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A week after he choked out Paul Heyman with a Coquina Clutch, No. 1 contender Samoa Joe found himself face-to-face with The Beast Incarnate, WWE universal champion .
Their physical confrontation at the top of the show, which resulted in a pull-apart brawl, was the highlight of an episode of Raw that started red-hot and ended ice-cold with a Raw Tag Team Championship, Best 2-out-of-3 Falls match pitting Sheamus and Cesaro against The Hardy Boyz.
Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt sowed the seeds for their rivalry, Big Cass was once again attacked by an unknown assailant and The Titus Brand picked up another client in the form of Akira Tozawa.
How did the mediocre show’s matches and segments grade out?
What might the outcomes and developments mean going forward?
Find out with this recap of the June 12 episode of Raw.
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After three months away, Brock Lesnar returned to Raw, a destructive force looking to avenge the cowardly assault on his advocate Paul Heyman from last week’s show.
Still seething after the events of last Monday’s show, Heyman had a message for Joe. “You’re not a proud warrior that’s going to step up and go face-to-face with Brock Lesnar. You’re a punk!”
Eager to prove Heyman wrong, Joe hit the ring and brawled with Lesnar, engaging in a brawl that saw the locker room spill out into the arena in an attempt to break it up.
A crop of talent backed Joe in to the locker room while the rest of the Superstars subdued The Beast Incarnate.
And that is how you build a world title match between two badasses.
Heyman laid down the punk card after last week’s attack and Joe responded accordingly, taking the fight to the typically untouchable Lesnar, to the point that he had the unstoppable force rocking before the WWE Superstars interjected.
Almost instantly, buzz and anticipation for the monumental showdown is heightened and Raw has a feud that is genuinely interesting rather than the tired retreads fans have been exposed to over the last year or so.
A red-hot start to a show that has not had many of them lately.
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After being disposed of by Dean Ambrose last week, “The Drifter” Elias Samson greeted the WWE Universe with an in-ring promo/serenade that gave way to a showdown with The Lunatic Fringe.
Samson had control of the bout coming out of the break and targeted the midsection of his opponent with a flurry of rights, lefts and big boots. He trapped Ambrose in a headlock, attempting to wear down the frenetically paced competitor.
Ambrose fought his way back into the match and caught Samson with a forearm that put the sinister songster down.
The action spilled to the arena floor as Ambrose soared through the ropes with a suicide dive that left his opponent stunned.
The babyface fought his way out of a superplex attempt and delivered a top rope elbow.
At ringside, Miz and Maryse made their presence felt, distracting the former intercontinental champion. Forced to rush back into the ring to avoid the countout loss, Ambrose found himself on the receiving end of a big knee drop and the Roll of the Dive by Samson, who picked up his biggest victory to date.
Elias Samson defeated Dean Ambrose
The match itself was well-wrestled, if unspectacular. It followed the WWE formula to a tee, right down to the interference by the heel at the end that cost Ambrose the match.
If anything, this felt like a placeholder in the ongoing intercontinental title feud rather than storyline advancement. That is not always a bad thing but far from what a rivalry between Miz and Ambrose, which dates back to January, needs.
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Noam Dar made his way to the ring Monday night face-timing with Alicia Fox ahead of a match with Cedric Alexander that was months in the making.
Alexander, seeking an explosive return that catapults him into Cruiserweight Championship contention, wasted little time in delivering the Lumbar Check to his distracted opponent and scoring the uncontested victory.
Cedric Alexander defeated Noam Dar
The rivalry between Dar, Fox and Alexander dates back eight months.
Let that sink in for a moment, then digest the sudden and decisive outcome to this match.
Alexander’s victory Monday night was a declarative statement, as if he was announcing to the masses that he is putting behind him the ghosts that haunted his WWE career to this point and making the most of a rare second chance to make a first impression.
It worked as he has put Dar and Fox in the rear view mirror and now sets his sights on championship gold.
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Bray Wyatt made his way to the squared circle Monday night, one week after causing a distraction in the main event between Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe that cost The Kingslayer a significant victory.
He cut a cryptic promo, as he always does, in which he warned of consequences if his name is blasphemed.
This brought out Rollins, who asked if all of this is the result of him calling The Reaper of Souls a few names.
Wyatt warned that his power is more than Rollins can handle before disappearing, the theatricality that has become a staple of his act dumbfounding The Architect.
Wyatt referred to himself as a god, telling Rollins that kings may be slayed but gods live forever.
He laughed maniacally to close out the segment.
