Miami, FL played host to a very eventful episode of Monday Night Raw, in which an A-list WWE star made his long-awaited return to his hometown and the main event was set for Fastlane. Meanwhile, AJ Styles met with Chris Jericho in what can only be described as a dream match. It’s the Raw Report…
A distinctly smug Vince and Stephanie McMahon opened the show, gloating at how they emerged victorious from the Royal Rumble at the expense of fan favourites like Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles. Stephanie introduced new champion Triple H in grandstanding fashion and Trips spoke about how Reigns had offended him personally by disrespecting Vince McMahon. After what felt like an age of promo time, they finally got around to the issue of the WrestleMania main event. They announced that they would reveal later on the show the main event for Fastlane – a match which would punch the winner’s ticket to a battle with Triple H at the Show of Shows.
1. Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler
Owens, tremendously selling his injuries from the brutal Last Man Standing match he had with Dean Ambrose the night before, had plenty to prove against Dolph Ziggler. The match was solid, with both men selling very well for each other’s most impressive offense in some outstanding sequences. Owens finally scored the win following a brutal Pop-up Powerbomb, making his case to be part of the Fastlane main event. He looked like a violent destroyer here, which will be crucial in maintaining him as a potential main event threat after the end of his rivalry with Ambrose.
Roman Reigns was shown arriving backstage. He exchanged brief words with JoJo before asking her to inform The Authority that he was in the building. This was exactly the sort of “man of few words” intensity that Reigns should be showing.
2. The Social Outcasts (Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel) vs. Dudley Boyz
The Social Outcasts cut an in-ring promo, with Heath Slater repeatedly knocking Flo Rida, who was in the front row at ringside. Bo Dallas grabbed the microphone and challenged Flo Rida to come into the ring, not for a fight, but for a rap battle. Two or three utterly bizarre and uncomfortable minutes later, Flo Rida introduced the Dudley Boyz and set up a tag match. The tag contest was distinctly unremarkable, other than Dallas wrestling in a singlet, which was perhaps even more unusual than his new rap career. After some brief shenanigans involving Flo Rida, the Dudleys hit Axel with a 3-D for the pinfall. This was filler, but it wasn’t terrible filler.
Renee Young interviewed AJ Styles, who barely had chance to speak before Chris Jericho turned up. Jericho congratulated Styles on having made it to “the big leagues”, but there was a note of condescension to his tone that seemed to upset the WWE newbie.
3. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
On paper, this was a hell of a dream match. Given that, it was a little bizarre to give it away on free TV. The match, however, was very good, marking Styles as a true force to be reckoned with on the WWE stage. Styles and Jericho had a back and forth battle featuring some stiff strikes. The new babyface star looked resilient, particularly after surviving almost a minute locked in the Walls of Jericho. An exchange of pinning predicaments led to Styles surprising his veteran opponent with a roll-up for the major win. A post-match handshake initially looked amicable enough, but Jericho refused to let go, smirking at Styles before finally leaving the ring. WWE has done a stellar job of making Styles look like the main eventer he could be and the prospect of a heel Jericho heading into WrestleMania is incredibly tantalising.
4. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
Hot on the heels of Sasha Banks’ dramatic intervention into the Divas Championship picture at Royal Rumble, The Boss squared off with the previous number one contender Becky Lynch. The wicked chemistry that led Banks and Lynch to a Match of the Year candidate at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable was present in abundance here, leading to an impressive singles contest. The action culminated with Banks locking the Bank Statement on Lynch, only for Charlotte to arrive and target both women in a vicious assault before standing tall. A triple threat title match for WrestleMania seems likely, creating a scenario in which the women’s division could finally reach its potential on the main roster.
A very strange segment ensued with Goldust and R-Truth. Goldust told Truth he was seeking a partner, only for Truth to assert his heterosexuality. This didn’t need to be on the show, but it has to be better than another Titus O’Neil and Stardust backstage gag.
5. Bray Wyatt vs. Kane
This one was never in any doubt really. Wyatt, after a brief contest characterised by stiff, clubbing blows, beat Kane after hitting Sister Abigail in the centre of the ring. All four Wyatt Family members targeted the Demon after the bell, with Braun Strowman choking the monster out before allowing Luke Harper and Erick Rowan to drive Kane to the mat with a double chokeslam. The Family stood tall to close the segment. Given how strongly the Wyatts were booked on Sunday at the Royal Rumble, it was strange to see them lacking viciousness here. They needed to make much more of a statement.
6. The Rock Returns
Rich Brennan was shown waiting by a limousine backstage, ready for a major return. To Brennan’s surprise, it was Miz who emerged. Moments later, a truck screeched into the car park, revealing The Rock, who was in a buoyant mood. He paused on multiple occasions en route to the ring, taking part in bizarre skits with Big Show and Lana and Rusev, before emerging to a goosebump-inducing pop. He delivered a promo as only The Rock can, but was soon interrupted by New Day. The tag champs cut a promo about how they have beaten everyone and congratulated The Rock for getting out of Miami. The Great One bit back, quipping about the “llama penises” on the heads of the New Day. Rather than get into the ring with the multiple-time champion, New Day tried to make their way to the back, but The Rock introduced his cousins The Usos and a brawl of many crowd-pleasing finishers took place. One catchphrase later and The Rock was gone.
In the hands of almost anyone else, this would have been a segment of unbearable bloat. However, in the hands of the most charismatic WWE performer of all time, this was a fitting return to hype his role at WrestleMania, whatever that turns out to be.
7. Brie Bella and Alicia Fox vs. Paige and Natalya
There isn’t much to say about this. On the positive side, this felt incredibly outdated, which shows that progress has been made since the Divas Revolution got going. The action was awful and entirely free of narrative thrust, ultimately culminating in Paige hitting Ram-Paige on Bella for the pinfall. The spectre of Total Divas is plaguing the women’s division once again.
8. Kalisto vs. Miz
After an impressive series of matches with Alberto Del Rio, new United States Champion Kalisto needs some story direction to consolidate his position as a major figure in the upper midcard of WWE. Matches against the likes of Miz are not the best way to go about this, though. Both performers worked well enough here to rescue the match from being an absolute waste of time, but there was a definite sense of nothing being at stake for either man. Kalisto won after countering a Miz move into Salida Del Sol for the pinfall. A credible challenger for Kalisto’s title needs to emerge in the next week or two.
9. Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs. League of Nations (Sheamus and Rusev)
As far as blandly generic Raw main events go, this was definitely one of them. The heels used their numbers advantage, the babyfaces fought their corner in spiriting fashion and Roman Reigns got the victory. Business as usual in just about every way. It was only after the bell that things got interesting, with Reigns and Ambrose teaming up to powerbomb Rusev through the announce table. Stephanie McMahon chose that moment of unity to make her appearance, announcing a big main event for Fastlane. It would be Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar, with the winner going on to battle Triple H for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. The lack of logic was frankly staggering. Why, given the choice of literally anyone, would The Authority and Triple H elect to position the three most important babyfaces on the roster as potential opponents for the champion? They could have pitted Heath Slater against Simon the window cleaner, but instead Triple H now risks facing the Beast Incarnate. It’s simply barmy.
This was a solid episode of Raw, given a massive boost by the highly entertaining return of The Rock and the dream match between Styles and Jericho. WWE is moving its chess pieces intro intriguing positions as the build to WrestleMania continues to move forward, but they must be careful to avoid logic deficiencies along the way.
Tom Beasley – Follow me on Twitter for movies, wrestling and jokes about David Cameron.