It wasn't just an ordinary Monday for the WWE. Monday brought news that will likely shift the trajectory of WWE and the wrestling business dramatically, with WWE and Fox reaching an immensely lucrative agreement in principle to bring SmackDown to broadcast TV in the Fall of 2019.
With much attention turned towards the entity, Monday Night Raw was seemingly a chance to prove why everyone should be excited about the future. It was an opportunity to showcase someone like Seth Rollins, who's on a remarkable run and drumming up as much crowd support of late of anyone in the Raw locker room, and the burgeoning women's division with performers like Ember Moon, Ruby Riott and Sasha Banks proving in recent weeks that there's another surge forward in progress.
What we got instead was an utterly tone-deaf attempt at humor that managed to overshadow everything else on the show -- good and bad -- and felt at least 25 years past its expiration date.
After a short promo and a teaser last week, we knew that Sami Zayn was set to invite Bobby Lashley's "sisters" to Raw to make a mockery of him. There was every reason to feel apprehensive about how this moment could play out, with even the best case scenario likely featuring something hokey, like Zayn and Kevin Owens doing some kind of Conan O'Brien-esque lip sync to mock Lashley as his sisters to draw his ire and likely face some physical consequences for their actions.
What happened instead was far worse. Zayn brought out three men dressed up as women, posing as Lashley's sisters, equipped with a broomstick, a helmet and a towel, respectively. All three were intended to represent caricatures of women that were clearly men, with two of the three using exaggerated high-pitch voices and the third sporting a mustache and trying less hard. It was clear from the moment those three unfortunate souls stepped into the ring that the live crowd wasn't having any of it, and yet, they pressed forward.
The end game was pretty clear -- Zayn was set to push as many buttons as possible, Lashley would come out and ultimately attack the performers, and Zayn would slip away from an angry opponent intent on seeking revenge. I don't think there was a lot of thought put into the segment beyond the surface intentions, and yet the implications of how things were laid out and executed present a great deal more questions than answers.
In an era in which WWE is priding itself on trying to embrace all of its fans, going so far as to have Finn Balor weave inclusivity of the LGBTQ community into his WrestleMania entrance, merchandise and gear, it unwittingly tripped over itself with a skit that would've felt pretty tired a decade ago. Everything they attempted to do during this segment was wrong, uncomfortable and clearly pushed those efforts a few steps back.
On top of it all, the segment wasn't funny in the least. The less we dig into the dialogue or the mind-boggling interview segment that led to it, the better. It'll go down in the "what the heck were they thinking" annals alongside "Bayley: This is Your Life" and "Old Day" as a representation of what not to do when you're trying to build a story. On a night when WWE could've either proven that they're willing to take creative chances or lean upon the stars they've built, they instead went for least common denominator humor and proved something else entirely.
Purposefully or not, WWE proved that with record amounts of rights fees money set to pour in and record stock values, poorly chosen creative directions and lazy writing can bounce off them like Teflon without much in the way of short-term consequences. In the long view, that kind of decision-making could be far more detrimental than any one poorly thought out decision.
Roman Reigns falls flat again
The first 50-plus minutes of Monday Night Raw was seemingly put together to do everything imaginable to squeeze out a positive reaction for Roman Reigns. Stephanie McMahon unexpectedly returned to chastise Kurt Angle, and then Reigns emerged to play some kind of Daniel Bryan-esque anti-authority figure. It elicited a few cheers, opposite one of the most universally booed characters on WWE TV, but nowhere near what a top "good guy" should get in such a scenario.
Kevin Owens stepped in and got the loudest jeers of the night -- for saying he was a big fan of Reigns. If that's not an indicator at how awry things have gone just wait, there's more. Owens and Reigns quickly got into a match, which was a solid effort on both sides but paled in comparison to Owens' masterpiece opposite Seth Rollins last week on Raw. Eventually Jinder Mahal, another of the most unpopular characters in the WWE Universe, got involved and triggered a disqualification.
Rollins came out to save his Shield compatriot, and a tag team match was the result. The difference in crowd reaction between Rollins and Reigns was staggering, and proved as clear as day that an organic, well-executed journey to the top will always beat a manufactured attempt at building up a hero. Between putting Reigns up against Mahal, and trying to siphon off any small piece of Rollins' overwhelming outpouring of fan support, this formula felt all too familiar.
After Rollins picked up the pinfall victory on Owens, and Mahal wielded a chair to get some measure of revenge, Rollins and Reigns sat atop the ramp. For weeks, Rollins has been getting deafening reactions -- but as Reigns' music hit, there was an eerie, apathetic silence. Entangling Rollins in the endless journey to get Reigns positive reactions come hell or high water, the will of the live crowds be damned, is a dangerous game to play with such a valuable asset. For at least the next couple of weeks, at least, it's what we're headed for, as Rollins defends his Intercontinental championship against Mahal next week on Raw and Reigns gets his shot at Money in the Bank.
- WWE (@WWE) May 22, 2018
Ronda Rousey signs contract for first WWE title shot
McMahon pulled double duty on Monday, as she also presided over the contract signing for the upcoming Raw women's championship match between Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey. She also did a lot of the heavy lifting at the microphone, drumming up animosity between two characters who have largely embodied positivity in recent weeks and months. It all ended up being fairly respectful, with Jax promising to build her name at Rousey's respect and Rousey assuring the world that she'd take Jax's arm and her title.
The lightning-quick build to this match isn't doing either of these women any favors, as they're both still trying to find their way in promos. McMahon held things together fairly well, but the conversation between champion and challenger felt stiff and over-rehearsed. Until Rousey can get to a point where her actions do most of the talking and her promos feel more conversational than acted, the woman of few words approach is likely her best bet.
- WWE (@WWE) May 22, 2018
- At the tail end of a three-hour show that had quite a few rough patches, the main event between Braun Strowman and Finn Balor was a remarkably fun match that told a great David vs. Goliath story. Balor picked and chose his spots, countered Strowman's signature offense at all the right times and more than held his own until Strowman hit a pair of powerslams to lock up the victory. Whereas Strowman has gotten into the habit of hitting an extra powerslam or five post-match, he picked Balor up and stood him up instead -- a rare sign of respect from the force of nature.
- Natalya was the lone qualifier for Money in the Bank, coming out of a Fatal 4-Way match where she beat Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan and Dana Brooke. Next week we'll get the final Raw qualifier for the women's Money in the Bank match in a seven-way, second-chance gauntlet that should offer some interesting opportunities.
- Dolph Ziggler and Chad Gable had a fun, if abbreviated match, as Ziggler and Drew McIntyre continued to pick up some momentum. Picking up matches already in progress was a theme throughout the night, and if any match on this night could've used a few of those "Bobby Lashley's sisters" minutes, it was this one.
- Ember Moon beat Alexa Bliss in a fun match that highlighted each of their strengths. The possibility of Moon hitting an Eclipse off of a ladder in a few weeks is an exciting prospect.
- The tag team division once again took a back seat on Raw, but the B-Team pulled out a second win over Breezango in as many weeks. Their Sharpie-emblazoned T-shirts are already catching on, with multiple fans in the crowd replicating the look, and it's hard to find a moment as joyous as Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel stealing Jonathan Coachman's chair and riding it down the ramp together after their win.