Tonight’s show, justifiably so, was completely centered around The Shield and their upcoming TLC match against a whole rogues gallery at Tables, Ladders and Chairs. In writing the Hounds of Justice into the vast majority of screen time, WWE admits just how one-note TLC really is. A lot of eggs are being put into the main event’s basket, which is I guess what happens when eight of your top stars are in one match. The debut of Asuka is highly anticipated, but besides that, the undercard’s booking is pretty haphazard.
Thankfully, though, the lead-up to The Shield’s TLC match has been a blast.
Being just six days away from TLC: Tables, Ladder and Chairs, it would have been easy — expected, even — for WWE to provide the previously promised cage match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman as nothing more than a preview of what’s to come at the pay-per-view event. Thankfully, over the course of the night, stakes were added to the match: If Braun won, his team would get a fifth member added at TLC. If Roman won, however, Braun would be eliminated from the match at the PPV and the match would go back to the original plan, a six-man tag.
Raw kicked off with The Shield interrupting General Manager Kurt Angle with their theme song — the first time we’ve heard it since early 2014. Yes, it’s essentially just Roman’s current song, but the "sierra, hotel…" intro got the nostalgia juices flowing. The Shield entered through the crowd like old times as well. Or, maybe I should say that in WWE-ese: THE HOUNDS OF JUSTICE MADE THEIR WAY THROUGH THE WWE UNIVERSE! The retro outfits — which, again is pretty much just Roman’s current garb (man, Roman hasn’t evolved much) — were nice to see, even if they feel unnecessary. Their current unique attires plus a Shield t-shirt would have been fine, and helped make it feel like they’ve evolved a bit and less like a direct nostalgia act.
Later on, The Miz hosted Miz TV with his guests being his partners at TLC and Curtis Axel. They actually came out during the opening segment, too, after being summoned by a bloodthirsty Dean Ambrose, but Angle sent them away. Nothing in this Miz TV segment was terribly noteworthy beyond an unexpected, small pocket of ardent Curtis Axel supporters chanting his name throughout most of it. More importantly though, where has Bo been?! The aforementioned conditions for the cage match were laid out in this segment, as was some hype for the Tag Team Championship match between The Bar and Ambrose and Rollins.
In the third of four (!) in-ring segments belonging to this storyline (and multiple backstage segments dedicated to Curtis Axel confronting Roman Reigns and subsequently getting hung by his feet like a Looney Tunes character), Ambrose and Rollins successfully defended their Tag Team Championships agains Cesaro and Sheamus in a very solid match. It should come as no surprise as these are four of the best wrestlers in the company — yes, even Sheamus is up there and often vastly underrated — and they have some excellent chemistry in the ring together.
The show’s main event, a cage match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, contained predictable extracurricular chaos between Ambrose and Rollins and The Bar (didn’t Kurt Angle ban everyone from ringside?). Reuniting with The Shield helps Roman immensely — the crowd was pretty behind him here.
The match ended with a surprise return of Kane, apparently taking time off from the campaign trail to wreak havoc on The Shield. A member of the original team to face off against The Shield in their debut match in 2012, Kane is also celebrating 20 years in WWE under the Kane name, so it’s nice to see him back. It’s not enough to make me think The Shield will lose the match, but it sweetens the story a bit.
The Rest of the Card
- The whole Elias schtick is getting pretty stale. The Good Brothers are more than enough to make it entertaining though, and Karl Anderson warming up with the Honky Tonk Man’s theme song was pretty funny. I would have loved to hear more of the subtle nuance in the lyrics of "Jason Jordan is a Nerd," though. Jordan’s still getting next to no reaction, but as alluded to by the commentators during this six man tag, he may be joining Titus Worldwide, which would be a great move. Much to my pleasant surprise, Titus Worldwide gets a decent reaction, and Jordan would be a great fit — Jordan and Crews may be the most athletic tag team possible on the roster. Just forget about the whole "he’s Kurt Angle’s son" thing until it’s ready for a bigger push, because that time is not now.
- Turning Jack Gallagher heel just seems like it was a waste. Sure, it was a shock, and the turn itself was actually decently done, but he was pretty well liked as a babyface and now that he’s heel it’s just…crickets. Cedric Alexander, Gallagher’s opponent tonight, is easily one of the most talented wrestlers in the company, but…I don’t know, man. The Cruiserweight division just isn’t working, and I don’t know what the solution is.
- I’m a fan of Alicia Fox’s crazy girl gimmick. Sure, it’s hardly original, but she plays it well. That said, why was she complaining about not having merch a week after actually getting merch for the first time? Sasha beat Alicia, as she should have, but I’m not entirely sure what the point of this feud is beyond giving Sasha Banks something to do.
- It seems that Enzo’s got himself a group of henchmen in Noam Dar, Ariya Daivari, Drew Gulak and Tony Nese. Who knows if it’ll last, but it gives Enzo something to do, and further solidifies him as a heel thanks to the classic WWE trope that heels only associate with or even talk to other heels.
- The Balor/Wyatt feud is seriously cringeworthy. Balor’s response to Wyatt’s bizarre reveal that Sister Abigail was his alter ego after putting a sheet over his head and increasing the pitch of his voice was somehow maybe even cheesier — "shifting" into his demon persona during a live promo in the ring where he explained an Irish myth the crowd evidently couldn’t care less about. Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor are the worst-case scenario of WWE completely missing the point on something that should have been great. The sooner these two guys move on from each other the better, because they are both coming out of this worse for wear. Holy shit, this was bad.
- Asuka’s debut against Emma has potential to be a great match, but given the obvious outcome and flimsy story, it’s hard to be engrossed in the matchup. Side note: Emma’s new music is growing on me, though her original heel theme was a lot better. Not a fan of the weird yelp on the ramp, though.
The amount of time dedicated to The Shield/Miz & co over a three hour show really felt excessive, but it’s a reflection of a weak TLC card. Tonight’s episode of Raw was a lot like Sunday has the potential to be: very top-heavy. The entire show is riding on one story, though to be fair it’s a really good story. The Shield against five stars, including a returning Kane, in a TLC match is reason enough to look forward to TLC.