The Raw brand has an uncharacteristic amount of time to build to Sepember 24th’s No Mercy pay-per-view, and they are seizing the opportunity — though there are only two matches officially announced for the card, both are huge main events worthy of much larger shows. This week’s edition of Raw built to the event in some unique ways, in an uncharacteristically meta episode that saw the official debut of a Southpaw Regional Wrestling character on modern-day WWE and a complete decimation of the fourth wall in one of the most compelling segments in recent memory as John Cena and Roman Reigns held a contract signing for their match.

Dogfight

Though WWE made the announcement a few hours before Raw via WWE.com, no match is official without a contract signing (except for the thousands of matches that are)!

WWE could have gone the easy route with this feud and presented it as a "Mega Powers collide"-like clash of the titans, ’nuff said. The two have names big enough to market the match on their own, and are good enough wrestlers that the match would deliver on that marketing. And that would have been fine.

However, in a stroke of genius, WWE found a way to get the "smart" fans who hate both these guys to get invested in this feud: by shattering the fourth wall and blending as much reality into this promo as possible. I’m really not sure a promo has been this reality-laced or meta since CM Punk’s infamous pipebomb.

Cena didn’t just break the fourth wall here, he shattered it, calling it out by name after humiliating Reigns for seemingly forgetting his lines. After Reigns recovered actually pretty admirably from it, Cena proceeded to tear down the Big Dog, echoing many fans’ sentiments by saying Reigns is a transparent, corporately created John Cena bootleg. He also brought up both Superstars’ runs with the United States Championship, accusing Reigns of seeing the title as a demotion while Cena relished the opportunity to build new stars. When Reigns called Cena a part-timer, Cena shot back that the only reason he’s still there is because Reigns can’t do his job well enough.

Reigns, for his part, cut one of his better promos, playing the smooth, cocky heel role to a T. He even managed to return some of the real-life jabs in kind, calling Cena a “backstabbing shark” who “buries young talent.” It’s smart to play Reigns as the bad guy in this matchup, and though the crowd was firmly behind Cena by the end of this segment, Reigns aired some real grievances against John Cena the man rather than John Cena the wrestler. Seriously, this promo was about as inside baseball as you’re gonna find on WWE television, and is worth watching if you missed the show. Consider me hyped for their clash at No Mercy.

Enigma vs. A-Lister

While Raw has been doing a lot of things right lately, one area of undeniable disappointment has been the complete lack of focus on the Intercontinental Championship. Each of the brand’s other championships were featured in marquee matchups at SummerSlam, while the Intercontinental Championship wasn’t even defended. Its champion, The Miz, instead competed in a six man tag team match during the event’s pre-show.

Make no mistake, though: that’s not the fault of the Intercontinental Champion. The Miz has been doing arguably the best work of his entire career in the past year or so, and in doing so has recently passed Razor Ramon for the fifth longest Intercontinental title reign in history. The Miz has become synonymous with the title, much like people like Ramon and Chris Jericho did. However, the title just hasn’t been the focus of any stories recently. As of late, it’s been not much more than a prop for The Miz to carry around.

The silver lining is that rectifying this sort of mistreatment has become The Miz’s storyline mission. He opened tonight’s Raw already in the ring, ready to decry the lack of respect he’s been given, especially by Raw General Manager Kurt Angle. He was interrupted by Angle before he could even get a word out, though, who apparently agrees with Miz’s assessment of the title’s status, as he announced a battle royal to determine the next #1 contender for the Intercontinental Championship.

The battle royal was filled mostly with, well, battle royal mainstays who rarely have much else going on, like R-Truth and a terrifyingly clean shaven Big Show, as well as mid card tag teams. Standouts included Finn Balor and just because it seemed likely he’d be gunning for the title next, Jason Jordan. Surprisingly, though, Jeff Hardy outlasted everyone else to win the battle royal and the right to face The Miz next week for the Intercontinental Championship. Maybe as a way to throw viewers off Jeff’s scent, an already eliminated Luke Gallows attacked Matt Hardy from the ring apron, eliminating him and resulting in a beatdown on Matt courtesy of Gallows and Anderson, making it logical to think the Hardyz would be entering into a feud with The Club on their road to No Mercy.

