The first Raw of 2015 emanated from San Antonio, TX, headlined by a blockbuster title match in the main event. Elsewhere, Chris Jericho made his WWE TV return and The Wyatt Family made a statement ahead of the Royal Rumble. It’s the Raw Report…
Stephanie McMahon swaggered out to start the show, but didn’t even make it up the ramp before Roman Reigns’ music hit and the WWE Champion made his way to the ring. Reigns very briefly addressed Stephanie, before calling out Vince McMahon ahead of his special refereeing gig in the main event. Stephanie revealed that her father hadn’t arrived yet, but would be in the building in time to take up his position in the title match. Reigns spoke passionately about how important the title was to him, but Stephanie bit back with a bitter takedown of Reigns, promising him that she would force him into vicious matches until his body broke down. Reigns got the last word, though, vowing that any interference in the main event would result in him sending Vince to the hospital. This was a really strong opening promo that didn’t outstay its welcome. 2016 started with a thumbs up.
1. Kevin Owens vs. Neville
The match last week between Owens and Neville erupted into a vicious assault, as illustrated by Neville appearing with taped ribs this week. Dean Ambrose was on commentary and spoke about the prestige of the Intercontinental Championship as Neville started the match with a kinetic flurry of insane aerial attacks. A genuinely brutal hangman DDT let Owens take control, but it wasn’t long before Neville got back into it with a 450 splash from the apron to the floor… for real. Owens eventually got back on top following a cannonball in the corner, before hitting the Pop-up Powerbomb for the pinfall win after an intense adrenaline shot of a match. Owens attempted to punish Neville after the bell, but Ambrose made him pay with a ferocious attack that culminated in an elbow drop through the announce table. If WWE lacked energy at times in 2015, it’s because they were saving it all for this segment.
Mr McMahon arrived backstage in a limousine and gloated that he had a legal clean slate in 2016. He said that, after breaking the law last week, he “was the law” in the main event.
2. Stardust vs. Titus O’Neil
This was the very definition of a cooldown segment, so the crowd had almost no chance of getting into it. This was a real shame because the match was actually pretty fun. O’Neil won following Clash of the Titus, but Stardust looked better than he has since his feud with Neville back in the summer.
Becky Lynch and Charlotte met backstage, with the latter disgruntled that Lynch had organised another match with her. Charlotte said that their last match had ended fairly, which bemused Lynch. Ric Flair turned up, making it clear that he would be at ringside once again.
3. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
Charlotte was acting distinctly heelish as the match began, wearing a swagger of a facial expression. There was some playful technical wrestling between the two early on, with the crowd getting excited at the one-upmanship between the two friends. The match was incredibly entertaining, with back-and-forth action as Lynch repeatedly frustrated the champion. Ric Flair grabbed Lynch’s foot at ringside, but the Irish star escaped the subsequent roll-up and countered with a pinning combination of her own to surprise Charlotte with a three count. As Lynch celebrated, Charlotte kicked her in the back and beat her down as her father watched in appreciation and boos rained down. The Charlotte heel turn has been built effectively, but WWE must now double down and embrace the fact that their champion is a fully-fledged villain.
Sheamus met with Vince McMahon backstage, with McMahon promising to call the title match fairly. However, there was a clear implication that shenanigans would almost certainly go down.
4. Ryback vs. Big Show
Mercifully, this wasn’t the straight match I had feared it would be. Ryback and Show each got some of their signature spots in, but the Wyatt Family graphic popped up as Ryback lay on the floor at ringside. The four members of the Family surrounded Ryback, before ganging up on him. Braun Strowman choked out The Big Guy, but then the Wyatts turned their attention to Show, surrounding him in the ring. Show swatted away three of the Wyatts, but paused to stare down Strowman. Before the two goliaths could face off, the other Family members returned and the giant fell. As the Wyatts left up the ramp, Bray Wyatt could be heard vowing that he would emerge victorious at the Royal Rumble.
