WWE: Monday Night Raw 7/25/2016 Notebook

Opening Promo: The New Era with less emphasis on authority, opens with two authority figures in the ring.

Raw gets new theme music, which is pretty cool. Shinedown’s “Enemies” now serves as the Monday Night Raw theme. In addition to that, there is a new logo, new intro video, new stage, and a total overhaul on graphics. The show opens with the full Raw roster coming out on stage with Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon in the ring. They make two fatal-four ways for the night to determine the main event of the night where they would determine who would go on to face Seth Rollins at Summerslam for the newly introduced (in name only) WWE Universal Championship. I’m not sure how I feel about the name, but a mere day later, I don’t dislike it as much as I did at first during the broadcast. They make the two matches of Sami Zayn vs. Chris Jericho vs. Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns and the match that will open the show Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro vs. Rusev vs. Finn Balor. Finn Balor’s first appearance is simply walking out on stage and being there. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, but as the night rolled on, it became clear that he was going to be a major player on the scene. In addition to these matches, a showdown for the WWE Women’s Championship between Charlotte and Sasha Banks is announced.

1st Match: Finn Balor def. Rusev, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens in a Fatal Four Way Match to advance to the main event of Raw

This was an incredible match from start to finish aside from a few moments where it seemed like timing was off or someone was missing from a spot they were expected to be in. The pacing was hot, everyone got to shine in this match, and overall, it was a perfect showcase of what Finn Balor can bring to the table for the viewer who didn’t watch NXT before his debut. It was a real subtle thing in the end, but I loved how Cesaro and Kevin Owens both tried to break up the final pin of Balor over Rusev, which to me, sold how competitive this match was. I was really pulling for Balor in this one and predicted him in my home as the winner, but I thought it could go in any direction at any time because of how well this match was put together. In the end, Finn Balor advanced to the main event with a pinfall win over Rusev.

2nd Match: Nia Jax vs. Brit Baker

Nia Jax makes her WWE main roster debut and similar to how she was first presented on NXT TV, it seems like she’ll be in a series of meaningless squash matches to establish her dominance in the ring. I get it and it does work, but what it doesn’t do is generate a crowd reaction. If I’m booking Nia Jax’s debut, I’m holding it off until SummerSlam when Sasha Banks and Charlotte are ultimately in the ring and when that match is over, no matter who wins the match, Nia Jax storms the ring and lays out Charlotte. making the crowd think she’s a babyface before annihilating Sasha Banks to just simply be a dominant female with no ties to babyface or heel just yet. This match did what it needed to do, but the crowd was relatively silent during the match. It could have been because of the previous match generating so much energy that the crowd needed a breather already, but I do wish Nia Jax had a different main roster debut than the one that was presented in NXT. Then again, I do have to remember that not everyone watches NXT on a weekly basis like I do.

3rd Match: Roman Reigns def. Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, and Sheamus in a Fatal Four Way Match to advance to the main event of Raw

In a funny note to me, while Reigns and Zayn would be the babyfaces in this match, from a crowd reaction standpoint, Sami Zayn is the only babyface in this match. Roman Reigns also seems to be embracing a more aggressive side in the two nights he’s been back on WWE TV, so maybe we’re finally going to see the end of the forced babyface run and get an organic turn to the dark side by Roman Reigns. As for the match itself, it was a great match overall that like the opening match, gave everyone a chance to shine and in the long run, did what it needed to do, which was continue to establish Roman Reigns as a top guy despite his currently damaged reputation. Reigns goes over in the end and I shudder at the idea of him defeating Finn Balor to advance to Summerslam.

Segment: New Day celebrates being the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions

So, here’s the thing. Overall, they’re not the longest reigning champions. They’re the longest reigning champions of the championship lineage that begins in 2002 when the original brand split happened and then those titles (and their histories) were merged in 2009 at Wrestlemania 25 when Carlito & Primo def. The Miz & John Morrison to unify the Tag Team Championships in WWE at the time. The true longest reign of WWE Tag Team Champions in the overall history of the company belongs to Demolition. In any event, New Day does their usual shtick and brings in a fan that they call Sonny Boy, who insists that his name is actually Sonny Boy. It was funny for a moment, but it dragged on, but only until Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson stormed the ring and took the fight to all three members of The New Day. I like this re-debut on Raw exclusively for the duo of The Club, which should set up a nice WWE Tag Team Championship feud for Summerslam. I also find it interesting to note that while The New Day and The Bullet Club’s Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks have been subtly taunting each other, former Bullet Club members Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows are now entering into a feud with The New Day. Man, one could only dream of the cross-over possibilities between WWE and NJPW.

