WWE Raw vs. SmackDown: Winner, Top Highlights and Botches for Week of June 29
The week that was in the WWE saw equally strong broadcasts from Raw and SmackDown Live.
The blue brand featured a heavily hyped Money in the Bank ladder match featuring Carmella, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Natalya and Tamina. Raw countered with a gauntlet match pitting Nia Jax, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Dana Brooke, Emma and Mickie James against each other for a shot at Alexa Bliss' Raw Women's Championship.
The women dominated the airwaves, but it was an appearance by Brock Lesnar and his latest entanglement with No. 1 contender Samoa Joe that captured headlines and added to the chaotic nature of their ongoing rivalry.
Not to be outdone, SmackDown presented the announcement of a high-profile gimmick match for Jinder Mahal's WWE Championship at Battleground. His opponent? Randy Orton. The match? The Punjabi Prison.
Red-hot angles, steadily evolving stories and character development were cornerstones of this week's broadcasts.
Which show benefited most, though?
Take a look for yourself.
The road to Great Balls of Fire on July 9 continued Monday night with another superb presentation by a Raw band that finally appears to be hitting its stride in the summer months.
The rivalry over the Universal Championship intensified as Samoa Joe choked out Brock Lesnar. A new No. 1 contender for the Raw Women's Championship was crowned. Big Cass showed his true colors one more time, and Bray Wyatt sent a message to Seth Rollins.
Samoa Joe Conquers The Beast...For Now
Samoa Joe's path of destruction continued Monday night with a sneak attack on Brock Lesnar that left the universal champion lying in a heap following the vaunted Coquina Clutch.
The angle, arguably the hottest of the entire show, continued to position Joe as a legitimate threat to The Beast Incarnate and his prize.
More importantly, it did it in a manner that suggests Joe will take any opening he can—and express his ruthless aggression necessary—to beat Lesnar and take his title.
In an era where very few Superstars have been presented as a legitimate threat to Lesnar, let alone his equal, Joe is a credible challenge to the most dominant and physically imposing wrestler in all of WWE.
Nia Jax Dominates the Women's Division
This week's main event was a five-woman gauntlet match to determine the No. 1 contender to the Raw Women's Championship and it was dominated by Nia Jax.
Working for 33 minutes, the unstoppable force tore through Bayley, Emma, Mickie James and Dana Brooke before battling Sasha Banks in the final fall of the night. Though she ultimately found herself in The Boss' grasps, with no option but to tap out to The Bank Statement, Jax was the clear star of the match.
Delivering a defining performance that undoubtedly elevated her from talented prospect to undeniable star, she firmly established herself as the champion of tomorrow.
Even if Banks earned the next shot at Alexa Bliss' title.
Braun Strowman Dispatches of Roman Reigns
Raw kicked off hot with Braun Strowman picking up where he left off last week, beating down Roman Reigns and sending him away inside an ambulance.
The return of Strowman has been handled perfectly by the oft-maligned WWE Creative. He has picked up where he left off, pummeling Reigns and adding heat to their match on July 9. He has unleashed the fury that exists from the elbow injury dealt to him by Reigns and left the most polarizing man in sports entertainment a battered, beaten mess.
The use of the ambulance the last two weeks and the stipulation for said match fits perfectly into the rivalry, considering the two major angles that saw the Superstars driven from arenas in the emergency vehicles earlier in the program.
Big Cass Reiterates His Heel Turn
There was a moment when it looked as though Big Cass may regret his scathing promo and big boot to longtime tag team partner Enzo Amore on the June 19 episode of Raw. The seven-foot competitor and his Certified G buddy walked up the ramp together, embraced and had fans thinking their story would have the happy ending so many others did not.
Then Cass blasted his friend-turned-enemy with a clothesline and ended his heartwrenching assault with a gorilla press slam that sent Amore crashing onto the ramp.
The remorselessness on Cass' face after such a vile, manipulative display portrayed an unforgiving man fed up with being held back by a physically inferior loudmouth.
It was a perfect angle that increased Cass' heat exponentially and set up a midcard grudge match with tons of emotion for Great Balls of Fire.
That is, if WWE decides not to hold off until SummerSlam.
SmackDown Live made history Tuesday night with the first-ever televised Money in the Bank ladder match. Carmella, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Charlotte and Tamina battled for a briefcase relinquished by The Princess of Staten Island after controversy reigned supreme at the June 18 pay-per-view.
Randy Orton found out his fate for the upcoming Battleground event, SmackDown tag team champions The Usos eliminated one team from contention but were confronted by a pesky trio of challengers, and Baron Corbin continued his winning ways.
Carmella Triumphs Again
For second time in as many weeks, Carmella captured Money in the Bank, using a steel chair to thwart Lynch's late onslaught. Her victory was the culmination of two weeks of build in which she became one of the focal points of SmackDown booking.
And justifiably so.
The charismatic villainess has made the most of the opportunities presented to her and become a heel around whom the entire women's division can be booked. The presence of James Ellsworth only adds to the heat she is capable of generating through the loud, arrogant, sometimes pouty and entitled personality she exudes on-screen.
Now the possessor of a guaranteed championship match at any time over the next year, Carmella is poised to become event more prominent a star on SmackDown Live. Cheating her way to victory after victory, regardless of the manner in which she gets there, is the right step to take with someone who is very clearly not the in-ring worker that Charlotte, Lynch and Natalya are.
A Punjabi Prison Match
The decision to bring back the Punjabi Prison for the July 23 Battleground pay-per-view is certainly debatable but what is not is the manner in which the announcement of the match went down.
Randy Orton, still fuming over WWE champion Jinder Mahal and The Singh Brothers' disrespect of his father "Cowboy" Bob, demanded a rematch and vowed punishment every single day for the titleholder and his cronies if he did not get one.
The interaction between Orton and commissioner Shane McMahon, which saw the authority figure sympathize with Orton's fury over his family being threatened, allowed the former rivals to come to an agreement that a rematch was in order.
The introduction of the rarely used gimmick match adds a new element to what has been a solid, consistent championship program.
Independence Day Battle Royal
Speaking of McMahon, he joined United States champion Kevin Owens and AJ Styles backstage and announced a Battle Royal to determine the No. 1 contender to Owens' title.
The announcement provided fans with a hook for a holiday show that may otherwise go ignored.
Typically, holiday broadcasts struggle to find an audience. Setting up a match with major implications to ongoing storylines, featuring a respected star like AJ Styles, is the best way to maximize viewership.
Naomi Squashes Lana
At Money in the Bank, it became abundantly clear that Lana may have the personality of a star, but she needs more in-ring seasoning before she can be a believable challenger to the SmackDown Women's Championship.
Tuesday night, she received a second opportunity to try and dethrone Naomi as champion.
Aggressive from the bell, she attacked the titleholder and planted her with a sit-out spinebuster. That would be the end of her offense. Naomi fought back within seconds and defeated her with a split-legged moonsault.
While some may suggest it hurts Lana's credibility, it is that lack of in-ring legitimacy that defines her character. This loss and the frustration her character demonstrates going forward will only help her in the long run.
As will consistently working with main roster stars who have logged serious ring time.
This week may very well have featured the best WWE television of 2017.
That does not mean it was without flaws.
The biggest botch of this was also WWE's most ambitious attempt at capitalizing on a main roster personality.
LaVar Ball and sons Lonzo and LaMelo invaded Raw, guesting on Miz TV. While LaVar brought an energy to the segment that some main roster Superstars cannot be bothered to, it felt like a vehicle to get him and his band over rather than benefit WWE.
Sure, the segment appeared on SportsCenter and fans who may not be familiar with WWE were made aware of its existence because of Ball's presence, but the odds that those viewers are going to suddenly tune into Raw every week are low.
Add to it the controversy that resulted from it and you have a segment that was entirely unnecessary and took time away from in-ring action or further character development elsewhere on the broadcast.
For the second consecutive week, Raw wins.
The flagship show was an explosive one that further set up the matches and rivalries that will play out on July 9 at Great Balls of Fire. Everything from Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar to Akira Tozawa vs. Neville was elevated in importance thanks to the quality of the booking and the heat behind the angles.
SmackDown's broadcast was equally as great, with the Money in the Bank ladder match more than living up to expectations.
Raw, though, made the absolute most of its marquee names as it continued to set the stage for a pay-per-view event that will serve as its lead-in to SummerSlam.
SmackDown only just started its journey to Battleground.