Coming off the heels of a memorable episode anchored by an explosive worked-shoot promo battle between John Cena and Roman Reigns, Raw attempted to keep the train toward No Mercy rolling at full speed in a Labor Day episode. Holiday episodes have a spotty track record at best, but thankfully Labor Day is not a holiday WWE can really build a theme around (unless they wanted to resurrect The Union, of course). That means the focus was on, as it refreshingly has been in recent weeks, simple, solid storytelling supported by good wrestling. Each of the marquee stories tonight centered around the thing every Superstar wants more than anything else: Respect.
Blast From the Past
It should come as no surprise that Cena’s famed debut match with Jason Jordan’s storyline father Kurt Angle was invoked when Cena vs. Jason Jordan kicked off Raw, a 15-years-later reversal of the iconic quest for respect. Cena, now the grizzled veteran, was able to return the opportunity Angle gave to him all those years ago in kind to Jordan, the scrappy upstart in search of his place on the roster.
And just like Angle/Cena, Cena/Jordan saw the rookie take the legend to his limit in a very good match full of suplexes, throws and false finishes. In the end, as he is wont to do, Cena capitalized on a mistake and earned the victory with an Attitude Adjustment. Raw segued from here to another Cena/Reigns verbal showdown — preceding it with a solid, competitive match was some brilliant booking that manages to both showcase a fledgling Superstar they are trying to push and further enhance the Cena/Reigns angle by showing Cena doing what he says he does: giving the next generation a chance.
It does serve to prove Reigns wrong, as his major point last week was that Cena lives to bury young talent, but as Reigns is clearly playing heel in this angle, it works. Reigns came down after the matchup to explain that the fact that Cena had a competitive match with a rookie means one of two things: either he can’t hang with the current generation and isn’t as strong as he says he is, or he was toying with Jordan, making him believe he had a chance before sticking the proverbial dagger in the heart. It’s actually a pretty good point, but that’s about all Reigns was able to get in before Cena picked up where he left off last week by absolutely destroying Reigns. Ultimately, it’s about respect: Cena doesn’t respect Reigns for being handed the spot he’s in instead of earning it, and Reigns doesn’t respect Cena for what he sees as toying with his opponents. Fighting for respect is one of the most basic tropes in pro wrestling, but that’s because it works. And it worked perfectly here.
For all the possible shenanigans the match could have had between the Miztourage and Jeff’s brother Matt, they ended up being a complete non-factor as all three were ejected by the referee early on. With all distractions removed, the focus was on the in-ring action, and it ended up being a great matchup, worthy of the prestige The Miz is attempting to restore to the Intercontinental Championship. The story of this match between the ropes was that The Miz had done his homework, as he countered several vintage Jeff Hardy moves to keep the Charismatic Enigma on his toes. Thankfully, Miz picked up a hard-fought, clean victory against one of the most beloved Superstars in WWE history, reversing a Twist of Fate into a Skull Crushing Finale for the 1-2-3.
Miz appeared to be floundering upon showing up on Raw following the Superstar Shakeup, but in recent weeks has regained the status he had when he was tearing it up on Smackdown Live. Getting a decisive victory against a legit name like Jeff Hardy does wonders for The Miz’s believability as champ, and adds prestige to the Intercontinental Championship.
Speaking of which, with no announced defense for next week, it appears Miz is a lock to become #3 in the list of longest combined reigns with the title in WWE history — he will surpass Honky Tonk Man’s one reign at 454 days next Wednesday. It’s not at all unbelievable that Miz will eventually hold the record for longest combined reigns, as he only needs 175 days to surpass Pedro Morales with no signs of slowing down in his career. While I hope The Miz eventually makes his way back to a world championship scene, if nothing else, Miz has made the Intercontinental Championship his own in his unquestionably Hall of Famer career.
