By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw 25 Hits
Steve Austin and the McMahon family: The show peaked in the opening segment. It was a blast to watch Vince McMahon take a live crowd that adored him and completely turn those fans against him. The crowd popped huge when the glass shattered and Austin stormed the ring. Vince continued to be comical as he spoke of being a senior citizen and essentially offered up his son Shane to take the beating in his place. It’s too bad we never heard from Austin on the live show, but everything else about this segment was a lot of fun.
Asuka attacks her tag team partners: Raw 25 was off to a great start with the opening segment followed by the eight-woman tag match. The match was fine, but the unexpected post match scene with Asuka attacking her partners was really well done and delivered the message that it’s every woman for herself in the Royal Rumble match.
Roman Reigns vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship: A quality match with a creative finish that wasn’t telegraphed on television. It seemed like the production crew intentionally missed the live shot of Miz removing the turnbuckle pad, which made the finish feel more surprising. Reigns doesn’t need the Intercontinental Championship and I hated the idea of him going into WrestleMania with the secondary title to face WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar with a champion vs. champion showdown similar to Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6. The live crowds are hot for Miz. Some of that may be due to him facing Reigns and he’s a good enough heel to turn the fans against him, but I continue to wonder if the long term plan is to turn Miz babyface for a feud with Elias and his new minions Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas.
Peep Show with Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan: The highlight of the segment was clearly the live crowd erupting with boos whenever Jordan attempted to speak. It’s hard to know what fans are thinking, but I didn’t take this as go away heat. Rather, I see it as a good sign that fans dislike a character who is being written in a manner that wants viewers to see him manipulative and obnoxiously overzealous. The accidental knee from Rollins to the head of Jordan at the end of the segment was a nice touch in that it left viewers wondering if the tag champs will have a meltdown at the Royal Rumble.
John Cena and Elias: It was a good night for Elias in that he had his backstage confrontation with Chris Jericho and then ended up laying out Cena with a guitar shot to the back. Creative clearly slid Elias into the Cena feud when Samoa Joe was injured. It’s a great spot for him to learn, grow, and ideally earn the respect of one of the most influential people in the company.
The Dudley Boyz: The live crowd seemed to have zero interest in the Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews match. Fortunately, creative was a step ahead in that the cheap finish of the match led to the well received return of the Dudley Boyz. It was interesting that Rhyno helped shove Slater inside the ring for the beatdown and then stood by and watched as D-Von pulled out a table right in front of him. My guess is that they will chalk this up to the tough love approach that Rhyno is taking with Slater rather than split them up based on this segment.
DX and Scott Hall: A nice treat for the Manhattan Center crowd, which was understandably frustrated by the long gaps without anything happening in their venue. Shawn delivered the line of the night when he complained that he was once the boss of DX and now Triple H is the boss of everything. It’s always good to see a healthy and sober Hall and he was a fine fit with DX given his real life friendships with the various members of the group. Given all the understandable grumbling from fans who paid big bucks in many cases to attend the Manhattan Center portion of the show, it felt like the DX segment saved the night or at least won over the fans enough that they weren’t voicing their displeasure with WWE during this segment.
Manhattan Center look: The original Raw home looked like the original Raw home with the entrance and even the Ico Pro banner. And while Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were not the original voices of the show, they were the soundtrack to the Attitude Era and it was a really nice touch to have them back at the broadcast table. Bonus points to the fan who brought the “Silk Stalkings” sigh, and even better was the fan who dressed up like Bobby Heenan in drag.
WWE Raw 25 Misses
Advertising all of the legends in advance: All of the Hits above and yet “D” has the most votes in our letter grade poll. Why? Because WWE put themselves in the position of being unable to deliver a show that exceeded the expectations of fans. One of the great things about pro wrestling during the Monday Night War was the element of surprise. There was a genuine feeling that you never knew who might show up on Raw or Nitro from week to week. Raw 25 was a ridiculously loaded show with a slew of returning stars, but WWE officials deprived themselves of the element of surprise by advertising all of the legends in advance. It would have been more than enough to announce a handful of big names along with the promise of additional surprises. They could have taken a shock and awe approach by surprising fans with just how many legends they brought in. Instead, WWE delivered what was advertised and that left a lot of fans feeling underwhelmed despite the fact that WWE actually went above and beyond with the legends count. I suspect the reaction to this show would be very different today if a big number of returning legends had made surprise appearances.
Royal Rumble go-home show: The build to the Royal Rumble event has been disappointing this year. The Raw wrestlers rarely spoke about about the Rumble matches and it feels like the only thing to watch for on the Raw side going into the Rumble is the Cena and Elias moment. The bulk of the Raw build was dedicated to the Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane match for the WWE Universal Championship. They gave Strowman a strong push over the last two weeks, but it still feels inevitable that Lesnar is going to beat Kane to retain the championship. I thought the story on this night would be that Lesnar was still wounded coming out of the grappling hook angle last week, but that seemed nearly forgotten and they instead put over this week’s table spot instead. On the plus side, WWE presented their big reunion show on go-home week. So even though the storyline build to the Royal Rumble left a lot to be desired, they ideally brought in a lot of extra viewers and sold them on the event through the broadcast team’s consistent hype.
Undertaker promo: It was certainly a Hit to see Taker return to Manhattan Center in front of a crowd that deserved something special. The minor Miss portion goes to the actual promo, which was well delivered yet ultimately revealed nothing. It came off like a retirement tease and yet they wanted viewers to view it as something else given the way Jim Ross immediately questioned if Taker’s words were meant to serve as a warning. Whatever the intent, the promo failed in terms of leaving me anxious to see what’s coming next.
“Woken” Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt: I hope the clean win for Wyatt was necessary to get to wherever they intend to go from here. The fear is that Wyatt going over is a sign that Vince McMahon isn’t behind the Woken gimmick and is already pulling the plug. The Royal Rumble match could be very telling in terms of what happens if the Hardy and Wyatt end up in the match together. It will be such a shame if WWE never sends a camera crew to Cameron, North Carolina to capture the insanity that made the Broken Universe so much fun in TNA.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. The Revival: Who would have guessed that this would be the match that would close the Raw 25 event? I like both teams and feel strongly that Gallows and Anderson have been horribly misused since they arrived in WWE. Things are looking up for the duo due to their alliance with Finn Balor, but it was jarring to see them beat the talented Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder lose so quickly and decisively. The Revival planted the seeds to take an ass kicking from returning stars last week, so it was no surprise to see them worked over by DX afterward. Still, here’s hoping the company intends to erase this angle from the minds of viewers quickly by showcasing The Revival as the elite team that they are.
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The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Todd Martin on his background, attending pro wrestling events in Japan, the NJPW G1 Tournament, why lucha libre companies haven't been as successful as NJPW in the United States, AEW optimism, covering pro wrestling and MMA, and more (68:57)...