Raw began this week with a video packaging recapping Lesnar’s attack on Goldberg last week that allowed him to get his heat back and featured some great time remapping and color adjustments which satisfied the video nerd in me. This transitioned smoothly into Lesnar himself entering the arena with his ever-present advocate, Paul Heyman, to begin the show proper. Paul Heyman went into typical Paul Heyman mode and delivered a standard promo for his client that was passable if not completely lacking in the compelling narrative that drives the best Heyman promos. While it was nice to see these two brought out given their star-power, the promo didn’t really seem to warrant it given how standard it was: “My client will beat Brock Lesnar and it will be a great comeback…” etc., etc., etc.
One interesting point to note was how Heyman called the F5 the “…single most devastating move in the history of the WWE.” Clearly he forgot about Hogan’s leg drop…
In the end this segment existed to simply remind the audience that their is a Universal Title match at Mania and nothing more.
Overall Score: 5/10
From Filler to Killer (Segment)
When it was first announced earlier in the night that Roman Reigns would be taking on Jinder Mahal of all people and I was really taken aback. Mahal is so far out of Reigns league in terms of star power and character that this match initially seemed to be filler meant to assert Reigns as dominant.
And it was just that. While not as dominant as it should have been in my opinion, Reigns quickly went over in this match and looked strong as he overcame Mahal’s (surprisingly stiff) offense and took his opponent to the mat with two Superman Punches. Despite this, the gong of The Undertaker which interrupted the match at one point and allowed Jinder to mount his attack let me knew this match had a greater purpose going forward in the overall segment which followed.
This gong served to alert Roman of Taker’s appearance and logically led to him calling out The Deadman but, instead of Taker coming out, Shawn Michaels did instead. Given Michael’s spectacular Mania matches with Undertaker in the past, this instantly made a ton of sense. Additionally, this appearance was unannounced ahead of time and came as a genuine surprise, a rarity in WWE these days.
The purpose of Michael’s appearance was to warn Reigns that at WrestleMania “He is gonna eat you alive” due to the fact that Undertaker is clearly already in Roman Reigns’ head. Reigns disputes this given that WWE is now “his yard” and Michaels quickly retorts with the fact that he is known as “Mr. WrestleMania” and should be respected on this subject. During this entire exchange, Reigns is respectable of Michaels but noticeably more cocky than he normally is as he seems to underestimate Undertaker. Not only is this great character depth building but utilizes Michaels in a way that isn’t selling the crowd a goddamn WWE Studios’ film and should be applauded.
Reigns leaves the ring but not after dropping a line that only reinforces the previously mentioned cockiness but also worked as a great injection of reality:
“I appreciate your advice… but The Undertaker retired you, and I’m the guy who’s gonna retire him”
Before Reigns could soak in this moment too much, Braun Strowman blindsided Reigns on the way up the ramp to seemingly inject some greater intrigue into the story by proposing a triple threat. Given Taker’s physical state over the past few years, a triple threat would not only allow Taker a chance to breathe but also allow the other two men to carry the match, something they can clearly do as evidenced at Fastlane. While it may look less impressive than a one on one match on paper, I welcome the triple threat idea and look forward to what they do next week to address this.
Overall Score: 8/10
Attitude Era Angst
Stephanie McMahon began the closing segment in the ring and welcomed Mick Foley out so he could fire the individual he needed to as per Stephanie’s request earlier in the show in order to prove his loyalty. Foley reveals that Stephanie is the name he came up with in order to improve Raw and defends this decision with passion as Stephanie stares at him in disbelief. Triple H quickly comes out to interrupt Foley and the real meat of this segment begins as the two begin to verbally spar with Foley largely asserting HHH operates solely in the shadows to build an army of men for nefarious means as HHH argued that Foley is just a nostalgia act that is only receiving attention given Stephanie’s affection for him. The debate seemingly ends when HHH brings up cutting Foley’s kid’s futures short in the WWE (something which has been well documented in Holy Foley) and Triple H gains a mental upper hand.
Appearing defeated, Foley is told to “Tuck his tail between his legs and waddle up that ramp” and begins to leave as The Authority continues to talk down to the audience. In a great moment, HHH notices Foley still hasn’t left and as he approaches him to leave again, Foley hits HHH with a surprise mandible claw and starts to take The Game down before he is stopped short of a full takedown by a low blow from Stephanie.
This interaction between Foley and HHH was a very high point of the show and despite a few slipups from HHH under a barrage of CM Punk chants directed at him, both men commanded the mic and the arena. Like the Reigns segment earlier in the night, a dose of reality was injected into the conversation with comments like “I don’t have to pretend to like you HHH. I don’t need you and I don’t need this company anymore” from Foley which bring to mind the rumors that Foley is on his way out from WWE and in doing so makes the tension seem much more real. It was also near cathartic to see Foley get some physical payback by attacking HHH after being emasculated by Stephanie for so long and if this is the climax of his story, I welcome his departure.
The segment continued as Seth Rollins came out to save Foley from HHH’s wrath and things surprisingly became physical as Rollins dropped his single crutch and began assaulting HHH. After driving him out, Rollins stood tall but was stopped short of ending the show with pride as HHH reentered the ring with Rollins’ dropped crutch and viciously beat him with it.
It was extremely fun to finally see these men come to blows and seeing HHH bend the crush on Rollins’ genuinely injured knee was the perfect kind of cringe as it once again brought a level of reality to the show as I found myself asking if Rollins was truly okay.
Overall Score: 9/10
Average Total Score: 7/10
If the opening segment of Raw this week was a more unique and compelling promo by Heyman, this week’s Raw could have been a near perfect show in building up Raw’s marquee WrestleMania matches. Whereas Smackdown has been needlessly complicating it’s primary stories in recent weeks, Raw is sticking to simple and clean stories that are still compelling and thus much more accessible and interesting. Too often Raw doesn’t feel like a big show anymore but this show was NOT a small show. The reliance on Attitude Era talent this week could be seen as a negative but considering how they were used to support the storylines of younger stars, I truly cannot complain. Let’s hope that they can keep this momentum up and make WrestleMania truly seem like a must-see event.
Til next time,