Last week’s episode of Raw focused squarely on the blockbuster rematch between Undertaker and Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, and rightfully so. They spent nearly the entire show hyping up their match, while giving short shrift to other feuds. This time the focus is essentially flipped, as neither Lesnar or Undertaker makes an appearance. Instead, this was an episode themed around “First Time” events, such as the first match between Dean Ambrose and the Big Show; the first Raw match between NXT Champion Sasha Banks and Paige; and the first contest between Randy Orton and Kevin Owens. It also built up a number of different rivalries, culminating in a four-star main event between John Cena and Seth Rollins that featured Cena toughing out a very visible injury.
U.S. Champion John Cena defeats WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins: An incredible, A+ main event that saw John Cena endure a broken nose after taking a vicious knee shot from Rollins. Cena was visibly shaken up and bleeding profusely, but fought through the pain and continued to power through the match at mostly full speed. The setup for this match was a little odd at first, with The Authority forcing Cena to defend his U.S. Title against Rollins in order to earn a future World Championship match against him. That meant the conclusion was never really in doubt, but these two gave such tremendous effort that it didn’t matter. These two have wrestled numerous times before, but this was arguably the most entertaining match they’ve had together, and bodes well if they do grapple again at SummerSlam. Presumably, Cena’s injury won’t keep him out of action for long.
Kevin Owens vs. Randy Orton: This one ended in a lousy DQ after Sheamus, who was on commentary like every other wrestler was this week, hit Orton with a Brogue Kick. This one gets points for the novelty of seeing Orton and Owens go at it for the first time, and for Orton looking energized by having a new opponent to face. This was important in re-establishing Owens as a force again, and he was looking triumphant at the end of the match by pop-up powerbombing Cesaro, who ran in to save Orton. Speaking of which…
Cesaro: WWE gave Cesaro the babyface rub he needed this week by having the “Swedish Superman” run in to help Randy Orton, who was being attacked by Sheamus and Kevin Owens. Cesaro didn’t come out on top of the exchange, but he was made to look important by coming to the rescue of an A-lister like Orton. Then again, it wasn’t that long ago that Big E was running out to save John Cena, and look how that turned out.
Divas Action: WWE provided two top-notch Divas matches as NXT Champion Sasha Banks defeated Paige in a clean victory, and the team of Charlotte and Becky Lynch got the tap-out win over Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox. As expected, this was a showcase episode for Banks and Lynch, with both gaining wins using their submission holds right in the center of the ring. While Banks was given more time to show off her personality as “The Boss”, Lynch still remains something of a blank slate. But the “Divas Revolution” continues to be a bright spot for WWE, and as long as Stephanie McMahon sees the value in it the increased attention on women’s action will continue. The crowd has been responding positively, and the chants of “boring” during Divas matches has ceased for now.
The Wyatt Family: Bray Wyatt has found a level of focus in his promos over the last two weeks that has eluded him during his WWE stint, and the return of Luke Harper brought some much-needed gravity to the feud with Roman Reigns. Harper returning to the fold after being “released” out into the world was given the explanation fans needed, and with him promising to “give up his life” for Wyatt it raised the stakes for Reigns to get some help. However, just as with last week’s Smackdown, Reigns’ absence is still sorely missed. There needs to be some kind of response from him soon. Wyatt can deliver great promos when properly motivated, but he won’t be able to carry this feud on his own.
Big Show defeated Dean Ambrose by Countout: This was another “first time” event, although you’d never know it. Big Show and Dean Ambrose wrestled a hard-fought match in which the larger man dominated with his power, while Ambrose showed his maniacal resiliency by enduring great punishment and coming back for more. The match was also helped by The Miz’s snarky remarks on commentary, but the IC Title feud has really ground to a halt with Ryback recovering from a staph infection. Still, this was a good way to make the Big Show look strong in defeat, and for Ambrose, who is drifting a little bit right now, to continue looking strong in defeat.
Rusev: The once unbeatable Russian brute has (as this writer predicted long ago) become little more than a comedy act. No longer does he give the impression of being invincible, instead he’s a comical chauvinist galavanting around with whatever blond woman he can make to resemble Lana. Tonight, he and Summer Rae literally stunk up the arena with a lousy segment in which he compared Lana to a dead fish, only to have her come out and rub Summer Rae’s face in the fish. This is the kind of segment that should be reserved for midcard superstars, or for someone like the retired Santino Marella, not a dominant character like Rusev.
Neville and Stardust: Neville got a 2-minute squash victory over Fandango, but of course the match was really about his comic book feud with Stardust. Clearly, the WWE is hoping this leads to some kind of SummerSlam match that will have Arrow star Stephen Amell in Neville’s corner, but they aren’t doing a very good job of pushing Stardust as a dangerous threat. He’s coming across as a joke, instead. And if Amell is in Neville’s corner, who would Stardust have in his? Perhaps his brother Goldust, making a return?
The Lucha Dragons defeated Los Matadores: This definitely isn’t a knock against the match itself, which featured a number of high-flying, acrobatic spots from both teams. In fact, if this were between any other teams it would be a great TV tag match. Unfortunately it featured the ridiculous Los Matadores and their silly bullfighter gimmick that the crowd fails to respond to. This one also had some truly terrible commentary from the Tag Team Champions, the Prime Time Players, which drew out the presence of the New Day in a comedic bit.
Wrestlers on Commentary: The Prime Time Players were ringside on commentary…so was Sheamus…so was The Miz. WWE is taking what should be an irregular occurrence and overusing it multiple times per episode. The reason why this is a big deal is because 90% of the time it gives away the match’s ending as there will be some kind of interference or distraction. WWE needs to find other ways to get wrestlers involved without putting them alongside the commentating team.