Not so fast, @WWEUsos! We've got company!#WrestleMania #WWERaw pic.twitter.com/EpM8Xscw5x— WWE (@WWE) March 28, 2023
Times changed and everything evolves, but I really miss the days when the Raw before WrestleMania got me hyped. As Kyle Decker pointed out in the Cageside Slack, the Raw before Mania, at least for the last few years, usually feels quite pedestrian. With the storytelling mostly in the books and the matches set, WWE goes into cruise control now rather than full throttle so many moons ago. I often think about the Raw before WrestleMania 15. You know the one even if you don’t remember the full episode because it’s when Stone Cold Steve Austin drove a beer truck to the ring and hosed down The Corporation.
The Rock tumbled in beer as Austin got one over on the champ, while they both created another indelible moment from an era filled with them. And that’s how they started the show! We also got a title for title match between the New Age Outlaws, Rock vs. Mankind with some actual stakes involved for the Mania main event, a street fight, and a main event featuring the biggest star in the company with an entire deck stacked against him. As I said, things evolve.
WWE has more programming now than in 1999 and even more avenues for story development. But that Raw meant something while this week’s Raw in 2023 felt anything but essential. The biggest development, and the best move, came in the main event where Cody Rhodes pinned Solo Sikoa clean in the ring for Solo’s first true L. Cody defeating Solo, with Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens keeping Jimmy & Jey Uso from interfering, laid some solid track going into the big show.
But other than that, nothing about this episode felt any different than an episode from mid-February. Christening this week’s show “WrestleMania Raw” comes with expectations. And maybe WWE’s current production model calls for resetting said expectations since SmackDown serves as the Mania lead these days. But it’s a bummer when WWE’s first salvo during WrestleMania week leaves no impression. If not for all the stated reasons than mostly because sitting through three hours of a program with so little muscle behind it is bad for business. Even if the whole show isn’t a home run, at least make the opening and ending memorable.
I completely understand why Raw doesn’t need to be what it was back in the day but a man can dream. This week and this weekend are always special. Raw, the fans, the wrestlers, WWE, and even the USA Network deserve something that feels worthy of the WrestleMania lineage and name.
Is @itsBayleyWWE paying the price on #WrestleMania #WWERaw for her earlier comments? pic.twitter.com/13VQ4V5AQh— WWE (@WWE) March 28, 2023
I usually prefer
PPV PLE opponents stay away from each other on the weekly shows. Even in a tag match situation, like the one between the Women tag champs & Trish Stratus and Damage CTRL, I prefer some distance.
But that usually goes out the window when they deliver a match like this. Becky Lynch and IYO SKY set the standard for this episode, creating a very hard act to follow. If anything, it actually helped set the table for their big WrestleMania collision. If Becky and IYO battle like this and on this level, then what happens when four other women join the fray? I don’t know if it helped more excitement for the match as I really wanted a big brawl between the ladies after Becky defeated IYO in a very close matchup, but it didn’t destroy any hype either. It’s the old “do no harm” creed.
I don’t know how Seth Rollins handily defeating Mustafa Ali right now does anything for him going into Mania. Yes, Seth needed his heat back after Logan Paul decked him last week, but Ali has no juice right now and he’s a poor stand-in for Paul. Especially since Seth grabbed a microphone after delivering two massive curb stomps and getting the W.
I loved Seth’s fire on the mic and so did the crowd. Son is ready, If there’s one other criticism here it’s Logan’s absence. But on the flip side, it might be better considering topping last week’s segment feels like quite the tall order.
That’s it? A weigh-in, which is pretty much guaranteed shenanigans, ended with no shenanigans at all! Omos stepped on the scale, showed us all he’s a big boy over 400 lbs., and Lesnar makes his entrance. He goes for the big man but the big man uses the bigger scale as a weapon.
Really? This is the go-home segment for this match? Weeks ago, I wished them luck selling this. Apparently I picked the wrong star because the sell never quite found a rhythm. This illustrated that better than anything else.
