It's Two Thousand and Eighteen, lads. New Year's Day brought us the first Monday Night RAW of the year and WWE put together an intriguing card for the American Airlines Center in Miami. After Roman Reigns got disqualified in an Intercontinental Championship match with Samoa Joe on Christmas Day, this week saw Reigns put the belt on the line once again in the main event, with the caveat being that if the Big Dog was disqualified he'd forfeit his title. Newly-crowned RAW Tag Team Champion Jason Jordan battled former champ Cesaro and the undefeated Asuka collided with RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss in a fascinatingly poised non-title clash, whilst General Manager Kurt Angle, Kane, Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, RAW Tag Team Champion Seth Rollins and "Woken" Matt Hardy also made appearances.
Did we learn anything about the direction of WWE's product for the upcoming trip round the Sun? Let's take a look, ATPDubbers.
Intercontinental Championship // Roman Reigns (C) def. Samoa Joe // Pinfall
This week's main event received some heavy build across the opening two hours, with a lengthy hype package (especially for a TV bout), as well as three backstage segments. The hype vid was your regular look at the history of the feud, focusing on Joe's attack on Reign's Shield partner Dean Ambrose, as well as the DQ finish to their encounter last week. I thought the backstage stuff was done well, with the two interviews having some real impact and punch behind them. Reigns looked confident and assured on the microphone (something he seems to have gotten much more comfortable with since the John Cena feud last September), but Joe's promo was utter fire. Joe spitting his words out with a throw back intensity and general bad-assery was just perfect, the kind of thing that makes you wanna see two big lads throw each other around. The line about turning Dean Ambrose into a "stay-at-home husband" whilst being interviewed by Ambrose's real-life wife, Renee Young, got a gorgeous reaction from Miami, with Young selling the comment just right too. Joe has been almost untouchable on the microphone recently.
The title match was an enjoyable heavyweight collision between two opponents who have become increasingly familiar with each other over the last 11 months. Joe's intense and fiery beatdown from the bell gave the match a real sense of urgency that helped it hold it's sizeable television time and also featured as a driving force for the bout's main narrative. That being that if Reigns was disqualified then he'd lose the title. This stipulation has been used many a time over the years and can often come across as a little lame, with a handful of worn-out spots. Luckily, I didn't get that feeling here, as Joe just seemed determined to rile up the champion as much as possible, playing on the emotional reaction we saw from Roman last week. The only moment that felt a little laboured was Reigns clattering into the referee after a push from Joe, as Reigns pleading with the ref not to disqualify him, and all that went with it, was a bit too pantomimey for my tastes. That being said, it did help create some needed drama down the stretch and the crowd seemed to go for it.
The highlight of the match was Joe locking in the Coquina Clutch in the middle of a fire-up from Reigns, because it got an amazing reaction from the Miami audience. At that point it felt like the crowd were super ready to see Joe take the Intercontinental title and I'm sure it would've got an even bigger reaction had he managed to grab the title from Reigns. However, after Reigns slipped out of the move and won a few minutes later with a spear, it seems like we're well on the road to another WrestleMania title challenge for the Big Dog (and surely a FOURTH main event in a row), as Joe was only one of two men Reigns hadn't been able to best this year (The other being Kevin Owens if you were wondering). Where does this leave Joe on the Road to WrestleMania? There's the obvious Dean Ambrose collision on the horizon, whenever he's back, I suppose.
Jason Jordan def. Cesaro // Pinfall
This match would come about in a frankly confusing opening segment. It began with Kurt Angle announcing the rules for the Women's Royal Rumble match (They're the same as the Men's) and then concluded with Angle booking Jason Jordan vs. Cesaro. Why on earth weren't ANY women involved in the announcement of the rules? This was perhaps a worse move than having Stephanie McMahon the star of the original match announcement...BECAUSE THERE WERE NO WOMEN INVOLVED AND THEN SOME MEN INTERRUPTED THE ANNOUNCEMENT! It's not hard guys. The rest of the segment was super wordy and mostly focused on Cesaro and Sheamus accusing Angle of "favourtism" towards Jordan and then Jordan looking like a dork and getting booed. Surely, the match that followed up between Jordan and Cesaro would pick things up a notch?
