Raw Review – Raw Splits Time Between Big Feuds

Paul Heyman has spent the entire build for Wrestlemania stating the truth, even when it is inconvenient to the wrestling storyline. He openly acknowledged Brock Lesnar’s contract situation with WWE and turned it into part of the Wrestlemania narrative. He did not run from the fact that Roman Reigns has become horribly unpopular with many of the fans, and he turned it into part of the Wrestlemania narrative. On Monday, he pointed out that there was nothing left for him to say before Wrestlemania. While that might not have been the most exciting thing for Heyman to say, it was accurate.

Throughout the episode, WWE recycled several of the interviews and promos from Lesnar and Reigns that have aired over the last few weeks. Reigns spoke in clips from a sit-down interview with Michael Cole that did not cover any new ground. He continued to focus on his Little Engine That Could catchphrase of, “I can. I will.”

WWE hyped a main event confrontation between Lesnar and Reigns at the end of the show. It started with Heyman and Lesnar in the ring, where Heyman ran through the list of impossible tasks Lesnar has accomplished in the last year. He went on to say that Sunday’s match will resolve all open questions about status in the company because there can only be one winner and one loser. There was a great segment in which he described the type of brutal attitude Reigns would have to have to beat Lesnar while Lesnar reacted quizzically and showed a rare sense of humor.

At last, Reigns came to the ring to face off with Lesnar. They stood eye to eye and Lesnar did not back down. Instead, he held up his title belt and Reigns snatched it away from him. The show went off the air while they each pulled at the belt.

The interesting element of this episode was that Lesnar was essentially portrayed as a fan favorite throughout. Heyman talked about how he does not run from challenges and constantly beats the odds. While we have seen him back away from challengers innumerable times in the last couple of years, he stood up to Reigns at the end of Raw.

Heyman is so thoughtful about these little character details that I do not think it was a coincidence. There has been a wave of feeling within wrestling fans that Lesnar might win at Wrestlemania and remain in WWE as more of a fan favorite champion. I think this episode of Raw supported that notion.

Match of the Night – Nikki Bella def. Paige to remain Divas Champion

The Bellas cooked up a plot to drive a wedge between Paige and AJ before they have to team together at Wrestlemania. They offered a Divas Title shot to one or the other. Paige took the title shot, which made AJ bristle slightly because she did not want either of them to engage in the Bellas’ mind games. Moreover, Paige struck a nerve when she said that AJ would be “crazy” not to take the title shot.

The impressive part of the segment was the match between Nikki and Paige. After a slow start, Paige hit a series of clotheslines and a nice dropkick to get a two count. Nikki answered with a step-up enzuigiri in the corner that I have never seen from her before. Paige responded with a superkick that got her a near fall. When Nikki recovered, she hit an Alabama Slam for a near fall of her own.

Frustrated, Nikki tried to pick Paige up onto her shoulders for the Rack Attack. Paige freed herself and hit the Rampaige. While everyone in the arena thought that would end the match, Nikki kicked out at two. They fought to the floor, where AJ and Brie also got involved in a brawl. Paige came up behind AJ and AJ blindly elbowed her. Nikki took advantage and hit the Rack Attack back in the ring to win. After the conclusion, the Bellas got what they wanted as AJ and Paige brawled with each other. It was a clever way to sew seeds of discontent in the team and I liked the timing because it leaves a question hanging in the air close to Wrestlemania.

Missing the Mark – Los Matadores and El Torito def. Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, and Natalya

It almost goes without saying that whichever segment features Los Matadores will be the dumbest segment on the show. This week was no exception. The Usos sat in on commentary and announced that Jey would wrestle through his shoulder injury and join the four-team Tag Title match on Sunday. In the ring, Cesaro and Kidd never got to use their tremendous wrestling ability because the match revolved around El Torito’s comedy from start to finish. It ended when he countered Natalya’s powerbomb with a sunset flip to pin her. I did not find the match entertaining, and I don’t see how it helps the story for the Tag Team Titles to have the program centered around two non-participants.

Developing Story – Sting Steps Up

Raw opened with Sting coming to the ring and speaking live for the first time in WWE — aside from his WWE Network-exclusive post-Raw comments last week. He again delivered the message that his fight with HHH is not about WCW vs. WWE, but about HHH’s abuse of power in the same way that brought down WCW. Stephanie McMahon joined him in the ring and they traded sharp insults. Stephanie tried to slap him, but Sting caught her hand before she could hit him. HHH immediately came to the ring. An angry Stephanie handed him a sledgehammer, and he started to enter the ring. When Sting pulled out his baseball bat, HHH backed down and Sting stood tall. Seeing Sting speak at the start of Raw reinforced how special it is to have him in WWE. In turn, that made me excited for their match.

Five Count

5. Celebrities Promote the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Bill Simmons sat in on commentary for a ten-man tag match that mostly featured jobbers who will take part in the ATGMBR. The whole match was designed around getting Ryback a hot tag. When he did, Miz tried to sneak attack him, but Ryback hit the Meathook and Shell-Shocked to get the win. Simmons was fairly entertaining on commentary in spite of Cole’s fake laughter. I especially liked that he brought his idea for an Andre the Giant documentary onto WWE TV.

Later in the show, Snoop Dogg came to the ring to discuss Wrestlemania. Curtis Axel confronted him to promote Axelmania, but Snoop brought out Hulk Hogan to teach Axel a lesson. They chased Axel away and posed together in matching Hulkamania shirts. It was a fun way to use a couple of celebrities to promote the show in a way that did not get in the way of the wrestling.

4. Randy Orton def. Seth Rollins and J&J Security

A poll on the WWE App put Rollins, Noble, and Mercury into a handicap match with Rollins. They had some early success through teamwork, but Orton eventually isolated the weaker members. Rollins tried to attack when Orton was focused on Noble. When his Curb Stomp didn’t connect, he left the ring altogether and Orton got the pin on Noble off of an RKO. I though this match would have been a good opportunity for Rollins to cheat to introduce some uncertainty into the program. As it stands, I am more confident than ever that Rollins will find a way to beat Orton.

Hall of Fame Update- Kevin Nash to the HOF

When Scott Hall went into the WWE HOF last year, it was a fait accompli that Nash would join him in short order. Between his run as WWF champion and his role in the nWo, Nash had an important wrestling career that warrants induction. My only question is whether the negative reaction to this year’s class as a whole encouraged WWE to push Nash into this class to give it more star power.

3. Bray Wyatt Addresses the Undertaker

Wyatt continued his one-man program with the absent Undertaker. He said that Undertaker, like all of his fans, has been lying to himself for years and is not close to what he once was. When Undertaker’s pyro and purple lightning came into the arena, Wyatt claimed it as his own and said that the Undertaker’s whole mystique belongs to him now. With so much work to do by himself, I do not mind that Wyatt has been rather explicit about the passing the torch storyline.

2. Rusev def. Jack Swagger

For the seven thousandth time, Swagger tried to be the man to stop Rusev’s momentum and came up short. He briefly locked in the Ankle Lock and hit a nice gutwrench slam, but it didn’t take long for Rusev to put him in the Accolade. When Rusev refused to release the hold, John Cena came to the rescue. Rusev overpowered Cena again and locked him in the Accolade on top of the announce table. While I don’t understand the point of doing a submission hold on the announce table, it was a cool visual and reinforced Rusev’s recent dominance.

1. Intercontinental Title Challengers Busy Again

Early in the show, Dean Ambrose and R-Truth teamed up for a fun tag match against Stardust and Luke Harper. The face team won when Ambrose neutralized Harper with a suicide dive and Truth hit the Lil Jimmy on Stardust to get the pin.

Later in the show, Ambrose was voted in as the guest referee for a showdown between Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler. They worked a strong, entertaining match that hinted at the potential for a program between the two. It started genially but devolved into more of a fight when Ziggler slapped Bryan. A bridging German was almost enough to beat Ziggler, but he fought back with a top rope facebuster. Bryan recovered with some kicks. When he tried to punctuate it with a dropkick in the corner, Ziggler met him with a superkick and a Zig Zag for a clean and meaningful victory.