It’s the first Raw of the Brand Split Era, plus follow-up on the Battleground PPV Sunday night. …
WWE Raw TV Report
July 25, 2016 – Episode #1,209
Live in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Report by James Caldwell (@JCTorch), PWTorch assistant editor
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- Week 1 of the Brand Split – Raw run by Stephanie McMahon & Mick Foley
- Stephanie & Foley opening Raw addressing the roster
- Battleground PPV fall-out
- New Day WWE Tag Title celebration
Raw opened with a video recap of Dean Ambrose retaining the WWE Title over Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins last night at Battleground. Therefore, the WWE Title is on Smackdown and Raw does not have a top title.
WWE cut to a new Raw intro video package and theme music.
Live in the arena, Michael Cole, Byron Saxton, and Corey Graves were standing in front of their new announce desk, which has been re-positioned at the stage area like the old Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler set-up. This was a sports-like presentation with Cole introducing the new era.
The camera swung to the ring where Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley were standing by to introduce the new era of Raw. Foley wanted to introduce the roster they drafted last Tuesday on Smackdown.
Out came the roster to stand together on the stage together. Foley, as GM, vowed to deliver the most action-packed episode of Raw every week. Stephanie said he has full authority to do just that. But, she wants to address the WWE Title situation.
Stephanie called out Roman Reigns for dropping the ball last night, losing the title match to Dean Ambrose at Battleground. She said Seth Rollins had it in the bag, but Reigns screwed up. She called him not a good guy, not a bad guy, but a loser. Reigns seethed on the stage and the crowd cheered.
Stephanie said there has always has been a Hvt. champion on Raw, the audience demands it, and there will absolutely be a Hvt. champion. Foley said he and Stephanie decided they need to create a new champion.
Foley booked two fatal-four way matches tonight. The two winners will meet tonight, and the winner will advance to face #1 Draft Pick Seth Rollins at Summerslam for the brand-new Raw title. Foley said it will be the “WWE Universal Championship.” The crowd was mixed. Foley said he will announce the eight competitors right now. Shining Stars gotta be in this tournament with the Puerto Rico tie-in, right? Not so much…
(1) Sami Zayn
(3) Chris Jericho
(4) Cesaro (who walked right by Reigns with a mean-mug)
(5) Roman Reigns
(6) U.S. champion Rusev
(7) Kevin Owens
(8) Finn Balor
Balor appeared from behind the row of wrestlers sporting a black jean jacket that he popped like a rockstar to a big reaction. Not as big as if he made a big debut with the music, entrance, etc., but it was strong for how he was presented. He was presented like the next it-guy on the roster.
Stephanie moved on to the Women’s Title situation. She said Charlotte kept the Women’s Title on Raw, then asked for her to step forward. Foley reminded Charlotte that she tapped out to Sasha Banks last night at Battleground. Therefore, Charlotte will defend the Women’s Title tonight on Raw. … against Sasha Banks.
WWE cut back to the stage to show the non-fatal-four-way participants walking dejectedly to the back. The eight competitors in the four-way matches stood on the stage, then walked back as Cole wondered who will be in the first match.
[Commercial Break at 8:10]
In-ring: Cesaro was out first for the first of two fatal four-way contendership matches. U.S. champion Rusev was out second, followed by Kevin Owens. WWE then cut to new entrance music. It was Finn Balor making his full ring entrance debut, complete with giant “BALOR CLUB” text on the Titantron. Cole talked about Balor’s “professional wrestling” background, referencing the NWA, New Japan, and NXT. Cole talked up Balor’s New Japan title and tournament accomplishments, then noted his strong run on NXT. Balor did the full ring entrance with the posing, lights, and music (sans face/bodypaint), continuing to pop the collar of his leather jacket. WWE even mixed in some new camera shots using an overhead cam to give the presentation a fresh look & feel.
1 — U.S. champion RUSEV (w/Lana) vs. FINN BALOR vs. KEVIN OWENS vs. CESARO — Fatal Four-Way “WWE Universal Title” Contendership match
Balor and Owens immediately paired off, while Rusev and Cesaro battled. The match moved to the floor, where Cesaro went on the Uppercut Rampage leading to an early break.
