Stephanie – Rousey: The Raw after Mania started strong with Stephanie McMahon coming out to address what happened the night before with Ronda Rousey. Stephanie gave a great performance here. Rousey did a nice job as well, especially after she did further damage to Stephanie’s arm. She wasn’t as strong beforehand listening to and reacting to what Stephanie was talking about, but she was fine. The storyline was key putting Rousey over and setting up Stephanie to likely get a number of heel opponents to try to get revenge for her moving forward.
Jax & Moon vs. Bliss & James: The interaction between the new Raw Women’s Champion Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss was good. They played their parts well. This was a nice debut for Ember Moon as the first of several new and returning faces to show up on Raw this week. It was a short match. It didn’t give Ember Moon a lot of time to show what she can do in the ring, but she got in her signature spots and looked dominant while in the ring with some of the top acts in the division. That was the important thing and she looked like she belonged. She definitely deserved this call up and I look forward to seeing her on the main roster.
Strowman & Nikolas: I was not a fan of what happened with Braun Strowman and Nikolas at WrestleMania. With the ridiculous length of the show, it definitely felt like something that should have been cut, despite Strowman and The Bar clearly deserving of being on the WM card. However, the live crowd popped for it and WWE had a clever way of getting out of it the next night. The line from Strowman that Nikolas had to get back to the 4th grade was genuinely funny. This sets up a situation with a vacant title which has some potential, which will hopefully help rebuild the tag division which is weak right now.
Rollins, Balor, Hardy, Miztourage: This was a good segment to set up the main event. It gave Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and The Miz some mic time to talk about their triple threat WM match for the Intercontinental Championship. It was a nice set up for Jeff Hardy to return from his injury to come to help out Rollins and Balor. It had good scripting and good performances from everyone involved.
Paige’s Retirement Speech: It is unfortunate that Paige had these neck injuries which are forcing her into a very early retirement from the ring. She was great. She really started the Women’s Revolution. She gave a heartfelt goodbye speech to a crowd that responded very well to her. While she had so much value in the ring, she will definitely add value to Smackdown as Daniel Bryan’s replacement as General Manager.
New Faces: WWE doesn’t need to do a Superstar Shakeup, since there are so many new faces on Raw already (more later). WWE did an nice job introducing some new NXT wrestlers onto the main roster. I already mentioned Ember Moon. I wasn’t a huge fan of No Way Jose in NXT, but he’s got potential. I wouldn’t keep the conga line of losers gimmick going beyond this week, but the quick squash worked well. The Authors of Pain had a quick squash of Rhyno & Slater, although the bit afterward with them dumping Paul Ellering was kind of odd. I was not a big fan of Bobby Lashley and I haven’t watched Impact in years, so I am taking other people’s words about him in terms of how much he has improved. I hope so. I will give him a chance, but my gut reaction is that I would rather see a totally new face than someone who coming back who was never that big of a deal in WWE to begin with. I mean, he got a big push and was put into big matches, but was mostly a bust. I would just rather see someone who hasn’t had this chance in WWE given this spot, but if he is as improved as he supposedly is, he cam prove me wrong. The return itself interrupting Elias worked well. I also already mentioned the return from injury of Jeff Hardy which worked. Samoa Joe was great in his return, but the segment itself was a Miss (more later). Overall, WWE made it feel like a very special night.
Owens vs. Zayn: I enjoyed the backstage scene with Kurt Angle, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens which set up this match where the winner would get a Raw contract. Kurt Angle’s line about TNA hiring was great and popped the crowed. That’s the first time I can remember WWE ever mentioning TNA by name. Am I forgetting something? The bit at the end with Owens trying to get the one spot because he has a family fit in with his character perfectly. We’ve seen these two face so many times that the matches aren’t special, but they are still good. This one was no different. They work well together and put on a good match. I assumed Owens would win to give him a new spot on Raw and leave Zayn open to go with the masked El Generico bit for awhile on Smackdown. Instead, it ended with the way too convenient double count down. That wasn’t great, but made sense in the context of the storyline.
Woken Hardys: I did not enjoy the Woken Hardy compound, Total Wyatt Deletion, or whatever he hell it was called. But, I do often enjoy Matt Hardy’s performances. I am happy to see something new for Bray Wyatt as his act had grown stale. I am curious to see where they go with Hardy and Wyatt as a tag team. It is clear they will beat The Revival next week to go on to face The Bar for the vacant Tag Team Titles. That has potential to be very good. Hardy & Wyatt vs. Titus Worldwide was pretty good. I very much enjoyed the encounter they had with Jeff Hardy later in the show in the back as Jeff was heading for the ring. It was amusing, especially the reaction afterwards from Rollins and Balor. That was comedy gold and all five played their parts well. I like the direction WWE seems to be going with these three, with Woken Matt and Woken Bray always in character, but Jeff sort of being regular Jeff most of the times, but slipping into Woken Jeff / Brother Nero when he’s around the others. He is Jeff Freakin’ Hardy. He is a former WWE Champion who has headlined PPVs and had singles Title matches against huge stars like John Cena and The Undertaker. He shouldn’t be Brother Nero. He is too big for that, even at this point in his career. But, slipping into that role here and there like he did this week, while mostly just being his regular self can work as it did here.
