Last night’s episode of Raw served as the go-home episode, the last opportunity the red brand would have to sell you on its offerings for this Sunday’s SummerSlam. Coming off a string of solid episodes despite the need to pivot on several story threads, Raw is in a surprisingly good spot right now, but there were still a few loose ends to tie up before the big pay-per-view.
The show kicked off not with the hometown girl Sasha, but with a followup to last week’s blue-balling Shield reunion. While the path to get there was undeniably overwrought and at some points downright silly (Dean Ambrose clutching his face in distress while deciding whether or not to fist bump somebody is peak wrestling acting), in a lot of ways this was classic babyface booking. The arena absolutely erupted every time that Shield fist bump was so much as teased, so when both men finally delivered that sign of mutual respect to each other, the roof came off of TD Garden. This storyline is easily the most interesting on Raw or in WWE on the whole — it’s surprisingly complex and most importantly, human.
Cesaro and Sheamus are playing their parts in this storyline well, though they are clearly not the focus. Nearly any competent heel tag team could be plugged in their place and the story would work exactly the same way, but that’s not to say they aren’t doing a good job. The mean streak they’ve shown in recent weeks is elevating their status as solid tag team champions, and the four should have a pretty exciting match at SummerSlam.
I could overthink this and feel disappointment at the fact that the one thing that finally seemed to get both on the same page was talk of running the tag team division together, something neither Seth nor Dean have shown any interest in in the past. Or point out how borderline cartoonish the back and forth really was. But at its core, this segment was WWE giving the fans something they’ve been dreaming of for years, and the payoff was immense.
Too Legit to Quit
Sasha seemed destined to be in the Raw Women’s Championship match at SummerSlam ever since Bayley was put on the shelf with an injury, but conventional wisdom that popular wrestlers always lose in their hometown in WWE threatened to throw a wrench in that plan and give us a Team Rude showdown at the biggest party of the summer. For most of the match, that sinking feeling started permeating, as Banks got the holy hell kicked out of her by Nia Jax for the better part of ten minutes. The beatdown was convincing, including a nasty swing into the barricade, and any attempt by Sasha to mount offense was quickly stifled until near the end when she finally started building momentum.
The story told was simple, but effective — Nia is a dominant force in the women’s division, but Sasha’s resolve and refusal to give up is what’s gotten her this far, and that same resolve punched her ticket to SummerSlam to face Alexa Bliss, who for her part managed to add to the match a bit by watching ringside from a custom lifeguard chair at the bottom of the ramp. This story being told in Sasha’s hometown of Boston sweetened the pot that much more, and that she actually pulled out the victory by making Jax tap out to the Bank Statement got a huge reaction from her hometown fans. Despite treading water for several months, all it took was a string of compelling victories to give Sasha back the momentum she needs to be a credible championship contender. What a crazy thought.
Reigning, Defending, Undisputed
While the mini Shield reunion earlier in the night lead many to question what the third member of that faction’s role, if any, would be, Roman Reigns has something much bigger on his plate now. A beast, a monster, and a submission machine, to be exact. The reigning, defending, undisputed, Universal Champion was introduced by Paul Heyman in a trademark Heyman promo, weaving in the real-life question of whether or not Lesnar is going to jump back into the octagon with the WWE storyline he’s presently involved in in a way only he could.
What followed was an utterly predictable brawl between the four competitors of the upcoming SummerSlam Universal Championship match, but when said brawl is four huge, entertaining badasses beating the hell out of each other, the fact that it was predictable doesn’t matter. It does feel like WWE is relying on the "clearing the locker room to keep these guys separated" thing with Lesnar far too much, but it does make for a good visual.
Overall, another episode of Raw that was…pretty good? Ambrose and Rollins continues to be the feel-good storyline of the summer, the mass of humanity that is the main event scene delivered once again, and even several aspects of the undercard — Big Cass’s nuclear heat, Tozawa dethroning the King of the Cruiserweights — felt important. This episode accomplished its goal of tying up the remaining loose ends before SummerSlam in an entertaining way, helped in no small part by an absolutely blistering hot crowd.
Raw emanated from Boston, MA last night, the hometown of yours truly, so I was able to attend the show live. Some notes:
- Boston is usually a pretty good crowd, but last night, we felt like we were on fire. The crowd was extremely hot for many segments, which can take even mediocre moments and make them memorable. Hopefully WWE takes notice and continues to book go-home shows in historically hot towns. Tonight’s Smackdown Live is coming from Providence, which may not be quite as hot, but it wouldn’t be surprising if many of the same fans were in attendance tonight. Bravo, Boston.
- I may have missed the announcement, but I had no idea Brock Lesnar was going to be there. It seemed like many were in the same boat, because when the graphic was put on the tron showing he’d be there, the place erupted. The way the graphic was shown, however, many thought it was going to be a tag team match and that we’d get to see Brock wrestle live. Disappointment set in when it was clear this was just a speaking segment.
- Boston HATES Big Cass. Seriously, that was some Attitude Era-level heat.
- Sasha got an incredible reaction, and there were plenty of "we want Sasha" chants in the commercial break leading up to her match.
- Can we as a fandom agree to stop with shouting stupid things constantly? It seems no matter what section you’re in, you’re going to get stuck in front of people who apparently think their cursory knowledge of the business is impressive, and loudly shout about it all night fishing for laughs. Shouting "Husky Harris" five times at Bray Wyatt isn’t funny. Neither is shouting "I’ve seen you naked" to Mickie James. I’ll take being surrounded by pre-teen Roman Reigns fans genuinely enjoying the show over try-hards who think they are above it any day of the week.