WWE Raw Results and Recap: Strange bedfellows (December 25th, 2017)

On their first ever live Christmas Day broadcast, Raw offers a surprisingly wrestling-heavy show.

by Gur Samuel

(Photo credit: Shared Account)

When it was announced that the WWE would be holding a live broadcast for the first time on Christmas Day a few months ago, many people believed it would be a placeholder episode with not much going on. Instead, we got one of the most wrestling-filled episodes of Raw of recent times, with no less than nine matches (not to mention two in-ring standoffs), including two championship matches and even a title change.

Let’s dive in to what was a surprisingly fun Raw.

Ambrose’s understudy

If Dean Ambrose hadn’t needed elbow surgery, then there’s every chance that the tag team titles would still be around the waists of Sheamus and Cesaro. Yet, we will ring in 2018 with new Raw tag team champions, as the unlikely pairing of Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan – who were themselves squaring off in the ring last week – knocking The Bar down a few pegs.

The bout was booked early on in the evening, in the lone ‘authority figure’ segment of the show. Kurt Angle summoned both Rollins and Jordan to his office, saying that he knows they both want a shot at Samoa Joe, but would need to get through Joe’s sort-of cohorts, The Bar, first. Angle made the match a championship match, and once the pair had left his office, turned round to see Roman Reigns, who the Raw GM immediately booked into a match against Joe, for Reigns’ Intercontinental Championship – two moves that are entirely logical given the background stories here, but which also inject some stakes to justify the live broadcast on an evening where many fans are more likely to be forced into playing charades than watching three hours of pro wrestling.

While the segment didn’t kick off the show – we’ll talk about that opening later – it did set up a thread that trailed through the rest of the night. We saw Renee Young – Ambrose’s real-life wife, of course – interviewing first Joe, who had possibly the line of the night (in a night filled of several noteworthy one-liners) when he said he gave Ambrose the present of being home with the woman he loved that Christmas. Young would also interview Reigns just before the match itself. They’re small moments, sure, but having backstage interviews leading up to the match between other segments is a good way of keeping the show feeling like it’s moving forward.

The other championship match similarly had their own backstage segments throughout the show. Reigns and Jordan were seen talking backstage, where it was made clear that there was plenty of tension between the two. The Bar, on the other hand, were shown giving each other Christmas presents – action figures of Ambrose (missing an arm), Rollins and Jordan, complete with scathing comments. Again, small moments, but ones that remind the audience why it’s worth sticking around on Christmas Day to watch the show.

Reigns and Joe have squared off before, and shown great chemistry; that was equally true here, with Joe’s improvisation in the Coquina Clutch in using leg scissors to try and pin Roman’s arms being one of the highlights of the match. While the ending was initially disappointing – Roman pushing away an official in a fit of anger to bring about the DQ – the ensuing post-match beatdown, featuring superman punches, steel stairs and near-miss chair shots told a huge part of the story. Joe made a statement that he was gunning for Reigns’ Shield brethren; Reigns responded with an ire and viciousness we’ve only really seen during his feud with Braun Strowman and the build up to his WrestleMania 32 match against Triple H.

 

The tag team match, the main event of the night, unsurprising given the talent in the ring, was a good one, and was one of those rare instances where the chaotic Booker T-Corey Graves interactions on commentary actually helped sell the in-ring story. As Booker T noted, Jordan being first too gun-shy, and then too reckless, put Rollins in poor situations, and highlighted the lack of chemistry between he and Rollins. Yet, the two were able to overcome the odds, with Jordan hitting his too-rarely-used belly-to-back neckbreaker finisher on Sheamus to get the 1-2-3.

While the outcome was certainly a surprising one, it offers some fertile storytelling ground. Reigns is going all-out to defend The Shield; now, an imposter, one who has fought with both Reigns and Rollins in the past few weeks, and whose character has subtly become more and more of a snivelling, cowardly heel, is sharing the tag team belts with Rollins. How will Reigns react? Will he see this as a “betrayal” by Rollins? Will Jordan’s new brattish personality cause friction between the Hounds of Justice? With Dean Ambrose out for up to nine months (according to the commentary team), there’s a lot of potential storyline between Reigns, Rollins, Jordan, Angle, Joe and The Bar that could keep this program going into ‘Mania.

