This was a star-making night for Finn Balor. With two wins, beating Rusev in a Fatal Four Way and Roman Reigns in the main event, Balor will challenge Seth Rollins for the new WWE Universal Title at SummerSlam. It’s a stupid name for a title, but it’s going to be an incredible match.
On top of that, Balor was treated like the star he should be coming onto the brand as one of the top picks in the WWE Draft last week. Balor not only pinned Rusev and Reigns, there was also a video package that aired for the viewers that maybe didn’t watch Balor’s entire NXT run. They made sure to get the new star over like a new star, and it worked.
Also, part of that required Reigns’ push to be dialed back, which was deserved after missing a month for a Wellness Policy violation. Moving forward, Balor will challenge Rollins while Reigns is at a real crossroad. Very good storytelling by WWE at the top of the card.
There were also a lot of new new production elements on Raw which were a welcome change, eliminating the cookie-cutter presentation that has been part of WWE’s broadcast for about eight years, since the HD set was introduced in 2008.
The new set was a variation on what was there before, but made Raw feel new. The different camera angles were fun, the return of squash matches — such as Nia Jax win — were a welcome addition and Corey Graves added a youthful and cutting-edge presence on commentary. Finally, there is someone in that role that is actually well informed when it comes to pop culture.
1 — Finn Balor beat Rusev, Cesaro & Kevin Owens to earn a spot in a No. 1 Contender’s Match later in the show
Aside from Balor, who looked great in the win, Kevin Owens looked really good in this match as well. Even though he suffered two losses, this was a really good weekend for Kevin Owens, who had the match of the night against Sami Zayn on Sunday and then another really strong showing tonight, especially when he was selling for Balor.
2 — Nia Jax beat Britt Baker
A squash match!
If you’ve been reading my stuff here at Den of Geek for any length of time, you know how I feel about squash matches. They’re great, they help get people over, and we saw a perfect example of that here.
Nia Jax is a monster. Even my non-fan wife watched that match and said to me, “Look, I know this isn’t real, but this does not look like a fair match.”
Instead of Nia Jax squashing an established woman on the roster, she squashed someone we’ve never heard of, and will never see again (until she gets signed years from now and maybe receives a push).
You get over Nia’s enormous strength and her moves without hurting someone else on the roster. The only thing people remembered after this match is that Nia Jax is a beast.
3 — Roman Reigns beat Chris Jericho, Sheamus & Sami Zayn to earn a spot in a No. 1 Contender’s Match later in the show
This was another very entertaining four-way match, combined with the match at the start of the show.
Reigns won here, which at first had me groaning with “well, it’s a new era but they still haven’t learned,” but it was all setting up what was going to happen later in the night, and that was a career-making moment for Finn Balor.
4 — Neville beat Curtis Axel
Essentially, this was another squash match. And, in contrast to what they did with Nia Jax, this is why squash matches work better. If you put Neville in there with some nobody, it doesn’t hurt Curtis Axel.
Now, it’s not as if Axel is positioned all that highly on the card. He’s a low-card act right now and that’s fine. He’s been positioned that way for a while and at this point he might not be able to climb out of that hole, but things like this aren’t going to help him.
You can’t have squash matches everywhere on the show, and maybe two in one show is enough, but I think there is room for one per hour. These matches are only usually lasting 2-3 minutes anyway.
Give us a squash where you see Neville’s entrance, his big finisher and a win — basically everything he did here — but do it against someone other than Axel.
5 — Sasha Banks beat Charlotte to win the WWE Women’s Title
Sasha Banks beating Charlotte for the Women’s Championship is something that could have been a featured match on SummerSlam (top-three on the card), and it still might, but Sasha capturing the title was a great moment for this first Raw of the New Era.
Sasha’s emotion was evident, you could see it on her face, and her post-match promo with Byron Saxton was interesting. She wasn’t acting like a heel, but she also wasn’t your typical humble babyface, either. She’s a confident butt-kicker, and the fans are respecting that.
6 — Braun Strowman beat James Ellsworth
Another squash match! Nerds like me, rejoice!
7 — Enzo & Cass beat The Shining Stars
Enzo and Cass are obviously on to some big things, and this was a good showcase match. I’d put this more in the category of the Neville-Axel match, but at the end of the day, The Shining Stars just aren’t a money act and Enzo and Cass certainly are.
8 — Finn Balor beat Roman Reigns to become the No. 1 contender (vs. Seth Rollins) for the new WWE Universal Title
A star is born. Highlighting the first night of the “new era” with Balor and Sasha Banks is one heck of a way to kick off an era.