WrestleMania 35 is coming ever closer. We’re a few days off the WWE crew beginning to transform MetLife Stadium into the centrepoint of the wrestling universe, and the WWE talent themselves will shortly be packing their bags for an extended stay in New York/New Jersey. Before then, though, there are still a few issues to resolve, and the hype isn’t quite over yet, so let’s get to the latest edition of Raw.
It opened with the announcement revealed earlier on social media that, as expected, the Raw Women’s Championship match will indeed main event WrestleMania. It’s a historic milestone for WWE’s females, especially considering how things were for the women’s division not too long ago. Each of the three participants has played their own part and forged their own path towards turning what was once a fantasy into a reality.
Ronda Rousey disagreed, though, as she came out for a brief promo where she simply said that you could thank her for this happening. Further comments from Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair followed, ahead of a Beat The Clock Challenge, consisting of three matches against each member of The Riott Squad.
Beat The Clock Challenge
The problem with this BTC is that, well, there was nothing at stake other than bragging rights, though it did provide a showcase of sorts for the Raw Women’s Title combatants. Rousey went first, and made quick work of Sarah Logan, submitting her in 1:25. Could Charlotte defeat Ruby Riott in 85 seconds? No, she couldn’t, though she did have her locked in the Figure-Eight when the time expired. That left it up to Becky, and The Man came through by besting Liv Morgan with seven seconds to spare. So, Lynch wins the Beat The Clock Challenge, giving her some additional momentum ahead of April 7. It was later revealed that Rousey, Flair and Lynch will all team together to face The Riott Squad next week. It still feels like things have cooled off for this storyline, but hopefully we get some final, major promos from all three after the six-man tag next Monday to rev fans up for their milestone match next Sunday.
Finn Balor vs. Bobby Lashley & Jinder Mahal
Originally, this two-on-one match was supposed to see Lio Rush team with Big Bobby against Balor, but supposedly due to injuries suffered by Braun Strowman, Rush instead surrendered his spot to Jinder Mahal, accompanied as ever by The Singh Brothers. The stipulation here was that a win for Balor earned him an IC Title shot against Lashley at WrestleMania. The announcers discussing the mountain that Kofi Kingston had to climb in his Gauntlet match on SmackDown had the opposite effect to what they probably intended: by emphasising that Kofi beat five guys one after the other, a fresh Finn defeating two at once wasn’t quite a mountainous task. And so it proved, as after a senton to the floor took everybody out, Balor finished off Mahal with the Coup De Grace afterwards to earn a match against Lashley at Mania, which should end the Undertaker rumours once and for all (this year, anyway). An angry Lashley Speared Jinder after the match.
Throughout the show, we had segments of Elias singing from various locations in New York, ranging from Times Square to outside Madison Square Garden to a dark back alley, ahead of his planned performance at Mania. These were pretty funny, especially when a hoodlum ran off with both Elias’ money (which he’d earned by masquerading as a busker) and even his guitar case.
The Revival vs. Aleister Black & Ricochet
This just feels like a series of matches as opposed to an ongoing feud, but when the bouts are of a high quality, then it’s not exactly a problem. There were occasions of slight sloppiness in the early going here, but things soon smoothed out, leading to some pretty good action towards the finish. Speaking of which, Black caught both Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder with Black Mass at the same time. Dawson rolled out of the ring backwards via the ropes, and Dash stayed down to take the match-winning 630 by Ricochet. Either we’re getting a Raw Tag Team Championship match (and a probable title change) at WrestleMania, either on the main card or on the Kick-Off Show, or we get the big title showdown the night after, with all four being a part of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. More on that shortly.
Drew McIntyre-Roman Reigns Segment
The Scottish Psychopath came down to the ring to say his piece. Having challenged Roman Reigns to a match at WrestleMania, Drew was here to get his answer, but not before levelling more deeply personal comments at him, his family and his health. This brought out The Big Dog, who wasn’t in the mood for a long conversation. Instead, he simply said that he accepted the offer, then told McIntyre never to mention his family again before whacking him in the face. A fight ensued, though a low blow by Drew allowed him to strike Roman again with the Claymore. Backstage afterwards, Dean Ambrose popped up and challenged Drew himself, in this case to a Last Man Standing match in the main event. McIntyre accepted.
Sasha Banks vs. Natalya
This was a rematch from last week, a bout which had Bayley and Beth Phoenix at ringside, and one which was interrupted by Nia Jax and Tamina. And what do you know: after some damn fine wrestling exchanges (including Natalya attempting to run over a sitting Sasha, only to have her leg intercepted by The Boss), things broke down in a hurry when Nia and Tamina ran in again. This time, though, Beth Phoenix managed to temporarily stop Tamina after a Glam Slam. Their exchanges, in contrast to Sasha and Natalya, looked pretty rough, and to be honest, I wouldn’t blame that on the woman who has been unofficially retired for more than six years. Afterwards, they showed a Hall Of Fame video for The Hart Foundation, which understandably left Nattie emotional.
More backstage hijinks ensued. Baron Corbin ran down Kurt Angle ahead of their planned WrestleMania battle, and Sasha (on behalf of her and Bayley, who was stood by The Boss’ side) said that they would take on everybody at WrestleMania. That meant Nia and Tamina, Nattie and Beth, and also The IIconics, who defeated The Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection last Tuesday on SmackDown.
A Moment Of Bliss w/ Braun Strowman
Remember earlier when I mentioned the Andre Battle Royal? That came into focus here, with Alexa Bliss interviewing Braun Strowman and, via satellite (presumably pre-taped, given the way that this played out), Saturday Night Live performers (and WrestleMania correspondents) Colin Jost and Michael Che, who had a run-in with Braun a few weeks back. After a somewhat insincere apology, and Jost getting some heel heat by promoting New York (we were in Boston for this edition of Raw), Braun ignored their suggestions for gift ideas to quell their flames by suggesting that Colin enter the Andre Battle Royal alongside The Monster Among Men. Jost was not enthusiastic, but Che was in an attempt to cover his own hide. As it turned out, Alexa decided (as Mania host, remember) to place both SNL stars in the Andre match alongside Strowman. Both looked glum afterwards (so do most of the wrestlers who are told that they’ll be in the ATGMBR, but that’s another story).
Baron Corbin vs. Apollo Crews
After a humorous extended intro listing Corbin’s accomplishments (perhaps as a dig at those who say that he is unworthy of facing Kurt Angle in the latter’s farewell match at WrestleMania), Baron had a tune-up of sorts, a rematch with Apollo. Crews has gotten a bit more attention lately, which suggests that he may be in line for a push after Mania (I thought that last year as well, to be fair). But right now is not the time for him to make a splash, as he succumbed quickly to the End Of Days, while the announcers debated Baron’s merits for facing Angle, despite having been kayfabe picked by Kurt. If WWE are going to swerve us by replacing Corbin, it looks like we’ll have to wait until the night itself for it to happen.
Seth Rollins-Paul Heyman Promo
This followed the structure of their previous promo battles: Rollins discusses how he plans to defeat Brock Lesnar and “slay the Beast” at WrestleMania, to then be told by Heyman that he won’t, only for Seth to get the last laugh at the end. That was pretty much the formula here, though Heyman made me laugh by mocking those who ask for “thoughts and prayers” in a way that only he could get away with. Rollins did get the last say again by nudging Heyman onto the ground at the top of the ramp, before letting the fans tell Paul that he plans to “Burn It Down” at Mania. Lesnar will appear again on Raw next week (that’s nice of him as Universal Champion), where we’ll get one last confrontation, and maybe even Seth leaving Brock laying, ahead of a lukewarm title match between the two at Mania. I still don’t see any strong evidence to suggest that Rollins dethrones Lesnar next Sunday, though I would like that to happen.
Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe
Angle’s farewell tour continued with a match against United States Champion and SmackDown star (we’re ignoring the brand split completely at this point) Samoa Joe. The announcers noted how they had a storied history, but didn’t say where (TNA) or when (a good while ago now), just that they had never before clashed in WWE. Sadly for Kurt, it wasn’t pretty: Joe started it off strong with a headbutt (as a call-back to when Kurt first headbutted Joe in TNA), but Joe visibly had to carry Angle through the match, which included the scary sight of Angle only going slightly up for a suplex that saw him land on his head. Ouch. Angle fired back with German suplexes and Angle Slams, and after being locked in the Coquina Clutch, Kurt managed to roll Joe over while he still had the submission locked in to claim a pinfall win. Angle faces AJ Styles on SmackDown, and Rey Mysterio next week on Raw, before facing Corbin at Mania. If indeed, Corbin is the only plan for Angle at WM, matches like this make you appreciate why, since Kurt seems to be physically spent, which is a shame considering how incredible he was before injuries and wear and tear slowed him down. He’ll still get a big finale, and an exit worthy of his reputation, but those expecting one last masterful performance will have to re-adjust their expectations.
Triple H Promo
Next, we had Triple H’s response to Batista’s points raised last week. We’ve had super-serious Hunter for a few weeks, but here we had jovial, joking Helmsley circa 2008. Some of his lines were funny, to be fair, as he noted his version of Batista’s history, from his days as a Deacon to the manner in which he left WWE twice. After suggesting that Batista’s agent had requested that the date of WrestleMania be changed to accommodate his Hollywood schedule at one point, he got serious and reminded us of what Batista had done to Ric Flair, before noting The Animal’s latest threat: he would only face HHH at Mania if he put his career on the line. Hunter accepted this change, which seems to be a way to convince people that Batista has a chance of winning what he has already stated will be his final match against a man to whom he’s never lost in singles action on a grand stage. Hopefully, Batista shows up at Raw next week too to conclude the up-and-down build for what should be a mega match in MetLife.
Last Man Standing Match
Drew McIntyre vs. Dean Ambrose
The show ended with the aforementioned Last Man Standing clash between Drew and Dean. We were running low on TV time when the bell rang, plus we had to endure a final commercial break, so it’s no surprise that this felt rushed. It was still well-worked, and both men left nasty marks on one another via a kendo stick, but it felt a bit like a house show main event rather than a TV battle to remember. Drew claimed victory by dumping Dean through a table and then nailing him with a Claymore. McIntyre is receiving a big push right now, and though he’ll probably lose to Reigns at Mania, he is being set up nicely to have a major run (and maybe even an important title reign) beyond Mania.
This was a bit of a “meh” show for me. We had storyline progression and a fair amount of entertainment, plus a couple of good matches too. But considering how close we are to WrestleMania 35, it still feels like the excitement levels are lower than they should be. Right now, it feels like this is a Mania that won’t stand out in one’s memory in the subsequent months and years, even though we’re getting a historic main event, Kurt Angle retiring, Batista finishing up, and possibly exits for Triple H and Ronda Rousey too, along with uncertainty over whether Brock Lesnar is sticking around (since you never know what the future holds for him). Hopefully, they find a way to generate real intrigue over the next eight days, because Raws such as this make me approach the card with a feeling of “I’m looking forward to WrestleMania, but I’m not over-the-moon excited about it”.