On 30th October 2017, WWE aired the 1275th episode of Monday Night RAW live on the USA Network from the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Maryland. The show featured The Miz defending the Intercontinental Championship against Matt Hardy, Finn Balor battling Cesaro in a first time TV bout and Mickie James challenging for Alexa Bliss's Women's Championship, as well as appearances from SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan, RAW General Manager Kurt Angle, Kane, Seth Rollins and a returning Samoa Joe...but was it any good? Lets take a look.
Commissioner Stephanie McMahon confronted General Manager Kurt Angle (5:26)
I've been looking forward to seeing an interaction between Stephanie McMahon and Kurt Angle ever since Angle was appointed RAW General Manager, the night after WrestleMania. So when McMahon made her first on-screen appearance since crashing through a table at WrestleMania 33, I was pretty hyped to see what went down and this short interaction between the pair was just enough to whet the appetite for a potential feud between the pair going forward. Whilst Angle's acting is still suspect at the best of times, there's no denying that he has a strong connection with the crowd and the same can be said for McMahon, but obviously in the complete opposite direction. After a lengthy time off, McMahon's act felt fresh again and having her compliment Angle before turning on her bitch cannons and continually rise in intensity as she went off on one on the 4 time WWE Champion was a lot of fun. Whilst the announcement that Angle would be the Team Captain for the RAW Men's team at Survivor Series would've had more impact if he hadn't competed on at TLC less than two week's ago, it still got a decent pop and opens up a number of intriguing storyline possibilities as we get closer to 2018.
In the parking lot, Stephanie McMahon left the show in a limo, before Intercontinental Champion The Miz and the Miztourage (Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel) arrived in one of their own, with a Miz rant, leading to Kurt Angle blowing up in his face and booking Miz in an Intercontinental Championship match later in the show.
In the arena, Alicia Fox, wearing a captain's hat because she's RAW Women's team captain at Survivor Series, named the returning Nia Jax as her replacement in a match with Bayley, so I guess the rumours about Jax leaving the promotion were false and Fox has match-making powers now.
Nia Jax def. Bayley via pinfall (3:51)
An extended squash victory for Nia Jax here, which is a shame because these two have good chemistry and have shown in the past that they can put on good matches when given the opportunity, at a time when Jax was much greener as well! Putting Jax over so strong felt a little unnecessary as part of the Survivor Series build, but the two managed to do a decent job in the time they were given, pulling in call back to NXT Takeover: London and an impressive finishing sequence from Jax, alongside some lovely selling from Bayley.
After the match, Fox continued to be batshit insane doing a pilots impression, before offering Nia Jax a spot on the RAW Women's Survivor Series team.
Samoa Joe returned for his first appearance since SummerSlam, cutting a promo on the crowd for not reaching out during his time off, which whilst it might have been a little cliche was delivered with gusto and intensity.
Samoa Joe def. Apollo Crews via submission (3:38)
Some decent stuff here, but it lacked the excitement level that an Apollo Crews vs. Samoa Joe match could potentially have, with Crews' offence being limited to headlocks and enziguiris. It did, at least, put Joe over strong and he looked like a bad ass in his comfortable victory with the Coquina Clutch.
Post-match, Titus O'Neil and Samoa Joe stared each other down, before Joe locked in a Coquina Clutch when O'Neil went to check on Apollo Crews.
Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (C) def. Matt Hardy via pinfall (9:57)
Matt Hardy's first televised Intercontinental Championship match since he lost to Test on a November 2001 episode of SmackDown was an interesting contest, being well-put together, but awfully sloppy in the first five minutes. The two struggled to connect for most of the match, often ending up out of sync with the action, leading to a couple of sequences that clearly didn't come off as well as they could have, including something that I think was Miz' old Reality Check (Running knee lift followed by a neckbreaker slam). That aside, Hardy worked well fighting from underneath having to combat the entire Miztourage, garnering good crowd support which made a couple of near falls feel much more important than they would have for a less over performer. Hardy's getting a series of near falls, whilst always looking for the Twist of Fate, gradually gave the former ROH World Tag Team Champion a feeling of momentum with the crowd popping big for a diving moonsault from the 43 year old. For me, the finish came across as a little uncreative, as after the best sequence of the match saw Miz miss the roundhouse kick in his IT Kick's combination, allowing Hardy to hit a Twist of Fate at the fourth attempt, Miz simply rolled under the ropes and when Hardy went to bring him back into the ring managed to pull Matt's throat across the top rope and hit a Skull-Crushing Finale for the win. I feel like the Miztourage could've been utilised to help get the most out of a near fall of the Twist of Fate, which felt like it was wasted after some good build up. Like most, I expect either The Miz or Baron Corbin to drop their respective titles before we get to Survivor Series, because a match between the two isn't particularly appealing.
In Kurt Angle's office, Women's Champion Alexa Bliss told Angle he should fire Mickie James and potentially replace her with Mae Young's corpse, which lead to Angle booking Bliss against Mickie James in a title match later in the show.
Asuka def. Stacie Cullen via submission (1:40)
A straight-up squash match for Asuka with the debuting Stacie Cullen getting in absolutely no offence before tapping out the Asuka Lock.
Kane attacked SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan (3:07)
This curious angle was laid out across four consecutive segments, beginning with Kurt Angle shitting his pants when SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan turned up in his office, before subsequently locking his counterpart in the room. Later on, we saw the lights go off on Bryan, before Kane appeared, lit only by Bryan's mobile phone, with the Big Red Monster appearing to chokeslam SmackDown's GM, with it being clear that Bryan didn't take the bump, so I wouldn't get your hopes up that this is the start of Bryan's in-ring comeback trail!
Finn Balor def. Cesaro (with Sheamus) via pinfall (8:14)
As soon as I saw these two come to the ring, I had a flashback to the tremendous series of TV matches Cesaro had with the likes of Randy Orton and John Cena in the build towards Elimination Chamber 2014 and whilst this bout didn't hit the heights of that classic run, there was still some very good wrestling on display here. With no real issue between the pair, the crowd wasn't massively into the action, but I enjoyed the crisp wrestling exhibited by the pair in only their second singles match (after a March 2015 NXT live event). The two mixed physical strikes and smooth back and forth grappling well, whilst peppering in a couple of big spots like Cesaro's wicked good deadlift superplex. The sequence of submissions from Cesaro as he switched from a Sharpshooter to a Crossface to a side headlock in an attempt to keep control of the match was a personal highlight. It was a shame that as soon as the match began to lift the pace that it was over, with Balor able to counter the threat of Sheamus on the outside and win with a diving double stomp to the back of Cesaro's neck. Balor had to be put over strong following his loss to Kane last week (and what would follow), but as always I just wanted a little bit more between these two world-class professional wrestlers.
After the match, Kane met Finn Balor on the ramp, quickly overturning Balor's offence and nailing a Tombstone Piledriver on the stage.
Kane def. Tag Team Champion Seth Rollins via pinfall (5:42)
Ruddy hell, WWE is really set on turning Kane back into a monster, as he ran through one of the companies biggest stars Seth Rollins, in a rematch from Hell in a Cell 2015. I didn't really get much out of this one, with a number of repetitive sequences resulting in Kane hitting a throat thrust. Whilst I could question why a monster is putting on a conventional headlock, I'll instead choose to praise the energy in Rollins last burst of offence as he hit two enziguris and a blockbuster for a near fall and then two speedy suicide dives. The finish saw Rollins defend partner Dean Ambrose who got jumped by Cesaro & Sheamus at ringside, only to springboard into a ridiculously telegraphed chokeslam with the Big Red Machine having his hand in place for the move before Rollins even left the ground. WWE is putting an awful lot behind the Big Red Machine to build him up to put Braun Strowman over in his new babyface role, in a move that seems unnecessary considering the reactions that Strowman already receives and the limitations of a 300lb+ 50 year old.
Dean Ambrose made the save for Seth Rollins hitting Dirty Deeds on Kane, only for the Big Red Machine sat up and aided by Cesaro & Sheamus went on to hit Tombstone Piledrivers on both Ambrose and Rollins as the weirdest push on 2017 continued.
Daniel Bryan was loaded onto a stretcher following the assault by Kane earlier on.
The Miz, Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel discovered a bag full of rubbish in the lockeroom and jumped to the bizarre conclusion that Braun Strowman must be in the arena, this led to Miz searching out Kane backstage to let him know the news.
