Monday Night Raw: "Balor Is Better"

Why isn’t Finn Balor the WWE Universal champion? Why isn’t Kevin Owens? Why isn’t Braun Strowman? Why isn’t Seth Rollins?

Why is it Brock Lesnar?

On this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw, Kevin Owens said something during a backstage interview -- one of what felt like 63 backstage interviews on this show -- with Renee Young that summed up this show quite nicely: “Who cares?”

His comments, along with mocking Finn Balor’s “Too Sweet” hand gestures, were meant to garner him heat ahead of his main-event affair with the leader of the Balor Club. Who cares about one-time Universal champion Finn Balor? A lot of fans. Who cares about the majority of the segments on Raw this week? Not that crowd in Houston.

Can you blame them?

This show started with promise, as Elias strummed his guitar, got the crowd belting out his catchphrases before being interrupted by his Money In The Bank opponent Intercontinental champion Seth Rollins. The words “Burn It Down” rang through the arena, the crowd popped, and Rollins made it immediately clear that he now take the Drifter and his handy guitar very seriously after his actions last week on Raw. Rollins’ stalking Elias around the ring clicked, their chair-meets-guitar spot and worked, but then Jinder Mahal stormed the ring.

And then Roman Reigns cleaned house.

And then, making former Smackdown general manager Teddy Long proud, Raw general manager Kurt Angle’s music hit, announced the now-obvious tag-team match and that was how that segment ended. On a thud. No continued fighting between Elias and Rollins. No mic time. Just Roman Reigns standing tall, as Roman Reigns does.

Bleh.

On commentary, there was no Booker T, instead, we saw the return of David Otunga and, other, than making the point that, “I don’t think people give Roman Reigns enough credit,” that resulted in me seriously considering closing my laptop and not finishing the rest of this show. (You know I wouldn’t do that, I have to write. It’s what I do. I watch and I listen and I write. Professional wrestling just likes that to make that more difficult than it needs to be sometimes, that’s all.) The commentators, to be fair, were in an uncomfortable spot for most of the night, as it’s clear the new long layoff between pay-per-views is causing things to really drag and everybody is ready for the go-home shows on next week’s agenda -- especially, Michael Cole.

That awkward gap between PPVs resulted in a Curt Hawkins segment and mic time, which is always a win. It may seem odd to you, the reader, to see that I’m spending time writing about this portion of the show, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was one of my favorite segments of the night. Hawkins can talk, he knows how to deliver punchlines, his timing is excellent, and he never fails to bring a sliver of joy to each show he appears on. Curt Hawkins knows his role, but he makes the most of it. He has the rare, genuine look of Just Happy To Be There guy, which is something John Cena and Drew McIntyre must seriously loathe. Hawkins did his job, he filled time, and he was a perfect foil to the natural bully heel in Baron Corbin. I’m not saying I want to see Corbin and Hawkins get rewarded with a 10-minute match on Raw following the opening segment on next week’s go-home show, but I would not be opposed to it.

What followed was a match between Nia Jax and Natalya where the ladder soared while the former dragged. The Nia Jax WWE Raw women’s champion run has bombed. That can be true, and it can also be true that placing her in a feud with Ronda Rousey, now, ahead of Summerslam even, was unfair. But Jax wasn’t working, her character direction took a turn for the worse following WrestleMania, and her acting, especially following Rousey checking on Natalya following her knee injury was excruciating. Timing is everything, and Jax has never had it. We’re getting Natalya vs. Rousey for the Raw women’s championship at Summerslam. It’s clear that’s the plan, and it’s not an intriguing one, but it’s where this story is headed. But where is Nia Jax headed?

And then are questions surrounding Braun Strowman. Yes, other unfortunate wrestlers are still being given those damn hands, but Strowman is clearly losing steam. It’s also unclear as to whether or not his matches with talent the WWE decision-makers ostensibly want to succeed are helpful. The story Balor and Strowman told in their main event match a few weeks ago was an outlier in the history of Braun Strowman matches. If Strowman is booked to face someone like, say, Bobby Roode, he works the same sort of match he works against Kevin Owens or Rollins or whoever is not named Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar. Roode was thrown around like a ragdoll, Owens took a shoulder block from Strowman and sold the hit like he was Prime Dolph Ziggler. The only real competition for Strowman is Roman Reigns and Lesnar. Reigns is busy feuding with Jinder Mahal and Brock Lesnar isn’t mentioned or seen on WWE television for weeks -- he’s also already feuded and lost to both the WWE Universal champion and the Universal-champion-in-waiting. There is nowhere for Braun Strowman to go, so he’s decided to go up, and that requires climbing a ladder and grabbing a briefcase he doesn’t need. Or maybe he does. I don’t know, but I know the WWE doesn’t, either.

But Balor is working, and Owens is consistent. It was peculiar as to why this main event match between two former Universal champions wasn’t billed as a match between two former Universal champions. Perhaps, it was because Lesnar wasn’t there, and rather than mention that red belt that is rarely seen on Mondays over the last year, they ignored it. The crowd did not care, as their match stole the show, the crowd was hot for it, and Owens’ anger issues cost him once again as he got himself disqualified. The post-match fight felt important, like these two should feuding over the top prize on Raw, similar to Owens and AJ Styles’ feud over the United States title on Smackdown Live last year. Finn Balor and Kevin Owens both have it, and they both have it in very different ways. This should be the WWE Universal title feud over the summer, but it won’t be. So it goes.

Scribbles From The Legal Pad:

  • Did I mention the opening segment did not need Roman Reigns or Jinder Mahal?

  • Something tells me David Otunga will not be back in the commentary booth next week. But if he were, would you notice?

  • The Reigns vs. Mahal match better not be going on last at Money in the Bank.

  • Is Curt Hawkins a top-5 mic guy in the company right now? I could make the case. Just not here. Not now.

  • Siding Corbin with the McMahon’s is the right decision. It’s like the inverse of the Roman Reigns’ storyline, but believable and interesting.

  • “Almost, Nattie…”

  • Best Bobby Roode main roster week of his WWE career? (Note: He was squashed by Braun Strowman.)

  • Bring back the cruiserweights if it will result in cutting these Sami Zayn vs. Bobby Lashley segments. I’d settle for showing Enzo Amore’s rap single on a loop for fifteen minutes over anymore of this. (OK, maybe not that. I’d settle for Gran Metalik vs. TJP.)

  • “Here comes Bayley!” “Why?!”

  • The Bayley character continues to just be...not the smartest professional wrestler.

  • “I am so brilliant!”

  • B-Team post-match reactions give me goosebumps on a weekly basis. This works. Keep it going, creative team.

  • Was that the best Bray Wyatt promo since 2015? Asking for a friend.

  • Bobby Roode facial reactions.

  • I don’t know Finn Balor personally, but I’d like to, because, man, does that guy not seem to be the most authentically nice guy on the roster? He’s the best. He should get a belt. Or a briefcase. Or a push. Something? Vince, where are you going?