4th Match: Neville def. Curtis Axel

Curtis Axel, the son of Mr. Perfect and a rather capable wrestler, wrestles in cargo shorts and is called “Mr. Irrelevant” for being the last draft pick during the WWE Draft. Someone please explain to me why he has not been able to be given a run as his father’s son, “Mr. Perfect” Joe Hennig? Seriously, why? In any event, Neville makes his return after being gone due to an ankle injury and this was basically a showcase for his return to show that he was back and he could still fly. I will say that the placement of his Red Arrow finisher did seem to be a little bit off, which leads to his victory.

5th Match: Sasha Banks def. Charlotte to win the WWE Women’s Championship

I’m sitting on my couch watching this match begin and I’m sure this is a throwaway to set up the real showdown for Summerslam. I even remark out loud, “This is going to end in a disqualification.” Man, have I never been happier to wind up wrong as Sasha Banks defeats Charlotte to win her first WWE Women’s Championship, a moment that everyone has been waiting for since Wrestlemania 32. This match had everything you’d want to see in a wrestling match. Not just in a women’s match, but any wrestling match with any sex in the ring. It was hard hitting, it had a sweet pace, there was a nice back and forth flow to the action, and had a number of highlights to the match. Those moments included Sasha Banks channeling her inner Eddie Guerrero to get Dana Brooke tossed from ringside when she feigned being hit by Dana with the title belt that Sasha tossed into Dana’s hands. Other moments included a crazy-ass suicide dive where I felt like Sasha was lucky to not break her neck and the other was an equally crazy-ass moonsault from the top rope to the floor by Charlotte. In the end, a mere ten seconds or less after Charlotte tells Sasha that she’ll never beat her, Sasha hits the Back Stabber and locks in the Banks Statement for the submission victory to become the new WWE Women’s Champion. What a match! I’ve got to give credit to Michael Cole for calling out the Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns match as having work to do to top this match because Cole even went as far as to speculate that we may have just seen the main event between Banks and Charlotte. At this point in the show, I agreed 100%.

6th Match: Braun Strowman def. James Ellsworth

Funny note, I work with a guy who has the last name of Ellsworth. In any event, basic squash match designed to make Strowman look like a total monster. The pre-match interview where Ellsworth basically shits his pants when he realizes that he got signed up for this match was pretty funny. Strowman has a pretty cool singles theme. Thus far, everyone in the Wyatt Family ended up with cool singles theme music besides Erick Rowan. That theme was god awful. Not sure how I feel about the reverse chokeslam, but it seemed effective in putting away Ellsworth.

7th Match: Enzo & Cass def. The Shining Stars

I feel like Enzo & Cass need to graduate to having real feuds with serious teams in order to advance in the team division. These showcase matches are hot with the crowd, but I personally would like to see Enzo & Cass engage in a feud with a serious team. If Gallows and Anderson hadn’t immediately shot into the title picture, I would have found them to be the ideal candidates, but that is not to be at the moment. Anyway, this match features The Golden Truth making an appearing to play Pokemon Go, which distracts The Shining Stars, and leads to an Enzo & Cass victory.

MAIN EVENT: Finn Balor def. Roman Reigns to advance to WWE Universal Championship Match at Summerslam

I can’t believe I am typing the above result because I figured after Balor had advanced to the main event, he’d put up a fine showing but come up just a little short so the WWE could bring closure to the Reigns vs. Rollins story. However, staying true to the idea of a new era and possibly still punishing Roman Reigns for his wellness policy violation, the WWE decided to put Finn Balor in one of the attraction matches at Summerslam against Seth Rollins. The match with Reigns here showed exactly why Balor belongs on the main roster and once again, I cannot discount the performance of Roman Reigns. He did his part to make Finn Balor look good as much as Balor made himself look good through his insane skill level. I do not think WWE will regret their decision to go with Balor vs. Rollins at Summerslam and even if Balor comes up short there, just seeing Balor vs. Rollins on paper is exciting.

Monday Night Raw Rating: 8.5/10

Why? This was almost a perfect show. Everything was booked perfectly and the flow of the show felt like a PPV. What kept it from being a 10/10 for me were the throwaway matches involving Nia Jax, Neville, and Braun Strowman. I feel like there could have been better ways to debut Nia Jax, re-debut Neville, and debut Strowman as a singles competitor. Overall though, this was a great three-hour show and I really hope that WWE continues to keep this flow and this presentation for Monday nights going forward. In addition, I hope they continue the emphasis on the talent that the crowd wants to see and not just the talents that the office wants to get behind. It’ll certainly be interesting to watch Raw in the weeks ahead to see how they maintain the momentum of this entertaining Raw. For me, the match of the night goes to Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte. Finn Balor’s opening match and main event match were both incredible, but the women tore the roof off the place from start to finish and had an incredible match. Top 3 of the night: Sasha/Charlotte, Balor/Owens/Cesaro/Rusev, Balor/Reigns.

That concludes another Monday Night Raw Notebook. Thanks for reading!