For all of the big moments delivered at Sunday's WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view in Brooklyn, New York, the show sorely lacked that explosive "go home happy" feeling that can only come from a big swerve in the main event.
One night later in the same building, WWE made sure fans inside Barclays Center at Raw were given a memorable ending to spin the Roman Reigns-Braun Strowman storyline in a new direction (and leave a few jaws left drop along the way thanks to unforeseen reunion from The Shield).
All in all, Monday night was an exciting show worthy of taking place after the second-biggest PPV of WWE's calendar year as business picked up in a good way to set the course for the second half of the year.
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The Shield makes a shocking return
The show opened with Roman Reigns, carrying his new universal title over his back, walking out to boos and chants of "you suck." Reigns cut a well-measured promo about being a man of his word in defeating Brock Lesnar and his willingness to be a fighting champion. He decided to reward Finn Balor, who won the inaugural red belt two years ago in Brooklyn at SummerSlam but was forced to give up the title due to injury, with a title opportunity. Balor came out to accept and shake his hand, which drew instant protest from Baron Corbin.
Raw's acting constable claimed Balor breached his contract by "cowardly" showing up at SummerSlam as the Demon and blamed the smoke and crowd reaction for him not hearing the bell to start the match. But Raw general manager Kurt Angle came out to instantly stuff Corbin's attempt at a Balor rematch and booked Corbin into a last-minute match against Bobby Lashley before making Reigns-Balor the main event. Inside the locker room, Braun Strowman threatened Balor that he'd be ready to cash in his Money in the Bank contract later tonight.
Universal Championship -- Roman Reigns (c) def. Finn Balor via pinfall to retain the title: Given upwards of 20 minutes to work, this pair of elite superstars delivered a pay-per-view quality match filled with stiff moves and dramatic nearfalls. The crowd nearly lost it when Balor countered a Superman punch with a kick and hit a standing slingblade for two. After Reigns stopped a Balor rally late with a Superman punch out of nowhere, Strowman's music hit to pop the audience and force a distraction. Balor took advantage with a missile dropkick and a slingblade but he missed a Coup de Grace attempt and Reigns rebounded with a spear to steal the pin.
Strowman entered the ring to kick Reigns down and hand his briefcase to the referee to begin cashing in. But before the bell could ring, out came Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose dressed in tactical gear with The Shield's music playing. They surrounded the ring and helped subdue Strowman. After a spear from Reigns outside halted Strowman's comeback, The Shield hit its signature Triple Powerbomb on Strowman, driving him through the announce table.
Oh heck yeah. This was the kind of viral swerve booking that WWE has sorely lacked since WrestleMania and it gave a glimpse at what might have been in store for last year's Shield reunion had injuries and illnesses not derailed plans. The inclusion of The Shield into Reigns' likely feud with Strowman was a smart way to separate it from becoming simply a rehash of the strong feud the two had last year. Having Strowman's cash-in attempt come up empty before it even started was also a smart way to help the storyline retain drama and uncertainty. Provided Strowman is ultimately paired up with someone who makes sense in terms of the angle to help offset the numbers disadvantage, the longterm potential here is strong (especially if one imagines an eventual Shield breakup and the chance of a triple threat match at WrestleMania). Grade: A+
Ronda Rousey attacks Stephanie McMahon again
With the Raw commissioner inside the ring and the entire women's locker room surrounding it, McMahon took credit for Rousey's business prowess and success by saying she "shined her up and molded her" in her own likeness. "She is a media darling who carries the WWE universe on her back," McMahon said, "just like me." Rousey interrupted the lengthy introduction by coming out for her title ceremony and blew off McMahon's handshake. All smiles after her title victory to become the first female to win UFC and WWE championships, Rousey told McMahon that for once this wasn't about her but instead about the women. She then ushered the locker room to enter the ring to share in the moment with her, which McMahon said wasn't becoming of a champion. "This isn't about one champion, one person," Rousey said. "This is about all of us, the women's revolution. Every single one of you." Rousey also claimed she's not like Brock Lesnar and aims to be a fighting champion.
"This is not the Ronda Rousey that I was introducing earlier," McMahon said. "This is the Ronda Rousey who just wants to break people's arms. I remember, I know what that feels like." With McMahon's tirade complete, Rousey said she's only here to break the arms of those who deserve it and instantly put McMahon into the armbar which led to an instant tap.
Although the makeup and gloves she wore at SummerSlam stand out as one of WWE's rare misses of late in how it has built Rousey's character, Monday's segment was yet another slam dunk. Not only did McMahon perfectly play into the criticism fans already have about her character, Rousey took full advantage by benefiting from the cheers that came with sticking up for the remainder of the women's roster. In this case, Rousey was simultaneously presented as a pure babyface in the John Cena mold who unites the locker room and sticks up for her peers and a Steve Austin type who isn't afraid to put her boss in place for acting out. As one might imagine, the crowd loved every moment of it. As long as Rousey inevitably faces hurdles put in her way by McMahon as a result of her actions, this continued storyline from WrestleMania appears headed in the right direction. Grade: B+
Triple H challenges The Undertaker in Australia
In a rare on-screen appearance of late on Raw, Triple H referenced how much NXT "blew the roof off the place" and SummerSlam took it to a whole new level. The two cards gave him the itch to "rip the suit off, tape up, zip up the boots and be The Game again." But Triple H revealed he initially said "hell no" when Vince McMahon called with an offer to face The Undertaker on Oct. 6 at the WWE Super Show-Down pay-per-view in Melbourne, Australia. The reason was because the Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania 28, complete with the "moment ingrained in his brain" of posing on the stage with Taker and Shawn Michaels, changed all three performers and essentially ended their careers.
"It was the end of an era," Triple H said, "and I've got to tell you, without sounding like a bitter veteran, our era was something special." After the crowd showered him with chants of "you still got it," Triple H screamed that he's willing to be The Game again provided The Undertaker "will pick up that hat, put on those gloves and be the Phenom one more time." He then dropped the mic and walked off to huge cheers.
It's hard to ever knock a Triple H promo, particularly in this era of over scripted dialogue where the virtues of his all-time great mic work only stand out even more. Triple H's delivery in this case was great, as he succeeded in coming across as a babyface (as opposed to a heel authority figure) by heavily referencing his wrestling career. But while he was successful in communicating why he initially turned down McMahon's offer, he failed to give a compelling reason why he ultimately accepted. Considering this comes just five months removed from John Cena's weekly call outs of The Undertaker ahead of WrestleMania, the lack of a solid storyline in this case only illuminates how (like Undertaker-Rusev in Saudi Arabia) the match is only happening because of the site money offered to WWE in Melbourne. Grade: C
What else happened on Raw?
- Bobby Lashley def. Constable Baron Corbin via pinfall: Corbin's attempt at getting in the way of the Reigns-Balor universal title main event by pushing for a rematch with Balor (the man, not the Demon) was foiled by Angle. Instead, Corbin was booked instantly to this two-segment match which seemed to drag on a bit too long. After a long stretch of 50/50 action, Lashley hit a variation of the Big Ending for the pin.
- Kurt Angle denies Brock Lesnar an immediate rematch: Paul Heyman interrupted Angle backstage with hopes of invoking Lesnar's contractually obligated second chance at Reigns' universal title. Angle referenced that he finally has a fighting champion and that the contract doesn't state when the rematch must take place. "It will be a long, long, long, long time before Brock Lesnar gets his rematch," Angle said. After Heyman suggested Lesnar's rematch come at Hell in a Cell on Sept. 16, Angle said it will be a cold day in hell when that happens.
- The Riott Squad def. Boss 'n Hug Connection & Ember Moon via pinfall: This six-woman tag match heated up late following a series of big moves as chaos broke loose. The finish came after a stiff clothesline from Sarah Logan on Bayley outside that was instantly followed a meteora from Banks onto Logan off the top rope. But as Banks re-entered the ring, Ruby Riott caught her with a Riott Kick for the 1-2-3.
- Dean Ambrose def. Dolph Ziggler via pinfall: In his first match in eight months since returning from injury last week, Ambrose looked great and played the part of more of a powerhouse wrestler thanks to the added bulk. Like Sunday night, Drew McIntyre threatened outside interference throughout. Eventually, Seth Rollins took him out and even cut through the center of the ring just before the finish to hit McIntyre with a suicide dive on the other side of the ring. Ambrose then debuted a pop-up version of his Dirty Deeds finisher to pin Ziggler.
- Elias def. Curt Hawkins via pinfall: Elias opened on guitar and claimed he fired two roadies in response to his guitar breaking at SummerSlam. After he insulted the Brooklyn crowd, out came Hawkins to put up his 218-match losing streak by offering a match. "Curt Hawkins is a loser," Elias said. "You were born a loser and you're going to die a loser just like every single person here." Hawkins final challenge was answered but their brief match only added to his losing streak as Elias survived a pair of sneaky rollup attempts to hit his Drift Away to end matters. Hawkins did well to win over his home crowd in what turned out to be a decent piece of business.
- Authors of Pain def. Titus Worldwide via pinfall: If you're wondering how many more dominant AOP victories will be needed before this feud can end, you aren't alone. Apollo Crews looked good in hitting a moonsault off the top rope and then a standing one in succession for back-to-back pin attempts that could only get two. But AOP instantly hit a double-teaming Last Chapter to set up Akam's pin.
- Scott Dawson def. Bo Dallas via pinfall: Dash Wilder def. Curtis Axel via pinfall: The Raw tag team champions dedicated tonight's matches to everyone in the crowd with Axel saying the "B" in B Team "stands for Brooklyn." The pair of singles bouts both turned out to be virtual squashes as a way to put over The Revival as legitimate title threats. It worked, as did the unveiling of their respective unique finishing moves as Dawson hit a fallaway DDT and Wilder a modified reverse facebuster.
- Stephanie McMahon sends Kurt Angle on vacation: Upset at the Raw GM for pushing him into a match with Lashley, Corbin brought his frustrations directly to the commissioner. McMahon's anger then only doubled when she blamed Angle while icing her elbow in the locker room for not being present as Rousey attacked her earlier in the night. Although Angle vehemently disagreed, McMahon sent him off on a vacation but made sure to mention it wasn't permanent and ultimately appointed Corbin the acting GM.