Brock Lesnar was the major selling point of this week’s Raw, live from Birmingham, AL. The Beast butted heads with Dean Ambrose, who teamed up with brother in arms Roman Reigns to take on New Day in the main event. Meanwhile, the Divas Championship picture continued to become more complex and AJ Styles made an appearance on Miz TV. It’s the Raw Report…
Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar opened the show, with the Beast sporting an awesome new red version of his Suplex City t-shirt. Heyman cut a promo about how it would be “Brother vs. Brother vs. Beast” at Fastlane. Dean Ambrose turned up and rather fearlessly walked straight up to Lesnar. He cut a really impressive promo about how he isn’t crazy, but he does want the title so much that he is willing to take on both brother and Beast to make his way to WrestleMania. He said his piece and left, with Lesnar allowing him to go. This was a really great opening segment that, unlike just about every Raw opening in recent memory, managed not to outstay its welcome. It also established Ambrose as a major contender for Fastlane, even if it does seem likely that he’s there just to eat a pin.
1. Kalisto vs. Rusev
Before the match, Michael Cole announced that Alberto Del Rio would get his US Championship rematch against Kalisto at Fastlane. He sat on commentary as his League of Nations comrade Rusev took on the “human pinball”. The two men had a really solid, well-paced match that culminated in a thrilling series of nearfalls as Kalisto tried to outsmart his more powerful foe. On the outside, Kalisto managed to avoid being thrown over the announce table and hit a hurricanrana that drove Rusev into the barricade. He was able to scamper back into the ring, winning the match by countout. This was a great showcase for Kalisto ahead of what will presumably be a decisive win over Del Rio on pay-per-view. It will be interesting to see who Kalisto is paired with en route to WrestleMania, but he could do far worse than Rusev if WWE is short on ideas.
Ambrose and Reigns visited Stephanie McMahon, who is displaying the WWE Title proudly in her office. She tried to drive a wedge between the former Shield men and announced that they would take on New Day in the night’s main event.
Brie Bella was interviewed by Renee Young about her sister’s surgery. Charlotte turned up and gloated about how it was probably her that injured Nikki during their series of title matches. Charlotte is really blossoming in the heel role that made her such a big deal in her NXT career.
2. Usos vs. Social Outcasts (Adam Rose and Curtis Axel)
The Outcasts cut a weird promo about how Bo Dallas wasn’t there because he was in the recording studio making an album as Bo Rida. Bizarrely, it was the jobber team that dominated most of this desperately boring contest, before the Usos took over and delivered more superkicks than a Shawn Michaels highlight video. A big splash from Jey Uso to Rose won the match for the babyfaces.
3. Miz TV with AJ Styles
This was an odd segment, but one that continued to hype AJ Styles after his excellent debut during the Royal Rumble. Miz spoke forever about Styles’ career, refusing to let the man himself get a word in. Miz did, however, get in a lot of important information that Styles, who is famously not a great talker, might have struggled to convey. The fans’ continuous chants for Styles ultimately riled Miz, who verbally assaulted AJ. The Phenomenal One dutifully leapt out of his seat and peppered Miz with right hands, forcing him out of the ring and down the ramp. Styles looked like a star once again and WWE is doing a stellar job of getting him over as a major babyface on the way to WrestleMania.
4. Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
It seems that the Bellas are now firm babyfaces, which was odd if inevitable. Charlotte was great here as the confident, mocking heel and Brie did a decent job as the babyface fuelled by sibling loyalty. The solid match came to an end when Charlotte took forever to apply the Figure Eight, allowing Brie to catch the champion with a surprise roll-up for the win. It seems rather odd to inject yet another feud into Charlotte’s busy schedule at this point, but a title match involving Brie could be the perfect placeholder for Fastlane on the way to Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte, potentially with Becky Lynch involved as well, at WrestleMania.
