By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Build to the Extreme Rules main event: WWE opened Raw with immediate hype for the five-way match to determine the number one contender. They continued to promote the match throughout the night and closed with a main event that featured four of the five entrants. WWE might be scrambling a bit due to the Braun Strowman injury, but they have done a very good job of establishing this main event and the title match with Brock Lesnar that will follow in July.
Paul Heyman addresses Finn Balor: Heyman positioned Balor as the man he sees as the biggest threat to Lesnar. That’s high praise coming from a character who rarely puts over anyone as a threat to Lesnar. This came off like heavy foreshadowing of a Lesnar vs. Balor match, so it will be interesting to see if they do something next week that contradicts that and makes someone else feel like the five-way favorite.
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt: A good tag team match that put heat on the heels heading into the five-way match. Reigns accidentally striking Rollins and the brief bickering between the two didn’t feel like enough to spark the match that is advertised for next week. WWE will need to do something to add intensity in a pre-match angle next week or I assume it will be a shortly and friendly match that will turn into more of an angle.
Dean Ambrose vs. The Drifter in a non-title match: A solid debut for Elias Samson on Raw. I was hoping that WWE would tweak his character coming out of his disappointing NXT run by having him abandon the pre-match singing routine and instead limit him to just strumming the guitar backstage. The singing bit gets easy heat, but it can easily become go away heat as we saw in NXT. That said, he looks the part and it felt like he belonged in the ring with Ambrose. By the way, I cringed when Samson hit that great knee to the face of a leaping Ambrose only to have Ambrose essentially no-sell it by rolling him into a pin and then performing his lariat seconds later.
Matt Hardy vs. Sheamus: The team of Sheamus and Cesaro have yet to win in four tries in singles matches against Matt and Jeff Hardy. Even so, the match was entertaining and the stipulation that the winner would choose the stipulation of the Raw Tag Title match at Extreme Rules made it feel more significant than being just another singles match involving the tag wrestlers.
Akira Tozawa vs. Ariya Daivari: A minor Hit. The cruiserweight division continues to be a poorly booked and presented in a downright boring manner, but at least this match served a purpose in terms of promoting the Tozawa vs. Brian Kendrick street fight for 205 Live.
WWE Raw Misses
Overall show: A minor Miss. The Extreme Rules main event was hyped well, but beyond that the show was rather lifeless and similar to the recent London show that was heavy on in-ring action and light on mic work and storyline developments.
Finn Balor vs. Karl Anderson: Paul Heyman gave Balor the big buildup only to have it be followed by a competitive match against a tag team wrestler who loses more than he wins. This felt like a spot to have Balor go over quick and decisively against Anderson or even another wrestler if there is some reason they didn’t want Anderson to be squashed.
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox: Banks beating Fox in what was described as the rubber match would have been fine if they were moving on from this program, but the post match attack by Fox indicates that they’re not finished with this yet. They would have been better off having Fox score another upset win to establish her as a threat to Banks. Instead, she comes off as someone who scored a fluke win over Sasha, and now Banks is out for revenge and there’s no reason to wonder whether she will get it.
Alexa Bliss vs. Mickie James: The return of James to the main roster continues to be the most disappointing aspect of the women’s division. She has been booked to lose so many times that her opponents gain nothing by defeating her. She was booked poorly as a heel, and somehow they have booked her even worse as a babyface. Meanwhile, Bliss playing up the idea that Bayley won’t get extreme felt awkward in that Bayley already pushed Kurt Angle to give her the kendo stick on a pole match because she wants revenge on Bliss.
Austin Aries vs. Tony Nese: A minor Miss. The weekly segment involving Aries and Neville was clearly designed to play up the submission match stipulation. Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect when Nese appears on Raw in that he’s been cast as an enhancement wrestler in the cruiserweight division. What happened to Neville and Aries getting promo time on Raw? Neville has shined on the mic since turning heel, and Aries is typically good as well.