RAW Ramblings – July 25th 2016
Consol Energy Centre: Pittsburgh, PA.
I have been as negative as anybody when it comes to the brand split – I still don’t believe it was the right move to make business wise – but for one night at least, the WWE did absolutely everything right and managed to produce one of the best episodes of RAW of the three hour era. The set was different, the theme song was changed to a horrible Shinedown track but at least it is new, the announcers were moved over to the stage just like the last time the split the rosters, they tried new camera angles and my personal favourite aesthetic change was the return of the red ropes. There was also clearly a philosophical shift in how the product is presented, which if they keep it up should make the show actually enjoyable to watch. It certainly felt like they tried to present a more sports-oriented show, with UFC-style post-match interviews, plus the announcers seemingly had their shackles taken off and were using words like “professional wrestling,” which may have been the most jarring change on the whole show. Most importantly though, was a much more focused and streamlined show, with virtually every segment having some kind of purpose or consequence and very few long in-ring promos or insignificant matches that were randomly thrown together at the last minute.
The big story from the show was the debut of Finn Balor and him being booked like a star in one night. Show opened with Mick Foley & Stephanie coming out for a promo, which only went about 10 minutes and was the lone appearance from Stephanie on the show – another positive! They called the entire RAW roster out onto the stage and Steph buried Reigns for not winning the WWE title at BattleGround. Foley announced that they were creating a new title called, “the WWE Universal Championship,” (insert your own Bill Watts joke here). Steph booked two four-way matches, with the winners facing off in the main event to determine who would face Seth Rollins for the Universal title at SummerSlam. Balor got the biggest reaction out of everyone. First four-way saw Balor beat Rusev, Kevin Owens & Cesaro in 20:30. Match was awesome and they did all kinds of great near-falls; finish saw Balor pin Rusev with the Double Stomp. The second four-way had Roman Reigns over Chris Jericho, Sheamus & Sami Zayn in 17:45; match wasn’t as good as the opener but was still very enjoyable. Reigns was completely hated again and he pinned Jericho with the Spear. In the main event, Finn Balor pinned Roman Reigns clean in 13:55 with the Double Stomp and earned his spot in the Universal title match with Rollins. Match was solid and anything other than Balor going over would have made all the other changes on the show almost irrelevant. After the match, Reigns cut a total babyface promo and said he hoped Balor beats Rollins at SummerSlam, so even though Reigns is in the big dog house, Vince is still adamant that he must remain a babyface.
During the opening segment, Stephanie also announced that Sasha Banks would get her shot at Charlotte and the Women’s title, not at SummerSlam but tonight. They played the match up like a huge deal and did the fancy in-ring intros. Match was kind of a struggle to begin with, as it went on at the top of the third hour and the crowd, who had been great all night, were starting to lag a bit, however it turned out to be a really good outing. Sasha won the title clean in the middle when Charlotte tapped out to the Banks Statement in 16:55. Crowd got into the match after Sasha nearly killed herself doing a tope; it was similar to the way Lita scorpioned on that dive in the match with Trish Stratus in 2004. Charlotte did a huge Moonsault Press off the post to the floor, so they pretty much had their SummerSlam match here on TV. Sasha cut a babyface promo afterwards and put over women’s wrestling; it was fine but she is blatantly more suited to being a heel.
The rest of the show was basically filled with squash matches designed to get people and their moves over: great! Nia Jax debuted and squashed Britt Baker in 1:20 with her Legdrop of Doom; it was too short to be offensive and Nia didn’t have time to be exposed either, so it I guess it worked. Neville returned from his injury and squashed Curtis Axel in 3:45 with the Red Arrow. Axel has been given the name, “Mr Irrelevant,” playing off the last guy to be drafted in the NFL. Crowd didn’t really care about Neville, but he won quickly so you couldn’t really asked for much more. In one of the highlights of the entire show, Braun Strowman and his new undercut ponytail look, murdered an amazing jobber by the name of James Ellsworth in 1:10. Ellsworth was interviewed beforehand and said his dream had come true by wrestling on RAW and claimed he would try and find a way to win. He was a short, pasty, skinng-fat man with an Offspring tattoo on his arm and generic wrestling trunks – a perfect jobber. Strowman destroyed him and won with a wacky Reverse Chokeslam thing.
Misc: There was of course some WWE silliness on the show, after all they still had three hours to fill, but due to the rest of the show being so great, the goofy comedy wasn’t too offensive. Goldut & R-Truth were playing Pokemon Go all night and they ran into Sasha Banks, who was getting ready for her match. They went into Darren Young’s locker room and were yelled at by Bob Backlund. Enzo Amore & Big Cass faced the Shining Stars and Truth wandered into the ring with his phone looking for Pokemon. This distracted Primo and Cass pinned him with a big boot in 1:50. The only talking segment, other than the short opening deal with Foley & Steph, was the New Day celebrating the fact that they are the longest reigning WWE Tag Team champions of all time. They did their usual comedy and pulled a plant out of the crowd to be an honorary member for the night. There was a cringe-worthy attempt at comedy with the plant, who was called “Sonny Boy;” it died, but the crowd were very forgiving and actually chanted, “Sonny Boy.” Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows mercifully showed up and beat up the New Day and hit the Magic Killer on Big E. Its also worth noting that it was painfully clear after about half an hour into the show that Corey Graves replacing JBL was a huge improvement.