This week’s edition of Monday Night Raw was the start of a new era as WWE provided us with the best episode of Raw this year. Thanks to four long matches that were really good, minimal involvement from authority figures and big wins for popular former NXT stars, the WWE Universe has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the brand split going forward.
It was a very newsworthy night as WWE started this new era of Raw with a new opening theme song, new graphics, a new stage design (it’s actually from a SummerSlam set a few years ago), new red ropes in the ring and the announce team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton were in a new position on the right side of the ramp. It was weird not seeing them by the ring, but now they are similar to how it was on Raw in the mid-2000s when Eric Bischoff was the general manager of the show.
The Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley started the show with a promo addressing the superstars on the stage. Normally, people hate it when the show starts with an opening promo, but it made sense considering the “new” feeling that surrounded this week’s Raw.
They made an announcement about a new major championship on Raw. Stephanie said that there has to be a major title on their show because the WWE World Heavyweight Title is on Smackdown with Dean Ambrose. With that in mind, they announced that they would introduce the WWE Universal Championship and we found out later who would be competing for that new, coveted title at SummerSlam.
Speaking of the WWE Universal Championship, there’s currently no image of what it may look like. My guess is that the WWE logo will be featured on it prominently. They’ll probably debut it next week on Raw or the week after.
I know some people are probably mad that there are two major titles again, but it’s not a surprise. WWE wants Raw and Smackdown to be separate entities. They don’t want to have a touring champion that is on both brands. Exclusivity is important, so in order to combat it they are creating this new title, instead of bringing back the old World Heavyweight Title, aka “The Big Gold Belt.”
Some big matches were announced in that opening promo: Two fatal four-way matches to determine two winners that would meet in the main event. That’s also when Stephanie announced that Seth Rollins would immediately get a shot at the new Universal Title. It was also announced that Sasha Banks would battle Charlotte for the Women’s Title. I’ll comment more on that when talking about this week’s matches.
Finn Balor, who made his Raw debut on a night that was also his 35th birthday, won a Fatal Four-Way match over Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Rusev. Later in the night, Roman Reigns beat Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho and Sheamus in the other Four-Way match to set up Reigns vs. Balor in the main event.
As soon as Reigns vs. Balor started, I got the sense that Reigns was going over because the announcers kept trying to put over Balor on commentary. That can sometimes be a sign of a guy losing because they want to make fans believe in the guy. As the match went on and Reigns was frustrated that he couldn’t put Balor away, it showed that management really believed in Balor. He was able to hit a few signature spots on Reigns and connected with the Coup de Grace double foot stomp off the top for the win. The crowd went wild while fans on Twitter were marking out for the win because they were stunned that an internet darling like Balor could beat a Vince McMahon favorite clean like that.
The win for Balor sets up a dream match at SummerSlam against Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship.
As for Reigns, he did the clean job again, just like he did at Battleground one night earlier and Money in the Bank one month earlier. That’s three clean losses for a guy who almost never loses clean in the last three years. That’s what happens when you receive a Wellness Policy violation and are suspended for 30 days. While I still think WWE has a lot of faith in Reigns, it’s very telling that he put over Balor the way he did. It shows that maybe management doesn’t think of him as “the guy” anymore.
I think long term, it would make a lot of sense to turn Reigns heel by having him attack Balor. He could have done it after he lost this match and it would have worked really well. Maybe he will cost Balor the title at SummerSlam as a way to get Reigns a lot of heat. I just feel like after all this time, WWE may finally realize that heel Reigns is the best thing they can do.
This Week’s Raw Matches
The formula was pretty basic this week and it worked with four long matches and four short matches.
Finn Balor defeated Cesaro, Kevin Owens & Rusev
Great match as expected with these four. They did all the usual things you see in a four-way match with each of them hitting big moves, then somebody else breaks up the pin and somebody else hits a big move. It’s repetitive, but it works especially when they get 20 minutes like they got here. Balor ended up pinning Rusev with the Coup de Grace double foot stomp. This was the first match of the “new era” and it was great. No complaints here.
I found it odd that Lana wasn’t at ringside with her fiancé Rusev, yet she was on Twitter retweeting compliments all night. At least she knows she’s pretty. Please don’t think of that as me “hating” on her. I like her and want to see her out there. She was on the stage for the show open, yet not at ringside for the match. Weird.
Nia Jax defeated Britt Baker
Jax made her Raw debut as a heel destroying Britt Baker, who is not a known wrestler. Baker is what we call a jobber. Jax won with a couple of legdrops as if this is Hulk Hogan in 1986.
Roman Reigns defeated Chris Jericho, Sheamus & Sami Zayn
This match wasn’t as good as the first one, but it was still pretty good and was nearly as long too. I thought there was a chance that Zayn could win because having him and Balor in the finals would feel fresh. Reigns winning by destroying everybody with Superman Punches wasn’t much of a shock. He ended up hitting a Spear on Jericho to win the match clean.
Neville defeated Curtis Axel
Good to see Neville back in action after missing nearly four months with a broken ankle. Axel was announced as a joke and was made to look like one too. Neville won clean with the Red Arrow in a three-minute match. I’m not sure who he might feud with, but Jericho is a possibility.
Sasha Banks defeated Charlotte to win the Women’s Championship
This was awesome and the match of the night. It felt like a big deal as soon as the bell rang. The announcers hyped it up big-time as well. Funny moment early on with Banks pretending that Charlotte’s buddy Dana Brooke hit her with the title outside the ring, so the ref tossed Brooke from ringside. It was a nice tribute to Eddie Guerrero, who was Sasha’s idol. The crowd laughed when they saw it, while many of us thought about Eddie right away.
They had an intense match with each woman getting in a lot of offense, coming close to winning several times and going for their submission finishing moves. There were also big spots as Banks nearly hurt herself doing a suicide dive on the floor where she landed on her head/neck area. Then Charlotte did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor. After Charlotte told Banks that she would never beat her, Banks slapped on the Bank Statement and Charlotte tapped out. Not the greatest of trash talk, huh?
With the loss, Charlotte’s 10-month reign as Divas/Women’s Champion is over. I thought they might do the title change at SummerSlam, but they decided to create a special moment on this show. Nothing wrong with that.
Post-match, they did an in-ring interview with Banks getting emotional talking about how she dreamed about this since she was 10 years old. It felt genuine and real, unlike some of the stuff you see on wrestling shows. I’m happy for Banks. She deserves a lot of credit along with Charlotte for making the Women’s Title matter so much in this era.
Braun Strowman defeated James Ellsworth
Strowman changed his look a bit by shaving the side of his head. He dressed similar to his Wyatt Family attire. They actually had Ellsworth do a brief promo about how he was so happy to be on Raw. Then Strowman beat him in under one minute and that was it.
Enzo Amore & Big Cass defeated The Shining Stars
Another short match that came in at around three minutes. Easy win for Enzo & Cass, who didn’t do as good of an opening promo this week. They are one of the most enjoyable acts in WWE.
Finn Balor defeated Roman Reigns
This was covered earlier. I thought it was well done as a competitive match with the crowd firmly behind Balor, while the majority of them hated Reigns. I’m glad that it was a clean win for Balor.
Three Other Key Items From Raw
— Mick Foley (@RealMickFoley) July 26, 2016
1. I was encouraged by the lack of authority figures during the show. Stephanie and Mick were in the ring for that 10-minute promo and then we didn’t see them again. Normally on Raw, we’ll see the authority figures in backstage segments or other in-ring segments. The show is much more enjoyable when the focus is on the wrestlers.
My hope that Smackdown is run the same way and I’m encouraged that it will be. Prior to Sunday’s Battleground PPV, both Foley and Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan stated that they wanted their shows to be about the superstars, instead of people in charge. It seems like WWE has finally realized it’s time to let the stars shine.
2. The Tag Team Title picture looks to be strong with The New Day celebrating their nearly year-long reign as champions. Even though I normally like most things that The New Day does, this bit with a “fan” named “Sonny Boy” was pretty bad.
When Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson showed up to attack them, I was happy because I’ve wanted to see this feud for about six months now. It seems like WWE has been saving it in their back pocket so that they could do it at the right opportunity. With SummerSlam coming up, it seems like the perfect time for it.
If you’re wondering, there was no interaction between Gallows and Anderson with their former Bullet Club “brother” Finn Balor. Maybe that will happen on another show. Not this week.
3. Here’s a look at the new Raw theme song and opening video montage. The song is called “Enemies” by Shinedown. I haven’t heard the song before last night, but I thought it was a good choice in terms of giving Raw an energetic theme song that can get people excited about the show.
They needed a change after using “Tonight is the Night” for the past four years. That song was around for too long. I already like this song better.
Looking Ahead To SummerSlam
The next WWE pay-per-view event is SummerSlam, which is one of the biggest shows of the year and arguably the second-most important after WrestleMania. (Some might say Royal Rumble is second.) It takes place on Aug. 21 in Brooklyn, New York so they have a month to build up to it. Here’s the lineup that we know so far:
Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
Speaking of Lesnar, he will be on Raw next week in Atlanta. It will be his first time on WWE TV since WrestleMania in early April.
Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins to determine the first-ever WWE Universal Champion
Another likely match is The New Day facing Gallows & Anderson for the Tag Team Titles.
That’s it for now. They may announce more matches on Smackdown this week. SummerSlam has a 7 p.m. ET start time, so it’s a four-hour show at least, plus the Kickoff Show.
It was the best Raw of the year. I’m confident in saying that because I watch them all, I write about them all and this show really stood out. It wasn’t that hard to figure out why either. They gave four matches a lot of time, they featured a “new” star in Finn Balor by making him look like a main event performer already and Sasha Banks also stood out as the new Women’s Champion.
The WWE roster is very talented from top to bottom. When they announced the brand split, I was optimistic just because when you have a show with 35-40 people available, it’s a lot easier to book quality matches that go longer than it is when you have to book 70 people and you want to have more people on the show, which means shorter matches.
Let’s hope that Raw can continue on this path of greatness, because shows like this are going to lead to more viewers tuning in and a more enjoyable product for the WWE Universe.