It was the final Monday Night RAW before Elimination Chamber and WWE threw us a curveball with one of the longest matches in company history. The match included all seven competitors for Sunday's Universal Championship #1 Contendership Elimination Chamber and produced a number of interesting clashes including Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns, Rollins vs. John Cena and The Miz vs. Finn Bálor and took up around two thirds of the episode. But how did it all go down in Phoenix, Arizona? Lets take a look!
Gauntlet Match // Seth Rollins def. Roman Reigns // Pinfall
Wowza, what a unique way to kick off RAW this week and what should hopefully prove a brilliant way of promoting the upcoming PPV. I'm going to go match by match on this one, I think, so lets begin by discussing Seth Rollins pinning Roman Reigns with the Curb Stomp, evening the pairs series at three a piece, following a very good opening match. The match went a surprising twenty minutes and the two put in a lot of effort, mixing a number of their previous spots with some early technical exchanges and a superb sequence for the finish. Reigns worked well in the tweener roll here, taking his time and playing to the crowd as Rollins took a beating and looked every inch of the top babyface I've been asking for since he turned in September 2016. He sold the beating and a leg/knee/hip injury whilst making a fierce comeback that included a pair of suicide dives and the Talking Stick Resort Arena was super into it. They were more into the finish though as Rollins managed to counter both a spear and a O'Connor roll attempt to pin Sunday's favourite clean with a roll-up and getting a big pop from the crowd in the process.
Seth Rollins def. John Cena // Pinfall
The match of the gauntlet however would come as Rollins was able to pick up a second victory, pinning John Cena, after a curb stomp. This was an epic match, going over 30 minutes and taking the gauntlet match to just shy of an hour. After the excitement of Rollins match with Reigns, the pair cleverly brought the crowd down and held them exactly where they wanted them for a good twenty minutes, with Cena taking on the heel role and soaking up time with a methodical approach, with the commentary team doing some of their best work explaining how Cena was looking to conserve energy. This was helped by Big Match John pulling out a number of moves that he's used rarely, if ever, on television, including a modified TKO-style stunner and a trifeca of belly to belly suplexes, meaning the bout didn't actually feel like seeing a John Cena match. Seth Rollins continued to give what may have been the performance of his WWE career, a performance full of gorgeous selling, for both the injury and his desperation to defeat Cena and good old fashioned fighting spirit. Not all of the spots looked as good as they could have, but when one considered that Rollins had been wrestling for north of 50 minutes, I think we'll let that pass. With the crowd growing with the match with the performers and following the story, the finish bought the whole thing together as Rollins missed a Phoenix Splash, Cena nailed an Attitude Adjustment and then did a Mark Haskins-esque roll through to go for another (because I don't think anyone but Baron Corbin has been pinned with just one in the last three years), only for Rollins to slip free and nail the Revolution Knee and a Curb Stomp to advance once more. The sequence was lovely, pulling together all the elements of the story that had been told, with Cena frustrated at being unable to put Rollins away and Rollins desperate to prove himself. The match with Reigns was very good, but Rollins' match with Cena should be required viewing.
Elias def. Seth Rollins // Pinfall
The fairytale run for Rollins was brought to half by Elias, who downed the two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion with a pair of jumping knee strikes and a Drift Away. The shortest match of the gauntlet, this was a suitable end to Rollins' story as he battled well against the Drifter, leaving Elias looking like a ruthless bastard in the finish. Seth's fire and determination to stay in the match shone through and he even got a decent roll-up near fall on the way, with the crowd still very much behind the Architect. It felt like the right decision to give the defeat of Rollins to Elias, who as the most unlikely to win the Elimination Chamber on Sunday, he was the one who most needed a big victory. Whilst it came after Rollins had already competed for almost an hour, a victory over a top competitor like Rollins gives Elias something to hang his hat on heading into and out of WrestleMania. Personally, I think a cheap win (something simple like holding the tights on the pin) would've helped Elias even more, as the crowd were so hot for Rollins that the heat for this could have been incredible.
Finn Bálor def. Elias // Pinfall
Beginning a pattern that would last for the rest of the match, Finn Bálor eliminated Elias from the match with a Coup de Grâce, in what was the least interesting match of the gauntlet. That isn't to say that there wasn't any good work here, because there certainly was and on a normal episode of RAW this probably would've been a highlight, but the crowd and the match was coming down from the drama of Rollins' three matches and this bout was a little drawn out to keep the momentum going. I would've preferred to have seen a bit more of a sprint here, with both men looking to put each other away early, perhaps learning from the mistakes that John Cena made in his match and throwing all their top moves at each other early, in an attempt to get the win in kayfabe and to grab the crowd in reality. The pair both did some solid work however, with the match using some sound psychology with Elias viciously focusing on Balor's injured shoulder, whilst Balor didn't go after the ribs that had been injured by Braun Strowman last week until the very end, hitting a double stomp that would eventually launch him to victory. Balor sold well, with right arm held against his body, but after Rollins performance it felt like the Irishman struggled to gain sympathy from it.
The Miz def. Finn Balor // Pinfall
After losing to John Cena last week, the Intercontinental Champion The Miz needed a victory this week and he duly got that win this week, pinning Balor with a Skull-Crushing Finale, after a match that was full of interference from Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel, The Miztourage. This match continued in very much the same vein as the Balor vs. Elias match, but with Miz able to garner more heat by using the Miztourage to distract Balor during the entrance and with about five minutes lopped off the runtime. Having Dallas go after Balor's right arm with the Miz blocking the referees views may have been my favourite bit of the contest, until Balor launched himself past the Miz and over the top rope onto the Miztourage, nailing a lovely topé con giro on Dallas & Axel, before flying into his comeback sequence of enziguiri, slingblade and shotgun dropkick. The final two minutes bought a match that had lost most of its momentum following Rollins' elimination back up, before after fighting Axel and then Dallas off whilst on the top rope, Balor found himself crotched on the top rope, with Miz getting the win with the SKF.
Braun Strowman def. The Miz // Pinfall
The gauntlet concluded with a perfectly booked Braun Strowman vs. The Miz match, with Strowman putting the Intercontinental Champion away with a running powerslam at around the ten minute mark. This ended up being a lot more fun than I was expecting, with the cowardly Miz and the dominant and destructive Strowman working well together, with the match featuring a number of spots that emphasised the characters. Miz running away from Strowman at the start the match, only for the Monster amongst Men to charge him down like a stampeding rhino, Strowman hitting a ridiculous English dropkick out of the corner and then a well-worked near fall that saw Dallas diverting Strowman's attention before a Skull-Crushing Finale gave Miz his only near fall of the bout. Miz worked as a great foil for Strowman throughout the match, from his facial expression when he realised he'd have to fight Braun to getting launched out of the ring onto the Miztourage after the Skull-Crushing Finale, Miz really helped to get over Strowman as a force of nature. Of course, after the match, Strowman continued to plough through Miz, Dallas and Axel with multiple running powerslam to the delight of the crowd. I'll be interested to see how this plays into Elimination Chamber on Sunday, where The Miz is scheduled to enter the match at #1.
Sasha Banks, Mickie James & Bayley def. Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville // Submission
Outside the Gauntlet match, the bout afforded the most attention on the episode was six woman tag bout between the competitors from the first women's Elimination Chamber as Sasha Banks, Mickie James and Bayley went over RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss and Absolution members Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville (with Paige at ringside) as Bliss tapped to the Banks Statement. Considering this went on last and had a good deal of time, I felt a little underwhelmed by this one, as beyond a really good hot tag from Banks, that included her hitting the meterora in various positions, there wasn't all that much of note in the match. Bliss not wanting to be in the ring with James was a nice bit of storyline development, but could've been used more often, whilst James' first hot tag looked extremely sloppy. We've seen so many women's six person tags on TV over the last few years that I'm not sure why they didn't go for a three way tag match here with Banks & Bayley vs. James & Bliss vs. Rose & Deville, as a more effective way to setting up the idea that their are three sets of partnerships in the Chamber this Sunday. After the match, Absolution beat down Bayley and Banks, before James made the save for Bliss and the pair hit a double DDT on Rose. I think its worth pointing out that whilst the men received an hour and twenty five minutes to promote their Elimination Chamber bout, the women got just over fifteen minutes.
Apollo & Titus O'Neil def. Cesaro & Sheamus // Pinfall
The newly surnameless Apollo and his Titus Worldwaiiiidddee boss Titus O'Neil picked up their third victory over RAW Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus in the last month and half in a match that certainly happened on RAW. The match only went about four and a half minutes, with the heel tandem dominating before Apollo got a roll-up win on Cesaro, with nothing to get all that excited about, other than the fact this was a clear case of WWE shoe-horning a match onto a PPV card when they realised they hadn't booked enough for the show. It is however good to see Crews getting a continued push after taking a number of opportunities that WWE have given him over the last few weeks, including wrestling a RAW main event two days after a three match excursion to PCW. Hopefully, he doesn't get lost in the mix at WrestleMania and continues to be featured more on TV as 2018 goes on.
Nia Jax attacked Asuka
The final push for Nia Jax vs. Asuka on Sunday featured a promo from the Empress of Tomorrow before an impactful beatdown from the Irresistible Force. Asuka's in-ring interview with Renee Young seemed like a mistep, that put Asuka in a vulnerable position, with the live crowd seemingly impatient when the former NXT Women's Champion stumbled over some of her lines. For the most part, Asuka was very clear and has a good promo style considering she's not speaking in her first language, but after the stumble it seemed the crowd decided not to listen to the rest of what she had to say. Perhaps, a pre-tape would've worked better. Jax's attack initial saw Asuka get the upperhand with some massive strikes, including a vicious spinning backfist, before Jax's size and untamed power saw her able to catch Asuka off the top rope for a samoan drop. The scrap worked as a nice preview of what we might see on Sunday, whilst also showing us undoubtedly the most vulnerable Asuka we've ever seen, setting up both an interesting tussle and the idea that Asuka's undefeated streak might come to an end at Elimination Chamber.
Also This Week
- Jeff Jarrett was announced as the fourth member of the 2018 Hall of Fame class, joining Goldberg, The Dudley Boyz and Ivory.
- Highlights of Ronda Rousey's WWE return at Royal Rumble, alongside comments from Charlotte Flair, Naomi and Stephanie McMahon, interviews from various talk shows and training footage that is surprisingly not from the Performance Centre. Rousey signs her RAW contract on Sunday at Elimination Chamber.
- Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy both cut promos that were spliced together, after it was announced they'd be facing off at Elimination Chamber.
- Roman Reigns & Titus O'Neil discussed the Memphis Sanitation Strikes as part of Black History Month.
- A moments silence for the victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that occurred on 14th February. Our thoughts are with the victims families and friends.
ATPW Scale Rating // 5.58 out of 10
Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale