WWE heads to the City of Champions, Pittsburgh, PA tonight to begin the new Brand Split Era. Last night at Battleground, Dean Ambrose – heading to the Smackdown brand – retained the WWE Championship in a brilliant triple threat match against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. That leaves Raw without a title. Will Stephanie McMahon rectify this situation right off the top and create her own brand’s top title? Will Charlotte find a measure of revenge on Sasha Banks, who made her submit last night in her tag match with the help of Bayley? Are those two on a collision course for SummerSlam?
Show Open, Live from Consol Energy Arena, Pittsburgh, PA:
The show opened with a recap of Dean Ambrose defeating Roman Reigns in the triple threat to retain the WWE Championship. My gripe here is that they focused more on the fact that the title is being taken to Smackdown than Ambrose having a successful defense. The new Raw theme is Shinedown’s “Enemies,” which isn’t a bad tune. Cole, Saxton, and Corey Graves check in for the call.
Mick Foley is in the ring, as is Stephanie McMahon. He hypes a new era in WWE, but we’re starting with the same old way with a long talking segment. He says he wants to introduce the fans to the new roster, and they all come to the stage. Cole points out some of the talent in particular, like Charlotte and Seth Rollins. They did change the set a little bit, and they moved the commentary team to the stage area, so there are some visual modifications.
Foley says he will work with the talent to bring the best show to the fans every week. Stephanie says that Foley has the authority to do it, but addresses the championship situation. “When Roman Reigns lost it for all of us…” she points out, saying Reigns screwed it up for “all of us.” “You’re not a good guy, you’re not a bad guy, you’re just a loser.”
Here comes the title split, which we all kind of figured was coming. Steph talked about how the show has always had a championship, and by god they’re going to get one. Foley said that the show will have two fatal-four way matches with the winners moving on to face each other in a singles match against Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for a new championship – the WWE Universal Championship. That name is God-awful. And hey, why the hell isn’t Mick Foley standing up to Stephanie giving Rollins a free pass to the SummerSlam match? Sami Zayn, Sheamus, Cesaro, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, Rusev, Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor are named as the contenders. Balor gets a really good reaction.
Steph asks Charlotte to step forward and reminds us she is on Raw and is the Women’s Champion. Foley reminds us she tapped out in the match last night, and she will face Sasha Banks tonight for the championship. Steph hypes the night as historic and wishes the eight title contenders luck as they’re going to get underway next.
Bill Says: Stream of consciousness coverage tonight for you. Departing from the play by play quite a bit here, hopefully. If you like, let me know…and if you hate let me know that too.
Match #1 – Cesaro vs. Rusev vs. Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor; Winner Moves on to the Main Event to Earn a shot for the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam against Seth Rollins;
Winner: Finn Balor
The Summary: Cesaro gets a nice welcome, Rusev a mixed one, Kevin Owens a good one, but Finn is the man in Pittsburgh tonight as they are excited to see him. Cole put a lot of shine on Finn’s accomplishments, mentioning his IWGP championships as well. Rusev has no issue getting right in Balor’s face. Balor and Owens pair off, as do Rusev and Cesaro initially. Cesaro gets his moment to shine early as he takes charge of the match going into a break.
Back live, Cole feeds us some highlights from action during the break. Rusev dumps Cesaro to ringside and Owens chops Balor down. Rusev and Owens focus on Balor right now. Random thought – wouldn’t it be odd if Owens wins here, and Zayn wins the other match? Then what does WWE do with that “last match ever” thing between those two? Owens and Rusev continue to work together, which is strong heel logic and Graves so far is doing a good job playing into it by saying that if Owens and Rusev take out their opponents, then they can focus on each other.
Cesaro fires up and he gets on the Uppercut Train. WooWooW…wait, wrong gimmick! Time for a swing, but Rusev breaks that up. Balor goes skyward and takes out everyone a bit later. Graves is playing it pretty straight right now, not really strongly one way or the other though he feels heelish. He is such a refreshing break from JBL and his “Maggle” authority ass kissing. Balor teases 1916, and hits it, but Cesaro kicks out of a good near fall into the next break. They should protect his finish better than that, especially this early.
Back live, Rusev gets his moment to capitalize but can’t. Balor sets up something but Owens counters with a torture rack into a neckbreaker, then he kicks Cesaro outside the ring. Bullfrog splash but Rusev saves it. A bit later, Cesaro teases the Neutralizer but Owens flips him over. Cesaro lands on his feet and hits his corkscrew uppercut. Swing time, but Rusev kicks him in the jaw. Rusev locks on the Accolade on Owens with everyone else disposed, but Cesaro comes back with a power move of his own to break it up.
A bit later, Cesaro gets the swing then locks the Sharpshooter on Rusev, but Owens breaks it up. Balor comes back with a Slingblade. Balor hits the Coup De Grace and he’s going on to the main event. A strong debut for the former NXT Champion and Cole puts it over big. Graves calls it an upset, then we get a recap. Balor celebrates as the commentary team says he has one more win to get to punch his ticket to SummerSlam. Balor poses for the fans.
A solid opening match for the show, with some good drama between all the players. Logical to have Balor go over in his debut – will be interesting to see if they push him all the way to the SummerSlam match or if they have him lose somehow in the main event tonight.
The commentary team hypes Nia Jax debuting next and New Day celebrating their record* title run later on in the show. Demolition carried the titles for 478 days. Guess it’s all about semantics.
Match #2 – Nia Jax vs. Brit Baker;
Winner: Nia Jax
The Summary: This is really a set-up for Jax to look strong here and put her over as a powerhouse. The commentary team talks about how she’s putting the Women’s division on notice. Cole hypes that Charlotte and Sasha Banks are taking notice of Jax. There’s nothing wrong with squash matches to establish talent, and that’s exactly what they did here.
Backstage, Sasha is interviewed and asked if she feels pressure. She says tonight she gets her shot at Charlotte. She says the new era deserves a new champion, and she’s a boss. She adds that she will make her childhood dream come true, and the fans need to get ready because the WWE Women’s Championship is about to get lit. A true to form cocky promo from The Boss.
They hype that Brock Lesnar will be back next week in Atlanta to address Randy Orton’s comments. That should prove, well, interesting, with all the news flying around him of late. Looks like WWE is shrugging the UFC drug testing news off and going forward.
Match #3 – Chris Jericho vs. Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus vs. Sami Zayn; Winner Moves on to the Main Event to Earn a shot for the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam against Seth Rollins;
Winner: Roman Reigns
The Summary: They recount the Highlight Reel when Jericho comes out, and when Reigns comes out Pittsburgh roughs him up a bit. In the opening salvo, Zayn, Jericho and Sheamus go after Reigns. Cole again notes that Stephanie gave Rollins a bye to the championship match, and in a heel moment Graves agrees with Stephanie’s choice to do so, telling Byron that they need to maximize their investment in the #1 Draft Pick. I think the “fun to watch” line should be banned from wrestling commentary.
A bit later, Reigns took the heels down, then worked on Sami. Pittsburgh still hasn’t changed their opinion of him much. Zayn lured him in and pulled the rope down so Reigns tumbled. Zayn teased a dive that got cut off by Sheamus. Reigns clotheslined both men to the floor to a strong mixed reaction, then hit a big dive on all three men. I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive for a man his size.
Later on, Jericho gets the Walls locked in on Sami and there’s nowhere for him to go. No rope breaks in a Fatal Four Way. Sheamus saves the match with a boot. Graves with a good comment about Zayn’s lower back being damaged by the Walls and Sheamus targets it with the Irish Curse. Sheamus loads White Noise but Reigns has a Superman Punch fest on his opponents. Reigns calls for the Spear but takes a Codebreaker instead. Good near fall. This action has been good in both four-way matches. In the end, Reigns delivers a spear and captures the win. He gets Balor in the main event.
Bill Says: I see where they’re going here – Reigns vs. Rollins for the title at SummerSlam. Maybe they’ll swerve me. But I’m not counting on it.
They hype the New Day celebrating their title reign* and cereal coming up.
New Day Celebration of their Title Reign:
New Day dances out to the ring, which is adorned with balloons and stuff. Woods says their match with the Wyatts didn’t go as planned but for the past 337 days they have been the WWE World Tag Team Champions. We get a little history lesson as to what was going on 337 days ago, including the fact that Booty O’s is a breakfast cereal. Turns out it’s like $13 a box and is available at FYE stores. It better be damn sure I’m not booty for $13. We get a video recap of the group’s formation and run.
They come back live and say they’re going to give someone a chance to join the New Day. They pick someone and he says his name is Sonny Boy. New Day questions it but eventually accepts the fact. This draws “Sonny Boy” chants from the crowd. He’s way over in Pittsburgh.
