Wrestling functions so much better when it remembers that it's a TV show, and that each character and match is a mechanism with a role to play in the greater story. While a few elements of Raw felt as if they were suffering from a holiday hangover, the intertwining nature of Monday night's events brought a lot of hope for the underdogs -- those who've been overlooked, and not named Owens, Reigns, Rollins or Jericho.
For the second consecutive week, the brightest spot by a wide margin was Braun Strowman. The giant was all over Monday Night Raw and interacted with many of the active storylines on the show -- and by using Strowman as a pivotal character and a through-line for all of the night's action, Raw utilized a very effective method of storytelling to help a number of people shine despite relative stasis in the main event.
One week after disrupting two matches, Strowman was the main subject of the opening promo between Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, and then interacted directly in backstage segment with Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens that did a great job for all three men. Jericho and Owens got to play schoolyard bullies, poking and prodding Strowman into getting madder and madder with their usual smooth delivery, and Strowman wasn't made to look silly or foolish as he got in their faces and ended their games.
He also got what he wanted in the form of a "last man standing" match with Sami Zayn on Raw next week, and also destroyed all four members of a tag team match (in this case, Bo Dallas, Darren Young and The Shining Stars). A chair shot in the back did little to stifle Strowman, and it only briefly slowed him down before he finished clearing out the ring and turned his attentions to his scheduled match.
That was ultimately the biggest step Strowman took Monday -- in the ring against Rollins. For months, he's portrayed the stereotypical "giant dishing out beatdowns" to a T. But after showing subtle hints of being human in his match with Zayn at Roadblock: End of the Line, Strowman put on one heck of a showing against Raw's thoroughbred workhorse Rollins. He looked vulnerable without showing too much weakness, flashed speed and agility, and when the situation called for it, showed just how far his strength and mass can take him.
Zayn ultimately interrupted the proceedings and blindsided Strowman with a vicious attack, and next week's rematch should be a true test for both men's skill sets. For the time being, both shined and looked far more important for brushing up against some of the main event players -- and the more that Raw can leverage their top assets in creative ways to help those lower down the card, the better off everyone will be.
Hits and misses
Chicago was inevitably going to have problems with CM Punk chants, as it always tends to, but this time around, McMahon was ready with a blistering volley that called back to Punk's devastating UFC loss.
Despite a good showing in his United States championship defense against Owens in the main event, every appearance Reigns makes with that title casually draped backwards over his shoulder is further damaging the goodwill that was built up during John Cena's 2015 U.S. championship open challenge. Simply put, the title isn't doing much good for Reigns as he battles the Universal champion, and Reigns certainly isn't getting much in the way of additional value defending that title against an opponent who doesn't need it. Strowman, Zayn, Jericho and a half-dozen others on the roster could benefit greatly from wearing and defending that title on a daily basis. For now, we're stuck with a situation akin to Reigns' former Shield brethren Dean Ambrose's 2013-14 run with the championship -- all dressed up, and nowhere to go with it.
Speaking of The Shield, it's becoming more and more apparent that there's not going to be an actual on-screen conversation between Reigns and Rollins clearing the air about their past. That was fine when they were occasional partners with a common enemy, but it makes little sense for them to be so buddy-buddy when Rollins committed the ultimate betrayal to their friendship and never truly apologized. Even something tangential, like an off-hand comment in a backstage segment, would be something -- and the longer this goes on, the harder the strain of buying these two guys as friends again will become.
Strowman wasn't the only one making big strides on this edition of Raw. Nia Jax and Bayley, moving further down the path in their feuds with Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair, respectively, each played their part in style. Jax laid a beating down on independent star (and Chicago local) Scarlett Bordeaux, who played proxy for a still-dinged up Banks. Bayley had her third straight win against Flair wiped out, thanks to Flair lawyering up and showing incontrovertible evidence that her shoulder wasn't on the mat for the three-count.
This led to another match between a pair whose rivalry dates back to the earliest days of NXT. Flair had Dana Brooke in as the guest referee and threw the kitchen sink at Bayley in order to steal a win (with feet on the ropes and a fast count). Bayley is the perfect goody two-shoes foil for Flair, who continued to shine as the most effective heel on Raw -- very much embodying her lineage as the "dirtiest player in the game."
Neville also continued to make strides and breathe new life into the cruiserweight division. After earning a cheap win against TJ Perkins earlier in the show, Neville attacked cruiserweight champion Rich Swann and then cut a promo on all of America and its fans, saying that his face and accent have earned him unfair negativity from the fans. He is taking the ball as the "king of the cruiserweights" and running with it full speed, and it's great to finally see Neville have a role of his own to thrive in.
Bayley giving Goldust one of her bears dressed up like her mentor (and his father) Dusty Rhodes was a poignant moment. Karl Anderson ripping the head off the Dusty bear was as heelish as it gets, and was crass enough for some that it drew a reaction from Dusty's other son, Cody. Here's to hoping that the questionable segment will get Anderson and Luke Gallows some much-needed heat, this is the road that finally leads them to a rivalry with Cesaro and Sheamus and a Raw tag team title reign.
As for the tag champs, they survived their title rematch with The New Day in yet another fun match between these two teams. The rarely utilized combination of Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods represented the former champions, and gave us a reminder of just how good Woods can be when given the stage. While the next step for The New Day seems uncertain, all three members have shown they have what it takes to set out on their own, if that's what it'll take.
While I'm not feeling much about this story with Rusev (and Jinder Mahal's involvement is even more tenuous), there's no denying the splendor of Enzo Amore's customized wheelchair. I'm just sad we won't get to see him ride around in it for at least a few weeks, after he and Big Cass sprung their trap.
Jack Gallagher has accomplished more in his time on Raw and 205 Live than any of the other cruiserweights. His rivalry with Ariya Daivari has featured great technical prowess and all sorts of comic relief. It peaked again Monday with Daivari repeatedly calling Gallagher a scoundrel and, having heard enough, Gallagher slapped Daivari with a glove and challenged him to a duel. I, for one, am looking forward to how this plays out Tuesday on 205 Live -- and I don't think I'm alone in that regard.