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‘Raw’ Is Weird

Taking stock of a strange new status quo on WWE’s flagship show

WWE/Ringer illustration

As has been widely noted, this past Monday’s Raw radically reset a majority of its story lines and signature personas. (And, in one notable instance, attempted to actually reverse time.) WWE might be shaking up its flagship show to signify the start of a new, post–Brock Lesnar era or simply camouflaging Roman Reigns’s current hero swell as Universal Champion by making Braun Strowman the goat and randomizing half the roster.

So while SmackDown soldiers on as a model of relative consistency—Becky Lynch’s villainous streak notwithstanding—its Monday night counterpart barely resembles the soap opera that’s been on offer since April’s WrestleMania 34 and the following week’s inter-brand superstar shake-up. Is that a good thing? Sure is if you’re a fan of the Shield, Dolph Ziggler, Ronda Rousey or Bobby Lashley, to name a few. Whatever your rooting interests, we’ve set out to size up Raw’s talent pool one performer at a time (with an admitted pile-on of lower-card lingerers bringing up the rear), noting their relative pole position, how it’s changed since a mere six weeks ago (specifically, circa the July 23 edition of Raw), let alone as far back as ’Mania 34, and where they might stand come year’s end. Predictions, as always—and like many a wrestling card—subject to change.

Primary Active Roster

Roman Reigns (Universal Champion)

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Flying high as the no. 1 contender for then–Universal Champion Brock Lesnar’s title at SummerSlam after fending off foe Bobby Lashley.

Where He Stands Now: Reigns is Universal Champion after sending Brock Lesnar back to UFC with a SummerSlam win (thanks in large part to a distraction from the Monster Among Men, Braun Strowman). But he’s mostly playing down his “top guy” status to blend back in among Shield battery mates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, all three of whom just got their asses handed to them by Raw’s entire bad-dude collective working at the behest of Strowman—who vies for Reigns’s belt at Hell in a Cell on September 16.

How Did That Happen? They reunited the Shield to stoke the crowd and created a new Legion of Doom (the DC Comics version, not the Road Warriors) in Strowman and his buddies Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Will it stick? Who knows, but for now, stable wars it is.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Celebrating an uninterrupted four-plus months as champion, fending off an insurgency from Ambrose and/or Rollins, or finding inner peace alongside recent enemy Jinder Mahal while lamenting repeated losses to Strowman.

Braun Strowman (Mr. Money in the Bank)

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Toting around a Money in the Bank briefcase that looked like a Shrinky Dink in his giant mitts, muddling his way through silly segments with Jinder Mahal and Constable Corbin en route to a blowoff SummerSlam bout with antagonist Kevin Owens.

Where He Stands Now: Strowman is effectively the Monster Among Misfits, empowering Ziggler and McIntyre, mind-controlling the locker room’s ne’er do wells and tormenting Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose as an epic antagonist.

How Did That Happen? In scripted terms, Strowman was set off after the Shield coalesced to upend his cash-in effort on Reigns two weeks earlier. And seemingly recruited Ziggler and McIntyre to even the odds, because nothing says dominance like teaming with the guy who just lost his Intercontinental title to Rollins and Mahal’s former 3MB bandmate.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Maybe as Universal Champion, and almost definitely severed from Ziggler and McIntyre, who can flip him back to face lickety-split with a bit of two-on-one betrayal.

Ronda Rousey (Raw Women’s Champion)

Where She Stood Six Weeks Ago: Idle. Rousey was story-line-suspended by GM Kurt Angle after beating the crap out of then–Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, whom she would go on to challenge for the title at SummerSlam (and win).

Where She Stands Now: As Raw Women’s Champion, set to defend at HIAC against Bliss while dealing with what appears to be the Bellas’ attempts at getting between Rousey and BFF/training partner Natalya.

How Did That Happen? Arm bar.

Where She’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Very likely as still-reigning champ, or perhaps even two-time champ. But don’t discount Rousey being down to share the wealth by dropping the strap—which has already served its purpose legitimizing her wrestling résumé—for a prolonged period.

Seth Rollins (Intercontinental Champion)

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Beating back the dominant duo of then–Intercontinental Champion Ziggler and McIntyre, with some help from tag partner du jour and wandering soul Finn Bálor.

Where He Stands Now: Intercontinental champ after toppling Ziggler at SummerSlam. Though, like Reigns, he’s put prioritizing the gold on hold to reboot the Shield in earnest and substantiate its beef with Strowman’s ad hoc faction.

