This week’s edition of WWE Raw did a great job of setting us up for the Road to WrestleMania. I thought it was a much better show than the last few weeks of Raw and a big improvement over a disappointing Fastlane pay-per-view as well. The presence of The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar certainly helped.
The usual way I write this column is to focus on one main story in the top section. This week, however, I wanted to focus on two segments that set up huge matches at WrestleMania.
Goldberg’s Celebration Was Interrupted By Brock Lesnar And Paul Heyman
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) March 7, 2017
Bill Goldberg, the new Universal Champion, received a good ovation from the Chicago crowd at the top of hour two. There were some boos, though. Chicago is a tough city with vocal WWE fans that likely had some people in the arena that weren’t fans of a part-time wrestler like Goldberg holding the Universal Title. The boos weren’t that loud, but they were there.
Goldberg thanked the fans for the love and claimed that he did this for them. Goldberg said he needed to say something that he’s never made public. Fans chanted “CM Punk” at him because Punk is a Chicago guy and the fans miss him. It surprised Goldberg, I think. Paul Heyman showed up to say he was not alone. What I don’t know is if Heyman entered the picture before he was supposed to cut off the Punk chants. It’s certainly possible. Heyman brought out Lesnar as they walked to the ring.
According to Heyman, Lesnar was there to shake Goldberg’s hand and congratulate him for winning the Universal Championship. Goldberg, who was sweating a lot as he usually does, wanted no part of the handshake. Heyman stated the obvious that both guys wanted to win, but only one of them will be a winner and the other will be a loser. Heyman provided a “spoiler,” noting that after the match people will say Goldberg is “Brock’s Bitch.” That led to Lesnar picking up Goldberg and hitting a F5 while Goldberg was still holding onto the Universal Title. The crowd cheered the move while Goldberg was out on the mat and Lesnar left with Heyman.
Good segment. Lesnar hasn’t done anything significant in months while putting over Goldberg clean at Survivor Series and Goldberg also eliminated him from the Royal Rumble. Since Goldberg got the title win the night before, it was smart to have Lesnar drop him with a F5 in order to send an important message that Lesnar is ready for him at WrestleMania.
Will their match at WrestleMania go longer than two minutes? That’s something I don’t know, but I fully expect Lesnar to win while Goldberg could decide to call it a career at that point. Since he’s 50 years old and not having actual matches with bumps, I think it makes sense for him to walk away after WrestleMania.
The Undertaker Returned To His Yard With A Message For Roman Reigns
— WWE (@WWE) March 7, 2017
The main event was advertised as a segment where Braun Strowman wanted to finish what he started with Roman Reigns at Fastlane. Reigns won that Fastlane match, so Strowman wanted to continue their fight on Raw. When Strowman entered the ring, he talked about how the crowd didn’t like Reigns and he didn’t like him either, so let’s have a fight instead of a match. The music of Reigns hit briefly. However, it stopped as the gong sound hit, the lights went out and The Undertaker’s music hit.
The legendary Undertaker received a huge ovation from the Chicago crowd as he made his full entrance while wearing his traditional hat and leather jacket. When Undertaker went into the ring, he just stared at Strowman. There was no physical interaction between them. Strowman slowly backed out of the ring and left through the crowd. It was as if Undertaker told him that he (Undertaker) wasn’t there for Strowman. Fans chanted “Undertaker” for the WWE legend.
Roman Reigns showed up to loud boos. A lot of fans still hate Reigns because of how hard he is pushed by the WWE system. He’s a very good performer, but not the most likable guy.
Reigns told Undertaker that Braun called out Reigns, not him. “So with all due respect,” he said, “this is my yard now.” Undertaker stared back at him, then stared at the WrestleMania sign. Reigns stared at the Wrestlemania sign as well. Undertaker stared at Reigns again, grabbed him by the throat and nailed a massive Chokeslam to a huge ovation. Undertaker left the ring while Reigns was left to lick his wounds as Raw ended.
I thought it was great. The best thing about The Undertaker is he doesn’t have to do much. If he stares at the WrestleMania sign, then everybody knows what he wants. If somebody else did that, they might not even get a reaction.
The match isn’t official yet, but Reigns vs. Undertaker for WrestleMania has been the plan for months now. It was set up at the Royal Rumble when Reigns eliminated Undertaker from the match. Ever since then, Reigns has talked about how the ring is “his yard,” like what The Undertaker has said for well over a decade. It’s possible that this could be the match that finally turns Reigns heel, but I’m not sure if WWE wants to go in that direction. They should have done it two years ago, really.
Who should win Undertaker vs. Reigns at WrestleMania? It should be Reigns. He’s 20 years younger and in the prime of his career. Undertaker should not beat a guy in his prime at this point in his career. Use older wrestlers to put over younger guys. That’s how wrestling works. Sorry, Reigns haters, but he’s probably going to beat the beloved Undertaker.
This Week’s Raw Matches
Kevin Owens defeated Sami Zayn
It was set up based on the opening segment. Owens dominated the match, hit two Popup Powerbombs and pinned Zayn after just five minutes. I assume this was done to put over Owens as being an angry man upset about losing his title, so he took it out on his former best friend Zayn. I understand it for Owens. What sucks is Zayn rarely wins any matches against quality heels and it’s been this way since the brand split. He is one of the worst-booked performers in all of WWE.
Neville defeated Rich Swann to retain the Cruiserweight Title
They got about 14 minutes with two commercial breaks in the match, which meant that we only got to see about eight minutes. If they had just one commercial instead of two, it would have been much better. What they did in the match was awesome. Swann did a lot of cool moves like the Swanton Bomb off the top rope onto Neville on the floor. They each came close to winning multiple times. I liked the German Suplex into a superkick by Swann. Towards the end of the match, Swann went for a Phoenix Splash, Neville moved and applied a Rings of Saturn-like submission to win. Best match on the show. It’s so nice to see a cruiserweight match getting a lot of time for a change on Raw.
After the match was over, Austin Aries interviewed Neville. It led to Neville bragging about how he has beat everybody in his path. The crowd chanted “Austin Aries” to encourage to take a shot at him. Neville got in his face, talked trash and Aries hit him with a microphone followed by a forearm shot to the face. Aries is a fantastic all-around performer who should have an amazing match with Neville. I always liked Aries more as a heel, but it makes sense to have him as a face in this feud after coming back from an eye injury.
Neville was the best performer on the show this week. He is doing a fantastic job as a pure heel that WWE is building the cruiserweight division around.
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass ended in a disqualification in a Tag Team Title match
It was a short match with Cesaro & Sheamus showing up at ringside. Cesaro had a cup of coffee in his hands, so it was obvious somebody was going to knock it over. After Enzo hit a dive outside the ring, he bumped into Cesaro, the coffee spilled and Cesaro went into the ring to hit Anderson with a clothesline by accident. All six guys started brawling with Sheamus & Cesaro clearing the ring, thanks to a Sheamus Brogue Kick on Enzo. Boring match that got about seven minutes.
As a result of that ending, Raw GM Mick Foley said that Enzo & Cass will face Cesaro & Sheamus next week on Raw. The winners of that match go on to WrestleMania to face Gallows & Anderson for the Raw Tag Titles. I think Enzo & Cass will win or it will be a countout/disqualification finish leading to a triple threat tag team match at WrestleMania. I would prefer if it’s just Enzo & Cass winning so they can win the titles at WrestleMania.
Akira Tozawa defeated Ariya Daivari
An easy win for Tozawa in two minutes with a German Suplex. After the match, Tozawa called out Brian Kendrick for a fight. Kendrick responded with a promo to say be careful what you wish for.
Kofi Kingston & Big E defeated The Shining Stars
This match also took about two minutes as Kingston and Big E got the win for The New Day. It was an easy victory designed to allow them to do a promo about ice cream before the match. New Day has had so many worthless segments in the last two months. I liked them a lot more as heels.
Sasha Banks defeated Bayley
The match was set up by a promo before the match involving Mick Foley, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Stephanie McMahon and Charlotte Flair. Yes, that’s right — we had to hear from five people to try to get across a storyline. Best part was Stephanie saying the crowd were losers just like CM Punk since they were chanting his name. It set up a match between Bayley and Banks.
The crowd was dead for this match. I’m not that surprised by it because the booking of Raw‘s women has been so bad for several months now. It wasn’t close to as good as their matches in NXT in 2015. Banks got the win by submission after about 13 minutes. No surprise that a champion lost a non-title match because that’s what WWE does so often.
After the match, Charlotte hit both women with kicks to the head.
As a result of that finish, it’s Bayley vs. Banks vs. Charlotte for the Women’s Title at WrestleMania. Originally, it was going to be Nia Jax in the match too, but she may be out since she hasn’t been impressive in the last few months.
Samoa Joe defeated Chris Jericho by countout
It was weird to do this match with only four minutes of time given to them and ending it with a countout win. The reason it ended as a countout was because Joe applied the Coquina Clutch on the floor. After the match, Joe tried to attack some more in the ring and Jericho hit him with a Codebreaker.
This felt like the kind of match that was done to promote something new as a first time ever match, but they didn’t have enough time to do much. It feels like this will be a feud later in the year, depending on how long Jericho sticks around.
Other Key Items From Raw
1. Jericho and Owens Set Up their WrestleMania Match
The opening to the show saw Chris Jericho come to the ring to brag about how he screwed Kevin Owens out of the Universal Title at Fastlane. He said he did it as revenge for Owens attacking him a few weeks earlier. Jericho called out Owens to explain why Owens did what he did on Raw during their Festival of Friendship segment.
Owens appeared on the stage. Owens told Jericho that he was never his best friend. Owens called Jericho a tool who knew what he was doing, had experience and was also gullible enough to fill the role. Owens claimed that when Jericho accepted the match against Goldberg for Fastlane, he became a burden and that’s why Owens had to do what he did. When Jericho accepted the match for Owens a few weeks ag,o I figured they might use it to explain why Owens did what he did. It made sense.
Owens went on to say he was promised a rematch for the Universal Title whenever he wanted, but now he wanted to face off with Jericho. It led to Jericho suggesting a WrestleMania match, Owens wanted a title match and Jericho agreed to put the United States Title on the line.
After the talking was over, Owens fought with Jericho in the ring and was joined by Samoa Joe. Sami Zayn made the save for Jericho. When Jericho came back with a chair, he accidentally hit Owens in the back of the head with it. Chairs to the head are banned. It was just an accident and Owens didn’t appear to be hurt by it.
I thought it was an awesome segment. Owens was fantastic in explaining why he attacked Jericho when he did, while Jericho was perfect as the face who rallied the crowd behind him to get them excited about the match. I’m looking forward to their WrestleMania match as much as anything on the card. It has really elevated the US Title just by having these two outstanding performers involved.
2. Seth Rollins Rehabs While Triple H Talks Trash
There was a video package that showed the rehab that Seth Rollins was going through to get back to action in time for WrestleMania. I like that WWE shows stuff like this because it makes fans want to see Rollins back in the ring when we see how hard he is working to get through rehab on his injured right knee.
Triple H did a promo on the video screen “via satellite,” even though he was probably backstage at Raw. The two main points that Triple H made were that if Rollins called him out for WrestleMania, then all that would be waiting is a nightmare. Also, he claimed that if Rollins showed up at WrestleMania, it would be the last thing he ever did in a WWE ring.
The expectation is that Rollins will be ready for the WrestleMania match with Triple H. As far as I know, there’s no reason to think that it won’t happen at this point.
3. Rick Rude Joins WWE’s Hall of Fame
It was announced on Monday that Rick Rude would join the 2017 Hall of Fame on March 31 in Orlando. Rude was a top heel in both WCW and the WWF/E in the late 1980s into the 1990s as well. He was memorable because of his pre-match promos, his unique tattoos that often featured the faces of rivals (or women), his cool mustache and he was very good in the ring as well. One of my favorite heels when I was growing up, that’s for sure.
Rude passed away in 1999 at the age of 40 due to heart failure. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame by a former rival in Ricky Steamboat. Rude was survived by his wife and three kids, so they will be on hand to honor him.
As of this writing, the Hall of Fame class is Kurt Angle, the Rock N Roll Express, Teddy Long, Diamond Dallas Page, Beth Phoenix and Rick Rude. There will likely be a celebrity added as well.
Looking Ahead To WrestleMania
— WWE (@WWE) March 7, 2017
The next WWE pay-per-view event is WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida on April 2. Here are the official matches announced after Raw.
WWE Universal Championship: Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar
United States Championship: Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens
Raw Women’s Championship: Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks
Other likely matches:
The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns – Set up on Raw. Not official as of this writing.
WWE Championship: Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton or AJ Styles, depending on result at Smackdown tonight. Orton should win that match.
Seth Rollins vs. Triple H
John Cena & Nikki Bella vs. The Miz & Maryse
Intercontinental Championship: Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin
Andre the Giant Battle Royal
There will be more matches too.
Raw was much better this week. It was a major improvement over the disappointing Fastlane show, with some big moments featuring Undertaker and Lesnar while Owens and Jericho started things off on a positive note with a good promo. Neville stood out in the ring with Rich Swann, as well as with his angle with Austin Aries. The women’s segments didn’t turn out as well as WWE would have liked. There were some bad segments and filler, but for the most part it felt like a much more organized show. With WrestleMania taking place in less than four weeks, there is definitely more of a clear focus in terms of where the storylines are headed.
Announced for next week’s Raw is Enzo & Cass vs. Sheamus & Cesaro with the winners moving on to WrestleMania to challenge for the Raw Tag Team Titles. That’s all for this week.