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The final WWE Raw on the road to Clash of Champions invaded the world-famous Madison Square Garden on Monday night with a jam-packed card that featured the semifinals of the King of the Ring tournament and a contract signing for Sunday’s universal title match between Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman.
The moderator for said signing? The Texas Rattlesnake himself, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
What would the finger-flipping face of the Attitude Era have in store for The Kingslayer and The Monster Among Men as WWE returned to the arena it helped make famous?
Find out the answer to that and more with this recap of the September 9 episode.
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Glass shattered and fans inside Madison Square Garden erupted with a thunderous ovation as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin hit the ring to moderate the contract signing between universal champion Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman.
Austin took a trip down memory lane, reliving his Survivor Series classic against Bret “The Hitman” Hart and his SummerSlam 1998 showdown with The Undertaker.
The Texas Rattlesnake introduced Strowman and Rollins and repeatedly tried to get champion and challenger to put pen to paper.
The Architect signed after claiming to be the best wrestler on the planet and promising to retain his title Sunday. The Monster Among Men vowed not to turn his back on Rollins before AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interrupted the proceedings.
A thunderous “What?!” chant greeted Styles, completely disallowing him the opportunity to string together a sentence.
A brawl broke out, initiated by Austin. Strowman rolled over Anderson and Gallows while Styles dumped Rollins to the floor. The braggadocios United States champion turned right around into a Stone Cold Stunner, and Austin stood tall to another enormous reaction.
This was energetic, the fans in New York ate it up and Styles was able to generate hellish heat.
With that said, neither Rollins nor Strowman benefited from this segment at all. Instead, they were bit players to the ballad of Stone Cold and The Phenomenal One.
Austin and Styles’ work here completely overshadowed the universal champion and his No. 1 contender, leaving one to wonder who in charge thought this segment was a good idea.
This will inevitably lead to some sort of tag match that we have seen numerous times already, all the while leaving Rollins vs. Strowman an ice-cold championship clash in time for Sunday’s pay-per-view.
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An opportunistic Cedric Alexander rushed the ring and took the fight to an injured AJ Styles, turning the tables on him after The Phenomenal One left him injured leading into a heartbreaking King of the Ring tournament loss to Baron Corbin.
Alexander controlled early, keeping his opponent reeling until a throat punch by the U.S. champion slowed his momentum. A focused and cerebral Styles turned his attention to the previously injured arm of Alexander, leaving him in tremendous pain ahead of the break.
The former cruiserweight champion blasted a charging Styles with a knee to the head and dropped him for a near-fall. Alexander rolled and was prepping for a springboard when Anderson and Gallows appeared. They pulled him to the arena floor and engaged in a three-on-one beatdown.
The Viking Raiders’ music played and the big men hit the ring, making the save and dropping the heels with their explosive and ferocious offensive arsenal. Alexander joined in, sending Styles to the floor with a dropkick as Erik and Ivar delivered the Viking Experience to Anderson.
Alexander defeated Styles via disqualification
From the beginning, Styles vs. Alexander felt like a match destined to set up another somewhere down the line rather than the definitive conclusion of their issues. The pacing was that of a bout ending in an angle, and that is exactly what happened.
The Viking Raiders continued their budding rivalry with Anderson and Gallows by coming to Alexander’s aid and setting up an unlikely partnership. This is the type of intriguing booking that makes fans look forward to the next chapter in the story.
Will they get along and put an end to The O.C.’s dominance, or is theirs a partnership of convenience?
Either way, the eventual six-man tag match should be a hell of a good time. Now, let’s go ahead and book Alexander vs. Styles for the U.S. title at Clash of Champions on Sunday night.
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Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair put aside their differences to battle the reunited Sasha Banks and SmackDown women’s titleholder Bayley in a high-profile tag bout between the original Four Horsewomen of NXT.
Flair and Lynch wasted little time, taking the fight right to their opponents and seeking vengeance for the assaults they endured a week ago. The Man and The Queen left their rivals reeling heading into the break.
Back from the break, Bayley and Banks settled things down and isolated Flair from her partner. The Queen fought back and made the tag to Lynch, but The Man soon fell prey to a similar fate, enduring a concentrated beating at the hands of the heels.
