Wednesday, 28 February 2018

WWE Monday Night RAW Review // 26th February 2018

With Elimination Chamber now in the rear view mirror, the road to WrestleMania for the RAW brand was beginning to clear, as this week's show featured the Intercontinental and RAW Women's titles heavily. As The Miz demanded to find out his opponent for WrestleMania he competed in back to back matches with Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, whilst a number of women's divisions storylines and developments were included in a six man tag team match as Mickie James, RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax clashed with Sasha Banks, Bayley & the undefeated Asuka. But how did it all go down in Anaheim? Lets take a look! 

Commentary - Michael Cole, Corey Graves & Jonathan Coachman 
Ring Announcer - JoJo 
Interviewers - Renee Young & Charly Caruso

The Miz demanded to know his opponent for WrestleMania 

This week's main storyline revolved around the Intercontinental Championship, beginning with The Miz discussing his plans (or lack thereof) for WrestleMania XXXIV. The main idea of the segment was that Miz didn't have a scheduled opponent and that General Manager Kurt Angle was doing some mad shit, that might've involved whoever Miz's opponent was on the show. Miz was on good form here, making the most of his time on the mic, as he took the audience on a real journey through a number of clearly identifiable topics, such as being 62 days away from being the record holder for combined days at IC Champion, the lack of his merchandise available at the show and how Angle not having a clear plan for him at The Grandaddy of Them All was a disgrace. Like all good heel promos it was easy to see where Miz was coming from, but also easy to dislike the way he chose to voice those opinions, as he used a variety of vocal levels to keep the crowd engaged, including loudly shouting his point towards the end. The section where he complained about his merch, felt eerily similar to CM Punk's pipebomb promo, whilst having the character also moan about not being in the main event of WrestleMania also felt like a sly dig at the Best in the World from WWE.


Seth Rollins def. The Miz // Pinfall

With the idea that Kurt Angle was considering him for an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania, Seth Rollins continued his rich vein of singles form with a victory over The Miz, following the Revolution Knee and a ridiculous Frog Splash in the best match on the show. The fight built well from a simplistic base of dropdown, leapfrog, hiptoss sequences, with plenty of interference from Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel at ringside and loud invested audience. Seriously, Anaheim reacted to every movement of Rollins' comeback and it was magnificent to watch, making all the difference and showing just how over he's became following last week's superb gauntlet match performance. The action wasn't overly complicated but was done well, but it was the structure of the match that drove it, with match being paced properly and the big moments seeming to come at the extra right moment for the crowd. The energy for the finish, which saw Rollins on an absolute rout as he took out the constantly interfering Miztourage with a suicide dive was off the charts, as Seth continues to be on fire right now. It could've gone a little bit longer, but with the time constraint the two did a bloody good job. Hopefully the hip injury that seemed to occur off a slingblade on his original comeback sequence isn't too serious for Seth Rollins as he's in a great position to do something big over the next 6 months.

After the match - Finn Balor headed to the ring, leading to Seth Rollins walking out of the ring as he shook his head - The Miz vs. Finn Balor quickly ended in disqualification as Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel interfered with Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson evening the odds, before Kurt Angle restarted the match with everyone banned from ringside 


Finn Balor def. The Miz // Pinfall

Finn Balor gave The Miz his second loss of the evening, picking up a pinfall win over the Intercontinental Champion following a Coup de Grace, after an alright match. This match would've been better off if it had taken place next week, for a number of reasons, as whilst there was nothing wrong with the action, I felt a little uninterested in what was going. Firstly, having the heel Miz battle in two unannounced matches in a row felt like a misstep as the first note of this story, because it undoubtedly creates sympathy with a character I'm not supposed to like, whilst also damaging the victory for Balor in the process. Secondly, the match felt like a step down from the Rollins match, because as much as I like Balor, he isn't in nowhere near the same form as Seth is right now, either in the ring or with the crowd. Thirdly, having the Miztourage banned from ringside removed some of the fuel that has been firing Miz's matches lately and after having already lost one match made it more difficult to believe that the A Lister would be able to be competitive with Finn. That being said, there were a couple of nice sequences in this one, including Balor going for a reverse slingblade with Miz blocking and setting up for a Skull-Crushing Finale before Balor rolled through for a good near fall and Finn using the "Yes" kicks on Miz as Corey Graves exploded on commentary.

