By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Triple H and Seth Rollins: The great thing about the hold harmless contract signing was that it didn’t overstay its welcome. It was appropriately timed with Triple H delivering a good heel explanation of the rules and ramifications, while Rollins seethed. The physicality was well done in that they whet the appetites of viewers without giving away the big Pedigree spot. As good as the segment was, I could have done without the seemingly endless series of recaps. That said, the build to this match started rocky and peaked nicely.
Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, and Paul Heyman: It was nice to hear Heyman make a last ditch effort to make the WWE Universal Championship feel like a coveted item. Heyman delivered a good final promo heading into the match, but the key was Goldberg spearing Lesnar again. It feels like a forgone conclusion that Lesnar is going to win the championship on Sunday, so Goldberg getting the better of him again was a really good call. I doubt that it will cause many hardcore fans to change their opinions, but I’ll bet there are some more casual viewers who are buying into the idea that Goldberg has Lesnar’s number. It will be interesting to see how the WrestleMania crowd reacts to Goldberg. He received some boos on the road to WrestleMania, but the notoriously tough Philly crowd treated him well.
Undertaker and Roman Reigns: A solid yet unspectacular go-home segment. I actually enjoyed the previous Undertaker and Reigns segments more than this one. I was hoping that the feud would feel more personal coming out of the final segment. Instead, the graveyard video and the Reigns tombstone felt like something Taker would do for any WrestleMania opponent, not something specific for Reigns. The feud really peaked at the Royal Rumble when Reigns told Taker that it’s his yard now. They maintained that vibe throughout the build, but they failed to top it. Even so, this is the WrestleMania match that intrigues me most.
Bayley, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax: As down as I have been on aspects of WWE’s women’s divisions, the simple fact that WWE dedicated the first 30 minutes of the go-home edition of Raw heading into WrestleMania is downright amazing when you think about how the women were utilized just two years ago. Bayley established fangirl love for WrestleMania. Charlotte continued to play up the possibility of Sasha being the ultimate manipulator. Jax destroyed all three women following the tag match. As much as I would prefer to see a singles match for the Raw Women’s Championship, they delivered good hype for the four-way, and I love that it’s now an elimination match.
Austin Aries vs. Noam Dar: A good momentum building win for Aries complete with the debut of the Last Chancery on Raw. Neville’s intense viewing of the match from the broadcast table was well done. Unfortunately, production hurt the moment by showing the shot of Neville standing on the table and glaring at Aries while at the same time showing a business as usual Michael Cole reading his transitional lines.
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher: A minor Hit for an entertaining match in the seemingly contractually obligated second cruiserweight segment of the night. The match felt a little too competitive. I’m all for making Gallagher a player within the division, but perhaps it would have been better to give Neville a different opponent so that this could have been more of a showcase win for the champion heading into his biggest title defense. The post match bit with the Austin Aries news update with New Day was painful. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the WWE Cruiserweight Championship match on Sunday and it will be a treat to see Aries become the latest guy to go from wrestling at the West St. Paul Armory to working his first WrestleMania match.
Overall show: The Hit count is lopsided, but this was a good go-home show, not a great one. They provided final hype to each of the Raw brand WrestleMania matches, and I also appreciated the way the broadcast team ran through the entire list of matches and even the list of WWE Hall of Fame inductees.
WWE Raw Misses
Over The Top Challenge: Big Show beating up the heroes of WWE Main Event in a match without rules did nothing for me. Didn’t Stephanie McMahon tell Sami Zayn that she wanted the best of the best in the match to bring home The Dre for Raw? Of course, we all know the annual battle royal is all about getting everyone on the show. Braun Strowman coming out and announcing his entry felt like a letdown for the big man. It sets up a quality final two if they want to take that approach, and I’m also curious to see what role dark horse Sami Zayn plays.
Raw Tag Title match hype: Enzo Amore and Big Cass spent the go-home show delivering market specific humor. It got a nice rise out of the crowd and would have been acceptable on most nights, but none of it left me anxious to see them challenge for the tag titles at WrestleMania. The use of the ladders felt forced. I’m surprised they didn’t let the viewing audience know that the match was going to be a ladder match, but at least that spared us the silliness of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows acting shocked by the obvious stipulation.
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn in a No DQ match: A minor Miss. The fans either didn’t buy into the threat of Zayn being fired. Or perhaps they were actually hoping he would be fired by Stephanie McMahon so that he would be free to join the Smackdown brand. The wrestlers did a nice job, but the stipulation just didn’t click. The post match angle with Chris Jericho and Samoa Joe got the crowd fired up nicely. Jericho putting Owens on The List received a strong reaction and was the obvious final line heading into Owens vs. Jericho on Sunday.