Jeff will instead set his sights on The Miz and becoming a five time Intercontinental Champion, though as with anything else involving the Hardy Boyz, one has to wonder if this will be the storyline to AWAKEN Matt’s BRILLIANCE. It makes sense — Broken Matt Hardy was born to antagonize his Brother Nero, after all. It remains to be seen, but it adds another layer of intrigue to an already pretty interesting matchup in The Miz vs. Jeff Hardy.

She’s Not Like Most Friends

In an action packed card that had multiple segments that could have served as its main event, it was the Raw Women’s Championship match between Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss that took top billing. Though Sasha would not even be in this role if not for Bayley’s untimely injury, the real-life (or is it?) heat between Bliss and Banks has made the makeshift feud compelling enough. Since last week’s episode, the fact that Sasha has never actually successfully defended the Raw Women’s Championship has been a central conceit of the story. None of Sasha’s reigns with the title has lasted longer than a month, and Bliss was hoping that history would repeat itself.

Repeat itself it did, as Banks lost the championship to Bliss, ending her shortest reign with the title to date — and the shortest reign in the nascent championship’s history in general — at only eight days in a solid matchup.

The real story came after the match, though, when Alexa’s bodyguard Nia Jax came down to congratulate her friend, only to backstab her with an electric chair drop during the celebration. Though I still feel they could have done a much better job selling the companionship between Bliss and Jax, especially for fans who aren’t glued to WWE’s many social media accounts, it’s still probably the right call for the direction of the Raw women’s division right now. Still, it doesn’t exactly help Sasha’s reputation as an anything-but-dominant champion, and it remains to be seen where The Boss goes from here.

The Rest of the Card

  • Brock Lesnar has been a surprisingly active Universal Champion this summer, showing up on multiple episodes of Raw as of late. Unfortunately, he didn’t do all that much tonight. A Heyman/Lesnar promo is never an unwelcome sight, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen before. Still, WWE is wise to use Lesnar to promote his feud with Braun Strowman, who is a WWE legend in the making. His transformation from "generic big man" to one of the most must-see (sorry, Miz) attractions on Raw has been one of the biggest success stories of 2017. And while Strowman was missed tonight, the show was stacked enough otherwise that he could take the week off.
  • The Ambrose and Rollins vs. Cesaro and Sheamus story has reached the "singles matches" phase of the standard WWE tag team feud. Rollins vs. Cesaro and Ambrose vs. Sheamus took place back to back, and 50/50 booking took place in real time as both teams walked away from this looking about even. The ending sequence to Ambrose vs. Sheamus was a lot of fun, though. That Seth Rollins is a good pro wrestler.
  • Wow are the Emma segments seriously hard to watch. These cringey interactions with Mickie James are getting no reaction whatsoever, and isn’t doing either very talented wrestler any favors. Emma got new music, which is a little jarring since that little jingle has been as big a part of her personality as anything else since her NXT days, but maybe it’s a sign they have something planned for her after all.
  • Enzo is on the Cruiserweight division now and that’s fine. While many fans seem to have been turning on the Realest Guy as of late, he injects a heaping dose of much-needed charisma and personality to 205 Live, and considering he has no tag team partner and it’s not very believable he’d beat the members of the roster who are larger than he is, it seems like the right call.
WWE Monday Night Raw: August 28, 2017
Is it good?
WWE took some chances in this episode, and they paid off splendidly.
John Cena and Roman Reigns cut one of the most memorable, meta promos in recent memory.
Jeff Hardy vs. The Miz is a fresh matchup, and could lead to WONDERFUL things.
Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss main event in a solid matchup.
Serious lack of BRAAAAUUUNNN!
Paul Heyman's promo was solid, but didn't break any new ground.
Pacing wise, the show may have been a bit top-heavy.
9
Great