This week’s Raw was an improved effort after an average show last week. There was a heavy focus on Braun Strowman as he nears his WWE Universal Title match against Brock Lesnar at No Mercy in less than three weeks on Sept. 24. There was also a very good follow-up to the John Cena/Roman Reigns promo duel from last week. Plus, the matches were entertaining as well.

In this opening segment, I’ll focus on Cena/Reigns and also the main event with Strowman battling Big Show in a steel cage.

John Cena defeated Jason Jordan

It was so refreshing to see Raw begin with a wrestling match instead of the usual 15-minute promo segment. Cena and Jordan had a competitive match with each man trading offense. It was one of those 50/50 type matches instead of a match where one guy gets most of the offense and then loses.

Cena slapped on his STF submission, Jordan made a slick counter to get out of it, Jordan slapped on a Crossface and submission and then it turned into a chinlock, which likely wasn’t what he intended. Jordan came back with an incredible sequence where he did two bridging Northern Lights Suplexes in a row for a nearfall. The crowd had really gotten into the match. Jordan went for his neckbreaker finish, Cena slipped out and Cena hit the Attitude Adjustment to win.

I enjoyed the match and thought it was the best match Jordan has had on Raw since he was moved there a few months ago. Cena’s really good in terms of being willing to take a lot of moves from his opponent. Plus, Cena has as much credibility as anybody so when a wrestler comes close to beating him, the crowd is going to buy into it like they did here.

Cena helped Jordan back to his feet, shook his hand and patted him on the back, as if to say good job. Roman Reigns entered after the match was over and the show went to a break there, so that meant that Roman and John had to stand in the ring for three minutes while waiting for Raw to return. The magic of television!

John Cena and Roman Reigns Had Another Chat

This promo wasn’t as great as last week’s, which was also longer, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Reigns started off saying if Cena was so good why did it take him 20 minutes to beat a “rookie” like Jason Jordan. I thought that was a bad line because the match was 12 minutes (so not really close to 20) and calling Jordan a rookie is silly when he started in WWE in 2011 while Reigns started in 2010. Yes, Jordan has only been on the main roster for about a year and a half, but calling him a rookie is dumb. Think of another way to insult the guy, WWE, because that sounded ridiculous.

Cena pointed out that Reigns’ zipper was down, so Reigns said it was broken because he’s “The Big Dog” and that drew a laugh. Cena talked about checking to see if he had balls and didn’t see any, so Reigns said you would enjoy looking. It was a weird direction to take, but it showed that they had a lot of issues.

They managed to get to the point eventually. Cena said he doesn’t like Reigns because he’s a conceited, know-it-all that was handed everything while guys like Jordan, Chad Gable and The Miz (who Cena said he didn’t like) scratched and clawed their way to get where they are. Cena said he respects that, but told Reigns: “I don’t respect you!” Big reaction to that.

Cena told Reigns that the fans don’t agree with Reigns saying it’s his yard or that he’s the guy. Reigns suggested that Cena fight him right there, but Cena just leaned up against the ropes unwilling to do it. Reigns told Cena he’s all talk, so that’s why Reigns doesn’t respect him. That ended the segment as Reigns left.

It was a bit silly with the zipper bit, but when they got into the respect reasons later on, it worked well. It’s easy for fans to see both perspectives because Cena wasn’t hand-picked to be a top guy in WWE. It took him time to get built up, earn respect and eventually become the top guy. Reigns was more of the hand-picked top guy who has headlined the last three WrestleManias. If you were watching this show for the first time, you would have guessed that Reigns was the heel in this scenario. But WWE keeps trying to present him as a face along with Cena.

I’m excited about their match at No Mercy in Los Angeles on Sept. 24. The crowd is going to be hot for all of it that’s for sure. I’m going with a Reigns win because he’s the younger guy and I think it’s going to be very good, even though it’s their first match.

