WWE Raw vs. SmackDown: Winner, Top Highlights and Botches for Week of July 27
The battle for brand supremacy between Raw and SmackDown Live this week felt every bit the big money fight fans expect from the shows as a major pay-per-view event such as SummerSlam approaches.
Monday night, WWE delivered an uppercut with the announcement of a Fatal 4-Way Universal Championship match between Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns, followed by a brawl between the latter three Superstars.
SmackDown Live answered by booking John Cena vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, who was fresh off a victory over Baron Corbin, for next week's show as the blue side attempts to determine its No. 1 contender.
Strong developments in the women's division and undercard evolution helped each brand deliver a quality presentation this week.
But which did enough to emerge victoriously and why?
Find out with this recap of the week that was in WWE television.
The nation's capital was the site for Monday's broadcast, a show headlined by Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins teaming for the first time in three years to do battle with The Miz, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a Handicap match.
The show also featured the crowning of a new No. 1 contender to the women's title but was most notable for the revelation of the red brand's SummerSlam main event, as Kurt Angle dropped a bombshell at the top of the show.
A Blockbuster Brawl
At SummerSlam, Brock Lesnar will defend the WWE Universal Championship against Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe and Roman Reigns in a Fatal 4-Way match, Angle revealed at the top of Monday's show.
Not only did the announcement spark interest in the August 20 headliner, it also generated a brawl between Strowman, Joe and Reigns that culminated with The Monster Among Men laying The Big Dog out with a powerslam while The Samoan Submission Machine was restrained by members of the Raw locker room at ringside.
The segment not only generated considerable excitement for SummerSlam, it brought a sense of chaos and unpredictability to Raw from the get-go.
Strowman continued to look like a beast, Reigns was made to look vulnerable and Joe was protected, his killer aura preserved outside the ring.
Raw's writing staff has done a fantastic job of bringing those three men together and presenting them in a way that, if one steps back from the rhetoric that suggests Reigns will win everything all the time, creates very real mystery as to which Superstar will leave Brooklyn with the title.
Sasha's Descent Into Frustration
Bayley countered a pinfall attempt by Sasha Banks Monday night and was able to score a three-count, cashing her ticket to SummerSlam and a showdown with Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women's Championship.
The hug-loving competitor was not the story of the night, though. Instead, it was Banks inching closer and closer to allowing frustration to overcome her that stood out most.
Even prior to the match itself, Banks ranted about Bliss and seemed almost irritated while interacting with Bayley backstage. When the realization of defeat set in, the look on her face suggested she may be closer to cracking than anyone could have imagined.
Banks will turn heel and she will turn heel sooner than later. It will be the culmination of a steady progression and increasing frustration and anger. When she does, the WWE Universe will be reintroduced to the cockiest, most joyfully conceited and dangerous female character on the roster.
And the women's division will be better off for it.
A Victorious, Though Hesitant, Reunion
Ambrose and Rollins reunited Monday night, defeating The Miz, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas in a 3-on-2 Handicap match.
The match itself was a fun sprint, and the outcome was the right one, but it was the post-match interaction between Rollins and Ambrose that left the greatest impact.
Despite working together well enough to overcome a numbers disadvantage and win the match, Ambrose was not willing to go all-in on a reunion with his former Shield teammate. He remembers the betrayal, he remembers the heartache of the losses he suffered to Rollins and the torment he endured at the hands of The Authority.
He is not willing to set all of that aside to embrace a man whose loyalty to him is proven to be shaky, at best.
It is storyline continuity the likes of which WWE programming is not always known for. In this case, it is absolutely essential in telling their story. Suddenly reuniting without any sort of hesitancy on the part of Ambrose would be an insult to the viewers' collective intelligence and a slap in the face to those with an attention span greater than a few months.
The Nastier, More Vicious Side of Finn Balor
The leader of Balor Club unleashed with a furious vengeance on Elias Samson Monday night, beating the ever-loving hell out of The Drifter at different points in their No Disqualification match. The bout, the response to Samson's brutal guitar shot to the former universal champion last week, was a showcase for Balor, and the Irishman was well on his way to victory.
That is, until Bray Wyatt interfered, laying him out with Sister Abigail.
The Eater of Worlds' involvement confirms a rivalry between the Superstars, and it could not have come at a better time. Balor has reminded fans of his ruthless side, the same characteristic that helped fuel him to greatness in NXT.
Utilizing that weapon against someone like Wyatt, whose reliance on mind games and ferocity will benefit Balor exponentially and add an element to a rivalry that will likely need to stand out among the other high-profile bouts expected to take place at SummerSlam.
On the heels of a Battleground that did not hit all the right notes, SmackDown Live recognized the need to deliver an explosive show that restored faith in the brand.
It did, producing one of its finest episodes in recent months.
The Revitalization of Shinsuke Nakamura
At Battleground, Nakamura battled Baron Corbin in a disappointing match that created questions about WWE Creative's understanding of how to utilize The King of Strong Style. He was not allowed to execute his signature stuff in any sort of babyface comeback and was kicked low to end the match on a premature disqualification.
Tuesday night, revenge was his as he pummeled Corbin, catching him with a kick to the back of the head and the Kinshasa he was robbed of Sunday.
