By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens: The Festival of Friendship was riot. Chris Jericho was at his absolute cornball best for the grand showgirl entrance and throughout the entire gift presentation. As if the statue gift wasn’t enough, The Creation of David spoof painting was truly laugh out loud funny. Everything shifted following the commercial break. Jericho was spot on as he took the tone from over the top comedy to sounding sincere as he spoke about his friendship. Owens setting up Jericho with the “Book of KO” that had Jericho’s name on it was great, and the violent attack that followed was top notch. Everything about this clicked in a major way and sets the stage for an eventual showdown match between the two, presumably at WrestleMania for the U.S. Championship.
Samoa Joe sit-down interview: A great night for Joe. The sit-down setting works so well that it’s surprising we don’t see WWE use it more. For instance, has Roman Reigns ever come off better than he did during the snowed in edition of Raw? Joe made it clear that he’s more than just Hunter’s lackey, and the best line of the segment was Joe explaining that WWE didn’t sign him all these years because they were afraid to. With that one line he went from just another wrestler who is so grateful to the mighty WWE for employing them to being an old school pro wrestling badass. Michael Cole’s line of questioning was good and credibility building in that he didn’t shy away from the intimidating Joe. Rather, Cole stood his ground and continued to ask tough questions (were they inspired by the XFL documentary footage of Bob Costas interviewing Vince McMahon in 2001?). Joe had a tendency to yell throughout his promos in TNA. The Joe we saw on Raw is so much better. He was calm, yet super intense at the same time. This brought me back to the territory days when fans actually feared for the company personalities who had to interview some of the more unpredictable heels.
Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship: This left me with mixed feelings. The match was strong and the title change came off great. The live crowd was thrilled and it made for a great finish to the show. However, it’s so premature for Bayley to win her first main roster championship. The Bayley character is the lovable underdog, and underdogs shouldn’t find success this easily. I’m actually hopeful that her character will have the rug pulled out from under her next week. Yes, I am actually pulling for a Dusty Finish. Keep in mind that Stephanie McMahon already reversed a previous Bayley win over Charlotte. Michael Cole pointed out last night that Bayley “has no clue what’s going on either” after Sasha Banks interfered with the crutch. So rather than Stephanie taking the title away, perhaps she could give Bayley a nudge to forfeit the championship. Bayley might be the only character in wrestling who could give back a championship, cut a promo about how she wants to win it the right way, and make fans like her even more rather than viewing her as a gullible sap. This could also lead to some major friction between Bayley and Sasha, which seems to be where this is headed.
Sami Zayn vs. Rusev and Joe’s post-match attack: A good match between Zayn and Rusev was followed by an awesome beatdown angle. Joe’s strong attack on Zayn on the stage seems to set the stage for the Fastlane match that I mentioned as a possibility last week. Zayn is a perfect opponent for Joe’s first pay-per-view match, as he will take a hell of a beating in what should be a lopsided yet entertaining match. Plus, Zayn is popular enough that he will get his share of cheers, meaning heel Joe won’t be unanimously cheered. Meanwhile, it’s hard not to look at what WWE is doing with Joe and wonder how much money WWE left on the table by ending Rusev’s monster heel push in favor of making him a comedy figure. It’s not too late. Trade Rusev to Smackdown and hit the reset button.
Braun Strowman vs. Mark Henry: A fine super heavyweight type of match that accomplished its goal of making Strowman look superior. The post match angle with Reigns was also effective and I hope they continue to make Strowman look like Roman’s kryptonite heading into Fastlane. The advertised match between Strowman and Big Show next week in Los Angeles left me wondering if we might see Shaquille O’Neal show up to begin the television build for whatever he’s doing at WrestleMania. After all, Shaq is guaranteed to get a strong reaction from the Lakers fans, whereas fans in other cities may not be as kind to a celebrity getting involved.
Cruiserweight Matches: Minor Hits. The Jack Gallagher vs. Noam Dar and Akira Tozawa vs. Ariya Daivari matches were given a combined six and a half minutes. It’s become par for the course with the cruiserweights on Raw, yet this was the first time they actually left me wanting to see more. The key was that they featured some of the better personalities from the division. I still wish WWE would give up on the set change and the handshakes before the matches. I’m not sure what they think they are accomplishing, but it’s actually making these cruiserweights feel different from the rest of the Raw wrestlers in a negative way.
Overall show: Raw is officially on a roll. The last five weeks of television have been so much better than the long, plodding shows we saw far too often in 2016. The improvement is significant enough that it feels like there’s been creative shakeup. However, there hasn’t been any talk of that, so I suspect it’s simply a case of the company actually booking further out than usual. After all, they clearly have the WrestleMania course set, so they are able to build to those matches rather than simply booking everything week to week. Whatever the cause, here’s hoping it continues because Raw has been a much better show in 2017.
WWE Raw Misses
Enzo Amore vs. Cesaro: A lousy match with Enzo really struggling so badly that even Cesaro couldn’t carry him. It was also another rough week for Enzo and Cass on the mic to the point that it left me wondering if they are being intentionally bad with the goal of turning them heel. That’s probably not the case, but that fact that I’m even wondering says a lot about their recent material. They still get the big pops from the live crowds that are happy to see them in person, but their act is getting stale for this weekly viewer. When is the last time we heard a great Enzo promo?
Emmalina: All that hype for Emmalina and she told us that she was transforming back into Emma. Is there more to this or did WWE just tap out on the Emmalina gimmick?
Roman Reigns vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson: I’m never a fan of the tag team champions struggling in a match against a singles star. It was nice to see they didn’t actually lose the match by pinfall, but I wasn’t sure what the point of this was. Is it possible that Triple H is forming a faction with Owens, Joe, Gallows, and Anderson? Joe is obviously with Hunter, and clearly whatever Hunter said to Owens led to the attack on Jericho. Is it possible that Gallows and Anderson coming to Stephanie’s defense is a hint that they are working with Hunter too? Again, this is just shot in the dark speculation, but that faction would be a lot of fun.