The final Raw before WrestleMania is now in the books. All-in-all it was a decent outing for WWE aside from one huge misstep which was the final sell for Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania.
There's a lot to unpack here so let's dig in.
- WWE World Heavyweight Championship build--This has to be one of the most baffling segments I have witnessed in a while and honestly the whole night was strange as it relates to the build for WrestleMania's main event. They aired another sit-down with Roman Reigns near the beginning of the show which was fine. They saved Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman for the end of the show. That was also fine because that really needed to be "the main event." Things are rocking along fine with Paul Heyman cutting yet another phenomenal promo including one very curious moment which I will revisit momentarily. Roman Reigns enters to what sounded to me like a pretty good reaction initially, but then started heading the wrong direction. After a brief verbal skirmish you have Brock Lesnar holding his title high above his head until Roman Reigns snatched it out of his hand which was a really cool visual. This is precisely the moment where things went sideways though. Lesnar attempts to get it back from Reigns and the show closes with Brock and Roman playing tug-of-war with the belt. Honestly, in that brief moment that made for a pretty cool visual. The problem is that in live-action it looked really goofy. The bigger problem was that was all there was. They fought over the belt and that was it. There was no wild pull-apart brawl, neither guy was left standing triumphantly over the other. The entire build to the main event of WrestleMania had just about zero physicality and it just did not work at all. Obviously, I am a proponent of the idea that Roman Reigns needs to be aligned with Paul Heyman. After last night they are either telegraphing that very thing or they are completely incompetent. The one thing that gives me hope in that regard is that at one point during Paul Heyman's promo he referenced taking food from Brock's wife and kids, etc. and Brock seemed rattled or perturbed that it was brought up. That gave further hope to the idea that Paul may be looking to jump on a new horse. Hopefully, that is the case or else Roman Reigns is in a lot of trouble as is the WrestleMania main event. I suppose all will be made clear in just under a week.
- Sting and Triple H confrontation--Sting opened Raw in what was still a surreal moment despite his involvement with WWE going back to November. The Stinger brought the goods and the crowd seemed glad to see him. Stephanie's interruption left me with a bit of sinking feeling. She did a fine job though until Triple H arrived just after Sting caught her slap. In a really cool visual Stephanie retrieved the sledgehammer, but Sting came prepared as he had his bat hidden on him. Eventually we got a face off and a hot opening to the show with Sting begging Trips to get back in the ring with him. Perfect way to sell that match at Mania and perfect way to start Raw.
- Bray Wyatt promo--It was noted on Twitter that Bray Wyatt has become a very polarizing figure. Me personally? I'm a huge fan of The New Face of Fear and I think he did a tremendous job on Raw and on the whole building this feud without a dance partner. That said, the build for this is lacking because even last night The Undertaker did not appear. For me peronally, I think breaking The Streak has made me less tolerant of him popping back up for one match a year. Bray tried his hardest, but again it's really difficult to build a feud with one member completely absent. This is another thing that plagued Reigns/Lesnar even. At some point you need these guys to be in the ring together to sell the tension, etc. and we didn't get enough of that in either build.
- Rusev and John Cena--They trotted Jack Swagger back out for another match with Rusev. Rusev got a decisive victory and refused to break The Accolade. The announce team put over the fact that Lana wasn't there to get Rusev to break the hold so some familiar music hit and John Cena was on the way to the ring. Rusev eventually got the better of Cena and brutalized him. It was an excellent segment which made Rusev look like a million bucks and I don't even care if Cena wins at Mania. They've set Rusev up as a legitimately bad man and it's awesome. Cena's sitdown segment at some other point of the show was really solid and I really don't like John Cena. Him explaining his motivation for wanting the US Title made sense to me and his delivery was good without the usual John Cena ham factor. Back to the live segment, The Accolade on the announce table made for a nice visual.
- Randy Orton vs Seth Rollins and J&J Security--Two things I took out of this were that I liked the spot where Seth Rollins hopped in the ring and tried to Curb Stomp Orton during his Viper taunt before the RKO. Also it reminded me yet again how badly this build was botched since they continued to hammer home the idea that Orton would finally get his hands on Rollins at Mania when we all saw Orton beat the dog piss out of Rollins a couple of weeks ago. That just makes no sense at all to me. Oh, Orton won this match.
- The IC Title Ladder Match sell--We got a tag match and then a one-on-one guest referee match featuring the participants. The tag match was a fun "car crash" of a match as Booker T put it. Ziggler went over Bryan clean and Ambrose (voted special ref) got involved after the bell to set off the predictable scramble up the ladder to try to retrieve the title. While I get the premise that you want to preview the Mania ladder match I shared on Twitter that I'd root for whichever guy just walked away during that mess realizing that it didn't matter if he grabbed the strap on Raw. I am looking forward to the match at Mania which puts me in the vast minority I think.
- Axelmania Runnin' Wild--Curtis Axel shows up to ruin Snoop Dogg's fun. Axel was hilarious. Snoop called out the cavalry in the form of HULK HOGAN to a huge pop. Hulk drops Axel with a punch and a bunch of people started complaining online that Axel was "buried." Look, the dude is working an entertaining delusional heel gimmick. Getting dropped by the Hulkster is the exact kind of thing he should be doing. Summer Rae looked like she had no idea how to dance in that manner. I miss Layla.
- Everything Else
- They did a 10 man tag match with participants of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Ryback won for his team.
- They are teasing dissension between the frenemies Paige and AJ as Nikki offered one of them a title shot on Raw, but said they'd have to figure out who was going to take it. Miscommunication on the outside caused AJ to blast Paige and lead to a Rack Attack win for Nikki. That was a really good match by the way.
- Kevin Nash is going into the WWE Hall of Fame.
- Tyson Kidd and Natalya did a little sketch to sell some Burger King Chicken Fries. I only mention that because Burger King was my first job.
- The Miz and Damien Mizdow sat down with Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell to promote the new film Get Hard. This actually worked for me because it did move the Miz/Mizdow situation forward with Kevin and Will noticing that Mizdow had real star potential. It also painted the biggest star there as a regular guy who was willing to go grab a water for Mizdow to illustrate what a huge jerk The Miz is. The part where The Miz expected Kevin and Will to act like intolerable jerks was perfect Miz too. They've really got something with Miz and Mizdow. I hope they don't screw it up.
- Six individual tag match with Cesaro/Kid/Natalya up against Los Matadores/El Torito. The Usos and Naomi were at ringside. El Torito pinned Natalya which was just a bizarre visual.
The build to this year's WrestleMania has been disappointing for sure. Having Lesnar and The Undertaker absent for the most part has really hurt both of those feuds even with Paul Heyman working magic out there. That said, I think this may end up being a far more satisfying WrestleMania than we think it will be. Unfortunately that may simply be true due to the low expectations. We will find out soon enough. No matter what I will always look forward to The Showcase of the Immortals and this year is no different.