By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw on the USA Network
Aired live on February 25, 2019 from Atlanta, Georgia at State Farm Arena
[Hour One] Raw opened with a video package of Roman Reigns announcing on October 22, 2018 that he was relinquishing the WWE Universal Championship and taking time away from WWE to battle leukemia…
Roman Reigns made his entrance to a strong ovation from the crowd. Reigns walked out wearing a tank top that read “We Fight, We Overcome, We Believe”. Reigns looked emotional as he stood on the stage and looked at the crowd. Ring announcer Mike Rome introduced Reigns, who slapped hands as he walked to the ring. Reigns even went back and slapped hands with fans on the other side of the barricade and the fans chanted “Roman”.
Reigns took a lap around the ring and shook hands with fans and hugged a young fan, then stopped and hugged David Arquette, who was in the front row. Reigns made his way over to what appeared to be family members and shared long embraces with his wife and mother. The cheers continued as Reigns entered the ring and he took several deep breaths.
Reigns’ music stopped playing and the fans roared again and chanted his name. Reigns looked at the crowd with his back to the camera and then turned around and continued to look all over the building. Fans chanted “welcome back” loudly. Reigns took the mic and continued to walk around the ring.
“I’m probably going to say this a lot, but I’m going to start out by saying thank you,” Reigns opened. Reigns smiled and a “you deserve it” chant broke out briefly. “I missed y’all,” he said “I’m serious, I missed y’all, there is no other job like this, there is no other fan base like you guys. A “this is your yard” chant started.
Reigns said he used to say that it was his yard, “but his is our yard.” Reigns said he’s a man of faith and he believed God looked out for him. He said he was terrified, scared, and insecure before he made his announcement in October. He said he didn’t know if he wanted to share that secret with the world.
“I was scared to tell everybody because I didn’t know how you’d react,” he said. Reigns said that the outreach by the time he got home was incredible. He said the amount of blessings and prayers that fans sent his way was overwhelming and a godsend. He said it wasn’t just WWE fans, it was everyone. He said people who liked him and disliked him were surrounding him with their love and support.
Reigns said so many people prayed for him that God’s voicemail was full. He said he believed God was wondering what was happening down there because there was so much love for one man. Reigns said he feels like he can do anything with that type of strength and love. Reigns stopped and leaned on the top rope while facing the area where his family was located. Reigns said the support gave him strength, life, opportunity, and a new purpose.
Reigns said a lot of the purpose into WWE is to climb the mountain and in titles. He said the only thing that is important to him is that he has the ability to step foot in the ring every night. Reigns said he will use the WWE platform to raise awareness and to support people who are in need just like he was. Another “Roman” chant erupted.
“Well, we advertised it as an update, so should we get to the update?” Reigns asked. Fans chanted yes. “So when I made my announcement I said I was going to swing for the fences,” Reigns said. “We did better than that, y’all. We didn’t just swing for the fences, we hit a home run. So when I tell you this, I am so grateful, I am so humbled, I am so honored to announce that…” Reigns stopped to acknowledge fans and said you have to walk before you can run. “The good news is that I’m in remission, y’all,” he said. Fans roared in approval.
“With that being said, The Big Dog is back!” Reigns declared. Fans barked and then chanted “welcome back.” Reigns thanked the fans again. “I love y’all,” Reigns said. Roman’s music played and he looked around the arena again.
The Raw broadcast team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Renee Young checked in for the first time and welcomed back Reigns. They shifted the focus to hyping Ric Flair’s birthday and Ronda Rousey and Natalya vs. Riott Squad. Meanwhile, Reigns made another lap around the ring and slapped hands and signed autographs. He stopped and gave his mother another long hug. The Rock’s mother was standing behind Roman’s mom.
Seth Rollins’ music played and he walked onto the stage clapping. Reigns and Rollins shared an embrace on the stage. They turned and looked at the crowd. Reigns gave a thumbs up. “Welcome back to the Big Dog,” Cole said going into the commercial break… [C]
Powell’s POV: Reigns was humble, sincere, and somehow kept his composure. A wonderful feel good moment.
