Rusev/Lana vs Andrade “Cien” Almas/Zelina Vega
Matt Souza: So Rusev goes from being in the WWE Title match last month at Extreme Rules to wrestling on the opening match of the Pre-Show. Yikes. How dare they have Rusev wrestle this early on Rusev Day! I’ve become a really big fan of Almas over the past few months. Every move he does looks so smooth and fluid. The man got a really good match out of Sin Cara for goodness sakes! This was a basic match but I think it worked well enough. The Rusev and Almas portion of the match was solid and I thought that the Lana and Vega portion of the match was OK with some sloppy moments including the finish. Very interesting that they had Vega win the match for her team rather than have Almas score the pinfall. Are they protecting Rusev for something bigger down the line? Decent enough way to kick off the night’s matches and hopefully this is start of some bigger things for Almas and Vega. *3/4
Cedric Alexander (c) vs Drew Gulak – WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Brian Cullinane: Gulak won a fatal four way match to become the #1 contender to the Cruiserweight Championship. Since then, Gulak has not only accused Alexander of being the “Brock Lesnar of 205 Live” but has used his new friends Jack Gallagher & Brian Kendrick to help him soften up Alexander’s neck in consecutive matches then put Alexander in the Gu-Lock last week to end 205 Live. Gallagher & Kendrick have been banned from ringside.
They went back-and-forth early until Gulak blocked a slingshot flatliner. Gulak worked the neck for a while and even got the Gu-Lock on Cedric while in the ropes. Cedric fought back and started to counter Gulak’s submissions and the finish saw several reversals until Cedric rolled up Gulak for the win. The match itself told a good story. Gulak was ready for all of Cedric’s signature spots while Cedric did everything he could to avoid the Gu-Lock. The action was crisp but being that it started at the beginning of the Kickoff Show second hour not all of the fans were in attendance and it did not get much of a reaction. The finish also would lead you to believe that Gulak will get a rematch. I like Cedric but his championship reign has not felt special. Still, one of the better Kickoff show matches of the year. ***1/4
The B-Team (c) vs The Revival – Raw Tag Team Championship
J Arsenio D’Amato: The B Team’s new entrance theme perked up the crowd a bit with the “Go, Go, Go!” chant harkening back to the legendary Go Go Boys. Curtis Axel got hit with an early Shatter Machine one minute in when he wasn’t the legal man in the ring which resulted in a long nap on the floor while Dawson and Wilder took turns beating on Bo Dallas for the majority of the match. Unfortunately the quasi handicap match killed any crowd momentum. Axel finally revived for the hot tag and Bo stumbled upon a Revival rollup causing the reversal and B team continues their title reign with another fluke win. Fun match with the “Go Go” theme providing easy, harmless entertainment. **
Dolph Ziggler (c) w/Drew McIntyre vs Seth Rollins w/Dean Ambrose – WWE Intercontinental Championship
Scott Criscuolo: This was the perfect match to start the show, as the two most over guys on Raw right now (Rollins, and even though for just one week Ambrose) takes on the suddenly motivated Dolph Ziggler. Both men have been on fire with their matches both on TV and at Extreme Rules, which was rightfully the main event. I’m a huge Drew McIntyre fan both in NXT and now, and yeah even the first time he was here. This match was going to be deliberate just like the one last month but obviously one fall to a finish. The feeling during most of the match was that Dean Ambrose was going to turn heel, because that’s usually the wrestling trope of guys out with injuries. Whatever side they were on when they got hurt, they will flip when they return. Did that hurt the match? Eh, not really because we were so pumped about these two firing the show off to a good start. They really talked up Rollins’ past knee injury and Dolph took advantage of that. It’s evident that Coach is trying too hard to acclimate himself to the current product and it’s making the chemistry at the table somewhat wonky. Rollins’ weird half gold/gray tights was somewhat off-putting but Dolph swiping Velveteen Dream’s idea of honoring Rick Rude with the belt on his tights was cool. Rollins almost swiped AJ’s top rope punch by changing it to a clothesline but he bounced off and even had the same stance in mid-air than the WWE Champion had. More on him further down. The commentary is a bit rough to start as Graves & Coach don’t really know what to say to each other. I’ve said for a while we need a different heel announcer on one of the shows, as Graves is just too much now. We’ve had no Drew/Dean interference for any of the match and when Seth hit those two big moves late that Dolph would kick out of them. Drew then throws Dean into the steps which distracts Seth and Dolph hits a Zig Zag for a two count and the place went nuts. Dean recovers to hit Dirty Deeds on Drew and Seth hits the Stomp for the 3 count. Seth is IC Champ again and that was a fantastic opener to the show. ****
The Bludgeon Brothers (c) vs The New Day – Smackdown Tag Team Championship
