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Traditionally, WWE does not put out their best product during the late summer/early fall. For the past few years, events like Night of Champions and Battleground have been underwhelming shows, as WWE struggles to escape the SummerSlam hangover and maintain momentum as football season begins and students head back to school. However, at least on the RAW side of things, No Mercy feels like anything but an underwhelming PPV, at least from a hype perspective. With the headlining matches being Braun Strowman vs Brock Lesnar and John Cena vs Roman Reigns, an argument can be made that No Mercy is superior to SummerSlam.
One of the reasons No Mercy has so far overachieved as an event is the succesful development of Strowman, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. According to Dave Meltzer, the plan for Lesnar and the Universal Championship was for Lesnar to spend the summer and the fall working with Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman, before feuding with Reigns at WrestleMania. So far that looks like the case, with Strowman getting his match with Lesnar at No Mercy. A few months ago it would have looked like just an average match, but Strowman has been so expertly booked that his match against Lesnar doesn't feel like just a speed bump on Lesnar's way to feuding with Reigns. Instead, it feels like one of the best matches WWE is going to produce all year.
Could Strowman defeat Lesnar and win the Universal Championship? A big part of Strowman's success has been his infallibility as he rampaged through the RAW roster; a convincing championship victory over Lesnar would surely cement his status as one of the top three or four guys in the company. Right now Strowman is getting a really good reaction from the audience and is arguably the most popular star on RAW right now; in theory that would be the guy you'd want to build around. The strategy though is to still get Reigns over as the supreme babyface; and logically it would make more sense for Reigns to defeat Lesnar at WrestleMania and end his dominant reign as champion. A Strowman victory would throw a monkey wrench into those plans as a Strowman vs Reigns match has been seen a lot in the past year. One option could be to have Strowman win the title at No Mercy, but lose it back to Lesnar so WWE would be back on the path towards Lesnar vs Reigns. I don't like that idea though; I'd rather have Strowman lose a hard-fought match at No Mercy then win the title only to drop it during the rematch. As Bayley and Sasha Banks have shown in the women's division, nothing takes the wind out of your sails like a failed title reign.
In a perfect world, Strowman would win the championship and have a lengthy title reign. At this point in time there is no reason to believe that Reigns is going to be a more popular long-term babyface of the company than Strowman. Strowman has gotten over in a relatively short period of time, as a top heel, but gets a better babyface reaction than Reigns has ever gotten as a singles wrestler. For a lot of fans, the Strowman vs Lesnar feels like a bigger match than the forthcoming Lesnar vs Reigns match. However, nothing has made WWE change their opinion on Reigns being the top guy yet, so it would be foolish to believe they are about to scrap Reigns in favor of Strowman. I think the best case scenario for Strowman at No Mercy is to have a crazy violent match against Lesnar; with Lesnar eventually exhausting Strowman to narrowly retain the title.
The build for the match has been very strong over the last several weeks. As has been the case for the last year, WWE has avoided any segments that make Strowman look weak. He had a better-than-expected steel cage match against The Big Show, which he won and kayfabe put Show on the shelf after tossing him through one of the cage walls. He also no-sold a Lesnar suplex and got the better of him during their one physical encounter two weeks ago. In their segment on Monday, I thought Lesnar was brilliant in thanking Strowman for challenging him in a way that will bring out his best, and that he was going to take Strowman to "Suplex City, b---h." The pairing of Lesnar with Paul Heyman works out so that Heyman loves to bloviate to the degree that when Lesnar steps and speaks very bluntly, it has a terrific dramatic effect. This match has had a similar build to the Samoa Joe vs Brock Lesnar match, and I'll be disappointed if we get a similar shorter match at the PPV.
The other big match on the card is John Cena vs Roman Reigns, which caught the attention of fans during their first promo exchange, which Cena ascertain that Reigns was a terrible choice to replace him, sucked at promos, and would never be able to do what Cena does for the company. Reigns responded by claiming that Cena was always off pretending to be a movie star, and that he isn't on Reigns' level in the ring. I thought the promos were very interesting the first time, but the subsequent promos haven't been as outstanding. It is one thing to shoot a bit once and a while, but every week since has featured mainly the same talking points by both guys and while Cena remains good because he is such a dynamic speaker, Reigns sounds almost bored.
My main issue with the feud has been that as someone that has been watching WWE for years and seen the push of Reigns; I just can't think that this feud is going to end with either Reigns or Cena turning heel. Cena is too valuable as a face to the company, and Reigns' perceived valued is equal. In a vacuum, Reigns has been the heel in this program, and the fans are favoring Cena heavily in what is presented as being a face vs face program. However, I just know that this feud is going to end in a few months with Cena raising Reigns' hand and claiming that Reigns' really is the future of the company and it was a honor to work with him. If Reigns ends up turning on Cena and going full-fledged heel it would be terrific, but WWE has had countless opportunities over the years to turn Reigns heel and they've yet to do it, so why would this angle be any different?
The timing of the feud is particularly odd. Unlike Lesnar vs Strowman, you could have predicted that a Reigns vs Cena match would be a WrestleMania-level event. Instead, it isn't even the main event of a B-level PPV. I think part of the reason is that this will be the first of several matches; I imagine the feud could go until a rubber match at Survivor Series, although it could very well stretch past that and into 2018. With that in mind, another reason WWE wouldn't be having a WrestleMania-level match at WrestleMania is because Reigns (or Cena) is already penciled in for a bigger match. For Reigns that is likely a Universal Championship match with Lesnar; but just like Strowman vs Lesnar, that match feels inferior to a Reings vs Cena match, which is something that we have never seen before.
A really out there idea, one which I have no real evidence to back up; is that Cena is leaving WWE very soon; maybe not forever but for a longer period of time than he has left in the past. We know he is going to have a big role in the Transformer's spin-off Bumblebee movie; and his options outside of WWE are really piling up. We know he is 40, has tons of miles on his body and has been the top guy in WWE for more than a decade. We know that historically, WWE has tried to phase out older talent (Hogan, Savage, Bret Hart) in favor of younger stars, and that WWE believes that they already have Cena's successor in Reigns. Cena vs Reigns is the most significant match-up WWE could do, and has been for the past couple years, the fact that WWE is throwing it away on a Sept. PPV means something. It could mean that Vince McMahon believes that Roman has to beat Cena before he can take the Universal Championship from Lesnar; after all his last world title reign was a failure, maybe it was because he was still in Cena's shadow? It could also mean that Cena has told WWE he is going to take the next year off, and that WWE quickly scrambled so that they could have Cena pass the torch to Reigns. It would also explain Cena's inexplicable move from SmackDown to RAW. It is unlikely, but I wouldn't rule it out.
While the top two matches are great; the rest of the card is pretty mediocre. Dean Ambrose and Rollins will defend their RAW Tag Team Championships against Sheamus and Cesaro, which should be a pretty good match but hasn't really been built very much; mainly it is just Ambrose and Rollins doing some bad comedy. The Women's Championship match feels listless; WWE just threw together most of the women on the roster into a multi-person match. I don't know who is going to win the match and I don't really care; whoever wins the RAW Women's Championship will probably lose it a week or two later anyway. The storyline seems to be headed towards a Nia Jax vs Alexa Bliss match; this match just seems like they are killing time until they have that PPV title match.
Finn Balor will have a rematch against Bray Wyatt; and I'll be very blunt about this: Bray Wyatt sucks. His character never makes any sense, he never wins any of his feuds, and his matches are passable at best, downright horrific at worst. Balor is worse off by feuding with him; and fans are not invested in it at all, even though it has been taking place for a while and they get plenty of time on every RAW. The sooner Balor gets away from Wyatt, the better his outlook on the main roster will be.
The Miz defends his Intercontinental Championship against Jason Jordan. The issue with Jordan is that the whole Kurt Angle's son angle is so bad and the crowd doesn't buy it, that it kills any momentum he can gain. I think in an alternate universe where the angle never took place, and Jordan was just this suplexing-machine tossing guys around and The Miz just started picking on him; Jordan would be getting over. However, because they always have to keep bringing up the fact that Jordan is Angle's son, it just sabotages any ground Jordan gains because it is just so preposterous.
The Enzo Amore vs Neville match for the Cruiserweight Championship is interesting because Amore, whether you like him or not, is (or was at one point) over with the audience and selling merchandise. He was an asset to the company, but the heat on him must be so great that WWE seems bent on destroying any credibility he has. Every single week on RAW, Enzo gets his ass kicked or embarrassed; yet at the same time he is the number one contender for a championship. It isn't a good look for the Cruiserweight Division when a guy who has been annihilated in every matchup he has ever had on the main roster, suddenly is the number one contender in a different division. Hopefully he doesn't win the title at No Mercy, because that would be the nail in the coffin for a division that a lot of guys, particularly Neville, have worked really hard in but has not been given any real support from booking or creative.
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