WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (July 25, 2016) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and after so much talk of a new era and making change for the better, they actually followed through on it.
Click here to get full results with the live blog. Let's get to reacting to all the night's events.
It's always worth celebrating any show that features meaningful match-ups designed to create top contenders who are actually worthy of being called as much because of those match-ups. Here, that took the form of a two Fatal 4-Way matches leading to a singles match in the main event for the right to wrestle Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the vacant WWE Universal championship, and a women's championship match.
Finn Balor def. Rusev & Kevin Owens & Cesaro: An international group of stars came together to deliver a fun match that effectively put the newcomer -- to the main roster, at least -- over as a legitimate threat in the main event later in the evening. Rusev, for his part, deserves a lot of credit for his selling in this match.
Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho & Sami Zayn & Sheamus: This was arguably even better than the first 4-Way, despite the fact that it featured a less exciting line-up. Zayn looks like a future star if handled right going forward while Jericho taking the fall felt like the right call considering the future of the brand.
Balor def. Reigns: This was a one of a kind shocker, the type of result you're so sure wouldn't happen it makes it difficult to bask in the afterglow when it actually does. I found myself waiting for a swerve, until Reigns was interviewed by Saxton and put Balor over. This is deeply meaningful, and while some were underwhelmed by the initial introduction to Balor at the top of the show, they treated him like an absolute star by the end of it.
Sasha Banks def. Charlotte: When you think of what they just did at Battleground, and the fact that they didn't advertise this at all before the show, it's amazing that this had the kind of big fight feel you look for in title matches. This absolutely felt like a PPV headlining worthy match. It was laid out brilliantly, ebbing and flowing with a strong back-and-forth leading up into a deeply satisfying finish where Sasha firmly established her dominance of the entire women's division. That she got to pay homage to her hero, Eddie Guerrero, by playing smart to get Dana Brooke out of the picture felt so very right, as did the post-match interview that gave us an emotional moment for a lifetime. Again, they had built to this, in a way, but this still came from nowhere but didn't suffer for that even one bit. And the match itself was fantastic! This was a home run in every way.
WWE made a number of changes to its presentation for this show, almost all of which were for the better:
- The stage set up got a fresh coat of paint, just enough to stand out
- While the production had its usual issues -- including those quick cut outs during Finn Balor's entrance, which was supposed to add to the atmosphere but only took away from it -- there were plenty of new camera angles that made for a unique look to the action
- Moving the commentary team next to the stage and away from the ring was long overdue, as there's far too much unnecessary interaction dictated by proximity with the latter option
- The new graphics look much better in motion than they did when originally revealed, and the opening theme song fits for what they're presenting
- The in-ring/ringside interviews they had Byron Saxton do after matches were well put together, considering each of them actually advanced the story they were telling and gave the performers a chance to do actual character work
- Longer matches with satisfying finishes will hopefully be the norm going forward, but we got that for at least this week
- Squash matches are back, and we're much better off for it
- The one negative I can find is naming the brand's main title the "WWE Universal championship." I can't think of swinging and missing any harder than this on such a big decision that seems so very simple
Really, this show just felt different, unlike any episode of Raw we've seen in a number of years, and it was much better for that fact.
All the best to all the rest
Nia Jax def. Britt Baker: A squash that firmly established Nia in her main roster debut. Perfectly done.
Pokemon No: Remember when New Day made reference to this game and it was fine because Xavier Woods is a legitimate gamer -- his YouTube channel based on as much is a great success story -- and the tag champs are cool so it was fine? Golden Truth trying to be funny with it was overblown, overdone, and a waste of time. Let's be done with this now.
New Day celebration: The "Sonny Boy" comedy bit with the plant in the audience fell a bit flat with me but the segment was fine to establish Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows as the next title contenders.
Neville def. Curtis Axel: This should have been a lot better than it was. At least Neville kept the beard!
Braun Strowman def. James Ellsworth: This may have been the greatest segment in the history of television and I won't have anyone tell me differently. Strowman decided the right way to deal with his newfound solitude was to get an undercut and beat up local history teachers looking to live out a dream. I don't understand it, but I love the new theme music, and watching him throw around small, clearly over-matched men is exactly how Strowman should be used.
Enzo & Cass def. Shining Stars: I do like it raw. I don't like the Shining Stars. Let's be done with them now. Let's also not waste Enzo & Cass on advancing dumb comedy for other teams.
Final thought: This was a fantastic show, a really great start to the new era.
Random grade from Twitter:
@cagesideseats A two sweet A+.— Jawn Snow (@CForClarity) July 26, 2016