[Commercial Break at 8:20]
Back from break, Owens and Rusev double-teamed Balor. Owens taunted Balor that he should have stayed at NXT. Balor fought back with clubbing blows before Owens nailed him with a forearm. On commentary, Corey Graves noted they have a chip on their shoulder since Balor was drafted ahead of them. Rusev delivered a big German Suplex to Balor, then told Owens to inflict more punishment. Suddenly, Ownes nailed a big forearm to the back of the head for a two count. Rusev then tossed Balor out of the ring.
Rusev & Owens focused on Cesaro, double-suplexing him back into the ring. Rusev made a cover, and Owens was like, ‘C’mon, I’m right here,’ and broke up the pin. Owens told Rusev to focus, then they took turns working on Cesaro. Owens then brought Balor into the ring, but Balor fought back with forearms, firing up the crowd. Owens slammed him to the mat, though, and Rusev decided to assault Owens.
Suddenly, Cesaro re-entered the picture with a cross-body attack to Owens and Cesaro. Cesaro then went full Uppercut Train to Owens and Rusev. How about you, Balor? Sure, why not. Everyone got an uppercut, then Cesaro clotheslined himself and Rusev over the top rope.
Balor and Owens were left alone in the ring. Owens tried a powerbomb, but Balor countered and knocked Owens to the outside. Balor saw all three opponents on the floor and decided to fly with a flip-dive down on the outside. Balor followed with a massive kick to Rusev.
[Q3] Back in the ring, Balor and Cesaro battled. The crowd was starting to get behind Balor – both males appreciative of his ability and females shrieking. Suddenly, Balor hit the 1916 elevated DDT, but Cesaro kicked out just before three. Balor sold shock as Raw cut to a second break.
[Commercial Break at 8:31]
Back from break, Owens and Cesaro were battling on the top turnbuckle. Balor joined the party, then Rusev grappled all three men for a four-man Tower of Doom. Rusev was too exhausted from the spot to capitalize, though. Rusev finally gathered himself, but ran into a corner boot from Cesaro. Balor kicked Rusev in the head, too, but Owens scooped up Balor to deliver a torture-rack neckbreaker for a nearfall when Cesaro broke up the pin.
Suddenly, Owens was the last man standing in the ring. Owens nailed a top-rope frogsplash on Balor, but Rusev broke up the pin. Owens regrouped and nailed a pop-up powerbomb to Balor, but Cesaro broke up the pin this time. Cesaro followed with a corkscrew uppercut to Owens, then he wanted the Big Swing. But, Rusev kicked Cesaro in the face.
Rusev and Owens remained in the ring. Rusev kicked Owens in the head, then wanted to crush Owens via Accolade. But, Cesaro made the save just in time before Owens tapped out, delivering a massive suplex to Rusev. Cesaro wanted the Sharpshooter on Rusev, but Rusev countered with The Accolade. Rusev leaned back for more punishment, but Cesaro used the momentum to roll over Rusev into a pinning predicament for a very close, believable nearfall. What a sequence.
Rusev and Cesaro were slow to get back to their feet while Owens and Finn remained on the floor. Suddenly, Cesaro dropped Rusev with a punch, then put him in the Swing. A few revolutions, then Cesaro put Rusev in the Sharpshooter. Suddenly, Owens re-entered the ring to superkick Cesaro in the face. Owens followed with a cannoball to Rusev, but Balor came out of nowhere with a dropkick to Owens into Rusev. Slingblade to Owens. Corner pump kick to Rusev. Balor went to the top rope and nailed the Coup de Grace to Rusev as the crowd fired up. Balor rolled off Rusev and pinned him for the win.
Post-match, the crowd popped as Cole called it an incredible moment. Graves called this an upset. Balor celebrated in the ring and nodded his head to the hard camera that it’s time now. After a look at the replay, they cut back to Balor posing in the ring with one finger in the air to note he’s got one more match to win tonight. Balor left the ring and pointed to his imaginary watch that it’s his time.
WINNER: Balor at 20:27 to advance to face the winner of Zayn vs. Sheamus vs. Reigns vs. Jericho later tonight. That was strong. The crowd seemed a bit muted at times, but the match was really good. Balor is on his way to being a big star and this was a nice start. Overall, it will be interesting to see if this is the start of a trend of full-length, “event-like” TV matches that build and build to something special to where the audience feels like there was a strong pay-off to investing in the match. (***1/2)
Still to come: New Day celebrates their modern-era record Tag Title reign. Plus, the debut of Nia Jax. They incorporated some of the NXT video package work into hyping Nia’s debut. It’s next.
[Commercial Break at 8:41]
[Q4] Cruiserweight Hype Package: WWE highlighted the Cruiserweight tournament participants, focusing on the wrestlers they have signed or have on the radar. The graphic noted the CW Division is “coming to Raw.”
Announcers: WWE cut to Cole, Saxton, and Graves standing at the announce table. They recapped last week’s Draft, then highlighted Finn Balor’s win in the opening match. Cole presented Nia Jax.
WWE cut to Nia’s eyes, zooming in on her facial expression. Nia walked down to the ring as an enhancement wrestler was standing by. It was Britt Baker from the independent scene. Cole noted Nia’s Samoan heritage as the bell sounded.
2 — NIA JAX vs. BRITT BAKER
Nia dominated Britt early on, just over-powering her. Nia delivered a big splash, but pulled off the pin, not satisfied with her first match destruction. Jax then delivered her trademark leg drop to Baker for the pin and the win.
WINNER: Nia Jax at 1:20. Old-school introduction with the squash match formula to get over Nia’s dominance and moveset. Very effective.
Backstage: Sasha Banks was standing by preparing to face Charlotte for the Women’s Title. Suddenly, Goldust and R-Truth interrupted her space playing on their phones. Sasha smiled as the boys ran off, then Tom Phillips entered the shot to ask Sasha about facing Charlotte for the Women’s Title tonight. Sasha vowed to win the title tonight and kick off the new era the right way. Sasha told the audience to get ready because the Women’s Title is about to have a new swag.
Up next: The second fatal four-way match between Zayn, Sheamus, Reigns, and Jericho.
[Commercial Break at 8:51]
Coming back from break, WWE ran a hype video for Brock Lesnar. They appeared to announce Brock for next Monday’s Raw.
In-ring: Chris Jericho was introduced first for the next fatal four-way contendership match. Cole noted Jericho is looking for a better result than last night at Battleground when Randy Orton RKO’ed Jericho. Cole hyped Orton vs. Lesnar at Summerslam in four weeks. He also confirmed that Lesnar will be on Raw next week.
Out second was Sheamus, followed by Sami Zayn fresh off his big victory over Kevin Owens last night at Battleground. Roman Reigns’s music then played to loud boos to bring out Reigns with an angry look in his eyes as he marched down to the ring locking eyes with Sheamus.
[Q5 — second hour]
3 — ROMAN REIGNS vs. SHEAMUS vs. SAMI ZAYN vs. CHRIS JERICHO –Fatal Four-Way “WWE Universal Title” Contendership match
As soon as the bell sounded, Sheamus and Jericho ganged up on Reigns while Zayn hung back and watched. Reigns then came out of the corner charging Zayn, so Zayn joined the beat down. Reigns, Jericho, and Zayn knocked down Reigns, then Reigns rolled to the outside. Jericho and Sheamus double-teamed Reigns while Zayn reluctantly hung back in the ring.
Sheamus and Jericho looked back into the ring, where Zayn saw what was coming for him. The heels ganged up on Zayn, who took a big boot to the face from Sheamus as Graves and Saxton argued about Seth Rollins being given a bye to the contendership finals at Summerslam. Suddenly, Zayn knocked Sheamus and Jericho to the floor. Zayn got a head of steam looking for a big flip dive, but Sheamus and Jericho moved, so Zayn bounced off the ropes and posed.
