WWE RAW 8/14/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved
The Judgment Day celebrates

WWE

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.’s review of “WWE Raw,” which we provide for you every week even when the show isn’t great and we’re burned out on endless CM Punk news! In the words of both pre-impressions gimmick Damien Sandow and Maui from “Moana,” you’re welcome. Once again, we didn’t know much about this show going in — WWE had already announced Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus, and we knew we’d hear from Shinsuke Nakamura after last week’s shocking betrayal, but beyond that, we were left to see how things would play out.

The objective record of Monday night’s events can be found, as usual, via our live coverage, which sticks to the facts. For example, the show started and ended with The Judgment Day again, which it has for so long may weeks straight now that we’re struggling to recall a time “Raw” didn’t start and end with The Judgment Day. That’s a cold hard fact. But what did we think about the Judgment Day segments in question? Did they move us? Did they amaze us? Did they make us want to jump down a mineshaft? These are the questions we’re here to answer, and there’s only one way we can do that: by giving you three things we hated and three things we loved about the 8/14/23 episode of “WWE Raw.”

Loved: Piper Niven takes the gold

Piper Niven stares down Chelsea Green

WWE

Does it make sense for WWE to recognize Piper Niven as one-half of the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions just because she burst into Adam Pearce’s office, assaulted a co-worker, declared herself Chelsea Green’s partner, and appropriated one of the title belts? No. No, it does not. But hey, we apparently live in a world now where CM Punk can vacate a title due to injury, be gone for eight months, then come back with his old belt and have AEW officially refer to him as the “real” world champion, so all bets are off. And this particular scenario involves Piper Niven holding a title and (presumably) being on TV, so regardless of how it happened, we’re cool with it.

Niven, the former Doudrop who got her name back at the 2023 Royal Rumble, has wrestled seven televised matches since then (one of which was on “Main Event”) and hasn’t wrestled on Raw in more than four months. She’s an astoundingly talented performer who should mesh well with Green despite being totally different from Sonya Deville in both character and wrestling style. We really hope the two of them get some real chances to shine together, and we look forward to watching their dynamic develop. Most of all though, we’re just glad WWE found even a marginally creative way to avoid vacating the championship entirely, again, and putting on a tournament for them or something, again. This is a much better idea, and if it’s illogical, take it up with the guy from Chicago who’s definitely telling lies.

Loved: Alpha Imperium

Ludwig Kaiser speaks to Alpha Academy

WWE

We really can’t say enough about how much we’re enjoying this feud between GUNTHER and Chad Gable. Not only have the matches been consistently excellent thus far, but it’s a storyline that makes good use of pretty much everyone involved. We’re still very wary that this thing with Maxxine Dupri and Ludwig Kaiser is going to start going in directions we really don’t want it to, but so far they’ve managed to skirt those particular borders, so we can’t get upset about it quite yet. Beyond that though, Imperium and American Alpha, perhaps surprisingly, make for a really phenomenal pairing, as the characters are all distinct enough to be able to carve out their own space in the story and the wrestlers are all good enough to put on fun matches while doing it. And this week, we even got two!

Gable vs. Giovanni Vinci was fun for what it was, and it’s always nice to see Gable pick up a win on TV, but GUNTHER vs. Otis was the real treat, as the two big men with radically different looks and styles smashed into each other for a while before GUNTHER somehow got Otis up for a powerbomb. We really like that these matches GUNTHER sets up with Gable keep not going the way he thought they would, so he has to demand an entire second match take place so he can try a different plan. It’s a really interesting piece of character work from him, especially as he keeps blaming everything on Kaiser and Vinci. We suspect we’re finally getting a storyline that will result in major changes to Imperium, and we’re ecstatic for that, but mostly, we want Chad Gable to beat GUNTHER for that title. The match is apparently happening next week, but we would assume they’re going to drag out to feud until Payback, which happens to take place six days before GUNTHER breaks the Honky Tonk Man’s record for longest Intercontinental title reign. If Gable were to beat him at Payback, just before he reaches that historic milestone? That would be something.

Hated: Glasbro

Drew McIntyre and Matt Riddle fist bump

WWE

When Tommaso Ciampa and Matt Riddle spent some time on social media prior to Monday’s “Raw” woefully lamenting the absences of their respective former tag team partners, we figured that if this got followed up on TV at all, it would be a Ciampa storyline. After all, the former tag team partner Ciampa is missing is the reportedly healthy Johnny Gargano, whereas Riddle’s is the almost certainly not healthy Randy Orton. Sadly and inexplicably, it was Riddle’s storyline that got the follow-up, as he engaged in an effort to recruit Drew McIntyre as his new tag team partner, ultimately resulting in the two getting a win over the Viking Raiders.

Now, on the plus side, we enjoyed Drew’s looks of lightly inconvenienced bemusement as he tried to pull the effusive Riddle back from “we’re a real tag team now” territory, and it also led to a backstage segment with The New Day that was a highlight of the entire episode. On the negative side, the match against the Raiders was pretty boring overall, and we have major questions about the idea of sticking McIntyre in a regular tag team with Matt Riddle. Just feels like a waste of a great singles star, albeit a currently directionless one. Also we don’t like Matt Riddle.

Of course, they might not be doing that. Maybe McIntyre will turn on Riddle or something; he should probably be feuding with Seth Rollins in the not-too-distant future, and he would be a phenomenal heel. Until that happens, though, all we can do is look at what’s in front of us, and so far we’re not crazy about what we see.

Loved: Shinsuke Freakin’ Nakamura

Shinsuke bows over Seth Rollins's fallen form

WWE

It took us a weirdly long time to figure out whether we liked the segment with Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura, but after a little while, we came to a decision: We are excited about this storyline.

We probably wouldn’t be excited about it if it weren’t for the specific performers involved. Narratively, the segment was mostly a whole lot of nothing. Michael Cole brought out Nakamura and asked him why he kicked Rollins in the face; Nakamura said he wants a world title shot. Rollins comes out, tells Nakamura he could have just asked, offers him the title shot whenever he wants. They shake hands, after which Nakamura attacks Rollins again. This is simple, boilerplate stuff, and in just anyone’s hands it could easily be boring.

Fortunately, this is Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura, both dressed up fancy, one in white, one in black (so subtle, yet so bold). Rollins carries his part of the segment in typically praiseworthy fashion, but we couldn’t keep our eyes off Nakamura. He’s so bizarre, but somehow also cool; his expressions are unique and vibrant, capable of telling us so much without him actually saying anything. He did most of his talking this week in Japanese, and yes, it was the annoying “heel speaks foreign language to get heat” thing, but his delivery sold it like a supervillain even though we couldn’t understand the words.

And then, of course, there was whatever Nakamura whispered into Rollins’ ear. We’re unsure about this part because WWE doesn’t have a great track record with stories that involve big secrets, but it did provide the segment more of an explicit reason for existing, and it looks like it’s going to be a different kind of feud than the ones Rollins has gotten into recently. We would say we’re cautiously optimistic, but it’s Rollins and Nakamura, with Nakamura being involved in a major storyline for the first time since, what, 2018? No, we’re not cautiously optimistic. We’re excited.

Hated: Lemons all the way down

Trish Stratus kneels and flexes with Becky Lynch down

WWE

In a perfect world — well, a slightly less imperfect world than this one, at least — Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus would have come out on “Raw,” a week after being disrespectfully left off the card at SummerSlam, and torn the house down, preferably in the main event. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world where the good die young and Vince McMahon remains inexplicably unincarcerated, so there wasn’t even much of a house to tear down, and if there had been, they wouldn’t have. They weren’t the main event, either, but in hindsight, that’s understandable.

