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In a fight against the NBA Finals, Raw taps out early

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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: Elias Samson defeated Dean Ambrose; Cedric Alexander defeated Noam Dar; Apollo Crews; defeated Kalisto; Heath Slater and Rhyno defeated The Miz and a Bear (seriously); Gallows and Anderson defeated Enzo and Cass; The Hardys vs. Sheamus and Cesaro (c) ended in a double countout (Two Out Of Three Falls Match for the Raw Tag Team Championships).
  • As the headline states, Raw seems to have known that absolutely no one would be watching the show once Game 5 of the NBA Finals started, so the advertised appearance of Brock Lesnar comes at the top of the show. Of course, Brock doesn’t actually get a word in. Instead, Paul Heyman talks about “unleashing the beast” while running down Samoa Joe for not being part of that big Samoan wrestling family because of how disgraceful he is. It’s a perfectly fine promo, but the crowd seems lost. It’s hard to know who to cheer for when Heyman and Brock are just so nasty, and Samoa Joe is literally choking out managers. That doesn’t mean the feud isn’t hot though. In case some folks weren’t already sold for some reason, Joe comes marching to the ring and shows no hesitation before headbutting Lesnar. The two throw down, even going so far as to lay out a few security guards, before the whole locker room comes out to separate them. It’s an energetic, heated segment that fits with who these guys are. Having a staredown followed by a retreat wouldn’t have felt right. They had to throw some fists, and thankfully that’s the direction Raw chooses.
  • Unfortunately, that’s Raw‘s highpoint. It’s a swift ride downhill after that, as the Cavs and Warriors do their thing.
  • Essentially, this is a phoned in Raw, the same kind of meaningless episode they do when they’re up against something much more attractive in their time slot. That means a lot of lengthy segments, way too many recap videos, and the matches that do happen are rather meaningless or just straight up ridiculous. At one point there’s a man in a bear suit…again.
  • One way to make sure your crowd is dead after a hot Lesnar-Joe segment is to throw Dean Ambrose and Elias Samson into a match. Samson’s character has been a welcome addition to the roster, and Ambrose has been good in his feud with the Miz, but the two don’t really click together. Dean’s neutered offence mixed with Samson’s greenness in the ring is a combination that leads to boredom. Add to that one of those shady finishes that Ambrose should be smart enough to see coming, and you have your first sign that this Raw isn’t going to be all that compelling.
  • Perhaps the long build to Great Balls Of Fire is to blame. The build to Extreme Rules really hits its stride in the final two weeks. We’re four weeks out from Great Balls Of Fire, and it feels like Raw has no clue what to do with many of its feuds.
  • Take, for instance, the feud over the Intercontinental Championship. Ambrose and Miz are coming off a PPV match that ended up being more intriguing than it should have been, and followed up with a fun segment that saw The Miz beat up a large present. Rather than just leaving it at that and moving on to something else, Raw doubles down; as always, they can’t just leave the dead horse alone, they have to beat it again and again. So, Ambrose shows up later in the night dressed as a bear and costs the Miz a tag match against Slater and Rhyno. Why? Why is this happening?
  • If you guessed that this Raw would have an abundance of bear puns, good on you.
  • While much of this Raw is a complete slog, the Titus Brand remains a whole lot of fun. Fellow A.V. Club contributor Alasdair Wilkins and I dug into the appeal of the Titus Brand on last week’s episode of our podcast, The Story Of Wrestling, and, risking egotism here, our points stand. It’s a way to tell a story with a few guys who desperately need some sense of direction. Apollo Crews has never been more likable, and Titus gets slotted into a role that limits his in-ring work and allows him to embody a character, which is his strong suit. And now Akira Tozawa is (reluctantly) in the mix. Everyone is looking good, and it’s a fun lower-midcard story. When you have three hours to fill, there’s nothing wrong with that.
  • This week in the Women’s Division, every single member of it, outside of Bayley, is involved in a meaningless Six Woman Tag Team Match. Bliss leaving the match is a nice touch, and I’m glad Emma is back again, but let’s tell some stories, shall we?
  • You know this is a phoned-in Raw when there are two video segments announcing that Roman Reigns will be making a Summerslam announcement next week, plus hype videos for both Finn Balor (who doesn’t make an appearance) and Cedric Alexander. Filling time like it’s nobody’s business.
  • So, Bayley has a sit-down interview with Corey Graves and it’s everything that’s wrong with this current iteration of her character. She’s toothless, being forced to recite lines about how she struggles with violence. That’s a long way from the woman who stepped up, got angry, and delivered one of the best NXT matches of all time against Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn in 2015. Bring back that Bayley!
  • If you wanted to point to a single moment that defined this week’s abysmal Raw, you’d point to the main event. It’s a 2 Out Of 3 Falls Match between the Hardys and Sheamus and Cesaro that ends in a double countout. That’s the end of Raw.