Raw rolls into Tampa, FL tonight, and the path to the Battleground pay per view starts in earnest. Roman Reigns made all sorts of news last week when he got popped for a wellness policy violation, but all signs point to him still being included in the Battleground main event in a month. How will WWE build to that match with only Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins as principle players in the story? Will John Cena gain a measure of revenge on AJ Styles for last week’s beatdown? Are they headed to a second match at Battleground?
Show Open, Live from Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL:
The show opens with Cole welcoming us in and JBL and Byron Saxton checking in. Lilian Garcia introduces Seth Rollins, who comes to the ring to cut a promo. He says fans are finally getting the match they “always dreamed of” with all three members of the Shield facing off in a triple threat match at Battleground. He waits out some reaction after saying “So, let me start off by saying…”, then says “the hell with it, let’s talk about Roman Reigns. Hell, it’s live TV and I’m in the middle of the ring with a live microphone.”
He asks for Reigns’ statement regarding his suspension to be posted to the screen and asks the fans to read it with him. He picked apart Reigns’ statement, and mocked about how he had to apologize to friends and family.
“You can own it all you want, Roman, because I own you. I’ve always owned you. I owned you at Wrestlemania last year, and I owned you at Money in the Bank.” He says that Reigns doesn’t deserve a second chance nor does he deserve to be in the main event at Battleground. He proposes kicking Reigns out of the match at Battleground for a one-on-one match with Dean Ambrose “that I rightfully deserve.”
That brings out Ambrose. The announcers recap Ambrose’s win at Money in the Bank as Ambrose makes his way to the ring. Ambrose asks if this is about Reigns, or about the fact that Ambrose has the title. Ambrose says that everyone makes mistakes. “I was friend with you, that’s a huge mistake. You wear skinny jeans, that’s a huge mistake.” Ambrose says that Reigns made a mistake and owned up to it. “As far as I’m concerned, the match is still on.”
AJ Styles’ music hits and he makes his way out. He says it should remain a triple threat match, and proposes that it should be Ambrose vs. Rollins vs. Styles. That nets “yes” chants. He noted beating John Cena at Money in the Bank in a dream match, “so take Reigns out, put me in, and all will be right with the world.”
Rollins objects, saying that this is to be a one-on-one affair. Cue John Cena. He puts Ambrose over as a fighting champion, saying he will fight a friend, a foe, or a fraud, “but will he fight the franchise?” He puts himself over as a 15 time champion and he had his first match 14 years ago today. “It’s my WWE Birthday!” Cena reminds Ambrose that the last time he faced Ambrose with a title on the line he won. “Make it a fatal five way!” Rollins objects, saying he wants a one-on-one match.
Cue Stephanie McMahon. She says she will address the situation, but she wants to commiserate with Seth momentarily. She says that Reigns’ situation was embarrassing, but Dean Ambrose is the WWE Champion. She’s mortified by that fact. She continues, saying that she likes that Cena and AJ are proposing to be added to the match, but “championship opportunities aren’t given, they’re earned.”
She books Seth Rollins in a one-on-one match with John Cena, and AJ Styles against Dean Ambrose. She says if AJ and Cena win their matches, they will be added to the title match at Battleground. “Good luck to you gentlemen, well, except you, Dean.” Cole hypes that we might get a five-way match by the end of the night. JBL rants about Ambrose being champion, then Cole hypes the Highlight Reel with Chris Jericho coming up later, featuring Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
REAX: Surprised, but good with, WWE addressing the Reigns suspension. They didn’t take a “nothing to see here” approach to it and for that I think there’s some credit to be given. Not really sure if the live crowd knew how to take it, but it was well done. Could have done without Rollins doing the “shoot” style hype then WWE instantly putting the tweet up there. Betting that Cena and AJ manage to end up costing each other their matches to set up round two between them.
Cole hypes that it’s Episode #1205 as Paige makes her entrance for the first match. They recap the match between Paige and Charlotte from last week, with Sasha Banks hitting ringside to take out Dana Brooke and hitting Charlotte with the Backstabber. The rest of the ladies for this match get their entrances.
Match #1 – Paige and Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte and Dana Brooke;
Winner: Paige and Sasha Banks
The Summary: Cole made mention of the Special Olympics logo on the ramp, in light of news today that WWE is expanding their partnership with the organization. The match went to an early commercial with the heel team stalling at ringside.
Late in the match, Sasha hits the Backstabber, and rolls Dana over into the Bank Statement for the submission win. JBL hypes that the Boss is back and Cole says that Sasha has her sights set on the Women’s Championship. They recap the finish as the heels sell.
REAX: Sasha is clearly in the spotlight here. I wish they hadn’t pushed her so far to the background recently (aside from her concussion) so it felt more meaningful, but they’re doing okay with what they’re given here. This was moving in the direction of Sasha vs. Charlotte and done pretty well.
