By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
My WWE Raw review podcast is available free today at PWAudio.net.
WWE Raw Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman vs. John Cena vs. Elias vs. The Miz vs. Finn Balor in a gauntlet match: It was a blast to see WWE throw out their usual Raw formula for a week and deliver a match that played out over the first two hours of the show. This isn’t something that WWE can do on a weekly basis, but hopefully they won’t be afraid to take similar chances going forward. The first hour of the match was certainly the best. Rollins shined and WWE reestablished him as a force in the singles division. Sure, the pacing of the early portion of his run with Cena was slower than a senior’s shuffleboard tournament, but it was understandable given that Rollins ended up going an hour and the latter portion of their match was very good. I love the decision to have Rollins pin Reigns. Roman was one up on Rollins after eliminating him from the Royal Rumble match, and Reigns will likely get a big boost on Sunday when he wins the Elimination Chamber match anyway, so he can easily absorb the loss. You could see Strowman beating The Miz at the end of the match coming a mile away. That wasn’t such a bad thing, but it would have been fun if Miz had somehow stolen the victory with the idea being to entice viewers to watch Elimination Chamber to see Strowman get his revenge. Even so, it’s hard to blame them for going with a happy finish to a two-hour match.
Sports-like, high stakes feel: The broadcast team and most of Renee Young’s backstage interviews did a terrific job of making the Elimination Chamber match feel like the most important thing in the Raw storyline world. Rollins’ promo was the best of the bunch. He lasted an hour in the gauntlet match and yet he still came off as disappointed that he didn’t win the match and even stated that his efforts were all for nothing if he failed to win the Elimination Chamber match. WWE typically doesn’t have the babyfaces make bold statements about winning matches if they are not going to do so. This time around, all of the babyfaces are claiming that they will win on Sunday. This approach has been very effective. Sure, I still assume Reigns will win the match and go on to beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, but the gauntlet match combined with the backstage interviews and the strong work of the broadcast team made this the best go-home show hype for a big match that we’ve seen from WWE in a long time.
Ronda Rousey video package: A top notch piece of production that got over the celebrity status of Rousey while also showcasing her as a fighter. It would be great if WWE could get UFC to release some footage of her destroying some of her MMA opponents, but it doesn’t seem like that’s available to them. Nevertheless, they were able to showcase Rousey as the star that she is while also making her look like a serious competitor heading into her next appearance on Sunday.
Sheamus and Cesaro vs. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews: It’s no secret to anyone who reads this column or my Raw reviews that I’m not a fan of the Titus Worldwide gimmick. I’m cool with O’Neil and Crews as a team, but the quirky LaVar Ball inspired silliness has never clicked with me. That said, giving O’Neil and Crews another non-title win over Sheamus and Cesaro is perfectly logical in this case. The only healthy babyface teams in the tag division are O’Neil and Crews and Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, so it made sense to set up O’Neil and Crews for the expected title match at Elimination Chamber. Let me guess? Another Gallows and Anderson vs. The Revival match for the Kickoff Show?
WWE Raw Misses
Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy video: The Broken Universe in TNA was innovative and daring. Hardy put himself out there with a gimmick that was so out there that I initially described it as something I’d be embarrassed to be watching if a non-wrestling fan entered the room. Of course, the character quickly won me over and the Hardys went on to produce some of the most unique programming the pro wrestling business has ever seen. Sadly, the WWE Woken character is already stuck in a rut. While the Hardys constantly tried to top themselves by taking new chances in TNA, the WWE version quickly settled into a formula. The Woken gimmick is a completely watered down version of the Broken Universe. I don’t pretend to know the specifics, but it’s hard to believe that Hardy has suddenly grown complacent. Rather, it comes off like he’s handcuffed by a creative leader who doesn’t see this as a priority. The Hardys’ surprise return inspired the biggest pop at WrestleMania and tens of thousands of people chanting Delete in unison. Fast forward to Monday night and listen to the sounds of silence from the live crowd after they sat through the latest formula video package involving Hardy and Wyatt. It wouldn’t surprise me if Vince McMahon is chalking this up to the Broken Universe being something that only worked on a small scale. The truth is that he has not given this a chance to get over. It’s now everything that those of us who loved the Broken Universe feared it might become if McMahon didn’t get behind it. The solution is simple. Send a camera crew to Cameron, North Carolina, turn Matt loose, and hope that it’s not too late to recreate the magic. What does WWE have to lose?
Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James vs. Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville: More of an in the middle than anything for a match that had a mix of good and rough moments. The idea seemed to be setting up pairs heading into the Elimination Chamber. Michael Cole effectively summarized what they were going for by saying that Banks and Bayley are friends, Rose and Deville are aligned, and now James and Bliss seem to be working together. I’m a bigger fan of the every man/woman for himself/herself approach to a match such as Elimination Chamber, but with two Chamber matches on the show it’s understandable that they are taking a different approach with one of the matches. If fact, I’m mildly curious to see where this goes and which of these relationships fall apart on Sunday. I just wish there was more focus on the Raw Women’s Championship, which seems to have taken a backseat to the pairings.
Asuka promo: It’s hard not to be more lenient when it comes to promos delivered by wrestlers who speak broken English. With that in mind, this was still pretty bad. Asuka struggled to get the words out and I’m not sure why they felt the need to script her to point out that she’s beaten Jax before. NXT fans are aware of that, but why not let those who didn’t see it feel like this is the first singles match between the two? Fortunately, the attack by Nia Jax was solid in that it put heat on the heel and made the unbeaten Asuka look vulnerable heading into their match at Elimination Chamber.
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The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Brian Pillman Jr., who discusses his training, following his father's footsteps, his own career aspirations, being part of the Hart Foundation faction, his big match at the MLW Saturday Night SuperFight pay-per-view, working with Jushin Liger, touring the WWE Performance Center, and much more...