With the Royal Rumble just twenty days away, WWE brought Monday Night RAW to the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana on 9th January. The episode was headlined by returning Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels and his in-ring promo segment with Rusev, Jinder Mahal, Lana, Enzo Amore & Big Cass, whilst the main event was a Two on One Handicap match over the WWE United States Championship, with Roman Reigns defending against Chris Jericho and WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens. With The Undertaker, RAW General Manager Mick Foley, Seth Rollins, RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus and Sasha Banks also featured, could RAW start heading in the right direction?
This week's headline segment, featuring Shawn Michaels, Rusev, Jinder Mahal, Lana, Big Cass and Enzo Amore, is a difficult piece of television to review. I loathed the first five minutes, but it managed to find purpose once Rusev and his pals emerged, but then also ended up being a long-winded set-up for a Cass v Mahal match that I'm pretty sure no one had asked for. The fifty-one year old Michaels' ended up looking like a fish out of water, as he attempted to shill his new film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, as well as the Rumble, managing to end up talking to some fan off camera. Then the crowd chanted "One More Match" and it was awkward as fuck. At least once The Bulgarian Brute emerged with Mahal and Lana, the segment found a purpose that wasn't one guy telling me to watch a truly awful looking film. The story of Rusev wanting Lana to be in a film that is due for release this month was kind of lame, but RuRu made it work with odd ball humour, like randomly turning heel on Star Wars. The whole thing limped towards a Mahal and Cass match after some clumsy interaction between HBK and Enzo & Cass.
Chris Jericho picked up his first WWE United States Championship by defeating Roman Reigns in a handicap match with WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens on his team. To say that I enjoyed this bout would be an overstatement, but it was certainly watchable and managed to finish positively with a convincing flurry from Owens and Jericho, including an apron powerbomb for KO. It's difficult to get too excited or interested though when presented with a damp squib of a concept. Nothing about this match felt important, from the handicap gimmick, that saw Reigns having to defend against two guys he's beaten previously, to the United States Championship, which has seemed less significant by the week since Reigns has set his focus on Owen's title. WWE needlessly booked themselves into a corner, as an underhanded Jericho win on last week's episode would have felt a much bigger moment than it ended up being here.
RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus went over Luke Gallows, in a scrap that was made by a strong false finish, as the rivalry between Sheamus & Cesaro and Gallows & Karl Anderson heats up. That false finish saw Sheamus distracted by Cesaro and Anderson brawling on the ramp (they had both been on commentary), allowing Gallows' to hit a Fireman's Carry Flapjack (fka Festus Flip) for a long two count. The timing on the moment was perfect by all involved and created a genuinely surprising kick out, something that doesn't often come along on RAW. Sheamus would go on to win with a Brogue Kick to even up the teams series, after Anderson had beaten Cesaro last week. The rest of the match was fairly standard stuff, that aired on the clumsy side at points, with a handful of timing and fluidity issues.
The show's opener saw Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins go to a double countout, after Strowman dodged a dive to the outside and couldn't get Rollins back into the ring in time. It was flimsy finish to contest that had really grabbed me with some cute storytelling in it's earlier moments. Rollins bumped like a trooper for the big fella, including a wonderful chokeslam in which The Architect appeared to be heading for the ceiling until Strowman decided he'd rather attempt to plow his opponent through the mat instead! This also allow for Rollins to look at his most babyface since his turn as he fought valiantly against the Beast, bringing some of the fire that has been missing. It might not have been the most technical of outings, but unlike Rollins' match with Kevin Owens last week, it was full of urgency and purpose. The spot with Strowman being able to thwart a blockbuster attempt by just holding Rollins in mid-air was crazy good stuff and the best way to get Strowman over with a portion of the audience that isn't kind on larger wrestlers.
The Undertaker declared that he'll be competing in his first Royal Rumble since 2009, in a short, but sweet, promo, that also briefly referenced his WrestleMania streak concluding in New Orleans three years ago. The content seemed to signpost that we'll see Undertaker's WrestleMania opponent revealed during the match, as The Deadman put a lot of emphasis on how he'd seek revenge if anyone stopped him from winning. The pre-amble to Undertaker's appearance was less impressive, with idea that General Manager Mick Foley needed Undertaker to appear or Commissioner Stephanie McMahon would fire him being one that I struggled to buy into. The initial tease of a Taker appearance after Foley begged him to come out, only for McMahon to turn up when the light's went off, did garner a little chuckle, but the rest of the segment and indeed, this storyline in general felt more than a little unnecessary when there's more interesting and deserving talent not getting a chance to breath.
"Titus O'Neil wants to join the New Day" is the worst storyline 2017 has offered up so far. Whilst last week's interaction wasn't all that bad, there was less than no one who wanted to see a sequel. If a return of last week wasn't desired, I believe there were civilisation whose whole belief system was built around praying that the keg run from the bizarre other world of 2010 NXT would never ever make a comeback. Not only did we get replay of O'Neil falling over seven years ago, but there was the added treat of stock falling over sound effects that I'm fairly sure caused a little bit of wee to escape down Vinny Mac's trouser leg. Just when I was pretty sure the pain was over and the segment would be put out of it's misery, New Day presented O'Neil with a keg of "Booty Juice" ("It makes sure your throat is loose") to run around the ring with. Then O'Neil "dropped" the keg just before the line. Then something else happened. Fuck. I don't know. It wasn't good, whatever it was. What could happen next week? Surely, it won't be as bad as this?
Somehow getting less time than the previous segment was RAW Women's Champion Charlotte Flair and Nia Jax's victory over Bayley and Sasha Banks in a completely baffling piece of booking. Banks was still selling her knee that was injured in the Iron Man match at Roadblock: End of the Line and did so well. However, it was Number One Contender Bayley who worked the face in peril role, after initially being out-wrestled by Flair and then trounced by Jax. After Bayley's fluke win over Jax the week previous she really needed to cemented as a credible contender for Flair's championship in this match, something that could have been done with a roaring hot tag, before Banks ultimately fell to Jax to simultaneously build their feud. Perhaps that was too obvious? Because what actually happened was Bayley failed to see Jax tag in on Flair and then ended up being pinned following a leg drop. What? Just like last week's three minute Bayley v Jax match, I don't get what this achieves and who it's helping.
Any Other Business
- Kofi Kingston pinned Titus O’Neil with Trouble in Paradise in a match that occurred.
- Jack Gallagher picked up a victory over Drew Gulak in a fun, but brief match.
- Big Cass went over Jinder Mahal, with Shawn Michaels hitting Rusev with a Sweet Chin Music on the outside.
- Neville defeated Lince Dorado, debuting a new Rings of Saturn-esque submission.
ATPW Scale Rating - 3.93/10
Seeing as next week is the penultimate show before the Rumble, I'm hoping for a big improvement, but I'm not getting my hopes up!
Review - James Marston
Photo credit - wwe.com