Suddenly, Reigns snuck back into the ring to drop Zayn on his head. Reigns covered, but Zayn kicked out after being surprised by Reigns. Reigns cleared Sheamus and Jericho when they tried to get back in the ring, then Reigns went to work on Zayn. The heels eventually returned to the ring, then Reigns decided to just knock everyone out of the ring to the floor. Reigns stood tall alone and smirked down at the other competitors. Reigns had an idea. Roman charged the ropes, then flew over the top rope onto Zayn, Jericho, and Sheamus. Reigns popped to his feet and smirked as Raw cut to break.
[Commercial Break at 9:05]
Back from break, Reigns continued his dominance. Reigns lit up Sheamus with forearms, which got some count-along. Jericho then got in the mix and Reigns lit up both men with forearms, which didn’t get much count-along. Suddenly, Zayn dropped Reigns with a Blue Thunder Bomb out of nowhere. It was so close to a three count. Zayn sold being shocked that he was so close to pinning Reigns.
Zayn wanted to follow up on Reigns, but Reigns recovered and intercepted a Helluva Kick with an Outsider’s Edge sit-out powerbomb for a close two count. Reigns then cocked his fist to nail Zayn, but Sheamus intercepted with a Brogue Kick to Reigns’s face. Zayn then smashed Sheamus with a Helluva Kick. But, Jericho threw Zayn off a cover.
Reset at 13:30 with the crowd loud with an “Ole!” chant for Zayn. Zayn smacked Jericho in the chest, then tried to run Jericho off the ropes, but Jericho countered with the Walls of Jericho. Zayn grabbed his face not wanting to give up as Jericho tried to get a submission. Suddenly, Sheamus smashed Jericho with a kick to the face to break up the hold.
Reset at 15:00 with Sheamus and Zayn battling. Sheamus teased White Noise to Zayn, but Reigns came out of nowhere with a Superman Punch. He tried one to Zayn, but Zayn ducked and rolled up Reigns for a super-close two count. Reigns then smashed Zayn with a Superman Punch. Suddenly, Jericho grabbed Reigns. They had a miscommunication on a SP, so Reigns picked up Jericho and gave it to him again.
[Q6] Reigns stalked Jericho for a big spear, but Jericho kicked him in the face into the Codebreaker. Jericho covered Reigns, but Reigns kicked out just in time. Jericho grabbed the ref demanding to get a three count. Jericho then kicked and slapped around Reigns out of frustration. Jericho did Reigns’s pose, then charged him. Suddenly, Reigns bounced the ropes and nailed a big spear. Reigns covered Jericho for the pin and the win, with no one around to break it up. The crowd was super-loud mixed with boos and cheers for Reigns.
Post-match, WWE cut to some replays, then went back to Reigns collecting himself in the ring. Reigns celebrated and talked some smack into the crowd as Cole hyped Reigns vs. Balor still to come tonight. Cole wondered if Balor can pull off a miracle against Reigns.
WINNER: Reigns at 17:14 to advance to face Finn Balor. Another really good match following up on the first four-way match. Zayn had a really good showing, Jericho led the match nicely, and Sheamus looked slightly reinvigorated getting the title shot spot. He still seems to be just-another-guy on the roster, so it will be interesting to see what he ends up doing in the near future. (***1/2)
Up Next: New Day celebrates their Tag Title benchmark.
[Commercial Break at 9:18]
Great Moments in WWE History: WrestleMania 24 for Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair, as called by Jim Ross.
New Day Tag Title Celebration
Big E., Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods were introduced to the ring holding big inflatable numbers – 3, 3, and 7 to indicate the length of their title reign. One full year coming up at Summerslam.
In the ring, Xavier Woods talked seriously about things not going well last night at Battleground against The Wyatts. But! Bray Wyatt has been drafted to Smackdown, so it’s time to celebrate. New Day did a bit about what’s happened in the last 337 days, including Booty O’s becoming a real breakfast cereal. Xavier threw to a video package documenting how far they’ve come
The video included footage of Stephanie McMahon and Triple H dancing with New Day. They showed New Day winning the Tag Titles at Summerslam. Plus, interacting with The Rock, interviewed by Michael Cole, interacting with Edge & Christian, presenting the Booty O’s, dancing with Shane McMahon, the odd time machine bit, dancing with Stone Cold (before he hit a Stunner), and more celebrations.
