A new episode of Monday Night Raw just wrapped up on the USA Network. With two weeks left to go until Payback, the next Raw-exclusive pay-per-view, the WWE put on a fine show this evening, delivering on a few key matches and ending with a big moment, although there was little storyline progression.
In the opening segment of the show, Braun Strowman entered following his assault on Roman Reigns. The crowd was surprisingly excited to see this guy who just tried to murder one of the heroes of the show, but they seemed slightly more mixed on him than the Long Island crowd did last week. Strowman’s always entertaining to watch, and there was a great moment here in which he smiled creepily while discussing Reigns. But overall, this was a rather uneventful opening promo, and the show seemed to have a hard time justifying why Kurt Angle would not punish Strowman in any way for his behavior last week; Angle simply stated that he should suspend Strowman, but he did not do so.
Later, Strowman suddenly attacked Goldust and R. Truth backstage. But the only thing that immediately happened was that a single referee approached Strowman in the locker room and kindly reminded him that he had the night off, only to back down when Strowman insisted that he can do what he wants. Almost a full hour later, Strowman was still walking around backstage beating people up, this time targeting Kalisto. Where was Kurt Angle in all of this? Isn’t he supposed to be running things? For some reason, Angle was nowhere to be found when Strowman was running loose backstage, but he immediately booked a match between Strowman and Big Show less than three minutes after Big Show’s appearance. Once again, the WWE has trouble keeping the general manager involved in the show’s storyline.
The first match of the night was one between Chris Jericho and Samoa Joe, a pretty entertaining one with one highlight being a powerslam performed by Samoa Joe on Chris Jericho. It was heartwarming here to see just how much the crowd loves Chris Jericho; he received one of the biggest pops of the night, and seeing him soak in the enthusiasm while wearing his light-up scarf was a joyous moment. Jericho also earned a big reaction later on, when he talked in a backstage promo about Payback and added The Drifter to the list.
After the match, Samoa Joe delivered an incredible promo in which he once again proved that his mic work is better than that of just about any of his peers. It is slightly questionable, though, that the angle here is that Joe is upset that Seth Rollins beat Triple H in a match. Hearing Joe describe in great detail what it was like to injure Rollins, though, was absolutely fantastic and is where the emphasis in this feud should be placed. Rollins’ response to Joe was not nearly as cool, and it seemed to rely entirely on the excitement of hearing him say the word “bitch” on television.
Next up was a match between Enzo Amore and Big Cass and Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The match itself was typical without any real standout moments, but the preceding promo was another example of the fact that Enzo and Cass’ shtick is really getting old. It seems like it’s been months since either of them said anything remotely new during any promo, and Enzo even seemed to emphasize this tonight, noting that the superstar shake up came and went but they’re still here doing what they always do. That might be true, but it’s not necessarily a good thing.
Soon, The Miz hosted an episode of Miz TV with Dean Ambrose. This feud is shaping up to be a great one, with Ambrose in some way representing the polar opposite of The Miz: one is a guy who wears a full red suit to the ring, and another is a guy who always shows up in jeans and a t-shirt looking like he just rolled out of bed. The Miz is also very self-serious, while Ambrose takes absolutely nothing seriously. The Miz continues to be one of the WWE’s best heels, and Ambrose’s passion for the business really shined through as he talked about how much he loves what he does.
As is usually the case with the cruiserweight division, TJ Perkins and Jack Gallagher performed an excellent match, but unfortunately, few in the crowd seemed to care very much. There was also some solid development going on with Neville and Austin Aries at ringside. Once again, the WWE has some great talent on their hands in the cruiserweight division, but separating it from the main roster the way they do seems to condition the average viewer into feeling that they need not pay attention or care about any of these matches.
At the end of the second hour, there was a fatal four-way match between Nia Jax, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Alexa Bliss. Nia Jax delivered a better performance than last week, but her matches still remain slow and a bit sloppy, which is only made worse by the fact that the commentary team keeps insisting that she is the most dominant woman on the roster. Alexa Bliss scoring the win in her home state was much deserved, and Bliss has already proven to be the female talent the Raw Women’s Division needed to spice things up.
It was strange, however, to not see the show at all address the fact that Sasha Banks began to turn heel last week, starting to say in a segment with Bayley that Bayley’s time as Women’s Champion is over. Banks was interrupted by the debut of Alexa Bliss, and it was assumed that Banks would follow up on what she was going to say tonight, but instead, it wasn’t even referenced that one of the most prominent superstars in the division is turning heel. With Alexa Bliss now about to enter a feud with Bayley, is the long-teased Sasha Banks vs. Bayley feud over?
In the third hour, Jeff Hardy performed in single’s competition against Cesaro. This was his first single’s match on Monday Night Raw in eight years, and he’s just as good as ever. Hardy was particularly impressive selling an apparent injury to the knee, assuming that was selling, and the match concluded with Hardy performing a Swanton Bomb that caused the crowd to go wild.
Speaking of big crowd reactions, there was the main event with Braun Strowman against Big Show. Although it was easy to see coming, the ring collapsing in the main event was an undeniably cool finale, and at least 50 percent of the reason it worked was because of the referee, who was standing on the side of the ring and fell backwards onto the floor. As the moment was played again and again, it was hard to focus on anything other than the hilarious image of this referee being thrown out of the ring.
All in all, this was a solid Monday Night Raw with a handful of solid matches and one or two decent promos. Clearly any major story developments are being saved for later in the month, as Payback is two weeks away, but all things considered, April 17th’s episode of Monday Night Raw did its job.