By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins: The creative patience and discipline that WWE showed paid off in a big way. WWE easily could have put these two back together as quickly as they did Rollins and Roman Reigns, but they played this perfectly by having Ambrose act reluctant to trust his former Shield mate, only to then have Rollins turn the tables on him once Ambrose was finally ready to reunite. The long wait provided some fun twists and the payoff was perfectly timed with the live crowd popping big in anticipation of the moment and then going crazy when the duo finally touched fists. Creative took two characters who were spinning their wheels and made them a hot duo heading into what should be a really good tag title match with Sheamus and Cesaro at SummerSlam. It will be interesting to see if Ambrose and Rollins are truly reunited or if there’s another twist coming.
Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, and Roman Reigns: A good final segment that effectively showcased the Lesnar and Strowman showdown that the fanbase is most excited by. WWE was wise to have the duo go face to face without actually giving away too much physicality. The four-way at SummerSlam feels like the hottest main event the company has to offer right now, and it will be interesting to see if they give viewers a lot of Lesnar vs. Strowman during the match or keep them apart as much as possible with the goal of working toward an eventual singles showdown between the two.
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax for a Raw Women’s Championship shot at SummerSlam: A good match that resulted in Banks becoming No. 1 contender to the Raw Women’s Championship heading into SummerSlam. Banks felt like the right person to go with in this role from the start, as I remember being surprised that they opted to have Bayley defeat her to earn the title shot a few weeks back. Putting Alexa Bliss on a lifeguard chair and labeling it a throne was strange, yet it worked in that Bliss was able to flash her fantastic facial expressions during the match and during the post match staredown.
Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt: The match was decent. The Hit goes to the post match bloodbath (er, acidic liquid according to Michael Cole) angle that was done to provide a reason for Balor to break out his Demon persona. The Demon is something that Balor’s character should resort to at key times, not simply because it’s a big show. So even though it would have been better if the feud had progressed to a point where it felt logical for Balor to unleash this other version of himself, at least there was an effort made to provide his character with a reason for going into Demon mode.
Neville vs. Akira Tozawa for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: A good match with a mildly surprising title change. The live crowd’s reaction to the match says a lot about the state of the cruiserweight division. Neville is the long running champion and it should have felt more meaningful when someone finally beat him. It was also odd that Corey Graves compared this to Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. The comparison of Neville to Tyson seems fair given the way his character has dominated the division, but I never felt like Tozawa was a big underdog, let alone a mega underdog like Douglas was when he beat Tyson back in 1990.
Big Cass and Big Show angle: The live crowd provided great heat as Cass attempted to deliver that opening line repeatedly. I’m not sure why the crowd reacted so vociferously to Cass, but I’m curious to see if it spreads beyond Boston, as that would obviously be great for heel Cass. The angle with Cass breaking the hand of Big Show was well done. The involvement of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson came out of nowhere. My guess remains that they involved Gallows and Anderson as a way to work in Matt and Jeff Hardy somehow at SummerSlam.
Elias and R-Truth: A decent segment with Elias getting good heat for his prematch routine, and then Truth receiving a favorable reaction for interrupting him, only to have Samson destroy him. The show had momentum going into this segment and they managed to keep the show energy high.
Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, and Jason Jordan vs. The Miz (w/Maryse), Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas: What happened to Jordan facing Axel? I must have missed something because the singles match that set up this six-man tag match ended up being Miz vs. Jordan in a non-title match. In fact, I wasn’t even sure why this six-man tag match was needed given that the babyface trio dominated the heels before the break, but the fans were still up or seeing the Haryds in action. It was a decent night for Jordan, who continues to look good in the ring and also got some rub from the Hardys. The key for Jordan is connecting with the fans on the mic, and the deck seems stacked against him with his squeaky clean babyface persona and the fact that fans are not buying into the idea of him being Kurt Angle’s biological son.
Overall show: A very good go-home edition in that it effectively showcased the Raw matches heading into SummerSlam. It was odd to see them give away two matches that are advertised for SummerSlam. In fact, many of us assumed they were trimming the SummerSlam match count by airing these matches on television rather than at the pay-per-view, but both Finn Balor vs. Bray Wyatt, and Akira Tozawa vs. Neville rematches are advertised for Sunday. Even so, the build to SummerSlam was strong and Raw has been a more enjoyable show during these key weeks.
WWE Raw Misses
Mickie James vs. Emma: The two most underutilized women on the main roster have not been treated like stars, and the fans reacted accordingly by sitting on their hands during this match. There was a great story to tell with James returning to the company after so many years away. Sadly, the creative for her character peaked during her return match against Asuka at an NXT Takeover event. Meanwhile, Emma just can’t seem to catch a break from creative.