WWE unofficially opened the post-Wrestlemania season this week with the latest episode of Raw, live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Coming out of last week’s episode, the company left several questions hanging over the heads of viewers, including whether champion Roman Reigns would turn heel in his program with AJ Styles, how NXT call-ups Enzo Amore, Big Cass and Apollo Crews would adapt to the main roster and perhaps, most interestingly, if Shane McMahon would be sticking around as a face authority figure.
The company answered that final question right off the bat by having Shane O’Mac open Raw and thank the fans for their “positive social media” response leading to his return. From there, the WWE creative team used the McMahon progeny to push forward the night’s theme: pushing talent popular with hardcore fans. The first match on the show, “booked on the spot” by Shane, was a No. 1 contenders hip match for the Intercontinental Championship between Kevin Owens and Cesaro, aka former indy standouts Kevin Steen and Claudio Castagnoli. The two put on a professional wrestling clinic, going for nearly 20 minutes in a bout reminiscent of some of their classic encounters on the independent circuit before Cesaro went over. The match effectively launched Cesaro into a program with Miz, furthered Owens’ descent into madness and started the show on a high note.
As for the heavyweight championship picture, the company made an interesting choice in keeping Reigns and Styles separate the whole night. The champion cut a promo where he once again exhibited some heel tendencies, only to be interrupted by the League of Nations faction. However, before Sheamus, Rusev and Alberto Del Rio could gang up on Reigns, Bray Wyatt and his “family” made the save for reasons unknown. This led to McMahon booking Reigns and Wyatt as a team against Sheamus and Rusev in the Raw main event, which saw the former go over to end the show. Styles, meanwhile, was booked into a match with Sami Zayn (formerly a major star as El Generico in Southern California’s Pro Wrestling Guerrilla promotion) where a victory by the latter would insert him into the Roman/AJ title match. The two put on a very strong match that was just slightly a tick below Owens/Cesaro overall but had a stronger finishing sequence. Styles was given the victory in the end, but the match made both men look like stars. In fact, both of these matches were good and led to potentially interesting story elements, however, keeping Styles and Reigns completely apart from each other devalues their upcoming title match in my eyes, making it seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
Even with those matches, the most newsworthy event of the show was the long-anticipated debuts of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The two former Bullet Club members (a super-group in New Japan Pro Wrestling) signed with the company earlier this year and fans have debated how they’d debut ever since. The two attacked The Usos after their victory over The Social Outcasts and decimated the two, much to the delight of the LA crowd. Of note, the announcers put over the two as major stars and mentioned the Bullet Club name several times.
Best of The Rest:
- I enjoyed Charlotte’s Women’s Championship defense against Natalya, even the involvement of television personality Dr. Phil, but I definitely missed Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch and hope they’re back in the title picture soon.
- Outside of the aforementioned involvement from Anderson and Gallows, the Tag Team Championship No. 1 Contender tournament holds little interest to me, mainly because the only team of the group that I’d actually like to see wrestle New Day are Enzo and Cass.
- Speaking of Enzo and Cass, it was good to see the crowd still into them a week after their call-up from NXT. Unfortunately, Apollo Crews’ reaction was far more muted.
- I enjoy the interplay between Miz and his real-life wife Maryse; I hope she sticks around for a while.
- The Chris Jericho/Dean Ambrose segment was solid, if a bit predictable. I’m optimistic that a longterm program between the two will be entertaining.
- The Authority was once again persona non grata this week, with nary an appearance or mention. Best case scenario is that the characters are being written-off for a while, worst case is that WWE is purposely not mentioning them to build a “surprise” return. Here’s to hoping for the former.
All in all, I’d give tonight’s Raw a strong B+. There was still a great deal of filler that padded out the overlong three hour runtime, but the elements that worked better than any episode this year. Hopefully that’s a sign that the company’s creative direction is improving.