Monday Night Raw was always meant to be different than previous World Wrestling Entertainment television products. Broadcast live, rather than pre-taped, and aimed at a more mature audience, Raw was the breeding ground of WWE’s change in tone towards spontaneous, edgy content in the 90s; the “Attitude Era”, and gritty acts like D-Generation X and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin thrived there. Even as WWE pivoted back towards family friendly entertainment in the following decades, Raw remained the jewel in the crown, the home of WWE’s most exciting performers and impactful television matches.
The Pandemic Era saw the long-running programs lowest ratings in its history, and consistently poor reviews of its repetitive match combinations and meandering storyline featuring a demonically possessed Alexa Bliss. The build up to July 18’s Money in the Bank pay per view and WWE’s impending return to touring started to vivify the three hour broadcast throughout the summer, and when Raw did return to a live taping at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas on July 19, Raw was back in fighting shape, the exciting, anything-can-happen program it was meant to be.
A lot, in fact, did happen – but, which of July 19’s Raw’s shockers and twists was for the sake of a pop, and which were developments to keep an eye on?
John Cena’s Address
The 16 time WWE champion, and one of the world’s most recognizable film stars, followed up his shocking return at Money in the Bank with an address from the ring in Dallas. The crowd ate out of his hand, as to be expected, and he had a Twitter trending moment with Riddle. More to the point, Cena called out Roman Reigns, and announced his intentions to confront the Universal Champion on July 23’s Friday Night SmackDown. Cena’s return, and his renewed feud with Reigns, are both most assuredly for the pop – but, in the most meaningful way. Ticket sales, TV ratings, and legacies are riding on this, and the WWE vitally needs eyes in sports entertainment glued to this feud.
Keith Lee’s Return
There’s nothing like a crowd cheering a native son, and the Dallas crowd gave Wichita Falls, Texas native Lee a rousing welcome back to the ring. He answered Bobby Lashley’s challenge, and lost the bout for the WWE championship, but showcased his signature, and much missed, strength and agility. This appearance was much more than a stunt to wow the Texas crowd by presenting them one of their own – Lee has been absent from WWE since February, and none of WWE, Lee, or his fiancé, Mia Yim, would clarify why this was the case. His social media communication was sporadic and opaque, but always hinted that things were fine and he would return.
Now that he has, it is unclear if it is to stay in a meaningful way, or if this was something of a tryout. On social media, Lee posted, “Thank you, Dallas. Instant goosebumps. Keep that up and no one will have a choice but to listen.”
Lee was always popular with fans, and during the opening days of his Raw run, the former NXT and North American Champion was in the middle of a healthy front-burner push. Why is Lee now seemingly urging the crowd to put in a good word for him? It seems the saga of Lee’s status with WWE is not quite over, and not only does his Dallas return matter, but will perhaps only take on more importance as the story develops.
Goldberg Confronts the All Mighty
Following Lee’s loss to Lashley, the crowd began chanting one name in unison: “Goldberg”. The WWE Hall of Famer made his way to the ring as his ominous, militaristic march theme music played and the crowd intoned his name, to challenge Lashley. He did not quite get to do so, as Lashley’s handler MVP urged the champion away from Goldberg. The challenge, however, is sure to come, with a match between the two mesomorphs sure to follow.
Goldberg similarly tested the mettle of Drew McIntyre when he was WWE champion in 2020. Like Cena’s return, this is indeed a ratings sweep stunt, but one that further anoints Lashley as a formidable force. His WWE championship reign has been well received, and there are no doubts that he will retain the belt in a match against the part-timer Goldberg. Its predictable, but impactful for Lashley.
Nikki A.S.H. Cashes In
Charlotte Flair’s and Rhea Ripley’s rivalry for the Raw women’s championship was lukewarm in the ThunderDome, but is heating up now that the two are before live crowds. Their Money in the Bank match was initially met with malaise from the crowd, who chanted “We want Becky!”, as Becky Lynch was rumored to return at the event. She didn’t appear, but Charlotte and Rhea did eventually win the crowd over with an encounter that, unlike their last, was an athletically driven contest with no gimmicks.
The same cannot be said of their rematch on July 19’s Raw. Although the two were once again in good form and their in-ring chemistry is growing by the day, the match returned to the theme of cheating to win, which both have attempted to do and accused the other of. Charlotte left the ring to drive a DQ finish, as Rhea did to her at Hell in a Cell. Charlotte retained the title, and an enraged Rhea attacked her.
While Charlotte was down, however, everything changed. Nikki A.S.H. flew in with the Money in the Bank briefcase, and cashed in. The bell rang, declaring the last few seconds of the broadcast a title match for the Raw women’s championship. Nikki flew from the top rope and covered Charlotte for a pinfall victory, and the Almost Superhero became Raw women’s champion.
As previously noted, this iteration of the WWE women’s division is now five years old and in the midst of its own microcosmic New Generation, in which seasoned champs, emerging performers, and absolute beginners are thrown together for the same opportunities. A.S.H is an NXT transplant and former tag team player emerging to center stage, and Charlotte is, among her other accolades, a five time Raw women’s champion.
Does A.S.H. stand a chance at an impactful reign, or is she just a plot twist and a place holder? As engaging, plucky, charming, and likeable as A.S.H is, smart money is on Charlotte chasing the belt, annihilating A.S.H, and refocusing on Rhea, who will be hell bent on reclaiming the Raw women’s Championship. However, A.S.H. is a loveable underdog who may have some surprises in store for the Queen and the Nightmare.
With Raw back in front of crowds, the prerogative to entice audiences with more of what they want to see and things they didn’t expect will surely lead to more shocking moments and unpredictable twists.
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