Aleister Black and Ricochet made their entrances for a match against The Revival. Split screen video packages aired for Black and Ricochet during their separate entrances. Once they were in the ring, The Revival attacked them from behind. Black and Ricochet turned the tables quickly. Ricochet performed a suicide dive onto Dash Wilder, and Black performed a flip dive onto Scott Dawson at ringside… [C]
1. The Revival vs. Aleister Black and Ricochet in a non-title match. The match was joined in progress coming out of the break. Cole noted that Dawson and Wilder had slowed down the pace. It didn’t last long, as Black worked over both opponents with kicks and performed a springboard moonsault onto Wilder for a two count. Chad Gable and Bobby Roode were shown watching the match on a backstage monitor.
Black came back with a good DDT on Wilder for a near fall. Wilder went up top for a move while Dawson had Black on his shoulders, but Ricochet knocked Wilder to ringside and took him out with a moonsault from the apron. Black caught Dawson with the Black Mass kick and scored the clean pin…
Aleister Black and Ricochet defeated The Revival in a non-title match in 2:00 of television time.
Powell’s POV: So the new Raw Tag Champions lost constantly before the won the titles, and now they’ve lost their first two television matches as champions. Damn, we get it, they’re vulnerable champions. I have mixed feelings about Black and Ricochet teaming together on the main roster. I like the idea of introducing Black as a dark loner, but they do work well together.
Backstage, Charly Caruso noted that The Revival had lost two weeks in a row. She brought in Baron Corbin for an interview and recalled that he made light of Reigns battling leukemia and openly wishing he would never return. Corbin claimed he never said those things. She said she would play the footage, then he said some of the things he said were taken out of context. He spoke about being under the stress of managing Raw. She asked if that meant he was claiming that his general manager duties were tougher than Roman’s battle with leukemia. Corbin said he hopes their paths don’t cross…
Shawn Michaels was shown backstage for something involving Ric Flair’s birthday party. Johnny Gargano showed up and Michaels put his arm around him… Elias strummed his guitar going into a break… [C]
Powell’s POV: Caruso was good in her role of going hard at Corbin over his comments about Reigns. It sure looked like Corbin was being set up to be the fall guy for Roman’s return match.
The broadcast team spoke as tweets were shown on the screen from Todd Gurley, ESPN, Triple H, and others tweeting Flair a happy birthday. A Snoop Dogg birthday greeting video was shown….
Elias sat on his stool in the ring with his guitar. The entrance music of Lacey Evans interrupted him. Evans made a quick walk down the entrance ramp and headed backstage. Just when it looked like Elias could do his thing, he was interrupted by Dean Ambrose’s music. Ambrose said he felt good and issued a challenge to Drew McIntyre for a rematch and said this time he wanted it to be a No DQ match.
Elias played his guitar while standing in the ring as Ambrose entered the ring. Ambrose asked if Elias was trying to play him off the stage as if it was the Academy Awards. Elias said he’d be on his second standing ovation if this were the Academy Awards. Elias teased the crowd by saying he was going to sing a song about how great Atlanta is, then took a shot at the Atlanta Falcons not winning a Super Bowl.
Ambrose asked Elias if he could sing a variety of songs, including Dirty Deeds. Elias went for a cheap shot with his guitar, but Ambrose ducked it and dropped him with Dirty Deeds. Ambrose’s music played (sirens included this time) and he took a bow before heading backstage.
Riott Squad made their entrance while Cole hyped their match against Ronda Rousey and Natalya for after the break… [C]
Powell’s POV: It would have been tough to have Ambrose take part in the segment with Reigns given the dark things he said about him and Rollins while he was a heel. But Ambrose is back in babyface mode, so perhaps we’ll get another Shield reunion before he leaves when his contract expires post WrestleMania.
