Last night at Battleground we saw Dean Ambrose retain the WWE Championship in a Triple Threat, thus bringing the WWE Title to Smackdown. BAYLEY HAPPENED and Sasha Banks made Charlotte tap out. Sami Zayn finally rid himself of his biggest demon in Kevin Owens. The Wyatt Family and John Cena, Enzo & Cass were successful in their respective six man tag matches and what ever the hell that was with Bob Backlund and the finish of the Intercontinental Championship match. We should probably just ignore that.
This brings us to this edition of Monday Night Raw, it really does feel like a fresh start, a new beginning of sorts. It’s the first episode of Raw in this post-draft WWE world and I for one, am extremely excited to see what is in store for tonight. After over two months of waiting to see how this is all going to pan out, will Raw be able to live up to the hype? Let’s find out. (*SPOILER* It really does)
Of course a fresh start for Raw means a brand new intro and I’m loving it. Using Shinedown’s ‘Enemies’ as it’s new theme song, it definitely starts Raw off with a shot of adrenaline. The new logo is horrid and leaves a lot to be desired, but I’m really digging this new theme song. Big thumbs up.
Kicking off Raw tonight we have the new commentary team of Michael Cole, Byron Saxton and Corey Graves welcoming us to the show and the commentary table is now situated away from ringside, back near the stage. Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon brings the entire Raw roster to the stage to announce that seeing as Smackdown now owns the WWE Championship, they have decided to create a new championship, the WWE Universal Championship.
To determine the first ever Universal Champion, there will be two Fatal-4-Way matches. The winner of those two will face each other in the main event and the winner of that match will face Seth Rollins at SummerSlam to crown the first champion. The participants are Sheamus, Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Rusev and the debuting Finn Balor. Also announced is Charlotte defending her WWE Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks later tonight. What a show we have ahead of ourselves and for once, that is with no hint of sarcasm.
The first of our two Fatal-4-Way’s starts off the show with Rusev vs. Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor vs. Cesaro. Holy cow this match was fantastic, it went for about twenty minutes and the action never slowed down. Near falls and a steady stream of high impact moves provided the match with heightened drama, add the debuting Finn Balor factor with the importance of winning this match made the first hour of Raw must see TV.
Finn Balor managed to hit the coup de grâce on Rusev to score the win in his debut and will now be in the main event of Raw. It’s also Finn Balor’s birthday today, so happy birthday Finnie (I’m sure he doesn’t mind me calling him Finnie). The highlight video is only about four minutes long, but go watch the full match, it’s amazing.
We move our focus to the women’s division now as Nia Jax is making her Raw debut. Nia Jax is facing a local athlete, Britt Baker. This match is sheer dominance from Jax, who just has her way with Baker. Nia has it won when she lifts Baker up again, just to hit another leg drop to finally end it. Local athlete squash matches are back and I’m happy to see them again. Such a great way to build up the superstars without sacrificing the rest of your roster in the process.
Time for our second Fatal-4-Way now, with the remaining participants Roman Reigns, Sheamus, Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn all fighting for the right to face Finn Balor in the main event. This match was also very good, not as good as the first four way, but still very enjoyable. After clearing the ring, Roman Reigns gets the win with the spear on Jericho.
My only gripe with this match is the persistent overuse of the Superman Punch from Reigns. When the final comeback sequence for Reigns happened, he hit the punch at least six or seven times in the space of a minute. To make matters worse, it’s really irritating hearing Michael Cole scream “SUPERMAN PUNCH!” after every single one. Just a little variety would be lovely, that’s all I’m after. Reigns vs. Balor is now our main event for the evening.
The New Day are celebrating becoming the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions in history this week, so they’re having an in ring celebration. There’s balloons around the ring and New Day come out and talk about that their ‘Booty O’s’ cereal is now literally a breakfast cereal you can buy. It makes me angry knowing I won’t be able to get them here in Australia.
They start with a beautiful video package highlighting the last twelve months as champions and then go to select a member of the audience to become an honorary member of The New Day for tonight. They select a guy in a Booty O’s tee, they bring him into the ring and Big E. affectionately refers to him as ‘Sonny Boy’ and asks what his name is. He replies with ‘Sonny Boy’ and The New Day thinks he doesn’t understand the question.
They ask him again and he still says ‘Sonny Boy’. This goes on for SO LONG and nobody really gets why this is happening. They give up and just try to dance but Gallows & Anderson turn up and attack New Day from behind. There are so many better ways we could have ended this with the same result. Sonny Boy better not become for New Day what Sapphire was to Dusty Rhodes.
Curtis Axel was the last person on the roster to be drafted and is now being referred as ‘Mr. Irrelevant’. That is so mean, it sort of makes me want to root for Axel. But not tonight, because after four months away, Neville is making his return. I’ve missed Neville, he’s flippy and cool and I like him. Neville makes quick work of Axel with another picture perfect Red Arrow. A great comeback for Neville and I assume he will be the cornerstone of the upcoming cruiserweight division.
Big match feel right now with Sasha Banks challenging Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Championship. Dana Brooke is at ringside, but not for long as Sasha pulls out a trick from Eddie Guerrero’s playbook by pretending Dana was about to hit her with the belt and getting her ejected from ringside. With Dana gone, it’s officially one on one, who is the better woman? These two put on an absolute show tonight, a match with similar passion and intensity that Trish Stratus and Lita had back in 2004. Speaking of Lita, Sasha also does a good impression of her by almost killing herself with a dive to the outside.
With that ugly landing for Sasha, Charlotte’s picture perfect moonsault to the outside, counter after counter, this match was insane. After getting to the ropes and forcing a break from the Bank Statement, Charlotte looks Sasha right in the eyes and yells “You will never beat me!” before running right into another Bank Statement and tapping out. Sasha Banks is the NEW WWE Women’s Champion!
Sasha starts crying, Charlotte’s crying and hell, I’m crying! The journey of a ten year old girl who worked her entire life to achieve her dream has come full circle and damn it, that’s just the most heartwarming thing in the world. As her entrance music says, she had a dream and she made it. I can’t understate how perfect the past fifteen minutes were, an absolute highlight of the year in WWE. Congratulations Sasha.
Braun Strowman makes a fresh start with a new look and new entrance music and it’s unintentionally hilarious. It’s just him yelling “BRRRAUN!” and then generic music starts. It’s sort of fantastic. Strowman destroys this little guy with a reverse chokeslam and I’ll be honest, if he just destroys tiny people for a few months, I’ll be entertained. I’m kind of sick like that.
Enzo and Big Cass are coming off a big win over The Club at Battleground and The Shining Stars are coming off an escape from the green screen room. This is Primo and Epico’s first in ring appearance on Raw since the May 16th edition and I can’t see this going well for them. The finish comes when R-Truth stumbles into the ring playing Pokemon Go (he’s been going around backstage with Goldust all night playing it) and distracts Primo long enough to get kicked in the face and pinned by Cass.
I can’t hate on this because at least there was a pay off for The Golden Truth playing Pokemon Go all night, it lead to something and that sort of makes me happy. My prediction is that next week, The Shining Stars cut a promo (back in front of a green screen) talking about how great the Pokemon are in Puerto Rico.
Main event time, Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns with the winner facing Seth Rollins at SummerSlam to crown the first ever WWE Universal Champion. I can tell you that I never thought I would see this match this quickly into Balor’s main roster run. The match starts with Reigns throwing Balor almost into the bleachers, I forget that Balor is less than two hundred pounds and Reigns can do that, it looked cool as hell. These two have already wrestled full length, high quality matches tonight and they still managed to put on another great match, so credit where credit is due.
Balor reverses a spear with a sling blade, drop kick and follows it up with a coup de grâce. Finn Balor, in his first night on Raw has pinned Roman Reigns! This means that Raw’s main event at SummerSlam will be Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor to determine the first ever WWE Universal Champion. That sound you can hear is me emptying my bank account and telling WWE that they can take all of my money. Balor celebrates in the ring to close an incredible show.
Wow! I genuinely don’t know where to start. What a roller-coaster of emotions this show was, from start to finish. This is the first time in so long that WWE made proper use of its entire three hours. I still have my hesitations about creating a new championship knowing that this is exactly how people like Jack Swagger became champion, but for now I’m going to stay cautiously optimistic and know that Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor is a brilliant way to start off that new title’s lineage.
Elsewhere on the show, almost everything else was strong. Squash matches for Neville, Nia Jax and even Braun Strowman made them look like stars. And I think I said all that I can say about that brilliant WWE Women’s Championship match. It was the personification of fantastic booking, the match was off the charts and I’m still sort of emotional about Sasha’s win. The only real negative of the show was the way New Day ended their segment and even then it’s not enough to bring the show down.
Both Fatal-4-Way’s were fantastic and well executed but what a debut for Finn Balor. After about nine months of waiting to see how Balor will make his main roster debut, it’s so great to see that it wasn’t a wasted opportunity. Finn is a mega-star now and this entire show has made me super excited to see what the future holds for Raw. Smackdown has an incredible amount to live up to tomorrow. Just quickly too, it’s amazing how much more I enjoyed this episode simply because JBL isn’t commentating it anymore.
Final Rating: 10/10 (Best episode of Raw in years.)