How Did That Happen? His IC feud with Ziggler was good but never ending—perhaps it was a holding pattern till the Shield was ready to reunite. With Ambrose back and Reigns on top (and Ziggler ready to enter the tag ranks), it was time to put the strap on Rollins.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Hard to believe he’ll still be palling around with both Shield comrades in three months’ time (though it’s even harder to imagine he’ll be the one to break up the crew for a second time). Maybe the bigger question is if he’ll be eyeing that Universal title, whether it’s on Roman’s waist or snugly secured onto Strowman’s tree-trunk wrist, as the road to WrestleMania 35 ramps up.

Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre (Raw Tag-Team Champions)

Where They Stood Six Weeks Ago: Often in the center of the ring, delivering mean-spirited promos to explain why they’re arbitrarily in cahoots. Either that or ganging up on Rollins, fending off interlopers like Bálor and Reigns, and relishing Ziggler’s latest Intercontinental Championship stint (his sixth, for those counting).

Where They Stand Now: As tag champs, because Baron Corbin said so, usurping The Revival’s deserved shot at then-champs the B-Team and more or less handing Ziggler and McIntyre the belts.

How Did That Happen? Dolph and Drew’s tenuous alliance with Strowman made a tag-division takeover instantly more plausible--and respectable--than when they were simultaneously selling fans on what they had in common.

Where They’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Not with Strowman. With each other? Judging by their lack of snazzy hybrid moniker and matching tights to this point, it’s not likely.

Alexa Bliss

Where She Stood Six Weeks Ago: As the walking dead, awaiting her title defense against Ronda Rousey at SummerSlam.

Where She Stands Now: As the walking dead, awaiting a token rematch against Rousey at Hell in a Cell. But also gearing up for a generational battle against Trish Stratus at WWE’s first all-women PPV, Evolution.

How Did That Happen? The Rousey component is self-explanatory (and you could do worse than go down beside her in history). The Stratus match was announced quietly, but has since grown to encompass Elias and the scorn of the cities of Toronto and Columbus.

Where She’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Easy to see Bliss getting lost in the shuffle after another loss to Rousey and a potential one to the legendary Stratus. But you can’t exactly disappear a five-time champ either. Even if it’s not for a title, a mutually beneficial butting of heads with the fledgling-but-phenomenal Ember Moon might shine.

Dean Ambrose

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Waiting, patiently, to return to Raw after missing nine months with an injury.

Where He Stands Now: Snarling and deep-staring his way through “your enemies are my enemies” de facto adversaries Strowman, Ziggler, and McIntyre as the Shield’s resident pit bull.

How Did That Happen? He got healthy, and jacked, and real with his balding pate, and came back to WWE TV on August 13 as Rollins’s resurgent enforcer.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Ambrose was a top singles guy when he went down, and this is all preface to similar positioning down the road. But first, let’s let him and The Shield make some money and sell some T-shirts and help Strowman be the bad guy we all need him to be so Reigns’s first title defenses as Universal Champion don’t get drowned out by contrarian boos. Still, by his character’s nature, Ambrose is a wildcard, and the safest best to go rogue soon.

Bobby Lashley

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Right at the precipice of a middle-aged MMA fan’s SummerSlam dream match against Brock Lesnar--but alas, he fell short to Reigns. Regardless, it marked a massive bounce-back from his participation in the leading contender for lamest story line of the year.

Where He Stands Now: Primed to avenge Kevin Owens for this week’s sneak attack, which ruined an otherwise harmonious meditation session with Jinder Mahal.

How Did That Happen? Unclear. You’ll have to ask KO (more on him to follow), who hastily came out of a (scripted) retirement to pick on yet another competitor a bit more imposing than his own size.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Back in Bellator? Lashley is definitely a solid lynchpin for a Survivor Series squad this November, but despite his surprise comeback after this year’s WrestleMania, even Bobby would have to confess it’s hard to know where to spin him next.

Finn Bálor

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Teetering on the edges of the Intercontinental scene, but primarily putting up with Constable Corbin’s short-man jokes and prepping his Demon alter ego for SummerSlam.

Where He Stands Now: Not in a much better place. He’s still grappling with Corbin, who thanklessly threw him to the wolves this Monday to help separate the Shield from Strowman, Ziggler, and McIntyre and then fed him to Strowman in a main-event loss.

How Did That Happen? Victim of timing and circumstance perhaps, but apparently somebody sees something clicking with Bálor and Corbin the rest of us don’t. It was a positive sign that WWE felt it important to let him (and the Demon) get a moment to shine in a throwaway SummerSlam match, but Finn, who has steadfast, universal (if not Universal, it seems) appeal, is in real danger of crossing over into glorified goodwill-ambassador territory.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Bálor’s not Bobby Lashley. He’s relatively young, reasonably charismatic, and yet to be given a fair shot at carrying Raw since healing from a devastating injury in 2016--suffered the night he became first-ever Universal Champion. Yet, his near future feels fairly hazy. Let’s hope that, at minimum, that IC belt gets loosened up as the Shield boys scrimmage over bigger things. Either way, might be time to let Finn’s inner Demon wreak hell.

Sasha Banks and Bayley

Where They Stood Six Weeks Ago: Showing signs of getting past their differences by teaming up and taking out a couple of jobbers. Still, the warm-and-fuzzy triumph—coming after violent attacks on one another and even a disastrous intervention from Kane and Daniel Bryan’s one-time mediator Dr. Shelby—felt too huggy to be true.

Where They Stand Now: Anticlimactically all good.

How Did That Happen? Laziness? (From writers/bookers, not Bayley and Sasha.) Some epiphany that they presented stronger together approaching Evolution than apart? This may all be part of a tease ahead of their ultimate fallout, but it’s really a stretch to picture WWE pulling the ripcord so abruptly on an all-male relationship with a parallel arc.

Where They’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Either fighting again or defending some cross-brand women’s tag titles.

Kevin Owens

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: Recovering from an Extreme Rules ass-whooping by Braun Strowman, but admirably determined to take out the big man and snag his Money in the Bank briefcase at SummerSlam.

Where He Stands Now: Already out of a sham one-week retirement and, without any explanation, following Strowman’s orders to decimate the Shield (and blindsiding Bobby Lashley just because).

How Did That Happen? A better plan failed to emerge for how pivot the former Universal Champion when his sometime tag partner, Sami Zayn, became hobbled and he was done laying down for Strowman.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: The notion of Owens as a strike-anywhere assassin scorching the earth is nice (if that’s indeed his M.O.), but does it spell meaningful wins between now and December? Doubtful. Does it matter? I’m biased, but not really.

Elias

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: He sat, actually, making his patented nonstart go at performing from his debut album. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)

Where He Stands Now: Sitting, still, and functioning as a warm-up act of sorts for other people’s segments, like this week’s flirtation with Alexa Bliss or the previous Monday, when he helped Trish Stratus get a pop by taking five fingers across the face.

How Did That Happen? Evidently, anyone not named Roman Reigns is cursed for crossing paths with Bobby Lashley. Sami Zayn got hurt culminating their tiff, and Elias has been walking aimlessly since his blink-and-you-missed-it mini-feud with Lashley. Or it could be that, like the Honky Tonk Man before him, Elias’s gimmick transcends, you know, wrestling.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Further from his eventual goals of winning a championship, if I ventured a guess. But love that catchphrase.

Nia Jax

Where She Stood Six Weeks Ago: At the onset of an on-screen hiatus, having lost to then-champion Alexa Bliss, who took the title off Jax at that June’s Money in the Bank PPV.

Where She Stands Now: If rumors are taken as fact, gearing up optimistically for some spotlight at Evolution. Otherwise, MIA from Raw.

How Did That Happen? This was needed. Since before winning the women’s title at ’Mania 34 from Bliss, Jax has been jostled from face to heel and back, doing as asked to accommodate Ronda Rousey and the rest of the division.

Where She’ll Stand Come Year’s End: A clean slate and a new look is all Jax needs to pick up where she left off, which is at least being in the conversation for title opportunities between Evolution and TLC.

The B-Team

Where They Stood Six Weeks Ago: Barely out of the shadow of former taskmaster the Miz, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas successfully retained the Raw Tag-Team Championships against Bray Wyatt (Dallas’s real-life brother) and Matt Hardy eight days after conquering them at Extreme Rules. And thus an unlikely legacy was born.

Where They Stand Now: Kidding. They lost the belts this Monday to Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre.

How Did That Happen? Because all good things must end.

Where They’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Paging Heath Slater and Rhyno. …

Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy

Where They Stood Six Weeks Ago: Crestfallen after failing once again to overcome the mighty B-Team.

Where They Stands Now: Matt doesn’t. He’s injured. And Bray has been in absentia since his partner went down in early August, presumably awash in WWE’s figurative Lake of Reincarnation (i.e., repackaging).

How Did That Happen? Bray was really following Matt’s lead on this one, so it’s hard to imagine him deleting worlds sans his partner.

Where They’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Wishing Matt a speedy recovery and comeback. As for Bray, maybe he’ll come back to life as one of Strowman’s army, though a stripped-down reintroduction as a hero-humbling heavy on his own trip feels overdue.

Nikki and Brie Bella

Where They Stood Six Weeks Ago: Readying another season of Total Bellas, cheering on Ronda Rousey and, in Brie’s case, making cameos as hype woman for her ascendant husband, Daniel Bryan.

Where They Stand Now: At the tip of the spear of Evolution’s plans and back in action as of this Monday, having looked sloppy but emerging with a W against Ruby Riott’s eponymous Squad.

How Did That Happen? Synergy!

Where They’ll Stand Come Year’s End: Since Brie is defying all WWE logic by wrestling for both Raw and SmackDown without any clearly explained free-agent status, it’s anyone’s guess. Also, it’s hard imagining her taking too many months on the road away from home life with daughter Birdie Joe. As for Nikki, why else would she resume in-ring work were a title shot on one of the two programs not promised?

Brock Lesnar

Where He Stood Six Weeks Ago: On top of the world as long-running Universal Champion and come-and-go-as-he-pleases attraction.

Where He Stands Now: With his SummerSlam L to Roman Reigns in the past and an expected UFC title fight looming, Lesnar is in WWE limbo, just the way he and Vince McMahon prefer it--as businesspeople and storytellers.

How Did That Happen? Because every so often, Brock likes to go back to actually kicking ass, and the Beast’s latest sports-entertainment cycle had saturated its mystique. And keeping yourself wanted has its monetary benefits.

Where He’ll Stand Come Year’s End: On a scale standing across from Daniel Cormier. Or lording over an innocent, slaughtered animal in the remote Northern U.S.

Remaining-roster Quick-hits

Bobby Roode

Key Thing to Know: The Glorious one was a mainstay of the U.S. title picture, but with that belt over on SmackDown, he’s left tagging with Chad Gable, of whom he presumably will grow weary very quickly.

Chad Gable

Key Thing to Know: He’s an awesome talent and surprisingly charismatic, but he still wears headbands and singlets and gets tossed into tag teams—now with Roode—that get jettisoned before they gel.

The Authors of Pain

Key Thing to Know: Drake Maverick has replaced Paul Ellering as AOP’s manager (and resident perspective fudger), because that program with Titus Worldwide somehow didn’t catch fire. Oh, and Drake dresses like them too now.

The Revival

Key Thing to Know: They beat Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy, and beat Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in singles competition to put themselves at the top of the Raw tag-team standings. But they got their title shot snatched from under them because Baron Corbin said so. And they will probably be sacrificial lambs for Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. So much for old school.

The Ascension

Key Thing to Know: They went from goofy Breezango accomplices back to pushover baddies who call opponents “duck butts.”

Dana Brooke

Key Thing to Know: Discussing her split from Titus Worldwide’s Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews is more compelling than TW itself.

Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews

Key Thing to Know: See above.

The Riott Squad

Key Thing to Know: They are officially Total Bellas cannon fodder, and probably will dissolve discreetly as soon as they’re seasoned enough for solo careers.

Natalya

Key Thing to Know: She’s a true fighter for taking virtually no time off after her father, Jim Neidhart, passed away last month, and a trooper for lending ring cred to Rousey. And she may have some business to settle with those Bellas.

Ember Moon:

Key Thing to Know: She’s just getting warmed up.

Alicia Fox

Key Thing to Know: A longtime background player, she’s benefitting chiefly from the slimness of the Raw women’s roster as WWE builds to Evolution.

Mickie James

Key Thing to Know: She cannot make up her mind if Alexa Bliss is a mean girl or good friend for life. Also benefiting chiefly from the build to Evolution.

Baron Corbin

Key Thing to Know: He’s a constable, and interim Raw GM, and has zero momentum with fans in any role. Most notably, he now wrestles in dress attire like any good on-screen exec.

Get Well Soon …

Sami Zayn, Matt Hardy, Fandango, Jason Jordan

There’s Always Next Year….

Heath Slater, Rhyno, No Way Jose, Mojo Rawley, Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins … John Cena???