SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Opening Segment: I was on vacation and then behind last week as I tried to catch up with all the wrestling I missed while away. I could not avoid the Raw spoilers last week with Roman Reigns’ announcement and I had heard about Dean Ambrose turning on Seth Rollins, so I couldn’t really experience it in the moment. So, I’m returning this week having not had a chance to comment on it, but I didn’t like how WWE took advantage of the situation to get extra heel heat on Ambrose by having him turn the same night that Reigns announced his battle with Leukemia. I cringed a little with Baron Corbin talking about hoping that if Reigns comes back, he doesn’t want him back on Raw. So, I was expecting this opening segment to be a Miss, but it was a very good segment to start Raw. Paul Heyman was strong. The confrontation with Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman was good. WWE has turned Strowman babyface again, to make up for losing Reigns, and they did a nice job here of clearly establishing Strowman as the face and Lesnar as the heel heading into their Universal Title match at Crown Jewel. The physicality worked well to save Strowman getting his hands on Lesnar until the match.
Balor vs. Lashley: The heel Bobby Lashley is much more interesting than the babyface Bobby Lashley. Lio Rush is still finding his voice as a mouthpiece for Lashley. He comes across better when talking about himself as a wrestler on 205 Live, but he’s been improving on Raw. The match against Finn Balor was pretty good. Did Rush make a mistake when he tried to push Balor off the top rope the first time? That was a little odd. But the ultimate disqualification worked well and the beatdown afterwards was what really stood out to continue to cement Lashley as a heel. The bit afterwards with Corbin taking John Cena out of the World Cup and putting Lashley in made a lot of sense from a storyline standpoint capitalizing on his previous feud against Balor.
Ten-Woman Tag: There was a time in the Diva era when Raw would feature a 10 woman tag that would last maybe 90 seconds. The fact that we get to see one now go 13 minutes clearly points to this being a new era. This was fun. It wasn’t a great match, but everyone played their parts well and performed well. Alicia Fox didn’t have a major blunder like the night before at Evolution. It was a nice moment on Raw for Trish Stratus and Lita. I do hope that going forward to presumably another Evolution even next year and more importantly at the Royal Rumble that WWE goes away from so much nostalgia to focus more on current stars for these big events for the women.
Rollins – Ambrose: While I didn’t like the timing of the turn and there was certainly cringe worthy aspects to the follow up this week (more later), the in ring segment with Rollins trying to call out Ambrose for an explanation was very good. The performance by Rollins on the mic was great. The scripting worked very well to bring up his own past when he turned on The Shield four years ago. It was well done to address that situation, but juxtapose it to this situation. It was a case where scripting and performance met to give a good moment. Ambrose was also good in just standing in the crowd, listening, and then teasing talking without actually talking. That makes the fans want to tune in next week to actually hear the explanation.
Cringe Inducing Reigns Follow Up: I understand WWE replaying the emotional moment from last week when Reigns announced his taking a leave of absence and abdicating the Universal Title due to his Leukemia returning after being in remission for 11 years. That’s how they started the show. As I said, I didn’t like what they did last week with The Shield. Here, they really played it up even more than last week, showing the replay of Reigns’ announcement multiple times, following up with replays of the attack of Ambrose on Rollins, and pointing to how despicable the action was in light of the announcement. It is undeniable that WWE wants fans to be angrier at Ambrose because of Reigns’ illness. That’s exploitation and it made me uncomfortable throughout the show.
Jax/Moon/Tamina: I didn’t understand what WWE was trying to do with Nia Jax, Ember Moon, or Tamina. They have been playing up a friendship between Jax and Moon which is fine, but they had an awkward exchange in the back when Moon interrupted Jax. That seemed heelish and I can understand why Jax would want the attention on her since she won the battle royal the night before. But, she didn’t come across well as she complained about it. The match itself was ok. Tamina’s interruption was interesting in that in initially caused a distraction for both Jax and Moon, but Jax was able to stay focused on the match and take advantage of the situation to get the win. That seemed more like a heel move, but Moon looked bad for getting distracted. And then you had the tease that they would fight, but maybe they will end up teaming up with each other. But, Jax hasn’t been a babyface for that long. I’m worried that she will go back and forth too much which would be a mistake. And Jax wasn’t good in portraying her reaction to Tamina.
Elias Babyface Turn Follow Up: Many fans have been waiting for Elias to turn babyface and they got that turn last week. That was a nice moment. But, the follow up wasn’t strong. His performance in the ring wasn’t as good as it usually is. Perhaps it will take some time for him to transition to a babyface. The bit in the back with Corbin was better, but not great. The real problem is that Jinder Mahal doesn’t mean anything, so it was a let down and way too random when he was the one who attacked Elias. I get the idea of having a first heel opponent for him to continue to show him as a babyface before he presumably faces Corbin down the line. But in this case, it was too small for him. The match that followed wasn’t particularly good and too short to amount to much. It wasn’t a great first night for Elias the babyface.
AOP vs. The Ascension vs. Roode & Gable: They’ve been building up the Authors of Pain while Bobby Roode and Chad Gable’s new team haven’t been strong. The Ascension have been a joke. So, here was a chance to actually give AOP a win, and instead they lost. No, they didn’t take the pin fall, but they still lost the match which only lasted a few minutes. It was odd. Yes, they beat up Roode & Gable afterwards, so they stood tall in the end. But, they still lost. At some point, their gimmick has to move on from just being a team that beats up other teams after matches and actually win a few matches themselves.
DX – Brothers of Destruction: At one point earlier in the show, one of the announcers said something along the lines of “all four men who will be in that big tag match at Crown Jewel are…” and I thought he was going to say “over 50 years old!” Instead he said “in the building.” I think Triple H is only 49. It is unfortunate that Shawn Michaels’ return match is happening at this event in Saudi Arabia. It is unfortunate that Shawn Michaels’ return match is being downplayed in favor of hyping the reunion of DX. It is unfortunate that Shawn Michaels’ return match is part of a meaningless tag match with a bunch of semi-retired wrestlers in the 50s and not having him give a rub to a current star. The writing has been poor for this feud going back before Superstar Showdown in Australia. Here in the final segment of Raw, we got more of the same hoodoo from Kane and Undertaker and a tease of DX outsmarting the Brothers of Destruction with Michaels getting a super kick on Taker. None of that was strong enough to get me excited for what will presumably be the Crown Jewel main event.
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.