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WWE Raw Hits
Undertaker opening: The entire arena chanting for Undertaker was tremendous and well deserved. It was very interesting that the broadcast team made a point to never officially declare this a retirement. Cole said that Sunday’s WrestleMania match “may indeed have been the last of his career.” The choice of wording used multiple times suggests that they are leaving the door open, so perhaps we haven’t seen Last Ride after all.
Roman Reigns faces the Raw After WrestleMania crowd: The show peaked with this segment. Roman paced around the ring and looked at the fans as they hurled insults and f-bombs at him. In a perfect world, Reigns would have let the fans have their say and then responded by lashing out at them in a definitive heel turn moment. WWE still seems like they want to play the game of positioning Reigns as a good guy and letting the fans choose whether to cheer or boo him. With that in mind, his simple “It’s my yard now” response was terrific.
Vince McMahon names Kurt Angle GM and announces “Superstar Shakeup”: It was fun to see Vince work the crowd by acting upset after they cheered the footage of Stephanie McMahon’s table bump from WrestleMania. The announcement of Angle as the general manager was welcome news. Mick Foley did a really nice job, but Angle was my initial choice when they first announced that general managers would serve under the commissioners. Angle’s first night was mostly a stroll down comedic memory lane. And while his comedy clicked on this night, I hope we get to see more of the serious Angle, who did a really good job in the authority figure role in TNA at one point. Finally, the announcement of the “Superstar Shakeup” starting next week is intriguing. It’s surprising that they are not waiting until the summer months, but I like that they gave the big night after WrestleMania viewing audience a major hook for next week. Ideally, the shakeup will be strong enough that WWE can fight off the annual post WrestleMania hangover. The risk is that if this doesn’t work, they won’t have that shakeup card to play to lure viewers back if viewership dips in the summer months.
The Revival vs. New Day: Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder were introduced in front of a crowd that treated them like mega stars. I have high hopes for the throwback tag team on the main roster. Admittedly, I hoped that they were headed to Smackdown, as I have more faith in that creative team getting behind and staying behind the duo. Then again, it’s not like they have done anything with American Alpha or the Usos, so perhaps that was misguided on my part. By the way, I hope and expect to see some serious shakeup with the tag teams next week.
Finn Balor and Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens: A minor Hit. The Raw broadcast team did a great job of laying out the strategy of why they went with this match as they spoke about their NXT history and the fact that they were all former NXT Champions. The crowd popped big for Balor and things peaked at that point. Despite the fact that four of the Raw After WrestleMania favorites were in the ring, the fans did the wave and humored themselves. I can’t say I blame them. There was no storyline hook. They didn’t bother to tell a story about Rollins injuring Balor and then laughing at him. At the very least, it felt like they could have teased some tension between the two of them, which may have been enough to keep the live crowd watching to see how that would play out. By waiting to stage their brief staredown for after the match, WWE turned this into an ordinary tag team match that lacked meaning.
Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows: The Raw return of the Hardys felt like a homecoming, so no one really took the former champions as a real threat to defeat the new champions. The fun of the match was the live crowd breaking out Delete, Obsolete, and F— That Owl chants. By the way, I could see Anderson and Gallows swapping brands, as it feels like they could use a change of scenery. It will be interesting to see if WWE wants them on the same brand as AJ Styles or if they intend to keep them on opposite brands.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass: This was more of an in the middle moment, but I have to give it a Hit if for no other reason than the WrestleMania crowd didn’t hate on Sheamus for perhaps the first time ever. Keep in mind that the Raw After WrestleMania crowd legend was born when they lashed out during a Sheamus vs. Randy Orton match they had no interest in seeing back in 2013. Has Sheamus been rebuilt to the point that he could hang as a singles wrestler if WWE opts to have him and Cesaro on different brands or would the fans quickly lose interest again?
Sami Zayn vs. Jinder Mahal: A minor Hit for WWE wisely banking on the popularity of Zayn with the Raw after WrestleMania crowd to carry them through a brief filler match with Jinder Mahal. Here’s hoping that Angle rolling his eyes at Zayn backstage isn’t a sign that Sami is going to be cast as a cornball.
Bayley, Dana Brooke, and Sasha Banks vs. Emma, Nia Jax, and Charlotte: The Brooke return was great…and then the bell rang. The crowd was hot for her entrance, and it was cool to see her stand on the broadcast table and get a moment. Unfortunately, she was positioned as just another wrestler once the bell rang. The post match angle with Charlotte left me wondering if they intend to turn her babyface or ship her to Smackdown. I’m hopeful she will end up on the Tuesday night show as a heel, as an eventual feud with Becky Lynch could be terrific.
WWE Raw Misses
Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman: The big tease of Brock Lesnar defending the WWE Universal Championship in front of the Raw After WrestleMania crowd was too believable. It’s one thing when Stephanie McMahon predictably pulls the rug out from under a gullible crowd, but in this case it actually felt like a deflating letdown when they didn’t deliver on Paul Heyman’s tease. Braun Strowman going face-to-face with Lesnar sets the stage for a future match between the two, but Strowman backing down and playing the tired “on my time” card was weak. They did a good job at one point of establishing Strowman as a wild card who would fight anyone anywhere when he didn’t feel like Mick Foley was giving him strong enough competition. That Strowman was an effective badass monster. The Strowman who has backed down from both Undertaker and now Lesnar is just another heel.
Lack of hype for Smackdown Live: The first Smackdown after WrestleMania is being run in the same venue as Raw for the first time. The atmosphere has the potential to be just as lively as what we saw on Raw, and I think everyone expects this to be the night that Shinsuke Nakamura makes his main roster debut. However, there was no extra hype offered. They ran the standard Smackdown commercials, which focussed on the horrible Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton match insect slideshow. Michael Cole even thanked the city of Orlando at the end of Raw. Granted, it’s his last broadcast in Orlando, but it felt like WWE was signing off from WrestleMania even though they still have one big show remaining.
Neville vs. Mustafa Ali: The Raw After WrestleMania crowd was great for the most part, but this was one segment where the talent deserved better. I suspect that WWE thought the live crowd would pop when Ali was introduced as Neville’s opponents because they would remember how good their recent match was. Last night, I mistakenly wrote that said match took place on 205 Live. It actually took place on Raw. The fact that the Raw After WrestleMania crowd seemed disinterested when Ali walked onto the stage is a major sign that even the most passionate fans are not buying into what WWE is delivering with the cruiserweight division with the exception of Neville, Austin Aries, and Jack Gallagher. It will be interesting to see how WWE books 205 Live tonight and how the WrestleMania crowd responds during what will be the last hour of a long weekend for many. My guess? They stray from the dull format and give the crowd a match involving a couple of wrestlers UK Title Tournament.
Jason Powell and Jake Barnett co-host the Dot Net Weekly and Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast combo show and discuss Raw Underground and other WWE concepts, The Rock's group buying the XFL, the Marty Jannetty story, AEW Dynamite and NXT TV, and more...