By Jason Powell
WWE Raw on the USA Network
Live from Little Rock, Arkansas at Verizon Arena
[Q1] Raw opened with a graphic acknowledging the death of Jimmy Snuka… The annual Martin Luther King Jr. video package aired. The fans in the building were shown standing and applauding… The Raw opening video aired… Pyro shot off on the stage and then Michael Cole checked in and noted that the Royal Rumble is two weeks away. Cole was joined on commentary by Corey Graves and Byron Saxton…
Roman Reigns made his entrance to boos. They cut to a shot of a kid holding up a “Biggest Roman Reigns Fan” sign. The broadcast team recapped Chris Jericho winning the U.S. Championship. Cole hyped Kevin Owens vs. Reigns with Jericho in a shark cage for the Rumble. They showed the shark cage on the Raw stage.
Reigns said he couldn’t complain about being outnumbered because of the way The Shield played the numbers game. He said he wasn’t complaining about the handicap match. He said Owens will be complaining at the Rumble because of Jericho being locked in the shark cage. Reigns said Owens can’t beat him one-on-one, and nor can anyone else at this time. Reigns said he will headline WrestleMania for the third time.
Paul Heyman interrupted (you knew someone would). Heyman referred to himself as the calm before the storm because Lesnar is in the building. Heyman approached the ring and sought Roman’s permission to enter, then reminded him he’s just an advocate. Heyman let the fans chant Goldberg, then informed them that Goldberg would not appear on this show.
Heyman dished out his Royal Rumble/WrestleMania spoiler of Lesnar winning. Reigns said Lesnar must be eating or sleeping because he wasn’t there with him. Kevin Owens’ music played and then he and Chris Jericho headed to the ring together. Jericho played up the idea of Owens retaining and him winning the Rumble match so that they would meet at WrestleMania.
Seth Rollins made his entrance and said he missed the entire show last year and there’s no better way to get himself back in the main event than winning the Rumble match. Rollins told Heyman to tell his client and then added “and you too Big Dog” that anything can happen in the main event at WrestleMania.
[Q2] Braun Strowman made his entrance and he headed to the ring and had a brief staredown with Reigns. Brock Lesnar’s music played and the crowd popped big. Before Lesnar could get in the ring, Sami Zayn showed up and attacked Strowman from behind. A brawl broke out. Zayn caught Strowman with a Helluva Kick. Reigns tried to clothesline Lesnar, who ducked it and then gave him a German suplex.
Lesnar and Zayn were the only two left in the ring. Lesnar smiled, then grabbed Zayn and gave him a German suplex. Lesnar motioned for Strowman to bring it. Cole played it up as a big moment. Strowman stood on the apron, then dropped off it to boos. regisn returned to the ring and hit Lesnar with a Superman Punch. Reigns also hit Jericho and Owens with Superman Punches. Lesnar recovered and put Reigns down with an F5. Lesnar was the last man standing and his music played as he and Strowman glared at one another while Strowman backed up the stage…
Cole hyped the tag title match between Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, and Graves hyped Enzo and Big Cass vs. Rusev and Jinder Mahal for after the break… [C]
Powell’s POV: A good opening segment with WWE trying very hard to make Reigns sound like reasonable rather than have him look like a hypocrite for complaining about being outnumbered despite his Shield past. I don’t know if that fight is worth it, though, as babyfaces should be bothered by heel numbers advantages, and most babyfaces have been cheating heels at one time or another. That said, the segment delivered really good hype for the Rumble match, and Cole was there afterward to run through a list of some of the bigger names while putting the match over big.
1. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Rusev (w/Lana) and Jinder Mahal. The heels did not get a televised entrance, but Cole did push Lana’s bachelorette party airing on Total Divas. Enzo and Cass delivered their usual mic work. They cut to break roughly a minute into the match. [C]
Powell’s POV: The middle aged mom chanting along with the Enzo and Cass schtick behind them in the crowd was both cute and coolness killing all at the same time.
[Q3] The heels worked over Enzo coming out of the break. Enzo caught Rusev with a DDT and then made the tag just as Rusev did. Cass worked over super jacked Jinder and performed the Empire Elbow, but Rusev broke up the pin. A short time later, Cass hit Jinder with a big boot and then tagged in Enzo for their rocket launcher finisher for the win…
Big Cass and Enzo Amore beat Rusev and Jinder Mahal in 8:40.
A shot aired of Jack Gallagher walking backstage. Graves said Gallagher would join them on commentary after the break… An ad for Smackdown hyped the Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch cage match for the Smackdown Women’s Championship…
Powell’s POV: I’m surprised to see Enzo and Cass get a clean win so early in their program, but perhaps the heels will simply get their heat back somehow.
