With a roster full of superstars to support and three hours of weekly television to build, Raw can rarely be accused of being focused on taking a single individual and focusing all of the attention on them.
While Monday's edition of Raw nudged several storylines forward and raised a simmering heat surrounding the upcoming No Mercy pay-per-view, you couldn't be blamed in thinking that, on this rare occasion, Raw was dedicated to a single purpose -- confirming the monstrous status of Braun Strowman, and making him seem as likely as any challenger thus far to unseat reigning WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar.
It began about an hour into the show, as Lesnar and his advocate Paul Heyman marched to the ring and gave their weekly declarative speech about how, despite whatever hardships Lesnar had been facing, he would ultimately emerge victorious despite his underdog status against Strowman. A brief prompt was all Lesnar needed to charge towards the ring, but for the first time it appeared as though Lesnar would grab the upper hand.
After a back-and-forth for positioning, Lesnar slammed Strowman into the corner and took the giant straight over his head for a German suplex. As Lesnar celebrated, Strowman instantly popped back up and waited for Lesnar to turn around to get the bad news.
As Strowman caught Lesnar's attention, he manhandled the Universal champion with a chokeslam and finished the deed with a running powerslam. For the second time, he held the Universal championship aloft and made a declarative statement by holding the title far above his head.
This alone would have served as the right kind of momentum for Strowman, but he was far from finished. In a match that certainly could have served as the night's main event, Strowman resisted every forward charge from John Cena and landed two devastating moves. It started by allowing Cena to charge at him while he was holding steel stairs, a questionable outcome in terms of disqualification. Strowman left no doubt as he sent Cena into the stairs with a running powerslam, which finally caused the referee to cause for the bell, and Strowman gladly let the decision slide in deference to far more important message -- no one, be it Lesnar, Cena, Roman Reigns or anyone else on the roster -- could measure up to Strowman.
It served a rare purpose in satisfying two different masters.
Strowman was able to further establish himself as a seemingly undefeatable giant, while Cena got a bit of a reality check after running down Reigns verbally and going so far as to drop Reigns' drug suspension to attempt to get his message over with the Anaheim crowd and everyone watching at home.
The Strowman-Cena match, which easily should have been the main event match in most weeks of Raw, played second fiddle at the top of the 10 o'clock hour instead, fitting in snugly between the two Monday Night Football games on offer.
There have been times that Strowman has played the fool, including a couple of match-ups with Reigns, but just as Samoa Joe became an undeniable challenger to Lesnar's title in the lead-up to Great Balls of Fire, Strowman has hit every single important note on his way to challenging Lesnar at No Mercy. There's every reason to believe that Lesnar will continue to persevere until he is properly challenged around next year's WrestleMania, but few superstars have been able to go toe-for-toe with Lesnar the way that Strowman has.
Cena always gets the last word in
Jason Jordan pushed Reigns just as he did Cena one week ago. The match, which played out in the opening moments of Raw Monday night, saw a far more methodical and deliberate pace. Jordan was on the defensive early, but managed to turn things around in the latter stages and push Reigns in a way that made him particularly vulnerable to Cena's verbal barbs that immediately followed the match.
Just as Reigns had laid into Cena last week about having taken so long to put Jordan away, Cena challenged Reigns on the way that match had taken so long to finish. After agreeing that Jordan deserved props, Reigns made some salient points about how he had things handled to a point where Cena was no longer a necessary evil. He even name-dropped The Rock, in so many words, as he pointed to Cena's occasionally challenging transition into Hollywood.
As Reigns finished his most salient points, Cena laid out his most harsh words for Reigns to date. He called Reigns a one-man human centipede with a head up his own rear end, and then name-dropped Reigns' June 2016 drug-related suspension. One could easily argue that Cena went above and beyond the normal scope of a rivalry in this moment, but considering the no-words-barred nature we've endured to this point, Cena doesn't seem to be too far out of his element. Count another week in Cena's corner.
Hits and misses
-- The Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose/Hardy Boyz vs. Cesaro/Sheamus/Gallows/Anderson main event felt more than a little bit out of place in the main event, especially considering the firepower of a Cena/Strowman showdown one hour earlier. With two Monday Night Football games on Monday, it appeared as though WWE picked its battles and chose to stagger the Raw card to try and maximize on the audience it had.
It should come as little shock as Rollins and Ambrose hit their finishing sequence with ease and Gallows and Anderson played the fool yet again.
-- If wrestling talent was judged on facial expressions alone, Alexa Bliss would be a top-three talent without a single question. Her interactions with Nia Jax, both on commentary as Sasha Banks defeated Emma and backstage as the pair commiserated about Asuka's addition to the Raw roster, prove that Bliss has the ability to convey powerful emotions in the face of danger, fear and any number of other emotions. The Bliss-Jax dynamic, which will be the most difficult to deal with at No Mercy, will play out next Monday during a scheduled one-on-one match for the pair.
-- The Miz announced that he and Maryse are expecting their first child, which offered the perfect opportunity for Enzo Amore to interrupt the proceedings. Amore made another piece of history by competing against The Miz while being a member of the 205 Live roster, a rare achievement since the establishment of the cruiserweight division.
Miz absolutely flayed Amore in their verbal sparring session, pointing out their parallels in dealing with lengthy issues dealing with the rest of the roster. After offering a modicum of sympathy, Miz pointed to Amore's lack of ambition when compared to the rest of the cruiserweight division and a desire to hang out with third-rate rappers instead of focusing on his craft. A short match fell apart in a hurry as Amore got on the mic to start a "who's your daddy" chant in Maryse's direction and the entire Miztourage each took their turn punishing Amore in the aftermath.
-- Elias once again drew support from a local crowd, before having things turn decidedly against him when the song turned in a different direction. He picked up a victory over Kalisto, and continued to roll along in his gradual climb up the Raw roster.