It was the night before the first Draft in five years and the final Monday Night RAW before Battleground 2016 on 24th July, so WWE had a lot to build and promote. How would they go about it? Would it be an action packed show or would it just be Michael Cole should the words "WWE Draft" over and over?
In what was arguably the biggest match on the show, The Club (AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson) & The Wyatt Family (Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt & Erick Rowan) defeated Big Cass, Enzo Amore, John Cena & Tag Team Champions The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods) after Styles pinned Amore [Styles Clash] in a thrilling twelve men tag team match. With so many bodies involved, this was always going to be a bout that kept the action coming and the final moments of the bout certainly provided that. Guys were in and out of the ring, hitting big moves, with momentum swinging one way and then the other. When things got down to the nitty gritty, The New Day and The Wyatt Family brawled to the back, keeping both teams on a level playing field heading into Battleground, leaving The Club with their opponents for the PPV. The finish was cleverly booked but poorly executed, as Amore would end up hitting Cena with a horrible clothesline after Styles had ducked out of the way, leading to The Club getting the victory. It felt a tad contrived and was probably the only thing that didn't work throughout the match.
The meat and potatoes of the match was put together nicely, playing of the strengths of everyone involved and making sure that fresh combinations and stories were being showcased throughout the match. The crowd's reaction to Cass and Strowman ending up in the ring together was brilliant and aided by a number of factors. First Amore's attempt to take down Strowman got the crowd hyped and onside with creative. The tease of scrap was denied when everyone else in the match began brawling, leading to Cass and Strowman being left alone in the ring again and even bigger reaction. It was a simple of piece of booking that presented something, made the fans realise they actually wanted to see it, took it away and then gave it back again. Lovely stuff. Throw in plenty of interaction between the two heel stables, as Kingston and then Cena worked the face in peril role and you've got an extremely enjoyable TV bout.
Talking of extremely enjoyable, the segment that came before the match may have been even more so than the match itself. Cena's interplay with Enzo & Cass, put over the idea that the trio aren't quite a cohesive unit much better than the finish of the match, whilst Amore was on blistering form with a pun filled that insulted all three of the Club members. Then you had The Club, who have got a different style to pretty much any other act on the roster when delivering promos, funny, but annoyingly arrogant, entertaining but in a way that makes you want to see them get kicked in knees a bit. Then by golly gosh, out came the New Day to tie a Pokemon Go shaped bow on the whole thing. The crowd ate it up as they made sneaky jokes about masturbation and began to list various pocket monsters. Wyatt Family would act as the spoilers to lead to the break. Lots of fun here, it actually looked more fun to be a part of, than it was to watch (and it was really fun to watch!).
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose would square off in the show's final segment, with the WWE Championship on the line, just days before they will be joined by Roman Reigns at Battleground. It'd be difficult for these two to have a bad match at this point, having previously gone at it ten times on WWE programming (add a further five from FCW, plus many more on live events) and teamed up before that, they seemingly know each other inside out. That was so very clear throughout this, as they flew through the match, swapping holds and big moves with an ease that only comes with familiarity. A personal favourite sequence was Rollins having a suicide dive attempt blocked by an Ambrose elbow, before getting clotheslined over the top rope on the other side and getting crashed into by Ambrose hitting a dive of his own. Whilst not being their greatest encounter, the regular tropes of today's big PPV matches were there with both kicking out of each others finisher, with a loud and surprisingly split crowd, this was easily in the top five matches on RAW this year.
The first WWE Championship match on RAW since January, Ambrose and Rollins' title clash would end in controversy after a top rope superplex by Rollins and a small package reversal by Ambrose would result in a double pinfall. The finish was probably what stopped me calling this the best match on RAW this year, as it felt all a little bit messy. The double pinfall was clearly not a double pinfall, even without a reply and there was also a weird ref bump thrown in there. The show finished with Rollins holding the belt aloft after "The Man" had been proclaimed the winner by RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon. It all felt a bit too contrived in it's set-up, an shoe-horned way of pushing the "brand rivalry" set to begin the following night. It didn't leave me wanting to see the Draft any more or after the title changed twice in a night at the last PPV all that interested in who was actually considered the champion, as I suppose was the aim. Twenty five minutes worth of action deserved a much better finish than this.
The show began with RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon revealing 3 time WWF World Heavyweight Champion Mick Foley (Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love) are the new General Manager of her show, whilst Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon announced 3 time WWE (World) Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan as his GM. Two interesting picks here, for sure. Foley should take away the sharp edges of the Stephanie McMahon character, giving a good cop, bad cop partnership that has proved to be pretty entertaining in the past. It should also mean that WWE is stearing clear of the overbearing in heel in control of the show, which has grown more than tired over the last ten years. With Bryan the fans were clearly not ready to say goodbye to his character during his retirement speech in March and two lengthy spells on the sideline he never really got the prolonged time in the spotlight that his WrestleMania XXX performance deserved. Whilst he might not be in the ring anymore, there's certainly some space for him to get involved in storylines and interact with the roster.
