At the risk of pissing
off about 40% of the audience, I just gotta say: man alive, was it ever
cathartic and good for my mental health to see both Jon Stewart and
John Oliver's thorough and air-tight factchecks/takedowns of the
Republican convention, over the past few days.
Every shred of frustration and annoyance I have with the intellectual dishonesty of the Trump campaign found full glorious voice thanks to those two. It's sad that 40% of the audience doesn't care about objective reality, and won't/can't enjoy this or this, because they'd rather live in a fantasy world where -- by the explicit admission of Newt Gringrich and other party leaders -- republicans do not care what facts and numbers say, they will still believe whatever they feel like, because they honestly believe that being demonstrably wrong is a valid "opinion."
Luckily, while 40% of the American populace may be alienated by me/Stewart/Oliver, I've cultivated my own audience over the course of 20 years, and I'm pretty sure that if I got on your nerves, you bailed long ago, so I'm guessing less than 10% of you who are here right now are all that upset. Regardless, let's cut the crap and get to what happened on one of the most incredibly satisfying episodes of RAM..... errrrr, RAW, in a long time:
Brand New Opening Theme/Pyro/Etc., and we're live in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to the ugly new RAW logo tricking my brain into seeing "RAM" every time I see it, the new opening graphics also seem to feature the Illuminati Pyramid morphing into the "A" in RAW. This will take some getting used to.
The new configuration of Cole & The Gang (Corey Graves and Byron Saxton) also have a new home, up on the right hand side of the stage, where the announce station used to be back 10 years ago, or so. No more announce table spots on RAW.
A New Heavyweight Title is Created out of Thin Air. Commish Stephanie McMahon and GM Mick Foley are already in the ring, and promise that they'll do everything in their power to make RAW the most exciting show it can be, week in and week out. But then Steph admits that we're off to a rocky start, because Roman Reigns screwed everything up and singlehandedly allowed SmackDown to keep the WWE World Title. Noteably, even as Steph was trying to heel it up on Reigns, the crowd still kept booing Roman.
Out of nowhere, Steph declares that RAW cannot be without a heavyweight champion, she won't stand for it, the fans won't stand for it.... so at SummerSlam, RAW will crown the new "WWE Universal Champion." Ahem. So much for figuring out a creative or compelling way to split the title, when you can just declare a new belt. I guess sometimes, it's best not to overthink things?
Foley takes over, and says that tonight, we will have two four-way matches, and the winners will have a one-on-one match in our main event. Steph takes over and says the winner of THAT match will advance to SummerSlam against her handpicked #1 Draft Pick, Seth Rollins, to determine the 1st Universal Champion. The eight participants in the mix tonight will be Roman Reigns, Sheamus, Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Rusev, Kevin Owens, and in his WWE main roster debut, Finn Balor.
Foley also adds that RAW is still home to the Women's Champion, but that champion tapped out last night in a tag match, so it is his declaration that Charlotte will defend the Women's Title tonight against Sasha Banks. Well, that's one hell of a busy night we've got in store: two potentially strong four-ways, a women's title match, and a #1 contender main event. A crisp and to-the-point opening segment that does nothing but whet my appetite.
Finn Balor wins the first Qualifying Fourway against Rusev, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens. This is a nice long affair in three acts. First, it's a quick and chaotic opening segment where everybody gets to hit something big, leading up to a trainwreck spot outside the ring that leaves Cesaro as the last man standing.
After an ad break, our second act focuses on Rusev and Owens playing an hilarious game of "can you top this?" as they beat the crap out of Cesaro and Balor. With one of the faces powdered out, the two heels would replicate the same moves to see who did it better. At first, it's a genuinely cooperative effort... but then, Owens gotta Owens, and he started bossing Rusev around, and the partnership fell apart. This allows Cesaro and Balor to get back into the match, and this time, the chaotic brawl ends with Balor as the last man standing, before our second ad break.
Back for a third segment, and we've got Owens ready to hit a superplex on Cesaro... but almost instantly, Balor and Rusev get in on the action, and it turns into the triple-decker Tower of Doom, with Rusev as the base and Cesaro on top. Rusev has a brief spotlight flurry, but then we enter a wild back and forth and forth and forth End Game.