An inverted DDT allowed Lynch to create separation. Flair tagged in and fired off on Bayley and Banks. She sent The Boss face-first into the turnbuckle and dropped her with a neckbreaker for two. Banks fought her way back into the match and delivered a Bank Statement. Flair countered into the Figure Eight, but an alert Bayley launched Lynch into her partner to break up the submission.
Banks dropped Flair with a Meteora heading into the break.
The heels again isolated Flair, but their control was short-lived, as the second-generation competitor tagged Lynch. The Raw brand’s top female wrestler unloaded on Bayley and her Clash of Champions opponent, downing Banks on the floor.
Flair escaped a double suplex attempt by the heels, and Lynch downed them with a double dropkick. A leg drop by The Man followed, and Flair delivered a moonsault for a very close near-fall that Banks broke up.
At ringside, Lynch sent Banks into the steel steps and applied the Dis-arm-her. Bayley broke it up and sent The Man into the barricade with a Bayley-to-Belly. The SmackDown women’s champion followed with a German suplex to Flair on the floor as chants of “This is awesome” rained down from the stands.
Bayley tried for the top-rope elbow drop, but Flair got her foot up. Banks provided a momentary distraction, and Bayley scored a near-fall. The Queen recovered and delivered Natural Selection for the pinfall victory.
Lynch and Flair defeated Banks and Bayley
A match befitting the enormity of a show in Madison Square Garden.
This was extraordinary. The action was great. The in-ring chemistry of these four women is as strong as, if not better than, it was at the height of their NXT careers.
Bayley and Banks are a wonderful team, and though their loss here may ignite discussion of WWE Creative cutting off their momentum, that will not be the case when they roll into Clash of Champions and leave with both the Raw and SmackDown women’s titles.
Flair is such a superb worker that she can seamlessly weave in and out of babyface and heel roles for the sake of the match, as seen here by her fiery offense that kept the opposition off guard.
This easily could have main-evented the show, and no one in the stands would have been disappointed or could have argued against it. It was that good.
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A battle of luchadors was up next as Rey Mysterio squared off with Lucha House Party’s Gran Metalik.
The lucha libre style was on display early as the competitors showcased their immense athleticism. Mysterio dropped Metalik across the ropes and tried for the 619, but his opponent ducked out of the way and scored two off a schoolboy roll-up.
Mysterio recovered and sent Metalik to the floor. He tried for a baseball slide splash, but Metalik rolled out of the way and blasted him with a superkick. He soared through the air, rocking Mysterio and leaving him nursing his neck.
Metalik seized control of the bout momentarily, but Mysterio sent him face-first into the turnbuckles. The fight moved to the top rope, where Mysterio caught Metalik with a headbutt. The Lucha House Party member recovered and downed Mysterio with a snap headscissors off the top rope. Mysterio answered with a sunset flip bomb for two.
The Master of the 619 finished with his trademark move and a big frog splash for the pinfall victory in a hard-fought match.
Mysterio defeated Metalik
This was a fun throwback to the days of WCW’s cruiserweight division, when two luchadors were allowed to go out and do their thing, delivering solid in-ring action that showcased their abilities.
There was little rhyme or reason for this match to exist beyond putting Mysterio over as WWE continues to hint at a retirement storyline for the former world champion. Metalik more than held up his end of the bargain, looking as credible as he has since his days with 205 Live.
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Ricochet, Baron Corbin and Samoa Joe battled in a Triple Threat match to determine Raw’s spot in the King of the Ring tournament final.
Ricochet started hot, delivering a Shooting Star Press to a prone Corbin. He followed with dives to both Joe and The Lone Wolf heading into the commercial break.
Back from the timeout, Corbin sent Ricochet face-first into the steel post, momentarily eliminating him from the proceedings. It was to his detriment, though, as Joe seized control of the match. The Samoan Submission Machine dominated with his punishing, almost oppressive offensive onslaught.
Joe continued to set the pace, dropping Ricochet with a snap powerslam for two. A big boot to the face by The One and Only earned him some breathing space. Unfortunately, he was unable to follow up on it, falling prey to Deep Six by Corbin. Joe broke up the pin.
Late in the match, Joe dominated with the Coquina Clutch, but Ricochet fought back and delivered the 630. An alert Corbin appeared, launched the babyface into the first row and rolled into the ring, where he pinned Joe to advance to the finals of the tournament.
Corbin defeated Joe and Ricochet
This was a suitable entry into the tournament and a great showcase for Joe, who looked like an unstoppable badass on more than one occasion during it. He was the star of the match, though Ricochet still managed to get his stuff in.
And as has been the case so many times over the last year, Corbin was the opportunistic heel who found an opening, exploited it and won. The outcome of the match enraged the fans in NYC and rightfully so. The Lone Wolf, they figured, did not deserve the win.
And therein lies the brilliance of the character.
For everyone who suggests Corbin incites “go away” heat, there are examples like Monday night’s show, where the fans were not booing him because they wanted him to disappear. They booed him, instead, because he irritated them and took a shortcut.
That is the sign of an effective heel, something he has spent the last 12 months developing into.
If Corbin wins the tournament, good. There is no character who would suit the crown more than his overbearing bad guy.
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A week after Lacey Evans capitalized on a momentary distraction to defeat Natalya, The Sassy Southern Belle battled The Queen of Harts in a rematch.
The aggressive and vengeful Natalya wasted little time targeting the long legs of her opponent in hopes of setting her up for the Sharpshooter. Evans weathered the early storm and dropped her opponent with a neckbreaker on the floor to seize control of the bout.
The resourceful Evans went as far as to use the ring apron to choke Natalya.
Natalya was able to roll out of the way of a moonsault, though, and mount a comeback. She ultimately trapped Evans in a Sharpshooter and forced the tapout for the win.
Natalya defeated Evans
This was fine for what it was. Natalya avenged her defeat from last week, but the question now is where things go from here. The women traded wins, neither really built any sustainable momentum and now they face uncertainty once more.
Yes, there will probably be an inevitable third match, but then what?
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An enormous 10-man tag team main event saw The Viking Raiders, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and Cedric Alexander battle AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode in a match set up earlier in the evening.
The babyfaces downed the competition early, leaving the heels to roll to the sanctuary of the floor heading into the break.
Styles and Co. recovered and isolated Alexander, working over the former cruiserweight champion for the majority of the contest. They built heat in the process while fans eagerly anticipated the eventual tag.
It came when Rollins tagged in, ramping up the energy. As Strowman ran over the competition at ringside, The Architect joined in with suicide dives that wiped out the others.
The Monster Among Men delivered a big powerslam to Anderson at one point, but an alert Ziggler shoved Rollins into his tag team partner, breaking up the pin.
Unaware that Rollins was forced into him, Strowman began arguing with his tag team champion partner. After the final break of the night, the heels isolated the universal champ, repeating the success they had earlier in the bout with Alexander.
The action broke down late, with each Superstar getting in some of his trademark offense before Ivar scaled the ropes and wiped out everyone with an impressive dive. Back inside, Alexander caught Styles with the Lumbar Check to score a clean win over The Phenomenal One and set himself up for an eventual United States Championship match.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin hit the ring and celebrated with the victors to close out the show.
Rollins, Strowman, The Viking Raiders and Alexander defeated The O.C., Ziggler and Roode
The action was great, and the match was a ton of fun, but it was seriously lacking from a PPV-hype standpoint. Nothing that happened here did anything to make the WWE Universe want to see Rollins vs. Strowman at Clash of Champions. Their match, for the top prize on Raw, is as ice-cold a main event as we have seen in recent memory.
If anything, this did more to showcase Alexander and set him up for a match with Styles. The Viking Raiders looked great, maximizing their minutes, while Ziggler and Roode were their typically solid selves.
Unfortunately, everything comes back to the fact that other than featuring Superstars who will intertwine come Sunday’s pay-per-view, this really did nothing to drum up excitement for anything on that card.
This was the company’s last chance to make Clash of Champions feel significant, and it failed miserably.