- WWE on ESPN Editor
While the vast majority of sports leagues and other live entertainment ventures have ground to a halt throughout the world, WWE has been able to continue operating at its Performance Center facility in Orlando, Florida.
Monday night marked a shift back to live programming with Raw, although shows continue to be held with no one in the audience and significant measures put in place to monitor talent.
So what did Raw look like?
WWE is ‘essential’
After taping several weeks of shows in the lead-up to WrestleMania 36, WWE announced Friday that it would be returning to shooting live shows three times a week in Orlando. That sentiment was backed up when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis included “employees at professional sports and media production with a national audience, only if the location is closed to the general public” to qualify as essential services by executive order.
Monday’s show felt a lot like the pretaped editions of WWE programming that were filmed over the past few weeks. There are only so many ways a set can be dressed up to try to take viewers’ attention away from the lack of fans, but WWE’s approach continued to evolve. The commentary desk was located at the top of the ramp, with the broadcast team surprisingly expanded back to three, including the return of 70-year-old Jerry Lawler. There were also two separate ringside reporters who conducted interviews both in the ring and backstage.
In addition to an excess of commentators, a fourth person was added to that tight space when Zelina Vega, who had interacted directly with at least a half-dozen wrestlers, sat in for commentary for a match between Austin Theory and Akira Tozawa.
Business as usual
It was full steam ahead with WWE’s regularly scheduled programming. Drew McIntyre briefly referenced his crowning achievement not playing out as he dreamed it would when he was a child, but his attention quickly turned to United States champion Andrade, who returned to action after a few weeks out. Vega and Andrade laid down a challenge for a champion vs. champion match, McIntyre accepted, and it was off to the races.
There were nine matches in all, and two key throughlines — the first being Vega, Andrade and their compatriots Angel Garza and Austin Theory imposing their collective wills. Garza and Theory each won their matches, and then the collective group set up the loser of each match to take a top rope hammerlock DDT from Andrade — the same move Andrade did to take the NXT championship from McIntyre in 2017 and put him on the shelf for months with a torn bicep. It was a nice storytelling touch and callback.
There was also the start of qualifying matches for the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, as well as three qualifying matches for the men’s Money in the Bank match announced for next week. But more on that in a bit.
A chance for some fresh blood
Along with Theory’s win over Tozawa and Garza’s victory over Tehuti Miles — both dynamic matches with some strong back and forth — the show was largely populated by younger talent taking advantage of extended matches to showcase themselves. Most notably, NXT’s Oney Lorcan more than held his own in what was set up to be a showcase match for Aleister Black. The Viking Raiders also returned to action, taking on the team of Ricochet and Cedric Alexander in another exciting bout.
Champions holding down the fort
As McIntyre opened and closed the show, with a promo in between, Becky Lynch was positioned as a steadying presence in her own right.
Having just crossed the one-year mark as Raw women’s champion, it seemed Lynch’s focus was still squarely on Shayna Baszler after their match at WrestleMania. The overriding message was that bullies don’t win in the end, and that she’ll be ready whenever the winner of the Money in the Bank match comes calling.
Rolling ahead to Money in the Bank
While the Money in the Bank pay-per-view was initially scheduled to take place on May 10 in Baltimore, the venue announced that date as canceled — presumably meaning that the Money in the Bank pay-per-view will take place at the Performance Center.
Baszler was one of three women to qualify for the ladder match on Monday with a brief and yet very confusing ending. After failing to yield to the referee’s demands that she stop a ground and pound attack, Baszler stomped Sarah Logan’s arm and the match was stopped. Despite ring announcer Greg Hamilton declaring Logan the winner on the microphone, Baszler was later established as the winner.
All three of the qualifying matches had fairly predictable victors. In addition to Baszler, Nia Jax dominated Kairi Sane and Asuka defeated Ruby Riott. The Asuka vs. Riott, match which opened the night’s action, was far and away the best match of the bunch.
Three men’s matches were set for next week’s Raw during a backstage edition of MVP’s VIP lounge — Murphy vs. Rey Mysterio, Theory vs. Black and Apollo Crews against MVP himself.
But Money In the Bank isn’t just about the ladder matches, and it appears that McIntyre’s title will be on the line at that event as well.
As McIntyre’s foiled Andrade & Co.’s plans of devastation when he won in the main event, a chop block from Garza set the stage for another interloper and McIntyre’s presumptive first serious title challenger: Seth Rollins. Rollins spent much of the night after Easter in a variety of promos, making references steeped in religion — saying his career had been crucified in his WrestleMania loss to Kevin Owens and that the Messiah has truly risen, among other messages.
A superkick and two stomps later, and Rollins ended Raw standing over the WWE champion.
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