Owen emerges as the first guy to get some convincing near falls, including a Pop Up Powerbomb on Balor. But with four guys, pinfalls can be broken up oh so easily. Owens big run is eventually cut off by Cesaro, who is more or less the star of End Game, scoring big hits on Owens and Rusev, while Balor is out selling the Pop Up. Final moments saw Cesaro swing and Sharpshoot Rusev, then Owens breaks it up by superkicking Cesaro out of the ring. Balor rejoins the fight with a Sling Blade to Owens, and then he spots a still prone Rusev. Balor up top. Coup de Grace hits.
Finn Balor wins his WWE main roster debut, and advances to tonight's main event after an outstanding 20 minute match. Awesome on every level.
Nia Jax squashes a Local Talent. OO does not recap squashes. Needless to say, Nia convincingly showed everybody that she is not like most girls.
Backstage: Tom Phillips interviews Sasha Banks, who promises that she will become the first new champion of the new era. As an aside, the segment is briefly interrupted as the Golden Truth stumble into the scene; they are playing Pokemon Go, and Truth apparently doesn't quite understand how it works, as he is convinced Sasha's neon hair means she's a Pokemon. High-larious? Sure, why not.
Roman Reigns wins the second Qualifying Fourway, over Chris Jericho, Sheamus, and Sami Zayn. Not quite on par with the opener, but not too shabby, either. Live crowd absolutely hates Reigns. They cheer when the heels start the match by teaming up on Roman, and cheer even louder when Sami decides "What the hell?" and joins in. This allows Roman to powder out, to do what he does best: take a nap during multi-way matches!
ZING~! But seriously, he did disappear for a bit, to allow Sheamus and Jericho to build heat by teaming up on the ever-lovable Zayn. Everytime Zayn seemed to get traction on one of them, the other would pop in and put an end to that happy crappy. And then, when Zayn finally DOES take over, and hits a suicide dive onto both Jericho and Sheamus, that's when Reigns decides to one-up him by hitting a suicide dive onto all three. Impressive, but as far as Pittsburgh is concerned "YOU STILL SUCK" Roman.
Roman's big dive gave way to an ad break, and we we return, Reigns is attempting to play the Face in Peril, as Sheamus and Jericho doubleteam him. Zayn rejoins the fight, and that allows Reigns a big comeback, culminating with a modified Driveby, hitting BOTH guys.... but then he turns around and walks into a Blue Thunder Bomb from Zayn for a stunning but convincing near fall. This sets up Zayn for a believable run of big moves, where he gets closer and closer to nailing down the win by alternating between Sheamus and Jericho.
But then, the numbers catch up to him, and Zayn is blindsided by Sheamus while dealing with Jericho. Walls of Jericho. Rope break. White Noise. Jericho breaks it up. Zayn powders out, and Reigns comes back with a series of Superman Punches. One for Sheamus. One for Jericho. One for Zayn. Reigns isolates on Jericho, but Jericho catches him with a Codebreaker for a near fall. Jericho begins mocking Reigns' mannerisms, and actually runs at Reigns for a spear. Reigns leapfrogs it, and shows Jericho how it's done: on the rebound, Reigns hits the spear, and gets the one, two, three.
This whole thing sets up for Reigns to advance to a SummerSlam match against Rollins (or so you'd think), so not only was the action a notch below the opener, but the outcome was sort of a foregone conclusion. Still quite a fine 15 minute match, though.
The New Day celebrate Day 337. In this particular revisionist timeline (in which title histories only go back about 10 years), the New Day are now the longest reigning tag champions in WWE history. So they're here to celebrate 337 days with balloons and the revelation that Booty-O's is now a real cereal that you can pre-oder from FYE. We also get an over-the-top cheesy video package celebrating the New Day's reign; for my money, the subsequent Beavis-like comments about the "package" were way more fun.
Then, they declare that they will select an honorary member of the New Day out of the audience, to help them celebrate. While it's obviously a plant, they do a bit of schtick with "Sonny Boy" that is so stupidly delightful that there is actually a deafening "SON NEE BOY" chant by the time they are done.