Is that grade harsh? Probably, but we have been through this song and dance with Wyatt so often that it is nearly impossible to take him seriously. He is a false profit. He is no longer enigmatic because we know his game: he talks a big game, speaks in riddles, but is all smoke and mirrors.
He never wins and when he does, it is in the least convincing manner.
Putting him with Rollins for an extended series may lead to quality matches but unless he wins decisively, it is more of the same.
Even then, a win may not be enough to help salvage a character that was once the most engaging on the WWE roster.
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In the rivalry that will not end, no matter how many times Kalisto wins, the masked luchador squared off with Apollo Crews. At ringside, Akira Tozawa watched, the personal guest of Titus O’Neil as the Florida Gator attempted to woo Tozawa to The Titus Brand.
Playing up the idea that Crews had been hitting the film room, the former NXT star cut off early offense by Kalisto and seized control of the match.
He wore Kalisto down with a front face lock, attempting to ground his quicker, high-flying opponent.
The former United States champion’s comeback was for naught as Crews planted him with the sit-out powerbomb for the pinfall victory.
After the match, O’Neil and Crews eagerly embraced a befuddled Tozawa and took a selfie with him.
Apollo Crews defeated Kalisto
The comical look on Tozawa’s face as he was embraced and essentially forced into a selfie, a reluctant member of The Titus Brand, was the most memorable and endearing moment of this segment.
Crews is a solid in-ring worker but his character is still largely undeveloped. No matter how much they partner him up with O’Neil and let the former Prime Time Player speak on his behalf, the likelihood that Crews eventually finds success on his own is extraordinarily low as long as fans remain in the dark as to what Crews is all about.
The potential for a series between Kalisto and Tozawa is mighty appealing, though.
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Raw women’s champion and resident Goddess of WWE Alexa Bliss made her way to the ring to a favorable reception.
Bliss reminded fans that she defeated Bayley at Extreme Rules to retain her championship. She began to tell the crowd that she was gracing them with her presence when Nia Jax interrupted, rage painting her face.
Jax took exception with Bliss calling their match from last week’s show “forced,” recalling the champion saying she deserved an opportunity.
Bliss tried talking her way out of trouble but Mickie James and Dana Brooke interrupted.
James told Bliss she has a long way to go before she gets to her status as a six-time women’s champion. Both her and Brooke tried to stir the pot, driving a wedge between her and Jax.
Emma returned, interrupting the proceedings and immediately threw her name in the pot for a title opportunity.
Bliss attempted to smooth things over with Jax, telling her the others are seeking attention and spotlight. Sasha Banks made her presence felt, drawing a huge ovation. She followed suit and the six women brawled into a commercial.
It was nice to see Emma back and Banks back in title contention.
Bliss attempting to smooth things over with a skeptical Jax was entertaining but the remainder of the segment felt like the introduction to a No. 1 contender mess, not unlike SmackDown Live had on their hands before the announcement of the Money in the Bank match.
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Back from the break, Bliss and Co. had control of the match until a beaten down Dana Brooke made the hot tag to Sasha Banks.
The Boss exploded into the match and took the fight to Emma. The Aussie tried to tag Alexa Bliss, who ducked off the apron and returned to the dressing room.
The action broke down, leading to a Thesz Press from Mickie James off the top rope and onto Jax. Back in the squared circle, Banks caught Emma in the Bank Statement and scored the tapout victory.
Sasha Banks, Dana Brooke and Mickie James defeated Alexa Bliss, Emma and Nia Jax
This was the equivalent of every other multi-woman tag team match as the action broke down late and the Superstars got their signature offense in.
The twist was Bliss abandoning her partners, but that should not have been a surprise to anyone paying even half attention to the segment the preceded the match.
The curious utilization of Jax was the most interesting topic here.
A week after booking her like an unstoppable force, she was essentially treated like any other competitor, a heel who fell for the same hijinx we see play out every week. Her contribution to the match, through no fault of her own, was the most disappointing element of the entire ordeal.
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After a backstage segment in which intercontinental champion The Miz infuriated Rhyno and Heath Slater, a tag team match pitting the former SmackDown tag team champions against the Hollywood A-Lister and a partner of his choosing was booked by general manager Kurt Angle.
Except, Miz could not find anyone who would agree to be his tag team partner.
That is until an enigmatic Miz Bear appeared.
Slater and Rhyno unloaded on Miz for the majority of the match before nonsense involving the bear took over.
Miz attacked his partner and unmasked him, revealing an unknown enhancement star. Moments later, when the bear re-entered the ring, it was clear the man underneath was not the Superstar originally in the outfit. The bear dropped Slater with Dirty Deeds while Maryse attempted to warn her husband.
She was bumped off the apron and stomped off as Miz tried to apologize.
Ambrose, now unmasked, blasted Miz with Dirty Deeds and draped Slater over him, allowing the perennial underdog to score the win.
Heath Slater and Rhyno defeated The Miz and Miz Bear
Well…you had to know the bear gimmick would come into play at some point after last week’s setup.
This was fun and let Ambrose get one over on Miz after his loss to Elias Samson earlier in the show.
The bigger question is what the end game is with Maryse’s recent walkouts. Is WWE really naive enough to think that is a good idea? The former Divas champion completes Miz’s act and has been an integral part in his return to prominence.
If that is a thought in the collective mind of WWE Creative, hopefully it dissipates quickly.
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There was no time for singing or dancing as Rich Swann’s pre-match ritual was cut off by a mean, aggressive and impatient Neville.
The cruiserweight champion beat the fun-loving babyface down, sending him into the barricade before grabbing a microphone and addressing the division.
He denounced the competitors he has dispatched of in recent weeks, including TJP, Austin Aries and now Swann.
The King of the Cruiserweights turned his attention to Akira Tozawa, saying it takes more than a tweet from Titus O’Neil to take the title from him.
He warned Tozawa to close out the segment.
This was a strong way to reiterate the savage nature of Neville while simultaneously introducing his next rivalry.
One could argue that Cedric Alexander is a better fit but perhaps WWE Creative is holding his title opportunity off for a bigger stage, like SummerSlam.
The matches with Tozawa will likely be superb and electrifying but one has to wonder if the timing is right given how early into the Japanese competitor’s union with Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews he is.
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Just prior to a showdown with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, Enzo Amore once again found Big Cass lying on the concrete floor of the backstage area, the victim of another unknown assailant.
Determined to backup Amore, Cass competed in the match, despite issues with his equilibrium.
Despite all of it, Cass had Anderson reeling, dropping him with a sidewalk slam. Anderson dumped Cass after a tag to Amore, leaving him in a heap on the arena floor.
The Certified G was valiant in his attempt to win the match for his team but a side kick and The Magic Killer ended the babyfaces quest for victory.
After the match, Anderson and Gallows threatened a beatdown but Big Show made the save. As he raised the arm of his friend Amore, Cass watched on, disdain for the blossoming friendship the giant and his own tag team partner are enjoying in his eyes.
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows defeated Enzo Amore and Big Cass
There is something to say for the way Anderson was beat up and down by Cass, despite the seven-foot-tall Superstar barely being able to stand on his two feet. That booking almost single-handedly negates the victory, which only came after Cass was disposed of at ringside.
Big Show’s interaction with Amore was interesting in that it was just cheesy enough to foreshadow a heel turn for The World’s Largest Athlete. The look on Cass’ face as he observed the signs of a burgeoning friendship suggests he is at the heart of misfortune that has befallen the tandem in recent weeks.
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The Hardy Boyz sought another run with the Raw Tag Team Championships they lost at Extreme Rules as they challenged Sheamus and Cesaro in a Best 2-out-of-3 Falls match Monday night.
It would not be easy as the popular brothers found themselves in a 0-1 hole early, the result of a big kick from Sheamus that put Jeff Hardy down for the count.
The challengers would get back into the match in fall two, though, courtesy of an offensive explosion by Matt Hardy.
A Side Effect by the formerly BROKEN competitor to Sheamus and a Twist of Fate to Cesaro allowed him to even the score at one fall apiece.
Sheamus and Cesaro double-teamed Matt, scoring a near-fall until Jeff broke the pin up. The heels quickly sent The Charismatic Enigma to the floor before The Swiss Superman trapped Matt in the Sharpshooter.
A hot tag to Jeff necessitated a fiery comeback that saw him deliver a Swanton Bomb. Cesaro pulled Sheamus out of the ring, saving the titles.
The fight spilled to the floor and the referee reached a count of 10, declaring the third and final fall a double countout.
The Hardys stood tall to close out the show.
A tie, each team winning one fall
The narrative of Matt and Jeff coming so close on more than one occasion, only to have the titles stolen from them by the interference of Cesaro was quality one and the action that surrounded it was top notch stuff from four superb wrestlers.
Unfortunately, the feud is not nearly as hot as WWE Creative thinks it is, leading to a rather ice-cold conclusion to a show that started hot and fell off a cliff rather quickly.
The program will continue, unfortunately, leading to more quality matches but one-dimensional storytelling.