There is a point on the WWE calendar every year when each superstar's road to WrestleMania hits a final fork and their fate is essentially decided.
Less than four weeks out from WrestleMania 34, Monday night was that moment for the superstars of Raw. Five different matches were either teased or announced throughout the night on Raw, hostilities between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar reached a new high and, on the whole, it was clear the time for subtleties was over.
The shocks started early in the night and never let up. Within the first five minutes, a promised Lesnar appearance became another Lesnar no-show, which sent Reigns through the roof and ultimately back through the curtain in a fourth-wall breaking moment. John Cena teased giving up on finding a path to WrestleMania and watching as a fan instead, going so far as to take a sip of a fan's beer in the crowd. Once he returned to the ring, he decided otherwise; Cena was going to "break the rules" and call out The Undertaker.
On paper, setting Reigns and Cena up as anti-authority figures heading into WrestleMania seems laughable. In the moment, however, each promo seemed to work. That was another overarching theme of the night -- trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and somehow pulling it off. It happened again at the end of the night, as Braun Strowman inserted himself into a tag team battle royal by himself, won, and seemingly punched his ticket to WrestleMania where he'll battle The Bar for the Raw tag team championships.
On the women's side, the dearth of challengers for the Raw women's championship in the wake of Asuka choosing to face Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania was solved in a hurry as Alexa Bliss' bullying tactics were laid bare for Nia Jax, who has quickly become a sympathetic figure and the likeliest challenger to Bliss' title in a matter of weeks. Bayley briefly repaid the favor Sasha Banks paid last week in saving her from Absolution, leading to a Banks win over Sonya Deville, but walked away in a moment that led to Absolution jumping Banks post-match. In addition, with three women's singles matches seeming to be the likeliest scenario for WrestleMania at this moment, the rest of the division got a catchall battle royal as a counterpart to the annual Andre the Giant battle royal, named after the Fabulous Moolah.
The chaotic energy of so many moments happening back-to-back is just what fans have come to expect at this time of year, and with only three weeks of Raws to go from here, it will only get crazier from here.
Lesnar and Heyman's mind games get Reigns suspended
Two weeks ago when Lesnar no-showed Raw after being advertised for the show, Reigns cut a scathing promo that got more live crowd support behind him than anything he's done since the first breakup of The Shield. He set himself up as the defender of the locker room and fans who want a champion who shows up and cares.
Reigns carried that through to last week when he forced Heyman to pick the Universal championship off the ground. Heyman insisted Lesnar would be there Monday night in Detroit, and yet in Raw's opening minutes GM Kurt Angle announced that Lesnar was once again reneging on his appearance with some dubious excuses.
Reigns charged out, got in Angle's face and reiterated that Lesnar doesn't have any respect for anyone -- the boys, the fans in Detroit and at home and the business at large all included. "If you didn't show up for work, they'd fire you," Reigns offered. But he didn't blame Lesnar, or Heyman, or even Angle as the messenger. No, Reigns was laying the blame squarely at the feet of the chairman, Vince McMahon.
- WWE (@WWE) March 13, 2018
"The real problem is Vince McMahon," Reigns said. "I walked past him, and he didn't have the courtesy or respect to tell me to my face." After running down all the sacrifices he made for the WWE and for McMahon, Reigns had one clear message. "I will not be disrespected by Vince McMahon." He flipped the microphone back to Angle and charged backstage -- but for once, the cameras followed the action back through the curtain. Reigns broke the fourth wall, charging past producers including Shane McMahon and got in Vince's face.
Vince played the peacemaker in front of the cameras, and sent the show to commercial just eight minutes into the broadcast -- far earlier than what is typical. Vince and Reigns went back to Vince's office and hashed out their issues, or so it seemed, but as Raw came back from commercial Reigns charged out of the office without a word. Vince came down hard on Reigns, suspending him, and then ran through all of the reasons why Lesnar has earned certain privileges-- he even went so far as to mention the Octagon. Vince promised Lesnar would be at Raw next week, but reiterated a point that also seemed crafted to make Reigns a more sympathetic figure.
"His cousin, the Rock, had a line," Vince remembered. "Know your role, and shut your mouth."