Main Event: This good Raw had a good ending with this six man tag. It wasn’t special. It wasn’t really important. But there was so many other things going on during this show, that the main event didn’t need to be more than just a good match featuring good wrestlers whom the fans are connected to. The fans were hot for Rollins, Balor and Hardy, while booing Miz and The Miztourage. The match was fun to watch. The bit at the end with them continuing to hit all of their finishing moves on each opponent worked well and got a good reaction from the crowd.
“Raw After Mania Crowd”: This Miss is for WWE’s reaction to the crowd, not the crowd itself. There was nothing different about this crowd’s reactions to what they saw than a typical WWE crowed. They might have been louder, but they reacted how all Raw crowds do. They did not hijack this show (nor did they for WM other than the main event). Why? Because, this was a good show. They don’t try to hijack shows just to hijack them. When they’ve done it in the past, it has been because of natural responses to bad shows, or bad matches or segments. WM was a good show for the most part. There was no need to hijack it until Lesnar vs. Reigns. This was a good Raw. There was no reason to hijack it. And while they did boo for Reigns and cheer Samoa Joe, so do most of their audiences at this point. So, that’s nothing new. And this is nothing new for me to complain about. WWE did the same last year. Here’s what I wrote for the Raw after Mania then, “WWE had the announcers talk about this crowd (and they’d do the same on Smackdown) as bizarro world. They tried to frame it as being a crowd that reacts differently than other crowds. They act like they embrace it as if they are controlling it, but they aren’t. And to act like this crowd was acting opposite of all other crowds is ridiculous. They were reacting like all other crowds, just with more passion and intensity.”
Superstar Shakeup: I hate the Superstar Shakeup. I hate the concept. The execution will likely to be very Hit or Miss, just like the old Draft Lotteries were during the original brand split. I hate the timing of it. I can’t comment yet on the execution, so we’ll save that for next week. I appreciate the fact that Michael Cole told Jonathan Coachman how the Shakeup works by saying that the authority figures would get together and work out a series of trades. That’s how it was last year and that works better than the stupid Draft Lottery worked. And at least we know this year how it will work when we didn’t last year. However, we just saw several fresh faces on Raw to shake things up. We got Moon, Jose and the AOP get called up from NXT. We saw Joe and Hardy return from injury which adds two big stars to the Raw roster. We saw Lashley’s to add another potential top star to Raw. That’s a lot of fresh faces. Smackdown will get some new additions as well. So, I question the timing of doing the Shakeup right after WM when they do these other debuts and returns. Why not do it another time of the year, like after SummerSlam? That way nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Too much is happening now and when you switch a bunch of wrestlers at one time, no one stands out. The timing is off, but I wouldn’t do it anyway. Having something to pop a rating once but sacrifices overall quality is a mistake. I would rather see small tweaks to the rosters in order to freshen things up throughout the year than a big dump of new faces all at once. Have Asuka switch brands by going to Smackdown to challenge Charlotte after winning the Royal Rumble. Have occasional trades. Have someone like Samoa Joe return from injury on Smackdown and explain that while he was out with injury, his contract expired and once he was cleared to wrestle, he negotiated a new contract with Shane McMahon. You can have Owens and Zayn get fired on Smackdown and hired by Raw. These things can happen here and there over the year to switch things up and it would be way better than the once-a-year-too-much-is-happening-to-appreciate-anything approach.
The Revival vs. The Club: This should be a good match. The Revival and The Club are good teams. They can step up to help rebuild this tag division which is in such a poor state right now. This was part of a mini tournament set up to get an opponent for The Bar to crown new Tag Team Champions. So, WWE should make it feel like a big deal and actually have ring entrances for the two teams. Maybe show the entire match and not join it in progress. That’s a poor message to send. It defines both teams down right away when you are setting up something for next week, which sets up something for an even bigger show down the line. The match was only 3 minutes, so how are these two teams supposed to do anything good in such a short time?
Reigns – Joe: WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with Roman Reigns at this point. They didn’t go the highly expected route of having Reigns defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship in the WM main event. That didn’t work that well. People were excited three years ago when they had Rollins cash in Money in the Bank to turn that match into a triple threat and walk out of WM as the new WWE Champion instead of Reigns. Here, the fans were more surprised at the finish, but didn’t pop for it in a huge way. The next night, Reigns got booed, but not as strongly as last year, but maybe he would have been if he came out as the new Champ? I didn’t like his promo. The insider terms, conspiracy theories and talking about how Vince McMahon hadn’t smartened him up before the match didn’t make sense and didn’t belong. What was he talking about? That didn’t work. Joe was good in his interruption, but the whole segment felt off. I honestly wasn’t sure how WWE wanted the fans to react to any of it. Are we supposed to feel bad for Reigns for getting another Universal Title match that he didn’t earn, just because he found out about it on the internet? Give me a break.
For another view from the original Hitlist author, compare Jason Powell’s views to mine by visiting prowrestling.NET’s “Hitlist” section here.
Jon Mezzera is PWTorch.com’s WWE Hits & Misses Specialist, providing his point of view for Raw and Smackdown each week. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JonMezzera.