Brock Lesnar returned to Monday Night Raw and was welcomed back by SmackDown’s Randy Orton, his opponent at SummerSlam in three weeks. WWE had to walk a fine line here. Orton and Lesnar are on separate brands, and just two weeks into the brand split, we already have someone crossing brand lines.
That’s not the best option, but for WWE to build to the SummerSlam match, it’s the only way possible. It seems that this Orton-Lesnar match, which was announced prior to the Draft, may have booked prior to WWE deciding where Orton and Lesnar were going to land, brandwise.
The positive spin on this is that WWE played it up as Orton going into business for himself. Him showing up on Raw was not sanctioned by the WWE, as he entered and exited through the crowd.
Meanwhile, Paul Heyman’s promo was — once again — incredibly strong. He sold Lesnar as a monster, while not mentioning his UFC win directly … smart move, given his subsequent issues failing drug tests.
That was also strategic placement by WWE, putting Lesnar on last. Not only did it make the people who wanted to see him stay until the end of the show, but it was also the best chance WWE had of getting out of the segment without too many jeers regarding the USADA failure. The crowd is just too drained after a three-hour live show (even longer if you include Superstars matches) to get too much on Lesnar’s case.
Although that didn’t seem to be an issue with Roman Reigns, who was always booed whether he was on last or first. So maybe this is just more an indication that the WWE fanbase doesn’t care about Lesnar’s USADA issues.
1. Charlotte & Chris Jericho beat Sasha Banks & Enzo Amoree
This match had some really good energy, as Enzo Amore typically provides. It was cool to see Enzo on his own, instead of having the muscle of Big Cass behind him, even though Cass made an appearance at the end of the match.
Enzo and Sasha Banks had some genuine chemistry during the promo. I wouldn’t do it right now, this early into his WWE run, but Enzo being paired with a love interest at some point could provide some good comic relief, in a way that works for WWE and pro wrestling. There are a lot of places WWE can go with Enzo, the character, putting him in some unique situations.
2. Braun Strowman beat Evan Anderhold
I’m a huge fan of the way WWE is booking both Strowman and Nia Jax. Several weeks of them dominating enhancement talent will make their first singles matches with more worthy (full-time) opponents feel special and the hope is that the first person to actually beat them gets a great rub off of it.
3. The Shining Stars beat Golden Truth
The Golden Truth didn’t seem to be getting a great reaction from the live crown. They just didn’t seem very into the act, although I liked the pre-match segment backstage. With three hours on Raw, WWE should be getting some of these midcard tag teams involved in things, but they clearly need to do more in order for the audience to invest.
In part, that’s because these types of acts were mistreated for so long on television, essentially serving as enhancement talent, rather than WWE simply bringing in and utilizing enhancement talent the way they are now on television.
4. Rusev beat Mark Henry to retain the U.S. Title
The commentary was really great for this match, selling how huge a win this would be for Mark Henry if he were to win the U.S. Title. Henry’s promo before the match talking about having one more good run in him, chasing the U.S. Title, was also really good. The match, considering both of these guys have some limitations, was strong. I really liked the segment and would be on board for more of a rivalry here, rather than just a one-off.
Roman Reigns appeared after the match and helped save Henry from a beatdown. Rusev-Reigns could be good, and moving forward I wonder what the audience reaction is to Reigns if he’s out of a main-event spot and more in an upper-midcard role with Rusev. This might help rebrand his image, or it could be that WWE has done too much damage already trying to force Reigns.
5. Titus O’Neil beat Darren Young
This was a very confusing segment. Titus O’Neil seemed to be playing the role of the heel, but then Darren Young attacked Titus after the match and had to be pulled off by Bob Backlund. I think the purpose was to play up Young transforming into that crazy character Backlund began playing in 1994, and has played ever since.
6. Nia Jax beat Ariel Monroe
See above for what I wrote on Strowman’s squash win. These are good things.
7. Kofi Kingston & Big E beat The Club
There was some weird booking in this match. Basically New Day rolled up Gallows and Anderson right at the beginning of the match, not long after they did a “too sweet” sign.
The Club tried to beat down the New Day after the match, which helped get some of their heat back, but the finish made them both look like two idiots, to be honest.
8. Cesaro beat Sheamus
After the poor booking in the last match, I liked the booking here quite a bit. WWE ran a backstage segment with Mick Foley prior to the match, where he explained that both Cesaro and Sheamus seemed upset at their draft position. Foley made good points to Cesaro about his shoulder, for instance, being the reason for his fall in position.
Then he booked the match, and told them to take out their frustrations.
The match was pretty even, with the announcers really selling that either man could win. This was more an effort to elevate Cesaro, as I’m guessing WWE views Sheamus as being higher up on its booking ladder.
Sheamus badly needs a restart. It’s almost hard to believe he was WWE Champion just about eight months ago. But booking matches like this, with some story and purpose behind them rather than just presented for no apparent reason, is a welcome change.
9. Jinder Mahal beat Heath Slater
Heath Slater is still playing the “free agent” gimmick. Foley came out here and told Slater and the returning Mahal, who were in the ring, that he had one open spot on the roster and they would wrestle to see who would win the contract.
Mahal kicked Slater, as Slater was telling Foley a wedge couldn’t be driven between band members, and picked up the win and the contract.
10. Seth Rollins beat Sami Zayn
This was a good wrestling match, but I was taken out of the moment, never expecting Zayn to win the match with Rollins heading into a title match at SummerSlam. WWE wasn’t ending the show on this note, with Lesnar returning in the final segment, which is a good thing because despite some great wrestling, something felt flat here with a predictable finish.
Looking back, this is why you didn’t see Hulk Hogan on WWF Superstars every week back in the 90s. WWE has more hours of television to fill now, of course, so I’m not saying that’s possible, but giving Rollins something else to do, or putting him in a tag match opposite Zayn & someone else, might have worked better.