By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Chris Jericho: It was hilariously stubborn to put Reigns in the main event in front of a Brooklyn crowd that has despised him in the past. Fortunately, the crowd seemed drained, and the level of angst toward Reigns didn’t seem to be nearly as strong as it has been in the past. It was nice to hear some fans counter the “you can’t wrestle” chants with “yes, he can.” WWE will see this as a win. The problem is that it’s not like majority of fans have been swayed in Roman’s favor. Rather, it seems like many are simply resigned to the fact that Vince McMahon has dug his heels in. All of that said, Reigns and Jericho did a very nice job of creating some drama where there really wasn’t any. I don’t think most viewers thought there was any chance Jericho was going over, yet they had some entertaining moments down the stretch that made things interesting.
Bayley debuts: A great moment for longtime fans of arguably the greatest female character in company history. It’s just a shame that she wasn’t called up sooner so that the entire audience could have seen the evolution of the Bayley character and enjoy the story of the underdog as much as the NXT fans. Bayley should still do good business on the main roster, but I will always wonder “what if?” in terms of how huge she could have been if the main roster viewers had been able to watch her full story unfold.
Finn Balor relinquishes the WWE Universal Championship: Obviously, the fact that he had to drop the title due to injury is terrible, but the Hit refers to the way he dropped the title. Balor was gracious and likable and his words left me looking forward to his return. I like that he smiled and was positive about the situation. It made him look like a standup guy and set the stage perfectly for Seth Rollins to be completely disrespectful.
The Dudleys say goodbye: I went into the farewell segment just waiting for Bubba Ray to turn on D-Von. Once it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, I still came away assuming that the Dudleys would be back in search of revenge against Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. It turns out that this actually is the final scheduled appearance of the Dudleys. Looking at it through that lens, the Dudleys did a great job of playing to the crowd and elevating another team on their way out the door. Corey Graves also did a great job of explaining that Anderson and Gallows attacking the Dudleys was the same thing the Dudleys would have done to another veteran team back in the day. The only thing missing was some love for Bubba and D-Von’s roots in ECW, but I guess this was more about saying goodbye to WWE than it was about saying goodbye to pro wrestling. The one-year return of Bubba and D-Von to WWE was a nice homecoming that should have meant more. WWE never got what they could have out of the duo. I really believed that they were going to breathe new life into the tag division, but it was established early on that they were a nostalgia act rather than major players. It was a mistake by WWE, but it’s cool that they returned and even cooler that they received a good sendoff.
Seth Rollins vs. Sami Zayn: A good match with Zayn selling the ankle injury and showing real heart by having a competitive match before Rollins put him away. Finn Balor was legitimately injured the night before. Zayn played up an injury in this match. Will all three of Seth’s opponents work injuries next week in the ultimate backdoor into the championship? Nah.
Kevin Owens vs. Neville: I’m not sure what Neville has done from a storyline standpoint to earn a spot in a qualifying match. Still, Neville’s impressive high spots won over the crowd quickly. The interference by Chris Jericho continues his fun friendship with Owens. I was actually worried that they were going to split up when their egos clashed backstage later in the show. I guess we’ll never know if WWE intended to give Big Cass and Enzo Amore a revenge win in front of the Brooklyn crowd last night, as the Finn Balor injury clearly caused a major creative shakeup.
WWE Raw Misses
WWE Universal Championship: No, this isn’t a complaint about the look of the title belt (although it is pretty bad). WWE was dealt a tough hand when an injury forced Finn Balor to relinquish the new championship just one night after winning it. And while the injury surely caused some major rewrites to Raw, it was ridiculous to have Mick Foley and the broadcast team talk about the “series of matches” that would help determine the next champion without actually explaining the format until after two qualifying matches had passed. WWE had the Universal Championship feeling bigger than the WWE Championship before they ever showed the title belt or had a championship match. And while it may still feel more prestigious regardless of who wins the championship on Monday, that has everything to do with the sad state of the WWE Championship. If WWE wants the Universal Title to truly matter, then don’t go with usual suspects Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins. And don’t go with Big Cass long before he’s ready simply to shock people. Kevin Owens is the logical choice. He would be a fresher champion than Reigns or Rollins, and he’s far more ready than Cass to carry the load. The move would shock some viewers, while also pleasing a big portion of the fan base. Here’s hoping they get it right.
Titus O’Neil, Darren Young, and Bob Backlund: A terrible segment. Titus isn’t a great talker despite having some fun moments on commentary, but he is charismatic enough that the crowd seems to like him when he’s presented as a babyface. I’m still baffled by the decision to push him as the heel and Young and Backlund as the babyfaces. I would scrap this feud and move on, but if it is going to continue, then the least they can do is explain why Backlund ran out to confront Titus while Young was nowhere to be found until after Titus attacked Backlund.
Rusev vs. Big Cass: Rusev showed as much heart as Zayn until he finally bowed out due to injury. The live crowd booed, which made no sense given that the guy they wanted to win advanced in the tournament. Those fans seemed to think Rusev was being cowardly, but watching the match on television and hearing the commentary, I actually viewed Rusev as a sympathetic figure. I’m usually all about protecting Rusev and rebuilding him as a monster heel, but the injury gave him an excuse and they easily could have had him put over Cass to give the tag team wrestler some level of momentum heading into the four-way for the championship.
Big E vs. Karl Anderson: It was so nice to see Anderson and Gallows lose the lab coats and give up on the nut jokes and get back to being badasses. Well, at least until they had to stand a foot away from New Day while Xavier Woods played his trombone and the other two danced heading into a commercial break. Ugh. WWE dedicated some time to making Anderson and Gallows look tough, yet they were counterproductive by having Anderson lose quickly and decisively to Big E.
Braun Strowman vs. Johnny Knockout: I have no idea what they were going for by having Knockout say he “likes big, sweaty men.” I just know that I spent the match thinking more about that line than the way Strowman destroyed him. Was this WWE’s idea of an LGBT character?