As the dust from SummerSlam began to settle and it was revealed that the newly crowned Universal Champion Finn Balor would be on the shelf for six months, WWE was once again in position of having to change their plans and put together an evening of action that one would have to imagine was vastly different from what had been scheduled. Would WWE be able to think fast and pull out a quality episode of RAW?
Reigns and Jericho put on a strong main event match, with the pair both working a clever bout that was booked perfectly and had some great near falls. Reigns sold the Walls of Jericho well but I'm sure most of the crowd knew that WWE wouldn't have Jericho beat Reigns clean, so having Y2J's Jeri-KO partner, Kevin Owens, come down to ringside in the second half of the contest allowed for some much more convincing near falls. Jericho also made sure to protect himself and his codebreaker finisher by crawling into the pin, rather than instantly grabbing the cover. The story of Reigns being the powerful one, whilst Jericho bought a crafty veteran persona, sticking his thumb in his opponents eye and having his pal help him at ringside was told well, with Reigns selling the injured eye well. They could have made a bit more of The Guy being unable to see if they had a bit more time. I don't imagine Reigns will win the Universal belt on 29th August, but his involvement will make the win more important and guarantee that the crowd will be invested in the action.
As mentioned above, Finn Balor had to vacate the Universal Championship after less than a day holding onto the red belt. After RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and RAW General Manager Mick Foley had introduced him at the top of the show, Balor would forfeit the belt in an emotional address to the Brooklyn crowd. It was difficult not to feel for Fergal Devitt. I'm not trying to be smart by using his birth name, I used it because as much this was a bad time for the character on screen, you have to think that it's much worse the man behind it. Someone who's worked since 2000 to get this point, someone who toiled in Japan for eight years to make a name for himself and become one of the best wrestlers in the world, spent three years in NXT becoming a rounded sports-entertainer and went on to win the top championship on WWE's RAW brand after just three matches on the show. Everything that Devitt had done previously, winning the NWA British Commonwealth title in 2004, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles six times between 2008 and 2012, winning the Best of the Super Juniors in 2010 & 2013, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship three times between 2011 and 2014, winning the NXT Championship and the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in 2015, having great matches with Koji Kanemoto, The Motor City Machine Guns, Naomichi Marifuji, Golden Lovers, Gedo, Kazuchika Okada, Zack Sabre Jr., Adrian Neville, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura, wrestling in Japan, the USA, the UK, Mexico, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Canada, France, New Zealand, Palau, Poland, Singapore and Hungary, was leading up SummerSlam 2016 and within hours it was taken away.
The segment swiftly moved away from Balor's concession with Seth Rollins coming out to claim the belt, only to be interrupted by Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Enzo & Cass and Roman Reigns. It made for some entertaining televison as I tried to work out who would be out next and the solution that McMahon & Foley would come up with. Rollins did a brilliant job with his smarmy heel promo getting some great heat for talking about how beautifully the Universal belt was, whilst Jericho also made the most of his time putting his hand in praying position and begging McMahon to give him the title. However, this parade of RAW's top talent probably wasn't needed as The Billion Dollar Princess and The Hardcore Legend could have easily announced plans on their own and given the matches or other segments more time. Personally, I'd have liked to have seen the winners of the matches from the previous night Supercard be the ones involved, but that's probably asking to much with a number of them involved in other stories and the card having to shuffled anyway! The segment concluded with Rollins attacking Zayn from behind prior to their opening match.
Big E picked up a win in first singles match since March and extend his undefeated streak to six matches with a quick victory over Karl Anderson, gaining revenge for the attack on his nads. This was a decent match, that could have done with an extra five minutes to allow the pair to get into the next gear, but did it's job well bringing New Day's feud with The Club to a close with Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Luke Gallows all involved in the match's conclusion. The segment that would lead into the contest was a lot of fun with New Day celebrating a year as Tag Team Champions and an appreciative Brooklyn crowd hanging off the groups every word. The interaction between the two groups was more good stuff with Big E making me choke on my tea with his request that The Club stop "talking that flim flam, that booty chatter".
In the most interesting thing The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray Dudley & D-Von Dudley) have done for months, BRD & D-Von were out to do a retirement speech after a full year back in the company. As they were cutting their speech, I began to think how much of a shame it was that the pair hadn't been in the ring with The Club's Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, as the two teams would seem to match up with each other pretty well. The segment was well put together and worked the crowd perfectly, as initially The Shining Stars (Epico & Primo) interrupted Dudley Boyz and when it seems like BRD & D-Von were about to put Epico & Primo through a table and end their career on a high note, The Club would attack. After D-Von took Magic Killer on the floor and BRD took it through a table, we could have the most engaging feud of Dudley Boyz's second run with WWE. The heat for Gallows & Anderson was arguably the best crowd reaction for them as a tag tram since their debut in April.
