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Epic returns, call-ups, and surprises define a lean, mean Raw after Wrestlemania

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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.

  • So, you know how Raw always starts with like 20 minutes of promos and it’s always the worst and it drags the whole show down? Not tonight. Instead, after a moving video package paying tribute to the Undertaker, the camera pans around the arena, “UNDERTAKER” chants ringing out. It’s a beautiful moment, and a stirring tribute to a true legend. And then Roman Reigns’ music hits and it’s maybe the most perfect music cue in recent memory. The crowd goes nuclear when that happens, and what follows is so heated, and so beautifully played out, that it makes the 15 minutes it takes to happen fly by. Roman leisurely strolls around the ring, basking in the chorus of boos and, um, more vulgar chants, because this is the Raw after Wrestlemania. He grabs a mic and then the magic happens (which nobody has ever said about Reigns and a mic, I know). Every time he brings the mic to his mouth, the crowd boos. Every single time. The crowd is having none of Roman starting the show, or of him interrupting their Undertaker appreciation. The tension and heat builds and builds, and Roman just keeps giving that pitch-perfect smug smile. Eventually, after 10+ minutes of him not saying a word, he points to his hand and mouths “I’ve got them in the palm of my hand.” He’s not wrong. Then he says exactly one sentence: “This is my yard now,” and drops the mic for emphasis. I can’t understate how amazing the whole thing is, from the crowd being super vocal to Reigns not giving a shit about any of it, to him finally dropping that one line that says it all. The heat is off the charts, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold. The crowd got worked last night when it came to Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns, and this is the logical, brilliant extension of that.
  • That opening segment sets the tone for the night. While the crowd probably does more harm than good throughout the night, there’s an efficiency and urgency to everything happening in the ring. One segment after another connects, resulting in the best Raw in a very, very long time.
  • It’s official: the Hardys are here! It’s still unclear how “broken” they’re going to be; they don’t get any mic time (I didn’t watch Raw Talk), but no way those “DELETE” chants are going away, so we’ll have to wait and see. Here, coming off winning the titles at Wrestlemania, they’re in a rematch against Gallows and Anderson. Normally the immediate rematch is incredibly annoying, but that bit of predictability is overshadowed by seeing the Hardys on Raw. I totally understand worrying about what shape their gimmick takes in the coming weeks, especially with all the potential legal issues, but for now it’s great to see them back in the ring looking healthy and energized, and putting on a great match with Gallows and Anderson, arguably one of the better ones those guys have had since coming to WWE.
  • Speaking of this garbage crowd, Neville and Mustafa Ali put on the best Cruiserweight match Raw has seen yet—the two other best Purple matches happened on PPVs—and all they can do is chant about beach balls the entire time. They’re literally not paying attention to the match, even as Ali pulls off one of the most insane, beautiful things I’ve ever seen with a Springboard Spanish Fly. This match is stiff, high-flying, and works to get Ali over as a legit contender. It’s brilliant, and the crowd can’t bother. One positive thing to come from that reaction though? The crowd getting hyped for Neville’s Red Arrow, only for him to step off the ropes, dismiss the crowd, and lock in the Rings Of Saturn. A+ work from the true King.
  • You want to know how worked this crowd is? They boo the hell out of Roman Reigns then cheer for and bow down to Vince McMahon, the guy literally keeping Reigns in the spot they supposedly don’t want him in.
  • Anyways, Vince is here to announce the new Raw GM, and after Teddy Long gets the R-Truth “my bad” spot, out comes Kurt Angle. We all knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful to see. The “YOU SUCK” chants, out of respect, are legitimately moving. Plus, Angle is immediately a welcome presence. He brings the comedy in a segment with Enzo and Cass, tells Sami Zayn that he has all three “I’s” to succeed in this business, and just generally he’s a nice antidote to the last few months of Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley. Raw doesn’t need the “Authority” GM. It’s time to go the Smackdown! Live route.
  • It also looks like the Draft is coming next week. That’ll certainly be interesting. If you had your way, who would go where and why? Let me know in the comments.
  • One big question for the Draft will be where do The Revival go, because THE REVIVAL ARE HERE! Not only do they enjoy a huge pop from the crowd, they immediately establish themselves as the team to beat; if we’re looking toward Revival vs. Hardys, I’ll be a happy man. Dash and Dawson get their heel credibility over right away by pushing over New Day’s ice cream cart, and then attack Kofi Kingston and bust up his leg after they get a conclusive win. It’s a major debut, and seems to suggest WWE sees what it has with these guys. Say yeah!
  • Enzo: “And you can’t teach that.” Kurt Angle: “Not in any college I’ve heard of.” Welcome back.
  • Speaking of returns, Emma is finally back in her ideal form as Evil Emma, and she somehow instantly gets her character over again in a Six-Woman tag match. She’s vicious and entertaining throughout the match—a nasty hair-pull to Bayley is the best moment of the match—and even inserts a small character moment when Nia, deciding to beat down an entitled Charlotte post match, turns to Emma and she just takes off, wanting none of that. It’s everything you could want from an Evil Emma return, except for the lack of Dana Brooke by her side.
  • The Brock Lesnar-Paul Heyman segment is just okay, with Heyman telling a “bedtime story” about a Superhero getting knocked back down to earth, but things pick up when, after challenging Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman comes out to get in Lesnar’s face. The crowd is dead for it because they’re dead for all the great stuff tonight, but it’s a promising spot for both guys. If Reigns really is the big opponent WWE is building too—in terms of storytelling, it has to be Reigns—then Strowman is a great stop on the way. It not only allows Brock to come up against a guy that WWE has found some real magic in, it’ll potentially give Strowman a much-needed, next-level matchup. Even in a loss, he’ll be vaulted into that upper echelon of beasts, assuming the storytelling is coherent and inspired.
  • Cesaro and Sheamus are your new #1 Contenders for the Raw Tag Team Championships. I don’t have much else to say about it other than the blossoming bromance between the two is a joy to watch. Also, can they please keep the tearaway kilts?
  • That brings us to the night’s main event. After Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe put Chris Jericho through a table, rendering him unable to compete in the scheduled tag match, Kurt Angle has to find Seth Rollins a new partner. Everyone comes to the ring and waits and, sure enough, Balor’s music hits. He’s back, in full abs and leather jacket form, and it’s an immediate jolt to Monday Night Raw. That guy was ready to tear up the main roster before going down with an injury, and now he’s back on Raw competing alongside Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, and Kevin Owens. Just read those names and try not to salivate at the potential for stories here. Of course, the crowd that had been cheering for Balor to show up throughout the night can’t be bothered to watch the match, instead doing The Wave and chanting about beach balls while four of the best wrestlers in the business put on one hell of a show. So it goes with the Raw after Mania.
  • All in all, this is a lean, exciting, compelling Raw. It moves at a solid clip, never feels sluggish, and does that wonderful post-Mania thing of not feeling required to check in with every single person on the roster. Here’s hoping that after the draft, Raw keeps the momentum going.