Powell’s WWE Raw Hit List: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the U.S. Championship, Austin Theory vs. Dolph Ziggler, Bobby Lashley vs. Mustafa Ali, Matt Riddle vs. Chad Gable, Iyo Sky vs. Dana Brooke, Baron Corbin vs. Akira Tozawa, Dominik Mysterio vs. Shelton Benjamin, Mia Yim vs. Tamina

By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)

WWE Raw Hits

Austin Theory vs. Dolph Ziggler: It was a big night for Theory coming off his failed Money in the Bank cash-in. Theory ditched the gullible doofus persona in favor of being an edgy and sadistic heel. I never bought into the old version of Theory being the next big thing even though he was paired with Vince McMahon. This version of Theory feels much more likely to click as high level player in WWE. I still don’t like the idea that Money in the Bank winners can cash in for secondary championships, but at least Theory’s character offered good logic for choosing to go after Seth Rollins rather than deal with Roman Reigns and everyone else in The Bloodline.

Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the U.S. Championship: A decent main event that started slowly and concluded with the all too common run-ins from The Judgment Day and The OC. Even so, the match was fun while it lasted and Rollins is clicking with live crowds despite not having an actual babyface turn moment. The post match beatdown angle capped off an excellent night for the rebooted and all grown up Theory character.

Bobby Lashley vs. Mustafa Ali: There was no mystery regarding the match outcome and there are no signs of Ali getting over as the scrappy underdog who shows heart by not backing down from a fight. The Hit is all about Lashley looking dominant and continuing to be a featured player on the Raw brand. I was surprised to see Ali lose on Raw just days before his Smackdown World Cup tournament match. I’m not suggesting that he should have beaten Lashley. Rather, I’m surprised they didn’t keep them apart and give Ali a win over a lesser name.

Chad Gable vs. Matt Riddle: My favorite match of the night, only because I was able to get past the bad comedy that is the shooosh routine and Riddle’s groan inducing bongo drum gag. The finish was par for the course with Gable stealing the win thanks to a double leverage pin. The creative forces have clearly pulled back on Riddle’s babyface push. His edge has been replaced by bongo drums and he doesn’t even feel like the same guy who beat Seth Rollins at Extreme Rules.

Miz TV: Johnny Gargano still needs to get the hell away from this mess, but I got a big kick out of The Miz’s apology attire and antics. The cardigan sweater, the reading glasses, and even the Mizanin family Christmas photo that was set up next to him were all hilarious even if I’m more than ready for his storyline with Dexter Lumis to end.

Dominik Mysterio vs. Shelton Benjamin: A soft Hit for Dom getting the distraction finish win. We see way too many distraction finishes in pro wrestling these days, but it’s an effective approach for Dom’s character to get heat, not just a bad copout finish that it often is when used in other matches.

WWE Raw Misses

Overall show: Raw suffered from having too many matches that looked completely lopsided on paper. I don’t mind a showcase match or two, but perennial loser characters Dolph Ziggler, Dana Brooke, Akira Tozawa, Shelton Benjamin, and Tamina all taking losses on the same show made for a long and uneventful night. There’s a shortage of strong babyface characters on Raw. Matt Riddle has been defined down. Seth Rollins is transitioning into the lead babyface role, but he’s only getting so much of the spotlight because his babyface turn is happening at the same time that Bobby Lashley is turning heel and while Austin Theory is being repackaged. Things should improve whenever Randy Orton and Kevin Owens return and Edge makes his 607th shocking return, but there’s a real shortage in the moment. This makes it all the more disappointing that Johnny Gargano is playing Johnny Comedy and Chad Gable can’t escape his Kurt Angle Lite persona. Gargano and Gable are not instant game changers, but there is a need for a mid-card babyface act that viewers can rally behind while he climbs the ladder. Unfortunately, I’ve seen enough of the current version of Mustafa Ali to feel like he’s not the right guy for that role. Finally, the build to Survivor Series WarGames has been poor. It’s tough when there’s only three weeks between premium live events, but nothing they’ve done on the Raw side has hooked me me.

Iyo Sky vs. Dana Brooke: Brooke’s character being upset over Nikki Cross tossing the WWE 24/7 Championship belt in the trash where it belongs makes sense for her character and yet it just isn’t something the average fan cares about. Likewise, the match was fine and the right person went over, but I just didn’t care about any of it.

Baron Corbin vs. Akira Tozawa: The Corbin and JBL pairing continues to feel lifeless. But it just continues to plod along without any sign that the creative forces recognize the need for change. The poker skit was about as predictable as it gets, and Tozawa is too damaged from his 24/7 run to take seriously.

Mia Yim vs. Tamina: It was supposed to be a Yim showcase, but viewers were distracted by Rhea Ripley and Dominik Mysterio watching from ringside, and by the shot of Damage CTRL watching backstage. On second thought, that may have been for the best because this was a rough match.


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