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Raw is offering up WWE’s best programming by leaning on its main event scene

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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 Finn Balor (No DQ match); Big Cass defeated Enzo; Nia Jax defeated Emma; Bayley defeated Sasha Banks (#1 Contender match to determine Alexa Bliss’ opponent at Summerslam); Jason Jordan defeated Curt Hawkins; The Revival defeated Anderson and Gallows; Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins defeated The Miz, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel.
  • Who would have thought that after all the drudgery we’ve sat through with Raw over the last few months, especially leading up to Wrestlemania, that going into Summerslam we’d be looking forward to Raw on a weekly basis while barely sitting through Smackdown! Live‘s PPV Battleground? How the times, and the creative direction, have changed.
  • A big part of the success of Raw in recent weeks is the main event scene. The rise of Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe as angry, intense, no nonsense dudes has breathed some new life into a championship feud that was threatening to go stale with just Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. So, it makes sense that Raw is leaning hard on those guys to not only sell Summerslam as a whole, but to also kick off the show. This week Kurt Angle is here to address Braun Strowman’s interference in last week’s #1 Contender match and announce who will be facing Lesnar for the strap at Summerslam. Every single person in that arena, and those watching at home, knows what’s going to happen, and yet the segment is completely on fire, which is a credit to the talent involved. Every single bit of this story feels huge. As Strowman, Joe, and then Reigns enter the ring, you can feel the mood shift. Michael Cole says “big fight feel” way too much, but it’d be true in this case. This is the most excited I’ve been for a Summerslam main event in years, and that’s all because of how perfect the build has been. Every single person in this Fatal Fourway looks like a legitimate champion, and no matter the outcome, I can’t wait to witness the brutality and see what comes next for everyone involved.
  • One guy that I’m surprised to see so far removed from the main event is Finn Balor. I assumed that once he was back from injury he’d be hotshotted once again. While I’ve had my doubts—and plenty of snarky jokes—about his spot with Elias Samson, I have to admit it’s been a solid feud for both guys. Samson has proven himself to be a capable in-ring opponent while also establishing his heel bonafides, and the heat he gets has allowed Balor to get back into that groove as a pure babyface. Tonight’s No DQ match is, as always, hardly aggressive or brutal—a single chair doesn’t exactly get the blood boiling when the options are limitless—but it’s a solid way to underscore Samson’s talent while moving Balor ever closer to a confrontation with Bray Wyatt. Plus, a long, well-wrestled match coming after the hot opening segment assures that Raw gets off to a good start.
  • I’d be curious to know where everyone who reads these weekly reviews stands when it comes to the Angle-Jordan storyline now that it’s really taking off. I was all for the mystery, and the reveal was delightfully absurd, but I’m worried it’s going to be too much drama. Jordan’s backstage interview tonight is a little too cheesy, and that threatens to defang a character that should be all about his athletic ability and in-ring dominance. I’m by no means signaling the death knell, but I do think a certain amount of wariness might be necessary here. Then again, my brain is also imagining a scenario where all of this is orchestrated by Stephanie McMahon and Triple H in order to undermine Angle and turn Jordan heel, so can I really be trusted?
  • Once thing I’m worried about with Raw and its impressive momentum as of late is that there’s too long until Summerslam. Everything that’s happening right now makes me wish that Summerslam was only two weeks away. It’s the opposite problem that Smackdown! Live has right now, where I’m not sure it can significantly recover from Battleground in time to build meaningful feuds for August 20th.
  • On that note, I’m ready for the Big Cass vs. Big Show match. Hard to see what else we need here in terms of motivation.
  • You have to worry about three guys tonight. I have to worry about four.” Ambrose is relentless in his distrust of Rollins, and I love every minute of it.
  • Finally, Emma is back on Raw and therefore back on our TV screens. Unfortunately, her call for competition, a la Braun Strowman, scores her a match with Nia Jax. Emma gets absolutely destroyed, with Nia gaining the pinfall after busting out an awesome new move (finisher?).
  • Raw has a fair amount of really good wrestling tonight. Finn Balor and Elias Samson kick off the night with a good match, but two other matches steal the show: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks, and Rollins and Ambrose vs. Miz and The Miztourage. Both matches are the kind of WWE matches that get the crowd going, and unlike some episodes of Raw, and last night’s Battleground, they act as a testament to what this weekly show can be when it just lets its best wrestlers actually wrestle matches. Sure, there needs to be some form of booking shadiness in order to tell certain stories, but you can’t underestimate how important it is to simple put on good matches each week. Suddenly, the meandering Women’s Division has some clarity, as Bayley gets the win over Sasha in a thrilling match, setting the stage for some sort of personal revaluation from Banks, which will almost certainly lead to her stabbing Bayley in the back somewhere down the road.
  • Similarly, Raw is doing good, patient work with Rollins and Ambrose. It would have been easy enough to use tonight’s handicap match to forge a bond and then move on, and a post-match hug hints at that direction, but it’s much more satisfying to delay that reunion. Having Rollins hold out his fist, aching for that Shield seal of approval, and being denied by Ambrose for now, is a thing of beauty. The fist lingers and the camera catches it in a closeup. Raw is slowburning this story, and it’s doing wonders for both Ambrose and Rollins, two talents who despite their best efforts have been stagnating as of late.