Throughout the course of the win, Nakamura unloaded with a fury that has been seen out of him only once on the main roster, that being at Money in the Bank. It is an essential part of his character's connection with fans and the effectiveness of his persona in an increasingly physical WWE. He needs to show the intensity that AJ Styles, Kevin Owens and even Sami Zayn show on a weekly basis.
It lets fans know the match is important, that it means something to the Superstar involved. Yes, Nakamura is entirely different than any other Superstar on the roster, but when he fails to demonstrate how much a win means to him, it creates a disconnect between him and the audience.
He will have to carry that intensity and aggression over to next week's show, where he will meet John Cena to determine the No. 1 contender to Jinder Mahal's WWE Championship.
The bout with Cena will be a dream match of sorts. More so than in any match Nakamura has worked on the main roster to date, it will be absolutely imperative that he delivers his finest performance since singing with WWE.
"Big Match John" will certainly do everything in his power to ensure the match lives up to expectations. It is time Nakamura does the same.
Welcome Back, MAAAAAAAAANNN!
Chris Jericho returned to WWE after a two-month hiatus Tuesday night, confronting both AJ Styles and the United States champion Kevin Owens over a rematch for the title that he never received. Shane McMahon appeared, announced a Triple Threat match for later in the night and, as a result, the show had a pay-per-view quality main event.
Styles, Jericho and Owens tore the house down late Tuesday, wrestling a match that would have been right at home on the underwhelming Battleground pay-per-view from 48 hours earlier.
The Phenomenal One emerged victoriously, champion for the second time in three weeks. To do so, he snatched a victory out from underneath Owens, ensuring their rivalry for the title will continue.
The surprise of Jericho added gravity to the broadcast and made it feel special at a time when the blue brand was in need of a spark following Battleground. Some will complain about the constant switching of the title, but in reality, the renewed competition surrounding it makes it feel like a coveted prize rather than a championship that sits around one man's waist without credible contenders to challenge for it.
The Usos Avenge Their Battleground Loss
The Usos have been simply fantastic since their heel turn last year, and Tuesday night, they followed up a disappointing Battleground defeat by pummeling The New Day, leaving Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods lying in a heap on the entrance stage.
The attack serves as a message to the new champions that, while they may have won big Sunday night, their issues with Jimmy and Jey are far from over. The nastiness and ruthlessness shown as they delivered a devastating double superkick to Big E, toppling the former powerlifter, is a side of the twins fans need to see more often.
More importantly, it will help enhance a feud that, without it, would descend into monotony.
Rebuilding the Women's Division
It is no secret that SmackDown Live's women's division fell on hard times over the last two months. The characters and storytelling that once helped it become an essential piece of the blue brand puzzle were sacrificed in favor of multi-woman matches that accomplished nothing and left champion Naomi without a credible No. 1 contender.
With that problem solved in the form of Natalya, the brand set out to rebuild the division and set up stories fans will be able to invest in during the upcoming road to SummerSlam and beyond.
The aforementioned Naomi showed cool, calm confidence as she dismissed the verbal attack of Natalya during a backstage confrontation. Miss Money in the Bank Carmella reminded the glowing champion that a cash-in is always right around the corner.
Tamina expressed frustration with protege Lana following another disappointing defeat, and Charlotte and Becky Lynch, two former rivals turned friends, appear to be on the same page for the time being.
The introduction of new stories, the evolution of individual characters and the continued dedication to the division by management will help it overcome the hurdles and roadblocks put in its place over the last 30 days.
The Jason Jordan Experiment may be more difficult than WWE expected.
Monday night, the talented former amateur wrestling star cut a promo before his scheduled match against Curt Hawkins, and to say it was greeted with a less-than admirable response would be an understatement.
Chants of "boring" could be heard, followed by boos as he attempted to cut a generic babyface promo. He came across as disingenuous and scripted, shoehorned into an uncomfortable role by a writing team that has not quite figured out that one cannot get over just by being associated with an iconic performer in 2017.
This is not the late 1980s, where Vince McMahon could book Brutus Beefcake to partner alongside Hulk Hogan and have faith that he would see a considerable leap in popularity as a result.
Today's audience is smarter. It demands more than weak attempts at residual heat.
Jordan can bring the intensity in the ring, that much we know. Look no further than the moment he dropped the straps of his singlet and unloaded on Hawkins. Until he can demonstrate he has his own charisma to bank on, Jordan will struggle to get over with the audience.
This was a much more difficult week to judge than most.
Raw delivered another strong show in a long line of them, but SmackDown rose like a phoenix, as if to silence the critics of its Battleground effort and remind them it is the superior brand.
Strong wrestling, a genuine surprise in the return of Chris Jericho and sensible angles that set up high-profile matches and segments helped elevate it past Raw and into the winner's circle for the first time in what feels like an eternity.
Unlike the weeks leading into Battleground, there was a sense of urgency on Tuesday night. That sense of urgency created a feeling of importance and prestige and led to some significant announcements that will shape the brand for weeks to come.
Raw stayed steady, riding its wave of momentum on the road to SummerSlam. On any other week, it would have won easily.