Braun Strowman's Underground Debut, Mickie James' Finish, More WWE Raw Fallout
The uneven, awkward and head-scratching booking of WWE's flagship brand continued Monday night on Raw with a show that created more questions than answers.
Why is Braun Strowman just popping up on Raw Underground despite being a member of the SmackDown roster? What's with the finish that clouded an otherwise hard-hitting Raw Women's Championship match?
Did Seth Rollins really need to defeat Dominik Mysterio again?
It did present a fresh challenger to the top prize in women's wrestling, though, while shining the brightest spotlight on The Hurt Business to date.
Dive deeper into those topics and Monday's show with this recap of the USA Network broadcast.
Braun Strowman Debuts on Raw Underground as Brand Split Becomes Murkier
In case you wondered just how married WWE was to its latest brand extension, you received your answer Monday night on Raw when Braun Strowman inexplicably made his Underground debut, wreaking havoc and kicking ass despite being a SmackDown Superstar.
Because anyone can enter Raw Underground.
Who needs rules, regulations, stipulations and trades when talent can move freely between brands with little or no compensation for the other show?
Strowman's appearance Monday comes on the heels of a weekend announcement that Mandy Rose had been traded to the flagship. For? Who can be bothered to care when WWE's crack creative staff cannot be bothered to come up with an answer beyond "future considerations."
Earlier this year, one of the premier stars in professional wrestling was traded from Raw to SmackDown when AJ Styles returned to the blue brand. And what did the flagship get? Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode, after the fact.
The entire brand extension is at the creative whims of WWE, and it was on full display again Monday as Strowman growled his way into Underground, where he pummeled the competition and came face-to-face with Dabba-Kato.
It was a role that suited Strowman, at least, and gives him something to do rather than sliding back down the card on Friday nights. For Raw's sake, his move (permanent or temporary) provides the brand with a dose of needed star power.
Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of a roster that is split for a reason.
Awkward Finish Ruins Mickie James' Big Night
Mickie James' return to the squared circle and journey back to the Raw Women's Championship had become one of the cooler stories in wrestling this year, if only because it was apparent she had a lot left to offer a women's division in transition and, furthermore, because she has always been one of the more likable performers on the roster.
So when she challenged Asuka for the gold Monday on Raw, there was a great deal of excitement for the match.
And, relatively speaking, the match did not disappoint.
Until the finish.
As Asuka trapped James in an Asuka Lock, the challenger attempted to wrest her way out. Then, without warning, the referee called for the bell and could be overheard stating that James could not continue.
Was there an injury? Not that was ever divulged during the broadcast. Instead, WWE left the abrupt and awkward finish to linger. Instead of a monumental night for James, it was a disappointment that did not come to a head as she (or anyone, really) foresaw.
If that is the case, why not broadcast it? Even if it was not the whole truth or fully accurate, it would have provided fans a genuine excuse for the finish rather than insulting the viewers by moving on as if nothing had happened.
WWE has to get better on that front. Rather than treating the audience as if it has the attention span of a puppy at a dog park, treat them with the respect someone who pays attention to the product deserves.
As for Mickie, here's hoping she recovers and gets another crack at a high-profile match with Asuka—both she and her longtime fans have earned it.
Zelina Vega Makes Jump to Women's Title Contention, Freshens Division
Zelina Vega has been a full-time manager and part-time tackling dummy for Bianca Belair for so long that it is easy to forget that she is a former world tag team champion in TNA Wrestling and an accomplished in-ring competitor.
After storming off, leaving Andrade and Angel Garza for her own professional aspirations, she confronted Raw Women's Champion Asuka and announced her intentions to challenge for the title. Greeted with laughter, Vega slapped The Empress of Tomorrow, generating an emotional response that suggested Asuka took her seriously.
Vega's entry into the title contention not only gives her a spotlight of her own, something she should have had a long time ago, but it also freshens up the women's division. After months of watching Asuka battle Bayley and Sasha Banks on a seemingly weekly basis, and witnessing the dominance of Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch before that, WWE has set up a fresh program between the always-engaging Empress and one of the more underrated and underappreciated characters on the entire show.
Whether Vega can hold up her end in a potentially long title match remains to be seen, but she has the experience between the ropes to excel in this new role.
The Hurt Business Are the Heroes We Didn't Know We Needed
There was something cool, refreshing even, about seeing The Hurt Business emerge from the locker room, the first group of competitors actively taking a stand against Retribution.
Fed up with the renegade invaders taking over shows at their expense, MVP, Cedric Alexander, Shelton Benjamin and United States Champion Bobby Lashley engaged the masked competitors in a huge brawl before Drew McIntyre and Keith Lee launched themselves over the top rope and wiped everyone out to close out the broadcast.
While the reigning WWE Champion and the brand's next big star may have gotten the last laugh, it was The Hurt Business who stepped through the curtain all badass-like and took the fight to the faction, letting it be known that there will be no sitting back and waiting for Retribution to wreak havoc.
It was a star-making performance for the group, even more so than their taking over Raw Underground and unleashing an ass-kicking. They stood up for the locker room and, while they will undoubtedly go back to their underhanded heel ways on next Monday's show, the seeds were planted for a babyface turn if, and when, WWE Creative decides that is the direction it wants to take things.
Will Dominik Mysterio Ever Beat Seth Rollins in a Meaningful Match?
What is the point of investing emotionally in a storyline if the hero never gets one over on the heel?
It is a question the audience likely found itself pondering as Seth Rollins again defeated Dominik Mysterio, this time in a Steel Cage Match.
The second-generation star had beaten Murphy in last week's Street Fight, sure, and even got to celebrate with his family. But all of that seems for naught if he pops up a week later and is beaten down and bullied by the main antagonist in the story.
Mysterio has yet to defeat Rollins despite months of storyline leading to that exact outcome. There will be some who argue that Rollins is the elite of the elite in WWE, a former world champion and one of the most decorated stars of his generation. Losing to Mysterio would not be realistic.
They would be right, except there are so many finishes that could be booked involving Rey, Angie and Aaliyah that would give him an out for losing to Dominik that it feels almost deliberate to not go that route.
That Rollins appears destined for a split and series of matches with Murphy after the events of Monday's show, where he physically assaulted and berated the Aussie, only further suggests young Dominik isn't going to get that defining win against his family's primary tormentor.
The story started with the absurd but has settled into a great story of an underdog rookie fighting for his family's honor.
It would be a shame for it to not get the satisfying conclusion it deserves.