Actually, yeah, it did. Whilst the crowd weren't particularly paying attention, The Swiss Superman and Chad Gable's former pal wrestled a lovely television match, with a good story that played out nicely across it's ten minutes or so on-screen. The idea that Seth Rollins wasn't really into helping out his fellow Tag Team Champion at ringside, whilst Sheamus' constant interference on the outside allowed Cesaro to control the majority of the match was made clear early on. Whilst Rollins could've been more involved in lifting the crowd, his presence served the storyline well. Now, let's talk about Jason Jordan's selling...because it was sublime here. Cesaro worked the left leg after a distraction aided chop block and from that moment onwards the injury was kept firmly in view as Jordan hobbled through the match, struggled to hit certain moves and even had to use a one-legged bridge after a Northern Lights suplex. It's a shame that Jordan was lumbered with the gimmick of being Kurt Angle's son, because without it he actually has real potential as a babyface. Bringing the story full-circle, Rollins finally came to Jordan's aid, taking out Sheamus at ringside, giving Jordan the chance to hit his as yet unnamed belly-to-back suplex dropped into an elevated neckbreaker finish and only for JJ to completely ignore The Kingslayer after the match!
Asuka def. Alexa Bliss // Submission
Whilst the women didn't get the chance to be involved in the announcement of the rules for their Royal Rumble match, Asuka and Alexa Bliss were involved in one of the feature bouts of the evening, getting a good deal of time. Completing a hat-trick of good upper card matches, this was another contest with a great story, that played into the strengths of the performers and made Asuka look like a boss without doing a massive deal of harm to Bliss or the RAW Women's Championship in the process. We'd seen earlier in the show that Bliss was doing anything she could to get out of the match or to find some kind of advantage with Kurt Angle and then Nia Jax refusing to offer their help (Jax was taking some soup to Enzo Amore in hospital, because why the fuck wouldn't she be?), so Bliss stalling repeatedly and then clawing her way into the contest, using a modified bow and arrow on the ringpost made perfect sense. It was a shame that Asuka's comeback featured some of the worst looking dropkicks I've ever seen. I'm not quite sure what was wrong with them, but Bliss seemed to be taking the move in a way that I've never seen it taken before and it took a bit of wind out of the sails for me. Of course, the Empress of Tomorrow would get the win with an armbar, but Bliss looked credible in defeat, lasting longer than anyone has on RAW. But what exactly happens next? If Asuka doesn't automatically get a title shot, then there needs to be a damn good reason why found over the three weeks moving towards the Royal Rumble.
Finn Balor, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel & Elias // Pinfall
For the first time since April 2014 in Tokyo, Finn Balor tagged with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson and whilst the match was a straight squash, that didn't stop it being a cool moment, that popped the smarks amongst us good and proper. Gallows and Anderson looked reinvigorated as babyfaces, with Anderson even pulling out a slingshot dive to the floor in the closing stages. They've now got the opportunity to really run with their "Nerds" catchphrase for a little while, before an inevitable contest with The Shield. It was a shame that before we got to the match we had a piss-poor concert segment with Elias and The Miztourage. I thought the idea of Elias was that he's actually not that bad at playing his guitar and singing and that, but he just says dickhead-ish things about wherever he is and looks like a hipster twat. This weird Auld Lang Syne parody with cow bells and those bells that come on sticks veered more into the Jillian Hall territory. This is surely more likely to cause people to switch over, rather than give a shit about seeing them get beaten up.
