The season premiere of Raw opened to a rocking new theme tune, a welcome pyro display and an impressive new set which harkens to a youthful, punky attitude in the form of a massive skate ramp. We are also introduced to Raw’s new commentary team of Dio Maddin, Vic Joseph and Jerry “The King” Lawler to further enforce Raw’s new sound and look. Dio Maddin and Vic Joesph present a refreshing change to what we’re used to whilst Lawler’s classic commentary keeps the show anchored to its extensive and illustrious history.
Rey Mysterio & Brock Lesnar’s opening segment
Mysterio opens the show to address the crowd and his upcoming Universal Title match against Seth Rollins later in the night. Mysterio stated that his championship win will be dedicated to his son, Dominic but before he can continue, Lesnar’s music hits and the “Beast Incarnate” marches down to the ring.
Before any words are exchanged, Lesnar assaults Rey, delivering two F-5’s in quick succession to leave Mysterio in a heap… before locking eyes on the defenseless Dominic. The Beast teases an attack on Dominic before finally snatching the “teenager” out of his seat and proceeding to throw the youngster and his father about the ring like a couple of ragdolls. After an extended and ruthless beatdown, Lesnar finally gives in to the pleading Paul Heyman and plethora of match officials by exiting the ring.
There’s no doubt about it, Lesnar looked like a monster! He gained massive heat from the crowd for his sadistic attack on a WWE legend and his young son and appeared truly frightening. Despite the attack lasting around ten minutes, no babyface from the back even attempted to make the save which made Lesnar look all-the-more unstoppable. Whilst it’s not immediately clear what Lesnar’s intentions are, we’re all left fearing what the “Beast” might do to the WWE Champion, Kofi Kingston, on this week’s season premiere of Smackdown.
Sasha Banks def. Alexa Bliss w/ Becky Lynch on commentary
Lynch doesn’t last long on commentary before taking up a position atop the announce table, staring down Banks whilst simultaneously taping up, getting ready for a fight.
The match itself doesn’t last long with Alexa never really looking like a threat to Banks in this contest. Banks quickly steals a cheap win off the Tag Team Champion after fooling Bliss that Bayley would make a run-in before kicking her legs out from under her and scoring the pin.
Lynch wastes little time in charging the ring before engaging in a quick brawl with her upcoming challenger this Sunday. Banks soon scarpers and Lynch reminds her that come Hell in a Cell, she’ll have nowhere to run.
I have a couple of issues with this segment. Alexa Bliss is the Women’s Tag Team Champion and thus her prerogative should be to promote and defend these titles alongside her partner, Nikki Cross. Bliss shouldn’t be involved in this angle or in this way as it does nothing for her or these new titles.
The manner of the victory for Banks also does nothing to leave either woman looking strong and thus leaves me relatively uninterested in Banks’ challenge for Lynch’s title or whatever Bliss and Cross will do with their title run.
Dolph Ziggler & Bobby Roode def. Heavy Machinery (Tucker & Otis) – Raw Tag Team Championship match
The early exchanges see the two teams trade blows before Otis and Tucker quickly regain control of the match using their power and size to dominate their slighter opponents. After an ad-break, Tucker is still in control over Ziggler and it takes an underhanded interruption from Roode to allow the defending champions to finally cut Tucker off from his partner, Otis.
Little time is wasted before Tucker’s able to make the hot tag to Otis however who proceeds to beat down on the opposing pair, delivering a double Caterpillar move on his opponents to the delight of the crowd. Looking like they’re about to score the victory and the titles, Tucker is tagged back in only to be blindsided by a Zig-Zag before Ziggler and Roode combine to clear the ring of Otis and deliver the Glorious DDT to Tucker for the victory and to retain their Tag titles.
A fun match for the most part which entertained the crowd and almost had you believing that Heavy Machinery were about to win their first titles on the main roster. Despite not being together long, Ziggler and Roode are looking good together and neither are being hurt at the moment by being in this pairing. Despite the uninspired booking, this match could easily be used to set up a feud between the two teams and I’m hoping it does.
MizTV with Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Jimmy Hart
Miz introduces the trio of legends and works the crowd to a few cheap pops before we’re subjected to some rather uncomfortable viewing. Flair appears to have some slight trouble keeping up with the segment and slurs through some of his words. Despite teasing one more match between the pair, arguments are quickly set aside and Miz gets to the point of the whole segment, setting up a match between “Team Hogan” and “Team Flair” at the upcoming Crown Jewel event.
Rollins is introduced as the captain for Hogan’s team before Orton is likewise introduced as the captain for Team Flair. Barbed words are thrown before the “Viper” challenges Rollins to a match, right here! Right now!
As the match is about to kickoff, Baron Corbin makes his way to the ring leading to a 2-on-1 beatdown as Orton and Corbin team up to attack the Universal Champion. You’re expecting someone to make the save and surprisingly, of all people, Rusev, is the one to charge the ring and assist the “Kingslayer” in cleaning house! The pair then celebrate with Hogan on the top of the entrance ramp to close the segment and seemingly introduce two further participants to this upcoming contest in Saudi Arabia.
I’m not a fan of flogging these legends to setup matches at an event in a country which has a history of social and human rights injustice. This, especially, when it appears that Flair is yet to fully recover from his latest health issues. It all just makes for a sad sight and suggests that the Universal Title won’t even be defended at this upcoming event unless Rollins drops the title to someone else in the meantime? Also it was very strange that “the Mouth of the South” didn’t get a word in anywhere within this segment, why was he even out there?
