What to Expect from WWE Raw in the Build to SummerSlam 2021
WWE Raw may be the flagship show of Vince McMahon's pro wrestling empire but it has faced scrutiny over the last year for its bloated, three-hour run time and the lack of creativity and excitement.
Heading into August's SummerSlam, there is a great deal of intrigue as to what fans can expect from the red brand as it prepares for the big event.
Might there be new stars developed and pushed? What awaits fans at the top of the card? Is there any potential for the return of a legend or two to help solidify the top portion of the roster?
As it turns out, fans can expect more of the same from a brand that has failed to capture their attention for the last couple of years.
Emphasis on Drew McIntyre
If you thought Drew McIntyre's loss to Bobby Lashley at WrestleMania 37 was the start of WWE deemphasizing the Scot, you found out just how wrong you were 24 hours later on Raw when he defeated Randy Orton and Braun Strowman to earn a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania Backlash.
McIntyre is the babyface around whom WWE and McMahon have elected to build Raw, and it shows no signs of stopping. Heading into SummerSlam this August, he will remain at the forefront of the red brand's creative efforts as its centerpiece.
Top stories and matches will revolve around him, and rightfully so. Do not be surprised if The Scottish Warrior is once again champion before August.
The true test of his ability to stay at the level he has been for the last year came at WrestleMania, when the fans in Raymond James Stadium greeted him with a sizeable pop, rather than the smattering of boos usually reserved for overpushed babyfaces.
With the fans on his side and creative confident it can keep it that way, McIntyre will continue to dominate the headlines on the flagship show and set himself up for a major matchup at The Biggest Party of the Summer.
The Queen Regains Her Throne
Rhea Ripley may have beaten Asuka for the Raw Women's Championship at WrestleMania but make no mistake about it: Charlotte Flair is still WWE's crown jewel in the women's division and will be back on her throne by the time SummerSlam arrives.
The Queen is the most dominant, pushed and celebrated female performer of hers or any generation. She is always involved in the women's title picture, and no bright young star like Ripley is going to change that. Look no further than last year's WrestleMania, when Flair beat The Nightmare in what should have been her crowning moment.
Fast-forward a year to the Raw after WrestleMania 37, when the emphasis was not placed on Ripley and her monumental victory over Asuka but instead on Flair's return to Raw and her attack on both women.
WWE Creative cannot help itself. No matter how much fans cry for something new and different, it continues to go back to The Queen. Part of that is because she is a measuring stick for women's wrestling and has earned the spotlight through her hard work and the quality of her in-ring output; the other part is the relation to Ric Flair and the fandom that exists for The Nature Boy in production meetings.
Throw in the company's reliance on the handful of stars it actually has created over the last five years, and you have all the reason you need to believe Flair will be back on top of the mountain for the foreseeable future and definitely as the company builds to its second-most important PPV of the year.
A Crowded, Underdeveloped Midcard
The Raw undercard and midcard may feature the most talented crop of Superstars in the industry.
Riddle, Sheamus, Braun Strowman, Ricochet, Mustafa Ali, Shelton Benjamin, Cedric Alexander, Angel Garza, AJ Styles, The New Day, Damian Priest, The Miz, and John Morrison make up a roster that some promotions would love to have.
On Raw, though, they are the most underdeveloped element of the brand.
Those Superstars are trotted to the ring and asked to deliver two- or three-segment matches to eat up time and boost the overall quality of the in-ring product but are rarely developed as characters. We know Riddle likes to ride scooters and joke about getting high, but we still don't know what motivates him.
Ditto Sheamus, Strowman and the former members of The Hurt Business.
Damian Priest exploded onto the scene, picked up win after win and partnered Bad Bunny for a big WrestleMania win. Just as it looked like WWE may be invested in pushing The Archer of Infamy, it booked him to lose in embarrassing fashion the minute the rapper wasn't around.
There are times when it almost feels as though WWE is allergic to creating new stars and those in the midcard are oftentimes the recipient of the booking that inspires that feeling. One should not expect that to change as WWE looks toward SummerSlam.
WWE likes to focus primarily on its main event talent, treating the rest of the card like garnishing on a restaurant-quality meal. That will continue to be the case, no matter how much further it diminishes a show that was once destination viewing during the Attitude Era because of the time and effort that was put into establishing characters and stories for everyone on the roster.
The Return of at Least One Part-Timer
This year's WrestleMania was such a refreshing change of pace from years past, thanks in large part to the absence of part-timers and returning legends. WWE focused on its modern talent and let them deliver on the grand stage.
What resulted was an acclaimed two-night extravaganza that built momentum for some names who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to perform at The Show of Shows.
It was nice while it lasted but as WWE toys with the idea of having fans in the stands for SummerSlam, it will look to the past to bolster its card.
WrestleMania essentially sells itself. The brand is more important than the card and will almost always attract a sell-out crowd. SummerSlam is not the same beast that its predecessor is. It needs marquee matchups, but these are few and far between, especially on Raw.
Lashley will likely be through with his run by that time. McIntyre will be working on Year 2 of his main event run and the number of credible and quality main event heels to combat him are minimal.
WWE will need to dip into its bag of tricks, potentially dragging Brock Lesnar back into the fray, in order to provide the sort of match that will inspire excitement and ticket sales for its August event.
Otherwise, Raw will continue to take a backseat to SmackDown, which is better creatively and boasts the biggest star in the industry in Roman Reigns.