For as heavily as Raw has leaned upon the bells and whistles of returning legends and last-minute title swaps to overcome the lack of a balanced show in recent weeks, there was a refreshing nature to the simplicity of how Monday's episode came to a close.
With the announcers' table in shambles following an action-packed six-man tag team match in the main event, the ensuing brawl on the stage was presented without commentary. Superstars Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins traded big spots and stiff finishing moves during a wild melee as the red-hot reactions from Little Rock, Arkansas crowd joined the audible carnage in providing the soundtrack.
To pardon the cliché, this was as "raw" as pro wrestling gets on WWE, providing a sense of realism to the intensity and violence that is often lacking. It was also the perfect climax to an episode that retained an extra level of attitude and energy than is typically seen.
Nia Jax ruthlessly targeted the injured knee of Sasha Banks during a blindside attack before the show that was creatively shot. Even the undisputed low point of the three-hour broadcast, a meandering segment of trash talk and ill-advised rhyming between Charlotte and Bayley, was laced with nasty undertones, as Charlotte relentlessly mocked Bayley's real-life superfandom.
Maybe it was more than a coincidence that Raw retained such a fresh feeling during a week in which its on-screen authority figures were absent. But even the gaping wound of the Triple H/Universal title plot hole (with his Raw hibernation reaching 140 days) was largely forgotten thanks to the balanced and gritty flow of the episode.
Most importantly, WWE's top performers were presented in a manner that best respected the core of their character. This was most evident by the look in Owens' eyes as he violently powerbombed Reigns through the announcer's table to close the show after taking out Rollins with a chair.
- WWE (@WWE) January 17, 2017
Booked as much more of a comedic foil to "best friend" Jericho of late than a dominant Universal champion, Owens brought back the snarl of the unrepentant heel monster with whom WWE fans first fell in love.
From the rush of Brock Lesnar's first appearance since Survivor Series in the opening segment, to the well-orchestrated blending of different feuds and storylines in the main event, Raw did well to bring excitement just two weeks out from the Royal Rumble and the kickoff to WrestleMania season.
Hits and misses
There's certainly an argument to be made that Lesnar's brief showing in the opening segment of Monday's show was a waste, considering the limited amount of appearances his part-time schedule affords WWE. But used exclusively as a tease for the Royal Rumble, Lesnar made the most out of every second he was in the ring. From viciously clotheslining Rollins to handing out an F5 to Reigns and a German suplex to Sami Zayn, Lesnar's mere presence raised the level of intensity on the broadcast in a way that's unique to WWE. He remains the top "special attraction" the company has to offer, and the tease of his staredown opposite Strowman set an appetizing foundation for what's to come in the weeks and months ahead.
For as polarizing as the "Dusty finish" has become to fans over the years, the WWE did well to catch viewers off guard with the booking in Monday's Raw tag team championship match. After Sheamus accidentally knocked out referee John Cone with a forearm, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson connected with their Magic Killer finishing move on Cesaro, and were initially given a pinfall victory by a replacement referee. Cone, however, was revived in time to change the outcome to a disqualification, adding more fuel to a rivalry with strong in-ring potential.
While his rare television time of late has been reduced to jobbing out to the stars (with Monday's loss to Big E no different), there remains an untapped element to Titus O'Neil's potential. Say what you will about his forgettable "Titus Brand" shtick, O'Neil never ceases to entertain inside the ring when booked as a physical heel. It's a persona that matches his move set well, and there was elements of it that came out against Big E.
Bayley's illogical "rap battle" with Charlotte, which featured a trio of uncomfortably bad poems, may have been the final step in burying any buzz with which Bayley debuted on the main roster after SummerSlam.
Just three episodes into Raw in 2017, there might not be another superstar who has done more with the time provided him than Neville during his current heel turn. His violent attack of WWE cruiserweight champion Rich Swann was the perfect advertisement for how much Neville's presence has been a positive change to the must-see value of 205 Live on Tuesday nights. Neville's current run illustrates one of WWE's finest repackaging job to a superstars in years.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) January 17, 2017
Move of the night
Roman Reigns' spear of Braun Strowman onto the stage was as stiff and impactful as it gets. Reigns came in high on Strowman with a running start, and laid it in strong in a manner of which even Goldberg would have been proud. [Editor's note: No gifs or video to be found online of this, which is interesting.]
Line of the night
"How do you think I feel, Mike? This is a guy that I've beaten twice. What is this, an endless cycle? He challenges me, and I obliterate him. He challenges me and I obliterate him! He challenges me and I obliterate him! Is that what you want, Mike? Because that's what is going to happen. And by the way, don't you ever, ever interview me like this again." - Neville, to WWE announcer Mike Rome, upon hearing TJ Perkins challenged him to a match at 205 Live on Tuesday.