After a series of red-hot episodes of Raw to kickstart the Road to WrestleMania 34, WWE left the car in neutral for most of Monday in a three-hour show that was lacking for big reveals and must-see moments.
Although Ronda Rousey and The Miz saw their WrestleMania plans unveiled, producing segments that were equally hit and miss, the overall show felt more like a placeholder and tease for what’s to come. This included a closing dialogue segment between Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns that proved nothing more than an advertisement for Brock Lesnar’s appearance for next week.
Speaking of advertisements, that’s also the best way to sum up John Cena’s appearance — as a way to preview his involvement in Sunday’s final SmackDown-exclusive pay-per-view, Fastlane. But all was not lost on Monday as the story of Nia Jax’s personal journey to WrestleMania saw some interesting turns including a strong match against Asuka and a possible face turn before April 8.
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Ronda Rousey secures debut match at WrestleMania
Raw general manager Kurt Angle opened the show by calling out Triple H for sucker punching him one week before. Commissioner Stephanie McMahon came out instead and told Angle to put it behind him, referencing his need to pay the bills of young children (along with alimony payments to his first wife). “Use your head, don’t let your ego get in the way here,” McMahon said. Out came a smiling Ronda Rousey, in full babyface mode, slapping the hands of fans. The former UFC champion said she’s starting to realize the motives of the people who brought her to WWE and, mentioning a history with “bully bosses,” said she planned to deal with things her own way. McMahon diverted Rousey’s anger by reminding how WWE is helping her live out her childhood dreams with a debut match at WrestleMania.
Rousey slyly brought up her contract clause of being able to select her own opponent. McMahon had two caveats: It couldn’t be a current champion, and it had to be someone on the active roster. After Rousey announced she wanted a match with McMahon, Triple H came out to object. Angle stepped in to bring up the fact that both heels have second contracts as WWE superstars. Referencing the unfinished business he has with Triple H from Survivor Series, Angle booked a mixed tag team match involving all four at WrestleMania 34 to a huge pop from the crowd.
Rousey interrupted McMahon’s attempt to slap Angle by grabbing her arm. Triple H and Angle then began to brawl, which ended in Triple H breaking free from an ankle lock. McMahon snuck up from behind on Rousey to knock her down with a forearm before running away. Angle then escaped from a Pedigree attempt to briefly apply a second ankle lock that McMahon helped break. With the crowd losing steam fast, Rousey pulled McMahon back in by her hair and hit a Samoan drop. (Check the video at the top of this post for the segment featuring Rousey.)
While the expectations for a strong program and entertaining match still remain for this foursome, Monday was a step backward in terms of electricity and execution. Rousey was especially bad on the microphone, delivering a rushed “You!” in the face of McMahon when choosing her as an opponent. Even worse, the three professionals around Rousey only seemed to overact as a reaction. The result was a very vanilla segment that, after a strong start, felt predictable and forced.
Paul Heyman stands in for Brock Lesnar
One week after a memorable worked-shoot promo from Reigns, the advocate for “The Beast” entered the ring and laid the universal championship at his own feet. He also said he will do the same ahead of SummerSlam, along with the UFC heavyweight title right next to it. In reference to Roman Reigns’ quips about Lesnar’s part-time schedule, Heyman deftly mentioned how The Undertaker, Reigns’ WrestleMania opponent last year, fails to garner any criticism for performing once per year. Heyman went on to refer to the title as “Brock Lesnar’s bitch,” saying the eyeballing Reigns can’t have her. He also made a series of cryptic references to Reigns’ Samoan lineage, including the play on words of, “And Afa WrestleMania, you can Sika new title challenge because this one belongs to Brock Lesnar.”
Next week on Raw, Heyman revealed his client will be in Detroit where Reigns can saying anything he wants to Lesnar’s face because “I think now you have learned you don’t want to shoot on the mic with Paul Heyman and you don’t want to shoot in the ring with reigning, defending, universal champion.” Out came Reigns to call Lesnar a bitch for sending Heyman to face him. “All I’m asking is that Brock shows up,” Reigns said. “All fans want is that their champion shows up to work and actually wants to be here.” He closed by instructing Heyman to tell Lesnar to not come dressed for a promo segment but come dressed for a fight.
It’s certainly difficult to take issue with a Heyman promo of any kind and this one certainly had its high spots (including the multiple references to Reigns’ famous family, which felt like a possible tease toward their involvement in the feud as victims for Lesnar). But overall, the lack of a reaction from the crowd of any kind to Reigns’ finish was a good indicator of how this segment was received. While WWE used the reality of Lesnar’s part-time schedule as storyline feud, his absence so close to WrestleMania actually did hurt the segment overall. This wasn’t necessarily a step backward for the Lesnar-Reigns feud, but it was neutral at best and that doesn’t work for a Monday night in March.
What else happened on Raw?
