Money in the Bank and Hell in a Cell Give Raw a Boost

Raw boosted by Money In The Bank qualifiers
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The fortunes of Monday Night Raw have been at a low ebb, lately, with diminished ratings and poor feedback of its repetitive matches and undercooked storylines. However, the troubled three-hour USA broadcast had one of its best showings in recent memory thanks to the aftermath of one pay-per-view event, and the build-up to another.

There was little extraneous action on the June 21 episode of Raw, as most matches held were qualifying matches for the upcoming Money in the Bank pay per view event. Participants at Money in the Bank who are able to scale a ladder before their opponent and retrieve the briefcase suspended above it win possession of the briefcase’s contents: a contract guaranteeing a championship opportunity whenever, wherever they can cash it in. Whoever Mr. and Ms. Money in the Bank are wield quite a bargaining chip against the current champion, which always makes for interesting plot twists.

The first bout was between A.J. Styles, with Omos in tow as usual, and Ricochet. Ricochet’s time on the main roster since being called up from NXT has been an inglorious one, seeing him as the favorite punching bag of The Hurt Business and RETRIBUTION one after the other, and the face of an unintentional viral moment after being silenced on the mic by Drew McIntyre-when he is not absent from action altogether or exiled to Main Event. However, Ricochet departed from his usually high-flying moveset for a more hard-hitting style, and captured a win against the Phenomenal One, beating the former Bullet Club leader for a shot at being Mr. Money in the Bank.

Asuka and Naomi, former Raw and SmackDown women’s champions, respectively, debuted as a tag team, and faced off against Eva Marie and her associate Doudrop. Naomi recently lost a partner in Lana, after her release from World Wrestling Entertainment, but she seems to gel well with Asuka. Naomi’s loss in a squash to Doudrop, acting as Eva Marie’s proxy, reignited the #NaomiDeservesBetter outcry on Twitter, but it seems the WWE universe played right into the hands of the storyline which pits the blatant cheating of Eva Marie against the honest and upbeat babyface Naomi. There are certainly worse things to be than a mark for Naomi-the cartoonishly treacherous and blithely idle Eva Marie is the perfect foil for Naomi’s anime-inspired Day-Glo heroics, and a storyline no one saw coming may just be a decent bit of summer fun. Marie’s narcissism and dishonesty is so obvious, even her lackey Doudrop was done with it as the match wore on, and Naomi and Asuka scored a satisfying win.  The duo earned a Money in the Bank opportunity in the process.

Rhea Ripley was called to the ring to answer for how she disqualified herself at Hell in a Cell to keep her belt even though victory went to Charlotte Flair. Rhea doubled down, answering that Charlotte breaks the rules all the time, so why not her? Flair interrupted to begrudgingly admit that Ripley was a clever adversary, and Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville set a Money in the Bank match between the two. There continues to be something lacking about the feud between the two. Ripley is positioned as a bratty Millenial heel taking on the established Queen of the ring, Charlotte, but these roles lack emotional honesty. Ripley was a more multifaceted and vulnerable figure on the NXT roster, and Charlotte’s latest heel turn is also lacking convincing motivation. However, both women are fierce competitors and their MITB bout still has the promise to be a memorable one if it is absent of the gimmicks that have plagued their storyline on Raw and their Hell in a Cell match.

Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross tagged together for the first time in nearly a year, with Cross debuting a new superhero-inspired gimmick. She delivered an optimistic monologue about the human spirit, and then faced Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. Alexa Bliss’s return to in-ring action has seen a blending of her old and new persona, with signature moves like Twisted Bliss in use, but also features her supernatural antics. At Hell in a Cell, she possessed and controlled the actions of Jax, and on Raw targeted Reginald, similarly. With the help of ‘that old black magic’, Bliss and Cross’ reunion was fruitful, scoring a win against Jax and Baszler and a Ms. Money in the Bank opportunity.

Riddle and Drew McIntyre’s Money in the Bank qualifying match was a decisive moment for the Scottish Warrior. A string of losses culminated in a Hell in a Cell match with the stipulation that if McIntyre lost to WWE champion Bobby Lashley, he could not challenge for the title again during Lashley’s reign. Despite leaving the red cell with a battered and bruised body, McIntyre failed to capture the win against Lashley at the pay-per-view event. His effort against Riddle was similarly hard-fought, but the distraction of Randy Orton seemed to rally Riddle and he was able to capture the win, and McIntyre’s last clear shot at the WWE championship for the time being. However, when Riddle approached tag partner Orton, he seemed mysteriously displeased that Riddle had won, but gave no explanation. It seems that the seeds of dissent have been planted between the surprise fan-favorite tag team, and McIntyre’s future is a question mark.

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Although the episode was dominated by the build-up to Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell was not quite in the rearview. The red cell hovered over the Thunderdome ring throughout the night, leading up to a HIAC match between Xavier Woods and Bobby Lashley. This is clearly leading up to Woods’s partner Kofi Kingston going head to head with Lashley as his main contender, but it’s refreshing whenever Xavier Woods is taken seriously as a formidable opponent. He cheerfully addressed doubts about his prowess, and accepted Lashley’s challenge.

Lashley’s successful title defense against Drew McIntyre did not deter him from putting up a punishing fight against a spirited and effective Woods. Lashley got the win via submission with his Hurt Lock full nelson, and as manager MVP entered and locked the cage behind him, Lashley continued to punish Woods as Kingston pleaded to be let in to intervene. The New Day are the ultimate babyface heroes, and pitting MVP and Lashley against them in earnest revitalizes their villainy.

With some help from the momentum of the recently held Hell in a Cell and the upcoming Money in the Bank, June 21’s Raw delivered more genuine entertainment than its usual slump has provided, with decisive matches and intriguing storyline developments.

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