On the surface, if you look at a list of all the things that happened on the final edition of Monday Night Raw leading into Money in the Bank, you'd be no more lost watching Sunday's show if you missed this final three-hour installment than if you had watched intently. There were no dramatic changes in allegiance, nor any decisive moments that would make you believe that any one person had significantly changed the perception of their odds for winning any given match to come.
But on a night where everyone could have mailed it in on a go-home show, Raw was bookended by a pair of Fatal 4-Way matches that served as proper warm-ups for the men's and women's Money in the Bank ladder matches. Sure, the opening to the show featured all eight Raw representatives for those two matches atop ladders of varying heights in a moment reminiscent of a memorable 2016 Money in the Bank promo -- only there was a lot of talking over each other and no clear message to discern.
With that moment of confusion out of the way, a women's Fatal 4-Way got underway and we got one of the longest one-fall women's matches on Raw that we've seen in quite some time. Some may have scratched their heads as to why Alexa Bliss would need to make another entrance, provided she had featured heavily in that opening promo, but once action got underway it was a showcase for all four women to flash what they do best.
Ember Moon continued her recent run of impressive performances, highlighted by a bottom-rope suicide dive on Sasha Banks that looked to be one of the most brutal bumps the latter had ever taken -- and that's saying quite a bit if you recall some of the moments between Banks and Charlotte Flair when they were at the peak of their Raw women's championship rivalry.
- WWE (@WWE) June 12, 2018
Bliss hit a Code Red on Moon, which was immediately followed by a running Meteora by Banks. Each woman attempted, or hit, their respective finishing moves, and each broke up multiple match-ending sequences. Natalya's knee injury became a focal point (and will likely play a factor in the women's Money in the Bank ladder match to come), but for the moment, she was the one who walked away victorious with a Sharpshooter on Bliss. She certainly earned it along the way as well, as she took one of the most impressive Eclipses that we've seen to date.
On the men's side, Kevin Owens owned the night. He spent the first 80 percent of the show attempting to rally Finn Balor and Bobby Roode to fight as a trio to stop Braun Strowman, insulting everyone else along the way as is his custom. He offered Balor olives as an olive branch, and insisted that Strowman could be a champion in perpetuity should he win Money in the Bank. In the next breath, his ego bled through in his own signature comedic style as Owens claimed, "You couldn't beat Braun. I could probably beat Braun, but it would be very taxing."
Owens made similarly sanctimonious overtures to Roode, and then as they collectively prepared for their Fatal 4-Way against Strowman, the giant essentially told them all to bring it on. Unlike most Owens schemes, this one ultimately paid off as the bulk of the main event was driven by taking Strowman out by any means necessary.
Strowman fought off all three men to start, but once action spilled onto the stage and ladders came into play, the 3-on-1 strategy paid off. After a number of ladder shots, Owens made his own case for spot of the night by climbing to the very top of a ladder and nailing a frog splash through Strowman and the commentary table.
- WWE (@WWE) June 12, 2018
The rest of the match played out like a stereotypical horror movie, with everyone going about their own business with the looming threat of the monster always coming from just off screen.
The match picked up even more late, as Strowman slowly stirred back to life and made everyone pay for their sins. Owens even offered a horror trope of his own, as he ran away through the crowd only to trip, allowing Strowman to catch him and drag him back to the ring. Working together, Roode saved Owens from a running powerslam, and Owens save Balor as they each delivered a bit of their signature offense. For the second time in the lead-up to Money in the Bank, Balor appeared to have Strowman dead to rights with a slingblade, low dropkick and a Coup de Grace, but the count was once again interrupted.
Roode had a moment of his own with a Glorious DDT, but he too was interrupted at the final moment. Owens hit a second frog splash on Strowman to cap it all off, but Strowman tossed him off just before the three-count. A chokeslam and a running powerslam onto a ladder later, Strowman overcame everything and walked into Money in the Bank with the victory.
While some might complain about Strowman fighting off three main eventers throwing everything they had at him, his win going into Sunday actually raises as many questions as it seems to answer. Will a 6- or 7-on-1 be enough to keep him down? Or will Sunday essentially become a coronation of the next Universal champion-to-be?
Ronda Rousey proves a point
Say what you want about the abbreviated buildup to the Raw women's championship match between Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey, but over the last couple of weeks the WWE has at least dialed into a story that makes at least a little bit of sense given where both women were at prior to crossing paths. After bouncing Jax around from being the hero of the bullied and overlooked to a bully in her own right, there was a pivot to make it more about a battle of wills and overconfidence on both sides of the matchup.
There's still a fair bit of work to be done on the microphone, but keeping it short and sweet with Rousey was an effective change in approach. She talked about how no one said she was ready to make the Olympic judo team, challenge for the Strikeforce title or become the first ever UFC women's champion -- but she did it all, and now she's heading into the UFC Hall of Fame.
"I am Ronda Rousey, and I was born ready," she declared, to counter Jax's claims that as champion, she would wipe Rousey out and take her reputation as the baddest woman on the planet.
Jax swung and missed, Rousey tried for the armbar from a few different angles and didn't let go, and the second Jax's grip broke the Raw women's champion tapped out in a non-match setting. As for how things will play out on Sunday, it's going to be fascinating to see how Rousey's first televised one-on-one match goes on this big a stage -- especially in front of an intense crowd like the one Chicago will bring to Money in the Bank.
Hits and misses
Brock Lesnar's title reign officially passed CM Punk's -- and at 435 days and counting, now stands as the longest world title reign of the modern era. Shockingly, Lesnar didn't show up to receive any accolades or adulations. Now that that milestone is done and dusted, there may be hope for an end to be in sight for the purgatory in which the Universal championship has been in on Raw for more than a year during Lesnar's absentee title reign.
Seth Rollins broke Elias' custom-made Intercontinental championship guitar that was a personal gift from John Mayer. Though it looked more like Rick Rude's tights from back in the day, there's no telling the emotional toll this will have heading into their title match on Sunday.
Jinder Mahal pulled a bait-and-switch on Roman Reigns as Sunil Singh was chosen to face Reigns on Raw. The distraction allowed Mahal to hit a Khallas on Reigns post-match, but if anyone thinks there's even a hint of a chance of Mahal winning on Sunday, I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you.
Though there wasn't much in the way of storyline advancement for Money in the Bank, despite some great in-ring action, a handful of non-pay-per-view-related stories got a boost on Monday night. Following a mind-boggling loss in the tag team battle royal last week, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre got a decisive win over Breezango, then promised to destroy every tag team on Raw to save the division. If that doesn't make them heroes, I don't know what does.
Ruby Riott similarly impressed in a win over Bayley, with a heavy assist from the Riott Squad. It's a real shame that Riott didn't make it into this year's women's Money in the Bank ladder match, considering the wave of momentum the Riott Squad was building up over the last couple of months. For all the old school three-on-one in-match moments they've had, it'd be nice to see them make a radical change to a match or story with an attack backstage to make sure their presence is felt. All they need is a little more gravitas and a comfort level to push beyond their prefab entrance and motions around the ring to put them in position to do something bigger on Raw.
Curt Hawkins tried to pose as a member of No Way Jose's entourage to grab a roll-up win over Jose, and nearly pulled it off. Instead, he fell victim for the 201st straight match. Maybe next week will be his chance.
The B-Team made quick work of Rhyno & Heath Slater, and then stood in the ring while Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy talked about... eating them? I'm still not quite sure. In any case, the Raw tag team championship match at Money in the Bank should be an interesting test case. Can we sign up for another Ultimate Deletion in the not-too-distant future, please?
Sami Zayn's obstacle course for Bobby Lashley brought flashbacks of the NXT reality show. With that being the most digestible moment of this rivalry, you can see how things might not be heading in a great direction. Put this baby to bed on Sunday, please.
The Mixed Match Challenge callbacks during the opening promo were something of a saving grace. When are we getting Season 2?