There are any number of reasons why Monday night should have been a triumphant and unmitigated success for Raw. A tremendous opening segment built genuine animosity between Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns, and much of that conflict played out in a main event that pointed towards a future rivalry.
Braun Strowman's shocking return months ahead of his previously announced recovery time hit the right notes, allowing Joe to pick up a big win over Reigns and immediately reigniting tensions between Strowman and Reigns. Elsewhere, Big Cass got his moment to shine with a scathing, heartbreaking promo that left Enzo Amore in tears and in the dust, with Corey Graves playing a big role in both that reveal and the ongoing Kurt Angle saga.
The ongoing storyline of the Titus Brand, the growing heat behind Elias Samson and even the employment of the oft-forgotten Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel by The Miz showed that when the mid-card gets even a little bit of love, certain superstars just need an opportunity to shine.
While there's a lot to celebrate on a night like Monday, Raw's shortcomings continue to linger just beneath the surface. Beyond the ongoing issues within the women's division, the program struggles to find and build up the right good guys (and girls) organically, and has difficulties keeping more than two tag teams at a time compelling. Before Raw can start to pull itself out of the creative morass it has found itself in (and a few more episodes like Monday's gem will go a long way), at least a few of those core issues have to be dealt with.
Friendship continues to be fleeting in 2017 as Big Cass breaks Enzo's heart
There was some heavy-handed storytelling leading up to the final moments of Big Cass' partnership Enzo Amore. When Graves proclaimed on commentary a few weeks ago that he'd love to shake the hand of the man who laid out Amore, Cass ended his cross examination by forcing Graves to shake his hand. The Revival was an interesting red herring at times, though Big Show made far less sense ... and did he essentially quit Monday night?
But the execution and emotion between the two long-time friends -- as Graves rolled the backstage footage of Cass staging the alleged attack on himself, revealing the latter's duplicitousness -- was truly jarring. As the scope of Cass' betrayal became clear, a single tear rolled down the face of a heartbroken Amore; the normally boisterous and loud-mouthed ball of energy stood stone-faced and silent as Cass peppered him with verbal abuse.
It was a truly career-defining promo for Cass, and it landed with an impact matched only by the force of his boot to Amore's face.
There were four years' worth of reasons behind Cass' words. Though the duo was one of the most popular acts in NXT and entered the WWE on a wave of momentum, the pair never came through when gold was on the line. During Amore's absence, Cass' star rose immediately as he got himself within arm's reach of the Universal title.
He'll be challenged to distinguish himself on a show with so many compelling villains, but the ferocity with which Cass tore down Amore emotionally -- and then physically -- bodes well for his immediate future. Even in a year where Kevin Owens tore down his friendship with Chris Jericho, and Tommaso Ciampa broke up one of the best feel-good stories that NXT has ever had, Cass and Amore's split still left fans stunned and heartbroken.
- WWE (@WWE) June 20, 2017
Samoa Joe hits his stride and Braun Strowman still isn't finished with Roman Reigns
What a difference a few weeks can make. A man who seemed the least likely out of the five competitors to emerge as the No. 1 challenger to Brock Lesnar's Universal championship has not only taken out Paul Heyman and stood toe-to-toe with Brock Lesnar in an intensely physical pull-apart, but also called out Roman Reigns for his altogether dismissive promo (during which he announced himself as the No. 1 contender) and, in a finishing touch, put Reigns to sleep with the Coquina Clutch in the middle of the ring Monday night.
Sure, Strowman certainly had something to do with how the match ended, but everything leading up to the close of that match was stunningly compelling. An Evansville crowd that was at times subdued came out of their seats by the time this match hit its peak.
And just listen to the reaction that Strowman got upon his return. An ambulance match seems like the most appropriate way to pay off this long-term rivalry.
Women's division gets lost in the shuffle
Until 10:48 p.m. ET Monday night, the only contracted female superstar to appear onscreen was Maryse. The controversy on SmackDown Live regarding Money in the Bank was addressed several times, but the program failed to reference a single women's match until then. There was no mention of Raw's women's division either, for that matter.
And then the show immediately cut to commercial.
When the show returned, it took less than a minute for Alexa Bliss to be chased ringside by Emma, ending the match in a disqualification. It took three women plus Bayley, who returned to only mild fanfare, to subdue Jax and end the segment.
Outside of a strange dynamic between Bliss and Jax, and Bayley being unable to unleash anything even vaguely menacing or mean, the Raw women's division is stuck without any kind of ongoing storyline. It all tends to break down into loosely tied-together 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 matches. On the night after the first women's Money in the Bank ladder match ended -- controversially -- with a man pulling down the briefcase, the opportunity was ripe to remind fans of how much faith the WWE has put into women's wrestling.
Instead, the evening felt alarmingly like a return to the token short segments that were commonplace pre-"Women's Revolution".
Hits and misses
- Elias Samson continues to get paired up with the biggest names on Raw, and continues to get under the skin of each and every crowd he performs in front of. This week's confrontations with Finn Balor, in which Balor interrupted Samson and then felt Samson's wrath for upstaging the latter's performance, is the perfect kind of two-to-three week distraction before attentions turn towards SummerSlam.
- Seth Rollins figured out how to beat Bray Wyatt's game -- simply attack as soon as the lights come on. The rivalry between Rollins and Wyatt has been hot and cold, but both hit their points in their promos and are increasing their physicality. It was one heck of a day for Rollins, who kicked things off Monday morning with his WWE 2K18 cover announcement on SportsCenter, and ended the night with three stitches on his face.
- The Miz's brightest runs have come when he has both the right opponent to play off of and the right kind of support alongside of him. Things didn't end up too well for Alex Riley or Damien Sandow in the long-term, but each certainly helped The Miz in a big way, and it looks as though it could be more of the same with Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. As long as they're willing to wear bear costumes, they'll never want for work.
- Titus O'Neil has taken something in the Titus Brand that felt flat and uninspiring in its earliest stages and turned it into an increasingly valuable tool. He's helped to transform Akira Tozawa -- who started to connect with crowds in a way that few in the cruiserweight division have before him -- into a legitimate contender who could challenge Neville's cruiserweight title. And the selfie game is off the charts.
- The situation between Graves and Angle gets stranger and more intensely personal by the week. Everyone seems interested in where it will all lead.
- Can Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson fall any further down the pecking order on Raw? They had a fairly competitive match with The Hardy Boyz this week, but they can't get so much as a whiff of momentum or proper creative direction.
Quote of the week
"You'll never be Samoa Joe to me. You'll always be just Joe."
Reigns has been wandering into uncharted territory by displaying some heelish tendencies, but it was interesting to see him get so hostile in this particular fashion with a fellow Samoan. There's a lot of heat between these two onscreen, and their tension is definitely worth revisiting somewhere down the line.