The first Monday Night RAW of March (and my first episode as a 25 year old) came five weeks out from WrestleMania XXXIV. No one storyline dominated the show this week, instead we saw a number of developments and matches made for 8th April's WrestleMania. The Miz hosted the 3rd annual Mizzies, before teaming with Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel in a 3-on-2 handicap match with Seth Rollins & Finn Balor, Kurt Angle called out Triple H in a segment also featuring Stephanie McMahon and Ronda Rousey, Braun Strowman battled Elias in a Symphony of Destruction match, John Cena addressed his WWE title challenge at Fastlane on Sunday and found himself in a match with Goldust, Nia Jax attempted to break Asuka's undefeated streak in a rematch from Elimination Chamber, Paul Heyman had a reply for Roman Reigns' promo last week before the two came face to face, Bayley & Sasha Banks issues continued as the former faced Mandy Rose, The Revival had a chance to earn a RAW Tag Team title match at WrestleMania if they could beat the champions Cesaro & Sheamus and Matt Hardy had a challenge for Bray Wyatt after the later took on Rhyno. But how did it all go down in Milwaukee? Lets take a look.
Commentary - Michael Cole, Jonathan Coachman & Corey Graves
Ring Announcer - JoJo
Interviewers - Charley Caruso
The Miz, Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, Seth Rollins & Finn Balor segment
It was time for the 3rd edition of The Mizzies this week, as The Miz and his Miztourage had a variety of awards to give away. I'm not sure how WWE chose to present this was the best decisions as they cut away from the Miz in the ring for some pithy comments by a voiceover chap on the nominees of awards like "Superstar who is best at patting themselves on the back" and "Worst Decision by a RAW General Manager". The comment coming from the voiceover guy, instead of Miz himself hurt the segment for me, because the cut-aways felt longer than necessary, whilst Miz didn't really benefit in terms of heat. Obviously, the winners were current Miz rivals Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, as well as seemingly constant Miz feuder Kurt Angle, with Rollins and Balor coming out to interrupt and breathe a little life into the segment. Miz's performance on the mic throughout had been very good, full of character and showing good awareness by the performer in the lack of self-awareness from the character, but it took having Rollins & Balor present to allow him to really shine. Barbs like "Nobody makes losing look better than you" to Rollins and "To be over, you need more than just a hand sign, that's not even yours" to Balor were deliciously cruel and with elements of truth, delivered with flair. Miz would eventually challenge Rollins & Balor to a three on two handicap match against the Intercontinental Champion, Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel.
The Miz, Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel vs. Seth Rollins & Finn Balor
Seth Rollins got a second pin in as many weeks on the Intercontinental Champion as a Curb Stomp was enough to get the pinfall victory for the Iowan. The match was mostly focused around the relationship between Rollins & Finn Balor as the pair playing a game of one up, despite being caught at three on two disadvantage. I think the match could've done more to build up the Miztourage as a threat, because of the numbers, as the match ended up signposting its intentions a little too early and I found myself tuning out for portions of it. There was a nice spot on the outside where Miz managed to taunt Balor into running a gauntlet of lariat before being caught by Bo Dallas, but apart from that the group struggled to look anything more than fodder. I'm not sure how well the babyface pair blind-tagging each other worked, because the original one where Balor tagged in as Rollins was about to go for a suicide dive got zero reaction from Milwaukee, although they at least seemed to catch up with the story by the time Rollins did the same for the finish, when Balor was preparing for Coup de Grace. Rollins & Balor both came out looking good because of the amount of offence they got in, but the match ended up feeling a little paint-by-numbers, whilst also lacking a certain energy.
After the match - Kurt Angle booked The Miz vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania XXXIV.
Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon, Ronda Rousey and Triple H segment
The show opened with another good segment in the Angle/Rousey/Triple H/McMahon saga, as a match pitting RAW General Manager Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey against WWE COO Triple H and RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon was booked for WrestleMania XXXIV on 8th April. Whilst Rousey still has some rough edges, this was a well-booked piece of WWE theatre that had the crowd with it the whole way through, with a number of interesting twist and turns, as the physicality was upped between the two teams. Promo wise, McMahon was the real star here as she ran down Angle, attempting to keep him on side by reminding him how much he needed the job, referencing his two wives (which is mildly amusing considering Jeff Jarrett is going into the Hall of Fame two days before Mania!) and got some lovely heat when talking about the audience, "These people just take order and they get it done". I'd much rather watch this Stephanie, than the Stephanie that attempts to place herself as the leader of the Women's revolution, a role that actually ends up dampening the effect of her head bitch character. With Angle booking the match, because both Triple H and McMahon have contracts as "WWE Superstars" was a nice touch, that referenced McMahon's leaked talent contract from a few years back and got a good reaction, before some well choreographed scrapping concluded with Angle trapping The Game in an Ankle Lock and Rousey hitting a rough looking samoan drop on McMahon. Considering how they've announcing Ronda's first match will be at WrestleMania and its unlikely that Angle, Triple H or McMahon will compete, I'm intrigued to see how they manage to keep this feud going over the next four weeks without feeling repetitive, but it's definitely heading in the right direction.
