This is the first RAW after the Extreme Rules PPV, which marked the return of the Architect Seth Rollins. The former WWE Champion who never lost that belt. He made an appearance at the conclusion of the show just after Roman Reigns had successfully retained against AJ Styles. It was a good couple of months to be AJ as he established himself as a genuine main event talent, dispelling any concerns that neutrals had about his abilities. His performances should have gotten him pencilled in for another title shot down the line at the very least. We’re in Baltimore, Maryland. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: Seth Rollins
He’s back and he’s over huge. The biggest speculation surrounding Seth would be whether he’d come back as a face or a heel. The reactions are certainly that of a babyface. He’s been gone for six months with a knee injury. Seth addresses the crowd reactions and suggested that they didn’t cheer when he broke up the Shield and they didn’t cheer when he won the title. Rollins tells us he burnt all the ‘get well soon’ letters, thus confirming he’s coming back as a heel despite the massive babyface reactions. I’m really not sure how to feel about this because Seth was so popular that he should have been a face but perhaps he feels more comfortable coming back as a heel. But it feels like those six months meant nothing. I personally prefer Rollins as a face because his heel promos are droning and overlong. Mainly because of how they’re written. I also prefer Reigns as a heel and that’s basically how he played the Styles angle, which is why it was so good.
Roman Reigns won’t allow Seth his moment, because he’s turned into a bit of a jerk as champion. Meanwhile Rollins solidifies his heeldom by refusing to fight or even talk to Roman.Shane McMahon strolls down to make Roman vs. Rollins for Money in the Bank. This whole thing came across as quite flat and inferior to the work Roman and Styles had been doing. All in all a big disappointment for Seth’s long-awaited comeback.
Video Control gives us a shill of tonight’s action; Money in the Bank Qualifiers. There’s some exciting stuff on tap but the bizarre one for me is Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles. Surely they’re the top two contenders for winning Money in the Bank. Maybe I see the roster differently to WWE but of all the midcarders those are the two that I can see winning the title in the next twelve months.
Money in the Bank Qualifying Match
Sami Zayn vs. Sheamus
Part of me thinks that Zayn and Owens get screwed out of the Money in the Bank match and wrestle each other at the PPV. Fight forever may actually apply to those guys. Sheamus feels like his moment at the top has gone, although he’d be a perfectly acceptable guy to make up the numbers in the Money in the Bank match. His work in this one is soft to the point where it’s distracting. Maybe he just doesn’t gel well with smaller wrestlers, which in itself is bad news for him as the roster is getting smaller, size-wise, year on year. Sami plays his underdog role solidly in this, using Sheamus’ size to amplify his comebacks. Sheamus eats the Helluva Kick out of the blue and Sami qualifies for the Money in the Bank match. Sheamus looks pretty angry at having lost in the qualifying match for a contest he won last year. The only reason he won last year was because there were no other options and his work since has been weak.
Final Rating: **3/4
Video Control takes us to Apollo Crews who Sheamus attacks because he thinks the New Era guys are trying to replace him. Technically they are, so he’s right to be afraid. Especially after the awfulness of the League of Nations.
The New Day vs. The Social Outcasts
Before the match gets underway the New Day have a birthday celebration for RAW, which is 1200 episodes old. The New Day do prime work teasing the cake splattering ringside fans before the ‘Casts jump New Day from behind. The Outcasts are just three guys now because Adam Rose has been released. The ‘Casts “Bo Train” remains their best spot and it’s better here because Heath Slater is too injured to do it and just collapses before Kofi wipes out the Train with a tope. New Day naturally win. Heath eats cake after the match, the entire cake.
