New Era indeed.
With a split roster, the first Monday Night RAW of the brand extension was forced to delve deeper into its characters and stories, providing viewers with longer matches, fresh camerawork and a historic-feeling moment that provided the best RAW I can remember seeing in years.
Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon opened RAW, bringing the new roster out and announcing two Fatal Four-Ways to determine an opponent for Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for a new title: the WWE Universal Championship.
Fighting for the title would be Chris Jericho, Cesaro, Roman Reigns, Rusev, Sheamus, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and . . . Finn Balor.
Calling Charlotte forward, they also announced that Charlotte would be defending her title against Sasha Banks that night.
Rusev vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor
Owens and Balor took each other on in the center of the ring right away as Cesaro and Rusev brawled at ringside. Owens went to work on Balor right away, but Balor powered back with a dropkick that sent them both out of the ring, allowing Cesaro to capitalize and take control.
Cesaro and Balor temporarily worked together, but Owens and Rusev soon worked them into a precarious situation, with Owens gleefully mocking Balor as he and Rusev teamed up on him. Owens continued to target the man who took the NXT Championship from him over a year ago, tossing him out of the ring before working with Rusev to hit a suplex on Cesaro. Both men took their turns beating Cesaro before rolling Balor back into the ring.
But Balor returned with a vengeance, planting Owens who then took a side suplex from Rusev. A rebounding Cesaro hit a flying crossbody on Rusev and Owens both, taking them and Balor on his uppercut train.
Balor regained momentum, countering a powerbomb from Kevin Owens and taking all three men out at ringside before trading strikes with Cesaro in the ring, hitting 1916 on Cesaro for a near-fall. Kevin Owens gained momentum, but it was Rusev who would plant the other three competitors with a Tower of Doom.
Owens hit a Frog Splash on Balor, but Rusev broke the pin. Cesaro hit Owens with a corkscrew uppercut and looked to take Owens swinging, but Rusev hit both men with kicks to the jaw, locking in the Accolade on Owens, only for Cesaro to plant him with a vertical suplex, going for the Sharpshooter. Rusev reversed into the Accolade, but Cesaro rolled over, forcing him to break it.
Cesaro put Rusev in the Sharpshooter, but Owens broke it, only to fall under attack by Balor, who would hit the Coup de Grace on Rusev for the victory.
While it’s a shame that Cesaro was put in a match he clearly would not win, I like the new direction he seems to be going in. I am curious to see what the rest of the year holds for him.
This match was brilliant, full of thrilling moments that got only more exciting as the match went on. The time given to the men paid off, as they built an exciting story that featured a lot of fun moments.
It felt surreal seeing Finn Balor in main roster competition, and seeing him once again battling Kevin Owens was a real treat. He was the right person to win this, as we’ll discuss later.
Nia Jax vs. Brit Baker
Nia quickly and dominantly pinned the local jobber without even breaking a sweat.
This match served its purpose: establishing the dominant beast Nia Jax is without damaging anyone else on the roster like Paige or Alicia Fox. Nia is still a bit green for the main roster, but she is a hard worker whose character will be an excellent addition to RAW.
Chris Jericho vs. Sheamus vs. Sami Zayn vs. Roman Reigns
Sheamus and Jericho immediately teamed up on Reigns while a dumbfounded Sami watched, but soon enough he joined in, because he’s a smart guy. Jericho and Sheamus drove Reigns into the barricade at ringside as Zayn awaited them in the ring.
The two heels once again teamed up on Zayn, who fought back valiantly with a hurricarana to Sheamus before launching Jericho at him. Reigns planted Zayn from behind, going for the pin, but Zayn kicked out, and Reigns went on the offensive, hitting him with a snap suplex and a series of strikes, but Zayn once more fought back.
Jericho went on the offensive, but Reigns launched both him and Zayn out of the ring, wiping out all three men. Jericho and Sheamus rebounded back in ring, teaming up on Reigns once more before turning on each other as Zayn returned to the fray.
Reigns took control with a double drive-by on the apron, but Zayn caught him with a Blue Thunder Bomb, going for the Helluva Kick before Reigns planted him with a Razor’s Edge, which Zayn kicked out of. He hit Sheamus with a Helluva Kick, but Jericho broke the pin. The two fought, and Jericho caught Zayn in the Walls of Jericho, only to have it broken by Sheamus. The two redheads fought until Reigns returned, planting everyone with Superman Punches. He went for a Spear, but Jericho countered with a Codebreaker. Reigns kicked out, pinning Jericho with a Spear for the win.
This was an excellent match, with Zayn the clear favorite to win, but Reigns was the right choice to go over in this match. He was aggressive and domineering, a good look for someone such as himself.