Kane attacked Brock Lesnar
I was pretty indifferent about the show-closing segment. I'm pretty indifferent about the match it's promoting. Paul Heyman's promo about Lesnar being able to beat everyone in the Royal Rumble in one go was a little odd, but mostly Heyman's usual intensity and vigour was there, so it ended up decent. Kane coming out and just chokeslamming Lesnar was a decent interaction, I suppose. Lesnar sitting up and laughing directly afterwards was a fun call back to THAT WrestleMania match with The Undertaker, who we all know is Kane's brother, so that was decent. Then they had a bit of a scrap and some lower card lads came out to stop it going too far and someone doing the other a mischief, which whilst a little confusing, was in it's own way...decent. To be quite honest, I'm still trying to work out what Kane's doing in a World (Universal) title match in 2018.
Bray Wyatt def. Apollo Crews // Pinfall
This match made me smile for the sole reason that it was the longest match that Apollo Crews has EVER had since moving to the main roster in April 2016. I mean, it was only just over ten minutes (with some taken up by an ad break), but we got to see Crews actually use some of the offence that makes him stand out, so that's a start right? For me, this competitive match did much more for Wyatt than a 2 or three minute squash would've done, as we were allowed to see him take a bit of a beating, as an impressive 17 stone bloke pulled out Standing Shooting Stars and moonsaults off the apron, only to almost brush it off in the conclusion, rebuffing a spin-out powerbomb and nailing a snap Sister Abigail to seal the victory. I could've done without the Dana Brooke falling off the apron spot though, because it did absolutely nothing for the match or anyone involved. I'm not sure what was dafter about the post-match antics, Matt Hardy turning up on the screen and then the image of him multiplying in the same space or Wyatt acting like he was scared of the editorial wizard in the production booth. This was certainly the weakest part of the "Woken" angle so far.
Goldust & Cedric Alexander def. Drew Gulak & Ariya Daivari
Because Enzo Amore ended up in hospital with the flu, we didn't get to see Cedric Alexander get his advertised Cruiserweight Championship match...instead we got Goldust. Google says Goldust in 260 lbs and who am I to argue with Google. Goldust is 260 lbs. I understand the logic behind putting the character in there with a Cruiserweight division that has struggled to grab the audience (mostly down to awkward and inconsistent booking), as Goldust is a well-loved veteran, whose name may encourage a few extra clicks on the YouTube video. But I'm not exactly sure how this helps anyone in the long-term (or even beyond Wednesday afternoon tbqh). I don't remember Goldie even taking any offence here. He got the hot tag after a minute or so and then Alexander pinned Gulak with a Lumbar Check, after some admittedly cool interplay between Goldust and Alexander as partners. I guess, there's the element of Alexander getting a rub off of tagging with Goldust and being endorsed by a future Hall of Famer, but on the flip side two of the three 205 Live competitors to appear on the show ended up looking like complete chumps.
Braun Strowman def. Rhyno // Pinfall
This was a magnificent moment. ICYMI - Braun Strowman just kept powerslamming Rhyno and Heath Slater. There was a match, but it's inconsequential when put up against what followed with all the powerslams and that. Strowman did some slamming, his music would play, either Slater or Rhyno would move a toe and then Strowman would slam them again. The crowd was hot as shit for it, I was chuckling my little titties off and my Dad was looking on confused as he tried to take the lights off our plastic Christmas tree.
Also this week...Whilst a jazzy Auld Lang Syne played in the background, we heard from Bayley then Sasha Banks and then Paige, Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville of Absolution on why they're gonna win the Women's Royal Rumble...There was a look at DX Invasion of WCW from April 1998 (because some people hadn't heard about that yet)... We learnt The Miz will be returning next week on RAW... Booker T potentially died when trying to discuss the Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble...
All in all I thought this was a pretty good way to start the year for the red brand. Yeah, there was some baffling moments like the opening segment, whatever Matt Hardy was supposed to be doing on the tron and Goldust rocking up in the Cruiserweight division. But if you haven't realised you aren't going to like everything on a three hour RAW yet then you're gonna be a pretty miserable person. The three uppercard matches delivered and all told dynamic and different stories, plus we got Finn Balor tagging with Gallows & Anderson, a decent length Apollo Crews match and Braun Strowman powerslamming Heath Slater and Rhyno to death. That's a solid enough haul to keep me happy for this week.