On 5th June, WWE aired the 1254th episode of Monday Night RAW live from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on the USA Network. The show featured Roman Reigns facing Bray Wyatt, new #1 Contender Samoa Joe against Seth Rollins and a confrontation between Joe and Paul Heyman, the advocate for Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, as well as appearances from Intercontinental Champion The Miz, RAW Tag Team Champions Sheamus & Cesaro, The Big Show, Dean Ambrose and Mickie James. But was it any good? Let's take a look.
*Times in brackets are screen time, rather than match length.
- ICYMI - Highlights of Samoa Joe becoming Number One Contender to the WWE Universal Championship at Extreme Rules, with a victory over Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt.
Reigns def. Wyatt (23:25)
Before our massive opening contest, we got to hear from both men, starting with a typically madcap promo from Bray Wyatt. The Eater of Worlds continued his rhetoric about needing to "slay the beast" and quickly skimming over being unable to get the win on 4th June claiming that "I am still every bit of the God that I have always been". I'm not sure whether the Wyatt character is actually aware of Brock Lesnar or whether he genuinely believes there is an actual beast running about with the Universal title (although that would probably better explain why we haven't seen the belt since WrestleMania). A section where Wyatt listed his opponents from Sunday and called them "guilty" got a good reaction, with each of the four getting loud pops from Wilkes-Barre, with Roman Reigns' being just that bit louder. The crowd was superb when The Big Dog made his entrance, a mixture of love and hate for Roman, who just stood there and let it happen, whilst Wyatt leaned against the ropes and soaked in the atmosphere. "The big dogs not gonna wait, he's ready to be sentenced right now" was all Reigns needed to say and one uppercut later we were into our opener.
I always enjoy watching Reigns and Wyatt scrap it out with each other. Their 2015 feud provided us with two underrated PPV matches, as they two tore strips off each other and this bout was just as physical as the two went across two adverts breaks. The two have tangible chemistry and with similar brawling styles, they produced some hard-hitting action that held it's lengthy TV time and got a positive reaction from the Mohegan Sun Arena. After both attempting signature moves early on, the two used the heat from the crowd to take their time after the break wit Wyatt controlling the match with headlocks and subduing Reigns' hope spots with a DDT and later by sending the Big Dog into the post. Out of the second break, Reigns made his fiery comeback to a loud mixed reaction, building into Wyatt doing his spider walk moments after Reigns had pumped his fist up to signal as Superman Punch was incoming. With Michael Cole claiming that Wyatt was "thwacked out of his mind" the two headed home with Reigns gathering momentum and Wyatt looking for space. A clean win for Roman after hitting a superman punch and spear, leaves Wyatt with just one win out of four singles matches since jumping to RAW, but as we've seen time and time again from the Eater of Worlds losses rarely affect him or his popularity. Reigns is being heavily protected for the showdown with Brock Lesnar at some point (most likely WrestleMania) and if you couldn't tell from the crowd reactions he's already one of the top full-time guys on the roster.
- Backstage - Charly Caruso interviewed Enzo & Cass, with Amore chatting up Caruso and Cass promising to keep watching Enzo's back after the multiple attacks as of late...the mystery deepens.
- ICYMI - At Extreme Rules, Alexa Bliss defeated Bayley in a Kendo Stick on a Pole match to retain the RAW Women's Championship.
- Backstage - After Alexa Bliss told Kurt Angle she was ready to move on from Bayley, Ange shot down her demands for a "Alexa Bliss - This is My Life" segment, calling last week's This is Your Life for Bayley one of the worst segments in the history of RAW and booking Bliss to defend her Women's Championship against Nia Jax later on.
- In-Ring - Elias Samson treated us to a song about a falling leaf or something, getting some good heat before Dean Ambrose interrupted and hit him with the microphone. A short promo from The Lunatic Fringe demanding an Intercontinental Championship rematch was cut short by The Miz appearing on the big screen, leading to Samson jumping Ambrose and ending the segment with his swinging neckbreaker.
- Backstage - Kurt Angle told an irate Dean Ambrose to take the night off, after promising he'll get his Intercontinental title rematch soon.