The Viking Raiders (Erik & Ivar) def. The O.C. (Gallows & Anderson)
The match starts off at an even pace with both teams trading exchanges in their respective corners, neither team taking the initiative for too long nor setting up the hot tag. It’s obvious that because of this, this match isn’t working the crowd at all and they’re bored into silence.
The match ends in somewhat abrupt fashion with the Viking Raiders getting the clean pin on Luke Gallows after a splash from Erik.
This match never really got the crowd going and because of this, the Viking Raiders didn’t particularly look much stronger and Gallows and Anderson have lost whatever momentum they had.
Ricochet def. Cesaro
After a callout from Ricochet in the back, the match kicks off at a fast-pace with Cesaro’s strength threatening to pluck Ricochet out of the air at any moment in order to deliver some devastating offense, including a military-press style Go To Sleep.
Ricochet scores the clean victory over the Swiss superstar from a springboard West Coast Pop however in a quick match that does little for either man.
Firefly Fun House w/ Bray Wyatt
As more and more of the Fiend’s victims decorate the walls of the Firefly Fun House, the show adopts a more twisted and malevolent tone. Wyatt precedes to educate his friends on the horrors that await Seth Rollins within Hell in a Cell. Wyatt warns his friends that the Fiend “really, really wants” to hurt Seth before waving a fun goodbye to the spectating audience.
Always entertaining and always leaves you impatient to see the Fiend again.
AJ Styles def. Cedric Alexander – United States Championship match
Another match that kicks off to a fast opening with AJ seemingly determined to put away Alexander for good involving working the challenger in the corner and hitting him with a springboard forearm on the outside.
Alexander earns himself the control of the match as they renter the ring, employing the use of a springboard enzuguri and an inverted Lumbar Check. Styles kicks out to Cedric’s disbelief before the match breaks into a series of counters and signature moves with Cedric, again, threatening to seal the win with a Michinoku Driver.
Styles continues to look for the Styles Clash and eventually hits it after countering another Lumbar Check to put away Alexander.
Another fun match between two great workers but seemingly put together to end the feud between Alexander and Styles which leaves you concerned for what WWE has planned for the former 205 Live star going forward.
Lacey Evans def. Natalya
Lacey uses her height and power early on to prevent Natalya from utilizing her technical-based wrestling style before viciously ramming her opponent’s skull into the ring steps on the outside. Moving back into the ring, Evans continues to wear down her opponent before the Hart family member rallies back into the match.
After a discus lariat and nearly locking in the Sharpshooter, Evans rakes the eyes of Natalya before rolling her up for another clean win on the night. To add injury to insult, Evans hits Natalya with her stiff Power of the Punch after the match to assert her dominance over her rival.
Another quick match which reminded everyone of Evan’s potential to be the dominant heel of the Women’s division and left you wondering how she’ll be used after Hell in a Cell.
Seth Rollins vs Rusev ends in a No Contest – Universal Championship Match
As the match gets going, Orton and Corbin lurk atop the entrance ramp as Lawler insists that he has a funny feeling that the Fiend is here.
With that being said, it’s hard to pay too much attention to the match as we all know that Rusev isn’t winning this one and that at some point, someone is going to run in and interrupt the match. Rusev looks good however, as he always does, and Rollins has to deploy a combination of the blockbuster, sling-blade, suicide dive and Falcon Arrow in order to maintain control of the match.
Rusev does stun the Champion, nailing a Machka kick as Rollins drops out of the air. Before Rusev can take further advantage however, Bobby Lashley makes his return, stepping out from the back before introducing Lana to his side. The two then proceed to make out for a suspiciously extended period, to both the disgust of Rusev and ourselves.
With Rusev standing dumb in the ring, the lights then shut out and the Fiend makes his assault on Seth Rollins on the outside. The Mandible Claw doing away with the Champion in easy fashion as Wyatt’s sadistic laugh is played over the speakers and the cameras cut to black.
A somewhat confusing ending to the season premiere of Raw with several half-attempts to setup future angles. Orton and Corbin turned out to be irrelevant so didn’t really push the Team Hogan/Flair contest in the future. I’m not a fan of WWE continuing to try and fool me that Bobby Lashley has a personality by having Lana hook up with him, nor am I a fan of seeing Rusev wasted on another storyline where he’s fighting for Lana’s loyalty.
The Fiend on the other hand continues to look like the most dominant force in WWE at the moment. There is simply no other conceivable option than seeing the Fiend walk out of Hell in a Cell as the new Universal Champion. I do hope this is the case, it simply has to! Bray Wyatt and WWE have created one of their biggest selling points in years and Wyatt must be allowed to run with this character and the title.
A mixed bag with some great highs, notably Brock’s opening tirade and everything Wyatt was involved in, but some real lows, namely the MizTV segment. Aesthetically, everything looks great with the new Raw, the commentary team needs more time to gel however but the promise is there in almost every aspect so far.
The actual wrestling on the night felt a bit lackluster with no match seemingly lasting longer than 10 minutes which didn’t give anyone the time to build or further an angle through the matches alone. It was a welcome relief however to see a supposed end to the abundance of 50/50 overprotective booking with a number of matches ending in clean wins and finishes.
The show didn’t do too much on the other hand to further my interest in the majority of storylines however I’m now actually excited to see Lesnar back on WWE TV again, which is saying something! What looks promising is the concept that WWE are heading towards a dominant period for both Lesnar and the Fiend on their respective shows (wherever they end up) which has the potential to setup the right babyfaces at the right time as we begin to look ahead to Wrestlemania season.
Final Grade: B