Following Sunday night’s Battleground PPV, the WWE was faced with multiple options at the top of the card. The Undertaker returned, destroying Brock Lesnar’s hope of reclaiming the WWE Championship. Would this mean a one-on-one rematch from their epic clash at WrestleMania XXX? Or would Seth Rollins, who escaped unharmed and with his title intact, be thrust into the mix? And what about John Cena and Kevin Owens? Is their feud over or would it stretch into SummerSlam? WWE didn’t wait long in answering all of these questions with one of the most aggressive episodes of Raw in weeks.
Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker: This show was built completely around the showdown between the returning Undertaker and the volatile Lesnar. For the first time in years, Raw opened with the Undertaker making his way to the ring, and that same ominous mystique was there to envelop the crowd. WWE is still taking a middle-of-the-road stance on Undertaker at this point. The crowd love him, but his actions at Battleground were clearly heelish, especially the low blow he delivered. Yet, the Undertaker’s reason for returning is fairly noble. He expressed anger that Paul Heyman and Lesnar continually boast about ending his undefeated streak. But Lesnar is also considered a face right now, making for the rare face vs. face battle. When Lesnar hit the ring like a bat out of Hell, it kicked off a brawl that involved literally the entire WWE roster and jumped this feud to the to of the charts in terms of importance. No matter what else happens, Undertaker vs. Lesnar will be the main event of SummerSlam, especially now that the match has been officially confirmed. The only thing that was odd about this was that Undertaker didn’t mention Kane once. Not that WWE needed help in making this match seem important, but they did an excellent job (along with some selling by Paul Heyman) of making this feel like the biggest rematch in all of wrestling.
John Cena and Seth Rollins: Lost in the shuffle after Battleground was WWE Champion Seth Rollins. He isn’t naturally a fit for the Lesnar/Undertaker feud, and had no immediate opponents on the horizon. The same could be said for John Cena after his U.S. Title win over Kevin Owens. WWE rectified that situation last night by having Cena come out to challenge Rollins, saying “The title doesn’t make the man, the man makes the title”. It’s a direct shot at Rollins’ cowardice compared to Cena’s many successful open challenge title defenses. But it also immediately devalues Rollins’ entire run as champion, and this may be the WWE’s subtle acknowledgement that it hasn’t been a great success, especially from a ratings standpoint. At the same time, this war of words between Cena and Rollins is springing from a natural place of competition, and that is definitely a plus.
Brie Bella vs. Charlotte: There were 22-minutes of women’s wrestling action on tonight’s Raw, almost unheard of for WWE TV. It’s a step in the right direction, and this match, which features Charlotte forcing Brie Bella to tap out just as she did at Battleground, was a nice showcase Ric Flair’s daughter. Clearly, WWE sees her as the crown jewel of the NXT women as she’s getting the biggest push. They run the risk of making Team Bella look weak with all of these losses, though, which would undermine the idea that they’ve supposedly been running things for years. Speaking of which….
Sasha Banks and Naomi (w/Tamina) aka Team BAD vs. Becky Lynch and Paige: Getting the short shrift of this Divas faction war has been Team BAD, who have yet to have a chance to showcase what they can do in the ring. Tonight fixed that, as NXT Women’s champ Sasha Banks put on a clinic, mostly at the expense of Lynch. Meanwhile, Banks got to show off her arrogant personality while bad-mouthing her opponents throughout, and she even scored the submission victory over Paige. Tonight was a good step for WWE in establishing these women as individuals while building the tension between all of the groups. And so far none of the women have been turned “crazy” yet; it’s been solely about competition, which seems to be a growing theme in WWE lately.
Luke Harper (w/ Bray Wyatt) vs. Roman Reigns (w/ Dean Ambrose): A solid reintroduction to Luke Harper, who has long been one of the best big-man grapplers in the WWE. Reigns took most of the punishment, selling a busted up arm, which gave Harper the chance to show off his versatile offense, including an impressive slingshot swanton back into the ring. The presence of Wyatt and Ambrose virtually guaranteed there would be no finish, as a likely setup for a tag team match down the road.
Prime Time Players vs. Los Matadores: If the WWE was looking for a way to run the Prime Time Players’ push into a brick wall, having them wrestle Los Matadores was a good way to do it. Having them actually lose to Los Matadores, even due to a distraction by New Day, was even worse. This was a sad way to follow-up a decent match at Battleground, and suggests WWE is at a loss on how to stretch the feud another month. Adding more teams to the mix, especially a team like Los Matadores which the audience isn’t interested in, may not be the best move. As for the match quality, it was basic stuff from the PTP with Darren Young getting beat up before making the hot tag to Titus O’Neil.
Big Show vs. Miz: At Battleground, Big Show silently walked out to the ring and knocked out a jabbering Miz in less than five seconds. This was basically that, only stretched out an extra minute. Ryback’s absence has hurt this Intercontinental Title feud more than WWE was prepared for.
John Cena, Randy Orton, and Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens, Rusev, and Sheamus: What could have been a hot match between six fired-up competitors was instead bogged down in the bland Lana/Rusev/Summer Rae love triangle. With Summer Rae now dressing and acting like Lana, it was only a matter of time before their beef carried out to the ring. Add to it some awkward and strangely-placed animosity between Owens and Sheamus and this main event just never gelled. On the plus side, the live crowd loved it, especially when Rusev was left all alone to eat three finishers from his opponents, ending with a nasty RKO from Orton. This probably should have been a dark match rather than a televised main event.