On 5th February 2018, WWE's RAW brand made it's return to Des Moines, Iowa after a three year absence and WWE presented what was a pretty stacked card on paper. You had the RAW Tag Team Championships on the line as Roman Reigns subbed for an injured Jason Jordan to join Seth Rollins in challenging Cesaro & Sheamus, with the stipulation that if Rollins & Reigns lost it would be Rollins last shot at the titles. You had John Cena, Braun Strowman and Elias battling over the chance to enter the Elimination Chamber last on 25th February. And you had Roman Reigns pulling double duty to renew his feud with Bray Wyatt with a spot in the Elimination Chamber on the line. But could the show deliver on its promise? Let's take a sweet-ass look at how it all went down!
RAW Tag Team Championship // Cesaro & Sheamus (C) def. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns // Disqualification
This week's main event was a solid RAW Tag Team title bout, that was heading into recommended match territory before Jason Jordan (who had been replaced by Roman Reigns after being unable to compete due to injury) interfered and gave Cesaro & Sheamus the disqualification victory. The bout featured good solid tag team foundation sort of stuff, with Reigns operating in the face in peril role, after Sheamus caught a Seth Rollins suicide dive into an Irish curse backbreaker. The crowd were super hot for Rollins to get in the ring from after the ad-break as Cesaro & Sheamus worked over the Big Dog, bringing in a couple of distractions and cut offs to get some heat and build towards the hot tag. Rollins hot tag is bloody brilliant at the moment, he's got a number of moves that are exciting to watch, like the blockbuster and slingblade, and also threw in a couple of suicide dives for good measure, the sequence was full of energy and performed with precision. The fact that this happened in his homestate of Iowa meant the crowd was rocking as well.
The finish was disappointing to see, because the match had began to feel like it was heading in the right direction. In fact, Jordan even coming to ringside (in his ring gear, like a twat), made me groan a little, but I'm pretty sure that was the aim or at least that's where Jordan's character has been heading for the last few months. We did get a lovely series of near falls off of Jordan's interference, with Jordan blocking Cesaro from capitalising on a poke to the eye leading to Rollins getting a two count off a tight small package. Whilst it meant we didn't get the great finishing stretch that I was hoping for, having Jordan cause the disqualification develops the storyline with him and Rollins further, with Rollins doing a sound job of selling his disappointment and frustration with the Illinoisan following the finish. A heated backstage confrontation with Rollins and Jordan being mediated by RAW General Manager Kurt Angle featured some good performances and concluded with Angle sending Jordan home to recover from his neck injury.
Last Entry in Elimination Chamber // Elias def. John Cena and Braun Strowman // Pinfall
The show-closer was relatively short, but did receive a good amount of build-up throughout the show. WWE continued their trend of using hand-held promos, with John Cena and Braun Strowman both getting some time to put themselves over and push the match. Cena's promo was the most interesting, with Strowman's amounting to pretty much "get these hands", as Big Match John, talked about the Road to WrestleMania whilst walking up and down a corridor. Because a road is a bit like a corridor, I suppose. There were highlights of Strowman murdering Kane last week and Elias beating up Cena on RAW 25 as well, before Elias hit the ring to sing us a song. More often than not I enjoy these little ditties and Elias' ramblings about town's being shitholes and the same was the case here. It's fun to see how much the crowd enjoys joining in where Elias allows and hearing the Drifter discuss his hatred of small towns was a blast as well.
The match wasn't much, but was an easy watch nonetheless. The narrative felt a little blocky, but there was at least a logic to how things went down. Strowman was dominant, Elias and Cena combined to keep him out of the match, Cena and Elias wrestled for a bit, Strowman returned, Elias nicked a pin on Cena following a Strowman running powerslam. The most interesting section of the contest was Strowman taking a barrage of abuse from his two opponents, including a guitar shot from Elias and an Attitude Adjustment onto the steel steps from Cena. There was plenty of spirit at this point, with the crowd on-board, and it made complete sense that this would be happening. The rest of the match then struggled to keep up, Elias and Cena's section was rather dull, mostly consisting of a prolonged chin lock from Elias, with it feel like the two were simply wasting time before the Monster returned. Surely, Elias would want to put his opponent away as quickly as possible before Strowman recovered and would look for power moves rather than a weak looking weardown? After Elias had gotten the win, it was Strowman who ended the show tall, hitting a plethora of running powerslams on both of his fellow Elimination Chamber combatants.
Elimination Chamber Qualifier // Roman Reigns def. Bray Wyatt // Pinfall
My main positive coming out of this match was that it started the show and the new back-to-back to-camera promo situation that WWE played before the two took to ring. At best I could describe the in-ring action as okay, because whilst I often found myself a little bored, there was also a handful of cool spots (even if these were recycled from their 2015 feud). I had enjoyed the pairs match at Battleground 2015 and thought their subsequent singles matches on TV were at least interesting, but this was often slow and plodding, lacked the thudding physicality of their previous outings and even verged into sloppy territory at points. The crowd seemed to be almost completely lost when both men spent a long time on the mat following a sloppy sitout powerbomb from Reigns, but suddenly began chanting "This is Awesome" after Reigns kicked out of Sister Abigail. If in doubt do a finisher kick-out. It's a shame to see someone kicking out of the move that was so heavily protected on SmackDown last year, especially when I still couldn't bring myself to imagine Wyatt going over Reigns. A spear got the win after Reigns escaped a second Sister Abigail attempt, before Matt Hardy ambushed Wyatt with a Twist of Fate after the match.
Asuka def. Bayley // Submission
This was a mixed bag of a bout, starting strong and finishing brightly, but with a flabby middle that saw Bayley seemingly losing her way slightly. The match structure was well thought out, with Bayley hitting some big moves early, knocking Asuka off the top and sending her into the barricade twice, to allow the Hugger to look like a threat to the undefeated Empress of Tomorrow, before after a period of Asuka dominance the two launched into a lovely finishing stretch, trading pinning combinations and submissions, before Bayley finally submitted to the cross-armbreaker. The main thing that held the match back was Bayley looking out of sorts at times, whether she'd taken a knock of simply wasn't on top of her game I don't know, but a lot of her offence looked sloppy and her feeding and timing both seemed out of sync with what was going on around her. Asuka is now 12-0 in singles competition since moving the main roster.
Elimination Chamber Qualifier // The Miz def. Apollo Crews // Pinfall
A short, but fun match, that's main success was in making Apollo Crews look like a genuine threat to The Miz, despite having not won a singles match on RAW since September. After The Miz had cut a rambling promo about constellations, claiming to have won the Super Bowl for the Philadelphia Eagles and the potential of facing Brock Lesnar, the match was lively throughout and featured a number of very convincing near falls for the former Open the Twin Gate Champion. These included Crews pulling out his old indie finisher, the Uhaa Combination (standing moonsault, followed up by standing shooting star press) for a very late kick-out from the Intercontinental Champion, before also being able to counter the Skull Crushing Finale for an even later escape. The latter was so close that WWE decided to replay the pin in slow motion just to show that the referee had made the right call. I've got a lot of time for Crews and it's nice to see him getting more time to show off his skills, he certainly won't have been hurt by a loss to the Intercontinental Champion, especially with the finish involving Crews getting pushed balls-first onto the top rope!
Finn Balor & Karl Anderson def. Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder // Pinfall
The booking of The Revival at the moment bothers me. This week's match was announced to involve Finn Balor battling the team's Dash Wilder, only for the former NXT Tag Team Champions to challenge Balor and either Luke Gallows or Karl Anderson to a tag match instead, because they are "tag team specialists". Logic would then dictate that Wilder and Scott Dawson would find a way to win, they had prior knowledge of their plan to make it a tag bout and also Balor and Anderson hadn't tagged up as a duo since 2013 in Tokyo. Coming out claiming to be tag team specialists, only to lose to an unprepared tandem only serves to make The Revival look like utter losers. Maybe this was the plan, they've hardly been booked effectively since being called up. The match itself was technically fine, with a basic tag structure, featuring an Anderson hot tag and a Coup de Grace from Balor to Dawson for the win, but I couldn't get past the short-sighted booking.
