It was the penultimate episode of Monday Night RAW this week, but could WWE keep the push going for the biggest show of the year. With still no reply from The Undertaker, John Cena took on Kane in a No Disqualification match, Universal Champion Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman addressed the beating Lesnar gave Roman Reigns last week, Ronda Rousey returned after a two week absence whilst Triple H & Stephanie McMahon trained for WrestleMania, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor were the guests on Miz TV, Braun Strowman took on RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus, Elias faced Rhyno, Nia Jax warmed up for her RAW Women's Championship match at Mania by taking on Mickie James, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson were up against The Miztourage, the Cruiserweights returned to RAW as Mania opponents Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali faced TJP & Drew Gulak and Asuka took on local competitor, Jamie Frost...but was it any good? Here's our review.
No Disqualification Match // John Cena vs. Kane
Before the match - Kane cut a promo in his red rape room, telling John Cena that he should have left The Undertaker alone and he was sending Cena to hell tonight.
A fun and inoffensive house show no disqualification match between two competitors who have faced off 70 times since 2008 (both televised and live events), as John Cena unsurprisingly went over Kane with an Attitude Adjustment through a table. There's very little getting round that this was a house show, complete with a house show finish, with a couple of trinkets added to place it within the current timespan. Cena did a couple of Undertaker's taunts as he tried to get The Deadman to answer his WrestleMania, which got a good reaction and worked for what was needed. It was clear however, that the pair had done this match a number of times before, although the spot with Kane suplexing Cena onto a barricade near the announcers table was a nice addition. The ending took a little too long to come, with two spots that featured a lot of fannying around by tables, but overall this match was exactly what I had expected it to be and nothing more. Cena goes over Kane, the story is moved forward without the need for The Undertaker to appear, the match is watchable, but not worth searching out.
After the match - John Cena cut another promo on The Undertaker, going over some old ground and calling The Deadman a coward for not showing up during the match, despite the No DQ gimmick. This was a solid bit of final set-up for next week, when surely The Undertaker will make his appearance to confirm the match.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman address last week's attack on Roman Reigns
Another strong segment in the Universal title feud this week, as Brock Lesnar left Roman Reigns laying in the middle of the ring for the second week in a row. This week's segment felt very similar to last week's by it's conclusion, but got there in slightly different route, beginning with a good promo from Paul Heyman. Heyman speaks in a way that may go over the head of a portion of the fanbase, but has enough charisma to draw them in no matter what, whilst those who are willing to listen and understand what he's saying get the most out of his words. A sentence that essentially boiled down to calling himself the best speaker in WWE history, but even he couldn't describe the assault last week was magical work, that put over the attack much stronger than simply describing it would have. The build to Reigns' appearance, walking in through the crowd once more, was also very strong with Heyman berating Roman for not being in attendance and blaming his up-bringing, leaving the moment just long enough that it felt like the Big Dog might not show up, meaning the appearance got a lovely crowd reaction. The beatdown was similar to last week, with Lesnar quickly gaining control before setting to work destroying his challenger with a chair and step. All this worked as a nice preview for two weeks time at WrestleMania, although I worry that WWE could go too far with this and end up giving Reigns a "superman feel" which is something we've seen the fanbase push away from in recent times.
Triple H & Stephanie McMahon prepare for WrestleMania
I wasn't mad about this training montage/interview, mostly because the interview ended up being repetitive and seemed to go on for an unnecessary amount of time. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon must have told us that Ronda Rousey was stepping into "their world" and that this wasn't judo about five or six times across the six minute video. It was cool to hear from their personal trainer, but the whole video felt more like an exercise in public relations than it did a hype package for a match or an attempt to get more heat come WrestleMania. There were two moments that I did enjoy, with the first being Triple H discussing his previous issues with Kurt Angle, with this being an area of the feud that could really do some development, as WWE seems to be missing a trick in mining the past history involving Angle, Triple H and McMahon. The second was the duo discussing how they would "repackage" Rousey following WrestleMania after they had humbled her, with the language used evocative of what we've come to expect from WWE when signing talent who made their name elsewhere.
RAW gets Rowdy
Basically, Absolution interrupted Ronda Rousey saying some more of the same stuff, before Rousey took out Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville. I didn't really get this segment, to be honest, because Absolution have looked pretty awful as a group since coming up anyway, seemingly dropping in value every time they appear on television, whilst Rousey didn't need to be built up in this manner, because everyone and their dog knows she's tough as nails. The beatdown was fine and having Kurt Angle stop Rousey from breaking Deville's arm was an interesting touch, even if I'm not sure how that can be played into the storyline with Triple H & Stephanie McMahon, but whatever. The segment wasn't helped by an annoying promo from Paige, in which she used the word "babygirl" no less than four times in a couple of minutes, as she attempted to get Rousey to join Absolution, as well as Deville missing her cue leading to an awkward moment where Sonya half-caught Rose off a leg capture suplex. I've probably been a little harsh on the segment, but I just didn't see the point and it did nothing to deliver the on-going story in any way.
