By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Brock Lesnar and Cody Rhodes: An good angle with Lesnar breaking the arm of Rhodes, who then refused to allow doctors to examine him. The idea is that Rhodes can’t be medically disqualified if he doesn’t allow the doctors to examine him is ridiculously far fetched, but the overall angle was still effective and sets up a couple of potential scenarios for Night of Champions. My guess is that the arm injury will give Cody an out for losing the rematch with Lesnar, which will create the need for a rubber match between the two. But I can’t entirely rule out the possibility that they are setting up Cody for another Superman performance where he fights through a serious injury and pulls out a win, just as he did when he defeated Seth Rollins despite having a torn pectoral muscle. By the way, if they are setting up a third match, it’s a shame that they just used the Hell in a Cell structure at WrestleMania.
“Imperium” Gunther, Ludwig Kaiser, and Giovanni Vinci vs. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Matt Riddle: The decision to play up a mystery partner for Owens and Zayn only to have it be Riddle was a letdown given that we’ve seen them all team together in recent weeks. If you could get past that annoyance, this was a really well worked six-man tag match. I have no idea why the creative forces felt the need to feed Kaiser and Vinci to Owens and Zayn in the Imperium duo’s first Raw match after the draft, but they really need to be built up as worthy challengers. Gunther is great, but Kaiser and Vinci are too damn talented to be positioned as his hapless lackeys. Imperium could be a terrific faction if Kaiser and Vinci are positioned as the elite tag team that they are.
Bronson Reed vs. Ricochet: A strong television match with Reed’s offense looking awesome against the smaller Ricochet. They have something with Reed and it’s crazy to think that he was released from his contract at one point.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Finn Balor: That’s more like it. I just don’t buy Balor as a threat to beat the main event players. It has nothing to do with his size and everything to do with the way he’s been booked. But he can be a strong upper mid-card act if they avoid feeding him to the headliners and let him work with wrestlers who are slotted similarly or even further down the card. I’d love to see Nakamura have one more big run, but it doesn’t look like they have any major plans for him at the moment.
Dominik Mysterio vs. Apollo Crews: Dom-Dom and Mami continue to shine. It’s a shame that it came at the expense of Crews, who really stood out as a likable babyface in NXT despite his logic defying premonition gimmick. One loss won’t make or break Crews, but it does feel rather telling that he lost his first singles match back on main roster television. Nevertheless, Dom can learn a lot from working with the veteran and I would enjoy seeing more from these two if they’re not going to give Crews a real push.
Zoey Stark vs. Candice LeRae: Stark was spotlighted nicely with a good video package and win over LeRae. Nikki Cross’s involvement means we haven’t seen the last of her stalking and/or hero worshipping LeRae. Stark has beaten Cross and LeRae in her last two matches, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for her.
“Alpha Academy” Chad Gable and Otis vs. “The Viking Raiders” Erik and Ivar: A soft Hit. The live crowds really get behind Otis and it was interesting to see that Gable and Maxxine Dupri both encouraged him to perform the Caterpillar. It looks like there’s been a change in direction because Gable and Dupri previously bickered over whether Otis should perform his signature move. It’s nice to see Alpha Academy get some love from creative, but I continue to be disappointed by how often the Viking Raiders are booked to lose. I don’t know how much longer they have on their deals or what their plans are, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the return of War Machine in AEW at this point.
Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus contract signing: Stratus really needs a sidekick who can help her with the mic work if she’s going to be sticking around beyond this match. Her promos are actually better than I anticipated since she turned heel, but the live crowd ate her up with “What?” chants. Fortunately, Lynch saved the segment with a good promo that finished on a high note. By the way, it was interesting to see Lynch blend The Man persona with the over the top attire she wore during her heel run.
WWE Raw Misses
Mustafa Ali: Ali abandoned his new character because earning a shot at the Intercontinental Championship “is way too real.” What? Does that mean he wasn’t real until now? Is he really abandoning his new persona for what is likely a one-off loss to Gunther? Worse yet, he was left standing with his junk in his hand when Brock Lesnar intimidated him and told him to get a life. How was any of this supposed to leave anyone excited about Ali challenging Gunther for the Intercontinental Title on Saturday?
Raquel Rodriguez vs. Sonya Deville: You know, I wasn’t sure what to make of that Rodriguez woman, but then she smiled before flexing her back and shoulder muscles and now I’m sold! I’ll take “Things no one says” for $400, Mayim. Rodriguez is generic and dull as a babyface. She was a good heel in NXT and it’s baffling to me that she wasn’t kept on Smackdown and turned heel for an eventual program with Bianca Belair.
Seth Rollins interview cliffhanger: WWE left viewers waiting a week to find out what Rollins had to say about Roman Reigns. And that’s fine, but they played it up as something big only for it to consist of Rollins saying he loves Reigns yet also doesn’t like him very much. Yawn. That said, the overall sit-down interview was an effective way to get Rollins on the show while he was presumably still away filming a Marvel movie.
Probably a last man standing match for Rhodes and Lesnar if they have a third match.