Big E. said that was a beautiful package. A huge package. A big package. A satisfying package. Xavier got serious to note they will select one member of the audience to be an honorary member of New Day tonight. The trio left the ring “who’ing” like owls, then found someone on the front row wearing a Booty O’s t-shirt. This was an obvious plant situation with the fan over-zealous and struggling to make it over the guardrail.
[Q7] New Day brought in “Sonny Boy,” who said that’s actually his name. Xavier said the bills that come to his house and the document says, “Sonny Boy?” You mean to tell me that when you were taken out of your mom’s womb, she named you Sonny Boy? All right, Sonny Boy (a small chant broke out, then grew a little louder) … as an honorary member of New Day, it’s your privilege to celebrate with them. Sonny Boy didn’t have much life in his celebration, so New Day tried to help him out.
Suddenly, The Club hit the ring to pick a fight with New Day. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows tore up the tag champs, sparing Sonny Boy from certain danger. Karl and Doc then lifted up Big E. in the air to deliver the Magic Killer. Xavier and Kofi sold on the floor, then Club surveyed the damage. Anderson wasn’t done, as he ripped off Kofi’s t-shirt. They also took Xavier’s shirt as a souvenir.
Karl & Doc then walked around ringside to confront Sonny Boy, who was back across the guardrail now. They tossed the t-shirts in Sonny’s face after he booed The Club, humbling the New Day sympathizer. Club threw up the Too Sweet to wrap the segment.
Up Next: Neville returns to action on Raw.
[Commercial Break at 9:34]
WWE Network plug: WWE World Hvt. champion Dean Ambrose is going to the Stone Cold Podcast. It’s live in two weeks after Raw.
Announcers: WWE returned to the arena for Cole, Saxton, and Graves standing at the announce position to formally reset the show. The camera pulled up to reveal Curtis Axel standing by in the ring.
JoJo introduced Axel as “Mr. Irrelevant” in last week’s Draft. Axel did not appreciate this and took the mic from JoJo. Axel said they actually saved the best for last, then he posed in the ring. Neville’s music then produced Neville returning to action for the first time in four months. Cole said the injury was in this very building.
4 — NEVILLE vs. CURTIS AXEL
Neville delivered an early head scissors as Cole talked up past “Mr. Irrelevants” in the NFL Draft. Neville ran into a shoulder tackle from Axel, but he came back with a standing Shooting Star Press to Axel.
Neville absorbed offense from Axel, then delivered a deadlift German Suplex, sending Axel into the corner. Neville followed with a forearm strike, then a kick to the side of the head. Neville followed with a side suplex before climbing to the top turnbuckle. Neville wanted Red Arrow, and he connected on Axel for the pin and the win.
WINNER: Neville at 3:43. The crowd was quiet throughout until the finish, treating this like a comedown match. Neville could have really used a character reset returning from injury to re-engage with the audience.
Still to come: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks for the Women’s Title, presented by Mountain Dew. It’s up next.
[Q8] [Commercial Break at 9:45]
Locker Room: Darren Young lamented not winning the Intercontinental Title last night. He told Bob Backlund that no one puts their hands on Coach. Suddenly, Goldust & Truth walked in playing on their phones. Backlund freaked out, telling them they are interfering with his ability to coach D-Young. Young calmed down Backlund, who remained hyped that this is a War, and they must win that title!
Back to the announcers for Cole, Graves, and Saxton to talk about tonight’s main event between Reigns and Finn Balor. Cole introduced a video package on Finn Balor from NXT. Nice use of the footage. Back to Cole, who said Balor has a trip to Summerslam on the line against Reigns tonight.
