Don’t look now, but Monday Night Raw appears headed in the right direction after the long, strange trip that was the fallout from WrestleMania 34 through SummerSlam. Although it would be hard for WWE’s flagship show to get any worse than the rock-bottom reality that lasted about six weeks, it’s hard to deny the feeling of momentum in the air following a surprisingly strong Super Show-Down pay-per-view Saturday morning in Australia and a follow-up episode of Raw.
Monday’s show was quick-moving, fun and featured a handful of reveals that simultaneously set the stage for a pair of PPV shows on the horizon, including the inaugural all-women’s Evolution show on Oct. 28 and WWE Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 2.
Triple H, Shawn Michaels reform DeGeneration X
The legendary best friends opened the show by angrily reliving Saturday’s post-match attack by the Brothers of Destruction at Super Show-Down after the four of them had joined hands to soak in the crowd’s adulation. Triple H called out Kane and The Undertaker for a lack of respect and stared hard into HBK’s face when saying, “respect is when you stick to your word even though everyone doesn’t want you to.”
Michaels then recalled how long the plane ride back was from Australia and how he walked off with only one question in mind. Triple H interrupted him, looked Michaels in the eyes and asked it himself, “Are you ready?” Moments before ripping off their shirts to reveal D-Generation X versions underneath, the duo challenged Kane and The Undertaker to a match at WWE Crown Jewel in November (which was officially announced later in the show).
There was a surprisingly tame pop from the crowd for this announcement which did nothing but reveal the larger issue at hand. For as much as WWE fans love nostalgia and would normally fall over themselves at the idea of Michaels going back on his word to stay retired by returning for one more match, this is the far from the scenario anyone had in mind. For as fun as Saturday’s show was, WWE’s consecutive pay-per-view trips to Australia and Saudi Arabia over a 27-day span are almost painfully transparent for what they really are – money grabs.
Seeing Michaels, a guy who it’s clear at even age 53 can still go, not come back against a current top star like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins or Samoa Joe and instead rehash history against two washed villains is a bit disappointing. Speaking of DX, what age is it no longer acceptable to have “two words” for someone you don’t like? Let’s face it, that might not be the best gimmick to carry on into one’s twilight. Grade: C
Kurt Angle makes surprise return
Weeks after WWE announced a one-night World Cup tournament in Saudi Arabia at Crown Jewel, the eight-man field began to take shape. During a promo video, John Cena was announced as the only competitor who wouldn’t need a qualifying match. Later, acting general manager Baron Corbin revealed he was entering himself tonight into a battle royal with the winner earning the second spot in the World Cup.
The Conquistador wins eight-man Global Battle Royal: Corbin’s transparent move was designed to land himself an easy spot in the tournament considering the field was a comical collection of jobbers supposedly representing different countries. The masked Consquistador smartly exited the ring at the opening bell and hid by sitting on the floor as the remaining wrestlers circled Corbin until the Constable threw each them all out one at a time. The Consquistador then snuck in to hit a trio of German suplexes and what appeared to be an Angle slam before clotheslining Corbin out to win the match. A demasking revealed it was Kurt Angle and all he would say during a backstage interview alter on was, “Technically, I’m still on vacation.”
This was not only a fun segment, it was smart booking to add an intriguing storyline to the World Cup tournament that should likely escalate the Angle-Corbin feud all the way to Survivor Series. Credit WWE for having fun with the different gimmicks of the jobbers inside the ring and Angle stayed true to his historically strong comedic skills by concealing his identity behind the mask with dancing and fun gestures. Grade: A-
Ronda Rousey gets double crossed
Ronda Rousey & The Bella Twins def. The Riott Squad via submission: In a rematch of the same exact match from Saturday in Australia, Brie Bella and Liv Morgan set the tone early with an intense brawl meant to be a reminder of Bella accidentally concussing Morgan weeks earlier. The exciting match built to a hot tag that allowed Rousey to clean house. Nikki and Brie then assisted by keeping Morgan and Sarah Logan from interferring as Rousey applied the armbar on Ruby Riott for a quick tap.
After the match, Rousey hugged the Bella Twins and held their hands up in victory. Nikki then attacked her from behind. After Rousey initially worked free and judo tossed both of them out of the ring, her intensity got the best of her. As Rousey screamed in Nikki’s face (and was bleeped by the censors in the process), Brie attacked from behind and sent Rousey face first into the ring post. Rousey was then thrown into the ring steps and barricade wall before both sisters posed over Rousey inside the ring. Later, a Rousey-Nikki title match was announced for Evolution.
Nearly every aspect of this was handled perfectly. Not only was the match fun to watch, the heel turn featured intensity and great timing. The Bella Twins have long been more valuable as heels and seeing Nikki do the #L on her forehead felt like a nostalgic flashback to better days. While next week will be important for the twins to properly explain the reasoning behind their fake friendship, it’s hard not to be excited for the Evolution match considering the star power involved. The only thing that kept this from a perfect score was the lack of an explanation as to why Natalya didn’t run in to save Rousey. Grade: A
What else happened on Raw?
- Bobby Lashley def. Kevin Owens via pinfall: With Lio Rush working the microphone throughout the match from ringside as a hype man, Lashley began to show a much more physical side. The lengthy, two-segment match ended with Owens tweaking his knee and Lashley not holding back by attacking it. After Lashley hit the Dominator for the 1-2-3 and exited the ring, he suddenly turned back in a move that felt like a heel turn. Lashley hit KO with a chop block and slammed his knee against the corner post. He later returned once more to target both knees against the post. Rush and Lashley later interrupted a backstage interview with Finn Balor and Bayley to insult them and further cement the turn.
- Finn Balor & Bayley def. Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox via pinfall: In what amounted to nothing more than a commercial for the Mixed Match Challenge, the rematch between these two teams saw Balor and Bayley repeat their success from last Tuesday. Bayley stuffed Sunil Singh’s attempt to interfere by knocking him off the ring apron and Balor followed with a Coup de Grace on Mahal for the pin.
- Ember Moon def. Nia Jax via countout: The pair of good friends brought out the intensity out of each other. The action spilled outside the ring late after Moon’s suicide dive attempt failed to knock Jax over. But Jax missed her follow-up splash attempt and hit hard onto the apron video board. Moon dove under the bottom rope just in time to beat the 10-count. After the match, Jax hugged Moon and raised her arm in victory while nursing her injured shoulder.
- Trish Stratus, Lita to team up at Evolution: After Stratus entered the ring to dispute what was said in last week’s “Moment of Bliss” promo, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James came out to trade words. Stratus’ offer for an immediate match with Bliss was overruled by James, who suggested a tag team match. Out came Lita to get her former rival’s back as the two fought off Bliss and James, with Bliss saving James from a Lita moonsault by pulling her from the ring. Soon after, WWE announced a tag team match involving all four at Evolution, in place or the singles matches that were previously announced or rumored.
- Bobby Roode & Chad Gable def. The Ascension via pinfall: After two straight singles wins from Konnor, Roode and Gable teamed up to get revenge. Gable continued his overzealous ways by tagging himself in just as Roode was set to hit his finisher. Gable landed a German suplex with a bridge on Viktor for the pin as an angry Roode looked on. Just then, out came AOP to take out both with punches before teaming up on a Super Collider to likely signal the start of a new feud.
- Paul Heyman hypes triple threat match at Crown Jewel: The advocate for Brock Lesnar checked in with a brief promo delivered entirely from the ramp and meant to remind fans “The Beast” still exists. Heyman was far from thrilling or dynamic as he criticized Reigns and Strowman for needing the help of teammates while predicting that Lesnar would defeat them both in their triple threat universal championship match in Saudi Arabia.
- Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre def. The Shield via pinfall: Yet another rematch from Super Show-Down produced an enthralling match with pay-per-view intensity. Earlier segments did well to spell out the current disharmony between the heels as Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler continued to argue about who is the weak link of the team. The arguments only continued into the match, largely between McIntyre and Braun Strowman. An electric second half of the match saw multiple high spots and tandem suicide dives from Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose that riled up the crowd. But the chaotic finish ended four men laid out on the floor and McIntyre hitting Ambrose with the Claymore kick for the 1-2-3. As the heels celebrated up the ramp, Ambrose left his Shield brethren behind in the ring and stormed off.