Note: There wasn’t necessarily anything bad about this episode of RAW, so the formatting is the best and the lingering questions this week.
Roman Reigns gets nuclear heat: The show started with highlights from the Roman Reigns/Undertaker match last night where presumably Roman retired The Undertaker. The crowd was chanting “Under-tak-er,” which slowly morphed into a duel “Under-tak-er”/”Ro-man sucks” chant. This went out for two minutes until Roman’s music hit to boos on the level of the ones John Cena received in Chicago at Money in the Bank 2011. Every time Roman went to speak, the crowd booed uproariously and threw a variety of chants his way: “Delete,” “Fuck you Ro-man,” “You suck,” “Asshole,” “Shut the fuck up,” and “go away.” This went on for close to six minutes. Finally, Roman simply said, “This is my yard now” and dropped the mic to massive boos. This was simply a perfect way to start this show. WWE is convinced Roman doesn’t need to “turn heel” to be a heel. This shows they could be right. However, having Corey Graves give the same company line that the fans after ‘Mania are crazy and boo the ones they normally cheer showed that they have no idea what they are doing.
Neville defeats Mustafa Ali in a great cruiserweight display: Neville came out and told everyone before the match that the crowd might not like him or his methods, but they can’t deny his results, holding up the title. Ali’s music interrupts the promo, and the match starts. The two men did as much with the eight minutes they had as possible and gave another good example of cruiserweight wrestling on free television. Neville’s heel work is working well as evidenced by him getting ready to do the Red Arrow but then noticed the crowd wanted it, so he jumped down and used a submission hold for the victory. Likewise, Mustafa Ali is definitely impressing in his opportunities, and this is an early match of the month contender for WWE. Hopefully, the quality of these matches will lead to increased engagement from the audience, but the fact that beach balls were being bandied about in the audience, it might still be an uphill struggle.
Vince McMahon announces Kurt Angle as GM: Vince McMahon comes out to “Roman sucks” chants. Nobody can say this crowd isn’t trying. Vince placates them, a little too quickly, by thanking them for being the most passionate fans in the world. He first announces that there will be a brand shake-up next week, presumably meaning there will be a redraft or trades. Next, he announces that Stephanie will be out of action for a while after going through a table last night, which brought massive cheers. Vince started a bit saying that the crowd might be passionate, but they are being “insensitive” then “cruel” then “bloodthirsty.”
Nevertheless, “the show must go on” and since there is no commissioner or general manager, he is going to name a new GM, someone who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. The crowd cheers; then Teddy Long’s music hits. Long comes out dancing, and an angry Vince says “cut his music.” “Teddy,” he says, “stop dancing. Stop dancing, please. It’s not you.” A sad Teddy Long leaves, and Vince announces that Kurt Angle is the new general manager. He comes to cheers. Vince tells him, “you better do a good job” and leaves. Kurt simply says, “I only have one thing to say: It’s good to be back on RAW. It’s true. It’s damn true.” It was good to see Vince again; he always does a crowd job at getting the crowd going. The most important part of this announcement is that Stephanie might not be on television for a while, which is fabulous news for everyone. The disdain for her emasculating character was reaching dangerous levels of “go away” heat, so this will be a welcome change to have a presumably face authority figure in charge of RAW.
Angle backstage segments as GM: The first segment with Angle was with Enzo and Cass. The bit was that Angle didn’t really understand anything that Enzo and Cass were saying. The second involved Sami Zayn trying to explain his overly logical analysis of why he would like to “cultivate” the same relationship with Angle he had with Mick Foley because he doesn’t think Smackdown is the place for him. The bit here is that Angle is dazed by Sami’s circumlocutions. Angle’s comedic timing is still top notch, and if this continues, it’ll had a much needed lightheartedness to the GM-wrestler relationship on this show.
The return of Finn Balor: Early in the evening, it was announced that Seth Rollins and Chris Jericho would take on Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. While Chris Jericho was cutting a promo backstage, where he put “the tip of Kevin Owens’ finger” on The List, he was assaulted and injured by Owens and Joe. Kurt Angle vows to Seth that he’ll find him a partner for tonight. The partner turns out to be Balor who gets a good reception upon coming out. The match was a showcase for Balor primarily – he got the majority of his offense in, the hot tag, and the pinfall over Owens. Seth raised his hand after the match, but it’ll be interesting to see if this new found partnership lasts for long. Finn is the babyface they need right now, but he’s also going to have to reestablish himself in a changed landscape.