Backstage: Tom Phillips brought in Charlotte and Dana Brooke to discuss Charlotte’s title defense tonight. Charlotte said the facts are that Sasha had a tag partner last night. Tonight, Sasha is all alone. Charlotte said Sasha doesn’t know what pressure is. She vowed to make Sasha bow down to the queen. And she can bank on that.
In-ring: Sasha Banks’s music played to bring out the challenger. Big reaction for Sasha entering the ring. The title match is next.
[Commercial Break at 9:53]
In-ring: Charlotte and Dana Brooke came to the ring for the Women’s Title match. Cole narrated footage from last night when Sasha tapped out Charlotte in a tag match featuring the WWE debut of Bayley, who was highlighted in the video package.
Back in the ring, JoJo handled formal ring introductions for the Women’s Title match.
[Q9 — third hour]
5 — Women’s champion CHARLOTTE (w/Dana Brooke) vs. SASHA BANKS — WWE Women’s Title match
As the bell sounded, Cole noted Charlotte has held the title for 307 days. Tight collar-and-elbow tie-up to begin the match, setting the tone for a lengthy battle to find out who the top wrestler in the division is. Charlotte eventually used Dana as a distraction to cut off Sasha and shortcut her way to the advantage. Ref Chioda reprimanded Dana that he’s watching her.
The interruption allowed Sasha to actually snatch Charlotte for a submission hold resembling the Bank Statement. Charlotte broke free, then the match moved to the floor. Dana got involved again, so Chioda tossed her from ringside again. Raw cut to break with Sasha waving good-bye to Dana.
[Commercial Break at 10:04]
Back from break, Charlotte and Sasha were deadlocked in the ring grappling for control of the match. They couldn’t settle it in the ring, so the fight moved to the floor, where Charlotte tried a moonsault and somewhat connected with her legs. If it was intentional, it was an interesting twist on a flying moonsault attack.
Back in the ring, Charlotte applied the figure-four, but Sasha kicked her out of the ring. Charlotte got back in the ring and tried again, but Sasha countered with the Bank Statement. Charlotte fought and fought, then managed to get her foot on the bottom rope.
That looked like it could be all for Sasha, as Charlotte stood up with an aggressive look in her eyes. She mouthed that Sasha will never beat her. Charlotte charged Sasha, but Sasha nailed the Backstabber into the Bank Statement. Charlotte fought and fought, but this time she tapped out. There was a huge eruption on the tap-out as Charlotte’s title reign was over.
WINNER: Sasha Banks via submission at 16:52 to capture the WWE Women’s Title, ending Charlotte’s Women’s Title run from WrestleMania connected to her Divas Title run from Night of Champions in September. That was really good. It was unexpected to see Sasha win the title here, making the crowd reaction even stronger when she actually won. (***1/2)
[Q10] Post-match, Charlotte sold with tears and anger in her eyes leaving the ring while looking back to Sasha in the ring. Byron Saxton entered the ring to interview Sasha about the win and what this moment means to her. Sasha cried, overcome by emotion. “You deserve it!” the crowd chanted. Sasha looked around the arena, then collected herself.
“I did it!” Sasha shouted. Sasha said this has been her dream since she was 10 years-old. She said she told everyone that she is the best, and this proves that she is the best. Sasha said this is a new era of WWE, and it’s the Era of The Boss. Sasha said it’s about Women’s Wrestling. Sasha promised the audience that every single week – pause for a “Yes!” chant – every time she steps in the ring, she will show everyone why she is champion. And, there is only one Boss in WWE, and that’s her. Sasha proudly held up the Women’s Title as her music played. Cole and Graves talked up Sasha growing up before their very eyes.
WWE cut to replay footage from the title match, then returned to Sasha celebrating in the ring. Cole said the TV main event will have a tough time topping that match.
[Commercial Break at 10:22]
Back in the arena, there was a giant growl and new music played to bring out Braun Strowman. Meanwhile, Byron Saxton was standing by in the ring with an enhancement talent named James Ellsworth. Mr. Ellsworth said it was a dream come true to wrestle on Raw … but then he found it was Braun Strowman. Ellsworth sold fear as Strowman strolled to the ring sporting a new haircut with the sides of his hair completely shaven off.
