Aired - 12th September 2016
In the penultimate episode before Clash of Champions, Monday Night RAW featured a marquee bout between Roman Reigns and Universal Champion Kevin Owens, in which Reigns could earn a title match at the supercard, as well as Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods of Tag Team Champions The New Day having a SummerSlam rematch with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson as the two teams looked to put last week's "Old Day" segment behind them. Would RAW continue to build momentum with just two weeks until their first PPV in ten years?
Outside of the storyline development, Owens and Reigns had a damn good match, combining their bruising styles to create a diverse and stimulating encounter. Watching K.O. control a match is usually good fun and this was no different, as he was constantly chatting away either to himself, Reigns or the audience, whilst his application of simple moves like chinlocks are kept entertaining by his verbals and superior utilsation of said moves. It felt like there was a purpose behind every motion, whether that was inflict damage on Reigns or just annoy the crowd a little bit and that makes all the difference when you're going over twenty minutes on live TV. There were a few similarities to the match that AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose had the night before, mostly in how the bouts were structured, as Owens dominated the contest and got a high number of near falls, but seemed unable to put his opponent away on his own.
The finish would see the return of United States Champion "The Bulgarian Brute" Rusev to our screens after a few weeks off, as he appeared at ringside to cause a distraction that would result in Owens getting the win with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. A cute bit of booking as Rusev had been away just long enough that it felt like a bit of a surprise and got a decent pop, whilst not having the US Champ get physically involved meant that Owens got at least some of the rub that a victory over Reigns presents. Owens will also have a chance to brag about the victory on next week's go home episode. The show would conclude with Rusev decimating Reigns with the Accolade and having to prized away by a couple of referees. Of course, there's plenty of unfinished business between Reigns and Rusev, after their scheduled SummerSlam contest never began and whilst their feud hasn't quite reached the levels it could have, it probably still deserves a PPV match. With an extra bit of build next week, Reigns and Rusev should be able to have a strong semi-main or upper midcard battle on 25th September.
Tag Team Champions The New Day managed to bury last week's terrible Old Day segment, with some humorous banter, leading into a SummerSlam rematch with Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston facing Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Woods, Kingston and Big E didn't mess around as they ripped into the horrible piece of television from last week, talking about what the audience could have done instead during it's time on screen. Comparing Gallows and Anderson's skit to having put the audiences time "into a dumpster fire" was pretty accurate. It was really the only way that RAW could have got past the shambles of last week, because continuing in the same direction clearly wasn't going to do anyone any favours. Gallows and Anderson brought a much more serious edge to their reply and it suited their demeanours a hell of a lot better. Let's hope that we never see anything from the pair even resembling what we saw last week ever again.
Slotting into the semi-main event, the match was a much better version of the contest that they had at SummerSlam, as it didn't include Jon Stewart and featured a much more satisfying conclusion. Kingston and Woods obviously bring a different dynamic to what we see regularly from Big E and Kingston and this was played upon well, with an early face shine from the highflyers, before Anderson and Gallows would dominate Kingston. It was some of the strongest in-ring work that Gallows and Anderson have done since jumping ship from New Japan Pro Wrestling, as they worked a style that suits them, cutting off the ring and just beating the shit into Kingston for a bit. They're two tough mean dudes and it was nice to see them presented like that! Woods hot tag sequence was another highlight as he continued to show why he's one of the more underrated in-ring talents that the company has right now, with a flurry of action that included near falls off the Honor Roll and a tightrope elbow drop. Anderson and Gallows picked up the win with The Magic Killer, to set them up for their Clash of Champions title bout, putting to rest the disappointing SummerSlam match and the hammy skits that we've seen over the last few months.
The evening began with an exciting in-ring segment that would see General Manager Mick Foley eventually book Bayley, Sasha Banks and Dana Brooke in a Triple Threat match, where the winner would get a shot at Charlotte's Women's Championship on 25th September. There was a lot going on here, with a number of moving parts and different character relationships, that managed to give the division some real depth, whilst Foley was able to keep a nice thread through the middle of things in his GM role. Whilst Banks and Bayley were putting their cases forward for getting a title shot, Charlotte was given the best material here as she got to look like a real dick with some brutal words for protege Brooke, whilst also getting the opportunity to not just insult Bayley and Banks but also try to drive a wedge between the pair. Whilst The Nature Girl's delivery wasn't always as good as it could have been and she stumbled on some odd dialogue about "WWE Camp", when given the chance she hit the right notes and hit them well. Without Charlotte upping the energy, the eventual booking of the triple threat and Brooke returning a slap to her (potentially former) mentor, wouldn't have had half the impact they did and would have got nowhere as strong a reaction from the crowd.
The fifth match of Cesaro and "The Celtic Warrior" Sheamus' Best of Seven Series may have been the best match of the series so far, thanks to the depth of story that the pair had to dip into. With the benefit of four previous matches, that have been heavily based on psychology anyway, the European grapplers added in call-backs to the finishes of most of those matches, building some quality near falls that had the crowd more involved than we've seen before. With the story continuing to revolve around Cesaro's injured back (that occurred in Match 2 during SummerSlam), we got to see a real selling master class from the Swiss Superman as he grabbed hold of the injury at every opportunity, including when hitting a diving crossbody! The bout would conclude with a series of near falls for Sheamus, after Cesaro had been unable to perform the giant swing correctly, only for King of Swing to take the series to 3-2 as he pinned Sheamus with his feet on the ropes. It was a divergent ending, that showed just how desperate Cesaro was to keep himself in the running. Judging on what we've seen from the pair so far, I'd expect this finish to play a big part in the final two matches.