Heyman Confronted Joe (12:59)
A sublime piece of television as Samoa Joe took his place as Brock Lesnar's first opponent since WrestleMania, creating an issue with the Beast Incarnate right from the off after choking out his advocate Paul Heyman in the middle of the ring. The moments before the attack were fascinating as both dropped their mics with the only sound coming from the camera mic, as the Samoan Submission Machine backed Heyman into the corner, told him exactly what he was going to do to him and then did it. The stylistic choice with the microphones gave the TV presentation an uncomfortable, voyeuristic quality, made Joe look like a force to be reckoned with. When the segment concluded with the crowd chanting "We Want Brock" you know that the work had been done right. The best thing about the conclusion was that the segment didn't really need it. Both Joe and Heyman had cut excellent promos beforehand with the Samoan listing the various things that he wanted to take from Brock, making the Universal title feel like it means something by listing it at the top of his list, before Paul came out to a huge pop, called Joe Lesnar's "worst case scenario" before closing with "It's my job at Great Balls of Fire to make sure that Brock Lesnar is your worst case scenario". Promos that tell stories are the best promos and if you weren't super hyped to see Lesnar v Joe on 9th July, it would've been pretty much impossible not to be by the end of this slice of pure gold.
- ICYMI - Samoa Joe just choked out Paul Heyman!
- Backstage - After Kurt Angle berated Samoa Joe for his attack on Paul Heyman, Seth Rollins turned up, got into Joe's face and Angle booked the two in a match for later.
Sheamus & Cesaro def. Slater & Rhyno (6:53)
After winning the RAW Tag titles from the Hardy Boyz at Extreme Rules, Sheamus & Cesaro picked up a dominant victory over former SmackDown Tag Team Champions Heath Slater & Rhyno to solidify their title win. There was very little too this match, with a couple of heel distraction tactics from Sheamus & Cesaro, before Slater walked into a Brogue Kick. It's a shame that Slater & Rhyno have found themselves in this position as they were super over for a good few months on SmackDown, but with Enzo & Cass as the only other babyface tag team on the roster, I guess it had to be these lads who were used to make Cesaro & Sheamus look dominant. After months of coming off as second best to the Hardy Boyz at every turn and then a questionable nature of their title win, the new champs really needed something to make them look like a force to be reckoned with and this match worked. The promo from the winners after the match didn't do much for me and I'm not sure the "We don't raise the bar, we are the bar" catchphrase is as good as someone clearly thinks it is.
- Backstage - TJP asked Cruiserweight Champion Neville when he'd get the title shot he was promised, with Neville claiming if TJP beat Mustafa Ali next he'd speak to Kurt Angle about getting him a match for the strap.
TJP def. Ali (6:02)
Another short match here as TJP tripped Mustafa Ali on the top rope as the latter went for his Imploding 450 splash and the Cruiserweight Classic winner sealed the deal with a Detonation Kick. The match had very little to talk about, with a dead crowd sitting in silence, watching some technically solid wrestling at pace, but with very little reason to give a shit about either guy. The post-match angle was much more interesting however with Neville turning on TJP when the Fil-Am Flash wanted to go to Kurt Angle himself about getting a Cruiserweight title shot. The Geordie played his role well, attempting to worm his way out of his promise by telling TJP he wasn't a "miracle worker", despite TJP having only lost former #1 Contender Austin Aries since April and picking up victories over Aries, Gentleman Jack Gallagher, Lince Dorado and Gran Metalik in that time! The timing of the turn within the segment was spot on and the vicious nature of Neville's attack hit home, but I'm not sure if I'm ready for another face run from the Los Angeles native so soon after turning. The segment closed with Neville giving TJP his wish, announcing he'll defend the title on this week's 205 Live. Side note - TJP shitting himself when Neville's pyro went off was brilliant.
- Vignette - Another Goldust promo with Goldie sitting in his director chair and quoting movies, although there's no interruption from R-Truth this week.
