By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar: Raw started with a loaded opening segment that featured the new WWE Champion and the men’s Royal Rumble winner. They made the most of it by announcing that Lesnar will be one of Lashley’s challengers in the Elimination Chamber, and if he wins he intends to face Roman Reigns at WrestleMania in a title vs. title match. Both men delivered strong performances, and I like that MVP played the voice of reason in that he talked Lashley down from having an impromptu rematch with Lesnar.
Kevin Owens vs. Austin Theory in an Elimination Chamber qualifier: A fun match with an upset finish. I guess the outcome shouldn’t be too surprising if you consider that Owens hasn’t worked the last few WWE events in Saudi Arabia. Even so, the average viewer isn’t thinking about that, so it came off like an upset win for Theory. I got a big kick out of Owens being upset when he learned that Seth Rollins was placed in the Elimination Chamber match without having to work a qualifier, which led to Owens attempting to manipulate Rollins into using his stroke to get Owens out of working this qualifier.
AJ Styles vs. Rey Mysterio in an Elimination Chamber qualifier: Another entertaining qualifier. The show definitely benefitted from having qualifying matches because it raised the stakes for what would have been routine matches otherwise. In this case, the broadcast team really tried to sell viewers on the idea that this match between two legends would be a main event anywhere in the world. While the broadcast team members are just doing their job, the company just doesn’t push these two consistently enough for that level hype to feel legitimate. Even so, Styles winning clean and qualifying for the Chamber match was the right call.
Otis vs. Riddle in an Elimination Chamber qualifier: It would have been nice to have had some type of explanation for why Adam Pearce decided at the last moment that this would be a qualifying match. That said, it was an entertaining match that made Otis look good in defeat. They gave Otis enough of the offense that it actually made me assume that Riddle would get the comeback victory, but it also made it seem like a big accomplishment for Riddle when he was able to overcome Otis’s early dominance. By the way, where was Randy Orton?
Rhea Ripley vs. Nikki ASH: I was surprised to see Ripley win this match clean. They put some good heat on ASH when she attacked Mighty Molly at the Rumble, so I assumed she’d steal a win over Ripley or they would go with a finish intended to stretch out the program. Rather, Ripley went over strong and it will be interesting to see if there’s a reason why. Are they freeing up Ripley to be in a women’s Elimination Chamber match? Could they be freeing up ASH to work with Alexa Bliss once she gets off the therapist’s couch? Either way, I’m enjoying ASH as a delusional heel superhero wannabe much more than when she was a babyface superhero wannabe.
Bianca Belair vs. Carmella: While this match felt like it went longer than it needed to, it also felt like the right call to make it seem like Belair had to work for her win over one half of the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions.
The Miz vs. Dominik Mysterio: A brief match that was clearly meant to give Miz some heat back following his loss in the mixed tag match at the Royal Rumble.
WWE Raw Misses
Ronda Rousey: Rousey is back as a babyface and yet she acted heelish. The fans were excited to see Rousey, but she came off as downright joyless throughout this segment. I’m not suggesting that she needs to plaster on a fake smile and start kissing babies, but giving the fans some indication that she actually wants to be there and doesn’t despise them would go a long way. On the bright side, Becky Lynch was really fun throughout the closing segment, and I like the way that Lita was able to manipulate Lynch’s character into giving her a match at Elimination Chamber.
Angelo Dawkins vs. Dolph Ziggler: The match quality was fine, but I wasn’t sure what the purpose was beyond getting Cincinnati native Dawkins on the show for an easy pop. The absence of Robert Roode left me wondering if this was meant to be a tag team match that had to be changed for some reason.
Riddle and Chad Gable’s scooter race: This wasn’t nearly as fun as last week’s spelling bee. There wasn’t much creativity to these sports entertainment skits. Hopefully they will nail it with the quiz bowl finale next week. If nothing else, it’s great to see Gable finally being properly utilized following some really bad years, including that awful run as Shorty G.