It was a big week for the red brand, as they featured a four way dance for the Universal Championship that was vacated by Finn Balor on #1213. With an interesting mixture of wrestlers battling for the title, as Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins and Big Cass entered the main event, would Monday Night RAW produce a classic on the final episode of August?
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of the Universal Championship match, lets begin by talking about the shocking conclusion and the return of Triple H. The former 9 time World Champion came seemingly out of nowhere to level Roman Reigns with a Pedigree on the outside when the Big Dog was on a roll, allowed Seth Rollins to get the elimination, before turning on The Architect with Pedigree and handing Kevin Owens the Universal Championship. I'm split on whether I actually liked the finish or not. Part of me enjoyed the surprise of The Game's return and the crowd reaction it garnered, then another part of me felt like it was another case of Triple H being put over ahead of everyone else. I think we'll have to wait til next week to see how it plays out, but there is no escaping the fact that two of the three eliminations came at the hands of a 47 year old Cerebral Assassin who hasn't been seen for over four months. Keeping things positive, it should be a good way of moving Owens up into that full-time main event slot, depending on how the story plays out over the next couple of weeks heading towards Clash of Champions.
Having considered the finish, the rest of the match was a lot less controversial, featuring some good stuff for sure. Despite being the first guy eliminated I felt like Big Cass' stock was raised considerably just by taking part, lasting a respectable twelve minutes against three guys with much more top level experience and taking a lot of offense before being pinned by Owens. The Babe Ruth of Beatdowns held his own in exchanges with Reigns and indeed seemed to have the upper hand on The Guy in the majority of their throwdowns. The Cactus Big Boot that Cass used to finish off their initial transaction was sweet, plus having him continue to be able to dodge Reigns' Superman Punch was a nice addition that opens up a potential clash for future supercards. The only man to not be basically eliminated by Triple H, Cass ended up taking a Superman Punch from Reigns as The Big Bambino looked to put Rollins away with The East River Crossing, before taking Avada Kedavra from The Man and Bullfrog Splash from Owens to crash out of the match. It was performance that instantly put Cass up a level and whilst he's clearly a long way from being as rounded as Rollins, Owens or even Reigns, if he remains fit and is booked right over the next couple of years, there is no doubt that The Don of Parmesan will be holding one of the companies top belts sooner rather than later.
The rest of the contest had the Houston crowd hooked, as they popped for pretty much anything that happened and reacted with the over-used "This is Awesome" chant. In between Cass' elimination and Triple H's appearance, the highlight for me was a scrap between Reigns and Rollins that saw a particularly smooth series of reversals, that would culminate in The Aerialist nailing a falcon arrow for a strong near fall. The familiarity of the pair would be continue to be part of the story, with Reigns blocking a springboard high knee with a Superman punch, before the 2 time World Champion was able to block a Spear from Reigns. The pair have had numerous matches of the last two years, including a pair of bouts in Mexico over the past weekend and the fluidity created across those matches, helped to build a strong spine for this Four Way Dance.
The biggest bout outside the main event was a six person tag, with Tag Team Champions The New Day [Big E & Kofi Kingston] teamed up with Bayley to battle The Club's Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson and their new found pal, Dana Brooke. I liked the idea of combining the Women's and Tag Team storylines as it meant that everyone got more screentime than if the two storylines had been split into separate segments and I felt like all six people involved in the match, as well as Xavier Woods in the New Day and Bayley's corner and Charlotte on commentary took the opportunity and ran with it. The bout merged the multiple gimmicks in an entertaining way, including Bayley joining all of New Day for a funky dance heading into a break. The build towards the finishing stretch was done very well, with Gallows pulling Big E off the apron to deny Kingston a hot tag, before a tag to Bayley produced a cool exchange between her and Brooke, before a Fosbury Flop style dive from Kingston onto Anderson and a Bayley to Belly allowed the babyface trio to pick the victory.
In the second match of their Best of Seven Series, Sheamus and Cesaro continued their strong vein of form with another good collision as the tension between the two continues to build well. Having to have seven matches back to back, after already having two matches on RAW weeks before the series began, means that the duo are continually challenged to be creative and put on different types of matches and make sure that the audience know that they're going to see something new every time they sit down to watch one of these Best of Seven Series matches. Whilst Sheamus and Cesaro always bring a strong brawling style, the pair brought a different level of story-telling to this contest as The Swiss Superman was always one step ahead of The Celtic Warrior, with Sheamus kept to mostly flash pin attempts, including trying to win with his feet on the ropes towards the end of the bout. This would be flipped on it's head in the closing moments, as Sheamus sent Cesaro head over heels into the bulky ringpost, before locking in a Cloverleaf to earn a submission victory and go 2-0 up in the series. As things begin to warm up, I'm expecting this series to only get better and the storytelling to get richer.
