By Jason Powell
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WWE Raw Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe for the Intercontinental Title: The backstage interview with Joe stating that Dean Ambrose was living off his wife’s paycheck while Joe was being interviewed by Ambrose’s wife Renee Young was classic. I really appreciated the attention to detail in this match. The stipulation that Reigns would lose the title if he ended up being disqualified was a nice touch, and it was even better that they acknowledged that the referee for the match was the same referee that Reigns shoved last week. Reigns and Joe work very well together and Joe’s late near fall after coming off the uranage was suspenseful and believable. Joe lost the match, but I didn’t come away feeling like he was damaged in any way.
Jason Jordan vs. Cesaro: Jordan was not well received by the live crowd. And I’d be worried about that if it seemed like creative viewed Jordan as a babyface replacement for Dean Ambrose. Instead, it feels like they are fully aware of what he is and this is merely an odd couple tag team. Jordan is still cocky and arrogant, and his failed attempt at being cool with the backstage “believe that” line felt like something Kurt Angle would have done back in the day. While Jordan might be teaming with Rollins presently, it feels like creative is staying the course with his heel persona rather than suddenly pushing him as a super nice guy babyface again. The actual match was entertaining and it felt like an upset when Jordan got the win despite the fact that Cesaro seems to lose most of his singles matches.
Braun Strowman vs. Rhyno: While fans seem to be uninspired by Strowman’s upcoming title shot, they are clearly still hot for the character. Strowman’s destruction of Rhyno and Heath Slater was very well received, which was comical given that the same crowd was chanting “ECW” and “Rhyno” early on. It will be interesting to see if WWE can keep Strowman strong despite the fact that he’s not the true focus of the show as WWE build to the likely Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns match at WrestleMania.
The Miz video package: WWE gave big hype for The Miz’s return from his latest film shoot. The broadcast team all treating it like a big deal was interesting in that hype for Miz is usually accompanied by at least one of the broadcast team members essentially rolling their eyes. This felt like the type of hype they would give a returning top star and left me optimistic that they may actually position Miz in that manner going forward.
WWE Raw Misses
Brock Lesnar and Kane closing angle: The last time we saw these two in the same ring, Kane took an F5 and waited until Lesnar was all the way up on the stage before sitting up Undertaker style. In other words, Kane could take the move and be pinned, but he’d be able to sit up 30 seconds after the match ended. Good for him? This time around, Kane chokeslammed Lesnar, who sat up just seconds later and literally laughed after taking one of Kane’s signature moves. Kane looked like the weak link on paper when the match was announced, and the angles they’ve done since then have cemented his status. This segment didn’t make me want to see the Triple Threat at the Royal Rumble. Rather, it left me anxious for the match to be over with so that they can move on to what’s next. I suspect that feeling will persist until we get through the seemingly inevitable Lesnar vs. Reigns match at WrestleMania.
Finn Balor, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson vs. Elias, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel: There was nothing edgy about Balor, Gallows, and Anderson getting together again. It’s not like Balor worked a more aggressive style or Gallows and Anderson abandoned the tiresome “Revenge of the Nerds” punchline in favor of acting more serious. It was just a match and there was no indication that creative put any thought into doing more with this trio beyond this show. I continue to love the idea of the the former Bullet Club members going to Smackdown as a heel faction, but the babyface reunion felt rather lifeless.
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka in a non-title match: A needlessly long match with the champion stalling for several minutes before they finally got down to business. There are times when heels can generate great heat with stalling tactics (see every Larry Zbyszko match in the AWA), but it just didn’t work here. This was labeled a WrestleMania caliber match and yet it didn’t feel special. Bliss is at her best when she’s cast as an opportunistic pest heel. She is mistakenly positioned too often as a competitive champion who can hold her own with the top babyfaces and it’s rarely effective due to the fans’ perception of her and her own in-ring limitations.
Bray Wyatt vs. Apollo Crews: Meh. Titus Worldwide continues to be the most pointless gimmick in all of WWE. Crews has talent, but he’s been branded as a loser and that’s unlikely to change as long as he’s aligned with Titus O’Neil. I have no idea why they felt the need to add Dana Brooke to this dead end act. Meanwhile, Matt Hardy’s post match promo felt like more of the same. It’s time for WWE to send a camera crew to the Hardy Family Compound and turn Matt loose. Where are Vanguard 1, King Maxel, Señor Benjamin, and Queen Rebecca? I hope the fun of the Broken Universe will eventually make it’s way to the Woken World and this isn’t a case of WWE being restrictive when it comes to how much they will allow Hardy to do with the act.
Goldust and Cedric Alexander vs. Drew Gulak and Ariya Daivari: A minor Miss in that the only guy who looked good in the cruiserweight segment was the lone heavyweight. They gave Alexander the win for his team, but it wasn’t enough. They were given an extra week to build up Alexander heading into his postponed WWE Cruiserweight Championship match and they still couldn’t be bothered to deliver any sense of character development. Meanwhile, Gulak is funny on the mic, but we’ve seen his intentionally dorky delivery of Enzo Amore’s entrance schtick before. It’s possible he will catch on as a quirky character, it feels like most live crowds are still rejecting him.