV two weeks in a row, before the AOP (which is what we call the Authors of Pain now I guess?) squashed two pale jobbers and sweet muppety Odin what happened to these guys? When can we set them loose on the tag title scene?
Luckily, after last week’s rather odd Shawn Michaels/Undertaker promo that forgot to set up the match it was promoting, ol’ Trips himself, the Game, Triple H took to the stage to roll out a thunderous promo in his gravelly baritone that was all about ‘respect’, or lack thereof. HHH and Undertaker had one of the all-time great rivalries in WWE, and it shows in the level of writing these guys get to hype up their matches – but lest we forget, the ‘End of an Era’ match at Wrestlemania 28 was over six years ago. These are two of the oldest of old boys, and I would advise keeping expectations low for their clash at Super Show-Down in October.
Back in the ring, McIntyre and Ziggler put away a spirited rematch from the B-Team, before Rollins and Ambrose showed up again to chase the champs away, despite being threatened with ‘arrest’ by General Manager Corbin after the opening segment. WWE loves to throw in these Attitude Era-esque moments around ‘edgy’ wrestlers like Rollins and Ambrose more as a treat for long-time fans than for any legitimate story reason, given the Shield bros winked and gurned their way out of trouble later in the night.
Kevin Owens’ botched ‘I quit’ moment is one of many storytelling misfires with the excellent former champion this year, and after mowing down Tyler Breeze, Owens grabbed the mic to rant about how Bobby Lashley’s (kayfabe) injury on his buddy Sami Zayn was the catalyst for his current rage. I maintain that Owens works best as an unhinged, devastating monster, but he’s going to need a much more solid angle to sell a feud with Lashley, especially one I can’t see him winning.
Gable and Roode took out the Ascension, again, who might as well retire their gimmick at this point (I vote strongly for a rebirth as the Surf Dudes from last year’s amazing Southpaw Regional Wrestling webseries), and while some angles feel this is all setup for a big heel turn by Roode, I have to ask, who really cares? Roode is yet another guy who went from NXT supervillain to midcard also-ran the moment he hit the big leagues, and another name on my growing list of ‘Guys Who Should Go Be King of the Indies Instead Of Wasting Their Time On RAW/SmackDown’.
Rousey and Natalya took out Alexa Bliss and Mickie James, in what is only Rousey’s second in-ring appearance on RAW even though it feels like she’s been around a lot longer. Still needing to both earn the title she won from Bliss and make rapid gains in performance to catch up to her peers, the crowd remain firmly behind the ex-UFC champ. We’re willing to give her time to learn because we want her to be great, and that’s support you can’t earn any other way than working your butt off. Seeing Rousey try to sell a rib injury will hopefully give her another basic wrestling skill to develop, but could it really cost her the title on Sunday?
Elias did his thing once again – always a pleasure – before a surprise appearance from the hardcore legend Mick Foley, who chewed up Elias in a cracking promo to announce he’ll be guest referee for Strowman/Reigns at Hell in a Cell. Quite why this happened here and not during the actual Strowman/Reigns spot later is anybody’s guess – I know this is 20 years since ‘Taker hurled Foley from the top of the HIAC cage in one of the Attitude Era’s most notorious matches, but all this really did was make me miss Foley as GM of RAW, because dang those were good times.
Oh, and then Elias was beaten clean by Finn Balor, because apparently that’s what happens to guys with no story now. It’s easy to forget Elias is actually a damn good wrestler because all he gets to do is his ‘obnoxious rockstar’ schtick every week, but this match was not a great example of either man’s skillset.
Main event! Well, not really. Strowman growled a challenge, stomped up the ramp to face Reigns and the two grappled before Reigns delivered a gutsy Samoan Drop onto the arena floor. Now I know Reigns is a big lad, but Strowman weighs something like 385lbs, so fair play to Roman for actually picking the Monster up.
So as far as ‘go home’ shows go, not a great episode. Lots of filler or repeat matches, some promos that already feel overworked and rivalries in need of more work that have just run out of time to develop. Hopefully Hell in a Cell can deliver the goods, and let’s pray that next week’s RAW doesn’t just rehash most of those matches for a TV audience… aah, who are we kidding, of course it will.
Final mention to Renee Young for becoming the first woman to join the RAW announce team full time – go show ’em how it’s done!