Talking of reactions, how about that pop for Bayley, eh? Making her first appearance since Battleground and her RAW debut, Mick Foley would introduce the former NXT Women's Champion as his new free agent signing after interrupting NEW Women's Champion Charlotte and Dana Brooke. This segment was my favourite part of the show, partly because Bayley finally getting the chance on the big stage, but mainly because Charlotte cut two excellent promos either side of it. Her initial speech about defeating Sasha Banks at SummerSlam was wonderfully slick as she claimed to have shown up Banks as a one match wonder. Her reply to Bayley asking for a title match was a equally well done, taking on a condescening tone and shuffling herself aside as she offered the debutant a match with Brooke instead. A great piece of business that sets up an interesting feud with two polar opposite characters with history dating back to 2013 in NXT, whilst Banks return from her back injury will only add more fuel to the fire.
The Universal Championship tournament would offer up another first time WWE clash as Rusev and Big Cass met in the ring for the first time since 2013. After some comedy from Cass & Enzo Amore as they tried to work out where the "Bulg Area" was, the match was a serious affair that used Rusev's rib injury caused by Roman Reigns the previous night as it's catalyst. As much as the victory was a huge lift for The Big Bambino, it was The Bulgarian Brute's performance that stood out, helped by some wonderful heel commentary from Corey Graves. Rusev constantly made sure the rib injury was in the audience's mind, not just grabbing the ribs, but showing the pain all over his face. The finish used this well as Rusev would walk out of the match because of the pain, in a good piece of juxtaposition between he and Sami Zayn...
The show's opening match saw Seth Rollins earn his spot in the Universal Championship match next week with a victory over Sami Zayn in a good match. Similar to the Rusev v Cass bout, it was the losing competitor who put on the strongest performance, as The Underdog from the Underground put on a masterclass, kayfabe hurting his ankle when jumping over Rollins and selling it for it all it was worth. This produced some compelling action and got the crowd behind the former NXT Champion, garnering great reactions off flash false finishes including a sunset flip bomb. The finish continued on an on-going theme from the match with Zayn's ankle not allowing him to hit a Michonoku Driver, allowing The Aerialist to hit a Pedigree for the win. Two of the best wrestlers in the company doing what they do best, a feud between Rollins and Zayn has the potential to be money.
Rounding out the Universal Championship semi-finals was another clash between two former NXT Champions as Kevin Owens and Neville had another good match with each other. The pair made the most of their short time on screen, crafting a pacy contest that was beneficial to both men. Neville looked the best he's done since his return from injury with a brilliant face shine that included a 450 splash off the apron and a 450 plancha, whilst the relationship between Owens and Jeri-KO team mate, Chris Jericho was strengthened. The had a smooth series of action, where the both avoided each others finishes, before Y2J would stop Neville from hitting Red Arrow, allowing Owens to hit an Argentine Neckbreaker to pick up the win.
Titus O'Neil cut a promo on this week's episode. I say cut, what I mean is butchered. The Real Deal somehow managed to fuck up every line he had to say, stumbling over his words and looking like a kid on their first day of drama school. He didn't looked like he believe a single word he was saying about former Prime Time Players partner Darren Young and appeared more like he was just struggling to remember what he had to say next. For someone who has been employed by WWE since 2009, it was unforgivably bad. Things didn't get better when Bob Backlund ran to the ring and Young waited until his life coach had been squashed by O'Neil before bothering to get his arse down to the ring where he'd then take a Clash of the Titus himself. A truly dreadful piece of TV.
After an electric entrance, Bayley's match opposite Dana Brooke wasn't the best introduction for the former NXT Women's Champion. Whilst she got the win with a Belly to Bayley in an impressive fashion, I have to think those who were seeing Bayley for the first time would be wondering what all the fuss was about. Beginning the match by riding Brooke like a horse and a Slip N' Slide wasn't a great way to insert her into RAW's women's division. Despite a couple of awkward bumps the crowd remained behind Bayley throughout the short contest, which is definitely a good sign, let's hope we get to see better performance from Bayley over the next few weeks to get those more casual fans invested in her as well. Matches with Banks, Charlotte and Paige, and even Summer Rae and Alicia Fox offer plenty of options for Bayley going forward on RAW.
Best of the Rest
- Braun Strowman picked up his six singles victory in a row, beating Johnny Knockout in just over a minute.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.67/10
This a decent episode of Monday Night RAW and the best edition since the show following Battleground 2016. The unfortunate injury to Finn Balor meant that WWE put on four different matches, that had consequences and all had their own things to enjoy about them. Out of those matches, my personal favourite was the main event between Reigns and Jericho, but I also wouldn't argue if someone enjoyed Rollins v Zayn or Owens v Neville more. However, the segment featuring the debut of Bayley and some killer heel work from Charlotte was the pinnacle of the episode for me, even if Bayley's win over Brooke wasn't the best first match for the former NXT Women's Champion.
Outside of the tournament was a mixed bag, with some good comedy from the New Day, a decent bout between Big E and Anderson, a strong angle involving Dudley Boyz, Shining Stars and The Club and an awful few minutes with O'Neil, Backlund and Young. Had the terrible promo from O'Neil not been on the show, RAW #1213 would have gotten over a 6 on the ATPW Scale.
With next week's show featuring the Four-Way between Rollins, Owens, Cass and Reigns to crown the second and longest reigning Universal Champion, which is undoubtedly a PPV quality bout, I would expect the show to be pushing back into the 6 range.
All content - James Marston
Banner credit - Kai Stellar
All content - James Marston
Banner credit - Kai Stellar