It was the go-home show for the Royal Rumble as WWE brought Raw into Columbus, OH. Unsurprisingly, Roman Reigns dominated the broadcast, but there was also time in the spotlight for the Wyatt Family, Kalisto and the red hot feud over the Intercontinental Championship. It’s the Raw Report…
Roman Reigns arrived to open the show and cut a defiant promo calling out Brock Lesnar following his actions last week. Reigns didn’t get Lesnar, but did get Chris Jericho, who was set to host Lesnar on a special edition of the Highlight Reel. Jericho invited Reigns to the show too, but then the League of Nations arrived. They took turns in cutting promos running down Jericho and Reigns, with Rusev in particular shining on the mic. Reigns challenged Rusev to a match. He accepted, but Jericho decided to counteract the League of Nations by electing himself special referee.
1. Roman Reigns vs. Rusev (w/Chris Jericho as referee)
This was a pedestrian, unimaginative match. Jericho was barely a factor until he started arbitrarily sending League of Nations members back to the locker room. Once ringside had been cleared, Reigns laid out Rusev with a Superman Punch and the Spear for the pinfall win. It’s genuinely shocking to see how far Rusev has fallen given how little this mostly clean pinfall victory seemed to matter. What happened to the guy who rode into WrestleMania on a tank?
Jericho ran into Stephanie McMahon backstage. She had a go at him for booking the match, but confessed that his changes to the Highlight Reel were best for business.
2. Natalya vs. Brie Bella
As Brie Bella and Alicia Fox waited in the ring, Natalya introduced Paige for a bit of back-up. So, apparently the woman who was making cracks about Charlotte’s dead brother a few weeks ago is now a squeaky clean babyface without explanation. Worse still, the whole thing seemed to mark a return to WWE’s liking for booking its women’s division entirely around Total Divas storylines. If WWE is serious about their Divas Revolution, this sort of contempt for the audience and the characters is unacceptable. The match itself was nonsense, with Natalya winning via Sharpshooter after less than a minute.
3. Dudley Boyz and Ryback vs. Wyatt Family
This match, with the exception of Ryback, is something that audiences have seen umpteen times in the last couple of months. Both sides have claimed victories, which ensured that there was absolutely nothing in the way of stakes here. Erick Rowan broke up an attempt at the 3-D, which let Luke Harper destroy Bubba Ray with a superkick and the discus clothesline for the pinfall. It was impossible to care about the match and Ryback proved to be a complete non-factor. It’s tough to see how this was meant to make anyone look good heading into the Royal Rumble event.
4. Big Show vs. Heath Slater
Big Show punched Heath Slater in the face. Then he punched the other members of the Social Outcasts in the face as well. He’s also a babyface again for some reason. There’s not much else to say about this segment. It was awful.
Vince and Stephanie McMahon came out and swaggered for a bit before doing some endlessly protracted routine where they announced that Roman Reigns would enter the Rumble match first. This could have been accomplished with a brief backstage segment. It didn’t need to be whatever the hell this endless nonsense was.
5. Becky Lynch vs. Tamina
Sasha Banks wasn’t even at ringside for this match, which was bizarre given her popularity with fans. Tamina is a dreadful wrestler and did nothing to prove otherwise here, selling poorly and never timing a move correctly. Becky Lynch, however, continued her fiery rise to the top, winning with an innovative counter into the Disarmer. Thankfully, what happened after the bell was far more interesting. Lynch grabbed a microphone and berated Charlotte, who was sat at the commentary table. Charlotte turned down Lynch’s challenge for the Royal Rumble, urging the Irish star to get to the back of the line. Lynch fought back with an impassioned speech, in which she directly lashed out at Ric Flair’s desire to live vicariously through his daughter. Enraged, Ric accepted the challenge on his daughter’s behalf, which caused tension between the Flairs as they went to the back. This storyline continues to be really engaging and is perhaps the company’ most interesting rivalry.
6. Dean Ambrose and Kalisto vs. League of Nations (Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus)
This was a fun tag team match, with the League of Nations doing an impressive job this week of maximising their increased screen time. All four competitors meshed nicely and did well to recover from a few timing issues. Kalisto seemed to have the match won following Salida Del Sol, but Del Rio broke up the pinfall attempt. Ambrose fought Del Rio to the outside, but a distraction from Kevin Owens at the announce table helped Del Rio to nail an enziguri, laying out the Lunatic Fringe. Back in the ring, Sheamus countered another Salida Del Sol attempt and hit a Brogue Kick on Kalisto for the pinfall victory. Several feuds got the chance to move forward here, in a rare example of WWE actually using midcard performers well on television.
7. Big E vs. Jey Uso
In a great pre-match vignette, New Day held a funeral for Xavier Woods’ trombone, which was snapped beyond repair by Chris Jericho last week on Raw. Woods and Kofi Kingston donned funeral attire as they made their way to ringside to support Big E in his match against Jey Uso. The contest was a fairly standard television match, albeit one that was helped by Big E’s willingness to take some incredibly painful looking bumps. Distraction from his New Day teammates allowed him to hit Big Ending on the Usos for the win. If WWE is building to a tag team title match, they could’ve done with laying some groundwork rather than throwing things together.
8. Titus O’Neil, Mark Henry, R-Truth and Neville vs. Cosmic Wasteland and Tyler Breeze
It was exceptionally upsetting to see performers as young and talented as Neville, Stardust and Tyler Breeze in such a throwaway contest. The action lasted less than two minutes and was notable only for a deeply bizarre botch in which Titus O’Neil was supposed to throw Tyler Breeze into the arms of Mark Henry for a World’s Strongest Slam, but instead tossed him over the head of the veteran, down to the mat. A succession of finishers, culminating in a Red Arrow, brought the match mercifully to its conclusion. This segment only existed to remind audiences that these guys still exist prior to the Rumble, but it did rather more to hurt those involved than it did to bolster them.
9. Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel
This was an initially overlong and talky segment that got a welcome shot in the arm just before Raw went off the air. Chris Jericho and Paul Heyman verbally sparred for a while, with Jericho suggesting that he could win the Rumble match. It was then that Reigns and Lesnar appeared, with the champion shocking the Beast with a swift Spear, grounding him. They brawled wildly, with Reigns seemingly coming out on top. The League of Nations then made a beeline for the ring and took their fair share of suplexes. It was just as this generic action came to its natural end that the lights went out and the Wyatt Family appeared. They dismantled Reigns, leaving him broken and battered after Sister Abigail. They then managed to pull the same feat against Lesnar, standing tall over the Beast. This was a thrilling ending to Raw that once again suggested that the Wyatts could be in for the monster push they have long deserved. Here’s hoping…
Overall, this was a decent, if mundane, episode of Raw. As the last show before a major pay-per-view, it was a major disappointment. There was, however, plenty to enjoy and it is surely now time for the bump in quality that usually occurs as the company begins to move along the road to WrestleMania.
Tom Beasley – Follow me on Twitter for movies, wrestling and jokes about David Cameron.