Raw came into Monday night on a massive wave of momentum after a tremendous showing a week ago that set up the biggest matches for Aug. 20's SummerSlam and raised the level of hype for the show in a compelling, dynamic way.
Kurt Angle's entrance and the high energy levels emanating from his hometown crowd in Pittsburgh seemed to set the stage for another big week, and Brock Lesnar's surprise appearance to interrupt the Raw GM only increased that frenzy.
But from the moment Lesnar and Paul Heyman walked back up that ramp, the majority of the show rang hollow. There were a number of bright moments, to be sure, but too much of Raw's three hours felt like filler, bridging a gap to the next two Raws and SummerSlam in a generally uninspired fashion.
Brock won't take his ball and go home, but he might not stay here
From the moment Lesnar's music hit and he sauntered to the ring, everyone had one thought on their mind -- would he or Heyman address the rumors and growing speculation about a UFC superfight with newly crowned UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones? Heyman dropped not-so-subtle hints, like accusing Angle of making Lesnar pay the "ultimate" price, but the crux of his statement and frustration was a crystal-clear moment that stood out as a stroke of brilliance.
"If Brock Lesnar loses the title at SummerSlam, he leaves WWE. And I'm leaving with him."
Heyman would then go on to say that Lesnar won't lose, even with three worthy title challengers coming his way in the Fatal 4-Way format, but the seeds were planted. Having Lesnar's potential departure (and return to the Octagon?) looming over this match gives it sense of urgency and drama that further cements it as the worthy main event for SummerSlam.
Lesnar wouldn't show his face again, even to make a cameo during the triple-threat match between the three men he's set to face in Brooklyn. The match itself was every bit the entertaining car crash you'd hope it to be, including plenty of time spent outside the ring, steel steps used liberally and intense physicality between Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman. Reigns ultimately picked up the pinfall on Joe after about 20 minutes, but it did leave a lingering question: Why show so much of an upcoming pay-per-view main event, unless that match is going to take a significantly unexpected turn?
Finn Balor starts to let the demon loose on Bray Wyatt
As SummerSlam rapidly approaches, it's hard not to look back at the last year of Finn Balor's career and not wonder "what if?". In less than two months, he went from a first round draft pick, to first Universal champion, to a devastating injury that robbed him of the opportunity to defend that title and carry through on all the promise he carried with him from NXT.
He's had a few big moments since his return, but he's wallowed in a nebulous uncertainty for the last couple of months, seemingly waiting for the right opportunity to charge back to the top. The decision to keep his demon side holstered during this window has been the right call, and with an opportunity to go up against the supernaturally inspired Bray Wyatt standing in front of him, the time for the demon to return seems to finally be upon us.
After a lengthy promo from Wyatt on Monday night that ran down Balor's goody-two-shoes persona and the positivity of the "Balor Club", the lights went out and a familiar heartbeat sound pulsed through the arena. That, along with flashing red lights -- a key differentiation from Balor's standard entrance -- ended with Balor standing in the middle of the ring, back to Wyatt. He'd get the upper hand with a single kick, and with the latest of a series of intense over-the-top attacks, it seems the demon is taking hold of Balor -- and not a moment too soon.
Rollins and Ambrose fall to Cesaro and Sheamus -- together
The will they/won't they going on between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose has been as nuanced as anything going down on Raw in recent weeks. Ambrose's apprehension of diving back into his Shield partnership with Rollins is a natural human reaction, and even as both Rollins and fans in general push for the reunion, he can't let himself fall for it again.
After a backstage segment with Rollins, Ambrose and Renee Young went sour, Sheamus and Cesaro mocked Rollins and his struggle to recreate the magic with Ambrose. Rollins challenged Sheamus to a match later in the night, which he won with a roll-up, but the Raw tag team champions took the opportunity to extract a pound of flesh from Rollins in retribution.
Ambrose stayed away at first, but when Sheamus and Cesaro went back for seconds, he ran out and absorbed the abuse, getting hit with both a Neutralizer and a Brogue Kick for his troubles. In a final moment backstage, the paranoid, conspiracy-minded Ambrose accused Rollins of setting the whole situation up to garner sympathy and force Ambrose to come to his aid (or risk looking too calloused for sitting on his hands). This seems to be pointing towards a tag team title challenge at SummerSlam, and the way things are going, the odd couple dynamic could easily carry on for some time.
Big Cass/Big Show/Enzo Amore continues to get bogged down with no end in sight
When Big Cass laid out both Big Show and Enzo Amore in the middle of the ring, it seemed he might get a clean break from this whole situation, but alas, it was not meant to be. All three men are now bogged down in this situation, and with Amore causing a DQ to wrap up the Big Show versus Cass match that inexplicably found its way into the show's main event slot, it's clear we're getting another chapter at SummerSlam.
For the record, Cass' new music is a vast improvement on his previous entrance theme, but if he's to get the upper hand once more against Amore and Big Show, what's left to be gained? And if he loses, where does he go from there?
Women's division falls to afterthought status
After a strong match last week in which Bayley picked up the win over Sasha Banks, locking in her chance at Alexa Bliss and the Raw women's title at SummerSlam, Bayley was paired up for yet another match with Nia Jax that had no buildup -- no backstage segment, attack or conflict in sight. Banks didn't appear at all, and Bliss made a brief cameo at the end of the match to allow for a cheap countout win for Bayley, after which she scurried away.
With the positive momentum of the women's division, and the energy being put into the upcoming Mae Young Classic, a single match lasting less than 10 minutes on a show that's more than three hours long just isn't going to cut it in the women's division. Having it fall just before a forgettable main event, deep into the third hour of the show, is equally puzzling.
Hardys continue to stand above The Revival and Gallows & Anderson
Whlie Ambrose and Rollins appear to have Sheamus and Cesaro's attention, it appears as though The Revival, Gallows & Anderson and The Hardy Boyz will fight it out to see who get the next shot at the Raw tag team titles. The Hardys picked up the win in their match against Gallows & Anderson, and then laid out both G&A and The Revival in a postmatch squabble.
It appears to be the time for The Revival to rise, but will they?
The fall of Elias
Elias (forget the Samson) picked up a huge victory over Balor, albeit with some help from Wyatt, and walked away from that rivalry with some true heat. So where does he take that momentum?
Into a rivalry with the oft-forgotten Kalisto.
This is not a knock on Kalisto -- he's underutilized on Raw, and could easily benefit from more screen time on 205 Live -- but haphazardly dropping Elias' last name and moving him down the card doesn't seem to bode well for "The Drifter."
Jason Jordan takes out the Miztourage with one suplex
There are any number of different directions for this "boss' son" angle to go in, but for now, Jason Jordan seems to be pointed directly at Miz and the Intercontinental title. Jordan afforded himself fairly well on Miz TV, but he'll need to pick up the energy levels if he hopes to carry this opportunity toward something tangible and more permanent.