WWE’s Raw Reunion put over current talent while celebrating its storied past.
There is a pace and flow necessary to deliver a quality edition of Monday Night Raw, and both were on display during Monday night’s reunion show. The Raw Reunion served as a reminder that WWE’s signature program can still hold the audience’s interest for three hours.
Doses of tension were combined with the anticipation of seeing “Stone Cold” Steve Austin return to Raw. Silent in his past few appearances, Austin opened up to deliver a tribute to his fellow wrestlers and wrestling fans to close out the show.
While Vince McMahon’s WWE certainly didn’t create pro wrestling, it has built a foundation on perfecting concepts and ideas introduced throughout the entire industry. That was visible on Monday night, as the end scene with all of the legends in the ring was reminiscent of The Elite closing out “All In” or “Double or Nothing”—except, this time, with Austin holding the mic and leading the way.
The show was very good, but asking a three-hour Raw to be perfect is an impossible request. One positive was the booking of The Revival, who were presented far more seriously, even in defeat, against The Usos than they were in January 2018 when they were squashed at the Raw 25th Anniversary show. Two frustrations areas were the booking of Samoa Joe and the decision to hold back on The Club attacking any and all members of DX and The Outsiders. But overall, the show held my interests for its entire duration, with far more of the story to be told next week in the continuing build to SummerSlam.
Here are my takeaways from the Raw Reunion:
1.) John Cena’s return once again highlighted his commitment to WWE
There was no better way to open the show than with John Cena.
Inevitably, when discussing Cena, there are natural comparisons to The Rock. Both are multi-time WWE champions who served as the face of Vince McMahon’s company. And both have transitioned from WWE into Hollywood, with The Rock becoming one of the most successful box office action stars.
During their feud, which resulted in back-to-back main events at WrestleMania 28 and 29, Cena mocked Rock’s promo that claimed he was back home in WWE, since he hardly ever appeared after making that claim. Cena promised that he would never leave, despite any opportunities that there thrown his way.
Cena is not as big of a star as The Rock, but he has stayed true to his word and consistently reappears on WWE programming, with the Raw Reunion—where Rock was absent—being the latest example.
2.) The 24/7 title continues to shine
WWE has struck gold with the 24/7 championship.
There is no lineage or prestige with the title, and nor should there be. This belt makes for a quality addition to the weekly storyline, and has succeeded in large thanks to the work of R-Truth. The title is the perfect addition to a weekly three-hour show like Raw, and that was certainly the case on Monday night.
Truth opened the night with the title, but it changed hands throughout the night with (brief) new champions in Drake Maverick, Pat Patterson, Gerald Briscoe, Kelly Kelly, Candice Michelle, and Madusa, who came close to throwing the title away in a trash barrel, which she did on WCW’s Nitro in 1995 with the WWE women’s title.
Before Madusa could discard the belt, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase arrived and bought the title—in a nod to his failed attempt to buy the WWE title from Andre the Giant in February 1988—which was on the short list of my favorite moments of the night.
The title reappeared at the end of the night, with Maverick winning the belt from DiBiase, and then Truth defeating Maverick to end exactly where we started. Hopefully, the 24/7 title will build off this show and remain an intergender championship, as Carmella winning the belt from R-Truth would add another element to SummerSlam.
3.) Samoa Joe hitting his ceiling is difficult to watch
Samoa Joe is a rare throwback on the WWE roster. His style would have been during any period since the beginning of the WrestleMania era, and he is so confident in his ability to frighten through force and intimidation.
Joe cut a tremendous promo after he sauntered to the ring with an abundant amount of machismo, calling the reunion show a “plague to the WWE” that panders to the fan base’s appetite for nostalgia. He was interrupted by Roman Reigns, who received a positive endorsement from the crowd, but it was an immediate sign of WWE’s lack of faith in Joe as a top-tier star.
There is no doubt the company believes in Joe, placing him in a prime position on its signature television show to highlight off his ability on the mic and in the ring against the company’s top babyface in Reigns. But clearly, they also believe he has reached his ceiling.
Joe, as evidenced by his 0–7 record when challenging for a world title on WWE pay-per-view (his only win was via disqualification, which took place over AJ Styles at last year’s SummerSlam in the world title match). He fell prey to Reigns’ spear, losing the match. The defeat will not be the end of Joe, but the biggest concern, especially for an intimidation machine like Joe, is that, in his inability to win big matches, perception becomes reality.
4.) DX and Mick Foley took different approaches to working with the main roster stars
Even if it was brief, Shawn Michaels shared a ring with AJ Styles. That was the highlight of the Styles-Seth Rollins match, which was overshadowed by all the noise surrounding it.
After the match, Styles, Gallows, and Anderson—who are now known as The O.C., as in the original club—went to give the “Too Sweet” hand gesture to original Kliq members Triple H and Shawn Michaels. It looked as if everyone in the ring was about to beat down Rollins, but the two founders of DX responded with a crotch chop.
The outcome was not the finish I had envisioned. Instead of putting The O.C. over as an unstoppable, undeniable force, the three powdered to Rollins, DX (who were joined by their other members), and The Outsiders.
Best-case scenario, this encounter leads to retribution—if The O.C. invades NXT and takes out one of Michaels’s star students, like Johnny Gargano, then that could lead to a spectacular story. But it still feels like a missed opportunity to make Styles, Anderson, and Gallows made men by destroying DX and Rollins, as well as Hall and Nash.
Mick Foley, on the other hand, used his star power to help Bray Wyatt.
Foley had hinted earlier in the week that his goal was to win the 24/7 Championship, which was the title he introduced on Raw in May. While Foley winning the title would have been a nice moment, he was used in a far more meaningful spot by taking a beating from Bray Wyatt.
Wyatt has the potential to be the villain WWE desperately needs, and he certainly has a spine-chilling look unlike anyone else in wrestling. Foley taking a beating, courtesy of being locked in his trademark Mandible Claw, did a marvelous job enhancing the aura of Wyatt.
5.) Steve Austin’s toast was the right close to the reunion
Cena was the right choice to open the show, and there was no better fit than Steve Austin to close it.
Austin opened up on the microphone, sharing how much the business still means to him and the other legends who were standing atop the stage. He showed off his storytelling ability, effortlessly dispensing his weekend exploits with Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Ron Simmons. While the close of the show could have served as an opportunity for a current star to take centerstage, this was a reunion show and the decision to close out by paying homage to the stars that brought WWE to this point was a nice touch.
Earlier on Monday, Austin told Sports Illustrated, “I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys and gals can do, and I’m going to enjoy every moment they put me in. Tonight’s going to be a hell of a ride, and that’s the bottom line.”
That statement proved to be accurate assessment of the show. Next week will focus on the build to SummerSlam. This reunion show was primarily focused on the current talent, but finished with a nod to its past.