Why I Believe Raw Has a Stack of WWE Universal Title Contenders – by Mike Sanchez

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit critical of Raw these past few weeks. The lacklustre promos, the short matches and the pain that is watching the Women’s Division, but I’m not doing that out of spite. I’m just disappointed. Raw has traditionally had the best stars on the show. The most over talent on the roster. If someone was getting big pops on Smackdown Live, it was inevitable they’d find themselves on Raw sooner rather than later. We got lucky when AJ Styles stayed on Smackdown Live, but not so lucky that the blue brand lost Mickie James who is so underused, it’s criminal.

Raw does well sometimes and the recent Extreme Rules Fatal Five Way match, plus some developments the following Monday night have turned my head. There wasn’t just green shoots of promise on these shows, no, a loud and bold statement was made that the talent on Raw aren’t there to make up the numbers. They can deliver and oh my, did they deliver on Sunday.

I had to think back on some judgments I made a few months back – that there was nobody capable of challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Title anytime soon. Yes, we all know Strowman will get his shot and the inevitable Reigns match too, but Sunday’s main event really did showcase the guys on Raw and turned this doubter into a believer. When the PPV ended, I was a covert. Any one of those five men were capable challengers. Any one of those men can realistically capture the gold.

Roman Reigns – Let’s start with the Big Dog. It is his yard after all. Haters can boo him all they want, but there’s no denying he can put on really good matches. I really liked how he’s begun to bathe in the heat he draws from the crowd. The start of the main event on Extreme Rules was great as he strutted around the empty ring like a peacock, smug, swaggering and smiling. Reigns is a top level guy and that’s difficult to dispute. Like him or loathe him, he can turn a title match into a four star one, such is his work rate and drive.

Seth Rollins – One of the most consistent performers I’ve ever seen. He just fits right in to the matches with the top tier opponents. His speed, agility and wonderful high spots have made him a firm crowd favourite. His array of hard-hitting moves, including a welcome return of the turnbuckle powerbomb are fun to watch. Unlucky with injuries at the turn of the year, he can claim to already beating Lesnar for the title at WrestleMania 31 (albeit in a triple threat after he cashed in MITB), but he’s a very believable champion. I’d love to see the curb stomp make an appearance again. That’s the weapon to win titles.

Finn Balor – Although slight in stature compared to his competitors, he did hold the title and deservedly won it. Balor definitely belongs on the top tier. Way over with the fans, a high-level performer and with the added bonus of the Demon if needed for the really big matches. As much as I like the guy, I do find it a stretch to see him defeating Lesnar, but put the belt in a multi-man match, and who knows?

Bray Wyatt – Let’s hope the end of his Smackdown Live stint was just a blip. I really like Wyatt and his character, but the amount of losses he endured after all the hocus-pocus and smoke had died down doesn’t help him. His title win on the blue brand was supposed to herald the arrival of Wyatt’s next level achievements and set him up as a top guy, but it just didn’t materialise. Recently he’s been on the upswing and I loved his interaction with Samoa Joe at the PPV, giving his character another layer.

Samoa Joe – I’ll be honest, I was surprised Joe won the match, but wasn’t disappointed. It’s a testament to the guy’s character and work ethic when you think back to his initial contract with WWE. As he discussed on his second podcast with Chris Jericho, Joe was only brought in to be on NXT and with no definite plan going forward. A case of ‘have a go on the show and we’ll see how it turns out’. Kudos to him for breaking onto Raw and becoming a worthy challenger. I loved his interaction with Paul Heyman on Raw, especially when you could hear him describe what he was going to do to him. WWE has lacked some tough, killer heels in recent years, could Joe be that guy?

Braun Strowman – Forgetting this guy would be a mistake. An unfortunate recent injury, but hopefully something that won’t keep him out of action for too long. Crazy to think that he was the last member of the Wyatt family to debut, but has now perhaps exceeded Bray in popularity – no disrespect to Eric Rowan or Luke Harper. Strowman to me, at least, looks like the guy that can topple Lesnar. Stupidly strong, I’m intrigued to see how he fares against the champion, especially if such a big match is saved for Summerslam. I hope he returns soon, but would understand if WWE want to save him for after, uh, I can’t believe I’m going to type this… Great Balls of Fire. I feel dirty just writing it.

What do you think? Did the Extreme Rules PPV boost the Raw brand? How will Samoa Joe fare against Brock? Did I miss anyone out of the list of believable challengers? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.