By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Undertaker and Roman Reigns: A great close to the show with Taker receiving the mega pop from the live crowd. WWE’s top babyface was in the ring with their top heel (despite how he is positioned). The atmosphere was terrific. The angle was simple with Reigns telling Undertaker that it’s his yard now just as he did at the Royal Rumble. I love that Reigns said “with all due respect” before delivering the line. Is there anything more disrespectful to the Taker character than essentially telling him that you have taken his spot? Braun Strowman walking out after the staredown with Taker was intriguing. Strowman nodded and left the ring without putting up a fuss. I may be misreading the situation completely, but was this a step toward a Strowman and Reigns double turn? It felt like Strowman was being respectful to Taker rather than backing down in a heelish manner.
Goldberg and Brock Lesnar: WWE seemed prepared for the possibility of the Chicago crowd turning on Goldberg. He was scripted to be more humble than ever while telling the fans that the title belongs to them as much as it does him. It was actually comical to hear the crowd go from chanting Goldberg during his entrance to more of a mixed reaction once he held up the championship. I expect something similar from the WrestleMania crowd. The actual segment was well done. Lesnar’s intense facial expression as he headed to the ring was great, and Paul Heyman’s distraction line came out of nowhere and therefore Goldberg didn’t look like a chump for being thrown off by it just long enough for Lesnar to perform the F5.
Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens: A strong opening verbal exchange. Jericho worked in some of the more popular elements of his comedic heel character while also coming across sincere as he questioned why Owens stabbed him in the back. Owens was delightfully sociopathic as he spoke about using Jericho while telling him that they were never best friends. I love that Owens wanted to face Jericho as much as Jericho wanted to face him. This wasn’t a case of the heel trying to duck the babyface, it was two men who are both seeking revenge.
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn: I have been critical of the way WWE goes to this match for no good reason, but it was a logical move in this case. Owens needed the win and Zayn put up his usual good fight despite taking the loss. The Zayn character is great in that he can lose a match like this and it actually helps him long term in the sense that when the time is right, the company will be able to tell a great story of the longtime underdog finally reaching the top of the mountain.
Neville vs. Rich Swann for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: WWE is finally getting the most out of Neville. He is carrying the cruiserweight division and delivered two strong title matches on back to back nights. The near falls were believable and it was nice to see the live crowd so responsive for a cruiserweight match.
Austin Aries and Neville: The post match angle was great. I love the way Aries kept trying to get the interview back on track. It came off like a guy who tried to do the right thing and finally reached his breaking point. I wasn’t sure if there would be enough time between Fastlane and WrestleMania to build up a match between Aries and Neville properly, but they hooked me after one segment. My guess is they work the title match at WrestleMania, while the other cruiserweights take part in a Money in the Bank style ladder match.
WWE Raw Misses
Bayley, Charlotte, and Sasha Banks: WWE finally figured out that the feel good Bayley character should not feel good about winning matches via outside interference. And maybe this segment would have worked had we not watched her gleefully celebrate her win with Sasha Banks both in the ring at Fastlane and then again on Raw Talk. Another issue is that the heels continue to be right in their complaints. In fact, I suspect they are also right in seeing through Sasha manipulating Bayley. On a positive note, while the entire segment was confusing and the match between Bayley and Sasha was flat, at least they finally took a step toward making Bayley look like a good person again.
Seth Rollins video: The Rollins character is supposed to be driven by vengeance. The Rollins we saw in the video package came off like a really nice guy who was working hard to get back in time for WrestleMania, not a man who is obsessed with getting his hands on Triple H. I felt like we were watching out of character footage shot for a WWE Network documentary. The Triple H interview helped tie things together, but the Rollins in the video package didn’t feel like the same guy we saw on Raw last week.
Chris Jericho vs. Samoa Joe: A minor Miss in that it felt like a match that simply could have been avoided given that neither man could take a clean loss. The count-out finish was the right move, yet it also felt flat. I would rather see Joe destroying undercard wrestlers at this stage of his main roster run than standing at ringside while Jericho stood tall at the end of the segment. That said, this could lead to something else next week, so let’s see where it goes.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass for the Raw Tag Titles: The Raw tag team division continues to feel lifeless. The coffee cup angle at the end of the match was hokey. My guess is that we’re getting a Triple Threat at WrestleMania despite the fact that they booked a No. 1 contenders match for next week. It’s hard to care about a No. 1 contenders match when you don’t care about the tag titles. The best bet to turn the tide would be to book Gallows and Anderson against Sheamus and Cesaro and let the four wrestlers deliver a strong style match without an overbooked finish. The problem with the division isn’t a lack of talent, it’s the way the teams have been booked.
Akira Tozawa vs. Ariya Daivari: After giving the cruiserweight title match a good amount of time, it was right back to a two minute throwaway match for the second cruiserweight match. The wrestlers did fine and it was just the latest showcase of Tozawa, but it still felt like filler. I continue to wish that WWE would give up on the cosmetic overhaul they give the ring for the cruiserweight matches. It’s cool that 205 Live has its own look, but the makeover for the cruiserweights on Raw makes it feel like they are taking a break from the regular Raw show for something inferior.
New Day: The act continues to feel stale and this ice cream thing isn’t nearly as fun as the company seems to think it is.