Coming out of the Royal Rumble, Monday Night Raw had a few big things it needed to address. There was, most importantly, Asuka winning the first ever women's royal rumble match, and the subsequent appearance from Ronda Rousey, who's signed a full-time contract with WWE. Further down the list of important things, but still very intriguing, is the continued story of Jason Jordan. His absence/injury during a title defense against The Bar opened up a lot of storytelling options for the Red show. On top of all that, with SmackDown Live's Shinsuke Nakamura winning the men's rumble, that meant Raw also had to address its Universal Championship situation after Brock Lesnar retained the night before.
A lot of times WWE quickly moves on from its PPVs, barely examining the fallout and instead shifting its focus to the next PPV; a symptom of the very busy schedule. This week's Raw does the same thing, immediately turning its attention to Elimination Chamber, but unlike in the past, this feels like the right move. It's not Raw refusing to reckon with the Rumble, but rather using the outcomes as immediate building blocks. You can feel the momentum building. Raw has been the better show for the last few months in general, but this week's episode feels like we're close to seeing the show find that extra gear.
Sasha Banks is almost ready for Asuka
It all starts with Asuka being honoured by Stephanie McMahon (yes, she's still a babyface when it comes to brushing shoulders with anything related to the #WomensRevolution) and the announcement of the first ever women's elimination chamber match. Bliss will be defending her title in the chamber, which means Asuka can seemingly wait to make the decision about her WrestleMania opponent. Before long, Sasha Banks comes out to insist she's "ready for Asuka," leading to the best match of the night and perhaps the best Asuka match in WWE and NXT, and we're off and running with multiple women's storylines. There's the intrigue of the Elimination Chamber, Asuka's championship opportunity, the continued story of her streak, and the introduction of Ronda Rousey into the mix.
Bolstering the tag division
There are other pieces moving into place as well, even if it's not as exciting as Banks and Asuka tearing each other apart. The Revival, coming off a preshow win over Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, get a win over Rhyno and Heath Slater and commit to tearing into the audience and their self-serving chants. Dash and Dawson are very good at the character work, but they need to be given more time to work matches. That's how they connected in NXT, and it's how they'll do it on the main roster. Hopefully they stay healthy, and WWE finds a lengthy program to give them a little shine. Titus and Apollo Crews also get a real good showing while going toe-to-toe with The Bar in a losing effort as well. Raw's been struggling to tell multiple stories with its tag division, so hopefully this is a sign of things changing before WrestleMania.
Is Woken already broken?
There are still some duds within this otherwise compelling Raw. I remain completely uninterested in anything Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt are doing. The character work is fine for what it is, but I can't imagine any payoff that will feel sufficiently interesting. Short of Brother Nero making an appearance and Raw suddenly giving Matt the freedom to get really weird with everything, it feels like we're headed to a typical Bray Wyatt blow-off match, this time with a barely physically capable Matt Hardy as his opponent. That's not a good mix. Similarly, Kane is still kind of around. Braun Strowman literally buries him under the entire announce stage during their last man standing match, and in an ideal world that's the end of Kane for quite some time. Alas, Michael Cole mentions Kane sitting up in the "local medical facility," so it would seem the Big Red Machine will be back on our TVs sooner rather than later. It's extremely disappointing. It's difficult to find any place where Kane can meaningfully fit in right now, and his involvement with Strowman puts a ceiling on the Monster who otherwise proves the ceiling to be nonexistent.
Ready for the Chamber
While Banks and Asuka had the match of the night, much of the show's success comes from the stakes provided by looking ahead to Elimination Chamber. Banks-Asuka is great on its own, whereas both Balor vs. Cena and Elias vs. Matt Hardy benefits from the stipulation of winning their way into the men's elimination chamber match, the winner of which will face Lesnar for the title at Mania. Cena-Balor is, unsurprisingly, the best match of the bunch. I can't say I'm super enthusiastic about Balor not getting a spot—the Demon appears next week, perhaps?—but Cena, as always, will bring a presence to the match that's unprecedented. The other two qualifiers have their moments, from the aforementioned burying of Kane to Elias once again proving himself to be a formidable piece anywhere on the card, meaning that the build to Elimination Chamber is off to one hell of a start. Sometimes, it's the simple things that make all the difference: matches with stakes, and building on the previous night's outcomes.
- It's cool to have Coach back on Raw, but I miss Booker T already. His energy and uniqueness can't be matched.
- It's so strange that everyone is getting mad at Strowman for burying Kane under the announce table while working within the rules of a last man standing match. That's the whole idea!
- IT'S ELIAS' NIGHT.
- The Miz and Roman Reigns just have so much chemistry. Their matches never disappoint.
- Cena was in full mugging mode tonight.
Braun Strowman defeated Kane (last man standing match, and elimination chamber qualifying match); Elias defeated Matt Hardy (elimination chamber qualifying match); The Miz (c) defeated Roman Reigns (Intercontinental Championship match); The Revival defeated Slater and Rhyno; Asuka defeated Sasha Banks; The Bar (c) defeated Titus Worldwide (Raw Tag Team Championship match); John Cena defeated Finn Balor (elimination chamber qualifying match).
What did you think of the first Raw on the road to WrestleMania? Let us know in the comments below!