Greg Philips: This was the culmination of the last month of build in the SmackDown tag team division, as New Day won a four-team tournament to get the “honor” of facing the unbeaten-since-repackaging Bludgeon Brothers. As I’ve come to expect from New Day matches, this was controlled chaos in all the right ways. Cool double-team moves, an early onslaught from the Bludgeons, courageous babyface fire from Big E and Xavier Woods, a crazy bump or two, and all the natural New Day charisma on display. Unfortunately, good work led to an unsatisfying finish, the first of two disqualifications in SmackDown title matches at SummerSlam. It felt impotent, especially since the match was really cooking to that point, and given they would use the same finish later in the evening, perhaps there was a different way to achieve the desired result of New Day looking good and the Bludgeons retaining their heat. Still, a good effort. ***
Braun Strowman vs Kevin Owens
Matt Souza: This is the 4th straight PPV (5th if you include the Greatest Royal Rumble), Owens and Strowman are involved in the same match. In my opinion, this feud really should have ended last month at Extreme Rules but I guess both guys needed a match tonight so here we are. I really like the idea of the winner of the Money in the Bank contract defending it like it was a championship. Treat it like it’s one of the secondary belts. I think it’s something that WWE could and should do more often. Fast start to this one with Braun bulldozing Owens. Nasty chokeslam on the ramp by Braun. KO doing a great job making Braun look like a destroyer. Powerslam. 3 count. Good night KO. I thought it was smart booking by WWE giving Braun a dominant and decisive victory leading into him cashing in the contract at some point. As much as I enjoyed this, I can’t give it a high rating simply because it was less than 2 minutes. But it was a very entertaining 2 minutes. *1/2
Carmella (c) vs Becky Lynch vs Charlotte Flair – Smackdown Women’s Championship Triple Threat
Stacey O’Loughlin: Ahh yes, the How Will Becky Get Screwed Over This Time Invitational. As tempting as it is to call this a DUD because Becky lost, I thought the match itself over-delivered. Carmella works much better in a three-way; one-on-one she gets too much offense and isn’t interesting, whereas here she could just pick her spots and stir things up between the two faces. There were some fun high spots in this, like Carmella’s tope, Becky’s killer leg drop and Charlotte’s… thing, and the finish was hot with Becky going for Disarm Her after Disarm Her to tease the right finish until Charlotte swooped in to win her record-equalling seventh Women’s Title.
But all of that was just the preamble to BEX ATTACKS! NO! YES! ARGH I DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL! I tell you what she absolutely MURKED Charlotte with that first punch, Charlotte couldn’t even get back up straight away. Gnarly. There isn’t enough room here to go into the issues with WWE jerking their best babyface around forever and then trying to turn her heel vs. the (second) most unlikeable face they have. But at least in front of this crowd Becky didn’t turn heel as much as just turn into an even babyfacier babyface, and at least going forward we are going to get PISSED OFF WAR BECKY. ***
AJ Styles (c) vs Samoa Joe – WWE Championship
Brian Cullinane: The premise of this match is simple: AJ wants to prove that he is the best champion while Joe not only wants to take it away from him but also play head games regarding his family. Another fact: Joe/AJ have faced off for the Ring of Honor, TNA, and now WWE Championships.
This match was a battle. Joe took control after a few minutes when he kicked AJ off of the apron. Joe also channeled the fountain of youth here as he hit harder and moved faster than he ever has on the WWE main roster. AJ was able to withstand Joe’s onslaught and these two were stiff down the stretch. The finish occurred when Joe stood on top of the announcers table and told AJ’s wife that “daddy is coming home” and AJ is not then Joe promised to be the new daddy to AJ’s kid as that prompted AJ to tackle Joe off of the table then beat up a few security geeks before hitting Joe with a chair for the DQ. The finish was great and the visual of AJ’s forehead bleeding as he was going nuts combined with AJ’s youngest daughter afraid of him after what took place. This feud will continue and likely lead to a stipulation match as Joe will continue to torment AJ and his family. I thought this was the best match on the show and Joe’s best match in the company to date. ****
Daniel Bryan vs The Miz
Jacob Williams: Good and even great matches aren’t rare in modern WWE, but feuds that really feel like true feuds can be hard to come by. This was (and apparently will continue to be) a real feud between a clear face and heel based on a personal issue. In the build, they brought up the Talking Smack shoot-ish comments that really set this conflict in motion back when Bryan’s return was still a hypothetical, and, in a nice bit of storytelling, brought us back to the days when Miz was Bryan’s assigned mentor in the original NXT. Like any good heel, Miz does have some truth in his gripe that he gets disrespected despite giving his best and dramatically improving over the past few years.
The match certainly delivered, even without ending the feud. There was a big fight feel right from the start, and the two really beat the hell out of each other to match the intensity of the feud. Despite his continuous attempts to use Bryan’s arsenal, Miz kept falling short. Like HBK’s back after his return, Bryan’s neck/head is prime for storytelling, and they were sure to work that in throughout the match. In a cool spot, Bryan landed a stiff kick to the ring post, so Miz immediately went for the figure-four. Eventually, Miz knew he couldn’t put Bryan away, so he grabbed a foreign object from Maryse in the crowd to knock Bryan out. I loved how the tone of the match fit the feud. Both wanted to hurt the other, but not enough to forget that they wanted the win. There was really wasn’t anything groundbreaking or amazing. They just went out and executed a great match, with a simple finish to extend the feud. ****
Finn Balor vs Deputy Dog
Aaron George: Absolute best case scenario. Ballsy move to have the good Constable on four hours into a show. I could watch Balor kill guys dead all day, if I have to hear Cole say “The Demon has graced us with its presence,” again as though it is a different person I may kill myself all day. Also why introduce the foreign announcers four hours into a show? Can you even listen to these guys anywhere???? ***********************************
Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs Jeff Hardy – WWE US Championship
J Arsenio D’Amato: The Barclays faithful serenaded Nakamura for old times sake despite the loud heavy metal newer version of his entrance theme. Nakamura mocked Jeff’s delete motions and Jeff responded with a hysterical mock of Nak’s gyrations and “Come on!” motioning. A promising start dwindled into a middling match that perked up after Jeff hit his Twist of Fate and Whisper in the wind for near falls. Jeff went for a Swanson on the apron which Nak evaded and rolled Jeff in where he was prey to Nak’s finishing knee. Randy Orton dropped in to say hello without any contact or raising the mediocrity level of this match and feud. **
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Ronda Rousey – Raw Women’s Championship
Scott Criscuolo:This was EXACTLY how it needed to be done. Alexa has been bobbing and weaving between allies, referees and Kurt Angle to avoid the only woman on the Raw roster that could legitimately tie her in knots. Ronda has talked & smiled less during this stretch but you can tell she’s still having fun. There was only one way for this to end, and WWE decided to not wait and just do it now. So, in just a neat and tidy four minutes Ronda tortures Alexa and bends her arm to the other side of the world and we finally got a heel reaction to a babyface submission move. She tapped out immediately instead of gutting it out and trying to be the tough, cool heel. That’s not Alexa. She’s a tremendous old school chicken shit heel who finally got what she deserved. This had such a better reaction than Nia Jax’s win at Wrestlemania that nobody cared about. Ronda does have some work to do with her character though. The shit talking was a little much and she pulled a Ken Shamrock and called her cue to Alexa a LITTLE too loud. Coach covered it up well though. Where do we go from here with the Baddest Woman on the Planet? We shall see. I can’t really grade this based on the match alone, so I’ll grade the whole package. ***
Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns – WWE Universal Championship
Aaron George: After literally months of psychological gymnastics, all meticulously designed to crown the BIG DAWG in a way that the people will cheer for we were left with a beautiful Samoan man holding a cherry title to the sky while boos REIGNED down from on high. Why? How did we get here? And good god why? I’m not sure what went wrong, perhaps it was THE guy , who we know has been given everything by the company, telling us that, oh no sir, it’s Brock Lesnar that is the company’s boy. I don’t like to throw around terms like disingenuous , or fake, or fraudulent, or a stretch, or trying harder to get someone to boo a heel than any heel in the history of the universe…. wait…. where was this going? In the end it worked! They booed BOTH guys! You see the WWE is actually great at building two things: guys that the crowd is completely apathetic to and faux heels. Faux heels? Yeah you know the kind that get booed not because of anything they do in the storyline or in-ring no, no no, that’s too traditional, and “wrestling themed” and logical. No these guys get booed because the crowd is sick of them.
See they do know how to build a face, but only for the most fleeting of moments. Braun Strowman stood outside the ring as the last bastion of hope that the fans wouldn’t turn completely on the match. They have to trick the fans from not turning on matches. Is it genius? Maybe. Is it a sad indictment of their entire creative process? You betcha. Only with the suggestion that someone the people actually want in the main event may actually be in said event keeps the thing from deteriorating into a WrestleMania XX-like fiasco. The worst part is they know! They know and they don’t care. It’s REIGNS baby, whether you want him or not. What kind of a psychopath pushes his will on people to this degree?
So we have our coronation. After three years of getting slotted into the main events while your partners go to the midcard, cutting “edgy” promos in NXT to win over the smart crowds, winning the 2015 Royal Rumble, main eventing WrestleMania, getting sympathy for getting screwed by a MITB cash-in, winning a 128 man tournament to be crowned champ, getting sympathy for getting screwed by a MITB cash-in, feuding with the greatest heel in company history years past his prime, having the odds stacked against you in a Royal Rumble to a degree never seen before, beating HHH in a 88 minute match at WrestleMania Star, fighting the best in ring guy maybe in the history of the promotion, teaming with a plucky popular partner in an effort to get over, beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, winning elimination chambers, taking Brock to the limit at WrestleMania 34, becoming the uncrowned champ in the KINGDOM of Saudi Arabia, having the entire focus of the promotion be to make Brock Lesnar look like a bad guy backstage and finally having the dog from Ghostbusters cameo in your Summerslam 2018 entrance we have our Big DAWG as big champ. And they STILL booed. Pathetic.
Match was useless. Way too many fist cocks, way too few spears considering Brock survived 80 like 4 months ago. Sure thank God it’s over, but what’s next? What’s left for them to do? Crucify Reigns and have him rise from the dead three days later? Rise around in a sleigh and bring children presents? Have the big DAWG give everyone 40 dollars? If they had any competition they’d be out of business. **