Over in defeat

While the storylines between that group of seven ran throughout most of the show, the night kicked off in the smartest way possible – with the heavily-adverstised John Cena return. If you can’t stand Cena, then his segment was out of the way quickly; for everyone else, it set the night off on a positive tone. Yet, as much as Cena played up with his fourth-wall-breaking shenanigans (particularly in encouraging the Chicago crowd to chant for CM Punk), the star of the opening segment was unquestionably Elias. While his gimmick has been the same in broadstrokes since NXT, the subtle shift from simply being “The Drifter” to a self-delusional musician who believes he’s the defining musical talent of a generation has done absolute wonders for the former Mr Sampson.

Interrupting John Cena was absolutely the right shade of arrogant for Elias, he didn’t let Cena throw him off his promo game – something that can’t be said for Baron Corbin or Roman Reigns earlier this year – and while, inevitably, he ate the pin in the ensuing match, he more than held his own in the ring, even doing some carrying when Cena clearly didn’t understand how he was meant to position his body for the Drift Away. Sharing both mictime and ringtime with Cena is always a mark of confidence from the booking team, but performing in both situations as adeptly as Elias did marks him out as more than just another midcarder – don’t be surprised if he’s wearing the Intercontinental belt sooner rather than later.

The “other” divisions

It’s hardly an earth-shattering revelation to note that Raw, in general, doesn’t do a great job with either its women’s division or the cruiserweight division, yet for a change, both divisions got two separate segments on this show, and a fifth segment involving both! At least more segments are a good thing, particularly for the purple brand (205 Live really does deserve a better audience than they get – it’s sorely under-appreciated in this reviewer’s opinion).

The first segment from these divisions saw Hideo Itami making his singles debut on the main roster, after teaming with Finn Balor to take on the Miztourage last week. This week, Itami faced off against The Brian Kendrick, who was accompanied by his protege Gentleman Jack Gallagher (oh, if you haven’t watched 205 Live and haven’t really heard much about Gallagher since he was siding with Austin Aries against Neville and TJP, Gallagher’s a heel now). The match itself was a glorified squash (I assume – unlike the domestic broadcast, the international broadcast of Raw still had commercial breaks, which meant that fans abroad missed almost the entire match, but as it was barely longer than the commercial break, I think it’s safe to assume that it was a squash), with Itami getting the pin after the GTS – always a risky move in Chicago.

Next up were the women, with a repeat of last week’s abandoned main event of Bayley, Sasha Banks and Mickie James taking on Absolution. The match itself was decent, though the crowd didn’t really pop for much outside of a vicious clothesline on the outside by Sonya Deville on Sasha Banks. Paige would get the pin after kicking Bayley – who was at least allowed an impressive flurry of offense in the final stretch – off the top rope, and dragging her into the RamPaige. The match wasn’t necessarily much to write home about, and we really will need to see Deville and Mandy Rose in some singles action soon if Absolution as a stable want to be taken seriously, but at least it gave the women plenty of screen time.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday-themed WWE episode without a holiday-themed street fight (don’t ever change, Vince), so we got a “Miracle on 34th Street fight” between the three remaining members of the ‘Zo Train and the team of Cedric Alexander, Akira Tozawa and Mustafa Ali. The match should have been an all-out explosion of offense, letting the faces pull off a high volume of impressive aerial moves while the heels had weapons at their finger tips – but just coz it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean we’re allowed to have everything we want. Instead, this street fight featured competitors having to tag in and out. In a match that by definition is no-DQ. Someone will need to explain that to me. There was still a few highlights – Tozawa and Ali criss-crossing their topes to the outside, Ali’s always-impressive inverted 450 splash, and Enzo breaking up a pin attempt with a cookie sheet – but ultimately this was just about giving Cedric Alexander, who got the pin on Airya Daivari after a Lumbar Check, momentum heading into his Cruiserweight Championship match against Enzo next week.

Enzo slinked off backstage after the loss, only to bump into Nia Jax. After a bit of awkward flirting, the camera panned out to show the pair standing under some mistletoe. The two nearly kissed, but Alexa Bliss interrupted, saying she had to speak to Nia. It’s an odd storyline – Enzo is an unabashed heel, yet the crowd seem very into his courtship of Jax, popping as the mistletoe was revealed. How the creative team are going to square the circle of Enzo as a heel among the cruiserweights but getting face reactions with Nia will be interesting to watch.

In the final, and most impactful, segment of the two “other” divisions, Alexa Bliss took pleasure in telling the crowd that it was her success in 2017, elevating the women’s divisions on both brands, that resulted in the first ever women’s Royal Rumble match. Her gloating was interrupted by Asuka, who was for once treated on the main roster as the dominant force she should be. After declaring that she was entering the Royal Rumble, she stared down the Raw women’s champ – who looked genuinely terrified, as well she should. The crowd could barely get a chant of “Asuka’s going to kill you” going before the Empress of Tomorrow knocked Bliss out with a single kick to the head. Segments don’t get much more straightforward than that, but Asuka’s presence, coupled with Alexa’s fantastic facial expressions, shows that sometimes, straightforward is all you need to knock a segment out of the park.

On a show that had time to spare, it genuinely was nice to see four matches, and a backstage segment, devoted to two divisions who have a ton of potential – if only they were given more of a chance to shine.

Quick hits

  • For a show that was meant to be a placeholder, there were a lot of excellent little moments that brought me a lot of joy. Either WWE is doing something right, or maybe the festive joy and eggnog hit me a little hard.
  • Rhyno trying to get Heath Slater to “toughen up” could provide a lot of comedy – lord knows they proved they’re more than capable of it while they were on SmackDown. Slater’s match against Kane went almost exactly as you’d expect, though Heath was at least allowed a little sliver of offense before a stiff shot and a chokeslam laid him out. Rhyno shouting at Heath “show your kids how tough you are” was a perfect little addition
  • The real MVPs of tonight: the couple who held up a sign during the Kane/Slater match reading “Don’t you have mayor stuff to do?”
  • It’s nice when you get a sense of continuity, and little throwbacks tonight – from Seth Rollins saying that teaming with Jason Jordan was to pay back Kurt for teaming with him and Ambrose during TLC, to Curt Hawkins bringing up his then-146 match losing streak – really do bring cohesiveness to this kayfabe world the show inhabits
  • Nice to see you get in the festive mood with the red attire there, Finn
  • Bwoken Matt Hardy (I couldn’t decide between Broken and Woken) sneak-attacking Bray Wyatt shows that Hardy is more than just a madman who plays chess against goldfish, though I would have liked to had a promo that was more than just “HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”
  • The Miztourage did fine, fine work tonight, whether it was regaling members of the Raw locker room with Mizmas carols, or being destroyed by Braun Strowman. Special mention to Titus O’Neil being terrified by Goldust after the regifting of the Santa’s Little Helper DVD
  • C’mon WWE. Bringing back Dash and Dawson last week just to leave them off TV this week? Someone found a lump of coal in their stocking for that
  • Expecting a placeholder show, I decided to count how many video recaps and packages there were tonight (and, quick sidenote, you can try and retcon all you want – we’re not going to forget that James Ellsworth was the one who took down the briefcase in the first women’s Money in the Bank match). Not including the package of the 1-2-3 Kid’s shock victory over Razor Roman, which we’ll forgive as part of the build to the 25th anniversary of Raw, I counted seven.

Results

John Cena defeated Elias via pinfall; Hideo Itami defeated The Brian Kendrick via pinfall; Absolution defeated Bayley, Sasha Banks and Mickie James via pinfall; Kane defeated Heath Slater via pinfall; Finn Balor defeated Curt Hawkins via pinfall; Cedric Alexander, Akira Tozawa and Mustafa Ali defeated the ‘Zo Train via pinfall; Samoa Joe defeated Roman Reigns via DQ; Braun Strowman defeated the Miztourage via pinfall; Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan defeated Sheamus and Cesaro via pinfall.

What did you think of the Christmas Day edition of Raw? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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Gur Samuel

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