The Question Marks
The Hardys debut on RAW and defeat The Club: The Hardys came out to a large ovation, wrestling for the first time in nine years as a team on RAW. The chants, at least with this smarky crowd, are already over. The two teams put on a solid tag team match, better than half of what was seen on Wrestlemania last night and better than many tag team matches on RAW in the past few months. They are a much needed injection of skill and charisma for this depleted tag team division.
Are the Hardys ever going to talk? It was disappointing that Matt Hardy still hasn’t talked yet as it will be interesting to see how much of the “Broken” gimmick they are using beyond his mannerisms and hair. Apparently, they will be on RAW Talk tonight, which might shed some light on this, but a promo is needed soon to establish why the Hardys are back to give them some motivation.
The Revival debut on RAW against The New Day: The New Day came out to offer an open challenge, and The Revival’s music hits. They come down and knock over New Day’s ice cream truck en route. This debut worked well as it demonstrated their tag team proficiency and put them over by pinning Xavier and getting a win over New Day. Afterwards, they attacked Kofi Kingston and injured his leg, which generated a smattering of boos. It is good to see the Revival get called up, but it’s unclear right now whether RAW is the place for them. Unless some of the more physically powerful tag teams such as Sheamus and Cesaro and Gallows and Anderson go to Smackdown, it could create mismatches. Will the WWE use this team right? The last thing they need is for this stellar team to go the way other NXT tag teams have gone.
The women are lumped together again: The women are given a six-women match – Sasha, Bayley, Dana against Charlotte, Nia, and Emma. Emma did good work reestablishing herself as a strong, vicious character. The ending came when Charlotte tapped out to the Bank Statement. After the match, an angry Charlotte pushed Emma and Nia around a little before Nia splashed her in the corner and walked out. They seem to be setting up something with Nia and Charlotte and Emma and Bayley. Where this leaves Sasha is unknown. The most pressing question is: can WWE straighten out this mess of a women’s division? Can they repair Bayley as champion? The mess they made heading towards ‘Mania needs fixed.
Brock and Braun staredown: Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar come out, and Heyman cuts a promo describing a fairy tale where the Beast destroyed the superhero, referring to Goldberg. Heyman then transitions into trying to sell Lesnar versus Reigns, but the crowd is having none of it as they chant “We Want Balor.” Even Heyman smirks at this as he continues to sell how the “2 in 23-2” must now meet “1-on-1” to determine whose yard it really is. Braun Strowman’s music hits and he says that Brock has his attention. He shoves Lesnar, who smirks, put his belt on the mat between them, and dared Braun to take him. Braun backed out of the ring to chants of “bullshit.” Will WWE really forgo Roman/Brock right now in favor of Braun and Brock, and will they change plans for Brock in the long term as they continue to try to repair Roman in some way?
The tag team title situation: Enzo and Cass wrestled Sheamus and Cesaro, as ordered by Kurt Angle, to determine the number one contender to The Hardys’ tag team titles. Sheamus and Cesaro get the pin and become #1 contenders to the titles. Cesaro and Sheamus are getting over more and more, but there is a dearth of heel teams in this division. The Revival is up now which adds another heel tag team to the RAW roster besides Anderson and Gallows, but can this roster survive with four face teams (New Day, Sheamus/Cesaro, Enzo/Cass, The Hardys)? It feels like one team needs to turn heel.
The Final Analysis: This was a strong show, as usual with the RAW after ‘Mania, and it made some much needed changes, most notably Stephanie McMahon not being on it. It had some exciting debuts and returns (Kurt Angle, The Revival, the Hardys) and some good in-ring action, but, boy, is three hours just simply too long still. After four hours for the Hall of Fame, two and a half for NXT, seven for Wrestlemania, and three hours tonight, fans must be exhausted. This show starts a new season practically, and the next couple of weeks should start answering whether the changes will be long-term or not.