By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Undertaker announces he is in the Royal Rumble match: The highlight of the night with Taker’s entrance taking long enough to get the college football national championship game to halftime, meaning WWE probably peaked in viewership at just the right time for Taker to make his announcement. Taker’s lines about going where he wants and when he wants was likely his way of addressing why he appeared on Raw when he’s a Smackdown wrestler, and that backstage shot of Braun Strowman watching him may have been a teaser for a WrestleMania match. Taker looked great and his involvement in what is an absolutely loaded Rumble match actually made the match feel even more must see.
Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman: Rollins has joined Sami Zayn in doing a terrific job of carrying Strowman to quality matches. Strowman isn’t the most athletic big man, but they are putting him with the right opponents and he is doing a good job of holding up his end. The finish was wise given that they clearly want to protect Rollins, and monster Strowman should not be losing clean to anyone before WrestleMania, if even then.
Charlotte and Nia Jax vs. Bayley and Sasha Banks: An odd finish with Bayley losing despite the fact that she is challenging for the women’s title at the Royal Rumble, and Sasha had a built in-excuse with her knee injury. One can only assume that Bayley will be made to look strong over the next couple weeks, as there is currently zero buzz for her title shot at the Rumble. Meanwhile, I couldn’t tell whether they are setting up a four-way for WrestleMania or if they were teasing a Sasha vs. Stephanie McMahon storyline.
Neville vs. Lince Dorado: A minor Hit for Neville continuing to be the best thing going in the poorly presented cruiserweight division. It’s hard to tell whether Neville is changing up his finisher or simply searching for the right one, but I continue to appreciate the fact that he’s not performing the crowd pleasing Red Arrow finisher now that he is a heel. The Rings of Saturn was a great choice and I hope that one sticks if he’s looking for a permanent finisher.
WWE Raw Misses
Next show hype: WWE has over three hours to work with. They usually have plenty of time for recap videos and even filler matches and segments. So why is it that last week they were only able to find a matter of seconds to promote the returns of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, and then last night they found even less time to promote Brock Lesnar’s return for next week’s show? WWE dedicated more time to promoting 205 Live matches moments before they essentially snuck in the Lesnar plug. I normally wonder how many viewers miss these plugs if they are out of the room or even distracted for a matter of seconds. Last night, Raw was opposed by the college football national championship game, so surely plenty of people who were flipping channels missed out on this. Yes, they can use social media throughout the week, but they would get more out of directly advertising to the viewing audience while also making a bigger fuss out of what’s coming up next week so that it actually feels important rather than like something they merely find worthy of a brief plug.
Roman Reigns vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens in a handicap match for the U.S. Championship: Reigns feuding with Jericho and Owens has passed its expiration point. It doesn’t help that this was slotted as the main event of the three-hour marathon, but the match felt like more of the same despite the fact that it concluded with a title change. Whether Jericho cares or the belt is just a prop to him at this point in his career, it was cool to see him win the only major title that he was somehow never booked to win. That said, I was actually hoping that Owens would take the title to create friction between the two of them.
Stephanie McMahon: Stephanie threatening Mick Foley’s job took priority over delivering strong hype for Undertaker’s appearance. The issues between Stephanie and Foley seemed unnecessary, and Stephanie seemed to spend the evening performing a low rent impersonation of her father’s Mr. McMahon character.
Shawn Michaels and Rusev: As fun as it can be to daydream about an HBK return in the Royal Rumble, I don’t think many fans actually expected that to occur. The real issue was that the segment was too lighthearted. Michaels and Rusev came off like two guys who were more worried about amusing themselves than the crowd. There was no believable tension between them, and it seemed like they were just out there having fun rather than trying to come off as believable.
Jack Gallagher vs. Drew Gulak: This was the first time that Gallagher felt repetitive. The match didn’t feature anything fresh from him, and his tease for the parley with Ariya Daivari felt like a half-assed attempt to recreate the fun of their duel.
Big Cass vs. Jinder Mahal: The bad Shawn Michaels appearance led to a match that looked terrible on paper and was somehow even worse in execution. The East River Crossing setup to the Empire Elbow finisher was downright awful. I don’t know which wrestler was to blame, but it’s not the first time this move has been botched.
New Day and Titus O’Neil: Anything that reminds me of the horrible physical challenge era of NXT is automatically a miss. WWE has an army of writers, yet they only thing they could come up with for New Day post title reign was a feud with Titus O’Neil?
Sheamus vs. Luke Gallows: A minor Miss for Gallows losing the match despite having a distraction excuse. If WWE wants viewers to see Gallows and Karl Anderson as threats, then they need to be pushed consistently as ass kickers. Trading singles wins and losses with the new tag champions isn’t going to cut it.