The final Raw before Sunday’s Royal Rumble was hit and miss, but at least we head into the year’s first pay-per-view with a bit of intrigue.
Here is a breakdown and grades for the entire show.
Seth Rollins and His Unnamed Faction
Rollins, Buddy Murphy and AOP still don’t have a name, which is odd.
However, there was one name that everyone on the broadcast kept repeating, and that was “messiah.” Rollins is calling himself the “Monday Night Messiah,” and the powers that be are hellbent on driving the brand home.
It was overkill and not something I enjoy.
In any case, Rollins’ mic work was strong, though Murphy looked a little uncomfortable standing as one of his henchmen. Rollins was interrupted by Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens, who brought the Viking Raiders to the ring for an impromptu scrap.
Rollins retreated early and left his followers to come up short in the quick scuffle, but a tag-team title match would be announced for later in the show.
Grade – B+
This was a strong opening and all involved carried their weight. For a go-home show, this segment set the pace for a more eventful program than we normally see before a PPV.
Andrade def. Rey Mysterio in a Ladder Match to Retain the U.S. Title
This feud has produced some awesome matches.
If you’re a little upset you didn’t get to see Andrade take the title from Mysterio at a WWE Live Event last month, this match should make you feel better.
There were tons of hellacious spots with some bone-crunching bumps being taken by both men. Selina Vega was spectacular in an extraordinarily active role for a manager that included climbing to the top of the ladder and positioning herself there to be a deciding factor in the match.
Mysterio hit a 619 that should have given him a free climb to the title, but Vega sat atop the ladder to block his path. Andrade climbed back in and DDT’d Mysterio from nearly the top rung onto another ladder that had been propped up on the ropes and a lower rung.
He would then reascend to grab the title.
After the match, Andrade instructed Vega to rip up the padding on the concrete floor as he prepared to deliver a cross-armed DDT to Mysterio. However, Humberto Castillo emerged wearing a luchador mask to save Mysterio.
Grade – A+
This match felt like it was a PPV bout.
The spots, the action and everything about it were stellar. I could have done without Castillo being dropped back in as it seems redundant, but that wasn’t enough to ruin an otherwise exciting match.
Aleister Black Squash Match
Black literally came out and delivered a Black Mass to a local talent who came charging at him as soon as the bell rang to set up the pinfall.
Grade – F
Spacefiller garbage, if I’m being honest. I’m not sure who is telling the folks at WWE that these kinds of matches build up Superstars, but they’re still using them unsuccessfully.
Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman and Ricochet
Lesnar and Heyman stood in the ring and the latter delivered his normal my-client-is-a-big-nasty guy promo. It wasn’t one of his best, but things got slightly interesting when Ricochet showed up to challenge Lesnar.
For his efforts, he was kicked below the belt and F5’d before Lesnar walked out of the ring. Prior to that, Ricochet declared for the Rumble.
Grade – C+
Ricochet’s mic skills are so bad, I don’t know what needs to be done to give him something besides his otherworldly in-ring capabilities. Perhaps he needs to start using autotune or something. I’m kidding, but barely.
His presence killed the effectiveness of the segment, but Lesnar did go over as the man capable of coming into the Rumble at No. 1 and possible running the table, and that was the purpose.
Drew McIntyre def. Randy Orton by DQ
Both men are capable of working a better match than what we saw on Monday, but the point of this segment was to establish a bit of a feud between The O.C. and McIntyre.
AJ Styles and The Good Brothers attacked McIntyre mid-match, only to have Orton rescue his opponent with a steel chair.
After they cleared the ring, Orton gave McIntyre an RKO. the match was never officially called off, but normally this kind of an occurrence leads to a DQ.
Grade – C
McIntyre is being elevated, which is smart. Still, this segment was missing something, and it’s hard to pinpoint what was lacking. I have no idea what’s happening with Styles and the O.C. headed into the Rumble, but if McIntyre finds himself in the main-event scene, all is well.
