RAW has felt…raw-er than Smackdown for months, and if Smack can’t pick up the pace soon I’ll have to switch my weekly reviews to the red brand.
Recap from last week, Kevin Owens lost the US title to AJ Styles in a three-way also featuring Chris Jericho. Owens and Styles start the show with the rematch.
Owens is pissed and the tension is thick. Great start with NO PROMO.
Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles
A tense back and forth wrestling exchange was punctuated by Owens holding the ropes to avoid a dropkick and sending Styles to the outside for a big clothesline to the floor.
Styles made up for it by landing a glorious dropkick shortly after.
Owens rolled to the outside to avoid a Phenomenal Forearm, but Styles turned the boos into cheers for this phenomenal dive attack.
After a hundred superkicks we get a screwy finish that would have made Dusty Rhodes smile.
Owens knocks the ref out but has his Pop Up Powerbomb reversed into a roll-up pin.
Owens had his shoulder clearly up but the dozy ref didn’t see it.
Starting the show with a great match that continues the feud without blabbing pumped heaps of energy into the show. The crowd was hot and these two were up for the moment.
The dozy ref spot was clever and served as a nice lesson for the cheating heel.
Owens argues with Shane, Daniel Bryan, and the ref
Owens shoves the ref and screams at Shane/Bryan. He’s granted his rematch at SummerSlam but Shane will be the special referee after KO demands a tougher official to do the job.
The New Day Promo
Psych! The Usos appear and we learn they tricked the crowd with a killer Big E impersonation of their pre-entrance promo.
The Usos rhymed some insults about The New Day blowing their own trombones and left.
With Fandango missing, Breeze appears solo in a Twin Peaks parody.
Breeze isn’t as immediately charismatic as ‘Dango, but he eventually appeared shrouded in red light, wearing a red shirt, surrounded by the Ascension, maple syrup on a log, a rose, and more confusion.
It turned out to be a sweaty dream, and the crowd clapped appreciatively. Great crowd tonight.
To keep this series running every week there should be side steps like this one, building to something even bigger.
Sami Zayn vs Aidan English
Aidan English starts off singing his usual first few lines, and then adds a few custom lines about beating Zayn, shushing the crowd and getting a decent reaction of ‘You Suck!’
Watching this match I was wondering if WWE had any plans for Zayn, currently lost in the mid-card in go-nowhere feuds with comedy characters.
JBL says at one point “Sami Zayn has been just a hare away from being the WWE Champion a number of times”. What? Is JBL tipping a big push coming soon!?
Then this happens
It’s so rare for English to win I don’t think I’ve heard his music before.
Mike and Maria Kanellis come out
To they say love each other and love…that Sami Zayn lost…
Becky & Naomi vs Natalya & Carmella
After taking a beating from Becky and Naomi, Natalya rolls away and calls for a “time-out! time-OUT!” Which is a nice addition to her slightly cartoony persona.
Becky and Natalya felt quite robotic and obviously running through a scripted sequence.
Carmella and Naomi on the other hand were much more fluid, with natural transitions that felt authentic.
Naomi eventually reverses Carmella’s Code of Silence submission into her own, forcing Carmella to tap while Becky prevented Natalya from breaking the hold.
A super quick but entertaining match that seemed to tell the story of Natalya and Carmella possibly having differences? (they argued at one point).
Renee interviews Jinder and the Singhs
Jinder must write his lines on the back of his belt because he can not stop looking at it every three words.
He doesn’t care whether Naka or Cena wins, and mentions the xenophobia he feels in America.
I can understand that as a former jobber given a rocket push, he’s most likely just trying to follow WWE’s lead and do whatever they ask during the biggest point in his career. But he needs to hit another gear and start showing some personality as these carbon copy promos are not angering the crowd, but boring them instead.
Rusev vs Chad Gable
Gable has some American Olympic connections so he’s the perfect choice for WWE to have face an EVIL FOREIGNER.
Rusev is ice cold and Gable seems to be in the beginnings of his first singles push. The announcers gave a nice amount of background info and praise.
Gable wowed the crowd his athletic backflips and powerhouse suplexes on the big EVIL FOREIGNER.
It looked like Gable might get the win, reversing an Accolade attempt into his Ankle Lock, but Rusev escaped, wolloped him with a kick and made him tap quickly to a successful Accolade.
Rusev looks stronger, Gable was impressive in the loss and showed flashes of potential.
Rusev grabbed the mic and said nobody can beat him (except Cena). He finishes his promo with a few seconds of silnce and then looks genuinely spooked by his own entrance music.
A few seconds later Randy Orton’s music hits and Rusev makes the same spooked face, letting us know where he messed up.
Randy Orton confronts Rusev
This crowd is so good they go nuts for Orton and even chant his name.
Rusev welcomes Orton into the ring, who obliges.
Orton says Rusevs never beaten him, and he’s not afraid of him. Setting up a match at SummerSlam.
Rusev laughs and speaks his language for longer than usual before Orton hits a Stone Cold RKO outta nowhere.
Orton poses to his music, happy he comes off as a powerhouse without taking any bumps or even breaking a sweat.
John Cena vs Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura can be accused of inconsistent performances and has struggled with putting on impressive matches with the imitied tv time he gets. But for Cena, he looks fired up and ready to give his all.
Cena has some fun with the crowd, pushing Nakamura’s hand down during ‘Let’s go Cena!’
And up for ‘Cena Sucks!”
Nakamura has so many highlight-worthy moves we see one in split-screen while watching his last on in the instant replay.
A thrilling sequence of submission and finisher reversals leads to both men collapsed. Nakamura hits a big knee and lines up his Kinchasa. Cena reverses this with a fairly lame side step and tap of the hand into his AA, but Nakamura kicks out.
Cena goes for another but Nakamura reverses into a guillotine.
Cena powers him back into the AA and hits it, this time he flips over, rolling him into another, but Nakamura counters that into an exploding side suplex, then HITS THE KINCHASA AND PINS CENA!
The replay shows Cena landing horribly on his head/neck.
Nakamura even mouths ‘I’m sorry’ when going to shake his hand after the match, but Cena seems to be ok.
A great bout that showed a little more of what Nakamura can do. Cena did well to increase the importance of the confrontation and sell Nakamura’s intensity. It’s rare to see Cena lose cleanly in the middle of the ring, but it appears Nakamura could figure heavily into WWE’s plans after this result. Or at least win the belt from Jinder so he can give it back to Cena for the record-breaking win. Then perhaps win it back before Cena heads off to film another movie.
This week was stacked with two PPV-calibre matchups and a few other odds and ends. With the talent spread thin between two brands and the insane amount of PPVs, I find it baffling they would give away so many good contests when they could use the TV time to tease and build the feud. That would provide more interesting storylines and an incentive to watch the PPV for the really big moments instead of giving it away.
After criticizing the show for the past month, I don’t like to complain about big moments, it’s just frustrating to see the moments not milked for everything they’re worth. The booking is short-term and the rest of the year suffers for it.
Although I will say I’m quite interested to see what Nakamura and Cena do moving forward, and getting a wrestling fan interested in next week is what the business is all about.