WWE Raw Hit List: No Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, and Paul Heyman, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H, Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor, final hype for WrestleMania

By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)

WWE Raw Hits

Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, and Paul Heyman: A good show closing angle designed to give Reigns his first bit of momentum throughout the buildup to the WWE Universal Championship match, only to have Lesnar reclaim it at the very end with that F5 out of nowhere. Heyman did a fantastic job of setting the stage for the WrestleMania main event and he even cashed in on his previous WrestleMania “spoiler” line by using it again here while proclaiming that Lesnar will be victorious on Sunday. I love the way Heyman essentially guaranteed victory, yet still worked in the line that he and Lesnar are finished on Raw should Lesnar lose on Sunday. Heyman was so good that even as someone who has been convinced for a year that Reigns would win the title at WrestleMania 34, I still had a brief “well, maybe…” moment during the promo. I also liked that Heyman worked in a jab at Kurt Angle for being a lousy mentor to Ronda Rousey, as it’s something they could go back to if they ever flip Rousey heel and make Heyman her mouthpiece.

Ronda Rousey, Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H: An excellent final push for the mixed tag match. It was jarring to see Stephanie exuding confidence in last week’s video package, but it warmed me up to her bravado in this exchange. The live crowds have been lukewarm for some of Rousey’s segments, but they have been 100 percent behind her whenever she’s shared a ring with Stephanie and Hunter, which reenforces the idea that they are the perfect opponents for her debut match if the company wants Rousey to be a babyface. Stephanie putting Rousey through the table at the end of the segment was really well done. This wasn’t a case of Stephanie overpowering or dominating the UFC legend. Rather, it was opportunistic Stephanie catching Rousey off guard and thus garnering more heat heading into WrestleMania.

Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor: It was hard to care about the match going in when nothing was at stake and it felt like a simple preview for the Intercontinental Title match on Sunday. The early commercial breaks didn’t help increase my interest in the match, but the work of Rollins and Balor more than won me over by the end. They worked a pay-per-view worthy match and set the bar high for the Triple Threat on Sunday. The Miz’s changed man due to fatherhood routine on commentary was distracting, but I hope it turns out to be a swerve with Miz doing something even more villainous than usual. By the way, the work of Rollins and Balor in this match has to add even more pressure for Miz to hold up his end of the Triple Threat.

Bayley vs. Sonya Deville: A nice match before they got to the post match angle involving Sasha Banks. It was hard not to view Banks as the heel this week. Babyfaces don’t grab their friends by the face and demand to have a hand raised for making a save. Of course, this could be one of those illogical swerves and a moment they will want us to forget if Bayley ends up turning while Sasha remains a babyface.

Nia Jax sit-down interview: A minor Hit. Jax needed to be featured in this setting and she did a good job of establishing that she was hurt by Alexa Bliss and is now out for revenge. The missing element was Jax making a strong connection with the fans. Sure, many fans can relate to being picked on the way Jax was and they have embraced her to a point, but the promo never incorporated the fans by having Jax play to them directly. Jax spoke about herself, but she still came off as a loner rather than a babyface who wants the fans on her side.

WWE Raw Misses

No Undertaker: Before we get to the negatives, Cena did a fantastic job of working up the live crowd and was top notch in this segment. Here comes the hate. WWE has dedicated weeks of television to teasing live crowds and television viewers that each week might be the week that Undertaker would show up. It felt like they pushed it as far as they could last week and even then it felt questionable to wait until the go-home show to announce the long awaited Undertaker vs. John Cena match at WrestleMania. I wasn’t sure if we would actually see Undertaker last night, but I certainly assumed there would be some indication that the match was on. Instead, Undertaker didn’t show up and there was a dark cloud of disappointment that hung over the remainder of the show.

It’s probably safe to assume most viewers still believe Undertaker will show up and do something on Sunday, but the idea of going with this longtime dream WrestleMania match without actually advertising it in advance is insane. Of course, this could be a sign that they won’t actually have a match and this will end up being more of a brawl than an official match. Even so, the damage is done in that they disappointed fans more and more each week at a time when they should have been amping up the excitement level of fans heading into their biggest event of the year.

The WrestleMania brand certainly sells WrestleMania to many fans. And some fans are attempting to justify all of this by stating that it will lead to Undertaker getting a great reaction at WrestleMania. First, Taker always gets a great reaction, particularly at WrestleMania. Second, these fans are thinking as people who have already made the decision to watch the show. You have to wonder how many casual fans were on the fence and are passing on WrestleMania due to the uncertainty regarding Undertaker. For that matter, you have to wonder how many more network subscriptions or pay-per-views the company could have sold if the company had advertised the actual match well in advance. Yes, the WWE Network approach gives the fans a built-in audience that didn’t exist in the pay-per-view days, but they obviously want as many subscribers as they can get.

