Wrestling Review: WWE Raw, January 14 2019

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This week’s episode of Glass – sorry Raw, I got mixed up based on the amount of plugs by Michael Cole – had the potential to be disappointing after last week’s show which featured several big returns. But we were in for a surprise, as we were treated to a very eventful programme that has even greater long-term consequences than what we witnessed a week ago.

Braun Strowman Segment

Braun Strowman came out to discuss his Universal Championship match with Brock Lesnar, or more rather, run through how he planned to defeat Brock at Royal Rumble. He was interrupted by Baron Corbin, the man who cost him the chance to beat Lesnar at “WWE World Cup” (Crown Jewel, presumably renamed to avoid boos despite Baron’s monologue being designed to garner negativity from fans). This led Strowman to chase Corbin backstage, and after being directed by a singing Elias, Braun found Baron in a limousine which he proceeded to try and destroy … a limo which happened to be that of Vince McMahon, who had arrived in said vehicle at the start of the show. It made me laugh that Vince had asked his driver to wipe the car to remove a very slight mark, only for Braun to literally rip a door off 10 minutes later. After Braun swept aside Vince’s threat of a $100,000 fine, McMahon announced that Strowman was no longer going to face Lesnar at Royal Rumble! Strowman had been in a similar situation prior to Royal Rumble last year, but this time Vince’s word was final, and he was led out of the building by security. Well,not before The Monster Among Men turned the limo over, because why not?

Ronda Rousey & Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax & Tamina

As we pondered who would replace Braun at Royal Rumble, we were given this women’s tag team clash, involving two ladies who will collide at the Rumble, Ronda and Sasha. Interestingly, aside from a brief show of offence (which included a very well-executed leap into an armlock takedown), Rousey barely competed, with Banks instead carrying the load and not even hinting at making the usual hot tag. A Banks Statement to Tamina earned a submission win for the babyfaces, but the apparent friendship between the two boiled over into real tension afterwards, with Banks taking exception to Ronda’s perspective on The Boss. Sasha vowed that rather than her being tapped out by Ronda, she will instead submit Rousey and win the title at Chase Field next Sunday in Phoenix.

The Revival vs. Lucha House Party

After a random cameo by Jerry Lawler leaving Vince’s office (in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee), for a reason that was never explained, we moved towards a doubles bout that would not require Dash and Dawson to wrestle under Lucha House Rules. With the match rolling on, we were interjected with comments from several Raw superstars wishing to replace Braun against Lesnar (who, bless them, never had a chance), one of which was a silent and smirking EC3. As for the bout itself, it was well-executed but instantly forgettable, with Dawson pinning Gran Metalik off a DDT after Dash shoved his foot off the ropes. After several examples of injustice, this was a step in the opposite direction for The Revival, who are presumably going to face Chad Gable and Bobby Roode again for the titles soon.

Vince McMahon Segment

Mr. McMahon left his office and said he would announce Lesnar’s new opponent for Royal Rumble in the ring. Before he could, though, he was interrupted by John Cena, who noted how Vince had given him an opportunity “20 years ago” when Steve Austin, The Rock and Lesnar himself left WWE (his timeline was a bit off), and now he needed another opportunity because he still had “ruthless aggression”. Drew McIntyre then interrupted him and advised that Cena could follow the legends of the past right out the door. After Baron Corbin put forward his argument to face Brock, Finn Balor strolled out and noted to Vince how he himself didn’t believe in Balor, but that the people did. This led to a four-way brawl, ending with Drew levelling Finn and John with the Claymore, and leading to Vince making a #1 contender’s four-way for the main event.

Backstage, Jinder Mahal wondered aloud why he wasn’t in the championship picture. Despite his shoddy win-loss record in recent months, Jinder was thrown a bone by
McMahon (presumably playing heel again here), with a Finn-Jinder match made for the fourth slot in the headline match.

Bayley, Natalya & Nikki Cross vs. The Riott Squad

This was set up backstage when Bayley and Natalya had argued while trying to break up a separate Sasha-Ronda dispute, only to be confronted by Ruby and friends (meaning that they suddenly patched things up). I assumed that Ember Moon would be their surprise partner, but instead it was Nikki Cross, appearing on Raw for the first time (though Michael Cole noted that all of the “new” NXT call-ups would be appearing on both shows for now). The match itself was alright, with the crazed antics of Nikki standing out and getting quite the reaction in Memphis. Bayley picked up the win for her team (and she hit the move of the match with a ferocious high knee to Sarah Logan), but it was definitely Cross that left the lasting impression here.

Finn Balor vs. Jinder Mahal

Just before heading to the ring, Finn happened to notice Lacey Evans standing in the corridor, which I guess constituted her main roster debut. This seemed designed to provide an extra obstacle for Balor to overcome, thus making what suddenly seemed like a probable triumph in the main event seem even more heroic, and that’s what we got. Despite a pre-match attack by Mahal that focused on Balor’s ribs, the Irishman fought back valiantly and picked up the win with a Coup De Grace, with his feet almost finding a new home in Jinder’s own rib-cage.

Intercontinental Championship Triple Threat Match
Dean Ambrose (C) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Bobby Lashley

Ambrose had noted how he was angry about having to defend his IC crown in a three-way, and in Memphis at that. His mood will hardly have improved once he discovered that he was no longer the champion after a pretty fun, energetic and fast-moving triple threat contest. Lio Rush continuously interfered, notably denying Seth the chance to claim victory more than once. It seemed like Rollins was about to Curb Stomp Dean into the ground, but another Rush distraction took his attention away for long enough that Lashley was able to Spear Ambrose for the pinfall win and to claim his first Intercontinental Championship. With the IC Title no longer in the picture, Rollins and Ambrose will now be able to settle their hostilities alone, though I am surprised that Dean (who only turned heel three months ago, and didn’t reveal his intentions for the first month) has lost the title that he only won a few weeks back at TLC.

A Moment Of Bliss w/ Paul Heyman

This segment was notable for one important moment and two random instances. The biggest came when Bliss revealed the Women’s Tag Team Championships, and that they will be decided in a six-team Elimination Chamber match at the PPV of the same name (with three squads from each show). The random moments were her personal helper almost catching sight of a naked Bliss in her locker room (who wrote that segment in 2019?), and Otis Dozovic coming out, Father Jack-style, fascinated by the sight of a
pretty woman, with Tucker Knight (his partner in Heavy Machinery) leading him away. All of which made you forget that Paul Heyman was present, and talking up the title hopes of each main event participant, except for Balor (since he was interrupted before that could happen).

#1 Contender’s Fatal Four Way Match
John Cena vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin

This was a real mix of talents, from the established legend to the reborn killer, from the experienced underdog to the prototypical WWE heel. They all contributed to what was a fun main event with plenty of big moves and near-falls, and with each of the combatants having their moment to shine, as well as having opportunities to claim victory and earn that Universal Championship match against The Beast. In the end, though, it happened to be the plucky Balor who, in his second match of the night and against three men who towered over him when it came to beef (Vince’s words), picked up the win with a Coup De Grace on Cena to earn what is arguably the biggest match of his career, as he prepares to face Lesnar in front of over 40,000 fans at Royal Rumble. Cena endorsed Balor after the bout, with Raw then going off the air.

This was a really entertaining and unpredictable episode on what was its 26th anniversary week. Why Strowman is no longer facing Lesnar will be the subject of much discussion, with theories ranging from the possibility that he still hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery to the proverbial “plans changed”. But I feel that Balor instead facing Lesnar is the better option, making for a fresher and likely better match, even if the odds of Brock now dropping the title before WrestleMania 35 have become much lower. Elsewhere, we had a big title change, several debut appearances of sorts, a proper unveiling of the Women’s Tag Team Championships. Raw has made a strong start to 2019, and with next week marking the final episode before the Rumble, I am hoping that its momentum continues.