With less than a week to go until The Stomping Ground PPV, WWE had little time to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on the feuds and programmes that have been building in recent weeks. One impending question was who would be revealed as the guest referee in the Universal Championship match between Seth Rollins and Baron Corbin at the weekend. Also, Samoa Joe’s opponent for the United States Championship would be decided, and Daniel Bryan would make his presence felt on RAW making use of the Wildcard Rule to venture over to the red brand for a week.
Elias opens Raw
Elias donned a referee’s shirt and announced he was going to be the middle man between Rollins and Corbin on Sunday. As he was just getting comfortable in the black and white stripes, Rollins appeared and destroyed him with a steel chair, promising Corbin and any lackey he has doing his bidding for him will meet a similar fate.
A fired-up, focussed Rollins is the best version of Rollins when in babyface mode, but it was slightly disappointing that it came again at the expense of much-maligned Elias, seemingly only used to get other people over, due to his enduring popularity.
#1 Contenders Match for United States Championship: The Miz vs. Bobby Lashley vs. Cesaro vs. Ricochet vs. Braun Strowman
The burying of Elias continued as, still shell-shocked from his Rollins pummelling, was obliterated in turn by each superstar entering the ring, a stunt designed to elicit a cheap pop at the expense of one of the more entertaining superstars in the company.
Elias taken care of, Strowman took early control, clearing the ring. Cesaro faced braving the Monster Among Men and struck him with an uppercut and a ridiculous body slam, hoisting Strowman on his shoulders. The Swiss Superman displayed early on why he is considered one of the finest workers in the business. His offence was momentary, though, as Strowman powerslammed him to the mat, eliminating him in the process. Strowman then continued his path of destruction before scoring his second elimination in the shape of Lashley. At this point in the contest Strowman was looking every inch the monster he was built up to be over a year ago now, by sprinting round the ring wiping out Miz and Ricochet. Eliminated Lashley and Cesaro, indignant at being eliminated, both attacked Strowman, allowing Ricochet to pin the monster. Strowman wasn’t best pleased with these developments, unsurprisingly, and took the fight to the three men who pounced on him. It left Ricochet and the Miz fighting for the opportunity to face Joe. In a back and forth of skill and athleticism, the two babyfaces scored a couple of near falls before Miz locked in the Figure Four. Reversing with an inside cradle, Ricochet hit a Codebreaker and 630 Splash to score the pin and punch his ticket to Stomping Grounds. A watching Samoa Joe cut the celebrations short and attacked Ricochet.
The high-flying babyface fought him off and stood tall, whetting the appetite for a match which promises to mesh two contrasting styles and potentially steal the show on Sunday night.
Becky Lynch Promo
Lynch was greeted by the WWE Universe as she entered the ring to hype her Raw Women’s title match against Lacey Evans at Stomping Grounds. She implored the Sassy Southern Belle to come and face her right now. Her music hit and the condescending heel entered the ring, immediately taking a Bexploder for her troubles.
The initial heat of this feud has cooled a little of late and one would think that, though a surprise Evans victory is not beyond the realms of possibility, Lynch will pick up a definitive victory on Sunday and wrap this rivalry up.
Daniel Bryan Addresses the WWE Universe
Bryan was one of this week’s wildcards and immediately set about antagonising the LA crowd, claiming that the Raw tag team division doesn’t compare to himself and Rowan. At that point, The Viking Raiders hit the ring and demolished local enhancement talent, reminding Planet Earth’s tag team champions of their vast presence.
The Kevin and Sami Show
The two heels started their show by introducing pretender to the Universal Championship crown, Baron Corbin. Owens and Zayn ruled themselves out of contention for the role of guest referee in The Lone Wolf’s match on Sunday. Corbin instead announced it would be EC3, who appeared in referee attire. As was the case with Elias earlier, Seth Rollins attacked the rarely seen with a steel chair. The New Day interrupted proceedings to set up a six man tag match between themselves and Corbin, Zayn and Owens.
Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens vs. The New Day, 2 out of 3 Falls Match
Woods and Zayn kicked off proceedings, Sami missing with a couple of clotheslines and taking a spinning elbow from Woods. Zayn managed to tag his heel partners, who took turns in beating down Woods. Zayn re-entered and tried to capitalise on a wary Woods, who stunned the Underdog from the Underground with an opportunistic roll up as the heels conceded the first fall. After an ill-timed commercial break, the action resumed with a hot crowd rallying behind a battered Big E. Zayn rained down blows on New Day’s resident powerhouse, whose attempted comeback was halted by a superkick by Owens. Corbin then inflicted his own brand of punishment on E, landing a couple of vicious right hands, showcasing a surprisingly cohesive unit the heel team had established. Big E, though, ducked away from a charging Owens, who went shoulder first into the ringpost. E made the hot tag to WWE Champion Kofi Kingston, who exploded into the match, but had to rely on the save from his team mates as Corbin countered with the Deep Six. The heels’ short-lived alliance was shattered when Corbin inadvertently hit Zayn with a clothesline, prompting Owens to respond to the Lone Wolf with a superkick. Zayn and Owens took their leave of absence, abandoning a fallen Corbin, who took a Trouble in Paradise to the chops to hand the New Day the win.
This was a pacy, high quality match, which is not surprising given the calibre of talent involved, but Zayn and Owens are criminally lacking direction at the moment, popping up in random feuds, often as fodder, although they showed a united front here tonight. Corbin, also, could have done with building a little momentum for himself ahead of Sunday’s match, rather than taking the pin in what was a throwaway, though entertaining six man tag match.
Paul Heyman Promo
Heyman is rightly considered one of, if not the best talkers in the business, and could sell a Brooklyn Brawler vs. Bastion Booger as a Wrestlemania main event match if he was tasked to. Which is a good job, as Mr Money in the Bank Brock Lesnar isn’t around to do his own bidding. Heyman ruled himself out of being the guest referee on Sunday to a backdrop of ‘ECW’ chants. He then reminded Seth Rollins of the threat of the Beast cashing in and how this leaves the ‘soon to be former Universal Champion Seth Rollins’ in a precarious position. For added effect, he dropped the mic and left his threating sentiments resonate with the WWE Universe.
The Usos vs. The Good Brothers
AJ Styles watched his former Bullet Club stablemates from backstage, hopefully foreshadowing an eventual reunion down the line, as they took on Jimmy and Jey. Anderson and Gallows were quick out the traps, taking the fight to the twins, setting them up quickly for the Boot of Doom. Anderson continued to attack the Usos, as the Phenomenal One cheered on. In a match they were generally second best in, The Usos fought from behind to score the win, much to the dismay of Styles backstage. Anderson and Gallows looked good in what was a rare outing for the Good Brothers and, momentary lapse of concentration aside, looked set to cause an upset over the Usos.
Providing a suitable team can be found to feud with, a reunion with Styles could just be what these three men need at the moment, with Styles also currently bereft of a meaningful programme. Until the trigger is pulled on this, Styles pitching himself in the Good Brothers’ corner in the coming weeks could make for interesting TV.
Roman Reigns Promo
Reigns talked of how he hasn’t had the best of times of late, his disappointment at losing to Shane McMahon at Super Showdown at the forefront of his frustration. McMahon, celebrating backstage with Drew McIntyre and The Revival, interrupted, appearing on the big screen, stating how there is no shame in Reigns losing to the ‘best in the world’. McIntyre took the mic and promised the Big Dog he was going to maim him at Stomping Grounds. This prompted the former Shield enforcer to march backstage, taking out the Revival and putting the Scottish Psychopath through a table, before chasing McMahon out to the arena and stunning him with a Superman Punch and Spear, sending a clear message for McIntyre to bring his A-Game come Sunday night.
This is 100% the best version of Reigns, where he lets his Superman fists do the talking and goes on rampages akin to the ones that first endeared him to the WWE Universe. A comprehensive beatdown of McIntyre and McMahon on Sunday should follow. Whether this materialises or not is another matter.
Women’s Tag Team Title Match- The IIconics vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
Peyton Royce and Billie Kay got the rare opportunity to defend the titles they surprisingly won at Wrestlemania 35, and they controlled the early going, double teaming Cross as Smackdown Women’s champ Bayley watched on from ringside. This continued as they cut the ring in half and isolated Cross in the corner. The selfish Bliss lost interest in the match and instead picked a fight with Bayley, leaving her partner outnumbered. Cross was then rolled up as the IIconics scored the much-needed win. It was refreshing to see the IIconics actually gain a victory and successfully defend the titles, but what they need now is a meaningful programme to add credence to titles that arrived with such fanfare only months ago but have since become an afterthought.
Firefly Fun House
Hands down the most entertaining segment on WWE programming at the moment, creepy children’s TV host Bray Wyatt continued to battle with his evil alter-ego The Fiend in a series of disturbingly imaginative images. In an era where WWE is criticised for lack of creativity, Firefly Fun House has it in spades, and pushes the boundaries in ways the WWE Universe have been crying out for. One would hope there is a pay off of sorts soon, though. Hopefully the end will justify the means and it is not just a failed reboot for Wyatt.
Seth Rollins vs. Daniel Bryan
With the match still in its infancy, Rowan caused a disqualification after chokeslamming Rollins, prompting a slew of babyfaces and heels, including The New Day and The Revival, to all hit the ring and start brawling. In a booking decision that baffled the WWE Universe, drawing a few audible boos from the crowd, chaos ensued as all match-crashers were barred from ringside, with the match being restarted.
Bryan and Rollins subsequently showed glimpses of the magic they could produce if given more time as they went back and forth. Rollins attempted a Stomp only for Bryan to hit a big uppercut. A running knee off the apron from Bryan set up a grandstand finish, where Rollins hit a beautiful superplex, before Bryan countered with the LeBell Lock. Rollins somehow crawled to the ropes and then survived a series of ‘Yes’ kicks before hitting a Stomp for the win. Baron Corbin cut short the celebrations with a steel chair attack and an End of Days to leave the Beast Slayer grounded, and gain the upper hand ahead of Stomping Grounds.
Two of the best in the world featured in a match that could easily grace any PPV main event, and there were certainly hints at the magic they could create if this was to ever be revisited. The utterly meaningless interference from a host of unconnected superstars ultimately hurt the flow of what could have been a Monday Night Raw classic.