WWE occasionally gets caught up in its own hyperbole, hyping first-ever matches and moments that are exciting and new as potential industry-altering milestones.
But when it comes to Sunday's No Mercy pay-per-view, the marquee seems like it's living up to the hype. The build to each of the matches in the double main event -- billed as a pair of WrestleMania-caliber clashes -- has taken a divergent path, but both the Universal championship match between Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman and the first-ever one-on-one showdown between John Cena and Roman Reigns have hit the crest of their waves of momentum at just the right time.
Monday's edition of Raw did a particularly good job of taking an already heavily anticipated match between Lesnar and Strowman and squeezing out a few more drops of excitement in a variety of subtle ways. The match was hyped up throughout the night, starting with a video package that recapped Strowman's physical destruction of "The Beast" over the course of the last month. It was a healthy reminder of what we have to look forward to on Sunday, but the most interesting flourish was the consistent effort to draw parallels between Strowman and Lesnar's unprecedented run to the top in 2002 by using highlights, and even a clip of Paul Heyman from 15 years ago that could easily have been describing Strowman in the modern day.
While split-screen backstage interviews have seemingly become a crutch for WWE in certain situations, Lesnar once again made the most of the moment. Just as Samoa Joe got to have a big moment by charging through the backstage area and hunting down Lesnar a few months ago, Strowman quietly simmered with an intensity and confidence that reinforced just how one-sided this rivalry has been. As Heyman circled back to his standard talking points time and again -- all of Lesnar's titles in all of the different disciplines, ending the Undertaker's streak -- Strowman barely flinched as he lobbed back response after response.
Eventually, Lesnar put a stop to it all and cut Heyman off. He slid forward in his seat, until his face took up almost half of the screen, and Lesnar addressed Strowman for the final time.
"Braun, I want to thank you. Thank you for backing me into this corner, and challenging me. That's when I'm at my best. See you Sunday. Suplex City, b----."
Whether this was a pride before the fall moment, with Strowman thrust into the once-unlikely role of Universal champion, or a champion finally getting his bearings, the cooldown in physicality was perfectly timed. Feeling unsatisfied, Strowman also got to take out his physical frustrations on Enzo Amore, who he blindsided and physically destroyed for the fun of it.
As far as Reigns and Cena, who haven't had so much as a whiff of physicality between them, Monday was an entirely one-sided affair. With Cena nowhere to be found, likely still traveling back from the WWE's live event in Shenzhen, China, Reigns was able to capitalize on the momentum he and Cena built over the last few weeks to deliver his strongest effort to date by doing what he does best -- keeping it simple.
After offhandedly dropping the name Alex Riley, a former WWE superstar often pointed to by many as the most glaring example of Cena allegedly burying a young talent, Reigns dropped a few choice curses that didn't quite make it through the censors. He then played a lengthy February 2012 clip of Cena running down The Rock for being a part-timer and Hollywood-obsessed.
Reigns repeated the final line -- "See you next week, movie star" -- and that was that. As much as Lesnar/Strowman feels like a straightforward big man clash of the titans, most of the allure of Cena/Reigns comes from the fact that they haven't yet come to blows. We don't really know what to expect,and the timing of this particular match is so puzzling. In any case, we'll start to get our answers at No Mercy.
Hits and misses
• Bayley got a happy hometown moment by coming to the aid of Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss, of all people, as Nia Jax tried to lay out both of her No Mercy opponents in the ring. Seemingly recovered from a nagging shoulder injury, Bayley helped fight Jax off and, after Bliss tried to make friends, ended a double-team attack with a Bayley-to-Belly on the Raw women's champion.
That was apparently enough to get her added to the Raw women's title match on Sunday. As the former champion and a top contender, she's by no mean out of place in this match, but the thorough lack of attention to detail in her being added to the match was perhaps the lone major blemish on this edition of Raw. Would it have hurt to have a 30-second moment where Kurt Angle came out and announced she was added to the match? Or have Bayley approach Angle backstage to tell him she was ready?
As much as Nia Jax has been hyped of late, including her victory over Bliss on Monday, it seems as though Raw is creatively just burning time in the women's division until Asuka arrives. There's also a case to be made that Raw's other big potential big money rivalry, revisiting NXT's biggest, and most important women's rivalry, between Banks and Bayley, continues to lay down breadcrumbs for when their friendship ultimately crumbles.
• It was good to see actual forward progress in the Jason Jordan/Kurt Angle saga. Good matches against Cena and Reigns were nice, but after Jordan dispatched both Hardy Boyz, Elias and the Miztourage in the main event of Raw, including a spot of interference from Miz himself, we're finally getting Jordan versus Miz for the Intercontinental title at No Mercy.
The Miz recently passed Honky Tonk Man, who holds the single longest reign as Intercontinental champion in WWE history, for the third-most combined days as IC champ. He's also second to Chris Jericho with seven runs with that title. Say what you want about Miz's in-ring style, but the Intercontinental championship's long-standing reputation as a workhorse's title oddly fits Miz to a T, even if it doesn't fit the traditional definition.
• We got a good triple-threat tag team match between Sheamus & Cesaro, Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose and Gallows & Anderson, but ... why? It seemed like a lot to give away, for what it was. I still for the life of me can't understand why Gallows & Anderson were kept on Raw after the superstar shakeup if this was the plan, unless their only true role is to make everyone else look better. AJ Styles or Finn Balor would only be enhanced with those two on their hip, and neither of those stars would become less liked or less popular if the duo was added.
As far as the match goes, it served as another reminder that a full-fledged Rollins versus Cesaro rivalry (and not just a one-off match like we've seen a few times) could be a lot of fun in the future, if done correctly.
• Enzo Amore took another shot (several, in fact) at the hands of both Strowman and Neville, who dodged the giant and hit a Red Arrow on Amore for good measure as he cackled with glee. They are really playing this situation up as Amore taking all of the licks and continuing to move forward. Could Enzo truly pull off the upset? Neville had an entertaining, if random, match against Gran Metalik, in which a mask-tearing moment seemingly went wrong and exposed most of Metalik's face.
• Goldust came out and wrestled Bray Wyatt without his facepaint, showing shades of his long-ago character "The Natural" Dustin Rhodes, as Corey Graves expertly pointed out. This also happened on the same day when WWE teased a Thanksgiving weekend live event they're calling Starrcade, in Greensboro, North Carolina, no less.
Not only are they promising one heck of a card, with two steel cage matches including one with Charlotte Flair, but both Goldust and Michael P.S. Hayes (since deleted) beckoned Cody Rhodes to come back for a one-shot tag team match after Cody blasted WWE for not giving credit to Dusty Rhodes for having created the event and not making it a big enough deal. Starrcade was the NWA (and later WCW)'s equivalent to WrestleMania. The likelihood of Cody coming in seems slim, but what a cool moment that would be.
• Curt Hawkins losing streak hit 115 against Apollo Crews, complete with an on-screen counter. How long can it go?
• The Bobby Heenan tribute throughout the night toed the line of not completely overshadowing the show while still honoring one of the WWE's biggest legends. The video package midway through the show was expertly executed.