By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Raw Makeover: If I had a dollar for every time WWE told us that we were seeing the beginning of a new era, I may have won the bidding process to become the new owner of UFC. WWE backed up all of their new era talk with a show that actually felt new. They created new stars, they overhauled the look of the show, they shook up the broadcast team (stop acting like a dork, Byron, it’s not endearing, it’s credibility killing), and they delivered their best three-hour show to date. Cherish this show because there’s simply no way that WWE can deliver a product this hot on a weekly basis. Fortunately, the production changes and the new faces should go a long way toward keeping Raw feeling fresh even if it can’t possibly live up to the night one level of excitement.
Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns: WWE could have spoiled the “new and improved” feel by closing the show with a Reigns win. Instead, they went all the way with it by giving Balor a big win and a berth into the finals of the WWE Universal Championship match at SummerSlam. This more than made up for the rather flat first look at Balor, who simply emerged from behind the group of wrestlers on the stage during the opening segment. It was a bit disheartening to see the crowd shot that showed so many fans racing for the exits after Balor’s win, but the overall reaction to his first night was positive and it felt like a star was born. I also enjoyed the Reigns post-match interview and the way he endorsed Balor. I’m still not sure why Vince McMahon won’t pull the trigger on a Reigns heel turn, but at least Roman was used to elevate someone the fans will accept.
Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley address: After all the talk from Foley, Shane McMahon, and Daniel Bryan that they wanted their shows to be about the wrestlers more than the authority figures, Raw opened with the authority figures addressing the talent. It made me laugh, but this segment was very necessary in that they had a lot of ground to cover, particularly the announcement of the new championship. The best part is that once the segment ended, so did the on-camera night of Stephanie and Foley. By the way, I could have done without Stephanie calling Roman a loser. I’m sure someone thought it was a great line, but it just sent an early message that it’s business as usual with Roman as a babyface and killed the intrigue of seeing what might happen next. And despite being called a loser and then losing in the main event, Reigns had yet another good night in the ring, particularly with Balor.
Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte: I am more conflicted than a lot of fans on the move to give Sasha the championship so quickly. I loved her NXT persona, but it was a heel persona, and she’s basically doing the same thing as a babyface on the main roster. It’s not that it can’t work. Fans enjoy edgy babyfaces and she’s definitely that. Ultimately, I feel deprived of the journey of seeing her character chase the championship. They never took the story to a point where fans were truly anxious to see her defeat Charlotte. Yet while there were definitely some chapters left out, there’s no denying how hot the live crowd was for this moment. Was it a venue filled with NXT fanatics? Is the reach of NXT greater than anticipated? Were some of these fans just happy to see a title change in person? While I’m not sure how to read this, I can’t deny that the title change worked on this night and in front of this crowd. Obviously, WWE wanted to send a message of change and this helped accomplish that goal.
Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens vs. Rusev vs. Cesaro: A strong match with a satisfying finish. This was the hotter of the two four-way matches, and it was step one of Balor’s big night. The two four-way matches also showed the depth that the Raw roster possesses over the Smackdown side. I sincerely hope that WWE will be flexible in making trades once they realize that some talented guys who could help the Tuesday night show will inevitably be lost in the shuffle on Mondays.
Braun Strowman vs. James Ellsworth: For the love of all that is good and holy, yes! I want a WWE Network documentary on the life and times of James Ellsworth. Give me a “Jobber Search” reality show so that viewers can see where these glorious specimens of manhood come from. I want Katy Perry to do a lyrical remake for WWE – “Ellsworth, you’re a firework” complete with a glorious video that captures his destruction. I loved seeing the return of a true squash match with an old school jobber. In my mind, there are enhancement wrestlers and then there are jobbers. James Ellsworth was born to be a jobber. I can’t even imagine what else this man could possibly do in life other than take a beating from a man at least twice his size inside a pro wrestling ring. This is his calling and it’s a shame that there is an entire generation of jobbers who never got the chance to fulfill their true destiny. This match is proof of just how useful and entertaining a good squash match can be. Strowman looked like a badass and no regular roster members were harmed in the making of this monster.
Nia Jax vs. Britt Baker: Exhibit Two in the case for squash matches. No one is suggesting that Raw should feature three hours of enhancement matches. However, they are effective in showcasing incoming talent in that the featured wrestler is allowed to showcase his/her key moves. Bonus points for bringing back the gimmick of having the monster pick up the feeble opponent rather than pin her. Will Nia take it one step further in channelling King Kong Bundy by making the referee count to five for her early pinfall wins?
Roman Reigns vs. Chris Jericho vs. Sheamus vs. Sami Zayn: A good match that simply lacked the fresh babyface that fans were desperate to cheer for. Sami is over, but I didn’t feel like the fans were on the edge of their seats hoping and believing that he could win as they were for Balor. Some of that may be due to the perception that this was Roman’s match to win. Even so, I liked the way the heels worked together early on, and there were some quality near falls down the stretch.
WWE Raw Misses
None: Sure, I could have done without The Golden Truth playing Pokemon, but I guess we have to accept that Vince McMahon is always going to include some sports entertaining silliness in his quest to be all things to all people. Neville’s return was a little flat. I hope they have something in mind for him on Raw because he’s been so underutilized and he could add something to the Smackdown brand. Overall, this was a great night for WWE. They got the brand split off to a hot start and breathed new life into what was a cold, formulaic three-hour television show.