Elias and Braun Strowman segment
Before the segment - Elias tried to get his Symphony of Destruction match with Braun Strowman cancelled by Kurt Angle, but Angle just made the match Falls Count Anywhere to stop Elias from running away. - Braun Strowman cut a handheld promo, proclaiming that tonight marked the "Countdown to [Elias'] extinction"
The Elias vs. Braun Strowman feud continued to be a sleeper hit on WWE television, as Elias attempted to get out of the pairs Symphony of Destruction match. Presented like very little else of WWE, this began with Elias bringing a new version of his regular concert, by also playing the piano and drums, as well as his signature guitar, whilst running down Milwaukee. There was nothing particular new or creative to his concert, but its a formula that works very well with the live audience and therefore tends to create an enjoyable experience for the viewer at home. Doing the concert on the ramp, before asking for a proper introduction, only to leg it once the lights were turned down was a lovely moment, with the cameras quickly catching up with the Drifter backstage, giving the segment energy and a real sense of foreboding as everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Strowman turned up to cause some destruction. This came in the form of holding Elias's car by the back bumper so it couldn't drive off, which could have been much better shot in a rare moment of WWE's production letting down its performers. Either way, Elias escaped back into the arena and the match was still on...
Symphony of Destruction Match // Elias vs. Braun Strowman
The short Braun Strowman vs. Elias feud concluded with a dominant display from the Monster Amongst Men, as he pinned Elias after slamming a piano on him in a fun squash. Elias got very little offence in and what he did get in (guitar shot, jumping knee and diving elbow drop) resulting in a one count before Strowman smashed some more shit up. The crowd loved the big spots, like the return of the double bass, but wasn't all that enthralled about the action that took place in the ring. The final spot ended up looking a little underwhelming, mostly because the camera shot that was chosen showed Elias clearly safely rolling out of the way of the part of the piano Strowman had kicked away the legs from, before rolling back under once it had been rested on the stage and whilst its obvious to everyone that Elias wasn't going to have been allowed to be crushed by a piano, it would've been nice not to see so clearly how the magician did his tricks. Overall, this was fun way to end the feud, but was poorly shot and the idea behind having all of the plunder set up on the stage seemed a misguided one.
After the match - Elias was carried out of the arena on a stretcher...here's hoping he's kept of RAW for the next four weeks for a big pop at WrestleMania.
John Cena and Goldust segment
I have absolutely no idea what happened here. John Cena's promo was trotting along nicely, as he promoted his part in the six pack challenge for the WWE Championship on the SmackDown PPV Fastlane on Sunday, it wasn't anything spectacular, but it was doing a decent job of telling the audience what was happening and making a good use of the "free agent" gimmick that Cena's been given. The idea that Cena wanted to say this on RAW so he would be uninterrupted was a neat one, even if it made the 16 time World Champion look a little cowardly in kayfabe. It set up the notion that Cena could break Ric Flair's "record" and introduced the idea of triple threat match between Cena, Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles if Cena won the title on Sunday, two interesting concepts that will almost certainly be used to drive the Fastlane clash. Then Goldust interrupted and things got weird. The 48 year old Texan seemed really struggle with his promo, appearing to be actively trying to recall what his next line was and making what was already a bizarre promo filled with film references into some unintelligible garbage, whilst Cena look legit baffled by what was happening. Basically, it was a set-up to have Cena vs. Goldust for the first time ever, with the two only being opponents in Royal Rumbles, battle royals and triple threat tag team match on RAW from October 2014, where Cena tagged with Dean Ambrose and Goldust with Stardust, whilst The Usos were the third team.
John Cena vs. Goldust
This was pretty much a squash for John Cena, with not a whole lot to talk about, as Cena hit his signature sequence and won clean with an Attitude Adjustment in a couple of minutes. The rest of the action was not good, including a poorly worked distraction low blow sequence that got zero reaction. Perhaps its time for Goldust to step down from active competition.
Asuka vs. Nia Jax
Asuka picked up another victory over Nia Jax this week, tapping out the Irresistible Force with an armbar, after a superb closing sequence. Based on the stretch alone this might have been the best match that the two have had together, as Jax spent an long arse time in both an cross-armbreaker and triangle choke, before eventually tapping out. This sequence made both women look great, as Asuka held onto the hold through powerbombs, buckle bombs and even managed to bounce off the ropes to roll through into another hold, whilst Jax took a silly amount of punishment and attempted everything possible to escape the move. A really sound piece of booking, that judging by the reaction from the crowd afterwards, did wonders for Jax's reputation with the audience and also seemed to set the wheels in motion for a babyface turn in the near future. The match wasn't without its problems however, the most obvious being a pretty awkward moment after Jax had nailed a samoan drop and then awkwardly backed into the cover in order to allow the Empress of Tomorrow space to put her foot on the ropes. Both women are still looking for their signature singles match on the main roster, but those last three minutes or so were wonderful to watch, with the commentary team doing a solid job of putting over both women in the closing stages.