Becky def. Kaire Sane
To say that Becky Lynch has cooled considerably since WrestleMania 35 is an understatement.
Her feud with Asuka isn’t as compelling as WWE would like, and her match with Kaire Sane on Monday wasn’t exactly a hellraiser.
Lynch won by submission with Dis-Arm-Her, but Asuka climbed into the ring to deliver a Shining Wizard to her Royal Rumble foe. Asuka posed afterward and cut another manic promo, but it was a little better than most of her mic work.
Grade – C
I’m trying to be excited about this match at RR, but this segment of Raw didn’t help the situation. Lynch badly needs another rival, and it appears Ronda Rousey might be the only one with the star power to push her back to the top.
Seth Rollins and Buddy Murphy def. The Viking Raiders to Become the New Raw Tag-Team Champions
The two teams worked together pretty well, especially Rollins and Murphy who hadn’t been a tag-team in WWE before Monday. There was non-stop action with the match starting off with Samoa Joe and Owens in the champ’s corner, and AOP backing the challengers.
Ultimately, Joe, Owens and AOP were ejected leaving the four competitors alone. VR showed off their excellent blend of power and athleticism while the challengers were predictably more high-flying.
In the end, a slightly awkward sequence set Erik up to take The Stomp from Rollins as the former lay on the ropes, half outside of the ring.
Murphy quickly rolled him over to get the pin and rip the belts from The VR. Also, Rollins, Joe and Owens declared for the Rumble.
Grade – B+
The match was slightly above average with a few hiccups, but I love the fact we saw something as significant as a title change on a going-home show.
I also liked seeing Rollins and his crew validated with a title. With the group playing such a significant role on Raw, it’s hard to legitimize them without some sort of championships.
Erick Rowan def. Matt Hardy
The cage thing is pretty cool with Rowan, but it has to be coming to an end pretty soon.
I don’t imagine they will bring back the snake gimmick that Jake Roberts immortalized. We’ll see how that finishes up.
The match was pretty weak. Rowan is a great big man in the ring, but Hardy is so compromised at this point, all of his matches are lumbering and slow. He was served up as an opponent pushed out there to put Rowan over, and he did his job.
Grade – C
Monday After the Weekend Update
The Street Profits weren’t in the ring this week. Instead, they’re doing an in-show program set up like a Saturday Night Live skit. It had a few soft-chuckle moments with R-Truth, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it in the long run.
Grade – C+
It appears WWE likes SP, but doesn’t have a real spot for them at the moment.
It’s good they kept a spot on the program, but at some point, they need to be back in the ring challenging for the tag-team titles.
Mojo Rawley Smashes Singh Bros. (24/7 Title)
I like what they’re doing with Rawley.
Instead of continuing the 24/7 hijinx by having the champion run for their lives every week, Rawley is daring anyone to challenge him.
He easily thwarted a sneak attack by the Singh Bros. and left them lying backstage.
Grade – B+
Rawley seems to be getting a push, and the 24/7 title might be the right vehicle to elevate him.
I’d love to see some more creative segments with him defending the title, and ultimately having a battle move the ring. So far, so good.
Lana and Lashley def. Liv Morgan and Rusev
How much longer will we be torchered with this angle? I don’t know, but this was a weird way to end the show.
However, the highlight of the match was Lana’s traditional heel mic work and her in-ring skills. Lana has just recently started working matches regularly at house shows, and she looked sharp.
The end came when Lana grabbed Rusev’s ankle, which allowed Lashley to spear him and get the pin. It was a great sell by Rusev.
Somehow, booking saw fit to have Lana and Lashley go over clean, which is a head-scratcher because Liv and Rusev both still have so much potential.
Grade – C-
It wasn’t a horrible go-home show and now we’ll check out NXT and Smackdown to see what other layers are added to the WWE story heading into Royal Rumble weekend.
Show Grade – B-