By Steven Flora
Stephanie McMahon invited Ronda Rousey to Raw to clear the air after Rousey put her husband Triple H through a table at Elimination Chamber. However, after the Raw Commissioner apologized for slapping Rousey in the wake of the incident, The Cerebral Assassin inflicted some pain of his own, this time at the expense of Raw General Manager Kurt Angle.
Ronda Rousey confronts Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
Ronda Rousey sending Triple H through a table on her first official night in WWE made for some great copy in the press, but Stephanie McMahon's retaliatory slap in the face left a lot of air to be cleared between the COO, the Raw Commissioner and The Baddest Woman on the Planet. Their planned confab on Raw did seem to smooth over all the tension at first, until a shocking turn of events ratcheted it back up.
To be fair, there were apologies thrown around. Sensing his job was in jeopardy, Raw General Manager Kurt Angle went first, claiming he had fabricated the behind-the-back insults Triple H and Stephanie had allegedly thrown around when they recruited Rousey — insults that had provoked Rousey’s attack on The King of Kings the previous night. Under the threat of having her arm ripped out by the former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, Stephanie went next and profusely apologized for slapping Ronda, who did not appreciate the idea that signing a contract meant she was now "owned" by WWE.
That was, however, far from the final surprise of the confrontation. On the way out of the ring, Triple H shocked everybody by hauling off and sucker-punching Angle in the face, leaving Rousey to tend to The Olympic Hero as the power couple made their exit. So, the lingering animosity from last night has been settled. But now there’s another slight to be addressed.
Side Note: Though Rousey felt overwhelmed and a bit nervous, this segment was much better and she had an aura of a badass around her when she spoke. We clearly know this is all leading to an intergender tag team match at WrestleMania so it's nice to see how the seeds are being planted early to bring this feud full circle in April. Rousey, with the aid of Angle & Triple H beside her has the chance to make a huge impact in the wrestling world, which is not only good for herself but for the WWE as a whole.
Roman Reigns lays into the 'absent' Universal Champion Brock Lesnar
The first time Roman Reigns began a Road to WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar, unforeseen circumstances relocated the pair's first face-to-face to a snowbound Stamford, Conn., television studio. Now, as The Big Dog heads back to Suplex City for Round Two, the planned faceoff was derailed by another curveball: The Beast didn’t even show up.
In a turn on the microphone that became more heated as it went on, Reigns pulled back the curtain and revealed that Lesnar simply never came to the arena to fulfill the scheduled confrontation with his challenger. Throwing caution to the wind, Reigns labeled The Conqueror as “an entitled piece of crap who hides behind his contract” and lambasted him for what he claimed was a disrespectful attitude toward the WWE Universe and the Superstars who competed year-round across the globe.
Having made his point, Reigns headed backstage to face the music, but not before making it clear that while he may not respect Brock Lesnar like he did in 2015, one thing remains the same: He doesn’t fear him.
Side Note: Easily the best Reigns' promo ever. Absolutely hit the nail on the head over several points, most notably how Lesnar rarely defends the Universal Title and gets a free pass, while Roman and the rest of the Raw locker room are constantly out there 360+ days a year working their butts off for the enjoyment of the fans. I'm not sure how this feud will pan out compared to their build up to WM 31, but if we get to see a more passionate Roman on the mic, then I'm all for it!
John Cena addresses his Road to WrestleMania
Unfortunately, it’s not The Undertaker. Left adrift after coming up short in the Men’s Elimination Chamber (an unmitigated “failure,” in his words), John Cena faces an uncertain Road to WrestleMania, though he made it clear to the Monday Night Raw audience that his initial contingency plan — an "impossible" match with The Phenom — won't be happening, much to his and the audience's very vocal disappointment.
But while Cena's path to The Show of Shows will not run through Death Valley, it will take a turn through The Land of Opportunity. Despite failing to secure a dance with The Deadman, Cena refused to stay self-pitying for long, and he rallied by announcing he would use his free agent status to pursue a Road to WrestleMania through the only avenue he has left: SmackDown Live.
