Raw Tag Team Champion Jason Jordan def. Cesaro
Before the bout, Raw General Manager Kurt Angle announced that the women's Royal Rumble match, similar to the men's, will feature 30 participants, and with only roughly 20 women between both brands, it will be interesting to see how they fill out the remaining spots. Anyway, Sheamus and Cesaro demanded their rematch for the Raw Tag Team Championship, which Angle said they will get eventually. Cesaro spent a majority of the match working over Jordan's left leg, so while it wasn't terribly exciting (especially since Jordan isn't a sympathetic babyface), the second half after the commercial break was solid. Jordan won basically out of nowhere after Seth Rollins took out Sheamus at ringside, though the two aren't seemingly on the same page just yet.
Bray Wyatt def. Apollo Crews
The commentators played up how "underrated" Crews is, and while I agree with that, how underrated can the guy be if he loses all the time? I mean, it was evident from the moment he came out as Wyatt's opponent that he wasn't winning, and I'm honestly surprised this lasted as long as it did. That said, I hope 2018 is a better year for Crews because he has been wasted on the main roster for the past two years. In so many words, this was an extended (albeit well-wrestled) squash match for Wyatt. Meanwhile, I'm still digging this "Woken" Matt Hardy vs. Wyatt feud because it's the perfect kind of ridiculous.
Asuka def. Raw Women's Champion Alexa Bliss (Non-title)
With her "best friend" Nia Jax tending to Enzo Amore in the hospital, Bliss was on her own here, so the entire match consisted of her acting afraid of Asuka. I appreciated that they told a story, but as a match, it was fairly lifeless and the crowd was largely quiet for it. Thankfully, they picked up the pace down the stretch and Asuka winning clean was what needed to happen. Yes, it made the champion look slightly weak, but I assume all roads lead to Asuka capturing the championship, anyway.
Braun Strowman def. Rhyno and Heath Slater in a 2-on-1 Handicap Match
The match was originally Strowman vs. Rhyno, but Slater interfered enough to cause Strowman to invite him to join in and make this a Handicap match. Well, it didn't make much of a difference because he beat both of them with ease. It's cool this little storyline with Slater and Rhyno has gotten them on TV more than they have been in over a year, and of course, Strowman continues to build momentum heading into his Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble. It's worth noting that the crowd lost their minds afterward with Strowman laying out Slater and Rhyno with multiple running powerslams.
Intercontinental Champion Roman Reigns def. Samoa Joe
I realize WWE was saving Brock Lesnar's appearance for the main event slot, but it was painfully obvious that the title wasn't changing hands here despite the stipulation given it didn't close the show. Nevertheless, this was another great match from them with a strong intensity from both men and an engaged crowd. I also liked the teases of Reigns almost getting himself disqualified. I wasn't a huge fan of Joe losing clean because I hope to see the rivalry resume going forward, but there's no doubt Reigns has been delivering as Intercontinental Champion thus far.
Cedric Alexander and Goldust def. Drew Gulak and Ariya Daivari
It was unfortunate that Enzo Amore couldn't compete as a result of having the flu and therefore couldn't defend his WWE Cruiserweight Championship, so officials had to make up for it somehow, more than just throwing together a random Cruiserweight tag team matchup per usual. Goldust teaming with Alexander was beyond random, but if it means that barrier between the Cruiserweights and the heavyweights will finally be broken down, then I don't mind at all. The match was just fine and at least helped Alexander maintain momentum.
Finn Balor, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows def. Elias and The Miztourage
Balor, Anderson and Gallows have been directionless for many months. Why didn't WWE reunite them sooner? Better late than never, I guess. At any rate, this was a ton of fun. They seemed genuinely happy to be teaming together again, so fingers crossed it's more than a one-off thing. As noted, I don't see the harm in it considering none of them are busy at the moment.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar and Kane Brawled
I'm sorry, but I simply can't bring myself to get excited about the Triple Threat match for the Universal title. Lesnar vs. Strowman sucked at No Mercy and Lesnar vs. Kane doesn't sound appealing at all in 2018, but then again, Lesnar does tend to do better in multi-man matches, so we shall see. Heyman's promo effectively hyped up the bout, but nothing he said made he think Lesnar's upcoming opponents have a chance in hell (a.k.a. Kane's home) of beating him. WWE probably wants to position that match as a big deal, hence why this ended the evening, but it was a flat segment for me (though Lesnar sitting up Kane-style was a sweet visual).
I think we might have just witnessed the greatest Raw of 2018 yet, folks. All kidding aside, this was a pretty good show with plenty of enjoyable in-ring action and build for the only three matches currently on tap for the Royal Rumble event. I'll be in attendance for my first Rumble this year, so I'm amped no matter what, but the build so far has been well done. By and large, I'm glad WWE kicked off the new year with a quality edition of Raw. The Miz is returning next week and Raw's 25th anniversary episode is happening two weeks after that, so January should be a notable month for the flagship show as we prepare to kick off the road to WrestleMania. Have a happy New Year, folks!
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