- Backstage - Alexa Bliss attempted to convince Sasha Banks (who left early), Mickie James and Dana Brooke that the Women's division had a "Nia Jax problem", with the babyfaces brushing off Bliss' attempt.
- Arena - Kurt Angle interrupted the commentary team on camera, asking to talk to Corey Graves...the mystery deepens
- Match - Kalisto picked up a quick victory over Titus O'Neil (with Apollo Crews) reversing a pin with a handful of tights, whilst Akira Tozawa watched backstage.
- Backstage - Big Cass was found passed out backstage, with one of Enzo Amore's gold chains near him, with the referees telling Enzo to get a new partner for his match later...the mystery deepens.
Ambrose Crashed Miz's Intercontinental Championship Comeback Tour Kickoff (10:38)
What a joyous treat this segment was, chock-full over-the-top silliness. We've seen these celebration segments time and time again, but this breathed some fresh air into the trope as Miz carried the scene as his paranoia regarding Ambrose escalated as things went on. The Awesome One quickly shut down the "You deserve it" chants (seriously? Why would you chant that? If you enjoy the Miz's work you should be booing the crap out of him) and then came the confusion about who booked the dancing bear (not a real bear) in the corner of the ring. Miz murdered the bear with a Skull Crushing Finale, thinking it to be Ambrose, only for it to be revealed as just some bloke. The second "near fall" came when a giant box was wheeled to the ring, with Miz going nuts on it with a steel chair and then hilariously dropping elbows on the box. Maryse played her reaction perfectly as she tried to get Miz to stop, because it was a present from her, leading into Miz pulling out the top of a grandfather clock to a the biggest pop a clock has ever received on WWE television. With Maryse gone and Miz losing his mind and calling out Ambrose, we got the slow reveal that the Lunatic Fringe had been the camera man all along with a superb shot of Miz watching the tron with his back to Ambrose as he removed his disguise with the look of realisation on Miz's facing telling the entire story, before taking Dirty Deeds. The segment was almost a farce in it's design with Miz's becoming a weird version of Basil Fawlty, I'm not sure who that makes Ambrose but it sure did make for an entertaining and creative piece of television.
Amore & Show def. Gallows & Anderson (8:11)
By far the worst segment of the episode, as former RAW Tag Team Champions Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson fell to the make-shift team of Enzo Amore & The Big Show (in his first appearance since breaking the ring with Braun Strowman on #1247) in two minutes. Before the match, there was a cringey as fuck as Amore did his schtick despite partner Big Cass being laid out in the lockeroom moments earlier and also having supposedly been attacked two weeks in a row and then we got Show doing a Cass impression. Honestly, it was terrible and made me feel physical pain. I'm not sure what Show doing a shitty New York accent was supposed to do for anyone, but it certainly happened. Even more so having Show plough through both Gallows and Anderson did nothing for anyone in the long run and knocked the Club duo further down the totem pole as they essentially acted as enhancement talent for a team that will probably never tag again. With only five currently active tag teams (Sheamus & Cesaro, Enzo & Cass, The Club, The Hardy Boyz and Slater & Rhyno) treating one of those teams and especially one that has proved popular, like this is reckless and irresponsible. The fact that Slater & Rhyno also lost in a similarly short amount time highlights just how little the RAW brand seems to care about building a competitive tag team division.
- Backstage - Big Cass accused The Big Show of being the one who attack him and Enzo over the last few weeks...the mystery deepens.
- Backstage - R-Truth's reply to Goldust, including quoting A Few Good Men and Pulp Fixxion as the intense quote-fest continued.
Bliss def. Jax via Disqualification to retain RAW Women's Championship (6:42)
This was an extremely weirdly booked match, that the crowd sat through without even a mild reaction to anything going on. You had two heels in the ring and two babyfaces on the outside in Mickie James and Dana Brooke, yet it felt like James and Brooke were playing meddling heels on the outside, whilst Alexa Bliss came across as an underdog face when taking a battering from Nia Jax. You can't blame Wilkes-Barre for not reacting to this as with two heels in the match, who are they supposed to cheer for? With little build to the match and without Jax having a singles match on RAW since early April, this felt thrown together and seemed to lack any thought on the reactions that each of the talent should be trying to receive. The performances of James and Brooke, jumping Bliss and causing the disqualification and then later attempting a two on one beat down on the champion (for very little reason when you look back at the backstage segment) were completely off the mark and whilst they weren't helped by the booking they both came across as smarmy and irritating as they intruded in a match they had no business in. Jax destroying them both was probably the best thing about the segment, merely because I'd got so frustrated with Mickie and Dana's character portrayal that I got a kick out of seeing Nia squash them both with Samoan drops.
