With four week's til WrestleMania, this week's RAW saw a number of new matches formed and storylines developed. After a segment on Miz TV, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor would face off one on one, the RAW Women's title picture began to thicken as Mickie James faced Asuka and Alexa Bliss accidentally told the world how she felt about Nia Jax, Braun Strowman inserted himself into a battle royal to find a Number One Contender to Cesaro & Sheamus' RAW Tag Team titles, John Cena challenge The Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns confronted Vince McMahon about Brock Lesnar no-showing for the third week in a row and Sasha Banks went one on one with Sonya Deville as The Boss' issues with Bayley continued...but was it any good? Lets take a look.
Commentary - Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Jonathan Coachman, Cesaro & Sheamus
Interviewer - Renee Young & Charly Caruso
Ring Announcer - JoJo
The Miz, Seth Rollins & Finn Balor segment
A really fun edition of Miz TV saw the relationships between The Miz, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor fleshed out ahead of their Intercontinental Championship match on 8th April. The segment had similar elements to what we've seen Jinder Mahal doing over on SmackDown in the United States title feud between Bobby Roode and Randy Orton, but did it without needing a lame top 10 ranking list. Miz attempted to find friendship with both men, whilst simultaneously throwing out insults, especially towards Balor who he called a "great up and comer" and "The Man...in bingo halls", whilst the issues bubbling under between Rollins and Balor came to the forefront as well to a big pop. The segment was built nicely to it's conclusion with three strong performances, with Balor bringing some fire when getting in Rollins face and offering to fight him right there in Detroit and Rollins doing the same as he talked about the importance of the title and the match at WrestleMania, but it was Miz who owned the segment as he looked on with glee, rubbing his hands together as Rollins and Balor looked to come to blows. They'd eventually notice Miz and beat him down, before Rollins took the opportunity to blindside Balor at the close of the segment. These three put on the best action of the Men's Elimination Chamber last month and if WWE keeps adding fuel to the fire over the next three episodes then they should have a great three way at Mania.
Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Finn Balor got the better of Seth Rollins this time round, with the two showing glimpses of what we know they can do together, but taking quite a while to get there. The earlier portion of the match seemed to go on way too long and I honestly couldn't tell you all that much about the first six, seven or eight minutes, because not that much happened at all. Rollins controlled for a bit, Balor controlled for a bit, it was a run over of the trope of the match between two guys who respect each other, but not done all that well. It took way too long for things to heat up, but when they did, as the pair started trading stiff forearms it became a real enjoyable watch, as the two went back and forth resulting in a Pele Kick from Balor being answered by a jumping enziguiri from Rollins. Had this started a little earlier, it would have been great to see the intensity continue to be ramped up, but unfortunately the match was over soon after as Balor countered a Falcon Arrow from Rollins with a small package to pick up the win. The finish was a real nice piece of business, however, playing off a spot we've all seen from Rollins multiple times, whilst also boosting Balor after he'd had to face The Miz second a few weeks ago.
Asuka, Alexa Bliss & Mickie James segment
No real surprises from this segment with Alexa Bliss and Mickie James interrupting an in-ring interview with Asuka, as the Empress of Tomorrow gave her reasons for choosing Charlotte Flair as her WrestleMania opponent. Some jokes about Asuka's English being bad, Asuka's reasoning being that she wanted to face someone she hadn't already beaten and the crowd being impatient with Asuka's promo, despite it being pretty clear what the Osakan was saying. In fact, it was Bliss who seemed to struggle the most with her English! A perfectly fine segment, with good performances all round, but it played out exactly as expected and perhaps wasn't even that necessary considering Asuka is shifting over to SmackDown now. The most interesting part came at the conclusion as Bliss tried calling out an opponent for Asuka, who I'm sure we're supposed to assume was Nia Jax, leading to Mickie James blindsiding the 2018 Royal Rumble winner and this match taking place.
