Lest you thought the New Era was already underway, Foley Claus and Stephanie McMahon were quick to clarify that it really commenced with this landmark Monday night. WWE's flagship show introduced its rebooted roster, a star-studded assembly of A-listers like Mark Henry and Alicia Fox (apologies, Mark and Alica). And similar to last week, possibly as affirmation of programming to come, the ensuing action zagged between lengthy, consequential bouts (Sasha v. Charlotte, Roman Reigns v. Finn Bálor et al) and blue-plate jobber specials in service of folks like newbie Nia Jax and new-look Braun Strowman. So before Corey Graves threatens to out-duel me on his knowledge of 1990s pop-punk, here are the five key insights (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the July 25, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Universal Soldiers
It's not my job to determine how a pro-wrestling promotion should go about operating distinct brands with unified titles. Though my hope, however, naively, was that someone had an inspiration for how to make it work. Instead, we now have the WWE Universal Championship assigned to Raw, a moniker that sounds more like a corporate merger between Vince McMahon and a major Hollywood studio than something Seth Rollins would tote around as a totem of greatness. (And will it really not be Rollins once SummerSlam is settled?) It’s just silly, and a symbol of why the high of draft anticipation has continued to lessen since the lackluster selection special. It’s enough to make me lament Breezedango’s relocation to Tuesdays.
4. Team Bálor
Nevermind my attempt at a Pokémon Go reference; all the buzz in Pennsylvania last night (what DNC?) was over the Bálor Club's Raw debut, in the form of its namesake leader's main-roster arrival and a splashy Titantron display. Now if only Finn's first impression wasn't set up to underwhelm by having him line up alongside seven other competitors as part of a Fatal 4-Way Roll Call. Granted, it's not as if his being in attendance was a surprise. Plus, he's surely saving a more sensational entrance for SummerSlam. But his ho-hum emergence from the shadows felt entirely too matter of fact to qualify as a "moment." That, apparently, was being withheld until his momentous wins against Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Rusev, and later, Roman Reigns—the sum total an extremely contrived bit of booking (and social-media bait), even for sports entertainment. If, a la A.J. Styles, the quick push merely primes Bálor to run roughshod over Raw as a self-interested stable head, I'm in, but I'll still wish his coming out had been handled with more care.
3. Mo Sonny Mo Problems
The IWC has presumably sleuthed out what local or indie talent was hired to play Sonny Boy by now. It's neither here nor there (we assume). The real takeaway from New Day's longest-reigning-tag-champs celebration was taking their eyes off the ball just long enough for Gallows and Anderson to sabotage their little soiree and endeavor on the path to a title shot in earnest. It's great timing for both teams—watching New Day goof around and get by without any serious contention for their belts has gotten monotonous, while Gallows and Anderson needed desperately to reassert their menace after a fairly hokey program opposite Enzo and Cass. All will be revealed soon as to whether gold for Gallows and Anderson is meant to line Bálor Club's coffers, but in the meanwhile, they and New Day can all reap rewards from a gritty rivalry.
2. Banks for the Memories
Bálor’s big statement wasn't enough for ya? How about the Boss beating her adversary Charlotte into literal submission and hoisting the Women's Championship aloft her head? Give WWE credit: Going up against the DNC (and, for that matter, The Bachelorette), they weren't taking any chances of falling off a trending-topics cliff. Ever since Dolph Ziggler energized Jersey with an emotional title victory more than three years ago, Raw's made a point of reserving select feel-good title triumphs for Monday nights. It may do some damage to Charlotte's mystique, and probably could have waited till SummerSlam, but given the dire stakes at play in nearby Philadelphia, it was a nice bit of pure escapism to see a good woman win.
1. Roman Is Burning
Bálor’s win and ascent to face Seth Rollins for the (gulp) WWE Universal Championship was just as telling for the man he defeated, Roman Reigns. Who knows how much of his suspension was a work or simply worked into his ever-shifting narrative, but as loss after loss compiles, the long-term strategy appears to be: stack the deck so insurmountably that when he finally finds a way to climb the ladder, you’d have to utterly betray your emotional intellect to keep knocking him down a few rungs. Or maybe he and his old Shield buddy Seth could make a fascinating tandem to tangle with Finn and his formidable Club. Forget New Era or old guard, because Roman remains the most interesting man on either roster.
Below the Belt:
- R.I.P. classic ringside announce-table layout.
- Sure, the new Raw logo will do.
- Am I the only one who had an opening-segment epiphany that Roman would really look redefined with a shorter haircut?
- So is this KO lookalike a thing?
- Byron feels like he has to pinch himself.
- Is Hulk Hogan gonna sue Nia Jax over appropriating his leg drop?
- Local squash talent!
- Fear Tom Phillips’ beard.
- Even when he should stop talking, Jerico always walks the walk.
- I would have loved to be at the Booty O’s negotiating table between WWE and f.y.e.
- Michael Cole: If you want us to watch the main event, don’t suggest the prior confrontation was maybe “the main event of the evening.”
- Braun Strowman just creamed a perfectly lovely seeming fella.
- Cole is choked up.
- Cass: Stop saying “also.”
- Re: Shining Stars, what kind of dick would have a problem with Puerto Rico?
- WWE taking a cue from its partner ESPN with all the sideline reporting?
- Move of the Night: Rotten tomatoes version: the old take two for Reigns’ Superman Punch on Jericho.
- Sign of the Night: Did that really say, "I'm Here Cause Cena Isn’t?" Harsh-a.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Holy, Morgan Freeman's dreadlocks. Condiment commercials are getting too complicated. Laundry's gotten too complicated.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Um, the entire SmackDown locker room?