After the match - Nia Jax sold her arm well, whilst receiving a round of applause for her valiant stretch in Asuka's submission holds - Jax was later seen with ie on her elbow as RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss manipulatively ripped into Jax under the guise of friendship, leading to Jax breaking down in tears in a backstage segment with wonderful depth and character.
Paul Heyman & Roman Reigns segment
The rivalry between Universal Champion Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns continued heat-up ahead of their WrestleMania collisions, without the champion even needing to be present this week as Paul Heyman returned to RAW for an impassioned promo. Heyman was on real real good form this week, initially calling "bullshit" on Reigns' comment about how little Lesnar defends the Universal title, pointing out Reigns' biggest career win came against a man who wrestled once that year (The Undertaker), before launching into a dramatic speech about what it means to be Universal Champion. Whilst I wasn't completely sold on the idea that it's not about how much you want the title, but how much the title wants you, Heyman did a massive job at making me believe that he believed it with a rich soliloquy talking about having to put the title before family, with what felt like real emotion in his voice. With references about the championship not being a prop or a belt, that would've popped hardcore fans and the sheer passion that would draw in absolutely anyone on the planet. The segment concluded with Roman Reigns interrupted with perfect timing, making Heyman pick the title up off the ground and telling Heyman to tell Lesnar to be ready for a fight next week when the two final go face to face. Like last week's show closing segment with Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle, this segment gave the audience a reason to tune in next week to see what goes down the two finally share the same ring, after two weeks of very good storyline build. With four episodes left to go, this story has been paced perfectly so far, lets hope WWE can keep this on course and peak it with a brutal clash on 8th April.
Bayley vs. Mandy Rose
Before the match - Bayley was interviewed about leaving Sasha Banks in the trios match last week, but was cut off by Absolution, with Paige cutting a horrible promo about Sasha changing Bayley's diapers.
Despite debuting at the end of November and competing for the RAW Women's Championship at last month's Elimination Chamber match, this was actually Mandy Rose's debut singles match on RAW and whilst she did the honours for Bayley, she actually looked relatively competent in there on her own. There was a lot of rope running, but most of it looked passable, with Rose able to keep up with the much more experienced Bayley, with the match being highlighted by a big jumping knee strike from Rose for a near fall. The finish didn't do wonders for the already weak Absolution stable, as both Paige and Sonya Deville tried to get involved, only for Bayley to reverse a pinfall to pick up the win in around five minutes TV time. Rose is clearly in need of more time in the ring, but she seems to have a solid base on which to build upon if given the opportunity.
After the match - Sasha Banks made the save for Bayley as Absolution laid in the boots, but Bayley refused to hug Banks after the save.
Cesaro & Sheamus vs. Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder
Cesaro & Sheamus put an end to The Revival's hope of a RAW Tag Team Championship match at WrestleMania as Cesaro pinned Scott Dawson with a Neutralizer, after a curious tag team match. There was a lot of nice stuff going on in the match, but I'm not sure how effective it was to have two heel teams in there, with Cesaro & Sheamus taking on the psuedo-babyface role. The Revival's style is effective with an popular babyface team, as they cut off the ring and work over an opponent methodically, yet when the person they're doing that too is Sheamus, it doesn't quite have the same effect, either with the live audience or when viewing at home. The work was fine, The Revival have a number of nice ways to keep on top and focus well on various body parts, but there was the heel v heel element meant that the match was lacking the ingredient needed to be a compelling piece of TV. The Revival did get a good nearfall off a superplex and frog splash combination and the closing sequence had some nice energy as Sheamus cut off a Shatter Machine attempt with a Brogue Kick, so there was still enough to enjoy in what was a fairly short contest. Now the Revival are out of the picture for WrestleMania, that really only leaves Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson for The Bar to defend the RAW tag straps against at Mania, unless a pair is brought up from NXT or a new team of singles guys is formed for the show of shows.
Bray Wyatt vs. Rhyno
Squash match victory for Bray Wyatt, with Sister Abigail putting Rhyno away in a matter of minutes.
After the match - Bray Wyatt claimed his issues with Matt Hardy were far from over, before Matt Hardy arrived on screen and challenge Wyatt to a match at the Hardy Compound, giving the match the name "The Ultimate Deletion"
Also this week
- Timothy Schriver discussed his mother, Eunice Kennedy Schriver's work with the Special Olympics, as part of Women's history month.
- It was announced that WWE will be doing stadium shows in both Saudi Arabia and Australia later this year, with the Saudi Arabian event being main evented by a 50 man Royal Rumble match.
- It was announced that contemporary R&B duo CHLOE X HALLE will sing America the Beautiful at WrestleMania XXXIV.
ATPW Scale Rating // 5.40 out of 10
Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale