It was only a matter of time until AJ Styles found himself in the mix for the Universal Title once he jumped ship to Raw, but the speed at which The Phenomenal One has maneuvered into contention for Team Red’s top title is impressive even by his standards: Thanks to a Triple Threat victory over Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio, Styles is now one win away from his very first Universal Championship opportunity at WWE Money in the Bank.
Despite the well-documented history between the three competitors — Joe is very adept at beating up Styles though not beating him, while Rey was trounced by the Samoan bully at WrestleMania — the match was a complete scramble from start to finish, with each Superstar fighting for whatever edge they could get. That made Styles’ victory all the more impressive; Mysterio had both him and Joe lined up for 619s but only connected with The Samoan Submission Machine before Styles snatched him out of midair. The Phenomenal One then used Mysterio as a human implement, powerbombing and Styles Clashing him on top of a defenseless Joe to tee the big man up for a pinfall. The three-count followed, and just like that, he's almost there.
Last week, Naomi defeated The IIconics with Bayley at her side in tag team action. Bayley’s on SmackDown LIVE now, but a two-on-one advantage didn’t give the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions any kind of a leg up in a one-on-one match between Naomi and Billie Kay. The former SmackDown Women’s Champion was more than prepared for shenanigans from Peyton Royce and summarily knocked her off the apron when she threatened to get involved. Naomi followed up with a sunset flip to Billie, securing an impressively quick pinfall that left The IIconics steaming — though they should probably count themselves lucky: If Naomi still had a partner, they might have themselves a pair of challengers.
Like the proverbial bad penny, Baron Corbin just will not go away. The former General Manager of Raw, Golden Gloves champion, former Money in the Bank contract holder, former United States Champion defeated The Miz and Drew McIntyre to advance to Raw’s make-or-break main event, where he’ll face AJ Styles with a Universal Title opportunity on the line. "Des Moines' favorite son" might be pushing it, but he certainly is the city’s luckiest inhabitant at the moment, because this one was looking like it was going to The Miz.
Despite facing a pair of heavy-hitters in Corbin and McIntyre, The A-Lister somehow willed the match into his favor almost from the jump. He rallied from a Celtic Cross variation on a Tower of Doom to trap McIntyre in a Figure-Four Leglock, kicked out of Corbin's Deep Six and escaped the End of Days; by the match’s midpoint, the crowd was firmly behind him. Corbin, however, was just a little bit smarter. After Miz accidentally sprinted full-bore into a Claymore from McIntyre, The Lone Wolf shoved the Scotsman out of the ring and stole the pinfall. Even taking Triple Threat rules into account, the win was something of a highway robbery, but Corbin’s haters shouldn’t take it for a given that Styles will send him packing: The only thing more ominous than Baron Corbin getting another opportunity is the moment you realize he tends to make the most of them.
Is Sami Zayn bitter? No, why do you ask? Sure, he’s been a little rough on the audience since he returned a few weeks ago, but he’s actually the happiest he’s ever been — thanks, entirely, to the spiritually rejuvenating 10 months he spent away from the WWE Universe, reconnecting with nature, immersing himself in history, and just plain lounging on beaches. As if to prove his point, the former NXT Champion cued up a series of Instagram posts where he’s sporting ear-to-ear smiles in various exotic locales … feelings he admitted evaporated the second he found out he was coming back to WWE.
Unsure what about returning to WWE was messing with his good vibes, Sami eventually landed on the audience as the guilty party, claiming that their active role in the WWE environment took away his smile. Unimpressed with the “mob mentality” the WWE Universe exerted over WWE, Zayn suggested the fans take a page out of his own book in order to improve themselves and, by extension, WWE as a whole: They could take a trip. To hell.
One person who wasn’t impressed with Sami’s attitude was Cedric Alexander, who crossed paths with a disgusted Zayn on the entrance ramp and flashed a million dollar smile of his own on the way to the ring. So the good news is that Zayn’s toxic attitude hasn’t exactly spread. The bad news is that, if this week is any indication, his crusade is just getting started.
There are fewer tougher trials by fire out there than a match with Cesaro, so one can argue that all Cedric Alexander had to do in his first match as a full-blown Raw Superstar was put on a good showing. In that case, the former WWE Cruiserweight Champion certainly succeeded, giving the former SmackDown Tag Team Champion a fight worthy of his reputation. But faced with a motivated Swiss Cyborg (the status of his partnership with Sheamus went unaddressed, but he didn’t seem to mind flying solo), Alexander simply couldn’t get over the hump.
That isn’t to say The King of Swing made quick work of the purple brand’s former franchise player. Alexander’s combo of power and speed gave Cesaro a fair amount of fits as he tried to box in his opponent. But his skills proved a double-edged sword, as Cesaro shifted to a defensive strategy and let Alexander come to him, and “The Soul of 205 Live” was forced to once again start from scratch. This time, Alexander found success by going high-risk with a top-rope plancha, and yet again, a defensive strategy proved key for Cesaro: When Alexander went big with a springboard, The Swiss Superman planted his feet and administered a jaw-jacking European uppercut that grounded his opponent for three.
Both Superstars are, to a degree, starting from scratch, so the match is hardly make-or-break for either. And some history should provide comfort here: Alexander’s former rival Ali lost in his SmackDown LIVE debut a few months back and ended up just fine. But it was hard to begrudge Alexander’s visible disappointment that he couldn’t make a statement — or clear the bar.
Here’s where the Raw Tag Team division stands: The Usos and The Revival are sniping at each other backstage, The Viking Raiders are demolishing everyone in their sights, and reigning champions Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins might be on borrowed time.
The big-ticket item there, at least Monday night, was the exploits of Erik & Ivar, who feasted on The Lucha House Party in what was billed as a match but ended up a mauling. The bearded pillagers made quick work of the three masked men, and the severity of the beating did not go unnoticed by Ryder & Hawkins, who were interviewed after the match and seemed to be sweating — at least in Hawkins’ case — over the prospect of facing the Raiders down the line. The Ultimate Broski restored his partner’s confidence with a well-timed pep talk, though one would hope he looked closer at what had just transpired: The Lucha House Party are pretty peppy themselves, and it didn’t do much for them.
On paper, Becky Lynch vs. Lacey Evans is something of a mismatch. The latter is still something of an unknown quantity, while the former sits at the undisputed head of both Women’s divisions thanks to her dual possession of the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Titles. Factor in that Lacey is getting on Becky’s last nerve, and it’s looking like a rout in favor of The Man. If Raw is any indication, that prediction might be a little off.
True, Lynch backed up her championship pedigree with a victory over Alicia Fox — who, for what it’s worth, put up a very impressive fight against the twice-over titleholder. But the moment she submitted Fox with the Dis-arm-her, Evans stormed the ring and clocked The Man with the Woman’s Right. Becky managed to stagger to her feet, only to wander into a second right from The Lady of WWE that put the Irishwoman on her back and, possibly, gave her a very harsh preview of WWE Money in the Bank: Not only might Lacey Evans be able to do what no one else has done, she might just do it backwards and in heels.
No, things didn’t just get more formal around here: Having lost his tag team partner to SmackDown LIVE in the Superstar Shake-up — or, if you ask him, having dropped 150 pounds of dead weight — the man formerly known as Bobby Roode has undergone a self-imposed reboot, which is both why he’s now demanding to be referred to as Robert Roode and sporting a rather ravishing mustache.
Lest you think the reinvention was confined to surface trappings, however, it turns out there’s a certain intangible something changed about The Glorious One; Robert Roode was rougher, tougher and more underhanded against Ricochet than Bobby Roode ever was, down to the way he ended up getting the win against the former NXT North American Champion. Right as Ricochet began to deploy his various, video-game caliber aerial attacks, Roode evaded the 630, threw Ricochet into the turnbuckle and administered the Glorious DDT for the win. Robert Roode will certainly have more to say as time goes on, but the last word on his re-debut might actually belong to Corey Graves: Maybe Roode didn’t change who he was so much as remember it.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- AJ Styles defeated Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio in a WWE Universal Championship #1 Contendership Qualifying Triple Threat match (17:57)
- Naomi defeated Billie Kay (w/ Peyton Royce) (1:10)
- Baron Corbin defeated The Miz and Drew McIntyre in a WWE Universal Championship #1 Contendership Qualifying Triple Threat match (14:58)
- Cesaro defeated Cedric Alexander (6:30)
- Becky Lynch defeated Alicia Fox (8:30)
- Robert Roode defeated Ricochet (11:15)
- AJ Styles defeated Baron Corbin in a #1 Contendership match for the WWE Universal Championship (13:10)
Other on-screen talent