Dedicating a significant portion of a three-hour episode of Monday Night Raw to telling one overarching story is typically a huge risk, with the possibility of overexposing any one particular storyline and souring fans on the idea for good. But there are obvious exceptions to that rule, and when it's done right it can be an engrossing experience.
From the opening moments of Raw, many of its biggest players were pulled into the slow burn of the reunion of The Shield and used masterfully, and almost everyone involved benefited.
Braun Strowman, coming off a victory over Dean Ambrose last week, proved he could hang in a longer match as he and Seth Rollins went at it in the opening contest of the night. Strowman picked up his second straight win over a former world champion. After the match Strowman went on to hit a second running powerslam on Rollins for good measure, but as he returned for thirds, Ambrose ran out to help his partner, only to get a pair of chokeslams and a powerslam for his trouble.
As Strowman made his way up the ramp, Sheamus & Cesaro sauntered to the ring and picked the bones, dealing further damage to the Raw tag team champions and solidifying their own status as top contenders. In the de facto main event hour, starting at 10, Roman Reigns challenged The Miz for the Intercontinental championship. After enjoying one of the biggest moments of their careers last week on Raw, and entering with Miz through the crowd in a moment that further mocked The Shield, Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel became cannon fodder as Reigns beat them up all over the Pepsi Center in Denver. By doing so, Reigns aimed to even out the odds before the title match could start.
Miz or Reigns have both shined when the spotlight is brightest, and they both outperformed expectations in a match that seemingly could have gone either way. Near-falls after a Skull-crushing Finale for Miz and a rebound Superman punch for Reigns got as close as they could, but as Reigns lined up Miz for a spear and a win that would bring him the only title missing on his resume, Sheamus and Cesaro re-emerged to pull Reigns out of the ring, trigger a disqualification, and kick-start another beatdown.
Reigns got hit by a Neutralizer from Cesaro, a Brogue Kick from Sheamus and a second Skull-crushing Finale from The Miz. Then the impromptu trio came back for seconds by mocking several different mannerisms The Shield used during their time together. Miz mocked Reigns directly as he, Sheamus and Cesaro set up and executed a triple powerbomb and another mocking Shield-esque taunt for good measure.
It seemed as though that might be it for the night, but after the final ring-based segment of the night, centered around the Cruiserweight division, was over, the camera panned backstage to Reigns sitting alone. In less than a minute, Ambrose approached from screen left, and Rollins from screen right; they shared a moment without a single word spoken, nodded, and the tag team champs departed once more.
It was the perfect bookend and tease for what's now certain to be coming -- a moment more than three years in the making.
- WWE (@WWE) October 3, 2017
It was a great Easter egg for those who stuck with Raw through its final moments, rather than meandering off to Monday Night Football or elsewhere, and it showed the kind of candid backstage moment that's typically only implied to have happened in spoken promos. It sets the stage for next week in Indianapolis, and there couldn't be a better setting for the trio to come back together.
In November 2012, inside the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, The Shield injected themselves into a Triple Threat WWE championship match, triple-powerbombed Ryback through a table and gained an instant buzz. In June 2014, inside that very same arena, Rollins nailed Reigns and Ambrose with a steel chair, dissolving the partnership and turning his back on his former brothers. Next week, as luck, or scheduling, would have it, Raw returns once more to Indianapolis, with the stars aligning for a very special moment.
There are a limited number of concepts and ideas that the WWE has in their back pocket that are guaranteed to evoke a major reaction, but the impending true reunion of The Shield is sure to be one of those truly iconic moments in its history.
Hits and misses
• There's nothing particularly wrong with giving Mickie James a shot at her seventh WWE women's championship, and the backstage segment that built up to that moment worked about as well as could be hoped with one notable exception. After charging from her own locker room to Alexa Bliss' (isn't the shifting backstage locker room situation fascinating?), Nia Jax popped out of Bliss' locker room without explanation. If there's already a backstage segment going on, is it so hard to spend a single, solitary line on why Jax, just weeks after turning her back on her friend and dropping her from her shoulders, would be cool with the champion again? Make it about money, future title shots, maybe even a heart-to-heart conversation. Just address it.
Bliss then came out to support Jax in the inevitable match between James and Jax later in the evening. After a competitive contest, James seemingly had the match in hand, only for Bliss to insert herself and trigger a disqualification. With Asuka due to debut on the very same night, Bliss versus James will be the last moment before a landscape shift that seems well overdue on Raw.
• Kalisto's surprise addition to the Cruiserweight division was a long overdue moment, and another shot in the arm for 205 Live. He slots right into a shot at Enzo Amore, and offers another key piece to the puzzle in the ongoing battle between Amore's endless bravado and everyone else's in-ring abilities.
Amore running down each individual member of the 205 Live roster as they stood perched on the apron was a particularly strong moment for him. His continuous insults of Corey Graves' inability to step back into the ring bordered on going too far, though Graves, for better or worse, did not de-escalate the situation in any way. If this title run is to continue, a security force of some sort seems like the perfect way to extend the story.
• Bray Wyatt cashed in his last big chip by bringing Sister Abigail back into the picture, suggesting a "Demon vs. Demon" addendum to No Mercy's "Man vs. Man" collision against Finn Balor. Going full unhinged and supernatural is likely Wyatt's last chance to be taken fully seriously as an evil presence in WWE, and the lighting and effects were on point. He's simply lost too often to have too many more chances as a believable main event-level talent.
• While the focus on attire in the Matt Hardy/Jason Jordan vs. Gallows & Anderson match was on Jordan's switch away from a singlet (robbing him of one of his most valuable assets, the Kurt Angle-inspired pulling down of the straps), Gallows & Anderson's decision to don attire covered by hands making the 'Too Sweet' gesture seemed far more notable. The timing, just a week after WWE issued a cease & desist to the Young Bucks for an unauthorized use of the gesture on merchandise and ring gear, seems far from coincidental.
• The women's division got two matches on Raw, and it's hard not to see the tag match between Sasha Banks & Bayley and Alicia Fox & Emma as a watered down version of last week's match, with Fox inserted for Jax. The focus was not on the seemingly bubbling tension between Banks and Bayley this week, but rather on Emma abandoning Fox as a tag team partner.
As we saw in multiple promos Monday night, including one where a number of Raw's top female talent praised the in-ring ability of Asuka, it's make-or-break time for some of Raw's forgotten women.
Between Fox, Emma and Dana Brooke, something's got to give. And while I understand having a strong support system out for the start of October's breast cancer awareness month, it always feels weird to have heels and faces co-mingling out of character midway through the show. It's a big enough roster -- cherry-picking the talent to at least exclude current direct rivals should be a no-brainer.