Braun Strowman beat Big Show in a Steel Cage Match

The match was built up well with highlights shown from the Raw on April 17 when they broke the ring doing a superplex spot. Strowman and Show each did confident interviews about how they are going to win. Strowman talked about sending a message to Brock Lesnar, while Show was the respected veteran wanting to prove himself. There was even an interview with referee John Cone, who famously bumped out of the ring to the floor during that ring-breaking match in April. Prior to the match, there was a shot of the ring crew reinforcing the ring to prevent another ring-breaking moment.

They started the match just before 11 p.m. ET and went about 15 minutes, which is longer than you might expect, but it’s also similar to their February and April Raw matches. In a match like this, you know what the outcome was going to be (a win for Strowman), but they still managed to pop the crowd with Big Show busting out spots that the crowd loved. For example, when Show was on the top rope after a slow climb, he saw Strowman down on the mat and jumped off with a flying elbow drop. It was such a rare site, so the fans loved it.

The finish was well done because they did the superplex spot again. This time, the ring didn’t break because it was reinforced (good way of explaining the storyline), but again the crowd reacted to it as a big deal. Strowman ended up picking up Show from there and hitting a Running Powerslam for the pinfall win.

Post-match, Strowman looked like he was leaving when he stopped. With Big Show still on the mat, Strowman picked him up again and gave him a Powerslam into the side of the cage, which broke open, so Show bounced off the cage. It was an impressive spot that has been done before in things like Hell in a Cell matches, but again it’s one of those moves the fans are always going to pop for. It worked really well.

One of my biggest complaints with WWE cage matches is when you see a guy like Show slowly trying to climb out of the cage when he could just walk out the door and use a lot less energy while doing it. They did do some door spots, but if WWE could just change the rules so that you can only win by climbing out of the cage that would make these matches more exciting.

Strowman got the big win and destroyed a legendary giant after the match. It puts him over huge heading into No Mercy. That’s exactly what it needed to be. It’s also similar to Lesnar beating up Show dozens of times in the last 15 years to put him over. Nobody has put those two over more than Big Show!

As for Big Show, he’s in his mid-40s and there are retirement rumors. He may need hip surgery soon, so he could be off TV for a while. Show is already working a reduced schedule with very few house show events and he’s not on TV every week. It’s fair to call him a part-timer. Kudos to him for getting into great shape for this last run of his career. He has put over Strowman three times in a huge way. I’m sure Braun appreciates it and I hope the fans do too. Both of them have impressed me a lot with their matches.

This Week’s Raw Matches

Here are the rest of the action from Monday night.

Sheamus & Cesaro defeated Heath Slater & Rhyno

Easy win for Sheamus & Cesaro to put them over heading into another title match with Rollins & Ambrose at No Mercy. Sheamus pinned Rhyno after a Brogue Kick in a match that went about two minutes.

The Miz defeated Jeff Hardy to retain the Intercontinental Title

This was a competitive match that saw Miz allies Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas get ejected for getting into a fight with Jeff’s brother Matt Hardy on the floor. The ref saw it and was justified in tossing them all out. I figured the finish would see blatant interference from Maryse, but she really didn’t do much aside from touching The Miz’s hand to get him to move when Jeff was going for a Swanton Bomb. Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale to win the match shortly after. Clean win for the heel champion Miz in about 13 minutes.

What this match also showed is that Jeff Hardy is still a great singles wrestlers nine years after he won his first WWE Title. While I understand the nostalgia act from the Hardys, there’s more money in Jeff as a singles guy and I think by next year you’ll see him wrestling in singles more often.

Enzo Amore, Cedric Alexander & Gran Metalik defeated Tony Nese, Drew Gulak & Noam Dar

They booked this in a way that made Enzo looked out of place with these other great athletes, but he found a way to win by doing an eye poke (while the ref was looking at the other guys) and hit his foot to the face finishing move for the win. I was disappointed that Metalik wasn’t tagged in because he’s such a talented guy in terms of his aerial moves. He did a couple of moves, but the focus was clearly on Enzo. To Enzo’s credit, the crowd does care more with him in the cruiserweight division.

