With just under three week's until WrestleMania, the latest episode of Monday Night RAW came to us from Dallas, Texas for the first time since 2016's RAW after Mania. The show featured the culmination of the Bray Wyatt and "Woken" Matt Hardy feud as the two faced off in Ultimate Deletion at the Hardy Compound, Asuka putting her streak on the line against RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss, the return of Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, a six man tag between The Miztourage and The Balor Club, an escalation of the issues between Bayley & Sasha Banks as they faced Absolution's Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville, John Cena demanding an answer to his WrestleMania challenge to The Undertaker, Braun Strowman vs. RAW Tag Team Champion Cesaro and Titus Worldwide taking on The Revival...but was it any good? Here's our review.
Commentary - Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Jonathan Coachman & Seth Rollins
Interviewer - Charly Caruso
Ring Announcer - JoJo
The Ultimate Deletion //
"Woken" Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt
Before the match - As Queen Rebecca played the piano, Matt Hardy introduced us to King Maxel and Lord Wolfgang, told Vanguard1 to scan the Hardy Compound for an intruder and Senor Benjamin to prepare the battlefield - Hardy discussed his plans for the match with the spirit of George Washington, now inside a giraffe - Hardy took a trip around the Lake of Reincarnation, inside his dilapidated boat, Skaarsgard
So, The Ultimate Deletion finally arrived, with Matt Hardy victorious over Bray Wyatt, and it was...good. I'm not sure it was TNA's Final Deletion levels of madness, but it was much closer to that than the House of Horrors thing we saw last April, which is a massive positive. The close camera work produced a claustrophobic feel, that was difficult to get used to at the start, because of the match coming at the tail end of a three hour RAW. The idea of the two moving between different "zones" within the Hardy compound was a cute one, with the on-screen graphic helping to create the feel, with the match shifting in tone numerous times because of this. This could have been jarring, but I felt like the darker moments gave the comedy a more unexpected feel, which helped some of the more out there times. I would've liked Bray to have been a bit more engaged in the wackiness, as his character has more potential than what was shown here, with most of the memorable moments coming from Hardy's utterances, like when he tried to work out whether to use a "chair with wheels" or a "mower of lawns" on his opponent. The finish was the best part of the whole thing, being completely absurd and felt like WWE fully embracing the concept, as Hardy disappeared after Vanguard1 had caused a distraction, Senor Benjamin throwing an inflatable globe (take that Flip Gordon!) at Wyatt (who had found Benjamin hiding under Skaarsgard) to catch, with Benjamin and a debuting Brother Nero singing "He's got the whole world in his hands", before Hardy returned to win with a Twist of Fate. It was very daft and presumably not everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed this a lot, especially the second half. Overall, it was simply just a treat to see the Broken Universe fully realised on WWE television, making what felt like an endless and, at times, directionless feud feel worthwhile.
After the match - Matt Hardy pushed Bray Wyatt into the Lake of Reincarnation, with it being insinuated that Wyatt had perished in the water by Senor Benjamin.
RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss (with Mickie James) vs. "The Empress of Tomorrow" Asuka
Before the match - Alexa Bliss made it clear that she wasn't sorry for what she said about Nia Jax last week in a fairly run of the mill promo for the Goddess. Your classic Bliss bait and switch situation, before being interrupted by Asuka for the match.
Asuka remained undefeated this week as Alexa Bliss ended up losing by countout after attempting to walk out on what had been a sloppy match. I'm not quite sure what the issue with this bout was, but as soon as Asuka got on offence it went downhill quickly with Bliss taking a number of weird bumps off Asuka's attacks, alongside a weird moment where they dicked around the ropes for a bit and then Bliss took a back bump. Whatever it was it didn't work. Whilst 80-90% of the match didn't come together as well as it should have, there were two nice moments of action that stopped the match from being a complete dud, as Bliss jumping out of the way of a leg sweep from Asuka and immediately landing a dropkick, as well as a Code Red out of the corner from the RAW Women's Champion both looked lovely. It's also worth noting that Dallas was pretty into the match, especially the Code Red near fall. After some fumbling around Bliss spent a lengthy period in the ankle lock before attempting to get out of dodge with the help of James, which at least wasn't another pinfall or submission loss for the champion before WrestleMania.
After the match - Nia Jax charged down to ringside and chased Alexa Bliss through the crowd after sending Mickie James head-first into the ringpost - After Bliss complained about Jax, Kurt Angle made a match between Bliss and Jax for the RAW Women's Championship at WrestleMania.
Brock Lesnar returns
Ruddy hell. After week's of boiling under nicely with no appearance from Brock Lesnar, the Universal title feud was kicked up a gear or two as The Beast returned and brutally assaulted WrestleMania challenger, Roman Reigns. Takeaway the transparency of what WWE have been doing with Reigns lately, because elements of the fanbase will never be convinced for whatever reason they have, this was a great piece of WWE theatre from start to finish. Reigns turning up despite being suspended last week gave him a rebellious edge and even if destroying three US marshals whilst handcuffed was a bit heavy handed and should probably result in Reigns missing WrestleMania, it was at least a fun thing to watch. I think that was the main takeaway from the segment, as the subsequent appearance from Lesnar, as he destroyed a still handcuffed Reigns was at what ever you chose to watch it at an entertaining situation, with a number of well-timed moments tent-poling the segment. Both the initial appearance of Lesnar and when he returned as Reigns was being carted out on a stretcher produced a good sense of foreboding as you knew exactly what was going to happen (whilst Reigns played both moments well) and either you got excited because you dislike Roman Reigns or it made it dislike the Brock Lesnar character for assaulting a defenceless Big Dog. I'm big into this feud at the moment and look forward to seeing what WWE has in store on the final two episodes before WrestleMania.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz, Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel vs. Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson & Finn Balor
Before the match - The Miz cut a promo about not being on the cover of "WrestleMania Magazine", which had echoes of CM Punk once again, whilst also promising to send "Tyler Black and Prince Nevitt (sic)" back to the bingo halls in a weird moment.
Nothing special to be found in this six man tag, as Finn Balor got the win for his team with a schoolboy roll-up pin on WrestleMania opponent The Miz. Most of the action was solid, yet unspectacular, with it often feeling like the teams were simply trying to get through the bout and move on to next week, with nothing getting past second gear. The Miztourage have their act pretty nailed on, with lots of creative heely cheating here, as they targeted Balor early on, which made a lot of sense considering Balor challenges for Miz's title in less than three weeks. The one moment of weirdness came as Karl Anderson seemed to struggle with Miz's snap DDT routine, leading to an atrocious looking chain of action, that hurt the match heading into the break. I wasn't a massive fan of the finish either, as Balor and Miz went for the overused reversal of Skull-Crushing Finale, where the person taking jumps when taking the move and rolls through for a pin, before a slightly clunky series of reversals and nearfalls lead to Balor getting the win. The three-way rivalry between Balor, Miz and Seth Rollins (who was on commentary) had been moving at a nice pace and whilst this week didn't quite put the brakes on the IC title feud, it did end up taking the creative foot off the accelerator a little.
After the match - Seth Rollins made the save for Finn Balor after The Miztourage attempted to assault the Irishman, with the Rollins and Balor having a staredown to conclude the segment.
Sasha Banks confronts Bayley
We got the closest we have so far to getting some form of explanation for the ongoing issues between Bayley and Sasha Banks this week as the pair got some mic time before their match with Absolution. Whilst I am interested in the feud and there's a couple of good ideas in there, this segment felt a little forced to me, with Bayley especially not bringing much conviction to her promo. That being said, the content she was supposedly given to work with wasn't the best as she had lines like "it ate at my core" and motivation being that Banks smiled after she kicked her off the pod at Elimination Chamber. We again saw glimpses of Banks "Legit Boss" character when she told Bayley she'd allow her to apologise to her, but I think it's taking a little bit too long to get into the meat of this feud. Sometimes a slow-burn can be effective, but the content needs to be stronger than what these two are being given and actually play to their strengths, rather than putting them in awkward positions like this one. It wasn't a bad segment, but it could have been a lot better with either better or looser scripting. Absolution would interrupt before we'd find out anything significant and we'd head into the match.
Bayley & Sasha Banks vs. Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville (with Paige)
A decent tag team encounter saw Absolution's Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville pick up a big victory over Bayley & Sasha Banks as the issues between the later continued to cause them issues. This was a pretty standard tag team match structure, with the relationship between Bayley & Banks being used as fuel to keep things interesting throughout as both women would tag in on each other at various points. It was hardly revolutionary storytelling but it worked well enough within the time and was highlighted by a rather lovely hot tag from Bayley in the final third. There were a couple of moments of awkwardness, mostly revolving around the Absolution duo struggling with pinfalls, as well as a sloppy hiptoss from Banks to Rose at one point. The finish obviously played on the Bayley/Banks relationship as Banks ended up inadvertently distracting the referee by attacking Rose as Bayley had a backslide pin on Deville, before more arguing between the pair allowed the New Jersyan to pick up the win with a jumping roundhouse kick. I'd like to see WWE get a bit more creative with this feud sooner rather than later, as whilst it's been okay, it's been very paint by numbers and has quite often failed at getting into what had made the relationship between the pair interesting in the first place, that being their juxtaposed characters and history in NXT.
