WWE RAW 8/21/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s weekly critique of all (or at least most) things "WWE Raw," or as we like to call it, The Judgment Week! Do you get it? Do you ... okay, yeah, you get it. Anyway, going into Monday night's show, we didn't know a ton about what was happening aside from the Intercontinental title match between GUNTHER and Chad Gable, which had zero chance of not being great, and a conversation with Shinsuke Nakamura about what he whispered to Seth Rollins, which had, like, a 65% chance of not being great. We'll get to both those things, as well as all things Judgment Day, but first, a few things we're not going to touch on:

  • The Becky Lynch/Trish Stratus promo segment (it was a really long way of saying Becky is going to get her win back against Zoey Stark before beating Trish at Payback; we're supposed to have an opinion?)
  • Drew McIntyre and Matt Riddle vs. The New Day (Wake us up when Riddle annoys Drew too much and eats a heel turn Claymore Kick)
  • The Miz vs. Akira Tozawa (TOZAWA WON AND IT WAS AMAZING, and also The Miz compared LA Knight to Hoobastank, MySpace, beanie babies, and the 24/7 Championship, so yeah, obviously we loved this even though the other stuff we loved was more important)

Check out our live coverage of the show for just the facts; if you want the feelings, here are three things we hated and three things we loved from the 8/21/23 episode of "WWE Raw."

Loved: The boys are back in town

In a company that's seen perhaps more than its fair share of injured champions lately, it's pretty awesome to see that (a) Kevin Owens is back, and (b) Sami Zayn's elbow bursitis isn't anything serious and him going through the announce table last week wasn't done to write him off TV. It would have sucked pretty hard to see Sami go on the injured list the week before he ended up getting a hero's welcome in Quebec City, who, like Montreal earlier this year, could barely bring themselves to stop cheering him long enough to let him cut a (presumably meant to be longer) promo. And if the crowd went crazy for the first Quebecois, they went insane for the return of the second one.


We're only a few weeks removed from the women's tag titles being vacated due to an injury to Sonya Deville, and at the time that happened, there was a real feeling WWE might need to vacate the men's tag titles, as well. More than anything else, we're thrilled that's not going to happen, and that the reign of Zayn and Owens will continue (at least for now). It's also pretty awesome that they got to close the show with a hometown win — we're even willing to forgive them for main-eventing "Raw" against The Judgment Day AGAIN on a card that also had Chad Gable vs. GUNTHER.

Hated: Okay but what if the main was a tag team match that then became a six-man tag involving Cody Rhodes


We've mentioned this before, but it's getting ridiculous now. Owens and Zayn vs. Balor and Priest ends in a disqualification followed by a Judgment Day beatdown, so Cody Rhodes runs out to make the save and demand they do a six-man tag. You know, the same match they did back on June 19 in the "Raw" main event." The same match they've been running variations of in the "Raw" main event almost every week since WrestleMania. We like these wrestlers, they are all very good at wrestling, but for the love of god can we get some variety here?


Honestly, the problem isn't even necessarily the same people main-eventing every week. That's part of it, but the real problem is that it's not even happening in the service of a storyline. You're allowed to be sick of the Bloodline dominating "SmackDown" if you want, but at least that story advances most weeks. The story here is The Judgment Day starting to crack from the inside, and that's fine, but they tease the inevitable breakup every week, and every week nothing happens. On Monday's episode, there was a whole dramatic thing about who would team up against Zayn and Owens, because Balor and Priest are still having issues. So Rhea Ripley makes Balor and Priest team up against Zayn and Owens. Hmmmm, interesting! There are potential story elements at play here! Do you know what that led to? Nothing! We watch "SmackDown" every week because we want to know what happens next; we watch "Raw" every week already knowing what's going to happen, because this Judgment Day thing has been going on since Money in the f***ing Bank and it's not fun anymore, it's just boring.


And meanwhile, you've got Zayn, Owens, and Rhodes — three of the hottest babyfaces in the company — basically doing nothing themselves. Zayn and Owens haven't had a meaningful feud since winning the titles at Mania; we don't know how WWE pulled it off, but they're regular "Raw" main-eventers who somehow still deserve better. Rhodes' only meaningful feud since Mania was with Brock Lesnar, and now that he's won that, what do you even do with him? He's beaten all the Judgment Day dudes already and they're not ready to have him challenge Rollins or Reigns again, so he's just in a holding pattern. All three of these guys thrive on storytelling, and for the most part, WWE isn't letting them tell stories. They're just coming out and being blank canvasses for Judgment Day to paint on — and they won't even finish the damn painting.

Loved: Using all your tools

There are arguments to be made and debates to be had about how — and how much — WWE under the creative auspices of Paul Levesque differs from WWE under Vince McMahon. One thing that can't be denied, however, is that under Levesque, WWE has started making really good use of their first-rate video package production, and there were two major examples in this episode. First off, we had a video package for Shayna Baszler, who we haven't seen since she beat Ronda Rousey at SummerSlam, and we are extremely into what seems to be a combination of the "gonna break all your bones" character she rocked in "NXT" and an explicit tweener "I don't take sides, I'll kill all of you" alignment. We're starting to wonder if there's a tentative Ripley vs. Baszler at WrestleMania plan in place right now, and we couldn't be more thrilled about it if that's the case.


If that was good, though, the package where Shinsuke Nakamura explained what he whispered to Seth Rollins last week was borderline miraculous. After who even knows how many years, somebody on the WWE main roster figured out that you can have foreign talent who don't sound natural speaking English cut promos in video package form, speaking in their native language with subtitles. Brilliant, Holmes, how did you ever crack the case?

This version of Nakamura rules. We can buy this version of Nakamura as world champion. The thing about Rollins' back fractures (which he talked about on "Impaulsive," incidentally) is maybe less soap opera than we were expecting, but that's probably a good thing, and it's also easy to build the Payback match around that. Rollins cut a decent backstage promo in response, but the money here was Nakamura being maniacally deranged in the best possible way, and he was only able to do that because they let him speak Japanese. MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.


Hated: A whole five minutes of women's wrestling, maybe

There were two women's matches on "Raw" this week, which is good, but they were both extremely short, which sucks, and we want to make sure we call out WWE for creatively failing their women's division just as often as we call out AEW for it. Rhea Ripley and Candice LeRae should be given time to cook, which we know they can do; they got about two minutes Monday night, and while they made the most of it, they basically had to do an extremely rushed version of the much better match they should have been allowed to have. Raquel Rodriguez coming out and revealing that she's finally cleared didn't move the needle much for Quebec, and it didn't move the needle much for us, either. We're just happy the Ripley/Raquel match is finally happening.


Meanwhile, the women's tag team match was also short, and involved new champs Chelsea Green and Piper Niven beating Katana Chance and Kayden Carter, aka pretty much the only other women's tag team in the company. Uh, cool? We like the dynamic between Green and Niven, and we're thrilled to see Niven getting TV time again, but what are they going to do now that Niven basically beat Chance and Carter by herself? Is there going to be some kind of attempt at building an actual women's tag team division at any point, or is that just a pipe dream fantasy that we should give up on for the sake of our own mental health?

Hated: Hurry up and do it yourself

Speaking of people associated with Candice LeRae and also apparently a pipe dream fantasy ... are we ever gonna actually do this thing with Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano? Ciampa cut a backstage promo Monday night that didn't explicitly reference Gargano but he did use the phrase "Do it yourself," which is a reference to their tag team name, DIY, so the teases just keep happening, but there's been zero payoff so far. There continues to be no word on Gargano aside from the fact that he was supposedly healthy weeks ago, and Ciampa is at the point where he's putting out a whole series of social media videos where he puts up "Missing" signs and looks for Johnny. At some point this has to happen, right?


And yeah, we know, we've been berating "Raw" for not pulling the trigger on a DIY reunion basically since we started writing these columns, but it's not our fault they keep teasing it! If you're not gonna do it, just stop trying to convince me super-secretly that you're gonna do it! It's okay, we can all move on, just give Ciampa another feud and be done with it. But if you are gonna do it, F***ING DO IT ALREADY.

Loved: Chad By God Gable

The Intercontinental title match between GUNTHER and Chad Gable ended in a count-out, which is typically the sign of an unsatisfying match. In this case, it was one of the best TV matches WWE has produced this year, and the fact that it didn't main event is borderline criminal, which is why it's main-eventing here.


We're pretty sure everyone knew this match was going to be great. Gable and GUNTHER have been extremely consistent in the quality of their matches, especially since Levesque took over creative, and they had already done good work against one another as part of this feud. Monday's match, though, was something else entirely, an absolutely phenomenal wrestling contest that by turns showed off Gable's technical wrestling ability, GUNTHER's power and ruthlessness, and Gable's newfound refusal to stay down that's going to turn him into the next Sami Zayn if he's not careful. Our expectations were high; this match exceeded them.

Our favorite part, though, and the thing we loved most from "Raw," was the finish. It had been teased earlier on, with GUNTHER going for count-out wins and demolishing Gable on the outside, only for Gable to keep beating the count. Then at the end, they spend some more time on the outside, and Gable hits a German suplex on GUNTHER over the barricade, runs toward the ring, and slides inside just in time to get the count-out victory. Of course, that doesn't come with the title, but do you know what Gable does? He celebrates, because even though we, the audience, know wins and losses don't really matter than much in wrestling, the characters should always want to win matches! Always! Gable could have just gotten counted out as well; it wouldn't have changed the outcome as far as the title is concerned. But he used every ounce of his athleticism to get back into the ring in time to get the W, and as his reward, he became the first person to defeat GUNTHER in a singles match since his main roster call-up in 2022, and he's almost certainly got another title match coming. We had a feeling we were getting the same match again at Payback, so we figured some kind of non-decisive finish was happening. But again, it exceeded expectations — instead of leaving us grumbling, the non-finish left us feeling triumphant, ecstatic, and eager to get to the next chapter.


In this space, we're often quick to embrace wrestling's weirdness — cinematic matches, supernatural characters, 40-minute Bloodline promo segments, etc. And we still love those things. But it's always good to be reminded that sometimes, this dumb, bizarre half-sport is at its best when two people just wrestle because they're wrestlers, and for no other reason than that.