WWE Raw results, recap, grades: Major universal title match set, revamped Bray Wyatt emerges
The universal title match set for Money in the Bank is a big-time dream bout
Don't look now, but Monday Night Raw has suddenly found its groove following a disappointing two-week stretch immediately after WrestleMania. With less focus on what has been a sloppy Superstar Shakeup and more on building toward the May 19 Money in the Bank pay-per-view, Monday's episode got increasingly better as it went along. In the end, it produced three hours of sports entertainment that felt fresh and new -- from the return of Bray Wyatt to the booking of a must-see universal championship match in four weeks.
Outside of a slow start in which Raw seemed to rely heavily on its predictable ways of old, the remainder of the episode truly gave the show a feeling that both the culture and image of the brand had slightly changed thanks -- at least in storyline form -- to new superstars getting opportunities and fan-friendly changes to established characters being instilled.
Savor the flavor while you have the chance because, at least for this week, WWE's flagship brand was back.
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WWE Raw results, grades
The road to finding Seth Rollins' challenger begins: Triple H announced Rollins to the ring in a hero's welcome in his home state of Iowa. After the two shared hugs and pleasantries, Triple H announced a pair of triple threat matches would take place Monday with the winners facing off in the Raw main event for the chance to face Rollins at Money in the Bank. One by one, the six participants took turns interrupting each other's attempt to cut a promo on Rollins as Samoa Joe, Rey Mysterio, Drew McIntyre, The Miz, Baron Corbin and AJ Styles each came out. Rollins told them all that he's Seth "Freaking" Rollins, and that he's "going to burn it down" before dropping the mic and walking off.
Considering this segment ate up 1/6th of the broadcast to open the show, it was nothing short of painfully long and predictable. The premise of booking three separate matches on Monday with high stakes and big-name superstars is far from a bad one, of course. But the paint-by-numbers trope used to introduce the developments did nothing but eat up 30 minutes of time and scream of unoriginality. While we are on the topic, babyface Triple H being so huggy with Rollins considering their history feuding comes across as cringe. Grade: D+
AJ Styles def Samoa Joe (via pinfall) and Rey Mysterio: With so much star power (and so much at stake), this one had pay-per-view intensity and a flurry of big spots. The finish was both creative and spectacular as Mysterio hit a 619 on Joe but his attempt to springboard back in was caught by Styles and turned into a pair of powerbombs, including one onto Joe's body. Styles then hit a Styles Clash on Mysterio, once again landing on Joe's body before pinning Joe for the 1-2-3. Grade: B+
Naomi def. Billie Kay via pinfall: Despite Bayley's move to SmackDown bringing an end to their short-lived partnership, Naomi proved able to outsmart the Iiconics once again by picking up Kay to knock an interfering Peyton Royce off the apron. Naomi then rolled up Kay for the pinfall to end this brief and overly-cheesy segment that wasn't helped by a pre-match Iiconics promo that was nonsensical at best. The result was the third straight match that either Kay or Royce took a pinfall defeat since the two captured the women's tag team titles at WrestleMania. Grade: D
Baron Corbin def. The Miz (via pinfall) and Drew McIntyre in triple threat match: Like its predecessor, this one carried a big-match feel with a gluttony of dramatic near falls. Miz kicked out of a Deep Six from Corbin and reversed out of an End of Days to land a DDT for two. But the finish saw McIntyre lay Miz out with a Claymore kick before an advantageous Corbin ran in to push McIntyre out of the ring and steal the pin. After the match, Styles cut a promo backstage as Corbin listened inside the ring, hyping their match later tonight. Grade: B
Sami Zayn cuts another promo on the fans: Zayn entered the ring to tell the WWE Universe they are wrong in calling him bitter. To prove how happy and "jubilant" he is, Zayn shared Instagram photos of himself on the big screen traveling around the world. But for the second straight week, he cut a brilliant promo on the crowd for the "toxic culture" they create by being critical of him instead of looking inward to themselves. The long speech ended with Zayn telling the crowd they can all take a trip themselves "and go to hell." He then dropped the mic and fell to the ground laughing hysterically.
Zayn was already over as a heel in recent years, but the version we have seen the last two weeks has been nothing short of brilliant. Sampling a bit of what makes "The New Daniel Bryan" so successful on SmackDown, Zayn has been doing nothing short of performance art with these smart promos. Let's hope he also receives a push worthy of the work he's doing on the mic. Grade: B+
Cesaro def. Cedric Alexander via pinfall: The former cruiserweight champion's Raw debut was a fun one as WWE rewarded fans with an indie special against Cesaro. Alexander's athleticism rightly stood out as he hit a Michinoku Driver for two and came right back with a perfect Tope Con Hilo onto the floor. But Alexander's attempt to springboard back into the ring was met by a stiff European uppercut from Cesaro for the pin. Grade: B-
The Usos receive a Raw introduction from The Revival: A backstage interview with Jimmy and Jey saw them cut rapping promos on the rest of the Raw tag team division. Soon, they were interrupted by The Revival, with Dash Wilder mocking their "Uso Penitentiary" catchphrase by telling Jimmy and Jey that have entered the "Revival Reformatory" on Raw. A staredown ensued likely teasing what should be a great feud. Grade: B+
The Viking Raiders make another violent statement: One week after debuting on Raw with the much-derided Viking Experience name, the current NXT tag team champions (and former War Machine and War Raiders) entered to a new name and no explanation for the change. Their match never quite started as they attacked all three Lucha House Party members before the bell with Erik hitting a double power bomb on Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado before the duo hit their new Viking Experience finisher -- a tandem pop-up powerslam -- on Dorado. After the beating, Raw tag team champions Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins were interviewed backstage and said Ivar and Erik will never take what they earned. Grade: C+
Becky Lynch def. Alicia Fox via submission: A pre-match promo from Lynch spoke about how she has made a career out of "slapping bleached blondes who have curried company favor backstage." Out came Lacey Evans to threaten she will teach "The Man" how to respect a lady at Money in the Bank when she captures both titles (which was an obvious verbal botch, as Michael Cole later clarified the match is strictly for the Raw women's title). Fox, who hadn't had a match on Raw in a minute, put up a decent fight in the match until Lynch forced the tap via the Dis-Arm-Her. Evans timed it perfectly to lay Lynch out with her Woman's Right directly after the referee called for the bell. Evans followed with a second knockout blow after Lynch attempted to rally.
Evans is already on pace to make her debut main roster feud a memorable one by stealing the show each time she's on camera. Her mix of physicality and sexuality has been intoxicating thus far, and Lynch has sold perfectly to put her over. The storyline intensity between the two is palpable, creating high expectations for what their pay-per-view match might look like. Grade: B+
Robert Roode def. Ricochet via pinfall: Roode, who cut a heel promo celebrating Chad Gable's move to SmackDown earlier in the day on WWE.com, brought a handlebar mustache and heel turn to his new-look character. He also received good booking to make the change actually mean something by fighting off Ricochet in a lengthy match. Ricochet missed his 630 off the top rope, and Roode followed with a Glorious DDT for a big win. Heel is where Roode belongs. Grade: B
Bray Wyatt debuts "Firefly Fun House": Dressed in a sweater inside a house made to resemble the children's classic "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood," Wyatt's new character told all of his "fireflies" that this is a special place they can feel safe. After bending down to put on black gloves, Wyatt feigned a scary turn before uncovering his face to talk about how he used to be " a very bad man" who was "barbarically punished for all my wrongdoings." Claiming that side of him was dead, Wyatt introduced Mercy the Buzzard, who popped out of a box, and Emmy the Witch doll, who was sitting in the window. Wyatt closed by taking a chainsaw to a cardboard cutout of his former self as "a reminder to not turn into that pathetic slob loser ever again."
This was attention to detail and outside-the-box thinking at its finest with the right character chosen for investment in such a weird and ambitious play. Could it go sideways in a hurry? No question. But for now, after keeping him off television for so long while playing cryptic vignettes, it feels good to see a rejuvenated Wyatt return with an altered look and the potential for new sidekicks should his Buzzard and Witch friends take on human form. Very few performers in 2019 can pull this off. Wyatt is perfect for it. Grade: A-
AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin via pinfall: Styles worked from underneath with a classic babyface rally after being beaten inside and out of the ring for the majority of the match. He kicked out of a Deep Six before having his Calf Crusher attempt broken up late. Eventually, Styles connected with a Phenomenal Forearm for the pin. Out came the champion Rollins as the two shook hands, nodded their heads and stared each other down to tease their meeting at MITB.
Sometimes it just feels good to get what you want as a wrestling fan. Seeing Corbin go over could've made sense for WWE on many levels, especially considering this is Rollins' first title defense after winning at WrestleMania. But not saving a feud as big as one against Styles for SummerSlam was a welcome sign and an antidote to WWE's typical post-Mania booking blues. Considering that MITB will be competing against the "Game of Thrones" series finale on May 19, this was a gutsy call with potential for greatness in a dream match between top face stars. Oh heck yeah. Decent match, even better booking. Grade: A-
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