Want vs. Need
Rhea Ripley needs Charlotte’s championship to take her throne as the biggest star in wrestling. At least that’s what she said during her backstage interview. I loved her Dom Dom t-shirt but that’s about it.
This was fun but felt too meaningless for WrestleMania Raw. Hey, they called it that, not me. The Street Profits & Braun Strowman & Ricochet vs. Alpha Academy & The Viking Raiders provided a nice jolt of energy in a show that needed it at this moment. We also got a little foreshadowing with Maxxine Dupri post match as she fumed not only at Otis’ side losing, but his continued relationship with Chad Gable. She clearly sees Chad as an anchor around Otis’ feet, so hopefully she makes her move in Hollywood.
Cody Rhodes’ backstage interview? Adequate and serviceable babyface fodder before his big match against solo. The best moment, however, came when Cody teed up the Bloodline Goodfellas parody Mania promo when he referenced their “Samona Goodfellas” aesthetic.
I looked forward to this parody because I’m a Black male in his late-30s who grew up on ‘90s Hip Hop so obviously I love Goodfellas. And Bloodline rocks the world, so a marriage make perfect sense. But it underwhelmed me quite a bit.
I love Adam Pearce putting Chelsea Green & Sonya Deville together because he just can’t anymore. I’m not surprised they defeated Michin & Candice LeRae for a spot in the Mania Fatal 4 Way because of the entertainment factor.
I dug Dominik’s heel promo before Damian Preist’s match against Rey Mysterio. He understands that character so much and knows every right note. Damian and Rey wrestled a good match as well, which ended as it should in a disqualification. Legado del Fantasma made the save as Priest and Dom beat up on Rey.
Really like the build for this match because Dom blossomed while Rey played the sentimental role and favorite. The fact Dom and Damian tried ripping off Rey’s mask tonight only makes Dom’s future comeuppance that much more sweeter.
Biggest Tag Team Match of All-Time
Guess what? Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens cut incredible babyface promos. I mean, what else is there to say? They set the stakes perfectly for their tag match against Jimmy & Jey Uso, established Los Angeles as another important city in their long story, and kept the energy high for Mania. However, it was yet another backstage promo segment on a show filled with them along with pre-taped segments. Weird.
(No) People Power
On a show filled with pretty standard fare, Raw took a chance with Austin Theory’s pre-taped promo in an empty arena. They used the empty arena to underline Theory’s point that he doesn’t care about the crowd and doesn’t do it for them. Interesting idea that while not the most exciting, still goes for something a little left field. This is another feud that suffers from reality, as John Cena’s schedule keeps him off television. And the one time we got him? He pretty much tossed Theory to the wolves. Theory never got his chance at payback or at least truly showing he’s on Cena’s level. I don’t think that hurts the match overall and I’m sure LA goes crazy the minute Cena’s music blares through SoFi Stadium, but the build left me wanting.
Speaking of Wanting
What in the world is up with the Raw Women’s championship build? No Asuka tonight, no Bianca either. We got hype packages for each woman and that’s it. If there’s any match on the WrestleMania card that really needed another shot in the arm, it’s that one. And yet, we get no shots. We barely even get arms since the two ladies never showed up. Le boo.
As much as I love seeing GUNTHER on the show and think his triple threat match against Sheamus and Drew McIntyre might break my brain’s pleasure center, I can do without him beating up on Dolph Ziggler. I get the why: Ziggler sells like a million bucks and makes GUNTHER look like a monster. But GUNTHER doesn’t need that at this point. Especially on the go home show before the biggest event of the year when we already know he’s legit.
For the most part, Raw bored me this week. I dislike that on principle but I really dislike it a few days before WrestleMania. This by no means portends a bad weekend, but it puts a sour taste in my mouth. The opening match rocked, Seth did his thing on the promo, and the main event presented more solid storytelling. But that’s all I got as far as bright spots.
What say you, Cagesiders?