Ricky Steamboat was shown being interviewed on the set they had set up for the guests who are involved with the Ric Flair segment… Ronda Rousey and Natalya made their entrances…
2. Ronda Rousey and Natalya vs. Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan (w/Liv Morgan). Logan took Natalya down and hit her with punches, then taunted Rousey. Riott wore a stocking cap as she checked into the match. Rousey tagged into a mixed reaction. Rousey clotheslined Riott and tagged out after a brief run. Morgan tripped Natalya, then ended up between Rousey and Natalya at ringside. Natalya hoisted up Morgan, then Rousey hit her with a flying forearm off the ring steps. Logan threw a nice dropkick at Natalya at ringside. [C]
[Hour Two] Natalya was isolated coming out of the break. Rousey took a hot tag and worked over Logan and then Riott with punches in her corner. Rousey sent Riott to ringside and then punched Morgan off the apron. Rousey had Logan pinned, but Riott broke it up. Natalya took out Riott, then Rousey performed Piper’s Pit on Logan.
Becky Lynch arrived through the crowd just as Rousey was setting up for her finisher. A security guard tried to stop Lynch, but she got by and punched Natalya for the apparent DQ.
Ronda Rousey and Natalya beat Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan by apparent DQ in 10:45.
Rousey went to ringside and fought with Lynch, who had a crutch with her. Cole reminded viewers that Lynch was not supposed to be there. Several agents and referees pulled the women apart. Eventually, four policemen (who looked a lot like independent wrestlers) showed up and dragged Lynch to the stage where they handcuffed her before taking her backstage… [C]
An ad for Smackdown focused on the Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston contract signing for their WWE Championship match at WWE Fastlane…
Powell’s POV: A decent segment that felt a touch repetitive with all the agents and security guards keeping the women apart due to Lynch’s storyline suspension. By the way, local ads hyped Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship, Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, and an appearance by Becky Lynch (even though she’s suspended) for Saturday’s WWE live event in Minneapolis.
Rousey was still in the ring coming out of the break. They caught the final words of whatever she was saying, then Stephanie McMahon made her entrance. Rousey told Stephanie to reinstate Lynch for WrestleMania. She said she was at her wit’s end with Lynch. Stephanie said WrestleMania is the least of Lynch’s problems because she was being arrested backstage.
Rousey told Stephanie that she and her family should drop the charges. Stephanie said Rousey’s opponent at WrestleMania is Charlotte Flair. Fans booed. Stephanie said Lynch is unprofessional. “Becky Lynch did this to Becky Lynch,” Stephanie said. “Instead of being on the road to WrestleMania, Becky Lynch is on the road to jail.”
Rousey said Stephanie talks about doing what’s best for business. She said this is the match that she wants and the fans want. Rousey mentioned facing Charlotte and Lynch in the main event of WrestleMania. A “Triple Threat’ chant actually broke out. Rousey told Stephanie to think of what it would mean to her legacy and to her three daughters.
“I’m sorry, Ronda, but the answer is a hard no,” Stephanie said. Rousey stopped Stephanie from leaving the ring and demanded that Stephanie reinstate Lynch for WrestleMania. Stephanie told Rousey that she’s her boss. She said her father was right in that Lynch and Rousey have bad attitudes and think they are above WWE.
“You don’t control me,” Rousey said. “I’m not like everyone else that you give just enough that they have to come back.” Rousey said she is set for life. She said she is not Steph’s worker. She said she is the Raw Women’s Champion and will carry it as long as she faces the best of the best. Rousey said that if she defends it against the chosen then it’s just a belt and an accessory that isn’t even her style. Rousey said Vince likes to say he makes the tough decisions, but now it’s time for him to make the right decision. Rousey placed the belt at Stephanie’s feet and then left the ring…
Powell’s POV: Rousey was so worked up that she was completely believable. She wasn’t polished while repeating lines, she came off genuinely emotional and realistic. It will be fun to see if they give the title to Charlotte tonight or what the next move is. For what it’s worth, Stephanie did act conflicted when Rousey brought up making the triple threat for her legacy and what it could mean for Steph’s daughters.
