Raw heads into its second post-WrestleMania pay-per-view, Extreme Rules, this Sunday. The go-home show for the event, however, was about as inconsequential and cold as any other episode of Raw in the past several months.
To their credit, the major storyline of the brand in recent weeks has been based around answering the question of just who deserves to take on Brock Lesnar for a shot at the largely-absent WWE Universal Championship. Interestingly, despite essentially not having a top title on the show while Lesnar is off doing whatever it is Lesnar does, Raw‘s undercard title has been more of an afterthought than Smackdown Live‘s United States Championship, which has been headlining shows for a few weeks now.
The Miz, who was once one of the brightest spots of a red-hot Smackdown crew, has seen his star fall more than almost anyone else since moving over to the red brand. Whereas on Smackdown he was an anchor of the show, in the long malaise that is Raw, he gets lost in the shuffle. Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz is a program that is bursting with potential, but the Raw creative team doesn’t seem to put much behind it–certainly not as much as Smackdown‘s did.
The reduced focus on the Intercontinental Championship increases the stakes of the upcoming fatal five way #1 contender match even more, as we’ll be getting a clear picture of the Raw main event scene for maybe the first time since WrestleMania. Unfortunately, however, the buildup to the fatal five way has been about as paint-by-numbers as you can get–a series of interchangeable tag team, triple threat, and one on one matchups between the participants of little import or consequence outside of the nebulous concept of "momentum" going into the PPV.
One man who nearly never needs such momentum but seems to always find it in spades is Roman Reigns, who handily defeated Seth Rollins in an encounter on Raw that was as entertaining as it was deflating. Reigns defeated Finn Balor soundly on Raw a couple weeks ago, and this week Rollins fell victim to the same outcome. If it were anyone but Reigns, this would suggest Reigns would not be winning this Sunday, but given he is the heir to the "lolcenawins" throne, all betting money must always be put on the Big Dog. Don’t be surprised if Reigns somehow overcomes the odds again and go on to challenge Brock Lesnar at…I still can’t believe this is really the name of the next event…Great Balls of Fire.
The real tragedy of this week’s episode of Raw, however, was of course the absolute dumpster fire of a "Bayley: This is Your Life" segment. Yet again, WWE seems to have misinterpreted how or why ideas of the past have worked and thrust completely misguided segments out based on these miscalculations. This was obviously reminiscent of the classic "This is Your Life" segment Mick Foley hosted for The Rock back in 1999, one of the highest rated segments in pro wrestling history (though not THE highest rated segment as many say–that is a lie perpetuated by eternal con man Vince Russo to prove that skits outdraw matches. The highest rated segment in Raw history is actually Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker for the WWF Championship in June of 1999, which drew a 9.5 rating).
Unfortunately, Alexa Bliss isn’t Mick Foley and Bayley certainly isn’t The Rock. To her credit, Bliss is a very capable talker and did the best she could with the dreadful material she was given–there was just no saving this segment. Whereas the original Rock/Foley segment saw a lovable babyface try to score brownie points with the tweener Rock by highlighting his illustrious life, this version saw Bliss, the Disney villain of the women’s division, attempt to smear the most universally loved member of the WWE Universe by interviewing her childhood teacher, best friend and boyfriend, who had…almost nothing bad to say about her? The big incident that ended Bayley’s friendship with this woman was that she liked to watch Monday Night Raw. Is WWE actually painting being loyal to their product as a bad thing? This segment was a head scratcher from beginning to end and did nothing positive for anyone.
On the tag team front, Sheamus and Cesaro have been entertaining since their heel turn, but it’s indescribably discouraging how cold the Hardy Boyz have become since their return to the company at WrestleMania. With nearly no shred of the Broken gimmick making it to WWE television anymore, fans’ worst fears have been realized as they are little more than a Dudley Boyz-style nostalgia act. Here’s hoping the lawsuit around who actually owns the Broken gimmick gets settled in Matt Hardy’s favor and fast, because so far the Hardy Boyz have been a massive disappointment.
There were actually a number of intriguing threads created or expounded upon during this week’s episode–The Revival is getting some screen time despite Dash Wilder still recovering from his jaw injury as part of a ‘whodunnit’ angle involving Enzo and Cass, Goldust continues to be brilliant in his reprisal of the character’s origins, and the "Titus Brand" storyline with O’Neil and his only signee Apollo Crews both evokes Attitude Era attention to lower card storylines and entertains with how ridiculous it is. Problem is, these stories will get little to no screen time at Extreme Rules. Goldust vs. R-Truth will likely anchor the Kickoff show, and I would be surprised to see the other two appear at all.
What does that leave to get excited about this Sunday? For all its questionable booking, WWE has been featuring some stellar in-ring action for a long while now. And with stars like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns in the same match, I expect that streak to continue. And, well, there’ll be lots of gimmick matches. Those are always fun?
No matter how bad it gets out there, just remember: only two days until Smackdown.