After a No Mercy pay-per-view that saw most of the matches drastically outperform expectations, though many found fault in one or both of the matches on the marquee, Monday should have been a great chance to reset, refocus and line up the ducks in a row with an eye towards blowing things out of the water in a month at TLC.
In some ways, that's what happened on Raw. The Miz and Roman Reigns did their part (and a stellar job at that) of laying down the foundation for a likely-to-come Shield reunion that included a good match and The Miztourage's biggest moment to date. We got an impromptu match between Braun Strowman and Dean Ambrose that was the standout contest of the night.
There was a promo between Alexa Bliss and Mickie James that sounded like two people really having a conversation in the ring rather than the highly structured promos the female superstars have been given of late. There was a great backstage promo between Ambrose and Seth Rollins that tied together pieces from multiple matches and multiple ongoing storylines -- a small touch that goes a long way.
Heck, the Ring of Honor contingent of the Bullet Club lightly teased a DX-style invasion of the Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California, though their trip into the parking lot ultimately turned out to be a publicity stunt for their online show "Being the Elite".
But all was not perfect in the world of Raw. The announce team, including the typically on-point Corey Graves, stomped all over the end of several moments that should've had the chance to breathe. As one-time ESPN contributor and former WWE writing staff member Andrew Goldstein pointed out, the three guys on commentary barely flinched at the merciless and cowardly beating that Reigns had taken or The Miztourage's key posedown, instead rolling directly into their eighth promo on the night for Enzo Amore's championship celebration.
Instead of letting fans linger on that visual and roll over what it meant in their heads during the commercial break, everyone was immediately hit in the face by an "OK, that moment's over -- now care about something new" message. None of these matches, promos or announcements should happen in a vacuum. Raw is usually at its best when it remembers that each element is part of a greater ecosystem, and the more that the foundation of the show is grounded in every action having consequences and each story having the ability to intersect, the richer the greater product ends up being.
The uncertain fate of the cruiserweight division
Speaking of Amore's championship celebration, the most puzzling segment of the night saw the cruiserweights' very first opportunity to close out Raw raise far more questions than it answered. With an insistence on getting a "no contact" clause, Amore showed his true colors and bagged on Big Cass, the fans who chanted "you can't wrestle" (which Amore used to compare himself with The Rock, Batista and John Cena) and the entire cruiserweight division, with individual barbs lobbed at several guys in particular as the whole 205 Live roster walked out to the ring together.
Neville, long a lone wolf at the top of the food chain, then jeopardized his future opportunities at the cruiserweight title by destroying Amore. Once Raw went off the air, Strowman got licks in on Amore for the second straight week and then the entire 205 Live roster set aside their differences and destroyed Amore one by one.
- WWE (@WWE) September 26, 2017
It's clear that Amore has brought more eyeballs to a fledgling brand, but if Monday's circus wasn't an indication that Amore is going full-blown delusional cowardly heel, I can't imagine what they were intending to accomplish. As the only one to attack while Raw was on the air, Neville likely cost himself any future shot at Amore's title. Could that mean a return to action against heavyweights could be in his future? It doesn't seem like there's much left for him on 205 Live, despite him having carried the cruiserweight division on his shoulders for so long.
One thing seems certain -- as the dust starts to settle, Tuesday's edition of 205 Live seems likely to draw some of the highest viewership that show's ever seen.
Believe in the Miztourage
The Miz taunted Roman Reigns ceaselessly during his appearance on Miz TV, making sure to mention The Shield multiple times in the process, and then Reigns beat Miz in a match that was honestly quite entertaining. After the match, Miz and The Miztourage extracted their pound of flesh, and despite a valiant effort, the introduction of chairs and two rounds of beatings ended with The Miz, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas posing like The Shield over Reigns' fallen body.
Though Rollins and Ambrose didn't show up, each had at least a decent reason not to. Ambrose went toe-to-toe with Strowman for a lengthy stretch and got some good licks in before Strowman caught him and powerslammed him into oblivion. Rollins also competed and picked up a win over Sheamus.
Reigns' appearance on Miz TV was also noteworthy for how much he seemed to be in the pocket. He's going to have his detractors no matter what he does. Reigns could figure out a way to do a double Phoenix Splash off the top of a Hell in a Cell, and there would still be a bunch of fans who would chant, "you still suck." Going toe-to-toe with John Cena did Reigns a world of good, and for the time being at least, he doesn't seem to be forcing things in the slightest.
But as for Cena, who was MIA tonight and might be that way for a lengthy stretch, said, it's all about finding a way to be that natural every single night.
Reigns will get a shot at Miz's Intercontinental championship next week.
Hits and misses
-- Just as Cena's future seems uncertain, Brock Lesnar was equally absent from Raw on Monday. With Reigns focused elsewhere in the short term, it seems likely that Lesnar will get something of a breather over the next month. That he was able to pull off a fairly decisive victory over Strowman seems even stranger in those circumstances, but here we are.
-- Strowman sent Curt Hawkins crashing all the way through two LED boards on stage and then had a strong showing against Ambrose. Ideally you wouldn't have to rebuild him as a monster too often, but this was a good first step. Perhaps it's best if he's kept away from titles for a while.
-- Bayley and Sasha Banks had a tense moment backstage, with each having cost the other the Raw women's championship Sunday night at No Mercy. They got it together in the ring and defeated Nia Jax and Emma, but the cold path to betrayal seems to be warming up.
-- We simply cannot be rid of Bray Wyatt versus Finn Balor, huh? Goldust hit Balor with a cheap shot backstage and pushed him in a questionably long match before Balor finally put the match away. Afterwards, the lights went out and we heard the creepy, child-sung version of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Then it was all over. That creepy moment was also stomped upon by another pre-commercial promo, but that's secondary at this point. It's not going to get much better than what we saw from Balor and Wyatt at either SummerSlam or No Mercy, and it's unclear what story they still have to tell. We'll see.
-- Just as it seemed Jason Jordan was catching his stride against The Miz on Sunday, his loss has at least temporarily jettisoned him from the Intercontinental title picture. He stayed involved with The Miztourage, however, as he teamed with Matt Hardy to beat Dallas and Axel. With Jeff Hardy on the shelf for the foreseeable future, what delightful direction will Matt head in?
-- Apollo Crews lost to Elias for the second straight night, but Elias had bigger fish to fry -- namely, Titus O'Neil himself. It'll be interesting to see how the Titus brand will affect his own in-ring reactions when it gets to that point.
-- Even with the issues on commentary Monday, Corey Graves reminded us why he's the best of what WWE has to offer right now. After Strowman through Hawkins through the stage and Strowman stalked back to the ring, Michael Cole remarked, "And for Curt Hawkins, Sept. 25 will be a date he remembers forever."
"Sure -- it'll be printed on all of his hospital bills," replied Graves, in an almost Bobby Heenan-like punchline that landed squarely on the mark.