By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Dot Net Members are hearing my extended thoughts in the 44-minute WWE Raw audio review. Join us on our ad-free website featuring ten years of written and audio content by signing up via the Dot Net Members’ Signup Page.
WWE Raw Hits
Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor vs. Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Apollo Crews in a five-way Elimination Chamber qualifier: A very good match that gave everyone involved multiple moments to shine. The pace was frantic and the quality near falls were aplenty. It was still hard to believe that anyone other than Rollins or Balor would win the match, but I don’t think anyone suspected they would both win the match. The cliffhanger finish was fine in that it was a television main event and not something that left a pay-per-view audience hanging. I assumed we would see Rollins vs. Balor for the final spot next week, but WWE instead announced that both men will be in the Chamber match. I really don’t understand the payoff being revealed in such forgettable fashion on the WWE website when they could have simply made the announcement at the end of Raw or even saved it for next week. It’s not like they bothered to tell viewers to visit the website for the official ruling so I’m not sure what was really gained from this approach.
John Cena vs. The Miz: A very good pay-per-view style match with both wrestlers kicking out of the other’s finisher. Miz lost the match, yet it felt like he took another step toward gaining more in-ring credibility, just as he did in his recent matches with Roman Reigns. Here’s hoping the days of Miz being a pest heel who fans see as someone who must cheat in order to beat any meaningful opponents will be over soon.
Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus: WWE likes to boast that Reigns always gets a passionate reaction from fans regardless of whether they love him or hate him. However, there was a stretch of time where that wasn’t the case as the fans seemed bored by his televised matches against the likes of Rusev and Sheamus. We’ve come a long way since then as the crowd was hot for this match even though the outcome seemed like a foregone conclusion. The wrestlers worked hard and the match was enjoyable enough that I came away more optimistic than I have been in a long time that Sheamus could work as a singles act again. I’m not anxious to see Sheamus and Cesaro split or anything, but prior to this match it really felt like Sheamus needed to be in the team because he was too flat to work as a singles act.
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks: Another quality match to add to their impressive feud library. It was nice to see another sign that the “hometown curse” approach to WWE booking seems to be less prevalent these days. Here’s hoping that Bayley winning the match clean is just another step toward Banks reaching her breaking point and finally turning to play the heel role that naturally suits her. It was a nice touch to have Bayley shove Banks out of the way and essentially take the initial bullet for her when Nia Jax attacked. It made Bayley seem like a good person, which is true to her character, and hopefully will make Banks seem all the more heartless when she finally turns on her. I just hope this is not leading to a ridiculous swerve with Bayley turning on Banks, as that would leave both women horribly miscast.
Braun Strowman and Elias: This was the most polarizing segment of the night if the immediate feedback on social media was any indication. I have no desire to see Strowman play a supersized version of the Rockabilly character, but that’s obviously what they have in mind. There’s only so much they can do creatively with the grunting Strowman. He showed another side of his personality on the Mixed Match Challenge and they continued down that road in this segment. There’s no guarantee that they find the right approach with Strowman, but I applaud them for tinkering with the character with the goal of having it evolve rather than playing it safe and milking out whatever they can get out of his one dimensional persona.
Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville vs. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James: A necessary win for the heels given that they are playing up the possibility of Rose and Deville working together during the Elimination Chamber match. Why isn’t the company doing more with Paige? Obviously, she is injured and unable to wrestle, but she’s a good talker and should be given a chance to help get her Absolution faction over.
Overall show: The creative team is doing a much better job of filling the three hours than they have in the past. There are not long six-man tag matches that serve no purpose other than filling time. They are not rolling out two meaningless cruiserweight matches as if they were contractually obligated to do so. The vast majority of wrestlers seem to have a program or at least a role on the show. Some segments are always going to be better than others, but Raw seems more focussed these days and they are also doing a much better job with the build to Elimination Chamber than they did for the Royal Rumble.
WWE Raw Misses
Ronda Rousey to sign with Raw announcement: Rousey is returning to Las Vegas, the setting of many of her memorable UFC fights. It’s a wise move on paper to book her for the Elimination Chamber, but the announcement had all the fanfare of your significant other informing you that it’s boxed macaroni and cheese night for dinner. Rousey being labeled a Raw wrestler should not surprise anyone, but the general manager should have been scripted to act like it was a huge signing. Instead, they had Angle sneak in the announcement before discussing Jason Jordan’s injury. They also showed a Rousey graphic later in the show, but it just wasn’t enough. Rousey wasn’t even mentioned last week and her next appearance received minimal hype this week. Strange.
John Cena promo: Yes, there may have been an Undertaker teaser in the promo. And I also like the way he and the broadcast team made WrestleMania and the “Road to WrestleMania” feel important. The negative is that Cena continues to play up the possibility that the Elimination Chamber is his only road to WrestleMania. Does anyone out there actually believe that Cena will be left off the WrestleMania card if he doesn’t win this match?
The Revival vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson: Gallows and Anderson beat The Revival at Raw 25. The Revival got their win back on the Royal Rumble Kickoff Show. Anderson and Finn Balor beat The Revival last week. The Revival beat Gallows and Anderson this week. This is parity booking at its worst in that neither team has benefitted and they are not generating more interest in the feud. By the way, it’s time to give up on the Nerd O Meter. Gallows yelling nerd was a fun throwback to “Revenge of the Nerds” the first time he did it and now it just feels sad that a 2018 tag team’s act is built around something from a 1984 comedy film.
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The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Frank Zarrillo discussing his film "The Wrestler: A QT Marshall Story", which includes appearances by Matt Riddle, Damian Priest, Gerald Brisco, Kevin Kelly, Steve Corino, and many more, the involvement of Marshall's wife and mother, and much more. Stick around after the interview for Powell's audio review of Wednesday's AEW Dynamite television show...