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Quick Cuts: Monday Night Raw (05/29/17)

This week’s episode of Raw was a mixed bag, with two strong television matches counterbalanced by one of the worst segments of the year.

After the obligatory show-opening talking segment to set up a throwaway, feud-combining multi-man (in this case Miz-Ambrose and Hardys-Sheamus & Cesaro), we were given the first chapter in an unfolding mystery. Announcer Corey Graves sh*t-stirred with GM Kurt Angle by showing him a text message which called the Olympic Hero, “A disgrace and embarrassment to the WWE and besmirched (WWE love that word) his reputation as a gold medalist.” The full contents of the message were not revealed, however, though evidently there was more to it as Angle said that if true it could ruin him. It’s been a while since WWE did a good old episodic whodunit, and having an intriguing thread running through a few weeks of television should lead to at least a degree of spirited online speculation as to where the angle is going next. Chances are it could result in a return to the ring for Angle, though one expects WWE might prefer to save that for WrestleMania, unless those low recent ratings really are starting to concern them.

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Elias Samson took us back in time to 1995 with both his pre-match concert (stirring up memories of Man Mountain Rock, albeit without the amazing logo guitar that MMR used to have) and his quick destruction of jobber Zac Evans. One can only assume that Samson is being built for an eventual WrestleMania showdown with SmackDown Live’s own musical maestro Aiden English… Perhaps not.

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One of two excellent matches on the show took place next as Samoa Joe defeated Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor in an excellent three-way match, designed to build up to the Universal Title number one contenders match at Extreme Rules. If you apply WWE’s formulaic booking logic then Joe’s win removes any chance of him winning on Sunday’s pay-per-view. The match was very good, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have been stronger had Wyatt pulled up his rocking chair at ringside and observed rather than competed. As decent as he is in the ring, he simply cannot hold a candle to Joe and Balor.

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On Sunday, WWE will presents a mixed tag match featuring the odd pairing of Sasha Banks and Rich Swann (who appear to have been thrown together because they both enjoy a spot of dancing) against Noam Dar and his main squeeze Alicia Fooooooox. The prospect of this bout is sure to cause headaches for WWE’s ring crew when they try to work out what colour ropes to put around the ring. With the cruiserweights competing convention dictates they be purple, but the women’s involvement throws a spanner in those works. Maybe they will go half and half. To set up the match Swann defeated Dar, practically ensuring that Dar and Fox will emerge victorious at the weekend.

In a brief segment, The Revival denied all knowledge of having attacked the glass-jawed Enzo Amore last week, even after being presented with footage showing them hastily departing the scene of the crime. For the second time in the night Corey Graves stuck his nose in, implying that Enzo’s partner Big Cass had done the deed, an opinion he quickly backed down from when Cass came out to confront him. Later in the night, Enzo was attacked again. The plot thickens! This, and the Angle mystery, both signify a small change in ethos from WWE’s usually-prosaic writers. For years every “angle” on Raw has been drab and uninspired, usually seeing two parties fighting for the sake of it, with no semblance of storyline progression to further the issue. This is a much-needed step in the right direction; long may it continue. My front-runners for who committed the attack are the Hardy Boyz, Corey Graves himself, and The Fashion Police (teaching Enzo a lesson for his terrible fashion sense). This being WWE, it will be who we all thought it was in the first place: The Revival.

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After a worthless Titus O’Neil squash win over the unbearable Kalisto, we were given a segment which smacked of desperation from WWE: Alexa Bliss presenting This Is Your Life – Bayley. As everyone knows, WWE champions a This Is Your Life segment with The Rock and Mick Foley in 1999 as its highest rated segment on Raw ever (it wasn’t, the highest was a WWF Title match between The Undertaker and Steve Austin), and with ratings down this seemed like a futile attempt to recapture that elusive lighting in a bottle. Unfortunately, the skit failed on every level. Bliss is usually one of the star performers on the show but the material she was given to work with here was WWE’s badly-scripted verbiage at its unflattering worst. Bliss struggled through the lame attempts at comedy as she mocked Bayley for among other things still playing with dolls and for winning a trophy for “sportsmanship”, all of which felt forced and fell incredibly flat. The introduction of characters purportedly from Bayley’s past dragged things down further. The acting from the presumably trained professionals was some of the worst ever seen on WWE TV, which is saying something. After what seemed like half an hour of being insulted by Bliss, Bayley finally came out to defend herself… then got her ass kicked again by the Raw Women’s Champion. What a mess WWE has made of the Bayley character, who at one point looked set to be this generation’s female role-model for the masses. Bayley will almost certainly retrieve the weaponry first in their Kendo Stick On A Pole showdown at Extreme Rules in order to exact her revenge, though I see absolutely no reason why WWE would take the title off Bliss at this stage.

In the second callback to 1995 of the evening, Goldust continued with his retro Hollywood act, making vague threats from his director’s chair towards former tag partner R-Truth. In response, Truth interrupted the vignette with one of his own, playing Goldust at his own game by quoting Pulp Fiction. This was the most tolerable Truth has been in months, perhaps years. Rather than goofy, he came across like something approaching a bad ass. Goldust going back to the glory days of his character is a definite positive too. Maybe this feud won’t be so bad after all.

WWE.com

In the main event, former Shield partners Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins went at it full tilt in a pay-per-view quality match. The pair have great chemistry and assembled a spirited battle that fans were fully invested in. The result – Reigns over clean with a spear – like the three-way earlier, perhaps telegraphs the result of the Extreme Rules main event. Reigns is not going to face Lesnar at Great Balls Of Fire – WWE are saving that showdown for WrestleMania – so they gave him a win here to keep him ticking over. If we once again apply WWE logic then Rollins came out of Raw weaker than the other likely winner, Finn Balor, in the sense that he was pinned whereas Balor was simply out of the ring when Joe won the three-way. In other words, put your money on Rollins in the five-way on Sunday.

Overall this was a much better episode of Raw than in recent weeks, with strong matches and intriguing storyline progression throughout. It’s just a shame it was dragged down by that horrific segment.

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