Twice a year, the WWE heads to the U.K. to tape Raw and SmackDown as part of a greater European tour. Whether it's a handful of talent who don't make the trip over, or a seemingly stripped-down writing staff, these editions of WWE's flagship shows typically default to a vibe more in line with a live event (or house show, if you prefer) than what's usually on TV.
It can provide opportunities to try out some unusual match combinations, or allow for the boisterous European crowds to take over without much fear of consequence. But things simply didn't click that way Monday night, as Raw stumbled over its feet between a few bright spots and left many fans with the same lingering question that's hung over both the show and its highest-profile performer for years.
Who is Roman Reigns, and what is he trying to accomplish?
On a night where it felt like the U.K. crowd was sitting on its hands for most of the evening, they certainly didn't miss a chance to let Roman Reigns hear it when he came out to confront Braun Strowman. Three Superman punches, a few chair shots and some runs into the ring post, and Strowman was left, sadly, to tuck his tail between his legs and head for the hills. Fans bristled as Reigns somehow did a better job at fighting off what had been portrayed as devastating injuries than Strowman, despite the fact that Strowman laid down a much longer sequence of beatings amid a series of attacks during the past couple of months.
Reigns was clearly in the right in trying to seek out revenge for being sent off a loading dock while strapped to a gurney, or being locked in a toppled-over ambulance. But, as with many similar occasions along the way that have led to Reigns being the most universally jeered member of either WWE roster, rushed storytelling that cuts corners on what should be a superb test of Reigns' character has led Reigns to get tagged as a guy who will always come up on top, logic, reason or balance be damned.
Laying all the blame on Reigns, or the writing staff, or the presentation of Monday Night Raw in general isn't quite fair. Amid rumors that Strowman is legitimately injured, as reported Monday by Pro Wrestling Sheet, the proposed narrative and conflict is placed under further stress as plans go to pot. Whereas it might have been a great opportunity to sell the severity of the injuries of both men, and have them come back slowly, Raw's talent roster, while large, has started to feel quite threadbare at the top. Without their top champion in the building for over a month (and counting), and little sign of Brock Lesnar for the foreseeable future, everyone else has been forced to pick up the slack.
That means bringing Reigns back before it likely made sense to do so within the greater story. As Strowman stood in the middle of the ring in a shoulder sling, and still destroyed Kalisto (who also seems to have recovered from being pushed off the stage in a dumpster), calling Reigns out as a coward opened the perfect window for the "Big Dog" to come out and "defend his yard." But by being rushed into service, Reigns was made to look superhuman in basically shrugging off all of his own injuries in putting Strowman out of commission. And down came the boos, as Reigns defiantly raised both arms into the air despite a heavily taped shoulder.
There's no denying how big an asset the WWE has in Reigns, who's an undeniable merchandise seller, great with the kids and everything they want out of a hero. So he's a good guy getting booed and sure, it's as bad as anyone outside of maybe John Cena's reactions at his peak, but so what? If everything preceding this paragraph is true, then so what? If nothing is going to affect Reigns' drawing power, the WWE should take it as a challenge to experiment with making Reigns a more complex character who blurs the lines but stays true to his core audience and core beliefs.
It might take a few more organic stories and conflicts, and taking their foot off of the gas pedal with the constant barrage of buzzwords, nicknames and taglines that stream consistently from the commentary table (and, in absolute honesty, who cares whose yard it is?) might be a good start in humanizing Reigns. It already feels as though the opportunity of being vulnerable at the hands of Strowman has, like so many opportunities before it, been cast to the side in service of Reigns' "overcoming the odds at all costs" dogma.
As we as an audience -- and Reigns -- are subjected to the ever-growing angst and anger that he generates outside of his hardcore supporters, one is left to wonder if we're all just destined to exist in some permanent purgatory. For those hoping that the Strowman conflict would be the start of something new and fresh, there's only one message that can seemingly be gleaned from the events of Monday night: abandon hope, all ye who hate Roman, if you're expecting much to change.
Miz and Ambrose continue to build momentum
After the Intercontinental championship took center stage last week on Raw, champion Dean Ambrose and new No. 1 contender The Miz were once again thrust into the spotlight. Whether by design or the sheer lack of other options, the two polar opposites were positioned opposite each other in the opening segment, the main event and almost everywhere in between.
Despite such a heavy weight placed upon their shoulders, Ambrose and Miz continued to show their tremendous chemistry on the microphone after being called into service as "co-general managers" in the absence of Kurt Angle. They made matches for each other -- Miz vs. Finn Balor to open the show, and Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt to close things out -- and each guaranteed the other would lose.
Ambrose was in a bit of a rut as Intercontinental champion, having rarely defended the title on SmackDown, but whether it's been the Miz himself or the circumstances that Ambrose has been placed in on Raw, he's tapped into something during the past few weeks that's really re-energized him. With their Intercontinental championship match bumped up from Extreme Rules to next week's edition of Raw, it looks as if it could be more of the same moving forward.
Hits and Misses
The Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe match was a lengthy and entertaining conflict, albeit one without a clear ending. The closing moments, in which Joe repeatedly smashed Rollins into an exposed turnbuckle to earn a DQ loss, was really the only significant story-progressing element, but this match in particular is worth seeking out if you missed Raw Monday night.
The pairing of Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax basically writes itself. While there's some stress in there over the title right now, they seem to have all the makings of a great long-term team. As Jax forced herself into Bliss' corner, the Raw women's champ beat Mickie James, who brought Bayley to the ring to help her. Distractions, including a Bayley crossbody on Jax, earned Bliss the win. It certainly worked better than the match between Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox later on in the evening, which ended with a sloppy roll-up and Fox's shoulder coming off the mat during the final three-count.
The tag team turmoil match that put Cesaro and Sheamus back into the No. 1 contender's spot was everything you could have hoped for in making that team look like legitimate badasses. They seemingly squeezed most of the remaining value out of all of the other non-Hardys tag teams on Raw (and Enzo & Cass and Gallows & Anderson both desperately need a shock to the system in some way to return to relevance, so no major loss there), and got to show off all of the many things they can do in the ring, in defeating all four teams put in front of them. A third loss to the Hardy Boyz might be a tough pill to swallow, but on their current wave of momentum, who knows how the next Raw tag team title showdown will play out?
As is tradition, the good guys typically lose when they're on home turf. Jack Gallagher fell at the hands of TJ Perkins just a few minutes into their match, thanks to a roll-up that included a handful of tights. TJP came back with a chop block post-match and then a knee bar, to add insult to injury, and it took Austin Aries running out (while wearing a knee brace) to save Gallagher from the fate that befell him the week prior.
Quote of the Night
- WWE (@WWE) May 9, 2017
"Looks like you just got yourself a new best friend."
The normally calm, cool and collected Bliss has been given a gift to show off her range in Nia Jax. The size difference and personality difference have the champ on her heels, which provides everything you could need from a short-term pairing here. Jax still has a ways to go on the mic, and the early moments of this promo show that, but the closing moment with the slap on the back was well worth the small struggles it took to get to that point.
Move of the Night
The hanging suplex that Wyatt used on Ambrose was a thing of beauty. As Ambrose was dangling out of the ring, braced on the middle rope, Wyatt picked him up and dropped him to the floor in a fun, unusual spot. These two have clashed for years, dating back to the earliest days of the conflict between The Shield and The Wyatt Family, and it's still amazing to see how they're able to continuously change it up and make it feel fresh.