The penultimate RAW of 2017 brought us another Shield heavy episode, even if Roman Reigns was absent and weirdly not even mentioned on the show. The main event would feature Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose being joined by Jason Jordan to face rivals Cesaro, Samoa Joe and Sheamus, after the prior had demanded a match with Joe following Joe's attack on both Rollins and Jordan after the show's opening contest (originally scheduled as Rollins vs. Joe). The Cruiserweight's also got a big spotlight as Drew Gulak and Cedric Alexander clashed in the finals of the #1 Contender's tournament that's been going on for the last few episodes, whilst Stephanie McMahon returned to interrupt a division-wide brawl between the Women's roster with a big announcement regarding Royal Rumble.
But was it any good? Let's take a frickin' look.
Seth Rollins def. Jason Jordan // Pinfall
Cesaro & Samoa Joe & Sheamus def. Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose & Jason Jordan // Pinfall
This saga began with Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan arguing over who should be facing Samoa Joe and then played out across over half an hour of screen time. If the opening segment was awkward and riddled with terrible dialogue, I was begging for it to return by a few minutes into the Rollins vs. Jordan match that came next. Suffering from Jordan not quite being a heel, a general apathy from the live audience and an uncharacteristically lethargic performance from Rollins, the first five to ten minutes of this match bored me to tears. You know I love my some storytelling and there was a degree of that here as Jordan focused on Rollins back to control the match...but he did so by hitting the same two moves (most shoulder charges into the corner). The crowd got restless with the plod of the contest, chanting "This is boring" and appeared to boo when both wrestler got in the ring at nine on a double countout spot. The highlight of the match came when Joe finally made his presence known, bringing some much need fire to the contest, before taking a snug superkick from Seth. Rollins won with the King's Landing, before Joe retaliate the early attack, before twatting Jordan for good measure on the way out. I can only imagine that this was for making The Samoan Submission Machine sit through such a dreary match.
Following this Kurt Angle booked the main event, with Rollins, Jordan and Dean Ambrose all wanting to fight Samoa Joe and The Bar seemingly with fuck all else to do that night. This was a much improved effort from the opener, with a trope-busting finish that opens up a number of possibilities for future storylines. The body of the match was the heel trio working over Rollins and whilst again I wasn't particularly wowed by Rollins performance and selling, there were a number of well-crafted hope spots, with Ambrose did a marvellous job of keeping the crowd invested from the apron. The sheer number of times it appeared like a hot tag was imminent as the momentum swung to Rollins was what bought real life to the contest, with the Kingslayer putting on a good sequence with Sheamus in particular. I'm trying to give Jordan some credit for something, but his short spell as face in peril at the beginning was worst part of the bout, with very little energy and he didn't really do much else.
The finish was a fascinating piece of booking, as Rollins hit a suicide dive onto Cesaro and Joe, with Ambrose caught in the crossfire. It seemed like a pretty regular spot as the match picked up the pace, but then the referee began checking on the Lunatic Fringe, replays showed Ambrose grabbing his arm after Rollins connected and Sheamus nailed a Brogue Kick outta nowhere to pin Rollins. It felt like a bold booking decision with it seeming more like an angle than a legit injury (at least one caused by the move), especially after the lengthy face in peril sequence. There was an element of disappointment at not seeing the resulting hot tag, but that was mostly replaced with intrigue at what WWE's plan was. It felt like they were planting seeds for an Ambrose heel turn, which is what I've been hoping for ever since the Shield reunion storyline began. Later on, a violent backstage segment seemed to write Ambrose off television for a while as Cesaro, Joe and Sheamus jumped Rollins and Ambrose in the trainer's room, with Joe pushing a heavy looking production box onto Dean's already injured arm.
Cruiserweight Championship #1 Contender's Tournament Final // Cedric Alexander def. Drew Gulak // Pinfall
The best action on the show was found in the Cruiserweight division as Cedric Alexander and Drew Gulak put together a lovely match to conclude the tournament to a find Enzo Amore's next opponent. The bout had a similar story to that of the Rollins vs. Jordan, but a much better job with it, with big spots, credible selling and variety. The spot where both men tumbled to the floor stuck in a verticle position is always a hit with me and the fact it was used to build a story around a back injury for Alexander gets a double thumbs up from me. Gulak worked over the injury with numerous holds, whilst we also got to see that Alexander could potentially struggle to hit some of his offence. Within the constraints of the TV time the two did a stellar job of telling that story, whilst also putting on some lovely pro wrestling sequences along the way, making the most of contrasting styles. The sequence following a fire-up from Alexander was the highlight, with the two going back and forth, before Alexander nailed a running spanish fly for a good pop. Unfortunately the finish came across a little flat and forced, as we saw Amore leave the commentary table on his phone, inadvertently distracting Gulak and allowing Alexander to pick up the win with a Lumbar Check.
Around the match, there was a fair deal of storyline advancement, mostly involving the relationship between Gulak, Amore and Nia Jax. Amore's pre-match promo about Star Wars was a thing, but Gulak again stole the moment by comparing himself to Jar Jar Binks for a nice reaction. I'm unsure what to make of Amore's stretch on commentary as he had a severe case of verbal diarrhoea and just babbled utter nonsense all over the match. It stopped the commentary team from telling the story of the bout as effectively as they could have and had very little to do with anything at all. It was incredibly annoying, but arguably still entertaining. As a reviewer who is going to continue watching no matter what, it's hard to say whether annoying bable would've been enough for someone else, especially a casual to change the channel, but I certainly think Amore both as a performer and a character continues to walk a very thin line in that regard. We finished on a brilliant backstage segment where Gulak cock-blocked Amore with Jax, hamming it up to fuck as he apologised profusely to Enzo for losing the match. The Gulak/Amore relationship has produced some of the most entertaining television for the purple ropes and I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing how this story plays out and if WWE is able to give it a satisfying conclusion over the next few months.
Stephanie McMahon announced the first ever Women's Royal Rumble Match
Who would have suspected that a segment that began with an Elias Christmastime would conclude with Stephanie McMahon announcing the first ever Women's Royal Rumble match for 28th January? Well, it bloody happened, mate. McMahon returned amidst a roster-wide brawl after the match between Absolution and the team of Sasha Banks, Mickie James and Bayley ended in DQ win for the protagonists. The announcement is significant, of course, and there's argument on both sides for the Women's Royal Rumble, but having McMahon play such a pivotal role in it's announcement, whilst the division was presented as an almost faceless bunch of women, didn't sit well with me. The promo McMahon cut was fine, the usual motivational chatter about what the women have done in WWE for the last few years, but it felt unfair to make McMahon the star, whilst the everyone else was reduced to supporting cast, all happy for the opportunity. Credit to WWE for doing a couple of out of the box things though, having Sasha Banks and Mickie James interrupt the sing along produced a fun moment, with Banks and James looking more like stars than they both have for a while, whilst some of Michael Cole's quips on commentary got a chuckle from this cynical reviewer.
Finn Balor def. The Miztourage // Disqualification
Finn Balor & Hideo Itami def. The Miztourage // Pinfall
Another moment where the booking team had seemingly switched their coffee brand this week, the debut of Hideo Itami came out of left-field and was a nice little surprise. Obviously, it would've been better if it hadn't been trailed for 205 Live for the last few weeks, but I'm not sure anyone was expecting him to turn up in a match with Finn Balor, Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. I'm not quite how the handicap match that lead into Itami's debut was, as it went for way too long and I went to make a bowl of Tomato soup. (It was lovely, thanks for asking) The disqualification seemed like an odd move, but I popped for Itami's music and him storming the ring to help out the man who debuted on NXT by helping him out with The Ascension was lovely touch for long term fans. The tag match was also probably longer than it needed to be, but the stretch with Balor and Itami kicking ass was big fun and showcased the former GHC Heavyweight Champion wonderfully. The GTS to Axel was the cherry on top. Itami's appearance here and the fact that 205 Live house show tickets are not flying out, has me wondering if Vince is considering Balor to the brand as well...it's not a move I would be completely against, if Vinny hasn't seen the potential of Balor as a main eventer.
Brock Lesnar's Royal Rumble challengers revealed
Basically, this segment revealed what most had worked out already. Brock Lesnar will defend the Universal Championship against Braun Strowman and Kane at Royal Rumble. They may as well have said that Kane would be taking the fall in the match whilst they were at it. The angle was a mixed bag all in all, with Kane cutting a terrible promo and relying on cheaply referencing The Undertaker, Braun Strowman looking a little weird in the face and then Lesnar struggling to F5 the Devil's Favourite Demon. I say mixed bag, but what I really meant was this segment was a bit shit. The highlight came from Kurt Angle announcing the match as soon as Lesnar got in the ring and then quickly saying his "It's true" catchphrase and bailing from the ring. Oh and Kane sat up after an F5...oooooooh.
Asuka def. Alicia Fox // Submission
Asuka went to 8-0 on RAW, in her longest match since beating Emma on the RAW after TLC. Foxy got a nice little bit of offence in, including her Northern Lights suplex that I'm a mark for, before succumbing to a cross armbreaker in shy of four minutes. The presentation of Asuka since that initial week has been much closer to the mark, lets hope WWE can continue to build the aura and mystique around the Empress of Tomorrow.
Matt Hardy presented the battlefield for "The Great War"
DELIGHTFUL! Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy dazzled in their promos this week, benefiting from the two being placed in separate segments, rather than sliced up together like last week's. Wyatt's promo to camera was dark and mesmerising, whilst Hardy's daft "Woken" antics, including playing chess with a goldfish he believes to be Napoleon, felt so far removed from anything else WWE is doing. Holy shit, is WWE going to get this feud right?
The Revival def. Heath Slater & Rhyno // Pinfall
After being off TV since July, The Revival are back and ran through Rhyno & Heath Slater, picking up the victory with the Shatter Machine. We later saw Kurt Angle tell Rhyno & Slater that they needed to sort their shit out or he'd fire them.
This week's great moment in WWE history was Chris Jericho's WWE debut from RAW is WAR 324. (Originally aired 9th August 1999 from Chicago, Illinois), whilst a clip from this week's Total Divas saw The Miz make his wife Maryse eat some meat for some reason.
I was surprised to see not a whole lot promoted for next week's Christmas Day episode, which considering WWE has made the decision to air the show live for the first time is a little baffling. I was expecting WWE to put together almost a B PPV for the event with no RAW PPV this month, but it seems the company has decided to stick with announcing John Cena and hoping that will be enough for the event not to bomb.