By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
“The Brawling Brutes” Sheamus, Ridge Holland, and Butch vs. “The Judgment Day” Dominik Mysterio, Finn Balor, and Damian Priest: The brand split rules are clearly an afterthought. The creative forces aren’t even bothering to come up with explanations for most of the crossovers. That said, Raw needs more star power than its current roster has to offer, so the appearances by The Brawling Brutes and Drew McIntyre gave the show a boost. This was an entertaining opening match that concluded with a mildly surprising clean finish. I didn’t expect to see Dom take the pin for his team, but he garners more heat than anyone in his faction and one loss isn’t going to change that.
Austin Theory vs. Mustafa Ali: Another good showcase for the new and improved Theory character. Ali was given an out for losing due to his rib injury, but it just doesn’t feel like anything they are doing with him is really clicking with the audience. Conversely, Theory has transformed from a dopey pest heel to a meaningful heel who is now being showcased in a way that gives him a chance to live up to the next big thing billing. I like that Theory stood his ground when Bobby Lashley came out to confront him. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I didn’t have a problem with Theory eventually retreating. It was a bit of a mixed message, but Theory is still a heel and there should be times when he shows cowardice. If nothing else, at least we know Theory is a heel. I’m not sure what to make of the Lashley and Seth Rollins characters from week to week.
Omos vs. Johnny Gargano: This was well done for what it was. Gargano got more offense on Omos than most wrestlers do against Omos and even got the giant off his feet. Granted, it’s a small victory for a guy who lost in three minutes, but I didn’t see this as a burial of Gargano in any way. Gargano is the type of character who can and should face some setbacks. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Gargano avenge this loss by beating Omos, but I did enjoy seeing Gargano show heart as the underdog rather than playing the obnoxious comedy figure that he’s been as part of the Dexter Lumis and Miz storyline.
Matt Riddle and Elias vs. “Alpha Academy” Chad Gable and Otis: A good tag team match that ate up a lot of television time. The Riddle and Elias pairing still does nothing for me, but at least we got a break from the bongo joke that was cute once only to become a total turnoff when it was repeated two weeks in a row. Paul Levesque has to see that Gable can be so much more than a comedic heel. You can’t overhaul all of the characters at once, but I continue to hope that it’s just a matter of time before Gable breaks out of his mid-card Kurt Angle tribute role.
WarGames hype: This was a good go-home show in terms of having various segments that build to the event. Furthermore, it was a wise move to have the broadcast team run through the card more than once. WWE slipped into the formula of having the broadcast team run through the lineup about halfway through the final hour of the show, which is often one of the low points for viewership. In this case, Kevin Patrick and Corey Graves ran through the card once during the second hour of the show, and then did so again right before the show went off the air.
WWE Raw Misses
Rhea Ripley vs. Asuka in a WarGames advantage match: A flat main event. They worked a slow pace to start because the match was going long, but they never really kicked things into another gear once they reached the home stretch. Bianca Belair was put in a really bad spot prior to the match she had to stand in the ring and tell everyone to watch Smackdown to see who the fifth member of her WarGames team will be. There were actually fewer boos than there probably should have been, but this was clearly a letdown for the live crowd. The big brawl at the end of the show is pretty standard heading into a WarGames match. The problem is that they didn’t put enough distance between the show closing brawl and the one involving The OC and The Judgment Day that preceded the main event.
Drew McIntyre vs. Baron Corbin: A well worked match aside from the rough Future Shock DDT. But did we really need a distraction finish to protect Corbin, whose act with JBL isn’t showing any signs of getting over? I’ve been an advocate for Corbin over the years and felt he just needed to escape the bad King gimmick and the Happy Corbin gimmick. His new gimmick isn’t much better and there’s still no signs of tweaking that would suggest that the creative forces recognize that it’s not working.