It was clear to see that Chris Jericho and Neville had had a house show run together over the weekend, as they put on a very smooth encounter in the shows opening match. Somewhat surprisingly it took the bout a few minutes to find it's feet, but once it did the pair produced some quality in-ring action, that presented a fun clash between the high-flying expert and the crafty veteran. Y2J was using all the old tricks to get the advantage, including hiding behind the referee before an eye rake, whilst The Man That Gravity Forgot had plenty in his bag of tricks also, including a beautiful Asai moonsault. Jericho being able to dodge Red Arrow multiple times also builds the potential for a rematch and protects the former NXT Champion despite the eventual submission loss. The final two sequences were great examples of what the pair could do together. Firstly, Jericho rolled through a German suplex attempt into a Walls of Jericho, that Neville reversed into a small package for a cracking false finish before Neville would go for a rana, after Y2J had escaped another Red Arrow, which Jericho would hold onto and eventually lock in a Liontamer to pick up the win. There's more that could be done between Jericho and Neville, I'm hoping that Owens winning the Universal Championship will free up Jericho to move into a proper feud with the Geordie.
8 days after SummerSlam, Paul Heyman made his return to our screens in an odd segment with Commissioner Stephanie McMahon. Heyman and McMahon are two entertaining characters, that have a good amount of chemistry, which makes sure that whenever the pair share the screen, that you'll probably want to watch to see exactly what's going to happen. However, this time around, I'm not sure what actually happened. I feel like maybe I missed something, because to be honest, this felt like an unnecessary ten minutes of TV time, that didn't set up anything and didn't resolve anything either. Heyman came out, tried to pay Brock Lesnar's fine in $1 dollar bills, they then talked for a bit, Heyman begged McMahon to accept his apology, McMahon accepted and quickly left, leaving Heyman laughing in the ring. Both seemed to be heels, both came across as a bit dickish and I was left wondering if we'd ever get to see this go anywhere or if it was just a way to try to cash in on some of the controversy caused by Lesnar without actually having to pay Lesnar to be there.
The only other lengthy talking segment on the show was Corey Graves hosting a chat between the four main event talents at the top of the show. There was some good stuff here as they looked to add a bit of depth to upcoming Four way dance and get the viewers to tune into the action at the end of the show. Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins had some banter, with Rollins initially donating his speaking time to Owens, whilst The Prizefighter compared the set-up to that of a group therapy session. Both men played their moment well, coming across as two guys jostling for each other's support in the match, whilst having a hint of animosity behind what they had to say. Big Cass also got some time to show what he can do on his own, having some decent back and forth with Owens regarding their recent feud, whilst also taking a jab at Rollins' penis size. Never forget those dick pics people, never forget. The segment concluded in fairly predictable fashion with Roman Reigns having fuck all to say and everyone brawling about.
Titus O'Neil and Darren Young continued their feud this week and still no one gave a single fuck. There was little get excited about again here, with the one big spot of the match, that saw O'Neil finally take control by lobbing Young over the top rope resulted in a ringside camera getting broken. I lost interest for a time, because The Real Deal just kept saying "You Owe Me" for reasons that weren't really explained and it would have been kind to have described any of the action as "average". The finish would see Young get a crucifix roll up victory after O'Neil got too involved with the referee. O'Neil would attack Bob Backlund before delivering Clash of the Titus to confirm that the misery will continue for a while long at least. The Prime Time Players were better together and they weren't that great to begin with.
Best of the Rest
- Sami Zayn returned to winning ways with a quick victory over Jinder Mahal following an Exploder Suplex and Helluva Kick
- Nia Jax picked up her fourth victory in a row with a win over some lass called Hyan.
- Braun Strowman extended his undefeated streak to over two month's with a victory over Americo [NWA's Barrett Brown]
ATPW Scale Rating - 6.03/10
Topping last week's episode to become the best episode since the post-Battleground episode, this was an in-ring action heavy edition of Monday Night RAW. The main event was an epic, that will probably split opinion due to how much you enjoyed the finish, but either way it was a quality outing that did a lot for various competitors, whilst presenting one of the most shocking finishes to Monday Night RAW in quite some time. Outside of the main event, the three biggest matches on the show (New Day & Bayley v The Club & Brooke, Cesaro v Sheamus, Neville v Jericho) all delivered good wrestling and were entertaining in various ways. Only two in-ring talking segments is a never going to be a bad thing either, it's a shame that the Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon segment felt much more like a time filler than anything else.
If only the continuation of Titus O'Neil and Darren Young's feud hadn't been featured on the show, then you'd probably have had the best episode since the brand split right here!
All content - James Marston
Banner Credit - Kai Stellar