When you sit to break down the latest edition of Monday Night Raw, it's pretty easy to pick out a number of glaring flaws. The show opened with a red-hot Seth Rollins taking a pinfall loss to Elias in a match designed to get Roman Reigns sympathy and cheers, Baron Corbin got deputized as Stephanie McMahon's proxy "constable" and Ronda Rousey's flat affectation on commentary was pretty tough to get through during the Nia Jax vs. Natalya match.
The Sami Zayn-Bobby Lashley rivalry that already touched on a few raw nerves in terms of misogyny, doubled down with accusations of stolen valor, the only Raw tag team title contender with momentum behind them inexplicably got thrown into a battle royal and unceremoniously tossed out in short order, and the renewal of a somewhat forgotten tremendous rivalry from NXT in Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens ended with a DQ in the main event.
But even on a night where the only precipitous change to the equation for Money in the Bank was the B-Team of Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas winning a Raw tag team championship match in that aforementioned tag team battle royal, there were a number of moments on Monday night that indicated some light at the end of the tunnel.
Say what you want about changing the equation that made Rollins the most popular figure on Raw (and there is plenty to tackle there), the story continuity from week to week makes a lot of sense. After a steel chair was introduced into his Intercontinental championship defense against Jinder Mahal last week, ultimately leading to a DQ, Rollins eventually used a chair as a counter-measure to Sunil Singh's constant interference once again this week -- only this time, it backfired. Elias nailed a brutal DDT onto that chair, connected on the Drift Away, and pinned Rollins in the middle of the ring for what could easily be called the biggest win of his career. There's nothing wrong with adding some intrigue to Money in the Bank, and on that Sunday night Rollins can get back to what he's been doing best -- putting on tremendous matches.
- WWE (@WWE) June 5, 2018
Braun Strowman added to his highlight reel of absurdities in his match against Bobby Roode, when the latter set up a ladder as a ringside barrier only for Strowman to bring his fists crashing down on that ladder to snap it in two.
Despite the DQ finish, Balor landed a Coup de Grace from the top rung of a ladder on Owens.
- WWE (@WWE) June 5, 2018
Adjustments made in Rousey-Jax build
The biggest silver lining of all Monday night was mid-stream adjustment to what's going on between Rousey and Jax. In recent weeks, Jax had done a rapid and unexplained 180 degree change in character from the voice of the bullied to a giant bully in her own right simply to satisfy a need to present Rousey as a conquering hero. At least part of the backlash to this almost instantaneous change seemed to get through on Monday night, and regardless of how you feel about the execution between Rousey, Jax and Natalya, there's no denying the effort to wind things back to try to retain some of Jax's humanity and defined personality traits.
When Natalya went down with a knee injury towards the end of the match, Jax and Rousey were equally concerned with Nattie's health. Rousey got territorial and bumped Jax out to the outside, leading to a face-to-face confrontation, but in the ring and afterwards each leaned on their friendship with Natalya in an attempt to humanize each of them and attempt to put together a narrative to explain this hastily cobbled together Raw women's championship match.
Was it perfect? Of course not. But the potential ramifications, which go up to and including the possibility of Natalya being forced out of the women's Money in the Bank ladder match, bring some intrigue into next Monday's go-home Raw for a show that's often lacking stakes on a week-to-week basis.
It's time to take some chances with Roman Reigns
While there was a strong creative ending to the tag team match featuring Rollins, Reigns, Mahal and Elias, the opening effort for Raw fell into a familiar, troublesome pattern. The effort to take Rollins' momentum and popularity and make it rub off on Reigns by any means necessary feels eerily similar to moments over the past few years that did uber-popular guys like Daniel Bryan no favors while their moment in time was cresting.
When it comes to storytelling, WWE has been afraid to do much to tweak Reigns' character and that stasis has negatively affected everything he touches. There were some flashes in the build-up to WrestleMania when Reigns broke down the fourth wall that got the crowd excited, but in most ways he's still the same exact character he was in the months following the break-up of The Shield four years ago. He will always have his fans and sell a lot of merchandise, but there's no reason he can't do that and be a more dynamic character.
We're not talking about a heel turn here, but maybe take a few more creative chances on the microphone that feel like they have stakes. Change up the move-set a little bit, and remove the short-arm corner clotheslines that, while they may be quite painful in real life look like the least effective regularly used bit of offense in the entirety of the WWE. Narratives are built when you take what works, drop what doesn't and build up dynamic personalities and character traits. Give Roman Reigns a chance to be something other than a perpetual punching bag for large swaths of every live crowd he performs for.
Hits and misses
- The guitar versus chair standoff between Rollins and Elias to start the show had an Old West feel to it, and between his song, his expressions and his pinfall win, the opening portion of Raw did wonders for Elias. Working the neck, with everything from Rollins hurting himself on a suicide dive into the barrier to the DDT on the chair, gives the Money in the Bank title match something to build on.
- Curt Hawkins' 200th consecutive loss allowed him to do more on camera than anything he's done since campaigning to be Strowman's WrestleMania tag team partner. Houston was going wild for the possibility of free tacos (and not so crazy about an enhancement talent coincidentally named James Harden), only for Corbin to swoop in and break everyone's heart by initiating a DQ.
- There's no issue in trying to build up Rousey's first title shot and televised one-on-one match, but calling the Money in the Bank Raw women's championship match the biggest in that title's history is flat out wrong. How quickly have we forgotten about the intensely personal and landscape-shifting rivalry between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair that spanned many months and a number of tremendous matches?
- Since their debut during the Superstar Shakeup, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre have been set up as world beaters and a breath of fresh air for Raw. They have a dynamic tag team finishing move, and they've torn through every obstacle put in their way. In a world where Gallows & Anderson can show up, pick up one win over The Usos and suddenly be number one contenders to the SmackDown tag team championships, they've done more than enough to be worthy challengers to Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy. If WWE wanted them to continue to build up momentum and stay away from the titles for a while, there was no rhyme or reason in getting them involved in Monday's tag team battle royal, only for Ziggler to immediately get his team eliminated. Sure, they busted up some heads going into the commercial break, but why mess with a good thing when it's just getting rolling?
- Wyatt and Hardy have floated around in purgatory and weirdness for far too long since the Greatest Royal Rumble, and while the B-Team doesn't feel like a serious challenger, at least they have some forward momentum to work with now.
- The Riott Squad spent a short stretch getting believable victories and felt like they were building some momentum, but being the beneficiary of a retroactive DQ does very little for them. Perhaps Ruby Riott could step into Natalya's spot in Money in the Bank and rectify a significant oversight?
- The less we say about Lashley-Zayn, the better. Poking fun at Lashley's inspirational Instagram posts is all good fun, but Zayn accusing Lashley of not being a military veteran led to a very uncomfortable moment and a forced "USA" chant. Lashley needs to batter Zayn, get a decisive win, get better entrance music and then walk away from this poisonous rivalry.
- Next week we're set to get two Fatal 4-Way matches leading into Money in the Bank. Men's Money in the Bank participants Strowman, Owens, Balor and Roode will go at it and, if they're fit enough, women's Money in the Bank participants Natalya, Bliss, Banks and Ember Moon will have a match of their own.
- Despite the lack of need for another on-screen authority figure, Corbin playing the voice of logic in regards to Bayley's nonsensical attempt to join a six-woman tag team match that already featured six other women was a pretty nice touch.