After the debacle that was Sunday night's Backlash pay-per-view, there wasn't much in the way of time to sit down, reflect or consider some dramatic new direction to head in. As Kurt Angle so eloquently put it in the opening moments of Monday Night Raw, WWE never stops -- and with six weeks to build toward a key pay-per-view like Money in the Bank, it was a matter of getting right back down to business.
With actual stakes and forward momentum, some of the creative issues solved themselves throughout the night on Monday. Kevin Owens and Braun Strowman opened the action with a fun, competitive match that built upon all of their recent conflicts and benefited from a tangible prize at the end. Three hungry and determined women put on a tremendous triple-threat Money in the Bank qualifier that showed the future of the Raw women's division is bright.
Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler made their televised debut and showed flashes of what they should be able to do, Seth Rollins took his "fighting champion" moniker to its limits and Roman Reigns appeared in a main event (against Finn Balor and Sami Zayn) that didn't have the Nassau Coliseum crowd ready to start a riot.
It wasn't all sunshine in rainbows, but between each of these matches and some quick-hit backstage segments that glued everything together, it finally felt as though what was happening on Monday night wasn't just another example of going through the motions. With a European tour on top of all of the recent crisscrossing of the globe, it was important that the first step toward Money in the Bank went in the right direction -- and it did.
No ladder (or tree) stands a chance against Braun Strowman
I'm not really sure how knocking over a tree with a treehouse in it as a measure of revenge against kids who excluded him relates to the Money in the Bank ladder match, but it somehow fits for Strowman. Still fresh off winning the 50-man Greatest Royal Rumble match, Strowman barged in on Angle's opening salvo only for Owens to follow right behind.
A conspiracy-minded Owens rattled off all of the perceived slights against him and essentially tried to talk his way into the Money in the Bank ladder match without a fight. That ended predictably, with Owens and Strowman going one-on-one for the right to enter the men's MITB match, but the match that followed was anything but predictable. Despite Strowman being every bit the dominant force at the peak of his powers of late, and the seemingly inevitable outcome of this match, Strowman vs. Owens set the tone for a surprising night by pushing Strowman to his limits.
The last time Strowman lost a one-on-one match was in September, when he lost a Universal championship match against Brock Lesnar. Still, Owens thrived in a role you wouldn't expect him to play too often because of his size, as he showed off parts of his skill set that don't often see the light of day. Whether it was a tornado DDT from the crowd side of the barrier back in, a full height and extension frog splash or any of a number of superkicks, Owens certainly got his fair share of offense in as he looked every bit the calculating challenger.
- WWE (@WWE) May 8, 2018
On the flip side, Owens bumped all over the place for Strowman in a way that looked as (if not more) impressive than it would with any of the smaller members of the Raw roster. There were choke-based clotheslines, chokeslams and, of course, the culmination of a weekslong build-up during which Strowman ran at full speed at ringside and absolute destroyed Owens three times over.
Strowman ultimately walked out with the win and a spot in the upcoming ladder match, and though it would be beneficial for Owens to return to his winning ways in the not-too-distant future, standing toe-to-toe with Braun Strowman with no backup has been built up to be an impressive feat -- and in that, Owens succeeded.
And now we get to see what Strowman can do in a ladder match.
Ember Moon, Sasha Banks and Ruby Riott throw caution to the wind
In recent weeks, Ruby Riott has stepped into the spotlight in a big way in matches against Sasha Banks and Bayley. Ember Moon has had a few chances to show what she can do to the Raw audience, most notably in a 10-woman tag team main event a few weeks back, but still has a lot to prove. As for Banks, who has been caught up in the midst of an ever-more confusing Bayley rivalry, there's still no one more willing to put their body on the line to tell a good story than she is.
Throw all of those elements into one match, and add a women's Money in the Bank opportunity, and you had a chance for something special on Raw. Moon, Riott and Banks threw caution to the wind and had what could easily be called the match of the night. Though the live crowd gets a demerit for losing their focus at times during this match, every piece fell into place and each of the three women in the match proved what they can bring to the table when the timing's right.
From the moment Banks did a front flip over the top turnbuckle onto the Riott Squad, this match hit another gear. There were Frankensteiners, suicide dives that packed a heavy punch and a narrative that flowed from beginning to end. Bayley getting involved on behalf of Banks to ward off Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan was the lone question mark, but it helped to set up an incredible finish. As Riott and Banks each fought to hit their finishing moves, Moon flew off the top rope to hit the Eclipse on Riott -- which caused a chain reaction that knocked Riott's head back into Banks and offered the perfect conclusion to a well-performed match all around.
With more qualifiers to come, Riott and Banks proved that the women's Money in the Bank match would be far worse off without them.
Hits and misses
- Finn Balor claimed the second spot in the men's Money in the Bank ladder match with his victory over Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns. By playing up the animosity between the crowd and Reigns, everything from Balor and Zayn teaming up to the finish that saw Jinder Mahal bitterly get involved in hoodwinking Reigns out of a victory made sense. They battled all over the arena and moved at a break-neck pace throughout, and after Balor fell short of his pursuit of Seth Rollins' Intercontinental championship this was a natural direction to go in.
- We got our first glimpse of what Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler work like together in the ring, and it was strong. Even though the "3MB" chants that briefly rang out at the Nassau Coliseum tugged at the heartstrings, McIntyre was all business. Let the Shawn Michaels/Diesel comparisons continue, because that's how high their collective ceiling is.
- We finally got a chance to learn a little bit more about Bobby Lashley, the man, with a video package of his amateur wrestling highlights and a reminder of his previous stretch in WWE. The interview with Renee Young that followed touched on a family dynamic with his sisters that I don't exactly understand, at least we're getting to know why Lashley should feel like a bigger deal.
- Rollins' open challenge for the Intercontinental championship offered Mojo Rawley a chance to show off what he can do against a guy who's on the biggest roll of anyone in the WWE. It won't go down in the history books by any means, but it's certainly the most relevant that Mojo's been in ages.
- Jinder Mahal got his win back from Chad Gable, barged into Angle's office demanding to be added to a Money in the Bank qualifier and then disrupted the main event. After weeks of losing since joining Raw, this seems to be a clearer window into what Mahal will be doing going forward.
- After two weeks of losing to Elias, Bobby Roode got his revenge with a clear victory on Monday Night Raw. Though this was a step back in the right direction, Roode has a mid-card ceiling as long as he remains the smiling, somewhat goofy guy that we saw as part of Sunday night's Backlash musical break.
- Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy, aka the "Deleters of Worlds" got a quick win over Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel. There's yet to be a serious tag team title challenger to step up to the new Raw champions, with so much of the division's depth now on SmackDown. Time shall tell.
- Lots of backstage cell phone video promos and promises to win the Money in the Bank briefcase. Though The Ascension and Breezango seem to be on the outside looking in, to say the least, it was nice to see the return of the "Fashion Files" corkboard after a lengthy hiatus.