Creativity bottoms out heading into Clash of Champions

Monday night's episode of Raw confirmed Seth Rollins' babyface turn. Courtesy of WWE

If there was any remaining doubt entering this week's episode of Raw as to whether Seth Rollins' babyface turn was real, WWE hammered it home as fact on Monday night with a pair of high-flying moves and a late rescue of Roman Reigns.

As far as anything else that happened in the show, your guess is as good as mine.

Three weeks after a late title swerve raised the level of must-see expectations for Raw, the disappointing downhill slide of creativity that followed hit its bottoming-out point on Monday, just six days out from Sunday's Clash of Champions pay-per-view.

As far as go-home episodes are concerned, this week did almost nothing to build excitement ahead of Raw's first exclusive PPV since the July brand extension and draft. If anything, the majority of Sunday's compelling storylines were set back.

The mail-in nature of the episode was particularly disappointing considering the built-in advantages Raw has over its in-house Tuesday rival SmackDown Live, from a deeper and more star-studded roster to an extra hour of programming. But ever since Kevin Owens' surprise victory on Raw for the vacant WWE Universal title on Aug. 29, SmackDown has become the more compelling show, in large part due to storytelling.

Raw has offered plenty of steak in recent weeks, but almost no sizzle, highlighted by the head-scratching decision to have Triple H disappear from television after helping Owens win the title one night after SummerSlam. Monday was no different, with too many plots featuring gaping holes or no attention to detail whatsoever.

After a late tease last week from Raw general manager Mick Foley regarding a sizable punishment facing Rollins for interfering in the main event (in a very heel-like manner), the payoff was dismal this week as Rollins was ordered to face Rusev in a forgettable match -- with the exception of Rollins' dive afterwards from the announce table -- with nothing at stake. Even worse, the match ended in a double countout.

This week's main event created similar feelings as Owens lost cleanly to Reigns in a non-title steel-cage match with nothing on the line. The champion was further devalued unnecessarily by Reigns kicking out of his finishing move, the pop-up power bomb, late in the match.

The match also did nothing to raise anticipation for Sunday's PPV main event of Owens-Rollins, especially with Rusev's predictable run-in for the second straight week. And while Rollins deserves credit for his breathtaking cross body off the top of the steel cage to interrupt a post-match beatdown on Reigns, the move was nothing if not gratuitous, with the risk greatly outweighing the reward.

The highlight of Monday's show -- the much-hyped debut of WWE's new cruiserweight division -- was equally mishandled and buried in the third hour, with Foley's botching of the in-ring introductions going a long way in aiding the initially lukewarm reception from the Memphis crowd.

The four cruiserweights went on to produce a fun and high-energy Fatal 4-Way match, as Brian Kendrick defeated Rich Swann, Gran Metalik and Cedric Alexander to secure a shot on Sunday at newly crowned champion T.J. Perkins. But the decision to have Perkins completely absent from the episode made no sense, and only worked as a negative for casual fans who hadn't watched the Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network.

In the 1990s, WCW often used its cruiserweight division to open its Nitro broadcasts during the famed "Monday Night Wars" as a way to amp up the live crowd's energy. It's a practice not likely to happen in today's era of dialogue-heavy Raw episodes, which brings into question the placement of the division on Raw in the first place outside of the logistical reality that the show is three hours.

Almost by definition, the cruiserweight division provides a very underdog feel, with most of its undersized participants coming to WWE from independent or international promotions. It's a vibe that almost feels out of place on Raw and would seem to fit in better on the more babyface and wrestling heavy SmackDown Live, if not exclusively featured on NXT, which is filmed in the same arena at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida, as the CWC.

Either way, Raw has a long way to go toward building consistent storylines from one feud to another that peak heading into each monthly PPV. With so much talent to work with, including more than capable authority figures like Foley and Stephanie McMahon, there's no reason WWE's flagship show should feel like anything but that.

Hits and misses

  • Strong move by WWE to add Bayley to a triple-threat match on Sunday for the WWE women's championship after video replay showed that Sasha Banks' shoulders were down last week during her pin of Bayley. With Banks and Charlotte having just put forth a crazy high-spot fest last month at SummerSlam, the addition of Bayley adds a number of fresh dimensions to the match while making the outcome less predictable. It will also be interesting to see just how close we are to the payoff of Dana Brooke finally turning on Charlotte for good.

  • Credit Chris Jericho for making something out of nothing during a series of backstage segments in which he compiled "The List of Jericho" to track all that Foley has done wrong as Raw general manager. While teams like The New Day and Enzo and Cass are more renowned for their ability of late to take uninspired writing and turn it into straight gold, both teams can be just as hit or miss. But Jericho is about as consistently funny, particularly in subtle roles, as anyone in the company.

  • While week three of Bo Dallas' resurrection is already beginning to feel stale and forced, the "Let's go jobber" chants from the crowd are becoming the highlight of his weekly squash matches. It was hard not to join in the support for this week's overmatched opponent, Gary Graham, who was sporting one heck of a throwback 1980s haircut.

  • While former Wyatt Family member Braun Strowman appears to have graduated from his own run on the squash match circuit by taking on (and destroying) Sin Cara for the second straight week, a bit of the early momentum for his new push seems to have dissipated. Now could be a good time to allow Strowman a chance to further expand his character by actually letting him talk once in a while.

  • It's hard not to feel bad for Cesaro and Sheamus in their best-of-seven series, which very predictably enters its seventh and final match at Sunday's PPV after Cesaro pulled even on Raw. With nothing tangible at stake outside of a generic "future title opportunity," and nothing memorable in terms of gimmick matches, stipulations or surprise finishes, their feud has done nothing but create fatigue for each of their characters for viewers. Considering Raw's loaded roster and how thin NXT is during its current state of roster reload, having the loser sent down "to the minors" for a stretch could've proved beneficial for all parties. (Try to tell me you wouldn't be excited for a Sheamus feud with Shinsuke Nakamura?)

  • From the files of forced and unnecessary Raw segments, the only thing worse than seeing four tag teams take turns interrupting Jericho's in-ring promo to nonsensically drop their respective catchphrases, was the meaningless 10-man tag team match involving all parties that quickly followed.

  • Of the four cruiserweights who debuted Monday, Kendrick did the best job establishing some semblance of who his character is by showcasing a heel persona throughout the match. While it doesn't hurt that WWE fans are already familiar with the 37-year-old veteran, his presence and real-life redemption angle works well opposite a series of younger and fresher faces. Kendrick shared a strong quote during a prematch video promo where he talked about the last time he had appeared on WWE's main roster seven years ago. "Six-hundred and eight days. July 30, 2009. They wished me all the best in my future endeavors. They thought I was through. And so did I," he said.

Move of the night

Rollins' flying cross body off the top of the cage might be tough to top from a high-risk standpoint, but the four cruiserweights who made their debuts Monday certainly tried hard. In the process, they changed the hearts of a timid Memphis crowd who went on to break out in "This is awesome!" chants by the end of the match. The high point was a breathtaking Tope Con Hilo from Gran Metalik onto the floor just moments after Cedric Alexander had landed the same move.

Line of the night

The repeated yelling from Owens at Rusev to "Go matchka something" during their assault on Reigns following Monday's main event not only made the show's predictable finish more tolerable, it perfectly showcased the kind of inside humor between superstars that would spice up the broadcasts if WWE ever decided to allow its superstars more freedom on the microphone.