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7/25 WWE Raw Instant Reaction – Three-Pack Edition
In the spirit of PWTorch contributor Ben Tucker’s “Instant Reaction” series, we present the top three takeaways from Monday’s Raw from PWTorch staff, contributors, and correspondents.
Mike McMahon, PWTorch TNA Impact Reviewer
(1) This was a star-making night for Finn Balor. With two wins, beating Rusev in a Fatal Four0Way and Roman Reigns in the main event, Balor will challenge Seth Rollins for the new WWE Universal Title at Summerslam. It’s a stupid name for a title, but it’s going to be an incredible match. On top of that, Balor was treated like the star he should be coming onto the brand as one of the top picks in the WWE Draft last week. Balor not only pinned Rusev and Reigns, there was also a video package that aired for the viewers that maybe didn’t watch Balor’s entire NXT run. They made sure to get the new star over like a new star, and it worked. Also, part of that required Reigns’ push to be dialed back, which was deserved after missing a month for a Wellness Policy violation. Moving forward, Balor will challenge Rollins while Reigns is at a real crossroad. Very good storytelling by WWE at the top of the card.
(2) Sasha Banks beating Charlotte for the Women’s Championship is something that could have been a featured match on Summerslam (top-three on the card), and it still might, but Sasha capturing the title was a great moment for this first Raw of the New Era. Sasha’s emotion was evident, you could see it on her face, and her post-match promo with Byron Saxton was interesting. She wasn’t acting like a heel, but she also wasn’t your typical humble babyface, either. She’s a confident butt-kicker, and the fans are respecting that.
(3) The new production elements on Raw were a welcome change, eliminating the cookie-cutter presentation that has been part of WWE’s broadcast for about eight years, since the HD set was introduced in 2008. The new set was a variation on what was there before, but made Raw feel new. The different camera angles were fun, the return of squash matches – such as Nia Jax win – were a welcome addition and Corey Graves added a youthful and cutting-edge presence on commentary. Finally, there is someone in that role that is actually well informed when it comes to pop culture.
Dominic DeAngelo, PWPodcasts recapper
Note: Dominic DeAngelo was live at Raw in Pittsburgh!
(1) RAW IS BALOR CLUB. Ever since he debuted in NXT, I always worried about Finn Balor’s fate. “He’s amazing now, but what will Vince do once he gets his ‘big man’ paws on him?” The answer was feed his “biggest man” to him and push that Irish lad straight to the top. While someone as unique as Balor isn’t always obvious to a sheltered 70-year-old egomaniac, this week it was and for that I’m thankful for. Now if he just keeps letting Finn be Finn then we may have something here (and maybe, just maybe, Shinsuke Nakamura fans can potentially breathe a sigh of relief).
(2) BANKS MAKES HER STATEMENT. Speaking of letting people be themselves, Sasha Banks had more than just a title change going for herself. From her pre and post-match promos to her clever Guerrero-esque way of removing Dana Brooke from the match equation (that hiding behind the apron “bye-bye wave” was something to behold) she is someone the fans can connect with very easily, and that’s because Sasha was allowed to be Sasha.
(3) COMMENTARY MIGRATION. Since I was at Raw, I can’t exactly give input as how the actual commentary was, but I do know one thing: for years, many casual and ardent fans alike have wished for Michael Cole to be away from a wrestling ring and now they kinda-sorta got it. Seriously, we’ve seen those commentators sit ringside ever since Raw’s 1993 inception. A new era should mean new seating arrangements, and putting them on stage right of the entrance can only help with solving WWE’s variety problem.
Michael Moore, PWTorch Collectibles specialist
(1) Follow up is key. There was a lot to like about this show, particularly the use of squash matches to get newer acts over. Unfortunately, the hotshot booking is what got most people talking. It’s great that Finn Balor was given such a strong debut, but between start-stop pushes and 50-50 booking, WWE doesn’t have a good track record of developing new talents. I’m sure a lot of fans popped big for Sasha Banks’s win, but there was no build-up. It was all presentation with no promotion. Yes, this was a good show. But one good show doesn’t mean it’s a new era.
(2) WWE needs to cut back on the dives out of the ring. This isn’t a criticism of the style; this is about the well-being of the wrestlers and everyone else involved. Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Big E. all took very scary looking bumps on consecutive nights. Charlotte and Sasha could have had an excellent match without those dangerous spots. If WWE allows its wrestlers to continue these can-you-top-this dives, someone is going to get seriously hurt. There’s very little reward compared to the risks wrestlers are taking, often in throwaway TV matches.
(3) Of the new faces on Raw, Corey Graves might have the most long-term impact. He’s young. He’s cool. He calls the action like a shoot, but with a heel slant. It’s such a refreshing change from Jerry Lawler’s cliches and JBL’s decades old references. If – and this is a huge if – WWE somehow stumbles into a new boom period, Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves would be the perfect broadcast team.
Joel Dehnel, Lucha Underground reviewer
(1) The restructuring of the presentation of Raw is a giant step in the right direction. I’m hopeful that they stick with the format and continue to improve upon it. The new stars, graphics, and presentation are breathe new life into what was a very stale product. This week felt like a really special episode with a good mix of feature (squash) matches and high quality combat contests. I have no doubt that Raw should be able to climb it’s way back up the ratings ladder if they and disciplined to keep the brands separate and continue to improve and work out the kinks (Pokémon Go segments) in Raw’s format. This would have been a great week to start out Raw with a hot match instead of Stephanie dragging everything with a long promo. I’m curious to see either how similar or different Smackdown’s presentation and format is from tonight’s Raw.
(2) Roman Reigns is still Vince’s pet project. Despite the wishful thinking of many that the moloch had given up on Reigns after his Wellness violation; Cole and Co. could not stop gushing about the athleticism, strength and perseverance of Reigns. Reigns kicked out of two finishing moves, landed several superman punches and won a fatal four way leading to another Raw main event match. Bálor is a fresh opponent for Reigns that can help him put on high quality matches with him. If Vince does eventually budge and do the right thing, tonight might have been the first meeting between the future top babyface in Bálor against the future top heel in Reigns. Although Reigns lost tonight, Vince is still on the Roman train and hopes the WWE Universe forgets his suspension rather quickly.
(3) A little off the beaten path, but WWE has a new sponsor. Target has agreed with WWE to sponsor during Raw. This is quite the upgrade from K-mart. Last year Coca Cola sponsored a one-off event. The Target sponsor helps on a perception level to feel more mainstream. It can also help with corporate networking opportunities and increase their chances to get bigger sponsorship deals in the future.