By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Finn Balor Relinquished the WWE Universal Championship
What a sad story. After a historic first month on the main roster and one night removed from his WWE Universal Championship win, Balor has to give up the gold and sit on the sidelines anywhere from four to six months with a torn labrum. That was extremely disheartening to hear before Raw started (I was just taking my seat when the news broke), and you could tell it was killing Balor on the inside to have to relinquish the belt. The crowd showed tremendous respect for Balor, and I liked how they wasted no time in establishing the key players in the hunt for the vacated title, leading us into our first match of the evening.
Seth Rollins def. Sami Zayn in a WWE Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way Qualifying Match
Rollins and Zayn have had a few matches against each other before and all of them have been excellent with this one being no exception. I appreciated how it wasn't the type of match you would normally expect from them with this time Zayn selling a fake ankle injury (which everyone thought was legitimate by the way, so stellar selling by Sami). Zayn scored his usual underdog hope spots only to fall short of victory, so the story told here was well done.
Kevin Owens def. Neville in a WWE Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way Qualifying Match
Owens is the perfect opponent for Neville to showcase his skills against. Squash matches against The Dudley Boyz and Jinder Mahal will only get Neville so far, whereas a competitive contest against an established star such as Owens will turn the heads of viewers who view him as a glorified spot monkey. This was an impressive outing from him and I hope it wasn't a one-and-done type deal. It would be refreshing for him to be much more than just another Cruiserweight on the roster because he is certainly capable of it. Meanwhile, Jeri-KO continue to kick all kinds of ass.
WWE Tag Team Champion Big E def. Karl Anderson
This feud hasn't done anything for me, their SummerSlam match didn't do much for me, and this segment was hardly an improvement. Congrats to New Day on reaching the one year mark as WWE Tag Team Champions, but ironically, I'm ready for something new from them. Comedy with The Club isn't accomplishing anything. The match was fine, but having Big E win was weird. I'd assume that marked the end of the program because otherwise, why would have the heels look weak two nights in a row?
Titus O'Neil Attacked Darren Young and Bob Backlund
O'Neil was a mere ten seconds into his promo before he started fumbling over his words and the crowd let him have it. He had a few solid one-liners making fun of Brooklyn favorites, but other than that, this promo was a clear sign O'Neil should never be allowed to talk on Raw. I appreciate undercard feuds getting air time, but O'Neil did not deliver here whatsoever and the crowd could not have cared less when he attacked Young. I was hoping for O'Neil to run with the "We Want Slater!" chant and say he was holding him down too when they were tagging, but no such luck.
Big Cass def. United States Champion Rusev in a WWE Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way Qualifying Match (Non-title)
Coming off a loss at SummerSlam, I'm not sure exactly what Cass did to earn himself a spot in this qualifying match, but hey, it's a fresh match, so I can't complain. It was actually pretty decent, so I was surprised the crowd grew tired of it halfway through and weren't as invested as I thought they would be considering Cass was the hometown hero. Rusev walking out allowed Cass to score the victory, sold the SummerSlam injury and protected the U.S. title, so this was smart booking all around.
Bayley def. Dana Brooke
FINALLY! I'll let you in on a little secret: I assumed that if Bayley wasn't called up the night after WrestleMania 32, then she would be brought up the night after SummerSlam. That was the primary reason why I bought my tickets to Raw earlier this year, and thus, I couldn't have been happier that she made her main roster debut at long last on this show. It was optimal timing, too, considering Sasha Banks might be out for at least a month or two and Bayley can feud with Charlotte in the interim. As for the subsequent match, Brooke may be awful, but Bayley carried her to a competent contest that the crowd was hot for the entire time.
Braun Strowman def. Johnny Knockout
Strowman's path of destruction rolls on. This really wasn't much different than any other squash he has had up to this point, but for some reason, it is far more of a pleasure to watch Strowman destroy his opponents in person as opposed to on television. I also always wondered whether the live crowd could hear the jobber's in-ring promo, but I learned that was not the case.
The Shining Stars Interrupted The Dudley Boyz' Farewell Address
Obviously, everyone assumed The Dudley Boyz announcing their retirement on Raw earlier in the day on Twitter was merely a work, but it ended up being legitimate. Color me surprised. Damn, that's disappointing. I was hoping they would either stick together and win their tenth tag title, or break up and we would get Bully Ray out of it. Sadly, neither of those things happened, but I did like how they got to leave on their own terms in the same city they returned in exactly one year earlier (still one of my favorite moments as a fan). Being able to witness their final 3D in person was a super cool thrill. Thank you, Dudleyz!
Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho in a WWE Universal Championship Fatal 4-Way Qualifying Match
No, I don't like Reigns winning (or the idea of him becoming the next Universal Champion) as much as the next guy, but you have to give respect where it's due. He had a hell of a match with Jericho here, and I don't think the wave that started at one point was necessary (all right, I shamelessly participated, but just once!). I didn't think for a second that Reigns wasn't going over, but fans bought into the suspenseful nearfalls down the stretch, so that's how you know it was a very good match. The stage has been set for next week's Fatal 4-Way and it should be interesting, to say the least.
I'm not sure how it came across on television, but I thoroughly enjoyed this Raw. The three hours flew by just being there, so much so that I completely forgot Cesaro, Sheamus and Nia Jax were left off the show (they were likely originally scheduled to appear before the Balor injury news broke, causing them to rewrite the show). The three hours were well paced, resulting in an entertaining edition on the whole. I have zero idea what the Clash of Champions card is going to look like, but I suppose we'll get a better idea next week.
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