A Steve Austin video greeting aired for Flair’s birthday…
Stephanie McMahon was shown walking with the Raw Women’s Championship belt while she was greeted by Triple H, who also looked flustered…
Jinder Mahal and the Singh brothers stood in the ring. Mahal was pissed that he wasn’t invited to Ric Flair’s birthday party. He said he was just backstage and challenged anyone who was invited to Flair’s birthday party to a match. Kurt Angle’s music played and he headed to the ring in his wrestling gear.
3. Kurt Angle vs. Jinder Mahal (w/The Singh Brothers). The Singhs distracted Angle once the bell rang. Mahal caught the distracted Angle with a kick and had early offensive control. Angle came back with three German suplexes, then knocked the Singh Brothers off the apron. Angle avoided Mahal going for his Khallas, then put him in the ankle lock and got the submission win. Angle performed German suplexes on the Singh brothers afterward…
Kurt Angle defeated Jinder Mahal in 3:00.
The broadcast team hyped Flair’s birthday celebration for later in the show. Alexa Bliss made her entrance and headed to her talkshow set while Graves hyped “A Moment of Bliss” with Finn Balor as her guest… [C]
Powell’s POV: It was nice to see Angle get a singles match win. I’m still not big on WWE’s oddball introductions of wrestlers going into commercial breaks who have nothing to do with the segment that just ended. In this case, we saw Mahal scurrying through the camera shot while Bliss was making her entrance.
Bliss sat in her talkshow chair and said that if the McMahons were looking for someone they can actually rely on to take Rousey’s place in the title match at WrestleMania then they know where to find her. Bliss introduced Finn Balor, who joined her on the talkshow set. Bliss said that the downside of Balor being Intercontinental Champion is that the belt covers up his beautiful abs. She was about to make a deal where he shows her his abs in exchange for him showing her something, but they were interrupted.
Lio Rush walked onto the set and said the talkshow is a sham and that Balor doesn’t deserve to be the Intercontinental Champion. Balor said that if Bobby Lashley wants a title shot then he knows where to find him. Rush said Lashley was preparing for Braun Strowman. Rush said he wasn’t leaving without the IC Title, even if he had to pry it out of Balor’s hands.
Balor accused Rush of trying to win the IC Title to prove to Lashley that he’s better than he is. Balor played up that he was accepting a title match challenge that Rush never made. Balor polled the crowd on his idea for a title match. Bliss asked if Rush wasn’t man enough to do the job by himself. Rush accepted the match and then said he was going to go backstage to prepare for the match. Bliss said he didn’t have the time because the match was happening on the spot. Mike Rome delivered introductions for the match. [C]
Powell’s POV: So Alexa Bliss has the power to book Intercontinental Title matches? Strange.
A Maria Menounos video greeting aired for Flair’s birthday… Titus O’Neil was shown on the red carpet set for Flair’s birthday party. Sting arrived and they hugged…
4. Finn Balor vs. Lio Rush for the Intercontinental Championship. Rush took out Balor’s knee to knock him off the apron, then performed a couple of suicide dives. Rush rolled Balor inside the ring and went for a top rope frogsplash, but Balor put his knees up. Balor sold a knee injury, which Rush targeted. Rush picked up a couple of near falls, but Balor turned him inside out with a clothesline. Balor went up top for his finisher. Rush crotched Balor. Balor came back again and hit the Coup de Grace for the win…
Finn Balor defeated Lio Rush to retain the Intercontinental Championship.
Tucker of Heavy Machinery ran into The Ascension backstage. They called him fresh meat and questioned if Otis was out back dumpster diving for cheeseburgers. Tucker told them that Otis is sensitive and doesn’t like to be made fun of. Otis showed up and Tucker told him what they were saying about him. Otis knocked them both down and said that’s what they get for messing with Heavy Machinery… [C] An ad for NXT hyped Shayna Baszler vs. Mia Yim for Wednesday’s show…
Powell’s POV: It was a well worked match, but Rush has been positioned as a joke in the ring on Raw, so it felt a bit awkward to see him have a competitive match with Balor even with the storyline knee injury. By the way, WWE PR just emailed the footage of the Reigns announcement, which you can view below.
A recap aired of Reigns’s announcement from the start of the show along with his moment with Rollins on the stage. They aired headlines from various websites regarding the Reigns announcement and noted that he would be a guest on Good Morning America tomorrow…
Backstage, Bobby Lashley barked at Lio Rush. Lashley asked if he can trust Rush, who looked sad while stating that he can. They made their entrance for Lashley’s match.
[Hour Three] Braun Strowman made his entrance for the match with Lashley, who attacked Strowman from behind. The referee left the ring. Strowman fought back and knocked Lashley down with a big boot. Strowman clubbed the chest of Lashley, who rolled to ringside. Strowman followed him to the floor and performed running shoulder blocks on Lashley and then Rush. Strowman barked that he was coming for “all three of you” and said he would never forget. Strowman’s music played to end the segment…
Powell’s POV: So Strowman is coming for Lashley, Drew McIntyre, and Baron Corbin, but when he had the chance to have a match with Lashley or just destroy him after he knocked him down he apparently decided that barking at him and walking away was good enough for this week. Ugh.
The broadcast team hyped Bayley vs. Nia Jax, and Dean Ambrose vs. Drew McIntyre in a No DQ match…
Seth Rollins was interviewed by Caruso backstage. Rollins once again promised that he will walk out of WrestleMania as the WWE Universal Champion. He said all of that is “almost secondary because my brother is back.” Rollins said Reigns probably has an ice cold beverage waiting for him, so it was time to go burn it down “only in a different way”…
A limo arrived in the backstage area. Ric Flair and Wendy Barlow exited the limo. Flair strutted and wooed…
A Black History video aired and spotlighted a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech and his assassination. An emotional Kofi Kingston and then Nia Jax discussed MLK… [C]
The broadcast team recapped footage of the Lynch and Rousey segment. Cole said Triple H and Stephanie declined to comment on the status of the Raw Women’s Championship…
5. Drew McIntyre vs. Dean Ambrose in a No DQ match. Ambrose’s entrance was not televised (it was his second of the night). McIntyre made his entrance and was met by Ambrose for a brawl at ringside. The referee started the match once they both rolled inside the ring. Ambrose took his belt off and went at McIntyre, who knocked him down with a boot to the head. McIntyre picked up the belt and whipped Ambrose with it several times. Ambrose came back and clotheslined McIntyre to ringside, then performed a suicide dive onto him. McIntyre bounced right back by suplexing Ambrose on the floor going into a commercial break. [C]
Ambrose got the belt and whipped McIntyre with it repeatedly. McIntyre responded with a headbutt that led to Ambrose rolling to ringside. McIntyre took the ring steps apart and tried to run the top piece into Ambrose, who tripped him instead. Ambrose slammed the head of McIntyre onto the steps repeatedly. Ambrose set up for a move on the steps, but Elias came out and hit him from behind with a guitar. Elias rolled Ambrose back inside the ring. McIntyre waited for Ambrose to stand up, then blasted him with the Claymore Kick and pinned him.
Drew McIntyre defeated Dean Ambrose in a No DQ match in 9:20.
After the match, Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley walked to the ring. Elias entered the ring with them and the four heels put the boots to Ambrose and then took turns performing moves on him. Seth Rollins’s music played and he came out with a chair in hand.
Roman Reigns’ music played and he joined Rollins on the stage. Corbin and Lashley went to ringside. Rollins hit Corbin with a chair, while Reigns performed a Superman Punch on Lashley. In the ring, Rollins performed the Stomp on Elias, then Reigns speared McIntyre. Rollins and Reigns hugged and then left the ring together while Ambrose was down in the corner. Reigns and Rollins stopped on the stage and looked back at Ambrose going into the break… [C]
Powell’s POV: A good, physical match between Ambrose and McIntyre. It was hard to shake the feeling that it didn’t matter because both guys have just been spinning their wheels lately, but they did a good job. The post match scene was well done with Reigns and Rollins standing tall, then leaving fans to ponder a possible Shield reunion.
