By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Jey Uso vs. Drew McIntyre: A fresh main event match with a distraction finish that worked as opposed to feeling lazy. It was hyped sufficiently throughout the show that Jey had to decide whether to join Judgment Day by the end of the night. Granted, that’s something that they probably should have advertised a week out, but his character made the expected call of flying solo and it made for a crowd pleasing moment. McIntyre’s character continued down the darker path by taking advantage of the distraction and declining to help Jey when the Judgment Day trio attacked him after the match.
Kofi Kingston vs. Ivar: These two worked like they had something to prove. This was a pleasant surprise and the best match of the night. Not bad for a match that wasn’t even originally scheduled for this episode. My only complaint is that Ivar hitting a top rope moonsault should be saved for a time when he’s actually going over. I actually groaned with Kingston kicked out of that move. At some point, the Viking Raiders need to be repackaged. The product is more realistic these days and their cosplay gimmick makes them stand out holdovers from a more cartoonish era. I could say the same about New Day needing a reboot, but I’ve thrown in the towel when it comes to them shaking up their act in a significant way.
Bronson Reed vs. Chad Gable: It was odd to see Gable go from swearing to God that he would defeat Gunther for the Intercontinental Championship last week to taking a clean and decisive loss to Reed. Is it a bump in the road or are they moving in a different direction? Either way, Gable has been elevated, as Reed beating him felt more meaningful than it would have two months ago.
Becky Lynch vs. Natalya for the NXT Women’s Championship: I don’t think this is what anyone had in mind for Lynch’s first NXT Women’s Title defense, but they did a good job of setting the table for it by having Lynch make it clear that she also had other ideas. Natalya stated her case well and the actual match was entertaining despite the lack of mystery regarding the outcome.
Cody Rhodes vs. Dominik Mysterio: A soft Hit for Cody dominating and pinning the NXT North American Champion. It doesn’t help the title to have the champion destroyed in a non-title match by someone who has no interest in winning the championship. But they told the story that Dom was lost without Rhea Ripley in his corner, and this also plays into Dom being a vulnerable heel champion.
WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Chelsea Green and Piper Niven vs. Shayna Baszler and Zoey Stark in a non-title match: I was actually happy that we didn’t get a clean finish. After all, the women’s tag team division typically consists of the champions and their challengers of the month, and both of these teams still need to be established. Granted, being mowed over by Nia Jax didn’t make anyone more excited about the tag division, but in some ways it felt better than the usual formula of the challengers beating the champions in a non-title match to set up a title match that few would care about. And say what you will about WWE rehiring Jax, but they are positioning her as a monster what she did in this segment played into that nicely.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Giovanni Vinci: A solid win for Ciampa, who seems to be suddenly in line to challenge Gunther for the Intercontinental Championship. Ciampa’s promo about waiting his turn when he first arrived on Raw didn’t feel right considering that his character initially took a shortcut by aligning with Miz. But Ciampa is a strong promo and hopefully he’ll get a proper build to get himself over, even if the plan is for him to be fed to Gunther.
WWE Raw Misses
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Ricochet: I didn’t care for Ricochet getting a DQ win over Nakamura two weeks ago, and I definitely didn’t care for Nakamura getting a DQ win over Ricochet in the rematch. It’s hard enough for viewers to buy Nakamura as a threat to actually beat Seth Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship after they watched Nakamura work as a mid-card act for so long. The creative team is doing a really nice job of establishing Nakamura’s new heel persona, but he should be dominating his opponents and pinning them clean. If they feel the need to suddenly protect Ricochet for some reason, then Nakamura should simply be pinning other people.
Cody Rhodes’ explanation for bringing Jey Uso to Raw: Weak. Barring the possibility that there’s more to the story that will unfold, Cody’s explanation for cashing in his political chips to bring Jey to Raw is that he felt Jey deserved a second chance. I suppose it’s a babyface thing to do, but it’s weak compared to the idea that Cody brought Jey to Raw with the intention of being moved to Smackdown in exchange. Speaking of which, why is no one on WWE television talking about the compensation that Adam Pearce said Smackdown would be getting? Anyway, the Cody character is spinning his wheels on Raw. His stated goal is to win the championship held by Roman Reigns. He’s shown no interest in the titles on the Raw brand, and they really haven’t found much for him to do since his program with Brock Lesnar concluded. Drew McIntyre turning on him would buy him more time, but it feels like things with Cody won’t truly get interesting until he wins the Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber or simply ends up on the brand that would allow him to challenge for the WWE Universal Championship.
Dragon Lee: A lousy introduction. There were no highlight packages or introductory videos. He just showed up and came off like he was the latest in a long line of WWE luchadores who want to become the next Rey Mysterio. Lee even said as much when the company announced his signing. He should focus on being the first Dragon Lee because there’s never going to be another Rey Mysterio. But Lee is a special talent and hopefully his first match next week will make a stronger impression with fans than what they did with him last night.