For two weeks, WWE Creative built to a WWE Intercontinental Championship match between Dean Ambrose and No. 1 contender The Miz.
Monday night on Raw, the SmackDown Live exports met in the marquee match of the USA Network presentation, which capped off another explosive episode of the flagship show and continued the restoration of the IC title’s legitimacy.
That prestigious title was not the only one at the center of Monday’s action.
Sheamus and Cesaro will challenge The Hardy Boyz for the Raw Tag Team Championships at Extreme Rules, but The Celtic Warrior looked to earn some momentum for the foreign fanatics as he squared off with “Charismatic Enigma” Jeff in a battle between former WWE champions on Monday.
Cruiserweight champion Neville continued his war with Austin Aries, but hovering like a dark cloud was TJP, who remained a thorn in the side of A-Double.
What went down as the Superstars of Raw presented another three-hour broadcast?
Braun Strowman Update and an Explosive Main Event Scene
Raw general manager Kurt Angle kicked off the show to a thunderous ovation from fans in Newark, New Jersey.
Angle addressed the injury to Braun Strowman that will put him out of action for up to six months. He then proceeded to announce an Extreme Rules Fatal 5-Way match at the June pay-per-view extravaganza.
Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns were announced as the competitors who will battle for the right to challenge Brock Lesnar.
As Angle was preparing to leave the squared circle, Reigns’ music cut him off and The Big Dog made his way to the squared circle amid a chorus of boos.
Reigns took credit for retiring Undertaker and putting Strowman out before claiming to be the only Superstar capable of beating Lesnar. Balor joined the conversation, reminding Reigns that he was the first universal champion and that it was he who defeated Reigns in his first night on Raw.
Joe appeared and said wrestling is about action and result before running down a list of his accomplishments. Wyatt’s bumper aired and The Reaper of Souls appeared in the ring with his contemporaries. He claimed the Superstars would cower before Rollins cut him off.
A brawl between Rollins and Joe broke out at ringside as the other Superstars unleashed hell in and around the ring. Joe quickly retreated, Wyatt cleared Rollins. Balor laid Reigns out with the Sling Blade before delivering a tope over the top rope that left the former Shield mates down and out at ringside. The former NXT champion stood tall to close out the segment.
The housekeeping by Angle was necessary. A star the stature of Strowman does not simply go away without fans wondering where he went and why. The announcement of a huge No. 1 contender’s main event for Extreme Rules was another nice step in that it gives WWE Creative something to build toward.
Unfortunately, the rest of the segment played out like another pedestrian segment in which every Superstar brawls with each other in order to set up some convoluted match at some point later in the show.
Rollins mentioning that he is sure they will all square off plenty before the June 4 pay-per-view was a nice reflection of the manner in which the writing staff leans heavily on tired booking tropes.
Just like clockwork, Angle appeared after the break and booked Rollins vs. Wyatt and Reigns vs. Balor to hammer home the point.
Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus
Two multi-time WWE champions fought in the opening match of this week’s show as Sheamus battled Jeff Hardy in singles competition Monday night.
Past glories were not at the heart of the match, though. That was payback, as Hardy was seeking revenge for the cowardly sneak attack him and brother Matt endured at the hands of The Celtic Warrior and Cesaro.
Sheamus controlled the match, seizing it right before the commercial break and keeping Jeff grounded coming out of it.
The Charismatic Enigma fought back into the match, delivering a low dropkick that netted him a count of two. Hardy tried for Twist of Fate, though, and ended up eating a high running knee “a la Harley Race,” as noted wrestling historian Michael Cole so adamantly pointed out.
Sheamus attempted The Brogue Kick late, but Hardy ducked out of the way to send his opponent’s foot crashing into Matt. The brief distraction allowed Jeff to deliver the aforementioned Twist of Fate and Swanton Bomb for the win.
Jeff Hardy defeated Sheamus
This failed to live up to expectations given the talent involved. Sheamus is a strong worker when on the offensive, wearing his smaller opponents down, and Hardy is one of the best underdog babyfaces in wrestling history.
Unfortunately, their timing was off and the finish was horribly clunky. The result? An underwhelming match that failed to generate much in the way of increased heat for a tag team rivalry that has lost considerable steam since the awesome heel turn by Sheamus and Cesaro at Payback.
Sasha Banks vs. Alicia Fox
A week after controversy reigned as Sasha Banks pinned Alicia Fox while the latter’s shoulders were off the mat, the Superstars battled for the second consecutive week.
Fox capitalized on a momentary distraction early, delivering a big boot to the face of her opponent that put The Boss down for a two count. A Northern Lights suplex netted the same outcome before Fox opted to wear her opponent down with a headlock.
Banks fought back and was on her way to delivering The Bank Statement when Fox grabbed on to the top rope and dumped the former women’s champion over it, her knee smacking off the ring apron.
A small package rollup by Banks scored a count of two, but Fox answered with a Scissors Kick for the pinfall victory.
Alicia Fox defeated Sasha Banks
Both Fox and Banks are at their worst when they have to rush through a bout because of time constraints. This was a fine example of that as the match was sloppy, disjointed and, to paraphrase the great Jim Ross, “bowling-shoe ugly.”
Banks looked legitimately hurt by the late-match spot that saw her dumped to the arena floor. If not, she did a fine job of selling it.
The outcome is interesting in that one would not assume Fox would be beating Banks in 2017, but with nothing better for either of them to do at this point, a rivalry away from the Raw women’s title is not a bad way to utilize them.
Whether Banks should be using clean when the excuse of Noam Dar is right there at ringside is debatable, but at least the program continues.
A rushed match and only a couple of minutes of ring time—during the so-called Women’s Revolution—is not at all the way to get over with today’s fanbase, though.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz
Intercontinental champion Dean Ambrose and No. 1 contender The Miz were given the special championship introductions, adding gravitas to a match that has been three weeks in the making.
Miz controlled Ambrose, catching him with his trademark corner clothesline and following up with a double ax handle after turning the match around during the commercial break. Utilizing a headlock, he attempted to wear Ambrose down.
An arrogant Miz fired off Daniel Bryan’s signature kicks, but Ambrose scored a schoolboy rollup that nearly ended the match. A suicide dive to the outside continued to turn the tide in Ambrose’s favor.
The Lunatic Fringe scaled the ropes for a superplex attempt, but Miz shoved him from the rope. He came off and nearly found himself trapped in Dirty Deeds, only to be rolled up. Ambrose continued building momentum, delivering a top rope elbow drop directly to the A-Lister’s face for a count of two.
Ambrose came off the ropes with his trademark clothesline, only to eat The Skull-Crushing Finale. Miz was mortified, though, when Ambrose shot his shoulder off the mat at two, avoiding defeat.
At ringside, Miz slowed Ambrose’s roll by pulling Maryse in front of him. The French Canadian ducked out of the way as Ambrose flew through the air. Back inside, Miz attempted a low blow, but Ambrose caught him and delivered one of his own, drawing a disqualification.
The Miz defeated Dean Ambrose by disqualification
Ambrose and Miz have wicked in-ring chemistry, so even their lower-end matches are pretty good. With that said, this one fell apart a bit at the end, the involvement of Maryse at ringside slowing the momentum they had built and the finish dragging it to a complete halt.
It was a disappointing finish to a match that was so thoroughly and effectively built toward.
The only positive is that it creates a scenario in which Ambrose and Miz will settle their differences at a later date, presumably at Extreme Rules.
What stipulation the company attaches to the match will determine just how hot fans prove to be for a match they have witnessed numerous times since January, across both Raw and SmackDown Live.
Alexa Bliss Addresses the WWE Universe
Raw women’s champion Alexa Bliss hit the ring, presumably to address the WWE Universe and any potential challengers as Raw headed into the commercial break.
Bliss called New Jersey the sweat glands of America and offered them a chance to witness the opposite of failure; the first person to win Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships and The Goddess of WWE.
Bayley interrupted Bliss’ braggadocious promo to a sizable pop. She revealed that she is invoking her rematch clause at Extreme Rules.