Side Note: I had a sneaky suspicion about this, but when Cena said it would never happen and he'd have to go LA tomorrow at SmackDown Live, I do admit, it threw me off. The very fact Cena would mention a match with Taker, and then withdraw it, shows WWE have plans to build this match, but want to tease us (the viewers) first, before they go all in on Cena vs. Taker at WM 34.
Things between Banks & Bayley hit an all-time low
Asuka, Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax & Mickie James
Against all odds, Alexa Bliss emerged from the choppy seas of the Women’s Elimination Chamber Match still Raw Women’s Champion, clearing her path to a title defense at WrestleMania. But even with Mickie James back at Alexa's side, Absolution denied in the Chamber, and Nia Jax seemingly off the board following a loss to Asuka, The Road to WrestleMania may yet hold a few twists and turns for the Team Red Women's division.
What began as The Goddess’ latest victory lap (complete with a bold prediction that she would be the one to end Asuka’s streak) morphed almost immediately into a Six-Woman showdown pitting Bliss, James and Jax against an impromptu squad of their enemies. Apart from Asuka herself, the Goddess’ competition featured Bayley & Sasha Banks, whose friendship was apparently restored after the every-woman-for-herself environment of the Chamber Match turned them against each other the previous night.
Or so it seemed. Banks, who clearly wanted the win for herself, rushed headlong into the match and got herself isolated with Bayley as her only lifeline. The Huggable One, shockingly, left Banks high and dry by hopping off the apron to refuse a tag, but The Boss’ subsequent tag to Asuka changed the complexion of the match almost instantly.
Thanks to a timely assist from The Huggable One, who clearly had no trouble aiding Asuka, The Empress of Tomorrow tapped Mickie out with a vicious armbar before staring daggers at Bliss — a look matched only in intensity by the one Banks gave Bayley on the outside. Winner: Asuka, Bayley & Sasha Banks.
Side Note: This HAS to lead to Bayley vs. Banks at Mania, as all the seeds have been planted now with Sasha telling Bayley last night, "I will always be better than you.” I say HAS too because with all the talent right now, I don't see creative putting their all into this match, which they should do because it would be awesome. Alexa befriends yet another superstar and at this point you wonder if the Raw women's locker room are all naive or if Alexa is just that damn good.
Other Notable Moments:
Bray Wyatt challenged "Woken" Matt Hardy: Last night, Hardy finally engulfed Wyatt in a (metaphorical) ball of light, but the pair’s "Great War" appears to be far from “OVAH.” After making quick work of Heath Slater before their scheduled match (The One-Man Band's partner Rhyno was swiftly dropped as well), Wyatt grabbed the mic and chastised the absent Hardy for forcing him to decimate the first-ever SmackDown Tag Team Champions. More unhinged than usual, The Reaper of Souls demanded The Woken One face him once more, promising he would not rest until Hardy’s “woken eyes” were shut.
Non-Title Match: Seth Rollins def. Intercontinental Champion The Miz: If there’s one silver lining for Rollins after he lost in the Men’s Elimination Chamber, it’s his marathon-man performance in both the structure and its preceding Gauntlet Match have reignited his fire to once again become “The Man.” For The Miz, who believes the Intercontinental Title makes him a perennial main-eventer, that might be a bit of a problem. True, Miz is a budding reality star who is only 62 days away from the longest cumulative run as IC Champion, but as furious as he was over his perceived disrespect, it wasn’t enough to carry him past the previously-unannounced opponent of Rollins in a match that “might” (per Kurt Angle) indicate who Miz faces at WrestleMania. If it does end up being Rollins, The A-Lister “might” have his work cut out for him. Even though Miz used The Miztourage to his advantage and revved up gradually into a full-court press against The Architect, Rollins laid out Miz and his crew with a suicide dive before dispatching The Awesome One with the Revolution Knee and a Frog Splash that carried him almost completely across the ring. It was the latest in a series of marquee moments for Rollins, unfortunately, this one didn’t last long, as The Kingslayer’s celebration was interrupted within seconds by another Superstar with the spotlight on his mind: Finn Bálor.
Non-Title Match: Finn Balor def. Intercontinental Champion The Miz: Having just fallen short against Rollins, The Miz was clearly in no mood to face Bálor in an immediate follow-up, WrestleMania implications or not. But his plan of having The Miztourage simply jump The Extraordinary Man backfired in four major ways, one after the other: For one, the match was immediately restarted by Angle. Two, The Miztourage was ejected from ringside — along with Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, who had tried to even the odds. Three, if there was no clear winner, The Miz wouldn’t be going to WrestleMania at all. Oh, and four: He lost. Even though Bálor basically out on his feet, he had the wherewithal to counter Miz’s early attempts to pick the bones and the heart to rally. Miz, of course, is too gifted a competitor to roll over, but he faded down the stretch (over a half-hour in the ring will do that to you) and he succumbed to Bálor's chest-caving Coup de Grâce. Watching backstage, Rollins was less than impressed with Bálor piling on his win, but he had an idea of how he would rebound from his own Elimination Chamber loss and get to WrestleMania: A formal challenge to The Miz for the Intercontinental Title. In the words of Angle, he “might” have a case. But then again, so might Finn.
Raw Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus def. Titus Worldwide (2-out-of-3-Falls Match): Titus Worldwide may have fallen short in their title bout against Cesaro & Sheamus at Elimination Chamber, but they still hold a record of 3-2 against The Bar. How did the Raw Tag Team Champions go about fixing that? By beating them twice with the titles once again on the line. In a match born out of continuing animosity between the two teams, The Swiss Cyborg and Alabaster Gladiator swept Titus O’Neil & Apollo in a rare 2-out-of-3 Falls title defense on Raw that began in as dominant a fashion as possible: With a wicked Brogue Kick to a distracted O’Neil just seconds into the match. The second fall was a bit harder-won, as Apollo took the contest into his hands down the stretch, and The Bar was forced to dispatch The Big Deal at ringside to take away Titus Worldwide's resident powerhouse. With Apollo stranded, he was ripe picking for a White Noise-DDT combo that kept the titles in Cesaro & Sheamus’ clutches. So, The Bar are sitting pretty on The Road to WrestleMania. The only problem with this dominance, as they illustrated in a post-match interview, is the road is looking to be a very short one for one simple reason: There’s nobody left for them to beat.
Braun Strowman def. Elias via Disqualification: Strowman may have fallen short in the Men’s Elimination Chamber despite a record-setting performance, but that doesn’t mean he’s finished. Looking to pile on his savage showing with a “symphony of destruction,” Strowman faced off with Elias, who was still smarting over that incident with the bass weeks ago. Unfortunately, the most offense Elias could mount against The Monster Among Men was a mildly insulting musical performance in advance of the match. As far as the contest itself, Elias resorted to a cat-and-mouse strategy in a largely unsuccessful attempt to avoid These Hands. He ended up eating a DQ loss when he sprayed Strowman in the face with a fire extinguisher to stop the onslaught. The Monster Among Men recovered enough to carry Elias to the commentary area, though the musician escaped a trip through the table by raking Strowman's eyes and fleeing through the backstage area, where he had enough of a head start on the still-blinded Strowman to evade punishment ... for now.
Overall Raw Rating: B
Things to look forward to next week
The Road to WrestleMania continues...
What are the plans for both Strowman and Elias heading into WrestleMania 34?
How will Lesnar & Heyman respond to the scathing comments from Roman Reigns?
Who will face The Bar for the Raw Tag Team titles at WrestleMania 34?
Miz vs. Rollins vs. Balor for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania?