WWE RAW Review
July 27, 2016
By: Mike Tedesco of Wrestleview.com
The much anticipated first RAW of the brand extension era has come and gone. WWE had to hit a home run or come pretty close to one to kick off this gamble – and make no mistake about it, this is a gamble. In the face of declining interest in wrestling and ratings, WWE is taking a risk by splitting their roster into two and presenting more content than ever. Smackdown has moved to Tuesday night and is a live show now and they’re adding a second PPV every month except on months of well-established events. Twice almost every month, in order to be a fan of this product, you have to watch a three and a half hour PPV event (not including the pre-show), a three-hour RAW, and a two-hour Smackdown all in the span of three days. Presenting nearly nine hours of content every few weeks with split rosters is a huge risk and one I’m not entirely certain is going to work, but on this first night of the gamble, they did a really good job.
Strong focus on wrestling and creating a new superstar
Even though he’s only been seen on NXT and the casual audience doesn’t really know who he is at all, Finn Bálor had a rocket put onto his back on Monday night and he was pushed as a top superstar on this roster. On his 35th birthday, Bálor was put over three strong superstars, but not main eventers by any stretch (at least not yet) in Cesaro, Rusev, and Kevin Owens in a Fatal Four-Way match. This was a really strong match in which everyone looked great, and Bálor came out on top over Rusev. The really good thing is the crowd responded big to him and he came out looking like a top guy. This was yet another gamble taken by WWE as a lot of people in the crowd might not have really known him and just sat on their hands in turn.
This wasn’t the only Fatal Four-Way match of the evening. The second saw Roman Reigns go over Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, and Sheamus in another very good match. Reigns, coming off the suspension, was heavily booed throughout. This put him into the main event against Finn Bálor to determine who would go to SummerSlam to face Seth Rollins for the newly created WWE Universal Championship. I think almost everyone figured Reigns was going over since he is the guy WWE is hell-bent on pushing to the moon despite numerous shortcomings (some his own doing, but mostly due to really awful writing for him), but in a true surprise, Bálor beat him clean in the ring with the Coup de Grâce for the win. It’s not often WWE surprises me with their booking, but this was it. I figured Bálor would look strong for the match, but come up short in the long run. That was a really cool surprise and another gamble by WWE that I think will pay off with a spectacular match between Bálor and Rollins at SummerSlam.
Bálor’s win kicks up a lot of questions about the status of Roman Reigns as the #1 guy in the company. The suspension certainly damaged his credibility, which was already shoddy with the hardcore fans, of which the crowd is almost entirely made up of at the television tapings. They’ve tried numerous ways to get him over and have failed almost every time. They tried to push him as John Cena, Jr. ahead of WrestleMania 31, but the crowd never came around and WWE wound up holding off on his title run. Then they gave him opportunity after opportunity in title rematches and had him lose them in hopes of garnering sympathy for him, but that didn’t work either. Then they tried to boost him up in a feud against Bray Wyatt that was ultimately a failure with really shoddy storytelling, but that came up short. The only thing that really worked big was hotshotting the title on him on a very memorable RAW in Philadelphia, the place where all the trouble for Reigns started in the first place (though it was building in the months prior to that). Since then, the storylines for him have been awful for the most part, but they just said “to hell with it” and put the title on him anyway. Just as Reigns was starting to find his comfort zone with short promos and great matches against AJ Styles, he gets popped on a Wellness Policy violation and is suspended for a month, losing the title and his credibility.
Reigns has only been back since Sunday, but already you can see there is a change of direction with him. Reigns was the one who took the pin at WWE Battleground in a clean finish for the most part, something that would have been inconceivable even a month and a half ago, and then he was against pinned clean by the debuting Finn Bálor. After the match, Reigns said he hoped Bálor beat Rollins so he could get another shot at him because he respects him, so that kind of signals that he’s staying a babyface. In my mind, they have absolutely nothing to lose by trying the one thing they’ve been desperate to avoid for two years now: turn Reigns heel. It’s so obvious that this is the move they should make. I don’t think the crowd will all of a sudden start cheering Reigns because he’s a face. Reigns’ look and personality is better suited for a heel to begin with. I say let him have at least a year as a heel and if the crowd starts organically coming around on him as a babyface, then make the turn, but don’t force it. To me, this is the only way to salvage him. The Reigns experiment up until this point has been a total failure in every measurable statistic WWE has for fan interest: ticket sales, ratings, and merchandise. We’re in Hail Mary territory with him now. Will they make the move? Who knows?
The women actually stole the show on Monday night
In another complete shock, Sasha Banks defeated Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Championship, ending Charlotte’s ten month reign at the top of the division. It’s not a surprise that Sasha won the title. I believe she’s been pegged as a top superstar in the division for a long time. It’s a surprise that they did it on RAW instead of holding off until what looked to be her coronation at SummerSlam in Brooklyn. I’m not complaining – it was just a surprise.
This was a really super match that I found to be the best one of the evening (and there was a lot of good wrestling on this show). They really went at each other pulling out all stops in a very memorable match. The crowd was slow to come around at first, but they really responded toward the end of the match when it became apparent that something special was happening. There were a few scary moments in the match, particularly when Sasha did a suicide dive on Charlotte that saw her nearly break her neck in a visual that was very reminiscent of Lita vs. Trish Stratus from RAW in 2004. It was a really scary moment, but mercifully she was up quickly and showing no ill effects. Another scary looking moment came when Charlotte did a top rope moonsault to the floor that grazed Sasha, but she came out fine on that. All in all, this was just great work all around and easily the best women’s match I’ve ever recapped. They’ve come a long way from 2008 when I first started recapping and would groan every time the Divas had a match. My hat is off to these two women.
I like the subtle changes they made to the RAW stage. I also like how Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley introduced the roster and announced the matches for the evening in a short and sweet segment… and then they were never seen again for the rest of the night. If it were like that every week, I’d love it.
I’m not big on the new title being named the “WWE Universal Championship.” It sounds hokey as all hell. I’m also not sold on there being two major championships in the company. I figured it would be a lot better for the WWE Champion to be a traveling champion, but I guess they figured this needed to happen. It’s too similar to the last brand extension for me, which was a failure.
I absolutely love the return of the squash match to television. Nia Jax and Braun Strowman, two people with limited move sets and experience, looked great in their quick matches. Squash matches are great because they put over a wrestler’s big moves and the wrestlers themselves without sacrificing someone else. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to see a show full of squash matches, but two spaced out in a three-hour extravaganza is no big deal. I thought they were both effective.
The New Day segment was decent, but certainly not their best. The crowd was really nice to them as they chanted for the plant in the crowd named “Sonny Boy.” It started to drag a bit, but The Club coming out to beat them up saved it for me.
I feel really bad for Neville. His return after being off for injury just didn’t go well. The crowd sat on their hands the entire time and only popped for his finisher. Maybe putting him in there against an enhancement talent would have been better than putting him in there against Curtis Axel, who got a little too much offense in on him for my taste, especially after they introduced him as “Mr. Irrelevant” in a play off the NFL Draft.
Good lord, do The Shining Stars have a DOA gimmick or what? Enzo and Big Cass easily dispensed of them after The Golden Truth distracted them playing Pokémon Go. It looks like it’s going to be The Shining Stars feuding against The Golden Truth for the time being. Wake me up when it’s over.
This was a truly great night of wrestling and a home run for the company as they kick off this brand extension. I can’t say I’m not concerned that the quality of the shows are going to get progressively worse and worse as you can’t have four consequential matches on the show every week, but on this one night, they were near perfect. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks and months, but for now they’re off to a good start.
Bump of the Night: Sasha Banks’ scary suicide dive
Match of the Night: The WWE Women’s Championship Match *** ½
Final Rating: ****
Well those are my thoughts. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know by commenting or using one of the other two options to get in contact with me.
Check out my recap of this week’s RAW here.
Please check out my live recap of RAW every Monday at 8 PM EST.
Thanks for reading!
Mike Tedesco is the official recapper of WWE Monday Night RAW for Wrestleview.com.