By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
The Kevin Owens Show with Goldberg: The human sign and the small lawn chair for the guest were laugh out loud funny. You could see the big introduction of Chris Jericho instead of Goldberg coming a mile away, but it was still good fun. The big tease for Jericho vs. Owens at WrestleMania was well done, and having Goldberg interrupt as the heels were discussing the ramifications was spot on. Paul Heyman’s interruption of the Owens vs. Goldberg teaser was unexpected fun, as was the appearance of Reigns after Goldberg said his name. Braun Strowman’s appearance didn’t pack the same punch, but the announcement of his entry into the Royal Rumble match makes the match more interesting. Sadly, it also left me feeling we’re going to get Reigns vs. Strowman match for the Universal Championship, which is about as appealing as a fourth hour of Raw. I could have lived without the double spear of the monster, but at least Cole was there to say it took two of WWE’s best to take him down. The entire segment did a terrific job of setting up the Royal Rumble and the potential fallout for WrestleMania.
Braun Strowman vs. Sami Zayn in a Last Man Standing match: The opening minutes of the match were great with Zayn laying in the kendo stick shots and Strowman catching one stick and breaking it over his knee and then taking the other stick and simply tossing it aside. The welts on Strowman’s back from those shots sold the intensity of the match. Zayn’s cross body block on the stage was a great hope spot. Strowman looked downright dominant, yet Zayn showed heart by continuing to fight, which is perfect for his character. It’s good to see the feud has reached this point and we’re beyond Zayn getting a participation ribbon for going to a ten-minute draw.
Roman Reigns vs. Chris Jericho for the U.S. Championship: Jericho continues to get the best out of Reigns in television matches. I love the way they milked the stipulation that Reigns would lose the title if he was disqualified or counted out. First, Reigns barely beat the ten count, and then Jericho took a page out of the Eddie Guerrero playbook by tossing the title to Reigns and then lying down while acting like Reigns hit him. Jericho does a great job in these matches, but the match is losing steam and the U.S. Title hasn’t meant so little in quite some time. Here’s hoping it’s Reigns vs. Strowman for the U.S. Championship at WrestleMania. By the way, if they weren’t going to have Rollins take advantage of the fact that he was allowed at ringside, why not have Reigns look like a standup guy by simply telling him that he wanted to handle it on his own?
Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, and Kevin Owens: A minor Hit. Jericho and Owens continued to entertain even if they seem to be back to seeking more laughs than heat. The segment put over the shark cage gimmick and set up the Goldberg interview and opening match. Stephanie McMahon wasn’t included in the Hit for a reason. Listen to the lifeless reaction she received when her music played. Her character is flat. She is a very good talker, but her big boss routine is overbearing and obnoxious, and her shades of gray act is more eye rolling than entertaining.
Karl Anderson vs. Cesaro: A quality match and a rare win for Anderson in a singles match. It’s going to take some time and probably a tag title run to rebuild the damaged Anderson and Luke Gallows act. Here’s hoping it happens.
Overall show: By recent standards, this was a significant upgrade in terms of holding the interest of fans throughout the three-hour marathon. The show provided good hype for the Rumble and teased several interesting scenarios for WrestleMania. As down as I am on the lighthearted comedic approach taken with Owens and Jericho at times, they also had a strong night and felt like they belonged in the top Raw programs teased in the final segment.
WWE Raw Misses
Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens: A decent opening match. Even so, it should feel more meaningful when one of the top babyfaces steps in the ring with the WWE Universal Champion. As someone who was thrilled to see Owens win the title, it pains me to say that this reign has been mediocre and that’s putting it kindly. It’s entirely due to the way he’s been positioned creatively. It’s not that he isn’t entertaining, it’s that he had his in-ring credibility stripped in favor of comedy and pest heel qualities. Owens is capable of so much more. Meanwhile, Rollins is a lost character who laid out an oddball plan to get Triple H in the ring. Apparently, he doesn’t mind that his buddy Roman Reigns seemingly derailed step two of his plan by going after the Universal Championship.
Rusev and Jinder Mahal vs. Big Cass: A minor Miss for the quick match that was supposed to put some heat on the heel duo. The Raw brand lacks meaningful heels. Rusev should be a money heel, but instead they took the comedic approach with him and now he’s in a pointless mid-card tag team program. It’s very similar to the approach the company has taken with Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. All three heels are entertaining and can be counted on for a laugh, yet none of them are positioned as strong money heels.
New Day and Titus O’Neil: It felt like the goal was to poke fun at a lame and undefined character in an attempt to mask the fact that New Day is losing its cool. The thrill of New Day may not be gone for everyone, but WWE would be wise to shake things up somehow before they lose the majority of fans.
Bayley and Stephanie McMahon: A Miss for some viewers. The turnoff of the backstage exchange came when Bayley said it took her a long time to realize that she belongs in WWE. It’s another line that makes perfect sense for viewers who followed her journey throughout her NXT run, yet it just doesn’t ring true for the majority who are only familiar with her main roster work. She’s never lacked confidence since the moment she was called up to the main roster, and I continue to believe that’s the primary reason she hasn’t clicked with main roster viewers the same way she did with those who watched her NXT work.
TJ Perkins vs. Brian Kendrick: Both men have been featured as prominently as anyone in the cruiserweight division since it debuted on Raw in September. The fans are still sitting on their hands during their Raw matches. This division desperately needs a star. It’s a shame that Kota Ibushi turned them down because he would clearly be that guy. Perhaps Neville can be, but it will take time given that the King of the Cruiserweights was positioned as a peasant in the heavyweight division for far too long. My guess is Austin Aries becomes the face of the division once he’s healthy. Perkins and Kendrick have been given countless chances and while they can still be role players, neither one of them have or will click as the face of the division.
Cedric Alexander vs. Drew Gulak: Alexander got over in the cruiserweight tournament due to his tremendous in-ring work. With so many vanilla cruiserweights in WWE’s division, why is he the guy they saddled with the disruptive girlfriend gimmick?
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Kenny Herzog discussing his journalism career, his new Outside Interference podcast, doing a feature story on CM Punk, pro wrestling in the pandemic, WWE talk on Retribution, The Hurt Business, Roman Reigns as a heel, and much more...