You can usually tell there's a major pay-per-view on the horizon when you get an edition of Raw like we did on Monday. Even for a three-hour show, there was a lot squeezed in. There were Intercontinental and Raw women's championship matches, the returns of Stephanie McMahon and Samoa Joe for the first time in months, and Braun Strowman popped out from a garbage truck eight days after being thrown into a different garbage truck at TLC.
Before we go digging too deeply into why Strowman paid or intimidated a garbage truck driver into allowing him to crawl into the back of his truck, just so he could block The Miz and his Miztourage's exit and make a dramatic entrance, there was one other key moment of note to dive into -- Kane chokeslamming Daniel Bryan, who came over from SmackDown to try to ease tensions. In the moment Kane emerged from the darkness and grabbed Bryan by the throat, and theoretically chokeslammed him into oblivion, WWE stumbled upon a great spark to ignite the Raw versus SmackDown rivalry heading into Survivor Series -- only it came one week too late.
Imagine, if you will, if you simply reversed the "Under Siege" moment from last week with what happened with Bryan this week. The night after TLC, Bryan visits Raw to make the Survivor Series card official, only Kane blindsides him and sends him out of Raw on a stretcher. SmackDown's figurehead is taken out by a guy only looking out for himself, and then the following week, SmackDown's roster -- led by Shane McMahon -- has a reason to be unified and ignore current issues for the time being as they invade Raw to get their revenge. Everything escalates naturally from there, and the story flows seamlessly into Survivor Series.
Alas, that's simply not the world in which we live. While it was interesting to see Bryan get as close to true physicality as he's been in the last couple of years, since his retirement due to concussion-related concerns, his visit makes just a little more sense than SmackDown's invasion to begin with. His inspiration was basically, "Our commissioner and most of our roster came to blindside a bunch of your superstars while Raw was at a huge disadvantage. I didn't know it was going to happen, so can everything be cool?"
Monday's successful title defenses by The Miz and Alexa Bliss essentially locked in most of the card for Survivor Series, and there's sure to be some intrigue around matches like Jinder Mahal versus Brock Lesnar, or Kurt Angle's return to the ring as the captain of Team Raw in the men's 5-on-5 elimination match with his GM job on the line. But as ridiculous as it may sound this far out, considering some of the star power in play, Survivor Series weekend the door is once again wide open for NXT TakeOver to steal the spotlight in Houston.
Braun Strowman is a psychological mastermind
Now that Strowman might finally be done powerslamming Curtis Axel (or maybe not), it's once again time to appreciate just how strong a command he has over the WWE audience at this moment. Every comeback, whether it's been days, weeks or months, has made Strowman seem every bit the movie monster that cannot be killed no matter how hard everyone tries.
The Miz, a perfect foil, helped provide a perfect through line Monday night in all three hours. He strolled into Raw late and further set off Kurt Angle, who had just been dressed down by Stephanie McMahon, and got himself put into an Intercontinental championship match against Matt Hardy. He escaped with a win by the skin of his teeth, in the lone match that garnered "this is awesome chants" Monday night. He went back to his dressing room to celebrate and found a bag of garbage waiting for him. Attempts to carry on camaraderie with Kane, Sheamus and Cesaro all failed, and an attempt to flee before the end of the show was thwarted by Angle.
Miz, Axel and Bo Dallas got into their limo, only to get stuck by the child-proof locks as the garbage truck in front of them slowly opened up and Braun Strowman slowly rose into frame. Axel took the brunt of the damage this week, but there's certainly more to come for Miz & Co. That Strowman could leave the bag of garbage to mess with Miz's head, and then pay it all off with the garbage truck stunt once again proves that he is more than your average monster. Kane's been built up as his next target, and the Universal title seems to be tied up for at least the next few months, so for now at least, Strowman will have to settle for being the most over guy on the Raw roster.
Hits and misses
-- After Shane McMahon and his cabal of SmackDown talent ran roughshod over Raw last week, the timing seemed right for Raw's commissioner to make her first on-screen appearance on the show in several months. She completely tore Angle apart, going so far as to add an "I" to Angle's typical three "I"s (intensity, integrity and intelligence) -- incompetence. She certainly stands to play a role going into Survivor Series, but coming back and making this story all about the McMahons is just moving Raw backwards into the issues it dealt with when "The Authority" was in power. It seems to be moving towards opening the door for Triple H to get involved too, so we'll see how the next few weeks play out.
-- The Raw women's championship match was okay, but Raw is falling into a trap of making a champion like Alexa Bliss, who thrived as a cowardly heel on SmackDown and early in her Raw run, and giving her clean, physical wins over women who shouldn't fall to a single punch from Bliss, no matter how hard she hits. Bliss' strongest asset is her personality and demeanor, but her last few rivalries have taken her away from being the conniving, manipulative schemer and positioned her as a physically dominant champion that simply doesn't fit her character. Once Asuka is deemed to be ready, and who knows when that'll be, considering her somewhat choppy match against enhancement talent Monday night, it'll be a true test of how things stand in the Raw women's division.
-- Samoa Joe's return was a fantastic surprise, and dispatching Apollo Crews and Titus O'Neil was a nice way to re-assert his dominance. He may not have missed us fans, but we've sure missed him. He seems a natural fit for Survivor Series.
-- The shenanigans and outside interference from Sheamus & Cesaro make it slightly less offensive than Finn Balor's puzzling loss last week, but Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose became the latest cannon fodder for the still-surging Kane. Balor even got a tombstone on the ramp for his troubles as he walked away from his victory over Cesaro. How long will it take for Strowman to get his hands on Kane?
-- Considering they got matches like Cesaro versus Balor (a wonderful match for the time it got) and a number of returns, the Baltimore crowd was pretty dead for most of the night outside of a few key moments. Seattle was a big shot in the arm for SmackDown a couple weeks ago, and a hot Manchester could do wonders for both Raw and SmackDown as Survivor Series quickly approaches.
-- Rumors of Nia Jax's departure seem premature, at least for now. She came back Monday night at the behest of Alicia Fox and did a number on Bayley, picking up a dominant win. She picked up an intriguing rolling spear that she used to set up her leg drop, and Jax could certainly benefit by continuing to refine her arsenal.
-- Drew Gulak, who earlier today went all out for his Sasha Banks costume, once again stole the show during the cruiserweight division's time to shine on the microphone. His match was not quite so thrilling, as Kalisto blew him out of the water, but at least he knows how to spell the word soft.
-- The less said about the actual "trick or street fight" between Chad 2 Badd & Tex Ferguson (Gallows & Anderson) and Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Heath Slater & Rhyno), the better, but it was nice to see Southpaw Regional Wrestling get a little love.
-- Two weeks, two guitars down. I hope Elias gets a bulk discount on guitars.