- Asuka def. Nia Jax via submission: Jax looked dominant throughout this intense and physical match. Each time Asuka countered with a creative submission attempt, Jax would muscle free, including a creative Razor’s Edge/airplane spin combo and an impressive press slam. Despite multiple attempts, Jax was unable to break free from armbar late with Asuka eventually forcing the tap following a grueling sequence. Both superstars were elevated by their performance with Asuka once again escaping to keep her unbeaten streak alive and Jax receiving tepid babyface cheers as she exited the ring holding her arm. Alexa Bliss makes Nia Jax cry: Later in the show, WWE worked hard to create sympathy for Jax as she iced her injured arm backstage. Bliss came in condescendingly encourage her. “I’ve never seen you give up like that,” Bliss said. “It must be so embarrassing.” Bliss referenced how much Jax let her family down and how she has been an outcast all her life, bullied and scorned “because you’re so much bigger than other kids.” Jax began to openly weep before Bliss closed by saying, “Everyone will lose respect for you if you give up.”
- The Bar def. The Revival via pinfall: After responding on Twitter to The Bar’s claim last week that they are out of competition, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder looked strong in showcasing their quick-tag, double team style. The Revival nearly earned a pin — that would have earned them a title match at WrestleMania — when Dawson hit a superplex on Cesaro and Wilder followed with a top-rope splash for two. But after Sheamus ran in to break up a Shatter Machine finisher attempt, Cesaro hit Dawson with his Gotch neutralizer for the 1-2-3. If this was a tease for an upcoming feud between two physical heel teams, consider me interested.
- John Cena def. Goldust via pinfall: Cena opened with a promo designed to put over his pursuit of a record 17th WWE championship at Sunday’s SmackDown-exclusive Fastlane pay-per-view. After predicting a victory for himself, he offered the idea of A.J. Styles invoking his rematch clause for WrestleMania, setting up a triple threat with Shinsuke Nakamura. Out came Goldust who, following a gratuitous amount of movie references, cold-cocked Cena with a punch. Their subsequent match, the first between the two in WWE history, saw Cena rally from a kick to the groin to finish Goldust with an Attitude Adjustment. The match, a not-so-subtly designed Fastlane commercial, failed to resonate or make sense.
- Bayley def. Mandy Rose via pinfall: Asked during a pre-match interview about Sasha Banks’ actions last week, Bayley began to speak but was interrupted by Absolution’s entrance. After Bayley rallied to victory by fighting off Sonia Deville’s interference and countering Rose’s roll-up with a gator roll of her own, Absolution began a post-match beatdown. Out came Banks to the rescue. But after “The Boss” helped Bayley to her feet and raised her arm, Bayley refused to hug her friend and angrily walked away.
- Braun Strowman def. Elias via pinfall (Symphony of Destruction Match): This no disqualification match, with the added falls count anywhere stipulation by Angle earlier in the night, featured a stage full of guitars, drums and a piano. Elias played them all before the start, when he ran backstage to escape in a car that was waiting. Strowman was waiting and stopped the car from going in reverse by using his brute strength. Strowman gave chase back to the arena where he had a guitar broken over his back. The action spilled back to the stage, where Strowman got revenge with a giant bass and piano. Corey Graves’ multiple heavy metal references arguably proved to be the highlight.
- The Hardy Compound is revealed after Bray Wyatt def. Rhyno via pinfall: This squash match saw Wyatt at his creepiest. After ending matters in less than a minute via Sister Abigail, Wyatt refused to get off of his opponent and used Rhyno’s limp arm to rub his face as Heath Slater looked on with fear. Wyatt grabbed the microphone and challenged Matt Hardy to show his face. The “Woken” one appeared on the big screen, agreeing with Wyatt that “the great war is far from over.” Hardy suggested there’s “only one battlefield worthy of such cosmic combat” and offered his real-life North Carolina home, “The Hardy Compound,” which played a big part as the backdrop to his success in TNA as “Broken” Matt Hardy.
- Miz TV presents The Mizzie Awards: The Miz gave insulted Angle, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor with awards. Finally, Rollins and Balor came out looking for a fight. After saying neither one deserves it, The Miz laid in to both with an epic promo in which he insulted Rollins for always looking good in losses and tore into Balor for being a loser with nothing more to show than a one-day universal championship reign. After he closed by trolling Balor for using a hand sign he didn’t create, he challenged both to a handicap match against The Miztourage.
- Seth Rollins & Finn Balor def. The Miz & The Miztourage via pinfall (Handicap Match): Despite there seemingly being nothing at stake, the pair of babyfaces sold out with a series of acrobatic movies, including a breathtaking Tope Con Hilo from Balor. After Balor tagged himself in unannounced, an argument between the two ensued. The finish came when Balor, following a slingblade and missile dropkick on Miz, set up for his Coup de Grace. But Rollins interrupted by tagging himself back in and hit his Stomp finisher for the 1-2-3 (causing Balor to laugh from the top rope). Out came Angle to announce a triple threat Intercontinental title match at WrestleMania featuring The Miz, Rollins and Balor.