WWE rolls into the Big Easy of New Orleans, LA tonight at Smoothie King Center for Raw. Over the past week, it was confirmed that both Undertaker and Shawn Michaels would be appearing on this show. What does the Deadman have in mind, given he has called the Blue Brand his home? And what of Michaels, who calls San Antonio – the home of the Royal Rumble this year – home? Will one, or both, men declare entry into the Rumble? We’ve seen names enter the fray, so who else will join the party which is just weeks away now? Also, Roman Reigns is slated to defend his United States Championship against both Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. Will he overcome the odds, or will the “best friends” add to their collection of gold?
Show Open, Live from the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA:
Editor’s note: Bill’s a bit under the weather, so, this might not be the best ever coverage of the show…hang in there with me.
Backstage, Steph talked to Mick Foley about performance reviews. Foley worked in the hometown pop after reading his hand. Steph noted that there were rumors that Undertaker would appear. Hey, um, ditzy bitch, you’ve been advertising it! Foley said he had a strong feeling Taker would appear. Duh, really?
Seth Rollins entered and said he wanted to tell them face to face that he would enter the Royal Rumble match (he tweeted this out during the day). Braun Strowman showed up and demanded to face either Goldberg or Roman Reigns, “or else.” Foley said Goldberg wasn’t in the building. Rollins said he could help Strowman and threw a punch. They brawled until officials separated them. Steph yelled at Foley to get things under control, then the commentary team checked in.
Roman Reigns made his way to the ring past the shark cage – more boos than cheers for him as normal. The commentary team talked about Reigns’ match against Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens, saying that if one of them pinned Reigns, they would win the US Championship. They recapped last week’s show closing angle by a video package. Owens and Jericho made their entrance for the match, and the commentary team hyped the Universal Championship match at Royal Rumble.
Bill Says: Tonight is also the College Football National Championship Game (yes, I have one eye on that game – go Clemson!) so I can understand WWE wanting to go to this match quick. Good use of time to start the show right now.
Match #1 – Roman Reigns (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho; WWE United States Championship, handicap match rules
Winner: Apparent No Contest
The Reax: JoJo gave us introductions, but things didn’t last long. Braun Strowman came out and went after Reigns, then Seth Rollins came out to attack Strowman. He worked on the heels with a chair, and Reigns also used a chair on Strowman. He and Rollins knocked Strowman to ringside. So, this is a transition spot to get to the main event later.
Stephanie came out and said the show wouldn’t start this way. She said she promised a handciap match and they’ll get one, later. Stephanie set up Rollins vs. Strowman for next as Jericho and Owens exited.
Match #2 – Braun Strowman vs. Seth Rollins;
Winner: Double Count-Out
The Reax: The commentary team noted Rollins’ earlier tweet about entering the Royal Rumble. Strowman controlled the early offense, with Rollins mounting a brief comeback. Strowman dumped Rollins to ringside going to commercial. Late, Rollins got on the ring post and jumped off at Strowman but he moved. Strowman tossed Rollins over the barrier, then retrieved him but that was when the count-out happened. Strowman threw Rollins in the grabbed a chair, but Rollins kicked him and claimed the chair. Strowman tried getting in the ring but gave up and headed backstage.
This was fine. Strowman came off like a monster, and Rollins came off like a babyface trying to stand up to him. This does seem like a shift in the Rollins direction, because he now seems to be focused on the Rumble and Wrestlemania, but it doesn’t mean they can’t round back to Triple H costing him the Rumble or something similar to set up that Wrestlemania match. The post match angle with the chair and all wasn’t well received by the live crowd.
They hyped Shawn Michaels appearing later and fed it to a trailer of the movie Shawn appeared in, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.”
They showed Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback, at ringside, then the commentary team said we would hear from Michaels later and there’s rumors that The Undertaker might be there. C’mon, you were advertising this shit! Anyhow, they recapped Bayley defeating Nia Jax to win the #1 Contender’s slot for the Raw Women’s Championship at Royal Rumble. They cut backstage to Bayley and Sasha talking.