A movie sponsored clip focussed on Lita… The broadcast team spoke with Gallagher briefly, and Austin Aries had replaced Byron Saxton on commentary for the cruiserweight match. Cole hyped Gallagher vs. Ariya Daivari in an I Forfeit match on 205 Live…
2. Ariya Daivari vs. Lince Dorado. The wrestlers shook hands before the match. Daivari pulled Dorado in and jawed at him. Dorado performed an early springboard cutter for a two count. Daivari came back with a clothesline and then applied a Cobra Clutch and got the submission win…
Ariya Daivari beat Lince Dorado in 2:10.
Cole hyped footage of Nia Jax attacking Sasha Banks’s injured knee…
Powell’s POV: The wrestlers didn’t get enough time to do much, but Dorado always manages to do something cool. I doubt the Cobra Clutch finisher will stick for Daivari. It seemed like they were scrambling to establish a submission hold for him going into the “I Forfeit” match tomorrow night. By the way, you can join Jake Barnett for Smackdown coverage tomorrow night, and then I’ll be by with 205 Live coverage immediately afterward, and then Zack Zimmerman is by with live coverage of NXT on Wednesday nights.
[Q4] [C] The broadcast team set up footage of Undertaker announcing his entry in the Royal Rumble match. Cole said it’s his favorite event of the year. Graves raved about the stars in the Rumble match… The broadcast team set up a video package on the WWE UK Title tournament…
Powell’s POV: One more cheap plug. Dot Net UK-based staffer Darren Gutteridge and I spoke for an hour about the UK Title tournament and the UK independent scene in a special All Access (free) audio show earlier today that you can find here. It was a really good and informative conversation thanks to Darren’s knowledge of the UK scene.
Cole set up footage of Sasha Banks working out in the ring prior to Raw. He said she was being evaluated by the company’s medical staff. Nia Jax showed up and attacked Banks and targeted her injured knee…
Cesaro and Sheamus made their entrances for the tag title match. Cole announced that Sheamus and Cesaro will be in the Royal Rumble match… [C]
Powell’s POV: The Sasha and Nia footage was solid. It made the feud feel more real that it happened outside the usual television environment. Meanwhile, Sheamus and Cesaro entering the Rumble is interesting in that it may mean we won’t have a tag title match on the show (depending on the result of the upcoming match).
[Q5] 3. Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows for the Raw Tag Titles. JoJo delivered in-ring introductions for the title match. After and early flurry by the champions, the challengers isolated Anderson in their corner and took turns working him over. Sheamus tagged in and hit a clothesline off the ropes on Gallows for a two count. Sheamus hit the ten forearms to the chest and the crowd chanted along. Gallows came back with a kick that knocked Sheamus off the apron. [C]
Anderson and Gallows worked over Sheamus coming out of the break, but he made a hot tag quickly, just as Gallows tagged out. Cesaro threw a bunch of uppercuts on Anderson and then dropkicked him for a two count. A short time later, Cesaro hit the “Swiss-1-9” on Anderson, then took out Gallows on the floor. Cesaro hit Anderson with an uppercut from the floor, then performed a springboard corkscrew uppercut for two in the ring. Cesaro performed the swing and then applied the Sharpshooter.
The fans chanted “this is awesome” and Cole said they were right. Anderson caught Cesaro with a spinebuster and had him pinned, but Sheamus broke it up. The ref tried to clear Sheamus from the ring, but Sheamus turned and punched him and immediately showed regret. The heels took out Sheamus, then hit the Magic Killer on Cesaro. Anderson had Cesaro pinned, but the original referee was out. A second referee ran in and made the count, but the original referee woke up and waved it off, ruling the match a disqualification. Anderson and Gallows hit the Magic Killer on Sheamus afterward…
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows beat Sheamus and Cesaro by DQ in 13:30.
[Q6] The broadcast team hyped “Charlotte Flair” discussing her winning strategy that has kept her unbeaten on pay-per-view… Footage aired of Brock Lesnar and the opening segment… Graves announced the Raw main event as Reigns, Rollins, and Zayn vs. Owens, Jericho, and Strowman in a six-man tag match…
The cameras cut to Cole, Graves, and Saxton. Cole said they have heavy hearts and their thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Jimmy Snuka. The fans were shown applauding mildly after the video played. Then a batch of WWE related tweets regarding Snuka were shown… [C]
Powell’s POV: You don’t usually see the “Dusty Finish” used to tease a heel title win. The finish was unconventional, but the match was entertaining enough that the managed to heat up the feud. Meanwhile, I wasn’t sure how far WWE would go with their tributes to Snuka given the Nancy Argentino murder case rightfully being in the news lately, but they went all out with the graphic and the video package. Bold.
An Emmalina teaser aired. She’s still premiering soon… Backstage, an excited Sami Zayn trying to talk strategy with Reigns and Rollins. Seth said they appreciated the enthusiasm, but they’ve been there and done that. Zayn stuck his fist out Shield style. Roman mumbled something about Ambrose and walked away, then Rollins also walked away. Cole said it was awkward…
Tony Nese was in the ring for a match with Rich Swann, who made his entrance. Neville entered through the crowd and attacked Swann from behind. Neville put the boots to Swann while three referees tried to talk him down. Swann recovered and threw punches and kicks at Neville. Nese blindsided Swann and then threw punches at him. Neville pulled Nese off and indicated that Swann is his. Nese acted like he was going to comply, but then went back to attacking Swann. Neville threw Nese to ringside and then kicked the fallen Swann in the face…
The broadcast team hyped New Day for after the break. Graves pointed out that they are individuals in the Royal Rumble. He said New Day would address the strength of the power of positivity when they are flying solo…
Powell’s POV: A cool angle with Neville continuing to be the best thing going in the cruiserweight division. At the risk of jinxing us, we’re halfway through Raw and I don’t feel like I’m being held hostage yet.
[Q7] [C] Backstage, Neville was interviewed by NXT ring announcer Mike Rome, who asked why he attacked Rich Swann knowing he has a match against him at the Rumble. Neville said Rome may perceive him as a bad guy, but he’s a hypocrite like everyone else in the United States. Neville said Swann may think he’s a proud champion, but he’s too proud to admit he’s been defeated. He said he would break Swann’s unbreakable spirit at the Rumble, then he would kneel and present the title to the King of the Cruiserweights…
Powell’s POV: It’s nice to see Rome get some Raw time. I was very impressed by his work at the NXT house show in St. Paul. It was the same day that U.S. Bank Stadium opened and the Vikings defeated the Packers. Why does that suddenly feel like it was three seasons ago? Sigh.
New Day made their entrance and were very over with the Little Rock crowd. Kofi Kingston spoke about how it’s every man for himself. They said that if one of them win the Rumble, then “we all win the Rumble.” They spoke about how they would all go on to headline WrestleMania. Ugh.
Speaking of ugh, Titus O’Neil interrupted the trio. He doesn’t want to be in the New Day. He said he would rather replace them. They laughed at him. Titus said they have three spots in the Rumble, and asked them to hook him up with one of those spots. They declined. Titus said he would take it. Titus told them to have a “booty huddle” and determine which one of them would lose their spot to him. Big E said that once he beat Titus, that would mean no more texts, phone calls, etc. Titus tried to lead a Titus Rocks chant. His own music interrupted him while Cole said it appeared the match was coming up next… [C]
Powell’s POV: I was wondering if New Day would actually be the first three men in the Rumble match. It would have felt contrived, but that’s never stopped WWE before. After a tease for them taking the Jericho and Owens approach, fans have no reason to look forward to that, as the idea of them working together and winning as a trio means they would stand around until the fourth man came out. Good lord, please tell me they’re not going to open the Rumble with New Day mic work.
[Q8] 4. Big E (w/Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods) vs. Titus O’Neil for a Royal Rumble spot. The match was joined in progress. Titus got a near fall and it seemed like Cole was the only person who thought he had a chance of getting the pin. E came back and eventually finished off Titus with the Big Ending…
Big E beat Titus O’Neil in 4:55 (of television time).
Charlotte was shown walking backstage and was hyped for the next segment… Footage aired from the first Royal Rumble and featured comments from winner Jim Duggan [C]
Powell’s POV: I’m normally annoyed when babyfaces put something on the line for no good reason. Titus has been so annoying in this role that it actually seemed like a good reason when E put his spot in the Rumble on the line in exchange for potentially getting rid of him. Sadly, I suspect we’re not finished with New Day and Titus silliness yet. Meanwhile, I remember watching the first Rumble match on Coliseum home video (we didn’t have cable at that point) and loving the concept so much that I watched it more than once before returning it to Video Update. No, dinosaurs did not roam the earth at that time.
Another MLK graphic and quote was shown…
Charlotte made her entrance while the broadcast team hyped her title defense against Bayley for the Rumble. Charlotte spoke about being the queen of pay-per-view and how she is genetically superior and how she studies her opponents inside and out. She said the fans go crazy for Bayley because she is an average fan like they are. Charlotte had pictures appear on the big screen of Bayley as a child with John Cena, Ivory, Rob Van Dam, and Bret Hart. She mocked her for being obsessive.
[Q9] Charlotte had Bayley’s poems from childhood appear on the screen and warned kids that whatever you put on the internet is there for life. Charlotte said that while Bayley was writing poems, she was winning state championships in various sports. Charlotte said she found hundreds of Bayley’s poems. She tried to read one and then gave up and mocked a fan and said the champ is talking.
Charlotte said the best thing she found was something Bayley wrote for high school. She set up footage of adult Bayley reading the paper and crying while she was at the WWE Performance Center. Charlotte mocked Bayley crying and then pulled out a copy of Bayley’s paper, which said it’s a tough path to go down, but once she’s finally holding the title she can hold it up and say she did it. There was a tame “We Want Bayley” chant. Charlotte threw the papers out of the ring and then mocked the idea of someone like Bayley beating someone who was born in the business.
Bayley’s music played and the fans cheered. Bayley headed to the ring without playing to the fans and Charlotte walked out the other side. Bayley took the mic and asked Charlotte what she was doing. Bayley said showing the old photos was not necessary. Charlotte asked if she’s ashamed. Charlotte said Bayley is just an average fan. Bayley asked if this is Charlotte’s big strategy by trying to get in her head and embarrass her.
Bayley said she is not embarrassed or ashamed about her passion for WWE. Bayley said she wasn’t fortunate enough to have a father who could make one phone call and get her into WWE, but she did have a father who took her to every WWE live event in San Jose even if he didn’t have the money to do so. Bayley said it didn’t matter where she was in the building, she looked at her did and said one day that will be her. “Touching” Charlotte mocked (even though she appeared to be teary-eyed).
Bayley said she had a new poem. “Roses are red, violets are blue, at Royal Rumble I will defeat you.” Bayley said it makes her smile when she thinks of beating her pay-per-view streak. Bayley said Charlotte said she doesn’t deserve to walk down the ramp, but in two weeks Charlotte can call her champ. Bayley’s music played and Charlotte was in the middle of the tube men used for Bayley’s entrance.
Cole and company narrated footage of Lesnar’s appearance in the opening segment. Graves hyped the six-man tag main event… Backstage, Strowman asked Owens and Jericho what they wanted. They tried to talk strategy with him. Owens suggested Strowman beat up Reigns so badly that he’s out of action for two weeks. Jericho asked him to destroy Rollins because “I… we have to face him in the Royal Rumble match.” Strowman said he does what he wants, how he wants, and when he wants. He said he’ll eliminate everyone and then go to WrestleMania to take the WWE Championship. Strowman said he would make their three opponents scream mercy for their lives… [C]
Powell’s POV: The crowd was really flat for Charlotte’s promo, but Bayley came off really well here. They have struggled to establish her as the super fan to main roster viewers, but this segment went a long way toward doing that. I just wish they would have let this breathe a bit. It felt really awkward for them to spend all that time on that segment and then just race into whatever was next rather than having the broadcast team reenforce it before going to a break.
[Q10] 5. Brian Kendrick vs. Cedric Alexander. They recapped Cedric’s drama with Alicia Fox and Noam Dar. Cedric leapt over the rope and into an Asai moonsault that resulted in his legs hitting Kendrick’s head. Ouch. Kendrick came back and went for Captain’s Hook, but Allexander avoided it. Dar was shown watching the match on a backstage monitor. Aries noted that Fox wasn’t with either man at the moment.
Kendrick caught Alexander in a submission. Fox ran out and pushed the rope toward Alexander, who grabbed it to break the hold. Alexander rolled to the floor and asked what she was doing there. Kendrick dropkicked him from behind and then threw him back inside the ring. Cedric countered a move into the Lumbar Check for the win. After the match, Fox entered the ring applauding for Alexander. Cedric teased hugging her and then ducked her and headed backstage. Dar was shown watching on the monitor again…
Cedric Alexander beat Brian Kendrick in 4:45.
The broadcast team recapped Nia Jax attacking Sasha Banks during a workout for the medical staff…
Powell’s POV: Alicia’s interference was bizarre in that the referee watched her push the rope to Cedric, yet didn’t even flinch. At least Cedric wasn’t made out to be an idiot by taking Fox back.
Backstage, Rome interviewed a laughing Jax, who mocked him for still calling Banks by The Boss nickname. She said Sasha is a wannabe tough girl, and the aura of The Boss is over. “I broke the boss,” she said. “And now people are buzzing about the right woman”… Cole hyped the first entrant in the 2017 Hall of Fame for those who were unaware… [C]
[Q11] Backstage, Rome asked Fox about what happened with Cedric. She didn’t want to talk about it and started to leave. Rome asked if it had something to do with her interfering in his match with Dar. Well, no shit! She become over the top and ridiculous as she once again stated that she didn’t want to talk about it…
Powell’s POV: My lord, they rarely even address the names of the backstage interviewers, and perhaps that’s a good thing since they make them look like blithering idiots by having them ask ridiculous questions.
Cole set up the WWE Hall of Fame video package naming Kurt Angle as the first member of the 2017 class. Cole said the fans were giving a standing ovation to Angle (even though they were showing the fans applauding, yet while seated!!!). Cole thanked the reporter that WWE gave the story to for breaking it… Cole announced that Angle will appear on ESPN(ews) on Wednesday night…
Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho made their entrance for the main event… [C] A 205 Live ad hyped Jack Gallagher vs. Ariya Daivari in the “I Forfeit” match… Goldberg was hyped for next week’s Raw… The remainder of the ring entrances took place for the main event…
Powell’s POV: Same blink and you miss it hype for Goldberg’s appearance on next week’s show that they gave Brock Lesnar last week. In fact, the Lesnar hype occurred right after the 205 Live ad as well. Why isn’t that something they hype consistently throughout the show?
6. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, and Braun Strowman. The wrestlers jawed. Zayn threw a forearm at Strowman and then the wrestlers brawled. Strowman and Roman cleared the ring. Strowman tossed Reigns over the top rope too, and Cole tied it in with hype for the Rumble match heading into the break.
[Q12] [C] Zayn performed a nice standing moonsault on Jericho. Owens tagged in and worked over Zayn, then told the crowd, “That’s why I’m the champ” for a good rise. The heels isolated Zayn. He eventually tagged in Reigns, who got the better of Owens. Reigns set up in the corner, but Jericho grabbed his foot, giving Cole a chance to say that won’t happen when Jericho is in the shark cage at the Rumble. Reigns went for a Superman punch on Strowman, who was on the apron, but Strowman caught Reigns by the throat and shoved him into a superkick from Owens for a two count. Strowman tagged in heading into a break. [C] The heels worked over Reigns coming out of the break.
[Overrun] Reigns made a hot tag to Rollins. Rollins performed a suicide dive onto Jericho, then Zayn performed a flip over the top rope onto Owens. Strowman tried to clothesline Zayn on the floor, but Zayn sucked and Strowman hit the ring post instead. Rollins hit a flying knee on Jericho back inside the ring for a two count. Strowman tagged in and took a kick from Rollins, a Superman Punch from Reigns, and then Zayn tagged in.
Rollins dove onto Jericho and Owens on the floor, and Zayn performed a high cross body block onto Strowman for a really good near fall. The fans chanted “this is awesome.” Zayn went for his finisher, but Strowman clotheslined him and then performed a running power slam on Zayn and pinned him clean.
Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho defeated Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Sami Zayn in 19:00.
After the match, Strowman tossed Zayn to ringside. Strowman picked up Zayn on his shoulder and carried him up the stage and placed him in front of the broadcast table. The broadcast team cleared out. Rollins hit Strowman with a couple of chairs shots, then Reigns speared Strowman on the stage. They cut to highlights of the match that were not narrated.
Rollins pointed at the table and then he and Reigns took it apart. Owens and Jericho ran up the ramp and attacked them from behind. They were setting up Reigns for a powerbomb, but Rollins recovered and ended up hitting the Pedigree on Jericho. Owens immediately struck Rollins with a chair. Reigns ran at Owens, who struck him with two chair shots. Owens asked Reigns if he remembered Battleground, then powerbombed him through the broadcast table. Owens stood over Reigns to close the show while some fans chanted Yes!…
Powell’s POV: A fun six-man tag main event followed by a good show closing angle. I love that the broadcast team was chased off and viewers got to take in the closing moments without hearing them. It’s funny how Reigns and Rollins vs. Owens and Jericho feels tired at this point, yet the additions of Zayn and Strowman changed the dynamic enough to make everything feel fresh. Overall, this was a good edition of Raw with some good hype for the Royal Rumble. Now if only they would work on the lackluster way in which they hype what’s happening on next week’s show. I will have more to say on Raw in the members’ exclusive audio review later tonight and in Tuesday’s WWE Raw Hit List.