By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Seth Rollins and AOP vs. Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, and Big Show: The tease for Joe and Owens having a mystery partner was well done. WWE fell into the bad habit of teasing television match mystery partners who turned out to be wrestlers who appear on the show weekly. So while Show as the mystery partner may not have packed as much of a punch as the wrestlers who returned on Smackdown last week, he still felt worthy of the hype. The actual match ending in a DQ was no surprise. I like the hook of making next week’s rematch a “fist fight” and the way Jerry Lawler wondered aloud what that entails. There’s no way of knowing whether the “fist fight” billing will lead to anything good, but they did a good job of giving viewers some incentive to watch to find out how this will work.
Paul Heyman announces Brock Lesnar as the first entrant in the Royal Rumble match: Heyman did his best to make this feel like a monumental announcement. And while the news of Lesnar entering the Rumble match didn’t really live up to Heyman’s hype, it is an interesting hook for the Rumble match. None of the Raw babyfaces have been built up to the point that fans would view them as a realistic threat to beat Lesnar for the championship. As such, Lesnar brings more value to the show by being in the Rumble match than he would in a title match. It will be interesting to see what happens in the Rumble to set up Lesnar’s WrestleMania match.
Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio for the U.S. Championship: You know the body of a match was really good when the finish was a confusing mess and yet the match still ends up in the Hit section. Andrade and Mysterio work so well together and the dynamic is even stronger now that Mysterio is chasing Andrade for the U.S. Championship.
The Viking Raiders vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. The Street Profits in a Triple Threat for the Raw Tag Titles: A good three-way tag team match with a decisive win for the tag champions. I’ll be surprised if the Viking Raiders drop the tag straps before WrestleMania, as that strikes me as the right place to put the titles on AOP.
Drew McIntyre vs. No Way Jose: The Rosebud Rejects being attacked is always a Hit with me. More importantly, things seem to be changing for McIntyre. He’s been a straight forward heel throughout his latest run with the company, but he’s been a bit more playful with the live crowds over the last two weeks. Throw in the new countdown to the Claymore Kick and it appears as though he could be on the verge of a babyface run. He excelled as a babyface in Impact Wrestling and could be exactly the type of babyface that WWE needs on top. McIntyre also strikes me as a terrific opponent for Brock Lesnar. Am I guilty of wishful thinking in feeling that there’s a good chance that McIntyre wins the Royal Rumble match?
Erick Rowan vs. KJ Orso: We finally had a new development. Rowan went from destroying the jobbers for trying to sneak a peek into his pet cage to now encouraging them to take a look. The horrified reactions of Orso and Mojo Rawley created some new intrigue after the previous formula became repetitive.
AJ Styles vs. Akira Tozawa: A fun squash match with Styles taunting Randy Orton by doing versions of Orton’s signature spots. I’d pay good money to see Orton return the favor by attempting a Spiral Tap (I’m not holding my breath).
Aleister Black vs. Shelton Benjamin: A showcase win for Black that set up the post match attack by Buddy Murphy. It will be interesting to see how next week’s Black vs. Murphy match is booked. It won’t feel like much of a rivalry if Black continues to win all of their matches.
Overall show: Raw has shown real improvement over the last month or so. The Rollins and AOP union is strong, Owens and Joe are off to good starts as babyfaces, Mysterio is finally being booked as the legend that he is, several mid-carders are being elevated, the U.S. and Raw Tag Titles are starting to feel meaningful for the first time in ages, etc. It was also encouraging to see WWE announce four matches a week in advance. It shows that they don’t intend to phone in next week’s show despite running against the college football national championship and, more importantly, that they’re not booking everything on the fly.
WWE Raw Misses
Bobby Lashley, Lana, and Rusev: Rusev’s latest wild and crazy guy routine saw him wearing a sleeveless Hawaiian shirt while standing in front of a tacky looking beach backdrop for no good reason. The most interesting thing about last night’s angle was Lashley snapping and telling Lana to shut up. The love drama isn’t doing much for me, but I must confess that I am curious to see what happens next with Liv Morgan, who indicated that she will be in Rusev’s corner for his match against Lashley next week.