When Monday Night Raw is at its very best, the wrestling and non-wrestling segments each hit the right notes, and evoke the kind of emotions that wrestling fans long to feel.
There was certainly no absence of drama Monday night in Los Angeles, to be sure, and whether it was the sideshow that was LaVar Ball and his sons on Miz TV, or the bevy of near-perfect moments the WWE hit throughout the rest of the night, the emotional roller coaster of the evening led to a big net win across the board.
With only one more edition of Raw to follow before the Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view, there was a lot to get done, and despite the circus atmosphere at the Staples Center, the direct hits far outweighed the head scratchers.
Samoa Joe plays the shark to perfection, lands warning shot on Lesnar
For weeks, Samoa Joe has played the predatory villain to near-perfection. It started with an attack on Paul Heyman in the middle of the ring, and continued as Joe wasted little time in starting a pull-apart where he managed to get the slight edge. It came to a head on Monday as he blindsided Brock Lesnar and nearly choked out the Universal champion at the top of the ramp, before a handful of superstars had to pull him away.
But one man can only do so much. Heyman got not one, but two chances to flex his vocal chords on this particular edition of Raw -- and he was in peak form for both opportunities, stoking the burning coals into a full-fledged blaze less than two weeks out from the upcoming clash of titans.
As Heyman stood alone in the ring, calling Samoa Joe every name in the book including a "Samoan dumba--" while managing not to downplay his abilities or the danger he posed. That kind of high-wire act is one that few outside of Heyman can pull off, and it gave Lesnar the perfect introduction -- and perhaps just enough cockiness -- that the sneak-attack landed even heavier
Even after his beast was proven to be mortal earlier in the evening, Heyman doubled down during a backstage interview. Despite looking sweaty and a bit frazzled, Heyman immediately snapped back into his swagger and went so far as to say that, "As a promoter, I'm loving it," of the ever-increasing anticipation for the Lesnar-Joe showdown. The nuance and attention to detail here put the cherry on top of the sundae, and with a Lesnar appearance far from a given next Monday, this edition of Raw provided a nice crescendo leading into the pay-per-view.
Nia Jax shines in main event spotlight, but Sasha Banks gets last laugh
After the last few weeks in the WWE have left a lot to be desired in the world of women's wrestling, Monday's main event was a truly refreshing step in the right direction. For over 30 minutes, six women battled for the right to face Alexa Bliss at Great Balls of Fire -- or, more specifically, Nia Jax battled all five other women, one-by-one, until the only woman standing in her way was Sasha Banks.
After imposing her will on her first four opponents and picking up one-sided pinfalls over each one of them, Jax seemed poised to do the same to Banks. But by employing a rope-a-dope strategy that forced Jax to expend incredible amounts of energy, following four previous matches, Banks was able to eventually wear down her much larger opponent and earn a submission victory. The strategy was not without its flaws -- Banks took a tremendous amount of punishment for nearly 15 straight minutes -- but in the end, a well-timed flying knee and several different variants on the Banks Statement finally got the job done.
There hasn't been much in the way of a one-on-one build between Bliss and Banks in recent weeks, but there's potential brewing, to be sure. It could very well be the road we're heading down for SummerSlam as well, but rest assured -- Jax will play a big role in the Raw women's title picture going forward.
Big Cass gives Enzo Amore a false sense of hope, then rips it all away
The last few months of Enzo Amore and Big Cass hasn't been the most memorable part of their run, but as fans watched the dying embers of their partnership fade out, the desperate emotional pleas of Amore tugged deeply at the heartstrings, just as Cass' speech did last week.
A clearly distraught Amore came out and did the first part of his entrance with the usual bombast, but upon looking back and seeing nothing, he hung his head slightly and finished the bit without referencing Big Cass and his height. He stepped into the ring and pleaded for Cass, who had ducked his messages all week, to talk to him man-to-man. He got his wish, and Amore dug deep to deliver the most emotional moment of his professional career.