John Cena lays down the challenge to The Undertaker
With his latest effort to make it to WrestleMania stifled at Fastlane, John Cena seemingly did the one thing he swore never to do in the opening moment of his promo -- he gave up. He had given his best effort to win or vie for both world titles, and Cena felt like there was nothing he could do and nothing to be ashamed of. Cena insisted he'd attend WrestleMania as a fan, and to back up his point he jumped into the crowd and had a swig from a fan's beer to prove he was happy to play the everyman for once.
That lasted for all of a few minutes, when Cena decided to make a 180-degree pivot and started "breaking the rules". A few weeks after teasing a challenge to The Undertaker, only to go on a side quest for the WWE championship on SmackDown, Cena made his challenge plain as day. "I challenge The Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania."
.@JohnCena has officially gone rogue...
- WWE (@WWE) March 13, 2018
Cena repeated that challenge three more times, and then absolved the fans and WWE brass of standing in the way of the match. "There's one individual keeping that from happening, and that's The Undertaker."
He set himself and The Undertaker up as opposites. Cena was one to take a loss with grace by getting back up and fighting the next day, while 'Taker walked away in shame. Cena insisted that Undertaker was not finished, but laid a shot directly across the bow that was meant to draw his opponent to be out.
"Undertaker, you ain't broken down -- cause if you were, you wouldn't be posting workout videos on your wife's Instagram... the only person stopping this match is you, you self-centered, conceited egomaniac."
There are three weeks of Raw to go, with next week's show conveniently swinging into Undertaker's home state of Texas. Make of that what you will.
Braun Strowman is a tag team unto himself
Outside of Roman Reigns on his best night, no one has been able to tell Braun Strowman what to do on Monday Night Raw. He destroys objects, vehicles and any human being that crosses his path. Efforts to fire him were quickly stifled. When he insisted on entering the tag team battle royal to determine who would challenge Sheamus and Cesaro at WrestleMania, who was going to stop him?
Efforts to collude to throw Strowman out failed, and even though he took several combined attacks to the face both inside and out of the ring, he laid waste to every single tag team on Raw and won the match. Will Strowman be forced to find a tag team partner (Elias perhaps?)? Could it be a two-on-one handicap match, with Strowman accomplishing what Daniel Bryan had long claimed to have done by singlehandedly becoming the tag team champions? It doesn't speak well to the state of the Raw tag team division, which has been neglected for months, but if this match can help move the division towards a hard reset, it will have been worth it.
Alexa Bliss' bullying of Nia Jax crosses a line
Alexa Bliss' passive-aggressive bullying of her so-called best friend last week led Nia Jax to tears in the most uncomfortable of ways, but Bliss made at least a token effort to repair the bridge on Monday. Despite Jax not coming out to once again challenge Asuka on Bliss' behalf, everything seemed to be copacetic until an open microphone backstage changed everything. After Jax made quick work of an enhancement talent, cameras went backstage for what was supposed to be an interview with Bliss and Mickie James. They picked up a conversation that, for once in WWE history, was actually watched by another performer on the show.
- WWE (@WWE) March 13, 2018
The language was problematic, to be sure, and the insults crossed a line in terms of body shaming and bullying in general. Jax, who is now clearly the sympathetic figure here, obviously flew into a rage and destroyed Bliss' locker room -- but her anger will have to wait until next week to be satisfied, when Bliss goes one-on-one with Asuka.
Hits and misses
- Both Finn Balor and Seth Rollins insisted during Miz TV that Miz couldn't talk them into forgetting him and fighting each other, but they eventually broke down into a scuffle and eventually a match. The rematch of the first-ever Universal championship clash was a great one that left room for potential, with Balor picking up the win by grabbing a roll-up pinfall in the middle of Rollins' patented superplex/falcon arrow combination.
- Mickie James tried and failed in her quest to end Asuka's streak, giving Asuka wins over James, Bliss, Jax, Bayley and Sasha Banks since the year started. She's truly run through the entire Raw roster, and hopping over to SmackDown solves a lot of problems for both women's divisions.
- Elias, who came out in a neck brace, could not perform and blamed the fans for everything.
- Despite previously promising Ronda Rousey would appear on every Raw until WrestleMania, Rousey was not in Detroit Monday night.
- Next week, we get to see the Ultimate Deletion from the Hardy compound. Get ready for all sorts of crazy involving Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt.