By Steven Flora
Kane may be the living embodiment of single-minded destruction, but even he knows beating Brock Lesnar is going to require some strategy. But while The Big Red Machine certainly showed his smarts by offering Braun Strowman the chance to join forces as WWE’s “alpha monsters” and take down Lesnar at the Royal Rumble, The Monster Among Men remained firmly on Team Braun.
So, when Lesnar and Paul Heyman arrived to ring in “The Year of The Beast” and promise domination at the Royal Rumble despite the “stacked deck” Lesnar had to fight through once again, Kane made it a point to interfere.
Strowman was nowhere to be found when The Devil’s Favorite Demon hit the scene (he was watching from the backstage area), but Kane held his ground against The Beast Incarnate anyway, planting Lesnar with a thunderous Chokeslam that seemingly put him down … until Lesnar sat bolt upright a la The Big Red Machine himself and sent his foe tumbling over the top rope, instigating a fight at ringside that required most of the locker room to quell as Raw went off the air.
Side Note: I just can't take Kane seriously. He's become so watered down that any mention of his "path of destruction" or "fiery burning hell" sounds so cliche it's borderline cringeworthy. I also found it awkward how Raw ended so suddenly. Does Braun not deserve to be involved in this brawl or was he still tired from the rapid powerslams he gave to Slater and Rhyno? All in all a weird way to end the first Raw of 2018.
Reigns finally conquers Samoa Joe
WWE Intercontinental Championship Match: Roman Reigns def. Samoa Joe (Reigns retains title)
Consider the curse broken. Roman Reigns didn’t just score his first-ever singles win over Samoa Joe in their Intercontinental Title rematch, he got retribution for Dean Ambrose, defended the honor of The Shield and managed to navigate a stipulation that would have cost The Big Dog his title if he got himself disqualified.
That caveat was a result of the excessive aggression that both got Roman disqualified last week and earned him a $5,000 fine for shoving referee John Cone. This time around, The Big Dog had to toe a fine line when it came to carrying the flag for the injured Ambrose while also keeping his anger in check to retain his title (especially with Cone donning the stripes again), and Joe took advantage of Reigns’ hesitance early in the match. Even by his standards, The Samoan Submission Machine was in rare form, blistering Reigns with offense that left the champion out on his feet and searching wildly for an answer.
Even when Roman got himself back into the match, he flirted close enough with a disqualification on several occasions that the ref pulled him off and stopped his momentum cold, allowing Joe to reassert himself. And Joe seemed to successfully exploit the loophole when he shoved Reigns into Cone, setting off a confrontation that may have led to a disqualification if Joe hadn’t pressed his attack, landing a Uranage that continued the match. An irate Joe locked in the Coquina Clutch moments later, but Reigns had one move left in the tank, throwing Joe over his shoulder and pouncing with a sternum-shattering Spear to put the instant classic to a close. Winner: Roman Reigns.
Side Note: Best match on the show, bar none. Both stars kept the crowd invested and the ring psychology was so well played out, even down to Joe taunting Reigns by telling him (before he smashed his head on the steel steps) “this is for what you did to me last week.” Reigns continues to put on great matches and the crowd does get invested in 90% of his matches, so right now, he's definitely hitting his peak!
Jason Jordan silences one half of The Bar
Raw Tag Team Champion Jason Jordan def. Cesaro
Well, consider Seth Rollins surprised. In a match The Kingslayer had openly assumed his tag team partner Jason Jordan was going to lose, the young competitor instead pulled out a victory in his first match as Raw Tag Team Champion, knocking off Cesaro in Raw’s opening contest (the first of 2018, no less).
He fought from underneath to do it, too, after a targeted dismantling by Cesaro effectively rendered the mat master one-legged down the stretch. A slam that landed Jordan leg-first on the apron seemed to spell inevitable doom, but Jordan fought through both Cesaro’s attack and a cheap shot from Sheamus to stay in the fight.
Rollins made good on his promise to watch his partner’s back, cutting Sheamus off before he could attempt an interfering Brogue Kick that would have handed Cesaro the match. With The King of Swing distracted, Jordan administered the Angle Slam-neckbreaker combo to win. He even tried to be a better partner, too, raising Rollins’ hand on the outside in a gesture that left The Kingslayer looking both bemused and impressed. If anything, he seemed to share the opinions of Raw’s commentary team: Jordan may be cocky, but he’s good. Winner: Jason Jordan.
Side Note: This was a really good match though not sure how I feel with Jordan going over ahead of Cesaro. WWE are still trying to make Rollins & Jordan a thing, though we both know how that's gonna end up. The Bar are still seething from Angle's rash decisions as of late and no doubt they're out to make Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan's life a complete misery.
Asuka pins the Raw Women's Champion
Non-Title Match: Asuka def. Raw Women's Champion Alexa Bliss
Last week, Asuka declared for the Women’s Royal Rumble Match by attacking Alexa Bliss. This week, the Raw Women’s Champion got a taste of what Asuka might actually do if she wins the Rumble in a first-time bout that wasn’t just WrestleMania-worthy, but a potential WrestleMania preview.
That Raw General Manager Kurt Angle didn’t make the first-time ever clash between Asuka and Bliss for the championship was the only mercy afforded to Five Feet of Fury; not only did Asuka power through a cagy opening sequence by the champion, but The Goddess’ enforcer Nia Jax was too busy delivering chicken soup to a flu-stricken Enzo Amore to back her up.
Alexa’s best chance was a cat-and-mouse game that paid dividends, thanks to a ruthless kick to the stomach that kicked off a monster run from Bliss. Alexa kept the pressure on, coming perhaps closer than anyone to shattering Asuka’s undefeated streak, but a slap to the face proved to be a fatal mistake from Bliss. With her fighting spirit awakened, Asuka ripped off a near-spotless rally, culminating in a match-ending armbar that may well end up earning her a title opportunity in the future. Winner: Asuka.
Side Note: This match was so one-sided it was scary. We know for a fact Asuka is the best women's wrestler in WWE/NXT. However you can clearly see where Alexa lacks, and that's her in-ring skills. Asuka at one point was running rings around her, and quite honestly, Asuka deserves the title, or at the very least, to win the 2018 Royal Rumble.
The Club reunites
Finn Balor, Gallows & Anderson def. Elias & The Miztourage
Nerds and not-good brothers beware: Finn Bálor, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson are together again. When Bálor was tasked with finding partners for a Six-Man Tag Team Match against Elias & The Miztourage, he recruited his old running mates from Japan, and the reunion paid dividends instantly.
About the only positive development from The Miztourage was the announcement that their hero, The Miz, will return to Raw next week. Apart from that, it was almost all Finn, Gallows & Anderson. Elias gave his team some wings by targeting the first-ever Universal Champion, but Gallows single handedly changed the complexion of the match when he entered the fray.
The Suntan Biker Man brutalized Bo Dallas with kicks and boots and began a quick-strike sequence of tags to Anderson and Bálor, leading to a combination of the Magic Killer and the Coup de Grâce to put Dallas down. Between this and Bálor officially declaring for the Men’s Royal Rumble Match, 2018 is shaping up to be too sweet indeed. Winner: Finn Balor, Gallows & Anderson.
Side Note: The curious case of Finn Balor continues! Though seeing him reunited with Gallows & Anderson brought back memories of their time in Japan as part of "THAT" notorious faction. Gallows & Anderson became relevant and also got TV time whilst their boy Finn Balor put the beating on Elias & The Miztourage. It was what it was supposed to be.
Other notable moments
Bray Wyatt vs. Apollo Crews: Still reeling from an attack at the hands of “Woken” Matt Hardy last week, Bray Wyatt got himself off to a winning start in 2018 by defeating Apollo Crews, but The Reaper of Souls’ New Year’s celebration was short-lived. Crews was looking to bring himself to the next level and made it a point to use his athleticism against the former WWE Champion. But even after Wyatt menaced Titus Worldwide’s Dana Brooke on the apron to spur a last-second rally from Crews, The New Face of Fear cut off the Spinning Sit-out Powerbomb and administered Sister Abigail for three. Unwilling to let Wyatt rest easy, Hardy took a page from his foe’s playbook and appeared on the TitanTron, promising to eradicate Wyatt’s darkness before deleting him. As he began to cackle, Hardy’s image multiplied across the screen, creating an omniscient effect that left Wyatt looking unusually shaken in the ring. Chalk this one up as a good start to Bray Wyatt’s 2018, but as Hardy made clear, there are a lot of Mondays left in the year. Winner: Bray Wyatt.
Cedric Alexander & Goldust vs. Drew Gulak & Ariya Daivari: Enzo Amore closed out a fantastic 2017 as WWE Cruiserweight Champion, but a bout of the flu trucked Muscles Marinara and sent him into the ER to ring in 2018. That means Cedric Alexander’s title opportunity is on hold, but luckily, the ascendant Cruiserweight got some help to start his year off right. As Drew Gulak and Ariya Daivari ran a message from Amore detailing his disdain for Alexander, the challenger arrived looking for a fight with whichever member of The Zo Train wanted to step up. They agreed under the proviso that the bout was a tag team match between them and whoever walked down the ramp, and Goldust, of all people, arrived to even the odds and kick off a truly bizarre tag team contest. Alexander certainly impressed against Daivari, and The Bizarre One provided the difference when he tagged in against Gulak, taking out the entire Zo Train with a crossbody off the top rope. Gulak missed a discreet tag in the confusion, and when he focused his efforts on Goldust, The Bizarre One right-handed Gulak straight into a match-ending Lumbar Check from Alexander.Winner: Cedric Alexander & Goldust.
Braun Strowman def. Heath Slater & Rhyno: Rhyno’s plan to toughen up Heath Slater by throwing him into the fire against Kane did not go as planned last week. The Man Beast’s follow-up didn’t turn out so hot, either. Hoping to set an example for his partner by showing his own mettle, Rhyno stepped into the ring with Braun Strowman — who, coincidentally, will challenge for Brock Lesnar’s Universal Title at Royal Rumble in a Triple Threat Match that also features Kane. Not only did Strowman overpower Rhyno, The Monster Among Men convinced the ref to allow Slater to join the contest and turn it into an impromptu Handicap Match. Unfortunately, Strowman powered through a two-on-one mugging to pancake both partners with splashes into the corner before finishing off Rhyno with the Running Powerslam. Slater showed some grit by stepping to Strowman when he attempted to slam Rhyno a second time, but The Gift of Destruction's rampage would not be stopped: He delivered two post-match Powerslams to Rhyno and an astounding three to Slater. That's an unfortunate start to 2018 for The One-Man Band, but if he shows up next week after this, he may well be tougher than anybody ever gave him credit for.Winner: Braun Strowman.
Raw General Manager Kurt Angle announced the rules of the Women’s Royal Rumble Match: It’s a new year, and Angle’s first order of business rang in 2018 with good tidings for the WWE Universe: Announcing the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match would be contested under the exact same rules as the longstanding Men’s match. That means 30 entrants, eliminations occur when Superstars go over the top rope and both feet touch the floor, and the winner gets a championship match at WrestleMania. After that, however, it was back to business as usual, with Cesaro & Sheamus protesting Angle’s decision to pair his son Jason Jordan with Seth Rollins last week — an impromptu union that led to The Bar losing their Raw Tag Team Titles — and demanding a rematch. Angle turned them down on that front, but the confrontation did bring out Jordan and led to a match between the young titleholder and Cesaro. At that point, Rollins arrived to even the odds and, more importantly, dispel some wisdom. In The Architect’s eyes, Jordan had a lot to learn about being a teammate, specifically to avoid rushing into a 2-on-1 disadvantage without thinking how such a decision could impact the team. Rollins dished out some tough love to a chastised Jordan, saying while he would be at ringside for the sake of his partner and their titles, he didn’t have high hopes for the “self-absorbed” Jordan's chances against Cesaro. As if to illustrate Rollins’ point, The King of Swing attacked Jordan from behind and sent him careening out of the ring, kicking off their match in earnest.
Overall Raw Rating: D
Things to look forward to next week
Will Jason Jordan & Seth Rollins ever get along?
Who has got the better chance heading into Royal Rumble … Lesnar, Strowman or Kane?
What the hell is happening with Nia Jax and Enzo Amore?
Will Cedric Alexander ever get his WWE Cruiserweight Champion title shot?
Has Asuka got Alexa Bliss's number?