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After a solid PPV, Raw delivers a compelling show from top to bottom

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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: Finn Balor defeated Elias Samson; Gallows and Anderson defeated The Hardys; Bayley and Sasha Banks defeated Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax; Goldust defeated R-Truth; Akira Tozawa and Cedric Alexander defeated Neville and Noam Dar; Bray Wyatt defeated Seth Rollins.
  • After a mostly solid PPV, Raw kicks off this week with, of all things, a promo from Big Cass. No Roman Reigns, no update on Strowman, no renewed anger from Samoa Joe. None of the big hitters are out there. Rather, it’s Big Cass doing his best to put Enzo Amore in his rearview mirror and get some heat in the process. There are essentially two aspects of this promo worth mentioning. First, it’s clear that Big Cass has some heat. The boos rain down as soon as he’s introduced, and throughout the entirety of his surprisingly lengthy promo. That’s a good thing for someone fresh off a heel turn. But here’s the other thing: how much of that heat is just borne out of the crowd’s affection for Enzo? In other words, can Cass go on a dominant heel run and still get the crowd to boo him? Sure, the presence of the Big Show helps with the face-heel dynamics in this segment, but while I certainly won’t write off Cass just yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if the hatred for Cass eventually morphs into indifference. After all, that was a bit of a rough promo from Cass; the cadence and volume was there, but it was lacking a certain conviction, and even Cass seemed unsure of himself.
  • I’m a little confused about where Finn Balor is headed on Raw. Every time he’s on the show he’s treated like the next big thing. He was the guy hotshotted to become the first Universal Champion, and is consistently touted as one of the all time great NXT Champions. Clearly WWE thinks the world of him, and there have been moments since his return from injury where he’s shined, particularly in the Fatal Fiveway match from Extreme Rules. But now, following an absence from the first ever Great Balls Of Fire PPV, he’s wrestling Elias Samson and having his celebration on the ramp cut short by a neon nostalgia act. Summerslam takes place a little over a month from now and he’s got no real storyline developing, which is shocking and disappointing. I don’t need him fighting Brock just yet, but it’s weird that he’s not in the mix there somewhere.
  • Gallows and Anderson got a win! It really happened.
  • Also, The Revival came back like the badasses that they are and lay a beating on the Hardys after they’d already lost to Gallows and Anderson. It’s not quite “pushing over New Day’s ice cream bicycle” levels of heel work, but it’s pretty damn good. This could also be the moment where the Hardys start to get more “broken.” They’re certainly teasing it much more prominently.
  • I thought The Mizzies was kind of a dull segment, but there were a few moments, and one bit of aftermath, that stood out. First, there’s the crowd chanting “YOU DESERVE IT” when Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel win a Mizzie for Best Supporting Actor. Then, there’s a beautiful storytelling moment after Ambrose gets jumped and Rollins comes out to lend a hand. When they’re backstage Ambrose confronts Rollins and tells him that he doesn’t trust him, and that he doesn’t need him using his feud with the Miz as an opportunity to continually clean up his image. “There’s not going to be a Shield reunion” he says with real distaste in his mouth, and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted from them. WWE loves to ignore its past, but often that’s a mistake because history can add depth to storytelling. That’s true here, as Ambrose and Rollins certainly haven’t resolved all of their past issues, though Ambrose coming out later does diminish the moment a bit.
  • Sasha Banks and Bayley have another match with Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss. Banks got the pin on Bliss last week, so this week Bayley gets her turn. I really don’t know what else to say. Can we just stop doing non-builds to really great PPV matches that end with blasé booking?
  • Goldust and R-Truth actually get a match this week, and it’s pretty good for what it is. The crowd seems mostly uninterested, other than waking up for the usual spots of participation, but I’m still invested in where this is going. Actually, “invested” may be too strong a word. “Curious” might be more appropriate.
  • Angle and Graves once again get a text that seems to incriminate Angle in something. He says that he has to go public with it next week, but that it may cost him his job. I know it’s the same thing they did with Enzo and Cass previously, but I’m down with Raw doing anything outside the norm. Continually interweaving Angle and Graves is a great choice. They’re good talkers, and it suggests some sort of connection between the folks that keep this show running. Coupled with the final scene of the night, where Angle is seen calling someone and telling them to show up next week, it’s a good way to keep folks watching and intrigued about what’s going to happen next. Simple, but effective.
  • Hold the phones…the Cruiserweights actually have a great match this week, capped off by Tozawa picking up the pinfall on Neville in a tag team match. It’s a fast-paced, energetic match, which is exactly what the Cruiserweights should be doing every time they’re in the ring. That’s what happens when you let three of the most talented Cruiserweights in the division, and Noam Dar, do their thing.
  • So the main event is Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins, and while it’s cool to see Rollins pivoting toward a potential Intercontinental Championship feud after an attack from the Miztourage—fellow A.V. Club writer and The Story Of Wrestling podcast co-host Alasdair Wilkins basically booked this on last week’s show because he is scarily prescient—the real main event sees Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman, Kurt Angle, Roman Reigns, and Samoa Joe all in the ring together. Basically, Joe and Reigns are there to say that they deserve a title shot at Summerslam, and Lesnar is there to laugh at them and tell them that they “don’t deserve shit,” PG TV bleeping and all. Angle reprimands Reigns for basically trying to murder Braun Strowman, and while his response invoking the Attitude Era is pretty uninspired, he does get one good shot in when he says Angle couldn’t handle Strowman before turning to Lesnar and saying, “and you’re never around to.” If only he’d dropped the mic. Anyways, the segment is unbelievably heated and filled with what feels like unscripted moments, with Brock getting in Joe’s face and Joe pointing out that Heyman is clearly trying to keep his client away from him. Next week Reigns and Joe will have a match to determine who faces Brock Lesnar at Summerslam for the Universal Championship, and if Braun Strowman doesn’t show up and destroy everyone, I don’t know how I’ll feel.