The Road To WrestleMania continues, though it’s Fast Lane that we’re heading to next, as in this Sunday. But with barely anything announced on the Raw side for the show six days away, the red brand had some work to do. In the meantime, we had the intrigue of Ronda Rousey seemingly vacating the Raw Women’s Title in protest at Becky Lynch being removed from the Mania match, Roman Reigns giving everybody a boost by announcing that he would be returning, and Batista stunning Triple H by assaulting Ric Flair during his big 70th birthday celebration. That was all last week, but what would go down this week?
Roman Reigns Promo
For the second week running, The Big Dog himself opened the show, and was again greeted by almost unanimous support. Reigns said it was now time to reclaim his yard and said that Seth Rollins was in his way, and called him out. Rollins said he would do anything for Roman, assuming he meant that he wanted a Universal Championship opportunity. Instead, Roman said he wanted to get the band back together i.e. The Shield, but Rollins said he couldn’t do that, given what Ambrose had done on the night that Roman previously departed. Eventually, Roman was able to persuade Seth, meaning they just needed Ambrose to agree as well. and he came out … but was then whacked with a guitar by Elias, setting up a match later on and keeping us waiting.
Braun Strowman, Kurt Angle & Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre & Bobby Lashley
This six-man tag team match, featuring many of Raw’s top names, felt like filler, and so it proved despite some good sequences towards the end. Strowman smashed through Lio Rush at ringside, hurtling him through the barricade, but it isolated Balor, who tasted a Lashley spear to end the match. Obviously, this was to build the heels as a three-man army for what we would hear later, but I still have no idea where this leaves any of the babyfaces. Strowman was their initial target but he’s left out in the cold for now, whilst Balor is an Intercontinental Champion without an opponent for now (and with another loss on his record). As for Kurt Angle? If he is going to have a big retirement storyline, as is rumoured, surely we have to hear about it next week on Raw, otherwise his outstanding career may fizzle out to little notice.
Natalya vs. Ruby Riott
A few months ago, this was an important storyline on Raw. Now, it’s just another match on Raw as we head knee-deep into WrestleMania Season. This was a well-executed battle, but one that few cared about because there are much more interesting things going on in the company’s female divisions right now. Natalya picked up the win, but her celebration was cut short by Lacey Evans doing the Grampa Simpson once again, in this case turning around and leaving before her name had been completely announced. One other thing: what happened to Dana Brooke’s challenge to Nattie a few weeks back? I guess the McMahons also had air pods in, which Natalya did that night.
Stephanie McMahon welcomed a few guests from Saturday Night Live (hey, I’m English, so how do I know who they are?), and revealed that they would be “correspondents” for WrestleMania. They would have multiple interactions throughout the show, with one of them heeling it up by suggesting he was a huge fan when he was really taking digs at the product and at Philadelphia (where this show was held).
Triple H Promo
Other than Roman Reigns’ big return, last week’s highlight was Batista shockingly returning and attacking Ric Flair. This was Triple H’s response, and HHH delivered a memorable promo. He discussed not necessarily Ric Flair, but Richard Fleihr, the man behind The Nature Boy. HHH noted how he had been there for his high points (including “a couple of weddings”, which got some laughs), and his low points, which included him burying his son Reid, and his brush with death on 2017.As HHH got emotional at recounting these events, he noted that Ric shouldn’t have been alive, thus making it a greater moment that he could celebrate his 70th birthday on Raw … only for Batista to ruin it. I should mention that Batista had posted a video on Instagram saying he wouldn’t be at Raw not because he couldn’t be there, but because he didn’t want to be there in Philadelphia, which was funny. Because of this, Tripper called out Batista, telling him to grow some balls and actually show up. HHH said he would fight him anytime anywhere, including at either of their homes. It was later confirmed that the two would have a face-off next week on Raw, assuming of course The Animal turns up.
Backstage, Stephanie McMahon had much to reveal in response to Ronda Rousey apparently walking out last week. Becky Lynch had been acquitted of last week’s police charges, and her 60-day suspension had been lifted. This meant that Becky would still need to sign an agreement later on that would remove any blame from WWE if she was injured while not being 100% fit, because she would now be facing Charlotte Flair at Fast Lane for the vacant Raw Women’s Championship. Charlotte had a backstage interview a little later where she emphasised that she was displeased (because she thought she’d just be handed the title), but vowed to beat the “one-legged” Lynch on Sunday.
Heavy Machinery Run The Gauntlet
Earlier, we were shown footage of Raw’s lower-ranked combos discussing Heavy Machinery, with The Ascension particularly making fun of Tucker and Otis. This hurt Otis’ feelings, and so they were given a Gauntlet to relieve their emotions. That they did in relatively short order, with HM first dispatching of The B-Team, then Konnor and Viktor, and finally Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins (whose losing record continues). The Caterpillar was enough to end the match as a whole, during which Renee Young asked the question that we were all thinking: Why was there a camera during the backstage discussion between the three Raw tag teams in the first place? Little things like that, and Michael Cole and Corey Graves having no answer to the point she had raised, are part of the fun of pro wrestling that are acceptable to fans and baffling to non-fans.
Dean Ambrose vs. Elias
Before the match, Elias serenaded us with one of his best songs yet, taking one shot after another at the Philadelphia audience. As for the bout itself, it wasn’t anything memorable, so much so that I can’t think of anything notable to write in this review. Elias polished Dean off with the Drift Away. Roman and Seth had both separately confronted Dean backstage earlier to try and change his mind only to be rejected, so this pushed the idea that Ambrose was struggling without his Shield brethren (even though nobody interfered, thus meaning that Dean lost cleanly here).
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins then marched to the ring to question Dean Ambrose once more about a Shield reunion. Ambrose still wasn’t interested and left via the crowd, until Corbin, McIntyre and Lashley also came back out. McIntyre suggested that they could have had an epic six-man tag at Fast Lane, but instead they’d just destroy Seth and Roman here. And they tried, until Dean came to the rescue, and the Hounds Of Justice combined to chase away the heels, before giving us the, erm, triple fist-bump to officially reunite. It was confirmed afterwards that The Shield would indeed face Baron, Drew and Bobby on Sunday (in Roman’s comeback match, remember), and during the subsequent segment, Michael Cole acknowledged on-air for the first time that Ambrose was leaving WWE in April, hence why this would be “one last Shield reunion”. I am predicting that we see a Shield win on Sunday, followed shortly afterwards by Ambrose stabbing Roman in the back to set up a WrestleMania match (since Reigns has no other obvious opponent), thus sending Ambrose through the exit door on a bit of a high.
Sasha Banks vs. Tamina
With Nia Jax and Tamina set to challenge Sasha Banks and Bayley for the Women’s Tag Team Titles on Sunday, and considering that Bayley pinned Nia last week, the result of this encounter seemed likely to favour the upcoming challengers. And so it proved, as after Jax attempted to interfere and tossed Bayley aside, a distracted Banks tasted a superkick from Tamina (which seemed to really shock the referee, who then slid smoothly into the subsequent count), and Tamina pinned Sasha for the win.
Backstage, another run-in with the SNL guests saw Braun Strowman throttle one of them after they implied that wrestling may not have been real. Has Vince Russo rejoined WWE’s creative team? (Someone on Twitter pointed out that this may have been a homage to the infamous David Schultz/John Stossel incident in the mid-1980s; look it up as it was an interesting behind-the-scenes tale).
Raw Tag Team Championship Match
The Revival (C) vs. Ricochet & Aleister Black
This came about as a result of Ricochet and Black defeating Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder last week, though it was still a surprise for the NXT call-ups to receive a Tag Team Championship opportunity so soon, especially since they are basically a thrown-together combo. The Revival emphasised their greater experience as a team by controlling the early section and isolating Aleister, with multiple tags helping their cause. Chad Gable and Bobby Roode walked down the aisle as we went to commercial to get a closer view of the match; when we returned, Black was still at the mercy of the defending champions. Ricochet eventually tagged in and unleashed his usual hi-octane offence on Dash and Dawson, delivering fast and innovative offence. Dawson was thrown to ringside, at which point Gable and Roode attacked him and then Dash causing a DQ finish, understandably angering Ricochet and Aleister (Chad and Bobby are faces, remember). This led to an inevitable brawl between the former champions and the main roster newcomers, who teased dives to the floor only to lead to their signature poses.
Stephanie McMahon/Charlotte Flair/Becky Lynch Segment
This was the culmination of Stephanie’s earlier announcements, with Becky appearing to ensure that, if she really wanted to compete whilst unfit, she had to sign paperwork absolving WWE of blame. Cole meanwhile continued Shoot Season in WWE by implying that the McMahons had brought back Becky because she was so popular in the aftermath of Ronda Rousey supposedly leaving (no mention of their fierce Twitter war at the tail end of last week). Flair said there was still a chance to just give her the title, but Becky said she would have no problem beating Charlotte on one good leg, since she had done so to win the women’s Royal Rumble match. Becky signed the agreement, only for Ronda Rousey to show up, walking through the backstage area and marching right down to the ring, looking like she was ready to fight. Ronda said she didn’t vacate the title, just to bring back Becky, which she did; therefore, she wanted her title back. That Stephanie did, and so McMahon changed the stipulation of Charlotte-Becky, with Lynch’s spot at WrestleMania on the line; if Becky wins, it becomes a three-way on April 7, but if she loses, “she’s done”. Ronda then verbally attacked Stephanie, noting how she was too valuable to be fired, and then turned on the fans as well, saying that she had done everything to earn their respect but it wasn’t enough. She had gotten sick of it, and then she booted Charlotte away while attacking Becky and locking Lynch in the armbar. Charlotte stayed away, with the injured Becky left to be destroyed by Rousey, who pounded Becky and trapped her again in the armbar. So, Rousey is now a heel, adding another twist to an increasingly-intriguing WrestleMania storyline. Ronda stood on Becky’s neck, holding her title aloft, and pounded her even more. Backstage, Stephanie said that this proved that Rouse was an animal all along, and said that she felt sympathy for Becky.
There was plenty happening on this episode of Raw, though I still preferred last week’s edition. I’m not sure whether it’s a positive or a negative that the Mania paths for so many key players remains unclear; it creates a sense of unpredictability and a feeling of “what will happen next?”, but the upshot could be that the matches involving Balor, Angle, Strowman etc on April 7 feel less significant as a result. In the meantime, though, the build continued for the Women’s Championship match and the probable HHH-Batista showdown, and Fast Lane feels more important than it did prior to the beginning of Raw. So, on the whole, decent stuff, but I feel that next week’s show, with WrestleMania being the primary focus and with Batista advertised as appearing, will be a can’t-miss episode.