While WWE is busy promoting Sin City Smackdown from Las Vegas as a supershow of sorts, including three title matches and an increasingly rare appearance by Mr. McMahon (not to mention the live Mae Young Classic finals that will immediately follow it), Raw is in something of a holding pattern working toward the absolutely stacked No Mercy card. This week’s episode kicked off with a mirror of last week’s: Roman Reigns had his turn facing off against Jason Jordan in the opening contest, where he was finally able to put him away after about 20 minutes, followed by a confrontation between himself and his No Mercy opponent, who made his way to the ring after the match. Sound familiar? What followed was part three of a formula that, while starting off explosively, is beginning to wear out its welcome.
Big Dog, Neutered
The back and forth, surprisingly meta promo between John Cena and Roman Reigns worked in the first week because both were making valid points. Unfortunately, whether it’s through bad writing or not being able to think on his feet well enough, Reigns has resorted to either disappointing homophobia (last week’s "you would be looking for balls" comment) or, in the case of this week, outright lies.
In response to more Cena brilliance, Roman claimed Cena never has good matches, something that nearly no one in the world actually believes. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who won’t admit, even if it’s begrudgingly through clenched teeth, that the John Cena of 2017 is a bad pro wrestler. He also claimed Cena needs WWE — something that his successful Hollywood career clearly invalidates, though strangely Reigns also claimed Cena’s Hollywood career is failing. Judging by the reviews of his performances and the high profile roles he keeps nabbing, that’s again, simply not true (though admittedly, Roman’s "I know a guy" quip was pretty funny). This is all on top of the fact that Roman’s entire point last week was based on the fact that it took Cena 20 minutes to beat Jason Jordan, a rookie, but this week it took him the same amount of time to beat the exact same person. Cena has dropped bomb after bomb in this trilogy of verbal battles; what has Reigns proven?
I’ve gone from being over the moon for these promos to scratching my head over what the end game is. Cena is of course known for these types of scathing, worked-shoot style promos, but he usually has a dance partner. These feel like Cena is verbally assaulting a wall. In fact, a wall would probably come out looking better than this, because a wall doesn’t have the ability to make itself look even stupider. Most of this is based on the poor talking points Reigns had to work with, so I’m not even really blaming him here, though it is clear he’s finding it hard to keep up with the quick-witted Cena. Cena ended the promo by saying beating Reigns at No Mercy will be a cakewalk, and based on these embarrassing beatdowns he’s been delivering on the mic, it’s hard to disagree.
Eat, Sleep, Usurp, Repeat
Not much really needs to be done or said to sell a match the magnitude of Braun Strowman vs. Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, but that’s not going to stop Paul Heyman from trying. Heyman, as is custom, cut an enthralling promo highlighting the potential of this monster matchup. Being a master of the sale, Heyman brought in another angle besides the obvious — painting Strowman as the modern incarnation of "The Next Big Thing" Brock Lesnar of 2002-2004. The physical similarities are hard to deny, but Heyman brought up some solid arguments to show there are deeper comparisons to make.
After invoking the names of legends of the early Ruthless Aggression era who fell to Lesnar (Rock, Hogan, Flair, RVD, Taker), Heyman called out Strowman who had no problem answering the call. A quick but effective brawl ensued, wherein Braun Strowman physically dominated the usually untouchable Lesnar. This included an incredibly rare no-sell of Lesnar’s suplexes — and you know a wrestler is being pushed correctly when a no-sell elicits a "holy shit" chant.
It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. Smart money goes on it being pushed as a simple question: Was this embarrassment on Lesnar’s part due to simple hubris and underestimation? Or does the Monster Among Men really have his number?
Later on in the night (though surprisingly, not in the main event), Strowman squared off against Cena. While the match itself was nothing noteworthy, the finish certainly was: Braun Strowman manhandled (or, sigh…"monster handled") the franchise player, delivering a running powerslam to the steel steps to end the match in a disqualification. Strowman physically dismantled both Brock Lesnar and John Cena in the same evening — has anybody ever been pushed this hard?
The Rest of the Card
- Sasha Banks faced off against Emma, while Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were on commentary. Of course, you’d hardly have any idea either were on commentary if you didn’t actually witness them walking to the table, because neither one of them said much of anything. Cole, Booker and Graves were practically spoon feeding talking points to them to nearly no avail. What is the point of having guests on commentary if they don’t say anything?
- Fuck it, give us a Bray Wyatt vs. Goldust feud. Wyatt’s pre-match preamble (more like pre-RAMBLE, amirite?!) and post-match shenanigans, wherein he washed Goldust of his facepaint, were far more interesting than anything the Eater of Worlds has done in recent memory. And since Wyatt honestly feels irredeemable at this point, it seems to make more sense to use him to elevate mid-carders rather than drag down should-be main eventers like Balor. It’s a shame Goldust was just a bit-player in this segment, as he has a surprising amount of gas left in the tank that’s being wasted.
- Asuka is Raw bound, we learned from a brief vignette. It’s encouraging that she’s being treated like a big deal before she even arrives on the show.
- Elias and Kalisto had a match. It was fine.
- Maryse is apparently pregnant, in kayfabe at least. Which gave birth to this great Miz line: "Unlike Kurt Angle, I will be there for our son." The announcement was made before Miz TV kicked off with guest Enzo Amore, a segment that continued to weave reality into Enzo’s angle, as Miz berated Amore for being the locker room pariah — fitting given Miz’s past of being kicked out of that locker room himself a decade ago. After some pretty entertaining verbal sparring — though, no matter how entertaining it was, there was no getting the crowd behind Enzo tonight — the two faced off in an impromptu match, where the two bizarrely grabbed mics mid-match to deliver ice cold lines that were not received well by the (to be fair, mostly dead all night) crowd. With purportedly real-life issues being brought up on television constantly, it’s hard to know for sure what Enzo’s true stature in the company is, but between the nonstop jabs taken on commentary at his expense and the beatdown he received here, it doesn’t look too good.
- Quick aside: I know he’s had it for a while, but can we talk about how little sense Dean Ambrose’s shirt makes? “No good Dean goes unhinged?” So, he’s not a good Dean? What does that even mean?
- Anyway, the main event of the night ended up being Ambrose and Rollins recruiting the Hardy Boyz to the surprise of no one to take on Cesaro/Sheamus and Gallows/Anderson in an eight man tag match. With such an unusual matchup taking the main event spot, you would think some sort of storyline development would take place, whether it be Ambrose and Rollins facing some sort of adversity or the WWE unicorn that is Matt Hardy’s awakening. Unfortunately, neither happened in a surprisingly inconsequential match that wouldn’t have been out of place on a house show. I know WWE front-loaded this show to make sure the big storylines went unopposed to Monday Night Football, but this was one of the driest main events in recent memory.
The most important storylines on the show continue to deliver in big ways. Cena and Reigns had another overall entertaining segment, even if Reigns is coming out of these verbal showdowns looking like a complete loser. The real star of the night, though, was Braun Strowman, who physically dominated two of the most important Superstars of the 21st century in John Cena and Brock Lesnar in the same night. Unfortunately, the rest of the night was filled with…well, it wasn’t filled, and that’s the problem. A lot of downtime made this show a hard one to get through in between the important stuff, exacerbated by a seriously dead crowd. It’s clear WWE front-loaded this show to get all the important stuff out of the way before the season debut of Monday Night Football siphoned viewers, but the result was an incredibly top-heavy show that dragged more and more as time went on.