If Monday night's episode of Raw was a proving ground of sorts for Braun Strowman's viability on the main event level, you might say the big man passed with flying colors.
Strowman showed good stamina and athleticism in outlasting Big Show in a Raw main event that produced more drama and big-fight energy than it had any right to on paper. After the match, Strowman was the last man standing after taking out Roman Reigns, stirring the fire ahead of their March 5 meeting at Fastlane.
With just 40 days remaining until WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida, Raw continued to set the stage with high-energy segments and strong teases for the future. Unlike recent episodes, however, this week was just as wildly inconsistent as it was exciting, with multiple head-scratching moments, including the handling of Reigns' booking earlier in the night.
But if the last image viewers have following three-plus hours of wrestling goes a long way in dictating whether an episode was a success, Strowman couldn't have done more to impress.
In a showcase of just how far the bearded behemoth has come since his squash matches in 2016, Strowman offset the incredible power he showed in twice executing powerslams on Big Show with incredible feats of agility. Strowman not only showed off his dropkick, but his kip-up off the canvas was a sight to behold for someone billed as 6-foot-8 and 385 pounds:
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) February 21, 2017
There still isn't a clear path outlined for what sort of plans WWE has for Strowman ahead of WrestleMania. But considering his high billing against Reigns in the final pay-per-view before April 2, it would be considered nothing more than a step down at this point should Strowman end up booked to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
It has long been proven throughout history how much WWE chairman Vince McMahon loves to push big men. But even McMahon has never had a physical specimen on his hands quite like Strowman, the former strongman champion with the menacing look and freak athleticism for his size.
Strowman's build since his debut as a member of The Wyatt Family in 2015 has been handled with equal patience and brilliance by WWE. If his maturation continues to grow through Fastlane at the level he showed Monday against the Big Show, it will be difficult to keep Strowman away from the higher end of the WrestleMania 33 card.
The curious case of Roman Reigns
WWE's insistence, often to its detriment, on 50/50 booking even proved true for Reigns on Monday, as he closed Raw on the business end of Strowman's vulgar display of power. But it wasn't enough to offset what took place earlier in the show.
Reigns, with his "one versus all" tagline, is no stranger to being booked strong in the face of overwhelming odds. But WWE continues to do their much maligned top babyface no favors in terms of drawing favor from its more cynical fan base.
For the second straight week, Reigns was inexplicably booked in a handicap match against WWE Raw tag team champions Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. And for the second straight week, Reigns fought off the dastardly duo to land his finishing moves and walk away in one piece.
Without question, there's much to be gained for WWE in booking Reigns strong. Fans and critics alike understand that. But Reigns' handling on Monday felt so far over the top that one might suggest WWE's creative team is simply trolling its vocal opposition at this point.
Because Reigns doesn't appear headed into any form of long-range plans opposite Gallows and Anderson, seeing WWE book one of its most intimidating tag teams -- let alone its champions -- so weakly doesn't make sense. More importantly, the trend is merely a continuation in the undermining Gallows and Anderson have endured in terms of their push since debuting last year.
If putting over Reigns as an irresistible force was the sole intention of Monday's segment, the same could have been accomplished using any number of tag teams sitting idle in the locker room.
There were other moments of 50/50 booking on Monday that left certain superstars looking weak in situations that weren't warranted. Look no further than Enzo Amore, who took an unnecessarily vicious Brogue kick to the head after he and Big Cass defeated Sheamus and Cesaro clean to secure a title shot at Fastlane.
But nothing quite draws the ire of WWE's most passionate fan base than the handling of Reigns. For as stubborn as WWE appears in being unwilling to turn Reigns heel, this type of booking continues to accomplish the feat without sacrificing Reigns' appeal to young children or his merchandise sales.
Maybe that has been the plan all along.
Heels on parade
The presentation of both Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe on Monday as despicable heels, delivering beatdowns and scolding dialogue while wearing fine tailored suits, not only added strong attention to detail, it brought back flashbacks to the days of The Four Horsemen.
If the 1980s taught us one thing, this is the way heels are supposed to be presented: as professional hitmen.
Samoa Joe's beatdown of Sami Zayn, moments before Zayn was squashed in his match with Owens, was made perfect by his comments of, "Say my name again!" and "This is your world now!" But it also teased at the idea of Owens and Joe possibly teaming up in a heel stable run by Triple H, which has been rumored online of late.
With The Wyatt Family currently embroiled in a civil war, a dominant heel stable is exactly what WWE is lacking at the moment -- especially one not subject to unnecessary 50/50 and comedic booking.
While the first six months of Owens' WWE Universal championship reign gave us plenty of comedy thanks to his friendship with Chris Jericho, it ultimately robbed Owens of the chance to be his vile best. Hopefully this is just the beginning.
Hits and misses
Considering how special the rivalry was between Charlotte and Sasha Banks for the Raw women's championship in 2016, it was disappointing to see them in an unannounced match on Monday with nothing at stake. Charlotte and Sasha put on one classic match after another last year while simultaneously causing fatigue to certain sections of WWE's fan base for how often they squared off. It would be wise for WWE to protect this rivalry moving forward, saving it for important moments only.
Was it me, or did Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon make a not-so-subtle threat to general manager Mick Foley's health moving forward? Let's just say that McMahon's blunt escalation of their well-handled backstage argument, in which Foley stood up to his employer's nefarious ways, has my full attention.
Paul Heyman's promo on Goldberg, complete with Brock Lesnar commandeering interviewer Michael Cole's chair and staring deeply into the camera, was quite a powerful statement and a strong dose of creativity.
Plans for The New Day's ice cream machine, which were hacked online by "The Ravishing Russian" Lana, included something called "booty juice." That's about all that needs to be said about that segment.
Cruiserweight champion Neville continues to prove himself as the most valuable asset WWE has in attracting viewers to tune in for 205 Live on Tuesday nights. Neville's verbal undressing of Jack Gallagher on Monday, calling him out for being a British stereotype, was executed to perfection.
Move of the night
Cesaro intercepted Enzo Amore's attempt at a leaping hot tag to Big Cass in a way that would have made JBL proud: With an uppercut from hell. Talk about a stiff statement.
- WWE (@WWE) February 21, 2017
Line of the night
"Goldberg, I won't be used as a prop in your little superhero fantasy with your son because I'm going to show you, your son and everyone else that superheroes don't exist. Bill Goldberg, these people can chant for you all they want and you can stand across the ring from me and bark, 'You're next,' all you want. You're just wasting your time, because as far as I'm concerned, you're nothing." -- Kevin Owens