But before we can get to a punchline, the party is pooped by Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Fortunately, Sonny Boy is able to get out of the ring. G&A beat the ever-loving crap out of New Day, so it looks like we're brushing their failure to handle Enzo & Cass aside, and makeing them the new #1 Contenders. On their way away from the ring, G&A make sure to stop and harrass Sonny Boy until he and his friend decide to leave ringside altogether. Jerks.
Neville beats Curtis Axel. As the last man picked in last week's draft, Axel is now dubbed "Mr. Irrelevant." Mr. Perfect, it isn't, but a gimmick's a gimmick. Regardless, he lives down to his name, and OO does not recap squashes. Neville looked really trim and sharp, a good harbinger of things to come once the cruiserweight division fires up after the end of the CWC.
Backstage: Bob Backlund pep talks Darren Young, and says that last night was merely a setback, and Greatness still awaits. Another cameo from Pokemon Hunters, Goldust and R-Truth, too.
Sasha Banks beats Charlotte, via submission, to win the WWE Women's Title. As part of the rebrandings, it looks like we may have seen the last of Lilian Garcia. Joey Jo Jo Shabbadoo Jr. is now the RAW ring announcer, and supplies full boxing-style ring intros for this title match.
And as part of my conscious decision to make TV recaps a bit more succinct, I'm just gonna bail on play-by-play entirely. This was an amazing wrestling match: genuinely hard fought, but also well built and laid out storywise, with an electric atmosphere. You should just go find it on the youtubes.
What I will mention is that the first segment features a lot of mat wrestling and submission attempts, and when it starts to break in Sasha's favor, Charlotte takes it out of the ring, and tries to walk off with the title belt. But after a back and forth exchange, Charlotte flattens Sasha and rolls into the ring, looking for a count-out. But instead, Sasha sees the title belt lying nearby, grabs it, and tosses it in Dana Brooke's general direction.
Dana catches it, Sasha starts writhing in agony, and when the ref turns around, he sees this, and immediatley ejects Dana. VIVA LA RASA~! Eddie is smiling. With the odds even, there's an ad break, and we return to a brief heel beatdown. But it's not long before Sasha starts to fire up. One sccary spot has Sasha hit a suicide dive, but she overshoots it, and lands hard. Charlotte had a momentary rebound where she topped that, by hitting an astounding top-rope-to-the-floor moonsault that just shouldn't be legal. It was a thing of beauty, but jesus, it's also wrong to let the 6 foot 150lb woman jump from 12 feet high onto the 5'4" 110lb woman. You didn't see the Undertaker insist on using his Crazy Old Man Suicide Dive against Shawn Mich...... oh, wait. Nevermind. You go, Charlotte. Way not to die, both of you!
Off that moonsault, Charlotte gets Natural Selection, but can't quite get Sasha in the Figure Eight, as Sasha just keeps fighting and fighting and fighting. Charlotte starts to get frustrated, opening the door for Sasha to float through a pinning combo into a quasi-Banks Statement. Charlotte has to struggle, but she gets a rope break. She's also more pissed than ever by the flash submission attempt, and shouts at Sasha "You will never beat me. EVAR~!" Then Charlotte charges Sasha, Sasha sidesteps, hits the Backstabber, and combos directly into the fully-cinched Banks Statement.
This time, Charlotte has nochoice but to tap out. New champ, after an amazing 20 minute match. After the match, the red hot crowd chants YES! YES! YES! and "YOU DEE SERVE IT" as Byron Saxton attempts to conduct an interview. With all the cheers and chants, it's hard for Sasha to get a word in edgewise, but in a special moment like this, you don't have to be a master wordsmith. "I've dreamt about this since I was 10 years old. And now I DID IT." Sasha also promises to pay it back to the fans, by giving her best, week in and week out, to earn that ovation. Works for me.
Braun Strowman beats Some Scrawny Scrub. Maybe Strowman will prove to be a useful big man. But shit like this does nothing to distinguish him from the [redacted] Khali. It's jarring to go from the previous, glorious segment, which is everything that's great about what can happen on a 21st Century wrestling show, to THIS, a reminder of everything that sucked about 1980s wrestling shows. I'd be mroe upset, but it lasted less than 2 minutes.
Enzo & Big Cass beat the Shining Stars. Everything's time compressed about this one, even Enzo's opening remarks. Enzo was the Face in Peril for about 45 seconds, hot tag to Cass, it breaks down into a Pier Four brawl, and then the finish is Goldust and R-Truth sauntering out (and actually into the ring), still searching for Pokemon. Primo or Epico (I don't remember) is distracted by this. Big Boot. Fin.
