By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
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WWE Raw Hits
Roman Reigns: A truly stunning moment. The news blindsided us all watching at home and we weren’t alone, as a limited number of people in the company were told about this ahead of time. Reigns handled the announcement with class and dignity, and the fans were 100 percent supportive. Whether fans loved or hated the Reigns character going into the show, everyone came out of last night’s show rooting for Joe Anoa’i. I must add that for everything Vince McMahon has done in his relentless push of Reigns as the face of his company, Roman’s battle with leukemia was never mentioned even though it obviously could have helped make him a sympathetic figure. I respect that Reigns never went there, and I have even more respect for his decision to go public with his battle at this time in hopes of raising awareness and research funding.
Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins: While it’s more than fair to question whether this angle should have taken place on the same night as the Reigns announcement, there is no denying that it made the turn all the more shocking or that it was very well executed. I think we all assumed that Raw would conclude with the feel good moment of Ambrose and Rollins winning the tag titles in what was certainly a Hit of a match with Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. Instead, WWE added the big turn by having Ambrose savagely attack Rollins in a move that sets the stage for a hot feud and creates the obvious question of what’s next for the the Raw Tag Titles.
Paul Heyman promo: Heyman delivered very thoughtful words regarding the Reigns situation. It’s been very clear over the years that he has an appreciation for Reigns as a person and that came through both in his speech and in the backstage embrace that was included in a video that WWE released after Raw. Heyman flipped the switch and did what he could to sell the new WWE Championship match at the Crown Jewel event between Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman. It was a tough spot to be in and he handled it very well. In fact, props to everyone on last night’s show for being true professionals in the wake of such somber news regarding a highly respected colleague and friend.
Ronda Rousey and Nikki Bella contract signing: Another very good segment involving Rousey and the Bella Twins. Nikki is shining in her role as the Diva in a modern woman’s world. She plays her bratty heel role to perfection, and Rousey once again came off very strong and confident heading into a match that feels like it’s all about seeing the destruction of the Diva. It may turn out to be nothing, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Rousey saying she will end Nikki is a hint that we may not be seeing Nikki in the ring after Sunday.
Elias attacks Baron Corbin: WWE did a lot of reshuffling in light of the Reigns announcement. Fans love Elias and he has the potential to really click as a high end babyface personality. While I like the turn, I came away feeling like this may have been better off being saved for a night where it could have stood out more.
Sasha Banks (w/Bayley, Natalya) vs. Ruby Riott: A minor Hit for a simple formula win for the heel heading into a six-woman tag match on Sunday. It wasn’t a hot in-ring return for Banks, but hopefully it’s just a bump in the road or, even better, a step toward a long awaited heel turn.
Finn Balor vs. Bobby Lashley: A minor Hit for Balor scoring the upset win over Lashley. It will be interesting to see if he finally gets his first meaningful push in what feels like ages due to the reshuffling caused by the Reigns situation. Meanwhile, I like the Lashley and Lio Rush pairing, but I continue to feel like Rush’s live mic routine creates go away heat rather than good heat.
WWE Raw Misses
Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman to meet for the vacant WWE Universal Championship: WWE was obviously put in a very unenviable position of being forced to scramble to come up with a way to crown the new champion while also delivering a satisfying title match at Crown Jewel. Unfortunately, neither one of the potential scenarios do anything for me at this time. We’ve been there and done that with Lesnar and it would be a mistake to go back to having a part-time champion. Meanwhile, Strowman was damaged by his ill-advised heel turn. It seems like they are trying to turn Strowman back into a babyface quickly. And while I suspect the fans will eventually support him again, it just doesn’t feel like the time is right to put the title on him. Personally, I’d recast Drew McIntyre as a babyface and give him a chance to run with the ball, but there were no signs of that happening on Raw and that would also feel rushed. Strowman needs to reconnect with the fans in a hurry if he is Vince McMahon’s choice and I don’t believe his in-ring promo style is conducive to a quick turnaround. Perhaps its time to humanize the monster. How about featuring him in a normal voiced, sit-down interview where he delivers a mea culpa for his recent actions and a new mission statement that fans can rally behind?
Triple H and Shawn Michaels promo: Did someone get under their skin by fairly labeling them a nostalgia act? Anyway, they tried to make the feud feel more personal and real by bringing up Kane severing as mayor. It felt completely unnecessary in that it just took me out of the moment. I would love to think that their boasting about being better than today’s class and being in charge of NXT will lead to them elevating the right current stars or even key NXT wrestlers at some point. But WWE’s deal with Saudi Arabia seems to suggest that the company’s over reliance on Attitude Era stars isn’t going to end anytime soon. I understand using the legends while the nostalgia interest and big paydays are there, but at some point this company has to make today’s talent feel like the real stars.
Nia Jax promo: A lousy promo with Jax coming off like she was disinterested or going through the motions. WWE’s pursuit of Jax winning that game changer award damaged her. They softened her image and her promos feel very forced
Tamina vs. Nia Jax vs. Ember Moon vs. Dana Brooke: An Evolution battle royal preview that did nothing to make me feel more excited about the match. I found it bizarre that Tamina lost this match when her gimmick is about size and power and she’s about to compete in a battle royal. Why not make her look strong heading into Evolution so that she actually means something in the battle royal?
Check below for the latest Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and NWA Champion Nick Aldis.