Whilst it was head and shoulders above the close to last week's RAW when Shane and Stephanie were given their respective brands by Vince McMahon, it did feel a little bit long for the amount of legitimate content. Shane and Steph throwing insults each others way about having or not having testicles or having shag wrestlers to remain relevant got good reactions out of the crowd and were well timed within the make-up of the promo, but I'll be happy to see the back of them being on the same show every week! Bryan probably could've done a massive shit in the ring and thrown it into the front row and still got the crowd to do a "Yes!" chant at the end of his promo. He's hardly the most charismatic guy in the world, but they hung on his every word here. Truth be told, Foley looked a little bit lost in the mix. I'm not sure what was happening during his promo, but Stephanie kept talking to him off microphone, which was bloody weird to say the least. "The Hardcore Legend" then became "The Hardcore Gooseberry" as he stood about whilst the McMahons and Bryan's got on with the promo. The segment wasn't the best you'll ever see, but it did it's job and leaves us with two interesting partnerships on each shows.
The opening match saw Sami Zayn and Cesaro defeat Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens, after Zayn got the pin on Jericho [Small package] in a solid TV tag bout. The match played out attractively with the four talented performers slotting together well and telling a fun story with their characters, and barely putting a foot wrong doing so. Zayn and Owens' feud was obviously at the core of the bout, with the pair getting to brawl with each other on numerous occasions, include duking it out in the middle of the ring towards the end of the contest. A clever sequence would set up elements for the finish as Jericho tagged himself in on Owens as Zayn went for the Helluva Kick, then as Y2J celebrated his genius, Zayn tagged in Cesaro for a diving crossbody near fall. The finish would give "The Underdog from The Underground" some huge momentum heading into the Draft on Tuesday and Battleground on Sunday, as he was able to reverse Jericho's sneaky roll-up attempt (Zayn was busy laying into Owens at the time) and turn it into a small package for a big win. A lot of fun to be had here with a reminder of Zayn and Owens match on the PPV without going over the top with a segment the pair clearly don't need at this stage.
Another tag team match would see United States Champion Rusev get Dolph Ziggler to tap [The Accolade] in bout that also involved "The Bulgarian Brute"'s former League of Nations buddy, Sheamus and Zack Ryder, who will challenge for the US title on Sunday. The contest didn't do a whole lot for me. It was basic stuff with Ryder's road to the US title continuing to be a weird one as he played the face in peril role and got battered about by both Rusev and Sheamus for the majority of the match. Everyone seemed to just go through the motions, with guys like Ziggler and Sheamus currently just floating about WWE without a whole lot of purpose, you can hardly blame them. "The Bulgarian Brute" shouting at Sheamus to tag him in after "The Celtic Warrior" and "The Long Island Iced Z" had nailed each other with clotheslines was probably the best thing about the entire match. The whole Rusev v Ryder storyline has been completely bizarre, with Ryder being put across as a bit of loser, whilst Rusev is Machkaing former World Heavyweight Champions with ease!
Yet another tag team match was on the card this week, although it didn't get a chance to get going as Natalya attacked Becky Lynch three minutes into Lynch teaming with Sasha Banks against Women's Champion Charlotte and Dana Brooke. The action before the attack was nothing more than treading water with not a massive amount going on. Charlotte and Brooke would then pick apart Banks inside the ring, including a sweet Natural Selection from the Women's Champion. I suppose it was a decent way of continuing both women's feuds heading into the PPV without actually having to give the whole division much more than five minutes on the air!
Darren Young would pick up a huge squash victory over Alberto Del Rio [O'Connor Roll] after Intercontinental Champion The Miz would attempt to get involved. Baron Corbin was handed a swift victory over Sin Cara, before also swatting Kalisto aside when he attempted to make the save for his former Lucha Dragons pal.
Tag Team Match: Cesaro & Sami Zayn def. "Y2J" Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens in 11 minutes, 56 seconds
Singles Match: Darren Young (with Bob Backlund) def. Alberto Del Rio in 2 minutes, 23 seconds
Twelve Man Tag Team Match: The Club - AJ Styles, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson & The Wyatt Family - Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt & Erick Rowan def. Big Cass, Enzo Amore, John Cena and Tag Team Champions The New Day - Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods in 19 minutes
Singles Match: Baron Corbin def. Sin Cara in 1 minute, 18 seconds
Tag Team Match: Becky Lynch & Sasha Banks def. Women's Champion Charlotte & Dana Brooke by DQ in 2 minutes, 20 seconds
Tag Team Match: United States Champion "The Bulgarian Brute" Rusev & "The Celtic Warrior" Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler & Zack Ryder in 3 minutes, 48 seconds
WWE Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (C) v Seth Rollins - Double Pin after 24 minutes, 16 seconds
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.85/10
RAW gets it's best ATPW Scale Rating for quite some time this week. This is mainly thanks to the two top matches on the show, with the brilliant segment that came before the Twelve Man Tag also having a major effect on this week's score. Two different matches in major slots on the show, that felt like they had a purpose going forward, whilst also remaining entertaining throughout. The show was held back by an undercard that lacked creativity in it's booking and at points lacked any logic at all (Yes, Zack Ryder's United States Championship storyline, I'm talking about you!)
After weeks of treading water, it was nice to see WWE finally produce something that felt meaningful a week before Battleground, with the top half of the card all being good viewing. Before we get to Battleground though, there's the small matter of the WWE Draft to be dealing with on Smackdown LIVE!
Article text by James Marston.