The opening and closing segments of Monday night's go-home edition of Raw heading into Extreme Rules showed the two very different ways things are going in two of the headlining matches on the show.
To start things off, Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns defied the will of Kurt Angle and seemingly half of the Raw roster when they battled in and out of the ring for the better part of 10 minutes. Both Lashley and Reigns were seemingly able to toss their opponents all over the place at will, and though Reigns got the last laugh with a dive over the top rope onto Lashley and about a dozen other superstars (as well as a one-for-the-road forearm to top it off), both looked equally up to the task of the war to come. It was the strongest effort by both guys to this point in their budding rivalry, and though there are certainly some flaws in how we got to this match, interest in the spectacle to come has certain peaked heading into Sunday.
- WWE (@WWE) July 10, 2018
Conversely, Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins found themselves in the main event of the show via rather dubious circumstances after an in-ring promo went sideways in a hurry. It started with Rollins and Dolph Ziggler taking turns building each other up ahead of their Iron Man Intercontinental title match at Extreme Rules -- a refreshing change of pace to the typical style of modern WWE promo, as beating someone that's built up rather than someone you've been tearing down verbally for weeks is more impressive.
Once McIntyre got involved, however, Rollins appeared to allege that Ziggler had control of McIntyre because there was some kind of blackmail photo situation going on, with Rollins going well below the belt by inferring some kind of bestiality with a sheep.
If given the choice when Raw went on the air, a majority of fans likely would've preferred the idea of the latter, a match between two Raw standouts in the main event slot going for 20 minutes, instead of another battle of egos between Lashley and Reigns. To be fair it was a solid effort on McIntyre's part, with a few moments in which he flashed his freakish strength including a deadlift sitout powerbomb, on the way to a surprising victory.
In reality, it's all about what you're looking to get out of the show and whether the ends justify the means. If Monday night proved anything, it's that Raw is sometimes capable of delivering in a big way on either the build or the execution -- but there's still a lot of room for improvement in other parts of the show.
One need only look at how badly off the rails the situation with Bayley and Sasha Banks has gone in recent weeks for proof. The build-up to their break-up was mishandled from the jump, with false starts, brief reunions and a seemingly endless shuffle of tag team matches. Then, when it finally seemed as though their tensions had finally boiled over as Bayley leveled Banks and battered her from pillar to post. All but the most casual of WWE fan knows how far back their past goes, and how much they brought out of one another in a series of epic matches, and though there was a struggle to reach this point the excitement for this match to finally happen again was solid.
Then, for some inexplicable and still yet-to-be-explained reason, they were sent to "friendship counseling" under threat of being fired, rather than letting them fight out their differences in the ring. You know, the root motivation for almost everybody who has ever stepped into a professional wrestling ring? To settle differences via in-ring action? On a show that suggests multiple times a week to male competitors that, "On Raw, we settle things in the ring," Banks and Bayley were forced into a lame rehash with Dr. Shelby last week that had the occasional funny moment but largely failed both performers.
As if that failure wasn't enough, they went to a different counselor this week, and aside from a few stray words, Raw viewers got less than a minute of seeing or hearing what even happened in that office in a pair of look-ins. Not only has almost all interest for a can't-miss match and rivalry been stripped away through sheer apathy, but at a moment where they at least tried to garner either tension or humor, they found neither.
There's a fair bit to look forward to on the Raw side of things at Extreme Rules, but despite the depth of the Raw women's division at the moment, the lack of storytelling beyond the title picture is troubling.
Hits and misses
• Kevin Owens continues to be Raw's comic relief and yet he hasn't lost face despite every humiliating moment he's suffered at the hands of Braun Strowman. He got a doctor's note and hung out in Angle's office all night, only to find out he'll have nowhere to run on Sunday as a steel cage match against Strowman was added to the Extreme Rules card.
• It was telling that guys like Finn Balor and Bobby Roode were out in the ring trying to break up the Lashley and Reigns scrum. Both guys seem to be lost in the shuffle of Raw, and though there's something of a story between Balor and Baron Corbin, it's hard to feel like the former Universal champion (or the former United States champion Roode, for that matter) is living up to his potential at the moment. Their tag match against Corbin and Elias told an interesting story, with Corbin picking up the pinfall on Roode. Perhaps Roode and Balor could lift each other out of their slumps once we get past Extreme Rules.
On a side note, It's not often that Elias gets overshadowed musically, but "Itsy Bitsy Balor" gave Corbin the edge on Monday.
• All we saw of Ronda Rousey on this night was (an admittedly inspired) promo reveal for WWE 2K19. She'll have a front row seat for the Extreme Rules Raw women's championship match between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax on Sunday, but Jax and Bliss tangled as part of a tag team match that also featured Mickie James and Natalya on Raw. Jax flashed some impressive offense, especially with a high-elevation press slam and leg drop to pick up the win over James, but the match itself felt clunky at times. Bliss attacked post-match with a kendo stick -- seemingly her weapon of choice -- but Jax snapped it in half. It feels as though this should be the last of Jax and Bliss, with Rousey getting involved, but we've been fooled before.
• While the rematch between Ember Moon and Liv Morgan didn't quite reach the cohesion of their battle last week, Morgan moved around well and kept up with Moon throughout. She also delivered a pair of moves that channeled a twist on some Trish Stratus classics; with a middle-rope bulldog spiked Moon on her head, as well as a duck into a full bridge to avoid a kick, Morgan flashed the kind of moveset that she wasn't often able to show previously. Moon picked up the win via a creative jackknife roll-up, and continued to prove why her future looks so bright.
• Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel continued the dress-up act, but with Dallas picking up another win for the B-Team over Matt Hardy, their impressive winning streak continued despite the post-match attack from Hardy and Bray Wyatt. This Raw tag team title match has all the trappings of a kickoff show assignment, but we shall see.
• We finally got a rematch between Mojo Rawley and No Way Jose that was four weeks in the making. I can't imagine it was a coincidence that the conga line fled from ringside and there were no cheeseburgers for Mojo to harass. It was another decisive win for Rawley, which gives a pretty clear indication of where these two stand.