- Backstage - Whilst being checked over by the doctor, Paul Heyman received a phone call from Brock Lesnar, with Heyman telling the Universal Champion that next week would be time to instil some fear into Samoa Joe and that next week, they would "unleash the beast".
Joe def. Rollins (16:46)
Another good television match here as Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins continued their feud that's been rolling since before WrestleMania. The match was probably a couple of notches below the Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt opener, mainly because the crowd was knackered by this point and was nowhere near as hot as they were for the Reigns/Wyatt match or Joe's promo earlier, this probably wasn't helped by the quality of the last two in-ring segments. The wrestling content though was solid, taking on different direction from their Payback match in April, moving away from Rollins' knee injury and being more of a straight up wrestling match. Whilst the feud has boiled under after shifting to the Extreme Rules five-way, the two got across their dislike with Joe taking control by throwing his towel in Rollins face, before the Kingslayer moments later knocked Joe down with a version of the Lou Thesz press and hammered away with punches. Whilst we saw early on that the two could produce slick reversal sequence with Rollins turning a powerbomb into a rana, most of the match could be split into two parts, Joe's domination and Rollins comeback.
Seth's comeback was superb stuff, coming shortly after a hope spot that ended with a crisp snap scoop powerslam, as Rollins gained some space with an enziguiri out of some back and forth strikes and then the Architect unleashed a barrage of offence. Rollins went nuts hitting a suicide dive by the announce table, then a slingblade in the ring, another suicide dive towards the entrance ramp, a blockbuster, another suicide dive on the side opposite the hard cam and then a diving clothesline for a two count. The momentum building up through the suicide dives was a lot of fun to witness and perhaps a recognisable comeback sequence that has been lacking from Rollins' babyface run. If his suicide dives were a little bit more convincing or impactful, I could potentially see this sequence having a similar effect for Rollins as Daniel Bryan had when he locked in his sequence during his time in Team Hell No. Seth got a series of near falls off a Falcon Arrow and a roll up before hitting Avada Kedavra, before climbing to the top rope for a frog splash. This lead into the finish with Bray Wyatt's signature flashing across the screen and as Rollins looked out for the Eater of World's, Joe locked Seth in the Coquina Clutch and claimed the victory. An interesting angle to close the show with, as Joe ended up looking great standing alone in the ring, despite the cheap victory and it leaves some questions still to be answered. Why did Wyatt decide to get involved in the match? Is he aligned with Joe still? How will Rollins react to Wyatt costing him his chance at putting the feud with Joe to bed? It's brilliant to leave us wanting to know what's happening and I'm actually looking forward to seeing how this develops next week.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.22/10
This was the best episode of RAW for a few weeks (at least since I started doing weekly reviews again) with a couple of great segments and a handful of very good matches also. Paul Heyman's confrontation with Samoa Joe was gold, The Miz's farcical act with Dean Ambrose was wonderfully, whilst the opener with Roman Reigns against Bray Wyatt and the closer with Joe vs. Seth Rollins were both favourable TV bouts. It was a shame that outside of those matches a lot of the other bouts felt underdeveloped and lacked the time most needed. I really didn't enjoy Big Show with Enzo Amore and the RAW Women's title match seemed liked no one knew what kind of reaction they should be aiming for. Those segments ended up pulling down the rating this week, as well as the number of short backstage skits, replays and hype packages.
With Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe the only match scheduled for 9th July's Great Balls of Fire, the next few week's should hopefully, at the very least, keep this kind of quality up as we head closer to the PPV.