For several minutes, like a significant other hoping to overlook a major indiscretion and move on, Amore bared his soul in the hopes of getting through to his friend.
"Last week, you might've broke my heart, you might have nearly broken my face, but you're my brother. And that's a bond that I refuse to let you break," Amore said. "Do you understand that? You're my family, bro. Forget this -- wrestling, WWE, life -- you are my brother in life...
"And that journey ain't nearly over. Now, what you did to me is in the past. I don't have time to dwell on the dead. Last week I looked into your eyes, and I saw passion. I saw anger. I saw pain. I saw love. I saw emotion. And I know you saw that same love and passion roll down my cheek. The last time that I saw that, I was laying in a hospital bed, and I woke up from being knocked out on a pay-per-view, and I saw it in your eyes."
A visibly shaken Cass seemingly came to his senses, if for a moment, and got Amore to lower his defenses long enough for them to walk up the ramp once more, together. That's when he clotheslined his diminutive partner and then tossed him through the air, halfway down the ramp.
- WWE (@WWE) June 27, 2017
When the show came back from commercial, Cass came out to confront Corey Graves for spilling the beans last week, and that the only thing keeping Cass from crushing Graves was the pleas of GM Kurt Angle.
That slow, subtle burn of the still largely undefined Angle-Graves story carried on, and wasn't mentioned again. It continues a growing line of brilliantly nuanced storytelling, on top of everything else.
Braun Strowman still isn't finished with Roman Reigns... go figure
Roman Reigns gave Samoa Joe props, called Braun Strowman a coward, and accepted the ambulance match for Great Balls of Fire. A phantom ambulance backed into the arena, and Reigns opened the rear doors only to find no one in the back. That was long enough for Strowman to blindside him.
After another beat-down, Strowman threw Reigns into the back of the truck, and that was that. Simple, easy, and they got in and out of it in the opening segment to great effect.
Akira Tozawa gets his shot
Akira Tozawa is strangely the perfect fit for the Titus Brand. He officially accepted his invitation this week, and the improvements to his wardrobe were immediate. Most importantly, it allows Tozawa to just do his thing in the ring while Titus O'Neil does all his talking for him. The match against Neville at Great Balls of Fire is official, and it should be a good one.
LaVar Ball brings chaos and energy to WWE airwaves
We already dug into the "highlights" of this moment, thanks to the live reports of Arash Markazi from the Staples Center, but what started out as a fun, wacky moment quickly devolved. The dropping of a couple of expletives by LaMelo Ball seemed to short-circuit the proceedings in a hurry, and caused a fair amount of the wrong kind of buzz on social media. But at least Dean Ambrose got a free shirt.
Six-man matches on the road to nowhere
What Ambrose didn't get, however, was a great match. In one of two separate six-man tag team matches on the night, which did little other than to give Miz's new entourage a slight rub, Ambrose did little to advance his ongoing rivalry with The Miz. The introduction of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel into the picture seems like a good thing in the long-term for Miz, but a rivalry that's carried on for a long time and had no right to be as entertaining as often as it's been is starting to lose steam at a rapid pace. Let Great Balls of Fire be the end of it.
As for the other six-man match, which pitted Finn Balor and The Hardy Boyz against Elias Samson, Sheamus and Cesaro, there wasn't much to speak of that changed by the end of the match. Most notably, actor Josh Duhamel, he of Transformers fame, among many other credits including an upcoming USA show and a WWE films directorial project, added to a long list of folks who found themselves on commentary over the last few years that had no right to be there. Anything this match could've been went swiftly down the drain the moment he sat down.
Move of the night
Sasha Banks' modified Banks Statement ... all of them, in fact. The transitions at the end of the match that eventually led to an immensely painful-looking variation on Banks' typical finishing submission sold just how much effort it took for Banks to put away Jax. After Jax had put away four other women, it further pushed just how physically dominant she can be.