Pro Wrestling

15 Ways Raw Was A Good First Step In A New Direction Source:

It’s official, the new WWE Brand Extension is underway, as the rosters are split, completely cut off from each other, with absolutely no crossing over between brands. Except for that Brock Lesnar-Randy Orton match at SummerSlam. Anyway, with a brand split comes new opportunities for changes, and the first Raw of this new era did not disappoint in that respect. Over the course of the night, we saw a new look for the show, new wrestlers, new stories, a brand new title to fight for, and even a new Champion. We won’t keep you in suspense any further, let’s look at what went down on an incredibly packed episode of Raw!

15. A New Coat Of Paint

Let’s be realistic, the “new” Raw set isn’t that much different from the old Raw set, for obvious reasons. WWE already invested in all those interchangeable HD screens for a reason, they’re not going to suddenly ditch them all and make a completely new set. However, we do appreciate the little touches, like bringing back the red ring ropes, adding a few new screens to change the shape of the entrance way, and taking the graphics back to the more “industrial” style that Raw rose to prominence with, as opposed to the slick, Hollywood-style visuals that have dominated the show in recent years. And while moving the announce table back up to the ramp isn’t really a huge deal, it works as a sign of change, just like when they did it the first time after the original brand split. It’s not so much important that WWE changes the entire looks of both Raw and Smackdown, just that they make the two brands distinct, and while we’ll have to wait and see what Smackdown does, Raw definitely did a decent job of making the show feel a little more unique. Source:

14. A Brief History Of The Universe

That’s right, we’re starting off with a history lesson. Pay attention, it won’t take long, and it will all make sense later. In the beginning, there was nothing…no, we’re just kidding, we’re not talking about the actual universe here, but the universe as it relates to professional wrestling. Back in the 80’s, Mid-South Wrestling promoter Bill Watts (you may have heard his name pop up in discussion of wrestling history, and not always in complimentary ways) wanted to take his organization national, in order to compete with the juggernauts of the industry, Jim Crockett Promotions (which would become WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation, which was on the cusp of reinventing Pay Per View with WrestleMania. To that end, in order to change the perspective of his company from a regional territory to a national contender, he re-named it the Universal Wrestling Federation. His reason for choosing that particular name? Why, because the universe is bigger than the world, of course, which in Watts’ eyes (and, he hoped, the eyes of the wrestling audience) meant that his wrestling organization was bigger and better than the “World” Wrestling Federation. Source:

13. We Told You That Story To Tell You This One

So, in the more modern era of wrestling, obviously, the UWF failed miserably (although it was actually a decent, fairly well-run promotion, a crash in the oil market destroyed it financially), and WWE is basically all that’s left. And with the newly revived brand extension, the company has once again decided to compete with itself, since the prevailing wisdom ever since WCW went under is that WWE is only motivated by competition. And while, ostensibly, WWE should treat the brands somewhat equally because they own both of them and should want to see them both succeed, every wrestling fan knows that Raw is the flagship show and when the rubber meets the road, Smackdown always comes second. And when Dean Ambrose walked out of Battleground with the WWE Championship, making it exclusive to Smackdown, we should have probably guessed that WWE would come up with something to re-establish Raw as the dominant brand, which is why we’re not entirely shocked that Raw’s new World title is actually the WWE Universal Championship. And while Mick Foley might stand there and tell fans that WWE only named it that as a tribute to the “WWE Universe”, deep down, he knows the real reason, just like we do. It’s because the Universe is bigger than the World, and don’t you ever forget it. Source:

12. Eight Guys And Sheamus

The first order of business beyond announced the new Universal title was to identify the top contenders, which instantly become Raw’s de facto main event players. We’re pretty sure you could look at a list of the current Raw roster and name them without our help, but here they are anyway: Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Finn Balor, Rusev, and Sheamus. Obviously, Sheamus is really getting screwed in this deal, because he pretty much stands out as “heel who takes the loss”, but in any event, it’s actually a pretty good main event scene, with seven guys who spent significant time in WWE’s developmental system (if not necessarily NXT, but still, basically a win for them), plus the veteran Jericho, who probably won’t be around much longer anyway. Throw in Brock Lesnar whenever he deigns to appear, and that’s a strong group to start with. Of course, when Seth gets to skip the line right to the title match at SummerSlam (which, honestly, is totally justifiable, because Rollins didn’t lose the title match at Battleground), we’re pretty sure everyone had the same idea who his opponent would probably be. But hey, the night was still young. Source:

11. Finn Balor Arrives

We’re pretty sure you couldn’t put any combination of Cesaro, Rusev, Kevin Owens, and Finn Balor in a ring and not have a good match, so putting all four in the ring is clearly a recipe for the best match of the new Raw era right off the bat (a record it would hold for roughly an hour and a half, but we’ll get there). Everyone got their chance to shine, from Kevin Owens being smart and temporarily aligning with Rusev to take out the competition, to Cesaro doing Cesaro things (while the announce team highlighted his new direction of disgust with how his career has progressed, in case anyone still thought it wasn’t planned out ahead of time), to Rusev just absolutely dominating stretches of the match. And then there was Finn Balor, who at 5’11” and 190 pounds would normally be considered destined for Raw’s new Cruiserweight division. Fortunately, it looks like that won’t be his fate, as this first match was Finn’s “coming out party” on the main roster, showcasing the skills that got him hired by WWE in the first place and winning over the fans almost instantly (including what sounded like a large number of female fans, because let’s face it, Finn is pretty dreamy). Honestly, getting the win in this match would have been more than enough of an impressive debut for Balor, who established himself as a force on Raw right off the bat. But once again, like we said before, the night was still young. Source:

10. Second-Most Impressive Debut Is Still Pretty Impressive

Almost immediately afterwards, another NXT talent made her main roster debut, as Nia Jax showed off her incredible strength in another feature we’ve wanted brought back on a regular basis, an enhancement talent squash. While the Raw Women’s Division is extremely talented, the fact remains that there are still only six of them, so you can’t (and shouldn’t) burn through match-ups by having them fight each other (NXT has a similar strategy because of their smaller roster, only they usually use developmental talents that haven’t officially “debuted” yet instead). One knock against Jax after she started appearing on NXT was that she wasn’t using her size and strength in a way that looked effective, and as a relatively new wrestler, it was likely because she was still worried about hurting someone. In recent months, however, Jax has clearly gained confidence in her abilities, turning her into a true monster that absolutely dominates her opponents with brutal power moves. We wouldn’t be shocked to see Jax as a top contender for the Women’s title in the very near future. Source:

9. Now For Something Completely Expected

So Roman Reigns wins the other Fatal Four-Way match, which was only a lesser match because the bar had already been set extremely high. Looking at the field, however, no one should be shocked that Reigns could overcome Sheamus, Jericho, and a game but overmatched Sami Zayn, because of course he would (thankfully, Jericho, and not Zayn, took the ultimate pinfall, which is exactly the role Jericho should be used in, and he knows it). Reigns at least looked more motivated for this match than he did at Battleground, where he kind of faded into the background, but even a fired-up Reigns still had a sense of melancholy around him. We don’t want to say he’s gotten “darker”, but there was a definite feeling that this was no longer a Reigns that felt a need to play to the fans or walk around with a sardonic smirk on his face. If anything, Reigns was business-like in winning the match, not wasting time in sympathy spots but simply wrecking people when the opportunity arose. Is it all intentional on WWE’s part in order to try and making Reigns a little more appealing, or has Reigns just been chastened by recent events? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but it will be interesting to see if WWE might have finally, at long last, figured out the Roman Reigns that might be worth something. Source:

8. Forget The Past, We’ve Got Cereal To Sell!

Obviously, with Xavier Woods having shaved off his five o’clock shadow, the hold Bray Wyatt had over him has been broken, so the New Day is fully back to their fun-loving selves, shilling for their new cereal (which, yes, is totally a real thing), celebrating their record-setting run as WWE Tag Team Champions (because title lineages become blurred when you change the name of the company, apparently), and even bringing in a fan named “Sonny Boy” to be an honorary member of the group. We don’t want to spoil the magic for anyone, but since we’re pretty sure that Sonny Boy’s friend at ringside was NXT talent and Cruiserweight Classic competitor Rich Swann, we’re going to go ahead and assume that Sonny Boy was straight out of developmental. Anyway, The New Day’s celebration is short-lived thanks to The Club, who are finally doing what we expected them to do all along and going after the WWE Tag Team titles. Now that WWE has celebrated New Day breaking the record, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see them lose the titles very shortly, and The Club makes perfect sense as the ones to dethrone them. Source:

7. “Mr Irrelevant” Seems Like A Bad Career Path

Thankfully, Michael Cole explained that “Mr Irrelevant” is actually a title awarded to the person drafted last in other professional sports leagues, because otherwise I might have assumed it was a completely negative thing that is actually a cruel joke on the recipient. Oh wait, that’s because it is, and it’s also a perfect summary of Curtis Axel’s WWE career. The man is the son of Mr Perfect, with most of his dad’s wrestling ablity (although, admittedly, only a portion of Hennig’s charisma), and WWE simply is unwilling or unable to find a decent position for him. After all, the rosters have been split, there’s supposedly opportunities aplenty, and WWE is even using jobbers again, but somehow Curtis Axel is still serving the role of an enhancement talent, only now he’s got a humiliating title to go with it. Even Heath Slater, who went undrafted, is looking at a better career path than Axel! But in other, better news related to this match, we’re glad Neville made use of his injury time to grow a decent beard, as he looks less like an extra in a low-budget Lord of the Rings movie and more like a serious competitor. Now, if only there were some other actual Cruiserweights for him to fight, maybe a division of some sort… Source:

6. It Took A Year, But They Got There

It’s ironic that after spending most of the last year begging for WWE to put the Women’s title on Sasha Banks, that our first thought after she wins the title in an incredibly emotional moment after a great match on Raw that should definitely remind people what the whole point of the so-called Divas Revolution was supposed to be, which was women having matches that were just as good or better than the men in a prominent position on WWE programming, was “they should have waited until SummerSlam so it would have been on an even bigger stage”. But after a good night’s rest (well, we slept for a couple of hours, anyway), we have to say that we wouldn’t change the result for anything. The first Raw of the brand split needed to have a title change, and it needed to be one that could be a big moment in history. SummerSlam is a big deal, sure, but this was no less an important moment, at the dawn of an alleged “New Era”, in the second hour main event spot (which has come to be known by some as the “true” main event, due to the usual drop in third hour viewership), featuring two of the very best female wrestlers in the business. To have Sasha win that match, and to watch the emotions pour out when she realized that she had accomplished a dream she’d had since she was 11 years old, is something you can’t fake, and one which will live in wrestling history forever. Besides, they can always have a re-match at SummerSlam that will also be pretty awesome. Source:

5. There’s The Beef

Apparently being torn away from the Wyatt Family caused Braun Strowman to decide to try out that new hairstyle he’s always wanted, which is nice. Listen, Strowman may not even be close to becoming a good wrestler, although until he wrestles more than a few matches, the jury’s still out, but there is undoubtedly a place for a man of his size who isn’t completely immobile and has an air of danger surrounding him. Sure, he’s not The Big Show and never will be, but Show’s career is closer to the end than the beginning (or even the middle), and WWE will need a new guy to fill that role before long. While Strowman may not ultimately be the answer, they’re certainly setting him up for the opportunity. Again, it’s the little touches, like actually giving Strowman’s victim a live interview immediately before the match in order to put over how even he knows he’s screwed, or Strowman basically shrugging off punches and leveling his opponent with a single blow, or the visually impressive reverse chokeslam finisher (which, like the regular chokeslam, benefits from being able to be used on pretty much any size of wrestler and still look cool), that helped separate Strowman from the pack, making him someone whose future should be watched with great interest. Source:

4. Pokemon Go Is Officially A Thing

If there was any bigger sign that Pokemon Go is actually a phenomenon, it’s having multiple segments on Raw dedicated to it (and this is the important part) while it’s still in the news and currently popular. We joke about Vince McMahon being anywhere from five to fifteen years behind the pulse of pop culture, but when something is huge (and make no mistake, Pokemon Go is huge), WWE will do anything to make sure that they associate themselves with it, in order to appear cool and “with it”. Plus, if you’re following social media, you already know that a large group of wrestlers are into it (we don’t want to brag, but both Sasha Banks and us are on Team Mystic). Okay, Golden Truth running around the arena and indirectly interfering in a match was kind of lame, but the acceptable kind where you roll your eyes and move on, while also subtly associating WWE with that game that everyone on the planet it playing. Oh yeah, and if you’re one of those people who feels the need to tell the world that you’re “too cool” for Pokemon Go, consider that at least 20 million people are currently playing it, so maybe you’re actually the weirdo in this scenario. Source:

3. Go Back To Puerto Rico!

Apologies to Curtis Axel, but The Shining Stars are the real irrelevant wrestlers of Raw, as several months of vignettes about loving Puerto Rico have somehow left Primo and Epico worse off than when they were comical matadors, because at least then they had a lovable tiny bull following them around that would have guaranteed them a spot on TV for years! It’s pretty easy to determine that the Shining Stars are the low men on the tag team totem pole on Raw, and even interrupting an Enzo and Cass promo didn’t seem to spark anything but mild dislike from the crowd. Also, where the heck was that promo going? We’re pretty sure that Cass ran out of things that he likes to eat raw after eggs, but had to fill time until the Stars’ music hit. Either that or “raw fish” and “sushi” really are two different things to him, which just raises further questions. Honestly, on an incredibly good night for Raw, this was probably the only big disappointment, not only because we were denied the full Enzo and Cass promo experience, but the match itself was short and missed out on most of their signature team spots (all of which involve Cass throwing Enzo at someone), and the whole thing kind of fell a little flat. We’re not worried about Enzo and Cass bouncing back, we just wanted some more of the good stuff, that’s all. Source:

2. Great Expectations, But Not Too Great

Before we finish up, we need to go back and talk about one of the other changes that should help Raw find a new identity. Now, we’re as happy to see new blood on the Raw commentary desk as anyone, and Corey Graves has definitely earned the opportunity for his work in NXT, but we need to caution anyone who thinks this is suddenly going to send us into a new golden age of WWE commentary. Graves was definitely refreshing on his first night, clearly still working on fitting into a new arrangement, and it was nice to go at least one Raw without JBL screaming over everyone else and referencing obscure celebrities from sixty years ago. However, it’s still the same man behind the curtains pulling the strings, and he’s not going to suddenly change everything because he happens to have a new heel color guy. Fortunately, Graves at least seems to know not to interrupt his colleagues every five seconds and can make references that will be more relevant to the current product. However, until he settles in and taking on more of his share of the talking, man, it’s going to be rough listening to Byron Saxton say incredibly dumb things on a regular basis, to the point that you can actually hear his broadcast partners rolling their eyes during the awkward silence that invariably follows. We’ll say this much for JBL, at least he was good and shutting that stuff down before it started. Hopefully Graves will get there quickly. Source:

1. The (Birth)Day Of The Demon

It may interest you to know that Finn Balor made his WWE main roster debut on his 35th birthday, and we’d have to imagine he enjoyed his big day. As we said earlier, even just winning his debut match earlier in the night, over three big international stars, would have been more than anyone could reasonably expect from Balor’s first day, and we already got that. And if you said at any point after the main event was set that you thought the WWE Universal Title match at SummerSlam was going to be anything other than Seth Rollins facing Roman Reigns, you’re either the biggest Finn Balor fan on the planet or lying, and even the first option almost certainly had to have doubts. We have to give WWE credit when they surprise us, especially when the surprise is the absolute right decision. It’s hard to look at this result as anything but a punishment for Roman Reigns, who will miss out on the main event of the biggest Pay Per View of the summer, and while that might be true, it’s also an affirmation of Finn Balor and what he could provide to the future of WWE. In NXT, there was some concern that Balor wrestled “lazy” matches and relied too much on his Demon persona to get over, and we have to say that he put those concerns to bed in his first two matches on the main roster, showing that he does have the depth of skill to be among the very best in the business. Win or lose, when Finn Balor clashes with Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, it should be something to behold, and for the first time in a while in WWE, we just can’t wait to see what happens. The first Raw after the brand extension was only a first step, a tentative beginning, but as first steps go, it was pretty great. Source:
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.