Sasha and Bayley talked about Bayley’s title shot. Sasha told Bayley she believes in her, and they can have their match after that. Sasha said if Dana Brooke tries anything, she will have Bayley’s back.
Charlotte showed up and mocked the idea of Sasha caring about Bayley. They bickered, then stopped when Nia Jax showed up. Jax kicked Sasha’s bad knee and Charlotte tossed Bayley into a production crate. Jax kicked her knee again. Charlotte laughed and patted Jax on the back, only to have Jax back her up against some other production equipment in the area.
Bill Says: Smart. Have Jax be her own heel, without being buddy-buddy to anyone. That’s treating her like a legit monster that’s “not like the other girls.”
They recapped footage from the Ariaya Daivari/Jack Gallagher feud, then Gallagher made his way to the ring for a match.
Match #3 – Jack Gallagher vs. Drew Gulak;
Winner: Jack Gallagher
The Reax: Gallagher won with his running drop kick. Afterward, Charly Caruso interviewed him and he said he feels he would be entitled to give Daivari a thrashing, but instead, he wanted to extend the olive branch. He offered to sit down with him on 205 Live and negotiate an agreement. Gallagher said he would be forced to engage in fisticuffs if it didn’t work.
That seemed tame compared to the duel request. The match was nothing really all that special but was fine for getting to the post-match promo.
Shawn Michaels was shown “dabbing” with TJ Perkins backstage.
They hyped Corbin vs. Cena for Smackdown.
Backstage, Mick was looking for Undertaker when Stephanie showed up and asked about him. Foley told Steph to trust him and he would be there. Stephanie said she had to rely on fact and his performance review hinged on whether or not Taker appeared. Steph gave him an hour, and Foley assured her he would appear.
Shawn Michaels made his way to the ring. He said he missed the fans and coming out on a regular basis, especially this time of year. Michaels said things tend to pick up a bit in January with Royal Rumble.
Michaels pointed out that the Rumble is in his hometown of San Antonio. He talked about how he won the championship at the Royal Rumble twenty years ago in San Antonio, then put over some of the names in the match this year. He said he is much more comfortable sitting on the outside looking in considering some of the names involved. The fans chanted “one more match,” which drew a “Don’t you try to pressure me” response.
Michaels said he was going to teach the kids how to stand up to peer pressure. He moved on to talking about the movie “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” and said it was his first big acting job. Rusev, Lana, and Jinder Mahal cut him off.
The heels came to the ring, and Rusev said he wanted Lana to be in the movie. He suggested that they CGI her into the movie. Rusev called himself the Bulgarian George Clooney, and his wife is more beautiful than Emma Stone. Cue Enzo Amore and Big Cass, with Amore on the scooter. Michaels told them that the heels were being haters. The two sides exchanged words, and they set up Big Cass vs. Mahal, and Shawn would stay at ringside.
Bill Says: This was awful. Michaels was in full-on silly dad promoter mode rather than in HBK mode. He and Rusev seemed to have some chemistry working together though.
Match #4 – Big Cass (w/Enzo Amore and Shawn Michaels) vs. Jinder Mahal (w/Rusev and Lana);
Winner: Big Cass
The Reax: Michaels hit Rusev with Sweet Chin Music at one point, and Cass won with the Empire Elbow after a rough looking slam. Rusev keeps getting his ass handed to him by former stars. If he didn’t get defined down since Wrestlemania 31, it might not be that big of a deal, but since then he just hasn’t been handled all that well. Should we be fearful for what happens with Braun Strowman next?
Emmalina is still premiering soon. Maybe never at this point.
Match #5 – Neville vs. Lince Dorado;
The Reax: Dorado got a quick start, but Neville came back and locked in the Rings of Saturn (as Austin Aries called it) for the win. Afterward, Neville locked the hold back in until Rich Swann ran out for the save. He threw some strikes and set for a kick but Neville rolled out. Aries complimented Swann’s fire, saying he would need that to beat Neville.
Neville continues to be a bright spot for the cruiserweights, and his feud with Swann, while it needs a little work from Swann’s side, is going pretty well. Sadly, not much outside of these two is memorable television
Cole noted that Foley had 35 minutes to produce Undertaker. They ran a video package to highlight past Royal Rumbles, featuring Edge in this one.
Backstage, Steph berated a guy who was moving a plant in her “office,” then Sasha and Bayley showed up. Steph told Sasha she is the only boss, and would give them the tag match they wanted. She told them it would take place tonight, even though Sasha wasn’t 100 percent, and barked at them to get out of her office.
Bill Says: Steph is just awful. I need a break from her on my TV for a couple years. No exaggeration.
Match #6 – Luke Gallows vs. Sheamus:
The Reax: Both men’s tag partners sat on on commentary. Anderson threw a bottle of water at Cesaro at one point then dove onto him, which created a distraction. In the ring, Sheamus was distracted but was able to hit the Brogue Kick to win. I guess WWE wants to set up a 50/50 feud with the individual wrestlers here rather than the teams, and eventually build to a tag title match.
Foley was shown backstage, and Graves said his time was up to produce Undertaker.
Backstage, Charly asked Roman Reigns if he was prepared to defend his title. Reigns said it doesn’t matter how he feels or how many people he has to defend against. He talked about spearing Owens and Jericho’s guts out and holding the title over his head.
Foley was in the ring and said he and Undertaker went to the depths of hell together. He said he was calling on Taker one more time for one more encounter on Raw. He said he needed Taker to take a trip from the dark side to be right here in New Orleans. He said he has been doing this for 32 years and he’s known no greater honor than to stand in the ring and feel the chill as the lights go out and the gong sounds. He mentioned Paul Bearer showing him the hair on his arms standing up.
The lights went out, but it was Steph McMahon with the troll job. She apologized for Foley failing to produce Undertaker. She said it left her no choice but to give his performance review publicly. She praised some of his ideas, but for all of those she felt they took two steps back. Worst was letting Smackdown beat Raw in the ratings. Steph asked Foley what he had to say for himself for not producing Undertaker. He started to apologize.
Undertaker’s music hit and he made his way to the ring. Once in the ring, he waited out an Undertaker chant. “I’m back. And I think it important that the world should know that I will be entering the Royal Rumble,” he said. Braun Strowman watched the announcement from a monitor.
Taker said he answers to no one and goes where he wants and when he wants. Nobody controls the Undertaker, he said. He leaned in to Stephanie in the corner and said “no one.” again. He talked about returning to where the Streak met its demise, and said he’s returned to the site and he dug 29 holes for 29 souls, and will bring the dark side to the Rumble.
Taker said once he wins the Rumble, he will return to the main event of Wrestlemania. Taker said anyone who stands in his way will rest in peace.
Bill Says: The Rumble is getting stacked up with strong contenders. Taker seems to be a heavy favorite to set up a possible match with either John Cena or AJ Styles. Strowman watching on is an interesting twist too. Needless to say, Raw is dogshit tonight but the Rumble will be good.
Graves hyped the upcoming handicap match and the women’s tag match.
They hyped 205 Live and promoted Cedric Alexander vs. Noam Dar. Drew Koscelek has your coverage.
Backstage, Charly interviewed Owens and Jericho. They talked about being both US Champion and Universal Champion. Jericho said they are already national and international treasures, and now they can be the face of America and Raw.
Bayley and Sasha made their entrances for the next match. They recapped the earlier angle that set this match up.
Match #7 – Bayley and Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax and Charlotte;
Winner: Charlotte and Nia Jax
The Reax: Sasha sold her leg issues from earlier with tape. The heels focused on Bayley, but down the stretch it was Jax who made the blind tag then hit a leg drop to win. Odd placement to have Bayley take the pin when you have Sasha selling injury. Probably a rematch is forthcoming where the roles are reversed. There is just zero buzz about Bayley vs. Charlotte and it could feel like a bigger match. That’s all on WWE’s booking.
Noam Dar was fixing his hair in a mirror when Alicia Fox entered the shot. “Go ahead, then.” he said, waiting for a kiss. She aggressively kissed him and told him he can’t handle a real woman.
New Day came to the ring, and Big E doused fans at ringside with Booty O’s. Cole recapped the Titus O’Neil drama from last week, and said New Day had an offer for him after the break.
Titus had joined them back live. He apologized for attacking Xavier Woods and wanted another chance to be in New Day. Woods said they got his texts and tweets, and when Woods said his DM’s were open, he was not talking about him. Titus sang “It goes down in the DMs.”
Kofi recapped footage of Titus running the obstacle course on the old version of NXT that ran in 2010 (the one that had the challenges and what not – not what we see today). They showed footage of him tripping with a keg, and of course laughed. Kofi unveiled a keg and said it was full of Booty Juice sports drink.
They had Titus run around the ring with the keg. Yes, they did this. He beat the time but dropped the keg before the finish line. Titus got upset and shoved Kofi. Kofi asked the fans if they wanted to see him take on O’Neil. Some did, some didn’t care, and others did enjoy chanting New Day Rocks.
Bill Says: That was dreadful. Really. I mean, it got to the match just fine and all but it was really atrocious and a callback to a really bad day in the NXT branding before it became the regular weekly WWE Network show we generally enjoy.
They hyped Wrestlemania returning to New Orleans for Wrestlemania 34 in 2018.
Match #8 – Kofi Kingston (w/ Big E and Xavier Woods) vs. Titus O’Neil;
Winner: Kofi Kingston
The Reax: Titus got control late, and he dumped Kofi over the rope only to be saved by E and Woods. Back in the ring, Kofi hit Trouble in Paradise to win. There has been zero thought as to what to do with New Day after losing the tag titles, it would appear. This feels so awkward and out of sorts.
They hyped the UK Championship Tournament on Saturday and Sunday – something to be excited about! Saxton hyped the preview show after Raw on WWE Network. They showed Jericho and Owens backstage and heading to the ring for the main event.
Rich Swann will face Tony Nese on 205 Live, as well as Cedric Alexander vs. Noam Dar. Oh, and Brock Lesnar will be on Raw next week. That’s pretty much how Lesnar’s return was handled – like an afterthought.
Reigns attacked Owens at ringside, then fought Jericho in the cage that was on the stage. The heels recovered and got the better of Reigns, then threw him into the steps and threw him inside. The official checked on Reigns, and now it’s time for the match to officially start.
Match #9 – Roman Reigns (c) vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens, handicap rules for the United States Championship
Winner: Chris Jericho to win the WWE United States Championship
The Reax: Rules in this one – whoever scored the win or submission between Jericho and Owens would become the US Champion. Late Owens powerbombed Reigns on the apron. He and Jericho teamed up to throw Reigns in, then slapped and punched at him. Owens threw Reigns into the Codebreaker, and Jericho pinned him for the win. Cole noted that Jericho finally won the only title that has eluded him in his career.
Welp, Twitter exploded into a vomit reflex as to what they fear is coming – a Roman Reigns win at the Royal Rumble. They wanted to get the US Championship off of him to set that up (as they see it). I’m not so sure that’s going to go that way, but, it is WWE after all so be prepared for anything, I suppose. The match was decent, but one protection I could see coming very easily is that Reigns can come back to saying it took two men to beat him.
A cool fact is that indeed, Chris Jericho has never held the US Championship until now. He has now held every male championship in WWE.
This show was…well, a show. I am really trying hard to be objective and see through the fog of my cold medicine, but this show was lifeless at times. The New Day skit was just terrible. But, Undertaker declaring for the Rumble was newsworthy, and even in a double count out Rollins stood up to Strowman in a decent brawling type affair. There were some things there that were good – but there was also a lot of filler.
Drew will have more (ranting?) to say about Raw and all things wrestling tomorrow on his Around the Ring segment. I’ll be back on Wednesday – hopefully less sick – to join him for Ring Rap Audio as well as Ring of Honor coverage. See you then.