It’s time to run down the highlights and lowlights of the first RAW in the build to next month’s highly anticipated Money In The Bank PPV:
The matches had stakes….for once.
For long-suffering fans that have been long accustomed to three hour RAWs filled with meaningless time-filling matches, Monday night’s show was refreshing. Five of the seven matches on the card were high-stakes Money in the Bank qualifiers, with only Chris Jericho’s win over Apollo Crews lasting less than 10 minutes. This relatively strong episode of RAW proved just how much better televised wrestling is when the in-ring content feels like it actually matters.
The ‘Phenomenal’ main event.
One day removed from putting his body on the line with outrageous abandon at Extreme Rules, AJ Styles produced the goods again in his show-closing MITB qualifier against Kevin Owens. Owens’ heel mannerisms were as on-point as ever, again dubbing himself the ‘Headlock Master’ and failing to deliver on a teased dive. Telling Cole to “shut up, I can hear you from here!” at one point was also a major highlight.
Both men pulled out all the stops in this 18 minute bout with AJ hitting a springboard 450 splash and Owens busting out his springboard moonsault and a package fisherman buster. While it was marred slightly for me by the expectation of interference from the spurned Club, that refreshingly did not arrive with Owens instead picking up the clean victory. I felt that the powerbomb onto the ring steps, coupled with the aforementioned battering he sustained the previous night, provided adequate cover for Styles to take a second consecutive loss here.
Good booking and clean finishes.
The main event wasn’t alone in having a well-executed clean finish that made sense. All seven matches on the show finished conclusively without distraction or interference. (I’d love for someone to go back and check when that last happened!)
Although the match took time to build, putting Sami Zayn over Sheamus clean with a hot finish felt like a significant moment for the Canadian. Later, Cesaro’s selling of his shoulder, including failing to execute the swing, was marvelous, and the finish, consisting of a quick uppercut/Neutralizer combo, was thrilling.
To the best of my knowledge, no finishing moves were kicked out of on the show either despite it being filled with clashes between top guys. This is something the company has moved away from in the last half-year or so, which makes the silly decision to double-down on Roman Reigns’ unbeatable, unsympathetic superman image by having him kick out of two Styles Clashes on Sunday all the more glaring.
Although the recently concussed Mr. Amore appeared to forget his lines at one point – with Cass on the verge of jumping in to save him – his comeback was still absolutely electric. Even the repetition of the “no dimes” gag wasn’t enough to nullify this man’s bountiful charisma. Having Cass squash Bubba Ray Dudley underlines how high the company is on the big man. If he learns to work quickly and keeps his lil’ buddy in his corner to do his talking, the sky’s the limit for these two.
No McMahon interaction.
Following on from Stephanie and Shane’s segment being cut from Extreme Rules, we saw no interaction between the McMahon siblings on this show. Given that last week’s main event Women’s title segment revolved around them, all I can say is this: long may it continue.
Charlotte’s third hour nightmare.
While I must give credit to her always emotional father for being able to cry on cue, Charlotte Flair’s promo at the top of the third hour was an absolute unmitigated disaster. Charlotte has demonstrated before, on the RAW after Wrestlemania, that she is not capable of handling the heckling of a hostile crowd and her attempts to overcome Baltimore’s dissatisfaction here was even worse than that bomb. Like Richard from Silicon Valley, Charlotte becomes more inarticulate as the pressure increases. Hark at the line: “You’re just….to me….DEAD!”.
WWE pulls a Del Rio with Seth Rollins.
Despite Rollins’ massive babyface reaction on this show and on the previous night’s Extreme Rules, the WWE chose to instruct the former champion to cut an unambiguous heel promo in the opening segment. Forfeiting the natural sympathy accrued by a guy who has been through rehab hell is reminiscent of the opportunity missed by the company earlier this year when they forced the returning Alberto Del Rio into the perplexing Mex-America nonsense, against the wishes of the fans. The company has just exited a program between Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, where the latter remained a babyface, and it was arguably the most well-written main event feud in some time. The decision to go in a more black and white direction with Rollins feels like a huge misstep.
Apollo Crews loses his first match of consequence.
After schlepping around primarily on the C-shows, Apollo Crews finally met a WWE opponent of significance in Chris Jericho on Monday night. Alas, he conclusively lost the weakest of the five MITB qualifiers and botched a spot where he was supposed to kip-up and avoid a Lionsault along the way. Falling victim to a beatdown by Sheamus earlier in the show was supposed to provide cover for the loss, but the fact that Crews was still smilin’ upon his entrance and showing no ill-effects whatsoever completely ruined that. The future is not looking bright for him.