Yes, more or less a squash, but worth recapping, because, unlike the previous segment, it was a squash with a 21st Century twist. That's not nothing. Right? OK, maybe not, but it made me chuckle. Next week, the dark side of Pokemon Addiction, when the Golden Truth are blindly loitering, and get run over by a bus. Or walk off a cliff. Or walk into a Braun Strowman match?
Finn Balor beats Roman Reigns to advance to the Universal Title Match at SummerSlam. More boxing-style ring intros by Jo Jo. More overwhelming Reigns Hate from the live crowd. This time, Reigns doesn't bother with anything to generate sympathy, he jsut goes straight to the big man bullying of Balor. A very aggressive offensive onslaught, with a new emphasis on headbutts to go with his punchy-kicky. Tide turns when Reigns goes for the Driveby, but Balor moves. Reigns lands awkwardly, and Balor peppers him with strikes, then a big flying dropkick that sends Reigns crashing through the ringside barricade.
That takes us to an ad break, and when we return, it's Reigns in control for a very brief bit, then Balor with his final fire up into End Game, after Reigns whiffs on a Superman Punch. Balor's first big sequence ends with a top rope double stomp, but to Reigns' back (not the gut, like the coup de grace), for a convincing near fall. Sliing blade for another near fall. Reigns greets Balor's next charge with a boot, and he goes for the Crucifixbomb... Balor rolls through into a pinning combo, but Reigns kicks out again, and pops up to deliver a flash clothesline. Double Clutch Powerbomb by Reigns, but now it's Balor's turn to kick out.
Reigns is now frustrated to the point of coming off like kind of a bitch, but he finally settles down, and steps back to line up the spear. But instead, he sprints at full speed into another Sling Blade. Balor up to the top rope. Coup de Grace hits. Balor wins. Balor wins? YES BALOR WINS!
Did NOT see that coming. Solid 12 minute match, but regardless of "workrate" this is one of those amazing moments, on par with Sasha's win, that just make it so fun to be a wrestling fan. In my RAW preview, I said WWE had to do something big with Balor to justify his #2 Draft Pick status, but I was thinking more along the lines of getting dissed by Jericho and beating him.
Instead, Balor goes directly to the main event of SummerSlam to contend for a World Title Equivalent, and it's against Seth Rollins, so it just might be Match of the Year type stuff. Oh, and it will be Demon Balor's WWE debut, I'd wager, and Brooklyn and the entire WWE audience that hasn't seen that before will lose its shit. I can't wait.
Cole & The Gang can't stop screaming about this improbably upset, while Balor and the entire Pittsburgh crowd celebrate as we fade to black.
Overall Thoughts: yes, four squashes, but other than the Strowman one, none really sucked out loud or got on my nerves. And then the other four matches? Sweet fancy Moses, I can't remember the last time Monday night featured quite such a concentration and combination of top notch in-ring action and ultra-satisfying and crowd-pleasing finishes... the opening four-way and the women's match are to be watched and savored, so don't just settle for my recap. The other four-way and the main event weren't anything to sneeze at, and Balor's win? Delicious.
In the back of my head, I'm not entirely sanguine about the "Universal" Title and how it was conjured out of thin air. But like I said, if you don't think too hard about it, I guess I'll deal with the gaping plot hole where an explanation could/should have gone. I'll say this, too: getting Rollins vs. Balor, in stead of Rollins vs. Reigns, goes a long way towards making the medicine go down, too. Who wants to poke holes in the logic of it, when Rollins/Balor is on the horizon.
I just hope this doesn't set the precedent for deciding to invent titles, because SD does NOT have the depth at this point to support its own tag or women's belt. I still want to see that settled by granting brand-hopping priveliges to those two champs. But deep down, I now fear the creation of both the Intergalactic Tag Team Titles and the Multidimensional Women's Title on SD..... oh well, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it.
For now, it is with great joy and enthusiasm that I declare that tonight's RAW receives top honors: a final grade of A-plus, baby!
Your move, SmackDown. See you in 24 hours with that recap, OO Nation!