By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Seth Rollins and AOP vs. Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, and Big Show in a fistfight: A six-minute match that was stopped by the referee after a single Stomp to the head of Big Show was admittedly disappointing to some extent. But the action during the six minutes was strong and the surprise of Buddy Murphy joining the Rollins’ faction was excellent. Rollins felt cold as a babyface and had created a number of detractors, but he’s completely reinvented himself as the heel Monday Night Messiah. This isn’t the sniveling heel Rollins who sold out for Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. He’s not even a heel faction leader who is using his underlings. Rollins plays the role as a guy who totally believes his own bullshit about being the chosen leader of the Raw brand. It’s fresh and exciting, and Rollins is playing his part to perfection. On a side note, the new Messiah t-shirt with the stained glass is a gem.
Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles vs. Drew McIntyre: I was surprised when they announced that they were giving away the Orton vs. Styles match on Raw rather than saving it for pay-per-view, so the addition of McIntyre to the match was a good call. It gave McIntyre a big win over two stars while also saving the Orton vs. Styles singles match for another time. It’s encouraging to see McIntyre being showcased and I continue to see him as a potential candidate to win the Royal Rumble or an Elimination Chamber match to set him up as the challenger to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Meanwhile, watching Orton and Styles take turns performing the other’s signature spots has been a fun twist that we rarely see in WWE.
Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman, and R-Truth: The best Lesnar segment in some time. Lesnar and Heyman had a lot of fun with the booing live crowd and that alone would have made for a good segment. The Truth comedy bit of entering the Rumble with the plan of eliminating Heyman only to “un-declare” once he realized that Lesnar will be in the match was a good time. As entertaining as Truth was, Heyman showing frustration with Truth while Lesnar laughed at Truth’s antics was also hilarious.
Becky Lynch and Asuka contract signing: The highlight was Lynch selling the mist so effectively while the trainers flushed her eyes. Lynch is doing a great job of carrying the build to the match by making Asuka feel like a big threat while also making it seem like beating Asuka is the most important thing in her world. Asuka is doing a nice job of showing competitive arrogance, which is logical given her history with Lynch.
Aleister Black vs. Buddy Murphy: This wasn’t as hot as some of their recent matches, but it was still a good match and the live crowd ate it up. Murphy’s latest loss provided a good reason for him to sit at ringside while selling the frustration of losing yet another match to Black, which led to him being in the right place at the right time during the main event. If WWE officials have ever regretted giving Murphy such a generic name, now is the time to change it. I’d love to see Rollins rechristen Murphy with a stronger name, as it also plays perfectly into Seth’s Messiah persona.
Bobby Lashley vs. Rusev: A soft Hit. The live crowds continue to enjoy this car crash feud. Wild and crazy guy Rusev is well liked and yet it still doesn’t feel like creative has been able to find the right babyface role to fully take advantage of his charm. The Lana act is ridiculously over the top, but there’s usually a good line or two in her promos. The latest was no exception, as she accused Liv Morgan of being obsessed with her and then added that she can’t blame her.
Erick Rowan: The old gimmick of Rowan snapping when enhancement wrestlers tried to sneak a peak inside his animal cage ran its course. The new twist of Rowan wanting the enhancement wrestlers to look inside the cage has been just enough of a tweak to buy them more time. It’s hard to imagine the payoff being satisfying, but I hope creative proves me wrong.
Overall show: The streak of quality episodes of Raw continues. More importantly, the brand is developing momentum. This was my favorite show of the recent series of improved shows, and a number of the characters are starting to click. Raw has quickly gone from feeling like a three-hour chore to suffer through to becoming among the best of the weekly pro wrestling shows. It’s exactly the type of turnaround that Paul Heyman believers hoped for when he was named executive director of the brand. It continues to be a good sign that they are advertising television matches a week in advance. It gives viewers some incentive to return the following week and continues to show that Raw is no longer being booked on the fly.
WWE Raw Misses
Ricochet vs. Mojo Rawley: A soft Miss for a match that just didn’t seem to matter. Ricochet feels like the odd man out. While the other meaningful wrestlers have programs, he’s just spinning his wheels without an actual storyline.
The Viking Raiders vs. Samir Singh and Sunil Singh: It was a big step back for the Viking Raiders in terms of how they were received by the live crowd. It’s only one crowd, but the fans were nearly silent during their entrance. The fake pro wrestling promo voices they use are not helping their cause.
Charlotte Flair vs. Sarah Logan: Flair wins another throwaway match. As much as Raw has improved, they are using the old Divas formula of focusing on the champion and her challenger of the month while everyone else in the division gets scraps. Asuka is getting the challenger push this month, and they haven’t never even tried to build up another wrestler to keep Flair involved in something interesting. Worse yet, I still have no clue whether they want fans to like or dislike the arrogant Queen character.