This week, following a disappointing WWE Network special ‘Roadblock’, Raw took a quick pit stop on The Road To Wrestlemania in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a wrestling city made infamous after Mick Foley’s leap from the top of the cell against Undertaker there back in 1998. For the first time in what feels like months, Raw began with a match instead of a long-winded, usually unnecessary promo from the Authority. They opted to start with a Tag Team Title match, with the New Day defending against the other two members of the League of Nations that didn’t compete at Roadblock, Alberto Del Rio and Rusev.
In a very back-and-forth match, the League of Nations fell victim once again to The New Day’s shenanigans, as Xavier Woods got the roll-up pinfall on Rusev (via grabbing the tights of Rusev), with a little help from Kofi Kingston’s distraction. Clearly unhappy with their loss and feeling cheated by the New Day, the League Of Nations began a systematic beat-down of their opponents, making sure each member received a finisher, before linking arms and raising them in celebration, sending a warning to the New Day and making their Wrestlemania intentions very clear. This felt like a huge momentum shift in the tag team division, with the New Day seemingly becoming the babyfaces and the League of Nations cementing themselves as the stable to watch and the most dangerous group of heels on the roster.
To follow the lengthy tag team battle, Dean Ambrose made his way to the ring, fresh from his title match at Roadblock, to speak nobly about his defeat and how he was now firmly focused on his match at Wrestlemania. As he mentioned the “show of shows”, out came ‘the Beast’ Brock Lesnar and his advocate Paul Heyman to warn the “Inmate that runs the Asylum” about the dangers of the ‘real main event’ and how Brock was going to make Dean a permanent resident in Suplex City. Brock then slowly made his way to the ring, like a beast stalking his prey, before Dean produced a sly equaliser from within his jacket in the form of a crowbar, swinging at, and only just missing, a very cautious-looking Brock. This was probably the final staredown we will have between these two before we head into Wrestlemania, and there was a real sense that Dean has Brock’s number on this. A man so unhinged yet so calculated, as if he knows what Brock is going to do and is more than willing to travel to Suplex City and bring it to its knees.
Later on, there was a brief interaction between Mick Foley and Dean, where Mick spoke of the risks of facing Brock and how he thought Ambrosewas in over his head but wanted to give him a gift to try and even the odds. Mick even proclaimed a “passing of the torch” as he gave Dean his famous hardcore weapon of choice, a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat. This implies that the WWE are going to continue with Dean’s portrayal of a lunatic, and perhaps mould him into the hardcore icon we knew him to be when he performed under the name John Moxley on the independent scene and, most notoriously, Combat Zone Wrestling.
Next up we had one half of the Lucha Dragons, Sin Cara, dressed very surprisingly in an all-black attire up against Ryback, a superstar reborn with his new brutal mindset that the WWE is the yard of the ‘big dogs’ and that small people like Kalisto (Sin Cara’s partner) don’t deserve to hold championship gold. The match itself was far from excellent, as we witnessed Ryback decimate Sin Cara, hitting him with two Shellshocks before cutting an arrogant promo aimed toward Kalisto, saying that “size matters” in the WWE and that he wants Kalisto to put his US title on the line against him at Wrestlemania. This segment feels a little forced, and Ryback really hasn’t done that much recently to deserve a title shot, and with Kalisto having no other rivalries going on, this felt like a last minute decision to ensure there was a US title match at Wrestlemania.
Raw began to get a little stale at this point, until Stephanie McMahon came out to introduce her husband, the King of Kings, the Cerebral Assassin, Triple H. He strutted down to the ring, suited with his title over his shoulder and cut a vicious promo, targeting the working class man and how people like Dean Ambrose will never be as successful as himself. He was then interrupted by the man who defeated the Authority ‘single-handedly’ and a man-of-the-people, Dolph Ziggler. They continued back and forth, with Dolph firmly defending the WWE Universe culminating in Stephanie losing her temper and striking out at ‘the Showoff’. Stephanie then decided that Dolph could have any match he wanted at Wrestlemania if he was able to defeat the Game in a one-on-one match that same night. This segment was actually very well put together and gave Dolph a lot of positive energy from the crowd going into the match, and gave us a hint that we will be seeing a double turn from Triple H in the near future.
The match itself was by far the match of the evening, as both men involved put on an incredible display for a Raw match, with Dolph getting two near-falls on the WWE World Heavyweight champion, much to the dismay of his wife Stephanie who was at ringside watching on. Finally, however, as always, the Authority prevailed and Triple H won, effectively writing Dolph off of TV until at least after Wrestlemania. A big curveball was thrown at the end of this match as the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Roman Reigns, returned to Monday Night Raw, finally getting his revenge on Triple H for the savage beating he received two weeks ago. Roman ran to the ring and began an onslaught on The Game, throwing him around the outside of the ring landing vicious blows left and right before heading backstage, fighting off security and hitting Triple H with whatever he can find, TV screens and bins alike.
It wasn’t until Mark Henry, the Usos and Jack Swagger rushed over and calmed Reigns down that HHH had the opportunity to slink off without further assault. This was an incredibly important segment leading into Wrestlemania as we saw Roman at his explosive, unhinged best, and this is a Roman Reigns that the people might finally begin to get behind.
There was also some brief Divas action this week in a tag team fight that saw Brie Bella and Alicia Fox taking on Tamina Snuka and Naomi, with Lana watching on from the announce table. The match was very short and ineffective, with no further storyline development this close to Wrestlemania. There was a brief promo backstage from Paige, explaining how she’s back and ready to reclaim her stake in the Divas division. She was briefly interrupted by Lana, with the two exchanging insults about which of the two is a real diva, before Tamina and Naomi interrupted and threatened Paige. Charlotte also had a short backstage interview, saying that there will be a “face-to-face-to-face showdown” between herself, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks.
The Usos were also in action against the Social Outcasts this week, with their current rivals the Dudleyz watching on from commentary. The Usos made easy work of the Social Outcasts, hitting every member with a superkick that HBK himself would be proud of. The Usos sent a strong message to the Dudleyz, who later on confirmed their intentions of facing the Usos at Wrestlemania. Sami Zayn also briefly featured on the show against the Miz, with the Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens watching on from the side. Kevin Owens would eventually end up helping Sami Zayn, his nemesis since NXT, win the match as he distracted The Miz and allowed Sami to hit the Helluva Kick, winning him the match.
With no match yet decided for the Intercontinental Title at Wrestlemania, it looks as if these two will clash for the first time on the main roster on the biggest stage of them all, either one-on-one or in a multi-man ladder match. Unfortunately, there was a genuine injury this week during Raw as ‘the Man that Gravity Forgot’, Neville, broke his ankle mid-match against Chris Jericho, who did fantastically well to preserve his role as heel and protect Neville from further injury. AJ Styles came out and made the save as Chris was in an extremely heated argument with referee Charles Robinson. AJ hit the Phenomenal Forearm and soaked up the cheers from the Pittsburgh crowd, almost confirming to us that these two will clash at Wrestlemania.
The final segment of the night was the chairman Vince McMahon, his son Shane and the Undertaker in the same ring for the first time since the announcement of the Hell in a Cell match for the controlling stake of Raw at Wrestlemania. The tension in the ring was high and eventually boiled over, with the Undertaker attempting a chokeslam on Shane. Shane countered this however, landing several shots to the Undertaker’s body, before slowly backing away. Vince then sold out his son yet again by pushing him into the waiting Undertaker, who choke slammed Shane in the middle of the ring. The Undertaker then turned his attention to Vince, who scurried away from the ring allowing the Deadman to stand tall in the ring to close the show. With just two more Raws until Wrestlemania, how will the WWE fill the gaps in a worryingly slim-looking Wrestlemania card?