Sasha Banks earned herself a shot at Charlotte's Women's Championship at Clash of Champions, as she defeated Bayley and Dana Brooke in the first match on the show. With Bayley and Banks being booked to stay apart from each other, this meant that Brooke had a real chance to elevate herself with a strong performance. She handled herself well throughout, involved mostly with Bayley, but also showing some nice aggression during the ad break as she tripped Banks on the apron and threw her into the barricade. The final stretch that involved all three women was well done, with a series of strong spots, like Banks going for the double knees on both opponents and well-worked near falls including Bayley kicking Banks in the head moments before Brooke was about to tap to the Bridging Crossface and The Boss' last second save after Brooke had been nailed with a Bayley to Belly suplex. The conclusion appeared to be setting up a Triple Threat match for 25th September, as it looked like the former NXT Women's Champions had each other's shoulder pinned to the mat, although it was strangely ignored by the commentary.
"Y2J" Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn somehow managed to build a fierce feud, in around ten minutes as The Underdog From The Underground guested on an edition of The Highlight Reel. Jericho's character development has been a real joy to watch over the last six months or so and he continued to do great work here, easily manipulating the crowd into chanting "Ole" for Zayn and also seeming to get heat for just being around a microphone. Whilst the argument between the two had a lot to do with Universal Champion Kevin Owens (which can only uplift Owens and his title run), as the pair went back and forth about their opinions of the Prizefighter, it was when Zayn began to discuss how Y2J had inspired him when coming into the business that the fledgling rivalry began to take on a life of it's own. Zayn calling Jericho nothing more than "Kevin Owens' bitch" edged the segment nearer to it's crescendo, as The Man of 1004 Holds suckered Zayn in with the pretense of showing him a text from Owens, only to twat him in the face with his mobile phone and pull out a cheeky Codebreaker. We've seen Jericho and Zayn tangle on TV in April and July this year, but a rematch at Clash of Champions with more bite behind it should be their best effort yet.
The Shining Stars seemed to have finally found their niche in a feud with Big Cass and Enzo Amore and whilst Amore's schtick continues to become even more poop based, the short bout between he and Epico was a decent watch. I've become a real mark for Epico's Trileda sequence, just because it's a damn cool twist on the three amigos, that probably doesn't belong in a mid-card tag feud in WWE! It was only a brief match, but the two lads in the ring and the two lads on the outside packed a lot into it, with both Amore and Epico hitting dives to the outside and Cass nailing a big boot on Primo in a fun section. The finish continued what's been an lightly entertaining feud so far, as Primo would aid Epico in victory by pulling Amore's legs from underneath him on a suplex attempt and holding them down from the outside to give his cousin his first television singles win since beating Evan Bourne on a December 2011 episode of Superstars. (Obviously not including his run as the surprisingly more successful Fernando).
Jinder Mahal debuted a new gimmick as he is now apparently "The Man Who Comes in Peace". To be honest, I'm not quite sure what that actually means, as his promo didn't really explain it all that well. He said "Namaste" and talked about his time off from WWE as the crowd lulled into a light sleep. Things weren't helped by Jack Swagger coming out as Mahal's opponent. I've got nothing against either guy in particular, it's just that neither excites me, especially at this point in their careers. I wanted to stay focused on the action, but there really wasn't that much to stay focused on. It was Jinder Mahal v Jack Swagger. Some moves happened. The crowd chanted USA. Some more moves happened. The crowd stopped chanting and went for a piss and probably missed Mahal picking up his first victory since beating Heath Slater for his RAW contract.
Nia Jax would get her biggest showcase since moving to RAW, as she decimated former Divas Champion Alicia Fox. The annihilation didn't result in a victory though, as this was all about showcasing the power of Jax, as destroyed Fox on the outside of the ring, in a revenge attack for a backstage outburst last week, throwing her opponent in the ring post and the barricade. The match evolved into more of an angle as Jax drove Fox through the barricade and into the timekeepers area, in one of the most impressive moments that the Women's division has produced in a long time. This is a spot that's usually reserved for big PPV matches and almost exclusively used by the male competitors, so it was a truly shocking moment to see Jax pull it out here. It made the Hawaii born performer look like a beast and built on the foundation that has been created with the various squash bouts that she's had since debuting.
Best of the Rest
- Moments prior to the main event, Kevin Owens gave Seth Rollins a verbal dressing down, whilst bragging about his new buddy Triple H, leading to Mick Foley warning Rollins to not get involved in Owens bout with Roman Reigns.
ATPW Scale Rating - 6.08/10
This was the strongest Monday Night RAW episode since the post Battleground show, that saw Finn Balor earn a shot at the Universal title. The main event was a more than solid encounter, that easily could have headlined a PPV, had there not been all the shenanigans that you'd expect from a television main event! There were a couple of good matches elsewhere on the show as well with The Club v The New Day, the Women's Championship #1 Contenders Triple Threat and Cesaro v Sheamus all having their merits. Perhaps one of the biggest positives was that the Titus O'Neil and Darren Young feud was kept off the show!
Outside of the matches, Sami Zayn's appearance on The Highlight Reel was probably the best thing on the show, with Chris Jericho continuing his rich vein of form. The opening segment with Mick Foley, Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha Banks and Bayley was also a decent watch.
Whilst there remains a couple of nagging issues, the only major segment that I actively disliked this week was the Jinder Mahal and Jack Swagger match, mainly because I don't think Mahal's gimmick is very well defined or different enough from what he was doing previously to warrant the switch, and also because it was a Jinder Mahal vs Jack Swagger match!
With one episode left before Clash of Champions, and just four matches currently announced for the show, I'd expect next week's episode to struggle to match the quality on display here as we may see a bit of a scramble to get the rest of the line up in place.
All Content - James Marston
Banner Credit - Kai Stellar