By: Keila Cash
Location: Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix, Arizona (Night 1 of 2)
Iron Man of the Year: Seth Freakin’ Rollins
Back to Basics: The All-Night Wrestling Revue
· In a shocker, Seth Rollins defeated Roman Reigns with a roll-up to survive phase one of the Gauntlet Match. This was a good match as Rollins and Reigns traded rest holds early on before picking up the tempo after the commercial break. The highlight of the match was Rollins hitting Reigns with the Buckle Bomb only for Reigns to counter with the Superman Punch. They’ve done this spot in the past, but it never gets old because it’s executed so well. Tonight was no exception as the crowd popped something fierce.
· The finishing sequence was strong as Rollins countered Reigns’ Spear with a knee to the face. He went for the Blackout, but Reigns countered with a roll-up. This resulted in Rollins following through with a roll-up of his own for the win. Next up: John Cena.
· In another incredible performance, Seth Rollins defeated John Cena with The Blackout in a great match. Rollins vs. Cena is one of the best television matches of the year in terms of storytelling and work rate. Rollins was running on empty as Cena tried to tell him to stay down. Rollins wouldn’t listen as he took the fight to Cena. Both men traded near falls as Rollins kicked out of the AA. He mustered enough strength to deliver a Suplex from the middle rope followed by the Falcon Arrow for a near fall. The highlight of the match was Rollins rolling through on Cena to hit his own version of the AA for a near fall. It was a shocking spot that the announcers sold to perfection.
· Cena managed to counter with an AA and tried to roll through with another only for Rollins to counter with a knee to the face which set up the finish moments later. This was an awesome performance by both men, but Rollins was the true star as he showed up and showed out.
· Elias defeated Seth Rollins with The Drift Away in an okay match. Rollins was favoring his left knee which ultimately played into his downfall. Rollins lasted 65 minutes and had two great matches against Reigns and Cena. He should be proud of his performance. Fans should be even prouder because this was the best first hour of Raw from a wrestling standpoint in years.
· Finn Bàlor defeated Elias with the Coup De Grace in a solid match. This was a comedown bout after Rollins tore the down the house for an hour. Elias worked over Bàlor’s shoulder which kept him grounded for the most part. The ending was good as Bàlor hit his Slingblade/Running Dropkick/Coup De Grace trifecta for the win. Next up: The Miz.
· The Miz defeated Finn Bàlor with the Skull Crushing Finale thanks to an assist from the Miztourage. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel distracted Bàlor long enough for Miz to attack him from behind before the match started. Miz picked up where Elias left off by going after Bàlor’s left shoulder. Bàlor got back on offense, but the Miztourage kept getting involved until he laid them out with a flip dive. Bàlor tried to finish Miz off with the Coup De Grace, but Dallas and Axel got involved which set up the finish moments later. Next up: Braun Strowman.
· Braun Strowman defeated The Miz with a running Powerslam to win the Gauntlet Match. The bout was fine, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Miztourage tried to help their boss out, but it was to no avail as Strowman dominated the action from start to finish.
· After the match was over, Strowman laid out Miz and the Miztourage with a series of Running Powerslams as the Phoenix crowd egged him on.
· Overall, this was a great way to kick off the first two hours of the show. The Gauntlet Match never dragged as Seth Rollins set the tone by having one of the best matches of the year when he defeated John Cena in a great match. Renee Young interviewing the men who didn’t survive the Gauntlet was a nice touch as they didn’t believe in moral victories heading into the Elimination Chamber. This was old school wrestling at its best and it was nice to see WWE keep it simple while magnifying the importance of Sunday’s PPV at the same time. All in all, this was a nice piece of business that made me care about who punches their ticket to WrestleMania even though the outcome is damn near academic.
· Asuka struggled through her promo as she forgot some of her lines during her interview with Renee Young. The crowd was on the verge of turning on the segment, but the boo birds were kept at bay as Asuka tried her best to power through the segment. Nia Jax tried to attack Asuka from behind, but Asuka saw the sneak attack coming and got the jump on Jax first.
· Jax overpowered Asuka when she laid her out with a Samoan Drop followed by the Leg Drop. This appears to telegraph the finish on Sunday in terms of Asuka keeping her winning streak intact, but stranger things can happen.
· WWE put together a nice video package of Ronda Rousey training ahead of her contract signing at the Elimination Chamber PPV on Sunday. After a ho-hum announcement last week, the company put their production prowess to good use by hyping Rousey’s official debut to the hilt. It’s about damn time!
· Titus O’Neil and Apollo (Don’t Call Him Crews) defeated Sheamus and Cesaro when Apollo pinned Cesaro with a roll-up. This was a nice way to set up a probable match for the Raw Tag Team Championship at Elimination Chamber because it’s currently a three-match card at the moment.
· Make that four matches as Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt has been added to the festivities as well.
· Mickie James, Bayley, and Sasha Banks defeated Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, and Alexa Bliss when Banks made Bliss tap out to the Bank Statement in a solid main event match. Bayley and James played the babyfaces in peril early on until Banks got the hot tag down the stretch.
· Sasha came in hot as she hit everything that moved including a sick double knees to Deville on the outside. Bliss suffered the same fate 2X, but it wasn’t enough to keep her down as she slammed Sasha’s head into the middle turnbuckle.
· Things got chaotic towards the end when Mickie and Bayley laid out Absolution which set up the finish moments later. Sasha didn’t get a chance to celebrate as Deville and Rose attacked her from behind. Bayley tried to make the save, but it was to no avail as Absolution laid her out as well. The beat down was a bit sloppy which undercut the effectiveness of the closing angle.
· Bliss admired their handiwork but quickly realized that she was next on the chopping block when James made the save. They nailed Deville with a Double DDT as Raw went off the air with the frenemies standing tall.
· Despite Bliss teaming with Absolution, she maintained her alliance with James by refusing to tag in the match whenever her former mentor was in the ring. One can assume that their truce will come to an end on Sunday, but it should be interesting to see who will turn on the other first.
· Overall, I thought tonight’s episode of Raw was very good. The Gauntlet Match set the tone as the in-ring action was stellar due to the Herculean effort of Seth Rollins during the first 65 minutes of the show. Roman Reigns and John Cena deserve props for holding up their end of the bargain, but this was a clear indicator that Rollins can be a top babyface based on his wrestling ability alone. He has been mishandled over the past couple of years due to a shitty face turn by default, but things got better once he reunited with Dean Ambrose last summer.
· Tonight proved that he has what it takes to still be The Man in WWE if the creative team doesn’t script him like a pompous jackass. Here’s hoping Rollins has a top tier match at WrestleMania because he hasn’t had the chance to deliver a true Mania moment despite his Money in the Bank cash-in a few years and his win over Triple H last year.
· WWE did a great job hyping the Elimination Chamber PPV by showcasing every match on the card to maximum effect. The company shook things up by removing the obligatory promo that starts every episode of Raw. Most importantly, there was no General Manager to exert his authority while tripping over his lines at the same time (No shade to Kurt Angle, but I am simply stating the facts).
· This was a show that had a purpose and included one of the best matches of 2018. That’s how the E should get it done heading into WM season. Despite the destination being inevitable, the creative team should make Raw and SmackDown Live must-see television every week instead of coasting their way through the biggest time of the year. Tonight was a prime example of what they can do on a consistent basis. Let’s hope the company maintains that momentum heading into the Chamber PPV on Sunday. Fingers crossed!
On that note, this wraps up another edition of The Raw Exposé. I hope you enjoyed it and I will be back tomorrow night with a brand new installment of The SmackDown Files. See you later, boys and girls!