Bliss, unfazed, revealed that Bayley will not have an excuse for losing. Bliss claimed Bayley cannot get extreme because she’s a “good little girl” and suggested she leave the championships to the adults.
A fight broke out and Bliss retrieved a kendo stick from under the ring and proceeded to blast Bayley with it across the back, sending the former champion to ringside while the current titleholder stood tall to close out the segment.
The WWE Universe now has an Extreme Rules match for the Raw Women’s Championship match to look forward to.
The promo work here was not always strong, but it again gave the audience a clear indicator of the two characters involved and enhanced the stakes with the introduction of the kendo stick and announcement of the upcoming bout.
One thing WWE Creative will have to be mindful of is the recent hint of boos that have greeted Bayley on Raw. She is the heroine fans deserve, but a complete lack of character development since her arrival—in comparison to the arrogant, attitudinal and charismatic Bliss—has her on the brink of becoming stale.
Freshen her up, give the audience a reason to care more than they already do and all will be well in the world of the Raw women’s division.
Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher vs. Neville and TJP
For what felt like the 1,000th time in the last month, Austin Aries, Jack Gallagher, TJP and Neville shared the same ring as the former pair battled the latter two in a tag team match that proceeded the announcement of Aries vs. Neville for Extreme Rules.
Gallagher launched Aries over the top rope and on to Neville and TJP in the match’s first high spot as the show went to commercial.
Aries found himself isolated from Gallagher following the break, beaten down both in the ring and on the floor by The King of the Cruiserweights and his dab-loving partner.
A-Double made the tag to Gallagher, who took the fight to Perkins and delivered a mule kick to the chest of his opponent. Aries and Neville erupted into a fist fight until TJP clipped the knee of Aries. Gallagher answered with a series of dropkicks and his trademark headbutt.
A brief distraction led to the Detonation Kick from TJP for the pinfall victory.
Neville and TJP defeated Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher
Aside from the effort of the four Superstars involved, not a thing about this worked.
The stagnancy of the cruiserweight title scene was on full display as the fans in Newark were utterly bored by the match that was unfolding before their eyes, despite a quality showing from the men involved.
The lack of character development, repetitiveness and matches with no noticeable stakes have created an environment that feels second rate, even in comparison to the most uneventful angles and bouts produced each week on Raw.
What started as a red-hot rivalry between Aries and Neville has descended into the mediocre and that is unfortunate given the quality of the matches they have delivered to this point.
Finn Balor vs. Roman Reigns
A year ago, Finn Balor made his Raw debut, defeating Roman Reigns to earn a shot at becoming the first universal champion.
He reminded Reigns of that fact in Monday’s opening promo, and he then took to the squared circle to make it 2-0 against The Big Dog in one of the night’s main events.
The physically superior Reigns controlled early, tossing Balor around the squared circle and planting him with a big Samoan Drop. The former NXT champion exploded with a series of strikes and a low dropkick that stunned Reigns. Balor dodged a corner spear and Reigns went shoulder-first into the ring post.
Balor rolled as the match went to break.
Reigns worked over the back of his opponent as the show returned from commercial, delivering his Drive-by maneuver and sending Balor back-first into the ring post. A spinning sit-out powerbomb by Reigns scored him a two count.
The previously injured shoulder of Reigns would not allow him to deliver a big powerbomb and Balor capitalized, delivering a double stomp. Reigns responded with a Superman Punch for two.
Balor delivered Sling Blade but hesitated while on the top rope, allowing Reigns to crotch him. A spear followed and The Big Dog scored a quality, clean victory.
Roman Reigns defeated Finn Balor
Not quite up to the quality of their previous encounter, but this was still a fantastic wrestling match featuring two of the best under the WWE umbrella.
Their chemistry is apparent; Balor the buzzsaw tearing through his opponent with his striking ability, and Reigns being the unstoppable force who withstands everything thrown at him.
Both generate sympathy, but at the same time, they can reverse roles and be the ruthless aggressor. That is a trait few possess, but Reigns and Balor have both perfected it.
