This week's RAW was a weird one as WWE looked to build a number of big shows at the same time. We got a major surprise heel turn, a classic Intercontinental Championship match between Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, Trish Stratus making a surprise appearance to confront Elias in her hometown, as well as Baron Corbin's first week as Acting RAW General Manager. But was it any good? Lets take a look!
The opening segment was as pretty paint by numbers situation, giving us both a main event for the next PPV, Hell in a Cell, as well as the evening, as Braun Strowman officially announced he'd be cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase against Universal Champion Roman
Reigns in San Antonio on 16th September, before Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre challenged the Monster and the Big Dog to a match. The interaction between Reigns and Strowman was decent enough, the two clearly still have some chemistry from their surprise hit rivalry last year, whilst the Toronto crowd reacted well to a few well-placed verbal jabs. After Ziggler & McIntyre interrupted though the segment lost any of it's sting. The pair seemed to talk for a long time without actually saying anything, firstly complaining about Ziggler losing to Seth Rollins and then rambling on about wanting to face Reigns and Strowman for reasons that they didn't really make clear, all while getting little to no reaction from the crowd. Things weren't made better when Acting General Manager Baron Corbin came out and made all the confirmed matches official, taking his sweet time in doing so. I get what they're going for with Corbin, with him attempting to take credit for the work done by everyone else, but he's got so little charisma that he ended up sucking more air out of a segment that was already dying. The entire segment went about 15 minutes, felt like 25 and could've been done in 8 or 9.
No Disqualification Match – Acting RAW General Manager Baron Corbin def. Finn Balor via Pinfall
Under the section labelled “Feuds that have gone on way too long”, we have Baron Corbin and Finn Balor in their fourth singles match since the middle of July. This wasn't a feud that anyone was clamouring to see in the first place. The match itself was okay, some good back and forth in the later stages, once we got past an endless stretch of the same weardown hold from Corbin. It was clear to see that the two have been working together regularly from the couple of slick sequences they put together during the second half of the match, with some good variations on stuff like Corbin's Bossman clothesline spot. The highlight came from a slingblade on the outside from Balor that lead into the ad break, whilst a Tope con Hilo in the closing stages also looked great. The finish was used as a way to establish Corbin as Acting General Manager further, with the Lone Wolf causing a Disqualification with a steel chair, only to announce he'd forgotten to make announce that the bout was No DQ, following up with another chair shot and an End of Days for the win. You'd expect that this feud is finally done now, but with Balor unable to get the victory without the Demon it's hard to see where he goes next, especially if Corbin is staying as AGM for any amount of time.
Despite the match being six weeks away still, we got a package looking at Triple H vs. The Undertaker at Super Show-down with Ric Flair, Christian, Mick Foley, Jeff Jarrett and Kevin Nash discussing what we could see and who they thought would win.
We learned that Dana Brooke would be facing Sasha Banks next in her first RAW singles match since November 2017 in a backstage segment with Titus Worldwide crew. There seemed to be some tension teased between Titus O'Neil and Apollo Crews, with Crews confused at O'Neil's optimism for Brooke's chances.
Singles Match – Sasha Banks (with Bayley) def. Dana Brooke (with Titus O'Neil & Apollo Crews) via submission
In the first of a number of short matches on the show, Banks put Brooke away with the Banks Statement in two and a half minutes. For what it was, I found this relatively entertaining. Brooke going for a number of roll up attempts early made storyline sense, whilst the wrestler, who has consistently been towards the lower end of the female performers since debuting in 2015, actually didn't look awful here, hitting a nice looking enziguiri, pulling out some flippy type stuff, before going for her Samoan Driver finish and getting caught with a backstabber. I'm not quite sure what this match was for, with very little storyline development, but with Evolution not to far away it makes sense to give some depth to a couple of women at the far reaches of the division to fill out that card.
Backstage, there was an interaction between Dean Ambrose and Jinder Mahal that filled sometime and would eventually lead to a match in the third hour.
The first very good segment of the show was next as we got promos from Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens, with the latter accepting an open challenge from the former. Rollins promo was alright, not offering much beyond crowd pandering, but effective enough to keep Toronto engaged and getting pops when necessary, before issuing the challenge. Owens on the other hand was on fire, full of anger at not having Sami Zayn by his side anymore, like Rollins had Dean Ambrose at SummerSlam, whilst also discussing how RAW hadn't been as much fun as he'd expecting. The Toronto crowd was super hot for their fellow Canadian, that is until he mentioned he's from Quebec and began speaking exclusively in French to a chorus of boos. It was timed to perfection with Owens spending enough time reeling in the crowd to get them to believe in his cause, only to turn on them just before the match began. Although with the skill and fire of the segment of his babyface promo it's curious that Owens has yet to be seen in this role regularly since his very first match with WWE at NXT Takeover: R Evolution back in December 2014.
Singles Match for Intercontinental Championship – Seth Rollins def. Kevin Owens via pinfall to retain
A superb television match here, with Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins putting on what was almost certainly their best singles match in WWE, and definitely the best match on the show. Part of why this match worked better for me than their series over the Universal Championship in Autumn 2016 was that Rollins has grown and grown as a babyface since that point, becoming arguably the best performer on the main roster since then, honing his moveset, whilst also making better use of his impeccable selling. That was on full display here as Owens targetting the Architect's shoulder, including a lovely senton onto the afflicted area. A couple of tremendous sequences in the middle of the bout with Rollins looking to hit either the Curb Stomp or the Ripcord Knee, only for Owens to block with an attack to the shoulder, would eventually string together into Owens locking in a Crossface and then modifying the submission to block Rollins arm reaching the rope, in a well-done dramatic moment was a personal highlight. Some back and forth series of reversals that would conclude with Owens hitting a Stunner as an answer to Rollins' Avadra Kedavra was brilliant in a completely different way, more reminiscent of their indy work than their early WWE series, as both men continued to show their versatility as in-ring performers. I would have liked to have seen Rollins' shoulder used further in the closing stages, as whilst Rollins still sold well the injury was put on the back burner in the final third, whilst playing very little role in the eventual finish. I think that with a little work on that this bout could've been pushed even further. However, it was super cool to see Owens pull out a double jump moonsault from his bag of tricks and, of course, missing the move would lead to Rollins retaining his belt at the first time of asking, collecting a W with a Curb Stomp to bring a stellar Intercontinental Championship match to an end.
Backstage, Braun Strowman handed his Money in the Bank briefcase to Baron Corbin, signalling that his cash-in at Hell in a Cell is now official.
There was an intriguing angle post-match as a frustrated Owens, who has struggled for victories since moving to RAW in April, sat in the ring, muttered the words “I quit” before slowly walking to the back. Like most, I'm very intrigued to see what happens next, which is the most important part of any weekly wrestling show.
Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre managed to improve on their promo from the opening segment in an interview with Renee Young. The pair bought a whole heap more energy to their performances, whilst also seeming to have a better idea of why they were challenging two of the most dominant performers on the RAW brand. This boiled down to the idea that Reigns' body wasn't ready to compete following gruelling matches with Brock Lesnar and Finn Balor last week, whilst Braun Strowman's mind wasn't ready to compete after two thwarted Money in the Bank cash-ins in the same time period.
Tag Team Match – The Revival def. RAW Tag Team Champions The B-Team via pinfall
The B-Team's undefeated streak finally came to an end at the hands of Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder this week as The Revival went over Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a rematch from SummerSlam Kick-Off. This was a fairly basic tag match in structure, failing to get any real reaction out of the crowd. A lot of the action felt contrived and clunky, including a couple of roll-up spots that went on for way to long and killed an energy the match could have had. WWE seems to have no idea what made either team popular and even less of an idea about how it wants to present them to it's audience. Are the B-Team a comedy babyface act? Because there was very little in the way of shenanigan or attempted shenanigan from them here. This meant that the Revival's cutting off the ring schtick simply comes across as boring, because there's little to no promise of anything exciting or entertaining later on in the match. With The Revival's act, if the crowd aren't behind the face in peril then it falls flat. It's difficult to see how RAW's tag division can recover at the moment, as whilst there is some talent there, especially in Dawson & Wilder, the creative and attention to detail, both big and small, simply isn't there.
An entertaining segment saw Trish Stratus interrupt Elias, after The Drifter began ripping into Stratus' hometown of Toronto. Neither performer was without their slip-ups during their promos, but both has enough charisma to keep the crowd and the vocal talent to roll with their mistakes. There was a couple of really well-written lines in this with Elias making a reference to Torontonian Drake's song “Started from the Bottom”, whilst a pair of barbs from each wrestler later on in the promo got great pops from the crowd, even if it did feel like they were papering over that they had no legitimate chemistry. A Stratus slap closed the segment, with Ronda Rousey and Natalya's entrance for the next match being used as a way to swiftly move on from the fact that there wasn't any real ending in place.
Before, Natalya took on Alicia Fox, we got to here from Alexa Bliss, with the revelation that she was revoking or invoking or devoking perhaps, her rematch clause for Rousey's RAW Women's Championship at Hell in a Cell. Bliss also reintroduced Mickie James who hadn't been seen for quite a while, for a nice pop.
Singles Match – Natalya (with RAW Women's Champion Ronda Rousey & WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus) def. Alicia Fox (with Alexa Bliss & Mickie James) via submission.
A quick and simple win for Natalya in her home-country in her first match since her father, Jim Neidhart, passed away. Natty won with a Sharpshooter in a few minutes and whilst there was nothing of note in the bout, it's difficult to complain about WWE allowing for such a sentimentally sweet moment. This was made especially heart-warming/heart-breaking by Natty pointing to the sky and proclaiming the match was for her Dad afterwards. WWE doesn't always handle death well on it's television products, here's hoping that Jim Neidhart becomes an exception and makes a new rule.
Backstage, Natalya, Rousey and Stratus were met by the Bella Twins. Brie and Nikki talked awkwardly for a few seconds, before it was revealed they'd be returning to action on next week's show. Yay. (For fact fans, this will be their first TV match as a duo since the 17th October 2015 edition of Main Event, where they went over Team B.A.D.'s Naomi and Tamina on a show that also included Stardust vs. Fandango and Ryback vs. Adam Rose!)
Another look at what various WWE alumni thinks about The Undertaker facing Triple H in Melbourne in October. This time we heard from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Booker T, The Big Show and Diamond Dallas Page, which was nice.
In a surprisingly entertaining segment, Baron Corbin informed Bobby Lashley that he had a match next, but that Corbin couldn't remember who he'd booked him against. I got a kick out of Lashley laughing it off, pretending to be pals with Corbin whilst slapping him on the shoulder. Corbin later informed Lashley that his match was a handicap match once the former Impact World Champion had got in the ring. I'm interested to see how long WWE pushes Corbin as the heel GM using his power irresponsibly and what the actual pay-off is, considering his boss is still the villainous RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon.
Two-on-One Handicap Match – Bobby Lashley def. The Ascension via pinfall
This was a thing. A rather stupid piece of booking, as Lashley going over two guys who haven't looked like a threat in years, but are also considered to have never been booked correctly since leaving NXT, isn't going to help him get over, whilst neither placing him in a feud with Baron Corbin. With the RAW tag team division a mess it's irresponsible to kill another team off in what was a pretty throwaway contest.
Singles Match – Dean Ambrose def. Jinder Mahal via pinfall
Completing a trifeca of short matches, Jinder Mahal's run at the top of the SmackDown brand seemed a distance memory as he lost cleanly to Dean Ambrose in under five minutes. Mahal had pretty much the whole match, controlling after a distraction from Sunil Singh, leading to dull and forgettable contest that offered very little in the way of entertainment. Ambrose's comebacks were repeatedly cut off by Mahal, the Lunatic Fringe reversed a Khallas attempt with a Dirty Deeds. Out of the three matches The Shield members had on the show, this was the weakest and ultimately most pointless, coming across as generic time-filler. I suppose Ambrose needed to be continued to be reintroduced to the audience and a quick win over a former World Champion is a solid way to do, but the delivery came off as lazy and unimaginative.
In the lockeroom, Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns had a confrontation, although seemed to be on the same page before the main event.
Tag Team Match – WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns & “Mr. Monster in the Bank” Braun Strowman vs. Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre ended in a no contest
Less of a match and more of a set-up for a shock conclusion to the show, as Braun Strowman turned on Roman Reigns, appearing to side with Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre as the trio turned away both Dean Ambrose and Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins, before inflicting further punishment on Reigns. The match was alright up until this point, as Reigns battled against Ziggler and McIntyre as the face-in-peril with McIntyre and Ziggler continuing to work well as a team and showing plenty of intensity and physicality throughout as they thwarted various Reigns comeback attempts. But I'm not sure how effective the angle was or if it was the right decision to turn Strowman at this point. The Toronto crowd didn't seem to know what to make of what was happening, especially at the start, when it was very unclear where the angle was heading, but even then the reaction from them didn't match what was going on in the ring, mostly because nobody wanted to see a Braun Strowman heel-turn just 10 months after he became a babyface. Following the Becky Lynch heel-turn at SummerSlam, this feels like another case of WWE being out-of-touch with what it's core audience wants to see and how it is connected with the performers in the ring.
There's intrigue from this reviewer in how this plays out next week and going forward and it has been a while since RAW ended with a genuinely surprising moment. There is also potential in a Strowman/Ziggler/McIntyre vs. The Shield match to main event RAW with variational singles match also having promise whilst also filling valuable minutes of content. Like any good episodic TV ending, I was left asking questions about how the relationships between the characters were effected and whether there was an full and proper alliance between the villainous trio or whether this was one-off or month-long partnership, but I was also left questioning whether the timing was right, whether the correct person had made the turn and how WWE's insistence of keeping Reigns as the babyface star of the show could negatively impact on not just Strowman, but on Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose also.
As episodes of RAW go, this was high on big impact moments and talking points, but low on good quality content across the three hours, with some horrible booking seen throughout. Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins stole the show with their Intercontinental Championship match, whilst Owens' walk-out was probably the most interesting storyline development. Alongside this we had Braun Strowman's questionable heel turn and alignment with Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler, whilst we also got a surprise appearance from Hall of Famer Trish Stratus in a fun appearance with Elias. We also got a look at Baron Corbin in the role of Acting General Manager for the first time, something which feels like it could be fun in the short term, but could get tiresome if a pay-off doesn't come by Survivor Series at the very latest. A nice moment for Natalya and a surprisingly competent performance from Dana Brooke aside, the rest of the show was a mix between filler matches and dull matches with bad booking as WWE continued to struggled to know what to do with it's tag teams and Bobby Lashley.
Try to check out the gem of a match between Rollins and Owens in full, but I'm sure all of the moments worth seeing from the rest of the show are available on YouTube.
Review by James Marston