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Raw continues its compelling build to Great Balls Of Fire

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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: The Hardy Boyz defeated Gallows and Anderson; Finn Balor defeated Bo Dallas; Akira Tozawa defeated TJP; Samoa Joe defeated Roman Reigns; Cesaro and Sheamus defeated Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews; Sasha Banks defeated Nia Jax via DQ.
  • Alright, let’s break down tonight’s opening segment. It’s a bit of a strange one—or perhaps just typical of WWE—because it hits all the beats just right, but then completely fumbles the ending. There’s a lot of good stuff. Starting the show with Roman Reigns is a sure-fire way to get the crowd going early, as he comes out to a bevy of boos. Having him list his accomplishments and announce himself as the #1 Contender to the Universal Championship no matter who wins at Great Balls Of Fire is wonderful heel work; it’s the smug, entitled version of Roman that’s so much fun to hate. Even the predictable interruption works, as Samoa Joe points out that Reigns has never beaten him before, and that he has no intention of ever allowing it to happen. Having Joe attack Reigns is the icing on the cake, and everything is looking good. Then Reigns gets the upper hand and suddenly the guy you’re trying to build into a legitimate threat to Lesnar’s championship is scurrying away from the ring. I get that WWE is presumably laying the groundwork for a Lesnar-Reigns match, but surely you don’t need Joe looking outmatched so soon. It’s not a total momentum killer for Samoa Joe by any means, but it does end the segment on a bum note. At least there’s a fun little surprise later for Roman that totally makes up for the nonsense during the first segment.
  • Of course there’s also the fact that Roman Reigns says he can’t be beat one-on-one, and then tells the crowd to ask Finn Balor about that. You know, the same Finn Balor who beat him to earn his shot at the Universal Championship. At least Samoa Joe comes with the receipts later on, showing video footage of him getting the victory over Reigns in his main roster debut. Guess the guy can be beat one-on-one.
  • So, we need to talk about the Hardy Boyz. I’ve been a fan for a long time. They were the tag team I adored when I was a kid. Outside of perhaps Stone Cold and The Undertaker, there was no one I looked forward to seeing on Raw more than the Hardys and Lita. Their Wrestlemania moment from this year is an absolute classic, a moment of pure joy that every superstar return should aspire to be. Watching them win the titles in that ladder match felt right. But now, what’s left to love? When fans decry aging superstars coming back as noting more than a “nostalgia act,” this is what they’re talking about. There’s nothing to the Hardy Boyz characters. They have no gimmick, no motivation, and that means that any story they’re involved in suffers. Every match boils down to Michael Cole shouting “poetry in motion!” and some stilted moves building to a Swanton Bomb finish. There’s nothing interesting in that structure or storytelling. Any hope that the Hardys could help revitalize a stale Raw tag team division has long since vanished.
  • Bo Dallas is back—can you be “back” when you never really left but are just stuck backstage doing nothing?—and he’s having a decent match with Finn Balor. Balor gets the win of course, but I appreciate that Raw uses the loss to jumpstart a potential story for both Dallas and his Social Outcast brethren Curtis Axel. Here, the Miz tells them that they’re not the same mean, aggressive dudes he saw on the set of The Marine, and extends them an offer to be the newest members of his entourage.
  • That WWE 2k18 trailer is pretty cool, even if the Seth Rollins promo he’s forced to cut as a marketing tie-in is terribly labored. I don’t need Rollins once again telling me how grateful he is to have a second opportunity after buying in with the Authority, and I definitely don’t need him telling me that sports video games are “my jam.” Getting the jump on Bray Wyatt, on the other hand, is something I can get behind. About time someone used all that darkness and slow walking to their advantage.
  • Sure enough, Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel take the Miz up on his offer, dressing in bear suits and attacking Dean Ambrose during a Miz TV segment. When Miz and Ambrose locked horns again after the brand extension I was hesitant, worried that the story they told on Smackdown! Live had run its course. Now, with the fission between Miz and Maryse, the sudden inclusion of Dallas and Axel, and their surprisingly good title match at Extreme Rules, I’m on board again. Those two guys have good chemistry, and Raw is doing a good job of shifting the story in different directions.
  • It’s good to see Raw adding some depth to the Elias Samson character; there needs to be variety in how he’s presented each week. Having him tune his guitar rather than sing a song in the ring is a great heel move, and the attack on Balor backstage gives the character some much needed direction.
  • Titus O’Neil finally goes full Famous B tonight and gives Akira Tozawa the match introduction he deserves. Then, the match itself lasts through a commercial break. It’s the longest Cruiserweight match on Raw that I can remember, which suggests that WWE does have plans to integrate Tozawa on the roster outside of the Cruiserweight Division. I hope that’s the case, because that guy is amazing. If you haven’t seen some of his old PWG work with the likes of Kevin Steen, El Generico, and so many others—plus his work with Dragon Gate—do yourself a favor and go find it. Tozawa could be so much more than he is right now.
  • With their confrontation earlier in the night not being enough, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns face off near the end of the second hour. It’s a good, hard-hitting match that the crowd is super into, but the highlight is the return of Raw‘s backwoods savior, Braun Strowman. As Reigns sets up for a spear, the jumbotron shows an ambulance backing into the arena. Then Strowman emerges with his signature roar. It’s amazing, and it allows Joe to lock in the Coquina Clutch and get the win, which in turn allows Strowman to come to the ring and angrily shout “I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU” at an incapacitated Reigns. An Ambulance Match is all set for Great Balls Of Fire, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s good to have Braun back.
  • After Raw decides to throw its whole Women’s division out rigt before the three-hour mark, seemingly forgetting about them like the creative team over at Money In The Bank, Kurt Angle comes out to finish off the show by revealing who’s been attacking Enzo and Cass. After some meaningless talk with Big Show and The Revival—here’s hoping we get them back in the ring soon—Corey Graves interrupts to show Angle, and the whole audience, some security footage. It shows Cass making it look like he was attacked, and sets the stage for his heel turn. He lays into Enzo for being dead weight, for holding him back and ruining any chance he has at any WWE championship. It’s the most personality Cass has had on the main roster, and Enzo’s tears feel real enough to pack a serious punch. Here’s hoping Raw can follow through with a compelling fallout story.