The outcome will anger some intolerable fans who think Balor should win every match and that Reigns should put others over every time he wrestles. But it was the right decision and even sets up a potential rubber match on pay-per-view if WWE Creative deems that a direction it wishes to go in.
Easily the best segment of this marathon of a show so far.
The Golden Truth vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows
Before the scheduled match between The Golden Truth and The Club could get underway, Goldust brutally and shockingly attacked R-Truth, effectively bringing an end to their fun-loving tag team.
The face-painted veteran ruthlessly assaulted Truth, attacking him from behind then recklessly tossing him to the floor. He threw Truth into the guardrail as commentator Booker T sat in disbelief, mentioning this is a Goldust unlike the one he knew and partnered with.
“That’s what’s up,” Goldust said as the beatdown came to an end.
The argument could be made that it was too early for this, but the execution was spectacular. Goldust looked like a cold, heartless bastard as he attacked Truth and left his former friend and partner lying in a heap.
A more calculating villain leaning heavily on mind games—not unlike his initial run as The Bizarre One—would be a welcome change of pace and an interesting addition to a roster in need of some quality singles midcard talent.
Big Cass vs. Titus O’Neil
Hometown boy Enzo Amore and Big Cass exploded on to the stage to a thunderous ovation and ran through their spiel.
Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews interrupted, the latter still not quite on board with The Titus Brand. Instead of Crews vs. Amore, as O’Neil believed it was, Cass revealed that the former Florida Gator would be competing against the 7-foot big man.
Clad in a suit, a frustrated O’Neil beat Cass down early until Amore provided a well-timed distraction. A big boot from Cass earned him a win.
After the match, Amore attempted to take a selfie over the fallen body of O’Neil but ate an enzuigiri kick. He retreated with Cass to end the segment.
Big Cass defeated Titus O”Neil
The less said about this segment, the better.
It did nothing to benefit anyone involved, and Michael Cole openly poked fun at it after the bell. A waste of time that could have been better spent on the rushed Banks vs. Fox match from earlier in the show.
Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt
10 of 10
In a company heavily scrutinized for its lack of fresh matches, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt squared off in their first televised singles bout in Monday’s main event.
Wyatt dropped Rollins on the guardrail and seized control of the match as the show returned from the final break of the evening. A big superplex by the former WWE champion continued Rollins’ agonizing ordeal.
Rollins mounted a comeback but ate a knee to the face. A Sling Blade allowed him to get back into the match. A suicide dive wiped Wyatt out at ringside and had The Architect rolling, even if the crowd’s reaction had this writer thinking the third-tier cruiserweights were on-screen.
Rollins avoided Sister Abigail and connected with a kick, only to run directly into a huge lariat clothesline by The Reaper of Souls.
Rollins escaped Sister Abigail again and rolled Wyatt up for two. He delivered a short kick to the face and a Falcon Arrow for two. A top-rope dive left Wyatt reeling at ringside, but Samoa Joe attacked Rollins, bringing the match to a screeching halt.
Joe and Wyatt stared each other down, coming face-to-face before turning their attention to Rollins. That is, until The Eater of Worlds planted Joe with Sister Abigail, leaving him lying unconscious just feet from The Architect.
Rollins’ night came to a similar end as Wyatt knelt in the center of the ring to close out the show.
Seth Rollins defeated Bray Wyatt via disqualification
The lack of heat surrounding the main event was stunning.
Sure, the excuse of the three-hour runtime can be used, but at some point, fans and management must come to the realization that Roman Reigns vs. Finn Balor in that same spot would have been a much hotter way to close out the show.
Despite the constant reminders by Cole about this being the first Rollins-Wyatt singles match, the bout itself did not inspire intrigue or excitement, and it showed in the silence it was greeted with.
Rollins’ lack of development as a babyface, coupled with the absence of credibility Wyatt has after losing so many significant matches, only served to hurt the effect of the match.
The inevitable Joe run-in did not help matters.
And with that, Raw limped to a conclusion.
Credit for results: Bleacher Report