Professional wrestling is about the moments. Whether it's a spectacular high-flying move, a line or a moment from a promo or a backstage segment that's only tangentially (or completely not) related to wrestling, these snapshots in our minds are what we as fans hold onto as the reason we keep investing so many hours into this thing we hold dear.
WWE has every reason to provide these moments at regular intervals to drive the passion of their fan base, and they certainly delivered on that promise at the end of Monday Night Raw.
Shane McMahon, who had appeared randomly backstage earlier in the night, came through the crowd in Green Bay during the final segment with a legion of SmackDown superstars -- each clad in blue. On his signal, he sent them backstage for a sneak-attack on as many members of the Raw roster as possible.
- WWE (@WWE) October 24, 2017
With Survivor Series just a few weeks away -- and that entire night based around Raw versus SmackDown matches that were revealed earlier in the night -- there's certainly some level of motivation to grab the upper hand on their soon-to-be opponents. But it's hard not to get too bogged down in why a guy like Baron Corbin would work alongside a rival like Tye Dillinger to beat up the same guy from Raw, or why "good guys (and girls)" like The New Day or Becky Lynch would revel in a sneak-attack and blindsiding their competition in such an underhanded fashion.
It mostly boils down to whether or not you buy into the brand rivalry, something that's come up every year there have been cross-branded matches at Survivor Series, or in the two years they put on the now-defunct Bragging Rights event.
What do the superstars of SmackDown really have to gain from gaining an edge on Raw? More money? That's a bit of cynical reason, but OK. Maybe Shane McMahon is upset he was put in charge of the brand that's viewed as "lesser than" and carries a chip on his shoulder, which trickles down to those under his employ. Or maybe, beneath the surface, he's on a mission to avenge a long-ago moment when Angle threw him through a pane of glass, and Shane will go to any lengths and costs to gain his revenge.
Something real and tangible on the line would go a long way towards making this sudden cohesion as a team beyond "bragging rights" make sense. Maybe all the winners earn title shots, and that's why they want the edge. Put Royal Rumble spots on the line, and make it survival of the fittest.
The reality here is that the ending of Raw was a really cool, unexpected moment. Rather than the highly polished and manufactured face-to-face conflicts in the middle of the ring that are typical of the buildup to this kind of match, SmackDown struck while Raw was weak and ambushed everybody they could find backstage. It made sense that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens would decline to participate, though Charlotte Flair, The Usos and Jinder Mahal were also absent. The Raw heels like Dana Brooke, Emma and Alexa Bliss turned tail and ran, while the faces stood up and fought despite the odds. Brock Lesnar declared he was clearly out for himself and was nowhere to be seen, and Kane, after beating Finn Balor earlier in the night, was MIA too.
It was a lot of fun to see Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins make their best effort to get the upper hand on the roving gang, and making Angle watch as his partners from TLC were decimated added yet another edge. It was a cool moment that will be remembered for all of the right reasons down the line, but in the here and now, we'll just have to deal with some of the holes in the storytelling and enjoy the good parts.
Fast track to Survivor Series
It was teased last week on SmackDown, when WWE champion Mahal challenged Universal champion Lesnar at Survivor Series, but the scope of the Raw versus SmackDown conflict was made clear at the opening of Raw Monday night. Angle announced four champion versus champion matches for Survivor Series, headlined by Mahal vs. Lesnar. We'd also get Intercontinental champion The Miz vs. Corbin, the U.S. champ, Raw women's champion Alexa Bliss vs. SmackDown women's champion Natalya and the Raw tag team title-holders Ambrose and Rollins taking on The Usos. There will also be a men's and a women's 5-on-5 elimination match on the card.
SmackDown's invasion of Raw certainly seemed to raise the stakes beyond friendly competition, but we'll have to wait and see in the weeks to come. Could there be brand traitors? Title changes that affect the matches to come? With only three Raws and four SmackDowns to go before Nov. 19 in Houston, Survivor Series isn't waiting around for anyone.
