Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Braun Strowman played mind games with Kevin Owens throughout the night on Monday Night Raw, leading up to a dramatic final display of strength and embarrassment, while Roman Reigns tried to play the conquering hero but ended up looking like an ego-driven jerk in a tag team match involving Bobby Lashley and The Revival.
Finn Balor and Baron Corbin came to blows in the middle of the ring without much to show for it aside from a handful of familiar jokes about TGI Fridays, and Mojo Rawley antagonized No Way Jose and told him he didn't deserve a rematch before attacking a guy wearing a cheeseburger costume. Curtis Axel defeated Matt Hardy cleanly in the middle of the ring. Tensions between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax boiled over heading into a pay-per-view match for the Raw Women's Championship.
No, this isn't Groundhog Day, unless we're all in a shared hallucination. This was another new week of Monday Night Raw in which the same matches and moments were seemingly retreaded for another week in the build to Extreme Rules, with little sign of advancement for any of the characters or the stories they're trying to tell.
It's a familiar problem, but one that seems fairly easy to solve. There's nothing wrong with having a destination in mind a few weeks out, having the same characters clash in a few different meetings and build up animosity while the fans connect with the story. But that last part is just as important with the first two -- the journey has to be good enough to make the destination something worth paying off.
Putting Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre into a ring and telling them to go out and impress with their in-ring abilities is a no-brainer in any given week. As expected, they all proved themselves in a perfectly entertaining match, and while most disqualification finishes are going to rub some people the wrong way -- especially considering last week's match between Ziggler and Rollins also ended in similar fashion -- there was a line to the story being told about Reigns. The Revival coming out and spoiled his match, allowing Ziggler and McIntyre to hit the Claymore/Zig Zag combination while Dash and Dawson nailed a shatter machine (and then some) on Reigns made perfect sense.
Less than an hour later, Reigns is back out there taking punishment in a second match on the night, and as The Revival lays into him, Reigns refuses a half-dozen different opportunities to tag out and let Lashley into the match. The Revival, a tag team unit that was smart and effective enough to outsmart and defeat Reigns last week, inexplicably ignores the referee's five-count and causes another disqualification -- giving Reigns his second win of the night as Lashley walked away and left him to the dogs. With two full matches of punishment, and Reigns giving into his ego by not letting Lashley into the match at all, would it have been so tough to give The Revival another win, albeit one with an asterisk -- cashing in on the plan they set up throughout the night and then executed to near-perfection, only to carelessly throw it away? And let's not dig too deeply into the flaws of making the ribs the target and focus of an attack on Reigns, while Reigns wears a full flak jacket protecting himself; that's another thousand-word column that we simply don't have the time for right now.
In the end, the card for Extreme Rules incrementally moved forward. Lashley vs. Reigns was officially added to the show, Bliss vs. Jax became an Extreme Rules match for the Raw Women's Championship and, in what is admittedly a stroke of genius, Ziggler will defend the Intercontinental title in a 30-minute Iron Man match.
But there's only so many times you can go to the well with an over-the-top Strowman stunt to end a show before fans start asking "What did we learn this week?" It's a deep well, to be fair, with all manor of ambulances, grappling hooks, car flipping and, as we found out Monday, port-a-potties, but a little care, attention to detail and consistency in storytelling could go a long way in making Extreme Rules feel like more than just a pit stop along the road to SummerSlam.
Hits and misses
- Sometimes you just can't win with the valet. You either give them your keys and they give them away to the monster chasing you, or you refuse to do so and then forget to wear your shorts with the pockets in them. Owens has been a bright spot creatively in recent weeks, playing the perfect foil to Strowman no matter which way the story twists and turns. Last week it was his rental car getting flipped over. This week it was a port-o-potty that he was locked inside and dragged all over the arena in getting knocked off the stage.
Not only has he been taking his lumps, Owens has remained one of the few characters driving his story forward on a consistent basis with every shred of TV time he gets. It seems that sometimes Owens is the only one on the show who's also watching the show and following along with the logic. It's why he didn't give the valet his keys, why he argued that Strowman should go to counseling like Bayley and Sasha Banks and even offered to take advantage of his new-found friendship with Shania Twain to hook Kurt Angle up with tickets and babysit his kids to avoid another match with Strowman.
Sure, he ended up covered in blue chemicals and whatever else was stored inside, but Owens is out there making the most of what he's given every single week on Raw, and it shows.
- Speaking of Bayley and Banks, let's get this out of the way -- there is no single, solitary driving reason behind sending them to counseling. The setting is funny, their impressions of each other generated some laughs and the return of Dr. Shelby the same week that Team Hell No got back together is fitting, but in order to work beyond some flimsy excuse of "the women's revolution," there absolutely should have been an event that crossed a line and brought them there. At the moment it's simply two former friends who don't like each other and want to fight, and as Angle said to Owens' face, "Here on Raw, we settle things in the ring."
It's another example of lazy storytelling that could've been vastly improved with just a few lines of dialogue or one creative backstage vignette. What if they broke out into a fight at a fan meet-and-greet, in front of a bunch of young and impressionable fans? Or if one of the attacks back and forth caused significant damage to something or spilled into the crowd and endangered fans? Rather than not applying the same rules to the men and women of Raw, give fans something to latch onto in terms of logic.
- On a night where Nia Jax and Mickie James never really seemed to click in their match, Ember Moon and Liv Morgan impressed in a short one-on-one contest. They each made the other look incredibly impressive, and while Moon was already on a roll with her recent string of matches of late, Morgan stepped up in a big way by showing off more of her in-ring repertoire throughout the match. Moon ultimately hit the Eclipse for the win, which looked as brutal as it ever has as Morgan was sent halfway across the ring in the aftermath, and once again proved why she should have a bright future on Raw. But don't sleep on the Riott Squad.
- Speaking of the Riott Squad, it might be hold-your-breath and cross-your-fingers time for a group that's shown a lot of flashes of promise of late. Ruby Riott hurt her knee over the weekend at a live event and was not on Raw, with the results of her MRI still to come. It's another in a tough stretch of injuries of various seriousness of late, with Sami Zayn on the shelf for the foreseeable future with a pair of rotator cuff injuries, Bray Wyatt suffering from the effects of an automobile accident and off-air and even something as out-of-the-blue as Shinsuke Nakamura getting bit by a police dog. Sometimes these stretches can be tough on the WWE -- and let's hope for the best.
- Ronda Rousey is buying a front-row ticket for Bliss vs. Jax at Extreme Rules. I'm sure that'll turn out fine.
- Boy, does it seem like Elias has slipped out of favor on Raw in a hurry. After some interesting, fresh matches and a tense story, he's been relegated to one backstage appearance over the last two weeks. Could he have done more with the Intercontinental Championship than Ziggler? Who can really say?