Raw started in media res this week and got everything kicked off properly. Nia Jax and Shana Baszler brawled. Raquel Rodriguez showed up to get her hands on Nia. Nia took out Baszler and then Rhea Ripley made her return. So much violence and aggression during those first few moments. Security came out, tried breaking everything up, and eventually they got control. Mami stood in the middle of the ring after the dust settled and got to business: What the hell happened to Judgment Day with her away?
She called them out and basically said what we all knew: She runs the group.
With Finn Balor absent, Rhea dressed down the group. She blamed Damian Priest for steering the ship into rocky territory since she gave him instructions before she left. And Damian failed because Finn’s injured, Damian isn’t cleared, and Dom Dom lost his championship because Damian didn’t have his back at No Mercy.
But she also gave some smoke to her Dom Dom. If he doesn’t defeat Trick Williams in his rematch for that championship, then he needn’t come home.
Jey Uso & Cody Rhodes get their shots at the tag championships and while that’s big news, I can’t over Rhea here. This is my favorite version of her character and she commands everything. Even when Jey got to the ring, he showed her respect. Even a little disrespect, which Judgment Day, of which Judgment Day took umbrage. Dom Dom stepped in for his woman and talked a big game, as usual, but didn’t back it up. Jey put boots to Dom, which brought Cody to the party. And then came JD McDonagh.
JD without Finn is weird but at least it shows consistency with character. This isn’t just about Finn for him; it’s about being a part of this crew and doing anything to get there.
That continued later when JD actually contributed something useful: Kevin Owens wants those tag titles back and doesn’t like Jey. With Jey getting something that KO wants, pitting them against each other sounds pretty easy now. Rhea agreed and Damian, who clearly lost his cool for a moment, felt that logic once he calmed down. Rhea and JD shared a glance, which means Mami approves and possibly wants JD in the crew. Does she? I feel like someone stating their desires for JD as it relates to the group might help me a bit. Well, someone besides Finn.
We didn’t hear from the crew the rest of the episode but they clearly formed the spine of the show and everything feels better when they’re around. Specifically, everything feels better when Rhea’s around.
Remember that GUNTHER and Tommaso Ciampa Intercontinental championship match that seemed prime for Fastlane? Well, it happened on Raw instead and it went for thirty minutes. Fantastic from top to bottom. Tomasso proved GUNTHER’s toughest challenge yet, which stemmed from their contract signing where Tomasso got under GUNTHER’s skin and “disrespected” him.
Just watch the match. GUNTHER won but Tomasso made him work. A beautiful wrestling match/fight between these two.
But THE moment came at the end. After Tommaso passed out from a sleeper (that came after two massive power bombs), IMPERIUM, minus GUNTHER, attacked him. No one came to Tommaso’s side and it looked hopeless.
But then a familiar tune came and Johnny Gargano emerged. DIY is back in full effect. The one criticism? No overrun so the show cut before DIY hit their signature move on Ludwig. But that’s not WWE’s fault at all.
Great match that finished a pretty great show. And a big return that sets up DIY vs. IMPERIUM.
The balled of Ludwig Kaiser continues this week. Last time we saw him, GUNTHER charged him with looking out for Giovanni Vinci; if Giovanni messes up, then it’s on Ludwig. And the Ring General meant business when he said it.
Ludwig & Giovanni’s first test came in the form of a tag match vs. their the Alpha Academy, their heated rivals. And for now, they both passed with semi-flying colors.
I expect nothing but solid matches from these four and that’s what we got this week. Giovanni showed a bit more aggression, which worked for the match and the story. They withstood Otis Caterpillar and played desperate; they needed this win and acted like it. I always appreciate things like that. Ludwig & Giovanni walk away with the win. They bought themselves some time but one wonders just how much and for how long.
Bronson Reed’s push continues. This time at Cedric Alexander’s expense. There’s not much to say about the match here because Bronson is where he is and Cedric just lost his tag team partner of so many years. I’m really curious what happens with Cedric. So much so that I don’t even think Bronson gains anything from this win. Especially with his recent skirmishes with talent who means a bit more to the overall picture.
Michael Cole asked Seth Rollins the only question that matters at the moment: why?
Why risk more injury? Why risk ending your career and even more at this point? Seth portrays his passion for this thing better than most. He also switches between comical and serious impressively too. I prefer serious Seth when the threats call for it and Shinsuke Nakamura is a threat. And, like Cole said, Seth is Shinsuke’s puppet.
Shinsuke attacking Seth from behind worked perfectly too. He roped in Seth with another video and then came the sneak attack. It showcased Shinsuke’s viciousness, cunning, and just how far ahead of the champ Shinsuke truly is right now.
Excellent set up for their Fastlane match. Seth’s emotions have him making awful moves and not on top of his game. Shineuke controls the whole thing. How can Seth win without a Herculean effort? And how does exit the ring with his health in tact? Great stakes for a championship match with both men doing some of their best work.
Becky Lynch’s injury took her out of action this week. I’m not showing the injury here because my stomach can’t take it. Weird how much I love horror flicks but stuff like that makes me squeamish.
But her absence meant Tegan Nox went head to head with Chelsea Green. Why? Because Chelsea talked trash, as per usual, and Tegan stepped to her. But also to display this potential new friendship between her and Nattie. Nattie buried the hatchet after their match last week, apologized, and gave her props for putting taking advantage of what’s in front of her.
I wondered whether she meant that and doubted it a bit. But during Tegan’s match with Chelsea, Nattie came out when Piper Niven got involved. Nattie watched her back and then congratulated her when she got the win. Even cheered her on!
The match definitely felt like something they threw together, so no shade on them for that. But the story itself is potentially interesting. Especially since Tegan still gets her shot at Becky in the near future.
Drew McIntyre’s slow heel turn continues. Or at least that’s what it seems. If not that, then it’s at least creating a more complicated tweener. He says he’s done intervening in everyone else’s issues and being the savior. Taking a lesson from Booker T, Drew’s done minding business that’s not his.
And it’s all done with passive aggressiveness against Cody and Jey. That’s why Miz hit the ring to not only call Drew out for what he believes is BS, but also for vengeance. Drew embarrassed Miz last week. And we got an impromptu match despite the fact that Miz came dressed in his best suit instead of his trunks.
First off, how great is Miz? Dude wrestled a match in a shirt and tie. He looked just as good in that as his wrestling gear. But the most interesting turn happened when Miz went for the turnbuckle cover. He never finished untying it so I figured that was that. But then Drew, prepping for the Claymore, went for Angela instead. The ref, clearly not cool with a decapitation on live television, got the sword out the ring. That gave Drew the opening to finish untying the turnbuckle cover and ram Miz’s head into it. He got the pin after that thanks to a Future Shock DDT but he did his damage beforehand.
That’s a heel move. And even after the match, Drew showed his incredulousness and pettiness. He grabbed a mic, apologized for his actions because he’s not the same person he was 30 seconds ago. And said since an apology changes everything, then it’s all good! Tongue firmly in cheek, it’s a new Drew and nice progression. And Miz playing the role of Emperor Palpatine to his Luke Skywalker is a fun touch.
The one match I didn’t get to? Xavier Woods vs. Ivar. Not a terrible match at all and it advanced this thing between New Day and the Viking Raiders. But I’m less interested in that than New Day’s beef with Drew. It also speaks to the show that featured a lot of action and never relented. Oh! and Trick Willy! Any Trick Williams sighting is a good one. I think he’s losing his newly acquired championship sooner rather than later, but I liked him getting some love here.
This go home show satisfied me. They capped off the build for Fastlane and we got a big return. What more can you ask?
What say you, Cagesiders?