Vulgar Display of Power
Sprinkled throughout tonight’s show was hype for the main event, Braun Strowman vs. Big Show in a steel cage match. It was a little one-note, though. Seriously, they must have showed the clip of Strowman and Big Show destroying the ring after a superplex last April about 15 times, complete with interviewing the referee who officiated that match backstage while the ring crew "double reinforced" the ring by…zip tying some black bars to the bars that were already there. It almost felt like they had messed up the timing of the show and run through everything faster than they meant to, as they seemingly padded for time leading up to this match. Between showing the ring crew reinforcing the ring, interviewing the referee, showing yet more replays of their last match, epilepsy-inducing shots of the cage being lowered amidst strobe lights, and Renee Young interviewing Show and Strowman separately, there was easily 20 minutes of decompressed lead-in to this match that, while guaranteed to be a fun brawl, is ultimately inconsequential.
As for the match itself, it was the fun slugfest you’d expect, with several super heavyweight-sized spots including Big Show landing his first top-rope elbow drop in, according to Booker T, 20 years, and a savage running powerslam through one of the cage panels to the outside. The pacing and psychology of the match seemed bizarre — why was Big Show so gassed less than two minutes into the match that he couldn’t muster the strength to walk out of the cage after hitting his KO punch? Why did Show, the self-proclaimed "World’s Largest Athlete," think scaling the cage and climbing out was a better idea than simply walking through the door?
But that was certainly not the point of this match. The point was brutal impact spots designed to make Braun Strowman look like a credible contender to Brock Lesnar. And to that end, the match was a wild success. Strowman put the Big Show away with a running powerslam following a superplex that did not break the ring (thank god they double reinforced it). Following the victory, Stroman cut a quick promo on Brock Lesnar before delivering the highlight of the main event: A second running powerslam through a cage panel that broke open, spilling Big Show to the outside. It’s hard to top literally destroying the ring, but this unique spot was a valiant effort. This was a fun main event that served its purpose of building momentum for the Monster Among Men.
The Rest of the Card
- What happened to the LED ring posts and apron? One-time thing or cost-cutting measure?
- They don’t have to tear the house down every week, but it seems strange how little Raw Tag Team Champions Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins were featured on tonight’s show. They are two of the hottest acts on Raw right now, and they got started on tonight’s show with an inconsequential commentary spot while Cesaro and Sheamus beat up on some jobbers. Later, The Bar got involved in The Shield’s matchup in a segment that accomplished little more than knocking Gallows and Anderson down yet another peg. It’s the type of bare minimum storyline progression that can kill feuds fast.
- In a segment that may have ended up more meta than intended, Nia Jax and Emma were given a title shot by wondering how people earn title shots in WWE. Are they earned by contractually obligated rematches? Trending on Twitter? Or simply beating the crap out of the current champion? Turns out the answer is all three. General Manager Kurt Angle put together a tag team match, pitting Nia and Emma against Sasha and Alexa, with the stipulation being if Nia and Emma could knock off the champ and former champ, they’d be added to the No Mercy Women’s Championship match. Nia and Emma won in a forgettable match.
- Bizarrely, Enzo cut almost the exact same promo as he did last week on 205 Live, right down to the "Captain Underpants" dig against Drew Gulak, despite acting like it was the first time he said it. Does 205 Live take place in some alternate universe fever dream? Or did WWE not feel like coming up with new material for the Cruiserweight segment tonight while assuming (correctly) that no one watches 205 Live anyway? I’m far from a booking expert, but it stands to reason that if you want to improve the stature of the Cruiserweight division in fans’ eyes, having the exact match two weeks in a row is probably not the best approach.
- Can anything save Bray Wyatt? His feud with Finn Balor exemplifies his problem perfectly: It’s a feud between two guys with unlimited upside, and both are cutting what on paper seem like decent promos, but it just isn’t working. Wyatt says the same thing every single week no matter who he currently has beef with, and it’s been proven time and time again he does not back up what he says. I hate to say it, but Wyatt may be unsalvageable at this point.