As far as wrestling goes, this week’s RAW was one of the stronger showings, mostly due to its first match. It also set up multiple other matches for the Wrestlemania card and built storylines further. However, a brutally honest Philly crowd and a troubling segment showed how many holes the WWE must fill before Wrestlemania comes.
Throughout the show, the WWE aired a series of well-crafted vignettes hyping up Shane and Taker’s match featuring a plethora of Hall of Fame talent like Mick Foley, Edge, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair.
Stephanie McMahon opened this week’s episode of RAW, because sure, why not? She went on about corporate responsibilities and such, but was interrupted by Roman Reigns, who entered to yes, a chorus of boos.
In few words, he told Stephanie that he would be the new authority of the WWE when he took back the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. It was nice that he never smiled and kept it short and sweet, but it’s too late, really.
He’s lost favor with the hardcore fans, and the casual fans don’t care enough about him to counter the boos. And it’s not completely his fault, either. He’s been booked so badly that the Philly crowd that welcomed his title win is now right back where it began: unsatisfied and angry.
AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens
In a rematch from SmackDown, Owens took early control, keeping things slow and grounded until Styles powered back with a dropkick. The two took things out ringside, where Owens tossed Styles right into the barricade. He kept his momentum into a commercial, utilizing chokeholds.
But a well-timed dropkick allowed Styles to break in his high-tempo offense, going into the air again and again and planting Owens face-first into the ground before Owens hit Styles with a clothesline and drop of his own. Both kicked out against each other.
Owens scored another near-fall with a wild frog splash from the top rope, but Styles narrowly avoided a Pop-up Powerbomb and the two began to exchange strikes, hitting each other with a Superkick and Pelee Kick simultaneously, taking each other out.
Styles planted Owens to the ground after the two exchanged more strikes, but even that could not keep Owens down for the count, nor could a stunning powerbomb from the ropes. As Styles looked to finish Owens, Jericho emerged, distracting Styles to allow Owens to get a rollup victory.
Styles chased after a retreating Jericho, infuriated.
In the ring, Owens cut a promo about who would face him at KOMania and was interrupted by Dolph Ziggler, the Miz and Sami Zayn. All three gave a case for facing Owens at Wrestlemania, but Owens set up a Triple Threat for the chance to face him at Mania.
A vignette then aired of Ambrose hitting the streets in Philly earlier that day, talking all about Ambrose to Terry Funk, who gave Ambrose his trademark Chainsaw Charlie.
Styles and Owens were given the time to put on a truly awesome bout in what is hopefully a tease of what is to come following the Show of Shows. Jericho once again did some stellar heel work and yeah, I do love me some KO promos.
Ambrose continuing to get the rub from hardcore legends is awesome to see. Yeah, last week’s segment was better, but this one was magical in its own right. It was awesome seeing Terry Funk again, and he said what we all know: Ambrose is the best. Seriously.
Reigns might be the face of the company, but Ambrose? Ambrose is the heart.
Big E vs. Rusev
The New Day cut off a scathing promo by the League of Nations, cheerfully calling them trash and making fun of them before going right for the fight, both teams brawling at ringside.
When the actual match did start, Rusev tried to retreat, but Big E tossed him back into the ring and took control of the match, with Xavier Woods providing excellent orchestrations at ringside. Rusev gained brief momentum with some chokeholds and spinning kicks (after Woods and Kingston were taken out), but Big E powered out.
Big E went for a Spear, but Rusev caught him with a knee. He nearly got pinned, but kicked out as Xavier Woods came back with a fury, taking Del Rio and Barrett out at ringside. Big E, in an impressive display of strength, speared himself through the ropes into Sheamus and hit Rusev with the Big Ending for the win.
Backstage, the Wyatt family cut a promo on sacrificing Dean Ambrose’s soul, because yeah sure, let’s give kids nightmares, shall we?
The New Day are still adjusting into their roles as babyfaces, but they’re wildly entertaining even in a state of flux. Yes, I do miss the wonderfully biting insults they would hurl at audiences, but I’m willing to see how their face run plays out.
Battle of the giants
Big Show emerged and cut a promo about how much Andre the Giant meant to the WWE and how much of an honor it was for him to have won the Battle Royale last year. You know, when he was a heel.
He was interrupted by the Social Outcasts, who antagonized him until he attacked Slater. The numbers game proved too much for Big Show until Kane emerged, tossing the four out of the ring with ease and chokeslamming Big Show from the top rope.
Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
Oh, how times have changed.
This time, it was AJ Styles who interrupted Jericho’s match against Fandango, chanting “Y2-Jackass” as he played Jericho’s own game. Jericho managed to just barely secure the win, running out of the ring as Styles charged him and hiding behind a crewman.
Styles called him a coward and challenged him to a match at Wrestlemania.
This rivalry is awesome, to put it simply, and Styles continues to look more and more comfortable on the mic as time goes on. He and Jericho will, without a doubt, put on a match to remember at Wrestlemania, don’t you doubt it.
Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder
Kevin Owens cheerfully introduced the three competing for the chance to face Kevin Owens at Wrestlemania . . . only it was not anyone we were expecting. Nice one, Owens, nice one. You silly goose.
Shortly into the match, Sami Zayn emerged, angry at Owens, followed quickly by Ziggler and the Miz. The four men argued at ringside, and Owens sent Ryder into the Miz causing a DQ. The six men all teamed up on Owens, who retreated straight to Stephanie McMahon, who put him right into a ladder match against all six of the challengers.
I can live with this, even though Owens is wasted in a seven man match for his first Wrestlemania. However, it’s good to see Miz being rewarded for his “Awesome” heelw ork recently and Ziggler being given the chance to shine.
Look out for Sami Zayn, though. His rivalry with Owens is the heart of all of this, and will without a doubt extend beyond Wrestlemania, injecting life into a struggling midcard.
Oh, and Stephanie was leaving because she was uncomfortable with Roman around. That’s a total babyface move right there, right? Nothing like making a woman feel unsafe in the workplace!
Backstage, Triple H picked Stephanie up to take her away, but Reigns ambushed him, dragging the COO out of the vehicle and beating him down to a mostly indifferent audience.
Charlotte vs. Natalya
With Becky and Sasha at ringside on commentary, Charlotte took on Natalya in a rematch of their amazing Roadblock bout. Natalya started off strong, taking advantage of a distracted Charlotte and hitting her with a clothesline.
As Sasha and Becky bickered on commentary, Charlotte mounted an offensive combat, stomping Natalya into the ring’s corner. However, Natalya fought back with a wicked powerbomb, locking in the Sharpshooter before Charlotte made it to the ropes. She tried using the ropes to pin Natalya, but she kicked out.
However, she didn’t kick out of Natural Selection, giving Charlotte a short victory as Becky and Sasha stared her down at ringside.
Once again, the ladies were not given as much time as they deserve, but Charlotte and Nattie did what they could, putting on an entertaining bout for the Philly crowd. Banks and Lynch were on fire on commentary, simultaneously building heat between each other while keeping a collective eye on Charlotte.
R-Truth vs. Bubba Ray Dudley
After DeVon provided an early distraction, Bubba Ray began to cruelly beat R-Truth in some fairly one-sided action, taunting him verbally throughout about Goldust.
R-Truth showed some spark with a few well-paced kicks, taking DeVon out. However, he ran right into Bubba Ray, who took him out for the count. The pair looked to continue the beating after the match, but Goldust emerged to look for the save. However, he fell to the Dudleys.
Luckily, the Usos ran out to come to the unlikely pair’s rescue, pulling out some tables for a welcoming Philly crowd. However, the Dudleys escaped, much to everyone’s chagrin.
No chance in hell (in a cell)
Vince reminded us all of his (former) son’s upcoming match, saying that if Shane were to win, they’d probably not see him anymore. He accused the crowd of enabling Shane’s determination and passion and then said that if Undertaker did not defeat Shane, this year’s Wrestlemania would be his last.
This is no surprise, and a welcome stipulation to this match, because now the Undertaker has a real reason to want to beat Shane. As for what this means for the match’s winner . . . that will take an entire post to discuss.
Dean Ambrose vs. Braun Strowman
Staring down Vince without fear and cutting off the Chairman’s music as he did so, Ambrose entered for his main event match against the black sheep of the Wyatt family. Strowman came out with the Wyatts behind him, and Paul Heyman sat down on commentary.
Strowman used his size to his advantage, working the giant angle hardcore and laying a beating down on Dean Ambrose, who had to really up his antics to turn the tide in his favor as he took punishment after punishment.
Ambrose locked in a sleeper hold on Strowman, who regained momentum with encouragement from Wyatt. He began hitting Strowman with strike after strike, sending him into the turnbuckle and attacking him with a steel chair and hitting Dirty Deeds into the chair, looking right at Paul Heyman and telling him that Strowman’s fate was what was awaiting Lesnar at Wrestlemania to close the show.
Bless his heart, but even Ambrose cannot make a Strowman match interesting to watch. However, his brief encounter with Vince and antics post-match continued to display how much of an asset he truly is.
Overall, a fairly bland RAW, not the kind you’d see two weeks before Wrestlemania. But I remain hopeful, because if last year’s show proved to be a blast, this one should too.