Final Rating: *1/4
Money in the Bank Qualifying Match
The Miz vs. Cesaro
Miz would be another rehash as he’s won Money in the Bank and cashed it in (defeating Randy Orton). Cesaro has sorted his stripper outfit, with an all black suit. I don’t know what happened last night but that black and white deal just looked weird. According to JBL, naming Cesaro and Roger Federer, the Swiss are genetically superior. That’s two examples. The third would probably be Martina Hingis but I literally can’t think of a fourth. This match is solid as they’ve been working together a lot recently and have chemistry. It’d be easy to dismiss Miz’s contribution here but he’s been on cracking form the past couple of months and has justified his spot. He’s not the talent that Cesaro is, not even attempting moves of half the difficulty but he’s good at being a heel, which is a rarity in WWE. Or in all of wrestling right now. Cesaro sells his injured arm in this bout, failing to execute the swing because of it and Miz targets that injured limb perfectly. Cesaro has just about enough to hit the Neutralizer for the pin.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Seth Rollins greets Stephanie McMahon. She points out things have changed and there is no Authority. Mom is treating Seth like a grown up. That is actually a more interesting development than Rollins vs. Reigns. Which is typical of WWE to make it about the McMahon’s. I’m just glad that awful Authority angle is officially dead.
Money in the Bank Qualifying Match
Chris Jericho vs. Apollo Crews
Jericho is covered in plasters due to the horrific injuries he sustained in the Asylum match. Unless he’s winning here there’s no logic in having him compete this evening when he’s so hurt. At least it gives them a focus for the match and makes it feel different. Jericho taking a back bump is turned into a legitimately painful spot. Apollo gets to look good during this, seeing Jericho’s signature stuff coming. Crews is in far better condition, considering he didn’t have a gruelling cage match last night and isn’t a pincushion. They have a spot that looks suspiciously like a botch where Apollo kips up and gets hit in mid move by the Lionsault. Not sure what the intent was there. Jericho ends up taking it with a Codebreaker. This was solid although Crews comes off a lot weaker for not being able to beat an already injured Y2J. Jericho however has a shot at winning a match he came up with the concept for and yet has never won. Which would be an interesting story if there weren’t better winners available.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us to Bob Backlund teaching Darren Young life lessons. “Notes are for kids in school. Adults keep it in their brain”. Darren gets 200 jumping jacks for using offensive discourse (he said “damn”). Mr Backlund amuses me. He’s still entertaining fans will into his 60s, which is impressive considering his anachronistic position as far back as the mid 80s when Vince took the WWWF title off him. Ever since the 90s he’s been looked at as a throwback. That’s more true than ever in 2016.
Elsewhere Baron Corbin has a few chuckles about beating Dolph Ziggler on the Extreme Rules pre-show. Corbin wearing a hat is a good character move because it covers up his receding hairline. Ziggler turns up to call Corbin a “hipster Frankenstein on tranquilizers”. What does that even mean? Add “technical wrestling” to a list of things the good Baron doesn’t care about. He just likes to dish out beatings. They’ll be going again next week. Does Baron Corbin have a ‘Dolph Ziggler only matches’ stipulation in his contract?
Bubba Ray Dudley vs. Big Cass
Enzo Amore is back! He gets a huge pop. Big Cass has done a great job of keeping himself relevant and performing strongly in Enzo’s absence but I’m glad they’re keeping them together as a team. Enzo refers to his concussion as a “hard sneeze”. Enzo is such an enigmatic talker with such a wild lexicon that he’s on his own level. There is nobody like him. The match is a preview of tag team antics although it’s worrying that Cass vs. Bubba is so disinteresting in singles. Cass takes it with the Empire Elbow, which is just an elbow drop. The pre-match promo was way better than the match. I was thrilled to see Enzo back in action. He’s one of the most entertaining men in the business when he’s talking.
Final Rating: *
Promo Time: Team Flair
Women’s champion Charlotte is joined by her Dad the Nature Boy Ric Flair and her new best friend Dana Brooke. Flair and Dana both thank Charlotte. Charlotte also thanks Charlotte. Charlotte has developed a keen sense of heel presence and she draws terrific heat here, on a par with the heat Roman is getting, only she’s supposed to be drawing heat. Here she really goes for the jugular by turning on her Dad, for never being there for her when she was growing up. “Everyone from your generation is the same. You never want to leave the spotlight”. This is a defining promo for Charlotte as she just destroys Ric on the microphone and dismisses him as being beneath her. She’s striking out on her own, although it noticeably the night after gaining new support in Dana. “I don’t need you anymore”. “Get out of this thing, we’re done”. “You can just watch me on TV like the last 30 years I’ve done to you”. Charlotte needed to strike out on her own and make the women’s division about women drawing heat on their own and she did that magnificently here at the expense of her own family. A career defining moment for Charlotte, which establishes her as The Woman in WWE. Amazing stuff. One of the best promos of the year. The overall angle felt a little bit rushed but Charlotte has shown signs of frustration with her Dad in recent weeks after his “kill yourself” implosion of a promo against Natalya.