John Cena wants an answer from The Undertaker
Another firey promo from John Cena this week, as Big Match John looked to find a way to get The Undertaker to face him at WrestleMania, before Kane turned up and chokeslammed the 13 time WWE Champion, leaving the audience with more questions than answers with just two more episodes before WrestleMania. Cena's promo was a natural progression of what we saw last week, with no answer from The Undertaker on Cena's Mania challenge, as John went in hard on The Deadman with an angry, almost rant-like speech about what he believed to be cowardice. Cena's performance the last two week's have been spot on, managing to portray a number of different things at the same time, as it appears more like the character is simply trying to rile up Undertaker, rather than believing what he's actually saying. Some of the lines in this were superb as well with the pinnacle being "You are not the God that they made you, you are the man that you've allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.", as it built towards the coward line and pulled on a number of topics Cena had discussed previously. Adding Kane into the mix is a good way to prologue the feud with Undertaker having to appear, but having the commentary team wonder whether it will be Cena vs. Kane at WrestleMania seems counter-productive, as I'm not sure many people would either be interested in seeing that match on the biggest stage or would even buy into the possibility. It'll actually be Cena vs. Kane next week on RAW , when hopefully Kane's brother will finally make his appearance post-match.
Braun Strowman addresses having to choose a tag team partner for WrestleMania
So we didn't actually find out who Braun Strowman will be tagging with at WrestleMania, but we did get a Mighty Boosh reference from Sheamus. I can forgive Sheamus stumbling all over his promo and having to repeat himself a few times, because he mentioned "Old Gregg" and Old Gregg's got a mangina. What more do you want from a promo? Seriously though, I wonder how many people watching actually got the reference that was tucked away in between Black Panther, Captain America, Ricky and Morty and Dallas Cowboy's owners references. Who cares it worked for me, so fuck everyone else. The rest of the segment was Cesaro & Sheamus telling Strowman they'd give him a beatdown and Strowman being like "Nah pals, you wo" and we'd transition into a match between Cesaro & Strowman, after Sheamus had bluffed that he'd help fight the Monster as well. Oh, there was also a weird moment where it was implied that Cesaro & Sheamus were sleeping together that really popped Dallas for some reason, but felt kinda dated from where I was sitting.
Braun Strowman vs. RAW Tag Team Champion Cesaro
A fairly straightforward Braun Strowman match here as the Monster Amongst Men put away one half of the RAW Tag Team Champions with a running powerslam after catching a crossbody attempt. With just over of five minutes of television time for the bout, the two worked a solid encounter, that saw most of Cesaro's offence coming from dodging a Strowman attack or from a Sheamus distraction, whilst the Swiss Cyborg struggled against the power of his #1 contender. Within the structure there was a number of good highspots, including Braun catching Cesaro diving off the steps and ramming him into the barricade and Strowman charging around the ring to shoulder barge the fuck out of Sheamus, whilst the best wrestling could be found in a nice sequence where Cesaro attempted the Neutralizer and the springboard spinning uppercut to no success. I guess next week we'll see Sheamus step in against the Monster and then at some point we'll find out Strowman's partner of choice, with my money on a returning Big Show.
Apollo & Titus O'Neil vs. Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder
The Revival put away Titus Worldwide with a Shatter Machine to Apollo in what was a completely random, but all-action tag bout. There was some really nice stuff in this bout, especially when Apollo got tagged in, with the Georgian working well with Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder on a couple of sequences.
After the match - The Revival announced themselves as the first entrants into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Also on the show
- An extended sit-down interview with Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle, featured an emotional Rousey discussing her previous exploits and how they've lead her to be ready for the Grandest Stage of The All, with very little from Angle. It's weird that WWE announced Rousey would be at every RAW between Fastlane and WrestleMania and now she's missed two in a row.
- Mark Henry was announced for the 2018 Hall of Fame class, with a package including interviews with The Godfather, Xavier Woods, The Big Show and The Rock. No problems with Henry's induction here, he's given the company over 20 years of services, had over 1000 matches with them and his 2011 World Heavyweight title run and Hall of Pain gimmick was one of the highlights of the early part of this decade.
- This week's "Hungry for Mania Moment" was John Cena defeating John "Bradshaw" Layfield for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21.
ATPW Scale Rating //
5.5 out of 10
Written by James Marston //