Written By: Declan Brady
After the last two weeks of taped shows for Monday Night Raw to have Christmas and New Years off, the show came back live for the first episode of the year (in America) at the Amway Centre in Orlando, Florida. The announcements for the show built Raw up to be incredibly stacked, with appearances from John Cena, Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar and, for the first time in years, Hulk Hogan to commemorate Mean Gene Okerlund. The first ever ‘A Moment Of Bliss’, with special guest Ronda Rousey, and a Tag Team Title rematch between Roode and Gable vs the Revival were also confirmed.
Seth Rollins/Bobby Lashley Brawl
This is not the way in which I would normally expect Raw to start, but it was a very good way to get the crowd going for what was ahead. Following the match these two had last week and the post-match beatdown by Rollins, it was nice to see this feud be continued, and to not just have Lashley get beat up and then face someone new this week. This is not the last time these two would face each other, and I feel like if anyone is going to get something out of Lashley at the moment, it is Rollins. It was also nice to see No Way Jose on TV, as I had a feeling other than video packages that he’s been MIA since June.
John Cena Segment
Knowing how well-received the Cena promo was with Becky Lynch last week on SmackDown, this segment had high expectations which were not met, but it still achieved its goal. Cena came out to a huge cheer from the crowd unsurprisingly, and then got into the focus of his issue. Cena referenced that come Mania time, you either “step up or step aside”, and that he is not repeating the same mistakes he did last year. In saying that, Cena did exactly what he did last year and entered the Royal Rumble, looking to become a three-time winner and get his 17th World title. After saying this, Cena was interrupted by the “Scottish Psychopath” Drew McIntyre. Drew focused on how he’s “waited years for this moment”, and that he’s going to take out “the greatest of all-time”, referencing the destruction he made of Kurt Angle. Just as it seemed Cena vs. McIntyre would occur, Lashley would come back out, leading to another brawl with Rollins. Ambrose and Balor both came out to help their sides, and Holla Holla Holla, we got a tag team match playa!! This segment was a solid way to open Raw, but it could have been done much better with the talent involved instead of stumbling into a six-man tag match.
John Cena, Finn Balor & Seth Rollins vs. Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley & Dean Ambrose
This was a very good opening match. Cena and Lashley started, which felt like I had teleported back to 2007, but the majority of the match was McIntyre, Lashley and Ambrose targeting the smallest of their opponents, Finn Balor. This made the match better because Finn Balor was over with this crowd; this may be because the show is in Orlando, but despite that, it gave the match enough support to be invested in Balor getting the tag. Balor after being dominated for the majority of the match was able to tag Cena in and he cleaned up, especially on the Intercontinental Champion, a title he’s never won. The finish would come when Balor was tagged back in and cleaned house before the match broke loose, with a highlight being Rollins hitting a moonsault to the outside, which would lead to Rollins getting the pinfall by beating Ambrose. Backstage, Rollins requested Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title tonight, which Triple H approved of, saying that the match would be later in the show, and that it would be a Falls Count Anywhere match.
Hulk Hogan Segment
Not much to say about this part of the show other than ‘class’. Before Hogan came out, announcer Mike Rome brought along the 10-bell salute, a great sign of respect for a legend in the wrestling business. Following this came Hulk Hogan to a huge positive reaction dressed out in his ‘gimmick’, and sporting a ‘Mean Gene O’ Mania’ shirt. Hogan would go on to call Mean Gene “one of a kind”, and do his famous line of “well let me tell you something, Mean Gene”, which got a positive reaction. Hogan would also reference that Gene is in heaven watching Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Perfect, with Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan on commentary, which is jarring to hear when you think about it. It must also be mentioned that the video package for Gene Okerlund was a masterpiece and really showed how many great moments Gene had, as well as the quality of WWE videos.
Raw Tag Team Championship Lumberjack Match
Bobby Roode & Chad Gable (C) vs. The Revival
Following a very emotional segment came a title rematch, from which the bad guys in The Revival were screwed. with the people involved, this match got the expected result of being a pretty good bout. A big highlight of this match was a piece of teamwork between Roode and Gable in which Roode back-body dropped Gable over the top rope onto The Revival and the lumberjacks. Both Roode and Gable looked great in this match, with everything looking smooth especially from Roode, and their tag moves looked impressive with a blockbuster/German suplex being a highlight. The finish again would come with controversy as The Revival were once again screwed out of the Raw Tag Titles, this time with the referee not noticing Scott Dawson’s foot on the bottom rope. I don’t understand why the ‘heels’ here are getting screwed over. At least we get to see these four again, but this feud makes no sense other than to have good matches.
Elias vs. Baron Corbin
I will be honest here: this match had really low expectations for me, with Raw not doing much to promote the match. Elias started the segment doing his weekly ‘walk with Elias’ speech and announcing his entry into the Royal Rumble. He was then interrupted by Baron Corbin, who said the fans disrespect him and that he can’t listen to another “mind-numbing” Elias song. Corbin then announced his own entry into the Royal Rumble, hopefully doing a lot better than last year. The match was pretty solid in all fairness, and showed to me at least that Elias is a really good babyface, and that Corbin can be an obstacle to beat other than a lousy authority figure. A big spot in this match would be the catching knee by Elias when Corbin went to the top rope, but Baron would win with the End Of Days after throwing Elias into the ring post, getting a much-needed singles win.
Braun Strowman/Brock Lesnar Segment
This one will be kept short in saying that this was one of the worst segments in recent WWE history. Strowman came to call out Brock Lesnar, only to be responded to Lesnar and Paul Heyman standing backstage on the Titan Tron. This would lead to a couple minutes of pointless back-and-forth between Lesnar, Heyman and Strowman, which would lead the Beast to finally come out. Lesnar would then walk around the ring before heading back up the ramp. I will admit to being a big Brock Lesnar fan, but if this is what you had planned for him, he may as well have stayed on his farm until the Royal Rumble. This segment benefitted absolutely no-one.
Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox vs. Apollo Crews & Ember Moon
This segment was not really needed on Raw but it did have its moments. The pre-match promo from Jinder and Alicia got a little reaction from me for how cringeworthy it was, but that’s what it was meant to be. The match did exactly what it needed to do, which was combine two squash matches into one with Ember hitting the Eclipse for the pin with a hilarious sell by Fox. I would keep Mahal and Fox together just for the comedy alone.
‘A Moment Of Bliss’ w/ Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey
Now, being quite a big Alexa Bliss fan, I actually had high hopes for this, especially when Bliss wanted her coffee. However, those hopes faded pretty quickly once Ronda came out. Ronda would talk about “the unsung hero” of Monday Night Raw referring to Sasha Banks, to which Bliss would reply “I thought you were taking about me?” The segment would take a big down-sweep once Nia Jax came out wanting another match against Ronda Rousey, which would be interrupted by Sasha. Banks would thank Ronda for the compliment, and when told by Nia to go to the back of the line, she responded with “bitch, what line?” This would lead to Jax vs. Banks up next, where the winner would face Rousey at Royal Rumble. The only positive I can give this segment is that a #1 contender’s match came out of it, and the fact that the best speaker in the Raw women’s division was nothing more than a stage piece is disappointing.
#1 Contender’s Match
Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks
These two have had very good matches before, and again they put on a very good showing here. The story of David vs. Goliath was told extremely well with Sasha trying to use and create as many opportunities against Nia without being caught. A cool moment in the match was Nia carrying Banks across the outside into the fans before dropping her on a production box which must have hurt badly, and at least the fans appreciated it with their reaction. Sasha was even able to kick out of a Samoan drop putting her foot on the bottom rope, which the ref was able to notice in this match. The finish would come following a rough headscissors on the ring apron and the Bank Statement. Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks at Royal Rumble is a great match to have, as Sasha hasn’t been in a title match since last February, and it has a big-time feeling to it.
Intercontinental Championship Falls Count Anywhere Match
Dean Ambrose (C) vs. Seth Rollins
This match did have a big-match feel surrounding it, and hopefulness for better than their match at TLC. This actually kicked off before the bell had even been rung with Rollins attacking Ambrose during his entrance. The two started brawling in the crowd and backstage, with a major moment being Rollins trying to “maim” Dean, as Michael Cole would suggest moving part of the set towards Ambrose, who would get away. A big moment of this match would actually come during the commercial break with Rollins putting Ambrose through the table with a bodyslam. A huge spot came when Rollins jumped on Ambrose from one area of the crowd to another. The finish would come when it seemed that Rollins had the match won with the Curb Stomp, before he was attacked by Lashley. The All-Mighty would pummel Rollins, hitting power moves on repeat and finishing with a spear. Ambrose would retain by slowly crawling over to get the three-count, and post-match, Lashley sent Seth crashing through a table.
Overall, this week’s Raw was an average-to-good show. The first hour was great with Hogan being the highlight, and probably one of the highlights of 2019 when the year is over. The show started to dip after that, especially with Nia coming out on ‘A Moment of Bliss’ and claiming to weigh 20 pounds. The main event was a good end to the show and leaves a few questions of what happens next week, as does Rousey vs. Banks.