Emma & Nia Jax defeated Sasha Banks & Alexa Bliss

The match wasn’t anything special, but I thought it was another example of good booking in terms of the finish. I have said that a few times already, which should tell you why I liked the show. Emma and Jax were told by Raw GM Kurt Angle that they would get a title shot at Bliss if they won, so I figured they had to get the win.

Banks and Bliss worked well together for most of the match, which was a bit of surprise. It would have made sense to have them bicker, one of them punches the other and that woman gets pinned. Nope. It didn’t go that way. Banks tried to wear down Jax with a submission like she has done in the past, but Jax powered out of it. Jax ran the ropes, Emma tagged herself in and after Jax hit a leg drop on Banks, Emma pinned Banks and won for her team. It was a clever way to have a cheap heel like Emma steal a win from her own partner.

The win means that it’s Bliss vs. Banks vs. Jax vs. Emma for the Raw Women’s Title at No Mercy. I’m probably going to pick Bliss to retain by pinning Emma.

Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins defeated Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

This was the fourth tag match on the show, so by this point I was getting a bit sick of the tag team formula. I like all four guys, though. Sheamus and Cesaro were at ringside. They played a part in the finish by jumping on the apron to cause a distraction. The finish was a bit of a mess with Cesaro and Sheamus providing an accidental distraction that led to Rollins doing the dreaded rollup on Anderson to win the match. I’m so tired of that rollup, which I like to call the ROLLUP OF DEATH~!, because WWE has used it as a “surprise” finish for decades. Please try to evolve and do something different.

Post-match, Sheamus & Cesaro got into an altercation with Gallows & Anderson that they won and cleared the ring afterwards. I assume we’ll see Sheamus & Cesaro beating Gallows & Anderson next week.

It’s weird for me to write about Ambrose and Rollins as tag team wrestlers when both guys were main eventing so many shows in the last three years. I like the team a lot. It just takes some getting used to.

Other Key Items From Raw

Finn Balor and Bray Wyatt teased a No Mercy match without making it official

Finn Balor was in the ring doing a promo saying that even when you think you’ve beaten Bray Wyatt, he still comes back. That was a reference to Wyatt costing Balor the battle royal last week to earn a shot at the Intercontinental Title. Wyatt appeared on the screen, did one of his rambling promos about being a god and managed to throw “no mercy” in there at one point.

I figured one of them would challenge the other to a No Mercy match since their televised matches are tied 1-1, but it didn’t happen. No challenge issues yet. They will probably have a match at No Mercy, though.

Looking Ahead to WWE No Mercy

The next Raw brand WWE pay-per-view is No Mercy on Sunday, Sept. 24 in Los Angeles. Here’s what we know so far.

WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

Roman Reigns vs. John Cena

Raw Tag Team Championships: Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins vs Sheamus & Cesaro

Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax vs. Emma

They will probably add Balor vs. Wyatt in the next week and The Miz will need an opponent for the IC Title. Maybe that’s going to be Jason Jordan. Not sure yet.

In Closing

Good show this week. One of the best Raws of the summer. Still the summer, right? Technically, yes. The match quality was above average with only one match under three minutes and most of them went over 10 minutes. There was repetitiveness with too many tag matches, as I mentioned, but at least none of them were that bad.

The main event provided some memorable moments while Cena and Reigns continued to successfully build interest in their No Mercy match. When the two most important segments on the show are awesome, then that certainly helps the quality of the show.

Brock Lesnar was not on Raw this week. I believe he’s on next week’s show and the following week as well to continue the build to his No Mercy match with Braun Strowman.

I’ll be back Wednesday with a review of Smackdown Live with Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Randy Orton as the advertised main event.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He's written for WhatCulture, Bleacher Report, Layfield Report, Rajah.com and many other places. You can follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net.