WWE RAW 7/31/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestlng Inc.'s review and analysis of "WWE Raw!" This week was the red brand's go-home episode prior to WWE SummerSlam, and was set to advance feuds like Cody Rhodes vs. Brock Lesnar, Logan Paul vs. Ricochet, and Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor. Rollins himself would team up with Sami Zayn to take on Balor's Judgment Day compatriots, Damian Priest and Dominik Mysterio, while in other previously announced in-ring action, Maxxine Dupri made her singles debut against Valhalla.

In the end, the SummerSlam card largely solidified (for better or for worse) with some storylines adding compelling drama while others had their matches booted off the show entirely. But which booking decisions made us pump our firsts with excitement, and which made us groan with despair? Feel free to go to our live coverage if all you want is the facts; for our actual opinions, here are three things we hated and three things we loved about the 7/31/23 episode of "WWE Raw."

Hated: Dragged kicking and screaming across the finish line

The final pre-SummerSlam confrontations between Logal Paul and Ricochet and Cody Rhodes and Brock Lesnar were probably supposed to be "Raw's" anchors this week, but we didn't have the time or the patience for either of them. Paul and Ricochet are somehow still cutting promos on each other that inevitably lead to truncated brawls, which is the same thing they've been doing for weeks now. Nothing about this segment told us anything new about either the characters or the upcoming match; it was just here because they had to stretch the feud out one more week, and maybe because now it's just funny to see how many weeks in a row they send Ricochet out with a microphone. Paul tried to turn things up a notch this time by referencing Ricochet's real-life fiancee, ring announcer Samantha Irvin, but that kind of edginess is not our cup of tea and did not make us more interested for their SummerSlam match.

Meanwhile, Lesnar for some reason found the need for extended mic time this week, during which he inexplicably demanded that Cody come out and shake his hand. Rhodes came out not wearing his traditional suit, but rather was "dressed to fight," as Corey Graves put it. Having Cody wear a suit all the time makes it really effective when he comes out wearing something else, and we were pretty ready by them to watch him attack Lesnar immediately, but instead he just shook Lesnar's hand. But then he waited for Lesnar to leave the ring before hitting him with a suicide dive! But then Brock beat him up for a while and ultimately left the arena with a smile on his face.

We kind of see what they're going for with Cody doing a whole Captain America "I can do this all day" type deal, but it doesn't really fit the rest of the story (because the story has been inconsistent) and at this point we're tired of WWE shoving "CODY IS A SCRAPPY UNDERDOG PLEASE ROOT FOR HIM" down our throats, at least in this Lesnar feud. It's frankly astounding that WWE thinks Rhodes/Lesnar 3 is so compelling on its own that it doesn't need a stipulation (just an incredibly over-dramatic hype video) but apparently that's exactly what we believe. We're just glad this feud will finally be over after Saturday.

Loved: Ludwig Kaiser solves the riddle

It's funny how many matches live or die entirely based on the finish, but that's wrestling.

In last week's column, we had some fairly strong words for the match between Drew McIntyre and Ludwig Kaiser. We didn't understand why Kaiser was being presented as anywhere near McIntyre's level, and frankly we didn't understand why Imperium is even still a thing, seeing as all they ever seem to do is lose to GUNTHER's upcoming opponents. They were desperately in need of a break in the pattern.

This week, miracle of miracles, they got one! Following the show-opening Ricochet/Logan Paul promo segment, the first match of the night was Kaiser vs. Matt Riddle, a former GUNTHER opponent who, while definitely on a lesser tier than someone like McIntyre these days, certainly seemed to be on a higher tier than Kaiser — after all, Riddle pinned Kaiser on "Raw" six weeks ago. But after a "motivational" speech from GUNTHER, Kaiser put on his second banger in as many episodes, and more importantly, pinned Riddle clean.

We love this for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that we hate Matt Riddle and enjoy watching him lose. More importantly though, Kaiser actually winning a singles match could be the sign of actual change within the Imperium, especially he if continues to have success and prove himself to GUNTHER while Giovanni Vinci continues to struggle. GUNTHER is always great, but Imperium as a unit has stagnated, and we're very much hoping that this Kaiser victory is the catalyst for something new.

Loved: Alpha Academy deserves a thank you

They almost never win feuds or get PLE matches, but Alpha Academy have consistently been the MVPs of "Raw" for months now, and that trend continued this week in not one but two matches. Maxxine Dupri vs. Valhalla wasn't anyone's idea of a classic, but it was a lot of fun and served as a nice showcase for Dupri in her first-ever singles match. She's clearly still green, but she has potential, and we love the idea of a Chad Gable-esque technical star in the division — if she can believably pull it off. But it seems like WWE believes in Dupri, especially because she defeated Valhalla with a motherf***ing Ocean Cyclone Suplex, aka the primary finisher of perhaps the greatest wrestler to ever walk the face of the earth, Manami Toyota. That is a choice.

Following Dupri's victory, Gable himself ended up in a five-minute challenge against GUNTHER. It was a frustrating booking decision, since WWE was only giving five minutes to a match that could main event any show on the planet if given enough time — and then it ended up going significantly longer and was assuredly the best match on this week's episode. We love that Gable survived the first five minutes and looked like he belonged in the ring with the Intercontinental Champion, we love that GUNTHER's embarrassment at failing to back up his boasts led to him demanding the match get more time, and we loved the contest being competitive from that point on, to the extent that even though GUNTHER won, the entire encounter was clearly a loss for him and a win for Gable.

At some point, we're going to need WWE to reward the incredible work that Gable, Otis, and now Dupri have been putting in over the past ... year? More than a year? They're legitimately funny and can do all the silly stuff you want them to do, and then they can get in the ring and put on great matches — in Gable's case, pretty much every single time.

Loved: The MMA Horsewomen explode

We don't usually assign "loved" or "hated" tags to video packages, just because we already have limited space to talk about the actual wrestling that happened, but this week, the video package highlighting Shayna Baszler and Ronda Rousey was legitimately the best part of "Raw" (partially because it was great, partially because "Raw" was pretty rough overall. What else were we going to do, talk about Ciampa vs. Nakamura again?). Outside of the Bloodline, there might not be two characters in WWE more fully realized right now than Baszler and Rousey, as they bring their extensive personal relationship and long history of public scrutiny into a feud that doesn't really have a clear babyface or heel. Baszler looked to be the heel at first, just because that's usually what happens when you turn on your partner, but her reasons were perfectly understandable (especially to a fanbase that has no love for Rousey) and suddenly she was sympathetic. Now, in this two-part video package, both women's perspectives are understandable. Which of them has the moral high ground is entirely dependent on whose perspective you accept as true. We think Shayna is still closer to babyface territory, but there's only so far you can go in that direction when you start talking about how your infant goddaughter is going to grow up hating you because of what you did to her mother.

Rousey did really good work in this package, but the highlight by far was Baszler, who has somehow been on the main roster for three years now and has never been showcased and presented the way she deserves to be — and the way she was presented in "WWE NXT." She's one of the most talented wrestlers on WWE's roster, both in the ring and on the mic, regardless of gender, and we really hope this is the start of her becoming a major player. We don't totally known what "mixed martial arts rules" are going to look like, but right now, aside from Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso, there isn't another SummerSlam match we're looking forward to more.

Hated: SummerSlam sausage

Technically there were two women's matches on "Raw" this week, but aside from the Baszler/Rousey video packages, it was a paltry effort overall from a promotion that has been extremely up and down lately in terms of how it presents the women's division. Dupri vs. Valhalla was fine, but Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus was a bait-and-switch that ended after a few seconds, and now it turns out that their rematch isn't happening at SummerSlam, but on the August 14 episode of "Raw." What's worse, any hope that Rhea Ripley would be defending her title at SummerSlam, presumably against Raquel Rodriguez, was fairly well dashed when Ripley injured Rodriguez' knee this week, just as it seemed like the match was finally getting set up.

Look, we've focally advocated for shorter PPVs/PLEs in the past. We don't want a five-hour SummerSlam and we don't want 10 matches on the card. We get that stuff had to be cut (it doesn't seem like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens will be defending their tag titles on the show either, making it the second consecutive PLE that's happened, though in this case that could be the result of Owens being injured). It just sucks that SummerSlam could have easily included four women's matches, but instead we're only getting two because WWE needs that time for a random battle royal (hopefully that's only happening because Johnny Gargano is returning; we really don't want to talk about Nakamura vs. Ciampa again).

We're very hard on how AEW treats its women's division in other review columns on this site, and rightfully so. But women's representation is still a massive problem in wrestling as a whole, and WWE also deserves to be called out for not making it a priority.

Hated: The Judgment Day runs out of steam

Finn Balor cut another incredible promo, but aside from that, we weren't nearly as into this week's Judgment Day content as we have been on pretty much every other episode of "Raw" since Money in the Bank. Partially it was just a matter of decreased volume; unlike recent episodes, this one wasn't built around JD from start to finish, so they just felt a little less important than we've become accustomed to. They were in the main event, but even with Zayn and Rollins involved, the tag match felt like it never got out of second gear. Balor not being in the match to interact with Rollins neutered the action a little bit, and the contest didn't really build on or reference any of the recent matches between these four. It didn't dig nearly deep enough to be compelling, and yet somehow it was also trying to do too much, including shoe-horning in a Money in the Bank cash-in tease that absolutely did not need to be there. We liked Finn hesitating for a second and then giving Priest the briefcase and cheering him on, but frankly it's weird to us that the specter of Priest cashing in is being talked up as part of the story right now, since that issue had seemingly been resolved. Obviously we were expecting it to come back up again down the road, but not yet, and we really don't want any repeats of the MITB match between Seth and Finn.

So yeah, not a great JD night aside from Balor, who we are really hoping wins the World Heavyweight title on Saturday. Honestly, the group was really just another victim of WWE's poor sense of timing when it comes to PPV cycles, as they tend to write stories that don't need the amount of time they actually give them to develop. When that happens, you get episodes like this one, which could have just been titled "Is SummerSlam here yet?"