6 — BRAUN STROWMAN vs. JAMES ELLSWORTH
Braun finished Ellsworth with a reverse chokeslam, smashing Ellsworth’s face into the mat. Strowman threw down the straps of his singlet to sell intensity as he “celebrated” the win. Strowman marched out of the ring with a victory in his pocket.
WINNER: Strowman at 1:09. Another fine use of the squash match formula to get over Strowman to start a new era for him.
Video Package: Roman Reigns. He faces Finn Balor in a high-stakes match still to come.
[Q11] [Commercial Break at 10:30]
Exterior Shot: Raw is in Pittsburgh, home of the Stanley Cup champions and Corey Graves.
Backstage: Goldust and R-Truth continued to search for Pokemon. They found the Pittsburgh Penguins’s logo and Truth was confused. They continued their search.
Back in the arena, Enzo Amore & Big Cass’s music played to a big reaction. Enzo and Cass bounced out on-stage, then did their verbal routine before entering the ring for fresh material.
Enzo wanted to talk about liking it Raw. Cass said he also likes it Raw. But, he likes some other things raw. Cookie dough. (How you doin’?) Eggs. Egg whites. Brownie batter. Fish. Sushi. Suddenly, the Shining Stars’s music interrupted.
Primo & Epico strutted out on-stage to take umbrage to the Universal Title introduction. Well, actually, they just wanted Enzo & Cass to visit their island of Puerto Rico to help the local economy. Epico told the fans to leave their ugly Steel City and visit the Shining Star of the Caribbean. In the ring, Cass said he’s got this one. “There’s only one word to describe you – S-A-W-F-T!”
7 — ENZO AMORE & BIG CASS vs. SHINING STARS (PRIMO & EPICO)
Back-and-forth action, then everyone cleared out except Primo. Suddenly, R-Truth and Goldust got lost in the arena and Truth stumbled into the ring. Goldust tried to tell Truth to get out of the ring. Poor Primo was victimized by a big boot from Cass for the pin and the win.
WINNERS: Enzo & Cass at 1:54. First time tonight they’ve gone back to the old habits of silliness after a tight show for the first two-and-a-half hours. It’s confirmed impossible for WWE to make it through an entire three-hour Raw, even a show that has felt really good thus far.
Backstage: Roman Reigns and Finn Balor met in the hallway. Reigns wished Balor good luck. Balor said he’s Irish – he invented luck. Reigns said he’s Samoan. Enough said. Balor smiled at the tough talk.
[Commercial Break at 10:43] [Q12…]
[…Q12] Next Week: Brock Lesnar is live on Raw. And, Michael Cole is losing his voice.
In-ring: Finn Balor’s music played to bring out Balor for his second match of the night. And it’s a big one. Balor took a deep breath and soaked up the moment before doing his trademark pose with the crowd and lights in the ring. Balor stared into the hard camera selling intensity, then waited for Roman Reigns to make his entrance for his second match of the night.
Before the bell sounded, Jo Jo handled formal ring introductions, announcing this as the Main Event of the evening. Strong reaction for Balor and 75/25 boos for Reigns, who walked across the ring trying to intimidate Balor before the bell sounded.
8 — ROMAN REIGNS vs. FINN BALOR — #1 contender match to face Seth Rollins for the new WWE Universal Title at Summerslam
As soon as the bell sounded, Reigns charged Balor and punched him in the gut. Reigns then tossed Balor clear across the ring. Reigns followed with another big toss across the ring to establish dominance. The announcers said Reigns is in a bad mood tonight. Balor avoided a corner attack, then kicked Reigns in the head, but Reigns shook it off and pounded Balor against the ropes.
Suddenly, Balor sprung on Reigns with a flying dropkick. Balor followed with a combination of strikes, but Reigns cut him off with an elbow smash. Reigns then delivered eight, nine, 10, 11 corner lariats to rock Balor. Reigns tried to follow with his trademark running dropkick as Balor recovered on the ring apron, but Balor dodged. Balor double-foot stomped Reigns in the chest, then pump-kicked him into the barricade. Balor scampered back into the ring to stand tall heading to break.