This angle didn’t leave viewers with hope that Taker would appear on Sunday. It was not a cliffhanger angle with the idea being that you had to see WrestleMania in order because there’s a strong chance he will show up. Rather, it was framed as Cena and the broadcast team giving up all hope. This is a tremendous WrestleMania card with or without Cena vs. Undertaker. It’s just a shame that they managed to shift the focus away from the many positives of the card to something that left so many fans feeling let down. Many fans will simply forgive and forget if Taker shows up on Sunday or there’s some indication even tonight on Smackdown that he will appear. Even so, there’s no denying that these segments left a number of viewers feeling disappointed and created a lot of negative feelings at a time when fans should be at their peak of excitement for WrestleMania.

Brains Strowman: A minor Miss. Most of the past comedy involving Strowman has worked for me because it didn’t feel like his character was intentionally seeking laughs as much as he just ended up in comedic situations. That wasn’t the case this time around when he put on a shirt and glasses while claiming to be Brains Strowman. The reason it’s only a minor Miss is that I like the idea of making the reveal of Strowman’s tag team partner a WrestleMania Sunday surprise.

Asuka and Dana Brooke vs. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James: A longer than necessary tag match with the fans having no reason to care as the heels worked over the ice cold Brooke character. The post match angle was solid with Bliss escaping Jax while James took the beating.

Matt Hardy vs. Goldust: A throwaway match with Hardy getting a win and then marveling at the Andre the Giant trophy. It doesn’t seem like the company had anything planned for Hardy following his Ultimate Deletion win over Bray Wyatt. Perhaps we’ll find out otherwise soon, but at this point he feels directionless. Michael Cole stating that Goldust had been “deleted” after Hardy pinning him left me feeling like they are softening the word to mean “defeated” so that it won’t seem as awkward when Bray Wyatt returns to television and it’s business as usual for him.

Elias vs. Heath Slater: The third hour of the show was once again atrocious. The Undertaker letdown segment was preceded by Hardy and Goldust, and followed by this match and the long women’s tag match. The matches would be viewed as filler on a typical show, but they were especially frustrating on the go-home show for WrestleMania.

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Readers Comments (3)

  1. Whatever they’re going for, it doesn’t change the fact that weeks of TV time that could have been spent on younger talent was dedicated to a match that was never made.

    Even if they do square off Sunday, what does that say about the arrogance of this company? You would imagine Cena vs The Undertaker would be a massive story line angle that could have drawn in even more viewers had Undertaker even shown up once. Instead, fans cannot be certain the match will happen. If it does, the message is WWE didn’t think locking down this match would have made a difference to the buy rate.

    Every year, the build towards Wrestlemanis gets worse. For all the Roman Reigns supporters out there, I’d ask if they honestly thought Reigns could carry a Wrestlemania against an opponent that wasn’t Lesnar or Undertaker? Reigns won’t have the luxury of whining about being a full-time guy against future opponents. Everything else they tried to get him over with failed miserably. Good luck!

    Here’s the thing about Stephanie McMahon catching Rousey off guard. That’s a babyface move! It’s to show hope that an underdog might have a chance against a tougher favorite. Are we really supposed to be hoping Stephanie has a chance against Rousey?

    It’s yet another ego move by Stephanie McMahon. Heels cheat. They use foreign objects, weapons and hide behind other people, especially in this case where Stephanie McMahon is neither a wrestler nor an ultimate fighter. This was like watching Jay Leno trap Hulk Hogan in an arm bar, except Leno was actually a face performing a trick meant for a face!

    Four of this year’s top matches feature two 40 year children of Vince McMahon, a BABY FACE upset because he’s not as favored as a man that has done far more than him and a match that may or may not happen.

    Nothing wrong with any of that!

  2. You mention faces doing heel things. Reigns is a dick yet he is supposed to be a face. Cena says lots of mean and hurtful things yet a face.

    Point is with many of their characters they want them to be middling so you end up with characters that are just meh.

    Overall worst show of the build. The only reason I see them not showing taker is they don’t wanna tip their hat as to if he’s dead man or American badass. I think they’ll go with the latter but the deadman entrance is what raw wants.

    I liked brain strowman.

    • That’s exactly what I’m saying. This is that ‘shades of grey’ crap they did during the Attitude Era. The difference is that Rock, Austin and Foley naturally likeable. Neither Reigns nor Cena have any appeal to the majority of wrestling fans out there. Cena has just endured one hilarious crowd ass kicking after another for years. Reigns won’t last as long.

      Even with Strowman, they’ve watered him down with ridiculous stunts and forced interaction with women. We don’t need every wrestler to be three dimensional. Strowman is a beast. Let him just be a beast.

      I realize WWE is entertainment, but for God’s sake, at least make it entertaining entertainment.

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