Cole congratulated The Rock and Paige on the opening weekend for Fighting With My Family…
6. Bayley (w/Sasha Banks) vs. Nia Jax (w/Tamina). Cole announced Sasha and Bayley vs. Nia and Tamina for the WWE Women’s Tag Titles at WWE Fastlane. Jax grabbed Bayley by the throat and shoved her to the floor heading into a commercial break. [C]
Late in the match, Jax caught Bayley as she went for a cross body block. Jax ran her into the corner and put her in the tree of woe before running and slamming her ass into her. Jax grabbed Sasha by the hair at ringside, and Bayley broke it up with a running knee. Bayley performed a top rope elbow drop on Jax and pinned her…
Bayley pinned Nia Jax in 9:00.
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon led a group of wrestlers that included Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, and Titus O’Neil for Flair’s celebration… [C]
Powell’s POV: So they protected Jax at the Elimination Chamber by having her down and out while four women pinned Tamina only to turn around and have her lose clean to Bayley going into the women’s tag title match? Strange. Barring the return of an unlisted overrun for the special occasion, WWE will have roughly 13 minutes for the Flair segment.
A birthday cake was in the ring for Flair’s birthday and the wrestlers were standing on the stage. Triple H’s music played and the wrestlers parted so that he and Stephanie could walk past them. There was small table with a covered item. Hunter said things get a little more amped up on the road to WrestleMania. He welcomed Roman Reigns back and played up Rousey laying down the women’s championship and making up an ultimatum, and reminded viewers that Becky Lynch had been sent to jail.
Hunter said it all pales in comparison to the 70th birthday of the man he considers to be the greatest “sports entertainer” of all-time. Stephanie said it wouldn’t be a party without invited guests. Shawn Michaels was introduced and headed to the ring while Cole recalled HBK “effectively” ending the career of Flair. Michaels and Hunter hugged.
Ricky Steamboat was introduced. Cole said that in 1977, Flair and Steamboat were youngsters who were pitted against one another and they became rivals. Kurt Angle was introduced and the fans did another round of the “you suck” singalong. Stephanie introduced Sting, who howled on the stage a couple of times before heading to the ring as Cole recalled the Flair vs. Sting rivalry.
Triple H did a big buildup for Ric Flair. A Flair video package aired that featured a lot of non-WWE footage and also showed various athletes mimicking Flair. Stephanie said Flair is the GOAT and will always be a champion in their eyes. She pulled the veil back and showed off a custom made championship belt they made for Flair.
Finally, Triple H introduced Flair, but he didn’t come out. They cut backstage where Dave Bautista was dragging a cameraman. Bautista entered Ric Flair’s dressing room and slammed the door shut. Bautista dragged a limp bodied Flair out of the room. “Hey, Hunter, do I have your attention now?” Batista asked. “Huh?”
Triple H ran backstage where Finlay, Jamie Noble, a trainer, and two referees where checking on Flair. Hunter called for a doctor while Flair moaned in agony…
Powell’s POV: So we didn’t get the big jailbreak for Lynch and we never even saw Charlotte Flair on the show tonight. So that was unexpected. Sure, word leaked that Batista was backstage, but I don’t think people were expecting that angle or for Batista to come off as the heel. I’m all for Triple H playing a babyface authority figure role, and Batista was really fun in his last run as heel, so I’m all for it if that’s the direction they’ve decided to take with this. I’m sure there will be some disappointed Flair fans out there, but I really like the way they drew people in with his birthday celebration and paid it off with Batista ruining everything to get to Hunter. The only negative is that the wrestlers on the stage looked like goofs for standing there rather than going backstage to check on Flair. Of course, the highlight of the night (regardless of Hunter’s odd line about everything paling in comparison to Flair’s birthday) was the return of Roman Reigns. WWE built this up as a big show and they delivered with the big advertised segments. I will have more to say in my weekly Raw audio review coming up later tonight for members. Thanks for watching along with me.
Check below for the new Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and former WWE Smackdown lead writer Alex Greenfield discussing the NXT call-ups, Stephanie McMahon’s past contributions to WWE creative, the growth of MLW, and much more.