For the first time in two years, I’m watching a RAW after the Royal Rumble with an optimistic point of view! And what a feeling it is! From the RAW debut of the Phenomenal One: AJ Styles to the triumphantly hilarious return of the Rock, this Monday’s show pulled out all the stops.
And boy, did it pay off.
Vince and Steph opened the show, triumphant as anyone would expect. Vince cut a promo mocking Reigns and celebrating Triple H’s victory at last night’s Royal Rumble, name-dropping fan favorites Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles both.
Stephanie then introduced Triple H, clad in his familiar suit and tie and wearing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt. Don’t let the dress clothes fool you, The Game still has, well, game. Triple H put down Reigns’ lack of respect for him, saying that he needed to learn his place in life.
“I don’t need to be WWE Champion,” Triple H proclaimed. “But I want to be WWE Champion…because people like Roman Reigns want to be WWE Champion and they don’t deserve it.”
Say what you want about Triple H, but his heel game (so many game puns) was strong tonight.
He and Stephanie announced that by the end of RAW, the main event of Fastlane (which I was at last year! Oh, memories!) would be announced, and the winner there would go on to main event the Showcase of the Immortals!
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Man, the WWE must really be trying to appease us fickle internet fans!
Owens started off strong, attacking Ziggler like a man possessed. But Ziggler’s own fast-paced offense kept him on his toes and eventually rolling out of the ring to attempt to recover. But Owens would not be subdued that easily, especially now that he’s recaptured the hellacious ferocity he had when he first made his debut.
Ziggler nearly got a pinfall, but Owens got out at two. The two exchanged dodges, really, hurting themselves more than each other before further evening things out as Owens hit a suplex and Ziggler hit a Superkick.
Owens hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb soon after, securing the victory.
Ziggler and Owens are almost polar opposites when it comes to style, but they mesh so well in the ring, always putting on thrilling matches together. Additionally, Owens continued to sell his injury from last night, adding a wonderful touch of realism and grit to his character.
Bright things are coming for the former indy darling. Fight Owens fight!
Bo Dallas vs. Flo Rida (Rap Battle)
This is not a joke. The Social Outcasts antagonized Flo Rida, bringing him into the ring and promptly challenging him to a rap battle. Flo Rida played along, but only to introduce their next opponents:
The Dudley Boyz vs. The Social Outcasts
The Dudleys had their hands full from the start, with the very vocal Social Outcasts utilizing as many distracting antics as possible before starting a Bo Train (a group victory lap).
The Dudleys were fairly dominant throughout, though Axel in particular put on a good showing, taking beatings from both Bubba and DeVon. Heath Slater looked to distract Bubba, but Flo Rida intervened, knocking Slater into the ring. and distracting him right into a double-team before getting Axel in the 3-D.
Overall, Flo Rida played a decent purpose, putting both Dudleys over and clearly having a blast. The segment served its purpose, and was good to be placed early on in the broadcast. However, I do hope we see the Social Outcasts get some wins soon.
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Backstage, Renee introduced AJ Styles, but Jericho interrupted his interview before he could get a full statement out. He lauded Styles’ incredible international career, but reminded Styles that the WWE was a whole new world.
“Welcome to the big leagues, kid.”
Isn’t Styles like, in his late thirties? Okay, Jericho, okay. You do you, buddy.
Styles started with his swift, physical offensive style, hammering Jericho with a series of punches and a flying clothesline. Jericho fought back, landing a dropkick and suplex onto the former TNA star, but he quickly powered back with some hits and kicks of his own before taking a savage bump on the apron.
Styles got momentum soon after, but Jericho had some of his own. The two exchanged near-falls before Jericho locked in his submission hold. Styles didn’t tap, powering his way to the ropes from the center of the ring to Jericho’s outrage. Styles landed a kick before climbing to the top rope, narrowly missing a huge splash. Jericho went for one of his own, but Styles rolled him up for his first WWE victory.
After the match, Styles offered Jericho a handshake, which he accepted, but there was clearly tension still there. Fastlane, anyone?
The match was a bit uneven, more likely due to a lack of preparation, not a lack of talent. If the WWE looks to keep these guys feuding into Fastlane before putting Styles against Owens, they will have to work on building a pace together more in the future.
That being said . . .
I can’t say enough about AJ Styles. The man not only makes every move he makes exciting, he sells as well as Dolph Ziggler. When he’s wrestling, your eyes are glued to his every move, he pulls you in absolutely and completely. He is a once-in-a-generation talent, and the WWE is beyond lucky to have landed him.
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Sasha taunted Becky before the bell even rang, and when it did, Becky attacked viciously. But Sasha was no victim, fighting back just as quickly. Becky was angry, however, hitting Sasha with a brutal suplex.
Sasha threw Lynch into the Banks statement, but before Becky could tap, Charlotte threw herself into the mix, attacking Becky and throwing Sasha out of the ring. Sasha returned, but Charlotte laid her out as well, holding her title into the air with pride to end the segment.
Charlotte going after Becky was an interesting development. I’m glad to see the WWE not simply shoving the Irishwoman to the side. She’s captured the hearts of the WWE Universe, and while Charlotte and Sasha might be the match for Mania, Becky should absolutely remain in the picture. Her plucky energy and passion is much-needed in a division heavy with heels.
Bray Wyatt vs. Kane
In a rekindling of their 2015 rivalry, Bray Wyatt and Kane faced off in a highly physical match. With Strowman, Harper, and Rowan surrounding the ring, Wyatt put on a dominant showing against a surprisingly energetic Kane.
The match was short, and soon enough Bray Wyatt hit the Sister Abigail on Kane to pick up the win. However, the action did not end there. Strowman gave Kane his beloved hugs, and Harper and Rowan double-teamed him down to the ground.
CAN YOU SMELLLLLLL
Many of us guessed it, but none of us were ready to hear the Rock, one of the best speakers in all of WWE history, give us a tour of backstage as he made his triumphant return home to his hometown of Miami.
The man is a freaking legend.
Mic in hand, the Rock asked Miami if they were ready for Wrestlemania, and beautifully forgot who Byron Saxton (“that other black guy who I don’t know”) was. He acknowledged some costumed guys at ringside before being interrupted by the New Day, who told him who Byron Saxton was and bragged about the beating they inflicted on the Usos, and then asked where the People’s Champ’s gold was.
“He said he did it for the people, but he did it for the paycheck,” Xavier Woods said smugly.
Then the Rock called the New Day’s unicorn horns llama penises, and I laughed so hard I missed half of what happened next.
I did catch the Rock challenging the New Day to get into the ring and face him, and the New Day refused, saying Miami didn’t deserve them, but the Rock had a plan B . . .
. . . cue the Usos coming out, and chaos ensuing. All three went nuts on the New Day, with the Rock hitting the People’s Elbow right on poor Xavier Woods.
Wrestlemania can’t come soon enough.
Natalya & Paige vs. Alicia Fox & Brie bella
Natalya and Paige won easily, with Paige picking up the win.
That’s all there is to it. It blows my mind that this is supposedly the same Divas division that is producing something as revolutionary as Becky vs. Sasha vs. Charlotte.
It really does feel like there are the Total Divas and the wrestlers, which is a real shame because Natalya and Paige are both very talented. Alicia Fox is an underrated talent as well. Brie has yet to impress me, but if Nikki improved, so can she.
Do better, WWE. Do better.
The Miz vs. Kalisto
Kalisto interrupted Miz as he complained about being interrupted in a delightful fashion, much to the moneymaker’s chagrin. The new US Champion put on a wonderfully quick, strong showing, quickly filing through his vast repertoire of high-flying moves.
The Miz staged a bit of a comeback, his frustration bleeding into his fighting as the crowd went to town insulting and antagonizing him. He seemed to find strength in his anger, very Kylo Ren-esque.
But his anger wasn’t enough to overpower Kalisto, who hit the Solida-Del-Sol for the pinfall.
Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus & Rusev
Reigns and Ambrose tagged in and out in quick succession, making a strong statement against both Sheamus and Rusev as Ambrose threw himself off the ropes and out of the ring to take both men out.
Both teams exchanged momentum, fighting with rabid intensity. Ambrose, especially, was on fire, still riding the crazy momentum from his performance at the Royal Rumble. It’s good to see the WWE using him and his wild charisma properly, allowing him to shine.
Rusev looked refreshingly vicious as well, dealing a wonderfully brutal beating to Ambrose before Sheamus joined in on the fun. Ambrose tagged a hot Reigns, who lay a beating on both Rusev and Sheamus. Sheamus, with the help of his team, almost got Reigns out with a Brogue, but Ambrose saved the match. Reigns hit a Spear to get the victory.
But it didn’t end there. Revenge was a dish best served with your brothers as Ambrose and Reigns both powerbombed Rusev through the announce table.
Oh, and the main event of Fastlane? A Triple Threat match between Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Brock Lesnar. Yikes.
Overall, this “depleted” roster is really stepping up its game in the wake of John Cena, Seth Rollins, and Cesaro. Just imagine what sort of amazing stories we can have when they return.
But we don’t need to pine for their returns too much. While they get better, we have the likes of Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, and AJ Styles to carry us through Wrestlemania. Cheers, everyone. Things are looking up.