Santa Claus [Heath Slater] & Mrs. Claus [Rhyno] def. Chad 2 Badd [Karl Anderson] & Tex Ferguson [Luke Gallows] in a Trick or Street Fight via pinfall (4:53)
Well, good goly, this was a thing. Santa Claus & Mrs. Claus clashing with Southpaw Regional Wrestling's Chad 2 Badd and Tex Ferguson with halloween themed weapons, whilst Mrs. Claus flashed her knickers and the commentary team took the piss out of the whole thing, before a comedy pumpkin spot gave the Clauses the victory.
Backstage, The Miz told Cesaro & Sheamus about the bag of rubbish he found, they told him not to worry, but he was on his own, leading to Miz making a call to Curtis Axel telling him to pack the bags because they were leaving, as the sage continued.
Jason Jordan attacked Elias (3:11)
A cute but poorly executed idea, as Elias sang a song for Jason Jordan over replays of Elias twatting Jordan with a guitar last week. Of course, this lead to Jordan coming out, hitting an overhead belly to belly on the Drifter and smashing up a new guitar.
Kurt Angle caught The Miz and The Miztourage as they were about to leave the building, refusing to let them leave, because Miz arrived late at the start of the show.
Cruiserweight Champion Enzo Amore had found his voice, but Drew Gulak still did most of the talking as they ran down Kurt Angle, before some wonderful mic work from Gulak as he comically miss-performed Amore's catchphrases.
Kalisto def. Drew Gulak via pinfall (0:58)
Quick squash M9, with Kalisto nailing Salida del Sol for a sub-minute victory.
Of course, Enzo Amore attacked Kalisto post-match, hitting Jordunzo before quickly escaping with Drew Gulak.
The Miz instructed Curtis Axel to tell their limo driver to get their car ready for the end of the show, as the paranoia built.
Women's Championship Match: Alexa Bliss (C) def. Mickie James via pinfall (7:41)
I thought Alexa Bliss and Mickie James' match at TLC on 22nd October was alright and was hoping that this rematch would build on some of the solid storytelling and remove some of the sloppiness due to a growing familiarity between the pair. In fact, the complete opposite happened and we received a clumsy bout with little story and a crowd who could not have given less of a fuck. The pair seemed to lose the crowd within the first couple of exchanges with James hitting a horrible looking snapmare and following it up with a messy diving hurricanrana. The crowd was not encourage by a headlock which seemed to last half of the match, garnered no reaction and concluded with a scrappy STO from Bliss. The one thing that seemed to come out well was a neckbreaker from James as part of her comeback sequence. Then Bliss won with a slap/punch/palm strike to the face, after kicking out of a series of roll-ups from James way too early to build any drama or excitement. I did not enjoy this match.
Braun Strowman attacked Intercontinental Champion The Miz and The Miztourage (6:59)
Rightio. Lets start by addressing one of the most confusing moments in the history of RAW. The Miz and Miztourage are attempting to escape the building in their limo, they are blocked in by a bin lorry, out of the bin lorry came Braun Strowman, making his first appearance since TLC. Was the idea that Strowman had been in the bin lorry for over a week? Or was it that Strowman had enjoyed his ride at TLC so much that he'd decided it was his only way to travel? I'm not sure that visual was cool enough to justify the fact that it made no sense at all, whether it was the night before Halloween or not. Luckily Strowman destroying the Miztourage inside the arena, lobbing all three down the ramp and then beating the ever loving shit out of Curtis Axel, after The Miz and Bo Dallas escaped. Axel being carried like a child up the ramp to get powerslammed through the announce table was a sick moment and was made even cooler by the fact Strowman is now babyface and is getting brilliant reactions. I'd expect Strowman will take the Intercontinental title from Miz next week, before squaring off with Baron Corbin at Survivor Series, ahead of a showdown with Kane later down the line.
On paper this show looked stacked. The RAW returns of Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, Stephanie McMahon and Braun Strowman, alongside two title matches and Finn Balor vs. Cesaro, this should have been a home-run. Finn Balor vs. Cesaro did end up being a solid match, whilst Matt Hardy challenging for the Intercontinental Championship was well structured and the Braun Strowman beatdown (not the bin lorry bit) was great stuff too, but nothing was good enough to carry the rest of the show. The final hour especially (until Strowman murdered Axel and a slight exception to the wonderful Drew Gulak) was dire, with Mickie James and Alexa Bliss's Women's Championship match proving a botched opportunity for the pair. Add alongside this Kane's bizarre 2017 monster push and you've got a Halloween RAW that was much more trick than treat.
Review by James Marston