SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Opening Segment – MISS: This was not a good way to follow up on the Elimination Chamber, get the fans excited for this show, or introduce four new wrestlers from NXT. Having Triple H come out and run down some highlights of the PPV didn’t do much for me. Having him play both the corporate boss in saying that Becky Lynch would be arrested if she did the same thing as the night before, but personally thinking it was pretty cool, is Triple H trying to have his cake and eat it too. Showing four NXT wrestlers while Micheal Cole reads bullet points about them to the TV audience isn’t a good way to introduce arguably the four most talented male wrestlers on the NXT roster to a larger audience. He set up the opening match, a tables match of Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin, but that wasn’t a great hook. He didn’t say anything about the main event Women’s Title match of Ronda Rousey vs. Ruby Riott. It didn’t work.
NXT Introductions – MISS: Part of this Miss is for the opening segment, but it deserves a Miss on its own. WWE has recently introduced several NXT call ups in bad ways. They have not done a good job with Heavy Machinery, EC3, or Lacy Evans. Nikki Cross has been better, but not by much. And due to personal issues, Lars Sullivan, who was supposed to be introduced before all those others were added, hasn’t been on at all. So, WWE has a bad recent track record of introducing these wrestlers. Part of the problem is introducing too many at one time. So, how do you solve that problem? Apparently by having four new ones on for the first time all on the same show without any type of hype ahead of time. I hate to disrespect the fans in Lafayette, but this was not the audience for this night. If you are going to do this, you have to do it the night after WrestleMania, SummerSlam or the Royal Rumble, or pick a better market like New York or Chicago where the fans are going to be excited to see these four. These fans weren’t. So, the tv audience isn’t hearing a great reaction for them. Cole wasn’t good in trying to introduce them, but he had a very difficult task. I will have more to say about the individuals later on.
Corbin vs. Strowman – MISS: These guys aren’t good enough in the ring to face each other in a 14 minute match, even one with bells and whistles like the tables stipulation. This was boring. It doesn’t make sense to have the monster among men selling so much for Corbin, even if it is due to what happened the night before. It didn’t make sense why Corbin would have Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley ready to help him out the night before, but not in this match. Why not? The announcers talked about how Strowman might have broken ribs. WWE’s biggest story the last few weeks has been about a wrestler refusing to see a doctor for an injured knee, because all wrestlers have to be cleared by the doctor. How could a man with broken ribs be cleared?
Brock Lesnar Videos – HIT: The two videos on Brock Lesnar narrated by Paul Heyman were very good. They told his life story and built very well up to this point where he is going to face Seth Rollins at WrestleMania. It made Lesnar look like the killer fighter that he is. They showed all the stars from both of his WWE runs whom he destroyed in the ring. The end was ominous in promising to end Rollins’ career while acknowledging that that is the only way to defeat Rollins in this situation. WWE has a long time to build to this match with a wrestler who won’t appear often and another who normally would, but is dealing with an injury so he can’t wrestle right now. These videos were a good way to go for this week. But, can they keep it up? The only odd thing to me was when Heyman was talking in the ring after the first video played, and was interrupted by Finn Balor. I was intrigued to hear what Balor would say to Heyman, but instead, Raw cut to commercial. After it came back, Balor was in the ring alone, Heyman was nowhere to be seen, and it turned out to have nothing to do with Lesnar vs. Rollins.
Set up for Balor & Ricochet vs. Lashley & Rush – MISS: Bobby Lashley beat up Lio Rush after losing the Intercontinental Championship to Finn Balor at the PPV. There was no explanation given as to why they were still working together the next night on Raw. Why was Ricochet on Raw? What was he scheduled to do? Balor was talking about winning the IC Title when he was interrupted by Rush as a distraction for Lashley to attack him. Ricochet saved him. That had an impromptu feel leading to an impromptu tag match. So, if that hadn’t happened, what was Ricochet going to do? Or was this the planned match? The match itself was solid, but not Hit worthy. It went on too long and dragged with the prolonged beating of Balor. It did give Ricochet a chance to shine, but the IC Champion didn’t look strong on his first night as Champ.
Heavy Machinery & Lacey Evans – MISS: Did WWE just drop Tucker and Otis’ last names? Apparently so, I looked it up on their website. Anyway, this did nothing for them. Tucker said that he has Otis’ back in the real world, while Otis has his back in the ring. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Then Lacey Evans comes out and doesn’t say anything like the night before, and seems amused by the antics of Heavy Machinery while they do a bad Bushwhackers impression. Is WWE putting them together? They have nothing in common to connect them. It was just weird.
DIY – MISS: This felt like a slap in the face to the NXT fans who have invested over a year in the DIY storyline from the time they broke up, to the time Tommaso Ciampa returned and cost Johnny Gargano his NXT career, to their unsanctioned match when Gargano won his NXT career back, to their feud along with Aleister Black over the NXT Title, to Gargano’s heel turn, to teasing a reunion, to… this episode of Raw. This ignored much of that history, jumping to them being a team again. Even when they’ve worked together in recent episodes of NXT, Gargano was conflicted. His wife told him not to work with Ciampa. He told Ciampa they were not a team. I suspect that there is more of their story already filmed for NXT which will contradict what was on Raw. If they had to be called up now, at least continue the storyline. Don’t have them team up and act all buddy buddy all of a sudden. That ruined the story that we’ve been invested in. Why have a relative joke of a team like Roode & Gabel (and a babyface team at that) act like jerks towards them? And why have them be babyfaces? I think they were babyfaces.
They did have a good match against The Revival. That isn’t surprising. These are very talented teams who were given 12 minutes and performed well for that time. It had good wrestling action throughout. But, the oddity of seeing DIY back together and playing babyfaces took me out of it. And I hate it when WWE has brand new Champions lose in their first non-Title match after becoming the Champions. Revival were cold last week when they won the Titles from Roode & Gabel. They needed a strong win this week to have them start off their Title reign in a good way. Instead, they lost. So, their Title reign already looks like a failure.
Banks & Bayley – MISS: Oy. This went on forever. Sasha Banks and Bayley wouldn’t shut up about becoming the first ever Women’s Tag Team Champions. I understand wanting to make this feel like an important moment. That’s fine. But, their performances weren’t good. They were scripted to go on and on, and it felt repetitive. They sounded bored halfway through. This could have been a Hit if it were half as long. I don’t want to contradict myself in terms of making the new Champions look strong, but you also want to make their first challengers look strong. Nia Jax and Tamina looked bad when they tried to attack Banks and Bayley. They protected their new Champs which is good, but the challengers don’t look like much of a challenge. So, don’t have them come out. Just let the Champions have their (much shorter) moment.
Ambrose vs. McIntyre – MISS: I don’t know what to say about Dean Ambrose. Is he a babyface? Does he have amnesia? What are we supposed to think? He beat EC3 last week, to get some revenge for losing to him the week before. But, this week he lost to McIntyre in 2 minutes. I get the idea of having a star like Ambrose who is leaving the company in a few months put over talent on the way out. But, he still has to be kept strong so that those losses mean something. I’m not sure that McIntyre gained anything from the win. And Ambrose’s next opponent won’t gain much after this. The bit with Ambrose and Rollins was funny, but felt out of place.
Black vs. Elias – MISS: Aleister Black is a great talent. But, he is a different type of character. He has a lot more nuance to his character than most WWE wrestlers. It takes more skill to introduce his character than WWE has shown. Having Cole yelling “yes!” when he came out for the first time isn’t good. Black is more than just “moody.” The worst part of this is that we are supposed to think Black is a big deal on his first night on Raw, but instead of sending the message that he is a big deal, WWE cut away from his first match 1 minute into it. The timing on that commercial break could not have been worse. Elias is a joke. Black should not have sold at all for Elias. This should have been a squash.
Main Event Hype – MISS: What did Ruby Riott do to deserve another match against Ronda Rousey for the Women’s Title? She lost to Rousey at the PPV in 2 minutes. They have established that Rousey wants to defend the Title on each Raw after a PPV. That can work, but the challenger has to deserve it. Riott did not. Plus, they did nothing to hype the match other than a few passing mentions of it and one shot of Rousey warming up. Why not have Riott talk about why this outcome will be different than the first? The announcers did a nice job during the match of talking about how she didn’t have the rest of The Riott Squad with her the night before and how they will make a difference here. That makes sense. Rousey was hurt by Lynch in the post-match beating with her crutch, so play up that she isn’t 100% to make her seem vulnerable. You have to do all of that before the match. You have to have Riott and Rousey getting time to talk about the match. You have to tell a story to explain why the match is happening at all.
Riott vs. Rousey – HIT: Given all of that, it was a good main event. It could have meant much more in a different context, but at least Riott and Rousey put on a good match. Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan were used well at ringside to help Riott get the advantage. Riott performed well and did a great job of selling disbelief over not being able to put Rousey away as the match built to the finish. The near falls were believable. The selling was good from both. Rousey won in the end in a strong way, but this felt like a way to help Riott look good too.
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMezzera.