This week, the WWE made extensive use of one of its favorite devices with mixed results on "Raw" and "Smackdown Live."

braun strowman dean ambrose screen shot
Braun Strowman with Dean Ambrose on Monday night's "Raw"

A basic rule in the WWE playbook is that if you want to build heat on a character or in a feud, go for a beat down. Time and again, heels have taken the last 10 minutes of Raw to waffle someone with a folding chair again and again, usually in a two- or three-on-one situation, just to amplify the cruel unfairness. A week ago, The Miz and the Miztourage pounded on Roman Reigns well after he’d stopped moving, going so far as starting to leave the ring and come back down the ramp to beat on Reigns’ prone body some more. Obviously, such a beating added to the heel heat The Miz reliably gets, and it made Reigns, a tweener, a clear face for the time being.

This week’s Raw and to a lesser extent Smackdown Live illustrated the shortcomings of beat downs; namely, they’re boring. Raw gave us three beat downs or bad mismatches that result in beat downs: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose being crushed by Braun Strowman, after which Sheamus and Cesaro came out to beat them some more; Mickie James flailing helplessly against Nia Jax; and Miz, Sheamus and Cesaro wailing on Roman Reigns at the end of his match with The Miz. That’s a lot of one-sided action and a lot of repetitive activity in one show. These matches are supposed to seem sadistic to get heat on the heel, but there comes a point in each beat down or lopsided match-up where it’s clear that the face isn’t going to get up or mount a meaningful offense, and that all we can do is wait for the match to reach a semi-merciful end. At that point, I find myself watching for the mechanics of how wrestlers deliver beatings, essentially trying to figure out how magicians do their tricks because there’s nothing more interesting to distract me. 

The oddest of the bunch came in the Nia Jax/Mickie James match because everything about it was strange. Jax appeared to be transitioning to a face in recent months, but on Monday night she was suddenly Bliss’ best pal again and fought James so that Bliss didn’t have to. She wrestled like an unbeatable force that James had no way to combat until, out of nowhere, James hit her with a tilt-a-whirl DDT and was about to pin Jax when Bliss charged into the ring, which cost Jax the match she was about to lose, but by DQ and not a pin. 

It all seemed to be designed to reiterate the awesome force of Nia Jax, except that she lost and remained flat on her back in the ring seemingly out cold for another minute after the bell. I think we were supposed to take away how long the odds are for James against Bliss if she has Jax in her corner, but after taking a beating, she had an answer for Jax. We went through a five-minute beat down for nothing.

Smackdown Live offered a variation on the beat down as it prepared for the “Hell in a Cell” pay-per-view this weekend. Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens will meet in the titular steel cage, but in an odd twist, McMahon announced that falls will count anywhere for the match—odd since it’s supposed to take place in a boxed-in cage. To be fair, few if any true Hell in a Cell matches actually stayed in the cell, and they’re infamous for wrestlers taking crazy bumps falling from the side or the top of the cage. As if to show us what we might see on Sunday, Owens and McMahon took their fight to one of the venue’s concession stands, where Owens slammed McMahon through a folding table and left him writhing in a pile of breast cancer awareness T-shirts and splintered table. McMahon eventually scraped himself off the concrete and followed Owens back to the ring, where Owens pounded him some more.   

Of all this week’s beat down segments, the Owens/McMahon incarnation was the best, in part because it made story sense and even match sense, previewing some of Sunday’s action. The different locations and different ways that Owens beat on McMahon also made the match more interesting than the others because it never became redundant. The point of these length beat downs is that they build demand for a resolution that the audience will have to wait at least a week for if not longer, and it’s to the WWE’s credit that it’s willing to accept a shitty 10 minute segment to get a major pop down the line. The beatings of Reigns, Rollins and Dean Ambrose that we wanted to see result in a Shield reunion last week and this week will likely be paid off next week, and the pop should be huge. Still, they collectively made for some fast-forward-friendly programming this week.

In other Raw high and low lights:

- Right now, there’s nothing that happens in the WWE that can’t be repeated as a joyless parody of itself. Last week ended with Enzo Amore spelling out the inferiority of the cruiserweight division in an entertaining in-ring promo, so he did it again Monday. The crowd still responded to him largely as a face because he’s still using all the catch phrases and gimmicks that got him over with the audience, though he now uses them to demean his prospective opponents. The high point of the sequence was Enzo wisecracking one by one on the cruiserweights on the ring apron who surrounded him. The digs were pretty good, but there were too many wrestlers at ringside for him to keep the material fresh and the fans engaged. Two-thirds of the way through, Enzo took a “How much longer do I have to do this?” sigh, and I sighed with him. Then, when Raw GM Kurt Angle announced that there was one wrestler in the division who could face Amore and brought out Kalisto. Not anybody new or someone hot at NXT. Kalisto. Guy languishing unused on the WWE roster Kalisto. Guy nobody was bemoaning the neglect he was receiving Kalisto. Since Enzo’s a shaky worker, it’s hard to see him working well with the Lucha Libre style or drawing more attention to the cruiserweights and 205 Live. 

- One last thought on the Mickie James/Nia Jax/Alexa Bliss segment. It’s built on the age difference between Bliss and James, who’s 38 and 12 years older. The build-up is treating James like an old lady, which is a) hard to see since James doesn’t look 38, much less old, and b) makes Jax and Bliss look worse when she beats them because they got beat by an “old” woman. Right now, it looks like writers are playing rock-paper-scissors each week to decide what to do with the Raw women’s division.

In other Smackdown Live high and low lights:

- When Shinsuke Nakamura came to the ring to respond to Jinder Mahal’s mocking from the last few weeks, he said, “Stick and stones will break my bones,” and whoever wrote that for him should lose a job. Only “I’m rubber, you’re glue” could have been more anticlimactic in that moment. If Nakamura really can’t do a promo that American audiences can understand, then he needs a Paul Heyman or comparable talker to pick up his slack. If the writers have so little confidence in his ability to deliver a promo that they send him out with playground retorts, they need to write stories that involve him less. After weeks of spouting racially insensitive “jokes” at Nakamura’s expense, Mahal deserved and needed a more lacerating reply. That was supposed to make me want to watch “Hell in a Cell” this weekend?

- I’ve hated Dolph Ziggler’s pointless anti-intro rants, and now I’m madder at them because Bobby Roode seemed to get caught in their black hole of suck, delivering a nothing promo in response to another Ziggler tantrum. He’s usually better than that.