Miz certainly wasn't waiting around for another opportunity to strike, either. Flanked by Sheamus, Cesaro and Curtis Axel, he tried to ambush Angle, only for Ambrose and Rollins to come through the crowd to his aid. Angle then set up a match between the warring factions, with AJ Styles making a second straight one-off appearance on Raw to partner up with The Shield. The camaraderie they showed in the match that followed was only made more interesting by Styles taking part in the attack later in the night, but enough on that matter.
The match that followed was as good as you would hope it might be on the surface, highlighted in particular by several multi-way maneuvers and a number of sequences in which Styles and Cesaro went at it in a big, big way. It got plenty of time too, spanning three commercial breaks before Styles ultimately connected with the phenomenal forearm and picked up the win for his team. Kane came out to break up the party, though, and left all three men laying with an assist from a few of his partners from TLC.
After another commercial break, Kane ran down all the reasons why he was the one true monster of Raw, and why Strowman, whom Kane and his partners ostensibly killed Sunday at TLC by throwing him in the back of a garbage truck and compacting him, was all talk. He then mocked Strowman by calling for competition of his own, and Finn Balor answered the call.
It was a pretty strong match in its own right, and completed a span of over an hour at the start of Raw that was all directly interconnected. The opening promo from Angle fed right into the six-man tag team match, which led directly into Kane's attack and promo, which led to this match. With three chokeslams, Kane pulled off a shocking win over Balor that could get its own 500-word diatribe in most weeks. Fresh off one of the biggest wins of his career at TLC over Styles, becoming fodder for Kane on the way to his eventual destruction at Strowman's hands just one night later seems to be extraordinarily wasteful, but it is what it is -- feeding the story that Balor can get it done as 'The Demon', but struggles on occasion as the ordinary man.
Hits and misses
-- You know it was a crazy week when the return of Lesnar and Paul Heyman fall this far down in the recap. After pointing out the follies that most modern promos fall into, like breaking down an opponent so much verbally that any eventual win becomes less important, Heyman continued to put over Lesnar's most recent serious contenders, like Goldberg, Samoa Joe and Strowman, before addressing Mahal and his challenge.
Heyman then proceeded to break his own rule by running down Mahal in the most brutal of ways. "You're not even a worthy pretender to the throne of being WWE champion." He listed out a number of the WWE legends who had held that title, like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, The Rock and Lesnar himself. It was vintage Heyman, and every moment of the promo was worth soaking in.
-- The Asuka versus Emma rematch was different from what happened between them at TLC, but their second match in as many nights proved a lot of the same points. Asuka is a gifted in-ring performer who is poised to do great things for the Raw women's division, and Emma is far better, when given the opportunity, than she's gotten credit for over the last few years.
-- Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Alicia Fox was fun for different reasons, the most pertinent one being the unexpected outcome of Fox becoming the captain for the Raw women's team at Survivor Series. There were a few big spots, a scary bump or two as well, but the ending made all the sense in the world. For the third or fourth time in the match, Bayley and Banks got in each other's way -- this time by clanking heads together -- and Fox was the beneficiary. We're seeing the seeds of dissension sewed a little bit deeper every week, and the slow burn seems to be going at just the right pace.
-- The Bliss vs. Mickie James conflict may not be over, as Sunday's Raw women's title challenger hit a DDT in the middle of the ring and led the Green Bay crowd in a "you deserve it" chant to boot. Could we see one more title match before Survivor Series?
-- It took a little while to get there, but Enzo Amore shelling out big dollars for cronies in the cruiserweight decision is growing on me. Maybe it was the synchronized dance moves at the top of the ramp, or maybe it was Drew Gulak giving a dry rendition of Enzo's in-ring shtick because of Amore's increasingly severe laryngitis. But something's working. It was all a device to set up Kalisto hitting the Salida Del Sol in the middle of the ring to pin Amore, and we'll see the return title match from TLC Tuesday on 205 Live.
-- This Jason Jordan vs. Elias rivalry has been like nails on a chalkboard since it started, but I'll be damned if Elias snapping wasn't a nice payoff for the time being. After getting interrupted for two straight nights, Elias' match against Jordan ended with him destroying his guitar by smashing it on Jordan while he was charging full speed ahead. It's been a long time since we've seen a good broken guitar spot in the WWE.