5. The Usos vs. League of Nations (Alberto Del Rio and Rusev)
This was a superb tag team match with some great false finishes. There was a fast pace to it all, with Rusev the standout. Despite the lack of story, these teams showcased great chemistry with both playing their roles well. The Usos nearly had the match won following a splash to Del Rio, but Rusev dived in at the last second. The Bulgarian then caught one Uso with a superkick at ringside, only to be taken down when the other landed a suicide dive. Back in the ring, Del Rio draped one of the Usos across the second rope and hit his vicious double stomp for the pinfall. It was wise to make the League look strong here over the frankly bulletproof Usos and the match was high quality. No complaints here.
6. Dolph Ziggler vs. Heath Slater
Before the match, a Ziggler video was shown in which he vowed to win the Royal Rumble match. When Slater’s music hit, he was accompanied by Adam Rose, Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel. 4MB? Or The Job Squad? This was a solid contest between two of the best sellers in WWE right now, with both making each other look like a million dollars. Slater actually spent a good period of the match on top, before a jumping DDT gave Ziggler control. It wasn’t for long, though, before interference from Rose and Dallas allowed Slater to roll up the Show-Off. Each member of the new stable got the chance to cut a promo after the match, with Slater willing for #SocialOutcast to trend. If not necessarily a great development, this was at the very least an interesting one.
Vince McMahon confronted Reigns in the locker room and ran down the same rules he laid out to Sheamus earlier in the show. His smile, though, betrayed the trademark McMahon confidence.
7. New Day Get Interrupted
New Day cut a promo about the New Year, imitating the now infamous video of Mike Tyson on a hoverboard. They put their own countdown on the Titan Tron, but were interrupted by… Chris Jericho in a rare genuine surprise. Y2J appeared in his trademark light-up jacket and spouted catchphrases as only he can. He apologised to the WWE Universe for allowing them to sit through so much of New Day and then inserted himself into the Royal Rumble with what was, admittedly without much competition, the best promo of 2016 so far. It’s great to have Jericho back and he will be an interesting X-factor at the Rumble.
8. New Day vs. Dudley Boyz and Kalisto
It says a lot about how strong Raw was that this decent contest was one of the weaker segments. Kalisto teaming with the Dudleys brought something a little fresh to what was otherwise a pretty run of the mill six-man bout. High-flying spots were in abundance and Big E dusted off his brutal apron splash to incapacitate Kalisto. It was a Kofi Kingston-assisted Big Ending to D-Von Dudley that gave the tag team champions the big win. It’s refreshing to see the champions winning on television, particularly given their recent run of defeats against the Lucha Dragons.
9. WWE Championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs. Sheamus (Guest Referee: Vince McMahon)
The story of this match was predictable, but told in an engaging fashion. McMahon, despite his vows, was a completely crooked referee. He counted fast for Sheamus and often refused to count at all for Reigns. Eventually, the champion snapped and hit McMahon with a Superman Punch. He beat down Sheamus and then hit McMahon with another Superman Punch when Stephanie turned up to protect her father. Sheamus sprung back into the ring and hit two Brogue Kicks. McMahon was too stunned to count, but Authority-affiliated referee Scott Armstrong slid in and counter a nearfall. He lifted Reigns to his feet for another Brogue Kick, but ate a Superman Punch. Sheamus took a Spear and a new referee arrived to count the winning fall.
An infuriated Vince McMahon grabbed a mic after the match to make a big announcement. Roman Reigns’ next title match would truly be one versus all, with him defending the belt against 29 other men in the Royal Rumble match. This was a great twist, but could go either way. The prospect of a Rumble match for the title for the first time since 1992 is an enticing one, but it also turns a genuinely unpredictable bout into a potentially unpopular Reigns victory lap. WWE needs to have an ace up their sleeve.
This was a thrilling episode of Raw to kick off the New Year, packing in excellent in-ring action with some breakneck story progression. The final twist lights the fuse for a blockbuster of a Royal Rumble show and a road to WrestleMania that currently seems totally unpredictable. Well, it had to be better than 2015…
Tom Beasley – Follow me on Twitter for movies, wrestling and jokes about David Cameron.