It’s Enzo Amore’s turn to open Raw; he’s still shucking and jiving despite all the beatings and emotional turmoil he’s been through, but he’s all fired up and ready to tear Big Cass a new one. He jumps Cass backstage immediately after this promo and they have to be pulled apart. It’s nice to see Enzo get some shots in and, as expected, he’s got the vocal brass to back him up but I don’t really think anyone’s clamouring for an Enzo single push. I’d kind of like to see him segue into the cruiserweight division after being decimated by Cass and assume a kind of Scotty 2 Hotty role where, after about five years of loyal service, he gets a Cruiserweight Championship reign later down the line.
Sasha Banks and Bayley then defeated Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. So, what is the deal with Nia Jax, exactly? She’s rolling over the entire division one minute as an unstoppable, killer monster, then she’s teaming up with Alexa just because they’re both heels? Either have her be the dominating force of the division or make her an enforcer-type; it’s jarring and annoying to do both. As I’ve said before, I’m a firm believer that some heels just shouldn’t be teaming up with other wrestlers (Baron Corbin, Kevin Owens, Braun Strowman, and the like) and should just be rampaging monsters. Oh, also, it might benefit Bayley to be written off for a while so she can have a big babyface return and maybe reboot her push.
Cedric Alexander then pinned Noam Dar within about three minutes. You know, there are more crusierweights in the WWE but you’d never know it from watching Raw. Next, the Kurt Angle makes the Intercontinental Championship match between the Miz and Dean Ambrose at Great Balls of Fire official and the Miz successfully defends the belt against Heath Slater.
Wait, heath Slater got a title shot? How the hell did he earn that? He predictably lost and this was a good chance to give him some additional (and much-needed) television exposure but I don’t think anyone takes Heath seriously in most situations, much less in a random Intercontinental Championship match. Also…what, exactly, is Heath Slater’s finisher or signature move of choice?
After airing edited footage of last week’s attack, Goldust is attacked by R-Truth. This is a good look for R-Truth, who has been languishing in a comedic role for, what? Nearly ten years? Remember when he was NWA Champion in TNA back in the day? Hopefully this feud re-establishes R-Truth for one last run as a serious competitor; as with others, I could see him spicing up the Intercontinental Championship scene given half the chance.
Next up, Seth Rollins takes out Curt Hawkins…again…in under twenty seconds. Even in a squash match that Kingslayer looks daft with its elaborate lock-up set-up. Afterwards, just like last week, Rollins talks down Bray Wyatt and vows to expose him as a fraud. Well, sorry Seth, I think that’s already been conclusively proven by John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Randy Orton.
Afterwards, Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar get a sit-down, split-screen interview segment where Joe, sick of talking and Lesnar’s bullshit, storms out and goes looking for him. There’s a great moment where Kurt Angle steps in to stop him and they have a neat exchange in a subtle call-back to their wars in TNA. After that, Neville tapped out Mustafa Ali to remind everyone why he’s the dominant Cruiserweight Champion and give him the momentum heading into Great Balls of Fire.
Bray Wyatt then rants in the desert about how, no, he’s gonna win at Great Balls of Fire. Whatever. Far more interesting was the match between Finn Balor and Cesaro; after Elias Samson interferes and Sheamus keeps getting involved, the Hardy Boys come out to even the odds and allow Finn to take the win. This match was purely to further the Cesaro/Sheamus/Hardy Boys feud and the developing animosity between Finn and the Drifter. It’s not great to see Cesaro lose a match but he always puts on a great show and losing to the former (and first-ever) Universal Champion isn’t exactly a bad look for him but I’d much rather Finn had pinned Sheamus as who the hell cares about Sheamus losing matches these days?
Next, Braun Strowman turns himself into a bona fide meme in his match against Apollo Crews; there’s a point where Crews goes for a standing moonsault, only for Strowman to mule kick him in mid-air and send him flying across the ring. Crews took a bad landing but it was an awesome spot and made Braun look not just like a massive bad-ass but also a smart one, at that! Braun obviously went on to win the match and attack both Crews and Titus O’Neil. Roman Reigns turns up, though, and pays Braun back for last week by spearing him off the stage. Say what you will about this feud but the physicality and the intensity behind it has escalated wonderfully over the last few weeks. Whether the match will deliver or not is another thing entirely as these two seem to work better together in short, violent bursts than in six-to-ten-minute matches.
Oh my God, it’s John CeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeNAH! So yeah, free agent John Cena comes out and insists that he’s not a part-time performer in a pretty lame explanation of why he’s abandoning his Blue Brand exclusivity to be the only competitor able to float between both shows. Man, this new brand split has really fallen apart quickly! Anyway, Rusev finally makes his big return and sets up a Flag Match with Cena at Battleground. So…Rusev went from flirting with a face turn, to demanding a WWE Championship match, to utter silence, and now he’s right back to fighting John Cena again in a match he cannot win. It’s too bad for Rusev; his injury potentially cost him the heel role that Jinder Mahal now has and the issues with Lana about a year or so ago seem to have really stunted the push he once have. Hopefully Cena does him a favour and helps him to re-establish himself on SmackDown! Live.
Next up, the strange separation of one of SmackDown! Live’s top-tier tag teams continued as Chad Gable lost, following a valiant effort and an impressive showing, to AJ Styles. This win allowed Style to progress into the United States Championship battle royale later in the show and, while such a role would have been good for Gable to inhabit as it would help solidify him as a singles guy (if that is what’s happening) but, honestly, the United States Championship scene needs guys like Styles to be involved to help elevate the belt and being in the ring with Styles gives Gable a rub either way.
After some seeds of tension are planted between Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley, Carmella comes out to gloat about how she is once again Miss Money in the Bank. Daniel Bryan then comes out and bars, fines, and suspends James Ellsworth; well, that’s something, at least. Then, because the WWE hates Lana and apparently like to make the SmackDown! Women’s Champion look lame by having her (Naomi, by the way) tap out Lana in about five seconds.
The New Day faced the Usos in a rap battle…anyway, Randy Orton punked out Aiden English by RKOing him and then getting himself disqualified for taking it too far in their subsequent match. This was purely to remind us all that Orton is an unhinged bad-ass when he wants to be and more than capable of getting extreme; this is good news and it will mean that much more when Mahal defeats him at Battleground and, hopefully, uses the momentum to face a new challenger.
The main event of the show was the battle royale to determine the number one contender to the United States Championship, with champion Kevin Owens on commentary. During the match, Mojo eliminated his partner, though not in a heel-ish way; instead, he did it in that kind of “c’mon, bro, it’s every man for himself” kind of way but, still, the dissention is being sown, that’s for sure. Despite a valiant effort by Sami, the winner was AJ Styles, who then promptly fought off Owens’ post-match attack. Sure, yes, it would’ve been nice to see Luke Harper, Tye Dillinger, or Zayn get the win and the push towards the belt but, as I said before, the feud and matches between Styles and Owens should help to reignite interest and prestige in the belt. If former WWE Champion and much-lauded journeyman AJ Styles fights for and holds the United States Championship, the belt looks better by association. He could then go on to defend it in fantastic matches against a variety of opponents and whoever beats him would get a pretty decent rub.
Why is this a pay-per-view name? What’s wrong with bringing back Unforgiven or Armageddon or, hell, even the Great American Bash?
Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass
It’s a bad time to be Enzo Amore. The WWE has been pretty high on pushing Big Cass for a while now and, clearly, there’s only room for one in that scenario. Cass is developing pretty well on the mic, too; he’ll probably never have Enzo’s natural charisma but he should be more than capable in the big-man, bad-ass role. The only issue I have is that Cass is surely going to be lost in the shuffle on Raw, a brand that already has big-name bad-asses in Brock Lesnar, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, and even Roman Reign, Sheamus, and Cesaro. I’m sure that Cass, who will obviously win, will debut new music and, hopefully, switch back to being just “Cass” in this match, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they face each other again a few more times before Cass is ready to break off towards other, bigger things.
Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins
Anyone could call this: Seth Rollins, for sure. But, let’s pretend for a moment that the WWE has been listening to me. There’s a chance that Wyatt may get some assistance from some new recruits and take the win, form a new Wyatt Family, and go on a tear towards the main event. But, of course, that just won’t happen; the main event scene is too cluttered and the time is just not right. Arguably, it probably won’t be for Wyatt for quite a while now.
Ambulance Match: Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns
Reigns handed Strowman his first-ever pinfall loss in the early stages of his feud and, luckily, Strowman has managed to maintain his mystique and looks strong. People like to compare Reigns to Cena but a loss to Reigns doesn’t send you careening down the card in a losing streak the way it does to lose to Cena (at last that’s how it was a year or two ago). Given that it seems that the WWE want to push Reigns/Lesnar at Summerslam, I guess the smart money is on Roman to win. Plus, Reigns really needs a big win; he hasn’t done much of note since pinning the Undertaker at WrestleMania and I have no doubt that Strowman will be able to retain his heat even with a loss.
Raw Tag Team Championship Thirty-Minute Iron Man Match: Sheamus and Cesaro (c) vs. The Hardy Boys
I’m not a big fan of Iron Man matches (yes, that includes Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels…it’s just too long and boring, people!) but this is a neat twist in this ongoing feud. I think the Hardys are here to help put over new stars and new teams and that this match will establish Sheamus and Cesaro’s new heel edge with a decisive and impressive showing. So, yeah, the champions will retain and, hopefully, move on face new challengers and bring some much-needed life and focus onto Raw’s floundering tag team division.
Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
It’s still going on, people! I know I keep going on about it, and that it’s slightly hypocritical for me to decry long, ongoing feuds and yet still want to see exciting matches between opponents who lick together, but come on, this has gone on long enough now. Raw doesn’t have much in the way of credible face challengers for the Miz, unfortunately; there are far more interesting and different matches to be made with a face holding the belt but the WWE seems to have lost faith in Ambrose. Screw it, let’s say the Miz retains and, possibly, the feud continues even longer,
Cruiserweight Championship Match: Neville vs. Akira Tozawa
Hey, it’s that much-hyped confrontation we’ve all been waiting for! Remind me again, is Tozawa a face given that he’s part of heel Titus O’Neil’s Titus Worldwide brand and facing the heel’s-heel, Neville? I don’t think this has had enough build for Tozawa to win and, if he does, who does he face? There’s no credible challengers lined up as the WWE only focuses on a handful of cruiserweights at any one time. So I reckon Neville will retain and, maybe, lose the belt in some kind of clusterfuck cruiserweight open at Summerslam.
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks
Another match I don’t care much about or have much opinion or comment on. Let’s say the game of hot potato continues and Sasha wins so she can face super-heel-monster Nia Jax.
Universal Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Samoa Joe
And here we are, the dream clash between two legitimate bad-ass titan. The build has been short but intense, with Joe taking on a pure heel role and Lesnar being forced into more of a tweener/face role. Will the match deliver, though, that’s the question? Will Lesnar pull his finger out of his ass and go twenty minutes or more with Joe and give us the hard-hitting, brutal match we should expect from these two? Unfortunately for Joe, the WWE seems dead-set on Roman toppling Lesnar at Summerslam so it’s gonna have to be Lesnar for the win.