5. Big Show vs. Erick Rowan
Big Show and Erick Rowan last met in singles action in the first ever “stairs match” back at TLC 2014, which is a match most of us have long tossed to the back of our minds. Show squashed Rowan in depressing fashion following a chokeslam. The Wyatts, however, destroyed Show after the bell rang, delivering a devastating slam on the steel steps. It was cool to see the Wyatts look dominant, but after Show came to the aid of Ambrose and Reigns on SmackDown, it was incredibly bizarre not to see them come to help Show. Not for the first time, they came across as terrible people.
6. Titus O’Neil vs. Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze got to show a decent amount of heel aggression in this bout, but it wasn’t long before O’Neil fought back with a massive lariat. Seconds later, Clash of the Titus brought Prince Pretty’s night to a premature end. The main roster treatment of Breeze has been absolutely repugnant. With the roster showing a real lack of depth in the wake of the recent injury chaos, the time is right to push young talents like Breeze. Instead, the young star is being buried deep. He must have made someone very upset indeed.
Triple H caught up with Brock Lesnar in the locker room. He took a dig at Lesnar for allowing Dean Ambrose to walk away at the beginning of the show, accusing the Beast of going soft. Lesnar was unfazed and said that they would see how soft he had gone at WrestleMania.
7. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
After Owens beat Ziggler in a really good match last week on Raw, a rematch was all but inevitable. This was an even better encounter than their first bout, given plenty of time to breathe. Ziggler hit a Fameasser on the floor and Owens caught the Show-Off with a cannonball whilst he was trapped in the tree of woe. A series of hot nearfalls built to Owens attempting the Pop-up Powerbomb, which Ziggler countered and was able to hit the Zig Zag out of nowhere. 50/50 booking is nobody’s friend and it would have made more sense to give Owens a momentum-building victory, but the match was good enough to overcome the booking deficiencies.
8. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks cut a promo before the match, saying that she was striking out on her own in an attempt to secure the Divas Championship. Team BAD arrived and said they respected Banks for her decision before vowing to remain friends. They stayed at ringside as Banks and Lynch had a decent technical match in the meagre time they were given. Team BAD tried to interfere on Banks’ behalf, but the Boss stopped them. Enraged, Naomi and Tamina attacked Banks before Lynch made the save. It would be unwise for WWE to fully turn Banks into a clean-cut babyface. She must maintain the arrogance and edge she showed here, even as she moves further into fan favourite territory.
Chris Jericho spoke to Renee Young and said he would keep a close eye on the match between Miz and AJ Styles scheduled for SmackDown. The heel turn is coming and it’s going to be amazing.
There was another Goldust and R-Truth segment. This time the two men met in the bathroom and Goldust took aim at R-Truth for his own bizarre phase with “Little Jimmy”. Again, this only served to push Truth further away. As silly as these segments are, these two could make for a nice comedy tag team.
9. New Day vs. Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns
New Day slammed Rock on the microphone before the match and they interacted with a kid in a Bullet Club shirt at ringside. As meaningless television main event tag matches go, this was a pretty good one. The action was fast and furious whilst the babyfaces were in control and aggressive whilst New Day ran the show. Big E continued to bump like a madman and carried the match at times. It was Ambrose who managed to score the pin after nailing E with Dirty Deeds.
Brock Lesnar hit the ring after the match. The babyface duo were distracted by Lesnar’s arrival, which allowed New Day to lay them out. Kofi Kingston took out Reigns at ringside, leaving Ambrose at the mercy of the angry Beast Incarnate. Lesnar hit a vicious F-5 on the Lunatic Fringe, leaving him broken in the ring as Raw went off the air. It’s always impressive to see Lesnar wrecking stuff, but this came off a little awkwardly as the camera didn’t seem to know where to look and it was weird to see Reigns come away unscathed.
This was an unusual episode of Raw. It delivered the goods in terms of the in-ring content, but there was a nagging sense that nothing of note actually happened. There was very little story progression and plenty of important talents seem to be spinning their wheels. The build to WrestleMania is simmering nicely, but WWE needs to find a higher gear to keep it going.
Tom Beasley – Follow me on Twitter for movies, wrestling and jokes about David Cameron.