After more than a month of post-WrestleMania uncertainty, last week's edition of Monday Night Raw finally felt as though there was forward momentum as Money in the Bank became the focal point. As men and women competed for a spot in one of two ladder matches, tensions rose naturally between those who qualified and those who didn't.
With three more qualifiers on Monday in London, the picture became even clearer. Bobby Roode was the first to punch his ticket, outlasting No Way Jose and Baron Corbin while fueling tensions with the latter; later in the night, Alexa Bliss benefited from a chaotic finish to best Mickie James and Bayley to enter the women's Money in the Bank match. Finally, just a couple hours after he tore the house down in the opening match of the night against Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens got assists from Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns to lock in his own spot in Money in the Bank.
Reigns, Owens and Jinder Mahal were all pawns in Stephanie McMahon's revenge mission against Kurt Angle from afar, and effectively so, but the biggest news of the day stunningly came from the red carpet at the NBC Universal Upfront back in New York City. As the stars of dozens of other TV shows mingled around and did interviews and other promotional duties, Ronda Rousey started an interview with WWE's Cathy Kelley.
Within those two minutes, the entire direction of the Raw women's division was turned on its head. As Rousey buddied up with Charlotte Flair, Nia Jax walked into the frame and essentially hand-picked Rousey as her first post-Bliss challenger. Rousey played the humble, not-quite-ready-yet challenger fairly well, even asking Jax "What do you mean?" multiple times, before ultimately accepting the Raw women's champion's challenge for a match at Money in the Bank.
There's nothing wrong with a friendly challenge and healthy competition, to be sure, but the video strangely doesn't cut off with a face-to-face, or the friendly hug given to both women by Flair. Instead, fans essentially get to see all three women break character as they awkwardly walk away together. Let's dismiss the execution of this moment, for the time being, and dig more deeply into what it could mean for Rousey, Jax and everyone else in the mix on Raw.
After turning a lot of heads at WrestleMania, Rousey was in the midst of a slow, steady integration into the Raw women's division alongside Natalya. It felt perfectly natural, with their friendship outside of the ring and the training they did together providing the baseline for why they'd team up. Between tag-team matches and a seemingly inevitable breakup, Rousey had an ally (or opponent) she was highly familiar with to help her work her way through any growing pains. Jax, on the other hand, was set up as the champion of the bullied woman who had finally put Bliss in her past and seemed poised to fight off a few more villains.
The dramatic left-hand turn that brought the two women together doesn't really make much sense when considering the rest of what's going on with Raw. While the possibility of a non-finish or some kind of non-conclusive outcome at Money in the Bank remains -- we've seen plenty of those decisions of late -- this move feels like putting the cart before the horse. Whether it's about having the imagery of Rousey holding a title to post in ads all over New York City leading into SummerSlam, or just a dramatic change in creative direction for some other reason, it seems like a short straw for Jax to draw so early into her title reign.
Rousey has already surprised us once before when she was in the ring, but an intensely challenging four-week build lies ahead for both champion and challenger.
Seth Rollins continues to shine
It was aptly pointed out during Monday night's broadcast that something seemed to click for Seth Rollins during his intense, hour-long experience in a seven-man gauntlet match on Raw back in February. From that point on, it's hard to point to a single match in which Rollins hasn't elevated himself and his opponent(s) with a standout performance.
Rollins' Intercontinental championship reign has been everything Brock Lesnar's Universal championship reign has lacked. He's had regular challengers, both expected and unexpected, getting a chance in the spotlight and throwing everything they have at Rollins -- and Rollins, in turn, throws that effort back several times over. England has always been known to have rowdy crowds, but it doesn't seem coincidental that the "burn it down" shouts in time with Rollins' entrance music grow louder by the week.
This week's effort against Owens was a particularly effective outing for both guys. Owens caught a Rollins suicide dive early on in the match, tossed Rollins around like a rag doll and then, from out of nowhere, Rollins reversed Owens into a Falcon Arrow to put Owens on the apron. From that point on, there was a tense energy to the match that didn't let up until the end. From Rollins' suicide dive that saw him land beyond the ringside mats and onto Owens on the ramp, to the DDT that saw Rollins land completely vertically and Owens breaking out his Avalanche Fisherman's buster from the second rope, the match never took its foot off the pedal.
