Heading into No Mercy, the card looked like it was all about the two headlining matches; Braun Strowman vs Brock Lesnar; and John Cena vs Roman Reigns. While I think those matches were solid, it was the undercard that really over-delivered and made No Mercy one of the best shows WWE has had in 2017.
Brock Lesnar vs Braun Strowman: ***1/4
Unfortunately this ended up being a repeat of the Brock Lesnar vs Samoa Joe feud. Like Joe, Strowman had been built up as a challenger that could go blow-for-blow with
Lesnar; and just like Joe, Strowman spent most of the match on the offensive and punished Lesnar, only for Lesnar to withstand the beating and rather abruptly dismiss Strowman with a single F-5. Given the terrific build both for this particular match and for Strowman, taking him from bumbling sideshow to monstrous attraction, this was a disappointing ending.
Lesnar's matches of late remind me a bit of prime Hulk Hogan. The monster heel gets his licks in early, but the hero rallies back, hits his finisher, and wins the match in around 15 minutes. Due to Strowman really catching fire over the last couple of months, you would hope WWE would protect him more than just having him take one F-5 and be pinned. The "real" top guys; Cena, Reigns, The Undertaker, Triple H, Goldberg, all of those guys kicked out of at least the first F-5, but apparently Strowman isn't seen at that level. It is clear that WWE is saving the big conquering of Lesnar for someone else, and given everything else that took place at No Mercy that looks like it is going to be Roman Reigns; but given all they have done for Strowman I feel like he deserved a bit more respect in this match.
I think the match was okay; better than the Samoa Joe match and particularly at the beginning felt like a really big match. However, I think it was hurt by going on after the Cena/Reigns match. Strowman vs Lesnar really got over during the multi-man match at SummerSlam, where Strowman destroyed Lesnar by chucking office chairs and slamming Lesnar through tables. Since Reigns and Cena did the big table spot and threw each other around ringside, Lesnar and Strowman were limited to mostly just having a basic wrestling match inside the ring, which isn't really what fans expected given the build. When Godzilla fought Ghidorah, he didn't defeat him by expertly performing a judo throw, he did by smashing a building over his head(s). This wasn't the kind of match where the fans were expecting a mat classic, but rather mass destruction, and we didn't really get that.
Moving forward, WWE is now tasked with rebuilding Strowman. He has suffered losses before but none of those losses have been on this big of a stage, nor was he beaten so decisively. If Strowman is going to move backwards, and since Brock isn't going to be around for much of the remaining year, it looks like Strowman is going to have to engage in a non-Universal Championship feud, then I think he is going to have to show more depth to his character. The strength of his character has always been his perceived invincibility, but now that Lesnar has humbled him a bit, that invincibility has been fractured. I'm not sure he can be the same guy he was before No Mercy and still get over in the same fashion, especially because WWE has already shown that there is a ceiling for Strowman right now and it is below the very top of the card.
John Cena vs Roman Reigns: ***3/4
There are probably a lot of fans who thought this was a fantastic match, but it didn't really blow me away. Cena's big matches have become so repetitive that I don't find that much drama in them. They wrestle a normal match for about five minutes and then spend the remaining 15 minutes trading finishers that guys keep kicking out off until someone eventually wins. I wasn't surprised at all when Reigns kicked out of the fourth Attitude Adjustment because I've been conditioned as a fan to never be surprised when someone kicks out of the Attitude Adjustment. I find it fairly uncreative, because it is the same match that Cena has had with AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, his opponents when he United States Champion, and others. That being said, it is done that way because the crowd pops huge for it and to each guys credit, the match was done fairly well. I fee like I'm probably in the minority for not thinking this was one of the best WWE matches of the year, but if Cena continues to have matches with this formula I think a majority of fans will eventually get sick of it.
The post-match angle was surprising, mainly because it looked like this was going to be the only match and the feud has concluded. In my preview of No Mercy in Friday I predicted that Cena may be taking a lengthy leave of absence from WWE and boy, did Cena leaving the ring on Sunday night indicate that was indeed the case. That would also explain why WWE really rushed this feud and slapped it onto a B-level PPV when clearly it was a WrestleMania level match from an interest standpoint.
The ending, with Cena raising Roman's arms and Reigns returning the respect was predictable, but still frustrating. This was a hot feud and the guys didn't pull any punches in their promos discussing their dislike for one another.. Yet they have won match and suddenly they both feel completely differently? Cena in particular said he disliked Reigns because he couldn't carry the company from a financial standpoint and sucked at promos. Reigns beating Cena in a contest of grappling skill doesn't prove to Cena that Reigns can do all of those things, so why does Cena suddenly respect him? From what Cena said his promos, which are what really sold the feud, Reigns' ability to win matches and compete in the ring had nothing to do with his dislike of Reigns in the first place, so logically Cena shouldn't feel any differently about Reigns than he did before the match.
This might seem like an insignificant point, but from a fans perspective, I think it hurts WWE. If you are going to sell a match entirely on the fact that these two guys really don't respect one another, and then they have one match and the feud is over with both guys agreeing to be friends, then I don't feel invested in feuds in the future where the same issue is being presented. In hindsight, nobody should have believed or reacted to Cena or Reigns during their promos, because the lesson is that none of that biting commentary mattered once the match started. At the very least, WWE should have had more than one match between these guys before doing Cena's endorsement of Reigns.
For Reigns, I don't know what WWE expects for him in the future. During the match he was very much the heel, trash talking Cena and taunting the crowd, but after the match it was clear that Reigns was still supposed to be a hero to the fans. Now that it looks like Reigns is certainly on a collision course with Lesnar, does WWE expect Reigns to finally be over with the people the way Cena is? WWE had tried in the past by having fan favorites lose to Reigns and then endorse him (most notably Daniel Bryan right before WrestleMania 31) and it hasn't worked. Cena is the biggest star yet to perform that role in trying to get Reigns over, but I doubt WWE is going to see more support for Reigns because of it.
This ended up being a fantastic match that the crowd got really into. The tag team divisions on RAW and SmackDown are not given a tremendous amount of focus, but both of them have been strong points for their respective brands. The New Day vs The Usos have had very good matches and Rollins and Ambrose vs Sheamus and Cesaro have also been outstanding, with this match probably being the best WWE tag team match of the year, rivaling the best work NXT has done in their superb tag team division. Cesaro busting his mouth open and bleeding everywhere assisted in the matches drama, Rollins really is one of the dozen or so best all-around performers in the world, and Ambrose and Sheamus work hard and are good in their respective roles. This was the best match on the show by a healthy margin.
Another WWE PPV, another multi-man title match. The match wasn't bad by any means, but it was short and felt like kind of a scramble, with Bliss winning pretty suddenly. I think it's pretty telling that Bayley took the pin considering Emma was in the match. Emma to her credit was pretty good in the match and I think is capable of doing much more for WWE than she is currently permitted. The match was all about treating Jax like a monster which they effectively did, and Bliss escaping with the title. The match they are building is for Jax to go one-on-one with Bliss, which might happen at the next PPV. I'm not sure who the face is in that program; I think logically it would be Jax since she's been chasing Bliss for the title, but I think the crowd is going to cheer for Bliss that particular matchup.
Enzo Amore vs Neville: **
A minor miracle in that there were no significant botches, although Enzo winning the title could certainly be considered one. Enzo has been booked to look completely ineffective against RAW wrestlers, so him coming in and immediately winning the Cruiserweight Championship makes that whole division look inferior to the main roster, something that is pretty much stated every week when the division gets three minutes on RAW and the crowd never reacts. In addition, the whole point of the Cruiserweight division is to feature these guys having amazing matches, and now the worst wrestler in the company is the champion. Throw in the fact that Enzo cuts babyface promos and was wrestling the biggest heel in the division, yet he clearly cheated to win the title and you have just a complete mess.
Jason Jordan vs The Miz: **1/2
Not a bad match, but Jordan has some tough sledding because the crowd hates the storyline of Angle being his father and no matter what he does, it is tough to buy into him when they are constantly pushing the fact that Jordan is Angle's son. Jordan is good in the ring and his fondness for suplexing everybody in sight is something that I think really could get over in another storyline, but this just isn't working out for him. The fact that The Miz, who does everything in the world to try and draw heat, got a big pop for beating Jordan tells you all you need to know.
Finn Balor vs Bray Wyatt: **3/4
For a Wyatt match this was pretty good. WWE didn't screw around and pushed Balor as a babyface star by having him get injured, coming back and thankfully beating Wyatt which hopefully be the end of their feud. I don't know what feud is next for Balor, maybe he could face The Miz but he also might be facing Strowman or Reigns, since those guys look like they need a new feud and they probably shouldn't wrestle each other again. This match earns credit for the best comedy spot, which was when Balor teased hitting the double stomp and Wyatt got into his crab-walk position and Balor sold it like it was this unbelievably creepy thing, which was hilarious since Wyatt does that spot in every match and you would think guys would anticipate it, but Balor's reaction was really top notch.
Overall the show was pretty good, the undercard matches were satisfying, the tag team match was one of the best WWE PPV matches of the year; and while the two main event matches maybe didn't live up to the hype, they were at least entertaining while they lasted. With neither Lesnar or Cena scheduled for RAW, WWE will need guys like Balor, Wyatt and The Miz to step up and fill that void for the next PPV.