With just one more Monday Night Raw to go before SummerSlam, the stage has been set for the bulk of Raw's contributions to the second-biggest show of the year. The Universal championship has rightfully taken center stage, with each of the four competitors having their highs and lows, and unexpected external forces have actually raised the stakes of the match and added an extra air of urgency to the proceedings.
The Raw women's championship, on the other hand, has been thrown into chaos. With Bayley pulled from SummerSlam with a separated right shoulder, two impromptu triple threat matches were slapped together and led to an all-too-predictable Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax showdown next week to determine the new No. 1 contender.
Neither the Raw tag team titles nor the Intercontinental championship have official contenders, though each title has its next suitor (and suitors) should there be enough room for it in Brooklyn. Even though the injury bug and the fallout from big swings like the Kurt Angle/Jason Jordan paternity angle tend to lead to chaos that needs to be cleaned up, this kind of uncertainty seems unnecessary for Raw when the show had six weeks to shape up between its last pay-per-view (July 9) and SummerSlam (Aug. 20).
There's quite a bit to like just 12 days out, but with last year's rocky SummerSlam as a blueprint for how not to blow out a big show, it's hard not to feel nervous when looking at how several major elements have been handled this time around.
For now, let's dig into this week's Raw.
Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns have gotten really good at beating the crap out of each other
There have been ambulance matches, last man standing matches, multi-way matches, tag team contests, and a dozen other situations in which Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns have gone to great lengths to beat each other up. Going in to each new match, fans are left to wonder what could possibly be left, with moments like Strowman pushing Reigns off a loading dock while strapped to a stretcher, only to tip over an ambulance, or Reigns backing a different ambulance into a trailer with Strowman trapped inside already behind them.
But each time out, Reigns and Strowman think of new and exciting ways to pulverize one another to the delight of the fans. This time around, it was all about a flying chair, a ramp-length spear and a Sting-esque Samoa Joe intrusion in the match's final moments that earned Strowman the victory.
Between last week's triple threat and this match, Raw has given away quite a bit before SummerSlam, but by keeping Brock Lesnar sequestered from the proceedings, they've kept a key element in their pocket that should draw fans in when the time comes.
Brock Lesnar gets to do Brock Lesnar things
Speaking of Lesnar, the beast and his advocate each got the plum opportunity to do what they do best. After Kurt Angle canceled Jason Jordan's appearance on MizTV and inserted Lesnar into the show's opening, it became pretty clear that there wasn't going to be any kind of deep heart-to-heart going on. When The Miz predicted Lesnar's exit from the WWE, using the phrase "taking your ball and going home" ala some of the most acrimonious WWE departures of years past, and followed it up by saying, "good riddance to bad rubbish," any doubts of an unhappy ending for he and the Miztourage were washed away.
We may have learned a little more than we bargained for about Heyman's personal proclivities, as Lesnar's advocate inquired into The Miz and Maryse's openness towards role playing. Heyman, who professed his own personal enjoyment of role playing, assigned roles for Miz (Reigns), Bo Dallas (Joe) and Curtis Axel (Strowman) before Lesnar tore them all down, suplexed each of them all over the ring and finished it off with an F5 for each man. There may be a face-to-face in the making next week on Raw, but in this case, it may make the most sense to simply hold off on that moment until Aug. 20.
Going out on a limb with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose
Monday's edition of Raw featured a couple of long, seemingly entertaining matches that the spectators in Toronto just wasn't having any part of. The rematch between Seth Rollins and Sheamus was a well-though-out match that featured just enough Cesaro interference without taking too much away from a solid in-ring effort. Going two-on-one was simply too much for Rollins, and a roll-up loss was followed by a beat-down as Dean Ambrose stayed true to his word and stayed away.
Later in the night, Cesaro and Ambrose had a tremendous technical match of their own. Ambrose picked up the roll-up pinfall and fell victim to the same kind of two-on-one bullying tactics as Rollins, only for his former Shield brother to run out and help despite being left high-and-dry earlier in the night. In an emotional moment, Ambrose symbolically extended his fist as an offering of final forgiveness as the crowd rose into a frenzy. But even as a potential moment for the ages came together, Rollins elected to shun Ambrose in the same way he had been the week before.
It was certainly a risk to take this moment and cast it aside to continue the narrative in this fashion, but the attention to detail and the emotion behind each decision in the Rollins-Ambrose situation has earned the creative team the benefit of the doubt for the time being. If it's done right, the actual reunion in Boston next week, or in Brooklyn at SummerSlam will be remembered for a long time; if it falls flat, we can look back at this night in Toronto as a missed opportunity.
Finn Balor playing Bray Wyatt's games
Finn Balor's promo hit a lot of good points, but it was all about the moment where Balor seemingly outfoxed Bray Wyatt again, only to be left in the dark on his own while Wyatt cackled to his heart's content.
Titus Worldwide invests in its future
Miraculous athlete recuperation is a trope WWE hasn't explored much, but Titus O'Neil springing for a hyperbaric chamber to get Akira Tozawa healed up for his cruiserweight title match was a nice touch. Rather than leaning too heavily on the same injury for too long, Tozawa vs. Neville can be about the match itself, rather than any one gimmick.
The amazing, shrinking Raw women's division
Injuries and injury angles often leave chaos in their wake, but there can also be opportunity in being forced to scramble. The pair of triple threat matches were a fairly inspired direction to go in, but the results of those matches left a familiar sour taste behind as they led to an all-too-familiar result.
The first match, between Emma, Alicia Fox and Sasha Banks, was quite impressive. Emma hit a suplex on Banks into the ring apron in an awesome spot and Fox got to hit her patented northern lights suplex to great effect, but at the end of the day, Banks still won the match in a creative finish that still led to the most predictable of results.
The second match was all-too-predictable in its own right as Nia Jax dispatched Mickie James and Dana Brooke in short order. If that match was the end goal, the two most likely contenders should have just fought it out this week, gotten it over with and used next week for a little bit of build. The four-way merry-go-round between Banks, Jax, Bayley and Alexa Bliss has become old hat. The triple threat match was a great opportunity to throw Emma, James, Fox or Brooke into the spotlight of a No. 1 contenders match against Banks, rather than yet another Jax-Banks mismatch where Banks will simply overcome the odds. But here we are.
Cass, Big Show and Enzo jump the shark (cage)
Is there a more fitting way to wrap up a rivalry that has done very little for any of the three men involved, despite main event placement and some great (yet too quickly forgotten) promos? With some of the matches and rivalries that are sure to be left off of the SummerSlam card, the upcoming shark cage match seems likely to become one of those conflicts remembered infamously in some future WWE network special.