WWE's greatest strength has always been their ability to make an event seem like the most important thing ever. They're masters of hype, able to sell the most bog-standard event as perhaps the most important occurrence in the company to date. At a point, it almost doesn't matter that they never deliver, because they've so mastered their brand of constant, breathless hyperbole delivered with a straight face that it becomes infectious. It becomes all too easy to ignore how rarely they deliver on their own hyperbole and believe that this time, things will be different.
This year's No Mercy was no different. WWE sold the show as featuring two "WrestleMania-worthy" matches in hopes of making the audience believe that this random, Raw-exclusive show would be on the level of their biggest show of the year. There was no way it was going to deliver, but it was (for me at least) easy to look at the card and think that maybe WWE could get in spitting distance of that claim. Instead, No Mercy was anything but the hype. It was boring and predictable, an off-cycle show that went through the motions and changed very little about the state of Raw like so many other off-cycle shows before it. Its few bright spots come with huge caveats, be they injuries or continuing bad storylines or barely changing the state of things.
But to their credit, there is one thing No Mercy did unequivocally right: it made it clear that WWE doesn't believe their own hype. Or maybe they do, but in that case, if this event is what WWE considers "WrestleMania-worthy," they have a much lower opinion of WrestleMania than the rest of us. Then again, maybe they've watched enough of their own product to know whe they're bullshitting.
Elias def. Apollo Crews
First question: why? Second question: no but seriously, why? I really like Elias, and I wish they would come up with a character for Crews beyond "smiling bald black guy managed by a different smiling bald black guy," but who benefitted from this Raw-ass match? Nothing about it was bad per se, but it told no story, did nothing to advance either character and the wrestling itself brought nothing to the table beyond your standard-fare seven-minute Raw match. You could've told me they accidentally aired a match from the 9:00 hour of last week's Raw during this preshow and I probably would believe you. I know that asking WWE to put some effort into building a match that isn't technically part of the show is asking a lot, but it really shouldn't be.
Intercontinental Championship match
The Miz [w/ The Miztourage] (c) def. Jason Jordan
In case this match didn't make things crystal clear, the Jason Jordan experiment is really not working. The worst part is, it's not entirely Jordan's fault. He's still the drizzling shits as a character (and that post-match interview with Renee Young was both painful and infuriating) but I genuinely feel for the guy because he's being given almost nothing to work with. Miz continues to be operating at a level above everyone else in terms of his character work, but how enthusiastic am I supposed to be when we've seen him wrestle the exact same match with the exact same story beats tens of times in the this year alone? I love these guys, but there's only so many times you can see The Miz steal Daniel Bryan's kicks and use The Miztourage to cheat while the referee is distracted before you wish they'd change things even slightly. For that matter, there's only so many times you can see Jason Jordan do that "Two Amigos" version of the northern lights suplex before it loses its luster
Man vs. Man match
Finn Bálor def. Bray Wyatt
Raw Tag Team Championships match
Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose (c) def. The Bar [Cesaro & Sheamus]
Rating: THE BEST
The tag titles match was far and away the best and most brutal match of the show, and not just because Cesaro got his teeth knocked into his skull.
This site has spent the past nine months being incredibly critical of both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins--deservedly so, because both have spent the year in various states of disarray--to the point that even this pairing seemed like another dead end when it was first announced. So it brings me some joy to admit that I was absolutely wrong - making Ambrose and Rollins a team has helped alleviate many of the issues I've had with them. Having a partner to play off in an almost Odd Couple-like way has given Rollin some definition as a character beyond being the guy from The Shied that was Triple H's former lackey. As for Ambrose, his weak offense has gone from an annoyance to a story beat, making Rollins look even cooler when he gets that hot tag. And that's not even touching the other half of the match. Suffice it to say, the unkillable badasses--the team that has done the impossible and turned me into a Sheamus fan--brought more than their A-game. I don't want to sound like I have bloodlust or anything, but Cesaro's gross injury might have been the best thing for the match; the fact that Cesaro was able to take that harsh a hit and not only keep fighting but barely look like he lost a step sold how amazing they are as much as every single match since they've teamed up combined. And can we talk about that ridiculous White Noise/Powerbomb combo that could have easily been the match's ending? Holy shit.
Fatal Five-Way match for the Raw Women's Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) def. Bayley, Sasha Banks, Nia Jax & Emma
Rating: REALLY GOOD
Look guys, I'm not going to waste your time pretending that I have something meaningful to say about this match. It was fun chaos in the same way that most multi-person matches are fun and chaotic. It did nothing to change the fact that Raw's women's division is in an unending holding pattern where people are simultaneously made to look great and useless, but it did give me a match that I enjoyed watching without reservation, which is the first time the Women's division has done that in months. Alexa retaining the title was an odd decision, but I guess it doesn't matter. Whoever holds the belt is getting murdered by Asuka next month anyway
"WrestleMania-worthy Main Event" (that isn't actually a main event) match
Roman Reigns def. John Cena
I was so excited for this match and it simply did not deliver. But to be fair, that's entirely on me. The hot streak that Cena has been on all year has made it easy to forget that the quality of Cena's matches are contingent on the quality of Cena's opponents, which is how you get such a wide gulf between mat classics like Cena vs. AJ Styles and pointless garbage like Cena vs. Baron Corbin. And then there's Roman Reigns. The story with this match (as Cena belabored on the Raw Talk following No Mercy) was for Cena to "pass the torch" to Reigns, anointing him as the new ultimate top guy. And to their credit, they made Reigns look like a top guy alright... just not like the Second Coming of the one they were hoping for.
See, WWE wants Roman Reigns to be the new John Cena. But what this match showed is that Roman is actually the new Randy Orton. Think about it. Both are bland-as-shit milquetoast characters, generic brooding tough guys with an arrogant streak that gives them a generic "cool antihero" vibe. Both are middling wrestlers, technically talented but professionally lazy to the point that most of their matches are interchangeable. Both are talents that WWE would like you to believe are on the level of a John Cena, if not a Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin. But they're not, they never will be, and they definitely don't deserve to be.
Which is fitting, because this match was basically on the level of Cena and Orton's past few matches. It was bland and boring and tried to build excitement by having the wrestlers constantly kick out of each other's finishing moves instead of being forced to try something new. It was the epitome of WWE's abject apathy towards their main event scene, rewarding mediocrity because the company "likes their look" and ignoring the crowd's antipathy because the writers genuinely believe they know what the audience wants more than the people watching the show. It's nothing but hubris, which is a pretty accurate descriptor for Reigns' character now that I think about it. Maybe that's why Vince McMahon is so bafflingly keen on the guy; he sees Reigns as a kindred spirit.
Cruiserweight Championship match
Enzo Amore def. Neville (c)
Rating: THE WORST
Let's be honest: this was never going to be a "good match" by any traditional metric, if for no other reasons than the Cruiserweight division (Nevile excepted) is useless and Enzo Amore is, miraculously, even worse. But there's a way to do this match and make it theoretically enjoyable, a fact WWE clearly understands since they (poorly) tried to do it. That strategy requires having Neville, the arrogant, self-absorbed champion, constantly underestimate his less talented challenger, toying with him and the audience to "make a point" instead of taking him as a credible threat, allowing said challenger to catch the champ off guard and sneak away with the title. And they certainly tried, with Neville looking great but shooting himself in the foot by focusing more on denying the audience the chance to see cool moves like the Red Arrow instead of doing what would guarantee him a victory. Meanwhile, Enzo... is still awful beyond belief both as a character and a wrestler, but at least things work for a while.
And then it ends with Enzo literally kicking Neville in the balls to win the title. For all I know this was a double-turn and Enzo is going to be the Cruiserweight division's hatable new heel champion while Neville can go back to being a cult favorite. But here's a better idea: what if instead of all this, WWE did literally anything else? Why would I tune in to the Cruiserweight division in hopes of watching a despicable person and (unlike everyone else in the division) talentless wrestler lose? I already don't want these fools to begin with, which makes the blatant groin-kick victory feel a lot like an accurate summation of everything awful about this godforsaken division. Nothing matters; no one looks good; and Neville gets abjectly wasted. Please, for the love of god, just throw this division in the trash and be done with it.
Universal Championship match
Brock Lesnar (c) def. Braun Strowman
Rating: THE WORST
One could argue, as PW.C's Editorial Director Owen has argued to me in private, that none of this is a surprise. After all, this is exactly what happened to Samoa Joe, Raw's other unflinching badass tough guy, a couple months ago at Great Balls of Fire. That's entirely accurate, but at least Joe came with his own set of baggage that made it easier to understand WWE's poor decision. Joe is amazing, but he's also a guy who made his name in organizations like TNA and Ring of Honor, places that WWE has no respect for whatsoever. Don't get me wrong, that still sucks, but using popular, beloved indie wrestlers to put over WWE's homegrown sports entertainers is the kind of move that is typical of Vince McMahon's show. But when it came to Braun Strowman, a homegrown talent who is not only fantastically talented but is the product of some of Raw's best writing in years, there is no way that he would see the same fate, right?
Well he did, and he got made to look like a jabroni so that Brock Lesnar can continue to play a SNK Boss on television for fuck knows what reason. Lesnar is a god damn waste and continues to do nothing positive for the product and yet here he is, continuing to make everyone else around him look pathetic unless they're a shitty old legend that doesn't really want to be there. Meanwhile, the new blood that is supposed to matter--the people who will be here a couple years from now instead of getting bored and fucking off back to the UFC--is constantly forced to take a seat so that this juicing piece of shit can show up whenever he feels like it.
Fuck Brock and fuck this. Braun deserved better.