Miz TV with Seth Rollins and Finn Balor
Some creative cheap heat from The Miz, some planted seeds for a Miztourage rebellion, some fun babyface work from Finn Balor and Seth Rollins and a crowd that ate up every moment, this was a really good segment in what has been one of the highlights of the Road to WrestleMania. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel turning on The Miz was the angle that I didn't know that I wanted to see, so to tease it here, as Miz used it to lull Rollins & Balor into a false sense of security means that when it does happen it will be a much bigger moment than it was here and hopefully give Dallas & Axel an opportunity to push on up the card. All three men played it really well, with the highlight coming when Miz named Mr. Perfect (Axel's late father) amongst the Intercontinental Champions that he was better than. It was nice to shift the story onto Rollins & Balor trying to cause trouble for The Miz and it has to be said that the two have potential together as a duo, as they showed nice chemistry and bounced off each other well. The segment could have done with a more impactful conclusion, as Balor nailing Rollins with a clothesline, after Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson had taken care of Dallas & Axel and Balor & Rollins had downed Miz, didn't quite feel like the exclamation point that such an enjoyable segment needed to feel completely satisfactory.
Braun Strowman vs. RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus (with RAW Tag Team Champion Cesaro)
Before the match - Cesaro & Sheamus demanded to know who Braun Strowman's partner would be at WrestleMania, with Strowman saying he'd tell them...if Sheamus could defeat him next.
A similar match to what we saw between Braun Strowman and Cesaro last week, with Strowman putting Sheamus away in around four minutes, after dominating most of the match despite plentiful distractions from Cesaro at ringside. The commentary team pushed that Strowman may have hurt his knee on a fall to the outside, but it was never quite made clear by the performers, whilst Sheamus' period of control was mostly a rest-hold which I think even the Celtic Warrior knew wasn't the best course of action in kayfabe or otherwise. Apart from a single Beat of Braun, after the Monster reversed the Ten Beats of the Bodhran from Sheamus and a neat finish where Sheamus missed a cornered Brogue Kick, there wasn't all that much to get excited about here and whilst I'd still describe the match as a fun watch, there's no doubt that it came off as a poor relation of last week's Strowman vs. Cesaro match.
Elias vs. Rhyno (with Heath Slater)
Before the match - Elias brought his cheap heat musical stylings to Cleveland, ripping on one of their spots teams in song form. Despite giving no shits about any American sports, it was still quite funny to hear how the crowd still reacts to something like this, as I'm sure it would work nowhere other than America.
Elias went over Rhyno with Drift Away after a nothing match. Yeah, that's about all there is to say, not exactly a squash, but not really anything else either.
After the match - Elias attacked Heath Slater, delivering another Drift Away.
Nia Jax vs. Mickie James (with RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss)
Nia Jax continued her build towards WrestleMania with a victory over Mickie James in an okay match. Whilst the match wasn't exactly long, I would've liked to have seen a more dominant display from Jax here, with some of her power moves looking a little relaxed at points, whilst James got in too much offence for what should have been a straight-forward bout. The overall idea was nice with Jax's left leg, that had been injured by an Asuka knee bar a few weeks earlier, giving James the opening to gain a short advantage, which I'm sure will be a similar pattern to what we see at WrestleMania between Jax and the smaller Alexa Bliss. I thought a couple of Jax's power moves looked a little tame, with a couple of biel throws in particular not having as much impact as I would've liked to have seen. However, Jax seems to have gained some traction with the live audience, as she got a good response throughout the match, particularly for the finish where Nia gorilla-pressed James into the air before dropping Mickie into a samoan drop to seal the victory.
After the match - Alexa Bliss attempted to jump Nia Jax, but ended up having to run away.
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel
I'm not sure why this didn't come directly after the Miz TV segment, but nonetheless Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson picked up Balor Club's third victory in a row of The Miztourage in a simple tag bout. This really was a basic encounter, a paint-by-numbers tag team match with Luke Gallows taking the hot tag for his team after some minor antics from Axel & Dallas, before a near fall off the Boot of Doom lead into Gallows pinning Axel following the Magic Killer. Passable stuff that filled some time on the show, but entirely forgettable and probably unnecessary as well, but what you gonna do?
Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali vs. Drew Gulak & TJP
The Cruiserweights returned to RAW this week, after a being absent for a month or so, as WrestleMania opponents Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali picked up a quick victory over Drew Gulak & TJP in a straight-forward tag bout. This was a regular tag structure with Ali as face-in-peril and Alexander on the hot tag, producing some fun action, especially through off the Alexander tag. Ali did overshoot on a tope con giro (or perhaps Gulak was a little too far forward) but apart from that everything here looked nice and had an energy behind it. It was a shame to see Gulak & TJP lose so quickly, because they both have a lot to offer the purple brand and will be needed after WrestleMania to help the brands growth, but it makes sense to have Alexander & Ali as the focus, with the match finishing with a game of one-upsmanship as Ali tagged himself in to take the pin on TJP with an 054, after Alexander had hit a Lumbar Check. I'm looking forward to seeing these two lads kill it at WrestleMania and get the credit they both deserve for their hardwork on Tuesday night's over the last year or so.
Winner of the First Ever Women's Royal Rumble Match "The Empress of Tomorrow" Asuka vs. Jamie Frost
Before the match - Charly Caruso interviewed the debuting Jamie Frost, who was apparently having her first professional match tonight, but was inordinately confident about beating the undefeated Asuka.
Asuka beat Frost in about 20 seconds.
Also on the show
- After some great verbal back and forth backstage, the issues between Bayley and Sasha Banks finally erupted after Bayley made a remark about Banks being unable to defend titles, leading to a pull-apart brawl.
- Matt Hardy announced himself as an entrant in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania in his own woken way.
- This week's "Hungry for Mania" moment was Edge winning the original Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 21 in 2005.