On a night when autonomous flying drones and all means of supernatural hijinks took center stage in the final 20 minutes of Monday Night Raw, for the "Ultimate Deletion" not to be the biggest attack on our collective suspension of disbelief has to be a shock on par with UMBC beating Virginia.
No, the most troublesome portion of Raw came in its opening segment, when Roman Reigns assaulted a "federal official" and it was all quickly forgotten, once Brock Lesnar swooped in to attack the still-handcuffed Reigns with several waves of German suplexes and chair shots.
Most adults watching the show understand that those aren't really law enforcement officers, and that the real life stakes are low. But what's to be gained from having a character like Reigns, who's set up to be the hero of this story, attacking U.S. Marshals? It's one thing to strike out against faceless drones and private security -- rent-a-cops undoubtedly on the payroll, and proxys for the authority Reigns has been bristling against.
But in a sloppy effort to channel some "Stone Cold" Steve Austin moments of old, WWE took a massive swing and missed in the rivalry its positioned as the most important on the WrestleMania card. Tension between Reigns and police officers that led him to get handcuffed and chafe against moderate contact from those officials trying to escort him out would've been fine. Setting him up for an opportunistic attack from Lesnar makes sense, too. But having Reigns take things one step too far, to where he would in any marginally logical universe, fictional or otherwise, be in jail once his injuries healed, serves as another example of trying to force Reigns into trying to the fill the mold of other superstars who've come before. It's also a terrible lesson for kids, on a TV show that's supposed to be catering to them.
This sort of sloppy effort is one of the contributing factors in why Reigns has struggled to shake the kind of split reactions that had some fans chanting "you deserve it" as Lesnar hit Reigns with his third and fourth wave of attacks. By trying to make Reigns more like Steve Austin as an anti-authority figure, or like The Rock or Austin by dropping the occasional curse word in a promo, you're keeping Reigns from being his natural self. Let him be his own man.
Then there's the fact that no one stepped in to stop the attack for several minutes, despite all of the German suplexes, chair shots and the F-5 that eventually came. The WWE's failure in being able to overlap stories this late in the game is disappointing. What was Seth Rollins doing all this time that he couldn't involve himself to try to save Reigns? Imagine a world in which Rollins gets to have a few minutes in the ring with Lesnar, picks up some of that energy and brings it back to his rivalry for the Intercontinental championship that's somehow lost a lot of steam over the last two weeks?
Who wouldn't have been excited for four or five minutes of a Lesnar versus Rollins match for that matter, only for the Miztourage to spoil the party and cost Rollins the match? Axel and Dallas could've taken a bunch of F-5s. The crowd would've gone home seeing something rare and special, which is exactly what Monday Night Raw should be delivering less than three weeks out from WrestleMania.
Instead, we got a convoluted, hard to believe premise that ended with Lesnar feebly tipping over a gurney and walking away. This can be remedied over the next two weeks, with a proper climax to Lesnar versus Reigns, but this isn't the time of year to be taking a giant swing and a miss.
Bray Wyatt gets deleted
On the opposite end of the spectrum, both in terms of show positioning and execution, was the end of the Great War between Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt. "The Ultimate Deletion" was 15 minutes of the same strange, campy weirdness and hilarity that Hardy came to be known for with his "broken" persona, and largely defies explanation for those who haven't seen it. WWE has made it available on its YouTube page, in six parts, and it's well worth your 15 minutes even if it ultimately isn't your cup of tea.
All of the familiar characters of the Hardy clan got involved, and from the moment Wyatt entered the Hardy compound to a piano cover of his music to the point where he had the whole world in his hands, it lived up to the hype. The WWE could have gone a long way towards watering down the wackiness, but allowing Hardy and everyone involved to go all out opens the door to a world of possibilities for the future. The cliffhanger, which saw Wyatt disappear into the "Lake of Reincarnation", might ultimately be the best thing that's happened for Wyatt in ages.
Hits and misses
In what could have been Asuka's last one-on-one match on Raw, her undefeated streak continued after Alexa Bliss got herself counted out. Nia Jax failed to get her revenge, both for last week's candid camera reveal and Monday night's doubling down on the "Mean Girls" shtick, despite battering Mickie James and chasing Bliss all over the arena. But Kurt Angle stepped in with a welcome dose of reality. "The Raw women's champion should be a role model and not a bully," Angle said, pointing to his daughters as an example of the impressionable audience that heard some truly despicable things come out of Bliss' mouth over the last two weeks. Jax will get her revenge at WrestleMania, one-on-one for the Raw women's championship.
Having two one-on-one women's championship matches at WrestleMania is another major milestone.
- WWE (@WWE) March 20, 2018
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the most intriguing slow builds going on Raw right now, between Bayley and Sasha Banks, may be relegated to the women's battle royal rather than a one-on-one match of their own if Monday night is any indication. After Sasha Banks proclaimed herself to be the "bigger woman" for forgiving Bayley for walking out on her twice, Bayley finally revealed why she feels so betrayed. It wasn't that Banks was out for herself in the Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber -- it was that, after blindsiding Bayley on each occasion, she had a giant smile on her face and cherished the moment.
Absolution interrupted the proceedings, but Bayley and Banks mostly functioned as a team until the late stages of their tag team match against Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Banks stopped Rose from entering the ring, only to distract the referee and stop Bayley from getting a roll-up win. That led to a hilarious and well-executed moment in which Bayley and Banks were simultaneously bickering and able to execute a double elbow strike to Rose's face. But Deville ultimately shoved Bayley into Banks, hit a spinning heel kick and picked up the victory. And so, the slow dissolving of a friendship continues.
- John Cena begged The Undertaker for an answer, a sign, or any other kind of indicator of whether or not he'll accept Cena's WrestleMania challenge. He got a chokeslam from Undertaker's little brother Kane instead, and a match next week on Raw.
- WWE (@WWE) March 20, 2018
- Balor Club picked up a mostly toothless victory over The Miztourage when Finn Balor picked up a roll-up pin. As Miz, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas attacked Balor three-on-one, Rollins ran down to the ring for the save and insisted Balor owed him one. So Rollins is willing to save his WrestleMania opponent from a savage attack, but not his "brother" from The Shield. Huh?
The Miz did strike a blow in the hearts of fans by insisting he give "that little nudge [that] will turn into a big push for Tyler Black and Prince Nevitt, when I send them down to the bingo halls so they can 'too sweet' all you little indie fans." Whether he purposefully screwed up Balor's pre-WWE name or not, it was a nice little touch of antagonism.
- Braun Strowman had good chemistry on the microphone with Sheamus and Cesaro, and ultimately put together an enjoyable, lengthy (if one-sided) match against Cesaro. The mystery of who will be Strowman's tag team partner at WrestleMania will carry on at least one more week, though.
- The Revival beat Titus Worldwide and became the first two official entrants in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, confirming that match's return.
- Ronda Rousey didn't appear live on Raw, but the promo and interview package that aired was far and away the most powerful moment of Rousey's short WWE career. A few quotes in particular stood out. At the beginning of her MMA career, Rousey decided "I was going to talk a lot of s--- and break a lot of arms" so she could at least feed herself and her dog; and about the end of her UFC run. She said, "After my last fight, I remember thinking, 'God hates me.' I had nothing left in me."