Cole hypes that Chinese viewers are getting the show live for the first time on PPTV tonight. He moves on to recap the story between Titus O’Neil and Rusev, with Titus attacking Rusev in revenge for what he said about his family. That match is next.
Match #2 – Rusev (c, w/Lana) vs. Titus O’Neil; Non-Title Match
Winner: Titus O’Neil by count-out
The Summary: Lana asks that we rise and put our hand on our heart to welcome her fiancee, Rusev. Titus hits the ring and goes right after Rusev until the officials can separate them and start the match officially. Titus jumps out to a fast start and gets a quick two count, then Rusev begins to take over the offense. Rusev took a powder to ringside and teased leaving with his title.
The two collide with clotheslines in front of the broadcast position as the referee begins the count. They struggle to their feet, and Rusev charges. Titus throws Rusev into the timekeeper area and slides into the ring. Rusev can’t beat the count, and Titus wins. The commentary team hypes how this is a big win for Titus and recaps the finish. Byron moves on to hype up Styles vs. Ambrose for later on the show.
REAX: I’m good with this finish in that it lets Titus get a home town win and put him back in a US Championship match, but it didn’t pin Rusev. Rusev’s a guy who still needs work after that terrible 2015 post-Wrestlemania booking, though they have him on the right path.
Backstage, Stephanie is on the phone when Kane appears. She tried to get past him but instead he got her to hang up. He says he just wants to be considered for running Smackdown. Stephanie says no one runs Smackdown Live but her.
Miz and Maryse show up. Miz pointed out that he’s been on hiatus filming “Marine 5,” which leads to Kane pitching his own movie. Miz mocks Kane and says that Kane looks like an insurance agent. Kane says that if he were in charge of Smackdown, he would have a problem with Miz not defending his championship. Kane quotes the rule book, and says that Miz has to defend his title in 30 days. There’s that convenient rule again. Stephanie adds that it’s a great idea and books him in a title defense yet doesn’t name his opponent, calling it a surprise.
Cole hypes Cena vs. Rollins for after the break.
Match #3 – John Cena vs. Seth Rollins; If Cena wins, he is added to the title match at Battleground
Winner: Seth Rollins
The Summary: Rollins gets his entrance first, then Cole reminds us what is at stake for John Cena if he wins this match. They show us a couple women cheering for Rollins *GASP!* rather than Cena as the dueling chants ring out. As things get underway, we get a reminder that Rollins shattered Cena’s nose at one point last year.
After some back and forth between the men, Cena starts to hit his trademark offense. Shoulder tackles, side slam, then he tells Rollins he can’t see him. Rollins counters the Five Knuckle going into the break.
Out of the break, Cena tries to get the STF but can’t. Cena starts his normal offense again, this time hitting the Five Knuckle. Rollins counters the AA, hitting two kicks for a near fall. Rollins eats an elbow then a DDT for a near fall for Cena.
Rollins comes back moments later with an enzugiri. They trade shots, and Rollins goes top rope. Cena crotches him there, then Rollins comes back with the bucklebomb for two. Rollins goes for a frogsplash but Cena rolls out of the way, so Rollins crashes and burns. Cena goes up on the rope, but Rollins catches him and hits a superplex then a Falcon’s Arrow. A bit later, Rollins tries for the Pedigree but Cena counters. Rollins goes top rope for a cross body, but Cena rolls it through and loads the AA for a two count. Rollins gets his foot on the rope to break it.
Later, Cena goes for the STF again, and Rollins breaks it in the ropes. He tries to re-lock it in, but AJ, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows make their way to the ring. Cena turns his attention to them, jawing at Styles. Gallows and Anderson circle behind Cena outside the ring. All the distraction allows Rollins to set up and hit the Pedigree on Cena for the win. Styles and the Club gloat at ringside, and Rollins escapes smiling.
REAX: The expected result of a solid television match. Let’s see if Cena gets a measure of revenge later on Styles. I like that they’ve got matches on the show with meaning, so that’s important.
Back live, here comes Enzo and Big Cass to a big reaction. They do their normal pre-match promo. You can’t teach that. How you doin’? Enzo says there’s no beach boy that can ride that wave, because the wave they’re riding is the people. He and Cass will ride that wave straight to the top. He asks for a favor – he wants to see a wave throughout the crowd once the match starts.
Match #4 – Enzo and Big Cass vs. Enhancement Guys (didn’t catch names)
Winner: Enzo and Big Cass
The Summary: The wave starts on command. Enzo and Cass put away the opponents quickly with the Rocket Launcher. More waves. “And there’s only one word to describe you. S-A-W-F-T Saaaaawwwwwfffftttt!”
Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas appear. Bo says there’s one word to describe them, and it’s not sawft. They spell out “hard.” Insert jokes at will. No, I won’t. Heath Slater says they’re back after being away to film Marine 5. Enzo asks “so, basically you’re saying you’re hard.” A scrum breaks out between the teams, and Enzo and Cass dispose of the Social Outcasts. Cass repeats his “one word” line one more time.
REAX: Eh, standard filler segment.
They ran the latest Bob Backlund/Darren Young vignette. They roll a video package highlighting WWE’s involvement in Special Olympics. Back in the arena, Renee Young and Big Show are on the stage with Special Olympics athletes to promote the new campaign.
The commentary team hypes Styles vs. Ambrose for later.
Match #5 – Summer Rae vs. Becky Lynch;
Winner: No Contest
The Summary: Natalya sits in on commentary. They recap the recent issues between Becky and Natalya before Becky gets her entrance. Natalya says she’s tired of being walked on and being nice. Becky goes right after Natalya rather than focus on the match in the ring. She attacks Natalya and roughs her up until officials separate them. Natalya backs up the ramp.
REAX: Good energy from Lynch. I like that they’re working to get a feud going that is separate from the title.
Cole hypes that the Highlight Reel is next, featuring Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
The Highlight Reel:
Jericho demands quiet initially and the fans kind of get riled up to get under his skin. He talks about how his guests have gone to great lengths to combat each other, and mentions how Ambrose stuck him with 69 tacks. He introduced Owens first, then Zayn.
Jericho talks about how Zayn was in Owens’ wedding, and how Owens turned on Zayn and stabbed him in the back. Zayn interrupts and says that he knows what Jericho is trying to do, but he came out here to end it. He recounts that he has cost Owens at various turns, and he says he wants to put an end to their story at Battleground. He mentions the draft, saying they might get drafted to different shows, but he wants to end it at battleground.
Jericho asks Owens if he’s just going to stand there and stare. Zayn says it’s the real Kevin Owens, who hides behind lies. Zayn calls Owens a coward and demands he tell why he hates Zayn. He tells Owens to admit it drove him crazy when Zayn signed first to WWE.
Owens says he has already told the truth many times, and while Zayn might not like it, it doesn’t make it true. He says that turning on Owens was a business move. He accuses Zayn of ruining their friendship. He says that everything they did was with the goal of getting to WWE. “Was I upset that you made the right move for your career? No.” He says that Zayn was furious when Owens won the NXT Championship, and it proves he was a better friend to Zayn than Zayn was to him. He says none of it matters, and accepted the match.
“Whoa, whoa – huge match. Owens vs. Sami Zayn at Battleground will happen,” Jericho says. He takes a bit of a jab at Owens, saying that he will never be as good as Jericho but at least he doesn’t care what the fans think. He says it makes him sick to think that Zayn cares. He hypes the match a second time. Jericho tells them that the fact they got to introduce their match on his show helps put them on his level. He says he’s going to give them, and the fans, what they want and need. “I’m gonna give you the gift, of Jericho…drink it in, man.” Zayn and Owens team up and take Jericho out with superkicks.
They recap the opening segment which set up the matches for the show tonight and the possibility of a five-way match at Battleground for the WWE Championship. They also added the interference of The Club in the Cena vs. Rollins match.
They mention the winner of a giveaway, then The Miz makes his entrance with Maryse. He’s got a title match, but the opponent isn’t known.
Match #6 – The Miz (c, w/Maryse) vs. Demon Kane; WWE Intercontinental Championship
Winner: Demon Kane by count-out
The Summary: So, uh, yeah this is pretty disappointing and the crowd responds accordingly. Kane dominates the early going, hitting a side slam and a suplex. Miz tries jumping off the ropes but jumps right into a right hand. Maryse takes a phoney dive at one point. Miz gets a minor comeback then slips out to check on Maryse. She cries as he nearly touched her leg. Miz carries her backstage for help, and that ends the match in a count-out.
REAX: I’d have rather drank battery acid. I think Tampa felt similarly. That was awful.
They hype up Cesaro and Apollo Crews vs. Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio for after the break.
Backstage, Miz helps Maryse along but she stops and starts laughing. She bounces up and down and says, “acting.” Miz is shocked, then calls it an Oscar worthy performance.
Match #7 – Apollo Crews and Cesaro vs. Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio;
Winner: Apollo Crews and Cesaro
The Summary: They tease tension between Sheamus and Del Rio from go. After some back and forth that no one really cared about, Del Rio hit Sheamus with an enzugiri. That wakes the crowd up. Del Rio heads up the ramp, and he’s had enough. He stops to watch as Apollo hits the sit out powerbomb finish for the victory.
REAX: Can’t tell if this is going somewhere, or if it was just their way out of a finish for the match. The crowd did like Del Rio landing the kick though.
Backstage, JoJo interviews Dean Ambrose, asking if being champion is everything he thought it would be. He says it’s all he thought it would, even though there was no parade at WWE headquarters. He says he gets to work with the best in the company. Steph enters the picture and calls Ambrose the “unkempt, unshaven face of the WWE.” She adds that if AJ wins his match and makes the Battleground main event a four-way, she is one step closer to ending the nightmare. After she leaves, Ambrose says “deep down, she really likes me.”
The New Day emerges to cut a promo. They come to the ring dressed as the Wyatt Family. They make some jokes about the Wyatts and hygiene, and Big E notes he was born in Tampa, which got a reaction.
Bray Wyatt and company come to the stage. The teams bantered back and forth about the power of positivity, with Wyatt asking if the power of positivity will feed the man who lost his job. Kofi says it’s a way of life and Big E says it flows through your body. Woods stares at the Wyatts, and Wyatt asks Woods if he agrees. Wyatt tells Woods he can trust him.
Wyatt says they are playing one of their games, but in this game there no winners or losers, only malice and destruction. He says every knee shall bow, and New Day shall fall.
REAX: Not sold on this feud right now. Still find myself looking for a more serious edge to the New Day rather than have the Wyatts play a comedy foil to them.
They show The Club talking backstage and Cole gives us hype for the main event.
Renee Young asks New Day if it was a good idea to dress as the Wyatts. Kofi says it was a great idea.
Match #8 – Dean Ambrose (c) vs. AJ Styles; Non-Title Match, if AJ wins he is put in the Battleground main event making it a fatal-four way for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Winner: Dean Ambrose
The Summary: Seth Rollins is on commentary for this one. He says he hates to say it but he’s pulling for Ambrose to win. In the early going, no one really gets an edge and we go to a commercial. Back live, Rollins talks about Styles being a hard hitting guy and how it’s underrated. He also adds that he can’t wrap his head around Ambrose being champion.
Cole reminds us what’s on the line as we cross the 11PM hour. Ambrose blocks a spinning back fist, then hits a neckbreaker. Ambrose came through with a backslide for another two count. Styles comes back with a kick and a facebuster for two as JBL says everyone’s embarrassed at Ambrose being champion.
Styles goes top rope but Ambrose strikes, hitting a double underhook suplex. He follows with a bulldog for a two count. Styles comes back with an attempt at the Phenomenal Forearm but Ambrose kicks him and tries for Dirty Deeds. Styles pushes him to the corner and Ambrose flips over. Styles locks on the Calf Crusher, but Ambrose gets into the ropes to break it.
Styles ends up at ringside, and Ambrose hits him with a dive. Back in the ring, Styles hits a Pele but Ambrose no-sells it with a clothesline. Ambrose follows up when he hits his diving elbow on Styles, but momentum rolls them through for a cover for Styles.
The Club comes to ringside to distract Ambrose, just like they did to Cena. Styles tries to take advantage and nearly does. John Cena runs down for the save, beating up on both Gallows and Anderson. Cena jaws at Styles, which lets Ambrose roll him through into Dirty Deeds for the victory.
After the match, Gallows and Anderson team up on Cena as Ambrose plays to the fans. Ambrose gets down off the buckle and moves toward the ropes, but Rollins jumps him from behind and hits him with the Pedigree. Gallows, Anderson and Cena fight up the ramp, and Styles joins the fray. They beat Cena down, then hit him with the Magic Killer up on the stage. Styles lands some more strikes then leans in to taunt Cena.
Back in the ring, Rollins has the belt, then he drops it and hits another Pedigree. He stands on Ambrose’s face with the belt, then yells at Ambrose about how it feels to be jumped from behind. The Club (seemingly forgotten about in all of this) poses over Cena, and Rollins poses over Ambrose and yells “who’s the man?” to end the show.
REAX: So, that gets us right back to where we were when we started the night: Ambrose vs. Reigns vs. Rollins. And really, that’s probably the right move. That match is one that fans have wanted, it’s got some interest, and I think they can get there effectively without Reigns on the show. The match was good, and we expected to see The Club and John Cena since the four men involved do have heat with each other.
I like that they ended the show with some heat on the heels (I think that somehow they needed to do a better job of focusing on The Club as well, small production problem). But, the overall problem for me is that this show seemed to drag. I know I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and in the middle the past few weeks, but this was slow for me tonight. Some on Twitter thought it flew by – but I kept clock watching. It’s not that it was necessarily a bad show, but it was one where things just seemed tepid.
Next week, Raw runs head to head with Independence Day here in the US. Holiday shows always struggle, and I’m sure it will be no exception. I believe that we are only doing an “Afterthoughts” style report next week in lieu of live coverage so we can enjoy the holiday. So, until Ring Rap Audio on Wednesday, look for Drew’s thoughts on Raw tomorrow, and I’ll be back with more wrestling and MMA news and notes later this week. Thanks for following along.