Money in the Bank Qualifying Match
Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler
The chanting here is revealing. Ziggler getting the women and children chanting his name, the same as Cena or Reigns, only nowhere near as loud. It about sums up his role in the promotion and how WWE have let him deteriorate into this midcard nobody. These two have decent chemistry and wrestle an ok match but there’s a feeling this New Era was required because guys like this were not delivering. Ambrose is good on the microphone and Ziggler is great at selling but neither is the complete package that you need to be if you’re a main event star. They shoot for epic here with stuff like Dean bouncing off the ropes to sell a superkick and rebound with the lariat. I’ve seen stiff criticism of Indie guys for wrestling like that. Does that make this any more valid a criticism for guys on WWE’s main roster who’ve been there for years? Ziggler throws himself around a lot and Ambrose beats him with Dirty Deeds. JBL points out the obvious booking ploy; that Ambrose wins Money in the Bank and then has to choose between his two former Shield brothers to cash in on.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control shows us a shell-shocked Ric Flair leaving the arena. Arn Anderson is on hand to give him a hug. A tearful Flair refuses to comment, which is how it should be. When you’ve taken that abuse you need to let it sink in. Let Charlotte revel in her moment.
Money in the Bank Qualifying Match
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens
This is the most intriguing qualifier of all. Styles is definitely capable of being the WWE Champion but so is Owens. Whoever wins this will be the man I’m rooting for at Money in the Bank. AJ gets a lot of heat for putting over Roman pre-match and blaming the Usos and the Club for interfering in his title matches. This results in an irate Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to come down. “If this was Japan you’d have bought us a round of drinks in Roppongi for having your back last night” says Karl. AJ points out he’s not wanted their support here and that further enrages the big lads. Styles tells them “they’re done”. “We’re not brothers anymore” says Anderson. They leave and the match is on. Rather a flat finish to the Club storyline. Hopefully there is more to come.
Styles crowd reactions are altered by dismissing the Club and his pop is far more in line with the female/kids high pitched chanting that Ziggler got earlier. Men prefer heels. These two have been working the house shows and having decent matches and now they get to put together a match based on what worked. There are some tidy looking counters and they’ve built chemistry. They’re both great anyway but having the warm up matches has helped. They both take meaty bumps and get to show off their move sets. It’s a great showcase for two of the best wrestlers the company has. When they’re exchanging spots like the Merosault and the springboard 450 Splash, you know the difficulty level is above the vast majority of the roster. I love that most of the match is about countering big spots rather than hitting them but when they hit the big spots they nail them beautifully. Owens ends up taking it with the Pop Up Powerbomb. Fantastic match. Hopefully WWE has a plan for AJ Styles, seeing as he’s done outstanding work in getting Roman over in the past two months.
Final Rating: ****
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Charlotte. Without even wrestling she had a break-out night. She’s genuinely one of the top heels in the business and now she’s doing it without her legendary father’s help.
Least Entertaining: Seth Rollins. This might come as a surprise, considering it was his first RAW back in six months and we were all clamouring for his return. Honestly, it reminded me how dull he’d been as a heel. This was more of the same and everyone else on the card tried so much harder.
Quote of the Night: “You know who you are, you’re Charlotte’s Dad” – Charlotte reduces Ric Flair to tears.
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles
Summary: I generally enjoy RAW if it’s based on in-ring and has a purpose. Tonight it was about the Money in the Bank qualifying matches and that worked fine. The big home run from a promo point of view was not Seth Rollins return but rather an outstanding piece of work from Charlotte, which should cement her spot as the best women’s heel in the business for some considerable time. That combined with some solid in-ring and a great main event and this is an easy thumbs up.