If last week's post-SummerSlam episode of Raw served as an injection of optimism as to where the fall season of WWE's booking might lead, Monday's episode proved a sobering come down.
Aside from a Seth Rollins-Kevin Owens intercontinental title match (and the spin-off potential of the post-match booking) there was nary a bright spot to hang one's hat on as a fan. Even worse, WWE's decision on how to book Braun Strowman moving forward in his feud with Roman Reigns and The Shield simply left more questions than answers in all the wrong ways.
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Braun Strowman turns heel to combat The Shield
The show opened with a solo Roman Reigns fielding boos as he walked to the ring wearing a Shield T-shirt. After being called a "meat shack," Braun Strowman answered his challenge and criticized Reigns for needing the help of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins last week. Reigns asked for Strowman to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase right away, but Strowman preferred to wait for Hell in a Cell on Sept. 16 where The Shield can't help Reigns. "You're finally starting to sound like a monster," said Reigns, before shaking Strowman's hand. Out came Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre to talk trash and petition for a tag team match. Acting general manager Baron Corbin then came out to approve the Reigns-Strowman match for HIAC and book a tag team match between all four in tonight's main event. Before the match, Strowman went backstage to present his briefcase to Corbin.
Roman Reigns & Braun Strowman def. Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre via disqualification: After multiple interrupted teases, Reigns' hot tag to Strowman produced a swerve as "The Monster Among Men" decided not to enter the ring. Instead, McIntyre and Ziggler stomped Reigns to force the DQ before Strowman picked his teammate up and said, "I'm not finished with you." Strowman landed a head butt and threw Reigns into the corner before nodding at the heel duo to continue the beating. Out came Ambrose, who was quickly disposed via a ZigZag-Claymore combo. An injured Rollins followed until another ZigZag and then a powerslam from Strowman took him out. Strowman added one more on Reigns before joining Ziggler and McIntyre in raising their arms.
The psychology in this one was off the charts – and not in a good way. Not only was the creation of the tag team main event poorly telegraphed, Strowman's heel turn made absolutely no sense considering just one hour earlier he willingly gave up his briefcase to Corbin until Hell in a Cell in a move that was as babyface as one can be. The fact that WWE instantly closed Raw with a tweet announcing The Shield would reunite in October to face Strowman, McIntyre and Ziggler in Australia only doubles down on the frustration because of how shamelessly the company is announcing big matches ahead of time in order to move tickets.
At its core, the decision to eliminate the option of Strowman cashing in unnecessarily removes the potential for intrigue over the next three weeks. But seeing Strowman as an unintelligent heel who somehow still blindly plays by the rules is an unforgivable frustration only topped by the reality that he's being used as fodder in Vince McMahon's unending obsession with getting Reigns cheered. Grade: D
Kevin Owens 'quits' following an instant classic
Rollins entered the ring to call out an open challenge for his intercontinental championship. Owens responded and talked on his walk down the ramp about how awful a summer it has been for him from losing his best friend Sami Zayn because of injury to being forced to feud with Strowman. After initially playing to his home Canadian crowd, KO deftly reminded he was a heel by then insulting Toronto in favor of Montreal and adding further insults while speaking in French.
Intercontinental Championship -- Seth Rollins (c) def. Kevin Owens via pinfall to retain the title: Both wrestlers completely sold out in an epic TV match that produced multiple standing ovations. Rollins sold a shoulder injury throughout the second half and later hit a trio of suicide dives nearly in succession while selling the pain. They traded big moves down the stretch until Rollins missed his Stomp for the second time and Owens countered with a stunner for two that nearly tore the roof off. The finish came after Owens missed an absurd springboard moonsault and Rollins finally nailed the Stomp for the pin. After the match, Owens was in near tears while sitting in a chair in the center of the ring and announced that he quit before dropping the microphone and walking off. Corbin later assured Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon on the phone that he would fix the situation.
Not only was this the lone bright spot in the show, it was one of the better non-PPV matches this calendar year. While Rollins looks to physically outshine his competition just about every week on Raw, Owens deserves a ton of credit for upping his game to an even higher level of high-spot intensity. The cliffhanger of KO walking out on Raw presents an interesting opportunity creatively moving forward, especially considering the established ways in which Corbin will abuse his GM powers while Kurt Angle is away on a forced vacation. Grade: B+
What else happened on Raw?