Asuka vs. Mickie James
Asuka goes to 38-0 in televised singles competition, tapping out Mickie James with the Asuka Lock at the conclusion of a short, yet enjoyable match, in front of a disrespectful Detroit crowd. This match was above and beyond my expectations, because honestly I'm not the biggest Mickie James fan and have found her increasingly sloppy since her return last year, but this was probably one of her most accomplished performances since then. Building around an injury suffered by Asuka, as her leg connected with the ringpost after James ducked a kick, the match did a good job at lifting up James' chances of victory and even if most fans know WWE wouldn't have Asuka lose 4 weeks out from WrestleMania, the injury at least allowed for a stronger and more impressive victory. The strongest part of the match was a lovely sunset flip powerbomb out of the corner from James, that landed with real impact, but unfortunately garnered a "CM Punk" chant from Detroit. This was a problem throughout the match and promo, as the crowd for whatever reason wasn't interested, chanting "Rusev Day" as well during the match. I'm not sure why Detroit didn't want this, but it didn't come across well on camera, especially considering they were ruining a perfectly good match by not paying attention.
After the match - Alexa Bliss confronted Nia Jax about not coming out when they called, whilst continuing to play the act of the manipulating boyfriend, with it also being revealed that Jax had a match next and that Bliss would be facing Asuka on RAW next week - Nia Jax squashed the debuting Joan King, winning with a Samoan Drop in under a minute
Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James segment
In a superb piece of television, following Jax's squash victory, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James appeared on the screen in the lockeroom and proceeded to bitch about Jax for a number of minutes, with the idea being that we could hear and see them because they were waiting to interviewed by Charly Caruso. At points this was a real uncomfortable watch, as Jax stood in the ring watching the screen, as James seemed to goad Bliss into saying increasingly cruel things about the Irresistible Force. With jibes about Nia's weight, including Bliss calling her "shrek" and saying she was as "dumb as she is big", WWE has to be careful how it presents this feud over the coming week's, but I think at this point its just about toeing the line and if Jax is presenting a successful and able to use her size to her advantage then we've got a real positive story here. The moment when Jax stood on the ramp, looking at the screen and then wiped away a tear before looking back up with rage and power gave me genuine goosebumps and a feeling that shit was about to go down. Bliss and James would eventually bail when Caruso informed them of the mistake, leading to Jax smashing the shit out of the lockeroom in a Braun Strowman-esque moment of fury. It's a shame that WWE hasn't had such a clear plan for Jax and Bliss over the last couple of months, because with some more clarity in the storytelling this would've been an even more impactful moment. That being said, I'm still very excited to see where this goes over the next three weeks and more than looking forward to seeing Jax finally get her hands on Alexa and the RAW Women's Championship.
RAW Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership //
Over-the-Top Battle Royal //
Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder vs. Rhyno & Heath Slater vs. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel vs. Apollo & Titus O'Neil vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Braun Strowman
Before the match - The entire RAW Tag Team division answered Cesaro & Sheamus' open invitation, leading to a big brawl - Cesaro & Sheamus demanded to be traded to SmackDown, but Kurt Angle refused and booked a battle royal with the winner facing The Bar at WrestleMania
What a bizarrely booked match this was, as Braun Strowman became the #1 Contender to the RAW Tag Team Championship. That fact alone should be enough to make you wonder what the hell WWE where thinking when they put this together, but there were so many moments that had me shaking my head throughout this. The story of the match wasn't all that bad as the various tag teams tried to work together to eliminate Strowman, but everything felt a bit heavyhanded in its application, including having the Miztourage and The Revival repeatedly ram Strowman with the steel steps on the outside. This wasn't helped by the commentary team pointing out that it was pretty stupid because Strowman couldn't be eliminated on the floor, no matter how much damage was done. Moving past Strowman there was a number of questionable eliminations, the most obvious one being The Revival being sent out by The Miztourage, moments after Dawson & Wilder had gotten some good heat for eliminating hometown boy Rhyno. The spot wasn't helped by a botch that saw Axel unable to get Wilder over the top rope first time round. I can't figure out what WWE is doing with The Revival at the moment, but its clear they don't see much of a future for what was one of the most entertaining teams in the company not all that long ago. The majority of this match was a mess and as much as I enjoy Strowman's destruction, I'm not sure I'm interested in seeing him run through an entire division and have a handicap match at WrestleMania. How does this division recover after WrestleMania?
John Cena segment
It's official, after week's of "will they? won't they?" John Cena finally challenged The Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania. Did Big Match John hold back when challenging one of the most respected professional wrestlers in history? The fuck did he! Whilst the bait and switch stuff with Cena saying he was going to Mania as a fan and drinking some blokes beer was fun, this segment was all about what the 15 time World champion had to say about Taker. The set-up to challenge with Cena referring to something he wasn't "supposed to do" was another case of WWE attempting to add elements of reality into their fiction and whether you bought that Cena was being a rebel or not by issuing is by the by, because the challenge go and enormous pop from Detroit. We've seen Cena throw bombs over the last few years at The Rock and Roman Reigns, but never at someone as universally beloved as The Undertaker, so his comments about Undertaker being a "self-centred, conceited egomaniac" really hit home and produced some fascinating viewing. The line about Undertaker not being "beat-up" because he posts "work out videos on [his] wife's Instagram" got a big reaction from the live crowd as well. With the challenge from Cena at this point going unanswered, it means we've got something to look forward to next week and considering the strength of Cena's comments, we know that The Undertaker won't take that kind of shit lying down. Who knows what their match at WrestleMania will look like, but when it comes to the build-up over the next three weeks, I'm all in.
Kurt Angle, Roman Reigns & Mr. McMahon segment
A real hot segment to kick off the show with, as Roman Reigns' on-going storyline continues to blur the lines between reality and fiction. This saw Reigns storm into the gorilla position to confront Mr. McMahon, after Kurt Angle announced Brock Lesnar would be missing the show for the third week in a row. Gorilla has rarely been shown on WWE's TV product, only occasionally getting glimpsed in documentaries, like WWE 24, so when it became clear what was happening it was actually pretty exciting to watch it go down. Wrestling fans love seeing the curtain pulled back, so seeing Reigns storm up to Vince, with Shane McMahon next to his Dad, despite being the storyline Commissioner of SmackDown, being a good touch to give the moment that "Ooh, is this real?" feel, as did Vince furiously telling someone to "Cut to commercial". WWE seems to be going through past elements of booking that have been successful for Reigns, including how Mr. McMahon was used to boost a failing feud with Sheamus and the worked-shoots and part-timer angle that helped make Reigns' feud with John Cena last September so fun to watch. Will it work and lead to Roman getting cheered against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania? Time will tell.
After the segment - Roman Reigns walked out of Mr. McMahon's office, before McMahon told Renee Young that he'd told Reigns to "Know his role and shut his mouth", before giving his word that Brock Lesnar will be at RAW next week and temporarily suspending Reigns.
Sonya Deville (with Paige & Mandy Rose) vs. Sasha Banks (with Bayley)
A poor match from Sasha Banks and Sonya Deville here, as Banks got the submission victory with a Banks Statement. The action was weak throughout, with the two failing to connect with each other and running through a number of sloppy sequences, with Banks in particular looking out of sorts. This was extremely evident during a sequence that saw Sasha use the ropes to hit a knee from the apron to Deville inside the ring, with Banks seemingly struggling with the ropes and the knee looking nowhere like connecting as the commentary team described it as a "glancing blow", whilst the follow-up meteora also wasn't one of Banks' best attempts. The highlight of the action was a big roundhouse kick to the chest from Deville, but I'd struggle to pick out anything more from this one. The finish involved Bayley pulling Mandy Rose off the apron, causing the distraction that gave Banks the win, as the Bayley vs. Banks story continues to burn slowly. Out of everyone I thought Bayley had the best performance in this match, standing on the outside, as she looked completely different to her usual bubbly self and appeared to want to be anywhere else. With three episodes left to set up the match, I wonder how long it'll be before WWE pulls the trigger and who actually comes out of this as the villain.
After the match - Bayley left ringside, allowing Absolution to beatdown Banks, opening up more questions about their friendship.
Also on the show
- We got a preview of The Ultimate Deletion as WWE showed us more of The Hardy Compound, alongside the debuts of Reby Hardy, King Maxel, Lord Wolfgang, Senior Benjamin and Vanguard1, before Bray Wyatt cut a chilling promo threatening Hardy's family - Kurt Angle would later appoint a referee for the match, which will take place next week.
- Kid Rock was announced as 2018's inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame celebrity wing.
- It was controversially announced that there would be a Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Considering the backlash, due to Moolah being trash, it will be interesting to see if WWE goes ahead with the name.
- WWE celebrated Indira Gandhi, India's only female Prime Minister, as part of Women's history month.
- Elias blamed the crowd for the injuries he suffered during last week's Symphony of Destruction match, before walking out.
ATPW Scale Rating // 5.36 out of 10
Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale