By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Kevin Owens and The Viking Raiders vs. Buddy Murphy and AOP in a six-man elimination tag match: I really appreciated the way this match was laid out with one member of the Viking Raiders being pinned, the other taking himself out of the match by crashing and burning on a cross body block at ringside, and then Owens being left to fend for himself. It continued from there with the Owens character showing great heart and nearly pulling off the upset and ultimately losing only because Seth Rollins interfered at ringside. The structure of this match was actually stronger than we see during a lot of the Survivor Series elimination matches. Everyone involved played their parts well and the booking worked perfectly, as evidenced by the strong reaction the live crowd gave Owens afterward.
Rey Mysterio vs. Angel Garza: Garza moving to Raw to serve as a stand-in for the suspended Andrade was a pleasant surprise. The buzz is that this is intended to be a short term move, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Garza impresses enough during Andrade’s absence that the Raw creative forces put up a fight to keep him. Garza is so charismatic and excellent in the ring, and he and Andrade would make for a good heel pairing under the management of Zelina Vega. It will be interesting to see if Mysterio takes some time away to sell the DDT on the floor. It wasn’t the hammerlock DDT that led to Humberto Carrillo missing time and is currently serving as the storyline explanation for Andrade’s absence, but it’s still a DDT on the exposed concrete and should be sold properly.
Randy Orton: This was a good followup to last week’s red hot Orton attack on Edge. The live crowd made the segment with their loud booing and taunts directed at Orton, who continues to do a really nice job of acting conflicted by what he did to Edge. The idea of stretching this out for another week was wise, as it infuriated the live crowd and viewers even more. An added bonus of dragging this out is that the longer they take for Orton to give his explanation, the better the chances are that the first Orton vs. Edge match will be saved for WrestleMania rather than WWE Super ShowDown.
Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley: Flair winning the Royal Rumble match was a groaner, but the idea of having her challenge Ripley for the NXT Women’s Championship works for me. It’s an easy to digest introduction to the idea that the Rumble winners can challenge for the NXT Championships. I don’t hear many complaints from fans about this decision, whereas I suspect there would have been significant backlash if one of the male wrestlers had won the Rumble and challenged Adam Cole for the NXT Men’s Championship. Calm down. It’s not a male vs. female issue. Rather, this works because Flair’s potential matchups with Lynch or Bayley were so unappealing. I also found it to be encouraging for NXT that the Salt Lake City live crowd was so vocal in support of Ripley. This is a big change from the days when NXT wrestlers had to debut on Raw or Smackdown in pro wrestling hotbed cities or risk having the live crowds sit on their hands due to unfamiliarity. In other words, the USA Network exposure is paying off for the NXT crew even if they still draw far fewer viewers than Raw and Smackdown. Finally, while I’m not getting my hopes up for this, it would be fun to see a best of three series between Ripley and Flair starting on one of the WrestleMania week television shows, continuing at NXT Takeover, and concluding at WrestleMania.
Drew McIntyre vs. Mojo Rawley: I’m not really sure why Rawley had to be the fall guy when it seems like they are still trying to establish him as a badass of the WWE 24/7 mix, but this was another good showing for McIntyre. While McIntyre was a bit hampered by not having a definitive babyface turn, it seems like the live crowds are buying in and he’s developing more babyface momentum each week.
Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott: A soft Hit for Riott predictably attacking Morgan. I was hoping that Riott would return as a babyface challenger for Bayley at WrestleMania, but this is a solid spot given the Riott Squad connection with Morgan. If this is going to work, WWE needs to give viewers a reason to like Morgan beyond the HLA hook from the wedding. Sure, Morgan is cheered against the intentionally obnoxious and now overexposed Lana character, but that’s more about fans rooting against Lana than it is about the fans being invested in Morgan’s character. Perhaps the history between Morgan and Riott will help change that from a storytelling standpoint.
Aleister Black vs. Eric Young: Another solid and decisive win for Black. He’s getting the extremely slow build and it’s probably the right approach when the creative forces are trying to get over so many other wrestlers at once. Black’s promos are still a work in progress. His delivery is strong, but the promos tend to be needlessly long and often come off as nonsensical rather than deep and meaningful.
WWE Raw Misses
Seth Rollins vs. Ricochet vs. Bobby Lashley for a shot at the WWE Championship at WWE Super ShowDown: The finish of the match was bizarre with Ricochet being suplexed by Lashley on a Tower of Doom spot, then clearly communicating with Lashley for several seconds, and oddly getting to his feet first and hitting his finisher. My guess is that they were running long and had to trim something from the match. But the real Miss is Ricochet getting the title shot even though it seemed like the predictable outcome since he was the only babyface in the match. Ricochet is a hell of a talent, but he desperately needs to develop an edge. His small town underdog routine just feels so vanilla. I’d love to see Ricochet gain something in defeat when he faces Brock Lesnar at WWE Super ShowDown and perhaps he will, but at the moment it feels like a flat title match with Ricochet feeling like as much of a sacrificial lamb as Elias was as the second entrant in the Royal Rumble match. On the plus side, it was fun to see Lesnar make a rare surprise appearance at the end of the show.
Asuka vs. Natalya: A well worked match, but it felt like an awkward decision to have Asuka need a distraction finish to get by Natalya when creative had Becky Lynch vs. Asuka on the books for next week. Creative told a nice story with Lynch and Asuka heading into their Royal Rumble match, but next week’s rematch feels cold and this match didn’t help the cause.