Raw Recap: July 25, 2016
Aired on July 25, 2016

The bad news first: Raw’s first show of the New Era began without a heavyweight title to call its own, as Dean Ambrose won the Shield Triple Threat at WWE Battleground and took the WWE Championship with him to SmackDown Live. The good news second: Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley came prepared by announcing the creation of a new WWE Universal Championship, hot-shotting Seth Rollins into one of the contention spots, and announcing two Raw Fatal 4-Ways to determine his opponent. The winners of those matches get each other in the main event of Raw; the winner of that match gets Rollins at SummerSlam; the winner of that match becomes WWE Universal Champion.

And as for the title Raw already has — the WWE Women’s Championship — Foley also decreed that, as a result of submitting current champion Charlotte the previous night, Sasha Banks would get her long-awaited title opportunity that night. Legit on all counts.

Well that’s one way to make a debut. Acrobatic, athletic and occasionally demonic WWE NXT standout Finn Bálor immediately established himself as a marquee player in Raw’s New Era by powering past Cesaro, Kevin Owens and Rusev to earn a spot in Raw’s main event. The win also gives him an opportunity to head to SummerSlam and face Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship.

Despite Owens making it a point to brutalize Bálor from jump, the Irish-born dynamo hung tough among his heavy-hitting opponents. It looked like KO had the win in pocket after a Pop-up Powerbomb to Bálor, but Cesaro broke up the pinfall and attempted to lock Owens in the Cesaro Swing. Rusev put a stop to that, instigating a brawl between the King of Swing and Super Athlete that Owens broke up. As The Prizefighter began to gain steam, Bálor struck, dropkicking Owens into Rusev, delivering a second dropkick to the stunned Bulgarian Brute, and finally a Coup de Grâce to Rusev to pin him.

He may be down, but he’s not out yet. Despite suffering the deciding pinfall at WWE Battleground, Roman Reigns is still in the World Title hunt, having won the second of Raw’s Fatal 4-Ways and punching his ticket to the main event against Finn Bálor as a result.

Those left in the dust of The Big Dog’s charge? Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho and Sheamus, all of whom tore each other apart with reckless abandon. The match was, honestly, anyone’s game. At one point, Sheamus Brogue Kicked Reigns, only to find himself Helluva Kicked instantly by Zayn — but it came down to Reigns and Jericho, who landed a Codebreaker and took his sweet time to mock Reigns’ signature war cry in the corner. Jericho’s sass backfired massively, as Reigns jumped clean over him, planted, and struck with a Spear to send himself to the main event.

The New Era has its first new champion, as Sasha Banks seized her opportunity and submitted Charlotte for the second time in two nights to become the brand-new WWE Women’s Champion. The route Sasha took was equal parts planning and luck. The planning came when The Boss softened Charlotte’s back up with a straitjacket hold early on, and the luck came when Sasha pulled an Eddie Guerrero and made it look like a lurking Dana Brooke hit her with the Women’s Title to get ejected. (Viva la Sasha?)

With Brooke gone, Sasha had to overcome both a rough landing from a suicide dive and a late-game push from Charlotte that included a Natural Selection and a Figure-Eight. Charlotte even managed to escape a first Bank Statement. But after Charlotte snarled that Banks would never beat her, The Boss did just that, trapping her dead in the middle of the ring with a second Bank Statement. Tap. Bell. New champion. Dream fulfilled. Legit.

Call it the Summer of Finn: Just hours after making his Raw debut, Finn Bálor is one match away from a heavyweight championship, having defeated Roman Reigns and earned a spot at SummerSlam as Seth Rollins’ opponent for the WWE Universal Championship. Reigns, for what it’s worth, held a sizable advantage over Bálor in the early goings, when he tossed the Irish Superstar about the ring to establish his dominance over the first-round Draft pick.

Bálor’s speed helped him even the playing field, and a double-stomp to Reigns’ knee left The Big Dog lagging right when he needed his strength the most. Reigns held tough against his challenger, but with his mobility limited to one leg, Bálor’s two feet went to work. The Big Dog was peppered with kicks and stomps to every area of his body before he unleashed one last sprint to put his foe down. A Superman Punch and two powerbombs later and Bálor still had life, cutting Reigns’ Spear off with a Sling Blade, running dropkick and Coup de Grâce. And it’s his birthday. You’re up, SmackDown Live.

In other action... Nia Jax def. Britt Baker... Neville def. Curtis Axel... Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson attacked WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day... Braun Strowman def. James Ellsworth... and Enzo Amore & Big Cass def. The Shining Stars. 

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