- Baron Corbin def. Finn Balor via pinfall: After having given himself a week to prepare, the acting GM booked the match minutes before it started to try and catch Balor cold. Corbin also made sure he was set to face Balor the man and not the Demon. An early finish came when Balor missed a Coup de Grace and Corbin forced a disqualification by hitting him with a chair he had left on the apron. But Corbin used his GM abilities to change the match to a no-DQ stipulation and force the restart. He then hit Balor with the chair again and then nailed End of Days to get the pin.
- WWE legends weigh in on Triple H-Undertaker in Australia: Selfie videos from Ric Flair, Steve Austin, Diamond Dallas Page, Big Show, Booker T, Christian, Mick Foley, Jeff Jarrett and Kevin Nash saw each give a prediction for the upcoming match at the Oct. 6 Super Show-Down card in Australia. The group was understandably split with Foley pointing out that Undertaker ended his body while Triple H ended his career. Jarrett chose Undertaker because "no one in WWE history has a better record in big matches" while Nash pointed out how much "The Deadman" always rises to the occasion. Christian sided with Triple H for the final match between the two "because a desperate man is a dangerous man" and Austin predicted it would come via Pedigree. Shawn Michaels was also advertised for a return next week to share his thoughts.
- Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke via submission: Titus Worldwide continued to tease an unspoken rift after Apollo Crews questioned Titus O'Neil for booking Brooke into a match with someone as dangerous as Banks following a nine-month layoff on Raw. Banks quickly turned matters in her favor and packaged a meteora from the top rope with a backstabber to set up her Banks Statement and force the quick tap. Crews and O'Neil argued after the match until Crews entered the ring to console and encourage Brooke, who had been hoping to book a spot in the Evolution pay-per-view with a win.
- The Revival def. The B-Team via pinfall: After defeating the Raw tag team champions in singles matches last week, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder were dominant in this non-title bout. The B-Team's streak of luck appeared to end late in the match when Curtis Axel could only get a two count from the exact finish that helped the champions retain their titles at SummerSlam. The Revival then hit a Shatter Machine on Axel for the 1-2-3 and later returned to the ring to hit the same on Bo Dallas. The "Top Guys" then cut a scathing promo on their "moron" opponents, calling them "a mockery of the sacred history of tag team wrestling."
- Elias gets interrupted by Trish Stratus: After a long guitar solo that brought clapping and cheers from the Toronto crowd, Elias made sure to attract boos by tearing apart the city's reputation. Out came Stratus to defend her hometown and tell Elias to shut his mouth. Humorous banter between both ensued with Elias saying, "You're just like thousands of other women, you want to walk with Elias. But I have to break it to you Trish, I don't date women in their 60s." Stratus slapped him to close the segment as Ronda Rousey's music hit as the segment succeeded in reintroducing the WWE Hall of Famer ahead of Evolution.
- Natalya def. Alicia Fox via submission: A pre-match promo from Bliss tore about Natalya, Rousey and Stratus (in order) as "Miss Underwhelming, Miss Overhyped and Miss Completely Irrelevant." Bliss then announced she is invoking her rematch clause against Rousey at Hell in a Cell before welcoming former Stratus rival Mickie James to help her in Fox's corner. The brief match concluded with a stiff discus clothesline from Natalya and a Sharpshooter for the tap out. Later on backstage, the Bella Twins hugged the trio of babyfaces and announced their return to the ring next week on Raw.
- Bobby Lashley def. The Ascension via pinfall: Earlier backstage, Lashley heckled Corbin for abusing his GM powers and was told to head to the ring for a match against an opponent whose name Corbin forgot. That turned out to be a setup for this 2-on-1 match, which Lashley dominated with ease. After taking both Ascension members out before the bell even ring, Lashley went on to clothesline Konnor out of the ring and hit Viktor with his version of Big E's Big Ending for the 1-2-3.
- Dean Ambrose def. Jinder Mahal via pinfall: Mahal's attempts at helping Ambrose find peace backstage through chanting and breathing led to a threat that Ambrose would kick his teeth in. He nearly did just that during their brief yet physical match. Following a late near fall from a knee to the face by Mahal, Ambrose countered a Khallas attempt with Dirty Deeds for the victory.