Add in the most natural-looking setup for Rollins' stomp to end the match, and you have another banner match for Rollins and Owens to hang their hats on. Rollins is on the roll of a lifetime, and if he's not seriously being considered as Lesnar's next challenger for the Universal championship, something is seriously amiss.
Roman Reigns haunts Jinder Mahal, Owens qualifies for MITB match
The juxtaposition of Roman Reigns' and Kevin Owens' interactions with Kurt Angle on Monday night was a masterfully executed piece of storytelling. As Reigns clamored for another shot to qualify for Money in the Bank, one week after Jinder Mahal cost him the match, Angle was forced to play the proxy of Stephanie McMahon and refuse any sort of second chance for Reigns. Meanwhile, Mahal was set up with a chance of his own in the main event -- but Reigns made sure that he'd never reach the ring in a pair of attacks.
After Reigns speared Mahal through a conspicuously-placed sheetrock wall, Owens stepped back into the picture and manipulated Monday Night Raw's power structure to his benefit. After two straight weeks of great performances in losses, against Rollins and Braun Strowman, Owens went over Angle's head, took Mahal's spot in the main event and, with an assist from Zayn, beat Bobby Lashley and Elias to qualify for Money in the Bank.
By interweaving Zayn (with his strange, budding rivalry with Lashley that has him inviting Lashley's sisters to Raw next week), Owens, Mahal, Reigns, Angle, McMahon and others into one overarching story, it felt as though most of Raw's stories weren't happening in their own individual bubbles for once. The fan reactions for Reigns-Mahal are sure to be strange once they actually step into the ring, and it might not be the perfect long-term solution to Reigns' problems with live crowds, but in the here and now there are shockingly a lot of things working.
Hits and misses
- Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler picked up a massive win over Braun Strowman and Finn Balor. After a few weeks of Ziggler being the focal point, McIntyre took center stage; his music hit second, he antagonized Strowman throughout the match and took every heel shortcut imaginable. McIntyre ultimately paid for his sins when Strowman sent him crashing through his Greatest Royal Rumble trophy, but in that moment McIntyre also won, as Ziggler took advantage of the chaos and pinned Balor. With a Raw tag team division that's ailing (more on that in a moment), these two are a shining beacon in the darkness.
- Alexa Bliss found herself on the outside looking in with a women's championship for the first time in years after Backlash, but she promptly inserted herself back into the spotlight by qualifying for the women's Money in the Bank ladder match by pinning Bayley. Speaking of Bayley, it looks like they're pulling the plug on the astonishingly poorly-executed Bayley vs. Sasha Banks rivalry after both women were apologetic and helpful to one another in recent weeks.
- Bobby Roode pinned No Way Jose to qualify for Money in the Bank while Baron Corbin was laid out on the outside. Not much more to say on that topic, other than Roode still feels completely out of place as a good guy.
- A six-woman tag-team match pitting Banks, Ember Moon and Natalya against the Riott Squad was another friendly reminder of how much the rest of the Raw women's division continues to impress. Moon proved why she'll be a valuable asset to the Money in the Bank match, while Riott and Banks showed why they each deserve another chance to fight their way in.
- The Raw tag team division continued to lack any real direction outside of the Raw tag team champions. Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy made quick work of The Revival, who didn't even get a televised entrance ahead of this match. The newly-minted "B-Team" of Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas was over in a big way with the London crowd, and got a shock win over Breezango to boot. B stands for best.
The opportunity to build the Raw tag-team division up after the Superstar Shakeup was there, with plenty of openings following the departure of The Bar and Gallows & Anderson. But The Revival just keeps on losing and spiraling, Breezango did absolutely nothing with their own surprise win over Sheamus and Cesaro, and The Authors of Pain have disappeared completely from Raw in recent weeks after their debut period left something to be desired; it's almost as though suddenly taking away their manager left them vulnerable to some growing pains.
In any case, Wyatt and Hardy either need genuine challengers or a trip back to the Hardy complex to shoot some weird vignettes. The lack of competition isn't doing them any favors either, and even though both are fully committed to making this team work, the state of the Raw tag-team division seems mostly beyond their control.