Coming to the ring to celebrate their record-setting reign as WWE World Tag Team champions, plugging Booty-O’s, which yes, is an ACTUAL CEREAL.
They aired a hilarious celebratory video package, and announced they would be selecting an honorary New Day member from the crowd, selecting a man at ringside in a Booty-O’s shirt and girating in the ring with him before being ambushed by Anderson and Gallows.
They demolished the New Day and antagonized the fan, Sonny Boy. It was a fitting way for them to strike up a feud with the tag champs. Anderson & Gallows, when given the chance, are one of the best heel duos in the entire wrestling industry right now. This feud should be perfect for them.
Neville vs. Curtis Axel
Neville started off strong against Axel, utilizing his usual swiftness and hitting a standing moonsault on “Mr. Irrelevant” Curtis Axel. Axel looked to fight back with a dropkick, locking in a chokehold on Neville.
Neville fought back with a surprisingly strong German Suplex before going for the Red Arrow, securing a solid win for his return to WWE television.
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks (WWE Women’s Championship match)
Sasha and Charlotte locked up with instant aggression, the motivated challenger forcing Charlotte onto the match before going for a roll-up. Dana Brooke looked to interfere, grabbing Sasha by the leg, but the official noticed, and Sasha hit the Backstabber, forcing Charlotte into a modified submission hold, like an Accolade and Banks Statement in one.
Charlotte broke the hold, but Banks got the Statement again, slamming Charlotte out of the ring with a double knee. Charlotte fought back once the action returned to the ring, kicking Banks into the barricade and holding her title in Banks’ face mockingly. Brooke joined in, but Banks suckered her into being caught by the ref and kicked out of ringside.
Banks continued to work with aggression, sending Charlotte into the ropes before hitting the knees into the mat yet again, buying her valuable recovery time. Sasha went ham on the champ, dropping her with knees from the ropes and nearly getting Charlotte pinned. Charlotte managed to hit a neckbreaker She went for a moonsault, but Sasha dodged, hitting a wild suicide dive out of the ring.
Charlotte hit a wild moonsault from the top ropes out of the ring on Sasha, bringing her back into the ring for a failed pin. She went for a Figue Four, and Sasha rolled her up only to nearly fall to Natural Selection. Charlotte went for the Figure Eight, but Sasha battled out. Sasha locked in the banks STatement, but Charlotte got her foot on the ropes.
Sasha hit the Backstabber and finally, FINALLY got Charlotte to tap.
“I did it!” she declared to a thrilled crowd.
I’ll admit it: I cried. A lot. This moment has been long overdue for Banks, who has proven herself to be one of the best wrestlers, male or female, in the world. Even Charlotte couldn’t keep the smile off her face as Banks tearfully hoisted the title that has always been meant for her in the air.
Braun Strowman vs. James Ellsworth (?)
This poor jobber didn’t stand a chance. His punches didn’t faze Strowman, sporting a new look and new music, in the slightest.
Suffice it to say, he was pinned within seconds.
His pre-match interview was adorable, despite the fact that it was clear those words were likely the last the poor sap would ever speak. Strowman’s new look is pretty awesome, as is his music. If WWE continues this booking, they may make a star out of him yet.
Enzo & Cass vs. The Shining Stars
Enzo and Cass came out to entertain everyone, and because RAW was too entertaining for its own good, the Shining Stars emerged and cut them off, targeting Enzo Amore early. Big Cass evened things out, but Primo managed to clear the ring, only for the Golden Truth to walk through the match Pokemon hunting, allowing Cass to hit a Big Boot for the win.
Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns
Reigns went right Balor, tossing him clean across the ring, taking early control with his size and strength advantage, driving Finn’s face into the ropes. Balor fired back with an explosive dropkick, using his speed to his advantage.
But Reigns was like a man possessed, ripping into Balor with a series of strikes. He went for a driveby, but Balor dodged, sending Reigns into the barricade.He targeted Reigns’ leg, but Reigns regained control soon enough, continuing to tear into Balor with sheer strength.
But Balor caught Reigns with a kick from the ropes, hitting a running knee from the apron before ascending to the ropes, hitting a double stomp on Reigns’ back before Reigns caught him with a Superman Punch for a near-fall.
Reigns went for a Spear, but Balor countered it, landing the Coup de Grace to go to SummerSlam to face Seth Rollins.
Roman Reigns is definitely in the doghouse, but the real story is not about him. It’s about Finn Balor, who was treated just like the star he is in his debut on RAW. Balor played the part of underdog very well, despite the fact that he wasn’t an underdog in his golden days on NXT.
The crowd loved him from the start, and everything he did felt like magic. Sorry Vince Russo, but the new era is here and, quite frankly, it’s incredible.