This episode of Monday Night RAW follows on from an intriguing PPV in the Royal Rumble 2016. WWE decided to switch their world title from current go-to guy and obsession of Vince McMahon in Roman Reigns, to his son-in-law Triple H. It’s Hunter’s 14th world title and was booked to feel like a surprise, although those in the know had been tipping him to win it for several weeks. The real surprise in the Rumble match was the much vaunted appearance of AJ Styles, skipping over a run in NXT to become a main roster star overnight. The massive pop he received when entering the Rumble match at #3 gave me goosebumps and the continued crowd support throughout showed WWE that AJ was a legitimate superstar and one to be reckoned with. He might be getting up there in age, in his late thirties, but he comes in as the complete package. A ready made main eventer. Something the company desperately needs with their current injury crisis. It also shows the benefit of skipping NXT on top line talent when they simply don’t need to go there. I’m glad AJ retains his name but I miss both his TNA and New Japan music.
We’re in Miami, Florida. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: The McMahon Family
Meet the new opening segment, same as the old opening segment. It’s true the focus needs to be on the new champion here but the process of starting a show with a McMahon talking is so outdated it kills any interest I had in the show right from the start. The only thing of note of is Steph trying to bury AJ by mentioning him as a potential winner of the Rumble and the crowd promptly drowning out the McMahon’s by chanting his name. The main event of this company is such poison at the moment. There seems to be no room for wrestling. I’ve not been invested in a WWE champion since Daniel Bryan won at WrestleMania XXX. Triple H, in his role as heel champion, puts over Vince as being the closest thing to God in the WWE ring. “I don’t need to be WWE champion but I want to be WWE champion”. Steph asks the question; who actually wrestles Hunter at ‘Mania? Whoever wins in the main event at Fast Lane will be taking on Hunter at WrestleMania. But what is the main event of Fast Lane? We’ll find out tonight. This worked as soon as Hunter launched into his promo and they left with the intrigue of where to go from here.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Owens is still selling the leg from last night, which he injured during a great IC title match that opened the Rumble show. As per usual Ziggler gets his ass kicked throughout in an energetic match up. Ziggler does a good job of throwing kicks that leave Owens with the last gasp kick outs in between Owens periods of dominance. Owens slips out of a super rana and hits the Pop Up Powerbomb for the win. Ziggler spent the entire of last year being a wishy-washy midcard guy who gets dominated in every match. No surprises that he lost here. Owens looked good, as always.
Final Rating: **1/4
Promo Time: The Social Outcasts
Josh Bredl, Tough Enough winner, got heat from both Kevin Owens and Cody Rhodes for calling this group “jobbers”. However it’s Heath Slater, Bo Dallas, Adam Rose and Curtis Axel. They are jobbers. As per usual it’s WWE where you’re encouraged to grab that brass ring and stand out only to get chastised like a misbehaving child when you attempt it. Heath is merely out here to draw attention to Flo Rida, the rapper who wrote this years WrestleMania theme “My House”. The ‘Casts challenge Flo Rida to a rap battle with Bo Dallas. The gimmick may be death but all the guys seem to care about it. The rapper’s rap is terrible by the way and he introduces the Dudley Boyz for a match.
The Social Outcasts (Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas) vs. The Dudley Boyz
The Social Outcasts determination to try and get this over could turn them into a guilty pleasure for me. I really liked Axelmania last year and Bo makes me chuckle sometimes. It’s also nice to see Adam Rose enjoying himself after a recent awful heel run. The ‘Casts get very little in a comedy match and the 3D finishes Curtis. They’re still jobbers. Josh Bredl was right.
Final Rating: *
Video Control takes us backstage where Renee Young gets a word with new WWE Superstar AJ Styles. He’s got a match with Chris Jericho tonight. Y2J comes in to put over their match, which I called a potential dream match during the Rumble last night. Having Jericho talk for the majority of this was due to WWE being reluctant to let the very Southern AJ talk too much. Promos have never been his strong point anyway.
Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles
This is happening! I love wrestling. Jericho must be tired having wrestled 51 minutes in the Rumble match last night. Crowd thinks it’s awesome before we’ve even got underway. Putting on matches the crowd want to see is half the battle in getting reactions. Like last night AJ shows flashes of the brilliance that’s made him one of the best in the world. The strike combos and the huge bumps especially. Given a busier schedule he may have to tone that down a bit but he instantly looks like a stand out. They must realise the best way to get AJ over is to have him wrestle. A couple of his bumps are way harsh. Jericho is a great opponent as he’s well versed in AJ’s style and they can work a smart match. Interesting to see AJ utilise his New Japan experience by stealing spots from Hirooki Goto. Everywhere he goes AJ seems to add something to his repertoire and he can do most things with ease. AJ gets to show great resilience in the Walls of Jericho, where he goes to tap twice before making the ropes. He makes it feel like a genuine finish. The tease a few other finishes before AJ counters a pin into a grounded sunset flip for the win. AJ looked terrific here, showing a range of moves and skills. AJ is clearly not intimidated by being in WWE and had a good match with Jericho. The height on a couple of his moves were terrific and designed for slow-motion replays (Frogsplash miss and springboard forearm both looking phenomenal in slow motion). They made this feel like a really important match. Long may it continue. Meanwhile Jericho has redeemed himself over the past two nights for his previous cringe worthy stuff with the New Day.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
With the divas division suddenly revolving around Charlotte, Sasha and Becky I’m really into it. This is what they should have gone with months ago but maybe they wanted to build them up a bit on the main roster first. Crowd launches into a loud “NXT” chant, which rather proves that the crowd knows the NXT people already. Especially in Florida, NXT’s home state. These two have a solid little match with Becky targeting the arm while Sasha generally dominates. The Bank Statement has this finished but Charlotte runs in for the DQ asserting her authority. Already eagerly anticipating the triple threat between these three. Glad the divas division had a reset for these three to boss the division.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us backstage where Goldust and R-Truth goof around. ‘Dust is looking for a new tag team partner and thinks Truth can be it. Truth mistakes this for some sort of marriage proposal.
Kane vs. Bray Wyatt
This feud didn’t work for me the first time around and it becomes a needless dead spot on the show as the crowd lose interest in the middling action. The crowd want Brock Lesnar. Wyatt’s response is to hook a chinlock. He’s so old school. A guy doing Randy Savage cosplay in the front row gets more reaction than the guys in the ring. The fans will tell you, over and over again what they want to see and it isn’t this. No offence to Bray, who’s a good character, and he finishes with Sister Abigail’s Kiss after his family gets involved. The pissy WWE security move the distracting cosplay fans away from the hard-cam during the break, which is just embarrassing for the company. We want fans to come and be loud as long as they don’t distract from the shitty matches. The atmosphere of this company is horribly stifling.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us backstage where a limousine is here. It contains a “major returning star” according to WWE’s gossipy Twitter account. Rich Brennan gets dispatched to find out who’s in the limo and it’s The Miz. He’s been gone from RAW for three weeks! But wait, The Rock is here too! “You look like a blind nun. Do me a favour and park the Rock’s truck”. Rock is thrilled to see everyone. Rock runs into the Big Show and recaps the 2000 Rumble finish and points out his feet actually hit the floor first. Imagine how that could have changed Show’s life. “You could have been the one hunting Vin Diesel’s candy ass in the Fast and the Furious”. Show blubs as Rock waxes lyrical about life. This was brilliant. Rock’s total obliviousness is amazing. Rock then talks to Lana about one night in a hotel room in Brooklyn. “The Wisconsin Wheelbarrow”. Rock is interrupted by Rusev. Rusev is the captain of no selling. “You got a hell of a woman here. She’s flexible as all hell. Woo!” The Rock was on incredible form here. Just mind-blowingly good. This is everything you would ever want from a returning star. His fourth wall breaking stuff was just stunning. I realise that not everyone gets to behave like The Rock on TV but it’s such a relief that anyone is allowed to say whatever the hell they want.
Promo Time: The Rock
I honestly don’t know how he can possibly do anything out here that would surpass what he just did backstage. Rock is incredible here, taking selfies with ringside fans and just owning the arena. There is nobody in wrestling, nay in the entire world, like the Rock. He just epitomises entertainment like no one else. A night out with the Rock would be the most fun you’ll ever have in your life. Rock plays with the announcers and forgets who Byron Saxton is. The crowd start chanting “Randy Savage” and instead of ignoring this, Rock goes to hang out with the fan doing cosplay in the front row. “This is a time where we go off the script”. His meet and greet with “Undertaker”, “Hulk Hogan”, “The Rock” and “Randy Savage” is amazing. A normal guy would have just ignored the fans and carried on. Which is we need The Rock. Only he’s interrupted by THE NEW DAY! Could this RAW get any better? “That black guy who you don’t know, that’s Byron Saxton he’s by far the best commentator at that table right now” says Xavier Woods. Xavier sticking up for his buddy there and you could not surgically remove Byron’s smile. Xavier almost breaks the Rock only for Rock to call them “entertaining for people with llama penises on their heads”. New Day get into a group huddle around whether you can say “penises” on TV. You can’t get a “llama penis” chant going. That’s ridiculous. Rock describes Big E as being “Like the Incredible Hulk banged Urkel”. When the New Day refuse to fight Rock the Usos run out to help and Xavier Woods does a tremendous job of freaking out when faced with the Great One. This was twenty minutes of the Rock just having a good time and it was joyous.
Brie Bella & Alicia Fox vs. Paige & Natalya
Two divas matches on one show! This one is more aimed at the Total Divas audience rather than the wrestling one. Paige seems to have drifted back face to battle Team Bella. Paige puts Brie away with RamPaige in short order. The only highlight was Brie doing Daniel Bryan’s kicks.
Final Rating: N/R
The Miz vs. Kalisto
Kalisto gets to look strong here, leading “lucha” chants and hitting some decent flying spots. Unfortunately he’s working against The Miz who’s fairly dull on offence and as soon as Miz takes over we get a sleepy heat segment. It does make Kalisto’s comebacks suitably thrilling. The finish is really good with Kalisto countering the Skull Crushing Finale into the Salida del Sol with the help of the ropes.
Final Rating: **
Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus & Rusev)
Sheamus & Rusev are cornered by LON buddies Alberto Del Rio and Wade Barrett. That gives them a big numbers advantage to the point where they might as well do 4 on 2. They booked Roman 4 on 1 last week! Ambrose helps to keep the fans invested in the match and it’s telling they work heat on Roman so Dean gets the hot tag. A second heat segment follows on Dean as the League run formula to a tee. It’s a marked contrast to everyone else’s efforts on this show. The heat seems to work though and Roman gets a hot tag. Ambrose does a great job of selling how much he cares about his partnership with Reigns. It’s what makes their team more effective. The League of Nations are just a bunch of guys. Reigns and Ambrose are brothers. Naturally they win with Sheamus taking a spear for the pin. The former Shield members table Rusev after the match to get revenge for Rusev putting Roman through a table at the Rumble. Roman always gets more positive reactions when he’s with Ambrose. WWE knew that here.
Final Rating: **1/4
Post Match: Stephanie announces the Fast Lane main event. That main event is Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar. Winner is going to ‘Mania for the main event.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: The Rock. He was different class tonight. His spiel blew me away. The stuff with Big Show and Lana was grade A Rock.
Least Entertaining: Sheamus.
Quote of the Night: “People like Roman Reigns want to be WWE champion but they don’t deserve it” – Triple H shoots from the hip.
Match of the Night: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Summary: It might be the good will of a solid PPV, or perhaps just the blow-away antics of the Rock, but I really enjoyed this episode of RAW. There were still dead spots. The main event was so-so and the Bray-Kane match was worthless. But there was enough good stuff on this show to keep me engaged. I was especially thrilled with AJ vs. Jericho, which shows WWE are keen on pushing AJ Styles as a wrestler. That works for me.