After the match - Seth Rollins was interviewed putting down Balor for interrupting him, before challenging Miz to an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania

Mickie James, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax attempted to spring a trap on Asuka

An interesting opening segment, began with Alexa Bliss officially reconciling with Mickie James and boasting about her Elimination Chamber victory and concluded with the RAW Women's Champion nailing Asuka with a right hand that knocked the Empress of Tomorrow to the mat, with Nia Jax, Bayley and Sasha Banks all getting involved. The structuring was a little awkward and felt a little bit forced, but in the middle of it all was a great promo from Bliss who excels when given this kind of character work to do. Bliss can simultaneously come across as a bad ass and an annoying brat when on the microphone, which is a real talent and she did a very good job of controlling a crowd that seemed a little rowdy at the start of the show. She put over James's history in WWE, called Bayley a "sad situation" and claimed she could break Asuka's streak at WrestleMania, all with that trademark Bliss swagger and attitude. I'd like to see more of that permeate her matches. The heat she got for talking loudly and slowly at Asuka was brilliant and managed to fall just the right line of "I'd really like to see you get punched in the face". Indeed, however it was Bliss who'd get to hit Asuka in the face, after it turned to all be a trap for a Nia Jax attack, even after Sasha Banks and Bayley had tried to make the save. 


Sasha Banks, Bayley & Asuka def. Mickie James, Alexa Bliss & Nia Jax // Submission

We weirdly shifted to a six woman tag team match out of the break, which ended up being a real mixed bag, as Asuka tapped out Mickie James with an arm and knee bar combination to win it for her team. There were a number of different storyline developments going on, there was some good wrestling, there was some sloppy wrestling, this was a very busy trios match. The main culprit of the sloppiness was Alexa Bliss, who had a number of awkward moments with both Bayley and Sasha Banks, with the Women's Champion seeming to struggle with her positioning a handful of times in the match. Bayley and Mickie James also looked out of sorts at times, but they also opened with a rather lovely sequence, so I'll let them off this time. Banks put in the best performance of the match, flying in with a fun hot tag, that included lots of meteoras, after tagging herself in on Bayley to audible boos. Obviously, the Banks/Bayley storyline continued after the Chamber with Bayley refusing to tag in when Banks had taken a lengthy spell as the face in peril, which was juxtaposed well when Bayley came back into the match to help Asuka when she was being double-teamed by James and Bliss. This felt like a much more important six woman tag than we've seen for months and even when the action wasn't the best I felt like there was at least a reason to keep watching with the various feuds that were involved.

RAW Tag Team Championship // Two out of Three Falls // Cesaro & Sheamus (C) def. Apollo & Titus O'Neil // 2-0

Why Apollo & Titus O'Neil got another shot at Cesaro & Sheamus' RAW Tag Team Championship wasn't clear, but their 2-0 loss was a much better match than the contest the teams had the previous night at Elimination Chamber. The distraction and Brogue Kick getting the pin on O'Neil within seconds of the opening bell could have come across as one of those lame falls you get in multiple fall matches and I have to admit that I was a little worried when that went down. However, that first fall ended up putting some real steam into the second fall, meaning the action was hotter, more physical and felt more important than what we saw on Sunday. It meant that a wicked series of near falls for Titus Worldwide felt like each one could've seen the scores evened, with a roll-up from Apollo and a standing moonsault standing out as the two best moments of the match. It also meant that O'Neil showed a whole new side of his game, displaying real anger when finally getting tagged back into the match, teeing off on Sheamus and producing a much more satisfying hot tag as the Real Deal looked like he had a purpose for once. The 2-0 victory builds up Cesaro & Sheamus as unstoppable when the belts are on the line and opens an interesting question about how Apollo & O'Neil will be handled heading into and out of WrestleMania.

After the match - During a fun interview, Cesaro & Sheamus claimed that they would be punished at WrestleMania, because "there's no one left to beat"

Braun Strowman def. Elias // Disqualification

Before the match - Braun Strowman claimed he was going to perform a symphony of destruction on Elias - Elias cut a promo about noise pollution, citing Corey Graves' commentary as possible cause, before being cut off by the roar of Braun Strowman's music. 

The Braun Strowman and Elias feud got kicked up a gear this week, as the two competed in a match that ended in disqualification, after Elias used a fire extinguisher. The action was solid, if a little lengthy for what it was, as Strowman dominated the Drifter for a good 90% of the match, with splashes, strikes and biels. Elias got just enough offence in to make it no a complete squash, often using Strowman's offence against him by repeatedly blocking a big splash with a boot to the face, but it was clear that Elias didn't have much to stop the Monster Amongst Men for long. Whether this feud has enough legs to last until WrestleMania I'm not convinced, but the two could get a fun match out of a hardcore based gimmick, perhaps involving guitars and 2018 Hall of Fame inductee, Jeff Jarrett in some way. 

