This week’s edition of WWE Monday Night Raw was highlighted by one of the most memorable in-ring promo segments in WWE this year. It involved long-time WWE top guy John Cena and his opponent at September’s No Mercy pay-per-view, Roman Reigns.

As we all know from watching WWE regularly, Reigns is the hand-picked guy who Vince McMahon wants to be the “next Cena” and that was something they brought up during the promo. It was pretty surreal to see, actually, so let’s start this review with that.

John Cena and Roman Reigns made their No Mercy match official by signing the contract

Kurt Angle, Raw’s General Manager, was in the ring with a carpet in there (to make it look more formal) and a table with a contract on it. There were no chairs. For the past decade or so, WWE had numerous “contract signing” segments that looked similar, yet they didn’t call this a contract signing. I’m not sure if they have soured on that term or what, but it was essentially a contract signing.

Cena was introduced first, and began by saying that he really wanted to fight Roman Reigns while claiming that Reigns didn’t want to fight him. Reigns told Cena that he (Cena) is not as big of a deal as he thinks he is. Reigns told Cena that he has done something that Cena will never do – Reigns retired the Undertaker. The fans hated that, but it was a great line that Reigns delivered with confidence.

Cena went on to talk about how he’s been a polarizing figure with some fans cheering and some fans booing him. Cena even mentioned that people want him to do a heel turn. It’s rare to hear wrestlers say insider stuff like “heel turn” on Raw, but Cena has done it before in a joking way. Cena also added that he’s not like The Undertaker, who was a battered veteran with a bad hip. Rare to see somebody mention Undertaker like that, but it was a valid point.

At one point, Reigns was struggling to remember his lines, so Cena chimed in: “It’s called a promo. If you wanna be the big dog, you’re gonna have to learn how to do it. See ya, fourth wall!” That drew a huge reaction. That was probably one of the only things that wasn’t on the script for them. Reigns managed to recover from it.

My favorite line in the whole thing was Cena telling Reigns that when the fans see him, they think: “Roman Reigns is a cheap-ass, corporately created, John Cena bootleg.” It was harsh, it was funny and it was also true. Cena was not the hand-picked top guy of the future the way Reigns was. In 2002, Cena got over based on his rapper gimmick, turned face about a year after starting that and took off from there, although it wasn’t until 2005 when he won his first WWE Title. Cena also had the US Title on his road to the top. Reigns main evented WrestleMania 31 less than a year after The Shield broke up, so you can see why Cena would say Reigns was “corporately created.”

Reigns told Cena that the people boo Cena because he sucks. Reigns claimed that Cena is just a yes-man that is a “fake bitch” and added that Cena was a fake ass part-timing bitch. Reigns mentioned how he was working every Friday, Saturday, Sunday (live events) and Monday while Cena was off on the Today Show promoting things. Reigns claimed that Cena is going to bury as much young talent as he can, but Cena can’t bury him.

Cena got to have the last word in this promo battle. He talked about when he won the US Title, he was privileged to hold it while Reigns took the US Title as a demotion. That’s true. Cena said that Reigns blames him, so Cena blames Reigns and said this: “I’m still here because you can’t do your job.” Damn. Harsh words that also felt true. Cena said he finally heard about this guy Roman Reigns, but now he looks at him, he listens to him and told Reigns he could do this part-time better than Reigns could ever do it full-time. Both guys signed the contract, by the way.

Who won the promo battle? Cena, of course. He was amazing. It reminded me of his promos with The Rock from 2011 to 2013 to set up their big matches, although obviously Reigns isn’t as close to The Rock in terms of promos. I just mean these were the types of promos they did where it felt more personal. Cena also had some great promos with The Miz earlier in the year, but setting up a mixed tag at WrestleMania isn’t as good as Cena vs. Reigns for the first time.

Reigns stumbled a bit at certain points, but they were able to get through it. If you’re wondering, they both said what they were supposed to say, according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, so it’s not like they were “shooting” off script. I’m just glad WWE let them do promos like that because it feels more real than the usual WWE promos and it will make the match better.

After the segment was over, Cena and Reigns were confronted by Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson leading to a match.

John Cena and Roman Reigns defeated Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

My nickname for the Cena and Reigns team is the “Vince McMahon Dream Team,” because they are his favorite guys. It was a quick match that got about five minutes as the heels worked on Cena, Reigns got the hot tag and both guys hit their finishers at the same time with Reigns getting the pin for the team. I thought this would be done in a way where John and Roman end up fighting because they can’t stand each other, yet they had this match with no problems.

Is No Mercy too soon to do this match? Yes, it is. I assume it’s being done “early” because Cena has movie commitments that are going to keep him busy. Also, the WrestleMania 34 plan as far as we know is Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar, so that’s why they are doing Cena vs. Reigns at a show like No Mercy instead of saving it until WrestleMania or even a show like Royal Rumble. I don’t think fans should complain about having potentially great matches. Let’s enjoy them. The crowd in Los Angeles should be really hot for it and I think both wrestlers will do a great job.

Who wins Reigns vs. Cena? I’m going with Reigns. Despite what his haters think, Reigns hasn’t done that much on PPV this year and just got pinned by Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. It makes sense for Cena put over the younger guy and after it’s over, Cena can do a promo putting over Reigns as a great performer. That’s what this is about. This is WWE wanting to build up Reigns (again) to eventually face Lesnar (again) at WrestleMania. Cena is the perfect guy to help Roman get there even though, as I’ve written many times over the years, it would have been better if Reigns had a heel run in the last couple of years because it would have helped him more than anything.

Thanks to Reigns vs. Cena along with Lesnar vs. Strowman, No Mercy is not some “B-level” PPV event. It’s a major show now. Kudos to WWE for building up in a big way with a money making promo segment between Cena and Reigns.

This Week’s Raw Matches

Here are the other matches from this week’s Raw.

Jeff Hardy won a battle royal to earn a shot at the Intercontinental Title next week

Kurt Angle, the Raw GM, started the show interrupting The Miz. It led to Angle booking a battle royal with the winner of that match getting a shot at the Intercontinental Title held by The Miz and the title fight would take place next week on Raw. Big Show was the first guy announced in the match and he shaved his facial hair, so he looked different. Lots of King Kong Bundy jokes on Twitter for him.

This was a fun match where I didn’t know who was going to win, although obviously it was going to be a babyface who got the victory. Finn Balor had a few cool moments. At one point, he teamed up with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (former Bullet Club members in Japan) to eliminate Big Show and they all stared at each other. It would be cool to see them together in WWE again. Balor also had a face-off with Jeff Hardy that the fans loved. Bray Wyatt appeared in the middle of the match, dumped Balor out and disappeared after his logo was on the screen. That means Wyatt vs. Balor is continuing as a feud.

The final five ending was exciting with Jason Jordan eliminating Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel at the same time. Jordan dumped Elias out right after and Jeff Hardy eliminated Elias to win the match.

So Jeff Hardy will face The Miz for the IC Title. I don’t think Jeff is going to get a significant singles push yet, although I’d like to see it. I assume Miz will retain, Jeff will team with Matt against Gallows and Anderson at No Mercy (G&A eliminated Matt after Gallows was eliminated from the match) and Jordan will be the IC Title challenger against Miz at No Mercy. There’s still a few weeks to go to get there.

Enzo Amore defeated Noam Dar

Enzo did a promo before the match. He joined 205 Live last Tuesday night. Enzo’s star power might help the cruiserweight division, but his matches aren’t good. Enzo won the match in about three minutes with the Eat Defeat finisher (Gail Kim has used it for years in TNA/GFA) that did not look good. Enzo is below average in the ring and didn’t even do his finisher the right way. Not a good sign.

After the match, Neville was interviewed backstage and said that if Enzo is his competition, then he’s going to be Cruiserweight Champion forever.

Cesaro defeated Seth Rollins

I was excited for this match and liked most of it, but didn’t love the finish. They worked hard for about 10 minutes, there weren’t believable near-falls and then the finish was done with a distraction. Sheamus tried to interfere, Ambrose attacked him on the floor, Rollins was distracted by that and Cesaro hit an uppercut to pin Rollins.

The finish made me say “that’s it?” rather than that’s a good finish. Cesaro throws uppercuts all the time, rarely wins with them and he won with a straight uppercut? It seemed weak. I know Rollins was distracted, but it could have been booked better.

Anyway, Sheamus did a promo saying he wants a match with Ambrose and it was on right after.

Dean Ambrose defeated Sheamus

It was obvious who was going to win and how it was going to happen, but to WWE’s credit this finish was booked better. Sheamus controlled most of the match. He had some cool moves like the Rolling Senton off the turnbuckle that nearly won him the match. Cesaro and Rollins got involved, the ref was busy getting Cesaro off the apron and that allowed Rollins to hit a springboard knee attack to the face. Ambrose capitalized with the Dirty Deeds DDT to pin Sheamus.

The booking was consistent with how WWE typically books tag team feuds. Have one partner with a singles match against the tag team you’re feuding with and the other partner wins the other match. It’s something WWE has been doing for decades.

All of this is going to lead to Rollins and Ambrose defending the Raw Tag Team Titles against former champions Sheamus & Cesaro at No Mercy. It’s not official yet, but it should be by next week.

Emma defeated Mickie James

They had a locker room segment with Emma bragging about how she started the Women’s Revolution and Mickie was sick of it. They agreed to a match where if Emma won, then Mickie must post a hashtag that Emma wants and if Mickie wins, then Emma has to shut up about starting the women’s revolution.

I like both women a lot, but they didn’t get time to do much. The match was about two minutes (about the same length as the backstage segment) and Emma won by sitting on top of Mickie during a sunset flip attempt. The whole point about the “Women’s Revolution” is giving more of a spotlight and more time, yet here they are getting two minutes. Silly. At least the main event got more time.

Alexa Bliss defeated Sasha Banks to win the Raw Women’s Championship

I was surprised they were given the main event slot, but there was nothing else on the show worthy of it, in terms of matches. Both women did promos before the match with Bliss saying Banks hasn’t been a successful champion in the past with short title reigns (it’s true) and Banks talked about how she’s going to win. I thought Banks was going to win because she just won the title eight days earlier at SummerSlam. I was wrong because WWE loves booking title changes.

The match was pretty good and better than what they did at SummerSlam. That SummerSlam match was lacking in terms of intensity and exciting moments. In this match, Banks was back to her awesome self with several running knee attacks that looked vicious. Banks also went for the Bank Statement multiple times. I thought she was going to win the match because of it. Bliss ended up countering the Bank Statement submission with a rollup for two. When they got to their feet, Bliss sent Banks throat-first into the top rope and hit a DDT for the pinfall win. It went about 12 minutes.

The DDT finish didn’t seem like a big move, but Banks sold it like she was out from it. The problem is that so many people use DDTs (Ambrose’s finisher is a double arm DDT, for example) that it’s tough for us to buy it as a great finish. Bliss is limited in what she can do, though, so it’s fine for her. It made Banks look like such a loser too.

Post-match, Nia Jax went to the ring to splash Banks in the corner to knock her down. Jax celebrated with her “friend” Bliss by putting Bliss on her shoulder to celebrate. When Jax faced the camera, she was smiling and then she changed to a serious look on her face. Jax dropped down backwards in a move that slammed Bliss to the mat. The crowd booed that turn by Jax. Jax held up the Raw Women’s Title over her fallen former best friend Bliss and Jax walked away to end it.

I assume this means that WWE is going to turn Bliss face since she gets cheered a lot anyway. I think that’s a mistake because I like her more as a heel. Jax will probably win the Women’s Title to give her a run with the gold for the first time. That can lead to Asuka joining the WWE main roster in a few months because Asuka left NXT and is expected to head to Raw when she’s healed from her collarbone injury. That would set up an Asuka vs. Nia Jax feud for the title later in the year or early next year.

Other Key Items From Raw

1. Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman delivered a message to Braun Strowman

Paul Heyman did the usual promo hyping up Lesnar vs. Strowman at No Mercy on Sept. 24. What I really liked about the promo is that Heyman put over Strowman in a huge way. Heyman mentioned that Strowman put Lesnar through two tables at SummerSlam with two running powerslams and that nobody else could do something like that to Lesnar. Heyman told the kids watching at home that he doesn’t believe in monsters, but he believes Strowman is one. Once again, that’s Heyman really doing his part to make Strowman look like a massive star and a threat to Lesnar.

While Heyman was talking, Lesnar grabbed the microphone from him and said this: “What he’s trying to say is… suplex city, bitch.” Lesnar dropped the microphone and they left. Lesnar rarely speaks, so when he does it means more because it doesn’t happen often enough.

There was no Strowman on the show. I’m not sure why other than WWE simply wanting to give him a week off. Strowman wrestled at the live events over the weekend, so there’s no injury as far as we know. It was just a week off. I understand it from WWE’s perspective because if you have Lesnar and Strowman brawl every week, it gives too much away. Keeping them apart builds anticipation more.

2. Elias beat up “Pelvis Wesley” after a song

Elias did one of his songs ripping on Memphis. Jerry Lawler interrupted him because Lawler is a Memphis legend. Lawler was on Raw replacing Booker T, who couldn’t get out of Houston due to Hurricane Harvey.

Lawler brought out Pelvis Wesley from Southpaw Regional Wrestling (WWE’s parody promotion on Youtube), who was Heath Slater in an Elvis outfit. Elias beat him up easily and that was it. Worst segment on the show. Not much more to say about it because it failed miserably.

3. Samoa Joe is dealing with a knee injury

It was reported by Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio that Joe suffered a knee injury that will keep him  out for about six weeks at the most. That’s unfortunate, but also not that serious. Most likely, WWE will keep him off TV for the next month, he’ll probably miss No Mercy and can return to action by October.

Joe did not appear on Raw, although he was originally planned to face John Cena in the main event of the show.

Looking Ahead to WWE No Mercy

The next Raw brand WWE pay-per-view is No Mercy on Sunday, Sept. 24 in Los Angeles. We only know two big matches.

WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

There is still plenty of time to add matches to the card.

In Closing

I thought Raw was slightly above average this week. The Cena/Reigns promo was one of the most memorable segments of the year and did a great job in terms of getting people talking about it in a positive light. The in-ring action was fine, but didn’t have a standout match.

Braun Strowman was missed during this show. His presence always helps.

I’ll be back Wednesday with a review of Smackdown Live.

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.