They celebrate and dance until Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson break things up. Was this a mercy killing of the segment? It lost a bit of steam with Sonny Boy hitting the ring. Gallows and Anderson deliver Magic Killer then rough up New Day some more. They find Sonny Boy, and throw New Day gear at him.
Well, there’s your next tag team feud, and I’m good with it. As always, the key is booking and you don’t want to clown on the Club to establish them as a force. We’ll see how it goes.
Neville’s going to be up next – he’s back from his leg injury.
Match #4 – Neville vs. Curtis Axel:
The Summary: Curtis Axel is supposed to be the WWE’s equivalent of “Mr Irrelevant” as he was the last draft pick. He says they just saved the best for last. They’re tagging on to the NFL’s branding to try and get some cool points, so I get it, but it’s a bit groan inducing in pro wrestling. Neville ends up picking up the victory with a Red Arrow. A decent enough match to get Neville back on track, and I’m hoping they do more with him than they did before the brand split. Maybe he’s a guy who can benefit.
Darren Young talks about how he almost won the Intercontinental Championship, but no one touches Bob Backlund. Goldust and R-Truth show up, playing Pokemon Go and saying there’s one under Backlund’s tie. Weird. I get it’s socially relevant, but does it belong on WWE television? They go back to the commentary team and fed it into a Finn Balor package. Saxton does some comedy that just fails miserably.
Backstage, Tom Phillips interviews Charlotte, who took exception to Sasha talking about pressure. She says she is leading the division and evolved it to what it is today. Too bad booking hasn’t supported it. Anyhow, Charlotte said Sasha will bow down to the queen and she can bank on that. I’d have liked to have seen these promos more developed, but this story runs on to SummerSlam so let’s just call it a step in the right direction. Good thing is that Charlotte isn’t playing chickenshit.
Match #5 – Charlotte (c, w/Dana Brooke) vs. Sasha Banks; WWE Women’s Championship;
Winner: Sasha Banks to win the WWE Women’s Championship
The Summary: JoJo gives us the introductions, and we’re off and running. Pittsburgh’s a fan of Sasha for sure. In the early action, Dana interjects and the official warns her. I get the feeling that Dana will factor into the finish somehow. Sasha gets a backstabber and an attempt into the Bank Statement early on but turns it into straightjacket. Thesz Press from the apron keeps Sasha in early control, but Charlotte takes over. She throws Sasha to the barrier then taunts.
A bit later, Sasha pulls a “viva la raza” in homage to Eddie Guerrero by tossing the title belt in the air, which Dana catches. Banks falls and acts like Dana hit her with it, and gets Dana thrown out in the process. She smiles and waves at Brooke as she leaves. Commercial.
The ladies continue to put on a really good match here. Sasha threw another Thesz Press, then they exchanged strikes Clothesline and drop kick from Sasha, then Charlotte tried a big boot but Sasha caught her and said “I don’t think so.” A two count off the double knees in the ropes. Charlotte came back with a moonsault, then tried a senton but that came off clunky. Sasha came back with a suicide dive but took a hard landing. Ouch. A bit later, Charlotte hit a moonsault onto Sasha on the floor which drew holy shit chants. Two count for the champ.
Late, Charlotte teased a Figure Eight but got caught in a small package for two. Charlotte came back with Natural Selection for two. She locks in the Figure Four but Sasha gets to the ropes to break it. Charlotte dropped to ringside with the hold still applied. Sasha countered into the Bank Statement, but Charlotte got into the ropes. Charlotte tells Sasha “you’ll never beat me” and charges but eats the Backstabber into the Bank Statement. Tapout and a new champion!
Byron Saxton hits the ring to interview Sasha, who is overcome with emotion. She waits out cheers and “you deserve it” chants. She says she dreamed of this moment since she was 10 years old. She always told everyone she is the best, and now the title proves she’s the best. She calls it a new era, the Era of the Boss. She says she will show everyone why she is the champion and the only boss in WWE. Graves says Banks has evolved as a woman and a competitor and congratulates her on her win.
Bill Says: I thought they would save this title change for SummerSlam, really. And I’d have been fine with it. But they went there tonight with the title change, and Pittsburgh ate it up. A very good women’s championship match that was given plenty of time to tell the story and play out. The live crowd went along with the finish setups and were excited for the title change.
Match #6 – Braun Strowman vs. James Ellsworth
Winner: Braun Strowman
The Summary: Strowman has new music, which is weird, and he got a new hairdo. Saxton asked James Ellsworth what he was thinking by taking this match. He says if he can win it would do things for his career. Well, he lost. Simple squash match for Strowman, who won with a reverse chokeslam. Again, I’m fine with this because it puts Strowman over strong. I grew up watching wrestling in an era of jobbers and in small doses, it works great.
They show a Roman Reigns package. Backstage, R-Truth and Goldust are still collecting Pokemons. Weird.
Match #7 – Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. The Shining Stars;
Winner: Enzo and Big Cass
The Summary: Enzo and Cass came out to a hot crowd, and Enzo says that Mondays just got a bit more Raw. He sang a few bars of “Oh Baby I like it Raw” and Cass ran down a list of things he likes raw. The crowd was into it, then the Shining Stars interrupted. Cass and the crowd called them SAWFT
Cass hits the Empire Elbow, but Epico broke up the pin. Goldust and R-Truth show up and are still looking for Pokemons. Primo turns into a boot from Cass, who pins him. This feels like such a step down for Enzo and Cass after last night’s win at Battleground. Gotta start somewhere, I’d say, but hopefully they keep Enzo and Cass hot.
There is a short exchange between Balor and Reigns leading into the main event. They wish each other luck. Balor says he invented luck because he’s Irish. “I’m Samoan. Enough said.” I like the line, but let’s be honest, I just feel like it’s time to end the Roman Reigns Face Experiment and turn him heel. I see Balor being a better babyface right now as he debuts and makes his way along in the early going, but making him work heel just to hope that fans cheer Roman just doesn’t work.
They hype Randy Orton vs. Brock Lesnar for SummerSlam and the return of Lesnar next week.
Match #8 – Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns; Winner Faces Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the new WWE Universal Championship
Winner: Finn Balor to win the right to face Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship.
The Summary: Reigns posted a social media message earlier that says he knows who Balor is and is ready for him. JoJo gives introductions, and Reigns gets another chorus of boos. It’s like I said earlier, might be time to truly give up on the super face experiment. Reigns exerts his muscle early by tossing Balor across the ring, which lead the commentary team to welcome Balor to the big time. Eh, not a fan of that line when it comes to a guy who has been wrestling as long as Balor has, but it is what it is.
All in all the action is fine here. Balor hits a nice drop kick, then avoids a Drive By from Reigns. He leaps over and hits a double stomp on the apron then hit another nice drop kick at ringside. Out of break Roman controls it, slamming Balor for two but eating a big kick then a running knee. Graves had a good line here; “Roman, you can pick up your teeth in section 118.”
Balor hits the Slingblade then charges, but Reigns hits a Superman Punch for two. He tries for the Razor’s Edge but Balor counters into a roll up for a good near fall. Reigns shines when he’s in the ring with good talent – I won’t take his ability to work away from him. He’s working hard here and he’s got a good dance partner in Balor. This is a solid main event tonight.
Late, Reigns calls for the spear, but Balor counters with the Slingblade. Balor hits a drop kick, then goes up top for the Coup de Grace. This one’s in the books. Balor covers for the three count and he will be heading to SummerSlam to take on Seth Rollins for the title. This is a surprise to me, because I expected WWE to go to the well one more time with Reigns vs. Rollins, but they’re not. Clearly, looks like WWE is thinking New Era all the way around with Balor heading to a big SummerSlam match. Or, is it just cooling Reigns off for a bit? Either way, I’m digging it and I expect a bombshell of a match between Balor and Rollins at SummerSlam.
Tom Phillips gets a word with Roman afterward, and he says that he hopes Balor wins at SummerSlam. “If he does, I want him again. I respect that dude,” Reigns says. Balor celebrates and poses to the crowd to end the show.
So that was the first Raw of the brand split era, and it was actually pretty good. Minimal Authority figure drama, and some good in-ring action across the board. A few surprises along the way with Banks capturing the Women’s Championship and Balor being the one to go on to face Seth Rollins at SummerSlam. Corey Graves adds A LOT to the commentary position and is a welcome change from JBL. Even some of the small visual changes and little things like post match interviews were a nice touch.
I think they made a good opening statement with this show that things are going to be different, but as is the case with most things WWE, the test is going to be over time as to how things pan out. That’s what I’m waiting for. Drew will have Smackdown tomorrow night, so I’m curious how that show compares.
We have a poll on the main page that you can vote on tonight’s show, and Drew and I will be by on Wednesday with Ring Rap Audio to talk about how both shows got off the ground this week as well as so much more in pro wrestling and MMA. Be sure to keep up with all things pro wrestling with us right here on Ring-Rap.com.