After the match - Elias attempted to continue his assault with the fire extinguisher, but after Strowman rallied Elias was able to escape getting powerslam through the announce table by raking Braun's eye and legging it out of the arena, leaving Strowman to scream "I'm not finished with you!" 

Triple H laid out Kurt Angle, after Stephanie McMahon had apologised to Ronda Rousey 

My main takeaway from this segment was that Ronda Rousey is much better on the microphone when she has an issue to work with, than she is simply addressing a crowd as we saw on Sunday. When she headed out, with her hair tied up, to confront Triple H and Stephanie McMahon she felt like she had a purpose and looked like an absolute bad ass, whilst her later demanding an apology from McMahon upped the ante, putting a real focus on the tension that was present throughout the whole promo. The segment was also peppered with a number of comic moments, that got good laughs from the crowd and kept things feeling comfortably entertaining, amongst the tense scenes that were the rest of the segment. Angle saying he needed the job before trying to back out of what he said on Sunday because he had "double pneumonia" got an audible laugh from Anaheim, as did McMahon getting right up in Rousey's face only to apologise for the slap. The segment ending with Triple H punching Angle in the noggin gave us something to tune in for next week as the story develops, with the commentary team doing a good job of getting that over, even if the punch itself didn't look brilliant.

John Cena tried to work out his Road to WrestleMania

Another intriguing promo came from John Cena, who attempted to lay out his plans for WrestleMania, before announcing he'd be heading to SmackDown Live the next night to try and figure out where he fits on the card for the Show of Shows. The promo focused on a theme which WWE doesn't focus on a whole lot, but really should do more often, that being failure. Cena has touched on this in part during the build to his WrestleMania XXIX match with The Rock, but this felt like a much more effective version of that story. Cena has lost two thirds of his PPV matches since WrestleMania XXXIII, unable to win the RAW vs. SmackDown Survivor Series match, the Royal Rumble, the Elimination Chamber and losing a big singles match to Roman Reigns and this theme catapulted the segment, which remained fascinating throughout because it felt like it had no clear direction, suiting Cena's story. The challenge being laid down to The Undertaker to a great reaction, only for Cena to tell us that match is currently impossible was the most captivating part of it all, because why mention it if we're not going to see that match? It feels like its only a matter of time before the Deadman shows up, but for what reason and why he'd return to face Cena is yet to be discovered. Perhaps we'll see Big Match Cena having to put something on the line to tempt the Deadman out of retirement? 

Roman Reigns addressed Brock Lesnar

Hot damn, this episode's promo streak continued with a hella good effort from the Big Dog, as Roman Reigns slayed Brock Lesnar on the microphone for apparently no-showing the event. This was one of his best efforts on the microphone, calling back to his feud with John Cena last September as it blurred reality with fiction, aided by a real fire that seemed to be burning underneath The Shield member. He ripped into Lesnar for not showing, for flirting with the UFC and only defending his Universal title four times since winning it from Goldberg at WrestleMania XXXIII. The reference to the UFC and the lockeroom feeling disdain towards the Beast for his special treatment felt like they came from a very real place of frustration from Reigns and whether it really does doesn't matter all that much. What did matter was that a crowd that was initially against Reigns when he came out, was mostly onside by the end of the promo and if we can pair that with a couple of good matches on TV heading into the event, then we might see a crowd that isn't attempting to steal Reigns' moment from him in New Orleans on 8th April. 

Also This Week

- Bray Wyatt beat the shit into Rhyno and Heath Slater, before cutting a promo saying that the loss to Matt Hardy at Elimination Chamber had forced him to do so...the feud continues!

- Jarius "JJ" Robertson, a 15 year old double liver transplant survivor who has worked to raise awareness for organ donation, was announced as this year's Warrior Award recipient 

- Seth Rollins, alongside Noelle Trent from the National Civil Rights Museum, discussed the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as part of Black History Month.

- Braun Strowman and The Big Show imploding the ring with a superplex from the 17th April 2017 episode of Monday Night RAW was shown for some reason.

ATPW Scale Rating - 6.18 out of 10 

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale

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