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After Payback, Raw feels focused and exciting

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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: Alexa Bliss, Emma, Alicia Fox, and Nia Jax defeated Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, and Dana Brooke; Luke Gallows defeated Enzo; Jack Gallagher, Akira Tozawa, and Rich Swann defeated Tony Nese, Brian Kendrick, and Noam Dar; Apollo Crews defeated Heath Slater; Austin Aries defeated T.J. Perkins; The Miz defeated Finn Balor and Seth Rollins (Intercontinental Championship #1 Contender match).
  • This week Raw comes off of a surprisingly solid PPV with Payback, where Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns seriously threw down, Y2J shocked the world and dethroned Kevin Owens as the Face Of America, and Alexa Bliss took her place as the rightful Goddess of the Raw Women’s Division and went home with the title. Also, there was a fridge.
  • Raw has a very different feel to it this week. Whereas last week’s go-home show boasted the same old structure, this episode makes some small tweaks that end up making a big difference in the presentation of the show. There are longer matches, fewer in-ring segments that drag on, and some fresh matchups to boot.
  • The first change in presentation comes with the opening segment. The entire Women’s Division is in the ring, minus one woman. Then the Goddess arrives, as new champ Alexa Bliss comes to the ring and begins to eviscerate the women around her. She slanders Mickie James by calling her contemporaries “Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah.” She gets in Sasha Banks’ face and thanks her for being her stepping-stone to the title. Then she revels in the fact that Bayley’s family got to watch her lose in her hometown. It’s such perfect heel work, handling the crowd and the character motivations with nuance and presence. Add to that a delightful interaction with Nia Jax where she keeps the monster on her side, and you have an opening segment that feels fresh and energized.
  • The Bliss win at Payback also sets up the ideal dynamic for the division post-Superstar Shakeup: Bliss as champ willing to do anything to hold onto the title, and a number of women, including a motivated, underdog Bayley, chasing her.
  • After a great start to his stint as GM, Angle has been completely misused lately. He’s mostly been absent, and tonight he’s just somebody for Bray Wyatt to talk at. I want more comedy from Angle, please. You have an all-time great at your disposal, WWE. Use him!
  • About halfway through the show Seth Rollins comes out to celebrate his victory over Samoa Joe and muse on leaving the past behind him and moving forward. For him, that only means one thing. “I want The Beast.” It’s a bold statement, and the crowd is super into it, but the path won’t be that easy. That brings out Balor, then Dean Ambrose, then The Miz. All of them get some solid mic time, but Ambrose and Miz make the most of it. After Ambrose announces that the IC title is the most important on the show because Brock never fights—it’s hard to argue with the Brock assessment—Miz lets him know that he’s done nothing with that title. In fact, it wasn’t even defended at Payback. Ambrose wants to change that though, so he calls Kurt Angle while he’s still in the ring and organizes a #1 Contender match between Balor, Rollins, and Miz. It’s a simple but entertaining segment that gets the guys into a meaningful place and the IC title back on the map now that it’s on Raw.
  • Enzo and Gallows wrestled. It went much, much longer than it should have.
  • I love that Neville says his DQ at Payback was unintentional before going on to blame the ref for not doing his job properly. It’s all part of the evolving story of Neville slowly losing his control over the Cruiserweight Division. He knows someone will get one over on him eventually, and he’s prepared to do anything he can to keep his title, all while making sure to take absolutely zero responsibility for his actions. That’s a dastardly heel if I’ve ever seen one.
  • Raw briefly remembers that other Cruiserweights exist and schedules a six-man tag team match. It’s actually a good way to highlight some of the guys who have been sidelined during the extended Neville-Aries run. What can I say? It’s great to have Rich Swann as a hot tag back on my TV.
  • As LaToya mentioned to me on Twitter, it really looks like Apollo Crews is never, ever getting over. He’s a babyface with a heel manager going up against Curt Hawkins last week to no reaction, and then up against fan favorite Heath Slater this week. There seems to be no hope for this guy. A move back to NXT to find some character definition might not be a bad idea.
  • I am all in on Cesaro and Sheamus as nasty heels who are fed up with nostalgia.
  • Before the main event, Dean Ambrose walks around backstage interviewing each participant. It’s the version of Ambrose that really works. Each segment is funny, pointed, and unique. Miz just walks away because he has no time for the antics. There’s some—but perhaps not quite enough—real tension between Rollins and Ambrose as they muse on their history. Then, with Balor, Ambrose tells him to eat some carbs and hands him a donut, which Balor takes a bite of before handing it back. I mean, if Balor eating a donut topless followed up by Ambrose earnestly enjoying the acoustic noodlings of The Drifter doesn’t do it for you, you might be watching the wrong show.
  • Overall this is a solid Raw; if this show suffers it all it’s from a lack of Braun Strowman. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate WWE working the injury angle. I just want all the Braun I can get right now. Ultimately, it is better to keep him off TV for a bit and make his next appearance that much more special.
  • If Big Show and Braun Strowman hadn’t killed it a few weeks ago, I would call this week’s main event one of the best Raw has seen in months. The Triple Threat plays out perfectly, with storylines and motivations driving the narrative. It’s at once an incredible display of in-ring work, and an example of how to tell multiple stories within a multi-man match. The early story is the Miz trying to avoid any confrontation, only to have Rollins and Balor eventually team up to get him into the match. WWE hasn’t totally done justice to the history Rollins and Balor have, and that’s an issue, but the Miz is the type of heel that can justify the brief partnership. From there the match escalates with a number of false finishes and stirring sequences. Then, the climax brings everything together. Samoa Joe attacks Rollins just as he’s closing in on a win, not content to stand idly by as he gets his shot at a title after a lucky win at Payback. After that, as Balor sets up for his finisher on the Miz, Bray Wyatt teleports to the ring and sends the message he promised to send during his earlier interaction with Angle, costing Balor the match. Now, the Miz gets his feud with Ambrose and both Balor and Rollins have meaty stories to dig into. It’s concise, purposeful storytelling; a rarity for Raw that we should all appreciate.