[Commercial Break at 10:54]
Coming back from break, WWE aired a video package on Smackdown Live kicking off tomorrow night on USA Network.
Back on Raw, Balor and Reigns continued to battle for the right to face Seth Rollins at Summerslam. They highlighted Reigns selling a knee injury during the break. Balor was unable to capitalize, though, as Reigns grounded Balor to keep the match on the mat where he didn’t have to stand on his leg.
Balor forced the match to their feet, where Reigns slowed the pace with clubbing blows. But, Balor fired back with forearm strikes. Reigns then powered Balor into the air to deliver a big sit-out powerbomb for a super-close nearfall. Reigns wanted the Superman Punch, but Balor ducked and kicked Reigns out of the ring.
[Q13 — over-run] Balor kneed Reigns in the face, then drove him back into the ring. Balor came off the top with a double foot stomp to the back of Reigns’s head, but he only scored a super-close nearfall on the pin attempt.
After a reset, Balor nailed Reigns with the Slingblade. Both men sold exhaustion, then Balor suddenly ran into a Superman Punch. Reigns covered, but Balor rolled a shoulder at the last moment to escape a lackadaisical cover. Reigns couldn’t believe it, then he contemplated his next move.
Reigns got an angry look on his face, then he picked up Balor looking for an Outsider’s Edge bomb, but Balor rolled down Reigns’s back for a super close two count. Reigns angrily tossed Balor into the air once, and twice with powerbombs, but Balor escaped at the last moment again. Reigns just smirked, not believing this.
At 13:30, Reigns stalked Balor for the big spear to finish Balor, but Balor intercepted with the Slingblade. Double-foot pumpkick in the corner. Balor then sprung to the top and nailed the Coup de Grace to Reigns’s shield protector as the announcers went nuts. Balor immediately covered and it was good for the pin and the win.
WINNER: Balor at 13:52. Welcome to the Balor Club, established Balor’s Birthday, July 25, 2016. That was strong main event-style storytelling from Balor and Reigns. WWE set it up nicely where the outcome wasn’t predictable since Reigns-Rollins was the natural match for Summerslam, but now it’s Seth-Balor in a completely fresh main WWE TV match-up and Reigns has to find an opponent. (***)
Post-match, Balor celebrated in the ring as Cole noted Balor was at NXT last Monday. He was drafted high to Raw. Now, a week later, he’s heading to Summerslam to face Seth Rollins for the Universal Title. They cut to Balor standing in the ring looking down at Reigns, who sold intense pain and exhaustion as he left the ring mentally and physically exhausted.
Tom Phillips caught up with Reigns to ask him if he has anything to say after this loss. Reigns looked back into the ring at Balor and celebrated. Reigns said he hopes Balor beats Seth Rollins at Summerslam because he wants another shot at Balor. “I respect that dude,” Reigns said.
WWE cut back to Balor celebrating in the ring. Cole said it’s Finn vs. Rollins at Summerslam, they have a new Women’s champion, and it’s a brand-new WWE Raw. “Goodnight everybody!” Cole signed off seven minutes past the top of the hour.
FINAL THOUGHTS: 9/10. That was a hard reset both in terms of pacing, look & feel, presentation, removing outside fluff (for almost the entire show), making a new star, and being disciplined with the match presentation throughout the show. The show flowed nicely, overcame the unavoidable three-hour Raw lull, and finished strong with a new sense of purpose to the Raw brand. It was interesting not having Seth Rollins on commentary or not even shown watching the main event backstage, signaling the focus was completely on what happened inside the ring. Also, Foley & Stephanie made their one appearance of the show at the start, then gave way to the roster for the rest of the show. That’s unlikely 52 weeks out of the year, but, again, it signaled to the audience that this is supposed to be about the roster. For one night, this was an excellent presentation of a pro wrestling show. (Setting aside the “Universal Title” label for Raw’s top title, which sounded cringe-worthy at first.)
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