Monday Night Raw officially entered the WWE’s "New Era" last night, but how much has really changed after the WWE Draft? We’ve broken down each hour of the show segment-by-segment, and it was one of the best episodes of Raw in a long, long time.
The show opened with a brand new theme song, bringing an end to The Night’s four-year reign. "Enemies" by Shinedown is the new theme of a new-look Raw, which also has a new logo and a new color commentator in Corey Graves. The commentators’ desk has been moved from ringside to the stage, which sadly should mean fewer wrestlers are going through tables.
Raw GM Mick Foley and commissioner Stephanie McMahon brought out the entire Raw roster to the stage, and McMahon blasted Reigns for "costing" Raw the WWE Championship by being pinned the night before at Battleground.
Savage. Foley and McMahon announced that WWE is introducing a new Universal Championship for Raw, and set up two Fatal Four-Way matches to feed into a main event and an eventual title match at SummerSlam against Seth Rollins. Foley also announced that Women’s Champion Charlotte would have to defend her title later in the show against Sasha Banks.
As far as talking-segments-to-open-the-show go, this one set up some exciting matches to come and made it clear that we’ve officially stepped into the New Era. Many viewers aren’t huge fans of the "Universal Championship" name, though, and we still don’t know what the belt looks like.
In the opening Fatal Four-Way match, Kevin Owens, Rusev and Cesaro wecolmed Finn Balor, who made his official WWE main roster debut on his 35th birthday after being drafted third overall last week. Balor didn’t quite get a Bayley-level pop from the crowd in Pittsburgh, but WWE did the smart thing by having him advance to the main event with a win in his first match. Balor hit a huge Coup de Grace on Rusev and pinned the United States Champion for the victory at the end of a long and very solid match.
Former NXT star Nia Jax then made her debut against a local worker named Britt Baker, who was hilariously overmatched. Nia Jax could have scored the pin after around 60 seconds, but pulled away and delivered a second leg drop for good measure.
We could be seeing a lot of matches like these out of Nia Jax in the immediate future, as despite her rather bubbly theme song she’s being pushed as an unstoppable force. Nia Jax didn’t get a huge reaction from the crowd, but that was to be expected. She still needs time to develop her persona and her in-ring ability, and it’s going to be a while before she enters the women’s title picture.
The Fatal Four-Way was long and spanned two commercial breaks, which broke up the flow of the match somewhat, but it was still one of the better Raw matches in recent weeks. Nia Jax’s debut was slightly overshadowed by Finn Balor, but not every rising NXT star is going to be a huge hit on arrival. Golden Truth promos range from funny to tolerable to cringe-worthy, but seeing Goldust genuinely geeking out over Pokemon Go was great.
Sami Zayn, Sheamus, Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns faced each other in the second Fatal Four-Way qualifier, which closed with Zayn and Reigns trading a number of brutal finishers. Reigns hit a spear to seal with win and advance to the main event against Balor, and at this point many were probably thinking that WWE was heading toward another Shield-member rematch at SummerSlam.
The New Day arrived to a ring full of balloons to celebrate becoming the longest-running tag team champions of all time at 337 consecutive days and played a beautiful montage of their greatest moments in the ring. The New Day then invited a fan out of the crowd named "Sonny Boy" for a segment that lasted about three minutes too long before The Club arrived to attack the tag champions and potentially spark a feud that would lead to a SummerSlam title match.
Curtis Axel, freed from the Social Outcasts in th WWE Draft, was introduced as Monday Night Raw’s "Mr. Irrelevant" and faced a returning Neville, who had been out since March with an ankle injury. Neville won with his trademark Red Arrow.
Darren Young, who lost in bizarre fashion at Battleground via a double-DQ, had his backstage promo Bob Backlund interrupted by the Golden Truth, who were still wandering around catching Pokemon.
Charlotte then cut a promo with her with Dana Brooke ahead of her title match.
Raw definitely dragged during the second hour (compared to the first and third hours, at least), but the Fatal-Four Way delivered another solid match, Neville made an impressive return.
Sasha Banks captured the Women’s Championship in a stunning match against Charlotte that easily could have stolen the show at SummerSlam next month or fit on a WrestleMania card. Many – myself included – expected the title swap to be pushed to the next pay-per-view, but Banks became the first new champion of the New Era, and there’s no one more deserving. This match was awesome.
Braun Strowman, who was drafted separately from the Wyatt Family, began his singles run with a classic squash match against James Ellsworth, who was thrown around the ring like a rag doll.
The Golden Truth appeared for a third time backstage, and R-Truth tried to catch the Pittsburgh Penguin.
Enzo and Cass arrived and are interrupted mid-promo by The Shining Stars, who had been absent for a while. The Certified Gs won when R-Truth – still engrossed by Pokemon Go – walked across the ring and distracted the Shining Stars.
Prior to the main event, WWE announced that Brock Lesnar will appear next week on Raw.
The main event delivered the final shocker of the evening, as Finn Balor beat Roman Reigns clean to set up a Universal Championship match at SummerSlam against Seth Rollins. Reigns has been collecting losses since returning from suspension – perhaps as a punishment – and WWE sent a huge message by putting a debuting NXT star over the guy the company had been tirelessly pushing as the main attraction since 2015. Reigns had to do an immediate post-match interview outside the ring, and complimented Balor by saying "I respect that dude."
The show could have ended after the Women’s title match and it’d still get an A+. Banks vs. Charlotte is probably the best match we’ll see on Raw all year long, and it’s rare that a title changes hands off a pay-per-view.
Monday’s Raw was the perfect introduction to the New Era, and WWE went all out with surprise announcements and some very high-quality wrestling. It’s hard to see how SmackDown is going to top the first episode of the new Raw.