By Will Pruett
Will Pruett watches the 90 minute Hulu edit of Raw because it’s better.
Raw has four weeks to build to WrestleMania. This is a stark contrast to the last few years when every WWE show had seven or more weeks (and all stars appeared on both shows). This is more of a rapid-fire WrestleMania build than WWE has shown us in a long time. On this episode of Raw, WWE predictably, but effectively, built towards the biggest show of the year.
Let’s start with the top match on the top show. While I wrote yesterday about my overall disappointment in WWE’s lazy storytelling strategy concerning the WrestleMania main event, Goldberg and Brock Lesnar kicked this chapter of their feud off well. I found it a little jarring that Paul Heyman did the talking for both of them, but both men are a bit limited in their speaking abilities and, in front of a Chicago crowd that could be hostile, this was the right choice.
One advantage Lesnar and Goldberg have heading into their match is that their story has been told over the course of months and this match was the first announced for WrestleMania. Adding the Universal Championship was the final touch, not the opening blow. Both of these men had a solid night.
Moving on to the former Universal Champion, I appreciated the way Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens got straight to the point. There were no false flags planted, they got straight to their WrestleMania match for the United States Championship. While I still don’t quite get why they didn’t do the Festival of Friendship on this episode of Raw to cheer up Owens after his loss, only for him to turn, I liked what happened here.
The Raw Women’s Championship picture was murkier as WWE had the first of many scenarios where they split fans affections for their two top female babyfaces. Sasha Banks and Bayley meeting on Raw with Sasha’s chance to be at WrestleMania on the line should have been compelling, but throwing it out on this show without buildup was a mistake. It was also a mistake to not give fans a reason to fully cheer Bayley.
Bayley’s promo chastising Sasha for interfering was solid, but a few weeks too late. Charlotte continues to be the main character in this division, which also hurts the other two women. While I’m sure the match will be good, I’ll go on the record and say a triple threat Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania is a major mistake. I know some people just want to see all of their favorites on this show, but not giving us an individual feud with a major conclusion at WrestleMania bums me out.
Undertaker made his return after being eliminated from the Royal Rumble and began the feud we all expected with Roman Reigns. This feud has me both excited and trepidatious. Reigns vs. Undertaker is a major marquee match. It’s a big deal. At the same time, Undertaker hardly looked fit to compete a few weeks ago. We also have the specter of Braun Strowman, who had an easy night of work simply backing away from Undertaker slowly.
What exactly is the plan for Undertaker and Reigns? What is Strowman’s role in the feud, if any? This was a weird segment to close Raw and a weird way for a WrestleMania feud to begin in the middle of another big story. Strowman backing away seemed symbolic of the way all full time talent seems to back away from being featured at WrestleMania. Everyone takes two major steps back, then enters a silly battle royal and pretends to be thankful for the opportunity to be on the main show.
WWE kicked off the final countdown to WrestleMania in a big way on Raw and, for the most part, it was fun. I liked the rapid fire pace. I liked the way WWE didn’t need to stretch for time. It is refreshing to see this when we’ve had overly long (and bad) WrestleMania builds over the last two years.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Sami Zayn is doing some great work losing big matches right now and it’s benefitting his character. The Strowman feud was great at establishing both men. His continuing work seems to be hitting this same stride. Sami is the rare wrestler fans can attach themselves to in defeat. He’s worth cheering because he never gives up. While these losses are piling up, we’re seeing greater attachment to Sami. I hope WWE sees this and is actively calculating a way for Sami to get his big win in the coming months.
– Samoa Joe vs. Chris Jericho should have felt a little more important than it did, but it seemed like an afterthought (and overly short) when we finally got to it. The ending tells me there will be more, which I’m mildly excited to see.
– Neville vs. Rich Swann was a very fun match. Neville is the centerpiece the Cruiserweight Division sorely needs. The intense antagonist character is perfect for him. His performances have been the highlights of both Raw and 205 Live. This was a good match with an even better story at the end.
– Austin Aries emerging from the commentary table and finally being pushed too far by Neville was great. I’m not exactly sold on Aries as a babyface. He was a decent one at one point in TNA, but floundered when he came into WWE. Alas, this is the role he’s needed in and he is capable of filling it. I believe Aries vs. Neville at WrestleMania will be a very good match.
– At this moment, I don’t see the massive eight human Ladder Match WWE resurrected a couple years ago at WrestleMania and embraced. This bums me out a little. While these matches became mid-card purgatory for Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes, they also gave us a different sort of excitement for WrestleMania. They provided some relief from the long line of singles matches and were a fun feature of the show.
– With this said, elevating the star power going after The ‘Dre with Ziggler, Zayn, Strowman, and others will be fun as well.
– I’ve already decided I dislike both the WrestleMania theme song and the obnoxious WrestleMania commercials. What exactly is “the ultimate thrill ride” and why would I want to watch it? Is it so hard to just promote wrestling shows like they’re wrestling shows? Show me a 30 second commercial on Goldberg vs. Lesnar if you think that’s a compelling main event!
– I don’t need constant authority figure bickering and I definitely don’t need it in the Women’s Division. Move that garbage to Raw’s Tag Team Division where I’ll never have to see it on the 90 minute edit.
– Seth Rollins’ rehab video was good, but I wish there was a little more motivation to go after Triple H and a little less to just “make it” to WrestleMania. This seems like it should conclude with a road trip where Rollins arrives at the stadium, not a segment where he fights Triple H.
– Speaking of fighting Triple H, Trips had a very good snarky promo about WWE healthcare.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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