Triple H Dropped a Blockbuster Announcement Regarding NXT Superstars
Well, this was quite the interesting start to Raw. Triple H came across like a heel authority figure just last week on Raw, but now he's portraying the "proud papa" character we see on NXT from time to time. So, which is it? He announced that Aleister Black, Ricochet, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa would all be in action on this show. It was a different approach than having them make surprise debuts, but I guess this was WWE's way of getting fans familiar with them if they weren't already, so I can't blame them for that. Then again, WWE just butchered the last group of call-ups from NXT, so I don't want to get too excited just yet.
Braun Strowman def. Baron Corbin in a Tables Match
Nothing screams "new era" like yet another outing between Strowman and Corbin. Ugh. To their credit, the effort was there and it was slightly more bearable than their No Disqualification match from Elimination Chamber, but I am beyond ready for this rivalry to wrap up. I'd like to think it's finally over based off how decisively Strowman won here, but I have a sinking feeling that a rubber matchup is imminent. It was weird that Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley interfered and helped Corbin win on Sunday only to not appear here, but hey, I'm not complaining there weren't any shenanigans this time around.
Paul Heyman Profiled Universal Champion Brock Lesnar
As great as Heyman's delivery is on the mic most weeks, his material blends together after a while when he doesn't have anyone to bounce off of (such as Seth Rollins). The video package that aired profiling Lesnar's original WWE run, stint in the UFC and eventual return to WWE was very well put together, but I don't know what purpose it was supposed to serve aside from kill television time. It certainly didn't make me any more excited for Lesnar vs. Rollins at WrestleMania than I was before.
Intercontinental Champion Finn Balor and Ricochet def. Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush
This town should be banned from ever getting another WWE show again based off their reaction to Ricochet saving Balor from Lashley and Rush. Thankfully, these guys got the crowd into the action down the stretch and the hot tag to Ricochet was a lot of fun. I'm thrilled he didn't feel limited at all and was instead allowed to go all out and showcase his skills in front of a huge audience. He made the perfect first impression and I hope that'll bode well for him when he's inevitably called up to the main roster full time.
Lucha House Party def. Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder
Hawkins and Ryder are fishing for their first victory as a team (which would therefore break Hawkins' lengthy losing streak that has lasted since November 2016). I'm actually intrigued by the story and enjoy seeing them back together. Unfortunately, this is one match I don't blame the crowd for sitting on their hands for, because both of these teams have basically been enhancement talent for months. It was decent for what it was, but Hawkins remains a loser. Heavy Machinery were then interviewed by Charly Caruso afterward on the stage, only to be interrupted by Lacey Evans. The whole thing was weird and a waste of time.
NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa and NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano def. Raw Tag Team Champions The Revival (Non-title)
These two teams had a spectacular series of matches in NXT back in late 2016, one of which was widely regarded as the Match of the Year. Even over two years later, they still have terrific chemistry together. This would have benefited from having a few more minutes, but it was entertaining and Gargano and Ciampa made the most of their opportunity to shine. I'd be down for a rematch down the road.
Nia Jax and Tamina Interrupted WWE Women's Tag Team Champions Sasha Banks and Bayley
You could tell winning the tag titles at Elimination Chamber meant a lot to Banks and Bayley, so it was cool they were to talk about their historic victory here. It was a feel-good moment that kicked off their reign the right way. I could have done without Jax and Tamina crashing the segment, but that was obviously designed to set them up as the first challengers to the championship. Here's hoping WWE gets that bout out of the way next week on Raw and doesn't save it for the Fastlane pay-per-view.
Drew McIntyre def. Dean Ambrose
McIntyre originally demanded Triple H backstage to face Rollins, but Ambrose interrupted and slapped him, so McIntyre chose to take on Ambrose instead. They worked well together late last year during The Shield's rivalry with McIntyre, Strowman and Dolph Ziggler, but this was completely forgettable. Now I'm left wondering why WWE bothered to have Ambrose get his win back over EC3 last week if he was going to get squashed by McIntyre one week later. Needless to say, that was pointless in retrospect.
Aleister Black def. Elias
Black has the coolest entrance of all four of these NXT stars, and I was happy he was able to do it here. He is a special kind of talent and it would be tough for WWE to butcher him. Then again, I said the same thing about Shinsuke Nakamura, so I'm not holding my breath. That said, he came off very well and hit all of his signature spots before going over. My only nitpick was that the crowd (as previously noted) were largely flat for this. I stand by what I said earlier: WWE must ensure they never get another show again.
Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey def. Ruby Riott
I realize Rousey is known for her post-pay-per-view title defenses, but this did not need to happen. Almost anyone else would have made more sense to challenge Rousey than Riott considering how quickly Riott lost to Rousey at Elimination Chamber. Don't get me wrong, this was well-wrestled and I appreciated the intensity both ladies showed, but it was ass-backwards booking. On the bright side, Becky Lynch stayed true to her suspension and didn't show up, but what we got in her absence wasn't compelling in the slightest.
First and foremost, this crowd was absolutely atrocious. Good lord, they were almost as bad as Corpus Christi, Texas and made for an awful atmosphere. However, the show was abysmal anyway outside of the appearances from the NXT stars. I can see people arguing that this was an above-average edition of Raw because of them, but once you take them out of the equation, this show offers nothing of value. Let's just say I'm not overly optimistic about this road to WrestleMania, at least on the Raw side. Not to mention Fastlane is in three weeks and zero match announcements were made.
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