By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Tyler Breeze vs. Stardust vs. Dolph Ziggler: A highly entertaining five-way match complete with a title change. Some of the near falls were effective enough that I actually bought into the possibility of the sadly underutilized Breeze winning at one point. Ambrose dropping the title is an interesting development as it certainly makes you wonder what they have planned for him at Fastlane and WrestleMania. It also left me wondering what the Intercontinental Title match will be at WrestleMania. I like Owens vs. AJ Styles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with a big multi-man ladder match. It’s nice to see that Dolph Ziggler’s recent wins over Owens were either strategic or at least they seem that way now that Owens won the title.
Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns: The most intriguing segment of the night. Heyman and Reigns continue to be very respectful of one another just as they were throughout the build to the WrestleMania 31 main event. This would work nicely if they ever decide to turn both men heel and put them together. The Dudley Boyz attacking Reigns was a nice twist. The acknowledged history between Heyman and the Dudleys could lead to an end to the respect between Heyman and Reigns, but Heyman can always deny having any involvement while claiming that not even he can control the Dudleys. Heyman hasn’t been himself lately in terms of his performances. I assume it’s because he hasn’t been excited by what the company has been doing creatively. Fortunately, he bounced back nicely in this segment and did a nice job of playing up the possibility of a Reigns and Ambrose meltdown. If nothing else, this segment served as an effective setup for the suddenly fresh Smackdown main event of Reigns and Ambrose vs. The Dudley Boyz.
Charlotte and Brie Bella: Charlotte essentially played the same role that Paige played when she was scripted to use Reid Flair’s death in an angle. The big difference, as they essentially pointed out, is that a man didn’t die. Rather, Charlotte used Daniel Bryan’s retirement to get heat and it was effective without crossing the line of poor taste. Charlotte delivered her lines well and also flashed a nice facial expression that said Brie was right when she accused her of playing mind games because she knows it won’t be an easy match. I also like the way Charlotte took center stage while her famous father was merely at her side. There are certainly times when Ric Flair can add a lot to the act with his mic work, but Charlotte was and should be the featured attraction of their act.
AJ Styles vs. The Miz: I have mixed feelings about this match. It was certainly a good, back and forth match. At the same time, the problem is that it was such a back and forth match. The Miz rarely has competitive matches with the top stars in WWE. We see him lose quickly and comedically on a regular basis, so what type of message does that send to viewers about where Styles ranks? Ultimately, I settled in on this being a Hit because the ring work was entertaining and I don’t think any real damage was done given that Styles won clean. In fact, I hope the company realizes that Miz can be more than just a comedic heel even though he plays that role so well. The post match angle was entertaining with Styles issuing the challenge he thought Chris Jericho would quickly accept only to have Jericho play mind games by telling him he would think about it and get back to him on Smackdown. I certainly assume we are getting their rubber match at Fastlane and I am looking forward to it.
Summer Rae vs. Paige: A minor Hit for the upset finish. I think we all assumed this was nothing more than a throwaway showcase match for Paige. Instead, Summer pinned her clean, which sets up the need for a rematch. I’m not a fan of parity booking and I hope this wasn’t step one in some weird burial, yet I would also like to see WWE do more to establish that upsets can happen in seemingly lopsided television matches, as it keeps viewers more engaged rather than simply assuming they know the outcomes of most television matches.
WWE Raw Misses
Big Show vs. Braun Strowman: This was the main event? This had to be one of those strange Vince McMahon ribs that forced Big Show to race from the ring to the Stone Cold Podcast set, right? The alternative is that Vince McMahon really saw this as a suitable main event of a pay-per-view go-home show. Granted, it was more of an angle than a match with the Wyatt Family getting involved only to have Ryback and then Kane make the save. I assume it sets up a six-man tag match for the pay-per-view. And that’s a fine mid-card match, but none of this belongs in the main event segment on Raw, let alone on the go-home edition heading into Fastlane. The third hour of this show was a drag and I can’t imagine the teases for this match were enough to keep viewers watching. It’s a shame this show didn’t end with the Heyman and Reigns segment, as this would have felt like a quality go-home show. Instead, the extra hour brought the show down and left me feeling blah about Sunday’s pay-per-view.
Big E vs. Mark Henry: A strange finish with Henry slipping out of the Big Ending, landing on the mat, and then just being pinned. The broadcast team played up the possibility of him suffering broken ribs from the splashes. One can only assume that Henry was injured based on the awkward finish, but there has not been an official update.
Heath Slater vs. Zack Ryder: What the hell are the Social Outcasts? I honestly have no idea whether they are heels or babyfaces or what WWE hopes to get from pairing of undercard misfits.
Becky Lynch vs. Naomi: A minor Miss for what felt like a rushed match and angle. How about scrapping the Slater vs. Ryder match that means nothing as far as Fastlane is concerned and dedicate that time to this match?
Sheamus, Rusev, and Alberto Del Rio vs. The Lucha Dragons and Neville: The weekly six-man tag match filler included the usual good ring work and a finish that was more awkward than the Mark Henry vs. Big E finish. How ridiculous did Sin Cara look for just lying on the middle rope and holding himself in place while waiting for Del Rio to double stomp him? This would have been a good spot for King Barrett do at least hold him in place. Meanwhile, it’s hard enough to take Kalisto seriously as U.S. Champion when he and Del Rio have played hot potato with the title belt, but watching him work tag matches with Sin Cara again sends the message that he’s more of a tag team wrestler. Neville continues to be the most underutilized wrestler on the WWE roster. He’s the guy that WWE uses randomly to fill time. League of Nations isn’t getting any better. It still feels like Sheamus, Rusev, and Del Rio are all better off on their own.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Ricky Starks on his NWA run, doing enhancement work for WWE, leaving NOLA due to Hurricane Katrina, the January 24 NWA Hard Times PPV on FITE.TV, his relationship with Nick Aldis, and much more...