Bobby Lashley, Apollo Crews Pushes Pay Dividends and More WWE Raw Fallout
The Memorial Day episode of WWE Raw brought with it the latest storyline developments ahead of the Backlash pay-per-view on June 14, as well as an emotional championship victory for one of the more talented performers on the roster.
After years of professional frustration, Apollo Crews realized his dream of attaining WWE gold as he defeated Andrade to capture the United States Championship. The buzziest moment on the show, it sets the young performer up for the most substantial push of his career.
Speaking of pushes, Bobby Lashley was in full force Monday as he was all over the show ahead of his WWE title match with Drew McIntyre.
Throw in the latest between Aleister Black and Seth Rollins, plus the confirmation of the first challenger to Asuka's Raw Women's Championship, and you have an episode of Raw that accomplished more than a few goals, all while building to the upcoming PPV.
Apollo Crews Pays off Renewed Push with 1st Championship
No one ever doubted Apollo Crews' physical gifts. Arguably the most athletically gifted wrestler on the WWE roster, he can do things between the ropes that most can only dream of, especially for his size. But booking has hampered the 32-year-old previously.
Fans were never given a reason to care about him. He was this superathlete who was devoid of personality and/or a storyline worth investing in. He was simply a really talented wrestler.
The problem? WWE is a company full of really talented wrestlers, and Crews was never going to get over without some sort of story or personality trait to set him apart.
However, after a frustrating run full of some ups but mostly downs, he finally received a push with a storyline people could sink their teeth into after a knee injury had forced him to miss out on the Money in the Bank ladder match.
Monday night on Raw, one week after returning, he defeated Andrade to become the new United States champion. It was his first title in WWE, but more importantly, it was also the culmination of a long, arduous, grueling climb back to relevance in the top wrestling promotion in the world.
Left for dead as a glorified enhancement talent on SmackDown where he lost to Sheamus in mere seconds earlier in the year, he has proved the doubters wrong and is now reaping the rewards of his dedication and persistence.
It is still early in Crews' development at this level and the championship is not enough to keep him over, but hopefully he can make the most of the push and WWE Creative will not fall back into the laziness that plagued the last few attempts at a push.
Bobby Lashley's Push in Full Force as He Approaches First Title Shot in 13 Years
If you did not know Bobby Lashley was in the middle of a renewed push, you certainly do now after this week's show.
The All Mighty was all over the broadcast, first retreating from Drew McIntyre to close out the VIP Lounge, then as he and MVP confronted The Street Profits. Finally, he competed in the main event of the night, teaming with his mentor to battle the Raw tag team champions.
Then came the massive pull-apart brawl between him and McIntyre that wrapped up the show.
While some might accuse WWE Creative of overexposure, it is working overtime to rebuild the main event credibility of a character who, just five months ago, was covered in cake at the climax of a silly wedding angle that set his progression back rapidly.
Monday night was the company's opportunity to get Lashley in front of the cameras and really push him as a credible threat to McIntyre. The only thing left for them to do is book an angle where he gets the best of the Scot.
We know WWE is going out of its way to protect the champion right now, but unless Lashley physically gets the best of his Backlash opponent before the PPV, fans will still see him as a lame-duck challenger and no one will benefit.
WWE Wasting Aleister Black vs. Seth Rollins on Free TV Instead of PPV
Aleister Black vs. Seth Rollins is a pay-per-view-quality match that would further elevate the former NXT champion while continuing the evolution of Rollins' Monday Night Messiah persona.
Instead, it appears WWE is about to waste the matchup on a throwaway episode of Raw in which the focus will be on the former universal champion's hosting of a Rey Mysterio "retirement" ceremony.
Black is one of those rare stars with an in-ring ability and on-screen aura combination. He should be a major force on Raw, but instead he is dangerously close to becoming just another talented guy. It is a massive misuse of the performer and one that will ultimately hurt his ability to take the next step toward superstardom.
It is always a possibility that the match is a red herring and the real showdown will take place at Backlash. If that is the case, bait-and-switching instead of booking the match properly and building to it still does no one any favors—least of all Black.
Nia Jax Is the Right Opponent for Asuka's First Championship Defense
Nia Jax and Asuka have a history of high-profile bouts dating back to NXT, where they did battle in a title match in London that threatened The Empress of Tomorrow's then-unbeaten streak.
They have some strong in-ring chemistry and their styles mesh well, something that bodes well for their Raw Women's Championship Match at Backlash.
On Monday's Raw, Jax bumped for Charlotte Flair and Natalya, sold for both but ultimately picked up the win by pinning The Queen of Harts. The match never felt like a certainty, even though most expected The Irresistible Force to pick up the win.
A week after she interrupted Asuka's celebration and attacked Kairi Sane backstage, The Irresistible Force can pay off her relatively dominant return to the ring with her first title win in two years.
With a wealth of heel talent elsewhere on the roster, though, it is most likely she is the heel of the month, built up to be knocked down by Asuka as the real challenger, Shayna Baszler, waits in the wings.