This was not good. At all. Part of that can be chalked up to bad luck; aside from the superplex toward the end, none of the big spots landed right, Stratus is out here botching moves she’s been hitting for literal decades, and everything just seemed slow and sluggish. The crowd might have something to do with that — Lynch and Stratus weren’t the only wrestlers to have the air taken out of their sails by an absolutely garbage Winnipeg crowd, and you can hardly blame some of these wrestlers if they didn’t give their all for that audience. But honestly, the bigger problem was that the match had no structure, and the match had no structure because there was nothing to base a structure on. This entire storyline has been built around Stark since she joined up with Trish at Night of Champions, so a match where Stark is banned from ringside doesn’t have any teeth to it. The only other thing the feud has to work with is Stratus’ face mask, and for some reason they decided to resolve that already weak plot point mid-match so it didn’t have any impact whatsoever. Cool.

We’re actually happy about the double countout finish, because this was no way for WWE’s second-longest-running storyline (yes, really) to end. And a steel cage match? That’s more like it. That fits the narrative of needing to keep Stark out of the match while still allowing her to appear and probably do something during the match, and it works better to the styles of matches Lynch and Stratus have been having. And Winnipeg doesn’t deserve it.

Hated: It’s all about JD

JD McDonagh puts a submission hold on Sami Zayn

WWE

To be blunt about it, “Raw” was pretty bad this week. The crowd sucked, the matches were a reasonable amount of fun at best, and there weren’t really any major story advancements — no title matches, big character moments, not much of anything. It was a stark reminder that we’re past SummerSlam and into the time of year when WWE starts getting preempted by the NFL, a period of the company calendar not traditionally known for its creative brilliance. And as if to demonstrate the truth of such generalizations, Monday’s episode was structured primarily around the saga of … JD McDonagh?

It’s a weird choice that got weirder as the episode went on. Initially, it was fine — McDonagh was legitimately trained by Finn Balor, so them hanging out makes sense, and it made sense that Sami Zayn would want a match with McDonagh after last week, a match that was by far the best of the evening and that expertly blended McDonagh’s “NXT” background as a merciless manipulator of anatomy with Zayn’s superpower of getting people to feel sympathy for him. So far, so good. But after an astonishingly tepid main event match between Balor and Cody Rhodes, McDonagh re-emerged, this time as the extra ally who helped turn the tide against Rhodes and Zayn, allowing the latter to be put through a table (we really hope that wasn’t Zayn getting written off TV, but it probably was). Throughout the show, it had been made clear that following SummerSlam, we were once again doing Judgment Day Drama — which was fun the first time but now just feels like a retread, this time with 100% more Irish wrestlers — and it ended the same way it ended before, with the group bonding after a victory.

Except it wasn’t a victory, of course; Rhodes beat Balor after Damian Priest, in what might be the most unintentionally funny thing we’ve seen in wrestling this year, accidentally slid his briefcase between Balor’s legs and into Rhodes’ hands, and Rhodes used it as a weapon to pick up the win. So there’s still tension in The Judgment Day, right? Except then the McDonagh stuff happened, and “Raw” went off the air with them looking dominant and the announcers talking about how dominant they are, so maybe not? It’s confusing.

The main problem here (aside from the centrality of McDonagh) is that we don’t understand what WWE is building toward with this storyline. Payback is in less than three weeks. What’s the Payback match coming out of this? If we assume the tag titles are out of the picture for now, which we hope isn’t the case but could be, and we factor in the fact that Rhodes just beat Balor and has already beaten Dominik Mysterio, are we doing Rhodes vs. Priest? Or are Balor and McDonagh splitting from The Judgment Day and we’re doing Balor vs. Priest or Balor and McDonagh vs. Priest and Mysterio for Payback? That seems awfully quick, and who is the crowd supposed to root for? We don’t understand where this story is going, and that’s disappointing considering you could have just, you know, had Balor win the world title at SummerSlam and watched your Judgment Day story write itself from there. But no, we need to bring in JD McDonagh instead.

Rough showing from all the JDs this week. But hey, you know what? Rhea Ripley had a match with Indi Hartwell, and that got her and Candice LeRae on TV again, so at least some things are looking up! We really hope we get a Ripley/LeRae match with a decent amount of time at some point. At least Rhea gets to keep doing cool stuff!

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