Roman Reigns taking up over half an hour of TV time, more than Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Sheamus, Sami Zayn and more was always going to get certain fans backs up, wasn't it? But that's not how these reviews work, as you well know. Was the show any good? It was the last RAW before SummerSlam, so it had to be, right?
Roman Reigns' feud with Rusev over the United States Championship was the main focus of this week's Monday Night RAW taking up almost a quarter of the show's 2 hour 15 minute run time, which when you take out the little nuggets like SummerSlam promo vids and what have you is probably much closer to a third. That's a fuck load of time to fill with just three performers (let's not forget Lana who played a vital part). Whether that is too much I suppose depends on how big a fan of either guy you are and if not, how much those guys did to keep you watching. If you're still watching by the end of the show and feel some kind of emotion too it, then I suppose they did their jobs. It's difficult as a wrestling reviewer to say if a segment is ever a 100% successful because I'm not planning on changing the channel and sit down to watch with perhaps a different mindset to that of a wrestling fan just watching for pleasure and certainly a different mindset to a casual fan or channel hopper.
There were three elements to the storyline this week, we'll begin with the opening segment that involved Rusev planning to takeover the show until he had an apology from Reigns for causing Lana to get covered in wedding cake on #1211. Parts of this I enjoyed and parts didn't quite work for me. Rusev's time in the ring was cool, he's an entertaining guy to watch and has some nice heat with the live audience, but I'd have liked to have seen his planned takeover of RAW taken up a notch, arguing with General Manager Mick Foley and wanting to speak to Commissioner Stephanie McMahon, whilst threatening to jump to Smackdown Live was a good piece of television, but I'd have liked to have seen his frustration boil over a bit more and for the character to across as much more threatening, leading to Reigns finally coming out. Reigns came across as a bit of a schoolyard bully, claiming that Rusev and Lana would have ugly children. The pair don't have much chemistry on the mic, meaning that things felt a little forced. Foley would eventually make a singles match between the two as the main event, with "Lana's honour" being on the line as opposed to Rusev's United States title belt.
The second part would be Rusev attacking Reigns backstage, before things would come to a peak at the close of the show. The bout between the two was notably long for a RAW main event, with some interesting storytelling and dramatic choices throughout. For me, even though Reigns would collect the win, Rusev was the one made to look like a star as he dished out a shit load of punishment on his rival and looked like a damn bad ass in the process. He took his time and allowed the crowd to soak in each move, selling his frustration perfectly with Lana adding to this at ringside. Reigns for the most-part performed well, but forgetting to sell the arm that The Bulgarian Brute had worked in the first half of the bout, meant that it was difficult to buy into his character's story and also removed a number of potential moments involving an injured arm and the majority of Reigns' power based offence. I've been outspoken in the past about how Reigns gets too much shit from the majority of fans, but by the end of the match for one reason or another I was rooting for Rusev to pull out the victory. The two battle over the US title at SummerSlam and wrestling booking 101 would have us believe that Rusev will retain the belt on the biggest stages Summer has to offer.
The next biggest story of the evening came in the form of Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman's appearance on the show, hyping Lesnar's match with Randy Orton on 21st August and the sidetrack that came in the form of Heath Slater. The Heath Slater stuff was an entertaining way to showcase The Beast's power and dominance, but also take a minor storyline that's been running across WWE programming since the Draft and elevate it, putting a spotlight on Slater and his free agent gimmick. Fair play to Slater, who has taken a fairly shitty gimmick and turned it into something that people are excited to see each week, thanks to his timing and self-referential rhetoric. Having him call out Lesnar, a man who has been put over no end as a force to be reckoned with, also raises the value of what it means to be on the WWE roster. If Slater is willing to knowingly get his arse kicked, then what must being a Superstar mean to the 33 year old from West Virginia.
Strapped around Heath Slater's shenanigans, Paul Heyman was crafting another brilliant promo to push Lesnar's match with Randy Orton, whilst the camera was focused solely only The Conqueror's seething face. It really was a piece of poetry and a lesson in how to build a big match without even having the other man present on the show. Talking about what Lesnar was going to do to Orton, saying The Viper wasn't a threat, whilst simultaneously listing his achievements and strengths in the business was a clever way of subverting general wrestling promo rules of building up your opponent as a challenge. Personally, I wish that this segment and the one where Orton RKO'd Lesnar on #1210 had swapped places as the two invading each other's respected brands would have meant for a much more satisfying exclamation point to bring the feud to it's peak before the big match.
Seth Rollins and Finn Balor's build to their bout over the vacant Universal Championship has intriguingly been downplayed after Balor initially won the opportunity to face Rollins on #1209, but has always remained intriguing and different television. This week we had The Architecht calling out the "Demon King" version of Balor, initially walking around the arena before Foley and McMahon suggest he headed out to the arena. What followed was a fairly paint by numbers situation, with Balor heading out in his paint and besting Rollins in a back and forth scrap. It was a slick sneak peek at what the two could produce at SummerSlam, but again I felt the Demon character was being underutilised. The initial appearance of Balor with the lights changing on Rollins as he cut a killer promo and strange voices being heard was exciting and different, I'd have liked to see this continued with a more mind-games based segment.
Rounding off the top of the card we had Sami Zayn picking up a victory of Sheamus in a decent, but disappointingly brief scrap of a bout. The Celtic Warrior was allowed to dominate the contest, which suits The Underdog from the Underground character of Zayn, as he clawed from underneath with a number of hope spots, whilst Sheamus was picking up near falls off White Noise and the Irish Curse Backbreaker. The reversal for the aforementioned backbreaker (which is very dangerous and could have broken Zayn's back) out of a Helluva Kick from Zayn was the slickest action of the contest. The finish would be used to continue Sheamus' feud with Cesaro with Swiss Superman leaving the commentary table and distracting Sheamus as he set up for the Brogue Kick, allowing Zayn to come racing in with a Helluva Kick for a big victory. Mick Foley would set up a Best of 7 Series between The Celtic Warrior and Swiss Superman later in the show, despite Cesaro winning two previous matches over Sheamus on RAW since the brand split.
Big Cass and Kevin Owens put together some solid action in a fight that was always going to be used to build for the 21st August tag bout between with Cass & Enzo Amore facing Owens & Chris Jericho. Fair play to both guys for putting the effort into the match that really could have became a going through the motions type affair, and whilst it wasn't a blow away contest it did it's job well. Owens taking a big bump on the outside after attempting to powerbomb Cass on the apron upped the stakes of feud for me also. Jericho would cause the DQ attacking Cass on the outside, before Owens and Jericho dismantled their SummerSlam opponents, in a powerful beatdown. The new team have quickly gelled as an entertaining duo and this display made them look a legitimate threat to the more experienced tag team of Enzo & Cass. All good stuff.
Ya gotta feel for the Dudley Boyz just a tad, as they put over the The New Day's Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods in under two minutes. As one and a half minute matches got this was an okay contest, with D-Von accidentally clotheslining BRD before Kingston picked up the pin with a flying crossbody and Trouble in Paradise. However, the match was all about building extra to the New Day's match with The Club on 21st August with both teams cutting promos before and after the match. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows pulled out all manner of testicle based puns in reference to them injured Big E by pulling his dick into the ringpost, whilst a serious reply from Kingston and Woods also had a balls based pun as an exclamation point.
Another short match saw Charlotte overcome Alicia Fox with Natural Selection, as a lead in for an angle with Women's Champion Sasha Banks. It would have been nice to have seen the women get more time, as Charlotte and Fox are capable of putting on a quality wrestling match, so to see them get less than two minutes was again a disappointment. However, the angle between Banks and Charlotte at the conclusion was a much more interesting prospect and much more important with SummerSlam just around the corner. Charlotte would goad Banks into coming down from the announce table, only for Dana Brooke (who had supposedly had a falling out with Charlotte earlier in the show) to jump the Boss allowing Charlotte to deliver a brutal beatdown, locking in the Figure Eight for a extended time. The angle was well worked with Banks selling the hold well, whilst the crowd was super hot for The Genetically Superior Athelete and her protege. Hopefully we'll see this play into the Charlotte v Banks title match at SummerSlam also.
Yet another squash bout saw Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows in action against The Golden Truth. Two minutes worth of tag wrestling concluded with The Club hitting Magic Killer for the victory. Like a lot of the matches in the night, they were merely a way of getting the performers in place for a bit of a fight with their SummerSlam opponents, as Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were back out to jump Gallows & Anderson post-match. The storyline continued to be ball-centric as Kingston & Woods attempted to give Gallows the same move that put Big E on the shelf, only for Anderson to make the save. Personally, I felt like this extra segment for New Day and The Club's feud was a bit of overkill after the New Day v Dudley Boyz match earlier in the night and didn't add all that much to the storyline.
Neville continued his re-introduction to WWE with a victory over Jinder Mahal, taking the Geordie lad to 4-0 since his return on #1209. A fairly straight-forward victory for Neville who got to showcase some of his funkier moves with a lovely corkscrew senton to the outside and the ever popular Red Arrow earning the victory. It has to be expected that Neville is being positioned as the jewel in the crown of the new Cruiserweight Divsion, that continues to be trailered as coming soon on RAW. Mahal remains without a victory since he his return win on #1210.
Best of the Rest
- The Shining Stars (Epico & Primo) picked up a victory over The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O'Neil) after O'Neil turned on Young hitting Clash of the Titus.
- Nia Jax picked up another squash victory, this time over Rachel Levy.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.13/10
Pretty much ever segment on the show this week was used to push the SummerSlam event, which is what RAW and especially the last one before the PPV should be. It perhaps doesn't make for the strongest three hours of television, but it does add depth to upcoming PPV. Because of the amount of time that the Reigns v Rusev feud took it, then your enjoyment of the show will probably come down to how receptive you are to those two guys. I personally thought the match was good, but the lead-in could have been stronger. That was how I felt about a lot of the show to be honest, there were a lot of cool ideas and most of what was on offer was watchable stuff, but there were a lot of opportunities left on the table.
Not a classic episode, but one that should make SummerSlam a more enjoyable show.
All content - James Marston