Wrestling fans who were dismayed over Raw having a superior roster compared to SmackDown at the end of last week’s draft are singing a different tune today. Last night, the new era truly took center stage as a new championship, well booked matches, and the creation of a new star made for a great episode of Monday Night Raw.
Raw kicked off with the announcement that they will institute a new championship, the WWE Universal Championship, designed to be the top prize of the brand. The new name works because the company refers to their audience as the WWE Universe, which is their world.
The first champion will be determined at SummerSlam when Seth Rollins faces Finn Balor. Rollins was given an automatic bid into the championship bout since he was the number one overall pick in the draft.
WWE creative went above and beyond to justify why this “NXT guy” in Finn Balor was the third pick and drafted ahead of more established main roster wrestlers. He was given the AJ Styles treatment by being presented as a big deal in the industry and listed his accolades outside of WWE.
The NXT standout won a Fatal Four Way match earlier in the night and went on to pin Roman Reigns, clean and in the middle of the ring. Balor was the most popular wrestler on the show and became a star in one night.
Sasha Banks and Charlotte had a classic encounter that some are calling the best women’s match in the history of Raw. WWE has been building towards this confrontation for several months and it paid off as the crowd was into every single second of this match.
The fact that this match occurred on the show was a surprise since SummerSlam was its assumed destination. Banks won the Women’s Championship and she broke down in the ring afterwards, which really capped off the moment.
The show itself was different in almost every way. There was a new Raw logo and a new show opening theme, “Enemies” by Shinedown. There was also a new set, and the commentary team was in a new location ala WCW.
There were less backstage segments and the squash matches returned in order to get over new talent. Pre and post-match interviews at ringside gave the show more of a real sports feeling, the term “professional wrestling” was used as opposed to “sports entertainment.”
The most refreshing changes to the show were that there was hardly a McMahon in sight, Corey Graves’ addition to the broadcast team and the main matches were longer and action packed from bell to bell, which went a long way in making Raw feel like a three hour event instead of a three hour chore.
This was one of the best episodes of Monday Night Raw in a longtime. It felt fresh and a little more grounded in reality as they even mentioned how SmackDown beat them in overall viewership last week (3.17 million viewers to 3.13 million viewers).
Hopefully this week’s ratings will reflect the excitement and buzz that this first official installment of the new era is receiving. If not, WWE might panic and return Raw to its regularly scheduled programming chockfull of McMahon family drama.
Overall, WWE proved that they can still make great television, and now tonight’s SmackDown Live has an extremely tough act to follow.