Kurt Angle announced the Women's Elimination Chamber competitors
Kurt Angle seemed to channel from General Manager Mick Foley in this segment as he stumbled over his lines as he announced the participants for the Women's Elimination Chamber. At least Foley would've bought a bit of passion to proceedings, because, to be honest, it sounded like Angle both would've preferred to have been anywhere else and wasn't actually familiar with the talent he was announcing for the match. It's difficult to push the idea that women are being treated on the same level as the men, when one; a man is the only person present when the participants are revealed and two; the men's Elimination Chamber has had qualifying matches taking up three weeks of television time. RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss' interruption and promo had some good content, which she delivered with conviction, bringing up a number of the flaws with the Women's Evolution and the fact that Brock Lesnar wasn't having to defend his title at the event. If she's being switched face then the promo worked, if this was supposed to be a heel promo it felt a little bit like creative were taking a dig at the women, by having Bliss try to use the movement for her own personal gain. The EC match is Bliss defending her title against Bayley, Mandy Rose, Mickie James, Sonya Deville and Sasha Banks if you were wondering, with Asuka scheduled to face Nia Jax at the event as well.
Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali def. Drew Gulak & Tony Nese // Pinfall
This match was simply here to get new 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick (formerly Rockstar Spud in Impact Wrestling) out on commentary to get over his character and discuss the ongoing tournament to crown a new Cruiserweight Champion (following Enzo Amore's firing for rape allegations). Maverick did a good job on comms, interacting well with the trio of Michael Cole, Jonathan Coachman and Corey Graves, revealing that we could very well see a number of surprises amongst the 16 man field of the Cruiserweight Championship tournament. The match itself was solid filler stuff, a basic tag team match with nothing to play for. Alexander appeared to take a nasty fall on his shoulder after taking a clothesline from Gulak whilst sitting on the top rope, but seemed to be fine later in the bout. A pacy finishing sequence followed the hot tag with Gulak pulling out a wicked lariat on Ali, before Alexander entered the fray once more to seal the win with a Lumbar Check. Personally, I'm not sure why the competitors in tomorrow's tournament matches on 205 Live weren't in this one as a bout pitching opponents Hideo Itami and Roderick Strong against Lince Dorado and Kalisto would've had a little more intrigue and made it easier for commentary to discuss the tournament.
Mickie James def. Sonya Deville // Pinfall
This match was mostly ugly looking strikes and mild awkwardness. Mickie James hammered Sonya Deville early on, including a shot that seemed to connect directly with Deville's nose, before Deville came flying back with some of her own later on. I love a strong-style clash, but this was more uncomfortable to watch than enjoyable. The little wrestling on display included a horrible looking snapmare attempt from James that seemed to take an absolute age to pull off. James would pull out her first singles win since August, catching Deville with a roll-up to conclude a poor match in just under four minutes. The post-match featured an interesting development as Alexa Bliss saved James from a beat-down from Deville and Absolution stablemates Paige and Mandy Rose. I'm imagining we're going to see Bliss looking to rekindle a partnership with James as an attempt to counter the potential partnerships of Deville & Rose and Sasha Banks & Bayley inside the Elimination Chamber at the end of the month.
Nia Jax def. Vanessa Floyd // Pinfall
A quick squash match for Nia Jax, winning with a leg drop after dominating Vanessa Floyd (seventeen year old Glory Pro trainee Savannah Stone). Post-match, Jax was interviewed and cut a promo on Asuka ahead of their match at Elimination Chamber, threatening to make the Empress of Tomorrow, the Empress of Yesterday in a horrible piece of scripting.